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.
Special to The Washington Examiner
La Naissance de VénusUffizi – Gallery in Florence,Italy
Rosemary, figs, pine nuts, honey. Oysters, grapes, avocado, chiles. Strawberries, coffee, lavender, ginger. Of all the foods reputed to inspire romance, it is chocolate that is most closely associated with gift giving on Valentine’s Day.
Whether its powers for sexual desire are provable or not, has researchers in a conundrum. Since years of testing can’t confirm it as fact, current science holds that the two major chemicals found in chocolate, phenylethylamine (related to amphetamine) and seratonin, contain mood-lifting endorphins.
And what about all the other ingredients purported to enhance romance? Ancient cultures have their favorites, and if lavender works for the French and pine nuts for the Italians, well, who are we to say. As far as the term, “aphrodisiac” goes, credit goes to the Greek goddess of Love, Aphrodite, known around Rome as Venus, unquestionably one of the hottest babes in history, whose son was Cupid. You make the call.
If you could ingest a few sensual foods in one fell swoop delectably enrobed in chocolate, would your sweetheart be doubly or triply affectionate? Food for thought indeed.
Here are some exceptional local sources to explore.
At ACKC Chocolates Cocoa Bar Café in Downtown DC artisan chocolatier, Rob Kingsbury has been creating inspired sweets for a discriminating clientele since 2002, when he opened his first shop on King Street in Old Town Alexandria. Kingsbury comes from four generations of candy-makers who sold maple-flavored popcorn balls from their maple syrup farm in Vermont.
His highly original handmade chocolate confections boast dozens of unusual infusions and one of the most sought after is his “Strawberry Pink”, a dark chocolate bar with strawberries and pink peppercorns. Other striking flavor harmonics are a dark chocolate bar with pine nuts, Herbes de Provence, sunflower and pumpkin seeds and sea salt or the exotic “Chipotle 5-Spice Bar” infused with smoky jalapenos and a blend of cinnamon, anise, fennel, cloves and white pepper. Or get three aphrodisiacal ingredients in one ganache-filled bite with his Honey Ginger Truffles. ww.thecocoagallery.com
Another source is the kitchens of chocolatier Wilhelm Wanders of Chocolaterie Wanderings whose European-influenced stylings are reflected in his hand-crafted confections, well-known to crazed chocophiles. “I use honey for nearly all my confections,” he reveals. Biagio’s in DC, The Sugar Cube in Alexandria, VA and The Inn at Little Washington will all feature his heart-shaped truffles with hand-piped jasmine tea ganache, as well as a very pretty dark chocolate bergamot-scented Earl Grey tea truffle garnished with a lavender flower. www.chocolateriewanderings.com
Special to The Washington Examiner
Fabio Trabocchi with National Gallery of Art Chef David Rogers at the recently opened exhibit - image courtesy of the National Gallery of Art
As I sit in the gutted remains of what was once chef Yannick Cam’s glamorous Le Paradou, I am listening to Fabio Trabocchi, the formidable chef from Le Marche, Italy and his stunningly beautiful Spanish wife, Maria, describe their new restaurant-to-be, Fiola.
“The floors will be mosaic tiled and there will be a 56-foot marble bar,” he urges me to conjure up. “The ceilings will be golden domes with dark glossed wood for the tables and super-comfortable caramel leather chairs.” But it is January, the place is frigid and stage one of the renovations is a far cry from the expected transformation. I struggle to imagine the sunny space as a sumptuous retreat for his haute clientele. A whole section of the restaurant will be raised up three feet, “We don’t want anyone to feel as though they are sitting in Siberia,” he tells me, referring to the back of the restaurant which was down three steps and felt like Siberia.
Workmen are stationed in every corner of this immense space – a hive of activity – they invade not just in the front of the house, but behind the scenes in the vast state-of-the-art kitchen with its warren of rooms for cooking, prepping and baking. A glimpse of the wine storage, reveals room after room and row and row of endless racks reaching clear to the top of 10-foot ceilings, their hundreds of carved wooden niches ready to cradle precious bottles of barolo, brunello and vin santo.
