The team at Wildfire Restaurant in the Tysons Galleria recently held one of their specialty dinners, those monthly events at which the chef gets to stretch his cooking out a bit for a select audience. This event, dubbed their “All-Star Beer Dinner,” commemorated the beginning of the baseball season, and Executive Chef Eddie Ishaq brought a few tastes from his hometown of Chicago to the tables for his guests. The beer selection was superb, too – the chef and his team paired each course with a specialty beer and the wait staff made sure that no one’s glass stayed empty for long.
I arrived at the restaurant and was directed to one of the location’s private dining rooms. Wildfire can host special events for up to 120 people according to their website in an expandable series of private rooms off of the main dining room. The construction was interesting, too – the staff told me that the walls literally slide up into the ceiling to open up the additional spaces, but they’re also solid enough that we couldn’t hear any dull roar from the packed bar that evening.
The tables were adorned with boxes of salted ballpark peanuts for us to munch on as we arrived, and each attendee was handed a D.C. Brau on the way into the room. After a few minutes, the wait staff began circulating with mini half smokes and mushroom-Swiss sliders. The half smokes were nothing to joke about, loaded down with chili and topped with chopped onions, and the sliders were superb, though I’ll confess that I’m not a huge fan of mushrooms on my burgers. The crowd seemed to love them, though – every serving platter left the room empty as far as I could tell.
After we sat down, we heard a few words from the estimable Dan Steinberg of the Washington Post’s DC Sports Bog (http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/dc-sports-bog). Steinberg, a quiet, unassuming sports reporter whose blog is now in my RSS reader, regaled the crowd with stories from his beat, describing how he broke the story on the Nationals Park 8-lb. Strasburger (available on select game days at the Red Porch for $59) and covering the Torino Olympics for the Post. Steinberg took the microphone between each course to tell us about the life of a sports reporter in the new media era – one point he made, for example, is that while the Olympic Games are incredibly popular with Post readers, covering them is tremendously expensive for media organizations, and the Post has had to cut back on its coverage team for the upcoming London games compared to the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver. While Steinberg greatly enjoyed his trips to the Games in the past – and his ability to find a nontraditional story, like a wonderful cheese shop while covering the Torino games, seems unparalleled on the sports beat – he won’t be going to the U.K. this summer.
The first course was an absolutely massive Buffalo Chicken Salad. I’d heard from the staff on my tour of the restaurant that Wildfire’s salads are gigantic, and I was not disappointed. No one at my table of 6 finished their salad – not for lack of trying, but the next courses on the menu looked good, too! The salad was tossed with a full dozen ingredients, including a few nontraditional choices for a Buffalo Chicken dish – artichoke hearts and Kalamata olives – but those two ingredients particularly helped cool down the chicken’s heat. The salad was served with Brooklyn Pennant Ale.
The main course was a Chicago-style Italian Beef sandwich served with sweet peppers and cheese fries. The sandwiches arrived wrapped in grease-spotted paper, and the cheese fries were served in paper sleeves just like you can get at the ballpark – nice touches, both of those. The fries were crisp and hot, and the cheese sauce fantastic. I spotted a couple of people digging the last of the sauce out onto their plates so they could finish it. Waiters circulated during this course with Goose Island Honkers Ale, a made-in-Chicago label.
Finally, dessert was served, a Boston cream pie accompanied by Sam Adams Double Bock, a hefty beer to complement the sweet cake, cream filling, and rich chocolate. I searched in vain for an untouched cake that I could spirit away, but it seemed that everyone in the room had proudly tucked theirs away.
As the meal concluded and we began rising from our seats, the Chef swung by the dining room to graciously accept a round of applause from the dinner guests and to announce the team’s next dinner special: a “Pork and Pinot” dinner, their third annual, to be held on May 23rd. The menu is posted on Wildfire’s website (http://www.wildfirerestaurant.com/sites/default/files/Pork%20%26%20Pinot%20_menu_155_%2712.pdf) and will include four varieties of Pinot Noir from the west coast, as well as several courses devoted to showing off the Bay Haven Farm hog being raised especially for the chef and his crew.
I left Wildfire that evening having experienced yet again that most wonderful of restaurant meals: a chef’s handpicked menu, cooked with love for the culinary craft. Chef Ishaq raised his game that night, and it was tremendously fun to see it happen.
Wildfire is located in the Tysons Galleria.