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

Jordan Wright
July 12, 2014
Photo credit Jordan Wright
 

At East Lynn Farm in Round Hill

At East Lynn Farm in Round Hill

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

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

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

Thank you, chicks

Thank you, chicks

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

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

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

Summer Squash Mousse

Summer Squash Mousse

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

Tomato Consommé with Squash Blossom

Tomato Consommé with Squash Blossom

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

Sunny Hen Egg on Potato Rosti with Truffle Hollandaise

Sunny Hen Egg on Potato Rosti with Truffle Hollandaise

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

Lamb Rack and Lamb Sausage

Lamb Rack and Lamb Sausage

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

Duo of Red Beet and White Asparagus Ice Creams

Duo of Red Beet and White Asparagus Ice Creams

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

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

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Cirque de Soleil’s Amaluna Comes to National Harbor

Jordan Wright
July 7, 2014
Special to The Alexandria Times
 

In a few weeks National Harbor will host Cirque de Soleil’s Amaluna, a production loosely based on Shakespeare’s The Tempest.  Amaluna is a fusion of the words ama, which refers to “mother” in many languages, and luna, which signifies “moon” – a symbol of femininity evoking both the mother-daughter relationship and the idea of goddess and protector of the planet.  Amaluna is also the name of the mysterious island where the story unfolds.

Water Bowel CWP

Water Bowel CWP

In this groundbreaking show that celebrates the work and voice of women, the audience is transported to a mysterious island governed by Goddesses, Amazon warriors and Valkyries and guided by the cycles of the moon.  Performed by a cast of 70% female artists, the story recreates an exotic female mythology of half-human, half-animal characters expressed through original compositions, dance and extreme acrobatics.

Goddess

Goddess

Rachel Lancaster, who previously worked on Corteo, brings her savvy to the show as a trained dancer with a theatre background.  She is excited that Amaluna is her first show as Artistic Director.  “All of our shows are so different.  In Amaluna we have used newer technology for the aerial events, something we didn’t have before.  The whole big top comes alive.  The most exciting aspect of this show is the physical and emotional power of the woman.  It’s really unique and features an all-female nine-piece band. It even has the only uneven bar act in the world.  It is incredibly beautiful with a different esoteric sense from other Cirque shows.”

Teeterboard

Teeterboard

Set in an island forest it tells the story of Miranda’s coming of age, using symbols and themes from Greek mythology.  Hera, the Greek Goddess of women, is expressed by a peacock feather decoration that refers to the legend of the bird’s protective eyes in its tail. The eyes are said to watch over women in all stages of their lives.

Tony Award-winning Director, Diane Paulus (Pippin – 2013) directs the amazing cast.  Her impressive theatre background reflects her position as Artistic Director at A.R.T. at Harvard University.  This year Paulus was recognized on TIME Magazine’s annual list of the 100 most influential people in the world and Variety named her among its “2014 Trailblazing Women in Entertainment”.  “I didn’t want to build a ‘women’s agenda’ show,” she has said.  “I wanted to create a show with women at the center of it – something that had a hidden story that featured women as the heroines.”

Ama Prospera Miranda

Ama Prospera Miranda

I met with cast member Iuliia Mykhailova, a petite contortionist with muscles of steel, who plays Miranda – a leading role that requires her to be on stage throughout the show.  Discovered at a circus college in her hometown of Kiev, the twenty-nine-year old Ukrainian has performed in three other Cirque productions including Ovo, Kooza and Varekai.  In a recent interview she talked about her focus in performing her intricate and daring feats.  “We do ten shows per week so I really have to concentrate.  It’s easy to get distracted and slip…and I have.”  Dressed in one of her four costumes, a fitted cropped jacket with miniscule bloomers to match, the pony-tailed brunette described how the garments are constructed to accommodate the artists.  “If a sleeve constricts the arm movements, they make openings in the shoulders to allow more freedom of motion.”

Manipulation

Manipulation

I was fascinated to learn that Mykhailova travels with her young daughter, as do many of the artists.  While on the road, children are educated in on-site classrooms where programs are multi-level and multi-cultural to accommodate the myriad of nationalities, and languages, represented.  “There are around 30 children that travel with us.  We have teachers and school programs for them,” she remarked.

