April 30, 2013
Special to DC Metro Theater Arts, Broadway Stars, and localKicks
Spring at last – not the in-your-face summer torture we had last week when temps reached 95 degrees and eggs were frying on the sidewalks of DC – spring with lilacs, violets, dogwood and daffodils – and while you’re at it asparagus, ramps, artichokes, morels, and strawberries. Oh, and don’t forget shad roe, soft shell crabs and spring lamb prepared ever so gently, if you don’t mind.
I prefer to eat around the seasons. It’s earthier or fishier, as the case may be, and most assuredly worth the wait. Chefs, newly transplanted from other climes to helm kitchens in our region. You’re not in Kansas anymore, kitchen wizards! Please take note of our early on-again-off-again spring and know what local farmers and purveyors will be hawking at this time of year. While the frost is still on the pumpkin, savvy chefs worth their sea salt have already asked growers to plant what they’ll want for the upcoming year. Sadly some chefs will never see a local farm, visit an oyster hatchery or visit one of our ubiquitous farmers markets and can still be found serving up winter fare in April and May while we are already basking in the sunshine at outdoor cafés.
Below I take note of three local chefs who incorporate these ephemeral delicacies into their dishes so that we may indulge in their glories at the peak of perfection.
The bar in one of three lounges at the newly redesigned Melrose Hotel – photo credit Jordan Wright
Executive Chef Christopher Ferrier has hit all the seasonal high notes at 2100 Prime at The Fairfax at Embassy Row. He would easily nail it in a spring mystery basket challenge on Food Network’s Chopped if it contained asparagus, shallots and morels as he makes a smooth bisque from that line up. Pan seared halibut, with artichokes, tomato and fine herbes is already gracing the menu along with a right-on-target spring pea and lemon risotto. Locally caught rockfish in a bouillabaisse, and newly available to East Coast chefs, sustainably-raised Skuna Bay salmon out of Vancouver, British Columbia. Perrier treats it with a light hand on the grill and serves it with mustard chive butter.
At the gorgeously renovated oh-so-chic Melrose Hotel in Georgetown is Nate Lindsay, Executive Chef in its stunning redesigned restaurant, Jardenea. Before coming here in October, Lindsay, a graduate of the Culinary Institute in Connecticut sharpened his knives at Azurea the Remington Hotel’s One Ocean Resort & Spa in Atlantic Beach, Florida. Lindsay has taken to the farm-to-fork philosophy to inform his menu like a duck to a pan of cherries, using ingredients as organic, local and seasonal as possible from over thirty different farms in the Chesapeake region. A recent dinner there checked all the boxes for food, service, cocktails, ambiance and wines. That puts it in memorable status in my playbook.
Chef Nate Lindsay of Jardenea at the Melrose Hotel – photo credit Jordan Wright
Here’s a chapter from Lindsay’s script for spring. Maryland crab soup, crisp-skinned duck breast with cherry tomatoes from Hummingbird Farms, MD, melted soft, sweet and juicy alongside fiddlehead ferns and braised red cabbage with apples and macerated cherries in pomegranate juice; chicken roulade filled with artichoke confit, local spinach and feta; porcini orzo and ramps; veal loin with asparagus; grilled wild Atlantic salmon mignon poached in a golden tomato nage and served with local zucchini and yellow squash from Parker Farms in Oak Grove, VA.
The under-30 chef credits his farm connections with keeping him abreast of what’s popping out of the soil. One purveyor operating a “mobile market” truck appears at his kitchen door with specialty produce from beets to morels and fiddleheads to hydroponic garnishes and lettuces. Often the farmers will ride along to meet the chef.
Veal loin with spring asparagus at Jardenea – photo credit Jordan Wright
Meanwhile in the bar and lounge, bar chefs are using fresh ingredients like jalapenos, pear and kiwi to concoct fruit consommé infusions. The “Il Pero” with its pear-infused vodka, elderflower liqueur, fresh hand squeezed lemon juice and parmesan garnish has already gotten such a buzz they can’t take it off the menu.
