October 8, 2014
Special to DC Metro Theater Art
Photo credit – Jordan Wright
For many years Ferran Adria’s now shuttered elBulli held the title of “The Best Restaurant in the World”. Since then the fiercely sought after accolade has gone to his former student Rene Redzepi, Chef/Owner of Noma in Copenhagen, Denmark. Four years ago Redzepi’s publisher Phaidon sent me a copy of his coffee table size cookbook. “Time and Place in Nordic Cuisine”, which at the time I included in my “Best Cookbooks of 2010”. The book continued my interest in the science and artistry of elegantly prepared wild foods. In 2002 I’d read French chef and forager extraordinaire Michel Bras’s book “Essential Cuisine” and saw how a Michelin-starred chef could elevate wild local plants, locally caught seafood and humanely raised animals to their highest culinary purpose while at the same time employing a flower-strewn, naturalistic style.
A grazer since childhood, I munch on violets, honeysuckle and the early blossoms of the redbud tree. And if I’m lucky enough to find them I still chomp on wild ramps, dandelion leaves and the tender watercress that pops up along small streams and culverts in the spring. I consider it homeopathic and secretly believe it’s what keeps me from seasonal allergies.
Tarver King is a chef who answers the call of the wild too. When we first met he was cooking at the Ashby Inn in Paris, Virginia where he wedded molecular gastronomic techniques to simple, local ingredients and spent many hours putting up jars of glistening cantaloupe jelly, pickled vegetables and berry jams from ingredients he picked from the bounty of a small garden behind the inn.
Chef Tarver King
After gaining experience in such legendary kitchens as The French Laundry, Le Bec Fin, The Inn at Little Washington and the Woodlands Inn & Resort in South Carolina. King now has found is roost in the kitchen at the Restaurant at Patowmack Farm where he is the architect of the menu. Using the bounty from owner Beverly Morton Billand’s vegetable and herb gardens, wildcrafting “weeds” and morels from the nearby woods and sourcing from the 40-acre farm where Billand raises chickens, ducks and beef cattle, he has a myriad of options at his command, including fish from the sustainable catches of local East Coast fishermen.
King’s commitment to local, seasonal and organic, as well as his compelling artistry has not gone unnoticed by the industry. He was named “Grand Chef” of the year by Relais and Chateau, received the RAMMY award as “Chef of the Year” 2013 and this year earned the coveted title of “Best Chef – Mid-Atlantic” from the James Beard Foundation.
Reflecting his keen attention to land, sea and farm, the menu is divided into “Found”, heavier on seafood, “Grown”, some meat but largely paleo, and “Raised”, which leans more towards meat protein. Each affords the diner with amuses bouche, noted as “snacks”, and a five-course progression menu of the chef’s design.
Snacks before dinner – Gougeres – Beet Cream
Some of the menu’s descriptors – smoked kraut, cicely gastrique, lambs quarters, sorrel soda, chicory root custard and hyssop ice cream – reveal the adventure.
Seared Wahoo with ramp chimichurri
King, who spends three days a week cooking and the rest experimenting, started us off with delicate gougeres and a beet cream toast, followed by Scallop Mi-cuit, a semi-cooked scallop enhanced by creamed corn, chanterelle puree, and lambs quarters, a wild edible. Crispy Shrimp is sauced with cicely gastrique, ratatouille puree, fennel fronds and mustard cream – each element contributing to the nuanced whole of the dish. My dinner partner who opted for “Raised” was busy devouring the Pork Fried Chicken with whey and mustard butter, smoked kraut and pole beans, which preceded Beef Cheek with whipped grits, grilled beets, horseradish and nasturtium leaves. A happy carnivore, indeed.
Beef Cheeks with whipped grits and nasturtium leaves
The dining room is an enormous brick-paved, all-glass greenhouse (sans plants). A separate white-tented space for outdoor dining features a view of the river and Harpers Ferry Bridge beyond and is decorated with nosegays and candles. Very romantic.
