Jordan Wright
April 29, 2016
Special to DC Metro Theater Arts 


Spliff, doobie, joint.  You can’t smoke em here, but it’s assumed you’ll come high as a kite to this first time munchies extravaganza where pot aficionados in the DMV will be schooled in the fine art of cooking with weed.  Organizers, Al Goldberg, owner of Mess Hall, and Nevin Martell, author of Freakshow Without a Tent, hope their trippy food fest will lure the stoner elite.


Snacks rule when you’re feeling a buzz and who better to amp up the gourmet goods than Tarver King, molecular gastronomist and Executive Chef of the much-lauded The Restaurant at Patowmack Farm in Lovettsville, Virginia.  King will prepare “cannabutter” during one of the three marijuana cooking classes in the demonstration kitchen.  Other demos will teach fans how to make THC tincture for the ultimate munchies.

When I caught up with King by phone earlier this week, he was excited to be participating.  “It’s great to get in on the ground floor with an event like this,” he told me, “We’re all over it!  Back in high school we used to eat it on the 4/20, rather than smoking it,” he recalled using the universal euphemism for the annual consumption of cannabis.  King admits to scarfing down tacos from Taco Bell after the toke fest.  To get the high the teens were seeking, “we threw a bunch of weed in.”  But he’s evolved since then. “The nerd in me wondered if it would work better in fats.”  To that end he’s played around with a potent version of “cannabutter” which he’ll demo in one of the classes.  He claims this technique “draws out the THC and makes it ten times stronger”.  In actuality he admits he doesn’t smoke it often.  “I can get paranoid,” he says, relating an incident when the act of eating popcorn sounded so loud he thought he was disturbing his wife’s TV watching.


It was perfect timing for Mathew Ramsay of PornBurger whose eponymously named cookbook just launched.  Ramsay, whose burgers Martell calls, “gloriously gluteus burgers that you want to have sex with”, will be on hand to sign his new book PornBurger: Hot Buns and Juicy Beefcakes (Ecco 2016).  He’ll also demonstrate how to make a weed-laced burger.

Buenos Aires Art in Washington DC by designer Jon Wye

Buenos Aires Art in Washington DC by designer Jon Wye

After the three-class session, guests can chill out in the beer hall/food court where vintage cartoons mix with the sounds of stoner soul and where Astro Doughnuts & Fried Chicken, Fry Brothers, Sloppy Mothers Barbecue and Westray’s Finest Ice Cream are available for purchase.  Be sure to indulge in deluxe flavors from this locally-made ice cream.  Owner Westray Paul promises to bring a few exotic specialties from his “Adventurous” line of cold treats, including Coffee & Doughnuts, Burnt Sugar, and Honey Buttermilk Strawberry.  The hall also features marijuana-related paraphernalia, graphics-adorned gear from designer Jon Wye, and hip logo tees from Kelly Towles.


The Deets – Tickets are $42.00 for General Admission and include an Astro Doughnut sandwich (a savory rosemary doughnut sandwich with pimento chicken salad and Gordy’s pickled jalapenos) and a beer.  The $75.00 VIP pass gives you front row seating plus an exclusive Kelly Towles t-shirt and a swag bag from DC area restaurants.  Entry times are at 11 A.M., 12:30 P.M., 2 P.M, 3:30PM and 5PM.  For tickets and more info visit

Mess Hall
703 Edgewood St., Northeast
Washington, DC 20017

Cookbook Corner ~ The Field to Table Cookbook – Gardening, Foraging, Fishing & Hunting By Susan L. Ebert

Jordan Wright
April 27, 2016 


To pen a collection of recipes using ingredients gleaned from the great outdoors, you ought to have some street cred – or shall I say hunter/gatherer credibility.  Author Susan L. Ebert is not only skilled at all the activities listed in the cookbook’s title, she prepares and shares these foods within her circle of likeminded friends.

She’s part Euell Gibbons, wildcrafter, Michael Pollan, food philosopher, Alice Waters, natural foods proponent and Barton Seaver, chef and guardian of sustainable seafood.  For Ebert, who’s all of these icons rolled into one, food – including the gathering, preparing and preserving of it – translates into being outdoors.  The Texas transplant learned her skills from her Kentucky grandparents, Mamaw Grace and Papaw Dorsey, who valued the art of canning and drying their foods.  As a young woman Ebert turned her attention to organic gardening, working under J. J. Rodale at Organic Gardening magazine where she learned about the dangers of pesticides and embraced the importance of caring for the earth.

With a poet’s passion and an environmentalist’s commitment, she learned to fish, hunt and glean wild edibles while publisher and editor of Texas Parks & Wildlife magazine.  It was then she realized, as a single mother, she could feed her two young children from nature’s all-organic supermarket.

