Nibbles and Sips Around Town ~ July 8, 2019

Jordan Wright
July 8, 2019 

Celebrate Wimbledon at the Fairmont and Bastille Day at the Sofitel Both Events on July 14th 

On Sunday, July 14th Georgetown’s tony Fairmont Hotel is planning a British invasion to honor the 2019 Wimbledon Championships.  From 11am till 2pm guests will view the men’s finals on the big-screen in the hotel’s stunning garden courtyard while feasting on traditional British fare including flutes of champagne, Pimm’s cup and G&Ts.

Spectators will view the men’s finals on huge screens while trying out their backhand and forehand on a miniature tennis court.  Wearing green, purple or white will make you eligible for prizes for the best garden party or tennis attire. Overnight stays, dinners and brunches are some of the prizes to be ‘lobbed’ at the winners.  Tickets are $25 per person.

Executive Chef Jordi Gallardo and his team will feature an all you can eat $25pp array of passed delicacies without any ‘foot faults’!

  • Traditional, Finger Sandwiches
  • Salad Buffet with Salmon, Smoked Trout and Sirloin Steak
  • Scottish Eggs
  • Lamb Chops and Sausages from the Grill
  • Fish and Chips
  • Mini Pork Pies

Pastry Chef Charles Froke plans an extensive dessert buffet.  Here’s the scrumptious menu.

  • Strawberries and Cream Station
  • Scones with Clotted Cream
  • White Chocolate & Cherry Tennis Balls
  • Summer Berry Trifle
  • Sticky Toffee Pudding Cake
  • English shortbreads
  • Strawberry rhubarb crème

Bottomless Pimm’s cups and mimosas are $15 pp or sip on the Juniper G&T or Thiénot Brut Champagne at $10 each.  Live entertainment provided by the Dom Petrellese Quartet playing British favorites.

The Fairmont Hotel is located at 2401 M Street, NW, Washington, DC 20037.  For reservations visit Eventbrite .

Bastille Day Picnic at the Sofitel

Some go all out with fabulous costumes! Here’s Louis XIV the “Sun King” at last year’s Bastille Day Party at the Sofitel

Want to leave London for Paris?  At the Sofitel Washington DC on Lafayette Square the Bastille Day celebration kicks off with their 2nd Annual Bastille Day Picnic in the Opaline Bar & Brasserie from 2 till 4pm on July 14th .  The deluxe hotel will pull out all the stops with French music, French picnic fare, champagne, rosé, fun photo ops, a caricaturist and more.  Prizes will be awarded for best parasols and best French attire.

Bastille Day Picnic at the Sofitel

The Sofitel is located at 806 15th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20005  www.Sofitel.accorhotels.com

Go!  You can do both!

Nibbles and Sips Around Town ~ June 2019

Jordan Wright
June 2019
Photo credit: Jordan Wright
 

East Indian Glamour at Punjab Grill ~ Gâteau Bakery Café & Tea Room Brings Bespoke British Tea Time to Old Town Warrenton ~ High Street Café – Latin-inspired Brasserie in Georgetown

 Punjab Grill  

Glamorous table setting at Punjab Grill

As a great admirer of Indian cuisine (inspired by my mother who turned down a marriage proposal from the last Maharaja of Sarila , I have been delighted with the wide variety of Indian restaurants around DC.  Dining at the award-winning Rasika or Indique  or Bombay Club (think days of the Raj) spring to mind.  Even casual spots like Indigo and Pappe   – which all are on my short list.  Travel outside city limits and a new Indian restaurant seems to pop up every month.  The more exposed we are to the joys and complexities of Indian food, the more we want to try a new one.

Tandoori Tiger Prawns at Punjab Grill

Punjab doesn’t tumble neatly into any of these categories.  It stands alone as a temple to Indian fine dining with its luxe décor – Hermés plates, napkin rings and gold-handled silverware – and well-trained, crisply uniformed waitstaff.   If I were hosting a dream dinner party it would be luxuriating in its private dining room where 150,000 miniature, convex mirrors reflect the light from dozens of candles and low-lit chandeliers, and where a long dining table inlaid with mother-of-pearl creates a glimmering, shimmering ambiance that reeks of regal sophistication.  Dubbed the ‘Sheesh Mahal’ or ‘Palace of Mirrors’ it accommodates ten of your nearest and dearest.

Punjab Grill’s Chutney Flight

Another dining room – dubbed the ‘Passage to India’ is inspired by the private railroad car journeys through India taken in the comfort of royal saloons.  Each table is supported by a hand-carved marble base, sourced from the same mines as the Taj Mahal.  Its walls are artfully decorated with beautifully carved wooden latticework.