Chicory root custard with cocoa nib crumble, puffed rice and whipped fromage blanc
Courses came swiftly delivered by attentive and gentile wait staff, who re-described each dish as it was set forth. We finished a spectacular evening of gastronomic delights and surprises with a lovely Silver Needle Jasmine white tea from local purveyor Shab Row Tea Emporium in nearby Frederick, Maryland.
Reservations, of course. www.PatowmackFarm.com
October 7, 2014
Special to The Alexandria Times
Synetic Theater has taken H. G. Well’s science fiction classic The Island of Dr. Moreau and morphed it into a frighteningly realistic maelstrom of horrors, just in time for Halloween. For those who like being terrified by a mad scientist whose muse is a vengeful half human half feline fiend, sit back and settle in for a wild ride and a landscape filled with vivisected beasts – the good doctor’s engineered experiments.
Alex Mills as Parker and Paata Tsikurishvili as Dr. Moreau – Photo by Johnny Shryock.
Alex Mills plays Parker the hapless shipwreck victim, washed upon the shores of a Pacific atoll thousands of miles from civilization and light years from reality. When he recalls that the doctor was blackballed from the scientific community for his gruesome experiments on humans, he begins to fear for his life amid the zombies – – as well he should. To understand what machinations are transpiring within the laboratory he forms a friendship of convenience with Moreau’s dedicated assistant Montgomery (Dallas Tolentino) who between nips from a silver flask, assures him that the doctor will save the world by designing a better, more efficient human being. “All he creates is suffering and the deification of himself,” Parker declares.
Paata Tsikurishvili plays Dr. Moreau with evil swagger and a studied nonchalance. “The law is not to eat flesh and not to go on all fours,” he warns the six beasts, insisting they parrot his edicts on command. When he delivers the lines, “The crafting of living flesh has been around for a long time,” and “Real progress can only be achieved by someone as remorseless as myself,” we begin to see what a hideous monster he really is.
The beasts. The Island of Dr. Moreau – Photo by Johnny Shryock
Irina Tsikurishvili creates the spectacular choreography that interweaves the plot with the characters’ action and Set Designer Phil Charlwood’s massive metal sculpture in the shape of a butterfly wing (Parker is a lepidopterist) that the beasts use to clamber on, keeps them in sight but removed from the scene. Kendra Rai’s breathtakingly phantasmagoric costumes reflecting the tormented creatures’ many excisions, alterations and freakish attachments, serve to magnify the ongoing suffering and torture of the bizarre beasts.
This is heightened by Brittany Diliberto and Riki K.’s multi-media, electronic light show accentuated by lasers, glowing chemicals and theatre-filling galaxies to accompany the original, unearthly synthesizer score by Irakli Kavsadze.
Paata Tsikurishvili as Dr. Moreau and Pasquale Guiducci as Sayer in The Island of Dr. Moreau – Photo by Johnny Shryock.
It’s all a harmonic exercise in sci-fi weirdness, calibrated to raise goosebumps on even the most hardened futurists.
Through November 1st at Synetic Theater, 1800 South Bell Street, Arlington in Crystal City. For tickets and information call 1 800 494-8497 or visit www.synetictheater.org.
October 6, 2014
Special to The Alexandria Times
Sean MacLaughlin as Juan Peron and Caroline Bowman as Eva – Photo credit Richard Termine
When we mention the names Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber we are floating around in the pantheonic stratosphere of most beloved collaborators ever to hit the stage, and their blockbuster Evita is certainly one of the finest and most memorable shows they have ever written. Drawing on the talents of Tony and Olivier Award-winning Director Michael Grandage, and Tony Award-winning Choreographer Rob Ashford to present the seven-time Tony Award-winning musical, the Kennedy Center brings this reinterpretation of the original Broadway production to a new dimension – and it is simply smashing. There is so much to remark upon and so many to give credit to, but I must start with Lighting Designer Neil Austin and Projection Designer Zachary Borovay who create a mood that reflects the period.