The “Il Pero” at Jardenea – photo credit Jordan Wright
The restaurant’s manager, William Rabil, who is one of the rarest of the rare, an exceptionally gracious host who could write the book on attentiveness and genuine concern, has an extensive knowledge of wines and spirits. While there I ordered a drink absent from the cocktail menu – a mint julep to accompany the mild weather. No worries, he said. It popped up in a thrice, a perfectly balanced blend of bourbon, fresh mint and simple syrup served over crushed ice. The Kentucky Derby is next weekend. We’ll have our next one on the patio where music will accompany warm evenings.
Chef Luigi Diotaiuti welcomes spring at Al Tiramisu – photo credit Jordan Wright
At Al Tiramisu, an upscale, cozy-as-a-ravioli Italian-centric bistro near Dupont Circle, Chef Luigi Diotaiuti has embraced the season wholeheartedly. A few of these items will be available as specials as market availability allows. Call first to be sure your favorite is on the day’s menu. Local Maryland goat stew with baby carrots, onions and new potatoes, part of the “Beauty of Basilica” menu the chef created for his James Beard House menu earlier this year, is a indeed a winner as is lamb ragu papardelle over first-of-the-crop spinach.
Spring dishes at Al Tirimisu
Here’s where you’ll find soft shell crabs and grilled sardines, crepes filled with spinach and swiss chard, a sweet version of risotto with strawberries and prosecco, and trenette with arugula pesto. Hope to hell they have the light-as-a-feather cantaloupe mousse or go for the yogurt panna cotta with berry coulis.
National Harbor’s 6th Annual Food & Wine Festival Along the Potomac
Spring means it’s time for the National Harbor Food & Wine Festival and I have a particular fondness for this event. It’s where I met and later wrote about two local lads, Heath Hall and Brett Thompson, who were launching their Pork Barrel Barbeque line. The scrappy neophytes later went on to fame and fortune on ABC’s Shark Tank and opened their own eponymously named restaurant in the Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria where they serve up some of the best barbecue south of the Mason-Dixon line. It was here too where I learned from the Grande Dame of Charleston Cooking, Natalie Dupree, who taught a class in biscuit making (She uses cream cheese and butter!) emboldening me to horn in on my Southern mother-in-law’s domain and offer up a few brave attempts of my own.
This year the star-studded list is long on talent including The Wine Coach - Laurie Forster; Kyle Bailey and Tiffany MacIsaac of ChurchKey, Birch & Barley and GBD; Bryan Voltaggio of Volt Restaurant, Lunchbox and Range; Scott Drewno of The Source by Wolfgang Puck; Salt and Pepper; Rock Harper of Fat Shorty’s; Victor Albisu of Del Campo, BLT Steak and Taco Bamba; Dave Zino of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association; and Mike Isabella of Graffiato and Bandolero. What a line up!
Food from Whoopsie’s Gourmet Whoopie Pies, Eleven Courses Private Chefs, Mojo Magic – Cuban Salsa from Havana Road Café, International Cheeses, Chesapeake Crab Dip by KS Catering, The All American Slider and Brooklyn Hot Dog and much, much more is on deck too.
Billing itself as the largest wine festival of its kind in the DC Metro region, the festival has over 150 international wines, spirits and beers to taste or purchase. Tack on a “Cinco De Mayo Pavilion”, a craft beer tasting biergarten, whiskey and bourbon tastings, and two stages of live bands for a full-out blast.
For tickets and information visit www.wineandfoodnh.com or call 800 830-3976.
Bailey and MacIsaac Strike Gold
Hot out of oven – the doughnuts at GBD – photo credit Jordan Wright
Speaking of Tiffany MacIsaac and husband/chef Kyle Bailey, the two have dreamt up yet another trendy concept called GBD – an abbreviation for golden, brown and delicious. Housed in an old brownstone, sandwiched between Connecticut Avenue and 18th Street, the restaurant’s fare is doughnuts and fried chicken paired with beer. Now don’t get me wrong, this is optimum eat-to-drink food, but not, I might add, an everyday meal. So I’m just warning my faithful peeps not to get hooked on the Maker’s Mark bourbon butterscotch glazed brioche topped with house made bacon, or the trés leches old-fashioned doughnut with toasted coconut, or any other of the umpteen flavor triggers from pastry chef MacIsaac’s wet dreams. No, no, don’t come crying to me that you have been waiting in line every day for the juicy, crispy, deep fried momma-goodness chicken either. There was a banh mi fried chicken wrap the other day if you want to keep it healthy, otherwise I have no pity. I’m with you all the way.
