Photo credit – Jordan Wright
Virginia Distillery Debuts Port Finished Virginia Highland Malt Whisky – Ambar Opens in Clarendon – Hazel fuses Asian with Italian – Smoked and Stacked for Your Reubens – Buttercream, The New Kid on the Block – ICE! Returns to National Harbor
Virginia Distillery Company Showcases New Whisky Flavor
We get excited about a lot of things around here, but the Virginia Distillery Company’s Port Finished Virginia Highland Malt Whisky has us leaping out of our comfy chairs. The production facilities with factoid-rich whisky museum are located in beautiful Nelson County where this past September. whiskandquill.com/nelson-county.
If you like your whiskey smooth with a sweet finish, this small batch release is the one for you…and me too. You’ll want to use it for cocktails and especially for after dinner sipping. Toffee, dried fruit and dark cocoa notes linger on the palate, affording dyed-in-the-wool whisky lovers an excuse to drink it neat or perhaps, with a splash of branch water.
In addition, VDC adds a limited edition Cider Barrel Matured Virginia Highland Malt to their ‘Commonwealth Collection’. Finished in casks from Potter’s Craft Cider in Free Union, Virginia (I’d like to know the back story of the town’s name), it has distinct overtones of apple.
Gareth Moore of the Virginia Distillery Company
At a recent gathering at Homestead restaurant in Petworth hosted by VDC’s owners Gareth Moore, son of the late founder Dr. George C. Moore, and his charming wife, Maggie, we had the pleasure of a tasting paired with Executive Chef Marty Anklam’s upscale comfort food.
A few nibbles from Executive Chef Marty Anklam
VDC partners with Gearhart’s Chocolates for their signature truffles. Chocolatier extraordinaire, Tim Gearhart, was on hand to demonstrate his technique for making VDC’s whisky-infused truffles.
Tim Gearhart hand rolls the whiskey truffles
This is how it would go in our house – bite of truffle, sip of port whisky, repeat till satisfied.
Ambar Opens Outpost in Clarendon
I look forward to dining at Ambar any chance I can. Its Balkan dishes are soothing soul food that speak of a complex diaspora of Turkish, Greek, Mediterranean, Austrian (an early conquerer) and Slavic influences. In the past it’s meant a trip up to Capitol Hill and the small two-story Barracks Row restaurant Serbian owner Ivan Iricanin opened in 2013. Fast forward and Iricanin has branched out into this hipster hood, staffing both kitchen and front of the house with his fellow compatriots, including General Manager Jovan Prvulovic. After two return trips to this latest outpost, I can see it’s a huge hit.
In house made charcuterie platter
Here are the dishes that speak of slow-cooking – sarmales (yummy cabbage rolls stuffed with meat in a tomato sauce), smoky grilled meats, home baked breads like somun and lovely spreads like ajvar made with red peppers, garlic and eggplant, the traditional hummus, a smoked trout spread, or the soothing urnebes made with feta, sour cream, lots of garlic, and paprika, and which translates amusingly to “chaotic spread”.
Hail the sausage, house made and wood-grilled. This version is delicious as are all the meats including the house made charcuterie selection.
Ambar at dinner service is always mobbed
Recently Ambar launched both brunch and lunch. The lunch features soups, salads, sandwiches, and an assortment of meat pies. Freshly pressed juices include ‘Appleberry Lush’, apple, carrot and strawberry; ‘Beets & Treats’, beet, apple, carrot, orange and lemon, and ‘Green Cheer’, cucumber, spinach, lemon, apple and orange.
Brussels sprouts with lemon, garlic yogurt and bacon
Some of the highly creative salads are the Roasted Squash Salad with mixed greens, crispy bacon, roasted pepper, roasted squash and pomegranate dressing; Ambar Salad with mixed greens, zucchini, asparagus, broccoli and poppy seed dressing. Their Creamy Mushroom Soup with crispy leeks, forest mushrooms and cream is the perfect antidote to a cold winter’s day.
From the ‘Sandwiches & Pies’ side of the menu choose from Cheese & Spinach Pie with crispy phyllo, cucumber yogurt and ajvar emulsion; Wild Boar Burger with arugula and pesto sauce; Fried Catfish with organic slaw and tartar sauce; Zucchini Burger with roasted sunflower seeds, tartar sauce, ajvar spread and smoked gouda; Grilled Shrimp with lettuce, tomato, pepper aioli and crispy prosciutto, and the Fried Chicken, almond and walnut crusted chicken with red onion and apple wasabi.
