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Jelly’s Last Jam ~ At Signature Theatre

Jordan Wright
August 13, 2016
Special to The Alexandria Times
 

(l-r) Cleavant Derricks (Chimney Man) with Kara-Tameika Watkins, Eben K. Logan and Nova Y. Paton inJelly’s. Photo by Christopher Mueller.

(l-r) Cleavant Derricks (Chimney Man) with Kara-Tameika Watkins, Eben K. Logan and Nova Y. Patons. Photo by Christopher Mueller.

Right off the bat, Mark G. Meadows, who plays Jelly Roll Morton in this musical, is sensational.  I’ll admit I’d had my doubts when word went out how he turned down Director Matthew Gardiner’s initial offer to play the iconic and controversial jazzman.  Meadows, who is an internationally known pianist and performer in his own right, had never before acted.  Gardiner persisted until Meadows agreed.  But would he add “Actor” to his resume?  Thanks to Gardiner’s superb coaching and stroke of brilliance casting, Meadows gifts us with his personality and extraordinary talent – a natural-born actor/singer/musician/dancer whose portrayal of Jelly is vulnerable, multi-dimensional and eminently appealing.  Did I mention his voice has a certain John Legend-like quality?

Mark G Meadows (Jelly Roll Morton) with the cast of Jelly’s Last Jam. Photo by Christopher Mueller.

Mark G Meadows (Jelly Roll Morton) with the cast of Jelly’s Last Jam. Photo by Christopher Mueller.

Jelly’s Last Jam is a knockout of a show.  Thanks to Daniel Conway’s swank design, we are transported to the golden palm trees of the Jungle Inn, a nightclub straight out of the 1920’s era where the visible seven-piece orchestra plays behind a gilded railing high above the stage and Art Deco movie-house chandeliers light the ceiling.  Cafe tables positioned mere feet from the stage, umbilically connect the performers to the audience, lending the performances instantaneous intimacy.  Every shuffle, every two-step, every tap of shoe-to-floor is palpable.  The stage fairly pulsates with electricity.

Christopher Broughton, DeWitt Fleming Jr, DeMoya Watson Brown, Joseph Monroe Webb, Olivia Russell. Photo by Christopher Mueller

Christopher Broughton, DeWitt Fleming Jr, DeMoya Watson Brown, Joseph Monroe Webb, Olivia Russell. Photo by Christopher Mueller

Choreographer Jared Grimes has taken some of the best dancers and singers from here to Broadway, corralled them onto a set of circles and squares, steps and ramps, and turned it into a mind-blowing tapping, singing, syncopated rhythm of early jazz music.  Credit hoofers DeMoya Brown, Joseph Monroe Webb, DeWitt Fleming, Jr., Christopher Broughton and Olivia Russell for the tap bonanza.  It’s the stuff dreams are made of.  The stuff Morton invented before there was jazz as we know it.

Morton’s backstory is a familiar one.  Huge star, freakishly talented and egotistical goes to the top of the showbiz world only to undermine his success by blowing off his friends and supporters.  Cleavant Derricks plays the Chimney Man from Cadaver Avenue.  You wouldn’t want to run into him on a dark night.  He’s the reckoner – the one who keeps track of how you messed up your life.  Derricks, who garnered a Tony Award for his role on Broadway in Dreamgirls, has got the evil eye down pat.  He swaggers and threatens, coaxes and demeans, as smooth as the silk topper he wears.

Kara-Tameika Watkins, Nova Y. Payton, Eben K. Logan. Photo by Margot Schulman.

Kara-Tameika Watkins, Nova Y. Payton, Eben K. Logan. Photo by Margot Schulman.

Outstanding too, are the vocally gifted Felicia Boswell who plays Jelly’s sometime lover Anita; the riveting Guy Lockard, as his faithful friend and partner; and the promising talent of Elijah Mayo as young Jelly.

Guy Lockard (Jack the Bear) and Mark G Meadows (Jelly Roll Morton) in Jelly’s Last Jam. Photo by Margot Schulman.

Guy Lockard (Jack the Bear) and Mark G Meadows (Jelly Roll Morton) in Jelly’s Last Jam. Photo by Margot Schulman.

Born to a high-born Louisiana Creole family from N’awlins, “not a grit or a collard green”, Morton’s French roots afforded him certain privileges as a Black man in the South.  Thanks to his haughty Gran Mimi (Iyona Blake), the matriarch of the Morton family, it also worked against him.

Felicia Boswell (Anita) and Mark G Meadows (Jelly Roll Morton) in Jelly’s Last Jam. Photo by Margot Schulman

Felicia Boswell (Anita) and Mark G Meadows (Jelly Roll Morton) in Jelly’s Last Jam. Photo by Margot Schulman

Written by George C. Wolfe, Susan Birkhead and Luther Henderson, with Jelly Roll Morton’s original music, the show takes us from the juke joints of New Orleans to the dance halls of Chicago and the stages of New York laying out the highs and lows of Morton’s life and times.  Dede M. Ayite gives us the dazzling costumes along with the outstanding mood-capturing lighting design of the period by Grant Wilcoxen.

Highly recommended for the best that theater has to offer.

