Richmond for the Holidays

Jordan Wright
December 5, 2017
Photo credit Jordan Wright

The holidays are a time for making memories with loved ones.  Agreed?  But if thoughts of capturing your seasonally-imbued memories feature a well-worn sofa and boxed wine, then read no further.  This adventure requires you trot out your childlike sense of wonderment.

In a city that has emerged as a world class destination with cutting-edge cuisine, art exhibitions often seen nowhere else in America and a five-star luxury hotel, Richmond provides everything a couple or family could ever dream of.  Okay, no skiing.  And that’s what the holidays are all about isn’t it?  Making wishes come true.

The magnificent stained glass skylight in the Palm Court lobby

The magnificent stained glass skylight in the Palm Court lobby

I admit, I get a thrill of anticipation each time I check into The Jefferson Hotel – a turn of the 20th century American classic in the tradition of the country’s grandest hotels.  The more familiar I am with its pleasures the more I feel the need to revisit, if only to assure myself that all is well with the world.

Carrara marble statue of Thomas Jefferson amid Tiffany windows in the Palm Court lobby

Carrara marble statue of Thomas Jefferson amid Tiffany windows in the Palm Court lobby

On this trip, I planned to experience the recent room renovations.  The improvements at this 2017 recipient of the Forbes Five Star and AAA Five Diamond Award are not mere window dressing, they are both elegant and technologically clever with television screens built invisibly into the vanity mirrors.

New marble bathrooms at The Jefferson Hotel – Courtesy photo

Marble, marble and more marble abounds on bathroom countertops, soaking tubs, and the spacious walk-in showers.

Grand Premier Room – Courtesy photo

Luxuriate on poufy comforters and down pillows adorning beautifully tailored designer bedding.  Recently the hotel’s 262 guest rooms were rebuilt into 181 spacious new rooms, including 15 suites with entry foyers and spacious dressing areas.  Our suite had a kitchen with marble countertop plus a large mahogany dining table and spacious living area with a view of the city.

JEFFERSON SUITE LIVING ROOM

Jefferson Suite Living Room – Courtesy photo

Perfect for inviting guests in for cocktails before dinner, or entertaining six for dinner in your private suite.  And though room service is 24-hours a day, you’ll want to get out and about.

 Jefferson Hotel Holiday Tree ~ Photo credit - "The Jefferson Hotel".

Jefferson Hotel Holiday Tree – Courtesy Photo

But first we stare in wonder at the Christmas decorations.  Hundreds of poinsettias, yards of garland and ribbon, thousands of twinkling lights and dozens of toy soldiers adorn the Palm Court Lobby and the surrounding areas.  A gingerbread display made from hundreds of pounds of gingerbread, royal icing and candies dazzles even the grownups.  At midday, musical ensembles play familiar carols in the Rotunda and the festive ambiance is utterly magical.

Courtesy photo

Pro tip: If you’re planning on being here on a Sunday, book ahead for the lavish ‘Champagne Brunch’, and do not miss the spoonbread.  The hotel’s signature breakfast concoction with deep Southern roots, is as light and fluffy as a cloud.  Ask for the recipe.  No, beg!  I did.

Oh, and be sure to swing by Blooms at The Jefferson, the flower and gift shop on the lower level.  I always find great hostess gifts and, of course, petits bibelots pour moi.

The hotel is currently offering a Holidays at The Jefferson Package for those wishing to celebrate the season with an overnight stay.  It includes a newly constructed Grand Premier Room, complimentary valet parking, and rates from $275 per room, per night.

Sally Bell’s Kitchen

Sally Bell’s Kitchen

There is so much to do in town that after dropping off our luggage with the bellman, we head for lunch at the iconic Sally Bell’s Kitchen, a luncheonette directly across from the Science Museum of Virginia where you can tour special holiday exhibits including Ralphie’s, A Christmas Story, and “Fruitcake Science”.

At Sally Bell’s find throwback lunch fare like pimento cheese, corned beef spread, Smithfield ham on a roll, tomato aspic (this must be a Southern thing) and more, plus thirteen different flavors of cupcakes (caramel!) and five different kinds of pies (lemon chess!) with which you can fortify yourself for the day ahead.

Black History Museum of Virginia is housed in the former Leigh Street Armory

Cross the street to visit the Science Museum or opt for the Black History Museum and Cultural Center featuring art exhibitions and artifacts commemorating the accomplishments of African Americans in Virginia.

Black History Museum of Virginia

Black History Museum of Virginia

Recently relocated to a beautifully renovated location (at the Leigh Street Armory), it is an interactive and modern museum.  For hours of operation visit website.

A must see is the Lewis Ginter Gardens spectacular Dominion Energy GardenFest of Lights from 5 till 10pm.   This annual holiday tradition glows with more than half-a-million twinkling lights, hand-crafted botanical decorations, model trains, holiday dinners, a fire pit with s’mores and hot chocolate, nightly family activities and more.  For tickets and information visit website.

A restaurant I’d been hearing a lot about is L’Opossum, where chef and proprietor David Shannon has been creating masterfully complex dishes in an eclectically decorated, nondescript corner spot on China Street.  I promise you’ve never seen anything like it with its Flintstones throw pillows and 50’s satellite chandeliers in a cozy, candlelit, appealingly garish room that feels like Gay Paree meets your granddad’s rec room. But don’t cast a gimlet eye on the quirky décor or the 1940’s illustration of a chic pirate on the menu – Shannon has a curatorial eye for mid-century modern – this is serious cuisine and it’s the essence of the new Richmond.

