The Wonders of Nelson County Revealed

Jordan Wright
September 15, 2016
All photo credit – Jordan Wright

The view from 20-Minute Cliff

The view from 20-Minute Cliff

Usually a trip through Nelson County has us making a beeline to Charlottesville.  And though Thomas Jefferson’s university town has beauty, history and terrific restaurants, there are tons of other attractions in this bucolic county worthy of a visit – and a few night’s stay.  Let Route 151 be your guiding star.  For our adventure we allowed five days and four nights, and only scratched the surface, vowing to return to the places we discovered and those we’d heard about and missed.  And although this is piece is entirely subjective, feel free to design your own trip by cherry-picking from our favorites.

Farms dot the landscape on the Blue Ridge

Farms dot the landscape on the Blue Ridge

Once past the Manassas exit on Route 66, the road opens up to spectacular vistas, rolling countryside and the eastern side of the Blue Ridge Mountains.  Bill Coffee’s family-owned Buckland Farm Market outside of Warrenton on Route 29, is always our first stop.  The large farm store has a dizzying array of homemade cheeses, fresh fruits and veggies, plants and preserves, and more importantly, a wide array of mouth-watering baked goods.  In autumn there are pumpkin turnovers and pumpkin whoopee pies along with Southern pecan and apple pies.  You’ll also find the widest selection of Bob’s Red Mill products.  If you’re on an overnight stay, bring a cooler and stop on the way home for farm-raised beef and eggs.  The haunted corn field will open weekends throughout October and pick-your-own pumpkins are in the field now.

The Spa at Wintergreen Resort

The Spa at Wintergreen Resort

After purchasing a few jars of local honey and the prerequisite snacks, we proceeded up the mountains to check in at Wintergreen Resort, heading post haste to the serenity of The Spa for massages.  The full-service spa offers a variety of options and we chose a combination of Swedish, deep tissue and reflexology.  The ‘Green Tea and Lemongrass’ stress-shedder includes a salt scrub, hot stones and Vichy shower for the ultimate in relaxation.  From now till November the treatment switches over to the autumn-inspired ‘Pumpkin Chai’ sugar scrub.  Afterwards don plush terry robes and relax with a cup of herbal tea in the lounge overlooking the woods, or a swim in the indoor pool.  Finish your hydrotherapy in the steam room or sauna before heading off to dinner.

Fresh cut bouquet from Pharsalia

Fresh cut bouquet from Pharsalia

Wintergreen has several dining options and the Copper Mine Bistro in the heart of Blackrock Village is the homiest of all.  Have breakfast here if you are planning on morning activities at the resort.  Golf, tennis, mountain biking and skiing are the most vigorous activities, but for less of a workout there’s yoga, trail walking and swimming.  Visit the Nature Center to learn about the flora and fauna and archeological history of the area.  Guided walks leave from here or you can venture out on your own using their free trail maps.

Devil’s Grill is the resort’s fine dining restaurant.  And as with the other four restaurants, guests can go casual, though here tables are dressed up with candles, flowers and white linens signaling a fancier repast.  A new chef has arrived since we dined there in late June, but expect locally-sourced seasonal food with a gourmet flair.

The morning brought rain and mist and the fern-bordered path to the Copper Mine Bistro was dense with fog.  Weather in the mountains has a habit of improving after a few hours and by the time breakfast was over the sun had broken through the clouds and we took off for the mountain course to make an early tee time.

Devil's Knob golf course

Devil’s Knob golf course

Devil’s Knob is the most challenging of the two courses (18 holes at Devil’s Knob and 27 holes at Stoney Creek), and I’m afraid in our zeal we didn’t do it justice.  But it was worth every scenic moment.  Sitting at an elevation of 3,800 feet and cooler than its sister course, Stoney Creek (designed by Rees Jones), we found wildflowers and wildlife our chief distractions.  This beautifully laid out Ellis Maples designed course takes advantage of the spectacular mountain views and rushing streams cascading down from the mountain tops.

The cottage gardens at Basic Necessities

The cottage gardens at Basic Necessities

Lunch brought us off the mountain to a small cottage surrounded by a lush perennial garden where we met Kay Pfaltz, an avowed Francophile with a joie de vivre that’s indelibly contagious.

Let Kay Pfaltz choose your wine

Let Kay Pfaltz choose your wine

Kay is the author of the charming memoir Lauren’s Story: An American Dog in Paris and co-owner of Basic Necessities with Sallie Justice and Rosie Gantt.  Together they helm this restaurant and retail store.  The enchanting spot reflects a distinctly French flair drawn from Pfaltz’s years as a writer living out her dream in Paris with her adored beagle, Lauren.

The shop at Basic Necessities

The shop at Basic Necessities

In the front section the shop is filled with a wide array of cheeses, freshly baked baguettes, patés and sausages – perfect for pairing with wines from Pfaltz’s expertly selected collection.

Pfaltz, who pens a local wine column, makes her selections based on taste, style and affordability and I homed in on a few sumptuous, well-priced burgundies and a number of carefully curated Virginia wines from the Commonwealth’s better winemakers.  Her clientele certainly benefits from her discriminating, Gallic-honed palate to guide them.

Chocolate cake at Basic Necessities

Chocolate cake at Basic Necessities

The dining area is in the back and overlooks more gardens.  Provencal patterned tablecloths echo the French theme while floral print china and sprays of wildflowers in stone crocks adorn the tables.  Lunches are served Tuesday through Sunday, with dinner service on Friday and Saturday nights only.

Thanks to Justice and Nelson County cook, Mae Collins Tyree, we were able to partake of a lovely French-inspired luncheon.

Charcuterie platter at Basic Necessities

Charcuterie platter at Basic Necessities

I was particularly taken by the delicacy of a watermelon + tomato gazpacho, a classic Croque Madame and a lavish charcuterie platter with all the accoutrements.  Pfaltz’s choice of a nice French rosé put us in mind of the French Riviera on a summer’s day.  We capped off our French feast with a slice of richly dense and multi-layered chocolate cake.

Nelson County boasts ten wineries, three craft breweries, two cideries, one meadery and two distilleries.  You will most assuredly not get to visit them all in one trip.  We gave it our best shot and epically failed.  However you choose to approach this tempting dilemma, it is ultimately more satisfying to focus on a few, all the better to savor the experience.  In this way you’ll be able to spend quality time with folks eager to share their passion for the land and their commitment to their products.

Tony and Elizabeth Smith at Afton Mountain Vineyards

Tony and Elizabeth Smith at Afton Mountain Vineyards

At Afton Mountain Vineyards winemakers Tony and Elizabeth Smith are proud owners of their upscale winery whose vines were planted in the 1970’s.  Formerly known as Bacchanal Vineyards, the Charlottesville couple bought the vineyard in 2009, and doubled the acreage under vine.  They expect their annual production of 2,200 bottles to increase to 5,000 in the next few years under the care and watchful eye of winemaker Damien Blanchon who hails from the South of France.

Currently the winery produces 15 varieties – something for everyone’s palate.  Their 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon and 2012 Petit Verdot recently won gold at the 2016 Monticello Cup Wine Competition and they are exceedingly proud of being the area’s only producer of Pinot Noir.

Enjoying a glass of Petit Verdot Reserve at Afton Mountain

Enjoying a glass of Petit Verdot Reserve at Afton Mountain

From the elevated tasting room on a drizzly afternoon you might see a group of horseback riders make their way across the vineyard.

Riders tour the vineyards at Afton Mountain Vineyards

Riders tour the vineyards at Afton Mountain Vineyards

Rebel’s Run at Afton Mountain is a nearby stable providing guided tours of the vineyard and the scenic countryside.  Riders stop in to relax with a glass of wine beside the lake before heading back to the stables.  ‘Sip and Saddle’ packages can be booked through the stables or local B&B’s who pack box lunches for the riders.

Christine and Denver Riggleman beside casks of their aged bourbon

Christine and Denver Riggleman beside casks of their aged bourbon

A stop at the wildly successful upstart Silverback Distillery introduced us to Virginia-born owners Christine and Denver Riggleman.  After years of living the transient military life and raising their three daughters, Denver offered his wife Christine the chance to choose their next path.  To his utter surprise, she told him she wanted to start a distillery.  Their daughters, who are very much hands on in the endeavor, voted on the nickname they had given their father, “Silverback”, after the massive gorilla – their term of endearment in reference to his large build.  (He has since shed the excess pounds and it’s difficult to picture him as inspiration for the simian moniker.)

The tasting lounge at Silverback Distillery

The tasting lounge at Silverback Distillery

Silverback Distillery opened for business less than two years ago and has already been the recipient of eight international awards.  Combining a blend of Virginia grains with American craftsmanship, they currently offer Beringei Vodka, Strange Monkey Gin (winner of Double Gold at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition), Blackback White Grain Spirit and Blackback Rye Whiskey.  An aged bourbon is coming soon.  Stop in for mini cocktails – the London Mule with gin, ginger beer and lime juice was our favorite quaff.  They have limited distribution and most sales are here at the Tasting Room, so be sure to pick up a bottle or two to take home.

