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Nibbles and Sips Around Town – April 15, 2014

Jordan Wright
April 15, 2014
all photo credit to Jordan Wright
Special to DC Metro Theater ArtsBroadway Stars, and LocalKicks 
 

In Which We Visit Union Market, Bidwell, the Launchology Series and Sample Nibbles and Sips From Zaytinya’s Upcoming Greek Easter Festival 

Union Market DC

Union Market DC

The Craveable Union Market

The greengrocer's stall at Union Market

The greengrocer’s stall at Union Market

There are many things to lure the foodie to Union Market, the 140-year old recently renovated food hall that has been luring the food adventurer with its interesting jumble of cute stalls, that house a bespoke butcher, a juicery, bakers, kitchenware, a pickle maker and eclectic eateries.

Harvey's Market

Harvey’s Market

As a chef I have often been stymied by our area’s lack of good butchers and fishmongers.  Where does the home cook go to find the ingredients necessary to replicate the sort of dishes they’ve had while dining out.  For instance, where can you buy pork belly, guanciale, high quality calf’s liver and freshly cut veal shanks for home use?  Try George Lesznar’s Harvey’s Market, a family owned business since 1931.

Buffalo & Bergen at Union Market

Buffalo & Bergen at Union Market

Who sells knishes fresh made bagels and New York style egg creams? Buffalo & Bergen’s throwback diner by Gina Chersevani is right here with a selection of fine crafted cocktails by the self-appointed ‘mixtress’.

Got a hankering for clams, oysters, shrimp or oyster chowder made with Benton’s bacon?  Pull up a stool at the Rappahannock Oyster Bar for some of Travis and Ryan Croxton’s locally raised oysters and seafood specialties.

Porketta sandwich at Red Apron

“Porkstrami” sandwich at Red Apron

Craving charcuterie or home made corned beef?  Stroll over to Nathan Anda’s Red Apron stall for a “porkstrami” sandwich or a stacked muffaletta and a pint of locally brewed suds.

Wondering who is fermenting their own pickles?  Snag some kosher style pickles and kraut at Number 1 Sons who prepare kale kimchi, caraway studded sauerkraut and an assortment of fabulous pickles.

Toki Underground chef James Wozniuk at Union Market

Toki Underground chef James Wozniuk at Union Market

Can’t wait for Erik Bruner-Yang’s H Street market to open?  Stop in at Toki Underground’s pop-up where Chef James Wozniuk has a few sit-down booths for dishes like ba vong and Khmer lemongrass grilled chicken with rice vermicelli.

On June 14th the market kicks off its third annual ‘Sunday Supper’ series featuring a star-studded lineup of the country’s finest chefs and mixologists including Jose Garces, Spike Gjerde, Emily Luchetti, Nick Stefanelli, John Mooney, Aggie Chin, Jeremiah Langhorne, Rob Duncan, Santosh Tiptur, and Derek Brown.  For tickets and info contact Evelyn Hawkins at 301 347-3298 ehawkins@edens.com.

Bidwell at Union Market

The marble bar at Bidwell

The marble bar at Bidwell

Bidwell is the Union Market’s 120-seat anchor restaurant and high hopes were for it to reflect the market’s philosophy for locally grown produce and in-house made ingredients prepared by a locally known chef – - and that it does.

Known to DC diners from his days at Red Sage and Raku, chef/owner John Mooney signed on early to the project, securing the building’s vast rooftop to grow herbs, fruits and vegetables using “aeroponic” gardening.  Last month I saw the beginnings of what promises to be an enormous garden where towers of plants will grow vertically.  For now the precious seedlings start life in tiny pots in a back storage area strung with 24-hour grow lights.  Mooney’s dedication to rooftop gardening that employs a system based on water, air and sunlight was honed over the years when as restaurant consultant for India’s Taj Hotel Group, he opened PURE by Michel Nischan, the country’s first organic restaurant.  The well-traveled chef, whose love of cross-cultural cuisine is reflected in his latest restaurant, also owns Bell, Book & Candle in New York’s hip West Village.

Escargots roasted with parsley butter and Yukon Gold potatoes

Escargots roasted with parsley butter and Yukon Gold potatoes

The first thing you notice about Bidwell is its character.  It is modern.  So many are these days with that 50’s living room style that seems to be ubiquitously punctuated with spice orange accents.  But here historic details are incorporated – - subway tiles, reclaimed wood and Italian marble – - giving the place an air of coziness.  The large rectangular open concept room has an all-glass front that overlooks the outdoor dining.  At the far end beyond the bar is an open kitchen with dining counter – - a perfect spot to view the organized chaos of the kitchen, and where my amiable dining partner and I had front row seats to all the action.

At the Chet's table with Chef de Cuisine Inez Raoul

At the Chet’s table with Chef de Cuisine Ines Campoamor

Chef de Cuisine Ines Campoamor was in full command of the kitchen when we arrived.  She is a whirlwind of efficiency, charm and energy who made a point of explaining every dish as it arrived.  Admittedly we had a hard time selecting from all the alluring ‘Shared Bites’ and ‘Small Plates’ categories, so we ordered quite a few – - just to cover our bases, don’t you know.

Red and Golden Beet Salad with melted Burrata

Red and Golden Beet Salad with melted Burrata

Most outweighed their plebian descriptions far exceeding what we expected.   Drunken Bean Dip was one such starter that didn’t sound particularly special, but we were urged to try it and we were glad we did.  It uses Pork Slap Beer that rounds out the flavors and there’s an option to add the in-house made chorizo.  I suggest you do.

