Interview with Jeremiah Tower Upon the Release of the Biopic Jeremiah Tower: The Last Magnificent

Jordan Wright
April 28, 2017 

With the release of Jeremiah Tower: The Last Magnificent, a film produced by his old friend Anthony Bourdain for Zero Point Zero Productions and distributed in the US by The Orchard, Tower can finally claim his due as the creator of California cuisine as the first celebrity chef in America.  It’s an appellation he richly deserves.  As a result of his early efforts sourcing local ingredients and California wines, he engendered the movement which became known as American regional cuisine.  After Tower’s meteoric rise in the 70’s at Chez Panisse, where he partnered with Alice Waters’ in the famed Berkeley hot spot, he held Executive Chef positions at a number of successful restaurants, ultimately opening his widely acclaimed Stars restaurant, a glittering French-inspired brasserie frequented by celebrities, socialites and city politicians.

His first book New American Classics won the James Beard Foundation Award in 1986 for Best American Regional Cookbook and, after opening a string of Stars outposts worldwide, in 1996 he won the Beard Award for Best Chef in America.  In 1989 San Francisco’s massive earthquake destroyed his beloved Stars.  Soon after the elegant spot was shuttered, Tower went into hiding.

In 2002 he published Jeremiah Tower Cooks: 250 Recipes from an American Master and one year later America’s Best Chefs Cook with Jeremiah Tower and a wonderful memoir entitled California Dish: What I Saw (and Cooked) at the American Culinary Revolution.  His latest effort, published last year, is the flippantly titled and indelibly humorous, Table Manners: How to Behave in the Modern World and Why Bother.

After years of living around the world and off the grid, “I have to stay away from human beings, because apparently I am not one”, he surprisingly resurfaced to helm the spectacular rise and fall of Tavern on the Green, the swank Central Park watering hole owned by two neophyte restauranteurs. “Running a restaurant is difficult enough without people getting in your way,” he contends.

Lovingly directed by Lydia Tenaglia, beautifully edited by Eric Lasby, and tenderly scored by Giulio Carmassi with Morgan Fallon’s evocative photography, the film commences with scenes of Tower as a young boy, neglected by his alcoholic mother and abusive father and feasting alone in five-star hotels and ocean liners while they cavorted with café society.  It was in these splendid temples to gastronomy where he poured over hand-written menus and supped solo on lobster and caviar – his passion for haute cuisine engendered by the kitchen staff who “adopted” the impressionable child allowing him to roam freely in their vast kitchens.

One of the most fascinating and creative American chefs, Tower lends his personal diaries and family films to this emotionally alluring biopic.  Cameo appearances by Bourdain, Mario Batali, Ruth Reichl, “He defined what a modern American restaurant could be.”, Wolfgang Puck, Jonathan Waxman and Martha Stewart give us an insider’s view to his influence and legacy.

I spoke with Tower by phone and he surprised me with his puckish charm and self-deprecating humor.  A man at peace with himself, I thought – a man who had accomplished much.

Are you excited for the release of “The Last Magnificent”?

Jeremiah Tower – Oh yes!  It was very strange for me to watch it.  Lydia Tenali, the Director, did a great job.

Are you pleased with the result? 

It was very odd.  Actors see themselves in a role when they watch their films, but it was different watching yourself on film.  I was surprised I did it.  I’ve never really done anything like that before.  Looking at yourself on the big screen and having people talk about you is odd.

Does the movie augur your return to the culinary scene?

No.  I did that for 35 years.  I’m now getting my physical and mental health together.  I went to the beach.  Though I might, you know, if I had a beach bar in Thailand where I would cook whatever the fishermen brought up from their boats.

I read your book California Dish: What I Saw (and Cooked) at the American Culinary Revolution in 2003 and noted what a raw deal you got in terms of recognition for your culinary direction at Chez Panisse.  Does it feel like some divine retribution to finally have the respect you’re due for creating and promoting California cuisine? 