Bold Rock's Tasting Room

Bold Rock’s Tasting Room

Close by you’ll find two local craft cideries – Bold Rock Hard Cider uses 100% apples from the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, while Blue Toad Hard Cider gets 100% of their apples from New York state.  No concentrate bases whatsoever like the larger cideries.  Farm to Tap.

A worker checks the hoses on the tanks at Bold Rock Hard Cider

A worker checks the hoses on the tanks at Bold Rock Hard Cider

Bold Rock is a massive operation with three locations in Virginia and one in North Carolina, while Blue Toad is a tiny speck on the map.  Try them both and judge for yourself.

The Tasting Room at Blue Toad Hard Cider

The Tasting Room at Blue Toad Hard Cider

If you’re looking for an active bar scene, Devils Backbone Brewing Company is nearby.  This large craft brewery, recently purchased by Anheuser-Busch, is set on 100-acres of farmland with plenty of outdoor seating in its naturalistic gardens.  Families congregate at the covered outdoor bar as children explore the paths.

Barbecue at Devils Backbone

Barbecue at Devils Backbone

The restaurant features sixteen beers on tap to pair with simple pub food.

The restaurant at Devils Backbone Brewing Company

The restaurant at Devils Backbone Brewing Company

If you’re lucky enough to be in Nelson County on a Saturday, head for the farmer’s market.  Along with pretty flowers, fresh fruits, cheeses and veggies, you’ll find some unusual vendors like local bladesmith, T. Hipps, whose line of heirloom quality handmade cutlery called Karma Blades, will set you apart from the run-of-the-mill chef or hunter.  Or Lynne Ross of La Sunflower who makes her beauty products with comfrey and other natural home grown herbs.

Purple cauliflower from the season's bounty

Purple cauliflower from the season’s bounty

Stop by Barefoot Bucha’s stand to try their organic kombucha made locally with organic ingredients and served on draft and pick up a homemade lemon meringue pie from The Hungry Fox.

The James River Cut-ups entertain the crowd at the Nelson County Farmers Market

The James River Cut-ups entertain the crowd at the Nelson County Farmers Market

Hopefully you brought a cooler to take home John and Jade Sonne’s organic pork, eggs and berries from Spruce Creek Farms and some kimchi and fermented drinks from Farmstead Ferments.

Fermented vegetables from Gathered Threads

Fermented vegetables from Gathered Threads

Where else can you find okra hot dogs and cider brats? Why from The Rock Barn, of course.  Other unique finds are fermented vegetables from Gathered Threads, who offer wide range of products from tsukemono, gingered carrots and apple & juniper sauerkraut.

Essences from Primal Wisdom

Essences from Primal Wisdom

My personal favorite from Virginia Vinegar Works is ‘Blackberry Cabaret’.  Not too sweet, not too tart – it’s the perfect addition to any kind of salad.

Sandy Beebe shows her artwork

Sandy Beebe shows her artwork

And, if you want to know why painter and printmaker Sandy Beebe, whose works are reminiscent of Grandma Moses, moved to Nelson County, she’s at the market every Saturday and is delighted to chat about its charms.

Mary Wolf owner of Wild Wolf Brewing Company

Mary Wolf owner of Wild Wolf Brewing Company

All this food and no stove to cook it, was making us hungry.  So turning back onto the Brew Ridge Trail we headed for lunch at Wild Wolf Brewing Company to meet owner Mary Wolf whose son Danny Wolf is the Master Brewer.

Wild Wolf's restaurant is housed in a restored schoolhouse

Wild Wolf’s restaurant is housed in a restored schoolhouse

This unique, eco-friendly, family-owned brewery, offers a wide array of beers and a restaurant housed in a former 1910 high school with wrap-around porches.  Stroll around the 10-acre former garden center to enjoy ponds, a water wheel, a biergarten and rustic outbuildings.

The Gazebo gardens at Wild Wolf

The Gazebo gardens at Wild Wolf

The restaurant has an exceptional Head Chef in Chris Jack, and a talented Pastry Chef and Baker in Higgins Stewart, both of whom create truly memorable food.  According to Mary two years ago she and Danny decided to go farm-to-fork.  Now they send spent grain from their hops to a local farmer to feed his cattle in trade for beef.

Herbed gazpacho ~ Shrimp and grits

Herbed gazpacho ~ Shrimp and grits

Eggs come from the chickens that live beneath their hops vines, and there’s a vegetable garden for much of the produce and summer herbs tucked into Jack’s dishes.

Chickens feed on insects beneath the hops vines at Wild Wolf

Chickens feed on insects beneath the hops vines at Wild Wolf

In the kitchen heritage breed Autumn Olive pigs are butchered for sausages and the ground pork is added to burgers.  Grits are prepared using stone ground corn from the nearby Woodson’s Mill in Nelson County.  The craveable, crisp-crusted cornbread brought steaming hot to the table in wire baskets, is made with Ula Tortilla’s organic, locally grown, non-GMO corn flour.  This rustic restaurant retreat is a must stop for excellent, chef-driven local cuisine and hoppy IPAs made with Cascade hops used in their “Primal Instinct” IPA.  We loved knowing Wild Wolf was selected as the Virginia Green Brewery of the Year.

The Tasting Room at Democracy Vineyards

The Tasting Room at Democracy Vineyards

Was it the wine or the beer?  But somehow we missed the turnoff to Del Fosse Winery leading us to a scrappy little vineyard that hadn’t been on our radar.  Democracy Vineyards may not be on many people’s list, but we loved its quirky theme and amazing collection of political memorabilia that lines the walls of the ultra-modern tasting room.  Started by Susan Prokop and Jim Turpin on an old apple farm, Democracy now features eleven wines with such startling names as ‘Suffrage’, ‘Freedom’, ‘Magna Carta’ and ‘Velvet Revolution’.  Be sure to taste their ‘Parliament’ 100% Petit Verdot dessert wine, and ‘Freedom’ a ‘Pinotage’ varietal.

A short drive away is the Virginia Distillery Company, where the elegantly furnished Visitor’s Center signals this luxury brand.  This summer the company launched ‘The Virginia Whisky Experience’, a one-of-a-kind guided interactive tour and museum experience for its visitors.  It includes a tour of the state-of-the-art distillery and the Cask House ending in a tasting of their Virginia Highland Malt and a sampling of their craft cocktails either in the Visitors’ Center or on a 2,000-foot patio replete with water and fire features.

Inside the distillery

Inside the distillery

Fed by seven converging springs, the distillery was the dream of George G. Moore, an American visionary who was determined to see Virginia whisky come back to an area once better known for its Prohibition Era stills.  Moore died three years ago and the project was taken up by his son, Gareth Moore and wife, Maggie, who have shown the same pioneering determination.  While VDC’s whisky was aging in used bourbon casks for a minimum of three years, they began distilling and aging their Virginia Scotch Whisky in the Scottish Highlands and shipping it back to Lovingston, finishing here in port-style wine casks where it will age for six to twelve months.  Not all the malted barley will come from Virginia, as there are not enough local farmers able to fulfill their needs, so most will be sourced from Scotland’s famed Boby malt mill.

Guests settle in for a tasting of Virginia Highland Malt

Guests settle in for a tasting of Virginia Highland Malt

Until their on-site product has aged completely, the tasting room offers the Scottish-distilled Virginia Highland Malt in a number of specialty cocktails.  We particularly enjoyed the ‘South of Manhattan’ which we paired with their specialty Gearhart’s Chocolates Whisky Truffle made with their Highland Malt and sold in the gift shop.

Carol mixes the 'South of Manhattan'

Carol mixes the ‘South of Manhattan’

‘South of Manhattan’ Cocktail from Virginia Distillery

  • 4 ounces Virginia Sparkling Cider
  • 1/2 ounce Luxardo cherry juice
  • 2 dashes cardamom bitters
  • 2 ounces Virginia Highland Malt Whisky
  • Orange peel
  • Luxardo cherry, for garnish
South of Manhattan

South of Manhattan

In a shaker, mix together cider, cherry juice and bitters. Add two ice cubes and the Virginia Highland Malt Whisky.  Stir and strain into a coupe glass. Rub the rim of the coupe glass with the orange peel and garnish with the Luxardo cherry and the orange peel.

Fourth generation owner Jim Saunders

Fourth generation owner Jim Saunders

Jim Saunders is the fourth-generation owner of Saunders Brothers founded in 1915.  The affable farmer took time to drive us in his bright red truck through hundreds of acres of peach, apple and Asian pear orchards plus 36 varieties of boxwoods.  (You’ve probably seen their boxwoods in the White House gardens, planted during the Kennedy administration.)

