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Nibbles and Sips Around Town 2010

Special to the Georgetowner and Downtowner
Jordan Wright
November 2010

Little Morso’s Turkish Delights

Sleek, chic little Morso - photo by Jordan Wright

Sleek, chic little Morso - photo by Jordan Wright

Morso is a tiny jewel box of a restaurant. Its hip modern décor is sleek, its bar, cozy and chic, its cuisine scrumptious, its prices gentle. A parking lot is right across the street and it’s in the heart of Georgetown. What more can a hungry, stylish diner ask for?

Grilled Zatar-spiced Octopus at Morso - photo by Jordan Wright

Grilled Zatar-spiced Octopus at Morso - photo by Jordan Wright

Favorites: Ezme, a mixture of roasted tomato and pine nuts with orange and red pepper; creamy Babaganoush, the traditional eggplant made with roasted eggplant and pistachio oil; Baked Moussaka; heavenly Wood-grilled Fresh Squid filled with fresh herbs and burrata; perfectly grilled and tender Zatar Spiced Octopus with white bean puree, green olives and cilantro; Lamb Shish Kebap (yes, the spelling seems odd but that’s the Turkish word for roasting) served with bulghur and addictive sweet red onion with zatar and a killer dessert called Irmik Helva that is made with shredded phyllo, pistachios and boasts a semolina custard. It is to die for. I can’t be held responsible if you miss out on this sweet treat!

Baked Moussaka at Morso - photo by Jordan Wright

Baked Moussaka at Morso - photo by Jordan Wright

On the list for next time: 8 different kinds of Brick Oven Pides (Turkish-style pizzas); Octopus Pilaf with Swiss Chard and Scallions; Grilled Boneless Whole Branzino; and handmade Manti. Manti are beef dumplings and here they are served with warm yoghurt, paprika oil and sumac. There is also a Swordfish Kebap, which is a fish high in mercury. So if you do have it and it is really good, please only order it once a year!

Glitch: There was a reception in the bar area for around 40 university alumni for the first hour and a half we were there. The manager apologized profusely saying he had planned for only 20 guests. Though it was a cute group of well-mannered alums, the bar is open to the dining area and it can be noisy. If you are planning a romantic evening without a distractingly high decibel count, ask if the restaurant is hosting a reception when making your reservations.

Sweetbite Creamery Poised to Up the Cookie Ante

I was introduced to Ashley Allen and Tricia Widgen, partners in Sweetbite Creamery, at the new Bethesda Central Farm Market where they will be selling their delicious ice cream sandwiches till the market shutters on November 23rd for the season when you’ll find them at the Oakton Market in Bethesda and on the menu at the Mayflower Hotel.

Molasses pumpkin ice cream cookie treats from Sweetbite Creamery

Molasses pumpkin ice cream cookie treats from Sweetbite Creamery

The young local entrepreneurs met at George Washington University’s Business School and started their collaboration only a few months ago. They’ve been catering parties and putting together holiday gift packs with assorted flavors, and will even deliver a minimum of one dozen of their original flavors such as Baked Apple Snickerdoodle, Molasses Pumpkin, Sweet Potato and Marshmallow, and Salted Caramel to your home.

Rising Star Chefs Hold Gala Rooftop Tasting

Winner Executive Chef Matt Hill of Charlie Palmer Steak - photo by Jordan Wright

Winner Executive Chef Matt Hill of Charlie Palmer Steak - photo by Jordan Wright

Recently some of the area’s notable chefs including David Varley of Michael Mina’s Bourbon Steak at the Four Seasons, Bertrand Chemel of 2941, Dean Maupin of Keswick Hall at Monticello, John and Karen Shields of Town House restaurant and Benjamin Lambert of Restaurant Nora, to name a few, prepared a few of their signature dishes on the tented rooftop of Charlie Palmer’s Steakhouse. Out-of-town chef Jason Alley of Comfort restaurant in Richmond, whose Beef Cheeks braised in juniper and ginger beer, was a favorite among some of the food writers, gave me his secret. Pork stock! Yes, for the beef! Road trip to Richmond anyone?

Matt Hill's winning dish - photo by Jordan Wright

Matt Hill's winning dish - photo by Jordan Wright

Or maybe you’d prefer to cruise down Route 81 to Chilhowie, VA for Karen Shields’ heavenly Parsnip Candy Ice Cream concoction served with coconut, banana pudding, sponge cake, almond cookie, and lemongrass sorbet. I counted nine separate methods to create this dessert and though all the chefs’ recipes were included in the program, don’t try this one at home unless you want to be chained to your kitchen like a yard dog to a tree.