Through September 11th at Signature Theatre (Shirlington Village), 4200 Campbell Avenue, Arlington, VA 22206.  For tickets and information call 703 820-9771 or visit www.sigtheatre.org.

http://Jelly’s B-Roll Trailer – FINAL.htm

Visiting Annapolis – Maryland’s Capital Deserves More Than a Daytrip

Jordan Wright
August 15, 2016
Special to The Alexandria Times

Annapolis Harbor

Annapolis Harbor

Although Annapolis is a hop, skip and a jump away, I thought it would be fun to give it more than a cursory visit and include some nightlife, wine life and a bit of water-centric fun.  To that end we booked a few nights at the recently newly redecorated Annapolis Waterfront Hotel.

The newly redecorated rooms at the Annapolis Waterfront Hotel

The newly redecorated rooms at the Annapolis Waterfront Hotel

Now part of Marriott International’s prestigious Autograph Collection brand, known for its spectacular portfolio of luxury hotels around the world, the hotel reflects a decidedly contemporary nautical air with stunning rooms overlooking the town’s main harbor.  As the only hotel overlooking the waterfront, its central location allows visitors to walk to shops, restaurants and historical attractions.  Travelers will be pleased to know they still provide all of the benefits of Marriott Rewards program.  Boaters will love that it has its own dockage.

Harbor view from the Annapolis Waterfront Hotel

Harbor view from the Annapolis Waterfront Hotel

In the past we have enjoyed Sunday brunch at the hotel’s Pusser’s Caribbean Grille with its waterfront dining and lively bar.  Named for the 350-year old West Indian rum brand, their rum-based drinks are delicious and potent.  Be sure to snag a bottle of their newest release called Gunpowder Proof from the onsite Pusser’s Company Store.  You’ll be among the first to try it.  This 109-proof dark rum has only been available stateside for one month.

  • Hot Tip: When booking your accommodations be sure to inquire about the hotel’s special partnership with the Naval Academy.  The “Exactly Like Nothing Else” package, allows overnight guests an opportunity to dine at the Alley Restaurant in the historic wood-paneled Officer’s Club.  Dining in the club is an exclusive privilege normally reserved for Navy families. 

Sightseeing

No visit to Annapolis is complete without a trip to the Naval Academy located in the heart of town.  Our lively guide was Mike Zitzman who regaled us with curious backstories and little known facts on the history of the 338-acre property as well as the program for midshipmen (women are called midshipmen too).  Did you know that during their training each cadet must wear a water-filled fanny pack?  This new regulation was implemented to ensure cadets are not dehydrated while practicing their drills.

Cadets rest between drills at Halsey Field House

Cadets rest between drills at Halsey Field House

On the day we visited the temperature rose to a brutal 98 degrees.  Thankfully we weren’t the ones sporting heavy cotton uniforms and rifles over our shoulders.  Another fascinating factoid: The Navy has more pilots than the Air Force.  (Hint: Pilots, not aircraft.)  And the Army has more boats than the Navy. (Hint: The Navy calls them “ships”.)

The domed ceiling in the Naval Chapel

The domed ceiling in the Naval Chapel

On campus many of the buildings, including the dormitories housing over 4,000 students, are open to the public.  Check out the museum at Preble Hall for paintings, antique model ships and fascinating salvaged artifacts, and the awe-inspiring Main Chapel to see the largest pipe organ in America and marvel at its massive Tiffany stained glass windows.

A Tiffany window in the Naval Chapel

A Tiffany window in the Naval Chapel

Beneath the chapel you’ll view the crypt and marble sarcophagus of Commodore John Paul Jones, the most celebrated Revolutionary War naval hero.  There is also the Levy Center, a place of worship for midshipmen of the Jewish and Muslim faiths.  Book this special guided tour through the hotel or drop in at the Armel-Leftwish Visitor Center.

The marble sarcophagus of John Paul Joned

The marble sarcophagus of John Paul Jones

A 3-mile drive from town is Great Frogs Winery, a 100-year old former tobacco farm with placid views of the rolling countryside.  Located on the Chesapeake Bay, its rustic tasting room is housed in a former tobacco drying barn.

The converted tobacco barn at Great Frogs winery

The converted tobacco barn at Great Frogs winery

Arriving at the height of a summer downpour proved to be a cozy complement to our tasting as we relaxed to the sound of the rain hitting the tin roof.

Let the tasting begin at Great Frogs

Let the tasting begin at Great Frogs

The winery is run by Californians, Nathaniel O’Shea and Andrea O’Shea, who have planted a wide variety of grapes in this sandy Maryland soil.  We especially liked their 2014 Vintner’s White and an exceptional aged port straight from the barrel.

The delicious cheese and charcuterie platter

The delicious cheese and charcuterie platter

It is a fine place to while away an afternoon over delicious locally-sourced cheese and charcuterie.  As the rain subsided and the sun glistened over the vines, we were treated to a double rainbow.  How lucky can you get?

A double rainbow seen from Great Frogs

A double rainbow seen from Great Frogs

Getting out on the water is part of the adventure and there are a number of options to choose from.  If you’re a fan of standup paddleboarding (SUP), the latest form of exercise is yoga sessions on SUPs.  Head over to Capital SUP to see professional paddleboard racer Brian Meyer.  His boathouse is in town on Spa Creek beside his stepfather Barry Levinson’s beautiful grey-shingled home.