Bourbon punch pairs with doughnuts and the fried chicken banh mi wrap at GBD – photo credit Jordan Wright
Greg Engert has a few wet dreams of his own in the form of craft beers. His 7,000 square foot Blue Jacket brewery is soon to open close to Nationals Park. Ask about the one that uses foraged wild wood sorrel as an ingredient. Brewmistress (sounds a bit kinky) Megan Parisi already has several of their beers ready to sample at GBD and ChurchKey. Just a little aside, my first drinking experience was in Florence, Italy, where I spent a youthful and unorthodox spring break staying in the digs of an Italian count. Our favorite pastime was playing fuzbol while drinking Peroni and eating Italian pastries. Sweets and beer. A winning combination!
Atlanta Loves Our Chefs
Pork and rabbit terrine with pickled veggies from DC Chef Clayton Miller hopes to lure guests to the upcoming Atlanta Food & Wine Festival – photo credit Jordan Wright
The organizers of the newly hatched but already madly popular Atlanta Food & Wine Festival flew into DC last night to brag on our local chefs and wine and beer experts. Hosting a bespoke Southern style picnic on the grounds of the newly restored Hill Center at the Old Naval Hospital, they snagged Master Wine Sommelier Kathy Morgan, Pastry Chef Tiffany MacIsaac, Chef Kyle Bailey, James Beard Award Winner Karen Nicolas, Chef Aaron Deal, Chef/Restaurateur/Cookbook Author David Guas, Beer Sommelier Greg Engert, and DC Chef Clayton Miller to prepare what they will be serving, demoing and teaching at the upcoming event.
Pimento cheese toasts from David Guas of Bayou Bakery, Coffee Bar & Eatery in Arlington, VA (L)
Pastry Chef Tiffany MacIsaac and Chef Kyle Bailey show off her spectacular pies at the Festival 101 event at the Hill Center (C)
David Guas’s crawfish boil with the Greg Engert’s new Blue Jacket beer served in a Mason jar (R) – photo credit Jordan Wright
The festival featuring over 250 award-winning chefs, mixologists, sommeliers, distillers and brewmasters, was created to shine a light on the food traditions of the American South, defined by the founders as extending from DC to Texas. Recently, however, event creators Elizabeth Feichter and Dominique Love, have expanded their reach to include the Southern Hemisphere, drawing on “roots” cooking from Mexico, Africa, Chile, Spain and other sunny southern climes. Notwithstanding this broadened base, expect a strong focus on bourbon, pork, barbecue, seafood and farm grown cooking in a white tablecloth setting. The festival runs from May 30th to June 2nd. For details visit www.atlfoodandwinefestival.com
The Lure of the Pizza
I will pretty much trot off to any outpost I’m told has great pizza. I’m an expert, just like you. Not at baking one but at eating them throughout Italy and New York City as a kid and later, as their popularity grew, to just about any place that had a reputation for terrific tomato pies. I’ve found yummy, cheesy, crunchy-crusted pies in low places and others, with fancier ingredients, like clams, arugula or prosciutto di Parma, in higher realms. But always the pizza had to have its own personality to qualify as good. Wood-fired brick ovens are not the only way to make a tasty pizza, but usually, if the pizza man (please let me know of any women pizza makers) has a good sense of timing, an awareness of the hot spots in their oven, top notch ingredients and a long handled wooden paddle, you can expect a pie worth leaving your own kitchen for.
Executive Chef Will Artley of Pizzeria Orso – photo credit Jordan Wright
Will Artley is making those pies and other specialty Italian dishes. As a chef of considerable talent in our region for quite some time, he was formerly of Evening Star by way of Butterfield 9, Indebleu, Colvin Run Tavern and Kinkaid’s, he has found his niche at Pizzeria Orso. As an alumnus of DC Central Kitchen’s Capitol Food Fight with Jose Andres and Anthony Bourdain, and contestant on Food Network’s Chopped, Artley has been exploring and experimenting with ingredient combinations and techniques that spell a flavor- forward dynamic. He considers Pizzeria Orso his playground – and a perfect one it is for him. He’s brought his long-time kitchen crew with him and clearly they are all on the same wavelength.