Images courtesy of Cirque de Soleil

Amaluna opens under National Harbor’s blue and yellow big top on July 31st.  For tickets and information visit www.CirquedeSoleil.com/Amaluna.

 

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Twenty-four Hours In the Lap of Luxury at Salamander Resort & Spa

Jordan Wright
July 1, 2014
Photo credit Jordan Wright
Special to the Alexandria Times

2015 Hyundai Genesis at Salamander Resort & Spa

2015 Hyundai Genesis at Salamander Resort & Spa

An hour’s drive to the tony village of Middleburg doesn’t seem far at all when the end game is a posh five-star resort.  An overnight stay was planned to coincide with a test drive in Hyundai’s recently launched 2015 Genesis.  It seemed an appropriately prestigious match for the latest in luxury properties from founder, Sheila C. Johnson.

For our one-night getaway we chose Salamander Resort & Spa, a spectacularly posh destination in the heart of wine country where horses, spa treatments and gourmet dining were on our “to do” list.

The restored Aldie Mill

The restored Aldie Mill

Just past Gilbert’s Corners where Route 50 and Route 15 meet, you’ll come into the quaint town of Aldie.  If you have an hour or so be sure to stop in at the Aldie Mill Historic Park to tour the four-story grain mill where President James Monroe had his grain ground when he lived at Oak Hill.  Flanked by the merchant mill, storehouse and granary, the early 19th century mill is powered by tandem water wheels that still use the original French burr stones. It is quite a sight to behold.

Arriving at the luxury resort midday, we checked in at the concierge desk where guests are offered a complimentary glass of the day’s featured Virginia wine.  Very civilized.  Strolling around we began to notice the elegance of the hotel and its equestrian themed touches – room numbers decorated with stirrups, horse-and-rider silhouettes emblazoned on porch rails, lamps adorned with horseshoes, and grand reception rooms decorated in the style of many of the manor houses in hunt country.  Even the bellmen sport riding breeches here.  It’s all quite tasteful and understated.  But once you’re on a mission to find these elements you can spy them everywhere, even in the Main reception room, said to have been designed after Dr. Johnson’s private living room.

Sushi in the Gold Cup Wine Bar

Sushi in the Gold Cup Wine Bar

We took a simple lunch of sushi with a glass of Virginia wine in the Gold Cup Wine Bar, that takes its name from the area’s august biannual steeplechase race of which Salamander is a major sponsor. Then it was off to a Gluten-Free Cooking Class given by Chef de Cuisine, Chris Edwards.  Held in the state-of-the-art demonstration kitchen, the classes are part of an ongoing culinary teaching program, popular with both guests and locals, and overseen by the resort’s Culinary Director, famed DC Chef, Todd Gray.

Chef Edwards teaching the Gluten-Free cooking class

Chef de Cuisine Chris Edwards teaching the Gluten-Free cooking class

As we learned the science of baking with grains as diverse as buckwheat, sorghum, quinoa and millet, and turning them into popovers and pizza dough, we sipped complimentary champagne and nibbled on Pastry Chef Jason Reaves’ herb-infused version of ice cream sandwiches – - Blackberry Basil, bracketed by almond cookies, and Mint Chocolate, homemade spearmint ice cream swathed in chocolate cookies and dipped in bittersweet curls.  Learning can be so stressful.

Herb infused ice cream sandwiches

Herb infused ice cream sandwiches

Next on the agenda was the Mindfulness Trail Ride, a leisurely amble across some of the resort’s 340 acres.  Down at the stables, however, we discovered that the previous day’s gullywasher had rendered the trail too slippery, even for our sure-footed steeds.  Thankfully all was not lost when at Equestrian Director Sheryl Jordan’s suggestion, we substituted a woodsy ride for a riding lesson with one of the instructors, and after a carriage ride into the village with our coachman, James.

A carriage ride through the storied village oh Middleburg

A carriage ride through the storied village of Middleburg

Dinner was in Harrimans Virginia Piedmont Grill.  Named after Pamela Harriman, the socialite and former Ambassador to France who owned the original estate, it is the more formal of the two restaurants and a stunning showcase for the skills of Executive Chef Sean McKee.  Especially lovely were dishes enhanced by herbs and produce from the property’s two-acre kitchen garden.  Mozzarella Caprese salad was really a ball of creamy burrata nestled beside grape tomatoes, olives and fresh basil and came with a tableside drizzle of aged balsamic.  Lobster Seviche, served in a glass-lidded box, was strewn with microgreens and cilantro clipped fresh from the kitchen garden.