Paddleboarders gather for morning yoga on Spa Creek

Paddleboarders gather for morning yoga on Spa Creek

If you prefer a captain at the helm of your ship, go big – as in a 74-foot double masted wooden schooner rigged with four sails.  From the hotel’s docks catch the breeze on The Woodwind and sail the Chesapeake Bay on a two-hour cruise.  Book the special “Wine in the Wind” tour on August 28th.  This French Burgundy tasting with hors d’oeuvres is a three-hour cruise.  If you’re staying at the Annapolis Waterfront Hotel where the ship docks, be sure to ask for the special room + sail rate.

The Temptations perform at the Ram's Head

The Temptations perform at the Ram’s Head

When the sun goes down there’s plenty of entertainment nearby.  Plan ahead for the hottest musical acts at the Ram’s Head Tavern (we caught The Temptations in their sold-out show).  Or head to the Infinity Theatre Company.  A 15-minute drive from town, it features New York theatre and children’s shows.  Another option is the award-winning Colonial Players who will feature Martin McDonagh’s dark, Irish comedy, The Cripple of Inishmaan, beginning September 9th and running through October 1st.   Not to be ignored are the Compass Rose Theatre, Annapolis Opera, Ballet Theatre of Maryland and the Annapolis Shakespeare Company.  For tickets and more info on these venues visit www.InfinityTheatre.com

 Dining

Annapolis has always been tops in seafood restaurants, and frankly, a lot of us come here for the sweet Maryland blue crabs, the famed rockfish and the oysters, many of which are harvested from the world’s largest man-made oyster reef.

Many visitors go for fish and chips at the laidback Galway Bay Irish Pub or seafood-centric Carrol’s Creek Café for fine dining (reserve ahead for a waterside table) and Blackwall Hitch, whose latest outpost is on the harbor in Alexandria, Virginia.  But if you’ve visited before, you may want to explore.

Michelle and Jeremy Hoffman of Preserve restaurant

Michelle and Jeremy Hoffman of Preserve restaurant

Thanks to some insider tips, we made our way to Preserve, a rustic modern outpost for canned, pickled and fermented vegetable dishes from Restaurant Eve alums, Jeremy Hoffman and Michelle Hoffman.  Jeremy informs his cooking from his Pennsylvania Dutch background, elevating homey small plates to a modern sensibility.

The bar at Preserve

The bar at Preserve

Start with a few of his tangy-sweet pickled offerings.  The relish dish features Old Bay Turnips, Bread and Butter Green Tomatoes, BBQ Carrots, Bloody Mary Celery, Soy Ginger Daikon and Beets lavished with dill weed.  I was imagining how nicely they’d pair with wintertime fare when fresh vegetables are out of season and hearty meat dishes can be enhanced with a touch of acidity.

Minced Pork Lettuce Wraps at Preserve

Minced Pork Lettuce Wraps at Preserve

Next set your sights on some tweaked out starters like Kimchi or Minced Pork Lettuce Wraps with peanuts, cilantro and red onion.  The servings are small, so you’ll want to order a few things.

An assortment of "ferments" at Preserve

An assortment of “ferments” at Preserve

The menu lists a number of meat dishes to choose from (the house made liverwurst called to me).  Vegans will delight in discovering the Oyster Mushroom Po’boy.  I savored the Pennsylvania Dutch Chicken Pot Pie with its golden crust.

Jeremy’s Cabbage Alley line of raw, vegan and gluten-free “ferments” – sauerkraut, kimchi and curtido – are available by the jar.

Breakfast at Chick & Ruth's Delly

Breakfast at Chick & Ruth’s Delly

Another unique spot is the iconic Chick & Ruth’s Delly, which is not spelled “deli”, though it certainly is.  This beloved four-generation establishment is the be-all, end-all of Jewish delis.  Unfortunately, many of these wonderful outposts of traditional Jewish cookery have gone out of business, yet this stalwart is still going strong.  Why?  Well, I’d say it’s because they don’t stint on friendliness, food or quality.  The waitresses are cheery, the platters are heroic and the homemade pies are legendary.  With twenty-four flavors to choose from, the pie menu alone is testament to Chick and Ruth’s patriotic commitment to freedom of choice.

The Governor's Table

The Governor’s Table

As a popular hangout for the capital’s lawmakers, politicians’ photos line the walls going back to the 60’s.  There’s even a specially reserved table for the Governor’s Office, be they Republican or Democrat.  Townsfolk will tell you that every newly elected governor has come here and stood beside both locals and out-of-towners to salute the flag and say the Pledge of Allegiance on their first day in office.  You too can participate in this unique observance every weekday morning at 8:30am.

Classic Smoked Salmon on an ET bagel

Classic Smoked Salmon on an ET bagel

Though featured on the Travel Channel’s Man v. Food for 6-pound milkshakes and a 3-pound “Super-Duper Colossal” cheeseburger, we nonetheless settled for something far less challenging.  After all it was breakfast and, though you can get breakfast, lunch and dinner all day, a cheeseburger in the morning wasn’t exactly what we had in mind.

Owner Ted Levitt inspects the morning's bread. All pastries, breads, bagels, pies and cookies are baked on premises

Owner Ted Levitt inspects the morning’s bread. All pastries, breads, bagels, pies and cookies are baked on premises

My advice?  Go for the Belgian waffles with homemade fruit toppings, the smoked salmon with all the accoutrements served on an epic in-house made bagel, or the Maryland lump crabmeat omelets.

