Paper Dolls ~ A Play with Songs ~ Mosaic Theater Company of DC

Jordan Wright
April 4, 2018 

Are you ready to plunge headlong down a rabbit hole with a cross-cultural mash-up led by five Filipino “lady boys” aka drag queens called the Paper Dolls?  No, it’s not part of the far-out Fringe Festival, but it is edgy, hilarious, mind-bending and heartwarming.  It’s a caution and a small miracle alive and kicking with hope, kindness and transformation.

Lise Bruneau, Chris Bloch, and Ariel Felix ~ Photo credit Stan Barouh

First, suspend reality.  Start by allowing yourself to forgo the day-to-day grind of American politics and pop culture, then travel, vicariously that is, to Israel – the land of Yiddish, the Shabbat dinner, daily bombings and tradition with a capital ‘T’.  There’s not much milk and honey for the temporary Filipino workers whose jobs are caring for elderly Jews.  It’s their off-hours that provide the story with its humor.

Set in 2004 after the second intifada, and faced with the problem of caring for its aging population, Israel brought in 30,000 foreign workers from the Philippines.  Some of these were home health aides.  Hired through recruitment agencies to care for elderly Orthodox and Chasidic men, the workers were forced to work until they could pay off their unreasonably high agency fees.

L to R: Evan D’Angeles, Kevin Shen, Rafael Sebastian ~ Photo credit Stan Barouh

Many of these were gay men looking to send money back home to their own aging parents.  Some formed strong, familial bonds with kindly employers.  Others were badly treated and fled, or were arrested and deported.  Think this isn’t happening today?  Think again.  In some Asian and Middle Eastern countries foreign workers are kidnapped or trafficked and forced to work in life-threatening conditions with no chance of escape.

Playwright Philip Himberg, who adapted the play from the 2006 documentary film by Israeli-born Tomer Heymann, weaves these wildly disparate elements into an engaging comic drama driven by the relationship between Chaim (Christopher Bloch in a standout performance as a rheumy, wheelchair-bound Jew) and Sally, short for Salvador, a Paper Doll charged with his care.

Ariel Felix (Sally) and Chris Bloch (Chaim) ~ Photo credit Stan Barouh

Ariel Felix’s Sally gives an exceptionally tender portrayal of a someone who learns the culture and cuisine of his/her adopted country in order to show respect and kindness to her employer who adores and accepts Sally for what she is.

Beneath the surface of the glitz and glamour of the quintet’s drag act, are the everyday challenges they face living in Israel – homophobia, racism and exploitation – in a culture as foreign to them as to a fish on land.  Paper Dolls is about pride, fantasy as survival, activism, unexpected human connections and personal sacrifice.  It’s a hilarious stick-in-the-eye against social and religious conventions – not exactly what you might expect from a play-with-music, though the music portion ranges from what you’d expect to hear from a Tel Aviv DJ at a Miss Philippines-Israel Beauty Pageant (Yes, this happens!) to traditional Israeli songs and pop music.

Bold, entertaining and timely.

Additional cast members – Evan D’Angeles, Jon Norman Schneider, Rafael Sebastian, Kevin Shen, John Bambery, Lise Bruneau, Chris Daileader, Brice Guerriere, Dallas Milholland, and Elan Zafir.

Directed by Mark Brokaw, choreography by J. M. Rebudal, musical direction by William Knowles, vocal arrangements by Howard Breitbart, set design by James Kronzer, lighting by Brittany Shemuga, costumes by Frank Labovitz, sound by David Lamont Wilson and projections by Sarah Tundermann.

Through April 29th in the Theresa and Jane Lang Theatre at the Atlas Center for the Performing Arts, 1333 H Street, NE, Washington, DC 20002.  For tickets, info on post show discussions, special rates and discounts visit MosaicTheater Online or call the box office at 202.399.7993 ext. 2.  Valet parking at 1360 H Street, NE.

On Floor: John Bambery ~ L to R: Jon Norman Schneider, Evan D’Angeles, Ariel Felix, Rafael Sebastian, Kevin Shen ~ Photo credit Stan Barouh

Nibbles and Sips Around Town ~ March 20, 2018

Jordan Wright
March 2018
All photos and videos by Jordan Wright

Sakura Yume Cherry Blossoms at Artechouse ~ Jackson 20 Gets New Chef ~ Sips & Suppers Breaks Its Fundraising Record ~ Blue Star Reception Celebrates Military Chefs ~ Punjabi By Nature Hidden In Plain Sight ~ Sushi Ko Offers A Great Lunch Deal ~ Le Grenier on H Street ~ Hank’s Pasta Bar Now Open For Lunch 

Sakura Yume Cherry Blossoms at ARTECHOUSE 

Interactive Japanese lanterns light up along the path

Bespoke cocktails with laser printed blooms and a trippy technicolor wonderland welcome guests to ARTECHOUSE this season and just in time to clear away our wintry blues. The interactive displays use depth cameras to cover walls with floating cherry blossoms and elusive fish that dart in and out of the picture as you sweep your hand though the air to create your own patterns.

