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” – 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

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

  • 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

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

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The Lion King – Kennedy Center

Jordan Wright
June 23, 2014
Special to The Alexandria Times

Brown Lindiwe Mkhize as ³Rafiki² in the opening number ³The Circle of Life² from THE LION KING National Tour. Copyright Disney.  Photo Credit  Joan Marcus

Brown Lindiwe Mkhize as ³Rafiki² in the opening number ³The Circle of Life² from THE LION KING National Tour. Copyright Disney. Photo Credit Joan Marcus

Disney’s The Lion King roars onto the stage with a procession of African wildlife in its opening number “Circle of Life”. Director Julie Taymor, who also serves as Costume Designer and Mask & Puppet Co-Designer with Michael Ward, sends her exquisitely conceived creatures – giraffes borne on stilts, a massive elephant and whirling birds held aloft on bamboo poles – streaming down the aisles of the Kennedy Center’s three-tiered Opera House in a fantastical African menagerie. Taymor, who studied Bunraku, the Japanese style of puppetry in which manipulators appear openly, and wayan kulit,the art of shadow puppetry, has magnificently incorporated these concepts into this spectacular production.

It is expected that by now (the animated film version premiered in 1994 and in 1998 the stage version garnered six Tony Awards) that you are familiar with the story of Simba the young lion, King Mufasa his kindly father, Scar the evil uncle, Rafiki the baboon shaman, and Zazu the Red-billed Hornbill. They all inhabit Simba’s life, along with the strong-willed Nala, Simba’s childhood friend, Pumbaa the gassy warthog and Timon the wise-cracking meerkat. These are not the only characters we are treated to. There are hordes of wildebeests that stampede onto the stage, a pride of lions that dance around and lurking laughing hyenas who are lampooned by Pumbaa and Timon in the famous song “Hakuna Matata” meaning “no worries” in Swahili.

Lyricist Tim Rice and Composer Elton John’s score is beyond fabulous. “Can You Seen the Love Tonight” is one of John’s biggest hits. But it was Hans Zimmer who won an Oscar, two Grammys and a Golden Globe for the original film score and Soweto émigré, Lebo M, known as the “voice and spirit of The Lion King”, who contributed the gloriously rich African rhythms and melodies.

Jordan A. Hall as ³Simba² and the ensemble in ³He Lives in You² from THE LION KING National Tour. Copyright Disney.  Photo Credit  Joan Marcus

Jordan A. Hall as ³Simba² and the ensemble in ³He Lives in You² from THE LION KING National Tour. Copyright Disney. Photo Credit Joan Marcus

Most memorable are Simba, played by the adorable Jordan A. Hall who stalks and pounces his way into your heart. “I hate public pools,” he jokes after a dangerous dunk in the river; L. Steven Taylor as Mufasa, whose superlative voice cradles the emotions in “They Live in You” when he explains to Simba about his ancestors who reside in the stars; and Tshidi Manye as the wise Rafiki, whose evocative South African voice burns brightly in “Circle of Life” and “He Lives in You”.

Taymor’s costumes, using the vivid colors of tribal kente cloth, juxtaposes Set Designer Richard Hudson’s backdrops of grassy savannas and cerulean skies, while in desert scenes she employs the earthy shades of patterned Malian mud cloth to accentuate Hudson’s parched earth colored sets.

The Lion King is a lavish feast for the eyes and a paradise of music for the ears. I’d gladly swing from a baobab tree limb to claim it as one of my favorite musicals of all time.

Through August 17th at the Kennedy Center, 2700 F St., NW, Washington, DC. For tickets and information call 202 467-4600 or visit

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Side Show – Kennedy Center

Jordan Wright
June 20, 2014
Special to The Alexandria Times

 (l-r) Ryan Silverman as Terry Connor, Emily Padgett as Daisy, Erin Davie as Violet, Matthew Hydzik as Buddy Foster. Photo by Joan Marcus.