Crispy Fried Oysters

Crispy Fried Oysters

We followed with sustainably raised Old Salt oysters that are prepared two different ways.  We went back and forth on which to choose.  But why not try both?  Crispy Fried Oysters with green chile buttermilk dressing and Roasted Oysters with garlic butter, bacon and a parmesan crust topped with ribbons of frizzled celery root.  We had to throw in the towel and call it a tie.  You can decide for yourself.

Marinated Fluke Sashimi

Marinated Fluke Sashimi

For a delicate sashimi you can do no better than the Marinated Fluke Sashimi with citrus, a hint of jalapeno and chopped herbs.  You’ll find herbs get star billing at Bidwell and are tucked into nearly every dish including, as you might expect, escargots with the de rigeur soupçon of Pernod, giving us pause to reflect that all was right with the world, if only as a fleeting illusion.

Irish American Onion Soup

Irish American Onion Soup

Pacing ourselves not at all, we dove headlong into the Irish American Onion Soup shingled with Knockamore smoked Irish Cheddar.  I loved this version that uses mushroom broth as its base, and the unusual smoky cheddar, so hard to find, must be sourced from an unnamed shop in New York City.

A playful dessert from Bidwell

A playful dessert from Bidwell

For the destination dish, I suggest planning an entire visit around the Lobster Tacos.  Better than lobster rolls, (Hold the bread, Downeasters!) they’re served on a soft taco with avocado-tomatillo salsa, and merit a plateful.  Not so exciting was the “Gin & Tonic” Verlasso Salmon entrée.  Dry as a bone after marinating for several hours before being hash-tag grilled.  Poor fish.  He could have used a lot less attention and a lot more care.  A temporary setback which we immediately rectified with a root beer float and Ines’s playful dessert of brownies, ice cream cookie sandwiches and meringues.  We were the boss of the goat’s milk caramel sauce in a baby squeeze bottle.  http://unionmarketdc.com/market/artisans/bidwell/

The Launchology Series at The Howard Theatre 

The Launchology Series at the Howard Theatre

The Launchology Series at the Howard Theatre

In early April industree began presenting a fascinating insider look at the restaurant business with its ‘Launchology Series’.  Promising “candid conversations, unfiltered advice and real stories from industry leaders”, all sessions are held at the Howard Theatre.  Earlier this month I attended the second in the series of four.  As a former restaurant owner, I was quite impressed to hear from a panel that pulled no punches and were unflinchingly honest about their experiences in the hospitality industry.

“We originally came up with the concept for Launchology as a result of one of the original speaker series events we hosted,” said Alisia Kleinmann, founder of industree.  “Following that event, we were inundated with so many questions from members in the industry like, ‘How do I get a loan and a space?  I want to go brick and mortar but don’t know how?  How can we hire and keep great people?’ among other critical questions.  So we thought, lets put on a series that explains everything that members in the industry need to know from people who have actually done it all – and not just any people, but some of the best in the business.  And like our speaker series, we aim to keep it real.  The advice, stories and insight our panelists can give to the next generation may not always paint a pretty picture, but we want them to understand exactly what they are getting into, and the best way to go about accomplishing their plans and goals.”

Local entrepreneurs who offered samples of their wares offered a quick breakfast.  Among them Krave Jerky showed off their high protein, all-natural line of turkey, pork and beef jerky for those on the go; Dolci Gelati served up some cold treats – Pomegranate Honeydew and Cherry Blossom were especially welcomed; and Bub and Pop’s gave out scrumptiously juicy beef brisket on a bun.  I took a seat across from a young woman whose husband was a chef with plans to open a restaurant in DC.  He had sent her as his proxy.

And then it was time to get down to business.  The panel consisted of Kathy Hollinger, President of the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington (RAMW); Thomas Dailey, Potomac Construction Services who has built out a number of restaurants in our area; Jeff Black, Black Restaurant Group; Peter Hapstak of HapstakDemetriou+; Russell Stillwell of Next Step Design; Conan O’Sullivan of SONA Creamery; public relations maven, Jennifer Motruk Loy and Tim Ma of Water & Wall and Maple Avenue Restaurant.  Washington Post Food Writer, Tim Carman, who will moderate all the discussions, kicked off the questioning.

Here are a few pearls of wisdom heard at this session.

On choosing a space:

  • Tim Ma – Try to get an existing space that has already gone through the permits applications.
  • Hapstak – Some spaces don’t want to be restaurants.  The costs of installing the exhausts can be very expensive.

On keeping a project on budget:

  • Stillwell – It’s important to do checks as you move along.  At a certain point it’s important to put your pencils down and just get it done.  At the end of the day you just have to hit those numbers for your client.

On restaurant and bar regulations:

  • Hollinger – It’s been crazy in the year and a half I’ve been President.  Everyone is being slammed across the board.  It feels volatile.  Restaurants are being targeted, though I don’t feel these [city] agencies are sophisticated enough to have a strategy.
  • Black – Virginia is tougher than DC.  Even if we do things according to code we can get a rogue inspector that may insist on something that isn’t even in the code.  You have to eat your pride to make sure your project doesn’t go off the rails.

On interior design:

  • Hapstak – We are moving away from the Brooklyn hipster thing and the reclaimed wood thing.
  • Loy – Our design sensibilities have changed.  You can now get advanced materials that look like they’ve come off a barn.