Each creation, including the swank desserts, was paired with wine, beer or specialty cocktails like the “Mulberry Street” created by PS 7’s mixologist, Gina Chersevani. The early fall evening was hosted by the ubiquitously charitable, Todd Gray, of Equinox. The winning chef was Matt Hill from Charlie Palmer’s for his Prosciutto-wrapped Canadian Pork Tenderloin with cauliflower puree and preserved cherries.

Kudos that the event overlooking the dome of the US Capitol was as green as could be with recyclable bamboo dinnerware.

Michel Richard Opens Third Restaurant in Tysons Corner

Michel Richard in his newest kitchen at Michel at the Ritz-Carlton Tysons - photo by Jordan Wright

Michel Richard in his newest kitchen at Michel at the Ritz-Carlton Tysons - photo by Jordan Wright

Michel Richard of Citronelle and Central Michel Richard, flush with celebratory glee, served up some delicacies earlier this week at his eponymously named new restaurant in the Ritz-Carlton Tysons Corner. Richard has tapped one of my favorite chefs, Levi Mezick, formerly of The Jockey Club (see my July story on Mezick) to be his Executive Chef.

Zaca Mesa Wines

Zaca Mesa vineyards in the Santa Ynez Valley

Zaca Mesa vineyards in the Santa Ynez Valley

Brook Williams is the CEO and wine grower at Zaca Mesa Winery and Vineyards nestled in the Santa Ynez Valley. He is a blond blue-eyed California guy with an enthusiasm for wine that came later in life after over twenty years on the financial side of winemaking for super-size wineries like Gallo, Kendall-Jackson and Beringer. You could say he’s a convert in a lot of ways.

For the past seven years along with winemaker, Eric Mohseini, Williams has nurtured the grapes on the estate’s 750 acres. His wines are 100% estate grown and bottled using sustainable winegrowing practices and organic products.

“When we started out in the 1990’s we got our cuttings from Randall Grahm and afterwards discovered they were Viognier not Roussanne,” he told me at a one-on-one wine tasting in the Blue Duck Tavern Lounge where I sampled seven Zaca Mesa wines.

“Later we got cuttings for our syrah from Gary Eberle. Zaca Mesa was the first to plant syrah in Santa Barbara County back in 1978.” “In fact our syrah sales have gone up 80% this year. It is our most popular seller.” I found it has a lovely flavor profile of cassis, espresso, mocha and sage, but the 2006 should be put down for a few more years to fully appreciate.

As we spoke we nibbled and sipped over an exceptional charcuterie and cheese platter consisting of a luscious silken prosciutto, mortadella, soppressata, cured olives and tomatoes. Cheeses sampled were Humboldt Fog, Bayley Hazen Blue, Oma from the Von Trapp Farmstead, Nancy’s Hudson Valley Camembert, Organic Red Hawk triple crème made by Cowgirl Creamery, and the local Everona Dairy Piedmont.

I particularly liked the 2006 Roussanne. The grape is a Rhone variety, not well known in the States, but should be soon since it captured a “Best White of Show” at Hilton Head this spring.

Try their award-winning 2007 Z Cuvee made with 57% Grenache, 31% Mourvedre and 12% Syrah with its raspberry, blueberry, blackberry and light pepper notes. I picked it up at the Home Farm Store in Middleburg this week where I stopped to order an organic Ayrshire Farm heritage breed turkey for Thanksgiving dinner.

Enjoy these wines with dinner at such top restaurants as the Lafayette Room at the Hay Adams Hotel, Charlie Palmer’s Steakhouse, Black Salt and Veritas Wine Bar where they offer over 70 wines by the glass.

For purchase at Arrowine and Wegman’s in VA, and in DC at Ace Beverage, Cleveland Park Liquor and Wines, and Bell Wine and Spirits.

Rigoni di Asiago Fruit Jams, Honey and Chocolate Hazelnut Butter

It seems every chef in the country is fiddling around with “Nutella” in their desserts. This chocolate hazelnut spread has been a favorite in Italy since its invention in the 1940’s. During the war years, chocolate was pricey and hazelnuts were prolific in the Piedmont region of Italy, and this recipe could stretch out both ingredients.

