Why stop at seven fishes when you can do eleven?
As food-obsessed travelers, we have traveled 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.
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!
Before long, we uncorked the bottles of Lambrusco and started to enjoy the appetizers.
The olive bowl had different varietals, some stuffed with anchovies. Let’s call this fish number one.
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.
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.
The next appetizer featured gravlax, polenta, red onion and caviar. Tasty and delicious, this was fish number three.
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.
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.
Our first dish at the table was mussels with leeks, garlic and green onion. Fish number five.
Next came lump crab cakes made with risotto and topped with red pepper sauce. Fish number six.
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.
We cleared the dead soldiers and dug into the next dish – grilled shrimp with white bean puree. Fish number eight.
As the dining marathon continued, we attacked the grilled sardines with herbs and lemons. Fish number nine.
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.
While Alec spent time in the kitchen preparing the next dish, a couple diners used that time as an opportunity to rest their eyes.
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.
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.
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.
To end the night, we dug into Keith’s decadent bread pudding made with panettone, soaked in syrup and topped with marscapone cheese.
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.
About the Authors
Daryl & Mindi Hirsch
Saveur Magazine’s BEST TRAVEL BLOG award winners Daryl and Mindi Hirsch share their culinary travel experiences and recipes on the 2foodtrippers website and YouTube. The married Food and Travel content creators live in Lisbon, Portugal.