Lorne Covington, whose company Noirflux created the enormous central exhibit, tells us he left Silicon Valley to create more relatable and engaging technology.  His first grant came from the famed Burning Man.

Artists Nathan Solomon and Karan Parikh designed an interactive koi pond nestled amid “mountains” where visitors can “feed” the fish and watch them swarm.

Another cleverly designed room, “Bloom” by John-Mark Collins of Storylab, invites guests to sit on tatami mats and play with room-sized light boxes to create their own psychedelic patterns while dining from bento boxes.

Cocktails have digitally printed designs

The augmented reality exhibit is on view through May 6th at ARTECHOUSE, 1238 Maryland Ave SW, Washington DC 20024  For tickets and information visit online.

Cherry Blossom Dream at Artechouse

Jackson 20 Gets New Chef 

Since the Marriott’s high end Autograph Collection took over the former Hotel Monaco in Alexandria, now called The Alexandrian, changes have been afoot.  The rooms and décor are the same but the chef is new and the wines are excellent and affordable.  In fact so much is affordable, a Saturday and Sunday Brunch that goes from 8am till 3pm!, daily breakfast specials for $5, Happy Hour rail cocktails and select wines for $5 per glass, and some delicious dishes from Executive Chef James Hudson.  The style of cuisine remains the same – upscale Southern regional served in satisfying portions – but Hudson has been given free rein to imprint the restaurant with his own twist on the classics.

Roast Salmon with succotash

A recent visit had us swooning over the shrimp and Anson Mills grits enhanced by caramelized onions and white wine and a vegetarian corn and pepper chowder that was the soup of the day.  Entrée specials change and ours was a salmon with succotash and duck with cherry sauce, a dish that recently won the restaurant a “Best of Alexandria” award.

(L-R) Banana Cream Pie with blackberries and caramelized bananas ~ Appalachian Pudding

And for a sweet finish, you can’t go wrong with the Appalachian pudding, a comfort food that shares menu space with Banana Cream Pie.  Sunday Nights are three-course Fried Chicken Suppers for $22.

Jackson 20, 480 King Street, Alexandria, VA 22314  The Alexandrian.

Sips & Suppers Breaks Its Fundraising Record 

(l-r) Friends, foodies and chefs enjoy the brunch before the Sips & Suppers dinners around town ~ K. N. Vinod, chef/owner of Indique

When top chefs and gracious hosts get together, it’s culinary magic.  Once again, Alice Waters and Joan Nathan have corralled the best of the best to prove that foodies love to get together in a relaxed setting and dish…about food and wine…what else?

(L-R) Tenth anniversary dinner for Sips & Suppers ~ The table set for Sips & Suppers at the home of Nicole and Casey Aandahl

Founded in 2009, the annual event benefits DC Central Kitchen and Martha’s Table.  This year’s event broke previous records.  In a statement on this year’s success the group declared, “We raised over $650,000K (conservative estimate) this year and nearly $4 million over ten years.”

Joan Nathan with fellow chef at her brunch

Earlier in the day Nathan hosted many of the chefs and food writers for a lavish brunch at her home.  The popular event featured dozens of dishes including shakshouka, the Israeli (by way of North Africa) egg dish that everyone is raving about.

The Gordy’s Pickles ladies make bloody marys at the home of Joan Nathan

DC-based Gordy’s Pickles and Green Hat Gin paired up for the bloody marys, mother/daughter-owned California winery Pescadero Creek Vineyard provided the wines, and there were several dishes prepared according to recipes from Nathan’s latest cookbook, “King Solomon’s Table”.

Anthony Lombardo and Sal Ferro prepare desserts

This year we were the fortunate guests at the home of Nicole and Casey Aandahl who had scored the talents of chefs, Anthony Lombardo, formerly of 1789 and now cheffing in Detroit, and Sal Ferro of Old Ebbitt Grill. The duo started us off with sparkling prosecco and frittata sarde and oysters on the half shell as hors d’oeuvres.

(l-r) Preparing the shakshouka ~ Cheese and bread display at Joan Nathan’s brunch party

This was followed by a sumptuous five-course dinner for our very large group.  The Italian-inspired meal began with creamy salt cod, bitter greens and crispy potatoes.  As pasta is always the second course in an Italian dinner, this was orecchiette and rapini ragù with pecorino and carrots.

Swordfish with cara cara oranges, fennel and pistachios

Then fish, which was pesce spade – swordfish with cara cara oranges, fennel, pistachio and gigante beans.  The meat – brasato, a red wine braised, Piedmontese pot roast was served with root vegetables.

(l-t) Brunch calls for beet and kale salad ~ A refreshing brunch dish of fresh tropical fruits

Each course was paired with a different wine including a fabulous dessert of anisette custard with Amaretto cookies paired with Malvasia.  Needless to say we waddled home, and slept like babes dreaming of the Italian Riviera.