It is 1952 at the funeral of Eva Peron. Considered the spiritual leader of the people of Argentina, she was a highly controversial figure. The curtain opens to reveal old newsreels projected across the backdrop of the stage. The First Lady who had risen from a life of poverty by her wits and beauty, and a series of ever-more influential lovers, had achieved her greatest success by marrying Juan Peron.
A haunting black-hooded, candle-lit chorus is chanting a requiem for her through a smoky blue haze. It is a very dramatic opening, both ghostly and reverential. The scene then shifts to a lowly tango hall in the provinces where Eva, at 16, became a nightclub singer with dreams of a life in Buenos Aires. The shabby spot is lit with strings of bare light bulbs and bathed in sepia – the atmosphere appearing as though lifted from a vintage photograph. In a later scene Austin uses amber-lit chandeliers to evoke the period. Scenic & Costume Designer Christopher Oram continues the theme with muted-colored retro dresses for the women further expressing the drab shades worn during the Depression era.
Caroline Bowman as Eva – Photo credit Richard Termine
From the moment Caroline Bowman (Eva) enters the stage her presence is riveting. Captivating and lithe, almost balletic in her movements, with a voice that is strong, fluid, totally capable of the huge range expected by the part. But why do her low notes disappear, the high notes sound screechy? When the dialogue begins everyone sounds garbled. If you didn’t know the lyrics or the story, you would struggle to make out what they are singing or, for that matter, saying. I can’t explain it, but others around me in the orchestra section were having the same reaction to the poor audio. One can only hope it will be corrected by the time you read this review.
Yet there’s no denying the magic on stage. The fireworks between Eva and Juan (Sean MacLaughlin) begin with the song, “I’d Be Surprisingly Good for You” and by the time the next number “Another Suitcase in Another Hall” is sung, Eva and Juan have formed their alliance, for better or for worse.
“One has to admire the stage management,” Che sarcastically remarks before Eva arrives onto the balcony of Casa Rosada, the presidential palace. In one of the show’s most heartrending songs, “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” we witness her narcissistic manipulation as she cannily humbles herself to the adoring crowds.
Max Quinlan is brilliant as Che, Eva’s protector and reality check. In his memorable duet with her, “High Flying, Adored” reflecting the time when she is at the height of her popularity, he warns, “Don’t look down. It’s a long way.” But Eva ignores his sage advice and her megalomania gets the best of her. I’d quote her reaction if only I could have heard it.
Yet the orchestra is boffo, the set designs are killer, and the music is heaven on earth. See it, love it, adore it…and try not to sing out loud.
Through October 19th at the Kennedy Center, 2700 F St., NW, Washington, DC. For tickets and information call 202 467-4600 or visit www.Kennedy-Center.org.
TRAILER – Evita at The Kennedy Center – Washington, DC
October 1, 2014
Special to The Alexandria Times
Photo credit to Jordan Wright
Driving Old Highway 61 in the new turbo-charged Hyundai Sonata
The Plan: A road rally in the Hyundai 2015 Sonata. When Hyundai contacted me and asked if I’d like to be part of a road rally in Memphis, I couldn’t wait to rev up its 7-speed dual clutch (automatic plus stick) transmission. At least that’s how they described it in an email. That it had more bells and whistles than I had time to grasp in 36 hours under a tight schedule, was unfortunate.
The Place: Memphis, Tennessee to Clarksdale, Mississippi on Old Highway 61 returning to Memphis.
Neon BBQ sign on Beale Street
There are few cities that deliver the intensity of the American music experience and the culture of the old Deep South as Memphis does. For starters visit the Stax Museum of American Soul Music where Otis Redding and the Staple Singers cut records, the National Civil Rights Museum and the iconic Lorraine Motel where Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated.