Malabar Macchi- Chilean Sea Bass with jaggery cumin glaze, Brussels sprouts thoran and kokum coconut sauce

A translucent onyx bar at the entrance beckons you to order one of their delicately-spiced cocktails.  Decorated with marble inlays and aglow with amber lighting from within the stone, it makes for a dramatic introduction to the dining rooms where dishes are treated as works of art.

Aloo Tikki Chaat surrounded by pomegranate seeds

A must-have starter is the sampler of six distinctive chutneys – mango, pineapple, mint yoghurt, ginger tamarind carrot pickle, turnip pickle, radish pickle and laccha onion surrounding an assortment of crisp “breads” – poppadum, dosa crisps and naan grissini.  The pink one is tinted with beet juice.

As beautiful as the dishes are, they are not mere window dressing.  The food is divine – a tribute to Executive Chef Jaspratap ‘Jassi’ Bindra’s modern twist on Indian cuisine.

Salted Caramel Paneer Cheesecake​ (L) ​–​ honey cashew crust, mascarpone cream / Chocolate Pistachio Giandiya (R)​ ​–​ cardamom ganache, chocolate sable

Punjab Grill, 427 11th Street NW, Washington, D.C. 20004. Reservations are recommended.  Call 202 813.3004 or visit ​www.punjabgrilldc.com Valet parking is available at dinner.

Gâteau Bakery Café & Tea Room

Gâteau Bakery Café and Tea Room in Warrenton, VA

I met owner Lora Vennettilli Gookin at a Gold Cup event in The Plains, Virginia a few years ago.  I had been gobbling up her delicious pastries while visiting the Airlie tent and was introduced to her by a mutual friend.  Lora let me know she was opening a bakery in Old Town Warrenton and was in the process of restoring a historic building in the center of town.  She promised to contact me when it was ready.  Fast forward two years later and Lora made good on her pledge and that was how I came to experience Gâteau Bakery’s delightfully delicious afternoon tea.

Owner/Baker Lora Vennetilli Gookin in front of the historic bank’s vault where she houses the collection of cups and teapots used for tea service.

A short drive out from DC, and a world away from the stresses of the city, the charming bakery plus tea room is situated near the Fauquier Courthouse and Fauquier History Museum and Old Jail, both of which are worth a visit.  Built in 1860, the bakery itself with its interior brick walls is housed in what was once the Bank of Warrenton.  On one side you’ll find the tea room on the other near the entrance a gift shop, takeout bakery and a café serving soups, salads and sandwiches.

Baba au rhum at Gateau Bakery

Lora is a superb pastry chef and enterprising baker.  All the scrumptious baked goods are baked by Lora and her well-trained staff of bakers.  In the bakery section you’ll find lots of flavors of cakes (caramel cakes!) and cupcakes (coconut chocolate almond!) plus savory treats to take away – cupcakes, muffins, biscuits, cookies, cakes and classic desserts like baba au rhum.  For those with specific food issues or allergies, you can still have your cake and eat it too with gluten-free, dairy-free and/or vegan options.  For my friend and I, the exquisitely prepared afternoon tea is what we came for.  Take away sweets can wait.

Different levels of the tea experience are offered.  I recommend you go all in with the Royal Tea featuring cucumber sandwiches, mini savory puff pastries with tomato, basil and mozzarella, scones (flavors at the whim of the chef), Virginia ham and sweet potato biscuits served with mustard butter, curried egg salad, mini chocolate tarts with shortbread crust, and an assortment of cookies and scrumptiously rich cake bites.  It is a tea lover’s dreamland heightened by the freshly whipped cream and seasonal fruit jams.

The bakery and gift shop at Gâteau

Twenty-five varieties of tea grace the menu.  Your selection is brought to the table in an individual pot, kept warm with hand-knit tea cosies Lora has made in England.  Each pot and cosy are unique and tea varieties are custom made exclusively for the bakery by Green Alchemy Herb & Mercantile Company owned by nearby Lovettsville residents, Sarah and Peter Roussos, a former chemistry teacher.  Be sure to take home a few of these unique teas.  The Roussos’s ‘American Chai’ has been patented and is the perfect morning sip.

The Royal Tea at Gateau Bakery

Lora also serves a Children’s Tea, which is the best way to introduce your child to the finer things in life (including good table manners).  The Gentleman’s Tea is more meat- and cheese-centric and features bison sliders and smoked gouda grits washed down with a sprightly pilsner.  For those craving something with a bit more punch, the bakery has a full-on liquor license that includes cocktails, wine, beer and champagne.

Once a career civil engineer who, encouraged by friends, attended pastry school in Scottsdale, Arizona, Lora has her own style.  Though many of her pastries are of the classic variety, this is not your average corner bakery.  On-trend sweets as well as gorgeously decorated multi-tiered wedding cakes that are her most popular items.  Lora is committed to the best quality ingredients – many of which are locally sourced.  A visit to her website reveals more about her exacting practices.  “All of our cakes, fillings and frostings are skillfully made from scratch using select organic ingredients, no shortening, unbleached and unbromated flour, aluminum free leaveners and non-GMO ingredients.”

