Nibbles and Sips Around Town – June 25, 2015

Jordan Wright
June 25, 2015 

America Eats Tavern Holds Inaugural Virginia Festival, Bloomsday Celebration, Blue Duck Tavern Rhapsodizes About Ice Cream, Mitsitam Gets a New Chef and We Get His Wild Rice Bars Recipe 

As expected tons of events are crammed into the month of June. Why? There seems to be a totally unfounded impression that we are all darting off to faraway lands. We wish! Here’s where we went (Chapter One) and here’s one that’s happening right now. 

America Eats Tavern Celebrates Virginia 

There’s still time to catch José Andrés Virginia Festival at America Eats Tavern at the Ritz-Carlton Tysons Corner. It’s an event designed to spend time with family and friends. There will be entertainment, interactive events and Virginia-themed specials throughout the week. Participating regional wineries, Barren Ridge, RdV, Barboursville, Trump Winery and Early Mountain Vineyards are featured, and cocktails have been created using spirits from local distillery Catoctin Creek.

Head Chef Nate Waugaman (left) with Executive Chef Joe Raffa

Head Chef Nate Waugaman (left) with Executive Chef Joe Raffa

We tasted some of the delicious offerings, many plumbed from Virginia’s historical recipe archives. Here are some of the Virginia specialties from Head Chef Nate Waugaman. Enjoy them from the prix fixe menu or a la carte. 

Surreyano ham biscuits with pepper jelly - Byrd Mill grits with cheddar and pearl onion petals - Fried Chesapeake oysters with rhubarb remoulade

Surreyano ham biscuits with pepper jelly – Byrd Mill grits with cheddar and pearl onion petals – Fried Chesapeake oysters with rhubarb remoulade

Edwards Surryano ham biscuits with pepper jelly – Cheese Straws – Norfolk Crab and Ham Saute – Broiled blue crab with Virginia ham and lemon butter air – Fried Chesapeake Oysters with rhubarb rémoulade and cucumber and pickled rhubarb salad – Virginia Peanut Soup garnished with celery and blackberries – Shrimp & Grits, Byrd Mill Company grits made with Meadow Creek Dairy Reserve cheddar and served with pearl onion petals and ham hock – Fried Chicken with Cole Slaw – Lemon Chess Pie – Martha Washington’s recipe Chocolate Cake (Do not leave the building without some!)

Martha Washington's Chocolate Cake

Martha Washington’s Chocolate Cake

And be sure to try the famous Sally Lunn bread. The recipe is sourced from “Housekeeping in Old Virginia” 1879. Then you can say you had some of George Washington’s favorite breakfast bread.

The festival runs till the end of June.

Bloomsday Celebrated in Washington, DC

 

Ambassador Anne Anderson and participants at the Cosmos Club on Bloomsday

Ambassador Anne Anderson and participants at the Cosmos Club on Bloomsday

Bloomsday, the annual Irish celebration of all things James Joyce, was ushered in in grand style on June 16th. The posh affair commenced with a musical recital of tunes related to both writers, a new ‘play for voices’, and readings which took place at the tony Cosmos Club. Afterwards guests walked a few short blocks to a garden party at the residence of Ireland’s Ambassador to the United States, Her Excellency, Anne Anderson.

Ambassador Anne Anderson addresses guests at the Cosmos Club

Ambassador Anne Anderson addresses guests at the Cosmos Club

Fortuitously it was also the 150th anniversary of the birth of that “other” great Irish writer, W. B. Yates. The proximity of the two events inspired the Embassy to combine these important events into one magical evening. Noted guests Congressman Richie Neal of Massachusetts, Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts, Teri Cross Davis from the Folger Shakespeare Library, and Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes read poetry by Yeats and excerpts from “Ulysses”.

Ambassador Anne Anderson makes a presentation to playwright, Joe Hassett at the Resid

Ambassador Anne Anderson makes a presentation to playwright, Joe Hassett at the Resid

Joe Hassett, attorney and author of Two Stars, saw his mini-play narrated by Scena Theatre Co-founder, Robert McNamara and performed by local actors, and guests thrilled to Irish music of the period performed by John Feeley, Fran O’Rourke, Mitch Fanning, Jesse Winch, Terry Winch and Zan McLeod.

Afterwards Ambassador Anderson graciously invited everyone to the residence for cocktails and traditional Irish fare in the garden.

Blue Duck Tavern Prepares for National Ice Cream Month 

Rain came down sideways in torrents at an ice cream social at the Blue Duck Tavern where we test tasted (Oh please! Somebody has to do it.) snow cones, ice cream sundaes and mini ice cream treats dreamed up by Executive Pastry Chef Naomi Gallego. We had gathered on the terrace in the late afternoon when all hell broke loose – weather-wise that is. Thankfully a small army of chefs and managers marshaled the troops to bring us, and the precious, sweet cargo, indoors where we picked up where we’d left off.

Executive Pastry Chef Naomi Gallego makes snow cones

Executive Pastry Chef Naomi Gallego makes snow cones

As you may be aware snow cones are popular with our Hawaiian-born President and the entire Obama family. A popular street treat, the frozen concoctions are made with an untold variety of syrups and shaved ice and often include a dose of sweetened condensed milk.

We won’t guess at what additives are in those day-glo colored flavors typical to sidewalk vendors, but here they are prepared au naturel from an assortment of syrups made in house – Strawberries and Cream, Apple Pie and Cream, Root Beer Float, Ginger Raspberry Rhubarb, Peach Toasted Almond, Piña Colada and more.

Celebrating National Ice Cream Month - Fruity Pebbles Mac Sammie at the Blue Duck Tavern - Sweet mini treats

Celebrating National Ice Cream Month – Fruity Pebbles Mac Sammie at the Blue Duck Tavern – Sweet mini treats

The blissfully scrumptious sundae is assembled with a base of cornmeal shortcake, balsamic strawberries, orange ice cream and orange-flavored whipped cream.

Mini offerings were just as seductive – Peanut Butter and Banana Ice Cream Sandwich, Fruity Pebbles Mac Sammie, Triple Chocolate Ice Cream Bars, Cantaloupe Lavender Push Ups (Was this a sign to head off to the gym?) and more. We only wish we could have brought some home in a doggie bag. Sigh… 

Mitsitam Gets a New Chef 

Executive Chef Jerome Grant at Mitsitam Cafe

Executive Chef Jerome Grant at Mitsitam Cafe

This year the National Museum of the American Indian hired, Jerome Grant, as Executive Chef of the highly regarded Mitsitam Café where Grant had once worked as Sous Chef under former Executive Chef Richard Hetzler. At a private luncheon at the Museum, Chef Grant showcased some of his latest dishes.

The Oklahoma native won’t change the restaurant’s indigenous cuisine – – there will still be dishes from the Northern Woodlands, South America, the Northwest Coast, Mesoamerica and the Great Plains – – but he has definitely put his own spin on the regional menu.