On efficient kitchen design:

  • Hapstak – Our greatest resource is Google.
  • Black – One of my favorite expressions is, “I pay for every step my employees take.  If they take an extra step I lose money.”  Design, time and money balance with food and scale.

On new or used equipment:

  • Ma – Not for refrigeration!  It’s like one year and done!

On opening a new restaurant:

  • Black – Restaurateurs are perpetually optimistic and eternally pessimistic.  Before you open a restaurant you should go to your ANC meetings to know what your customers want.  They’re all very different and have power over your liquor license. You don’t want to sign a lease that you can’t get out of if you don’t get your liquor license.
  • Hollinger – I think the ANCs [Advisory Neighborhood Commission] and BIDs [Business Improvement District] are much more powerful than any of the agencies.  We try to work with all of them and create and cultivate those relationships.

For tickets and information on the remaining sessions on April 22nd and May 13th visit www.DCindustree.com.

Greek Easter at Zaytinya 

Zaytinya will hold their annual and ever-popular two-week festival from April 20th till Greek Orthodox Easter on May 3rd.   Chef/Owner, Jose Andres, and Head Chef, Michael Costa have created a splendid new menu for the Lenten season with seasonal dishes that incorporate authentic Mediterranean ingredients.

ThinkFoodGroup's Head Mixologist Juan Coronado shows off his Baklava Soda

ThinkFoodGroup’s Head Mixologist Juan Coronado shows off his Baklava Soda

Last week we sampled them along with mixologist, Juan Coronado’s specialty cocktail he calls “Mellow Yiayia” made with rye, honey-walnut syrup, lemon juice and St. Elizabeth’s Allspice Dram.  Yia Yia as you may know is an affectionate term for grandmother.  I’m sure even my Danish grandmother would have loved this.  Coronado has also concocted a Baklava Soda, which is perfect for mixing with bourbon or rum.  The fizzy mixer is made from honey, black walnut syrup, lemon juice and cinnamon.

Lobster Avgolemono for Zaytinya's Greek Easter festival

Lobster Avgolemono for Zaytinya’s Greek Easter festival

To culminate the celebration, on Saturday, May 3rd from 11:30am to 4pm, Zaytinya will host Agora, its annual Greek outdoor market event.  Agora introduces guests to unique Greek artisanal products, wines and more.  The free festival includes live music, Spartan warriors, and complimentary loukamades.  www.Zaytinya.com.

Maroulosalata a housemade fresh myzithra cheese with brown butter hazelnuts and Earth N Eats greens

Maroulosalata a housemade fresh myzithra cheese with brown butter hazelnuts and Earth N Eats greens

 

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Official Launch of the City of Alexandria’s War of 1812 Bicentennial Commemoration

Jordan Wright
April 10, 2014
Special to The Alexandria Times
 

Photo credit to City of Alexandria staff

Photo credit to City of Alexandria staff

The British are coming!  The British are coming!  It’s been 200 years since the British Royal Navy invaded the Port of Alexandria, but this time they’ll be here by invitation.

As event organizer and resident, Peter Pennington explains, “The festival really commemorates two things. The 1814 war, which was vital to the founding of the U. S as one country, and secondly the fact that enemies can become the firmest of friends!”

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World premiered in 2003 and received 10 nominations for Academy Awards, including best picture. It was directed and co-written by celebrated Australian director Peter Weir, famous for movies The Truman Show and Dead Poets Society. The movie was drawn from the 20-volume series of seafaring novels by Patrick OBrian, following the exploits of Captain Jack Aubrey [Russell Crowe] and his close friend, surgeon Stephen Maturin [Paul Bettany]. - Photo credit to 20th Century Fox, Miramax Films and Universal Studios

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World premiered in 2003 and received 10 nominations for Academy Awards, including best picture. It was directed and co-written by celebrated Australian director Peter Weir, famous for movies The Truman Show and Dead Poets Society. The movie was drawn from the 20-volume series of seafaring novels by Patrick OBrian, following the exploits of Captain Jack Aubrey [Russell Crowe] and his close friend, surgeon Stephen Maturin [Paul Bettany]. – Photo credit to 20th Century Fox, Miramax Films and Universal Studios

To kick off Alexandria’s Bicentennial Commemoration of the War of 1812 organizers are holding a “Film Gala” in the newly restored Old Town Theater.  The fundraiser, which will donate part of its proceeds to the Wounded Warrior Project as well as the British equivalent Help for Heroes, will begin with a cocktail reception to be followed by a screening of the Oscar-winning naval classic Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World starring Russell Crowe.  A pre-screening discussion about the shooting of the film will include a talk by Kyle Dalton, who worked on the replica HMS Surprise, the 18th Century Royal Navy frigate used in the movie.  Special guest USMC Sergeant Brendan O’Toole, the 2007 T. C. Williams High School grad who recently ran 3,600 miles across the country to raise funds for the Wounded Warriors, will speak about the charity.  On display will be some of the costumes from the film along with naval artifacts of the period that have been provided by local Alexandria museums.