Gâteau Bakery Café and Tea Room is located on 12 Culpeper Street, Warrenton, VA 20186. Reservations are recommended for afternoon tea.  Call 540 347.9188 or visit www.1gateau.com

High Street Café  

The bar at High Street Café

Imagine my surprise to find Georgetown’s old Paolo’s turned into an American brasserie with a Latin flair.  It’s like having culinary Europe at your doorstep.  Veteran restauranteur Manuel Iguino is back and center stage.  (Nearly a decade ago he served the pounded plantain dish mofongo at his Puerto Rican-influenced restaurant Mio.)  Whether sitting on the patio smack dab on Wisconsin Avenue (perfect for people-watching) or perched at the intimate bar, or nicely cosseted on a banquette, Georgetown’s hustle-bustle is at eye level.  Located in the heart of Georgetown’s toniest environs, his latest venture, High Street Café, affords diners a sunset view, an accomplished chef, Gerard Cribbin, and an ambitiously creative cocktail program by Beverage Director, Carl Townsend.

Cribbin, who once cheffed a few blocks away at Filomena’s making fresh pastas, drifted farther south.  After stints in Greenville, SC, a noted foodie destination where he was chef and co-owner of Gerard’s, he cooked at The Lazy Goat and later became the executive chef at Coal Fired Bistro.  For now, he’s back in the nation’s capital.  Let’s hope he stays.  At Coal Fired Bistro his seafood bisque became all the rage.  It’s one of his specialties and on the menu here.  Cribbin has his own way of interpreting the dishes we think we’re familiar with.  A starter of tuna tartare was a surprising refresher.  Not your usual raw fish dish, this version becomes elevated with the addition of tiny cubes of sweet mango and a silken dressing of orange cream.

Scallops with wild mushrooms, sherry cream, spinach and saffron risotto

A wide array of menu items (I spotted lechon pizza!) beckons, but I drilled down on a calf’s liver starter.  Now there are a lot of things that can go wrong with this rarely encountered delicacy – a chef that thinks it’s okay to substitute beef liver (too bitter), overcooking (tough as shoe leather) and near-raw onions.

Calf’s Liver with caramelized shallots

The onions must be caramelized through a process of long, low and slow cooking.  For those who are equally as discerning about liver and onions, I can report that this one was sheer perfection and served with caramelized shallots.  Even better, as these tiny bulbs yield a sweeter result.

Tuna Tartare with mango, orange cream and baby kale

Another dish I measure a restaurant’s chef by, is Spaghetti alla Vongole.  Cribbin prepares it with the tiniest of sweet clams, plenty of garlic, seasoned bread crumbs and a charred lemon on the side.  Memorable.  A dish of perfectly bronzed scallops with wild mushrooms and sherry cream and risotto was oh, so rich and delicious too.

Spaghetti alla Vongole

Although I was racing off to the theatre and I usually forgo a drink when I’m working, I wanted to try, on this very hot day, just one mojito.  It’s a good way to test a bar’s credibility as too often this classic Spanish cocktail is dumbed down by a lazy bartender who plants a solitary sprig of mint and calls it a day.  Townsend’s was a veritable garden of mint and limes and super hydrating.

High Street Café’s Mojito

Here are a few of Townsend’s specialty summer cocktails:  ‘Mai High Tai’ with Novo Fogo Cachaça, Dry Curaçao and orgeat; ‘Seasonal Buck’ with Gin Lane 1751 ‘Victoria’ Pink Gin, lavender and ginger beer; ‘Ponce Old Fashioned’ with Don Q Añejo Rum, turbinado and bitters; ‘Spicy Guava Pisco Sour’ with Soldeica Pisco, Ancho Reyes and sichuan syrup; and ‘Paloma-rita’ with Rooster Rojo Tequila, lime and grapefruit soda.

Two house-aged cocktails presented by High West Whiskey are also featured – the ‘Chili Aged Manhattan’ with High West American Prairie Bourbon, vermouth and Amargo de Chile; and the ‘Caribbean Negroni’ with Don Q Gold Rum, Tiki Lovers Dark Rum, amaro blend and vermouth blend.

A return trip (with alcohol) is definitely on the horizon.

High Street Café – 1303 Wisconsin Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20007.  Call 202 333.0256.

Interview with Executive Chef Jonathan Till

Jordan Wright
March 6, 2019
Photo credit – Jordan Wright

Last October Jonathan Till arrived at Del Ray’s Evening Star to take over as Executive Chef in a restaurant that has been successful serving a mostly local clientele for over two decades and seen its share of chefs.  It’s also seen its ups and downs.

