Whole Striped Bass, Fennel and Lemon

Feast of the Eleven Fishes

In Philadelphia by Daryl & Mindi Hirsch2 Comments

As food obsessed travelers, we have travelled around the world in our quest for great food. We’ve had amazing meals in cities such as Beijing, Bologna, Lisbon and Paris, and we’ve sampled unique food in markets located in cities such as Barcelona, Mexico City and Montreal.  In other words, we are willing to travel thousands of miles for great food.

But, sometimes, we just need to journey 1.5 miles into the heart of South Philadelphia for a kick-ass food experience along with lots of wine and spirited camaraderie.

Our friend Alec’s annual Feast of the Seven Fishes started five years ago as a respite for those with no place to go on Christmas Eve and a few select Jews.  This is a dinner party that we look forward to all year long. The participants have varied each year, but Alec, Kat, Joe, Stephanie and the 2foodtrippers are regulars. This year’s dinner featured the six regulars plus second year participants Keith and Joy.

Prior to the dinner, Mindi picked up a nice selection of wine and Daryl prepared brandade – a French specialty made with salt cod, potatoes and cream.  Dinner was called for 6pm.

Off to the Feast of the Eleven Fishes Philadelphia

Off to the Feast

Upon our arrival, our gracious host Alec and sous chef Kat greeted us with Prosecco as we drooled over the menu which featured eleven fishes. We can always trust Alec to outdo the traditional seven!

Cheers from the Host and Sous Chef Feast of the Eleven Fishes Philadelphia

Cheers from the Host and Sous Chef

Menu Feast of the Eleven Fishes Philadelphia

Menu

Before long, we uncorked the bottles of Lambrusco and started to enjoy the appetizers.

Lambrusco Feast of the Eleven Fishes Philadelphia

Lambrusco

The olive bowl had different varietals, some stuffed with anchovies. Let’s call this fish number one.

Assorted Olives Feast of the Eleven Fishes Philadelphia

Assorted Olives

There were two variations of boquerones, poblano and hearts of palm. Despite the excellence of these two appetizers, we were still on fish number one since we can’t count anchovies more than once.  That would just be wrong.

Boquerones, Poblano and Hearts of Palm Lollipops Feast of the Eleven Fishes Philadelphia

Boquerones, Poblano and Hearts of Palm Lollipops

Boquerones, Poblano and Hearts of Palm Stars Feast of the Eleven Fishes Philadelphia

Boquerones, Poblano and Hearts of Palm Stars

Next came the Italian tuna tartare. Flavorfully prepared with basil pesto and caper berries, this was Mindi’s favorite dish of the night. Fish number two.

Italian Tuna Tartare Feast of the Eleven Fishes Philadelphia

Italian Tuna Tartare

The next appetizer featured gravlax, polenta, red onion and caviar. Tasty and delicious, this was fish number three.

Gravlax, Polenta, Red Onion and Caviar Feast of the Eleven Fishes Philadelphia

Gravlax, Polenta, Red Onion and Caviar

To finish the appetizers, we enjoyed Daryl’s brandade. We all spread the luxurious, creamy cod dip on many slices of bread and crackers. Fish number four.

Daryl's Brandade Feast of the Eleven Fishes Philadelphia

Daryl’s Brandade

One bottle of Prosecco and two bottles of Lambrusco down, it was time to open the Chablis and Chardonnay and move to the dining room.

Chablis Feast of the Eleven Fishes Philadelphia

Chablis

Chardonnay Feast of the Eleven Fishes Philadelphia

Chardonnay

Happy Crowd Ready for Dinner Feast of the Eleven Fishes Philadelphia

Happy Crowd Ready for Dinner

Our first dish at the table was mussels with leeks, garlic and green onion. Fish number five.

Mussels, Leeks, Garlic and Green Onion Feast of the Eleven Fishes Philadelphia

Mussels, Leeks, Garlic and Green Onion

Next came lump crab cakes made with risotto and topped with red pepper sauce. Fish number six.