Settle in with Pork Chops, Grits and Scrambled Eggs at Chick & Ruth's

Settle in with Pork Chops, Grits and Scrambled Eggs at Chick & Ruth’s

A particularly ravenous member of our group bit the bullet and happily chowed down on a duet of pork chops with creamy grits and hash brown potatoes.  Savvy travelers will take home at least one of those splendid pies and a dozen bagels.

Heads Up for the Labor Day Sailboat Races 

For sailing enthusiasts, the 2016 Annapolis Labor Day Sailing Regatta is a great opportunity to see sailboat racing in action.  Hosted by the Annapolis Yacht Club, the Eastport Yacht Club and the Gibson Island Squadron, the races will be held on Saturday, September 3rd and Sunday, September 4th.  For more information call Kathy Parks at 443 386-9057 or visit www.AnnapolisYC.com/racing

Photo credit ~ Jordan Wright

Nibbles and Sips Around Town ~ July 26, 2016

Jordan Wright
July 26, 2016 

Ashlar at the Morrison House ~ The Return of The Majestic ~ True Food in the Mosaic District ~ Author Luncheons at the Hay Adams ~ Edible Flowers Decorate the Plate 

Swank Modern Interior and New Chef Dazzle at the Morrison House

View of the Morrison House portico from Ashlar

View of the Morrison House portico from Ashlar

At long last the Morrison House the elegant boutique hotel in Old Town, Alexandria has shed its dowdy decor to feature a snazzy redo by Los Angeles–based DH Design.  In the dining room the facelift is reflected in soft colors of sage and sand. Banquettes are covered in a soft honey tone and dark wood tables give a hint of tavern style.  The outdated bar with its clubby red leather wingback chairs has given way to an elegant reception room for private events.

The new, more fashionable style is reflected in the bar area which has moved to just off the foyer.  Black and white photographs of notable intellectuals and their famous quotations signal the hotel’s design aesthetic has moved into the 21st century.  And so has the food.

(l-r) Brian McBride - Chef, Maria Concepcion - Lead Bartender and Bobby Surdam E

(l-r) Brian McBride – Chef, Maria Concepcion – Lead Bartender and Bobby Surdam – Executive Chef

Virginia native, Bobby Surdam, has been brought on as Executive Chef at the re-christened Ashlar Restaurant and Bar where the menu has turned toward colonial traditions and a tavern style of fine dining.  Surdam comes well-schooled by some of DC’s leading chefs including Robert Wiedmaier of Marcel’s and Brian McBride formerly of Blue Duck Tavern.  Of late Surdam helmed the kitchen at Red Owl Tavern in Philadelphia, another Kimpton property.  Surdam’s approach is an upscale interpretation of American regional cooking using the finest ingredients from Mid-Atlantic farms and beef producers, as well as local Maryland seafood.

Complementing Surdam’s dishes, Lead Bartender Maria Concepcion, draws from colonial era spirits once imbibed in homes and taverns in Alexandria.  To that end, Virginia whiskey, beers and wines are well represented.  And that’s fine.  But its her elegant cocktails, flips, syllabubs and punches, made with rum, madeira and sherry, spirits that were once brought into the port city by ship, are the most alluring.  Well-researched colonial era recipes have led her to offer a variety of punches harkening back to the days of Alexandria’s grand balls and receptions.  Sampled at the ribbon-cutting reception in May were two such recipes – one made with Broadbent Rainwater Madeira and another a non-alcoholic Lavender and Honey Lemonade.

Last month we dined at Ashlar and here are highlights from our June supper.

Snapper Crudo

Snapper Crudo

Snapper Crudo with radish, dill, pickled cucumber, jalapeno, beet chips, spring onions and espelette – lovely and light.

Spring Gnocchi

Spring Gnocchi

Spring Gnocchi with asparagus, fiddlehead ferns, fava beans, English peas and mint pest – a sensational dish in which every element harmonizes yet each shines on its own.

Maryland Rockfish bouillabaisse

Maryland Rockfish bouillabaisse

Another is the rockfish, delicate and aromatic with an ethereal smoked tomato broth that includes calamari from Judith Point, briny cockles and Prince Edward Island mussels.

Ashlar's Chocolate Cake with berries

Ashlar’s Chocolate Cake with berries

We bypassed the four different steak cuts for lighter fare, although I’ve heard raves about the bison strip steak from Gun Powder Bison & Trading Co. in Monkton, MD and the American Wagyu hangar steak from Snake River Farms.  All steaks are served with a choice of béarnaise, red wine jus or green peppercorn jus.

If you’ve never visited this unique hotel and just want to get a feel for its charms, try its Happy Hour on the patio and unwind over local oysters and charcuterie, or cheeses from North Carolina’s Goat Lady Dairy.

Ashlar is located at 116 South Alfred Street, Alexandria, VA 22314.  For reservations call 703 838-8000 or visit www.AshlarRestaurant.com

Majestic Restaurant Returns to its Lofty Perch with New Chef 

The Majestic Cafe

The Majestic Cafe

After the departure of Chef Shannon Overmiller and Cathal Armstrong early last year, The Majestic has had its ups and downs.  A new chef to replace Overmiller didn’t last long and the restaurant decided to close its doors for a reboot.  Thank heavens, it did.  The original Art Deco period décor has since been enhanced with a skylight, tin ceilings, a Jazz Age mirrored light and an eclectic collection of prints, paintings and photographs filling every inch of wall space.