Evening Star Executive Chef Jonathan Till

Till brought with him a wealth of experience from his education at the New England Culinary Institute and an internship at L’Espalier in Boston, where he trained under James Beard Award winning chef, Frank McClelland.  From there he received an Associates’ Degree in Culinary Arts in 2008 and learned pastry under Certified Master Pastry Chef, Frank Vollkommer, at the Saratoga National Golf Course.

Locally, Till spent two years at William Jeffery’s Tavern, a neighborhood joint featuring pub food, followed by two years as a corporate chef for the Barteca Restaurant Group before they were bought out by Del Frisco’s for a cool $325M.

Before all that, he’d taken a turn or two in fine dining (two months spent picking shells out of crabmeat in a dark room at The Dabney was not to his liking) and farm-to-table.  As it turns out, connecting with farmers and growers seemed to suit him far better.  At the casual Beekman Street Bistro in Saratoga Springs, New York’s tony arts district he’d enjoyed relationships with local Mennonite farmers, and at the five-star Hermitage Hotel in Nashville he was able to source many of his ingredients from their historic vegetable gardens and private cattle farm.

Till’s curiosity peaked when right out of culinary school he met an old trapper and farmer who taught him how to forage in the wild.  He’d come from generations of home canners and wanted to preserve the bounty he culled from the fields and forests.  After that auspicious meeting, he began making his own charcuterie and experimenting with wildcrafting and homesteading techniques including learning the pleasures of tapping maple syrup.  When I spoke to Till this March, he had just returned from ice fishing in Canada.  This week he’ll present Evening Star’s new Spring menu incorporating wild-foraged stinging nettles, garlic mustard greens, and spring garlic.  Ramps will appear on the menu in a few weeks.  All in due time.

Having seen the Spring menu there are a lot of dishes I’m looking forward to – duck with Virginia buckwheat honey, foraged greens, glazed black soybeans and wild garlic and an inspired dish of American snapper with fava beans, asparagus, morels and uszka dumplings.  A planned dessert, Strawberry and Rhubarb Galette with lightly churned cream, sounds positively irresistible.

Who inspired your interest in cooking?

My grandmother was my mentor.  She is a third-generation chef in the family who had four or five restaurants.  Other family members worked in restaurants too – uncles and aunts – and my mom was a café owner at one time, so my path was pretty much set for me.

Will you be involved in the local farming community?

I’ve been working with Pam Hess the Executive Director at Arcadia [Arcadia Center for Sustainable Food & Agriculture] where I’m learning about what’s grown in Virginia.  Next year we will set out a foraging walk to tie into permaculture.  I’m very passionate about teaching and educating people and hope to make an impact.

What’s different about the food at Evening Star [ES] since you’ve been there?  

Neighborhood Restaurant Group as a whole is going through an overhaul and there are big changes at their other restaurants, like Vermillion and Hazel.  The company reviewed their image and went out to pick some of the best chefs they could find.

Describe your style.

How I cook for Evening Star is how I eat home.  I want warm, comforting dishes and some lighter things too.  When I was approached by ES I was out picking mushrooms.  I had just returned from a trip to Europe where I was eating my way around the Continent with my wife and foraging for mushrooms in the Czech Republic.

Till’s favorite hori hori knife for wildcrafting

Foraging is a huge part of what I do.  I go into the woods and get it for free.  This summer I established relationships with local farmers and developed a good connection with them.  Since I am new to the area, I had to find spots to go foraging.  ES has a rooftop garden, but it only has six inches of soil.  We have to get the soil up there using ropes and a bucket.  It’s very intense.  This winter I set up some grow lights in the basement and started growing microgreens when a supplier wanted to charge me $100 a flat!

I’m using heirloom seeds from Monticello [Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello in Charlottesville is a World Heritage Site] where they have a program called the Thomas Jefferson Center for Historic Plants.  They will be using 800 acres of their property just for heirloom crops.

What ingredients have you foraged recently? 

I found spring garlic while foraging last week and caught lake trout while ice fishing in Canada.

Are you cautious not to overharvest?

I only harvest one third of what I find.  I learned my lesson years ago when I picked all the chanterelles from one patch and it took five years for them to come back!

What’s the most popular dish you can’t take off the menu? 

Acorn pasta made with flour from acorns I foraged, has been really popular.  Unfortunately, I’m out of the acorns for now.  Also, guests seem to not get enough of chicory – brined and seared with black pepper and served with a side of kombucha squash and sage.  The pork chop schnitzel and gumbo are favorites now too, and the sea bass served with clams and broccolini.

Sea bass with clams and broccolini at Evening Star

I had the sea bass the other night and it was perfectly prepared with a crisped skin and tender flesh.

It’s important to understand what goes into raising or catching food.  I have raised animals and farmed before and it bothers me when people don’t respect the protein.