The New Mexico native has been getting a lot of attention for his efforts and I’ve been following him from afar for the past year or so. Last month I found a booth in the sunny yellow Fairfax resto and earnestly got down to sampling his food and drink.
The bar has an impressive collection of beers drawing heavily from the Mid-Atlantic region. Wines cast a wider yet quite affordable net. An Oregon Pinot Noir, a Spanish Rioja and an Argentine Malbec convinced me someone knowledgeable was behind those decisions. But a glance at a whirring slushee machine behind the counter was enough inspiration to get me to order Artley’s version of a frozen cherry bourbon concoction. And glad I did. First Artley sent out some biscuits. The last thing I would have expected from a pizza joint. But, as usual he always has surprises up his tattooed sleeves and they were irresistibly buttery and madly addicting. They show up for Sunday brunch and you wouldn’t want to miss them.
Grilled octopus with artichoke at Pizzeria Orso – photo credit Jordan Wright
Seven or eight small plates flew by. Here are the ones I’d have all over again. Baby beet and carrot salad with smoked ewe’s cheese and pomegranate molasses was both sweet and smoky, fried arancini with tomato and goat cheese, crispy shaved Brussel sprouts brightened with bacon and treated to a shower of Parmegiano Reggiano, and a plate of meltingly tender grilled octopus with a puree of white beans and artichokes that stole my heart.
Out came the pizzas and as fast as we could wrap our greedy maws around a hot slice another pie was served up. The pies take three minutes to finish in the one thousand degree oven. Made of Italian volcanic rock and clay from Mount Vesuvius by a fourth-generation Neapolitan family, the huge domed oven was imported in one piece to its current spot in full view of diners. And that’s where much of the magic takes place.
Cranking out the pies – photo credit Jordan Wright
Over a dozen options are available – all made from a sourdough starter and 00 Caputo flour. Or tailor yours from four sauces, five cheeses and twenty-one toppings. A professional slicer shaves the prosciutto di Parma so thin you can see through it. Be sure to top at least one of your pies with this delicate ham.
Dessert was out of the question but I noted some I’d come back for. Lemon-glazed doughnut with whipped Nutella mousse or a pistachio cannoli.
Philly Icon, Stephen Starr, Wows DC with Le Diplomate
Le bar at Le Diplomate – photo credit Jordan Wright
On the run to another event I stopped into Philadelphia’s best-known restaurateur’s first outpost in DC and what a scene it was. Early on a Wednesday evening the joint was jumping. Diners waited in line, waiters scurried to and fro and bartenders were slammed. Build it and they will come. The place just opened its doors two weeks ago and it’s already a hit.
Les fromages at Le Diplomate – photo credit Jordan Wright
Not since the long-shuttered and much beloved Les Halles graced Pennsylvania Avenue has DC seen a French bistro so reminiscent of Paris’s La Coupole. High tin ceilings, bentwood and wicker chairs, marble topped counters and antique memorabilia, all shipped over from France. I barely had time for a cheese board. But delicious it was along with the exquisitely crusty breads, made on site, that would give any boulangerie a run for its francs. Well, I regress, euros, naturellement. Any place that has “Fruits de Mer” stamped on its awning has got my reservation. Thanks for the grand entrance, Mr. Starr.
The side room at Le Diplomate – photo credit Jordan Wright
Special to The Washington Examiner
May 2, 2011
Ah! The requisite Mother’s Day brunch tradition – a singular opportunity to secure your yearly standing with your mother, grandmother, spouse or mother-in-law. Here are a few elegant dining ideas designed to take it up a royal notch.
Adour at the St. Regis Hotel – Executive Chef Julian Jouhannaud, helming Alain Ducasse’s DC outpost, presents a glorious five-star fixed price menu that echoes spring with yellow fin tuna tartare, seared foie gras with wild apples and grapes, Ducasse’s ambrosial signature cookpot of green vegetables coupled with mushroom duxelle, and a choice of Maine lobster thermidor with morels, striped bass Riviera style with braised fennel, or roast veal loin with au gratin vegetables. For dessert, think regally, with the Louis XV praline crunch and raspberry macaron with rosewater cream. Brunch is $88.00 per guest and is served from 11 till 4pm. For reservations call 202 509-8000.
