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
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March 29, 2013
Special to DC Metro Theater Arts, Broadway Stars, and localKicks
Greek Orthodox Easter Festival at Zaytinya
Head Chef at Zaytinya – Michael Costa – photo credit Jordan Wright
Jose Andres’ popular spot, Zaytinya, is planning a five-week festival beginning March 31st and ending on Greek Orthodox Easter, May 3rd. Head Chef, Michael Costa, who continues his mission to create dependably delicious flavor-forward food, has devised some truly savory bites for the Lenten season. Last week we had a chance to sample some of the upcoming dishes including mixologist, Juan Coronado’s dazzling cocktail, Apokreas. Named appropriately after a Greek carnival celebrating Dionysus, it’s a combination of Metaxa, verjus, and maple syrup garnished with a red pickled quail egg and baby carrots. Cue the bunnies!
Apokreas cocktail with pickled quail egg and baby carrot garnish – photo credit Jordan Wright
A few of the traditional dishes we sampled were lachanosalata, shredded cabbage and carrot salad served in Brussels sprout leaves and dressed with olive oil, lemon and smoked walnut skordalia; sopa me lahanika aladoti, a smooth Lenten vegetable soup with cauliflower, rice, mushrooms, tahini and herbs topped with crispy cauliflower and black tahini; and clam stew from Lefkada, sea sweet clam soup with basmati rice.
Greek Easter offerings Yogurt, olives and lava beans – Seasonal morsels from Zaytinya – photo credit Jordan Wright
During the festival there will be an agorá outdoor market on Sunday, April 21st and Monday, April 22nd featuring artisanal foods, crafts and Greek music. Look for Andres’ Pepe Food Truck to be out front selling spit-roasted lamb sandwiches served with tzatziki and pickled red onions. Prizes of signed cookbooks, Zaytinya gift certificates, wines and other delights are being offered to benefit World Central Kitchen.
During the first week of the festival, the restaurant will host Greek cookbook author, photographer and journalist, Aglaia Kremezi for a collaborative wine dinner on April 3rd and a cooking class on April 4th. Check the website for more deets. www.Zaytinya.com.
Todd and Ellen Gray Host Seder Dinner With Recipes From Their Latest Cookbook
The NEW JEWISH TABLE by Ellen and Todd Gray
The New Jewish Table (St. Martin’s Press) by Todd Gray and Ellen Kassoff Gray arrived at my door in galley form a few months ago. Written with Washington Post food writer, David Hagedorn and sporting a foreword by Jewish cookery queen and DC local, Joan Nathan, the book is Gray’s modern spin on traditional Jewish cooking. What really charms me as a cookbook collector is the backstories told by the writer, and in this collection the duo fills the space between the easy-to-make recipes with cooking tips and personal tales of their very different childhoods. Ellen, a city-bred Jewish girl and husband, Todd, a country-bred Episcopalian, are the successful owners of Equinox Restaurant here in DC. Between them they have written a book that speaks to their food memories yet reinvents familiar Jewish recipes in Todd’s fresh and elegant style.
The ceremonial Seder plate – Photo credit Jordan Wright
This week the Grays hosted Passover Seder dinner for family and friends at Equinox and this scribe was lucky enough to snag an invitation. Though I had attended a one Seder dinner long ago at the Palm Beach Country Club when I was a girl, I enjoyed revisiting the time-honored traditions, including the reading of the prayers by the guests and the unique ceremonial plate of baytzah (roasted egg), maror (bitter herbs), z’roa (roasted bone), karpas (green vegetable) and haroset (chopped apples, nuts and wine) to represent their exodus from Egypt to the Holy Land.
Guests read the Seder prayers
The Gray’s, who are known for their warmth and conviviality served dishes from the cookbook starting with a salad of roasted heirloom beets with golden raisins and Sicilian pistachios; Todd’s Black Angus beef brisket in red wine sauce with potato mousseline and wilted spinach and sesame seeds; quinoa with poached figs and mint; and finishing wondrously with a decadent flourless chocolate cake with caramel ice cream and bourbon vanilla sauce. Now have I got your attention? Mazel tov Mr. and Mrs. Gray!