The Lorraine Motel – scene of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination
To see luthiers make some of the world’s most famous guitars, there’s the Gibson Guitar Factory and Museum. Another must see is The Memphis Rock n’ Soul Museum. Developed by Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, it describes itself as a place where “musical pioneers and legends of all racial and socio-economic backgrounds who, for the love of music, overcame obstacles to create the musical sound that changed the world.”
The Gibson Guitar Factory and Museum
From there you’ll hop the shuttle to Sun Studios where Rock and Roll legend Elvis Presley recorded his first song, “That’s All Right, Mama”; where Howlin’ Wolf first recorded before his Chicago Blues influence; Johnny Cash recorded “I Walk the Line”; Jerry Lee Lewis kicked off his career with “A Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On”; and Carl Perkins laid down tracks for “Blue Suede Shoes” before Elvis got ahold of it. Only one member of what was known as the “Million Dollar Quartet” became “The King”, so for many fans a visit to the 1950’s cosmic bubble, Graceland, is somewhat of a sacred pilgrimage.
All that said, I couldn’t figure out why on God’s green earth friends thought I wouldn’t like Memphis. Maybe they thought I wouldn’t cotton to the honky-tonk culture, or the snail’s pace of life along verdant banks where riverboats still ferry passengers along the mighty Mississippi. Maybe they thought I wouldn’t take to leathered up bikers and their cigarette smokin’ mamas who stand beside hundreds of tricked out choppers. Or that on a warm night you can hear the blues filtering out through the open windows of the clubs along Beale Street. Or maybe they knew that some of the best barbeque and juke joints are outside city limits at rundown roadhouses in towns with no traffic lights – – just a single run-in store selling jars of pickled pig’s feet and tortillas for the seasonal migrant workers.
A tricked out Lamborghini bike wows the crowd on Beale Street
They should have known I’d pass up the cheesy Elvis impersonators to listen to raw-boned blues cranked out nightly by first-rate studio musicians, and that I’d satisfy my curiosity for the Peabody Hotel ducks with a bourbon and branch water while listening to a tuxedoed piano player recall cabaret songs from the 1930’s, and where just outside the lobby a Cinderella carriage will take you on a horse-drawn tour past historic sights.
The Italianate lobby of the Peabody Hotel
I loved Memphis – the sights and the sounds. From sidewalk street jammers playing rockabilly, rock n’ roll, Delta blues, gospel and soul to an unnamed group kickin’ it at an impromptu concert in a vest pocket park. They were all mining the roots of American music – preserving the sound that had bubbled up from both white and black musicians so long ago.
Day Two: After a morning briefing and vehicle assignment we received our triplogs. Twenty-four test drivers and twelve 2015 Sonatas left from the Westin Hotel on Beale Street and headed south out of the city along Old Highway 61. Known as the “Blues Trail”, the road took us to Clarksdale, Mississippi with Driver Switch Points at Mhoon Landing Park in Tunica, MS and Arkabutla Lake in Coldwater, MS.
At the Rum Boogie Cafe
The veteran car writers on the team were eager to check out the subtle, and not so subtle differences. They were keen on features like LED tail lights, lane departure warning, blind spot detection, lane change assist and rear and side window sunshades. A hands-free trunk was noted as was the ventilated front seat, Blue Link touch screen infotainment system, Pandora Internet Radio, Apple CarPlay and Google Android Auto that sends and receives text messages and can give fuel prices and movie times. The fact that the turbo-charged ECO model with quad-exhaust comes in nine colors (I loved the Quartz White Pearl), was mostly overlooked by the men.
Ground Zero Blues Club, Clarksdale, Mississippi
Driving along back roads we passed rusted silos and cornfields to Clarksdale, Mississippi where the Delta Blues Museum tells the story of early blues legends, Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters, and where we stopped to chow down at actor Morgan Freeman’s Ground Zero Blues Club, a funky, fried green tomatoes, BBQ-fueled roadhouse that roars with the sound of electric guitars – – even at high noon.