Blue Star Reception Celebrates Military Chefs 

Top military chefs from all six branches combined their talents with DC chefs and Mixologist Todd Thrasher (Potomac Distilling Company and Tiki TNT) to provide an evening of tempting treats and fancy cocktails to celebrate Blue Star Families and Blue Star Neighbors.  The event which entertained military families as well as the nation’s top brass, was hosted by General George W. Casey, Jr., USA (ret) and Sheila Casey at the US Chamber of Commerce.  Also featured were inspiring videos and prestigious awards for a heartwarming evening of fun, food and camaraderie.

(L-R) Jennifer Medeiros and Robert Wiedmaier ~ Smoked Salmon Napoleon

At the Air Force Table, Chef and Restaurateur Robert Wiedmaier of Marcel’s partnered with MSgt Jennifer Medeiros on mini Napoleons of Scottish Smoked Salmon.

(l-f) Chris Clime and Michelle Brown ~ Open Blue Cobia “Pastrami”

Chef Chris Clime of PassionFish worked with SSG Michelle Brown of the Army to create Open Blue Cobia “Pastrami” with mesquite smoked piquillo pepper and n’duja tapenade.  Kyle Bailey of The Salt Line and CSCS Derek Johnson of the Coast Guard conjured up Hiramasa Crudo with blood orange ponzu geleé, salsify-sesame pureé, popped amaranth and nasturtium leaf.

(L_R) Tyler Gaswint and David Guas ~ Shrimp Burger

Chef David Guas of Bayou Bakery and TSgt Tyler Gaswint of the National Guard came up with a Gulf Shrimp Burger dressed with pickled jalapeño okra tartar sauce.

Chef Todd Grey of Equinox and SSgt Hirram Carrion of the Marine Corps dreamed up Tahini Grits with minted lamb meatballs and z’ataar chips, and Ris Lacoste of Ris and CS1 Frida Karani of the Navy offered up New England Clam Chowder.  Dog Tag Bakery’s Chris Licciardi and Kyle Wronsky plied us with mini parfaits of cherry mousse, chocolate and whipped goat cheese.

Guests sipping Thrasher’s craft made cocktails were asked to vote by handing out beads to their favorite chefs.  I couldn’t stay to see got the prize for the most popular, but all the dishes were winners.

Punjabi By Nature Hidden In Plain Sight 

Hard by Fairfax’s Mosaic District in Vienna, VA is a small but popular Indian restaurant.  Hidden in a modern residential area a few blocks away is Punjabi By Nature, where we sampled Northern Indian dishes from New Delhi.

Owner Rajiv Chopra

Rajiv Chopra is the managing director and overseer of the menu.  His other two eateries are currently located in Leesburg and Chantilly.  He hopes to open a fourth in Reston later this year.  More manager than daily chef, the New Delhi native worked in restaurants there for 20 years. “I took no culinary courses,” he said. “I just worked in the kitchen.”  He also attributes his culinary skills to his mother.  “I learned from my Mom in New Delhi,” he said.  “Now she tells me which of my recipes to use.  And I do that.”

Chopra also relies on a partnership with his wife, Shivani Chopra.  “She believes in me and inspires me to do all this,” he said.  “And on the other hand, she helps me a lot, too.   Without her help, this would not be possible for me.”  Both his parents love that he is involved in the restaurant business, living out his life’s passion.  Moreover, Chopra says that making people happy with his food is all part of his passion.

(L-R) A pair of sweet treats at Punjabi By Nature ~ Choley bhature at Punjabi By Nature

I visited the Vienna location, where I found an extensive menu with Chopra happily acting as guide.  We began with his recommendation of a unique New Delhi treat – choley bhature, a puffed-up wheat bread that looks like a golden balloon and comes with a ramekin filled with a traditional chickpea spread, which is dark and richly flavored – unlike anything served in area Indian restaurants.  A second bread appetizer with the same chickpea spread calls for kulcha, a flat bread.  I was asked if I wanted it spicy, I did!, and wasn’t disappointed with the level of heat.

(L-R) Lamb biriyani at Punjabi By Nature ~ Curry dish from Punjabi By Nature

The balance of the menu showcases New Delhi cuisine.  Some you’ll be familiar with and some you’ll have to be brave enough to try – butter chicken, lamb seekh kabab, tandoori chicken, grilled lamb chops and lamb curry, and four different styles of the famous Indian rice specialty, biryani.  There are eleven types of breads, from onion kulcha and garlic naan to a house special – the chef’s unique chocolate naan – which is both savory and sweet.

You are sure to recognize the traditional desserts – gulab jamun/rasmalai and faluda kulfi, the traditional Indian frozen dessert.  A full bar includes frozen margaritas.