Charred and chilled Chinese five-spice slices of venison – Chasing Dragons Above the Clouds of Yuzu with Lotus Chips (Left) – Seared Hudson Valley Foie Gras with Fernet-Branca soaked Apricots, Butternut Squash Puree, Cherry-brandied Apples and Brown Butter Toasted Pecans (Right)

Now I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the fab craft cocktails made with top shelf liquor and house made ingredients.  Expect the unexpected.  The ‘Hooty Hoo’ is a White Russian served with Yoo-Hoo, Black Lava salt and Xocolatl bitters.  The ‘Honey Badger’ is a blend of Belle Isle Honey Habanero Moonshine, muddled jalapeno and orange, Ginjo Sake and St. Germain.  Go on with your bad self.  Have one of each.

Les Escargots a la Ham Biscuit with Sweet Garlic Beurre Blanc (Left) Old Thymey Chicken Fricassee - Port and Chardonnay Drenched Breast and Thigh Topped with Lemon Spaetzle, Escarole and Lardons in a Mustard Jus (Right)

Les Escargots a la Ham Biscuit with Sweet Garlic Beurre Blanc (Left) Old Thymey Chicken Fricassee – Port and Chardonnay Drenched Breast and Thigh Topped with Lemon Spaetzle, Escarole and Lardons in a Mustard Jus (Right)

Shannon, who was a semi-finalist for ‘Best Chef Mid-Atlantic’ by the James Beard Foundation, likes luxe ingredients – caviar, foie gras, brandied figs, absinthe mists, escargots and flambéd desserts.

La Petit Mort au Chocolat en Flambe avec une compote de la cerises noir (Left) – The Rainbow Spoonicorn – “A mythical saffron and citrus confection with hand churned blackberryice cream. “A defiant lack of inhibitions and sprinkles” (Right)

Expect a dining experience that would wow even the most sophisticated palate.  Reservations are a must in this tiny, romantic spot.

Citizen restaurant

Citizen restaurant

On day two we rose early and headed downtown for breakfast at the industrial-cute, Citizen.  Laser-focused on the Southern thing, we order bowls of stone ground Byrd Mill grits topped with swirls of melted butter, sour dough toast with pear butter, Benton’s bacon, lentils with feta (too healthy?) and steaming hot cappuccinos.

Citizen’s bar and open kitchen

Citizen’s bar and open kitchen

This lively spot serves breakfast, lunch and dinner with a menu that trends hip, healthy and international.

At the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts

At the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts

The Virginia Museum of Fine Art, one of the nation’s premier museums, is currently featuring ‘The Terracotta Army: Legacy of the First Emperor of China’.  The exhibition showcases ten majestic terracotta figures, including a cavalry horse and 130 works that tell the story of China’s birth.

The Sculpture Garden at VMFA

The Sculpture Garden at VMFA

You’ll also see arms and armor, horse and chariot fittings, ritual bronze vessels, works in gold and silver, jade ornaments, precious jewelry, and ceramics from the First Emperor’s mausoleum complex.  If that isn’t thrilling enough, there’s the reinstallation of the museum’s breathtaking Fabergé Collection.  For timed tickets to The Terracotta Army exhibit visit website.

The Urban Farmhouse Market & Kitchen

The Urban Farmhouse Market & Kitchen

You can linger at lunch at Amuse or the more casual café, or head over to Scott’s Addition to The Urban Farmhouse Market & Café, a nifty, rustic place that features local artists and farm-to-table.  It’s a friendly, low-key hangout with wall-to-wall floor-to-ceiling retractable windows and, naturally, a farmhouse vibe.  The daily selection of gourmet sandwiches and salads, smoothies, espresso drinks, fresh pressed juices and fair-trade teas are listed on the chalkboard menu.  Browse the antique wooden cupboards for local foodstuffs to take home.

Scott’s Addition is the trendy neighborhood for millennials, with its reconverted warehouse loft apartments, hipster eateries, coffee brewers, and craft beer breweries like The Veil Brewing Company, Strangeways Brewing, Isley Brewing Company, Väsen Brewing Company, Ardent Craft Ales and more.  It’s the holy grail for brewhounds and those who like their aging done with apples.  Blue Bee Cider has moved to the hood and is now firmly ensconced in a 19th century reconverted stables.

Blue Bee Ciders

Blue Bee Ciders

While in the neighborhood, scour Class and Trash for cool retro collectibles, farmhouse tables, architectural elements and garden ornaments.

The tasting room at Buskey Hard Cider ~ Buskey Founder/Owner William Correll (Left)

The tasting room at Buskey Hard Cider ~ Buskey Founder/Owner William Correll (Right)

Stop by for a tour and tasting at Buskey Hard Cider.  You’ll probably meet Founder/Owner, William Correll, whose usually on site to explain the aging process – some ciders in steel barrels, some in old whiskey barrels from the Virginia Distillery Company.

Stocking up at The Veil Brewing Company

Stocking up at The Veil Brewing Company

Nearby is The Veil Brewing Company. When we arrived, just before the 4pm opening, there was a line around the block.  We were so shocked we thought they must have been having an early bird bargain sale.  No such luck.

This über popular brewery has a comfy lounge area and a very efficient pick up area for take away and growler refill.  You’ve probably heard of their ‘Double Espresso Hornswaggler’, an espresso chocolate milk stout that shouts “school’s out!”.

Back at the hotel we took a relaxing dip in the indoor pool before dressing for dinner at Lemaire.  There’s no way to prepare you for Lemaire, except to describe it as the height of destination dining.  The hotel’s lavish dining room fairly sparkles with grandeur.  The capacious room is resplendent with crystal chandeliers, heavy silk draperies and exquisitely carved period architecture.

Pearl Oysters, with champagne mignonette ~ Chilled Cucumber Soup with Georgia Olive Oil, Poached Shrimp and Preserved Lemon

Pearl Oysters, with champagne mignonette ~ Chilled Cucumber Soup with Georgia Olive Oil, Poached Shrimp and Preserved Lemon

Place yourself in the expert hands of sommelier Shawn O’Keefe who will gently guide you toward the perfect pairings for Executive Chef Patrick Willis’ seasonal haute cuisine.