The Majestic Cafe

The Majestic Cafe

But let’s turn our attention to newly minted Executive Chef Gaby Hakman.  Let’s hope she stays on.  Hakman, who hails from a Greek/Israeli family with a long history as restaurateurs, honed her chops in New York City and Miami’s South Beach where she cooked in some of the hippest restaurants that young people tweet about.  There among the trendoids, she had a chance to strut her stuff and develop her modern approach to Mediterranean cuisine.

Beet Salad

Beet Salad

My first introduction to Hakman’s cooking was a beet salad that I can’t get out of my head.  Beet salads are on nearly every menu these days, but what makes this one stand out is the details.  Hakman roasts sweet baby beets – golden, rosy red and dark purple beets – adds orange supremes, cascades toasted pistachio nuts over the top, and positions the yummy bits over a creamy sauce of whipped goat cheese.  It’s her approach that’s exciting and the combination of earthy, creamy, sweet and fruity that makes this salad sing.

Another is the charred octopus.  Here Hakman treats it to the smoothest puree of chickpeas, a drizzle of harissa and serves the wood-charred tentacle with arugula and plump Greek olives.

Steak Tartare

Steak Tartare

Rosy red steak tartare has the requisite capers, anchovy and cornichons but with a homemade lemon mayonnaise to boot.  Fish is served whole and grilled over a wood fire.  A head-on dorade (aka bream) gets a slather of salsa verde over its crispy skin and is sopped up into tiny roasted potatoes.  It’s a typical Greek preparation found in seaside tavernas.

Two other dishes I heartily recommend are the Roast Chicken Panzanella, a perfectly executed, spit-roasted, soul-satisfying bird and melt-in-your-mouth Lamb Meatballs spiked with currants and pine nuts.  Both are tender and juicy in their own way.

Lamb Meatballs

Lamb Meatballs

Pastry Chef Michelle White, who does double duty at another of Alexandria Restaurant Group’s spots, Virtue Feed & Grain is a treasure.  Her Coconut Cake is truly sublime.  I have slaved over a coconut cake myself and know full well that if done right, it can take half a day’s labor.  I have never baked another, though it’s certainly worth the trouble if you have the time and inclination.  If not, White’s is one of those small miracles.

Nutella Budino with Caramel "Crack" Cookies

Nutella Budino with Caramel “Crack” Cookies

Ditto for what the staff calls her “Caramel Crack Cookies” served with Nutella Budino, a happy marriage of mousse and pudding topped with whipped cream.

The Majestic Café is located at 911 King Street, Alexandria 22314.  For reservations visit www.TheMajesticVA.com

True Food Kitchen ~ A Restaurant from the Master of Healthy Eating 

Phoenix-based Dr. Andrew Weill has your health in mind.  Founder and director of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine, Weill is the bestselling author of numerous books on healing, aging, wellbeing and cooking, including his seminal cookbook, True Food: Seasonal, Sustainable, Simple, Pure (Little, Brown and Company, 2012) with Co-Authors, Sam Fox and Michael Stebner.  Many of the 125 recipes culled from the book reflect the philosophy behind his collection of twelve health-conscious True Food Kitchen restaurants.  Located around the country, this one is located in the Mosaic District of Fairfax, VA.

True Food Kitchen

True Food Kitchen

As a world-renowned pioneer in Integrative Medicine, Weill introduces diners to his healthy eating philosophy in this rustically-designed restaurant reminiscent of a Topanga Canyon restaurant.

The first thing you notice when you arrive at the bar is the comforting whirr of juicers churning out cocktails and mocktails made with fresh seasonal ingredients.

A trio of Natural Refreshers x two

A trio of Natural Refreshers x two

The restaurant’s menu trends towards Asian and Mediterranean cuisine as Dr. Weill’s recipes draw inspiration from his own anti-inflammatory food pyramid.  Pizzas are crafted with daily-made spelt and flax dough, eggs are organic, beef is sustainably raised, and fish are sustainably harvested.  All boxes checked!

On a recent visit I sampled a few items from their seasonal menu and found a lot to swoon over and one that didn’t meet the high bar the restaurant sets for itself.

Edamame Dumplings

Edamame Dumplings

Edamame Dumplings and Kale & Avocado Dip got us off to an impressive start, and there was much oohing and aahing over a trio of “Natural Refreshers” – Medicine Man, a combo of anti-oxidants from seabuckthorn, pomegranate, cranberry, honey, black tea and soda;

Kale and Avocado Dip

Kale and Avocado Dip

Kale-Aid, made from kale, apple, cucumber, celery, lemon and ginger; and Honey Bee Ginger Beer from ginger, honey, chai spices and lime.

Braised Artichoke Pizza

Braised Artichoke Pizza

Crisp-crusted braised artichoke pizza showed nice acidity from lemon ricotta, and the vegetarian Street Taco was a satisfying choice for my vegan accomplice.

Sea Bass

Sea Bass

Unfortunately, my sea bass, a lovely and delicate white-fleshed fish, had spent too much time in the saute pan, though its accompanying cushion of asparagus, sugar snap peas and roasted mushrooms in a lemon-nooch emulsion was heavenly.  Did I tell the server it was dry?  Yes.  Did they offer to redo it?  Of course.  Did I know what “nooch” was?  No.  But I did a bit of research and discovered it’s short for nutritional yeast.  I am not a vegan.  End of discussion.