Bouncing along the rutted farm roads, Jim regaled us with tales of the 1200-acre Nelson County farm.  Jim’s father, Paul Saunders, is the family genealogist and successful author, penning two wonderful books, “Heartbeats of Nelson”, a fascinating 634-page photo-filled anthology on the history of the county and its people, beginning in pre-Civil War times to the present day.  His second book, “Down on the Farm”, tells the history of the Saunders’ family life and the business of running the farm.  You can get pleasantly lost in these emotionally-connected stories of life and times by the Piney River.

Author Paul Saunders - Heartbeat of Nelson & Down on the Farm

Author Paul Saunders – Heartbeat of Nelson & Down on the Farm

We finished the tour in the farm store with Homestead Creamery’s delicious homemade peach ice cream from their Farm Market and left toting a basket of early yellow Sentry peaches destined for our cobblers.  Look for Saunders peaches, apples and pears at Whole Foods.  Their Albemarle Pippin was Thomas Jefferson’s favorite apple and is great for baking as well as cider.

Early season Sentry peaches

Early season Sentry peaches

The Rock-n-Creek Cabin is the most unique accommodation I have ever come across.  A rustic two-level A-frame cabin with wraparound porches, it is set in the woods and encircled by a series of ponds.  And though I was not particularly keen on the unidentifiable insects flitting around the bathroom floor, it’s more luxurious than camping out.

Amid his oak baskets Christy gets to work on a new decoy.

Amid his oak baskets Christy gets to work on a new decoy.

Host and owner Richard Christy is a renaissance man.  He is an accomplished chef, caterer, self-taught decoy and shorebird carver, and basket weaver.  His Buck Island Bay Decoys and Mountain Man Basketry studio is adjacent to the cabin.  I tell you this because you will be interacting with him as he prepares your dinner.  He is a font of information about the area’s wonders and a fascinating conversationalist.  As a former chef to Gerald Ford, he has helmed many restaurant kitchens around the country and continues to consult on new food products for major producers.

Richard Christy Chef/Owner of Rock-n-Creek Cabin with the first course

Richard Christy Chef/Owner of Rock-n-Creek Cabin with the first course

Back to the experience.  When booking your reservation, Christy will ask what style of cuisine you would like him to prepare.  In my case I left it to him, and after he had checked out this website, he decided he would do something un-restaurant-like and totally out of the ordinary, choosing to prepare a “wildcrafted” dinner sourced entirely from wild edibles – with the exception of the vanilla, flour and sugar used in the dessert.

Our dinner was entitled ‘WILD THING – I Think I Love You’ and Christy presented us with a beautifully printed menu of our three-course dinner.

As we sipped our wine from barstools looking through to the open kitchen, the pony-tailed chef tossed freshly foraged salad greens – creek lettuce, lamb’s quarters, dandelion, chicory and cattail hearts – topping them with grated pickled duck egg, toasted pumpkin seeds and buttermilk dressing.  Our palate refresher was “Apple Pie Moonshine”, his signature concoction of homemade moonshine, cinnamon and apple cider.  Strong medicine meant for those who spend the day foraging and hunting in the woods as opposed to tooling around country roads in an air-conditioned SUV.

Blue catfish entree

Blue catfish entree

We took our seats in candlelight while Christy prepared our next course – blue catfish filets in brown butter on creamed ramps and nettles, finished with preserved fig.  A side of savory sweet potato and caramelized onion puree added sweetness and extra complexity.  It was divine!

Pound cake with wild blackberries, honeysuckle crema and spruce tip ice cream

Pound cake with wild blackberries, honeysuckle crema and spruce tip ice cream

Dessert was a harmonious medley of foraged ingredients.  Dense pound cake served with stewed wild blackberries and enhanced with honeysuckle crema and hand-churned spruce tip ice cream.  I can assert without equivocation that I have never enjoyed a meal more uniquely delectable.

The cabin with its full-sized kitchen has all the amenities you’ll need whether your bringing the whole family or looking for a romantic getaway for two.

A small group of visitors await a tour of Swannanoa Palace

A small group of visitors await a tour of Swannanoa Palace

High atop the Blue Ridge Mountains sits Swannanoa Palace – one of those intriguing places, you never knew existed.

A view from the mountaintop at Swannanoa

A view from the mountaintop at Swannanoa

Built in 1912 to replicate the style of the Villa Medici in Italy’s famed Borghese Gardens, millionaire philanthropist and railroad magnate James H. Dooley and his wife Sallie May used the 22,000-square foot Italian Renaissance Revival villa as their summer mountaintop retreat.  (You may be more familiar with the Dooleys’ better known Maymont home and gardens set beside the James River in Richmond.)  It is divinely lavish with exquisite frescoes, carvings and massive fireplaces of Sienna and Carrara marble.  Hidden doors and a secret elevator are revealed to the curious visitor, and the incongruous ‘Persian Smoking Room’ features teakwood carvings, mosaics and a mosque fresco above the fireplace.  An exquisite Moorish lantern, bejeweled with sapphires, rubies, amber and opals, hangs above the exotic decor.

Architectural details abound in the decaying palace - A bejeweled Moorish lantern lights up the 'Persian Smoking Room'

Architectural details abound in the decaying palace – A bejeweled Moorish lantern lights up the ‘Persian Smoking Room’

The 52-room Afton mansion appears to be haunted and one group claims evidence of the ghost of Sallie May.  A few years ago a team of ghost hunters from the Twisted Paranormal Society set up night beams and recording equipment in the mansion claiming to have recorded spirits within.  One year later they returned under the auspices of another paranormal show called The R. I. P. Files attempting to identify the ghosts who reside there.

The expansive pergola depicted in the Tiffany window has fallen into disrepair

The expansive pergola depicted in the Tiffany window has fallen into disrepair

The white marble palace is mostly abandoned, but guided tours of the ground floor and gardens are given seasonally from May through November on Saturdays and Sundays.

A Tiffany window at the top of the grand stairway portrays Sallie May Dooley in her gardens at Swannanoa

A Tiffany window at the top of the grand stairway portrays Sallie May Dooley in her gardens at Swannanoa

On our tour Victoria Airisun Wonderli, author of Swannanoa Palace – A Pictorial History of the Past and People, was busy signing her fascinating book on the history of the mansion.  There is currently no website for the property.  For information on visiting hours call 540 942.5201.

Author Victoria Airisun Wonderlii signs her book on Swannanoa

Author Victoria Airisun Wonderli signs her book on Swannanoa

It was high time to shed any notions of ghosts and spirits and things that go bump in the night.  And what better way to exorcise the demons than a glass of wine and a spot of lunch?

Cardinal Point's grounds provide stunning views of the mountains

Cardinal Point’s grounds provide stunning views of the mountains

When we arrived for lunch on Sunday two musicians were playing mellow tunes on the deck at Cardinal Point Winery.  Overlooking gardens abloom with roses and daylilies, we settled into a spacious sofa feeling carefree and peaceful.

As the duo took requests, we gobbled up a delicious box lunch of salad and sandwich while alternating between Vinho Verde-styled, ‘Green’ and a lively estate-grown Cab Franc rosé.  Ginger and Maya chocolate bars from Gearhart, the Richmond-based artisanal chocolatier, were the sweet finish.

Lunch on the covered deck at Cardinal Point Winery

Lunch on the covered deck at Cardinal Point Winery

During lunch, Sarah Gorman, sister of owner Tim Gorman, spoke with us about the evolution of her brother’s vineyard which currently has 15 acres under vine.

She told us how Tim, one of a smattering of Virginia owners who is also a grower, came to be a winemaker.  Tim is known for his fresh and innovative takes on classic vinifera, and naturally is very passionate about the growing side of things.  Gorman got into winemaking as a result of being frustrated by how the grapes he was growing for other vineyards were not being honored.  A creative winemaker, he prefers to ‘read’ the grapes when they are ready.  This tells him what kind of wine to make as opposed to having to force a grape to become something other than what it should be.

In a small winery such as this, he can come up with innovations, and he does.  His ‘Clay Hill’ Cabernet Franc, made with grapes from a neighboring vineyard, was a 2016 Virginia Governor’s Cup Gold Medal winner.  A classic Loire Valley style, it has also done well in international competition.  Be sure to sample some of these unique wines unknown to other Virginia wineries – like the 2014 ‘Quattro’ made from Riesling, Gewurtztraminer, Viognier and Traminette grapes for an off-dry wine with notes of candied apple and pear.

Wine and chocolates at Cardinal Point Winery

Wine and chocolates at Cardinal Point Winery

Interpreting how each fruit has evolved in a season allows Tim to inform his winemaking decisions.  For his 2015 ‘Frai Chardonnay’, a wine with peach, pear and tropical notes, he stopped the ferment short of dry, leaving it with only 2% of residual sugar.  Sarah mentioned that the 2015 unoaked ‘Hopped Chardonnay’ is flying out of the tasting room with buyers surprised at how differently a chardonnay grape can be expressed.