Fresh Strawberry and Beet Salad with Wildflower Honey Chèvre, Orange, Ginger and Aged Balsamic Vinegar ~ Pan Roasted Swordfish with Carolina Gold Rice, Grilled Alliums, Roasted Fennel, Pine Nuts, Red Veined Sorrel and Strawberry-Rhubarb Gastrique

Fresh Strawberry and Beet Salad with Wildflower Honey Chèvre, Orange, Ginger and Aged Balsamic Vinegar ~ Pan Roasted Swordfish with Carolina Gold Rice, Grilled Alliums, Roasted Fennel, Pine Nuts, Red Veined Sorrel and Strawberry-Rhubarb Gastrique

Whether your preference leans toward seafood or meat, vegetarian fare or poultry, everything is sumptuously prepared and exquisitely plated.  Desserts are as pretty as they are delectable and you’ll want to linger over a postprandial port or brandy till the cows come home.

Slow Braised Spring Lamb Shank with Mascarpone Cheese Grits, Baby Carrots, English Peas and Trumpet Mushrooms and Port Jus ~ Meyer Lemon Tart with Toasted Meringue and Raspberries

After a quick breakfast of muffins and coffee at the hotel’s bistro, TJ’s, shopping was on our minds and there are plenty of specialty clothing boutiques in Carytown.  Bygones, the vintage clothing store for men and women, comes to mind.  But my personal favorite is Helen Campbell’s La Petite Boutique on MacArthur Avenue.

La Petite Boutique

La Petite Boutique

Helen has an eye for distinctive and feminine statement clothing in luxe fabrics, often with embroidery or intricate pleating.  She also carries fabulous hats and accessories to complete a stunning ensemble you’ll see nowhere else.

National Harbor Issues Forecast for Weekend of Snow

Jordan Wright
August 30, 2017
Photo credit – Jordan Wright

Guests enjoy the "cool" vibe

Guests enjoy the “cool” vibe

The unlikely event of snow in August will fall every twenty minutes at National Harbor’s super chill Harbor Dome Summer Snow Globe this weekend.  The huge transparent geodesic dome with a sweeping view of the harbor features DJs on Friday and Saturday and a 90’s cover band on Sunday.  Signature cocktails are from ‘Mixtress’ Gina Chersevani of Buffalo and Bergen the throwback spot in Union Market known for its adult milkshakes.

A live band will perform Sunday night only

A live band will perform Sunday night only

Gina has concocted some fun and sassy drinks to get the party started.  Summer Snow Globe Julep made with Maker’s Mark, mint and lime; Harbor Breeze with Effen Raspberry, pineapple, orange and lime; Tropical Ice with Mountain Dew White Label, Effen Vodka, grapefruit, pineapple and ginger syrup; and Elf on Vacation with Effen Green Apple, Mountain Dew Green Label and lemon.  Winter Snow Cones are made with shaved ice.  Try Snowy Melon with Effen Blood Orange and cinnamon; Big Wheel Snow Cone with Effen Black Cherry, fresh orange syrup and lime; or Kentucky Snow with Maker’s Mark, sparkling wine, ginger, lime and mint.  There’s also wine and beer.

Crab cake hors d’oeuvres

We went last weekend for press night and stood under gleaming crystal chandeliers watching guests slurp on pastel colored shaved ice drinks and munch on hors d’oeuvres while marveling in the dustings of snow.  And yes!  It’s really snow.  Not your Hollywood picture show ivory flakes or prom night confetti.  Though the space is advertised as being 64 degrees (we thought we’d freeze) it’s perfectly comfortable for a sleeveless dress or light jacket.

The Capital Wheel at sunset

The Capital Wheel at sunset

This is the last weekend to enjoy this unique experience.  Just head to National Harbor and down towards the water.  You can’t miss it.  It’s beside the merry-go-round and the beautiful Capital Wheel. Be sure to time your visit for the sunset over the Potomac.

Esther Wei tries to catch the falling snow.

Esther Wei tries to catch the falling snow.

At the intersection of Waterfront Street and National Plaza, National Harbor, MD 20745 – Friday from 5pm till midnight, Saturday from 2pm till midnight and Sunday 2pm till 6pm.

Beer $6 – wine $8 and cocktails are $10 and adult snow cone cocktails are $12.

Eric E. Richardson (left) with friend Clarence J. Fluker enjoy the scene.

Eric E. Richardson (left) with friend Clarence J. Fluker enjoy the scene.

www.NationalHarbor.com

Nibbles and Sips Around Town ~ June 30, 2017

Jordan Wright
June 2017
All Photo Credit: Jordan Wright

It’s been a whirlwind of restaurant openings, cookbook launches (more on those in a separate post), and embassy parties throughout the spring.  If you’ve been missing our updates, it’s because we’re catching our collective breaths.

Barbecue, Y’all

Myron Mixson (right) with Head Pitmaster and co-owner John Bennet on "Whole Hog" night

Myron Mixson (right) with Head Pitmaster and co-owner John Bennet on “Whole Hog” night

Myron Mixon’s Pitmaster Barbeque opened in Old Town Alexandria and we got there on whole hog night.  Mixon, whose BBQ competitions take him to far-flung American cities, heads to Old Town once a month to host his special “pig out” events (Check the restaurant’s website for the next one).

We saw a number of large groups who evidently make it a party night with friends and family.  And now we know why!  The four-time World “Memphis in May” BBQ champ has won over 220 Grand Championships and is the two-time New York Times best-selling author of “Smokin’ with Myron Mixson: Recipes Made Simple” and “Myron Mixson’s BBQ Rules: The Old-School Guide to Smoking Meat”.  The congenial Mixson knows how to put his customers in hog heaven. Mixson describes his water-smoked barbecue, prepared in a smoker of his own design, as a combination of flavors and sides from North Carolina, Texas, Virginia and South Carolina.  Don’t try to pin him down to one region. He won’t have it.