It debuted in the US three decades ago it has become a popular way to sneak a bit of protein in kids’ diets with a slathering of the “gianduja” spread on toast.

For over 80 years the Rigoni family have produced eight varieties of organic honey (like chestnut, pine and eucalyptus), and seventeen different organic jams (crave the fig, gooseberry and pomegranate) on their ancestral farms in the Cimbrian Plateau of Asiago, Veneto. They have recently brought to the US market an entirely organic version of the spread they call, “Nocciolata”. It adds 15% more hazelnuts than Nutella and is richer, more luscious, and has a deeper flavor too. Try frosting your cupcakes with it. I did…and it was heavenly and quick!

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Nibbles and Sips and a New Theatre

Special to the Georgetowner and Downtowner
Jordan Wright
October 2010

Tapas Menu Introduced at Taberna

Cheese platter with honeycomb at Taberna Del Alaberdero - photo by Jordan Wright

Cheese platter with honeycomb at Taberna Del Alaberdero - photo by Jordan Wright

Taberna del Alaberdero is shedding its stuffy image as an Old World Spanish restaurant and appealing to a younger crowd with the addition of an extensive tapas menu and a Sunday brunch that features a different region of Spain each month. November explores the foods of the Northern sea coast of Cantabria, a region known for its seafood.

White Sangria at Taberna Del Alaberdero - photo by Jordan Wright

White Sangria at Taberna Del Alaberdero - photo by Jordan Wright

New chef, Javier Romero, comes to Washington by way of several Michelin-starred restaurants and brings with him his success as the Numero Uno chef in Madrid in 2005, topped only by securing fourth place in 2006 for all of Spain. He employs his classical training to create tapas, infusing bold flavors in tiny bites.

I particularly liked his Arroz Cremoso de Rabo de Toro y Judiones (braised oxtail and fava beans) with its slow-cooked meat and creamy beans served over rice and Brick de Morcilla con Manzana y Parmesano, which is anything but brick-like and features blood sausage cradled in a pastry crisp, and served with apple slices and parmesan cheese. Typical tapas like Gambas al Ajillo (shrimp with garlic) and the traditional potato and egg omelet are well executed and there are over a dozen other tasty morsels to nibble on before polishing it all off with Spanish cheeses served with an aromatic honey still in its comb.

Though summer has past, make sure to try either the white or red sangria. It is never out of season for sneaking luscious fresh fruit into your meal even if it is saturated with wine. These are the best sangrias in town.

The Jockey Club Gets a New Chef – Again

Steak Tartare with Quail Egg at The Jockey Club - photo by Jordan Wright

Steak Tartare with Quail Egg at The Jockey Club - photo by Jordan Wright

Speaking of new chefs in town The Jockey Club at The Fairfax at Embassy Row has snagged Ralf Hofmann, with his classic American style and light approach to fish and vegetables. His signature dishes like Lobster “Bratwurst” and Root Vegetable Gnocchi continue to draw the posh and political as evidenced by the appearance of Hilary Clinton on the evening I dined there. I am told she ordered her favorite, Dover Sole Lemon Meuniére. I went for the Steak Tartare, I often do, and this version was spot on.

The hotel will host the 2011 Capital Wine Festival on January 20th with a very affordable weekly dinner series limited to only 60 guests. It will pair Chef Hofmann’s cuisine with wines from around the world.

Rivers at the Watergate Gives Foggy Bottom a New Power Dining Spot

The darling of the legendary Prime Rib, Billy Carter, has moved on to open Rivers at the Watergate, where he is the proprietor. I don’t usually follow the vicissitudes of restaurant managers except that so many of us know and love Billy from his 34 years at the Prime Rib that it was a stunner when he announced his move to open this new venture featuring Contemporary American Cuisine with a twist – Asian and Southern thrown in for good measure.

“I was surprised at the changing and sophisticated palates of our clientele,” Carter told me. “Dishes we put on the menu, like Whole Rockfish with ginger black bean sauce and rice vermicelli stir-fry, and Ginger Steamed Cod with sesame rice balls, were things that Mike and I liked and that have really taken off.” Mike is Mike Smithson, former chef at The Prime Rib in Philadelphia, who also did stints at Morton’s and Ruth Chris. Yes, he knows beef, and yes, they have fabulous steaks and zinfandel-braised short ribs too.

