This photo perfectly sums up my night at Flight, DC’s newest wine bar in Chinatown. From the moment I stepped through the door, I was seduced by the simple, yet sophisticated amber-washed interior. So seduced that I forgot to take enough photos of the amazing food and wine. Sometimes drink writing is harder than it looks.
Luckily I snapped a photo of the tomato soup cake before we devoured it and drank all the madeira. I’m sure you’re a little curious, just like I was, as to what exactly tomato soup cake is. Put simply, think carrot cake only made with a can of tomato soup instead. But that just doesn’t do it justice. I was with a professed carrot cake hater who went crazy for it. I did too, of course. It’s spiced and sweet like carrot cake, but with a great tomato zing to it.
Spicy, sweet, a little fruity? Sounds like a perfect match for a glass of madeira. And hats off to Mike behind the bar for the awesome recommendation. If you could bottle nostalgia, that’s exactly what madeira is to me. I first had it at St John Bread and Wine in London, Fergus Henderson’s mecca of all things snout to tail. There they serve it with a slice of sponge cake. A simple, perfect combo that is, legend has it, Fergus’ favorite mid-morning snack (no wonder I love that guy so much). The only thing that’s more UK to me than madeira and cake is Tony C’s distilled terroir at 69 Colebrooke Row or drinking a cheap, cheap cup of tea to stave off the freezing Hebridean winds. But I’m getting off topic.
If you haven’t tried it before, madeira is a sweet, acidic style of fortified wine, though dry styles do exist. Madeira is made by an unusual aging process that was discovered by a happy accident during the Age of Exploration. Fortified wines, particularly sherry, port and madeira, fueled the Age of Exploration like nothing else. No ship set sail without a barrel on board. As you can imagine, it wasn’t easy to convince sailors to leave home for months or years at a time without something to drink. But beer and wine would spoil, so clever winemakers in Portugal discovered that the addition of a small amount of distilled alcohol was a cheap way to preserve wines during long voyages. But madeira was special, even the most robustly fortified sherries and ports would spoil in the sweltering heat below deck of the ships bound for the long voyage to the East Indies, except madeira. Somehow the prolonged exposure to heat and resulting oxidation changed and enhanced the flavor into the beautifully bright and sweet wine we know today. It didn’t take long for winemakers in the port of Madeira, Portugal to discover this and a new style of wine was created.
Like all things nautical, madeira took on a prominent role in English culture as well as early colonial American culture. It was an essential ingredient in most colonial-era punch recipes call for madeira, including Benjamin Franklin’s famous recipe. Though it’s since fallen into obscurity, which is a shame since it goes so well with breakfast, and cocktails, and trips to London, and gifts to your favorite drink writer. But for our purposes, let’s just say it pairs really, really well with the tomato soup cake at Flight
To me a good wine bar should be all about pairings. I’ve had great wines before, but it’s not every day that I get to try greats wines with a menu specifically designed to pair with them. And that’s exactly what chef Bradley Curtis’ team at Flight does so well. Formerly of DGS, Zaytinya, and Graffiato, Brad’s menu is killing it with a certain New England flair that sucked this Rhode Island boy right in. Moxie-braised beef ribs, brown bread basket, Boston baked dinner? Yes, please, to all of that.
Especially the “fish” & chips, aka the best fish and chips I’ve ever had. Why “fish”? Because it’s an entirely untraditional variation that includes lacto-fermented chips (best french fries ever!) and the filets of fresh anchovies. If that wasn’t enough, Brad’s team tops everything with the edible, fried anchovy skeleton. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to go back to the doughy, fried mess that is most fish & chips again (maybe I’m not that nostalgic for London after all). Especially after pairing this with a crisp assyrtiko from Santorini, Greece that has a citrusy, sea breeze finish that would put the most savory manzanillas to shame. Wines to pair with fish & chips, who knew? Crazy good job, Flight.
Other things to look for on the menu are the squash dolmades. Each ingredient is prepared separately, so the grape leaves stay warm and soft and the rice stays a little firm and doesn’t turn to mush (I dated a greek girl for four years and never liked dolmades; if only her family made them like these!). The little bit of sweetness from the squash pairs really well with the demisec riesling from the Niersteiner Oelberg vineyard.
If the tomato soup cake isn’t enough, cap your evening with the poached pear and cardamom gelato and pair it with the Bodegas Barbadillo palo cortado. Nutty, sweet, spicy, one of the best pairings of the evening and we ordered it completely by accident (good things happen when I force sherry on people, apparently).
All in all, I was completely floored by Flight. Everything from the smart menu, the great wine selection, and the friendly, knowledgable staff all makes for a perfect pairing.