From the Northern Woodlands we sampled Chilled Golden Beet Soup with Wild Ginger, Puffed Wild Rice and Cherry Granola and a beautiful Cold Broccoli Soup with Citrus Marinated Scallops and Popcorn. Also from the region was Smoked Rhubarb Turkey and Duck Fat Potato Hash with local Mushrooms.

From the Northwest Coast came plates of Wood-Fired Spot Prawns with white asparagus and pink peppercorn sorrel butter.

Wild Spot Prawns from the Northwest Coast - Cold Broccoli Soup with Citrus Marinated Scallops from the Northern Woodlands

Wild Spot Prawns from the Northwest Coast – Cold Broccoli Soup with Citrus Marinated Scallops from the Northern Woodlands

And from Mesoamerica we adored a salsa of green tomato, yellow corn and pipicha and his rendition of guacamole. What better companions?

The changes will dovetail nicely with a major new exhibition, “The Great Inka Road”, scheduled to open at NMAI on June 26th, the same time as the Smithsonian Folk Life Festival kicks off.

The bilingual exhibition explores the foundations of the Inka Road in earlier Andean cultures; as well as technologies that made building the road possible; the cosmology and political organization of the Inka world; and the legacy of the Inka Empire during the colonial period and in the present day.

The press release describes the Inka Road as “an intricate network that spans 24,000 miles across six countries and stands as one of the monumental engineering achievements in world history.”

This amazing exhibit features images, maps, models and 140 objects, including a ceramic Chavín stirrup spout bottle (the oldest item in the exhibition, ca. 800–100 B.C.), impressive gold ornaments, necklaces made from shells from the Lambayeque region, stone carvings, silver and gold figurines, and various textiles made from camelid hair and cotton.

For more information on the exhibit as well as upcoming activities, visit www.NMAI.si.edu.

We thank Chef Grant for this terrific recipe you can make at home.

Wild Grain Bars
 – Courtesy of Chef Jerome Grant

  • 
Canola oil
  • 1/2 cup salted, roasted pumpkin seeds
  • 1 cup raw, hulled, unsalted sunflower seeds
  • 1/2 cup golden flaxseed
  • 3 cups raw wild rice (not a blend), separated
  • 1/2 cup dried red quinoa
  • 1/2-cup coconut milk
  • 1/2-cup mild honey
  • 3/4-cup maple syrup
  • 1/4 packed dark brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 2 cups tart dried cherries
Wild Grain Bars

Wild Grain Bars

  1. In sauce pan over medium-high heat add two inches of canola oil. When the oil is at 410 ° Fahrenheit, add one cup of raw wild rice. Cover. The rice will expand and double in size. Skim the popped rice and transfer to a paper-towel-lined sheet pan. Add more rice to the oil and continue popping the rice until all the rice has been popped, then reserve.
  2. Place sauté pan on medium heat with two teaspoons of canola oil. Once oil becomes hot, add quinoa and lightly shake the pan. Quinoa will pop rapidly just like popcorn. Once quinoa has fully popped, remove from heat and transfer to paper-towel-lined sheet pan, and reserve.
  3. Combine the puffed wild rice, quinoa, seeds and dried fruit in a bowl and mix together.
  4. In a saucepan, combine the coconut milk, honey, maple syrup, brown sugar, and salt. Bring the sugar mix to a boil and reduce until soft-ball stage is reached (237° F). Pour the sugar mixture over the seeds and grains and mix thoroughly. Press the bars into a greased pan and let cool for about two hours before cutting.
  5. The recipe makes one 13” x 9” sheet pan, about 15-18 servings.

    Photo credit – Jordan Wright

Nibbles and Sips Goes to the Country

Jordan Wright
June 22, 2015 

A Dreamy Summer Pop-Up Supper, Strawberries Rule at Delaplane’s Annual Festival, Fueling Up at The French Hound, Healthful Eats at Brassicas, Patrick O’Connell Launches Latest Book at Willowsford 

Ryan (left) and Shelly Ross gather with guests

Ryan (left) and Shelly Ross gather with guests

Ryan Ross, daughter of Shelly Ross, owner of The Natural Marketplace, is already a successful chef and entrepreneur from Washington State. For a recent al fresco dinner in the charming garden of her mother’s home in Warrenton, Virginia, Ryan created a fairyland of delights tempting guests with house-crafted aperitifs – Bengal Spice, a mixture of peach and plum teas with bourbon, and Coconut Chai a non-alcoholic summer cooler. Cocktail nibbles, adorned with tiny flowers or aromatic herbs, were equally a alluring.

Deconstructed Deviled Eggs - Fleur de Chèvre covered in edible flowers - Beetroot Crostini with flowers and microgreens

Deconstructed Deviled Eggs – Fleur de Chèvre covered in edible flowers – Beetroot Crostini with flowers and microgreens

Deconstructed deviled eggs sported nasturtium aioli, purple chive flowers and dill. Beetroot crostini incorporated chickpeas topped with micro greens and bright yellow mustard flowers. Dates were stuffed with blue cheese, topped with redbud flowers, poppy seeds and drizzles of aged honey, and small rounds of Fleur de Chevre goat cheese were covered in yellow and purple violets and flecked with pink salt.

Minted Pea Soup - Dates stuffed with blue cheese and decorated with Redbud flowers

Minted Pea Soup – Dates stuffed with blue cheese and decorated with Redbud flowers

A minted pea soup with crème fraiche and bacon shards preceded a tender-crusted cauliflower tart made with gruyére from Goat Hill Farms. Then platters piled high with chimichurri-sauced grilled beef and Satsumi oranges topped with marigold butter, roasted vegetables and cucumber and radish salad were presented.

Grilled beef chimichurri with Satsumi oranges and summer vegetables - Rose and Rhubarb Torte

Grilled beef chimichurri with Satsumi oranges and summer vegetables – Rose and Rhubarb Torte

Wine flowed freely as chatter grew friendlier and I had the chance to speak with my seatmate, John Burns, urbane owner of Goat Hill Farm, in Little Washington, VA. Burns’ farm supplied the flowers and many of the early summer vegetables for the delicious dinner including fruits used in desserts. Finally Rose and Rhubarb Torte served with strawberries and buttermilk and a flourless chocolate cake titled ‘Fallen Earth’ appeared the latter served with a syrup made of whiskey, blackberries and violet cassis.

Ryan, who has inherited her mother’s beauty, cool demeanor and love of food, also shares her dedication to healthy eating and locally sourced food. She divides her time and talents bicoastly creating dinner parties in such unique locations as a butcher shop in Brooklyn, a blueberry farm, old barns, an empty swimming pool and even a tattoo parlor – though most events are held in private homes.

She calls her business Supper Corps and it has taken her far and wide. Follow her adventures and upcoming dinner events (she’ll be back in our area in Fall) on Instagram at En.Root or on Facebook by liking Supper Corps. You can contact her by email to create your own special event. And though west coast based, she often flies back to our area, which she considers her home.