Chocolate Hazelnut Rugelach
Click Link to Download Receipt in PDF
Chocolate Hazelnut Rugelach
A Persian Excursion in the Heart of Georgetown
Word is out that one of Georgetown’s “in” spots for the past twenty-two years is serving Persian cuisine on Wednesday and Thursday nights. Now that’s hard news, readers, especially when you consider this place has flown under the radar for over two decades. So, yes, we had to see for ourselves what all the fuss and flutter was about.
When Iranian chef and Peacock Café’s co-owner Maziar Farivar, was tapped by the James Beard Foundation to cook a dinner for the Persian New Year’s celebration, Nowruz, he had to research his own country’s cuisine. Inspired by the dishes of his childhood that were still close to his heart, he set out on a mission to learn how to prepare the dishes that the women in his family had brought with them to America. From that jumping off point he and brother Shahab Farivar, decided to proudly offer his country’s cuisine in his own restaurant.
Regulars are familiar with Farivar’s everyday menu of American meatloaf, organic chicken, sustainable seafood and an array of pastas. It’s the jumbo lump crab cake, grass-fed rib eye steak and lobster salad that up the ante. But lately the clientele have been clamoring for his exotic Persian dishes and that is what we came for on a frigid winter’s night.
Fresh herbs with feta and beets and Pistachio soup at Peacock Cafe – Photo credit Jordan Wright
We pored long and hard over the menu and the specialty cocktail list from which we chose mango martinis made with homemade sour mix, fresh fruit and organic blue agave. It was a good place to start. Stymied by so many alluring menu choices, we vacillated wildly over our decisions before settling on the following – - borani-e laboo, red beet and yogurt dip with hummus, olives and seasoned flat bread; naaz, roasted eggplant with pomegranate; and panir va sabzi gthat with whole fresh herbs, feta radishes and dates.
An exquisite pistachio citrus soup, soup-e pesteh, arrived followed by khoresht qaymeh, which turned out to be a stew consisting of lamb and yellow split peas with sundried lime over basmati rice. We also tried a dish called albaloo polo ba morgh, a pomegranate-glazed chicken dish with sour cherries in the rice. We found the dishes to be quite small so there was ample room for dessert when we capped off the evening with the restaurant’s signature chocolate volcano.
P. S. We tried to take some photos but, alas, the sexy, red-lit resto, bracketed by neighbors Neyla and Café Milano, is so charmingly intime that the photos aren’t quite up to snuff. www.PeacockCafe.com.
A New Brunch Spot Shines in Shirlington
On the far end of what I’ll call the Shirlington Strip, that two-block boulevard lined with boutiques, bakeries, heaps of restaurants, one artsy movie theatre and, of course Signature Theatre, is The Curious Grape. You may recall I swooned over young chef, Erik McKamey’s food last June, shortly after they expanded from a wine and cheese shop into a full size restaurant. Now happily they have also expanded their hours to include a sit-down lunch on Saturdays and, more importantly, a scrumptious Sunday Brunch.
Flight of wine-based Bloody Marys – photo credit Jordan Wright
You would expect nothing less from a place that features wine at every turn, than their creative use of wine as a base for the ubiquitous Sunday morning drink, the Bloody Mary, which they just call “Mary” cocktails here. There are three versions, but order the flight in order to try them all, thus finding a favorite, if you can, which is well-nigh impossible. These cute cocktails served in half-size martini glasses snub their noses at vodka while providing an assuredly more preferable and less earth-shattering way to start your day of rest.
For the flight you’ll have the Ciao Bella, flavored with balsamic vinegar, roasted red pepper and basil and decorated with a morsel of cheese and sundried tomato on a bamboo spear. The Bloody Maria, spices it up with smoked paprika, piquillo peppers and cumin seed and comes garnished with chorizo. And lastly the Beijing Mary incorporates soy sauce, wasabi and sesame oil with a sprig of Thai basil. Each one delivers a sort of sprightly perfection. There are other brunchy drinks made with sparkling rose, sake, tawny port and sparkling hard cider as a base, but those will be for another day.
The menu is cleverly laid out in food and wine columns to aid the diner in pairings, and since the list quite extensive, you might want to stick to the script. Most selections can be ordered by the half glass, so as you work your way through their well-culled offerings, you can convince yourself you are getting an education in wines from around the world. Blissfully all wines are $13.00 and under for a full glass, so drink up, it’s study hour.