Alexandria resident Brendan O'Toole carries a U.S. flag during his run through West Texas in honor of the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing earlier - Photo by Tim Dwyer

Alexandria resident Brendan O’Toole carries a U.S. flag during his run through West Texas in honor of the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing earlier – Photo by Tim Dwyer

Now you might think after torching our Nation’s Capitol and burning down the Executive Mansion in 1814, then several days later storming Alexandria’s harbor and occupying our city, that we wouldn’t be particularly pleased to roll out the red carpet and hoist up the Union Jack for the British Royal Navy.  But indeed we will.  We have a good deal to be grateful for, not least of all that their soldiers didn’t burn down our city.  That most of our historic buildings are still intact is due to a capitulation pact made between the invading British troops and Alexandria’s Common Council who reluctantly granted the marauders free rein to clean out the city’s storehouses of spirits, tobacco, armaments and tasty comestibles, taking with them twenty-one ships from our fair harbor.

Edward Stabler sold to a variety of city and country residents – from Martha Washington to Robert E. Lee, the local doctor to the local farmer.  The typical products Stabler sold included medicine, farm and garden equipment, surgical instruments, dental equipment, soap, perfume, Buffalo and Bedford mineral water, cigars, window glass, paint and varnish, artists’ supplies, combs and brushes.  Much of the medicine he sold was created on-site, using plant and herb materials. - Photo Credit: Ben Fink

Edward Stabler sold to a variety of city and country residents – from Martha Washington to Robert E. Lee, the local doctor to the local farmer. The typical products Stabler sold included medicine, farm and garden equipment, surgical instruments, dental equipment, soap, perfume, Buffalo and Bedford mineral water, cigars, window glass, paint and varnish, artists’ supplies, combs and brushes. Much of the medicine he sold was created on-site, using plant and herb materials. – Photo Credit: Ben Fink

Apothecary owner Edward Stabler, whose pharmacy still stands, described the surprise incursion like this, “Their conduct was respectful and decorous; and instead of that exultation and triumph which expands the heart of a soldier when he encounters and overcomes a force like his own, these [men] were evidently dejected and adverse to what they were doing.”

But they are not entirely off the hook.  Ever since last December when an invitational challenge from Mayor Bill Euille was tendered to the British Royal Navy, the city has been planning a myriad of activities.  Representatives of the British Defence staff, led by Royal Marine Major-General Buster Howes, CB OBE, will participate in the sporting events.

Throughout the spring and summer there will be lectures sponsored by the Alexandria Historical Society, boat tours on the Potomac, and living history events culminating with a large outdoor festival on the final weekend in August when both a cricket match and a yacht race under sail up the Potomac River will take place.  The race will feature the captains of the British team competing against the Old Dominion Boat Club who will represent the city.

Some events are ticketed.  To purchase tickets to the Film Gala visit https://shop.alexandriava.gov/ For information on all other events go to www.visitalexandriava.com/1812.

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The Thousandth Night – MetroStage

Jordan Wright
April 6, 2014
Special to The Alexandria Times
 

Marcus

Marcus

How would you like to be a French gendarme? In Carol Wolf’s whirligig of a play The Thousandth Night, the audience is addressed as such by Guy de Bonheur, a hapless Frenchman separated from a roving troupe of performers and caught up in the web of World War II and the Nazi occupation of France. The production is the first of a duet of In Rep one-man shows at MetroStage and a celebration of its 30th anniversary.

It is 1943 at a railway station, 50 miles outside of Paris, and Guy is alone having lost his fellow performers to the clutches of the German officers.  He is fighting for his life, trying to convince the local constabulary to let him board a train to spirit him away from the Nazis and the ultimate penalty – - a trip to a death camp.  He carries a single suitcase filled with the troupe’s props.

The premise of this play is promising.  Guy must convince the police he is a harmless actor, a man whose life’s work is only to entertain.  But the Third Reich’s enforcers believe his work to be “subversive”, and that he is a saboteur.  To convince them otherwise and gain his freedom he reenacts the troupe’s performances to the French police in hopes they will not turn him over to the authorities.  To this end Guy performs 38 separate characters in a series of plays from the classic stories of “The Arabian Nights: Tales From a Thousand and One Nights”.

As Guy (Marcus Kyd) segues from donkey, to sultan to wife and baker, to hunchback, dead body and soldier in the first tale, he dons different hats and scarves in order to depict the separate characters.  Unfortunately the pathos of the play is lost in schtick and campy banalities – talking hats as puppets and women speaking with a swishy effeminacy – the only drama a series of trains arriving at the station with ever more SS officers hunting down the “saboteurs”.  The stories are stale and the characters trivialized, filled with goofy genies, doomed lovers and feisty sultans.  Kyd tries his damnedest to pull it off, but it just doesn’t work.

Not even James Kronzer’s spectacular set design of a full-stage train station replete with dusty windows and period architecture, Alexander Keen’s clever lighting using searchlights and silhouettes of moving trains, or Robert Garner’s electrifying sound design, can bail this one out.

Through May 18th at 1201 North Royal Street, Alexandria, 22314.  For tickets and information visit www.metrostage.org.

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Camp David – Arena Stage

Jordan Wright
April 4, 2014
Special to The Alexandria Times
 

(L to R) Ron Rifkin as Menachem Begin, Richard Thomas as Jimmy Carter and Khaled Nabawy as Anwar Sadat - Photo by Teresa Wood.

(L to R) Ron Rifkin as Menachem Begin, Richard Thomas as Jimmy Carter and Khaled Nabawy as Anwar Sadat – Photo by Teresa Wood.

Theater history was made Thursday night at Arena Stage’s premiere of Camp David when former U. S. President Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn Carter, were in attendance. Little known is the fact that it has taken thirty years for TV Producer and former White House Communications Director in the Carter administration, Gerald Rafshoon, to convince Carter to give his permission to do this play.