In The Field to Table Cookbook – Gardening, Foraging, Fishing & Hunting (Welcome Books – a division of Rizzoli International Publications – 2016) recipes are organized by hunting, fishing and gardening seasons.  Here are 150 of Ebert’s favorite, non-GMO, wild foods recipes presented with love, humor, and a respectful compassion for God’s creatures.

Dishes as diverse as Doves in Blackberry Molé, American Beauty Backstrap (Dry-Aged Venison Backstrap with American Beautyberry Cumberland Sauce), Rancho El Rey con Guajalote (King Ranch Casserole with Wild Turkey) and Peaches ‘n’ Cream Pie, tempt the cook with stunning food and landscape photographs by Robert Peacock.  In every recipe Ebert shows an intimate awareness of nature’s cupboard, from pickling redbud flowers in Spring to gathering wild muscadine grapes in early Fall.  Even the bourbon she chooses for her Bluegrass Country Mint Julep must be just so and from one of two distilleries that use non-GMO corn.  Only Wild Turkey or Four Roses will do.

For those who may not be handy with a gun, Ebert lists mail order sources for farm-raised and ethically harvested wild game, along with specialty gristmills for stone ground grains and flours.

Here’s Susan’s recipe and notes for Roasted Rabbit with Chipotle Sauce

Roasted Rabbit with Chipotle Sauce

Roasted Rabbit with Chipotle Sauce

Americans are eating more rabbit than at any time since World War II. Seems trendy chefs have discovered what many hunters already know: Rabbit’s delicious white meat is high in protein, low in fat, and rich in omega-3 fatty acids. In fact, rabbit meat has a higher protein-to-fat ratio than beef, pork, lamb, chicken, or turkey, and even a farm-raised rabbit is an environmentally responsible protein choice—the amount of food and water needed by a cow to produce 1 pound of meat will yield 6 pounds of rabbit meat.

Texas has no closed season on rabbits and hares—the most renowned of which are jackrabbits (actually hares), weighing between 4 and 8 pounds, and ranging throughout the western U.S. and all of Texas, except East Texas.  Swamp rabbits (cane-cutters) weigh 3 to 6 pounds, with a range confined to East Texas’s marshes and riverine areas.  The 2- to 3-pound cottontail rabbits range throughout the eastern half of the U.S., making them as plentiful as they are tasty.  Go with a tightly choked light-gauge shotgun—20 ga., 28 ga., or even a .410—stoked with No. 6 to No. 7 ½ shot for best results afield, or buy organic domestic rabbit from a growing number of sources. [Fossil Farms, Boonton, New Jersey 973 917.3155 or visit]

Roasted Rabbit with Chipotle Sauce

Serves 4

  • 1 field-dressed cottontail or farmed rabbit

For the brine:

  • ½ cup sea salt
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns, crushed
  • 4 allspice berries, crushed
  • ½ cup organic dark brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
  • 2 teaspoons chipotle chile powder
  • 1 teaspoon whole cloves
  • 2 bay leaves

For roasting:

  • ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
  • Sea salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Cherry wood chips
  • Blueberry–Chipotle Barbecue Sauce (recipe follows)
  1. Pour the cooled brine into a nonreactive container large enough to hold the rabbit, and add 4 to 6 cups ice water.
  2. Submerge the rabbit in the brine, weighing it down with a heavy plate if necessary.
  3. Brine the rabbit until about 1 hour prior to cooking, then remove and pat dry with paper towels.
  4. Place the rabbit on a wire rack over a baking sheet to dry and come to room temperature.
  5. Before grilling, brush the rabbit with some of the melted butter inside and out, and season with salt and pepper, both inside and out.
  6. Build a fire on one side of your grill (or if using gas, light only one burner) and bring the grill temperature to at least 400° F.
  7. Using long tongs over the hot fire, sear both sides of the rabbit to a golden brown. Move the rabbit to the cooler side of the grill, and roast over low indirect heat, with the grill
  8. covered, for 2 to 4 hours, basting occasionally with melted butter, until a meat thermometer placed in the thickest part of the thigh reaches 170° F. (Add cherry wood chips that have been soaked in water for at least 30 minutes to flavor the smoke.)
  9. Baste with barbecue sauce, then loosely tent under foil for 10 minutes prior to carving.
  10. Serve with more barbecue sauce on the side.

Blueberry–Chipotle Barbecue Sauce

This recipe came from a plethora of blueberries (30 pounds!) after a berry-picking excursion to a nearby organic blueberry farm.  While it’s exquisite with roasted rabbit, the sauce also pairs nicely with game birds, poultry, or pork.  Or, as my daughter Cristina suggested, why pair it with anything? Simply drink it with a straw, or perhaps brush your teeth with it!