(l-r) Ryan Silverman as Terry Connor, Emily Padgett as Daisy, Erin Davie as Violet, Matthew Hydzik as Buddy Foster. Photo by Joan Marcus.

In the late 19th and up to the mid-20th century, before The Age of Political Correctness, the public’s fascination with human oddities was an acceptable form of entertainment. Traveling freak shows, pop-up circuses and dime museums were part of our culture and there was hardly a man, woman or child who had not been enthralled by a pinheaded man, a giant or a person with extra appendages. Midgets Chang and Eng, Andre the Giant, and Jo-Jo the Dog-Faced Boy were headliners, as were the “Siamese” twins known as the Hilton Sisters. Side Show brings to life that bizarre era in American show business with the true and tragic story of the talented twins and the exploitation they endured.

Beautifully directed by Bill Condon (Oscar-winning screenwriter of Gods and Monsters) with gorgeous music by Grammy-Award winning composer Henry Krieger of Dreamgirls fame, and a touching story by veteran Broadway lyricist Bill Russell, this musical drama is a tumble down the rabbit hole into an “odditorium” where a tattooed lady with a propensity for dining on live chickens shares stage space with a three-legged man, a cannibal king, the lizard man, and a dozen other exotic creatures.

The story opens in Texas during the Depression, where the twins lead a dismal life performing in a San Antonio tent show with other “freaks”. Handsome talent scout Terry Connor (Ryan Silverman) discovers the girls, offering his credentials along with his partner Buddy Foster (Matthew Hydzik) in the jaunty and pun-laden tune, “Very Well Connected”. In all there are 24 smashing songs by Krieger.

The company of the Kennedy Center production of Side Show. Photo by Joan Marcus

The company of the Kennedy Center production of Side Show. Photo by Joan Marcus

The entire cast is a marvel. Many of the members play up to eight separate roles, led by the joined-at-the-hip Hiltons, performed spectacularly by Erin Davie as Violet and Emily Padgett as Daisy. Matching stride for stride, they dance, duet and, in one hilarious scene, pantomime a mock tennis match. The only thing they don’t do together is fall in love. In “A Private Conversation”, the show’s Phantom of The Opera moment, Silverman captivates in a duet with Padgett.

Robert Joy soars in the role of the archetypal slime ball, Sir, the sideshow’s manager, as does David St. Louis who plays his compassionate assistant Jake. St. Louis’s commanding bass-baritone in “You Should Be Loved”, moves earth and sky.

The show’s creative team gives us three-time Helen Hayes Award-winner Paul Tazewell, whose imaginative costumes span half a century from the twins’ Dickensian upbringing to Chicago’s Orpheum Theatre and on to the glitz and glamour of Hollywood where they become the toast of the town. Paul Kieve, whose stage and film illusions are legendary, dramatizes one of the most memorable scenes of the production when Javier Ignacio, performing a breathtaking illusion as Harry Houdini, sings “All in the Mind” in his haunting three-octave voice. I wished his were more than a cameo role.

Famed Special Effects/Prosthetics Designers, Dave Elsey and Lou Elsey who devised creatures for both Star Wars and Where the Wild Things Are, provide the rivetingly recognizable freaks.

Highly recommended.

Through July 13th at the Kennedy Center, 2700 F St., NW, Washington, DC. For tickets and information call 202 467-4600 or visit

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A Trip to Warrenton and the Black Horse Inn

Jordan Wright
June 18, 2014
Special to The Alexandria Times

The Black Horse Inn in Warrenton

The Black Horse Inn in Warrenton

Less than an hour’s drive from Alexandria lies the small burg of Warrenton where tree-lined streets reveal a pedigree that goes back centuries.  Its stately architecture reflected in a Classical Revival courthouse, 18th and 19th century mansions, and the Old Jail Museum, an 1808 brick-and-stone structure filled with intriguing arcana and an alleged ghost.  The area is known as a refuge for old line Virginia families raising thoroughbreds and children in understated elegance.  Unlike avid history buffs exploring Fauquier County for traces of the Civil War and its battlefields, we were in search of good food, good wine, and a luxurious country inn.