Strawberry Crumble

Strawberry Crumble

We went for a trio of desserts.  All the better to try three out of four of the daily in-house made sweets.  On this day they were strawberry crumble, coconut chia pudding and a chocolate delight topped with ice cream.  Though I can’t recall the precise descriptions, I can only hope we didn’t disturb the surrounding tables by fighting over the final spoonful.

Open 11am till 11pm, True Food Kitchen is located in the Mosaic District at 2910 District Avenue, Fairfax, VA 22031  www.TrueFoodKitchen.com

When to Spring for a Lavish Luncheon 

Author Kristin Hannah takes questions from the guests. Photo credit Dan Chung

Author Kristin Hannah takes questions from the guests. Photo credit Dan Chung

The stimulating “Author Series” at the Hay-Adams recreates the salons of yesterday when acclaimed writers held court in private homes.  Though the trend of the ever-popular bookstore tradition of nightly author talks continues, those fold-out chair gatherings can’t compete with a lazy afternoon spent on the 9th story rooftop of the Hay-Adams listening to a featured author while enjoying an elegant three-course luncheon.

Provençal Vegetable Salad with herb pistou vinaigrette

Provençal Vegetable Salad with herb pistou vinaigrette

Nicolas Legret, who has been promoted to Executive Chef since the departure of Chef Peter Schaffrath, has shifted the hotel’s cuisine to reflect his heritage.

Seafood Boudin Blanc with bouillabaisse reduction

Seafood Boudin Blanc with bouillabaisse reduction

His superb execution of familiar French classics – a Provencal vegetable salad, an exquisite seafood boudin blanc with bouillabaisse reduction, and seasonal peach and cherry clafouti with crème fraiche ice cream – accompanied by champagne and Sancerre, proves that the hotel is serious about stepping up its culinary profile in a very competitive town.

Peach and Cherry Clafouti

Peach and Cherry Clafouti

At last month’s white linen event the conversation was lively between noted author Kristin Hannah and the assembled guests.  Hannah explained how she began writing with her mother who was terminally ill with cancer.  At the time Hannah was studying law and this was a way for the women to spend more time together.

Her first manuscript was 600 pages, but when she submitted it her agent’s response was, “You may have talent, but frankly it’s impossible to tell.”  Thankfully for her legion of fans she kept at it.  “I had an insatiable appetite for writing,” she revealed.

Selwa "Lucky" Roosevelt at the book signing

Selwa “Lucky” Roosevelt at the book signing

Now a successful author of 21 historical romance novels, the tawny blonde told guests that she writes in longhand and she doesn’t like to diagram characters, plot and motivations.  “I realized that my best writing is when I am more fluid,” she said in answer to a question about her methodology.  She also spoke of her commitment to writing romance novels.  “Women’s stories are far too often lost, forgotten or overlooked.”

After lunch Hannah signed books for the tony crowd who included author, journalist and former U. S. Chief of Protocol, Selwa “Lucky” Roosevelt.

Next in the series will be Executive Editor and Executive Vice President of Random House, Jon Meacham, whose latest book, Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush, will undoubtedly draw a different crowd.  The Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power, will speak on the relevancy of the Bush era model of governing by diplomacy and prudence in domestic affairs.

The Hay-Adams is located across from the White House at 800 16th Street NW, Washington, DC 20006.  Tickets to the September 23rd luncheon will be available for purchase online beginning September 3rd.  For more information email ekravchenko@hayadams.com or call 202.835.2263.

Food and Flowers ~ Recipes from Kitty Morse’s Book “Edible Flowers” 

A recent trend to decorate dishes with edible flowers hasn’t been lost on author and TV and radio personality Kitty Morse whose book Edible Flowers – A Kitchen Companion with Recipes (Chefs Press) was first published in 1995.  Morse was in the forefront of the food-and-flower movement and a revised and expanded issue of this book is still sought after by cooks and caterers who like to pretty up the plate with eye-catching blossoms.

7-ns

I was intrigued by Morse’s book which reminded me of my first experience using flowers in food.  Inspired by famed naturalist and author Euell Gibbons’ book Stalking the Wild Asparagus (1962), I bravely sautéed daylily buds into a stir-fry.  From there I graduated to sprinkling violets, marigolds, redbud blossoms and dandelion greens into salads.  I’d come a long way from the child who spent summers sucking the nectar out of honeysuckle flowers.

Morse, a native-born Moroccan, has penned ten cookbooks, five of them on the cuisine of Morocco and North Africa.  Her memoir with recipes, Mint Tea and Minarets: A Banquet of Moroccan Memories, was chosen Best Arab Cuisine Book/USA/2013 by the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards.

Morse has graciously allowed me to share two of her recipes with you.  Note: If you don’t have a garden to forage from, farmers’ markets often carry edible flowers.  But be sure your blossoms haven’t been sprayed with any chemicals.  Another source for edible flowers is online at www.MarxFoods.com.

Cherry Clafoutis with Lavender Blossoms

13-ns

Serves 4
The subtle aroma of lavender infuses this classic clafoutis, a rustic dessert from the Limousin region of France featuring cherries suspended in a thick pancake-like batter that puffs up.