Yields 2 quarts

  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 shallots, minced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
  • 8 cups tomato puree (10 to 12 medium tomatoes,
  • peeled, cored, and pureed)
  • 4 dried chiles de árbol (rat tail chiles), stemmed and
  • seeded
  • 1 (7 ½-ounce) can chipotles in adobo sauce
  • 2 cups blueberries, fresh or frozen
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon dry mustard
  • 1 teaspoon ground cayenne
  • 1 teaspoon celery seeds
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon ground mace
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 cup unfiltered organic apple cider vinegar (I use
  • Bragg’s)
  • 1 cup dark agave nectar
  • Juice of 2 lemons
  1. Melt the butter in a 4- to 5-quart stockpot over medium heat.  Add the shallots and sauté for about 10 minutes, until lightly browned.
  2. Add the garlic and ginger and sauté for 1 minute more.
  3. Add the tomato puree, reduce the heat to low, and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  4. Place the chiles de árbol in a blender with ½ cup boiling water, cover, and let them steep for 10 minutes to soften, then puree on high speed.
  5. Add the pureed chiles, the chipotles in adobo, blueberries, salt, dry mustard, cayenne, celery seeds, cinnamon, mace, and nutmeg to the stockpot, and increase the heat to medium to achieve a lively simmer.
  6. Once the pot is bubbling, add the vinegar, agave nectar, and lemon juice and reduce the heat to low.
  7. Let simmer for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the liquid is reduced by about half.
  8. Remove from the heat and let the pot sit for 15 minutes, then ladle the sauce into a blender (fill the blender no more than half-full to avoid splatters) and batch-process until smooth. Freezes well.

Black Pearl Sings ~ MetroStage

Jordan Wright
April 26, 2016
Special to The Alexandria Times

Roz White ~ Teresa Castracane ~ Photo credit Chris Banks

Roz White ~ Teresa Castracane ~ Photo credit Chris Banks

Sandra L. Holloway’s searing production of Black Pearl Sings opens to the haunting music of a Black chain gang singing in cadence as they swing their pickaxes to the dirge-like rhythm.  This indelible, spine-tingling chant leads us to Alberta ‘Pearl’ Johnson who has spent ten miserable years in a swamp-surrounded prison in southeast Texas for the murder of her abusive husband.  The story is inspired by folklorist John Lomax’s real life discovery of the legendary folk singer and guitarist, Huddie ‘Lead Belly’ Ledbetter.

In this telling, Johnson is discovered by Susannah Mullally, an ambitious, and not incidentally, White ethnomusicologist employed by the Library of Congress to uncover America’s earliest indigenous music, and, by deduction, its African roots.  “You are a doorway to our past,” Susannah pleads.  Playwright Frank Higgins, whose previous work has starred such notable actresses as Blythe Danner and Gwyneth Paltrow, gives pathos and humor to this sensitive portrait of a woman hardened by a segregationist South and the destructive men in her life.

Roz White and Teresa Castracane ~ Photo credit Chris Banks

Roz White and Teresa Castracane ~ Photo credit Chris Banks

At first Susannah’s attempts to coax the old plantation songs out of Johnson are met with a steely rebuke.  But eventually, after a considerable period of enmity and suspicion and her description of the suppression of her country’s Gaelic language, the two women form a partnership with Susannah gaining Pearl’s freedom, hard-fought trust and a wealth of songs.

Twenty memorable American folk songs and spirituals weave in and out of this musical, performed entirely in a capella by Roz White’s sinuous contralto and Teresa Castracane’s lilting Irish mezzosoprano and led by legendary Musical Director William Hubbard.  Their shared struggles, Pearl’s to earn enough money to track down her long, lost daughter, and Susannah’s seeking success as a woman in a man’s world, eventually bring the women together culminating in a heart-wrenching duet with “Six Feet of Earth” at the end of the second act.  Other numbers familiar to many of us are “Down on Me”, later made famous by Janis Joplin (also called “Pearl”), “This Little Light of Mine”, the Gospel favorite “Do Lord, Remember Me”, the sultry “Don’t You Feel My Leg”, and the universal peace anthem, “Kum Ba Yah”.

Roz White and Teresa Castracane ~ Photo credit Chris Banks

Roz White and Teresa Castracane ~ Photo credit Chris Banks

There are many funny bits but one that gets knowing laughter is when Pearl makes reference to her birth home on the Gullah island of Hilton Head, which back then was a desolate island off the coast of South Carolina populated by the descendants of African slaves.  After hearing a developer recount his vision of a golf course and condos on the tiny island, she decides to use it to motivate her to follow Susannah’s vision for her success.  It’s knowing how that turned out, that resonates with us.