An assortment of Balkan sweets
But there are plenty of other tummy-warming dishes to try. Consider Stuffed Sour Cabbage with pork belly, jasmine rice, mashed potato and yogurt; Baked Beans & Sausage with paprika and house-made pork sausage; Slow Cooked Stuffed Pepper with house ground beef & pork, served with dill cream, and the Lamb Stew with sweet cabbage and horseradish, served with cornbread. Some dishes from the ‘Rotisserie and Chefs Specials’ are the Mix Meat Platter with pork neck, sausage, kebab, chicken, Balkan fries and urnebes spread are available.
Pair your meal with a handcrafted non-alcoholic cocktail like Rosemary Lemonade, Peach Ice Tea, Berry Hibiscus Soda, as well as Ginger Green Tea Soda. Or go for it with ‘Session Cocktails’ like the ‘Orangeena’, vodka, lemon juice, orange puree and soda; ‘Cosmo Flip’, vodka, muddled grapes, mint syrup, lime juice and cranberry juice, or the classic ‘Mojito’, rum, mint and lime.
Ambar, 2901 Wilson Blvd, Arlington, Virginia, 22201.
Hazel – The Talk of the Town
The outdoor lounge
Hazel has had as much buzz as a beehive these days, and I’m not sure why. I came wanting to fall in love with it, but my heart was crushed like a bug. Though it is a stunning space both inside and out and includes an impressive wine list and tasty craft cocktails by Greg Engbert, I still can’t puzzle out the draw. Trendy plateware from Cloud Terre, a staple in rustic-design destinations, aren’t enough to lure me in. Been there. Seen that. After all the chatter I’m looking for the wow factor, but apparently I didn’t get the message.
Fire Panda sauce // Gnocchi Bokki a Pork kimchi ragu with sesame seeds and smoked pecorino
Many of the dishes have an Asian-Italian influence which I found to be curious and ultimately unsatisfying. Noted chef Rob Rubba of the Neighborhood Restaurant Group, has come up with some unusual combinations like gnocchi with kimchee and barbecued carrots with buttermilk which I found to be palate-confusing.
Asian-Italian fusion octopus // Asian-Italian fusion
A few forkfuls in I wondered exactly what I was eating and why. And sadly, desserts by one of the city’s best pastry chefs, Naomi Gallego, formerly of Blue Duck Tavern, were uninspired and didn’t show off her wonderful baking skills. On a positive note, I did come to love Fire Panda – a house made hot sauce that makes sriracha taste like ketchup. If you go, be sure to take home a bottle or two.
Hazel, 808 V Street, NW, Washington, DC 20001.
Head to Smoked and Stacked for Your Next Reuben
Smoked and Stacked’s hot pastrami sign
Craving a Reuben sandwich? This newly minted spot is where the bread is baked fresh and the meats are cured overnight. But plan on taking it to go or eating briskly. It isn’t built for comfort, there are only few tables and a smattering of stools, and heretically, no Dr. Brown’s Cream Soda – nor any type of throwback sodas, only a soda dispensing machine.
Smoked and Stacked’s hot pastrami sign
There’s a limited menu on the blackboard and you’ll want to order ‘The Messy’. Unlike the original Reuben made with thick slices of corned beef (New York’s crown jewel of Jewish delis, Katz’s, classic springs to mind), this version uses pastrami instead, keeping the traditional sauerkraut and Swiss cheese served on rye and properly sautéed in butter on a flat top grill. Here the dressing is called Thousand Island dressing. In New York we call it called Russian dressing.
Top Chef finalist, Marjorie Meek-Bradley, thinks of her place as a go-to for breakfast sandwiches served on ‘milk bread’ and a neighborhood destination for pastrami lovers.
Close by the Walter Washington Convention Center between M and N Streets, it’s at 1239 9th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20001.
The Adorable Buttercream Bake Shop
Buttercream Bake Shop
You want it. Now! Scrumptious baked goods, cute and yummy cupcakes, flaky biscuits and buttery croissants, pies, soaring three-layer cakes, cookies with big chunks of chocolate and cake truffles dotted with rainbow sprinkles. It’s all here and it’s all delicious.
Lemon Meringue Bars at Buttercream Bake Shop
Across the street from Smoked and Stacked, the Buttercream Bake Shop is where you’ll find Espresso Ho Hos and Pistachio Macarons for the sophisticated kid-at-heart and Lemon Bars sporting swirls of soft meringue. Each day something different fills the refrigerated cases or sits atop pretty cake stands.