Mideast History 101 – In September of 1978 Menachem Begin, Prime Minister of Israel, Anwar Sadat, President of Egypt, and Jimmy Carter met at Camp David, the presidential retreat in Maryland’s scenic Catoctin Mountains.  For thirteen harrowing and contentious days and nights as the world waited with bated breath, the three men attempted to iron out a treaty to bring peace to the Middle East.  It is important to note that the Camp David Accords have stood the test of time.

Camp David is playwright Lawrence Wright’s fictionalization of this historic meeting – an intellectual struggle for power wrapped in a clash of egos.  A fourth character is present among the men, that of Rosalynn Carter (Hallie Foote) – - an important figure in the construct who brings Southern charm and levity to the play’s riveting tension.

(L to R) Hallie Foote as Rosalynn Carter and Ron Rifkin as Menachem Begin - Photo by Teresa Wood.

(L to R) Hallie Foote as Rosalynn Carter and Ron Rifkin as Menachem Begin – Photo by Teresa Wood.

The production opens with a graphic video reminder of the four wars that raged between Egypt and Israel within a 30-year time frame.  Using a combination of news footage and photos to depict the horrors of those wars and their subsequent effect on our oil prices as a result of Mid-East conflicts, serves to remind us of our investment in peace and stability in this tumultuous region.

Richard Thomas plays Carter.  Thomas may perhaps, be best known for his long-running role as John-Boy in The Waltons.  Since those days he has performed in dozens of film and television roles as a dramatic actor and can currently be seen on the much-acclaimed FX series The Americans.  Thomas’ Carter is a spot on depiction of the folksy, homespun Southern politician with the instincts of a Coonhound treeing a possum.  (Carter has since revealed that before the talks he had studied a weighty briefing on both Begin’s and Sadat’s personalities.)  He was savvy enough to know when to press them and when to back off.

Richard Thomas as Jimmy Carter - Photo by Teresa Wood.

Richard Thomas as Jimmy Carter – Photo by Teresa Wood.

Director Molly Smith shows a stroke of brilliance by casting one of Egypt’s leading actors, Khaled Nabawy, as Sadat.  Nabawy plays him with a high-minded and sophisticated air.  “Whatever you decide I will sign,” Sadat says agreeably.  “I am flexible on everything except land and sovereignty.”  Sadat has brought along a copy of the United Nations Security Council Resolution 242 that had been agreed to and signed in 1967.  It called for Israel to retreat from occupied lands, compensate for lost properties, return natural resources, grant access to holy places, terminate Arab boycotts and sign a treaty on non-proliferation.  Begin tears it in half.  Carter insists he stick to it as the basis for their talks.

Begin (Ron Rifkin) proves to be as intransigent as a mule, quibbling over formalities and procedural points like a schoolboy.  He doesn’t trust Carter or Sadat.  “You have a way of turning words upside down,” Carter accuses him.  But Begin is a tough negotiator, there to represent his people’s interests.  “One third of all the Jews in the world were annihilated in my generation,” he says.  And as each man calls out to his own God, Muslim, Jewish and Christian, for advice and succor, Carter reminds them,  “The future doesn’t have to be like the past.”

Hallie Foote as Rosalynn Carter, Richard Thomas as Jimmy Carter and Khaled Nabawy as Anwar Sadat with Will Beckstrom and Will Hayes -  Photo by Teresa Wood.

Hallie Foote as Rosalynn Carter, Richard Thomas as Jimmy Carter and Khaled Nabawy as Anwar Sadat with Will Beckstrom and Will Hayes – Photo by Teresa Wood.

Set Designer Walt Spangler uses old-growth trees in a mountain setting with a rustic cottage off to one side.  A drop section in the stage floor changes the scene, alternating between patio chairs and log-hewn garden benches, keeping the focus on the actors and the constantly shifting dynamics, while Lighting Designer Pat Collins uses sunrises and sunsets helps us to count the days.

Highly recommended.

Through May 4th at Arena Stage, 1101 Sixth St., SE, Washington, DC 20024.  For tickets and information on performance times and dates call 202 488-3300 or visit www.ArenaStage.org.

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Nibbles and Sips Around Town – March 30th 2014

Jordan Wright
March 16, 2014
Special to DC Metro Theater ArtsBroadway Stars, and LocalKicks 

City Tap House, The Partisan, Malmaison, Jaleo Brunch, Peach Brandy at Mount Vernon

Brunch before the Matinee

Crystal City Jaleo

Crystal City Jaleo

On an unseasonably warm Sunday we tried out the new brunch menu at Jaleo.  We chose the Crystal City location on the same block as Synetic Theater.  Chef Ramón Martínez, Jaleo’s Executive Chef, has put together an appealing selection of both classic Spanish dishes and some newer creations with some incorporating Andres’ new line of Spanish foods that we wrote about last December.

Sweet-soaked Spanish Toast with Carmelized Bananas and rum whipped cream at Jaleo

Sweet-soaked Spanish Toast with Carmelized Bananas and rum whipped cream at Jaleo

I hadn’t been in the restaurant in the daytime before (Does that tell you something about my life?) and it was gorgeous.  Sun streamed in through the two-story windows overlooking Crystal Drive, and all seemed right with the world.

Just writing about these fabulous dishes is causing me to delicately drool on my well-worn keyboard.  Here’s what we loved.