Punjabi by Nature, 2750 Gallows Rd, Vienna, VA

Sushi Ko Offers A Great Lunch Deal 

I can’t say enough about Sushiko’s Lunch Tasting Menu deal.  Three amazing courses that are quite filling and beautifully prepared for $25 per person.  For anyone who has ever dined at the popular restaurant, in the posh neighborhood of Chevy Chase, you know that dinners there can run into the hundreds of dollars – especially if you partake of the pricier sakés and the sushi chef’s omakase nigari or sashimi menu.

Owner Daisuke Utagawa schooled me in Japanese izakaya style cuisine and sakés at a three-hour dinner at his DC restaurant Daikaya back in 2013, then again in 2015 in sushi and temaki at Sushiko.  Unfortunately, I hadn’t been there since.  In all fairness, I haven’t been to Chevy Chase since then either, because… traffic.  But at lunchtime getting there from DC or Northern Virginia is a breeze.

(L-R) Assorted sushi and sashimi ~ Bread pudding with green tea whipped cream and matcha ice cream

We opted for the three-course luncheon menu.  No substitutions and only $25.00.  If you’re feeling flush there’s also a four-course lunch menu for $55.00, but that’s quite a jump in price and we’re sticking to our budget, or so we promised each other.

(L-R) Seaweed salad ~ Seared Salmon with shiitake mushrooms, bok choy and sweet potato purée

Choose from – Miso Soup or Sushiko Seaweed Salad to start.  Then a choice of Shrimp Tempura or Tsukuri, or a four-piece chef’s selection of the sashimi of the day.  Lastly roasted salmon or four pieces of nigiri and six of maki.  Each element is superbly and delicately prepared.  The salmon was exquisite and came with steamed baby bok choy, shitake mushrooms, sweet potato pureé and rice.  That course, in and of itself, was worth the $25.  My partner guarded his sushi fairly well, but I snuck in a taste with my trusty chopsticks and again, perfectly prepared with the finest and freshest fish.  Utagawa is a stickler for the best fish!

Confession:  We blew the budget slightly.  We split the Sansho Bread Pudding with green tea whipped cream and I will never regret it.  Neither will you.

5455 Wisconsin Avenue, Chevy Chase, MD 20815. Sushiko Restaurants

Le Grenier on H Street 

There’s been a lot of excitement about the revitalization of H Street.  Restaurants have come and gone and now that the trolley is running smoothly, there will surely be more changes and even more residential development.  It’s one of the hottest neighborhoods in town.  I find myself there frequently as I cover Mosaic Theatre at the Atlas Performing Arts Center, and I’m always on the hunt for a good restaurant nearby, especially one that’s warm and welcoming with good, reliable food and an excellent bar program.

(l-r) The bar ~ French onion soup at Le Grenier

Most of the places in the area are trendy, noisy and/or dark.  After-work spots for a burger and pizza, a beer (or four), and a bowl of chili or ramen.  Okay, there’s a time and place for that too.  But I recently discovered Le Grenier, and fell in love.  An indelibly charming French restaurant with classic bistro food and cool French music, it’s just the sort of place you’d find in a Parisian neighborhood.  Expect onion soup topped with gruyére, charcuterie and house made patés, a well-curated selection of French cheeses, escargots, boeuf Bourguignon, cassoulet, hangar steaks and fish – all prepared creatively and overseen by owner, Marie Ziar.

There are two ways to go.  A fancy dinner with fine wines for a romantic tête-à-tête or casual bites with well-priced wines by the glass.  We had small bites at the marble-topped bar and enjoyed talking with a very interesting group from the neighborhood.  Either way this two-level space, warmed up by exposed brick walls and antiques, has a classy clientele and a lively bar scene.  Perfect for before or after the theatre.

Le Grenier, 502 H Street, NE, Washington, DC 20002

Hank’s Pasta Bar Now Offering Lunch 

A staple in the north end of Alexandria’s Old Town, Hank’s Pasta Bar is reinstituting lunch hour dining.  The industrial look, cozy restaurant is a favorite in a neighborhood better known as residential.  Is it destination dining?  Probably not.

(l-r) The back dining room ~ A cozy seating area at Hank’s Pasta Bar

Most Old Town visitors prefer to stay closer to the King Street scene.  And the reality is there are not many offices in the area.  But there is usually parking, which in and of itself is a plus, and it’s an easy 15-minute walk to the Braddock Metro Station.  All that said, it remains to be seen if they can make a go of it during the day.

(L-r) Charred octopus with fennel arugula salad ~ A starter of meatballs and sauce

A few weeks ago I was invited to try a few of their lunch offerings and they were pleasantly surprised at the menu.  We selected a few appetizers and two entrees.  For starters charred, tender octopus with arugula fennel salad, and meatballs of beef, veal, pork and lamb in a homemade tomato sauce – likely the same pomodoro, or “gravy” as my Italian friends insist I call it, used in their pasta dishes.