Baked goods are made in house, so try a coconut lavender muffin or cinnamon bun to break the fast. We dove in hard selecting a few starters to share. Doughnuts with wild boar, hoisin sauce and pickled onion were a tasty balance of flavors we couldn’t get enough of was an earthy foil for a dish of airy ricotta blintzes sweetened with cranberry compote, caramelized honey and thyme. And a gooey wine-kissed Abondance cheese fondue, served only as a small plate, proved a tease I’d like to see offered as an entree.
Wild boar doughnuts at the Curious Grape – photo credit Jordan Wright
Driving me mad with craving as I write this, was the house made flat iron corned beef accompanied by sweet potato hash, poached egg and salsa verde. Why, you may ponder, is this corned beef so different from all others? Why is it so irresistible, so craveable? It is because to achieve this wonder you must first appreciate the marvel of well-brined, slow-cooked meat, a process that renders the beef mouth-meltingly tender. But here’s why this one supersedes the others. In a twist of brilliance, the chef puts a thick slice of the boiled meat onto the flat top grill, searing the flesh and giving it a crusty ‘bark’. Gourmands, it does not get any better than this, except when the yolk of a perfectly poached egg oozes over the meat and onto the crispy potato hash below.
Flat iron corned beef on sweet potato hash – photo credit Jordan Wright
Next I was eager to try what is referred to as the Spanish breakfast, a potato and leek “tortilla” with Serrano ham and Zamorano cheese. I am a sucker for any dish that lists leeks as an ingredient. But this one was a disappointment, as the eggs were dry, the whole concoction flat as a board, the leeks, well, I’m not sure where they went to, and the delicate imported ham was seared to smithereens. Even the sweet note of quince on the side could not redeem it. I hope they get a better handle on this, since apart from an apple pancake soufflé, it was the only other egg dish.
Ricotta blintzes – photo credit Jordan Wright
As a footnote we decided to wait until we had finished with our bloodies before ordering coffee and tea. The restaurant has an extensive coffee bar menu and additions like house made vanilla bean, hazelnut and toasted almond syrups to flavor the java. My cappuccino with hazelnut syrup was lovely but my cohort chose a Chai latte that sent us into orbit. It seems the barista makes pouches of well-chosen spices for this drink and it’s terrific. All in all we concluded that the Curious Grape is a most welcome addition to the brunch scene and we’ll be back very soon. www.CuriousGrape.com.
Last Chance for The Garden Café’s British Menu at the National Gallery
The Garden Cafe at the National Gallery of Art – photo credit Jordan Wright
By last count I have already made three trips to the Garden Café Britannia to dine on Cathal Armstrong’s British-inspired menu at the museum and I am still smitten. With the opening of the large and gorgeously curated Pre-Raphaelite exhibition, I have returned with both local and out-of-town friends luring them in with the fabulous buffet, the elegant fountain setting and the best lunch deal in town (at $20.75 for all you can eat, it’s a steal). They have all been giddy with delight over the food, which is consistently wonderful and overseen by the National Gallery of Art’s Executive Chef, David Rogers.
Carrots and turnips – Cornish pasties at the Garden Cafe
The menu will stay in place until the end of April, but hurry! In early May, to complement the Gallery’s upcoming Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes exhibit, famed chef Michel Richard will transform the café into the Garden Café Ballets Russes. Expect dishes with both a French and Russian influence as the master creates a menu featuring Russian black bread, lentil salad, chilled borscht, blini with caviar, grilled eggplant, beef stroganoff, salmon coulbiac, and strawberries Romanoff for dessert. Na zdorov’ye!
Digging in at the Garden Cafe Britannia – photo credit Jordan Wright
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February 20, 2013
Special to DC Metro Theater Arts, Broadway Stars, and localKicks
The Barefoot Spirit
How to Succeed in the Wine Business Without Really Knowing a Damn Thing About It
Last month I spoke with Barefoot Wines founder Michael Houlihan about his upcoming book The Barefoot Spirit (Evolve Publishing – May 2013). Michael, who has been in the wine industry for nearly 30 years along with his life and business partner Bonnie Harvey, created the affordable and ubiquitous wines we know from the cute footprint icon. As soon as I spoke with him, I knew I liked him. He’s engaging, modest, enthusiastic and plain speaking, and considered a wine industry visionary. Though there are better known trailblazers throughout the history of California wines – perhaps none have started out more hapless, or dare I say clueless. He’d be the first to admit it.