Mixson has an assortment of sauces.  What BBQ joint doesn’t?  But, good as they are, they were completely unnecessary.  The flavor was locked deep inside the meat.

Pulled pork, cole slaw, baked beans with peaches and cupcake cornbread with orange maple butter

Pulled pork, cole slaw, baked beans with peaches, and cupcake cornbread with orange maple butter

Cooking in his father’s BBQ carry out joint since he was nine years old, he has been raising the stakes on other competitors for years.  Last year Mixson won another. perhaps more serious, contest when he was sworn in as mayor of his hometown of Unadilla, GA.

Ribs, potato salad, mac and cheese and pickles

Ribs, potato salad, mac and cheese and pickles

Faves:  Pimento cheese, the ribs, the ribs, the ribs, cupcake cornbread (a large crusty muffin served with killer orange maple butter), potato salad, pulled pork stuffed deviled eggs, house made fresh pickles, and chocolate pie.

Chocolate Pie at Myron Mixson's Pitmaster Barbecue

Chocolate Pie at Myron Mixson’s Pitmaster Barbecue

Good Food Mercantile at Union Market Features Fine Food Crafters 

With a host of mostly local products to taste at this terrific event we wandered the aisles looking for new and game-changing products.  To our delight we found some super-original, award-winning, artisanal products at this pop-up event at Union Market’s Dock Five.

Dona Chai chai tea concentrate

Dona Chai – chai tea concentrate

Dona Chai, Brooklyn, NY – Chai tea concentrate.

Sophia Maroon of Dress It Up Dressing

Sophia Maroon of Dress It Up Dressing

Dress it Up Dressing, Chevy Chase, MD – Salad dressings with a pedigree – loved the “Champagne Vinaigrette” and “Blackberry Vinaigrette”.

Kombucha and Fermented veggies from Hex Ferments

Kombucha and fermented veggies from Hex Ferments

Hex Ferments, Baltimore, MD – Try the “Miso Kimchee” and “Sea Kraut” made with sea veggies.  They also make three flavors of tasty kombucha in gift-worthy bottles.  Loved the Carrot Juniper and Ginger.

Mitch Berliner shows his new line of MeatCrafters' Skinny Salamis

Mitch Berliner shows his new line of MeatCrafters’ Skinny Salamis

MeatCrafters, Hyattsville, MD – “Skinny Salamis” – made from Duroc pork.  Took them to a party and watched them disappear.  In several varieties – Black Angus Beef, Truffle (pork), Street Cart Sharma (lamb), Merguez (lamb), Spicy Chorizo (pork) and Casbah (pork), they’d be amazing with beer cheese or a hot cheese dip.

Eliot’s Adult Nut Butters, Portland, OR – Simply crazy about the “Spicy Thai Peanut Butter “– perfect for Sesame Peanut Noodles – and the “Espresso Nib Peanut Butter” – fold into soft ice cream or use in S’mores.

The team from Red Rooster Coffee Roaster with owner Haden Polseno-Hensley (center), Master Roaster Tony Greatorex (left) and Sales Mgr. Jolie Greatorex (right)

The team from Red Rooster Coffee Roaster with owner Haden Polseno-Hensley (center), Master Roaster Tony Greatorex (left) and Sales Mgr. Jolie Greatorex (right)

Red Rooster Coffee Roaster– From the hippest town in Virginia – Floyd.  Small batch roasted, the organic and fair trade certified green beans are sourced from Ethiopia, Kenya, Peru, Columbia, and Costa Rica and roasted in Floyd by this family-owned business.

Regalis Foods, NY, NY – A gourmet line of truffles, caviar and Carabinero prawns – from Ian “Truffle Boy” Purkayastha.

Oliver Farm Benne Oil

Oliver Farm Benne Oil

Oliver Farm, Pitts, GA – Cold pressed, award-winning, Southern artisan oils in flavors like pecan, benne, green peanut, sunflower, and pumpkin.  They also mill the hard-to-find pecan flour and benne flour.

Renato Vicario of Vicario Wine and Spirits

Renato Vicario of Vicario Wine and Spirits

Vicario Wine and Spirits, Greenville, SC – Wines, liqueurs and olive oil from Renato Vicario and Janette Wesley’s vineyard in Italy.

Update Leesburg

A beautiful charcuterie board at The Wine Kitchen

A beautiful charcuterie board

In Leesburg, Virginia we found two spots of note – The Wine Kitchen, located in the historic district, where Chef Tim Rowley prepares farm-to-table modern cuisine with a superb wine program in a casual atmosphere,

Cream of Parsnip Soup with lardons at The Wine Kitchen

Cream of Parsnip Soup with lardons

and The Conche, a chocolate-themed restaurant housing a 300-square foot chocolate laboratory.  The Conche is the newest venture from owner and celebrity chef Santosh Tiptur of DC’s Coco Sala.

Visit Colorado 

The spring, summer and fall are the times I prefer visiting Colorado.  I’m not a skier.  Enough said.  In the spring the wildflowers are magnificent, carpeting the hills and fields in all their glory.  The summer is when the Arts are abloom with concerts and festivals throughout the state.  Rodeo, anyone? And autumn begins the high season for skiers and leaf peepers.