I give thanks to Anthony Bourdain who produced the film.  He had the same reaction as you.  It pushed his justice button.  He wanted to tell the story.  He’s a wonderful guy.  He’s an outrageous guy.  Did you know my book has been revised and reissued?  It’s now called Start the Fire: How I Began a Food Revolution in America” and it’s just been released along with the movie.

Your influence was also enormous in terms of promoting local farms across the country.  Was that your familiarity with the French way of buying locally that inspired you?

It’s hard for people to understand that everything you can buy in Whole Foods today you couldn’t buy then.  So I reached out to local farmers and fishermen to find the ingredients – eels, cheese, mushrooms foraged from the Berkeley hills.  They would just show up at the kitchen door with whatever they had and I’d work with that.  The whole foraging thing started for me at Chez Panisse.  Also with the California regional dinner we held where I mentioned the Monterey Bay prawns and trout from Big Sur on the menu.

What was it like to cook for Julia Child so many years ago?

Julia was wonderful to be around because she had such great energy and knowledge.  But, you know, she couldn’t cook.  Neither could Craig Claiborne.  Pierre Franey did all the cooking.  I did cook for her at her apartment in Santa Barbara.  The first time was at her home in the South of France and I went with Richard Olney who was an amazing author on French food.   As soon as we arrived Julia said, “Start cooking.”  So we prepared the meal.

The movie is unsparingly honest about your misfortunes – the devastating earthquake at Stars in San Francisco, the vagaries of taking over a kitchen with partners that knew less than nothing about food and service, and even the AIDS crisis affecting your relationships with the gay community.  Do you feel as though you’ve had a run of bad luck or were these misfortunes just products of the times?

As for the controversial AIDS lawsuit [Tower was sued for discrimination by one of his waiters who had AIDS at the same time he was privately financially supporting other members of his staff who had AIDS], I had a letter from the attorney saying if you countersue, “I will hang you.”  The case was thrown out of court twice for insufficient evidence but the third time they brought it, I was found guilty.

I read somewhere that “the measure of your life are the chances you take”.  I’ve always pushed everything off to the edge.  A friend of mine, a restaurant owner in New York, told me, “It’s easy to run a successful restaurant, it takes a genius to run an empty one.”  When we closed Stars, it cost me millions and millions of dollars.

I thought the editing was superb, the interspersing of family films and the young actor who portrayed you as a boy depicting the events that influenced your future life as a chef.  Is there anything you would have liked to have said that wasn’t represented in the film?

I mean, they had to cut 20 minutes out of the final cut, and they didn’t explain that after I sold Stars for a lot of money I took off for the George V in Paris.  If that was a fall, I’d like to do it all over again.

You’ve always been the pioneer – out in front on the food scene.

When you’re out in front your neck is on the chopping block and then the guillotine comes down.

The movie portrays you as a person who enjoys his solitude.  After so many years of hobnobbing with celebrities, socialites and great chefs, are you happier being on your own or have you just had enough of the chichi scene after you reached the pinnacle of success only to have it snatched out from under you?

When you work very hard and achieve a lot of public noise, one needs to find a balance.  I’ve chosen the solitude of a beach in a great Mayan city.

How would you prepare iguana?

I haven’t but I’ve seen that done in the jungle and, you know, you clean it, put it on a spit and eat it.  It tastes like a reptilian chicken.

This interview was conducted, condensed and edited by Jordan Wright.

Classic Cher ~ The Theater at MGM National Harbor

Jordan Wright
March 21, 2017
Special to DC Metro Theatre Arts

Accompanied by a phalanx of golden shield-carrying gladiators, The Goddess of Pop strode onstage last night in a massive afro and shimmering turquoise and silver ensemble that exposed one singular, very buff, perfectly rounded butt cheek.  Seventy is the new twenty, if it’s Cher we’re talking about.  Glamorous, fit and fierce, she seized the night with style and purpose, opening to deafening cheers with, “This Is a Woman’s World”.