When Michael and Bonnie hatched their idea to produce wine out of their farmhouse laundry room in 1985, they were so unaware of the vagaries and complexities of the business that they didn’t even know that wine came in different sized bottles. And though Bonnie had a nose for business and Michael had a knack for sales, they couldn’t possibly foresee what it took to make and sell wine on a grand scale. But both kept an open mind and both were quick studies.
Bonnie Harvey and Michael Houlihan Co-Founders of Barefoot Spirit
As he describes it in his light-hearted and informative book, Michael started his sales adventures by lugging samples of Barefoot wines through a blinding thunder storm to the Piggly Wiggly in South Carolina – hardly an auspicious beginning. Neither one of them was knowledgeable about such crucial details as marketing, distribution and shelf placement, and they were sticker-shocked when they discovered the high cost of glass to bottle their wines. The term ‘spiffs’, which are legal bonuses given to distributor reps to push a wine, was not in their vocabulary yet. They just had a product they believed in and a commitment to see it through. Michael remembered what one wine purveyor told him, “You’ve got to be better and cheaper than Bob.” Mondavi, that is. So they put their heart and soul into the venture and learned along the way. Turns out they learned a lot.
A cornerstone of their success in marketing their brand is something all winemakers use today in one way or another – getting their wines to the public through tasting events in order to establish solid relationships and engender goodwill along the way. To that end Michael and Bonnie created Barefoot’s “Worthy Cause Marketing”, donating their wine to charitable events and following up with their new friends. It proved to be an ideal model, both personally and professionally. Many budding entrepreneurs now turn for advice to the pair who in 2005 sold Barefoot Wines to the family-owned E. J. Gallo, which according to Wine Folly is, “the largest wine brand on the face of the earth.”
“The Barefoot Spirit” is the polar opposite of a dry business-oriented tale of success. It’s about a pair of entrepreneurs who dropped everything, except their commitment to fun, to make and sell an affordable wine. I mean who wouldn’t love a pair of nature-loving, beach-combing winemakers who think there’s nothing better in life than hiking the Sierras with their cats and treating their business like an adventure. Now that’s a tale you wouldn’t want to miss.
The action at Toki Underground – photo credit Jordan Wright
Tales From The Underground – Toki’s Simple Pleasures
“We have to arrive at an unfashionable time,” I insisted. “The minute they open the doors!” Like everyone else I’ve been put off by Toki Underground’s rumored lines-around-the-block and their no-reservations policy but my accomplice and I were determined to check out all the noise. Certainly the restaurant’s 2012 DC “Restaurant of the Year” award has the trendoids beating a path to their door, but we weren’t going to let that stand in our way. So around five on a weeknight, I picked up my epicurean compatriot and we headed off to H Street where we discover to our delight that we are seated right away.
Toki Underground has been on the radar screen of foodies and chefs from Alice Waters to Joan Nathan whose famous Sips & Suppers event featured the noodle shop’s Executive Chef Eric Bruner-Yang in one of their private dinners this year. The tiny noodle house, all 650 square feet of it, has a mere twenty-five stools and most face the wall. Don’t expect a romantic hideaway or group ramen night. This hot spot could be more fondly described as a hole in the wall.
Counter dining at Toki – photo credit Jordan Wright
The tiny outpost sits above The Pug, a small dive bar on the first level. A steep stairway leads to the second level and the unmistakable aroma of miso, soy and freshly made ramen. (Why “Underground” if it’s on the second floor?) A tattooed host leads us past clouds of billowing steam from the open kitchen where we hop onto two empty stools, propping our feet up on the footrests, actually repurposed skateboards, and dive into the menu like starving cheetahs.