Sky high Coconut Cake at Buttercream
I took a seat with my coffee and coconut cake and watched as mothers with fancy baby carriages flooded through the doors, some with children in tow (a perfect excuse to visit, but not entirely necessary) and some with other mothers in what looked to be an after-the-playground reward session.
Espresso Ho-Hos at Buttercream
Pastry Chef, Tiffany MacIsaac and partner, Alexandra Mudry, have taken a visit to the corner bake shop and elevated it to new heights in this charming spot. The women also run a successful catering business for parties, as well as bespoke wedding cakes.
Buttercream Bake Shop, 1250 9th Street NW, Washington, DC 20001
ICE! Returns to National Harbor
ICE! at National Harbor
The Christmas tree inside the Gaylord National Resort and Conference Center is new. This year the tree in the Atrium has a patriotic flair lit up in red, white and blue, though the one beside the harbor remains more traditional.
Patriotic Christmas tree in the Atrium of the Gaylord
The Potomac Express train ride still fills the air with choo-choo sounds and the dancing fountains’ light show still delights children with its leaping flumes while grownups can enjoy cocktails at the Old Hickory bar overlooking the nightly indoor “snowfalls”.
The Potomac Express in the Atrium at the Gaylord
You’ll see a new crop of characters ringing in the season this year and get a chance to eat with Lucy, Charlie Brown and the gang for Food & Fun Peanuts-themed breakfasts. Be sure to make reservations for these fun character dining events.
Santa with Rudolph carved from ice
We’ve come to see ICE! the show that’s lured families like a siren to its frozen statuary. This year’s theme is “Christmas Around the World” and each icy diorama reflects the flags and cultures of many lands. Over two million pounds of ice were carved to create this year’s fantastic experience, including the thrilling! and chilling! two-story ice slide.
The merry-go-round in the Christmas Village
Be sure to check out the latest offerings – a full-size merry-go-round, Elf on the Shelf scavenger hunts, an expanded gift shop, photos with Santa and cookies and milk with Mrs. Claus, and a Build-A-Bear workshop – all in the new Christmas Village.
A traditional tree lines the harbor with the Capital Wheel in the distance
Through January 1st at 165 Waterfront Street, National Harbor, MD 20745. For tickets, hours and special overnight packages visit www.ChristmasonthePotomac.com.
November 18, 2016
The entrance to NMAI – photo credit Jordan Wright
If your plans are not yet etched in stone for Thanksgiving Day, you may want to consider doing something a bit different this year. Our small family did one year, when we found ourselves gathered outside of our normal Northeast coastal locale. We still talk about the year we were all in Miami and decided to cook up a Cuban feast – turkey with mojito seasoning, black beans with ham hocks, a huge platter of tropical fruits, rice pilaf, hearts of palm salad and tres leches cake for dessert. That year’s holiday celebration is fondly, and amusingly, retold to this day. So, why not try something new this year and add it to your collective memories?
Here’s an outstanding option you may not have considered, or even known about. Mitsitam, the award-winning restaurant in the National Museum for the American Indian, is doing a complete Thanksgiving dinner to eat in or take out. They tried it last year and it was a huge success. It dovetails with the free three-day dance festival featuring the Northwest Coast, and will be held at the museum November 24th through the 26th to celebrate Native American Heritage Month. How much fun would that be?
The pond planted with native species at the museum – photo credit Jordan Wright
To give you an update, recently Freddie Bitsoie (Navaho) has taken over the Executive Chef position at the restaurant since former Exec Chef Jerome Grant has moved over to Sweet Home Café in the Museum of African American History and Culture. Bitsoie, who has been at the forefront of Native American foods for over ten years, has worked on a wealth of projects with universities and museums including the prestigious Heard Museum in Los Angeles. A graduate of Le Cordon Bleu Culinary School in Scottsdale, AZ with further studies in Cultural Anthropology and Art History at the University of New Mexico, Bitsoie uses creative interpretation, coupled with years of research in culinary history, to develop his indigenous recipes.
Mitsitam Executive Chef, Freddie Bitsoie shows off some of his Thanksgiving dishes – photo courtesy NMAI
Among other honors and accolades, Bitsoie was the winner of the museum’s Living Earth Festival Native Chef Cooking Competition in 2013, and was named “a rising star in the constellation of young chefs” by Native Peoples magazine in 2011. He has been featured on an episode of PBS’s Lidia Celebrates America and is working on his own show Rezervations Not Required, about indigenous cuisines around the world.