The winery also features a five-bedroom 19th century farmhouse for overnight stays.  Check the website for upcoming events.

After doing a bit of shopping at Tuckahoe Antique Mall, we pressed on to Veritas Winery where we would spend our final night.  No, not in a vat of grapes, but at the bespoke Farmhouse at Veritas.

The flower filled pergola greets visitors to Veritas Winery

The flower filled pergola greets visitors to Veritas Winery

What we came upon was a breathtaking winery with vast expanses of green lawns, acres and acres of vines and a production facility that sustains a wine-drinking clientele of over 3,000 club members and boasts a grand ballroom for weddings and large events.

The busy tasting room at Veritas Winery

The busy tasting room at Veritas Winery

Founded by Andrew and Patricia Hodson, a British couple who moved to the county to lead a quieter life, they thought they’d put a few acres under vine.  In a short time, their flight of fancy became one of the most successful, and stunning, wineries in Virginia with many of their family members filling the roles of winemaker and managers.  We took a lengthy tour of the production facilities which are vast.  And though I took reams of notes, most are cryptically abbreviated.  Here’s what I can be sure of.  All their grapes are grown in the Monticello AVA, which consists of four counties including Nelson, and they bottled and sold their first wines, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot, in 2002.  Their philosophy is to exclusively use estate or local grapes and they are most excited about a merlot they are testing using grape pomace (the skins, pulp and seeds from grapes).

Sheep graze alongside the vines at Veritas

Sheep graze alongside the vines at Veritas

As for the technical stuff, they employ a reverse osmosis machine and a state-of-the-art gyro cube for riddling and they are very proud of their gravity-fed vineyard.  I felt myself going into shutdown mode, either from too much technical stuff, or the fact that we had come inside to refrigerated cellars from 98-degree heat.

The tasting went swiftly as I passed over some too young reds to get to the best of the lot.  The 2014 ‘Vinter’s Reserve’ Red is their most promising wine right now, as the 2013 cuvee won the Gold Medal at the Governor’s Cup and I found the 2013 Petit Verdot to be coming along nicely.  I had a particular affinity for the 2015 Viognier which is touted as cellaring well, and a more delicate than expected version of ice wine called ‘Kenmar’.

The Farmhouse at Veritas

The Farmhouse at Veritas

We checked into The Farmhouse at Veritas, more of a bespoke estate home, elegantly appointed with walls of books, an old-fashioned billiard table in the Gathering Room and fine antiques.  High-end decorator touches grace the eight suites that are outfitted with high-quality linens and premium amenities.  Not your typical roadside B&B, the 1839 home was where the Hodson family lived when they first took ownership of the former horse and cattle farm.  Guests can also opt for ‘The Barn Cottage’, a charming two-bedroom, two-bath cottage with a fireplace in the living room and a full-size kitchen available for guests.

Outdoor dining at Blue Mountain Brewery

Outdoor dining at Blue Mountain Brewery

As much as I preferred to luxuriate in such splendor and sneak off with a book to the second-story front porch, we took off down the road for dinner at the Blue Mountain Brewery where we arrived in time to watch the sun set.  The award-winning brewery is proud of its 20 varieties of craft beers made with their own hops, Simcoe, Cascade and Centennial, and using deep well water as well as brewing exclusively in Nelson County since 2007.

Combo pizza at Blue Mountain Brewery

Combo pizza at Blue Mountain Brewery

Char-grilled pizzas and burgers including plenty of vegan options are made from scratch and designed to pair well with a myriad of beers. (Local wines and even kombucha are available too.) We sat on the outdoor terrace watching kids run around the lawn while a lively group played cornhole.  Check the website for upcoming Oktoberfest events.

The potager garden and dining gazebo at The Farmhouse at Veritas

The potager garden and dining gazebo at The Farmhouse at Veritas

Morning at The Farmhouse brought a champagne breakfast of fresh fruits, croissants and omelets prepared to your liking by the estate’s chef.  We eschewed the screened-in porch to enjoy the pleasures of a large brick-floor gazebo.  Surrounded by the raised beds of the kitchen garden and row upon row of Chardonnay vines we whiled away the hour sipping the aforementioned Mousseux while butterflies and honeybees flit about the roses and coneflowers.  A very civilized way to begin the day before returning homeward.  Check the website for upcoming yoga and hiking retreats.

Nibbles and Sips Around Town ~ July 26, 2016

Jordan Wright
July 26, 2016 

Ashlar at the Morrison House ~ The Return of The Majestic ~ True Food in the Mosaic District ~ Author Luncheons at the Hay Adams ~ Edible Flowers Decorate the Plate 

Swank Modern Interior and New Chef Dazzle at the Morrison House

View of the Morrison House portico from Ashlar

View of the Morrison House portico from Ashlar

At long last the Morrison House the elegant boutique hotel in Old Town, Alexandria has shed its dowdy decor to feature a snazzy redo by Los Angeles–based DH Design.  In the dining room the facelift is reflected in soft colors of sage and sand. Banquettes are covered in a soft honey tone and dark wood tables give a hint of tavern style.  The outdated bar with its clubby red leather wingback chairs has given way to an elegant reception room for private events.

The new, more fashionable style is reflected in the bar area which has moved to just off the foyer.  Black and white photographs of notable intellectuals and their famous quotations signal the hotel’s design aesthetic has moved into the 21st century.  And so has the food.

(l-r) Brian McBride - Chef, Maria Concepcion - Lead Bartender and Bobby Surdam E

(l-r) Brian McBride – Chef, Maria Concepcion – Lead Bartender and Bobby Surdam – Executive Chef

Virginia native, Bobby Surdam, has been brought on as Executive Chef at the re-christened Ashlar Restaurant and Bar where the menu has turned toward colonial traditions and a tavern style of fine dining.  Surdam comes well-schooled by some of DC’s leading chefs including Robert Wiedmaier of Marcel’s and Brian McBride formerly of Blue Duck Tavern.  Of late Surdam helmed the kitchen at Red Owl Tavern in Philadelphia, another Kimpton property.  Surdam’s approach is an upscale interpretation of American regional cooking using the finest ingredients from Mid-Atlantic farms and beef producers, as well as local Maryland seafood.

Complementing Surdam’s dishes, Lead Bartender Maria Concepcion, draws from colonial era spirits once imbibed in homes and taverns in Alexandria.  To that end, Virginia whiskey, beers and wines are well represented.  And that’s fine.  But its her elegant cocktails, flips, syllabubs and punches, made with rum, madeira and sherry, spirits that were once brought into the port city by ship, are the most alluring.  Well-researched colonial era recipes have led her to offer a variety of punches harkening back to the days of Alexandria’s grand balls and receptions.  Sampled at the ribbon-cutting reception in May were two such recipes – one made with Broadbent Rainwater Madeira and another a non-alcoholic Lavender and Honey Lemonade.

Last month we dined at Ashlar and here are highlights from our June supper.

Snapper Crudo

Snapper Crudo

Snapper Crudo with radish, dill, pickled cucumber, jalapeno, beet chips, spring onions and espelette – lovely and light.

Spring Gnocchi

Spring Gnocchi

Spring Gnocchi with asparagus, fiddlehead ferns, fava beans, English peas and mint pest – a sensational dish in which every element harmonizes yet each shines on its own.

Maryland Rockfish bouillabaisse

Maryland Rockfish bouillabaisse

Another is the rockfish, delicate and aromatic with an ethereal smoked tomato broth that includes calamari from Judith Point, briny cockles and Prince Edward Island mussels.

Ashlar's Chocolate Cake with berries

Ashlar’s Chocolate Cake with berries

We bypassed the four different steak cuts for lighter fare, although I’ve heard raves about the bison strip steak from Gun Powder Bison & Trading Co. in Monkton, MD and the American Wagyu hangar steak from Snake River Farms.  All steaks are served with a choice of béarnaise, red wine jus or green peppercorn jus.

If you’ve never visited this unique hotel and just want to get a feel for its charms, try its Happy Hour on the patio and unwind over local oysters and charcuterie, or cheeses from North Carolina’s Goat Lady Dairy.

Ashlar is located at 116 South Alfred Street, Alexandria, VA 22314.  For reservations call 703 838-8000 or visit www.AshlarRestaurant.com

Majestic Restaurant Returns to its Lofty Perch with New Chef 

The Majestic Cafe

The Majestic Cafe

After the departure of Chef Shannon Overmiller and Cathal Armstrong early last year, The Majestic has had its ups and downs.  A new chef to replace Overmiller didn’t last long and the restaurant decided to close its doors for a reboot.  Thank heavens, it did.  The original Art Deco period décor has since been enhanced with a skylight, tin ceilings, a Jazz Age mirrored light and an eclectic collection of prints, paintings and photographs filling every inch of wall space.