The décor is Asian animé hipster – the limited menu Japanese/Taiwanese fusion ramen and dumplings complimented by Asian-themed cocktails, sake and Korean beers. But it’s the ramen, lovely silken noodles made off premises in Springfield, VA to Bruner-Yang’s specifications and floating in a 24-hour simmered pork shoulder bone stock, that steals the show. Though there are a purported twenty-six different styles of ramen, the young chef draws on his life in Taiwan watching his mother and grandmother form the flour and water into pliable strands to interpret his own style.
The proper way to eat ramen is to slurp. (Miss Manners, cover your ears!) The reasoning behind this custom, uncouth to Western proprieties, is to aerate the noodles in order to eat them quickly before they break down in the hot broth. Lots of communal slurping was heard. Dainty diners need not apply.
Sesame Crusted Salmon with horseradish sauce and eggplant jam – photo credit Jordan Wright
Our dumplings come first, steamed instead of pan-fried and the soft pillows, stuffed with ginger, scallions, Napa cabbage and a house-made spice mix, and served alongside tare, a sweet soy dipping sauce. A classic hakata follows – the bowl filled to the brim with ramen, pork loin, pickled ginger and nori seaweed. My partner likes the nitamago with the sous vide cooked egg that when broken spills into the broth turning it into a creamy slurry. If you’re of a mind, Chashu pork cheek or other additions can be added to most dishes with a nominal $4 surcharge. All the ramen bowls are layered with complex seasoning and spice and cradled by the deep undertones of the slow cooked pork bone stock.
Dessert is an afterthought here with house made chocolate chip cookies and a carafe of milk. Take it or leave it. If you want something more substantial you may want to drift over to Dangerously Delicious Pies for a slice of heaven on a plate.
Currently in the works is Bruner-Yang’s experiment to channel the Asian night market experience. Look for Maketto to bring the same energy and intriguing cuisine to his revered H Street neighborhood.
1,001 Serbian Dreams
Cherry pomace and Honey Drop rakija – photo credit Jordan Wright
It was last November and a small group of us were brunching at Masa 14, when I first heard about Ambar. Ivan Iricanin and his partner, chef and restauranteur Richard Sandoval (Masa 14 and El Centro D. F.) had already begun building out the Eighth Street restaurant that would soon transport the soul-satisfying regional dishes of Serbia’s Balkan republic to DC. In particular they were excited to debut dozens of varieties of the country’s national treasure, rakija, which are fruit brandies of a wide-ranging potency. My antennae were vibrating like a summertime cicada.
In January the two-story brownstone opened with three authentic Serbian chefs and bar shelves filled with glistening bottles of rakija sharing space with wines from Slovenia, Bulgaria, Croatia and Serbia. It’s a cozy country rustic space yet with a modern polish. Mason jars of pickled eggs and vegetables take up shelf space with books and candles flicker against the pickled wood walls.
Forest Gnocchi at Ambar – photo credit Jordan Wright
The cuisine here is a heavenly mixture of Mediterranean, Balkan, Turkish and hearty Slavic fare – a bit spicy, earthy and deeply flavored, especially the meats. Scanning the menu I saw a multitude of intriguing dishes – Wild Mushroom Salad salata sa pecurkama, White Veal Soup teleca krem corba, Venison Carpaccio karpaco od smetine. But it was the way they were described that made us lean in further. A dish called simply ‘Grilled Asparagus’ is done up in a velouté sauce with crispy prosciutto, pumpkin, purple potato and quail egg. Beet and Goat Cheese Salad, slojevi cvekle arrives garnished with pork cracklings, walnuts and chives. Sesame Crusted Salmon, losos, is flavorfully enhanced by horseradish sauce and spicy eggplant jam. It seemed impossible to decide but after giving our preferences to our capable and quite adorable server, she made a few suggestions and additions to complement our initial choices.
The Balkan bread basket with three spreads at Ambar – photo credit Jordan Wright
The homey Bread Basket ustipci ili proja is a good place to start. Filled with the Balkan version of cornbread, fried sourdough, (be still my heart) and three savory spreads, the one most of us are familiar with is ajvar – a spicy red pepper puree. We also swooned over the Cheese Pie gibanica – a delicately layered phyllo napoleon with spinach and goat cheese, far better than most I’ve tried. Though they have the traditional beef and pork kebabs cevapi, which adds cheese to the skewer and the National Dish pljeskavica, a Balkan hamburger – it was the Stuffed Sour Cabbage known as sarma that transported us on that cold, rainy evening.