After a dinner of BBQ (You can eat it twice a day!), cornbread and sides at the vintage 1948 Rendezvous restaurant back in Memphis, I wondered. With all that history and all those blues, would I find my inner Eric Clapton? Easily! At the Westin I was able to order up a gold vintage Gibson guitar equipped with amplifier and headphones that was delivered to my room for the night. Sweet dreams, Mr. Clapton. Sweet dreams, Layla.
Charles Vergo’s Rendezvous
Westin Memphis Beale Street – www.westinmemphisbealestreet.com
Ground Zero Blues Club – www.groundzerobluesclub.com
Charles Vergo’s Rendezvous – www.hogsfly.com
September 25, 2014
Photo credit – Jordan Wright
Special to DC Metro Theater Arts
Event Chair David Hagedorn in lime green tie
When Washington Post food writer David Hagedorn is doing the asking, big name chefs and restaurateurs respond. Though we didn’t see her there, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who married David and his partner, Michael Widomski, last fall, are on his speed dial.
The noted cookbook author chaired the Human Rights Campaign LGBT “Chefs For Equality” evening of food and fun Tuesday night at the Ritz-Carlton West End in one of the most delicious events of the season. Two hundred chefs and their crews, plus some of the city’s top mixologists (if you hate that moniker, move along) prepared tastings for the guests who were dazzled by splashy drag queens, assorted pols and a ballroom filled with damned good looking men and their gal pals.
VIP table settings
Some of the most scrumptious bites came courtesy of Todd Gray and Chris Edwards of Salamander Resort & Spa (the concord grape jelly made from a neighbor’s vines was to die for); Michelle and Christophe Poteaux of Bastille whose foie gras mousse was topped with pear confit and toasted hazelnuts; Tim Ma of Water & Wall and Maple Avenue who served an Asian Chicken Soup; and Brian Noyes of Red Truck Bakery whose Chocolate Moonshine Cake (a Mason jar filled with the local firewater from Belmont Distillery) was a mouthful of pillowy, boozy chocolate cake.
(Left to Right) Brian Noyes of Red Truck Bakery – Tim Ma of Water & Wall – Brent Sick Del Frisco’s Grille
We also noshed on nibbles and sips from K. N. Vinod of Indique Heights, Mitch Berliner of MeatCrafters, Jamie Leeds of Hank’s Oyster Bar, Gina Chersevani of Buffalo & Bergen, Aaron McCloud of Cedar, Ris Lacoste of RIS, Tarver King of The Restaurant at Patowmack Farm, Jeff Faile of Neighborhood Restaurant Group and David Guas of Bayou Bakery whose “American Grilled” show is on the Travel Channel.
(Left to Right) Aaron McCloud of Cedar – Brinn Sinnott of Le Diplomate – Michael Friedman of The Red Hen
Salt & Sundry provided swag bags for the VIPs who sat together at tables lavishly decorated by their individual hosts. Their specialty dinners were prepared by uber-chefs Robert Wiedmaier (Marcel’s), Michel Richard (Central Michel Richard), Patrick O’Connell (The Inn at Little Washington), Frank Ruta (now baking with Mark Furstenberg at Bread Furst), Peter Chang (soon to open in Bethesda) Tony Conte (The Oval Room), Scott Drewno (The Source), Jeremiah Langhorne (formerly of McCrady’s soon to open a DC outpost), and Fabio Trabocchi (Fiola and Casa Luca).
(Left to Right) Felicia Beefeater aka A. J. Dronkers with Jordan Wright – Todd Gray and Chris Edwards with team from Salamander – Gus DiMillo and Jeff Tunks of Passion Food Hospitality
But it was all one big happy family there to celebrate this year’s Gay Rights successes and to push for Marriage Equality in Virginia. Star power came courtesy of Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe who wooed the joyful crowd with his promise of support for gay marriage in the “Virginia is for Lovers” state.
Bryan Sorrentino’s cake from Charm City Cakes