Rocky Mountain Underground ~ Photos courtesy Breckenridge Tourism

Rocky Mountain Underground ~ Photos courtesy Breckenridge Tourism

The state divides itself up into nine regions – from the Plains in the Northeastern part of the state due west to the Northern Front Range to the Denver and Fort Collins area, then down through the Rockies where Vail, Aspen, Breckenridge and Steamboat Springs lie.  From there go south to Paonia and the Grand Valley AVA of Grand Junction.  Cortez is situated in the southwest corner adjacent to New Mexico.  Two federally recognized American Viticultural Areas (AVA) are in West Elks in Paonia and Grand Valley near Grand Junction where many of the state’s finest food products come from these areas.

Recently the good folks from Visit Colorado held a press reception at The Kennedy Center to show off some of their crafted beverages to include indie beers, wines, sodas and ciders.

Mom’s Baking Co introduce some tradition Czech Recipes and other modern European flavors ~ Photos courtesy Breckenridge Tourism

Mom’s Baking Co introduce some tradition Czech Recipes and other modern European flavors ~ Photos courtesy Breckenridge Tourism

They also had an array of specialty foods and brought Café Aion Chef/Owner Dakota Soifer, one of Boulder’s leading chefs, to prepare dishes from these products.

A bountiful display of Colorado's best cheeses, meats, breads and chocolates ~ Photo credit Colorado Tourism

A bountiful display of Colorado’s best cheeses, meats, breads and chocolates ~ Photo credit Jordan Wright

Cheeses and lamb were front and center, as you’d have expected.  Faves: James Ranch’s “Belford”, a butterscotch inflected cheese, and Avalanche Creamery’s handmade goat cheeses “Cabra Blanca”, a Tomme style cheese and “Finocchiona” with fennel and black pepper overtones. Tequila truffles courtesy of Telluride Truffle.

Breckenridge French-inspired bistro Belle V. with family recipes from southern France. Small plates and a casual atmosphere let diners taste a variety of dishes ~ Photos courtesy Breckenridge Tourism

Breckenridge French-inspired bistro Belle V. with family recipes from southern France ~ Photos courtesy Breckenridge Tourism

The evening culminated with a rousing concert in the Opera House given by the Boulder Philharmonic.

Red’s Table Is a Fun Bike/Hike Away 

Named after their grandfather “Red”, the brothers Ryan, Patrick and Matthew Tracy are thrilled to come “home” to the area they were raised to open Red’s Table.  Located in the South Lakes Village Center in Reston overlooking beautiful Lake Thoreau, this lively neighborhood spot features a large patio overlooking both the lake and the bike/walk trail.

Red's Table in Reston

Red’s Table in Reston

Recent hire Executive Chef Kevin Ettenson returns to the area after working at hotels to head up the full-service restaurant.

Last week Ettenson switched to a summer menu adding some lighter dishes – burrata salad, watermelon salad, catfish with creole sauce over pasta, shrimp seviche, and fried green tomatoes.  Pastry Chef Chris Works adds a new dessert called “Sundae Brunch”.  It’s made with pieces of banana French toast chopped into squares, then fried and served with homemade butter pecan ice cream, bourbon caramel sauce and whipped cream.

Fried calamari at Red's Table

Fried calamari at Red’s Table

The eclectic menu aims to please both the casual diner and the more discriminating palate with dishes that range from burgers, crab cakes and house made charcuterie to risotto style spring vegetable farro and steaks with beef from Virginia farms.  The bar boasts excellent craft cocktails as well as a wide-ranging wine and beer program featuring over a dozen local beers.  Right about now I’d go for the sangria chockfull of fresh fruits.

Jumbo crab cakes at Red's Table

Jumbo crab cakes at Red’s Table

Brunch is serious here. Faves: Hangtown Frittata, Fried Oysters with Stone Ground Grits, Sausage Biscuit Sliders and a wealth of fresh seafood from the raw bar.  The espresso blend coffee is from Monument Coffee Roasters in Manassas and it’s exceptional.

House made biscuits at Red's Table

House made biscuits at Red’s Table

All breads and desserts, including an assortment of gelati and sorbets, are made in-house under Work’s direction.

If you plan to walk or bike after dining, enjoy either the Reston Red Trail (2.1 miles) around Lake Thoreau or the Turquoise Trail (4.74 miles) on Lake Audubon.  If you’re on Metro get the Silver Line to the Wiehle-Reston East Metro exit onto Sunrise Valley Drive on the south side of the Metro.  There is an off road path with a cross over to the back patio of the restaurant.  It’s only one mile away from the South Lakes Village Center.

Tredici Enoteca Wows Dupont Circle 

The green velvet sofa beckons at Tredici Enoteca

The green velvet sofa beckons at Tredici Enoteca

Sleek and chic, Tredici Enoteca has been a posh destination since it transformed in January. Located in Dupont Circle’s four-star St. Gregory Hotel it is a sophisticated multi-level space that reveals a bespoke library for lounging, a central fireplace with white marble surround under high coffered ceilings and space age chandeliers.  A curving dark walnut stairway guides you to the topmost level overlooking the kitchen.

The lively bar at Tredici Enoteca

The lively bar at Tredici Enoteca

Antique mirrors and prints from a private collection adorn the walls, and a green velvet sofa coupled with black leather chairs at the entrance to the subway-tiled bar beckons you to sit a spell.  It is one of the prettiest places in town.  Skylights and a view to the street brighten up the brass-accented bar where you’ll want to try the smoked whisky cocktail.

Double lamb lollipops at Tredici Enoteca

Double lamb lollipops at Tredici Enoteca

The menu leans towards Mediterranean coastal fare with plenty of small plates if you just want to graze.

Broccoli and avocado salad at Tredici Enoteca

Broccoli and avocado salad at Tredici Enoteca

Executive Chef Carlos Aparicio, who came down from Philadelphia where he helmed restaurants for Marc Vetri and Stephen Starr, has brought his style and experience to the eclectic cuisine.