Kiwi Mango Mousse at Seasons - photo credit to Jordan Wright
Seasons at The Four Seasons Hotel – Under Executive Chef Doug Anderson’s beautifully expressed cuisine, mothers will be duly impressed with the sumptuous open buffet as they dine beside the C & O Canal in tony Georgetown.
The elegant dining room features lavish breakfast fare of omelets, cheese blintzes with wild blueberry sauce, and fresh berry-topped waffles to iced oysters, shrimp, crab claws, snapper seviche, house-cured salmon, grilled octopus with citrus and caper salad and Maine lobster rolls. Carved rack of lamb and beef sit beside a groaning board of dozens of crafted salads and hot side dishes like double truffle meatloaf cupcakes, green pea and Virginia ham arancini, mini chicken pot pies. A separate room is devoted entirely to the most exquisite desserts imaginable. The gold standard for brunch in this city. Brunch is $100.00 per guest and is served from 10 till 3pm. For reservations call 202 944-2000.
CityZen at the Mandarin Oriental, uber Chef Eric Ziebold has a dazzling open buffet menu with a modern American twist featuring such delicious openers as blackened tuna with pickled okra, blue fish rillettes and smoked salmon. To refresh the palate choose tangerine and beet or a light asparagus salad. Brunch classics include scrambled eggs with biscuits and country gravy, dark and stormy ribs, Nona’s Cecelio’s spinach malfate and barbequed Carolina shrimp. Dessert is playful with made-to-order crèpes, butterscotch popcorn and banana pudding to mention a few. Brunch is $65.00 per guest and is served from 11 to 3pm. For reservations call 202 787-6868.
At the Park Hyatt Hotel’s Blue Duck Tavern in DC’s West End Executive Chef Brian McBride, alongside new hire Sous Chef Eric Fleischer, presents a three-course brunch with starters and desserts served buffet style, and entrees ordered from a specially designed menu. Here you’ll find eggs served with rock shrimp and potato roesti or cod cakes with buttermilk sauce, lump crab cakes, mustard seed crusted salmon with champagne cream, roasted beef tenderloin with foie gras sauce, and braised lamb shank with fava beans. Brunch is served from 10:30 to 3:45pm and is $90.00 per guest. For reservations call 202 419-6755.
The Jockey Club at the Fairfax Hotel is the posh spot for the embassy crowd and Secretary of State Hilary Clinton who loves the Dover sole here. Executive Chef Mark Timms has been wooing and wowing guests with his creativity and classic technique since his arrival this February. Mother’s Day brunch at the hotel features starters like matzoh ball soup with chicken and dill, local field greens with lavender vinaigrette or carrot parfait with caramelized ginger. Fabulous entrees are the sea bass with orange mist cream, roasted sunchokes and pistachio powder, beef tenderloin with duck fat fried potato logs, chicken Wellington with buttered foie gras mashed potatoes, or scallops with pickled watermelon and lemon curd. Dessert is chocolate crème brûlée with pistachio biscotti. Brunch is $40.00 per guest. For reservations call 202 835-2100.
Thank you, loyal readers, for pursuing life’s intriguing adventures with Whisk and Quill in 2010. This December celebrates my third year as a food and travel writer and first year as a theatre reviewer, and it has been an astounding ride full of new friends, evocative memories and secrets revealed. And though my life has gravitated more to the keyboard than cooktop, to the frequent inquiries I say, “Yes! I still enjoy being a private chef.”
In this past year alone my features on food and travel have developed a bi-coastal readership that has rapidly grown from 86,000 “eyeballs” (industry-speak) to over 10 million! A figure quoted directly from one of my editors that baffles and amazes me daily.
Chefs, restaurants, farmers, vintners, caterers and new food products showcased on Whisk and Quill have garnered national attention, posh properties and spas have had their luxuries scrutinized or extolled, and theatre productions have been picked or panned – all without one single advertiser on Whisk and Quill’s website.
As we look ahead to up-and-comers like Greenville, SC’s Vicki Moore of The Lazy Goat; Colorado’s Top Chef finalist and restauranteur Kelly Liken; Charleston’s Sean Brock of McCrady’s and Husk; and veteran chefs like DC returnee, Fabio Trabocchi, all to be featured in the coming months, we offer our deepest gratitude to America’s top toques, Jose Andres, Anthony Bourdain, Eric Ripert, Joan Nathan and Laurent Tourondel who joined in the dialogue with us this past year.