Delaplane Strawberry Festival 

The "Head Strawberries"

The “Head Strawberries”

For the past twenty-some years I’ve wanted to go to the festival that local resident Willard Scott started with his wife, Mary. Willard was, and is, an American national treasure who created the festival as a fundraiser for the Delaplane Emmanuel Episcopal Church’s efforts on behalf of area non-profits. While still keeping to its homespun roots, it has since grown into an annual event that celebrates the arrival of strawberry season.

A serving of Strawberry Shortcake one of the many delights of the festival

A serving of Strawberry Shortcake one of the many delights of the festival

The entire production depends on the efforts of church ladies known as the “Head Strawberries” (if there are men involved in food preparation please write me for a correction) who start preparing months in advance.

The spirited children's Corn Hole toss gets underway

The spirited Corn Hole Tournament toss gets underway

More akin to a large church picnic, the two-day event now attracts over 10,000 guests with old-fashioned children’s games like ring toss, tug-of-war, cake walk, 3-legged races and sack hops – – and tons of luscious strawberries. Factoid: Over 6,000 pints of strawberries are used in the making of sundaes, shakes, cakes and jams, with many flats sold for home canning.

George Esparza and his Wahoo Medicine Show

George Esparza and his Wahoo Medicine Show

Docents dressed in Civil War garb roam the grounds and a snake oil salesman (George Esparza) with his Wahoo Medicine Show & Phydeaux’s Flying Flea Circus captivates families. A top-hatted gent (Jerry Brown) with guitar, squeeze box and a trained monkey named Django had kids utterly mesmerized.

Jerry Brown and Django encourage participation - Re-enactors Gerald Drake with his wife, Donna pose against one of the log houses - Bob Broadwater as a Two-Star Civil War General takes a break

Jerry Brown and Django encourage participation – Re-enactors Gerald Drake with his wife, Donna pose against one of the log houses – Bob Broadwater as a Two-Star Civil War General takes a break

Dogs perform tricks, ponies give rides, and crafters display hundreds of their wares, all while Old-time music rings out from the stage beside historic Mt. Bleak House which is open to visitors.

The Cobbler Mountain Grass band tunes up on the porch of Mt. Bleak House

The Cobbler Mountain Grass band tunes up on the porch of Mt. Bleak House

The festival is always on Memorial Day weekend and always at the beautiful Sky Meadows State Park. See you there next year! For more events at the park visit http://www.dcr.virginia.gov/state-parks/sky-meadows.shtml#general_information

The French Hound in Middleburg, VA 

Co-Owner Cricket MacDonald guests at The French Hound

Co-Owner Cricket MacDonald guests at The French Hound

A last minute decision to dine at The French Hound on a Saturday night on Memorial Day weekend was rash, I’ll admit. With no reservations and coming in off a hike on a steamy afternoon with disheveled hair and feet in flip flops our chances might have been slim. We’d managed a quick change in the Hill School parking lot (one hopes there are no security cameras) where we ran into a fellow hiker seconds later who said he was just getting over a heart attack and was glad he’d missed us en déshabillé.

The bar at sundown at The French Hound in Middleburg

The bar at sundown at The French Hound in Middleburg

The entrance to the restaurant is through a walled garden, which on this night was filled with diners. A hostess, who later introduced herself as one of the owners, politely escorted us to the only seats not taken – – at the wood-topped bar. Late day sunlight streamed through weathered windowpanes casting the cozy room in a honeyed glow. It was that easy time of day, when all accomplishments are totted up and concerns are laid to rest before the sun sets. Thankfully the barkeep promised we’d have the full menu to choose from.

Nine years ago owners John and Cricket MacDonald discovered the old house, which had already gone through a few restaurant reincarnations, and along with French-trained Chef John-Gustin Birkett they opened the French-inspired bistro. They have been a success from the start.

Birkett’s menu reflects a distinctly French flair that leans towards Mediterranean and Moroccan. With a décor that evokes Provence, it’s definitely a relaxed ambiance that appeals to the fine dining crowd as well as the casual diner.

Pot au Feu - Moroccan Lamb Tagine prepared tableside  - Vanilla and Grand Marnier Pot de Creme at The French Hound

Pot au Feu – Moroccan Lamb Tagine prepared tableside – Vanilla and Grand Marnier Pot de Creme at The French Hound

Here you’ll find escargots, mussels steamed with Pernod, house made terrines and other typical Gallic fare – – steak frites, pan-seared halibut and herb-roasted chicken. Wines are predominantly French or California with a brief nod to a Spanish albarino and a rioja and a few nicely curated selections from local Virginia wineries.

At 101 South Madison Street, Middleburg, VA 20117. For reservations call 540 687-3018.

Brassicas Market and Cafe 

Brassicas on opening day

Brassicas on opening day

The banner read “Grand Opening” and it didn’t a minute to check my rearview mirror, apply the brakes and slide into a parking spot. When I’m not on a tight schedule I allow myself regular whimsical indulgences, which is how I found myself in the old clapboard farmhouse – – a former vintage clothing and antique shop in the center of Aldie. I say “center”, but that offhanded descriptor defies logic in a town with neither traffic lights nor stop signs.

Owner Gary Hall takes customers' orders

Owner Gary Hall takes customers’ orders

Gary Hall is the Proprietor, Head Gardener and Executive Chef of Brassicas, a stylishly rustic, slip of a spot devoted to feeding its customers simple, healthful, seasonal fare. Perfectly positioned on John Mosby Highway (aka Route 50), it is sandwiched neatly between the Aldie United Methodist Church and the quaint Little Apple Pastry Shop.

The early garden behind Brassicas

The early garden behind Brassicas

What makes this little place so appealing is not just the tasty and creative offerings but where they are sourced – – primarily Hall’s backyard where a thriving quarter-acre garden provides the freshest herbs and vegetables used in the soups and sandwiches.

The garden was started two summers ago and is now going strong thanks to a few autumns of laying down compost, green sand, woodchips and chicken manure. The manure comes from Hall’s brood of forty chickens, mostly Rhode Island Reds with a few Rhode Island Sex-Links thrown onto the mix. “The Sex-Links are very prolific egg layers,” said Hall who rises at 6 a.m. to tend to the chickens and garden. The menu changes daily, not weekly, allowing him the freedom to use what’s freshest. “We want to be as natural and as transparent about our food as possible,” he explains.

To nurture his evolving garden, he has discovered some unique sources. Woodchips are free, courtesy of the county. Compost is provided by DC Water who offers bio-solids, free to area farmers. Chickens gobble up the restaurant’s food waste producing soil-enriching manure and keeping garbage to a minimum. And lastly, bugs are eaten by the free-ranging flock which, each day, produce up to thirty eggs used in the restaurant’s mayonnaise and egg salad. Now if that isn’t the circle of life!