It’s not the same K Street crowd that Carter has welcomed in the past, though many of the swank regulars have caught on to the new location. Now you might find the cast of “Hair” popping in after the show from nearby Kennedy Center, along with prima ballerina Suzanne Farrell, and uber-composer Marvin Hamlisch, soon to perform with the National Symphony Orchestra, who was taking lunch between rehearsals as we spoke. Note to Marvin: There is a piano at the bar just itching for a little ragtime. Text me!

The restaurant’s name celebrates the rivers of the world and plans are to feature one river each season to reflect that cuisine. Italy looks to be the first.

Arena Stage Hits the Heights

E. Faye Butler at Arena Stage's Opening Day - photo by Jordan Wright

E. Faye Butler at Arena Stage's Opening Day - photo by Jordan Wright

On Saturday we witnessed the opening of the new glittering, glimmering, glass-walled Arena Stage where three main stages will seat 1400 audience members.

Former Artistic Director, Doug Wager, who came to the struggling theatre in 1974 recounted founder Zelda Fichandler’s words, “”Maybe you can’t pass the torch,” she once told him. “Maybe you just pass the fire.”

“We’ve raised the roof and what a home it is!” heralded current Artistic Director Molly Smith, who noted the “Zen-like aura about the place.”

Arena Stage - Photo by Jordan Wright

Arena Stage - Photo by Jordan Wright

Performers and playwrights from the theatre’s upcoming calendar were showcased throughout the venue. We saw alumni artist, E. Faye Butler, who is appearing in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Oklahoma” till December 26th and former Tony award-nominee, Brad Oscar. The Manzari Brothers, who I interviewed earlier in the year when they were blowing audiences out of their seats with their tapping talents in “Sophisticated Ladies”, and the Voices of Now, Arena Stages’ creative DC youth group were only a few of the full day’s indoor/outdoor performances.

Jose Andres oversees his operation at Arena Stage - photo by Jordan Wright

Jose Andres oversees his operation at Arena Stage - photo by Jordan Wright

There is so much to look forward to in this shining new venue…a vivid contribution to the revitalization of its Southwest neighborhood, world-class theatre, and José Andrés brilliant cuisine where many of the dishes are influenced by the season’s productions. Look for an inspired and eclectic menu served in a sleek café, that make it a pre-theatre dinner destination. Sipping champagne on the outdoor terrace overlooking the Potomac is optional but recommended.

Cuba Libre Opens DC Outpost

Organic Salmon Ceviche with orange salad, orange-passion fruit sauce and salmon caviar - photo by Jordan Wright

Organic Salmon Ceviche with orange salad, orange-passion fruit sauce and salmon caviar - photo by Jordan Wright

At long last and after many false starts Cuba Libre opened its puertas in Penn Quarter and I found both good and bad to report. First the expected: It is a fun, super-lively, noisy hot spot. Second the management team has gotten it right with informed servers, gracious door host and fast and efficient service. The freshly made mojitos are crazy fabulous, especially the pineapple, but not forgetting the beet and basil rendition. Dear Lord, there are 15 to choose from!

Over 75 premium and flavored rums from Brazil, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Tortola will keep you experimenting for a good long while. The restaurant itself has six of their own branded rums, anejos aged up to 21 years, and made in Guayana.

Lump Crab Ceviche with Smoked Cheddar Cheese, tomatillos and candied peanut salsa from Cuba Libre - photo by Jordan Wright

Lump Crab Ceviche with Smoked Cheddar Cheese, tomatillos and candied peanut salsa from Cuba Libre - photo by Jordan Wright

Ceviches are memorable especially the scallop with blackened tomatillo-truffle sauce and goat cheese confetti. I opted for the flight of five, great for sharing.

Now for the disappointing part. The Nuevo Cubano cuisine didn’t always match the mouth-watering dishes described on the menu. Arepas are better eaten off local street trucks, ditto for the tostones. Somewhere along the line the baby octopus had the life taken out of it by overcooking and “whole roasted fillet of Australian sea bass” was a meager half inch by four inch slice and way overcooked. My charming server steered us away from the Gaucho platter, which I was eager to try, and put us on to the pork, which was dull and tough. Still I’ll go back to see if they make a good Cuban sandwich and to sample the four varieties of empanadas.

Stick to the bebidas and piqueos . Calle Ocho and South Beach still beckon.

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