Highly recommended.

At MetroStage through May 29th – 1201 North Royal Street, Alexandria, 22314.  For tickets and information visit

To Kill a Mockingbird ~ The Little Theatre of Alexandria

Jordan Wright
April 25, 2016
Special to The Alexandria Times

Richard Fiske (Atticus) and Larry Boggs (Tom Robinson) - Photos by Matt Liptak

Richard Fiske (Atticus) and Larry Boggs (Tom Robinson) – Photos by Matt Liptak

It’s been fifty-six years since Harper Lee’s classic To Kill a Mockingbird was published and less than one year since its re-conceived version Go Set a Watchman hit the bestseller lists to a flood of controversy.  Much has changed since 1960.  Or has it?  A quick glance at today’s headlines reveal that bigotry, the murder of unarmed Black men, and racial intolerance continue unchecked both on the streets and in certain presidential campaigns.  Given the current political climate and the emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement, it is particularly timely that we find opportunities to re-examine the role of racism in America.  And how better to revisit these issues than with this cautionary tale?  To that end LTA’s Producers, Rachel Alberts, Bobbie Herbst and Robert Kraus, have chosen well to select Frank Pasqualino to direct this well-crafted and impressively cast production.

As you may recall, the story, narrated on stage by Jean Louise “Scout” Finch as Scout thirty years later (Melissa Dunlap), is set in a small town in the Deep South, where Jim Crow laws were still firmly set in stone.  Black families lived on one side of town and whites, another.

Courtroom scene with cast. Photos by Matt Liptak

Courtroom scene with cast. Photos by Matt Liptak

Atticus Finch (Richard Fiske), a liberal lawyer in a town of bigots, nosy parkers and those best described as adherents to the Klan, is a wise and calming presence in an otherwise lightning hot moment in time.  His young daughter, Scout (Olivia McMahon), is an outspoken child with a wealth of curiosity about everything, especially the peculiar nature of prejudice and intolerance.  Her slightly older brother Jem (Jack Kearney) does his best to keep her innocent queries in check as does their trusted housekeeper, Calpurnia (Brenda Parker), who cares for them with a no-nonsense attitude and a guiding hand.

When their young friend, Dill (Nathaniel Burkhead), comes from Mississippi to live with them their world grows a little larger and their adventures a little bolder.  As they roam the town together the children become targets of racist slurs about their father, who is defending a field hand against the rape of a white woman.  Atticus urges them to turn the other cheek.  “If you want to understand someone, you gotta walk around in their skin,” he cautions them.

Brenda Parker, Olivia McHahon and Richard Fiske.  Photo by Matt Liptak

Brenda Parker, Olivia McHahon and Richard Fiske. Photo by Matt Liptak

The first act explores their small family, the mysterious “Boo” Radley (Derek Bradley), an elusive neighbor who’s been holed up in his house for thirty years, and their relationships to the townspeople of Maycomb, setting the stage for the trial, and attempted railroading, of Tom Robinson (Larry Boggs) that unfolds in Act Two.  The townsfolk present a polyglot of opinions on race – those that are educated and liberal, those of the hardworking Black families, and, in sharp contrast, their antagonists who are White, poor, uneducated and bigoted.  Bob Ewell (Paul Donahoe), Tom’s accuser, and his daughter Mayella, the presumed victim (Skye Lindberg), fall into the category of the latter.

The trial and its aftermath are the most gripping aspects of this story.  It is here in a small, segregated courtroom that the viciousness and brutality of racism is revealed in the cold, harsh light of day.

An excellent cast delivers humor and pathos with brilliance and dignity.  Especially outstanding are Olivia McMahon, Brenda Parker, Richard Fiske, Paul Donahoe, Tony Gilbert as Judge Taylor, and Skye Lindberg.

Highly recommended.

Through May 14th at The Little Theatre of Alexandria, 600 Wolfe Street. For tickets and information call the box office at 703 683-0496 or visit


Jordan Wright
April 28, 2016
Photography by Jordan Wright 

Hula Girl Bar & Grill Brings Authentic Hawaiian Food to Shirlington – Bobby Flay Promises Vegan Burger – Bangkok Joe’s Returns to Georgetown – Palette 22 Celebrates Artists All Day, Every Day – Burton’s Grill & Bar Opens with Style in Fairfax – At B Penn Quarter Brunch Just Got Damned Serious – Ready for Mint Juleps? Suntory Jim Beam Wants to Name Your Poison 


Food Truck Goes Bricks-and-Mortar 

Hula Girl

Hula Girl

Aloha, from the sunny shores of Campbell Avenue.  Well, not exactly, although this latest addition to the Village of Shirlington is a cheerful ray of King Kamehameha sunshine.  Mikala Brennan, owner and operator of the madly popular Hula Girl food truck, which was launched in 2011, has brought Hawaiian comfort food to our area, and from the looks of it, anyone who has ever been to Hawaii, been stationed there or is just downright curious about this hipster cuisine, is digging the retro, laid-back vibe.  Featured on Andrew Zimmern’s Bizarre Foods America (as one of Zimmern’s top five picks) and on Street Eats both shows on the Travel Channel, Brennan’s DC food truck drew enormous attention to her Hawaiian cooking.