What do you see as the future of Evening Star?

I’m still getting used to the flow.  Seeing how the summer is going to be when we open the patio.  The balance is going to be interesting.  I plan to be at the farm and continue foraging this summer.  Next year I’ll know exactly what to expect.

This interview was lightly edited for clarity.   

Nibbles and Sips Around Town ~ December 2018

December 2018
Jordan Wright 

Del Mar at The Wharf DC ~ Kith + Kin ~ Baba Presents New Fall/Winter Menu ~ Hay-Adams’ Deluxe Dining with New Chefs ~ Elegant Holiday Teas at the Mandarin Oriental and the Hay-Adams ~ Santa Visits The Fairmont Hotel ~ Taco Bamba Taqueria ~ Lupo Verde 

Del Mar 

Menu cover art

For Fabio and Maria Trabocchi Del Mar is the culmination of their dreams and continuing proof of their domination in the pantheon of DC restauranteurs.  Located on The Wharf DC, this one is without doubt, the largest and the most glamorous to date of all their restaurants.

The downstairs bar

Soaring ceilings and massive windows overlooking the harbor give one the sense of being on a luxury liner ready to pull anchor and set sail.  Unfortunately, it is also the noisiest in their collection, as nothing seems to have been done to buffer the clattering sounds of servers and the chattering sounds of cheerful patrons.  Tile floors don’t help ameliorate the sound either.

An upstairs dining room

We climbed a sweeping staircase to dine in one of the many rooms where glittering chandeliers, made from suspended glass goblets and ancient murals depicting sea voyages in clipper ships, compete for attention with comfy, contemporary navy and red velvet chairs and brass sconces.  The room is framed by black-and-white tiled floors and velvet drapes.  It is a stunning space – more formal and brightly lit than the other dining rooms.  So bright and nautical, that as the evening progressed, I felt as if I’d be forced to confess to the crimes of my wayward ancestor – the notorious Blackbeard.  But I digress.  We came for the food informed predominantly by Maria’s Spanish heritage.

I have long been a fan of the gazpacho at the now-shuttered Casa Luca, their 9th Street bistro.  This version is different.  It is served with small bits of Spanish blue cheese – a concept borrowed from one of the servers whose Spanish grandmother serves it that way.  The velvety-smooth cold soup is done as a pour over and served with a sweet tomato sorbet.  It is heavenly.

Seafood paella

Paella is one of those iconic dishes that defines Spain’s cuisine all over the world.  Here it is served for two in a large paella pan with a sumptuous mélange of perfectly charred seafood.  It is a masterpiece to behold, and the servers know it.  They deliver its bounty to the table as though it were the Holy Grail.  Unfortunately for us the seafood was overcooked – thus dry – which is not reflected in the photo I took of it in all its glory.

Sobresada

The dish we went gaga over is an intriguing one with a back story.  It’s a recipe borrowed from Maria’s Spanish grandmother.  Sobresada is a spreadable sausage aged for one year in a pig’s stomach and hung in a cave.  Made for the restaurant in Chicago by a butcher who has the perfect conditions to properly cure it, this spreadable sausage is brought tableside encased in its birth home.  There the waiter carves out individual portions plated for each guest.  The basketball-sized pig container reveals the most delectable spread to smear on toasted bread.  It is divine.  You can even have it at the bar if you like.  Flown in weekly by the dozens of pounds, it is destination-worthy.  You will thank me.  All other dishes we dined on faded from memory.

Del Mar is located at The Wharf, DC, 91 Wharf Street, SW, Washington, DC 20024.

Kith + Kin 

Ever since I met Kwame Onwuachi this summer, I have been eager to experience his food and I’m not the only one.  Unfortunately, the first restaurant he opened, Shaw Bijou, had a set menu with a soaring price tag, and only the one-percenters could afford to dine on his much-lauded food even after his soaring success on Top Chef.

Chef Kwame of Kith + Kin

Alas, the restaurant shut its doors within three months after a great deal of controversy that he had bitten off more than he could chew, so to speak.  To his credit, the Brooklyn-born Nigerian dusted himself off, got a deluxe restaurant to helm and we 99 percent are all the better for it.

The dining room at Kith + Kin

Kith + Kin is beautifully ensconced in the Intercontinental Hotel at The Wharf DC.  The restaurant itself is an extended rectangle – a beautiful space, light and airy and decorated in soft, cream and grey tones.  Separated from the picturesque harbor by a narrow cobblestone street, it boasts high ceilings and large windows that open in fair weather.  Everything we ate was first rate including the service and the cocktails, but most especially Onwuachi’s style of cooking that ranges from Nigerian and Jamaican to West African, the Caribbean and the American South where his travels have taken him over his 25 years.

