2011: Sip, Taste.
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“It’s exciting to see the food go out; individually plated for each person. It’s fun to pour 50, 60 beers at a time and see the beer actually form to the way it’s supposed to be drunk rather than pouring a beer and drinking it as fast as you can. People are actually enjoying, sip by sip. Sip, taste, sip, taste,” says Neuhasuser passionately.
A long history of patient and communal dining precedes our current state of eat and run that we as diners have slowly and subversively been coerced into participating in. Food has become, to most of us, something to the equivalent of gasoline where we consume because we have to, because we’re hungry and it’s annoying. The dinners are meant to remedy this; to give people the opportunity to literally slow down. If only for just the evening.
“Slow is kind of an issue,” says Formoli. “The whole event is four hours long sometimes. I think everybody’s so used to when we eat, that we give ourselves thirty minutes even if we go out. We’re losing the whole perception of what it means.”
It’s easy to get wrapped up in the colorful and clean plates of Formoli and Ngo who present food in a way that speaks of artistry and care. Each chef has their own unique style; Ngo a master of sushi and Asian cuisine with a background at The Kitchen working under Randall Selland, and Formoli whose flavors, colors and execution are downright head-spinning. Collaborative dishes are the key here and results like squid ink pasta with a Raging Bitch beer cream sauce and marinated baby octopus begin as sketches by one chef in the beginning and then are elaborated on in the kitchen later. And although the focus may appear to be the food, it’s really the beer that is the star at these dinners and both chefs will be the first to tell you that.
Red Lotus and Formoli’s Bistro Slow Beer Movement Dinners
Sip, Taste. Red Lotus and Formoli’s Bistro Slow Beer Movement Dinners,
June 2011 Vhcle Magazine Issue 6, Life
A slow clap begins in the restaurant, quiet and subtle at first. Maybe you don’t hear it over the forks and plates percussively clinking and touching. It builds and cannot be ignored, and then the restaurant is overtaken by the applause that has picked up and is now something reminiscent of fanfare. The focus shifts to a tall, bearded man with suspenders and a wax-tipped mustache. The crowd that had been electric with energy is now all settled in. They wait for Mark Neuhauser, bar manager of Red Lotus and co-conspirator of the Slow Beer Movement Dinners, to speak.
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Guests slowing down and enjoying their evening at Formoli's Bistro
Cucumber with a fava been puree, heirloom cherry tomatoes, house made pancetta and micro greens.
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“Welcome to tonight’s Slow Beer Movement Dinner. We’re ready to wow you,” announces Neuhauser.
It’s a sleepy Monday night in East Sacramento as the cars pass the tiny, recessed Formoli’s Bistro that sits a stone’s throw away from the posh McKinley Park housing row. A busy week has begun for many and these passengers might have pizzas on the seat or groceries in the trunk; dinner approaches. But for the sixty-odd occupants crammed wall to wall inside Formoli’s Bistro, there’s little effort to cure their growling stomachs. Tonight the buzzing crowd of foodies and local industry folk are leaving that up to two very talented chefs; Billy Ngo and Aimal Formoli.
Both chefs are celebrated in Sacramento and beyond for their talents, and each have backgrounds in French training that have set that foundation. In fact, the two were students training together at the California Culinary Academy of San Francisco at the same time, and graduated in 2004 together. Afterwards, they returned to Sacramento where each took somewhat different paths, working in various kitchens around town before finally opening up restaurants of their own.
Formoli built a strong following at Formoli’s Bistro with his wife Suzanne Ricci, and Ngo opened his first restaurant, the chic Japanese restaurant Kru. Ngo’s Red Lotus Kitchen and Bar would come later in 2010 and become the restaurant involved in the Slow Beer Movement Dinners. The two had already met in Sacramento before they attended CCA together, so their friendship was only further solidified by the respect they gained for each other’s cooking during their experience together in San Francisco. At that time, the thought might or might not have crossed their minds, but the future would find them cooking in each other’s kitchens for crowds of excited diners.