Chef/Owner Mikala Brennan ~ Brennan's family photos line the restroom walls

Chef/Owner Mikala Brennan ~ Brennan’s family photos line the restroom walls

Brennan, a diminutive fireball of kinetic energy, has spent considerable time researching the cuisine of her childhood.  She discovered its polyglot culinary history of Chinese and Japanese cooking came from immigrant workers who came to the islands to work on pineapple plantations.  Its North American influence is expressed by the salmon that missionaries brought over in the 1800’s.  As for the surprising national favorite, Spam, islanders can thank the U. S. Government who provided cans of the pork-based meat to soldiers after World War II.  As proof of its lasting influence, 6 million cans of Spam are eaten in Hawaii each year.  Don’t judge.

Spam sushi

Spam sushi

To showcase this eclectic heritage Brennan presents a varied menu of classic Hawaiian fare including teriyaki, chargrilled chicken, steak or tofu; root beer sticky ribs; and dishes like Kalua pork crispy gau chee, a Chinese-style folded dumpling served with hot mustard and chili-soy dipping sauce.  Spam Musubi a sushi-style preparation gets a turn, as do tako, grilled octopus, lomi, banh mi sandwiches and poke (pronounced PO-kee) – the traditional raw tuna dish with sesame, shoyu, ginger and green onions.  If you’re craving a burger, be sure to ask for a side of katsu sauce – a blend of Worcestershire, ketchup and garlic – and a side order of the monster Maui onion rings.

Barbeque Shrimp

Barbeque Shrimp

Hula Girl’s desserts are traditional too – Haupia, a firm coconut milk-based pudding similar to panna cotta and served with a mango drizzle, and Malasadas, a popular Hawaiian confection similar to doughnuts – a good bet.

Ribs with sesame seeds and micro greens

Ribs with sesame seeds and micro greens

But let’s get to the spirits, and it is an extensive menu.  As to serious suds Maui Brewing is well represented.  Their Coconut Porter, Bikini Blond lager and Big Swell, a Belgian-style IPA are here.  Obscure brews like Dead Guy, a German-style Maibock from Oregon’s Rogue Ales and Yin & Yang, a Black & Tan style IPA from Brooklyn’s Evil Twin Brewing are a few other hard-to-find brews.  Organic nigori sakes from Oregon’s Momokawa (the top-selling sake in the U. S.) are here too, as are tropical fruit juices, sodas from Waialua Soda Works (try the lilikoi made with passion fruit) and the “Shrub of the Day”, made with muddled fresh fruit.

More to the point are the cocktails.  We’re thinking tiki bar this summer and these delicious concoctions do not disappoint.  Yes, there are margaritas, but have you ever had one made with sambal, passion fruit, lime, agave and milagro tequila?  Hula Girl’s Mai Tai is even more exotic with Appleton rum, ginger liqueur, roasted pineapple puree, macadamia nut syrup.  Now that the weather is cooperating, I’m looking forward to the Gosling’s Black Rum float.  Those twenty-five patio seats are gonna go quickly.

Bobby Flay Makes a Promise 

Bobby Flay on K Street

Bobby Flay

Bobby Flay brought his charm to his K Street outpost last month.  The purveyor of all things meat, when asked when he would put a vegan burger on the menu, Flay told this reporter that he’s working on perfecting a version to put in all 19 Bobby’s Burger Palaces.  When pressed as to when that might be, the adorable and eternally self-effacing chef insisted that Whisk and Quill would have the scoop before anyone else.  We’re holding him to it.

Bangkok Joe’s Returns to Georgetown’s Washington Harbour 

The bar is ready to receive the guests at Bangkok Joe's

The bar is ready to receive the guests

In a wildly anticipated return, the beloved Bangkok Joe’s returned to its roots as a casual sophisticated Thai lounge.  With all new glamorous décor featuring a ten-seat dumpling bar and room for 32 on the patio, guests can revisit the cuisine that mixes Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese and French and endeared its charms to locals.

The new Bangkok Joe’s is the restaurant I wanted to open 20 years ago,” said Co-Owner Aulie Bunyarataphan adding, “Over the past decade, we’ve seen customers become more adventurous and more willing to explore traditional Thai ingredients, flavors and cooking styles.  I’m really looking forward to doing what I do best, which is sharing my culinary roots. Of course, with my own creative spin.”