Mom Dukes Shrimp

We swooned over Mom Dukes Shrimp, Mushroom Forest and Rouget Escovitch, a Jamaican red snapper dish served with red beans and plantains, and a deeply indulgent Chocolate Rum Cake with Carrot Ice Cream, Milk Foam Tuiles and Sorrel.

Jamaican Red Snapper with Red Beans and Rice

The cake was ultra-chocolatey and the carrot ice cream… who knew?… scrumptious.  Flavors were familiar and not.  There was always that elusive ingredient which added to the mystery and that we played a guessing game trying to pin down.

Chocolate Rum Cake with Carrot Ice Cream and Milk Foam Tuiles

Kith + Kin is located in the Intercontinental Hotel at The Wharf DC. 801 Wharf Street, SW, Washington, DC 20024.

Lupo Marino 

Lupo Marino’s new chef is Juan Prieto.  Formerly of Miami Beach where he worked at the ultra-modern Juvia, Stephen Starr’s brasserie Le Zoo in Bal Harbour, and two Art Deco properties – The Vintro and the Japanese-inspired Katsuya at The Raleigh where he specialized in seafood.

I have written about this cozy restaurant which has had its hits-and-misses, but is now settled in nicely and in a busy spot in The Wharf neighborhood.  Apart from its small plates, wood-fired pizzas, and aperitivos, the restaurant will feature a special dish on weekends through December.

Lobster Cacciucco

I am absolutely crazy about this dish (I had a preview last month) and the careful way Prieto prepares it.  It’s called cacciucco – a rich, tomato-based, Tuscan fish stew with lobster, mussels and head-on shrimp.  Don’t miss it!  Pro tip:  Pick up some of their Italian products to take home.  I brought back a pound of the paccheri – ziti on steroids – perfect as a base for slow-cooked meat sauces.

Lupo Marino is located at The Wharf DC at 40 Pearl Street, SW, Washington, DC 20024.

In Which I Finally Get to Taco Bamba Taqueria 

What took me so long?  A rare trip to Vienna (Virginia!) found me in a small strip mall where I spied a Taco Bamba outpost.  Fortune favors the adventurer.  Victor Albisu, a RAMW “Chef of the Year”,  is showing the burbs how amazing tacos and carnitas made with a vivid imagination and unique ingredients can be.

Two tacos – Pulpo al Pastor and Bulgogi Bullfight

Charred octopus, slow-cooked goat, tripe and tongue are among the more unusual, with poutine taco offered at the Falls Church location only.  A Mick Nugget taco surprises with crispy fried chicken.  Look for the Japanese ingredients that can be found throughout the extensive menu.

Quick report: I returned a few more times to sample some of the other offerings.  With tacos, nachos, seviche and house made salsas you could eat there a dozen times and never have the same thing twice.  Try the pozole – pork stew with hominy – tis the season for this tummy-warmer – and finish with a slice of trés léches cake.  It’s the bamba!  For all locations visit Taco Bamba.

Game Changer at the Hay-Adams with a New Chef de Cuisine and Pastry Chef 

From the left Hay-Adams Executive Chef Nicolas Legret, Pastry Chef Elenor Apollonio-Frantz and Chef de Cuisine Jacopo Beni

A recent dinner in The Lafayette at the Hay-Adams Hotel showcased the talents of new Chef de Cuisine Jacopo Beni and Elenor Apolonio-Frantz as Pastry Chef. The duo, who have  Michelin experience under their toques, will work under the direction of Executive Chef Nicolas Legret producing contemporary American cuisine in The Lafayette fine dining restaurant, as well as my favorite hangout near the White House, the legendary Off The Record bar where the burgers and politico sightings are off the chain.

At the four-course dinner we were served on some of restaurant’s lovely new Wedgewood china that sports a pattern used only in one other hotel in the world.

The Hay-Adams new Wedgewood china

We began with hors d’oeuvres and cocktails before taking our seats for a parade of sumptuously prepared dishes.  Consider, if you will Beef Wellington. Though it was prepared without the foie gras interior, it was heavenly and a divine treat when you’re aiming to impress or out celebrating a special occasion.

Beef Wellington carved at table

I dined there early this year and note the menu is braver with the inclusion of more seasonal vegetables accompanied by classic sauces.  Think French, not the heavy cream sauces of yore and with locally-grown ingredients. I have always thought Legret was a master in the kitchen, and now he has Beni to teach and, as well, be influenced by Beni’s experience cooking in some of the leading restaurants of the world.

Beef Wellington receives its red wine sauce pour over

For the holiday season Legret and Beni are creating a traditional celebratory menu featuring flavorful delights for teatime.  Guests enjoy a selection of tea sandwiches including English Cucumber with tomato and mint; Farmhouse Egg Salad with Bibb lettuce; Smoked Salmon and Lemon Chive Cream Cheese; and Tarragon Celery Tuna Salad.  Children will relish their own special menu featuring Hot Chocolate and Fruit Teas, Assorted Tea Sandwiches, including Ham & Cheese, Peanut Butter & Marmalade, and fresh fruit salad.