“In summer the town’s water supply is low,” Hall told me. “Irrigation and washing cars is forbidden. On weekends the Aldie Mill dams up the headrace of the Little River for their milling demonstrations and we have permission from the town to pump water out. I got my hands on some 250 gallon plastic IVC totes that had been used for olive oil. They’re great for collecting water and bringing it to the garden.”

Ricotta Salata with chive flowers drizzled with sage flower honey

Ricotta Salata with chive flowers drizzled with sage flower honey

Brassicas light fare menu is influenced by the backyard garden’s bounty, and right now the garden’s bountiful crop of green beans, squash, tomatoes and peppers are the headliner ingredients on the chalkboard.

Serving breakfast and lunch this summer, he is still trying to decide if he will stay open throughout the winter when the garden is put to bed.  But apart from the menu items you’ll find plenty of locally made foods perfect for a picnic lunch – – honey from Singer’s Glen; breads from Lyon’s Bakery; cookies from Pollystyle; cheeses from Firefly Farms, Allegheny Mountain, George’s Mill Farm and Mountain View Farm; and organic chocolate bars from Equal Exchange Chocolates.

Patrick O’Connell Hosts Latest Book Lunch at Willowsford 

Guests enjoy the delicious food and drink at Willowsford

Guests enjoy the delicious food and drink at Willowsford

A tony gathering at Willowsford gave Patrick O’Connell the backdrop for a book signing last night. The nattily dressed proprietor of The Inn at Little Washington has finally spilled the beans with co-writer Derry Moore about the décor in a 256-page cocktail table-sized book entitled, The Inn at Little Washington: A Magnificent Obsession (Rizzoli 2015).

Now you too can replicate the singerie and madly chi-chi Brit style guests travel cross country to swoon over. British interior designer, Joyce Conwy Evans, collaborated with O’Connell to create the over-the-top elegance that put the Inn on everyone’s bucket list. “Joyce was with us for the whole ride,” the ever-gracious O’Connell told me.

Patrick O'Connell with Bonnie Moore - Culinary Director Bonnie Moore cooks up the Mac n' Cheese

Patrick O’Connell with Bonnie Moore – Culinary Director Bonnie Moore cooks up the Mac n’ Cheese

From a lowly garage to a to a five-star hotel and restaurant, the Inn’s transformation is expressed in gorgeous photographs by Derry Moore and Gordon Beall and watercolor renderings by Evans. Even Martha Stewart was a contributor.

Rappahannock Oysters with Cucumber Sorbet - Mini crab cakes and cornflowers - Mustard Crusted Salmon and Dill

Rappahannock Oysters with Cucumber Sorbet – Mini crab cakes and cornflowers – Mustard Crusted Salmon and Dill

Willowsford’s Chef and Culinary Director Bonnie Moore, who once cooked under O’Connell at the Inn, prepared some of his signature nibbles – – Rappahannock oysters with cucumber sorbet; mustard crusted salmon with mustard dill sauce; mushroom, asparagus and prosciutto pizza; and crab cakes with chipotle aioli. As expected, truffle popcorn, a staple at the Inn, was served in red-and-white striped boxes and a decadent version of mac n’ cheese was presented in tiny cast iron skillets.

Mini Mac n' Cheese share space with bound copies of Le Monde and L'Univers - Floral arrangements were by Mayflowers

Mini Mac n’ Cheese share space with bound copies of Le Monde and L’Univers – Floral arrangements were by Mayflowers

Photo credit – Jordan Wright

Nibbles and Sips Around Town – June 2, 2015

Jordan Wright
June 2, 2015 

Sushi School; Dine-N-Dash in Penn Quarter; Fabulous Animals Art Exhibition at iCi Bistro; Kaz Okuchi, Bonny Wolf and Yoko Isassi at the National Museum of American History 

Back to Class with the Master 

It’s been two years since I sat down with Tokyo-born Daisuke Utagawa, owner of Daikaya and Partner and Creative Director of Sushiko.  Our last dinner was a lesson in izakaya a style of Japanese cooking that I wrote about then and that you’ll find at Daikaya.

Daisuke Utagawa at Sushiko

Daisuke Utagawa at Sushiko

While we dined on many unique dishes there Daisuke spoke of the dozens of specifically descriptive Japanese phrases pertaining to the taste and mouth feel of every dish.

For my second lesson we met up at Sushiko, the posh and stylishly subdued Chevy Chase restaurant where Indonesian sushi chefs Piter Tjan and his brother Handry Tjan were ready to dazzle with the freshest fish to be found without my using a spear and scuba gear.

Piter (left) and Handry Tjan of Sushiko

Piter (left) and Handry Tjan of Sushiko

Sushi and the long-tapered temaki afford an even more intense experience, as the seafood is raw.  It is crucial, nay imperative, that the fish and crustaceans are of the highest quality and that the chef is highly trained in the ancient art of preparing and serving it.  Though Daisuke trains new chefs from time to time, it is years before they are permitted to cut the fish.  Usually they are relegated to making the vinegared rice and pickled vegetables, two decidedly different techniques that also must be perfected.  “Rice grains should be independent,” Daisuke insists, impressing upon me the meticulous care in which it must be prepared. 

Offering omakase, a nine-course chef’s tasting menu, is a new concept for this restaurant.  One Daisuke hopes will catch on – – and for good reason.  It is the optimal adventure in Japanese sushi dining and defers to the expertise of the sushi master who seeks out only the finest seafood available within each season.  “Every fish has a different window of freshness,” my sushi sensei reveals.  “Big bluefin tuna has a window of seven to ten days after it is caught before it is ready to serve.”

Cured Flounder Three Ways

Cured Flounder Three Ways

Our tasting begins with kombu jime hirame, a beautifully cured flounder prepared three ways in aspic and using kombu, a spongy, kelp cultivated on ropes in the seas of Japan and Korea.  The smoky fish is dressed with dashi gelée and adorned with shiso, a type of mint, and myoga, Japanese ginger.  It is followed by a very delicate and creamy dish shiro ebi tartare with white sturgeon caviar, bonito flakes and shimmering gold (yes, real gold!) flakes.  The servings are small, tantalizing, and easily eaten in one or two bites.  A smoked Hama oyster quickly appears with ponzu gelée.  “ As long as the food has your attention your palate is always being challenged,” Daisuke gently advises.

Poached Monkfish Liver

Poached Monkfish Liver

Up next is unagi sunomono, grilled freshwater eel salad with wakame (a woodsy tasting seaweed).  It is tart and refreshing and leads us on to ankimo saba, poached monkfish liver dotted with tomato seeds, cured mackerel and a shower of black truffle shavings.

Sea Bream with its roe in dashi broth

Sea Bream with its roe in dashi broth

For me, uni is the very essence of umami.  Tonight its briny luxuriousness comes from Hokkaido and is prepared tempura style – lightly battered and fried and wrapped in seaweed, oozing with creaminess in a warm crackly crust and seasoned with green tea salt. Hard on its heels is madai suimono, sea bream with its roe, enoki mushrooms, myoga in dashi broth.