The revamped decor at Bangkok Joe's

The revamped decor

The authentic Thai menu features dumplings, wontons and rolls, a variety of small plates, soup and salads, noodle bowls and rice bowls as well as their popular fried rice dishes.  The menu category of “Not Your Ordinary Joe’s”, a selection of elevated entrée specialties, is also back.   And on the Dumpling Bar menu are 20 different types of ethereal dumplings paired with house made sauces.

The dumpling ladies at Bangkok Joe's

The dumpling ladies

Simple, fresh and unique cocktails playfully highlight unique Thai ingredients.  Thai herbs and ingredients such as Thai chili, Thai basil, ginger, lemongrass, tamarind, and hard to find traditional herbs like blue hibiscus find their way into drinks and specialty cocktails.

Crispy Salmon Roll with salmon roe at Bangkok Joe's

Crispy Salmon Roll with salmon roe

Beverage Director Brad Macbeth, who was trained by noted mixologist Todd Thrasher, oversees the cocktail and beverage program as well as the creation of the many house made juices and syrups.

“We’ve heard from so many of our longtime customers that they really missed Bangkok Joe’s,” said Partner Mel Oursinsiri. “So we decided to bring the restaurant back, but with a more traditional influence that showcases authentic Thai ingredients and Aulie’s creativity in the kitchen.”

In addition to Bangkok Joe’s, Mel and Aulie own T.H.A.I. in Shirlington Village and Tom Yum District in Arlington, Virginia.

Palette 22 – Calling All Artists 

Brick Oven

Brick Oven

Another new spot in Shirlington is Palette 22 – a hip, art lover’s hangout that showcases hand-picked local artists working in distinctly varied mediums.  There are always two artists on site and sometimes three – one behind an easel, one at a drafting table and every six months a muralist who will paint an entirely new wall design.

Brazilian Muralist Miss Chelove poses with her latest creation

Brazilian Muralist Miss Chelove poses with her latest creation

On my first visit Brazilian Muralist Miss Chelove, Watercolorist Jennifer Lillis, and Collage Artist Jennifer L. Schmidt were alternately creating their artworks and explaining their process with guests.  The immediate connection between a working artist and a serious collector often translates into sales – two oil paintings, a still life and a portrait, were sold during two of my visits.  Look for receptions to introduce new artists to the fold.

A work in progress from artist Jennifer Lillis

A work in progress from artist Jennifer Lillis

With a menu reflecting small plates that borrow liberally from Spanish, Peruvian, Italian, Japanese, Chinese and French cuisines (none topping ten bucks), it’s fun to sample and share.

Slow-cooked Pork Taquitos ~ Fava Bean Purée on flatbread

Slow-cooked Pork Taquitos ~ Fava Bean Purée on flatbread

I was particularly drawn by the variety of crisp-bottomed flatbreads from the large brick oven – Wild Mushroom with truffle oil topped with arugula and one called Bacon + Eggs made with pork belly, caramelized onions and smoked cheddar.

Other world-inspired offerings, under “Street Eats” on the menu, are alluring too.  Peruvian Style Grilled Octopus, Singapore Chili-Crab Potstickers and Peking Duck + Moo-Shu Pancakes are super tasty.

Wild Mushroom Flatbread with truffle oil and arugula ~ Vegan Ceviche

Wild Mushroom Flatbread with truffle oil and arugula ~ Vegan Ceviche

On the cold side, Vegan Ceviche and Jicama Salad deliver bright, citrusy flavors.  Last week on my fourth visit (I confess I can’t get enough of this place!), Fava Bean + Goat Cheese flatbread was a wonderfully addictive special of the day.

Stuffed Mussels

Stuffed Mussels

A large rectangular bar dominates the front room serving up well-balanced artisanal cocktails and fruity sangrias that add the right zing to the flavor-forward dishes.

The bar

The bar

Located within minutes to three theaters – Theatre on the Run which hosts Avant Bard, Signature Theatre and a luxury-seat AMC arthouse movie theater featuring indies and docs – it’s a great spot to grab a few bites before the show returning for drinks and dessert after.  Yummy churros with Mexican hot chocolate and strawberries or Sweet Banana Spring Rolls with jackfruit and vanilla ice cream prove to be perfect nightcaps.

Artist-in-residence Jennifer L. Schmidt creates original collages

Artist-in-residence Jennifer L. Schmidt creates original collages

Getting Selected – An Interview with Art Manager Jennifer Motruk at Palette 22 

Motruk is the current Arts Manager for the Artist-in-Residence program at Palette 22.  In addition to directing the Calls for Submission, she is involved with the selection of artists and the rotating works on display.