(L-R) Chicken Marsala ~ Hibiscus Panna Cotta

A lovely eggy fettucine, made in house as is all their pasta, was next up.  Served with a Bolognese sauce of braised beef and root vegetables, it is exactly the sort of tummy-warming dish for a chilly day.  Ditto for the lemony Chicken Marsala with its sauce of mushrooms and tomatoes and plenty of fresh herbs.

Fettuccine with Bolognese at Hank’s Pasta Bar

After all these filling dishes, would we have room for dessert?  The question lay before us until we saw the alluring choices.  Yes!  We, most assuredly, will have the Hibiscus Panna Cotta with blueberry, lemon and lavender gelatin.  A perfect ending to our lunchtime adventure.

Hank’s Pasta Bar, 600 Montgomery Street, Alexandria, VA 22314

On Your Feet! – The Emilio and Gloria Estefan Broadway Musical is a Grand Salsa Party ~ Kennedy Center

Jordan Wright
January 11, 2018 

Christie Prades as Gloria Estefan and Company ~ Photo credit Matthew Murphy

When the original ten-piece Miami Sound Machine is banging out a full-on Latin beat smack dab onstage and bringing sizzling hot salsa rhythms and house party funk, you can party like it’s 1985, the year the group’s huge crossover hit “Conga” soared to the top of the Billboard pop charts.

Entering the theatre Emilio and Gloria Estefan graciously greet fans ~ Photo credit Jordan Wright

It didn’t mitigate the excitement that the show’s producers Gloria and Emilio Estefan were in the house last night driving the on-their-feet audience wild with cheers and selfies.  But when it comes right down to it, it’s her story.  Their story.  A universal story of hopeful immigrants everywhere, that bonds us to their triumphs and tragedies in this electrifying musical.

Christie Prades (Gloria Estefan), Mauricio Martinez (Emilio Estefan), Danny Burgos and Omar Lopez-Cepero ~ Photo credit Matthew Murphy

On Your Feet! tells the story of 26-time Grammy Award-winning pop singer/songwriter Gloria Estefan and her producer/husband Emilio and their sensational rise to fame.  In spite of a talent agent who blocked the act from crossing over into mainstream American pop and a record company who wouldn’t allow them to sing in English, the pair did an end-run around discrimination by directly approaching local DJ’s and dance clubs where their beat-driven music had an immediate fan base. “See this face?” Emilio demands of his agent.  “This is an American!”  With this line, the audience broke into instantaneous and sympathetic applause.  After all, it’s kill DACA season and we feel their pain.

Mauricio Martinez as Emilio Estefan, Christie Prades as Gloria Estefan and Devon Goffman as Phil the Agent ~ Photo credit Matthew Murphy

The “jukebox musical”, as these throwback rock musicals are familiarly called (though one wonders if anyone from that era has ever played a jukebox), depicts the Estefans as children leaving on the “Pedro Pan” flights from Cuba in the early 60’s – flights that brought families from Havana to Miami from the fresh hell that was Batista’s revolution – and settling into the burgeoning Cuban community in Miami. Emilio hears Gloria sing and invites her to join his band, the Miami Latin Boys to gig weddings, bar mitzvahs and quinceañeras.  To her mother’s dismay, Gloria joins the band.  Even a mother’s wishes can’t hold back her teenager’s dreams or her talent.

Nancy Ticotin as Gloria Fajardo and Company ~ Photo credit Matthew Murphy

Flashbacks include Havana’s Montmartre Club and her mother’s truncated career as a nightclub singer, her Vietnam vet father José’s (Jason Martinez) tragic end, and little Gloria’s fondness for her grandmother (Alma Cuervo) and her guitar.  The story charts the pop star’s meteoric success and the near career-ending tragedy of the car accident that left her unable to perform for months.  It’s a deeply personal story that parallels artists’ dreams and immigrants’ aspirations.

Colored by the aqua and hot pink colors made popular by Miami Vice, it stars Christie Prades and Mauricio Martinez (from the original Broadway cast) as Gloria and Emilio.  The Tony Award-winning musical includes many of Gloria’s greatest hits in 26 numbers from “Live for Loving You”, “Get on Your Feet” and “Rhythm Is Gonna Get You”, to heart-melting ballads like “Don’t Wanna Lose You” and “Here We Are”.  80’s period costumes by Emilio Sosa and Cuba-evoking sets by David Rockwell, the band is joined by three additional musicians from the Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra.

Filled with uplifting sparkle.  Get ready to party Latin-style!

Highly recommended for the whole family.