Ambar does not treat dessert as an afterthought. They have a pastry chef who trained in kitchens throughout Europe. The most unusual dessert is the Forest Gnocchi. Dazzlingly presented in an earthenware bowl that weighs as much as a bocce ball, its separate components consist of chocolate mousse, bitter orange cake, ground chocolate, orange gelee, tarragon gnocchi and passion fruit espuma. The unusual dessert, pretty as a medieval garden, is then stirred up with black tea sauce.
Be sure to finish with one of the rakijas. We opted for the subtle Honey Drop and the high octane Cherry Pomace. Just the beginning of our love affair with Ambar.
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January 26, 2013
Special to DC Metro Theater Arts, Broadway Stars, and localKicks
It’s been a whirlwind of deliciousness since my last column. Umpteen restaurants have opened in the Metro area, most notably Ambar with its authentic Serbian chefs in a modern setting housed in an old brownstone on Capitol Hill; Suna, across from Eastern Market; and Bryan Voltaggio’s Range, which at 14,000 square feet is an astonishingly large undertaking for gourmet food. So far reviews are good. Not much to personally report as sadly I missed the recent press opening.
Range Restaurant – Potato Vodka
In Dupont Circle the Russian-inspired Mari Vanna is getting a lot of buzz. Could it be the vodka or the Ovechkin-watchers? With outposts in London, Moscow and New York Mari Vanna has planted its Cossack boots firmly in DC. Where else could we get pirozhok, borsch and caviar with blini?
Energy Kitchen Black Bean and Mango Salad and Cali Veggie Burger
On K Street the 500-calories-or-less fast food concept Energy Kitchen has weight-watching office workers in its thrall. The healthy fast-casual resto developed by Anthony Leone and Randy Schechter plans an additional outlet in DC soon. Here smoothies are called “Smart Shakes” and have energy-boosting ingredients like fresh fruits, protein powder and yogurt. Add to that a wrap; veggie, turkey or bison burger; or a large salad and one of their low-cal sides like black bean and mango or creamed spinach and eating light and right never tasted so filling!
The bar at Ambar – Photo by Jordan Wright
The aforementioned Ambar is the much-anticipated restaurant from Richard Sandoval and Ivan Iricanin whose Balkan Peninsula style-cuisine is helmed by Serbian-born Executive Chef Bojan Bocvarov, Pastry Chef Danilo Bucan and Sous Chef Ivan Zivkovic. The restaurant plans a Valentine’s Day dinner of Roasted Squash Salad with mixed greens, panko-crusted mozzarella, crispy bacon and pomegranate dressing; Cheese Pie with phyllo, cucumber yogurt and red pepper spread; Roasted Mushroom Crepe with red pepper emulsion, béchamel and gouda; Veal Stew with kajmak and sautéed onions and carrots, as well as Sesame Crusted Atlantic Salmon with spicy eggplant jam, sesame crust and horseradish sauce. I certainly hope there’s a dessert in there somewhere.
Priced at $35 per person exclusive of tax and tip, couples select one drink each from the house red, house white, Mango Lemonade, Mojito Classic, Margarita Classic, Grappa Rakia, Corona or National Bohemian. Believe me one Mango Lemonade will cure what ails you, so you’ll be tempted to have a few. Follow your impulses!
Nando’s Peri Peri in Old Town Alexandria – photo credit Jordan Wright
In Alexandria Nando’s Peri Peri the South African-roots flavorama has opened an outlet on King Street and at National Harbor recently. Known for its flame-grilled chickens, fans choose sauces ranging from mild to I-double-dog-dare-you hot as accompaniments. Have it with some spicy garlic olives and sangria – that’s the Afro-Portuguese influence. The international concept restaurant chose the DC area for its US debut and it’s been going gangbusters ever since. Lesser known but just as yummy is the pea mash with parsley, mint and chili and the gooey grilled halloumi.