The Majestic Cafe

The Majestic Cafe

But let’s turn our attention to newly minted Executive Chef Gaby Hakman.  Let’s hope she stays on.  Hakman, who hails from a Greek/Israeli family with a long history as restaurateurs, honed her chops in New York City and Miami’s South Beach where she cooked in some of the hippest restaurants that young people tweet about.  There among the trendoids, she had a chance to strut her stuff and develop her modern approach to Mediterranean cuisine.

Beet Salad

Beet Salad

My first introduction to Hakman’s cooking was a beet salad that I can’t get out of my head.  Beet salads are on nearly every menu these days, but what makes this one stand out is the details.  Hakman roasts sweet baby beets – golden, rosy red and dark purple beets – adds orange supremes, cascades toasted pistachio nuts over the top, and positions the yummy bits over a creamy sauce of whipped goat cheese.  It’s her approach that’s exciting and the combination of earthy, creamy, sweet and fruity that makes this salad sing.

Another is the charred octopus.  Here Hakman treats it to the smoothest puree of chickpeas, a drizzle of harissa and serves the wood-charred tentacle with arugula and plump Greek olives.

Steak Tartare

Steak Tartare

Rosy red steak tartare has the requisite capers, anchovy and cornichons but with a homemade lemon mayonnaise to boot.  Fish is served whole and grilled over a wood fire.  A head-on dorade (aka bream) gets a slather of salsa verde over its crispy skin and is sopped up into tiny roasted potatoes.  It’s a typical Greek preparation found in seaside tavernas.

Two other dishes I heartily recommend are the Roast Chicken Panzanella, a perfectly executed, spit-roasted, soul-satisfying bird and melt-in-your-mouth Lamb Meatballs spiked with currants and pine nuts.  Both are tender and juicy in their own way.

Lamb Meatballs

Lamb Meatballs

Pastry Chef Michelle White, who does double duty at another of Alexandria Restaurant Group’s spots, Virtue Feed & Grain is a treasure.  Her Coconut Cake is truly sublime.  I have slaved over a coconut cake myself and know full well that if done right, it can take half a day’s labor.  I have never baked another, though it’s certainly worth the trouble if you have the time and inclination.  If not, White’s is one of those small miracles.

Nutella Budino with Caramel "Crack" Cookies

Nutella Budino with Caramel “Crack” Cookies

Ditto for what the staff calls her “Caramel Crack Cookies” served with Nutella Budino, a happy marriage of mousse and pudding topped with whipped cream.

The Majestic Café is located at 911 King Street, Alexandria 22314.  For reservations visit www.TheMajesticVA.com

True Food Kitchen ~ A Restaurant from the Master of Healthy Eating 

Phoenix-based Dr. Andrew Weill has your health in mind.  Founder and director of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine, Weill is the bestselling author of numerous books on healing, aging, wellbeing and cooking, including his seminal cookbook, True Food: Seasonal, Sustainable, Simple, Pure (Little, Brown and Company, 2012) with Co-Authors, Sam Fox and Michael Stebner.  Many of the 125 recipes culled from the book reflect the philosophy behind his collection of twelve health-conscious True Food Kitchen restaurants.  Located around the country, this one is located in the Mosaic District of Fairfax, VA.

True Food Kitchen

True Food Kitchen

As a world-renowned pioneer in Integrative Medicine, Weill introduces diners to his healthy eating philosophy in this rustically-designed restaurant reminiscent of a Topanga Canyon restaurant.

The first thing you notice when you arrive at the bar is the comforting whirr of juicers churning out cocktails and mocktails made with fresh seasonal ingredients.

A trio of Natural Refreshers x two

A trio of Natural Refreshers x two

The restaurant’s menu trends towards Asian and Mediterranean cuisine as Dr. Weill’s recipes draw inspiration from his own anti-inflammatory food pyramid.  Pizzas are crafted with daily-made spelt and flax dough, eggs are organic, beef is sustainably raised, and fish are sustainably harvested.  All boxes checked!

On a recent visit I sampled a few items from their seasonal menu and found a lot to swoon over and one that didn’t meet the high bar the restaurant sets for itself.

Edamame Dumplings

Edamame Dumplings

Edamame Dumplings and Kale & Avocado Dip got us off to an impressive start, and there was much oohing and aahing over a trio of “Natural Refreshers” – Medicine Man, a combo of anti-oxidants from seabuckthorn, pomegranate, cranberry, honey, black tea and soda;

Kale and Avocado Dip

Kale and Avocado Dip

Kale-Aid, made from kale, apple, cucumber, celery, lemon and ginger; and Honey Bee Ginger Beer from ginger, honey, chai spices and lime.

Braised Artichoke Pizza

Braised Artichoke Pizza

Crisp-crusted braised artichoke pizza showed nice acidity from lemon ricotta, and the vegetarian Street Taco was a satisfying choice for my vegan accomplice.

Sea Bass

Sea Bass

Unfortunately, my sea bass, a lovely and delicate white-fleshed fish, had spent too much time in the saute pan, though its accompanying cushion of asparagus, sugar snap peas and roasted mushrooms in a lemon-nooch emulsion was heavenly.  Did I tell the server it was dry?  Yes.  Did they offer to redo it?  Of course.  Did I know what “nooch” was?  No.  But I did a bit of research and discovered it’s short for nutritional yeast.  I am not a vegan.  End of discussion.

Strawberry Crumble

Strawberry Crumble

We went for a trio of desserts.  All the better to try three out of four of the daily in-house made sweets.  On this day they were strawberry crumble, coconut chia pudding and a chocolate delight topped with ice cream.  Though I can’t recall the precise descriptions, I can only hope we didn’t disturb the surrounding tables by fighting over the final spoonful.

Open 11am till 11pm, True Food Kitchen is located in the Mosaic District at 2910 District Avenue, Fairfax, VA 22031  www.TrueFoodKitchen.com

When to Spring for a Lavish Luncheon 

Author Kristin Hannah takes questions from the guests. Photo credit Dan Chung

Author Kristin Hannah takes questions from the guests. Photo credit Dan Chung

The stimulating “Author Series” at the Hay-Adams recreates the salons of yesterday when acclaimed writers held court in private homes.  Though the trend of the ever-popular bookstore tradition of nightly author talks continues, those fold-out chair gatherings can’t compete with a lazy afternoon spent on the 9th story rooftop of the Hay-Adams listening to a featured author while enjoying an elegant three-course luncheon.

Provençal Vegetable Salad with herb pistou vinaigrette

Provençal Vegetable Salad with herb pistou vinaigrette

Nicolas Legret, who has been promoted to Executive Chef since the departure of Chef Peter Schaffrath, has shifted the hotel’s cuisine to reflect his heritage.

Seafood Boudin Blanc with bouillabaisse reduction

Seafood Boudin Blanc with bouillabaisse reduction

His superb execution of familiar French classics – a Provencal vegetable salad, an exquisite seafood boudin blanc with bouillabaisse reduction, and seasonal peach and cherry clafouti with crème fraiche ice cream – accompanied by champagne and Sancerre, proves that the hotel is serious about stepping up its culinary profile in a very competitive town.

Peach and Cherry Clafouti

Peach and Cherry Clafouti

At last month’s white linen event the conversation was lively between noted author Kristin Hannah and the assembled guests.  Hannah explained how she began writing with her mother who was terminally ill with cancer.  At the time Hannah was studying law and this was a way for the women to spend more time together.

Her first manuscript was 600 pages, but when she submitted it her agent’s response was, “You may have talent, but frankly it’s impossible to tell.”  Thankfully for her legion of fans she kept at it.  “I had an insatiable appetite for writing,” she revealed.

Selwa "Lucky" Roosevelt at the book signing

Selwa “Lucky” Roosevelt at the book signing

Now a successful author of 21 historical romance novels, the tawny blonde told guests that she writes in longhand and she doesn’t like to diagram characters, plot and motivations.  “I realized that my best writing is when I am more fluid,” she said in answer to a question about her methodology.  She also spoke of her commitment to writing romance novels.  “Women’s stories are far too often lost, forgotten or overlooked.”

After lunch Hannah signed books for the tony crowd who included author, journalist and former U. S. Chief of Protocol, Selwa “Lucky” Roosevelt.

Next in the series will be Executive Editor and Executive Vice President of Random House, Jon Meacham, whose latest book, Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush, will undoubtedly draw a different crowd.  The Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power, will speak on the relevancy of the Bush era model of governing by diplomacy and prudence in domestic affairs.

The Hay-Adams is located across from the White House at 800 16th Street NW, Washington, DC 20006.  Tickets to the September 23rd luncheon will be available for purchase online beginning September 3rd.  For more information email ekravchenko@hayadams.com or call 202.835.2263.