Lobster Seviche - Mozzarella Caprese Salad -  Spring Collection vegetarian entree

Lobster Seviche – Mozzarella Caprese Salad – Spring Collection vegetarian entree

Entrées are listed separately from “Cuts” which include beef, lamb and pork from neighboring farms.  A choice of seven different gourmet sauces includes escargot in garlic butter, chimichurri and foie gras butter.  A vegetarian entrée we found especially delightful was “Spring Collection” – a colorful array of seasonal veggies served with a cylinder of pan-seared polenta.  After dinner enjoy a stroll into the field for s’mores at one of the firepits, or catch a game of pool in the wood-paneled game room.

Ribeye steak at Harrimans

Ribeye steak at Harrimans

Regrettably we passed up sunrise yoga on horseback.  It sounded terrific in the brochure, but a dawn-breaking class was not part of our agenda, even if it does involve horses and getting your inner spirit in balance.  Instead we languished in the room (all have private patios overlooking the rolling countryside) with a full-on breakfast and freshly made green smoothies, before heading downstairs to the spa where I had booked a rejuvenating Vitamin C facial.  The sumptuous treatment involved a face massage with reparative serum, and while that was being absorbed into the skin, a relaxing foot massage.  Facials are just one of the dozens of restorative treatments and massages available in the holistically-inspired full-service luxury spa.

The heated infinity pool, one of three

The heated infinity pool, one of three

Afterwards a dip in the heated infinity pool, a jungle rain shower, replete with lightening and thunder, and a power nap on mosaic-tiled warming beds, prepared us for our departure.

Mosaic tiled warming beds in the spa

Mosaic tiled warming beds in the spa

Though the hotel was abuzz with guests due to the Upperville Horse Show (Salamander is also a major sponsor of this oldest horse show in America), we managed to secure a late departure.  It wasn’t easy to leave the comfort and luxe, but we toddled off along winding country lanes for a planned tour of RdV Vineyards, where Bordeaux grapes planted on a granite hillside mimic the terroir of the Bordeaux region.  Inspired by the unconventional owner’s vision – he lives in an Air Stream trailer on the property – they are producing some of the most revered wines to emerge from Virginia.

RdV vineyards overlooking the Blue Ridge Mountains

RdV vineyards overlooking the Blue Ridge Mountains

It is a quiet and modern place, built primarily underground in German Bauhaus style.  You won’t see buses filled with tourists, pets, kids or BBQ grills.  This is an exclusive and serious experience befitting wines of the highest caliber.  You’ll need to reserve in advance, but the informative tour includes a tasting of their premium wines, an experience you won’t soon forget.  We left laden with a few bottles, if only to keep the memories alive…

RdV Vineyards

RdV Vineyards

Traveling back on Route 50 in Upperville we decided to while away a few hours at the horse show, where the country’s top riders and their million dollar mounts are put through their paces.  We even spied former New York City Mayor Bloomberg’s daughter, Georgina, soaring over some daunting jumps while keeping an ear to owners’ and competitors’ running commentary.

Taking the jumps at the Upperville Horse Show

Taking the jumps at the Upperville Horse Show

Building up a ferocious appetite from mentally riding our imaginary horses, we fueled up at Hunter’s Head Tavern in the village.  Built in 1750, the restored Colonial log house serves superb British pub fare sourcing meat and eggs from the owner’s nearby Ayrshire farm.  Here you’ll find bangers and mash, bubble and squeak, and a terrific shepherd’s pie.

At Hunter's Head Tavern with the charming patio in the background

At Hunter’s Head Tavern with the charming patio in the background

I swooned over the liver and onions, a dish as scarce as hen’s teeth these days.  Before heading home we raised a pint to one of the tavern’s reputed ghosts.

Liver and Onions sourced from the owner's Ayrshire Farm certified humanely raised beef

Liver and Onions sourced from the owner’s Ayrshire Farm certified humanely raised beef

For information and reservations at Salamander Resort & Spa or to learn about their new Tree Top Canopy zipline tours visit www.SalamanderResort.com.  For a tour and tasting at RdV in Delaplane, VA, go to www.RdVVineyards.com.