A two-tiered Moroccan palace with central dome served as backdrop for a myriad of cultural themes as Cher took her fans through an intimate tour of her life before during and after the Sonny Bono years in her latest show, CLASSIC CHER.  Projected above the stage were vintage videos of her childhood interspersed with film clips from her movies and bits from her three CBS variety shows – The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour, Cher and the short-lived The Sonny & Cher Show.  For fans of the raven-haired beauty this was solid gold.  (Sony’s Get.TV runs the shows on Monday nights)

Just as riveting were snapshots of the clothes she wore – the bejeweled Bob Mackie gowns, the Op Art Mary Quant miniskirts and white go-go boots of the mid-60’s, the tie-dyed shirts and bell-bottoms of the psychedelic era – that brought back memories of Cher’s major influence on the pop fashion scene.  There was no mistaking that this show was as much about her spectacular wardrobe as her Grammy-winning pop songs, as she took us through the history of the music, costumes and wigs from the mid 1960’s and throughout the history of her meteoric career.

As the pop diva regaled fans with personal stories about her life and times both on stage and off, she sang duets with Sonny on video of some of their most fondly remembered songs – “The Beat Goes On”, the 1965 hit “All I Really Want to Do” and “I Got You Babe”, the closing number in the pair’s first show and a song she’s been reluctant to sing in the past, fearful she’d break down in tears.

Surrounded by nine dancers, some doubling as acrobats perched high above the stage, Cher made as many as ten costume changes to dovetail with her greatest hits.  There were grass-skirted African dancers, a burlesque scene from a Berlin cabaret, Cher in hot pink veils a la Scheherazade, a life-size faux elephant that emerged for the circus-themed “Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves”, and of course, the full-feathered Indian headdress that she wore for the 1973 song, “Half-Breed” which was only her second US solo number.

Between snippets of songs, laser lights, Pop Art graphics and video footage, the Oscar-winning actress told of her musical influences – Tito Puente, Hank Williams and ultimately Elvis who above all inspired her to take risks.  And isn’t that what this show is all about.  Cher, backed by five musicians, proving that the beat does indeed still go on.

Running Time: 90 minutes, with no intermission.

Cher performed on March 20, 2017, at The Theater at MGM Grand National Harbor – 101 MGM National Ave, in Oxon Hill, MD.

Remaining performances are on March 23, 25, and 26, 2017, and she returns on August 31, 2017 and on September 2, 3, 7, 9, and 10, 2017. For tickets and information visit their website.

Key for Two ~ The Little Theatre of Alexandria

Jordan Wright
March 1, 2017
Special to The Alexandria Times

 Charlene Sloan as Harriet, Peter Harrold as Gordon, and Dana Gattuso as Anne - Photos by Keith Waters for Kx Photograhy

Charlene Sloan as Harriet, Peter Harrold as Gordon, and Dana Gattuso as Anne – Photos by Keith Waters for Kx Photograhy

What’s more fun than a British farce by LTA?  It’s the theater’s stock-in-trade and each season they get more masterful at this vehicle.  Written by John Chapman (no relation to our current City Councilman) and Dave Freeman, it is a hoot in the grand tradition of delightfully naughty drawing room comedies.  Freeman began his writing career on The Benny Hill Show and Carry On TV series, later writing for Peter Sellers and other notable British comedians.  Chapman was best known for a slew of British sketch comedies in the 70’s and 80’s.  The writers collaborated on Key for Two, winning “Comedy of the Year” in London’s Society of West End Theatre Awards for their efforts.

Dana Gattuso (Anne), Elizabeth Replogle (Magda) and Charlene Sloan (Harriet) - Photos by Keith Waters for Kx Photograhy

Dana Gattuso (Anne), Elizabeth Replogle (Magda) and Charlene Sloan (Harriet) – Photos by Keith Waters for Kx Photograhy

In Key for Two, Harriet (Charlene Sloan) is mistress to two married men, successful adman Gordon (Peter Harrold) and ship owner Alec (Cal Whitehurst).  They each are unaware of the other, as well as the existence of Harriet’s estranged spouse.  In order to keep the charade alive, the pretty polygamist cleverly concocts a balancing act to entertain them on alternate days.  The fun begins when Gordon twists his ankle, leaving him bedridden in her Brighton flat.  To add to the confusion, her best friend Anne (Dana Gattuso), smarting from a recent separation, arrives unexpected.  Anne’s husband Richard (Justin Latus), a taxidermist, soon shows up drunk as a skunk and still carrying a torch for Harriet.  The two women quickly join forces creating hilarious excuse after excuse to explain away the untenable situation.  “It’s been a very busy year for kept women,” Harriet complains to Anne as the two conspirators attempt to keep the men from bumping into each other.