Food and Flowers ~ Recipes from Kitty Morse’s Book “Edible Flowers” 

A recent trend to decorate dishes with edible flowers hasn’t been lost on author and TV and radio personality Kitty Morse whose book Edible Flowers – A Kitchen Companion with Recipes (Chefs Press) was first published in 1995.  Morse was in the forefront of the food-and-flower movement and a revised and expanded issue of this book is still sought after by cooks and caterers who like to pretty up the plate with eye-catching blossoms.

7-ns

I was intrigued by Morse’s book which reminded me of my first experience using flowers in food.  Inspired by famed naturalist and author Euell Gibbons’ book Stalking the Wild Asparagus (1962), I bravely sautéed daylily buds into a stir-fry.  From there I graduated to sprinkling violets, marigolds, redbud blossoms and dandelion greens into salads.  I’d come a long way from the child who spent summers sucking the nectar out of honeysuckle flowers.

Morse, a native-born Moroccan, has penned ten cookbooks, five of them on the cuisine of Morocco and North Africa.  Her memoir with recipes, Mint Tea and Minarets: A Banquet of Moroccan Memories, was chosen Best Arab Cuisine Book/USA/2013 by the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards.

Morse has graciously allowed me to share two of her recipes with you.  Note: If you don’t have a garden to forage from, farmers’ markets often carry edible flowers.  But be sure your blossoms haven’t been sprayed with any chemicals.  Another source for edible flowers is online at www.MarxFoods.com.

Cherry Clafoutis with Lavender Blossoms

13-ns

Serves 4
The subtle aroma of lavender infuses this classic clafoutis, a rustic dessert from the Limousin region of France featuring cherries suspended in a thick pancake-like batter that puffs up.

  • 3 tablespoons fresh or dried lavender blossoms, divided use
  • 1 cup warm milk
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 2 1/2 to 3 cups fresh or frozen Bing cherries, pitted
  • 1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure almond extract
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons almond meal
  • Fresh or dried lavender blossoms, for garnish
  • Whipped cream, for garnish if desired

If using fresh blossoms, strip them off the stems. Place 2½ tablespoons of the fresh or dried blossoms in a small sachet or tea infuser and place in the warm milk. Cover and infuse for 30 minutes. Discard sachet and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Grease an 8×8-inch baking dish or 4 individual dishes and dot the bottom(s) with the butter and cherries.

In a bowl, whisk the infused milk, sugar, eggs, almond extract, flour, almond meal, and remaining lavender blossoms. Pour the mixture over the cherries. Set the baking dish or dishes inside a larger pan filled with enough warm water to reach halfway up the dish sides.

Bake for 55 to 60 minutes, or until set. I prefer this served warm. Garnish with lavender blossoms and a dollop of whipped cream, if desired.

Chilled Lilyed Melon & Mango Soup

Serves 4 
Daylily (Hemerocallis species and cultivars) live a mere 24 hours. This graceful native of Asia, one of the few edible lily varieties, has long been prized for its color and beauty, as well as for its culinary properties. The petals are crunchy and fresh testing, much like a crisp lettuce leaf. In China, tiger lily buds (Hemerocallis fulva), or “golden needles,” are dried and added to soups or stir-fries. Beautifully presented, this chilled melon-mango dish makes a light and refreshing summer starter or dessert.

  • 1 mango, cubed
  • 1 medium in-season melon, cubed
  • 1/4 cup fresh orange juice
  • 1 cup sliced strawberries
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons orange liqueur
  • 5 daylilies, for garnish

In a blender, purée the mango, melon, and orange juice in batches until smooth. Transfer to a bowl and refrigerate. Rinse the blender and purée the strawberries, sugar, and orange liqueur. Transfer to a bowl and refrigerate. Chill the purées for 2 hours before serving. To serve, ladle the melon mixture on one side of a shallow soup bowl. Ladle the puréed strawberries next to it without mixing. Cut 1 daylily into thin strips and sprinkle on top. Decorate each bowl with a whole flower and serve immediately.

Nibbles and Sips ~ June 18, 2016

Jordan Wright
June 18, 2016
Photo credit: Jordan Wright
Special to DC Metro Theater Arts

 

Indique Redux; Asia Nine Bar & Lounge – An Asian Oasis Endures and Thrives; Italy in the Box; Simit + Smith – A New Turkish Bakery and Café; Chickpea Mediterranean Grill; Q Barbecue’s Secret Corn Pudding Recipe 

Indique Introduces New Dishes, New Décor 

Chef K. N. Vinod and Co-Owner Surfy Rahman

Chef K. N. Vinod and Co-Owner Surfy Rahman

Chef and Co-Owner K. N. Vinod along with Co-Owner Surfy Rahman recently re-launched their modern Indian cuisine restaurant with a totally revamped menu that included street food, family style dishes and classics with a modern twist, as well as gorgeous handcrafted Indian art and an updated décor.

Orange Shreekandh made with orange, saffron, cardamom, Grand Marnier, pistachio and mint from Indique

Orange Shreekandh made with orange, saffron, cardamom, Grand Marnier, pistachio and mint from Indique

As a staple of the Cleveland Park community for over 12 years, the upscale Indique has always been at the forefront of Indian cuisine in DC and, Chef Vinod, one DC’s most most celebrated chefs is a well-known frequent guest at the Smithsonian Resident Associate Programs.  His annual contributions to the prestigious Sunday Night Suppers series, hosted by Alice Waters, Joan Nathan and Jose Andres, cannot be understated.

(l-r) Tellisherry Cocktail -- Shrimp Puckka Shots

(l-r) Tellisherry Cocktail — Shrimp Puckka Shots

For Rahman it’s a family affair.  His sister-in-law sourced the new china, furniture and glassware; his daughter accompanied her father to India for fresh inspiration; and his two sons, Rahul Vinod and Sahil Rahman, who intend to follow in their father’s footsteps, are looking forward to a DC opening of their fast casual Indian concept called Rasa Indian Grill.

Indique

Indique

Rahman hired Carlie Steiner of Stir Bartending Co. to create a stylish cocktail menu for Indique which she based on Indian spices and herbs.  Her delicately spice-infused drinks use house made tonics made with garam masala and another that incorporates a blend of Indian herbs and spices such as fresh curry leaf, coriander and fenugreek.  Unique ingredients like toasted mustard seed and tamarind chutney contribute to an exotic and aromatic profile.  Addictive bar snacks included.

In a few weeks Indique will add a Happy Hour menu and Saturday and Sunday brunch.  Check the website for deets.  www.Indique.com

Asia Nine – Penn Quarter Perennial 

Asia Nine

Asia Nine

As one of the longer lasting Asian-owned restaurants in Chinatown’s Penn Quarter, Asia Nine has rightfully basked in its reputation.  It’s proximity to the downtown action – theatres, Verizon Center, museums and more – is yet another draw.  But this cozy, hip spot doesn’t rest on its laurels.  It continues to turn out an amazing variety of Chinese, Vietnamese, Thai, Korean and Japanese dishes for the adventurous diner.

Softshell Crab Sushi

Softshell Crab Sushi

Start with a refreshing Hibiscus Mojito or Lychee Martini.  No passport required.  Want sushi?  There’s maki sushi, nigiri sushi and vegetarian sushi.  Honey roasted duck?  Coming right up.  Your dinner partner is craving Thai curries?  There are three types – green, panang and lemongrass.  Noodles, your thing?  There’s everything from pho to udon.  All made to order.

Steamed buns

Steamed buns

Chef owners Natalie Tantivejakul and Rod Yomanee both immigrated individually to America from Thailand.  Natalie is from Bangkok and Rod is from a small town in the south named, Na-Korn.  The couple met and later married when Natalie hired Rod to be a chef at her first restaurant, Rice & Spice in Lorton, VA.  With roots from both the North and South of Thailand, Natalie and Rod are able to create menus that reflect both cooking styles as well as their favorite dishes from all over Asia.  In addition to two Asia Nine locations, they now have Rice & Spice Thai Cuisine restaurants in Alexandria and Fort Belvoir.

Fried Shrimp and Pho with Udon Noodles

Fried Shrimp and Pho with Udon Noodles

This week Asia Nine announced a new Saturday brunch service from 11am to 3pm.  The menu includes plenty of egg dishes, like kapow, bipimbap as well as the ubiquitous street food, pa thong ko, a deep-fried donut-style confection served with fresh fruit and sweetened condensed milk for dipping.

N.B. They’re especially welcoming to large groups with advance notice, the restaurant prides itself on getting everyone served and out in time for curtain up.