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Protein Bar Opens A New Location In Downtown DC

Cary Pollak for Whisk and Quill
July 6, 2014

Napkin dispenser inspires diners to spread the word

It seems like branches of Protein Bar are sprouting up all over the Washington, DC area, not to mention other parts of the country.  The fourth and latest local edition of the fast food eatery opened two weeks ago at 925 17th Street, NW near K Street, joining thirteen other outlets in their home town of Chicago and three in Colorado.

As an opening day promotion the first 100 customers received $100 gift certificates – an offer that attracted a lot of media attention and some eager customers.  Notwithstanding the generous incentives, athletes and health conscious diners have already found the food to be creative and delicious, while simultaneously living up to the eatery’s motto, “We do healthy … healthier.”

Organic quinoa blend

Organic quinoa blend

There is a method to ordering here – building a meal by creating it yourself.  Start off by choosing the base protein for the “Protein Bar-ritos” – either all-natural chicken or organic tofu.   Or try the “Quinoa Bowls”.  Using a blend of red quinoa, golden quinoa, white millet, amaranth (a grain biologically similar to quinoa) and crunchy flax seeds, this base features the ancient, high protein, naturally gluten-free grain first cultivated in the Peruvian Andes.  Then add toppings like Black Bean, Spinach and Pesto, Buffalo, Chili (there are chicken or veggie versions) or Healthy Parm, made with chicken, house-made marinara sauce and Parmesan cheese.

Super 6 Salad Mix

Super 6 Salad Mix

“Signature Salads” use a house blend of raw veggies for maximum nutritional value.  The “Super 6 Salad Mix” is a combination of romaine, spinach, kale, broccoli, carrots and purple cabbage, and is served with your choice of several house made dressings.  More complex salads appear on the menu with geographically inspired names like Southwest, Memphis, Buffalo and Baja.

Samples of the filling for the Buffalo Protein Bar-rito

Samples of the filling for the Buffalo Protein Bar-rito

At a recent sampling of the menu’s offerings, guests enjoyed several different items including the “Buffalo Protein Bar-rito” made with chicken, quinoa blend, blue cheese, house-made Buffalo sauce and the crunchy good salad mix.  The bold flavors work well together and the Buffalo sauce gives it a spicy kick. The “Superfood Vegan Signature Salad” features tasty marinated tofu.  Here it is paired with kale, pepitas, chickpeas and creamy chia seed dressing.

Abbas Lochina preparing a “Hi-5” juice drink

Abbas Lochina preparing a “Hi-5” juice drink

“Signature Drinks” and “Raw Juices” are naturally sweet.  No refined sugar is used.  Instead sweetness is achieved with agave syrup or ripe fresh fruits like pineapple used in the leafy green drink, “Hi-5”.  Along with extracted juices are the smoothies.  The “Blue Line” Signature Drink, a blend of vanilla protein, blueberries, banana and choice of milk, 2%, skim, almond or soy, is as high in flavor as it is low in fat.

The Protein Bar’s concern with the nutritional value of food is evidenced by the information printed below each menu item, listing the number of calories and the grams of fat, carbs, fiber and protein.  Their commitment to providing flavorful menu selections is just as serious.  Protein Bar defines its mission as “to change the way people eat on the go.”  Next time you are on the go, give them a chance to change your mind about what fast food can and should be.

Select locations serve breakfast till 10:30am on weekdays and 12:30pm on weekends.  To find a location near you visit www.theproteinbar.com.

Photo credit Cary Pollak

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Nibbles and Sips Around Town – June 2014

Jordan Wright
June 2014
all photo credit to Jordan Wright
Special to DC Metro Theater Arts 

Freak Show Without a Tent, Dino’s Grotto Opens, Erin Dickins Spices Up Her Repertoire, Mio Brings Puerto Rico to DC 

On DC-Based Food Writer Nevin Martell’s Latest Book

Partiality Alert Based on Consuming Alcoholic Beverages at Martell’s in the 1960’s: I wasn’t two pages into chapter one, when author Nevin revealed that his father was proprietor of Martell’s, a preppy watering hole on 83rd and Third Avenue where I gleefully lost a few brain cells during a misspent youth. It was a glorious time when fake IDs were a cottage industry and school holidays were spent drinking G&Ts on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. As I delved further into the book, my salad days redux, I discovered that Nevin and I had both followed a rather parallel offbeat path on which his father had led his family so many years before. I, too, had enjoyed unorthodox adventures in the South Pacific, South America and Europe during the heady days of the 60’s, a time when exotic locales were relatively unspoiled (and often perilous) and encounters with the natives and their consciousness raising practices didn’t require a tour guide. 