Smoke infused cocktail at Tredici Enoteca

“The Tredici Dutch” smoke infused cocktail

Faves: Mixologist Israel Nocelo’s “The Tredici Dutch” – smoked infused rye whisky, Carpano Antica vermouth with house bitters and Luxardo cherry.

Fresh from the raw bar at Tredici Enoteca

Fresh from the raw bar at Tredici Enoteca

Seafood samplers, mushroom toast, an unusual salad of broccoli and avocado with a sesame dressing, lasagna with lamb ragu, gnocchi, charred double lamb chops, squid ink tonarelli featuring cockles,

Chocolate mousse cake at Tredici Enoteca

Chocolate mousse cake at Tredici Enoteca

and a decadently delicious chocolate mousse cake draped in ganache.  Menu items may change by season.

Steamed cockles on squid ink pasta at Tredici Enoteca

Steamed cockles atop squid ink pasta at Tredici Enoteca

Taiwan Ambassador Flies in Top Chef for Exquisite Eight-Course Dinner 

One of the most beautiful residences in the Cleveland Park district is the 26-room Georgian Revival mansion “Twin Oaks” where the Taiwanese ambassador entertains.  Situated on 18-plus acres high atop a hill behind the National Cathedral, the home, built in 1888, originally served as the summer residence of Gardiner Greens Hubbard, the founder of the National Geographic Society.  For nearly eight decades it has served as a host property welcoming many U. S. presidents and countless international guests through its doors.

One of the salons at Twin Oaks

One of several drawing rooms at Twin Oaks

Many priceless antiques including imperial rosewood carved furniture with dragon motifs once belonging to the Empress Dowager, as well as a magnificent painting from the Ch’ing period that graces the elegant blue accented drawing rooms.

Ambassador and Mrs. Stanley Kao toast "80 Years of Elegance" with guests Donna Christenson and Cary Pollak

Ambassador and Mrs. Stanley Kao toast “80 Years of Elegance” with guests Donna Christenson and Cary Pollak

This spring evening ROC Ambassador and Mrs. Stanley Kao hosted a remarkable evening to celebrate “80 Years of Elegance”.  It called for a very special chef and the Ambassador had flown in Chef Yi-Jia Liu(劉宜嘉) long reputed for his exceptional culinary skills, in particular his Zhejiang cuisine expertise, for which he has won numerous prestigious culinary awards. His signature dish “Shaoxing Chicken” is one of the highest rated dishes in Taiwan.

In promoting Taiwanese culture, Liu has showcased his cooking in the United States by invitation of the Overseas Community Affairs Council. Currently Liu is the Executive Chef of the Howard Plaza Hotel’s Yangtse River Restaurant in Taipei.

Dinner celebration at the Taiwan ambassador's residence

Dinner celebration at the Taiwan ambassador’s residence

Gold embossed napkins depicting “Twin Oaks” graced the lace covered, candlelit tables along with bouquets of roses and hydrangeas.

Shaoxing Chicken

Shaoxing Chicken

Chef Liu’s unique dishes had names such as “Welcoming Flowers of Salmon, Cuttlefish, Chicken and Beef Tendon”, “King Crab Soup with the Flavor of an Ancient Royal Dynasty”, “Taste of Lobster in the Atmosphere of Twin Oaks”, “Rice with Sakura Shrimp and Faint Aroma of Winter” and “Delight of Yin (Sesame Mochi) and Yang (Pork Dumpling)”.

Chef Liu shows his carved vegetable flower to great applause

Chef Liu shows his carved vegetable flower to great applause

For the guests’ entertainment tenor Jason Ma, Deputy Director of the Congressional Liaison Division, sang the theme song “Nella Fantasia” from the movie, The Mission.

Watermelon chrysanthemum

Chef Liu’s carved watermelon chrysanthemum

It was a magical night filled with delectable dishes, hand-selected wines, scintillating conversation and a few shots of the very potent Taiwanese fermented sorghum liqueur!

Afghan Embassy Highlights Theatre, Poetry and Music with Food and Festivities

Afghan Ambassador Hamdullah Mohib gives opening remarks

Afghan Ambassador Hamdullah Mohib gives opening remarks

H. E. Ambassador and Mrs. Mohib hosted a sumptuous dinner to announce their participation in “Women of Troy/Voices of Afghanistan”, a cross-cultural collaboration set in the world’s longest contemporary field of war.

Guests enjoy the entertainment at the Afghan Embassy

Guests enjoy the entertainment at the Afghan Embassy

Over a dozen performers will participate in the January 2018 event with many of the women coming from Afghanistan. The special project will be produced by the Alliance for New Music-Theatre led by Susan Galbraith, the creator, co-writer and director, with poet and writer, Yalda Baktash. Alliance for New Music – Theatre is the “Theatre in Residence” at Dupont Underground, DC’s new subterranean arts and culture center under Dupont Circle.

Afghani delights of kebab, bolani and pilaf

Afghani delights of kebab, bolani and pilaf

The dinner introduced us to bolani (pronounced bo-lah-nee), a delicious stuffed flatbread filled with herbs, green onions and potatoes along with many other Afghan delicacies.

Afghani instruments

Afghani instruments

Milad Yousofi, a composer and Rubab (a lute-like instrument) player who works in Afghan folk, World Jazz and Fusion music, gave a concert with accompanied by a hand drummer. We particularly admired the craftsmanship of gorgeous carpets and Afghan jewelry that Zamani House of Heritage had on display.

Get updates for Alliance for New Music-Theatre .

How I Learned to Love the Art of Sous-Vide Under the Tutelage of Its Inventor

Jordan Wright
May 22, 2017
Photo credit – Jordan Wright
 

In a non-descript two-story building in Sterling, VA, in a suburb better known for defense contractors and software developers, is a company that has trained more three-star Michelin chefs than any cooking school in the world.  Here at Cuisine Solutions Inc. through their learning division CREA (Culinary Research and Education Academy), I recently participated in a workshop on sous-vide given by Dr. Bruno Goussault, the very scientist who developed the revolutionary technology.