915 E St. NW, Washington, DC 20004 or their newest location at 254 Crown Park Ave.,  Gaithersburg, MD 20878 www.AsiaNine.com

Simit + Smith

Turkish Bakery and Café Opens in the Heart of Georgetown 

Cary Pollak with Jordan Wright

Simit + Smith is a two-story Turkish-inspired eatery housed in a charming historic townhouse.  Arriving on the ever-burgeoning bread and baked goods scene, the Istanbul-based company surprises the adventurous eater with authentic Turkish savory breads and rolls.  The star of the show is simit, a baked, not boiled, ring-shaped bread eaten throughout the day in both Balkan and Mediterranean countries.  Its texture is moist and light on the inside.  The dough is briefly dipped in a grape molasses and water mixture which helps the two types of coatings, sesame seeds or multigrain, stick to the bread, giving it a delectably crunchy crust.  Simit is the Turkish name, but it is also known by different names and comes in many varieties in Greece, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Lebanon and Israel.

Turkish breads from Simit + Smith

Turkish breads from Simit + Smith

You’ll find three varieties of simits here – original, whole wheat and multigrain.  To prepare these delightful puffs of bread for the oven, the first two varieties are the ones that are coated with sesame seeds.  The third is dipped in a multigrain mix that includes sesame, rolled oats, flax, poppy and sunflower seeds, and millet.  On a recent visit to the new Georgetown branch, both company President Zulfikar Bekar and Business Development official Dina Careccio pointed out that the simit is lighter on the inside and crunchier on the outside than its cousin, the bagel.  All are handmade and preservative-free.

The company’s name is the result of an effort by the Turkish-based parent company to portray “a synthesis of Turkish/Mediterranean food culture and American food culture.”  They felt that the simit is something very familiar in Turkey, as is the name Smith in the U.S., so they chose a name that is blends East meets West.

Street cart in Turkey

Street cart in Turkey

While the simit gets top billing, there are other Turkish breads to explore.  Acma (pronounced ACH-mah) also is in the form of a bagel, but is more akin to the light, eggy dough of brioche.  The un-holey pogaca is baked with different fillings, the most interesting of which is black olives and tangy,Turkish kasseri cheese.  Lamahcan is their version of pizza that’s topped with marinated minced meat with spices, sumac, onion, parsley with a wedge of lemon on the side.

A light fare salad from Simit + Smith

A light fare salad from Simit + Smith

The DC menu differs from the one in the New York area largely in that more “simitwiches” are available in the Big Apple, though the DC outlet has a variety of homemade sourdough bread sandwiches including a roasted chicken sandwich with cheddar cheese, sundried tomatoes, mixed greens and honey mustard sauce, and a Doner (sirloin) Kebap sandwich with lettuce, tomatoes, pickles and Café de Paris sauce, a butter-based sauce commonly paired with beef.  A vegan sandwich also is on the menu.  Choose from an array of salads – Aegean Feta, Chicken Orange, Quinoa Salmon or Caesar served with the doner kabap.  (Hopefully the menu will widen to include some of the spreads like baba ganoush, Nutella and hummus which they serve in their three New York and two New Jersey restaurants.)  Be sure to try their real Turkish coffee and Turkish chai tea, too.

Last year the simit was listed in Zagat’s “9 Snack Foods You Need to Try in 2015” (albeit with an inaccurate claim that boiling is part of the preparation process).  The article predicted that this tasty treat will soon be seen around country and lucky for us, they chose Washington, D.C. as their first outpost beyond their U.S. home area!

Simit + Smith, 1077 Wisconsin Ave., NW, Washington, DC 20007 www.SimitandSmith.com

Italy in the Box 

What says amore more than a surprise box filled to the brim with Italian gourmet delicacies and landing on your doorstep?  Arriving without a card or return address, I had no one to thank, or share it with, before racing to the kitchen to prepare what it had in store for me.  All I had to do was boil water, toss the jar of Ligurian pesto from Niasca Portofino onto the artisanal basil tagliatelle from Pastificio Camp’Oro, then shave bits of aged pecorino from Famiglia Busti on the whole divine mess of pasta al dente.

The resulting homemade supper from Italy N The Box

The resulting homemade supper from Italy N The Box

The nifty brown box also included truffled potato chips from Tartuflanghe, which will wind up crumbled over roasted lemony green beans, and a delightfully fragrant Prunotto Mariangela Moscato wine jelly, which will find itself married to vanilla yogurt.  I wasn’t going to mention the three different flavors of chocolate Camardo truffles – rum, coffee and hazelnut – since I left no evidence of their existence.  But now that you know, I recommend you get your own, because I have no intention of sharing something that should not be made public anyway.  Check out www.Italynthebox.com for all their other products.

Chickpea – A New Mediterranean-Style Fast Food Spot

Bright red umbrellas punctuate the patio seating at Chickpea

Bright red umbrellas punctuate the patio seating

From the team who brought you DRP Pizza (in Del Ray and Belle Haven) and Stomping Ground the bakery/coffee shop/Southern menu eatery along Mount Vernon Avenue beside the farmers’ market, we now have Chickpea.  This new spot, as cute as its name, is beside the playing fields along Route 1 near Crystal City.  You can’t miss it for the bright red umbrellas on the large patio.  Open only a few months, its already catching on with those on the go.  Because sometimes you just WANT IT NOW!  No waiting, no table service, no tipping.  Okay, a contribution to the small glass jar by the register would be the kind thing to do.  Grab a tray and get in line.

The hardest part is choosing from the tons of options at Chickpea

The hardest part is choosing from the tons of options at Chickpea

It took me awhile to figure out the system and make my choices, but the dish I concocted was very tasty.  You begin by selecting a base from among brown or parsley rice, toasted quinoa, a giant oven-baked pita, spinach, arugula, mixed greens or romaine.  I was feeling healthy just reading the menu.  I mixed arugula with romaine.  Next is protein – lemony chicken cooked with wine, fresh herbs and garlic; spicy chicken with yogurt, peppers and herbs; chargrilled beef kofta; pulled lamb shank, which they slow roast; or falafel, crunchy little chickpea balls flavored with garlic and cilantro.  I had the lamb shank and it reflected the long, slow-cooked flavors you’d expect.

Slow roasted lamb shank with toppings served on vintage enamel trays at Chickpea - baba ganoush and hummus sit to the side at Chickpea

Slow roasted lamb shank with toppings served on vintage enamel trays at Chickpea – baba ganoush and hummus sit to the side at Chickpea

Toppings are next and there are tons to choose from.  You can add whatever you like from among lettuce, tomatoes, feta, olives, sumac onions, cukes, fresh mint, tabbouleh, grilled veggies and more.  Stay focused because your fourth decision will be spreads and here come the classics – tzatziki, baba ganoush, harissa, green chili chutney, two kinds of hummus or a creamy roasted garlic sauce.  All made in-house.  Not wanting to overwhelm the dish with too many flavors, I asked for mine served on the side so I could enjoy it separately with a side order of pita chips.

Freshly made lemonade , pomegranate ice tea and a refreshing infusion of mint, lemon and cucumber water are some of the delicious drink selections at Chickpea

Freshly made lemonade , pomegranate ice tea and a refreshing infusion of mint, lemon and cucumber water are some of the delicious drink selections at Chickpea

Lastly you’ll opt for one of three vinaigrette dressings for your very large bowl of deliciousness – lemon-oregano, Greek or red wine.

I have tried one other Mediterranean fast food spot that couldn’t hold a candle to Chickpea.  Try it.  You’ll love it.  It’s just outside Old Town, a few blocks from downtown Del Ray and thankfully there’s plenty of parking.

529 East Howell Ave., Alexandria, VA 22301 www.MyChickpeaGrill.com

Tuffy Stone’s Q Barbeque Secret Corn Pudding Recipe 

If you can’t get to one of Q Barbecue’s four locations in the Richmond area, here’s some inspiration just in time for summer grilling.  We asked pitmaster Tuffy Stone for this fan favorite side dish and he willingly obliged.  It’s the perfect accompaniment to your chargrilled protein, or just on its own with a salad of summer tomatoes, cukes and garden greens. Tip of the Day: Be sure to use the same, or similar, high quality ingredients in this classic Southern tribute to the king of summer vegetables – corn.

Head shot of Tuffy Stone aka "The Professor"

Head shot of Tuffy Stone aka “The Professor”

Tuffy, aka ‘The Professor’, is a barbecue ninja.  Oh, and I should mention he’s also a classically trained French chef.  Working with his team “Cool Smoke”, the Lynchburg native and über pitmeister has won countless awards for his smoked meats.

Q Barbeque's Ribs

Q Barbeque’s Ribs

He has appeared on the TV show BBQ Pitmasters and was a judge on Season Three.  Last October he dazzled the barbecue world with a win at the 2015 Jack Daniel’s Invitational BBQ competition in Lynchburg, TN.