Nottinghill Restaurant & Garden Area
One of my new favorite spots is the super creative Asian-fusion Sushi Naru with its multiple sushi masters and sleek blond wood interior. Very flavor forward, if you like that kind of thing – and I do. Also in Old Town is the upscale Notting Hill, which slid elegantly into the former Le Gaulois space just a few weeks ago. The restaurant, proud of their local farm-sourcing, will reopen the pretty garden in spring but in the meantime is hosting the Saturday night sing-a-longs formerly at the now-shuttered Bistrot Lafayette.
Old Town Theater owner Bob Kaufman on Opening Night and some of the evening entertainment – photo credit Jordan Wright
It’s a hit! Old Town Alexandria has gotten its historic King Street theatre back and that’s no joke, unless of course you want to make something of it, which is what the upcoming talent intends to do. Comic relief is on the bill for the foreseeable future in the stunning and totally restored 1914 Old Town Theater. Ask about the hidden windows and secret stairway uncovered during the rehab. http://www.oldtowntheater1914.com.
Invasive Fish Gets Its Due
Snakehead – Fish
Upcoming is the “Snakeheads At The Harbour!” dinner at Tony and Joe’s to benefit Miriam’s Kitchen and the Oyster Recovery Partnership on Georgetown’s restored waterfront, the perfect metaphor for restoration and recovery. On January 28th top DC chefs Scott Drewno of The Source by Wolfgang Puck, Victor Albisu of Del Campo, Chad Wells of The Rockfish, Phillipe Reininger of J&G Steakhouse at The W Hotel, Adam Litchfield, from Cause The Philanthropub, Dennis Marron, of Poste Moderne Brasserie, David Stein, of Tony and Joe’s Seafood Place and Matt Day of Woodberry Kitchen will prepare a number of delicacies. All chefs will do their culinary best to turn the mighty snakehead into a palatable fish…as long as it doesn’t taste like chicken! Though the invasive beast is named in the event, there will be lots of sustainable seafood too, thanks to host ProFish. For tickets go to https://tonyandjoes.com/snakeheads-at-the-harbour-benefit-dinner/.
Annual Capital Wine Festival Kicks Off With a Grand Tasting
Cured meats at The Fairfax Hotel’s wine event – Photo Jordan Wright
The tony Fairfax Hotel at Embassy Row is gearing up for its annual Capital Wine Festival dinners in February and March and Nibbles and Sips was on hand for the grand opening reception Friday night. The ballroom held several stations related to the reds and whites. The meat station offered lamb loin and beef tenderloin, another had cured meats and local cheeses (loved the La Quercia prosciutto and Maryland cheesemaker Cherry Glen’s Monocacy Ash goat cheese).
Cherry Glen Monocacy Ash goat cheese – Photo Jordan Wright
At the seafood station, tailored to pair with the evening’s white wines, was Executive Chef Christopher Ferrier, who eight months ago dovetailed seamlessly into the hotel’s classically elegant yet modern dynamic. Ferrier served up a luscious smoked scallop seviche topped with baby celery sprouts, togarashi and a light sauce made from yuzu, lemon, lime and grapefruit juices with sriracha and served in a tiny scallop shell.
Smoked Scallop Seviche – Photo by Jordan Wright
Boutique California wines were offering generous pours. From Napa were Darioush, Miner Family Winery, Heitz Wine Cellars, Burgess Cellars, Patz & Hall, Pine Ridge Vineyards, and artisan winemakers Julie Johnson’s Tres Sabores Winery along with her son Rory Williams’ Calder Wine Company. From Italy’s Alba area, where the rare white truffles are hunted, came the classic wines from Pio Cesare who make the coveted Piedmontese barolos, barbescos, nebbiolos and barberas. These exceptional wines will be featured at the wine dinners. What a tease!
The Ladies of Boxwood Winery – Photo by Jordan Wright
Squeezed into the mix were two Virginia wineries, Boxwood whose wines are distinctly French-inspired, and Barboursville, known for winemaker Luca Paschina’s Italian styled wines. As I raved about Barboursville’s Octagon, and who doesn’t, the sommelier took out a bottle hidden behind a backpack and poured me a glass. Squeaky wheel gets the grease, as my mother used to say. Visit www.CapitalWineFestival.com for tickets and dates of the upcoming dinners.
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The “First Lady of Napa Valley” talks love, travel and California wines.