Cal Whitehurst (Alex) and Charlene Sloan (Harriet) - Photos by Keith Waters for Kx Photograhy

Cal Whitehurst (Alex) and Charlene Sloan (Harriet) – Photos by Keith Waters for Kx Photograhy

There’s a lot of leaping in and out of bed as Harriet pretends to be married to Anne’s fictional husband the women dub “Bob the Murderer” in order to keep Gordon at sixes and nines.  But it’s Anne who has to go the extra mile pretending to be married to Gordon in order to preserve Harriet’s charade.  It begins to unravel when Anne, now pretending to be a caregiver at Harriet’s “nursing home”, claims that Alec has “polygamist palsy” and believes he is married to Harriet.  Are you still with me?  If you can keep that much in mind the rest is a snap…that is until Gordon and Alec’s wives, Magda (Elizabeth Replogle) and Mildred (Liz LeBoo) turn up and all hell breaks loose.  Richard’s brief love affair with Magda’s fox stole is classic.

Liz LeBoo (Mildred), Charlene Sloan (Harriet), Dana Gattuso (Anne) and Cal Whitehurst (Alex) - Photos by Keith Waters for Kx Photograhy

Liz LeBoo (Mildred), Charlene Sloan (Harriet), Dana Gattuso (Anne) and Cal Whitehurst (Alex) – Photos by Keith Waters for Kx Photograhy

Director Eleanore Tapscott (Caught in the Net, Noises Off and I’m Not Rappaport at LTA) corrals a talented cast and puts them to work tickling our collective funny bones with snappy repartee, double entendres, puns and malapropisms.  And to our delight, they never stop.

If you like silly British slapstick comedy, this is the one to see!

Through March 18th at The Little Theatre of Alexandria, 600 Wolfe Street. For tickets and information call the box office at 703 683-0496 or visit www.thelittletheatre.com

Nibbles and Sips Around Town ~ December 2016

Jordan Wright
December 2016
Photo credit – Jordan Wright

Virginia Distillery Debuts Port Finished Virginia Highland Malt Whisky – Ambar Opens in Clarendon – Hazel fuses Asian with Italian – Smoked and Stacked for Your Reubens – Buttercream, The New Kid on the Block – ICE! Returns to National Harbor 

Virginia Distillery Company Showcases New Whisky Flavor

We get excited about a lot of things around here, but the Virginia Distillery Company’s Port Finished Virginia Highland Malt Whisky has us leaping out of our comfy chairs.  The production facilities with factoid-rich whisky museum are located in beautiful Nelson County where this past September. whiskandquill.com/nelson-county.

If you like your whiskey smooth with a sweet finish, this small batch release is the one for you…and me too.  You’ll want to use it for cocktails and especially for after dinner sipping.  Toffee, dried fruit and dark cocoa notes linger on the palate, affording dyed-in-the-wool whisky lovers an excuse to drink it neat or perhaps, with a splash of branch water.

Cocktails from VDC

Cocktails

In addition, VDC adds a limited edition Cider Barrel Matured Virginia Highland Malt to their ‘Commonwealth Collection’.  Finished in casks from Potter’s Craft Cider in Free Union, Virginia (I’d like to know the back story of the town’s name), it has distinct overtones of apple.

Gareth Moore of the Virginia Distillery Company at the Homestead Restaurant

Gareth Moore of the Virginia Distillery Company

At a recent gathering at Homestead restaurant in Petworth hosted by VDC’s owners Gareth Moore, son of the late founder Dr. George C. Moore, and his charming wife, Maggie, we had the pleasure of a tasting paired with Executive Chef Marty Anklam’s upscale comfort food.

