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The Forager King at The Restaurant at Patowmack Farm

Jordan Wright
October 8, 2014
Special to DC Metro Theater Art
Photo credit – Jordan Wright 

The potager

The potager

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

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 Billands 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

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

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

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

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

Human Rights Campaign’s “Chefs For Equality” Evening Scores Big with DC Chefs and Their Fans

Jordan Wright
September 25, 2014
Photo credit – Jordan Wright
Special to DC Metro Theater Arts

 

Event Chair David Hagedorn in lime green tie

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 Setting

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 - Tim Ma - Brent Sick Del Frisco's Grille

(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 CedarRis 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 Grilledshow is on the Travel Channel.

(Left to Right) Aaron McCloud of Cedar - Michael Abt of Le Diplomate - Michael Friedman of The Red Hen

(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

(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

Bryan Sorrentino’s cake from Charm City Cakes

Capriotti’s Sandwich Shop Opens in Rosslyn on Aug 25th – Complimentary “Bobbie” Subs for First 100 Customers

Cary Pollak for Whisk and Quill
August 17, 2014

The first Capriotti’s Sandwich Shop opened in Wilmington, Delaware in 1976.  Lois Margolet and her brother Alan started their business in Wilmington’s Little Italy section, but it was turkey that put them on the map. Building their menu around the freshly roasted bird set them apart from the many sandwich shops in the area, and soon they were beating the stuffing out of the competition. Today there are more than 105 company-owned and franchise locations in 14 states across the country. Their unique menus feature subs in three sizes, as well as sandwiches and salads comprised of various meats, cheeses and vegetables. Highlights among their offerings include three types of spicy peppers and vegetarian options with soy-based meat substitutes.

"Bobbie" sub sandwitch

“Bobbie” Sub sandwich

Capriotti’s second location in the Washington Metro area (in addition to the shop at 18th and M Streets, NW in the District) opens on August 25th at 11:00 am at 1500 Wilson Boulevard in Rosslyn. The first 100 patrons in line will receive a free “Bobbie” sandwich, with the first 50 of those also receiving certificates for “Bobbies” for a year. This “Thanksgiving on a Roll” sub sandwich is the most popular item on the menu and consists of slow-roasted turkey, their special recipe cranberry sauce and an herbed dressing (Northerners know it as stuffing), and mayo.  This comfort food combo is known as Vice President Joe Biden‘s favorite sandwich, and has earned “Best Of” awards in Las Vegas, San Diego, Delaware, Dallas and other cities around the country.

L to R : Joe Combs, Director of Operations.  Paul Rothenburg, Rosslyn BID. George Vincent, Jr.,the owner.  Jordan Schneider, Director of Catering

L to R : Joe Combs, Director of Operations.
Paul Rothenburg, Rosslyn BID. George Vincent, Jr.,the owner.
Jordan Schneider, Director of Catering

George Vincent, Jr. is the 33 year-old local businessman who introduced Capriotti’s to the DC area, and he plans to open a dozen outlets in the next two years. Mr. Vincent is off to a good start and clearly intends to earn our thanks, giving us some of the best and most interesting sandwiches available in the metro area. For more info visit www.capriottis.com.

Photo credit to Cary Pollak

Falls Church Farmers Market Shines a Light on Local Chefs

Jordan Wright
July 17, 2014 

Summer's bounty from Tree and Leaf Farm

Summer’s bounty from Tree and Leaf Farm

Beckoning the supermarket-weary shopper are our local farmers markets and closest to me are the markets in Del Ray, Old Town Alexandria, Crystal City and Mount Vernon – four markets who have had my business for many years.  Recently I discovered the Falls Church Farmers Market, a producer-only market that is twice the size of the markets I have near home.

Kale Salad from Oh Mercy!

Kale Salad from Oh Mercy!

Here you can find Mercy Duncan-Bloomgarden’s “Oh Mercy!” line of Ghanaian-inspired sauces, salads and condiments.  Her kale, Fuji apple and goat cheese salad, green salsa and fiery hot sauces reveal a distinctly African dynamic.