Through January 21st in the Opera House at The Kennedy Center, 2700 F St., NW, Washington, DC.  For tickets and information call 202 467-4600 or visit

Company of the National Tour ~ Photo credit Matthew Murphy

Les Miserables ~ The National Theatre

Jordan Wright
December 23, 2017 

(From L) Josh Davis as ‘Inspector Javert’ and Nick Cartell as ‘Jean Valjean’ ~ Photo by Matthew Murphy

(From L) Josh Davis as ‘Inspector Javert’ and Nick Cartell as ‘Jean Valjean’ ~ Photo by Matthew Murphy

The year was 1985 when Les Miserables hit London’s West End.  It wowed critics then – Patti Lupone won the Laurence Olivier Award (Britain’s equivalent of an Oscar) for “Best Actress in a Musical” in her role as Fantine and the musical was further nominated for two awards for “Best Actor in a Musical’ (Colm Armstrong for Jean Valjean and Alun Armstrong for Thénardier) – and now.  Through all its reincarnations, the operatic sing-through, backdropped by the French Revolution, still fills theaters around the world.

The spirit of this musical is as relevant as if Victor Hugo had just set pen to paper.  Let’s reflect on Louis XVI’s agenda, shall we?  Alienate the lower classes through starvation.  Ignore science and reason for traditions.  Keep monarchical rule in place amid mass resistance.  And cut taxes on the privileged nobles thus keeping the peasants and rising middle class at bay.  Hmmm.  Didn’t work out so well for old Louis, hung for his Draconian policies.

“I Dreamed A Dream” - Melissa Mitchell as ‘Fantine’ ~ Photo by Matthew Murphy

“I Dreamed A Dream” – Melissa Mitchell as ‘Fantine’ ~ Photo by Matthew Murphy

At its very soul is the heartbreaking love story of the abandoned prostitute Fantine (Melissa Mitchell) and the reformed thief Valjean(Nick Cartell); Valjean’s death bed promise to adopt Fantine’s daughter Cosette (Jillian Butler); the heartwarming love story of the innocent Cosette and the idealistic Marius(Joshua Grosso); the tragic Éponine (Phoenix Best) and her unrequited love for her compatriot Marius; and the glory and desperation of a revolution led by Enjolras (Matt Shingledecker) that arose from social and economic inequality.  There hasn’t been a story with as much 18th century history, nor as much inspirational music, till Hamilton arrived on the scene.  And you know how that’s turned out.  Tickets to that blockbuster are as scarce as hen’s teeth.

Matt Shingledecker as ‘Enjolras’ ~ Photo by Matthew Murphy

Matt Shingledecker as ‘Enjolras’ ~ Photo by Matthew Murphy

In this national touring company staging the intensity of both the battle and escape scenes are greatly enhanced by projections by Fifty-Nine Productions who have drawn inspiration from the apocryphal paintings of Victor Hugo.  And as grim as the story may be, the drama of Valjean’s misery is lightened up decidedly by the characters of Madame Thénardier and her husband Thénardier.

Allison Guinn as ‘Madame Thénardier’ ~ Photo by Matthew Murphy

Allison Guinn as ‘Madame Thénardier’ ~ Photo by Matthew Murphy

Played by Allison Guin and J. Anthony Crane respectively, this hilariously dastardly duo are innkeepers of the iniquitous, Au Sergent de Waterloo, where Cosette is raised in indentured servitude.

J Anthony Crane as ‘Thénardier’ ~ Photo by Matthew Murphy

J Anthony Crane as ‘Thénardier’ ~ Photo by Matthew Murphy

Whether you’ve seen it once or a dozen times, as I suspect many in the opening night audience had, Co-directors Laurence Connor and James Powell give us an awe-inducing production so magnificently staged, so brilliantly performed, and so beautifully sung.  Kudos too, for the evocative golden-hued scenes by Lighting Designer Richard Pacholski, who conjures up street scenes reminiscent of Dutch artist Petrus van Schendel’s firelit paintings and edge-of-your-seat, new orchestrations by Christopher Jahnke, Stephen Metcalfe and Stephen Brooker that are gloriously played by Conductor Brian Eads 14-piece orchestra on a total of 28 separate instruments.

(From L) Joshua Grosso as ‘Marius,’ Phoenix Best as ‘Éponine’ and Jillian Butler as ‘Cosette’ ~ Photo by Matthew Murphy

The night I saw it the magnificent operatic baritone, Andrew Love, received a standing ovation and rousing cheers for his understudy performance of Javert.  And, in an eyebrow-raising surprise, the audience stayed through all the bows.  Not one person fled before the lights went up.  A rare sight in today’s theaters.

Absolutely brilliant in every way.

Through January 7th, 2018 at The National Theatre, 1321 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC.  For tickets call 202.628.6161 or visit OnLine Ticket Office

Nibbles and Sips Around Town – December 23, 2017

Jordan Wright
December 21, 2017
Photo credit Jordan Wright

Dining at the Hay-Adams for a Christmas Steeped in Luxury and Tradition ~ Mike Isabella Opens His Biggest Project Yet ~ Crimson DC Whiskey Bar, Diner and Holiday Pop-Up ~ The Maple Guild’s Maple Pecan Sandies

The Hay-Adams Proves Irresistible 

Though I think and write about restaurants all the time, my mind can sometimes go completely blank when asked, “Where should we eat?”  My response goes something like this, “Ethnic, inexpensive, romantic, large group, trendiest restaurant, intimate, posh, close by, Metro accessible, craft cocktails, pre-theatre dinner specials?”  That usually ends the conversation with a thud.  People want one answer.  But with so many distinctly diverse options for cuisine and atmosphere, that’s the only way to narrow it down.