The restaurant can do omakase for four people every two hours.  It is a pleasantly intense and focused experience with the sushi master in full view.  Sake, Japanese beer, or as Daisuke would have it, wines from the Burgundy region of France, are the perfect complement.

Bird's Nest

Bird’s Nest

More uni arrives.  This dish is called “bird’s nest” and it is paired with squid, fried leeks, a marinated, velvety egg yolk from jidori hens, and umeboshi, a salty, tart, fermented plum.

Then we digress for a thin slice of seriously marbled Miyazaki wagyu beef prepared by ourselves by laying it flat atop a hot stone for seconds per side.  Pop in the mouth and it’s memorable.

Nigiri board

Nigiri board

A glamorous plate of nigiri is proffered.  Six single bites of scallop, golden eye snapper, masu (aka “cherry” salmon), spot prawn, flounder with uni (you cannot have too much of a good thing) and chopped toro, the fatty part of the blue fin tuna, wonderfully marbled, not oily, and looking like a precious jewel.

After travels with fish, we have come to dessert and it is a surprising bit of Francophilic decadence – – foie gras ice cream with huckleberry jam.  We linger over a spot of tea while Daisuke shows me IPhone photos of his latest interest – – “snow cabbage” aka etto a cabbage that looks like any other yet it is buried in waist-deep snow and harvested in the middle of winter.  The taste, he assures me, is delicious.  He is utterly enamored by this highly prized, rare and very expensive vegetable.  Another lesson.  Another night of secrets from the master.

José Andrés Dine-N-Dash Event Slated for June 9th 

A culinary tour of Penn Quarter restaurants and food trucks beckons the adventurous diners in this super cool World Central Kitchen fundraiser.  Drawing on his mission to feed the world and train chefs in Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and now Zambia, Andrés has designed the perfect evening for the socially conscious to drink, dine and have fun at 17 participating DC restaurants in one fabulous evening and with all proceeds benefitting World Central Kitchen.  It truly describes our core philosophy of nibbles and sips.

A press preview at three of the participating restaurants gave us a tempting taste of what’s to come.

Dine-N-Dash at Jaleo

Dine-N-Dash at Jaleo

At Jaleo we sampled little bites of endive with orange bits, almonds and goat cheese, and a lavish paella.  China Chilcano, Andrés’s new and exceptional Peruvian-Asian influenced restaurant, had more yummy tastes and delicious cocktails, finally ending our 7th Street jaunt at Oyamel.

Dine-N-Dash at China Chilcano

Dine-N-Dash at China Chilcano

Here’s how it works. From 6 to 9pm an estimated 2,500 eventgoers will stroll through the city’s Penn Quarter district, enjoying specialty dishes, craft cocktails and live music at all participating restaurants including China Chilcano, Cuba Libre, Del Campo, Jaleo, OYA, Oyamel, Partisan, Ping Pong Dim Sum, Poste Brasserie, Proof, SEI, Zaytinya and more.  Then from 9 to 11pm guests are invited to join Andrés at an after party at the Carnegie Library with desserts, live music and, you guessed it, more drinks.

Nibbles for Dine-N-Dash from China Chilcano

Nibbles for Dine-N-Dash from China Chilcano

“I am so excited to be hosting the third annual Dine-N-Dash!” said Uber Chef José Andrés, “What’s better than enjoying the amazing Penn Quarter restaurants, all in one night, while helping the many around the world who need our support.  This is one of our biggest fundraisers to support the work of World Central Kitchen, which finds solutions for hunger and poverty worldwide. I believe that food has the power to change the world, and I’m thrilled the people of DC continue to support this unbelievable event!”

Dine-N-Dash at China Chilcano

Dine-N-Dash at China Chilcano

General Admission tickets are $129 and include food and drinks at all participating restaurants plus access to the after party with José Andrés. VIP tickets are $299 and include food and drinks at participating restaurants, including VIP-only areas and dishes, pedicab rides, and access to select VIP-only areas and premium desserts and cocktails at the after party.

Tickets are available through Living Social. For more information about the event, visit www.dinendash.info. 

World Central Kitchen is an action-based, non-profit organization finding smart solutions to hunger and poverty.  “Today WCK is hard at work in Haiti, Dominican Republic and Zambia, empowering the people to be part of the solution – with a focus on smart school kitchens, clean cook stoves, job training, and job creation.” Visit www.worldcentralkitchen.org to learn more.

French Artist Hervé Maury’s Animals Delight at iCi Urban Bistro

At the Hervé Maury opening reception

At the Hervé Maury opening reception

Fantasy animals ruled the roost at iCi Urban Bistro at the Sofitel Hotel and artist Hervé Maury was at the opening reception for the show that will run through June 14th.  So dépêchez-vous if you want to catch this whimsical exhibit.  More than 20 pieces are displayed throughout the restaurant and by evening’s end a few of these had been purchased.

One of Hervé Maury's Polar Bears

One of Hervé Maury’s Polar Bears

Opening night proved to be one of the hippest gatherings in town.  Guests were issued selfie sticks at the door to photo-record the experience and Pernod pastises were offered along with endless flutes of champagne and a dizzying array of delicacies.

Food art at iCi Urban Bistro

Food art at iCi Urban Bistro

Maury, a cheerful, bespectacled artist with no actual pets of his own, is a self-taught artist who resides in Marseille.  Nonetheless he has a sincere passion for polar bears, cats, dogs, fish and elephants that he renders in both adorable and comical poses.  His paintings are reminiscent of the sun-washed colors of the French Mediterranean, reflecting a sense of tenderness and texture in his use of marble powder, sands and ochers.  Most of the work is painted on linen, though he has sometimes incorporated recycled marine sails.

Maury Butterflies at iCi Urban Bistro

Maury Butterflies at iCi Urban Bistro

Featured in exhibits around the world, including the South of France, Paris, London, Barcelona, Rabat and Hong Kong, his “Polar Bear” series once adorned the windows of Hermés boutiques worldwide.

Executive Chef Franck Loquet puts his artistic imprint on raw fish

Executive Chef Franck Loquet puts his artistic imprint on raw fish

Inspired by Maury’s paintings, Executive Chef Franck Loquet has created his own epicurean artwork and offers several specially designed dishes throughout the length of the exhibition.  “I love to create artistic dishes for our guests to enjoy, and Hervé Maury’s artwork was a great inspiration for me,” said Chef Loquet.  The 3-course prix-fixe menu is available in iCi Urban Bistro for lunch and dinner from May 14th through June 14th for $45 per person.

Director of Sales and Marketing Alexandra Byrne says,  “We are so excited to offer this unique exhibit this summer.  We strive to offer guest experiences that enhance our Sofitel pillars: design, culture and gastronomy. This will bring all of those pillars together in one place to satisfy all five senses of our guests.”

For reservations call 202 730.8700 or visit www.iciurbanbistro.com.