The couple had met here in the mid-90s when it was Bice. “He was only 20, fresh off the boat from Italy and a skinny little thing,” Maria tells me. “Not my idea of what a chef would look like. But it was our love story.”
Prosciutto San Daniele (Prosciutto, marinated eggplant, Parmigiano-Reggiano, aged balsamic vinegar)
Mozzarella caprese (buffalo mozzarella, tomato, basil, and extra virgin olive oil)
Though still attending university in Spain, she had arrived in Washington at the same time as Fabio on what was to be a short internship at Bice. “I had to ring up my father to find out how to make a wine list,” she confesses. As fate would have it the chef and the manager fell in love soon after they met, and the restaurant’s management sent the two off to her homeland in Marbella to run a luxury five-star hotel and high-end restaurant along the Iberian coast, where it was not uncommon to see celeb neighbors, Antonio Banderas and Sean Connery, drop by when they were in town. Their next stop was a posh hotel in London’s Knightsbridge area for a few years before they returned to DC. Not exactly hardship posts.
When at last Trabocchi found a restaurant that would give him total control of his cuisine, he blossomed and during his six-year reign at Maestro in the Ritz-Carlton Tysons Corner, he consistently garnered effusive reviews.
But he needed a bigger stage and stunned his loyal clientele when he went to New York City where he briefly helmed the now-shuttered Fiamma Osteria. Although Frank Bruni, food critic of The New York Times, went head over heels for Trabocchi’s cooking, bestowing a three-star rating, the economic downturn could not stave the restaurant’s demise.
Maria and Fabio, who even in jeans look like they just sprung from the pages of Italian Vogue, have moved back to DC, “to the city we have always loved” and his impatience to reclaim the top rung with Fiola is palpable.
Tiramisù classico e cioccolato (classic tiramisu with chocolate sauce)
Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, served with house-made preserves, honey, grissini, and pane carasau
He describes it as “super-elegant and seasonal with straightforward and approachable regional cuisine inspired by my cookbook”. Of course he will still prepare his signature dishes…the lobster ravioli and lasagna from the Le Marche region. “My clientele wouldn’t let me back in town without having these on the menu!” he teases.
Until Fiola opens this April his followers will have to be content with sampling some of his specialties at the Garden Café Italia launched this week at the National Gallery of Art. It dovetails with the just-opened and spectacular exhibit, “Venice: Canaletto and His Rivals”.
“Now we are on two sides of Pennsylvania Avenue. I’m getting closer to the White House!” he jokes, reflecting on the coincidental convergence of the two locations.
See him this Sunday at the museum at noon and at 1pm for “The Italian Pantry”: Part I Demonstration with Chef Fabio Trabocchi at the Cascade Café, Concourse where he is joined by Chef David Rogers of Restaurant Associates and senior lecturer Eric Denker to discuss staple items for Italian cuisine. This first of three demonstrations to be held during 2011 will focus on Italian breads, olives, olive oils, and cheese—from Canaletto’s day to the present. Chef Trabocchi will also sign copies of his book Cucina of Le Marche: A Chef’s Treasury of Recipes from Italy’s Last Culinary Frontier, available in the Gallery Shops.