By Jordan Wright
Special to Washington Life Magazine
Margrit Mondavi, the “First Lady of Napa Valley,” is most at home in the vineyards. (Photo courtesy of Robert Mondavi Winery)
Margrit Biever Mondavi’s book tour to Washington, DC dovetailed seamlessly with the opening of “FOOD: Transforming the American Table, 1950 – 2000”, an enticing new exhibition at the National Museum of American History chronicling a half century of American food and wine from farm to table. As Vice President of Cultural Affairs for the Robert Mondavi Winery, she was there to witness the opening.
Wearing a fire engine red shawl and snappy silver sequined boots, she diligently signed copies of her book, “Margrit Mondavi’s Sketchbook – A Reflection on Wine, Food, Art, Family, Romance and Life.” If that seems like a rather lengthy title, the sprightly octogenarian has unquestionably earned it. Her far-flung adventures and indelible legacy are the proof of the pudding.
It is a refreshingly candid pentimento written by a woman and accomplished artist who has found both pleasure and passion in her work and life. It reads like a private conversation with a close friend and is beautifully composed with personal photographs, recipes, tributes by friends and family, along with her whimsical watercolors that capture the couple’s private dinner menus, tablescapes and plein air landscapes.
Mondavi’s new book has reflections on everything from family to wine. (Photo courtesy of Robert Mondavi Winery)
From a childhood on the shores of Italy’s Lago Maggiore, to meeting the love of her life, Robert Mondavi, in 1967, she writes of the Napa Valley winery. Together, she and Robert made it into a cultural destination for the performing arts as well as a world renowned culinary school, where three-Michelin-starred French chefs Joel Robuchon, Alain Chapel and Paul Bocuse, and American icons like Julia Child, the institute’s first guest chef, took turns teaching classes.
Over a leisurely lunch at a downtown District watering hole, I interviewed the legendary Margrit, as she prefers to be called. As she twirled lengths of truffle-topped pasta around her fork, we spoke of many things from wine to the price of olive oil, which she knows off the top of her head. She met most of my questions with questions of her own; her curiosity is insatiable. Below are just a few of the memorable anecdotes she told me over lunch on life, love, cooking and everything in between:
On life and family:
“I love life. I think everyday is a present, and as my husband would say, I have no secrets. I cannot tell a lie, because my memory is too short. In general, I like to be on the joyous side and be remembered for that. I have wonderful friends and family, but I realize that you have to accept life and I try not to ponder it too much. It’s important to participate and enjoy life as long as you can and I do with three children, six grandchildren and three great-grandchildren whom I adore.”
“Once, we were in Salzburg to do a television show. They had found a wild turkey, but it weighed only about two pounds. After the tiny bird was cooked – they actually had prepared one in advance to speed up the show – we shared it with the manager and his staff. It was the most delicious turkey I’ve ever had in my life!”
“There was a time when the French turned up their noses at California wines. Not anymore! The tasting of 1976 with un-aged wines proved that we could do what Bob said we could do. Twelve years later they did another tasting at COPIA and proved that California wines age well if they are properly made and properly stored.”
“Love is excitement and Robert was always exciting. Our life was enjoyable, but challenging,too. I was the person who brought art into Robert’s life, because he never had time. We started the music festival and the cooking schools and he was always very supportive. And we loved to travel. When Bob was eighty-two we bought a pair of worldwide American Airlines tickets for unlimited first class travel, so we went everywhere for free. He would say, ‘Let’s go to Berlin. Let’s go to Beijing.’ And we did!”
On letting go:
“I have to learn about tossing things aside. I want to and don’t know how to begin. I have to simplify my life. I go to work every day and I feel very betwixt and between because with my husband it was always people, people, people. It was a wonderful time.”
In a ceremony at the winery in January 2013, Margrit Mondavi will be honored as the thirtieth recipient of the Monteith Wine Bowl Trophy, given to the stalwarts and icons of the wine industry.
Margrit was recently in Washington to attend the opening of this exhibition at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, on which the Robert Mondavi Winery was a consultant. (Photo courtesy of the Smithsonian)
Jordan and Margrit The Perfect Finish Lobster ravioli
photo credit Jordan Wright
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