Kaz Okochi and Bonny Wolf Star at America After Hours: Sushi for Sale 

In the last of their “Food After Hours” series, the National Museum of American History invited three culinary icons to speak on sushi – – Kaz Okochi, award-winning Chef/Proprietor of KAZ Sushi Bistro and Chef/Partner with Richard Sandoval in Masa 14, and NPR Commentator Bonny Wolf of American Food Roots, whose riffs on American food are well known to fans of Weekend Edition Sunday and her Web-only weekly food column, Kitchen Window.

The evening's panel. Bonny Wolf (l), Kaz Okochi (center), Yoko Isassi (right)

The evening’s panel. Bonny Wolf (l), Kaz Okochi (center), Yoko Isassi (right)

They were joined by FoodStory founder, Yoko Isassi in a conversation about the rise in popularity of sushi in America.  Afterwards, guests were treated to an inspired Japanese buffet supper and classes in sushi making by Okochi, sake tastings by Christian Choi, San-J soy sauce samplings, Japanese snacks from Bourbon, and beer from Sapporo.

Sushi rolling class

Sushi rolling class

Notes from the Notables

Quote of the day.
Japanese Prime Minister during his recent visit to the US.  “America got sushi and we got House of Cards.”

On the invention of sushi.
Isassi.  Fields flood in the rainy season and they get a lot of fish in the rice fields. That’s how sushi started – – the fish and the rice  – – and then pickling with salt to preserve it.

On how early sushi was introduced to the US.
Isassi: The first sushi restaurant in the US was opened in San Francisco in the early 1800’s.

On the proper way to eat sushi.
Isassi: You can use your hands or chopsticks, but dip the fish side into the soy sauce.

On sustainability.
Okochi: I just change the subject.

On keeping the fish fresh.
Isassi: My grandmother packs sushi in magnolia leaves and keeps it for a few days.

On wasabi.
Isassi: Wasabi is more like an antibiotic and bamboo leaves kill the germs.
Okochi: The vinegar protects it from bacteria.

Arigato, everyone!

At the Food After Hours Sushi night -- Baby bok choy At the Food After Hours Sushi night

At the Food After Hours Sushi night — Baby bok choy At the Food After Hours Sushi night

Food After Hours programs will start up again in August.  To learn more about these diverse offerings that feature food demonstrations and discussions on the nation’s food systems, visit www.AmericanHistory.si.edu.

All photo credit – Jordan Wright

Nibbles and Sips Around Town – May 18, 2015

Jordan Wright
May 18, 2015 

Robert Wiedmaier Opens Villain & Saint (You wish you had this bar in your neighborhood!); Lupo Verde Springs to Life with New Seasonal Menu; AC Hotel Brings Euro Vibe to National Harbor; Mastro’s Steakhouse Stakes Its Claim on 13th Street; Blue Duck Tavern Reveals Its Roots 

Villain & Saint 

Have you ever dreamt of a bar with lava lamps and tintype portraits of deceased rock stars gracing the walls? How about nightly live bands fired by a killer AV system? You’re almost there. Add to that a crop of fiercely talented (and greatly tattooed) bartenders plus food designed by one of the city’s finest chefs. Ready?

At Villain & Saint well-known restaurateur Robert Wiedmaier along with Frank Shull, Chef Brian McBride and Joe Lively have created a hipster Valhalla by channeling the glory days of Haight-Ashbury. Adjacent to the Bethesda Farm Women’s Market and smack dab in the heart of Bethesda, it’s the perfect place for Wiedmaier to hang with biker pals David Guas, chef/owner of Bayou Bakery and author of the new book Grill Nation; and R.J. Cooper of Rogue 24 and Gypsy Soul. Expect bands to kick it in the best Blues, Rock, Indie Jazz and Heavy Metal tradition. At last month’s opening Wiedmaier had booked his favorite local band The Lloyd Dobler Effect and a soul singer named Katrina.

The Lloyd Dobler Effect  / Soul singer, Katrina, at Villain & Saint

The Lloyd Dobler Effect / Soul singer, Katrina, at Villain & Saint

Chef Tom Meyer helms the kitchen, which offers healthful choices on the ‘Saint’ side of the menu and heartier fare on the ‘Villain’ side. We tried the Farmhouse Deviled Eggs and a bowl of Clams with Sherry Vinegar listed under ‘Hand and Bar Food’; Zucchini Pancakes with smoked salmon, grilled Granny Smith apples and chive crème fraiche; and the Burrata with Heirloom Tomatoes, which were deemed saint-worthy. But just to prove we weren’t being too all-fired reverential, we washed it down with a ‘Fillmore East’ cocktail of Altos Tequila, Honey-Ginger, Grapefruit and Club Soda and ‘Bye-Bye Miss American Pie’ made with Fireball, Calvados and lemon.

Deviled Eggs /  Clams with Sherry Vinegar

Deviled Eggs / Clams with Sherry Vinegar

There’s no way to cover the extensive cocktail, wine and beer menu to do it justice, but I took note of some of the more unusual selections like Ole Smoky Peach Moonshine from Tennessee, Tito’s Vodka from Texas, and Big Swell IPA from Maui Brewing. This place has hip, hot and happening written all over it.

For nightly music schedules visit www.VillainandSaint.com

Lupo Verde Redux 

The upstairs bar at Lupo Verde

The upstairs bar at Lupo Verde

You’ve already heard me rave about Lupo Verde. I’ll go any chance I get. In fact I wish I lived around the corner. It’s cozy (brick walls, high ceilings and high brownstone windows). The food is great and the service attentive. There’s always an insider crowd and lots of friendly chatter. On a recent visit I tried out their new spring menu. Do I need an excuse?

Squid Ink Scialatielli / Roasted Pork Short Ribs with polenta cream and apricots

Squid Ink Scialatielli / Roasted Pork Short Ribs with polenta cream and apricots

The menu is crammed with classics executed with a modern twist. There are so many delicioso dishes listed, I struggled to decide. Gratefully our waiter guided us, because everything on the menu was calling out to me.

Usually we go back to a favorite restaurant with a certain dish in mind. We crave it. Our food memory says, “I want that thing, and only that thing, again!” We race out the door pursuing it like Jason after the Golden Fleece. For me, Lupo Verde is one of those places. Though here my quest is for the next craveable thing.

Beef Carpaccio / Seared Scallops in artichoke cream with fried baby artichokes

Beef Carpaccio / Seared Scallops in artichoke cream with fried baby artichokes

One of those must-haves is Chef Domenico Apollaro’s sheer-as-a-windowpane Beef Carpaccio with Arugula Pesto. Like a Siren, it sings to me.

But a new dish this spring captured my heart and palate. Capesante Scottate – – a little antipasto with plancha-seared scallops, a lemony artichoke cream and delicately fried artichokes. Here baby artichokes, rarely seen in our markets, are so tender they are fried whole.