A few nibbles from Executive Chef Marty Anklam of the Homestead

A few nibbles from Executive Chef Marty Anklam

VDC partners with Gearhart’s Chocolates for their signature truffles.  Chocolatier extraordinaire, Tim Gearhart, was on hand to demonstrate his technique for making VDC’s whisky-infused truffles.

Tim Gearhart hand rolls the whiskey truffles

Tim Gearhart hand rolls the whiskey truffles

This is how it would go in our house – bite of truffle, sip of port whisky, repeat till satisfied.

Ambar Opens Outpost in Clarendon 

I look forward to dining at Ambar any chance I can.  Its Balkan dishes are soothing soul food that speak of a complex diaspora of Turkish, Greek, Mediterranean, Austrian (an early conquerer) and Slavic influences.  In the past it’s meant a trip up to Capitol Hill and the small two-story Barracks Row restaurant Serbian owner Ivan Iricanin opened in 2013.  Fast forward and Iricanin has branched out into this hipster hood, staffing both kitchen and front of the house with his fellow compatriots, including General Manager Jovan Prvulovic.  After two return trips to this latest outpost, I can see it’s a huge hit.

In house made charcuterie platter

In house made charcuterie platter

Here are the dishes that speak of slow-cooking – sarmales (yummy cabbage rolls stuffed with meat in a tomato sauce), smoky grilled meats, home baked breads like somun and lovely spreads like ajvar made with red peppers, garlic and eggplant, the traditional hummus, a smoked trout spread, or the soothing urnebes made with feta, sour cream, lots of garlic, and paprika, and which translates amusingly to “chaotic spread”.

Hail the sausage, house made and wood-grilled.  This version is delicious as are all the meats including the house made charcuterie selection.

Ambar at dinner service is always mobbed

Ambar at dinner service is always mobbed

Recently Ambar launched both brunch and lunch.  The lunch features soups, salads, sandwiches, and an assortment of meat pies.  Freshly pressed juices include ‘Appleberry Lush’, apple, carrot and strawberry; ‘Beets & Treats’, beet, apple, carrot, orange and lemon, and ‘Green Cheer’, cucumber, spinach, lemon, apple and orange.

Brussels sprouts with lemon, garlic yogurt and bacon at Ambar

Brussels sprouts with lemon, garlic yogurt and bacon

Some of the highly creative salads are the Roasted Squash Salad with mixed greens, crispy bacon, roasted pepper, roasted squash and pomegranate dressing; Ambar Salad with mixed greens, zucchini, asparagus, broccoli and poppy seed dressing.  Their Creamy Mushroom Soup with crispy leeks, forest mushrooms and cream is the perfect antidote to a cold winter’s day.

From the ‘Sandwiches & Pies’ side of the menu choose from Cheese & Spinach Pie with crispy phyllo, cucumber yogurt and ajvar emulsion; Wild Boar Burger with arugula and pesto sauce; Fried Catfish with organic slaw and tartar sauce; Zucchini Burger with roasted sunflower seeds, tartar sauce, ajvar spread and smoked gouda; Grilled Shrimp with lettuce, tomato, pepper aioli and crispy prosciutto, and the Fried Chicken, almond and walnut crusted chicken with red onion and apple wasabi.

An assortment of Balkan sweets at Amba

An assortment of Balkan sweets

But there are plenty of other tummy-warming dishes to try.  Consider Stuffed Sour Cabbage with pork belly, jasmine rice, mashed potato and yogurt; Baked Beans & Sausage with paprika and house-made pork sausage; Slow Cooked Stuffed Pepper with house ground beef & pork, served with dill cream, and the Lamb Stew with sweet cabbage and horseradish, served with cornbread.  Some dishes from the ‘Rotisserie and Chefs Specials’ are the Mix Meat Platter with pork neck, sausage, kebab, chicken, Balkan fries and urnebes spread are available.