Chris Pearmund of Pearmund Winery

Chris Pearmund of Pearmund Winery

Our first stop was Pearmund Cellars, a mile or so off Route 29.  Awarded Virginia Wine Lover magazine’s “Best of Readers’ Choice Award for Best Winery” in 2014, the winery credits its success with stunning viogniers, petit verdots, chardonnays and a superb Ameritage (a Bordeaux blend that took gold at the Virginia Governor’s Cup this year).

The tasting room is low-key, wood-paneled and cozy – nothing elaborate with the exception of the wines, which are stellar.  Chris Pearmund, a legend among Virginia’s winemakers, was waiting for us.  Gracious and knowledgeable, he brought out bottle after bottle, including older wines from his private cellar, which he then generously offered to a small group, who were beyond ecstatic to sample from such precious vintages.

Every summer Pearmund leads wine tours to a different European country.  This year, he’ll take a group on a ten-day trip along the Danube.  In 2015 he will conduct a tour along the Rhone River in France.  Trip info is on the winery’s website

We took lunch at the Red Truck Bakery & Market across from the courthouse.  Housed in a former filling station it is instantly recognizable by the cherry red ‘54 Ford truck parked out front.  Owner Brian Noyes bought it from fashion designer Tommy Hilfiger and christened the store after it.  The small shop with the rustic décor is where Noyes turns out notoriously decadent granola and mouth-watering baked goods.  Try the Double Chocolate Moonshine Cake made with corn whiskey from the next county.

Curried Chicken Salad sandwich at Red Truck Bakery

Curried Chicken Salad sandwich at Red Truck Bakery

Sitting at a communal farm table we gobbled up tomato peach gazpacho, homemade meatloaf and curried chicken salad sandwiches followed by first-of-the-season strawberry rhubarb pie.  Noyes sources all his fruits from nearby farms.  We left with cranberry orange muffins as big as your fist, whole wheat bread studded with nuts and fruit and bags of the addictive granola.

Along Main Street you’ll find tons of shops.  Check out Be Boutique for clothing, handbags and accessories, The Town Duck for gifts and upscale home accessories, and G. Whillikers for old time toys and children’s books.  Drop in at Jimmie’s Market for a proper cuppa in the Madison Tea Room while browsing vintage tchotchkes and furnishings from its former life as a 1950’s barbershop.  You might like to pick up a bauble or two from Carter & Spence, a particularly fine jeweler featuring high-end designer pieces.  And if a horse enthusiast is on your list, you’ll need to stop in at Horse Country Saddlery, where riding gear and tweed jackets share space with fashionable hats suitable for Gold Cup.

The foyer at the Black Horse Inn

The foyer at the Black Horse Inn

The rain was coming down in sheets as we headed to the Black Horse Inn, our sanctuary for the night.  Minutes from the center of town, the inn is a stunning 19th century colonial with spacious receiving rooms furnished in elegant period antiques and hunt country décor.  Innkeeper Lynn Pirozzoli graciously welcomes guests with an open bar along with cheeses and fresh berries.  Since you’re in Virginia Hunt Country, Lynn will arrange for guests to ride in any one of ten local hunts.  Guests can bring their own horses or rent made horses from her stables.  The estate also offers a novice cross-country course on the property.

Bouillabaisse at The Bridge

Bouillabaisse at The Bridge

Dinner at The Bridge Restaurant and Wine Company, where tables are surrounded by an impressive collection of floor-to-ceiling bottles of wine, was outstanding.  The charming two-story restaurant is known for innovative and locally-sourced cuisine, exemplified by a rich rendition of a Marseille-inspired bouillabaisse and giant lump crab cakes over fennel slaw.  Locals cherish Monday’s all-you-can-eat mussel nights, gooey Irish cheddar grits, Lobster Mac n’ Cheese, and plates of charcuterie and artisanal cheeses.  On Thursdays sample the free tastings of Virginia wines in the stone cellar.