  • 3 tablespoons fresh or dried lavender blossoms, divided use
  • 1 cup warm milk
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 2 1/2 to 3 cups fresh or frozen Bing cherries, pitted
  • 1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure almond extract
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons almond meal
  • Fresh or dried lavender blossoms, for garnish
  • Whipped cream, for garnish if desired

If using fresh blossoms, strip them off the stems. Place 2½ tablespoons of the fresh or dried blossoms in a small sachet or tea infuser and place in the warm milk. Cover and infuse for 30 minutes. Discard sachet and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Grease an 8×8-inch baking dish or 4 individual dishes and dot the bottom(s) with the butter and cherries.

In a bowl, whisk the infused milk, sugar, eggs, almond extract, flour, almond meal, and remaining lavender blossoms. Pour the mixture over the cherries. Set the baking dish or dishes inside a larger pan filled with enough warm water to reach halfway up the dish sides.

Bake for 55 to 60 minutes, or until set. I prefer this served warm. Garnish with lavender blossoms and a dollop of whipped cream, if desired.

Chilled Lilyed Melon & Mango Soup

Serves 4 
Daylily (Hemerocallis species and cultivars) live a mere 24 hours. This graceful native of Asia, one of the few edible lily varieties, has long been prized for its color and beauty, as well as for its culinary properties. The petals are crunchy and fresh testing, much like a crisp lettuce leaf. In China, tiger lily buds (Hemerocallis fulva), or “golden needles,” are dried and added to soups or stir-fries. Beautifully presented, this chilled melon-mango dish makes a light and refreshing summer starter or dessert.

  • 1 mango, cubed
  • 1 medium in-season melon, cubed
  • 1/4 cup fresh orange juice
  • 1 cup sliced strawberries
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons orange liqueur
  • 5 daylilies, for garnish

In a blender, purée the mango, melon, and orange juice in batches until smooth. Transfer to a bowl and refrigerate. Rinse the blender and purée the strawberries, sugar, and orange liqueur. Transfer to a bowl and refrigerate. Chill the purées for 2 hours before serving. To serve, ladle the melon mixture on one side of a shallow soup bowl. Ladle the puréed strawberries next to it without mixing. Cut 1 daylily into thin strips and sprinkle on top. Decorate each bowl with a whole flower and serve immediately.

The Phantom of the Opera ~ Kennedy Center

Jordan Wright
July 24, 2016
Special to The Alexandria Times

The news was worrisome and unexpected. A sudden trip to the hospital sent Phantom lead Chris Mann in for an emergency appendectomy, thus delaying media review night for an extra week. For the many who ask why we haven’t reviewed a show you’ve already seen, the reason is simple. An embargo exists for critics until the official press night. So even if we were to see a show on opening night, we couldn’t post our reviews until the day after press is brought in. So we waited and fretted for another week.

The Company performs “Masquerade.” Photo by Matthew Murphy.

The Company performs “Masquerade.” Photo by Matthew Murphy.

But we needn’t have worried if Mann would be up for the task. He was. In spades. And on steroids. His powerful voice and physical prowess were not one bit compromised. The surprise came in the program on a tiny slip of paper announcing that the lead role of Christine Daaé would be filled by Julia Udine’s understudy Kaitlyn Davis. Again worries were quickly brushed aside in the first number, “Think of Me”, when Davis wowed the audience in a splendid display of her acting abilities and gorgeous, multi-octaved voice.

The promise of an exciting new production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s long-running, multiple Tony Awarded opera slash musical, was kept by Producer Cameron Macintosh and the unusually named Really Useful Group, along with Director Laurence Connor. It is lavish and lush and as eerie as you’d expect. Thankfully there are no phantoms to jinx it.

Katie Travis (Christine))and Chris Mann (The Phantom). Photo by Matthew Murphy.

Katie Travis (Christine))and Chris Mann (The Phantom). Photo by Matthew Murphy.

The beauty of this show about a haunted Parisian opera house is that it is still thrilling. Webber’s music and Charles Hart’s lyrics grab you from the get-go and its sense of imminent danger keep the audience enthralled. As for its premise, I won’t attempt to examine the irony of a young ballerina thrust into a lead role as an understudy. (Truth was stranger than fiction on this night!) Or a young girl’s need for a muse to guide her to stardom as Webber did with Sarah Brightman, the cast’s original Christine. That would be too facile.

Just let yourself be taken away by the sweeping music of the night conducted by James Lowe and Dale Rieling, the eye-popping sets by Paul Brown, the pyrotechnics and illusions by Paul Kieve, and the dreamy 19th century costumes by the late Maria Björnson. The New Year’s Eve danse macabre in the song, “Masquerade” is absolutely mesmerizing.

Anne Kanengeiser (Madame Giry). Photo by Matthew Murphy

Anne Kanengeiser (Madame Giry). Photo by Matthew Murphy

Look for clues like the 666 lot number on the chandelier at the opera house’s auction, the singerie period music box and the flurry of anonymous notes to the producers insisting they cast Christine in the lead or else murder and mayhem will ensue. It does and it’s as enthralling and haunting as Paule Constable’s eerie lighting design.

Highly recommended.

Through August 20th at the Kennedy Center, 2700 F St., NW, Washington, DC. For tickets and information call 202 467-4600 or visit www.Kennedy-Center.org.

Born for This: The BeBe Winans Story ~ Arena Stage

Jordan Wright
July 10, 2016
Special to The Alexandria Times

 (L to R) Juan Winans as BeBe, Deborah Joy Winans as CeCe and Kirsten Wyatt as Tammy Faye Bakker in Born for This: The BeBe Winans Story, which runs July 1-August 28, 2016 at Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater. Photo by Greg Mooney, courtesy Alliance Theatre.