A few weeks ago, a friend asked where he and his wife should take their distinguished guests for Sunday brunch.  The globetrotting trio were flying in from London and he wanted to impress in an elegant spot where they could relax and enjoy easy conversation.  Brunch in the DC Metro area often means unlimited bloody marys or mimosas at a fixed price in a noisy, packed restaurant more suitable for large groups of friends or family.  And that’s fine if that’s your jam.  But for this group of sophisticated diners, that would most emphatically not do.

Holiday decor in the lobby ~ Tiny creatures adorn the decorations - all created by the hotel staff

Holiday decor in the lobby ~ Tiny creatures adorn the decorations – all created by the hotel staff

Given my friend’s specific parameters, I told him to book his party at The Lafayette at the Hay-Adams.  Recently chosen by Conde Nast Traveler for a 2018 “Gold List” Award, it checked all his boxes and more.  I knew the food and service to be superb and the hotel was gorgeously decorated for the holidays.

Verdict: They loved it!

Here are a few photos I took from the current holiday dinner menu.

Pan seared halibut filet with maitake mushrooms and wild rice pilaf ~ Octopus Za’atar with favs beans, merguez sausage, black garlic tahini and basil pistou

Pan seared halibut filet with maitake mushrooms and wild rice pilaf ~ Octopus Za’atar with favs beans, merguez sausage, black garlic tahini and basil pistou


Seared diver scallops with celery root purée, Brussels sprouts and saffron cream ~ Spiced Pear Strudel by Hay-Adams Pastry Chef Josh Short

Seared diver scallops with celery root purée, Brussels sprouts and saffron cream ~ Spiced Pear Strudel by Hay-Adams Pastry Chef Josh Short

For those who have never enjoyed the charms of The Lafayette, nor the ultimate insiders’ bar below stairs at Off the Record, I highly recommend you go.  But don’t let it get around.  It’s our little secret.  

Isabella Eatery Opens in Tysons Galleria

Malachite green doors beckon diners to relax beside a fireplace at Isabella Eatery

Malachite green doors beckon diners to relax beside a fireplace at Isabella Eatery

Former Top Chef Mike Isabella has come a long way from his early days at Zaytinya.  His explosive empire just got even bigger with the opening of his 41,000-square foot emporium, eponymously named Isabella EateryGraffiato, Arroz, Retro Creamery, Non-Fiction Coffee, Octagon Bar, Pepita, Kapnos Marketa, Requin and Yona all take their places on either side of a catwalk the second level of this exclusive shopping mall.

The bar at Pepita at Isabella Eatery ~ The chandelier and portrait gallery dining space at Isabella Eatery

The bar at Pepita at Isabella Eatery ~ The chandelier and portrait gallery dining space

Sit at one of the counters or pull up a seat up to a long wooden table, there are plenty of spaces for a crowd to chow down on any one of dozens of offerings from these varied cuisines.

View of Graffiato and Retro Creamery ~ The central lounge

View of Graffiato and Retro Creamery ~ The central lounge

Designed by Jason Maringola of the DC design firm Streetsense, it is a massive project.  One of the multiple dining spaces is shaped like a rotunda and features wood floors and walls.  Outfitted with a custom designed 25-foot wide $250,000 LED chandelier, it has gallery style art hung clear up to the rafters.  Each dining space is stylishly reflective of the type of food and drink served – tacos and margaritas at Pepita; pizza at Graffiato; sangrias, pintxos and tapas at the soon-to-open Arroz; oysters, lobster rolls, crab cakes and champagne at Requin; poke bowls, sushi and sake at Yona; tzatziki, hummus, spit-roasted meats and beers from DC’s 3 Stars Brewing Company at Kapnos Marketa.  And much, much more, including a small bakery at Non-Fiction Coffee.  Lastly, the Retro Creamery, which is done up in the style of a 1950’s ice cream parlor with banana splits, gelati, sundaes, shakes and floats.

Oysters, lobster rolls and Veuve Clicquot champagne at Requin ~ A group of friends enjoys the opening night at Isabella Eatery

Oysters, lobster rolls and Veuve Clicquot champagne at Requin ~ A group of friends enjoys the opening night at Isabella Eatery

There’s something for every taste.  An oyster and champagne bar caters to the luxe crowd, while takeout sandwiches and coffee drinks are for those on the go.  A spacious modernistic lounge with crackling fireplace becomes the perfect setting to gather over craft cocktails, caviar and steaks from the deluxe Octagon Bar.

Enter through the mall or up a separate escalator accessible from the parking lot on International Drive.