An assortment of salumi at Lupo Verde

An assortment of salumi at Lupo Verde

A dish I love on the ‘Primi’ section of the menu is the Scialatielli al Nero – – squid ink infused pasta with ‘nduja salame and garlicky prawns. For my carnivorous-leaning plus one, there was the delectable Costine di Maiale – – fork-tender roasted pork short ribs with polenta cream and apricots. Sumptuous!

Forewarning: If you start out with a small selection of salumi and formaggio with berries, handmade breadsticks and addictive walnut bread, which we most assuredly did, you can barely squeeze in a dessert. But if you come with the thought of indulging in salumi and cheeses you cannot go wrong. There are over 100 different varieties of cheeses and charcuterie items to choose from.  Ricotta and mozzarella are made in-house while the rest are from local farmers or imported from Italy.  There are also several house-cured meats including pancetta, lardo, testa, paté and porchetta.

www.LupoVerdeDC.com

New AC Hotel in National Harbor 

AC Lounge

AC Lounge

Last week National Harbor’s new AC Hotel held a preview party to introduce local press to their new property. The AC is a Marriott life-style hotel brand geared towards millenials who will appreciate the contemporary styling, scads of modern technology and complimentary Wi-Fi.

Capital Wheel at National Harbor

Capital Wheel at National Harbor

Entering from Waterfront Street we took the ground floor elevator up one flight to find an expansive lobby with a bar, lounge and concierge station. Although it was a warm evening, a double-sided fireplace in the center of the large room begged to be cozied up to. Beyond the floor-to-ceiling windows and outdoor terrace lay a fantastic view of the Potomac River and the giant Capital Wheel.

Blue Loogan captures the scene

Blue Logan captures the scene

Leather ottomans, cocktail tables and lounges dot the room, and a courtyard off the lobby has more lounges and fire pits for chilly evenings. New York artist, Blue Logan, captured the scene and the hordes of guests with a mural to be hung in the lobby.

Reflecting the European style, the event was catered by Fabio and Maria Trabocchi’s DC restaurant, Casa Luca. ‘Tea-Tinis’ were by Capital Teas and wine cocktails were by Vino Teano. A ‘Moonshine Bar’, presented by Belle Isle Craft Spirits, was out in the courtyard along with beers by DC Brau. The bar features some nice local craft beers, on-tap wines, handcrafted cocktails and tapas.

Cream of Artichoke Soup by Casa Luca / Seafood Paella from Casa Luca at the AC Hotel

Cream of Artichoke Soup by Casa Luca / Seafood Paella from Casa Luca at the AC Hotel

Though there is not a restaurant on-site in this 192-room hotel, the kitchen serves a European-influenced daily breakfast including sweet and savory tarts, freshly baked croissants and a selection of artisan-cured meats and cheeses to nibble on. Be sure to check out the Library, fitness center, 3,700-square-feet of meeting space. In a nod to the river’s proximity and its many boats at dock, modern nautical accents are found throughout the hotel.

Here’s a recipe for one of the handcrafted cocktails from AC Lounge.

Cherry Blossom Sour

Cherry Blossom Sour

Cherry Blossom Sour

Ingredients

  • 1.5 ounces                                           Sloop Betty Vodka (handcrafted in Maryland)
  • ¼ ounce                                              St. Germain
  • ¼ ounce                                              Simple Syrup
  • ¼ ounce                                              Cherry Brandy
  • ¼ ounce                                              Oloroso Sherry
  • 1 ounce                                                 Lemon Juice
  • 1                                                             Mint sprig to garnish
  • Glass                                                     Rim with vanilla sugar

Method

Add all ingredients into a cocktail shaker. Add ice and shake 10-20 times. Double strain into a vanilla sugar rimmed cocktail glass and garnish with mint sprig.

To Make Vanilla Sugar

Split one vanilla bean in half, remove seeds and whisk in a bowl with ½ cup of sugar.

www.Marriott.com

Mastro’s Dazzles in Penn Quarter 

If you thought Mastro Steakhouse only serves steak, you can put that idea to rest. At their opening party blowout, meat was almost an afterthought. A massive iced seafood display, spilling over with giant tiger shrimp, Alaskan King crab legs and Blue Point oysters was the size of a 73’ Cadillac Fleetwood.

Everything is done up to the nines in this 14,000 foot space. The entry features a custom-designed glass chandelier 8-foot in diameter. A bar is covered in Italian marble and black granite with walls sheathed in cork overlaid with a golden finish. Dark stained floors inlaid with marble spell glamor and an elaborate metal staircase leads to a lower level with leather banquettes and wood-topped tables. The sophisticated space plans live entertainment at the upstairs bar seven nights a week.

The seafood display at Mastro's preview party

The seafood display at Mastro’s preview party

The glamorous restaurant is renowned for indulgent, signature dishes such as a two-foot-tall seafood tower, lobster mashed potatoes, and Warm Butter Cake. On this night we sampled a little of everything, especially at the champagne bar dedicated to Veuve Cliquot and Moet Chandon.

To celebrate the 13th outpost of the Mastro’s chain a step and repeat wall let partygoers capture the memory.

Menu and Chef Changes at Blue Duck Tavern 

The arrival of Executive Chef Ryan LaRoche to head up The Blue Duck Tavern kitchen has brought about some eagerly anticipated changes. All for the better. LaRoche, who has been trumpeted by Esquire as one of their “Top Five Chefs to Watch”, has his sights set on proving exactly that.

Chef Brad Deboy serving up slow roasted porcetta

Chef Brad Deboy serving up slow roasted porcetta

He is joined by Chef de Cuisine Brad Deboy, formerly of the beloved Vidalia; and Pastry Chef, Naomi Gallego, formerly of the three-star Le Diplomate, who has soared to prominence as “Pastry Chef of the Year” and 2008 James Beard Foundation nominee for “Outstanding Pastry Chef”.

Chocolate Cheesecake Bars by Naomi Gallego

Chocolate Cheesecake Bars by Naomi Gallego

The evening’s reception was held on the terrace, where herbs and lettuces share space with river birch trees, and a gentle fountain screens out street noise.

Rabbit Mousse with gooseberry compote and peanut brittle  - Blue Duck Tavern's canning efforts

Rabbit Mousse with gooseberry compote and peanut brittle – Blue Duck Tavern’s canning efforts

Separate stations were arranged for the individual chefs to show off their impressive creations and tasty hors d’oeuvres were passed along with ‘District Snap’, a cocktail made with Mt. Gay rum, snap pea juice, mint, lime brown sugar and soda; and a lush libation called ‘Mellomaro’, made with George Dickel White Whiskey, Aperol, orange, mint and sparkling wine.

Ryan LaRoche's Spring Pea Salad with farm cheese, lavender honey, preserved lemon and spiced peanuts

Ryan LaRoche’s Spring Pea Salad with farm cheese, lavender honey, preserved lemon and spiced peanuts

Here’s how Chef LaRoche likes to prepare spring peas.