Jordan Wright – What is the process for selecting the artists?

Jennifer Motruk – Calls for entry have gone out for our second rotation of artists (to occur mid-May).  We contacted more than a dozen different arts groups throughout the region, asking for their assistance in getting the word out about our P22 AIR program, and to encourage their members and subscribers to check out the opportunity.  We have made ‘ads’ for social media platform profile pages (Facebook, Instagram) and will send out an email blast to our guest database in another week or so to encourage more interested artists to apply.

Have you held receptions for the artists yet?

We had our first rotation opening reception back on March 22nd.   The next one will likely be on or about June 20th or so for the second rotation of artists.  There is one reception per ‘group’ of new artists that debut.

How do interested artists contact you?

The website is the best way for arts groups to reach the restaurant and to inquire about the AIR program, or to learn more about partnering with Palette 22.

Do you tweet or post art sales and information on current artists?

We do not share art sales amounts, but we have created a series of Artist Profile videos, which are hosted on our website  And we have sent out an artist profile in our last two email ‘newsletters’ to our guest database.  Artists and artwork are a regular subject in our Instagram and Facebook page posts as well.

Is there a schedule of upcoming artists?

We are currently adding artists so the roster will have approximately 25 in the program, and some of our current (from the first rotation group) artists will carry over as the program has been successful, enjoyable, and mutually beneficial. The next rotation of artists will be on view throughout the middle of summer or so, then we’ll do another more extensive rotation again.

How has the program been received?

Overall the AIR program has been going very well, with great interaction between our artists and the guests that dine, and we’ve seen steady art sales over the last two months.   In one of the most successful art sales weekends, we sold more than 7 works of art, for more than $1,100 in sales totals, with 80% of that going back to the artist.  The 20% covers administration costs, supplies, and equipment for hanging art, etc.

Burtons Grill & Bar Gambles with Its Latest Outpost 

On the line in the open kitchen at Burtons

On the line in the open kitchen

Burton’s Grill & Bar is taking a gamble that its new 200-seat location in the Hilltop Village Center, across from the newest Wegman’s, will translate into a great gathering spot.  And they might be right.  The off-the-beaten-track location is nevertheless a great draw for military from nearby Fort Belvoir as well as for Kingstowne and Fairfax families looking for an upscale casual destination that has something for everyone.  Be prepared to hear more about this eatery as they expand their footprint from seven New England outposts to three more in our area.

Kevin Harron, President, CEO and partner of the restaurant group brings years of experience from the New England restaurant industry, and calls Burton’s concept “between casual and fine dining.”  With a menu that changes twice annually and a ‘Whim Menu’, that allows Executive Chef Dylyn Coolidge to create daily seasonal specials, Harron trumpets the open kitchen concept.   “I believe people like to see what’s going on.  It demands a higher standard from the people who work for us.”

Those standards are found in the details – consistency, creativity and service.  Guests can customize dishes and a kids’ menu lets them be picky eaters.  A commitment to allergy awareness here, transcends the average restaurant.  A celiac patient his whole life, Harron is uber-conscientious of guests’ dietary issues and gives allergy awareness training to both kitchen and wait staff.  In addition, there’s a gluten-free menu.  Chefs use separate kitchen equipment to prepare those dishes.

Interesting factoids: In 2015 Burtons was named “Most Allergy-Friendly Small Chain” restaurant by AllergyEats.

VP of Operations Denise Baron Herrera of "Chopped" fame at Burtons

VP of Operations Denise Baron Herrera of “Chopped” fame

If you’re a Chopped fan, you’ll be thrilled to know that one of the finalists on the 2011 season was the company’s VP of Operations, Denise Baron Herrera, a noted chef in her own right.

The from-scratch menu has aged beef burgers and creative salads, hearty sandwiches, vegetarian options and upscale entrees, that appeal to date night as well as family night.

Lobster fettuccine at Burtons Grill & Bar

Lobster fettuccine

I love that the salt grinders contain sea salt and that well-trained servers use cell phones to customize orders.  However, I was disappointed to learn the restaurant does not serve bread.  At least not for now, that is until enough of us register our dismay.

Baked Avocados stuffed with crab and quinoa

Baked Avocados stuffed with crab and quinoa

But there’s a bright spot that benefits the soldiers and their families from neighboring Fort Belvoir.  Harron is currently collaborating with the Fort Belvoir Soldier and Family Assistance Center (SFAC) as their first community partner to launch the restaurant’s “Good Neighbors” outreach.  In addition, there will be a “Military Mondays” offer for active duty military personnel can enjoy a 20% discount on all food and non-alcoholic beverages during lunch and dinner service.  The generous offer continues until June 7th.