Flower display

Flower display

This two-street rambling market is chock-a-block with fresh local products.  Herbs and flowers both cut and abloom in pots, sit alongside tents filled with dozens of varieties of farm fresh vegetables.  I found honey, juicy white and yellow peaches (I even spied watermelon with bright yellow flesh), turnips, beans, peas, heirloom tomatoes, green leafy veggies and tubers, all straight from local farms.  Handcrafted sausages, sustainably raised beef, lamb, rabbit and free-range chickens’ eggs could be found here alongside crusty Euro-style breads and scrumptious baked goods – to wit – pies to die for.

Nutella Crepes from Kate's Crepes - The Mushroom Man

Nutella Crepes from Kate’s Crepes – The Mushroom Man

What I didn’t expect to find were wines, doughnuts deep-fried on site, smoked salmon, made-to-order Nutella crepes, spun wool from a sheep farm, six varieties of gourmet mushrooms, home baked doggie treats, Turkish pastries, savory pastries, cheeses, fresh fish and soft shell crabs.  Just don’t expect to find what doesn’t grow, isn’t made or isn’t raised in the Mid Atlantic region.

Deep fried doughnuts

Deep fried doughnuts

What surprised me most was meeting Bonnie Driggers who teaches Botanical Art in the town’s library.  Editor of the new “Native Plants of the Mid Atlantic”, a stunning and informative book illustrated with beautiful botanical paintings by local artists interpreting the flora common to our area, she was there to field questions and sign copies of the book.

Christophe and Michelle Poteaux of Bastille Restaurant - Tasting the Zucchini Soup

Christophe and Michelle Poteaux of Bastille Restaurant – Tasting the Zucchini Soup

The Saturday I visited noted Chefs Michelle and Christophe Poteaux of Bastille restaurant in Alexandria were in the monthly “Chef Series” tent preparing and serving a delicious rendition of their Cold Zucchini Soup.

Caitlin Dysart/ Award-winning (Pastry Chef of the Year/ RAMMYS 2014) Pastry Chef/ 2941 Restaurant

Caitlin Dysart/ Award-winning (Pastry Chef of the Year/ RAMMYS 2014) Pastry Chef/ 2941 Restaurant

Tomorrow morning at 9am RAMW Award-winning Pastry Chef, Caitlin Dysart from 2941 Restaurant, will prepare and serve Butterscotch Budino with Stone Fruit and Thyme.  Dysart will source fruit and herbs from the market.

The Falls Church Farmers Market is located in the City Hall Parking Lot at 300 Park Avenue, Falls Church, VA 22046.   It is open every Saturday year round from 9am till noon. www.fallschurchva.gov/547/Farmers-Market

A Trio of Chefs Create a Magical Evening on a Farm – Capital Taste –  Farm-to-Table Dinner

Jordan Wright
July 12, 2014
Photo credit Jordan Wright
 

At East Lynn Farm in Round Hill

At East Lynn Farm in Round Hill

The minute you turn onto Snickersville Turnpike from the John Mosby Highway, the stress of the city begins to fall away like husk off corn.  It’s the route I chose to drive to East Lynn Farm in Round Hill, Virginia for a field to plate dinner.  In my book driving through a green leafy tunnel, pierced through by the afternoon sun’s golden rays, is a far better introduction to the charms of the countryside than the countless traffic lights, strip malls and gas stations along Route 7.  But curving around country lanes and gazing out onto wide swaths of open farmland, allows the spirit to ease mindfully into a more peaceful dimension.

As I pulled into the driveway I noticed a few other guests had already arrived.  One of the chefs greeted me from the front porch and steered me to a path behind the historic farmhouse where a long linen-covered table beckoned beneath tall pines.  Edging the perimeter of the bucolic scene, farm baskets overflowed with yellow squash.  And torches, raised up on bamboo poles, ringed the newly mown grass.  On the patio guests introduced themselves and sipped wine in the softening light.  Very quickly a shared sense of adventure and camaraderie took hold of the strangers.