Crimson DC Whiskey Bar Opens in the New Pod Hotel 

Preparing specialty cocktails at Crimson DC ~ A perfect Manhattan at Crimson DC’s Whiskey Bar

Preparing specialty cocktails at Crimson DC ~ A perfect Manhattan at Crimson DC’s Whiskey Bar


The hunting lodge lounge at Crimson DC Whiskey Bar

The hunting lodge lounge

Okay, it’s officially a trend – speakeasies, Prohibition-era cocktails, whiskey, bourbon and house made moonshine.  But what if I told you can find all this in one spot.  In Chinatown.  With a view of the city.  It’s Ian and Eric Hilton’s a three-in-one destination. The whiskey bar is a vast room broken up into smaller areas for lounging or gathering at the U-shaped bar.  I’m not sure how many it seats at the bar.  Best guess more than 50.  Located below stairs in the stylish new Pod Hotel this spot has a Southern style party-all-night atmosphere.  Retro wood booths on one side and sofas and a hunting lodge-themed lounge on another.

The check in desk at The Pod Hotel

The check in desk at The Pod Hotel

The menu trends towards casual bar food – chicken liver parfait, Brunswick stew, a ham board with Virginia’s Olli Salumeria prosciutto, hushpuppies and Chesapeake oysters – fried and served in a po’ boy – or raw.

Nighttime view of the Chinatown Arch from the rooftop bar at Crimson DC

Nighttime view of the Chinatown Arch from the rooftop bar at Crimson DC

Take the elevator to the rooftop, where a cozy holiday pop-up bar is the perfect spot away from the madding crowd.  Overlooking the Chinatown Arch with a 360-degree view of the city, it has both indoor and outdoor seating.  Pop in for spiced lattes and gingerbread cookies.

The rooftop holiday pop-up bar at Crimson DC

The rooftop holiday pop-up bar at Crimson DC

A brightly lit, mid-century modern diner, bar and coffee bar is on the street level and open from 7am till midnight most days.  Top picks: gumbo, biscuits, shrimp and grits, and caramel cake a la mode. And if you’ve never had it before, try the corn pone!

The Maple Guild Beats Out the Competition 

What’s going on top of your Christmas morning breakfast stack – the perfect pancake topper from Vermont, naturally.  This Vermont-based maple syrup company is the best there is.  How do I know?  Because The Maple Guild’s Original Grade A Maple Syrup has won the coveted “Best of East” Award at the Natural Products Association’s Expo East, beating out 1500+ other exhibitors for the prize. Yes! 1500 other products of all kinds to win the top prize.

The Maple Guild Selection

This prestigious award, chosen by all press and influencers at the Expo, is the top honor bestowed upon exhibitors at the trade show. The Best of East is the third award The Maple Guild has won at Expos East and West in the past calendar year. 

But it’s not just their syrups – Salted Caramel, Bourbon Barrel, Cinnamon and Vanilla Bean (Salted Caramel is off the chain!) – you’ll want to try their maple syrup-sweetened fruity teas and maple cream – that luscious spread that you schmear onto your morning toast.  Another product is tapt., a fruit-infused tree water with vitamins, minerals and electrolytes that was the winner of the “Hydration Award” by Runner’s World.  Plus, they make a fruit-infused green or black tea sweetened with their maple syrup.  And DC distillery Jos. A. Magnus & Co. is using some of the different flavored syrups in their Cocktail of the Month.

The Maple Guild is essentially the Willy Wonka of the maple syrup industry, dreaming up creative and innovative ways to consume maple. The heart and soul of the company’s products shows through in their organic steam-crafted syrups tapped from their 25,000-acre farm in Island Pond, Vermont.  Metro DC area residents can find The Maple Guild’s products on OnLine and in-stores at Wegmans, ROOTS Market, GLUT, and MOMs Market. 

Maple Pecan Sandies (recipe by Captain Cookie)


  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/2 cup The Maple Guild original maple syrup
  • 1 cup oil (corn, canola, or vegetable oil all work fine)
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 4 cup flour
  • 1.5 tsp salt
  • 1.5 tsp cream of tartar
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 2 cups chopped pecans


  • Preheat oven to 375*
  • In a bowl, cream the butter and brown sugar together until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs one at a time until fully incorporated. Stir in the powdered sugar, maple syrup, oil, and vanilla until well mixed.
  • In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, salt, and cream of tartar. Add to the butter mixture and mix on low, scraping the sides of the bowl until everything is uniformly mixed in (don’t over-mix)! Stir in the two cups of chopped pecans.
  • Optional: Cover dough and chill for one hour before baking – this will make the sticky dough easier to handle.
  • Scoop by tablespoons and bake at 375* for 10-12 minutes or until cookies are puffed with golden edges.

Finishing Touches

  • Place one scoop of Salted Caramel Ice Cream between each cookie.
  • For the true maple lovers, drizzle maple syrup on top of the ice cream before placing second cookie on top.
  • Dig in!