B Stands for Burgers, Bourbon and Beer 

At the newly revamped b Penn Quarter across from the Navy Memorial on Pennsylvania Avenue, B stands for a whole lot more than the name suggests.  At brunch we found the Southern-influenced menu to harbor mouth-watering biscuits and sausage gravy; thick cut peppery bacon by the bucket;

Basket of Bacon

Basket of Bacon

Cajun shrimp and grits; big, fat Maryland crab cakes served with an egg from Kreider Farms in PA, greens and Cajun bacon aioli; and killer skillet-baked pecan sticky buns oozing with bourbon caramel, that we’re still dreaming about.  And that’s not the half of it.  The brunch offerings are so extensive you’d be forgiven if you thought it was the restaurant’s entire menu.

Shrimp and Grits

Shrimp and Grits

Executive Chef Shannen Smith, formerly of Del Frisco, hails from DC and knows down home Southern cooking.  Be sure to order her lobster hush puppies.  What’s not to like about a Maine-centric crustacean marrying an old-fashioned classic?

Baked Pecan Sticky Buns with bourbon caramel sauce at b Penn Quarter

Baked Pecan Sticky Buns with bourbon caramel sauce

For a restaurant next to the tony French Paul Bakery in a high-end hood, and notwithstanding B’s polished good looks, prices are more in line with an out-of-town roadhouse.  Here bourbon is exalted like no other pour, and to reinforce that notion the menu has a bottomless bourbon sour offer using the house’s well bourbon which is McAfee’s Benchmark from Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort, Kentucky.  Not too shabby.  For $15 you can drink bourbon sours till the cows come home.  Just put Uber on speed dial before you sign up.  Another way to drink your morning coffee is to cheer it up with a shot of Kentucky bourbon and cream.  Hell’s bells!  I think I just fell off the porch swing!

Okay, everything isn’t bourbon-based, though there are over 120 bourbons and rye whiskeys to choose from.

American Basil Cucumber Gimlet

American Basil Cucumber Gimlet

Bar Manager Dave Moscolo has concocted freshly made cocktails like the American Cucumber Basil Gimlet made with Aviation American Gin.  It plays well with the menu’s lighter fare like breakfast kale salad or mixed berries crowned with bourbon whipped cream.  But don’t come here if you’re looking to cut calories, or play in the vegan sandbox.  This is hearty fare, straight from the heart of a Southern kitchen.

I’ll Have Five Bourbons Straight Up, Please

The line up from Suntory Jim Beam

The line up from Suntory Jim Beam

A few weeks after my brunch at b Penn Quarter, I returned for a bourbon tasting hosted by Suntory Jim Beam.  Did you know last year bourbon outsold vodka in the U. S.?   Somebody’s drinking it and it’s not just here in the South.  Again I had the opportunity to sample Smith’s kitchen handiwork.  On this occasion small bites were conjoined with some potent varieties of bourbon, which only goes to say that this food stands up to serious drinking.  Apart from finding the perfect bourbon for mint juleps, we had a crash course on processing techniques and unique flavor profiles from Tanner Smith who travels the country extolling Suntory Jim Beam products.  What a life!

Duck Spring Rolls

Duck Spring Rolls

We began with Maker’s MarkCask Strength”, a variable, 111.6 proof wheated bourbon, aged to taste for a minimum of three years.  Paired with duck spring rolls, it gave off an aroma of caramel, black tea and cinnamon sticks from the charred oak it is aged in.

Distiller's Masterpiece from Jim Beam

Distiller’s Masterpiece from Jim Beam

Moving on we sampled another great pour – Jim Beam “Bonded”, a 100 proof product made from a 1795 original recipe that is kept safely under lock and key.  Showing sweet tastes of candy corn, toffee and caramel too, it stood up well to a pork belly taquito, as did the Jim Beam “Signature Craft”, a 12-year old small batch that adds more corn to the mash, and lent itself nicely to tender beef Wellington accompanied by smoky beet puree.

Basil Hayden, a personal favorite, is an 80 proof rye bourbon.  A classic from a 1798 recipe, it is aged for eight years in oak casks and single-column stills. This smooth-as-silk pour balanced out coffee-rubbed lamb lollipops drizzled with a cinnamon and vanilla sauce.

Lamb Lollipops with cinnamon vanilla sauce

Lamb Lollipops with cinnamon vanilla sauce

But the piece de resistance was “Distiller’s Masterpiece”, a rare and pricey bourbon that shows a sophisticated, neo-cognac profile – sweet, smoky and smooth.  Aged in sherry casks for 12-13 years, it’s assuredly an after dinner sipper that likes dessert.  In this case we capped the night’s festivities with burnt orange chocolate mousse.