Before dinner service farm owner Georgia Ravitz led the twenty or so of us on a brief tour.  Surrounded by hayfields dotted with weathered red barns, we strolled down the neat rows of the four-acre vegetable and flower gardens, stopping along the way to nibble on vining peas and spearmint while imagining them in our supper-to-be.  On the north end of the gardens pasture-raised chickens foraged on ground insects and a small pond edged in willows afforded ducks and frogs a calm respite from the day’s heat.

Thank you, chicks

Thank you, chicks

Inside the farmhouse’s state-of-the-art kitchen, three passionate chefs and their capable crew were abuzz with activity.  Terence Tomlin, Mackenzie Kitburi and Kiril Stavrev had set the stage for their six-course dinner and all hands were on deck.

Kitburi and Tomlin had met at Range, Bryan Voltaggio’s American Modern restaurant in Friendship Heights.  Coincidentally they had started their jobs there on the same day and, as Kitburi describes their friendship, “It took Terry awhile to warm up to me, but we’ve been clicking ever since.” Eventually Kitburi told his new friend about an idea he’d been hatching.  He wanted to start a company that would stage elegant pop-up dinners in supper clubs and existing restaurants. “I told him about my plans and my vision and he got on board right away,” Kitburi explained.  Stavrev, who brought along Marriott and Ritz-Carlton experience, came into the brotherly mix soon after.  “He’s a great cook who complements us.  We’re definitely on the same wave-length,” Kitburi says.

The company they formed, Capital Taste, is not a caterer per se.  As Kitburi sees it, “My vision is to switch up the dining experience with unique menus and themes.  I prefer a tasting style menu so people can experience a number of different tastes during one sitting.  We want people to come to us for the food.  We don’t plan to bring food to people.”

Summer Squash Mousse

Summer Squash Mousse

This evening’s pop-up was the young chefs’ first in a summer series of five farm dinners and it began with a beautiful amuse bouche of watermelon, fennel and mint, followed by zucchini mousse with herbs, and then, a sheer tomato consommé expressed by the fruit and liquid from heirloom tomatoes and crowned by a single squash blossom.

Tomato Consommé with Squash Blossom

Tomato Consommé with Squash Blossom

Potato rösti topped with a sunny hen egg (Thank you, little chicks!), became a foil for truffle hollandaise.  And after segueing the wine pairings from whites to reds, a duo of rack of lamb and lamb sausage with chimichurri and eggplant purée was introduced.

Sunny Hen Egg on Potato Rosti with Truffle Hollandaise

Sunny Hen Egg on Potato Rosti with Truffle Hollandaise

As the light grew dim, candles and torches provided the table’s sole source of illumination, and our fourth course arrived.  Slices of the farm’s Angus strip loin steak got the benefit of charred baby Japanese eggplant plus two sauces – a delicate soubise hinting of onions and a glistening summer truffle sauce.

Lamb Rack and Lamb Sausage

Lamb Rack and Lamb Sausage

The lively conversation and breathless compliments paused only when someone remarked on the moon.  A zillion stars sparkled in the Western sky as fireflies performed their staccato dance across the darkened horizon, and the final dish was presented.  On a magical night where every course had delivered the promise of pasture and garden, the chefs had given the final nod to the harvest with Tomlin’s specialty, vegetable ice cream – one of red beet, the other using white asparagus.  Impossible concepts that proved transcendent before melting into a lasting memory.

Duo of Red Beet and White Asparagus Ice Creams

Duo of Red Beet and White Asparagus Ice Creams

To dine in such a way is a wonderment.  To partake of nature’s bounty expressed in sublime artistry, is truly divine.

The next dinner at East Lynn Farm will be on Sunday evening, July 20th.  To book your reservations go to info@CapitalTaste.com.  To learn more about the Inn at East Lynn or the farm’s CSA program go to www.EastLynnFarm.com.