In the classroom with Dr. Bruno Goussault, the creator of sous-vide

In the classroom with Dr. Bruno Goussault, the creator of sous-vide

There are two divisions under one large corporate umbrella.  Cuisine Solutions sells prepared sous-vide foods to Costco, as well as airlines, cruise ships, the military and major hotel chains worldwide.  And CREA, with locations in France and Sterling, trains chefs in the sous-vide technique with seminars, on-site training and online video courses.  The company opened its $30 million dollar, 163,000 square-foot, state-of-the-art plant in Sterling in 2013.

Table set for luncheon in the Executive Dining Room

Table set for luncheon in the Executive Dining Room

Along with Goussault’s many years of experience as a scientist and founder of Centre de Recherche et d’Edudes pour Alimentation in Paris as well as recipient of the “Ordre National du Merite” from the President of France, officers in the company have equally extensive pedigrees.  Stanislas Vilgrain, Chairman and CEO, rose to the top of his career earning the medal of Chevalier of the Legion of Honor of the French Republic in 2015 after years as a top officer at Vie de France Corporation; Chief Strategy Officer Gerard Bertholon is a Maître Cuisinier de France, one of the world’s highest honors, and trained as a chef under the great Alain Chapel;  Felipe Hasselmann, Cuisine Solutions president, brought his powerful international business development experience from L’Oreal Paris, Coca Cola and Frito Lay; and Bruno Bertin, VP of Culinary Innovation who himself has worked with the legendary Pierre Troisgros, Louis Outhier and Daniel Boulud, as Sous Chef at Restaurant Daniel in New York.

72-Hour Short Rib & Potato Hash

72-Hour Short Rib & Potato Hash

Not only did I watch, learn and participate, but I also spent most of the day tasting the results, beginning with a breakfast prepared by a cadre of chefs schooled in the art of sous-vide.  Exquisitely decorated plates were served starting with an egg white and red pepper sous-vide egg bite (these were specially created for Starbucks); bacon and Gruyere egg bite; coconut and chia seed oatmeal parfait; compressed fruit and dragon fruit granite; egg and rosti with sous-vide hollandaise and 72-hour short rib and potato hash served in a miniature cast iron pan.

Egg White & Red Pepper Sous-Vide Egg Bite and Bacon & Gruyere Sous-Vide Egg Bite

Egg White & Red Pepper Sous-Vide Egg Bite and Bacon & Gruyere Sous-Vide Egg Bite

After breakfast our class moved onto nibbles of “sous-shi” – a trompe l’oeil preparation that looked and even tasted like sushi but was entirely vegetarian; a Moroccan dish of octopus, raisins, capers, compressed melon, pomegranate seeds and radishes; Arctic char brandade with ramp aioli; and a sous-vide pig face which offered up meltingly tender cheek meat.  Well fortified, we left the dining area for a large classroom, which is really a laboratory.

Moroccan-influenced Sous-Vide Octopus

Moroccan-influenced Sous-Vide Octopus

Under the avuncular tutelage of the 75-year old Goussault, “father of sous-vide” and the company’s Founder and Chief Scientist, I slowly shed the neophyte’s notion that sous-vide is a cheater’s technique or a culinary sleight of hand.  There is just as much time and effort put into sous-vide preparation as there is with conventional methods.  In many cases, a lot more goes into achieving the perfection that it guarantees to the chef.  Moreover, I learned that many of the world’s greatest chefs were taught by Goussault – chefs such as Thomas Keller, Heston Blumenthal, Daniel Boulud, Dan Barber, Charlie Trotter, Anne-Sophie Pic and the late Michel Richard, who have embraced it wholeheartedly.

Braised Beef Cheeks over Celery Root Purée with Truffle Triple Sauce & Pickled Ramps garnished with borage flower

Braised Beef Cheeks over Celery Root Purée with Truffle Triple Sauce & Pickled Ramps garnished with borage flower

During this one-day workshop I became a rabid convert, sometimes tasting conventionally prepared product beside sous-vide prepared foods.  I learned how preparing literally tens of thousands of dishes for major events using this method (Cuisine Solutions has catered huge events, like The Ryder Cup and the Super Bowl, for tens of thousands of guests.), offers high quality, consistency, precision and food safety while preventing product loss and spoilage.  Meats are cooked uniformly and fruits and vegetables retain the intense signature of the ingredient.  This was heady stuff for someone not particularly science-minded.

A cadre of chefs create our meals

A cadre of chefs create our meals

Dr. Goussault, who invented the two-minute rice while working in food science for the United Nations in Africa, invented sous-vide in the early 1970’s and continued to tweak and promote it with Joël Robuchon in Paris with the establishment of CREA.  Armed with probes and monitors Dr. Goussault travels the globe throughout the year training chefs in his methods.  He has been compared to Escoffier as a pioneer in the world of gastronomy, and you can take that to the bank!  Some of our local chefs who have trained with him at this facility are from Le Diplomate, Mintwood Place, Green Pig Bistro, The Red Hen, Central Michel Richard, Convivial, Fiola and The Dabney, to name but a few.

Glazing the vegetarian "Sous-shi"

Glazing the vegetarian “Sous-shi”

After discussions on vacuum sealing, water circulators, the precise temperatures for the scale of doneness, and becoming familiar with the various types of machinery involved in this technique, it was time for lunch – Beef sirloin “jar salad’ with ponzu and baby greens; Amazon cod with soy beurre blanc and fiddlehead ferns; braised pork belly over Beluga lentils with shitake broth and wild foraged mushrooms; braised beef cheeks over celery root puree with truffle, triple sauce and pickled ramps.  As each dish was sampled it became clearer to me that food prepared sous-vide results in the superior dishes found in the world’s finest restaurants.  Each ingredient retains its singular identity, and that is a mind-blowing experience.