To view Garden Café Italia’s menu visit – www.nga.gov/dining
To keep track of Fiola’s April opening visit – www.fioladc.com
Special to The DC Metro Magazine
Signature Theatre’s new and permanent digs in Shirlington Village have provided the perfect marriage of good food and entertainment. Running late? No problem. Their café has an eclectic selection of delicious soups, salads, sandwiches and desserts to enjoy in the expansive bar and lounge area. Pair with a glass of wine or one of many craft beers. Still playing “Sunset Boulevard” continues to draw a packed house until February 13th. Then catch the world premiere of the new musical “Wheatley’s Folly” in March. Check the schedule for the more intimate Cabaret Nights in The Ark. (sig-online.org)
BusBoys and Poet
If hip and politically left is your bent then you’ll treasure Busboys and Poets. Reminiscent of an old style bookshop cum coffee house, owner, activist and arts supporter, Andy Shallal encourages lingering and dialogue with music, open mic nights and poetry slams. The casual fare is affordable and delicious with pizzas, paninis, salads and full-on entrees. (busboysandpoets.com)
T.H.A.I. is the best and prettiest Thai restaurant in the area. Chef Aulie prepares her flavorful thai-with-a-twist cuisine from her grandmother’s recipes in a sleek modern setting. Service is prompt and, as with all restaurants in Shirlington, they are super-aware of guests trying to make curtain time. (thaiinshirlington.com)
Samuel Beckett’s Gastro Pub serves Irish food in a large but cozy bi-level pub that pays tribute to the iconic dramatist. Local restauranteur Mark Kirwan who hails from the Auld Sod, gets it just right with traditional and new Irish comfort food. A large selection of esoteric Irish whiskeys, and 12 different Irish beers are on tap. Stays open for late night dining. (samuelbecketts.com)
Aladdin’s presents Middle Eastern cuisine with an extensive Lebanese-inspired menu. Be sure to try one of seven kinds of herbal teas or a fresh fruit smoothie with the “pitzas”, pitas, salads, kaftas and kabobs. (aladdinseatery.com)
Ping by Charlie Chang’s is a dazzling bright red space serving Modern Asian cuisine with small plates, unique Asian fare, and dozens of sushi and nigiri options in their Shina Lounge. (charliechangs.com)
Arena Stage opened their $35 million dollar glamorous new digs this past fall to thunderous applause. Next Stage by José Andrés is where the uber-chef designs the dinner menus to reflect the current production. Open two and a half hours before curtain time, reservations are highly recommended. Upscale light fare is sold at Concessions. Before the show, sip champagne on the lofty terrace with a waterfront view. (arenastage.org)
CityZen at Mandarin
CityZen in the five-star Mandarin Hotel is noted chef Eric Ziebold’s fantasy creation, reflecting a fine French dining experience with innovative cuisine in a stunning setting. The fixed price menu is full of inspired seasonal dishes. Also in the hotel is Sou’Wester, Ziebold’s interpretation of regional American cooking featuring hearty, wholesome cuisine from fried chicken to red velvet cake. (mandarinoriental.com)
Phillips Flagship is the granddaddy of seafood restaurants in Washington DC. This location overlooking the Potomac River is well known for their all-you-can-eat seafood buffet, featuring over 30 selections, and dockside dining. (phillipsseafood.com)
The Shakespeare Theatre Company, with its Lansburgh Theatre and nearby Sidney Harman Hall, has a wealth of dining options in its Penn Quarter neighborhood. (shakespearetheatre.org)
Fogo de Chao is a carnivore’s carnival. With 15 different cuts of flame-grilled meats sliced tableside, it serves Southern Brazilian churrascaria including a lavish salad bar in an attractive white-linen Gaucho-themed atmosphere. (fogodechao.com)
Carmine’s has burst onto the scene in recent months with its signature style of abbondanza. Originating in New York City, this wildly popular resto offers mega-portions of classic Italian recipes like your nonna, if you had one, would make for the famiglia. Make sure to sample their famous meatballs. (carminesnyc.com)
At Ella’s Wood Fired Pizza you’ll find pizzas, calzones, pastas and salads in a low-key casual spot that uses high-end toppings on crisp-crust pizzas. This Neapolitan-inspired restaurant also offers gluten-free crusts and lots of vegan options. (ellaspizza.com)