Two types of Pan de Cristal - with smoked salmon or Spanish sardines

Two types of Pan de Cristal – with smoked salmon or Spanish sardines

Pan de Cristal on crispbread served two ways – - fresh tomato and Spanish sardines in olive oil and smoked salmon with minced hard-cooked egg, goat cheese and capers.  Huevos Estrellados – organic fried eggs and fried potatoes.  You can add on jamón ibérico or creamy sea urchin if you like.  The sea urchin won out.

Huevos Estrellados with Sea Urchin

Huevos Estrellados with Sea Urchin

Huevos a la ‘Angel Muro’, eggs with toasted bread ‘Angel Muro style’ with piquillo confit and acorn-fed ham – - the Spanish version of what we fondly call Toad-in-the-Hole.  And Huevos a la Cubana, sautéed rice served with tomato, fried egg and Ibérico pork belly.

Jaleo's Spinach, Pine Nut and Raisin Salad

Jaleo’s Spinach, Pine Nut and Raisin Salad

All in the name of research, of course.  But do you think we stopped there?  Try the churros for dessert.  They’re served with a frothy cup of hot chocolate for dunking.

Huevos a la Angel Muro

Huevos a la Angel Muro

Also at all three Jaleo locations till April 13th are these special dishes created just for the Cherry Blossom Festival – - Panceta Confitada con Salsa de Cereza, pork belly confit with cherry sauce; Queso Murcia al Vino Tinto con Mermelada de Cereza y Pan Tostado, ‘the drunken goat’ with Murcia cheese, cherry marmalade with toasted bread; and the Sopa de Frutas Rojas con Helado de Queso, a wild red berry soup with Idiazábal cheese ice cream.

Malmaison – Georgetown’s Hip Hideaway 

Brunch at Malmaison

Brunch at Malmaison

When restaurateur and nightlife entrepreneur Omar Popal took the plunge and opened Malmaison last year he brought a cool Euro vibe to a part of Georgetown that had been sorely neglected for decades.  In an old warehouse on a stretch of K Street tucked under the Whitehurst Freeway, Popal has created a stylish outpost –what is on weekdays a yoga retreat and juice bar + breakfast and lunch spot is by night a spot for hip urbanites to dine and dance to electronica.

The Pastry Basket at Malmaison

The Pastry Basket at Malmaison

The space has a Philippe Starck design feel with contemporary mauve sofas, high ceilings, and jet-black chairs and tables that overlook Georgetown harbor.  In the evening a separate event space turns it into a party fueled by state-of-the-art sound equipment that draws hipsters to nightly dance parties, cultural activities and fashion shows.  Popal strives to cater to all his guests with a coffee bar, juice bar and breakfast, lunch and dinner service, and now Saturday and Sunday brunch.

Omelette with red potatoes at Malmaison

Omelette with red potatoes at Malmaison

On earlier visits I had sampled their most delectable French pastries – especially the macarons, tortes and tarts – and I knew just where to start.  You’ll want to break the fast with a basket of homemade pastries – a flaky, buttery almond croissant, a hefty slice of dense cinnamon swirl bread, blueberry muffin and a tender roll floated in on a cloud, or so it seemed.  A jaunty wakeup call of a cocktail called “Suma Deez”, made with coconut-infused vodka and champagne and rimmed with cocoa powder and coconut flakes was as close as I would get to luxuriating on a tropical isle this winter.

The menu is divided up into salads, crepes, delights, eggs, and chef’s specials – and most selections are well priced, unless you are all in on lump crab cakes or a salad of Maine lobster.  Pricey, but not beyond what’s expected for a menu styled like a five-star hotel’s breakfast offerings.

Lump crab cakes at Malmaison

Lump crab cakes at Malmaison

There are plenty of choices for the granola, green juice and yogurt crowd.  Try the Arugula and Wheat Berry Salad with cranberries, feta and fresh mint, or the Greek yogurt with granola, almonds, walnuts and dried fruits topped with seasonal fruit and honey – - then pair it with Popeye’s Punch, a juice drink of celery, apples, spinach, cantaloupe and lime.  Later jog along the waterfront or rent a kayak at the nearby Thompson’s Boathouse. For the I-worked-my-tail-off-this-week-and-I-earned-it types or the Sunday crossword solvers like myself, there are more divinely decadent offerings.  Piperade (the Basque egg dish made with onions, peppers and tomatoes), smoked salmon, steak frites (the frites fried in duck fat and served with Bearnaise), eggs Benedict, quiche, brioche French toast or sweet crepes to name a few.

Merci, Chef Gerard Pangaud for a lovely brunch!

The Partisan and Red Apron Butcher Open in Former Union Hardware Store 

At The Partisan

At The Partisan

In-house made charcuterie has become all the rage.  Classes on how to cure meat, break down a side of pig, or how to make your own sausage have got everyone’s attention and/or participation.  Add to that the burgeoning market for innovative craft beers, artisanal cocktails and intriguing new wines, and you’ve got The Partisan.  Think about it – - putting these all together in one place and driven by the talents of Red Apron Chef and Butcher Nathan Anda, Executive Chef Ed Witt, Wine Director Brent Kroll, Beer Director Greg Engert, and Cocktail Guru Jeff Faille, is so exciting.