Risotto Lump Crab and Red Pepper Sauce Feast of the Eleven Fishes Philadelphia

Risotto Lump Crab and Red Pepper Sauce

Alec was both the chef and a diner, finishing each course as the evening progressed. Next up was pickled octopus with baby arugula dressed with a fantastic vinaigrette. Fish number seven.

Chef at Work Feast of the Eleven Fishes Philadelphia

Chef at Work

Pickled Octopus and Baby Arugula Feast of the Eleven Fishes Philadelphia

Pickled Octopus and Baby Arugula

We cleared the dead soldiers and dug into the next dish – grilled shrimp with white bean puree. Fish number eight.

First Regiment of Dead Soldiers Feast of the Eleven Fishes Philadelphia

First Regiment of Dead Soldiers

Grilled Shrimp with White Bean Puree Feast of the Eleven Fishes Philadelphia

Grilled Shrimp with White Bean Puree

As the dining marathon continued, we attacked the grilled sardines with herbs and lemons. Fish number nine.

Grilled Sardines with Herbs and Lemon Feast of the Eleven Fishes Philadelphia

Grilled Sardines with Herbs and Lemon

Not slowing down, Alec served braised calamari with garlic mashed potatoes, peas and crispy shallots . Fish number ten. Also, notably, the group started the not-so-painful transition to red wine.

Braised Calamari, Garlic Mashed Potatoes, Peas and Crispy Shallots Feast of the Eleven Fishes Philadelphia

Braised Calamari, Garlic Mashed Potatoes, Peas and Crispy Shallots

Moving on to Red Feast of the Eleven Fishes Philadelphia

Moving on to Red

While Alec spent time in the kitchen preparing the next dish, a couple diners used that time as opportunity to rest their eyes.

Nap Time Feast of the Eleven Fishes Philadelphia

Nap Time

Though delicious, the next dish which featured spaghetti, anchovy, porcini and truffle oil was a repeat fish and could not be part of the official count.  This was Daryl’s favorite dish of the night.

Spaghetti, Anchovy, Porcini and Truffle Oil in the Pan Feast of the Eleven Fishes Philadelphia

Spaghetti, Anchovy, Porcini and Truffle Oil in the Pan

Spaghetti, Anchovy, Porcini and Truffle Oil on the Plate Feast of the Eleven Fishes Philadelphia

Spaghetti, Anchovy, Porcini and Truffle Oil on the Plate

We would have been happy to stop at this point. Full and happy. But no, Alec had to bring out his crowning accomplishment – a whole striped bass with fennel and lemon. Fish number eleven.

Here comes the Fish! Feast of the Eleven Fishes Philadelphia

Here comes the Fish!

Whole Striped Bass, Fennel and Lemon Feast of the Eleven Fishes Philadelphia

Whole Striped Bass, Fennel and Lemon

The End of the Wine Feast of the Eleven Fishes Philadelphia

The End of the Wine

Eight satisfied people mosied over to the living room for the non-fish portion of the meal.

First up was Kat’s well-balanced cheese plate featuring one goat cheese, Montenebro, and two sheep cheeses – a six-month Manchego and Bleu de Basque.

Cheese Plate Feast of the Eleven Fishes Philadelphia

Cheese Plate

To end the night, we dug into Keith’s decadent bread pudding made with panettone, soaked in syrup and topped with marscapone cheese.

Off to the Feast of the Eleven Fishes Philadelphia

Bread Pudding

Eight hours after the start, our dinner was over. Feeling full yet happy, we waddled to our car and headed home.

As traditions go, this is one that we cherish and that we hope will continue year after year. In the future, we will certainly have some amazing meals around the world, but they will never quite compare to the magic that happens every Christmas Eve in South Philadelphia.

Alec’s house is located at an undisclosed location in Philadelphia, PA, USA.


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