Nevin Martell's book - Freak Show Without a Tent

Freak Show Without a Tent – Swimming with Piranhas, Getting Stoned in Fiji & Other Family Adventures (Possibilities Publishing 2014) is Nevin Martell’s pentimento of travels with his family of four – - snarky sister Josephine, prim and proper mother Alison, and balls-to-the-wall father Ralph, whose spur-of-the-drunken-moment decisions to seek authentic experiences, placed the hapless family in cahoots with the Gods of Danger. Though Nevin reveled in these offbeat escapades with true teenage aplomb, it appears Alison went along if only to assure her children weren’t eaten by cannibals or crocodiles. His sibling, however, was hell-bent on exposing her older brother’s awkwardness.

Martell, a DC-based food, travel and lifestyle writer for the Washington Post, Wine Enthusiast and NPR’s blog “The Salt”, has had great success with his earlier books, The Founding Farmers Cookbook: 100 Recipes for True Food & Drink (2013) (selected by Whisk and Quill in December 2013 for “Best Books of the Year” – http://whiskandquill.com/?p=6775) and the small-press smash Looking for Calvin and Hobbes: The Unconventional Story of Bill Watterson and his Revolutionary Comic Strip (2009).

Nevin Martell - author's photo courtesy Possibilities Publishing

Nevin Martell – author’s photo courtesy Possibilities Publishing

Drawing upon his childhood travel diaries Martell gives us a hilarious Hunter S. Thompsonesque view of his unflappable father and delightfully dysfunctional family from the eyes of a pubescent lad whose fantasies were evenly divided between James Bond, Robert Louis Stevenson and assorted comic book super heroes. Occasionally those dreams would turn treacherous under his father’s autocratic rule, and the mishaps and mysteries in the nether regions of Tonga, Fiji, New Zealand and The Azores would frighten the young explorer.

At times I felt like I was reading Tom Wolfe’s chronicles of Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters or watching Wes Anderson’s The Royal Tenenbaums. Of a kava drinking and dancing ceremony among Fiji natives, Martell writes, “The scene shifted after our fellow partygoers hit their fourth cups of kava. Suddenly, someone hit “play” on a small boombox and what I assumed was Fijian dancehall music filled the small space. Half the crowd rose to their feet with the herky-jerky grace of undead puppets; the others remained seated, demonstrating the kind of full-body lethargy that’s usually reserved for heroin addicts.”

A highly engaging and fiercely colorful read by one of our very own. Find him at www.NevinMartell.com.

Dino’s Finds a New Home in Shaw Neighborhood 

Dino’s Grotto is Chef Dean Gold’s latest enterprise with Kay Zimmerman, his wife of 25 years. Landing in the emergently hip Shaw neighborhood after five years in Cleveland Park, the new joint is as relaxed as its Hawaiian-shirted owner. Don’t expect the latest in sleek, chic, throw-in-a-touch-of-orange décor popular in the city’s newest eateries. The place is more akin to your Aunt Lydia’s dining parlor with its soft yellow walls, randomly hung art and chairs that look like they were lifted from a 1980’s roadhouse. The food is another story. Gold and Chef de Cuisine, Lenins Salinas are turning out delicious eats with premium farm-sourced ingredients.

Gold loves pickling and dives into it like heron after a minnow. We began with the Vegetable Antipasti. Sour-and-spicy pickled ramps and asparagus and a bowl of house-cured olives and lupini. I mistook a whole clove of garlic for one of the shiny golden beans, which was indelibly startling. I determined to inspect subsequent bites more closely. Because Gold’s cooking is more akin to a rustic Italian style of dining, it should be expected. Italian cooks of that stripe do not over-combine their dish’s elements, preferring different tastes in each mouthful.

Vegetable Anitpasti at Dino's Grotto

Vegetable Anitpasti at Dino’s Grotto

A marinated mixed seafood salad of octopus, shrimp and scallops followed house made Paté Cinghiale, wild boar studded with pistachios; and Testa, a pork head terrine. Salty and spicy are Gold’s signature combinations and we found it echoed once more in the devilled eggs with red caviar crowns served with sriracha aioli.