The Hay-Adams dressed up for the holidays

For the sweet side of tea service, Pastry Chef Elenor Apolonio-Frantz plans a selection of Viennese and French confectioneries. Highlights include Warm Orange and Cherry Scones with Devonshire cream and organic strawberry preserve; Raspberry Pistachio Opera Cake; Chocolate Choux Puffs; French Fruit Tartlets, Passion Fruit, Coconut, Mango and Pineapple Vacherin and Salted Caramel Macarons. Teas are from the Mighty Leaf Tea Company. Now doesn’t that sound divine?

The Hay-Adams is located at 800 16th Street, NW, Washington, DC20006. For reservations call 202 638-6600. .

 

Baba Restaurant & Cocktail Bar Continues Its Evolution 

Little Baba, one of the coziest, most intimate speakeasies around, has launched its new winter menu, and it’s filled with plenty of Serbian soul food.  Unlike the brightly lit, white-tile and fern décor of its upstairs sister restaurant, Ambar, this small spot urges you to plant yourself into a comfy banquette and veg out while devouring small bites and a menu of specialty cocktails.  Perfect for date night or a small group of friends, owner Ivan Iricanin and partner Uros Smiljanic keep their culinary compass constantly set on re-fresh mode.  It seems Baba is their personal test lab for new dishes culled and updated from classic Serbian recipes.

On a recent visit we taste tested a dozen dishes and came away wowed.  From one of the best steak tartares to an interesting twist on the typical bacon-wrapped dates.

Tuna and beet tartare

Here tender prunes sub for dates – a far superior combination.  Wrapped in a smoky bacon, they are stuffed with creamy goat cheese and drizzled with balsamic glaze.

Sautéed forest mushrooms with polenta and truffles

Other delicious small plates are salmon tartare with beets, quinoa and pine nuts, sautéed forest mushrooms with crispy polenta and truffles, sumptuous five-hour lamb, barley risotto with vegetables and mascarpone, and eggplant with apricots, feta, toasted almonds and Kalamata jam.

Eggplant with apricots, feta, toasted almonds and Kalamata jam

Appetite whetted?  Find your favorites.  Chacun à son goût!

Steak tartare

On the cocktail front,  award-winning mixologist Esteban Ordonez has created some new winter-warmers.  As is his style, Ordonez uses fresh herbs and fruits, house made syrups, and Serbian liqueurs to concoct these un-ordinary cocktails.  The bar boasts 36 varieties of rakia, the Serbian liqueur that’s employed in several of the cocktails.  Fun Fact:  It take 40 pounds of raspberries to make one bottle of rakia!

For music lovers: After 8pm till closing, it’s Acoustic Night on Wednesdays and Latin Night with a DJ on Thursdays.

Coming soon: The owners’ Street Guys Hospitality Group is busy totally transforming the former La Tasca into the Mexican-themed, Buena Vista.  It’s directly across the street.  How convenient!

Baba is located at 2901 Wilson Blvd., Arlington, VA 22201.  www.Baba.bar

Christmas at the Mandarin Oriental 

In the spirit of the holiday season the Mandarin Oriental DC is celebrating with festive décor, culinary treats, relaxing spa treatments, and special visits from the North Pole. The halls are decked with holiday cheer featuring an edible replica of the neighboring Jefferson Memorial created by Executive Pastry Chef Christophe Frigara.

Make a date for the Holiday Tea set amid a backdrop of seasonal décor and boasting of multiple tiers of cakes, cookies, and savory treats for children and adults alike. Friday through Sunday through December 23rd at 2:30 – 4:30pm.  The Holiday Tea will host Santa Claus on December 15th, 16th, 22nd, and the 23rd.

Gather the family and enjoy an elegant Christmas Day brunch buffet at Muze by Executive Chef Stefan Kauth with traditional holiday favorites and specialty selections including an omelet station, cheeses and charcuterie, salads, carving station, sushi, dim sum, and little fans buffet. December 25th, 2018, 12-4pm.  The Mandarin Oriental Hotel is located at 1330 Maryland Avenue, SW, Washington, DC 20024.

Holiday Tea at The Fairmont Hotel 

Sleigh bells are ringing at Fairmont Hotel in Georgetown where Santa has checked into his DC residence bringing comfort and joy to all who believe in the magic of the holiday season. And we do!  Check out Pastry Chef Charles Froke’s Georgetown University’s Healy Hall crafted in gingerbread.  On display in the hotel’s Santa Suite and free for guests to visit on Saturdays and Sundays from 11am – 3pm.