Amazon Cod with Soy Beurre Blanc & Fiddlehead Ferns

Amazon Cod with Soy Beurre Blanc & Fiddlehead Ferns

Even after such a lavish lunch we continued to sample sous-vide filet of beef, fried chicken, carrots and other delights comparing them alongside traditionally prepared product.  The meats were seared and finished on a flat top grill, the chicken crisped up in a fryer.  The results were remarkable.  In the matter of the chicken, you could just die right there.  It was ultra-crispy while still juicy.  Carrots tasted as though they were picked fresh from the garden and apples like they had just been plucked off a tree.

Platter of citrus madeleines

Platter of citrus madeleines

Cramming ten meals into one day wasn’t for the faint of heart, or I should say, stomach.  At this point I am wishing I had a cow’s four stomachs and a week to digest everything.  But I persist, because this is what I do.  And were we done?

Chocolate Moelleux with Raspberry Coulis

Chocolate Moelleux with Raspberry Coulis

No siree!  Desserts were served – chocolate moelleux brightened with raspberry coulis and baskets of citrus madeleines and macarons.

Compressed Fruit & Dragon Fruit Granita

Compressed Fruit & Dragon Fruit Granita

After all this, I’m fairly sure I will never attempt to replicate these dishes at home – equipment costs can be out of sight for home cooks and small restaurants, though many do experiment with the concept of sealing and immersion.

A Multivac seals the food before immersion

A Multivac seals the food before immersion

I certainly came away with a greater appreciation and keener understanding of what sous-vide means and how lucky I am to have been born when it was invented.

High Tech Rotary Evaporator

High Tech Rotary Evaporator

Here are some pearls of wisdom from Goussault.

* Water is the best fluid to transfer the heat.  When you cook in water you’ll have a beautiful jus.

* Take lemon to the market when you buy fish and squeeze it over the raw fish to determine if it’s fresh.  If it turns opaque, it’s NOT fresh.

* The Maillard reaction has to do with the perception of the color of the meat.  What do you say in a London fog? All the cats are grey!

* Red meat has a thin layer of albumen.  White meat has a thicker layer.

* Vegetables cooked separately retain the integrity of the dish. Cooking vegetables to 85 degrees to respect the pectin will give you the top taste in the world.

* Brine your fish for 10 minutes before cooking.  Fifty grams of salt per one quart of water.

In Search of Israeli Cuisine

Jordan Wright
March 26, 2017 

In director Roger Sherman’s latest documentary In Search of Israeli Cuisine (Menemsha Films) we learn there’s a lot more to Israel’s culinary culture than just milk and honey.  Our guide is the James Beard Award-winning chef Michael Solomonov who leads us on a journey throughout Israel from an obscure mountaintop restaurant and a city-centric restaurant where Palestinian cooks work the line beside Jewish cooks to seaside cafés, where dozens of varieties of fish are found in vast outdoor markets, to discover the “true” Israeli cuisine through its people.

Roger Sherman - Producer/Writer/Director founder of Florentine Films

Roger Sherman – Producer/Writer/Director founder of Florentine Films

Best known for his two Philadelphia restaurants, Zahav and its sister restaurant, Abe Fisher, where he expresses his passion for modern Jewish cooking, the young Israeli chef shows us it’s about more than hummus or falafel and deeper than kugel or chopped liver.  The film gets at the root of a culture and its history through its cooks – both amateur and professional – revealing the complexity of a country whose traditions and customs have deep roots, many which descend from outside its borders.

Chef Michael Solomonov - James Beard Award Winner and owner of Zahav

Chef Michael Solomonov – James Beard Award Winner and owner of Zahav

We learn that Israel’s cuisine is informed by dozens of other countries and traditions over centuries of immigration – Jewish, Turkish, Arab, Muslim, Spanish, Mediterranean, Moroccan, Indian, Bulgarian, Christian, Syrian, Lebanese – in a mosaic of 150 different cuisines.  The documentary is a love story of sorts – one of the self-determination of immigrants, the rejection of the old ways by Jewish newcomers and the culinary influence of those who reached its shores with their grandmother’s recipes.  It is told primarily by chefs and local journalists – and it’s as much a tribute as it is a learning curve.  We learn that “Food is not political,” and “Food makes peace.”  May it be so.

Solomonov purchasing fresh local ingredients

Solomonov purchasing fresh local ingredients

Solomonov takes us into the hills to Rama’s Kitchen, a French-inspired restaurant that forages for sumac to flavor its dishes and sources all its ingredients locally, before traveling north to listen to chef Uri Geremias of Uri Buri in his restaurant by the sea.  And there’s a tender segment in the simple home kitchen of a woman preparing the sacred Sabbath meal for her extended family.  Noted Jewish-American chef and cookbook author, Joan Nathan, weighs in with her extensive knowledge about the changes in Jewish society where 80% of its citizens are non-religious.

Solomonov visiting country farm ingredients source.

Solomonov visiting country farm ingredients source.

To understand the inspiration for many of these chefs as well as Israel’s home cooks, Ezra Kedem of Arcadia Restaurant in Jerusalem clarifies, “I cook my memories.” From Moshe Dayan’s hybridization of the cherry tomato to the sophisticated irrigation system of stepped dams that water fruit trees, vineyards and olive groves, their gifts to our kitchens are endless.

Running time two hours.

The film will be released in the Washington, DC area this Friday, April 21st at Landmark’s Bethesda Row Cinema. For more information please visit https://www.landmarktheatres.com/washington-d-c/bethesda-row-cinema/film-info/in-search-of-israeli-cuisine