Jumbo Lump Crab Cakes at The Bridge

Jumbo Lump Crab Cakes at The Bridge

On our way back to the inn the skies opened up (so much for a refreshing spring rain)  and we returned to the inn where we stayed in the honeymoon suite, amusingly called “Great Expectations”.  All nine of the inn’s well-appointed guest rooms have private baths, fine linens and fireplaces.  There’s even a separate cottage, the “Hunt Box Suite”, with its own kitchen, Jacuzzi and wet bar.  We nodded off to the mesmerizing sounds of torrential rains pinging from the roof of our very own screen porch.

Breakfast at the Black Horse Inn

Breakfast at the Black Horse Inn

Morning brought clear skies and sun glistening off fiery pink azaleas, dappling the gazebo and streaming through venerable oaks.  After a hearty breakfast augmented by specially requested green smoothies, we toured the inn’s spectacular event space, “The Gilded Fox”.  Situated beyond the house in a pretty vale the stately building is framed by boxwood gardens and a garden terrace.

Back in town we stopped for lunch with Shelley Ross, the owner of the Natural Marketplace.  A Certified Nutritional Consultant, member of the American Association of Holistic Practitioners and certified in raw food nutrition, when we met she had just returned from a transformational journey to a healing center in Phuket, Thailand.

Reuben sandwiches at the Natural Marketplace

Reuben sandwiches at the Natural Marketplace

The store can only claim 2,600 square feet of a Colonial house, yet it is filled to the rafters with a comprehensive selection of organic and nutritious foods, cookbooks on healthy eating, and natural supplements.  Recently they beat out thousands of stores to win the “The National Retail Award of Excellence”, especially singled out for their sense of mission.

Sitting on the front porch we ate grilled Reuben sammies on sprouted multi-grain bread and sipped on Lemon Cayenne KeVita probiotic drinks, while locals streamed in for fruit smoothies, organic veggie juices and monster stuffed sandwiches – all made to order.  The store and small take-out restaurant is a health food lover’s fantasy realized. For information about the marketplace’s holistic therapies and other wellness services, visit

Winemaker Sudha Patil of Narmada Winery

Winemaker Sudha Patil of Narmada Winery

On the way home we popped into Narmada Winery in Amissville.  Situated on 51 acres of rolling countryside, owners Pandit Patil and his wife, Sudha, brought a slice of India to Amissville, Virginia when they bought their property in 1998, planting acres of vines as a hedge against the boredom of retirement.  The tasting room is quite pretty with sage-colored walls adorned with curry-colored Indian scrollwork and the winery’s peacock symbol.  Gorgeous handmade ceramic tiles by local artisan Libet Henze of Far Ridge Ceramics frame a large fireplace.  A nice variety of Indian foods are offered.

The winery opened in 2009 and almost immediately won the Riverside Wine Competition Chairman’s Award for “1st in Class” for their Cabernet Franc Reserve. Soon after their viognier garnered a Gold Medal in California.  While they currently use 75% of their grapes from the property, they soon will up that to 95% estate grown grapes.

We were looking for reds and Sudha brought out her best for us to taste – a 2010 Tannat, a rich, plummy wine – very fruit forward; a 2009 Cab Franc Reserve with echoes of mulberries; and their 2009 Allure, a port-style wine perfect for after dinner cheeses.

Photo credit Jordan Wright

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Cloak and Dagger Or the Case of the Golden Venus – Signature Theatre

Jordan Wright
June 16, 2014
Special to The Alexandria Times

Fat Tony (Ed Dixon), Nick Cutter (Doug Carpenter) and Gino (Christopher Bloch) sing “Who Put the Mob In” in “Cloak and Dagger,”Photo by Margot Schulman.

Fat Tony (Ed Dixon), Nick Cutter (Doug Carpenter) and Gino (Christopher Bloch) sing “Who Put the Mob In” in “Cloak and Dagger,”Photo by Margot Schulman.