Q Barbeque's Famous Corn Pudding

Q Barbeque’s Famous Corn Pudding

 

To give his corn pudding authenticity, Tuffy uses freshly shucked corn and Patrick Henry Yellow Cornmeal, milled by Ashland Milling Company of Virginia.  If you’re serving a crowd, just double or triple the recipe.  www.QBarbeque.com

Q Barbeque’ s Corn Pudding

Yield: 5 servings
Preparation Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Bake Time: 40 minutes

  • ½ teaspoon vegetable oil
  • 4 ½ tablespoons diced onions
  • 4 ½ tablespoons corn, cut off the cob
  • 1 ½ teaspoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 rounded tablespoon of yellow cornmeal
  • 1 extra-large egg, beaten
  • ½ egg yolk, beaten
  • ¾ creamed corn or ½ (14.5 ounce) can creamed corn
  • 1 rounded tablespoon sour cream
  • 2/3 cup plus 1 ½ tablespoons whole milk
  • ¼ cup plus 1 ½ tablespoons heavy cream
  • 1 tablespoon butter, melted
  • 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 pinch ground black pepper
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and 8-x-8-x-2-inch glass baking dish with butter and set aside.
  • In a skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion and corn. Cook until soft, approximately 10 minutes. Set aside.
  • In a large bowl, combine sugar, flour, cornmeal, and eggs. Beat at medium speed with an electric mixer until combined.
  • Add creamed corn and sour cream, beating for 1 minute on lowest speed.
  • Add milk and cream, beating for 1 minute.
  • Add melted butter, salt, pepper, and corn mixture, beating for 30 seconds. Transfer mixture to prepared baking dish.
  • Place a shallow pan on the lower oven rack and place baking dish inside. Fill larger pan with enough water to come up halfway on sides of baking dish.
  • Bake for 20 minutes, then turn pan ¼ and back for 20 minutes. Serve hot.

Nibbles And Sips Around Town – June 9, 2016

Samantha Lee, Guest Contributor
June 9, 2016

Suma Restaurant + Bar

Suma Restaurant + Bar

Suma Restaurant + Bar is an New American style restaurant located near Bethesda Row.  Suma translates to “born in the summer”. Boasting an outdoor 20-seat patio with sectional sofa and basket-woven chairs, the indoor dining room comfortably seats up to 57 people.  The large windows give off an airy feel to restaurant, while French doors bring in more natural light.

Suma Patio

Suma Patio

Chef Gene Sohn has been in the DC hospitality industry all his life. Eschewing a path to business school, he chose to become a chef. Moving up in rank and responsibility from dishwasher to Chef de Cuisine, he worked for the Robert Wiedmaier Restaurant Group including the prestigious Marcel’s and the ever-popular Mussel Bar in Bethesda for almost 8 years.  Eventually he teamed up with Jay Evans, the former General Manager of Mussel Bar – Bethesda, and Jennifer Day to open Suma.  Sohn aims at mastering simple, classical dishes with a modern twist.

Suma Interior

Suma Restaurant Interior

 

Suma Art Decor

Suma Art Decor

The restaurant is modern with an art deco vintage theme. Some of the quirky artifacts include a Japanese Pagoda, green pear-shaped candles in a lantern, decorative lamps with spiral-patterned shades, metal sculptures, and a golden glass bowl. In one of the corners of the restaurant a Vermouth Bianco poster oversees the room. Booths sport a honey brown pattern and lighting comes via vintage lightbulbs.  Six bar stools create an intimate feel to the small spot.

Vermouth Bianco

Vermouth Bianco

Suma Bar

Suma Bar

The menu reflects the chef’s seasonal approach. In lieu of bread service, expect a plate of homemade pickled vegetables – spicy cucumbers, onion and cauliflower.

Pickled Platter

Pickled Platter

For my appetizer I chose Maryland Crab Dip – a slightly creamy, mix of fresh lump crabmeat with butter and Old Bay and topped with panko bread crumbles.  It arrived in a cast iron skillet on a wooden plank with slices of warm baguette.  I found it to be light and savory with no discernible filler.

Maryland Crab Dip

Maryland Crab Dip

Of particular pleasure are the Deviled Eggs garnished with goat cheese, bacon bits, and chives and served over chipotle aioli.

Deviled Eggs Close Up / Deviled Eggs

Deviled Eggs Close Up

On the day I visited the specials featured Lobster Bisque, Salmon Burger, and Seared Tuna, all of which sounded delicious but I had my eye set on the Pan Seared Halibut, an entree of line-caught halibut fillet lightly seasoned with salt and pepper and dressed with a buttery tomato and caper sauce.  Light in texture, it was accompanied by lemon-accented whipped Yukon potatoes and asparagus.  The dish was perfectly prepared and delicately seasoned.

Pan Seared Halibut

Pan Seared Halibut

Desserts were luscious sounding – Vanilla Creme Brulee, Banana Nut Bread Pudding, Chocolate Chip Brownie, Mango Sorbet and Pistachio Parfait – and it was difficult to decide. I opted for warm Vanilla Creme Brûlée made with freshly scraped vanilla bean pods and topped with a scoop of creme fraiche – a shareable portion that was light and not too sweet.

Creme Brulee

Creme Brulee

Suma Restaurant + Bar,  4921 Bethesda Ave, Bethesda, MD 20814.  301 718-6378.  For information and reservations visit sumabethesda.com. The restaurant is open for lunch and dinner daily (except Monday’s).  Happy hour is from 4-7 pm and brunch on the weekends is from 11 am-4 pm. Happy Hour specials include $2 off drafts, wine by the glass, all products from Maryland, and $1 oysters. The restaurant is three blocks south from the Bethesda Metro station. There is not a private lot but there are multiple public parking garages within a 0.5 mile radius.

Photo credit ~ Samantha Lee


Southern Living Magazine Celebrates Its 50th Anniversary

June 13, 2016
Jordan Wright 

The grounds of Wentworth Mansion

The grounds of Wentworth Mansion

Last Friday the magnificent Wentworth Mansion served as backdrop for Southern Living magazine’s 50th anniversary celebration in Charleston, South Carolina.  The iconic shelter magazine, rated as the largest regional lifestyle publication in the nation, paid tribute to its past by acknowledging its history of recipes and tradition with “A Taste of the Decades”.  Southern Living Editor-in-Chief Sid Evans presided over the festivities greeting guests who strolled the grounds during the cocktail reception before sitting down to a lavish five-course dinner.  Wine pairings were provided by Moet Hennessy.

Executive Chef Marc Collins, of the adjacent fine dining restaurant, Circa 1886, designed the five-course Lowcountry menu to reflect each decade of the magazine’s classic recipes.  Collins a major player in the founding of Charleston Wine + Food, clearly was inspired by the culinary challenge. 

Southern Living’s 50th Anniversary Dinner “A Taste of the Decades”

"Spam" disguised as Quiche Lorraine

“Spam” disguised as Quiche Lorraine

Hors d’Oeuvres

Charleston Press Club Meat Balls ‘93

Shrimp-In-A-Pickle ‘86

Fried Green Tomatillos, Jalapeno Jelly ‘97

Paired with Domaine Chandon Étoile Brut

Napa Valley, California (Founded in 1973)

Heirloom Tomato Aspic with Blue Crab

Heirloom Tomato Aspic with Blue Crab

The 60’s

Heirloom Tomato Aspic

Blue Crab, Lemon Mayonnaise, Roasted Garlic Purée, Baby Basil,

Smoked Cheddar Croutons

Cape Mentelle Sauvignon Blanc/Sémillon 2015

Cape Mentelle, Margaret River, Australia (Founded in 1970)

Chicken with Cashews Salad

Chicken with Cashews Salad

The 70’s

Chicken with Cashews Salad

Bibb Lettuce, Pepper Relish, Chicken Confit, Carolina Gold Rice Polpette, Cashew Butter, Sherry n’ Soy Vinaigrette

Newton Unfiltered Chardonnay 2013

Spring Mountain, California (Founded in 1977)

Seared Foie Gras with a side of Green Bean Casserole and Beech Mushroom and Parsley Salad

Seared Foie Gras with a side of Green Bean Casserole and Beech Mushroom and Parsley Salad

The 80’s

Green Bean “Casserole”

Seared Foie Gras, Crispy Onion Rings, Lemon Gelée,

Beech Mushroom & Parsley Salad

Cloudy Bay Marlborough Pinot Noir 2013

Marlborough, New Zealand (Founded in 1985)

A surprise dish served in a TV dinner tray of Edna Lewis' Collard Greens, Blackened Catfish and Corn Pudding

A surprise dish served in a TV dinner tray of Edna Lewis’ Collard Greens, Blackened Catfish and Corn Pudding

The 90’s

Elegant Beef Blue

Rosewood Farms Wagyu Shoulder Tender, Blue Cheese Crust, Asparagus, Chardonnay Pan Sauce

Bodega Numanthia, Numanthia 2009 served from a magnum

Toro, Spain (Founded in 1998)

A Trio of Cakes ready to go out

A Trio of Cakes ready to go out

The Y2k’s

A Trio of Southern Cakes – Hummingbird, Red Velvet and Coconut

What a night! What a heavenly fête!  Don’t you just wish you were there.

Photo credit: Marc Collins