Brett Kroll, Wine Director at The Partisan

Brett Kroll, Wine Director at The Partisan

Anda’s Red Apron Butcher is no stranger to shoppers at the Dupont Circle and Penn Quarter farmers markets where he sold his sustainably raised and humanely treated meats and meat products for years.  Others have found him in bricks-and-mortar locations at Union Market in DC and Mosaic in Merrifield.

A trio of condiments

A trio of condiments

Let’s start with the food at this new D Street location.  To begin the charcuterie menu is organized by flavor profile (bright, herbal + floral, spicy hot, smoky, spiced, rich + smooth, earthy), a dinner menu organized by animal (fish, chicken, pig, cow), and then size (small, medium, large).  There are vegetarian starters, so your non-meat-eating friend can still join you, as long as they don’t mind a pig’s head on your plate.

Whole braised pig's head

Whole braised pig’s head

The main menu eschews traditional order-by-course offerings and gets broken up by source or animal (beef, poultry, pork, and fish).  Each section has dishes in a range of portion sizes that encourage sampling and exploration.  There’s Bolognese, with house made pasta, guanciale and heart ragout, and lard-toasted breadcrumbs; Braised Spanish Octopus with tomato, oregano, and fingerling potatoes; 120-Day Dry Aged Beef Carpaccio; and Corned Beef Belly with braised cabbage, grated pumpernickel, and pickled mustard seeds, that can be ordered in small or medium and complemented with salads, slaws or vegetable sides.

Some items are designed to share, such as the Roasted Pig Head served with salsa verde, pickled peppers, and arugula and pig ear salad; the Rotissi-Fried Chicken, deep fried and served with honey hot sauce; and the Bollito Misto, a stew of cotechino, smoked heart, belly, pickled tongue, pork bone marrow and tenderloin with Calabrian aioli.

Chocolate and Pistachio Crepes

Chocolate and Pistachio Crepes

Pastry Chef Tiffany MacIsaac has dreamt up nostalgic favorites like Snicker’s Terrine with peanut butter cheesecake, peanut caramel and chocolate glaze; Lemon Meringue Pie, a Meyer lemon eclair, with torched Swiss meringue and graham cracker crumbles and Fried Apple Pie, a hand pie made with bacon, caramel, graham crumble, candied pecans and vanilla bean ice cream.  Her fave is the Fernet Ice Cream Float with ginger beer, lime zest, Fernet Branca ice cream and ginger molasses cookies.  Ours were the Red Velvet and Campari macarons.

The Partisans Red Velvet and gold-striped Campari Macarons

The Partisans Red Velvet and gold-striped Campari Macarons

On the beverage side The Partisan taps the talents of Kroll, Faile and Engert.  Kroll has personally selected over 400 wines to balance the encyclopedic range of meats.  Twenty-five are on draft and eight wines are preserved through the Napa Technology preservation system allowing for the presentation of rare, mature wines to be served by the glass and half-glass.

Engert has compiled an impressive beer program featuring seventeen drafts and over fifty bottles or cans that highlight his signature flavor profiles.  Though comprehensive, The Partisan’s beer program will focus on Sour ales (seven draft sours and seventeen bottles) and Saisons, two craft categories particularly suited to the menu.  The rest of the list features some unique and rare farmhouse ales, traditional lambics, and the highly coveted hoppy brews.

The bar also benefits from the talents of Faile, one of our area’s finest spirits specialists.  To complement the menu, he has created a menu of ten cocktails – - Sailin’ On, made with Overholt Rye, Cocchi Vermouth, Del Maguey Vida Mezcal, Chili Infused Averna and Chocolate Bitters; Cool Confusion with Plymouth Gin, Cocchi Barolo Chinato, Kina L’Avion D’Or; and Banned in DC with Del Maguey Vida Mezcal, Carpano Antica, Crème de Cacao, and Hellfire Bitters.   Specialty spirits offered on draft include Willett Pot Still Bourbon, Michters Rye, Amaro Nonino and Bittermen’s Bäska Snaps Malort.

Don’t bring a calorie counter when you go.

Cozy City Tap House 

There is something so intrinsically cozy and familiar at City Tap House.  The four-month old gastropub situated close by downtown theatres, City Center, Walter Washington Convention Center and Verizon Center will make you believe it’s been sitting on this well-traveled corner of Mount Vernon Square forever.  The friendly spot is designed as a laidback pub with wood plank walls, copper fixtures, candlelit tables and flat screen TVs on every wall.  Industrial-style lamps float above a large bar that overlooks the dining area and an open kitchen helps define the casual atmosphere.

Yellowfin Tuna Tartare at City Tap House

Yellowfin Tuna Tartare at City Tap House

The food too, is prepared in a straightforward rustic style, referred to on the website as “Elevated American Regional”.  But there’s nothing casual about the beer program here.  This is where it gets, as we used to say, dead dog serious.  Over sixty craft beers and cask ales are sourced both locally, DC Brau’s The Citizen and the soon-to-be-tapped Victory DirtWolf from Pennsylvania for example, and include dozens from around the world.  Unfiltered and unpasteurized beers are offered by using a system of rotating casks, and draft beers are available in an ever-changing rotation.

Try a flight of four beers at City Tap House

Try a flight of four beers at City Tap House

Here you’ll find Belgians, Bitters, Browns, and Barleywines sharing space with Pale Ales, Lagers, Pilsners, Bocks and Wheats, as well as a nice selection of Porters and Stouts.  It’s a bit overwhelming if you’re not familiar with hundreds of local and international brews, and who is, but if you’re willing to experiment you’ll come away knowing a few more to keep in your repertoire.  It’s all very easy for the novice, or the curious, with flights of beers you think you’d like to sample.  Thankfully both the menu descriptions as well as the servers are highly knowledgeable about all the beers they offer and will ask about your preferences and gently guide your selections.  Certainly our server, Jordan, helped us make a few good choices that paired nicely with dinner.