Garden to Table Peas with Mint 

Ingredients

  • 1 oz unsalted butter
  • 4 oz picked fresh peas
  • 1 tsp lemon
  • pinch of chopped mint
  • salt and pepper to taste

Method

In a sauté pan, melt the butter until it starts to bubble. Add in the peas and sauté until they become soft (one minute). Drizzle lemon juice and add mint to the pan. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Enjoy!

Photo credit – Jordan Wright

Nibbles and Sips Around Town – May 6, 2015

Jordan Wright
May 6, 2015

Scanning the course

Scanning the course

Whisk and Quill was delighted to accept an invitation to attend the 90th running of the Virginia Gold Cup last weekend in The Plains, Virginia, as a judge for their prestigious tailgate competition – – a hard-fought and entirely subjectively-judged contest pitting talented and sophisticated entrants against those of the same stylish stripe. The competition for this blue ribbon event was sponsored by the Silver Diner ( See my previous article on Silver Diner ), who kindly sent one of their chefs, Chris Hiller, to join us in our efforts.

For the first time in 25 years, I abandoned my own well-heeled guests for three-and-a-half hours to swan around the rolling hillside lapping up bourbon cocktails, swooning over caramel cake and taste-testing an exotic Indian biryani. I swear on the memory of my beloved Brazilian horse, Beija-Flor, it felt like I ran the length and breadth of the entire steeplechase course…though gratefully it was devoid of any water or brush jumps, and more to the point, I did not have to wear a saddle.

The main parameters were that the offerings be homemade, and that the entire tailgate set-up should reflect a theme. Unfortunately some of the unnamed entrants had chosen to scoff at the memo. Our four judges were astounded to see Costco cookies and sandwiches, still in their plastic tubs, side-by-side with veggies and dip from the local Safeway. May the saints preserve us! And may the best horse win.

The Bee People

The Bee People

For the most part these concepts were highly original. Some were delightfully equine-themed. The “Bee Calm and Carry On” group had little bees on everything – – from cupcakes to a honeyed bee skep cake. The hostess was eager to point out that all offerings included at least some honey, including the Honey Punch and the whiskey bourbon shooters. Yes, whiskey and bourbon combined – – a delicious, if not incendiary, alternative to cough medicine. The ladies were attired in yellow and black, some striped, and host Eddie Batten was gotten up in a tan beekeeper’s suit complete with antique fogger.

Shanti Williams greets guests

Shanti Williams greets guests

“A Trip Around the World” welcomed us with ‘passports’ – – a printed menu of the afternoon’s delights. Cutouts of the Eiffel Tower, Taj Mahal and Statue of Liberty adorned the table and we found Greek, Indian, French and German influenced dishes prepared by local private chef, Shanti Williams of Ruther Glen, Virginia whose Duck Confit Sliders with Cranberry Jam and Fennel & Celery Root Slaw were an especially big hit.

Sylvia Sosa's Pink & Green theme

Sylvia Sosa’s Pink & Green theme

Sylvia Sosa chose “Pink & Green” as her theme and carried it out to the nth degree with horsey cut-out sandwiches sporting pink saddles tied with bakery twine and cupcakes decorated with horseheads and horseshoes. It certainly was one of the prettiest tables we visited.

Tiffany's goes country

Tiffany’s goes country

Jen Dominick brought Tiffany’s from city to country with an Audrey Hepburn cutout gracing a 20-foot table. Guests clad in classic Tiffany-colored turquoise and white apparel drank from silver mint julep cups (plastic, but very chic nonetheless). Her bespoke parting gifts for guests were tiny chocolates in precious blue boxes with white satin ribbons. It was all very posh, don’t you know.

Karen Gilbert and guests

Karen Gilbert and guests

Two competitors stole the show. Hostess Karen Gilbert of “Crystal Horseshoes” who served the most amazingly tender short ribs, “fully loaded” potato salad and super divine sandwich on a roll with her Hot Brown Sliders; and Jackie Deschamps who rocked a “50 Shades” theme.

50 Shades Pink & Black theme

50 Shades Pink & Black theme

Jackie’s choice of a fabulous shocking pink-and-black color theme coupled with sumptuous food – – poached salmon with hollandaise, shrimp kabobs, and an assortment of delicious homemade cakes – – matched the charming hospitality and elegant demeanor she and her guests showered upon us. It may be true that we were influenced by such niceties as offering up a welcoming chair, personally serving us separate plates for entrees and desserts, and bringing round a refreshing drink, if only for the three minutes we allowed for our “I-hate-to-eat-and-run” visits.

Caramel cake from 50 Shades

Caramel cake from 50 Shades

Racing around over hill and dale, like horses navigating jumps on a steeplechase course, we managed to visit all twelve competitors. We tasted and sipped, chatted up strangers and debated the merits of the competitors; coming up with the premise that, when every last little thing was taken into account, it was all about homemade fare, a soupçon of creativity and old-fashioned, heartfelt Southern hospitality. We are in Virginia after all.

One of the award-winning hats in front of the Steward's Stand

One of the award-winning hats in front of the Steward’s Stand

In the end it was a photo finish, with “50 Shades” leading by a nose, followed by “Crystal Horseshoes”, who had driven 100 miles round trip to find their tabletop white horse, and “A Trip Around the World”, coming away with a very respectable third.

Thanks go out to each and every competitor. See you in the fall when we’ll do it all over again on October 24th.

Kentucky Hot Brown Sliders

Kentucky Hot Brown Sliders

Kentucky Hot Brown Sliders – from The Seasoned Mom

Ingredients:

1 package of King’s Hawaiian Sweet Rolls (split)
¼ cup of mayonnaise
12 slices of deli turkey
12 pieces of cooked bacon
6 slices of Gruyere cheese
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
¼ cup canned pimientos (diced)
½ cup butter (cubed)
2 Tbsp. finely chopped onion
2 Tbsp. brown sugar
1 ½ Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
¼ tsp. garlic powder

Directions:

Spread mayonnaise on the roll bottoms. Layer with turkey, bacon, a few bits of pimiento and both cheeses. Replace tops. Arrange sandwiches in one layer in a greased 9-inch-square baking pan. In a small skillet, melt butter over medium heat. Add onion and cook, stirring for one to two minutes, until tender. Whisk in brown sugar, Worcestershire sauce and garlic powder. Continue whisking until sugar is dissolved. Pour butter sauce over sandwiches.

Cover with foil and refrigerate for several hours. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and bake covered for 25 minutes. Remove cover and bake for an additional 5 minutes or until nicely browned.

Honey Punch – adapted from the Food Network

Dissolve ½ cup honey in ½ cup boiling water. Let cool, then pour into a pitcher. Add the juice of 2 lemons, 2 cups of apricot or peach nectar, and 1 cup of vodka, gin, bourbon or whiskey. Chill. Before serving add a bottle of chilled sparkling apple cider (Try the all-natural ‘Alpenglow’, made in Virginia from Shenandoah Valley apples.) and float lemon slices in the pitcher.

Photo credit – Jordan Wright