A dish of head-on shrimp perched atop local asparagus became the forerunner to bowls of tender Italian meatballs served family style. Scrumptious deep-fried baby artichokes are sourced from the Santa Monica Farmers Market, a favorite dish of mine from my travels throughout California’s artichoke farmland. Don’t expect fancy plating skills here. Diners expecting to be dazzled by drizzles or dots from a squeeze bottle, will be disappointed. Food is served plainly – on a plate – in front of you.

Veterans of the old Dino’s should not fear, customer favorites like Wild Boar “Cinghiale” smothered in cream, tomato, onion, hazelnuts, rosemary, cocoa and pecorino over pappardelle, one of the best dishes in town, is still on the menu as is the linguini with white wine and garlic clam sauce.

Wild Boar Cinghiale at Dino's Grotto

Wild Boar Cinghiale at Dino’s Grotto

Gold’s experience at Whole Foods developing their wine, cheese and specialty foods program from the ground floor into the multi-million dollar industry it has become today, shows in the quality of the wines and cheeses served.

From ten options we chose Castelmagno, a sharp raw milk cow and sheep combination, Blu di Bufala, a mild and creamy blue, and Capra Cremosa Tartufato, a fresh goat cheese with black truffle.

Gianduja "Nico" - Dean Gold's Venetian confection

Gianduja “Nico” – Dean Gold’s Venetian confection

In this predominantly Ethiopian restaurant neighborhood, Gold has already created a popular bar scene on the lower level. Called Grotto Bar at 1914, a special “Hangover Brunch” has been instituted.

Start recuperating with “Hair of the Dog” made with Hayman’s Old Tom Gin, a raw egg, Worcestershire sauce, simple syrup, sriracha, blackstrap bitters and lemon juice.  If you can get that down, you’re halfway there. Choose another from the list of boozy brunch cocktails for your second before selecting a main course or two starters.  A sweet deal at $25.00.

Songstress Erin Dickins Spices Up Her Repertoire 

Jazz vocalist Erin Dickins has a new shtick. The former Manhattan Transfer co-founder, who performs her sophisticated cabaret act throughout Europe and the U.S., has developed a line of herbal sea salts she calls, Sizzle & Swing, which pretty much describes everything about her.

Erin lives in nearby Easton, MD and we’ve stayed in touch over the years. So right before she launched her line, she sent me some of the mixes to try out. With all the gourmet food shows and food festivals I’ve attended over the years, I have sampled dozens of herbal spice mixes. For the most part they taste oddly similar, as though they’ve just been packaged under different labels. But Erin’s unique and imaginative combinations and the use of top quality herbs, (heavy on the herbs and light on the salt.) place these miles ahead of the run-of-the-mill blends. Don’t even get me started on the rubbish at the food festivals.

Erin has always been cookin’ with gas, as they say, honing her culinary skills at the New York Restaurant School and teaching herself Escoffier techniques. She even owned a Manhattan restaurant in New York with 20 world-class recording pals called “Possible 20” that soon became a hangout for the recording and theatre scenes.

As a companion to the gourmet herb and sea salt blends, the sassy songstress has also written a cookbook, “Jazz for Foodies”. Packaged along with her latest 12-track CD “Java Jive”, it pairs songs with recipes using the blends. The seasonings come in four flavor combinations and are beautifully packaged in 4 oz. tins.

Chili, Lime & Cilantro Sea Salt – I loved this on popcorn and in guacamole. She uses it in her recipe for the Vietnamese chicken soup, Pho Ga.

Tuscan Sea Salt – A taste of the Mediterranean. Its versatility is harmonious with all meats. I liked it with chicken. Erin adds it to a maître d’ hotel butter to use on steak.

Lemon Basil Seasoning Salt – Summer in a tiny tin. Erin pairs it with her song “Long Ago and Far Away” and adds it to Lobster Mac n’ Cheese.

Dill Tangerine Seasoning Salt – For delicious devilled eggs! Erin uses it in her delicious rendition of Spinach Pie as the backdrop to “Can’t We Be Friends”.