Cocktails at Ambar

Cocktails

Pair your meal with a handcrafted non-alcoholic cocktail like Rosemary Lemonade, Peach Ice Tea, Berry Hibiscus Soda, as well as Ginger Green Tea Soda.  Or go for it with ‘Session Cocktails’ like the ‘Orangeena’, vodka, lemon juice, orange puree and soda; ‘Cosmo Flip’, vodka, muddled grapes, mint syrup, lime juice and cranberry juice, or the classic ‘Mojito’, rum, mint and lime.

Ambar, 2901 Wilson Blvd, Arlington, Virginia, 22201.

Hazel – The Talk of the Town 

The outdoor lounge at Hazel

The outdoor lounge

Hazel has had as much buzz as a beehive these days, and I’m not sure why.  I came wanting to fall in love with it, but my heart was crushed like a bug.  Though it is a stunning space both inside and out and includes an impressive wine list and tasty craft cocktails by Greg Engbert, I still can’t puzzle out the draw.  Trendy plateware from Cloud Terre, a staple in rustic-design destinations, aren’t enough to lure me in.  Been there.  Seen that.  After all the chatter I’m looking for the wow factor, but apparently I didn’t get the message.

Fire Panda sauce // Gnocchi Bokki a Pork kimchi ragu with sesame seeds and smoked pecorino

Fire Panda sauce // Gnocchi Bokki a Pork kimchi ragu with sesame seeds and smoked pecorino

Many of the dishes have an Asian-Italian influence which I found to be curious and ultimately unsatisfying.  Noted chef Rob Rubba of the Neighborhood Restaurant Group, has come up with some unusual combinations like gnocchi with kimchee and barbecued carrots with buttermilk which I found to be palate-confusing.

Asian-Italian fusion octopus // Asian-Italian fusion

Asian-Italian fusion octopus // Asian-Italian fusion

A few forkfuls in I wondered exactly what I was eating and why.  And sadly, desserts by one of the city’s best pastry chefs, Naomi Gallego, formerly of Blue Duck Tavern, were uninspired and didn’t show off her wonderful baking skills.  On a positive note, I did come to love Fire Panda – a house made hot sauce that makes sriracha taste like ketchup.  If you go, be sure to take home a bottle or two.

Hazel, 808 V Street, NW, Washington, DC 20001.

Head to Smoked and Stacked for Your Next Reuben 

Smoked and Stacked's hot pastrami sign

Smoked and Stacked’s hot pastrami sign

Craving a Reuben sandwich?  This newly minted spot is where the bread is baked fresh and the meats are cured overnight.  But plan on taking it to go or eating briskly.  It isn’t built for comfort, there are only few tables and a smattering of stools, and heretically, no Dr. Brown’s Cream Soda – nor any type of throwback sodas, only a soda dispensing machine.

Smoked and Stacked's hot pastrami sign

Smoked and Stacked’s hot pastrami sign

There’s a limited menu on the blackboard and you’ll want to order ‘The Messy’.  Unlike the original Reuben made with thick slices of corned beef (New York’s crown jewel of Jewish delis, Katz’s, classic springs to mind), this version uses pastrami instead, keeping the traditional sauerkraut and Swiss cheese served on rye and properly sautéed in butter on a flat top grill.  Here the dressing is called Thousand Island dressing.  In New York we call it called Russian dressing.

Top Chef finalist, Marjorie Meek-Bradley, thinks of her place as a go-to for breakfast sandwiches served on ‘milk bread’ and a neighborhood destination for pastrami lovers.

Close by the Walter Washington Convention Center between M and N Streets, it’s at 1239 9th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20001.

The Adorable Buttercream Bake Shop 

Buttercream Bake Shop

Buttercream Bake Shop

You want it.  Now!  Scrumptious baked goods, cute and yummy cupcakes, flaky biscuits and buttery croissants, pies, soaring three-layer cakes, cookies with big chunks of chocolate and cake truffles dotted with rainbow sprinkles.  It’s all here and it’s all delicious.