Seared Sea Scallops with curried cauliflower

Seared Sea Scallops with curried cauliflower

This homey pub aims to cover all the bases with a wide array of dishes from locally sourced burgers to pizzas (the Tartuffo has roasted mushrooms, Taleggio cheese, guanciale, fried egg and black truffle, oh my!), mussels three ways and Foie Gras French toast, poached lobster rolls, Korean Short Rib Tacos and juicy ribeye steaks.

But if all you came in for were a few beers, they’ve got snacks covered too.  Try the Bacon Popcorn & Candied Peanuts, or Skillet Fried Shishito Peppers.

Sweet Corn & Crab Hushpuppies

Sweet Corn & Crab Hushpuppies

We launched our dinner with a couple of appetizers, Yellowfin Tuna Tartare, which could have used a bit more acid, and the Sweet Corn & Crab Hushpuppies.  The hushpuppies, served with honey thyme butter and citrus remoulade were a novel combination I was unfamiliar with, but nonetheless a marriage made in heaven. We were tempted by Lamb Neck Gravy with herbed ricotta and a dish called Blue Crab Mac N’ Cheese that melts lump crabmeat into Fontina cheese.  But we’ll just have to wait to wrap our mouths around that mouth-watering indulgence.

We opted to try Green Kale Salad, which it seems everyone and their mother is preparing these days.  This version, however, was outstanding and had sweet roasted figs, pomegranate seeds, toasted pecans, shaved Grana Padano cheese and maple-pecan vinaigrette.  Our waiter told us they use baby kale, which explained the mild flavor and tender greens.

We soldiered on to Lobster Roll with duck fat fries, a must try that brought back memories of Maine, and Seared Scallops nestled atop curried cauliflower, leaves of Brussel sprouts, sautéed apples and crisped up pancetta with a piquillo pepper coulis and herb persillade.  Perfection on a plate!

A trio of Dolcezza gelati

A trio of Dolcezza gelati

Could we go on?  We did.  Coaxed into dessert we surrendered to a trio of Dolcezza gelati and a scrumptious Apple Cherry Cobbler that showed personality with a topping with brown butter streusel and salted caramel gelato.

City Tap House's Skillet Apple Pie

City Tap House’s Skillet Apple Pie

There are so many unusual and appealing dishes to try that we stalwart dining soldiers will certainly return to fight, or partake, another day.

George Washington’s Peach Brandy Debuts This Month 

Mount Vernon Distillery -  peach brandy

Mount Vernon Distillery – Peach Brandy

More than 200 years after George Washington’s Distillery stopped producing brandy, his distillery at Mount Vernon has created 400 bottles of George Washington’s Peach Brandy.  Created at the reconstructed site, the inaugural batch will be available for sale at George Washington’s Distillery & Gristmill April 1.  Each precious 375ml bottle will retail for $150.00.

To create this historic product, seven leading craft distillers from across the United States gathered at the historic distillery on October 6, 2010.  Working under their direction, Mount Vernon produced this brandy based on traditional 18th-century methods, that is without any recipes or instruction manuals to guide them.  The product was double-distilled in copper pot stills heated by wood fires, and was aged for two years in toasted oak barrels.

These companies helped in the process – - Templeton Rye Spirits of Iowa, Philadelphia Distilling of Pennsylvania, A. Smith Bowman Distillery and Catoctin Creek Distilling Company of Virginia, Huber Starlight Distillery of Indiana, and Finger Lakes Distilling Company and Hillrock Distillery, both of New York.

Washington oversaw the production of only 60 gallons of the popular spirit each year, compared to the 11,000 gallons of rye whiskey that he bottled and sold during the same time period.  Most of his brandy never made it to market.  Instead, he poured it for the many guests that flocked to his Mount Vernon estate.

For further information about the purchase of this very limited product visit MountVernon.org/PeachBrandy.

An Elegant Seasonal Dinner at Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate is Offered in May

Next month Mount Vernon invites guests to a seasonal table with a dash of history during a new culinary event, Farm to Table.  On Friday, May 9, from 6:30 till 10pm, the evening will commence with a reception in Washington’s upper garden and greenhouse and feature specialty cocktails and hors d’oeuvres. After the reception, guests will learn how food was grown, stored, and prepared for the Washington family through a private tour of Mount Vernon’s lower garden and Mansion.  After the tour a spectacular four-course dinner at the Mount Vernon Inn will feature some of the products cultivated and produced on the estate.

The four-course menu sounds divine and begins with an amuse bouche of Cod Brandade Fritters with Horseradish Mousseline.  It proceeds with a first course of Fried Asparagus Salad, with Gorgonzola Cheese, Pancetta, Heirloom Lettuce, and Balsamic Vinaigrette, a second of Seared Maryland Wild Rockfish in Fennel Saffron Broth with Garden Leeks and Baby New Potatoes, a meat course of Beef Tenderloin Wellington topped with Béarnaise Sauce and ends with Rhubarb, Strawberry & Lemon Curd Tart.  Wine pairings are included with the dinner. For more information visit www.MountVernon.org.

Photo credit – Jordan Wright

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