Georgetown’s Pastry Chef Charles Froke, has created Georgetown University’s Healy Hall in Gingerbread.

All children, naughty or nice, are invited to stop by Santa’s suite with their parents on Saturdays and Sundays between 11am and 3pm through December 23rd.   Each child will enjoy yummy treats and a holiday keepsake to commemorate the visit. Those writing a letter to Santa, while in his suite, will receive one back.  Due to his busy schedule he will depend on the postal service, rather than his sleigh, to deliver his response.

Georgie, Fairmont’s new Canine Ambassador is a 12-week old yellow Labrador.  She was adopted by the hotel from Guiding Eyes for the Blind and she loves to meet families. You can find her in the Santa Suite on Saturdays.

Georgie, Fairmont’s new Canine Ambassador, visits the Santa in his Suite on Weekends-

In preparation for Santa’s check-in, Fairmont has partnered with elves who have been busy transforming his suite into a whimsical winter wonderland.  Exquisitely decorated trees twinkle with a host of enchanting details – from an elegant, mirrored dining table set with places for Santa and his special guests to a letter-writing station for leaving holiday wish lists.

Santa’s Suite is available for family visits at no charge, however guests are encouraged to make a donation to Horton’s Kids during visits. For complimentary admission acquire tickets on Eventbrite. Fairmont Hotel is located at 2401 M Street, NW, Washington, DC 20037.

Holiday Happenings

Jordan Wright
December 3, 2018
Special to The Alexandria Times

Christmas at the Old Bull & Bush – Originally staged in the Old Vat Room at Arena Stage, this delightful show harkens back to the famed Hampstead, England public house circa 1918.  The 6-person variety show promises to jolly up your holidays with Vaudeville-era tunes, Christmas carols, silly jokes, a sing-along and a moving tribute, Christmas in the Trenches, honoring the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day. With Christmas crackers, British beers and sausage rolls for purchase, the classic British music hall entertainment starring Sherri L. Edelen and Brian O’Connor runs through December 30th at MetroStage – 1201 North Royal Street, Alexandria, 22314.  For tickets visit www.metrostage.org.

Jimmy Mavrikes, Katherine Riddle, and Sherri L. Edelen ~ Photo credit C. Stanley Photography

My Father’s Dragon – Dragons are real and imaginations soar in this exciting production directed and choreographed by Tori Tolentino. Join Elmer Elevator on Wild Island to rescue a captive baby dragon accompanied by a cat companion.  With flying puppets and a ride-on dragon, this wordless fantasy-filled adventure is sure to please all ages. Through January 6th at 1800 South Bell Street, Arlington in Crystal City.  For tickets and information visit www.SyneticTheater.org.

Photo credit Johnny Shyrock

A Christmas Carol at The Little Theatre of Alexandria – Enjoy a return of the Charles Dickens’ Christmas classic wherein Ebenezer Scrooge, a miserable Victorian humbug, travels with ghostly guides through Christmas past, present, and future to find the true meaning of the holidays. Directed by local actor, Shelagh Roberts, the show is complete with special effects, Victorian carols and, of course, the adorable Tiny Tim. Through December 16th at 600 Wolfe Street, Alexandria, VA 22314. For tickets call 703 683-0496 or visit www.thelittletheatre.com.

(l-r) Larry Grey and Brittany Huffman in “A Christmas Carol” in Holiday Happenings ~ Photographer: Rich Farella

Christmas at Mount Vernon – Tour George and Martha Washington’s mansion by candlelight and make merry with 18th century dancing, fireside refreshments and caroling on December 7th, 8th and 16th. Meet Aladdin the Camel, watch holiday fireworks on December 15th and 16th, hear period music, experience a military encampment and more. Evening fireworks on December 14th and 15th. Activities for children include making ornaments, hearing Christmas stories told by the Washingtons’ friends and family, and chocolate making demonstrations. Some events are ticketed. For tickets and all other information visit www.MountVernon.org.

Christmas illuminations at Mount Vernon ~ Courtesy of Mount Vernon

 

Billy Elliot the Musical Matthew Gardiner directs and choreographs this spectacular Tony, Grammy and Oscar Award® winner with a thrilling score by Elton John. Based on the acclaimed film of an 11-year-old whose dream is to dance, in a blue-collar coal mining town in Ireland, it’s boxing his dad sees for the boy’s future. This heartwarming story, with a hilarious scene of Margaret Thatcher stealing back the kiddies Christmas gifts, swept the Tony, Drama Desk and Olivier Awards for “Best Musical”.  Through January 6th at Signature Theatre – 4200 Campbell Ave., Arlington, VA 22206.  For tickets and information visit www.SigTheatre.org.

Owen Tabaka (Billy Elliot) and the cast of Billy Elliot at Signature Theatre. ~ Photo by Christopher Mueller