Lemon Merengue Bars at Buttercream Bake Shop

Lemon Meringue Bars at Buttercream Bake Shop

Across the street from Smoked and Stacked, the Buttercream Bake Shop is where you’ll find Espresso Ho Hos and Pistachio Macarons for the sophisticated kid-at-heart and Lemon Bars sporting swirls of soft meringue.  Each day something different fills the refrigerated cases or sits atop pretty cake stands.

Sky high Coconut Cake at Buttercream

Sky high Coconut Cake at Buttercream

I took a seat with my coffee and coconut cake and watched as mothers with fancy baby carriages flooded through the doors, some with children in tow (a perfect excuse to visit, but not entirely necessary) and some with other mothers in what looked to be an after-the-playground reward session.

Espresso Ho-Hos at Buttercream

Espresso Ho-Hos at Buttercream

Pastry Chef, Tiffany MacIsaac and partner, Alexandra Mudry, have taken a visit to the corner bake shop and elevated it to new heights in this charming spot.  The women also run a successful catering business for parties, as well as bespoke wedding cakes.

Buttercream Bake Shop, 1250 9th Street NW, Washington, DC 20001   

ICE! Returns to National Harbor 

ICE! at National Harbor

ICE! at National Harbor

The Christmas tree inside the Gaylord National Resort and Conference Center is new.  This year the tree in the Atrium has a patriotic flair lit up in red, white and blue, though the one beside the harbor remains more traditional.

Patriotic Christmas tree in the Atrium of the Gaylord

Patriotic Christmas tree in the Atrium of the Gaylord

The Potomac Express train ride still fills the air with choo-choo sounds and the dancing fountains’ light show still delights children with its leaping flumes while grownups can enjoy cocktails at the Old Hickory bar overlooking the nightly indoor “snowfalls”.

The Potomac Express in the Atrium at the Gaylord

The Potomac Express in the Atrium at the Gaylord

You’ll see a new crop of characters ringing in the season this year and get a chance to eat with Lucy, Charlie Brown and the gang for Food & Fun Peanuts-themed breakfasts.  Be sure to make reservations for these fun character dining events.

Santa with Rudolph carved from ice

Santa with Rudolph carved from ice

We’ve come to see ICE! the show that’s lured families like a siren to its frozen statuary.  This year’s theme is “Christmas Around the World” and each icy diorama reflects the flags and cultures of many lands.  Over two million pounds of ice were carved to create this year’s fantastic experience, including the thrilling! and chilling! two-story ice slide.

The merry-go-round in the Christmas Village

The merry-go-round in the Christmas Village

Be sure to check out the latest offerings – a full-size merry-go-round, Elf on the Shelf scavenger hunts, an expanded gift shop, photos with Santa and cookies and milk with Mrs. Claus, and a Build-A-Bear workshop – all in the new Christmas Village.

A traditional tree lines the harbor with the Capital Wheel in the distance

A traditional tree lines the harbor with the Capital Wheel in the distance

Through January 1st at 165 Waterfront Street, National Harbor, MD 20745. For tickets, hours and special overnight packages visit www.ChristmasonthePotomac.com.

Nibbles and Sips Around Town ~ Mitsitam Serves Up Special Thanksgiving Menu

Jordan Wright
November 18, 2016

The entrance to NMAI

The entrance to NMAI – photo credit Jordan Wright

If your plans are not yet etched in stone for Thanksgiving Day, you may want to consider doing something a bit different this year. Our small family did one year, when we found ourselves gathered outside of our normal Northeast coastal locale. We still talk about the year we were all in Miami and decided to cook up a Cuban feast – turkey with mojito seasoning, black beans with ham hocks, a huge platter of tropical fruits, rice pilaf, hearts of palm salad and tres leches cake for dessert. That year’s holiday celebration is fondly, and amusingly, retold to this day. So, why not try something new this year and add it to your collective memories?

Here’s an outstanding option you may not have considered, or even known about. Mitsitam, the award-winning restaurant in the National Museum for the American Indian, is doing a complete Thanksgiving dinner to eat in or take out. They tried it last year and it was a huge success. It dovetails with the free three-day dance festival featuring the Northwest Coast, and will be held at the museum November 24th through the 26th to celebrate Native American Heritage Month. How much fun would that be?