Companion track: “Long Ago and Far Away”
Serves 6
Ingredients:

  • 8 ounces elbow macaroni (we used “designer” noodles)
  • 16 ounces of Half and Half
  • 6 ounces shredded sharp cheddar cheese
  • 3 ounces cream cheese
  • 4 ounces fresh grated Parmesan cheese
  • 3 ounces shredded Gruyere cheese
  • 1 lb lobster meat, chopped – about two tails
  • 1/2 cup breadcrumbs
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 1 tbsp dried tarragon
  • 2 tsp Sizzle & SwingLemon Basil Seasoning Salt
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Bring water to boil in medium pot and cook noodles per label instructions. In a double boiler, combine cheddar cheese, 3 oz. parmesan cheese, cream cheese and Gruyere cheese. Heat until blended. Gradually add cream, stirring until smooth.

In a large pan, heat olive oil, add shallots, tarragon, Sizzle & Swing™ Lemon Basil Seasoning Salt and garlic. Add lobster meat and sauté until opaque.

Remove from heat. Drain cooked pasta, add to lobster mix, then gently fold in the cheese sauce, salt and pepper and blend well.

Place in casserole dish or individual ramekins, sprinkle with remaining Parmesan cheese and top with breadcrumbs. Bake at 350°F for 6-8 minutes until breadcrumbs are golden brown. See your cardiologist in the morning!

To order the spices or the cookbook with CD visit www.sizzleandswing.net.

Mio Brings Puerto Rico to DC 

Wilo Benet brings his international fusion style to Mio Restaurant

Wilo Benet brings his international fusion style to Mio Restaurant

Chef Wilo Benet hit town like a tropical storm last week, bringing his beautifully balanced and elegantly presented dishes from Puerto Rico to Mio Restaurant, where his good friend and Mio owner Manuel Iguina will feature Benet’s exquisite dishes on a special menu throughout the summer. Benet, the chef and owner of the award-winning Pikayo restaurant in Puerto Rico, describes his style as contemporary global cuisine, a concept that combines traditional Puerto Rican ingredients with Japanese, Chinese, Thai, Spanish, Italian, Classical French influences. This fusion of flavors, together with Wilo’s artistic emphasis on style, are simply divine.

Hawaiian Swordfish marinated in sofrito with a yuzu emulsion - Wilo Benet dish now at Mio Restaurant

Hawaiian Swordfish marinated in sofrito with a yuzu emulsion – Wilo Benet dish now at Mio Restaurant

Firmly ensconced in San Juan’s Condado Plaza Hilton, Pikayo celebrates its 24th anniversary this year.

Benet’s style goes beyond traditional Puerto Rican cuisine. A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, Benet worked in some of New York City’s most prestigious kitchens including Le Bernardin, The Water Club and Maurice Restaurant before returning to Puerto Rico to serve as Chef de Cuisine at the Governor’s Mansion.

Kurobuta Pork Cheeks on coconut milk polenta with sherry sauce and julienned pata negra Iberico loin at Mio

Kurobuta Pork Cheeks on coconut milk polenta with sherry sauce and julienned pata negra Iberico loin at Mio

Benet opened Pikayo within the Puerto Rico Museum of Art drawing kudos from The New York Times who hailed the restaurant as “maybe the best museum restaurant in the world.”  Recognized by Bon Appétit and Conde Nast Traveler, he has published two cookbooks, Puerto Rico True Flavors and Puerto Rico Sabor Crillo, which are currently in their third printing.

Mango Terrine with almonds, fresh cherries and dulche de leche as part of Wilo Benet's summer menu at Mio's

Mango Terrine with almonds, fresh cherries and dulche de leche as part of Wilo Benet’s summer menu at Mio’s

Wilo Benet’s new TV Show dubbed SABORES DE ENSUEÑO con Wilo Benet” is currently on Utilísima Channel FOX Latino.  The show is based on recipes of Puerto Rico True Flavors.  With an audience of 11 million people from Mexico to Argentina, and including the United States, the show is accessed in Puerto Rico on Onelink (Channel 171), on Direct TV (Channel 234) and on Dish TV.

Benet has another show called “Sabor a Wilo,” now in its third season on Direct TV (Channel 161). He has also appeared on Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern, and as a guest chef on Bravo’s Top Chef.

To check out his guest stint at Mio’s, visit www.miorestaurant.com.

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