So here’s to 2011 and another year of reporting to inspire, tempt and dazzle you to create your own journeys. Let’s drink a cuppa kindness for the auld year and blow those vuvuzelas for a scintillating and scrumptious New Year!
Warmest regards to all,
December 1, 2010
Special to Georgetowner
Michel Richard in his newest kitchen at Michel at the Ritz-Carlton Tysons
Little Morso’s Turkish Delights
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?
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 and 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!
On the list for next time: eight 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 sold their delicious ice cream sandwiches till the market closed up on November 23 for the season. Now you’ll find them at the Oakton Market in Bethesda and on the menu at the Mayflower Hotel.
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
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, 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. And he gave me his secret: Pork stock for the beef! Road trip to Richmond anyone?
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 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
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 1990s 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 it likely will 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 where I had 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 has 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!
Special to the Washington Examiner
By: Jordan Wright
October 26, 2010
By all accounts the health benefits of the mono-unsaturated extra virgin olive oil are well documented. As the foundation of the much-lauded Mediterranean Diet, research has shown its high levels of anti-oxidants, good fats and phenols to be necessary to maintain a healthy diet. Okay, we are all in agreement with that.
But scientific testing at the University of California Davis has revealed that a number of the better-known olives oils, labeled “extra virgin” are anything but. Some are diluted and quite a few erroneously labeled as to country of origin. Not only are they compromised by the addition of seed or nut oils or even “pomace” the detritus from olives, but also they also come from countries other than those printed on their labels.
So how can you be sure you’re getting the health benefits from the extra virgin olive oil you purchase? Recently I’ve noticed that the olive oil I’ve purchased in my local market has not been up to snuff. Supermarket store brands labeled extra virgin olive oil have slight flavor variances but the overall quality is lackluster and I want more depth of flavor, more authenticity. I began to wonder why on trips abroad and to olive growing areas like California, the food was so superior to the same dishes that are often replicated and served in restaurants or homes. I began to think about it…perhaps obsess would describe the feeling better…and to seek out explanations.
It began at Agora earlier this summer, a new Dupont Circle Turkish restaurant in Washington, DC, where I found a world of flavor unfolding on my plate. The olive oil they used had a nutty pungent olive essence that was fruity and rich tasting and brightened the traditional mezes. Creamy spreads like htipiti made with roasted peppers, feta and thyme and labneh, a simple dish of Turkish yogurt they serve with diced apples and walnuts came alive with a more robust flavor. Both dishes were drizzled with extra virgin olive oil, but why was there such a dramatic difference in these oft-served Mediterranean dishes?
In a call to Agora’s owner Latif Guler, I discovered the source of the aromatic and flavorful oil that he uses. “It comes from our family olive groves in Foca near Izmir on the west coast of Turkey. These are our own trees and I know the quality,” he informed me. “It was my goal to use this first press oil even before we opened. I told my father who owns a restaurant and hotel in our small village that I had to have it for my restaurant too!”
He explained that it is commonplace throughout the Mediterranean for families to cart olives from their small private groves to local mills, dividing the precious oil among close family members. This short hop from grower to miller insures the quality, origin and purity of the resulting product. And since olive oil is the only oil that can be consumed freshly pressed from the fruit without further processing, like wine, it has its own distinct characteristics.
But for those of us without our own personal olive groves, how can we know what we are buying and how fresh it is?
I started asking around and kicked up a lot of dust. I discovered every chef had a fierce loyalty to particular brands they swore by to enhance and complement the flavor profile of their dishes.
American Chef Marc Collins Shares His Favorite EVOO
Let’s begin in the South with American chef Marc Collins of Charleston, South Carolina’s Circa 1886 Restaurant, whose food is on the posh edgy side. Collins has a predilection for molecular gastronomy and plays with complex techniques to re-interpret regional favorites. He prefers West Coast Products’ brand of extra virgin olive oil, a California company that has been processing locally grown olives since 1937. Lately Collins’ is serving a heart-healthy whipped olive oil “butter” using this oil.
Executive Chef Marc Collins’ Recipe for Olive Oil Butter
65grams (or 2.29 ounces) of Texturas Glice
700ml (or 23.7 fluid ounces) of good EVOO
300ml (or 1.27 cups) of good canola oil
1 tsp sea salt.