If you want to be cast in a major part, or nail half a dozen roles in the same production…and if you want the music to be heavy on the romance, comedy and pathos…maybe you should just write your own damn material which is exactly what Helen Hayes Award Winner Ed Dixon did.  He set out to create the perfect platform for his talents, penning the book, music and lyrics to Cloak and Dagger or The Case of the Golden Venus, now having its world premiere at Signature Theatre.  In his madcap homage to 1950’s film noir, Dixon wrote himself into over a dozen separate roles, giving Director Eric Schaeffer one hot hit.  The energetic four-person cast is listed as Man One, Man Two, Nick and Helena, but there are countless reincarnations by Man One played by Dixon, and Man Two, played by Helen Hayes Award Winner, Christopher Bloch.

The story:  Nick Cutter is a private dick on the downswing.  Holed up in a shabby one-desk office in Manhattan, his world is tanking when in walks sexy, sharp-tongued firecracker, Helena Troy.  (All puns intended by the playwright throughout.)  Helena is being chased by gangsters-with-gats led by her goombah fiancé, Fattoni, a deese-dems-and-dose lowlife in pursuit of a purloined solid gold Venus statue.  Can the adoring Nick save her from The Mob and solve the mystery of the statue?  Not before combing every nook and cranny of New York, from Chinatown and Little Italy to Canal Street and 42nd Street, and every hellhole in between.  “Follow the stench – cheap cologne and despair,” the frowzy landlady advises Nick as she tries to woo him in the tune “A Real Woman”.

Nick Cutter (Doug Carpenter, center) and Pinsky’s Chorus Girls sing “Shake Your Maracas” - Photo by Margot Schulman.

Nick Cutter (Doug Carpenter, center) and Pinsky’s Chorus Girls sing “Shake Your Maracas” – Photo by Margot Schulman.

“You may be onto to something,” Nick acknowledges.  “I’d like to be!” she retorts with a wink.  When he worries Helena might already be a corpse, she suggests, “I’m sure she’s alright unless she fell in holy water in direct sunlight.”  The gags come fast and furious and in a wealth of different accents.  You gotta keep up.

Doug Carpenter, an appealing and handsome lead actor with a matchless voice to boot, is Nick Cutter.  Some of the most moving numbers in the show are his – “The Worst of Times” and “The Best of Times”, the two opening numbers, and “Love Is” which comes after he’s fallen head over heels for Helena.  Another terrific song is “Opium” sung with Man One, Man Two, Nick and Helena.  It could easily spring Cole Porter from his grave dripping with envy.  Erin Driscoll is Helena.  Though her petite frame is somewhat overshadowed by the big galoots, she makes up for it as a belter who can sell a tune to a flock of nightingales…and does.

Helena Troy (Erin Driscoll) strikes a seductive pose in “Cloak and Dagger,”  -  Photo by Margot Schulman.

Helena Troy (Erin Driscoll) strikes a seductive pose in “Cloak and Dagger,” – Photo by Margot Schulman.

Behind a simple set of three doors, Bloch and Dixon weave in and out donning umpteen crazy costumes and emerging totally transformed in record breaking time.  It’s a bonanza of double entendres, men in drag (Dixon does a potty-mouth Mae West), and some vaudeville-style hoofing (in “An Agent”, Bloch conjures Jimmy Durante and dances to “Hava Nagila”).

As important as the jokes are, the music is even more critical.  And one way to gauge the value of a musical is not just by the score, but also by the lyrics.  Would a singer choose any of these songs for a nightclub or cabaret act?  Well, yes!  Dixon has given songsters catchy tunes, creative lyrics and romantic ballads to choose from.  There are nineteen numbers played by four musicians that trick us into thinking they’re an orchestra.  Twenty-two year old Jordon Ross Weinhold, one year out of grad school, did the orchestrations and he is a veritable whiz kid.

It’s a clever detective story done in burlesque. What’s not to like?

Through July 6th at Signature Theatre (Shirlington Village), 4200 Campbell Avenue, Arlington, VA 22206.  For tickets and information call 703 820-9771 or visit

Video Credit on Preview Video is James Gardiner and Justin Chiet

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