The pond planted with native species at the museum

The pond planted with native species at the museum – photo credit Jordan Wright

To give you an update, recently Freddie Bitsoie (Navaho) has taken over the Executive Chef position at the restaurant since former Exec Chef Jerome Grant has moved over to Sweet Home Café in the Museum of African American History and Culture. Bitsoie, who has been at the forefront of Native American foods for over ten years, has worked on a wealth of projects with universities and museums including the prestigious Heard Museum in Los Angeles. A graduate of Le Cordon Bleu Culinary School in Scottsdale, AZ with further studies in Cultural Anthropology and Art History at the University of New Mexico, Bitsoie uses creative interpretation, coupled with years of research in culinary history, to develop his indigenous recipes.

Mitsitam Executive Chef, Freddie Bitsoie shows off some of his Thanksgiving dishes - photo courtesy NMAI

Mitsitam Executive Chef, Freddie Bitsoie shows off some of his Thanksgiving dishes – photo courtesy NMAI

Among other honors and accolades, Bitsoie was the winner of the museum’s Living Earth Festival Native Chef Cooking Competition in 2013, and was named “a rising star in the constellation of young chefs” by Native Peoples magazine in 2011. He has been featured on an episode of PBS’s Lidia Celebrates America and is working on his own show Rezervations Not Required, about indigenous cuisines around the world.

At a recent press gathering, I tasted a number of the dishes offered for this Thanksgiving feast and they are indeed unique and delicious. They are all inspired by tribal foods from the Great Plains, Meso-America, South America, the Northern Woodlands and the Northwest Coast. If you’re adventuresome, this could be the most memorable Thanksgiving you and your guests have ever experienced.

Sweet Red Chile and Orange Rubbed Free Range Turkey with pan gravy and spiced cranberry sauce - photo courtesy of NMAI

Sweet Red Chile and Orange Rubbed Free Range Turkey with pan gravy and spiced cranberry sauce – photo courtesy of NMAI

Here’s how it works. If you choose take out, you only need cook the turkey in your home, all else has been prepared for you. (See appetizers, sides, salads, gravy and desserts listed below.) If you opt for eat in, and I have been told whole families come, some laying out their best tablecloths, you will relax over your meal in the cafeteria overlooking the gardens and lovely water features. Imagine. No clean up! Just a relaxing day with friends and family. Bring as many as you like. Afterwards take in the dance festival or a stroll along the Mall.

Cedar Smoked Salmon and assorted side dishes - photo courtesy of NMAI

Cedar Smoked Salmon and assorted side dishes – photo courtesy of NMAI

The take home menu serves 6-8 people and ranges from $180.00 – $195.00 depending on your entrée. Or you can just order these dishes separately to add to your at-home dinner.

If you opt for the whole meal deal choose one of three entrees – Sweet Red Chile and Orange Rubbed Free Range Turkey with pan gravy and spiced cranberry sauce; Sumac Crusted Bison Tenderloin; or Juniper Glazed West Coast Salmon. Then build your meal around that with two large side orders of the following options – Brown Sugar and Butternut Squash Soup sweetened with Maple and topped with Candied Pumpkin Seeds or North Atlantic Clam Soup with Sunchokes and Leeks. Appetizers are Local Blue Crab Cakes or Wild Rice Baked Fritters with queso fresco and blueberries. Sides are numerous and diverse but I mention just a few of your choices – Roast Beets with Sage; a cold salad of Hominy with Fire Roasted Peppers, Onions, Lardons, and Watercress with a Lime Vinaigrette; Mashed Potatoes with Walnuts and Agave; Braised Kale with Shallots and Apricots and. A half sheet of Blue Cornbread comes with each whole meal order, as does one pint of Cranberry and Pineapple Sauce and dessert of either Apple Cobbler or Classic Pumpkin Pie.

To place an order call Miriam Menkir at 202 633-7044 or email mmenkir@restaurantassociates.com

The National Museum of the American Indian, Fourth Street and Independence Avenue, SW, Washington, DC 20013. nmai.si.edu/visit/washington/