Place the glice and all of the oil into a pot and heat to 140˚ F. Remove from the heat source and cool overnight.
The next day take half of the oil mixture and put it into a blender. Grind the salt to a powder and place half of it into the blender as well. Blend on high until creamy and pour into a container. Do this with the other half as well. Chill overnight. Place this mixture into a mixer fitted with a whip attachment and whip on high until double in volume. Check the seasoning. Place in a pastry bag with a star tip and pipe rosettes.
Top grade olive oil from Spain - photo by Jordan Wright
You can order Texturas Glice from: www.tienda.com/food/products
Collin’s favorite EVOO comes from: www.westcoastproducts.net
French Chef Eric Ripert On What Complements His Cuisine
French culinary giant Eric Ripert, the three Michelin-starred owner of New York’s Le Bernardin and star of the PBS series “Avec Eric”, likes to conduct blind tastings every few months along with his sous chefs. They put out the ones they have been cooking with alongside a few other high-end olive oils. He acknowledges that they keep returning to the same two brands, but he has noticed that the flavor can vary with the seasons and changes in the climate in the country of origin. “Even though we are always checking to see if there is a better olive oil for us, we find Sitia which is Greek and Frantoia which is Italian, are the most compatible with our cuisine.”
José Andrés Gives a Spanish Olive Oil Primer
Since Spain produces the most olive oil in the world, my inquiries took me to the most acclaimed Spanish chef in the country for his sage advice. José Andrés, who is currently lecturing at Harvard University told me, “People tend to think about olive oil in what you could almost say is a one dimensional way…as a medium for cooking or frying or for use in salads…but it is so much more. It adds flavor, body or silkiness to the texture of dishes. Beyond that people need to recognize that there is not just one olive oil…but many. There are so many varieties of olives suitable for making oil, each with unique characteristics.”
He further explained, “It helps to think of olive oil the way you think about wine. You would never expect a bottle of Barolo from Italy to taste like a California Chardonnay would you? Why then would you have the same expectation of olive oil? Just like when you are talking about wine, the region, the climate, the conditions, the soil, the topography, all these things impact the oil that winds up in the bottle. Olive oils from Andalucia will be different than an olive oil produced in Navarra.”
I was beginning to see the light when Andrés in full throttle expounded on the resultant differences in flavor from particular olives. “The most important factor is the variety of olive used. Some olives, like Picual from Andalucia, are robust and have a pleasant bitter and peppery edge that tickle in the back of the throat. That makes it preferred for salad or gazpacho, dishes where you want an assertive olive oil flavor. Another variety produced in Andalucia, the Hojiblanca, is slightly sweet and very smooth while still retaining a hint of bitterness. It’s good for desserts and salads. Others like Arbequina, produced in Catalunya, or Empeltre, from Aragon, are softer and more delicate with an almost almond flavor. In general the more golden oils tend to be softer and sweeter and the greener ones more fruity and peppery. Some like Lechin from Andalucia and Cornicabra from the region around Toledo and Ciudad Real are wonderful but a pain to harvest so the production is not as high. Or perhaps the yield is low. Still others have little flavor but have great body and thus are used to beef up blends of olive oil.”
Andrés maintains that there is nothing wrong with a blend of varieties. “In fact much of the olive oils that come from Spain are not single varieties. Play with them and see what works best for you,” he suggests.
At his well-known Washington, DC restaurant, Jaleo, he uses a product by Crismona, which is a blend of Andalusian varieties. At minibar by josé andrés they prefer monovarietals.
Here’s his expert primer on Spanish olive oils.
From the Arbequina olive:
Unio and Castillo de Canena both produce good delicate and fruity Arbequina oils.
From the Hojiblanca olive:
From the Picual olive:
Castillo de Canena also produces a peppery and robust Picual.
Nunyez de Prado is a nice blend of Picual, Picudo and Hojiblanca, very Andalusian and from Baena near Cordoba. [Author’s note: I have to say that this is my everyday favorite EVOO]. Marquez de Valdueza is another nice blend that uses Arbequina as well as Picual and Hojiblanca and features the Morisca olive grown in Extremadura.