Jaleo - Photo Credit: Greg Powers & Audrey Crewe
Jaleo – José Andrés triumphs in his ever-popular Spanish-themed tapas restaurant featuring dozens of scrumptious small plates. Perfect for grazing or dining over a pitcher of sangrias and six varieties of regional paellas. This is where you’ll find the luscious Iberican ham. (jaleo.com)
A fashionable destination with a theatrical décor, Zola is known for its out-of-the-box cool American cuisine. Stunning seasonal selections and artisanal cocktails showcase Executive Chef Bryan Moscatello’s original fare. (zoladc.com)
The Kennedy Center is the jewel in the crown of area theatres. The splendid Roof Terrace Restaurant wows guests with exquisite pre-theatre American Modern seasonal dishes by Chef Joe Gurner. Reservations recommended. (kennedy-center.org)
Situated beside the Kennedy Center, newcomer Rivers at the Watergate Restaurant arrived recently with a splash. Whether pre- or post-dinner, its stylish cuisine attracts visiting performers and celebs who gather round the piano bar after the show. While recently in town, Marvin Hamlisch and the cast of “Hair” made this their regular hangout. (riversdc.com)
Parker House Rolls
Zola's Signature Scallop's Dish
West End Bistro is renowned chef Eric Ripert’s chic French-influenced American comfort food outpost. Known as a hip and fashionable destination among the local cognoscenti, its signature dishes are drawn from Ripert’s Provencal roots. (westendbistrodc.com)
Beloved local chef, Ris Lacoste, has finally opened her very own restaurant and brought her loyal following with her. A tip-top trendy spot, the food at the eponymously-named RIS is influenced by the local farmer’s market and elegantly tweaked classics. Her French onion soup is reason alone to check it out. (risdc.com)
Dine beneath suspended clouds with farm-to-table fare at the eco-friendly Founding Farmers Restaurant. Owned by a consortium of American farmers, it features handcrafted cocktails and heartland cuisine in an ultra-modern setting beside the IMF. (wearefoundingfarmers.com)
Special to the Georgetowner and Downtowner
On a leisurely two-hour drive from Washington DC through Piedmont wine country, past farms and orchards, we stopped for lunch in the one-light historic town of Madison at Susie’s Madison Inn. This cheery and charming restaurant with country French decor, served us a delicious lunch of wild mushroom soup, mountain trout, calves liver and bacon, and a mozzarella salad with heirloom tomatoes from nearby Shady Grove Gardens.
Owner Susie Reilly is a former Georgetown grad who has augmented her cuisine with local chef, Cheryl Goldsborough’s, adorable cupcakes, hummingbird cake and rum-infused Jamaican coconut cake sold from glass cases in the restaurant’s front bar area. Expect to find wines from nearby Sweely Estate Winery and Barboursville Vineyards to accompany your meal, which we topped off with their signature bread pudding and mixed berries, before we headed down the road to our destination.
The Boar's Head Inn - Charlottesville, VA
If like myself you haven’t visited the Boar’s Head Inn in Charlottesville in a dog’s age you will be stunned to see its transformation from an aging resort in the late ‘80’s to a luxury property. Shortly after my last visit the University of Virginia took over ownership of the resort establishing it as a foundation, and recently poured in over 14 million dollars in the past five years in extensive renovations and redecoration with the addition of the state-of-the-art sports center, conference center and spa.
The inn, which takes its name from Elizabethan England when it was a symbol of hospitality, is situated on 573 acres of natural beauty. A winding driveway takes you around the grounds past rolling lawns before delivering you to the porte-cochere and into the lobby and public rooms which are exquisitely furnished in English antiques. Our room, like others in this 170-room inn, had a balcony overlooking a serene lake graced by a pair of resident swans. I strolled down to the water’s edge before dinner and sat on a swing beside a stand of native cardinal flowers, where I watched the sun’s sparkling reflection off the lake before it faded behind the Blue Ridge Mountains.