(L to R) Juan Winans as BeBe, Deborah Joy Winans as CeCe and Kirsten Wyatt as Tammy Faye Bakker in Born for This: The BeBe Winans Story, which runs July 1-August 28, 2016 at Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater. Photo by Greg Mooney, courtesy Alliance Theatre.

Checking out the program before curtain up, I counted 27 original numbers with two reprises. How would we get through all these tunes, I pondered?  But BeBe Winans, who wrote the music and lyrics, uses snippets of songs to underpin his story and what a surprising saga it is.

Working alongside of Director and Co-Scriptwriter, Charles Randolph-Wright (Motown the Musical), the collaborators regale us with the four elder Winans brothers’ rise to fame which came before BeBe (played by real life nephew, Juan Winans) and sister CeCe’s (played by real life niece, Deborah Joy Winans) road to glory on the The PTL Club.

(L to R) Chaz Pofahl as Jim Bakker and Kirsten Wyatt as Tammy Faye Bakker in Born for This: The BeBe Winans Story, which runs July 1-August 28, 2016 at Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater. Photo by Greg Mooney, courtesy Alliance Theatre.

(L to R) Chaz Pofahl as Jim Bakker and Kirsten Wyatt as Tammy Faye Bakker in Born for This: The BeBe Winans Story, which runs July 1-August 28, 2016 at Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater. Photo by Greg Mooney, courtesy Alliance Theatre.

Back in the 80’s the PTL (Praise the Lord) Television Network show was the number one global evangelical Christian station then hosted by the illustrious Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker.  For those of us who thought of the Bakkers as “whitebread” as they come, the story stunningly reveals that it was Tammy Faye and Jim (Chaz Pofahl as Tammy’s straying husband) who sheltered the gospel singing teens from the racist threats of the station’s Southern listeners who preferred cutesy, saccharine singing groups like Up With People.

Clearly BeBe and CeCe’s early success is inexorably linked to the Bakkers who raised the kids as their own and are as intrinsic to the story as that of the Winans’ own family.   It also provides us with some of the funniest lines.  As Winan’s mother Cynthia puts it when she discovers they’ve been signed to the show, “Ooh!  Those are some crazy Caucasians!”

 (L to R) Juan Winans as BeBe, Kiandra Richardson as Whitney Houston and Deborah Joy Winans as CeCe in Born for This: The BeBe Winans Story, which runs July 1-August 28, 2016 at Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater. Photo by Greg Mooney, courtesy Alliance Theatre.

(L to R) Juan Winans as BeBe, Kiandra Richardson as Whitney Houston and Deborah Joy Winans as CeCe in Born for This: The BeBe Winans Story, which runs July 1-August 28, 2016 at Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater. Photo by Greg Mooney, courtesy Alliance Theatre.

Much of the action takes place on Set Designer, Neil Patel’s rendering of PTL’s live stage where teleprompters urge listeners to donate and Tammy Faye (Kirsten Wyatt) skitters around shrieking “Thank you, Jesus!!!” in capital letters affectionately referring to the Winan kids as her ‘chocolate drops’ or ‘chocolate babies’.  Her ignorance notably preceding her affection for the teens.  Wyatt is phenomenal as Tammy Faye and plays it to the hilt, just as Tammy did in real life and the show overflows with highlights both lyrical and emotional.  Artistic Director Molly Smith calls it a “story of faith and redemption”, and the arrival of Whitney Houston (Kiandra Richardson), a close friend and advisor to the Winans, seconds that claim.

Outstanding are Nita Whitaker, as Mom Winans, whose spellbinding crystal clear voice shows itself on “Seventh Son”, Milton Craig Nealy as Pop Winans, the no-nonsense dad who triumphs in “I Got a Home”, Brad Raymond with the Teddy Pendergrass voice as brother Ronald, and BeBe and Penny (Alison Whitehurst) BeBe’s White girlfriend, dueting on “Forbidden Love”, a ballad destined to become a classic.

(L to R) Nita Whitaker as Mom Winans and Milton Craig Nealy as Pop Winans in Born for This: The BeBe Winans Story, which runs July 1-August 28, 2016 at Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater. Photo by Greg Mooney, courtesy Alliance Theatre.

(L to R) Nita Whitaker as Mom Winans and Milton Craig Nealy as Pop Winans in Born for This: The BeBe Winans Story, which runs July 1-August 28, 2016 at Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater. Photo by Greg Mooney, courtesy Alliance Theatre.

Costumes by famed Broadway designer William Ivey Long (Hairspray, Cinderella, Crazy for You) are totally spot on, especially for Tammy Faye if you remember those shoulder pads that launched into outer space, and the cutesy matching outfits of the PTL singers.  Long and Wig Designer Lashawn Melton follow the styles of BeBe and CeCe as their wardrobe and hairstyles become ever more sophisticated with Houston’s assistance.

As it stands now, the musical is overly long – 2 ½ hours – even with the short songs.  But how to cut the rich, lush tones of these voluptuous voices and the come-to-Jesus gospel sounds of the Winans?  And who would want to?

Highly recommended.

Through August 28th at Arena Stage, 1101 Sixth St., SE, Washington, DC 20024.  For tickets and information call 202 488-3300 or visit www.ArenaStage.org.