The concept for the Slow Beer Movement Dinners was truly a collaborative process between Ngo, Formoli, Neuhauser and Ricci. The two chefs had already “been planning to do some kind of a dinner event; something monthly”. But it wasn’t until Neuhauser came into the picture that the idea really took shape.
“Ever since [Mark] took over the bar management position, he started educating me about beers and I started getting excited about it,” says Ngo.
The group knew that wine dinners and sake dinners were already being done and they wanted to do something different. For Ricci, she knew the idea wouldn’t be too big a risk.
“I think beer education is starting to become just as popular as people are with wine drinking,”  
It all made sense to turn the focus to beer pairing. Beer drinkers were passing up the watered-down mainstream and reaching for the hoppy, complex flavors of microbrews and imports. With this growing excitement for artisan beers, the Slow Beer Movement crew wanted to be involved in taking it to the masses and sharing their passion.
“The concept came from putting local chefs and local breweries together and involving people in the whole process,” says Formoli. “Putting all that together and making people that attend involved and showing them the whole thing.”  
Formoli says that the dinners are being used as a “teaching tool” as well, and there are six courses to study here. Ricci chimes in that it's more of a “crash course” really, with guests being introduced to a new dish each time with a different beer to accompany it. And though crash course might imply quickness, these dinners are truly focused on taking the time to savor the food and focus on the beer pairing and how one enhances the other. For Neuhauser, this is the best part.
“It’s about the beers, not just the food,” says Ngo. “The majority of it is…we sit down with Mark when we figure out the beers. We pick a beer and figure out a dish for that and I’ll give [Aimal] my suggestions of what I think should go with that and he does the same with my three dishes. It all works together.”
Eruptions of noise are intermittent; a quiet falling over the mouths of guests only to savor and enjoy what’s been lovingly prepared and set in front of them. Ricci moves throughout the crowd and the kitchen, conducting the evening flawlessly with her award winning wait staff. The dinners, which fall on the third Monday of each month, alternate between Formli’s Bistro and Ngo’s Red Lotus Kitchen and Bar located in the Sutter District in midtown Sacramento. June will be Formoli’s turn to host and the Lotus staff looks forward to being able to eat and drink this time around. Many of Formoli’s and Ngo’s servers have been with them for years, proudly part of the restaurant family. The Slow Beer Movement Dinners have only made this family even larger and they’ve all been an integral part of making the dinners as successful as they’ve been.
Belgian beers, West IPA’s and Anchor Steam Brewing are among the beers that have been featured at the dinners thus far. Heading into their fourth month, many breweries and distributors have already caught wind of the dinners and want in. Neuhasuer’s been in touch with many of the local breweries and is in the process of getting them involved in future dinners. There’s great potential for collaborating with locals like Brew It Up!, Rubicon and Sudwerks who all make high quality suds and are heavily active in the Sacramento food and beverage community. Call it slow, but the idea sure is picking up speed.
“We’re slowly getting people involved and we’re slowly getting people to realize that there’s an experience with eating and beer,” says Neuhauser. “When you say slow so many times, you actually realize that we could slowly start a beer movement here in Sacramento.”
May the tortoise win the race.
01 Mark Neuhauser showing off Mission Brewing Company's Shipwreck Double IPA
02 Wipeout IPA, poured to perfection.
Adam Saake resides in the city of Sacramento, CA where he spends his days baking scones and his nights on the roam. A beer drinking, food eating, wine enthusiast who is a food and entertainment writer for Submerge magazine. This artsy fartsy gentlemen is surely bon vivant.  He also likes naps and a good drum beat. Follow his every move on Twitter, @HOTSAAKE.
Read other articles by Adam Saake
Nicholas Wray is an urban photographer originally from Cincinatti, OH, now based in Sacramento, CA. He enjoys outdoor activities, cigars, people and good beer. See more of his work at:
This article can be found with more exclusive photos on p34 in Issue 6 of Vhcle Magazine.