The Old Mill Room - photo by Jordan Wright
We met up in the cozy Tavern for drinks before our dinner in The Old Mill Restaurant. The warm and elegant dining room was originally reconstructed from an old water gristmill built on the Hardware River in 1834. Dismantled and transferred from Albemarle County to its present site, it was reassembled using fieldstones from the foundation for the Tavern’s fireplace and the archway in the Ordinary Room where guests sip cocktails and take tea in the afternoons. Original pine planks from the mill are incorporated throughout the inn and the old millstones are imbedded in the inn’s courtyard. It is an enchanting setting for a restaurant that still maintains its 23-year running AAA Four-Diamond distinction.
Dover sole Stuffed with Lobster and served with Pea Risotto and Bok Choy - photo by Jordan Wright
In a room romantically lit by wrought iron chandeliers, a toasty fireplace and candlelight we took our dinner. Executive Chef Bill Justus, suggested Vanilla Bean-infused Duck Breast and Charred Sea Scallops on Polenta with Virginia ham and grilled corn succotash. For our second courses we enjoyed Dover Sole stuffed with Lobster and Bok Choy and served with pea risotto and a very large bone-in Veal Chop finished with brandy cream. The elegant service (I particularly appreciated the offer to decant our bottle of 2007 Saintsbury Carneros Pinot Noir) and first-rate cuisine was exquisite. We gilded the lily with desserts of Cashew Banana Caramel with cinnamon ice cream and Chocolate Pave with a chocolate tuile. How perfectly they paired with our flutes of Blanc de Blanc from nearby Kluge Estate Winery!
Cashew Banana Caramel in Phyllo with Cinnamon Ice Cream - photo by Jordan Wright
Dawn broke on our first full day to a myriad of options. The Charlottesville area alone has 23 of some of the finest vineyards in Virginia and is part of the Monticello Wine Trail. We could visit the wineries, or spend a leisurely day antiquing in town, drop in at James Monroe’s historic manor Ashlawn-Highland, or tour James Madison’s recently restored Montpelier. We could always dodge the heat and hoist a tankard at the 1784 Mitchie Tavern or travel through time at Thomas Jefferson’s magnificent home, Monticello. It is worth noting that Monticello and the University of Virginia campus, are architectural treasures included on the UNESCO World Heritage List and worth a visit.
My husband pressed for a tour of his alma mater and we were delighted to discover the streets filled with hundreds of the cutest, preppiest, fresh-faced students laughing and chatting excitedly on their way to the university’s auditorium for UVA’s “Orientation Day”. We trotted off to the downtown pedestrian mall with its over 120 shops and more than 30 restaurants and had a bite at Orzo, a lively Mediterranean bistro filled with an international clientele of exchange students.
Back at the hotel there was bicycling, swimming or lounging beside one of three pools, fly fishing clinics, tennis (12 indoor and 14 outdoor world-class courts), golf on the 300-acre Birdwood championship course, a rock climbing wall to scamper up, or perhaps a trip to the sports center to join one of over 50 weekly classes from Power Yoga and Zumba to High Intensity Training sessions or Boot Camp with a personal trainer. All offered to guests of the hotel during their stay.
The Boar's Head Christmas - Gingerbread house
After a lavish breakfast featuring a smoked salmon bar, eggs of every variety, Virginia ham and sausage and an array of baked goods (we loved the pecan cinnamon rolls) I took the opportunity to relax and rejuvenate at the Spa. Housed in a darling cottage the serene full-service spa offers nine different types of therapeutic massages from the traditional to Thai Bodywork and the Raindrop Treatment that uses key essential oils dropped like rain along the spine and massaged into the tissue. There are also a number of detoxifying wraps. Try the Mud Wrap or Body Glow using sea salt, herbs and essential oils or just enjoy the beauty services. They use Astara, Dermalogica and Get Fresh products and my facial was one of the best I have ever had anywhere.
If you’re planning now for the holidays the inn has a great array of family activities and gently priced packages. Horse and carriage rides, breakfast with Santa, Christmas dinner in the Old Mill and gingerbread workshops. Go online to get the latest details and enjoy making your own beautiful memories in Virginia’s beautiful Piedmont.