Italian Chef Bryan Moscatello Looks to the Italian Alps
At this point I needed to find out what an Italian chef would choose and I went to Washington, DC Executive Chef Bryan Moscatello of Potenza who sources his favorite olive oil from the Apennine Mountains of Umbria.
“I like Trevi olive oil,” he asserts. “It has fresh grass and citrus undertones with a nice sharp bite on the finish. It is a small producer and scarce. We have made some great olive oil emulsions lately… an olive oil “sponge” for our tomatoes that is delicious in our cantaloupe soup and wonderful in olive oil madeleines! At Potenza we use it to finish the orecchiette with spicy fennel sausage and broccoli rabe.”
No matter the cuisine, French, Italian, American, Turkish or Spanish, chefs are very particular about how the flavor and freshness of extra virgin olive oil can enhance or detract from the success of their dishes. No tasting panel or scientific testing can improve upon their highly developed and discriminating palates.
So what do we the consumers need to look for when buying olive oil?
Notes From a California Producer
Dan Vecere of West Coast Products, whose groves are located east of the Mendocino National Forest, sells the olive oil preferred by, and best suited to, Chef Collins’ cuisine. The EVOO they sell is produced from Arbequina olives all grown locally in Northern California. The olives are harvested and pressed within 24 hours producing a fresh tasting, high quality extra virgin olive oil. I’ve used this artisanal product, and found it has the perfect balance for American Modern cuisine.
The Scientific Revelations
Twenty years ago the FDA began to find problems with extra virgin olive oil. But it wasn’t until last year that the California State Senate passed a bill mandating the purity of state-produced olive oils, which are also under strict guidelines by the FDA and the California State authority.
Last month in a study by the University of California, Davis Olive Oil Chemistry Lab and the Australian Oils Research Lab, a third party analysis was conducted on olive oils labeled as extra virgin. Using international standards put these oils through eleven different chemical and sensory tests to evaluate everything from oleic acid values to peroxide value, UV absorption and fatty acid profile. These tests are indicators of oil quality, purity, oxidation and whether or not an oil has been adulterated or refined. Sensory evaluation by a “blind” taste panel confirmed that the failed samples had defective flavors, such as rancid, fusty and musty.
Certified tasters, using cobalt blue tasting glasses so as not to be influenced by the color of the oil, evaluated the positive attributes of fruitiness, bitterness and pungency as well as identified defective oils by their flavors.
They found that 69% of the imported oils and 10% of the California oils labeled extra virgin olive oil did not meet the International Olive Council (IOC) and US Department of Agriculture’s taste, smell and chemical makeup standards for extra virgin olive oil.
Dan Flynn, executive Director of UC Davis’s Olive Center, which is part of the Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science, warns, “The market now has been flooded with olive oil that has been diluted, blended, and/or not stored properly.”
He acknowledges that California olive oil is more expensive but feels that the one million gallons of EVOO California produces each year is a superior product, “It is like the difference between Dom Perignon or sparkling wine.” He adds, “We feel the California olive oil industry is parallel to the early days of our wine industry here.
Here are some helpful terms he gave me to describe olive oil:
Positive descriptors can be grassy, floral, tropical, nutty buttery or minty with artichoke, green tea, peach, apple or banana notes. Negative descriptors can be earthy, fusty, moldy, rancid, grubby (from olive fly larvae), muddy, woody (from olives that have not been irrigated), or what they refer to as winey-vinegary.
Flynn also let me know that the term “cold pressed” is an archaic term. Preferable appellations are “cold extraction” or “first extraction”.
Here is his advice as to how to select the best olive oil.
1) Look for a dark bottle.
2) Look for a harvest date. Most olive oil should be consumed within a year to 18 months of harvest.
3) Look for the company’s reputation. The US has not had standards in the past. All that will change Oct. 25th when the USDA’s new standards go into effect, though they will be voluntary standards.
4) Typically green oil denotes an early harvest and is more aggressive in flavor. A more golden hue was made later in the season and should taste nutty or buttery.
5) One way is to look for the CA Olive Oil Council’s seal. They are more stringent even than the international standard.
6) The best way is to taste different oils to see which one appeals to you.
That final snippet echoes the advice from our top chefs. And as for buying guidance you can do no better than to follow the wise words of Turkish-born Latif Guler. For pairing olive oil with the cuisine of the country he says, “What grows together goes together.”