At a recent press gathering, I tasted a number of the dishes offered for this Thanksgiving feast and they are indeed unique and delicious. They are all inspired by tribal foods from the Great Plains, Meso-America, South America, the Northern Woodlands and the Northwest Coast. If you’re adventuresome, this could be the most memorable Thanksgiving you and your guests have ever experienced.
Sweet Red Chile and Orange Rubbed Free Range Turkey with pan gravy and spiced cranberry sauce – photo courtesy of NMAI
Here’s how it works. If you choose take out, you only need cook the turkey in your home, all else has been prepared for you. (See appetizers, sides, salads, gravy and desserts listed below.) If you opt for eat in, and I have been told whole families come, some laying out their best tablecloths, you will relax over your meal in the cafeteria overlooking the gardens and lovely water features. Imagine. No clean up! Just a relaxing day with friends and family. Bring as many as you like. Afterwards take in the dance festival or a stroll along the Mall.
Cedar Smoked Salmon and assorted side dishes – photo courtesy of NMAI
The take home menu serves 6-8 people and ranges from $180.00 – $195.00 depending on your entrée. Or you can just order these dishes separately to add to your at-home dinner.
If you opt for the whole meal deal choose one of three entrees – Sweet Red Chile and Orange Rubbed Free Range Turkey with pan gravy and spiced cranberry sauce; Sumac Crusted Bison Tenderloin; or Juniper Glazed West Coast Salmon. Then build your meal around that with two large side orders of the following options – Brown Sugar and Butternut Squash Soup sweetened with Maple and topped with Candied Pumpkin Seeds or North Atlantic Clam Soup with Sunchokes and Leeks. Appetizers are Local Blue Crab Cakes or Wild Rice Baked Fritters with queso fresco and blueberries. Sides are numerous and diverse but I mention just a few of your choices – Roast Beets with Sage; a cold salad of Hominy with Fire Roasted Peppers, Onions, Lardons, and Watercress with a Lime Vinaigrette; Mashed Potatoes with Walnuts and Agave; Braised Kale with Shallots and Apricots and. A half sheet of Blue Cornbread comes with each whole meal order, as does one pint of Cranberry and Pineapple Sauce and dessert of either Apple Cobbler or Classic Pumpkin Pie.
To place an order call Miriam Menkir at 202 633-7044 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
The National Museum of the American Indian, Fourth Street and Independence Avenue, SW, Washington, DC 20013. nmai.si.edu/visit/washington/
All photo credit to Jordan Wright
701 Gets Jazzy with New Fall Drinks and Dishes – An Afternoon with Andrea Cecchi and His Award-Winning Chiantis – Ottoman Taverna: SCOTUS sighting and Turkish Delight – Sofitel Wine Days and Thanksgiving Dinner – Blackwall Hitch Redux – ‘Night at The Yards’ Gives Back – Ocean Prime Hits All the Right Notes – Junction Bakery Opens in Del Ray – Barboursville Wine Dinner at Airlie
Get Jazzy at 701
701 Restaurant has rolled out its autumn menu from Executive Chef Benjamin Lambert and the bartender has responded with creative cocktails like the ‘7th & Penn’ made with rye, aged rum, PX sherry, orange and angostura bitters or the ‘Douro Spritz’ concocted with saffron gin, white port, house tonic and soda.
The kicker is you can groove to jazzmen of note, Eddie Eatmon and Gary Rowe, both native Washingtonians who are on deck throughout happy hour.
Lambert’s specialty fall offerings include Chilled Corn Soup – topped with bacon, cornbread streusel and chili-lime sorbet; Bluefin Tuna Tartare with the unique combination of sushi rice ice cream, ponzu and wasabi oil; Corn Fonduta Agnolotti – chanterelle mushrooms, truffle and sungold tomatoes which is indelibly delicious; Cauliflower Shawarma – hummus, golden raisins, tomatoes and lavash; and Smoked Duck Breast – black beans, salsa verde and baby corn.
Chef Benjamin Lambert’s latest dishes
He’s also got a few sweet endings up his sleeve – a twist on S’mores with toasted marshmallow, chocolate and graham cracker ganache and the especially yummy Sweet Corn Pudding with blueberries, crunchy yogurt and champagne.
701 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20004
Wine Tasting Luncheon with Andrea Cecchi at Ristorante La Perla
The early autumn sun fell languidly through the windows of Ristorante La Perla as Andrea Cecchi, of the famed house of Cecchi, presented his wines at the elegant Georgetown spot, a few blocks from the Four Seasons.
Signore Cecchi prepares to greet his guests
Under shimmering Venetian chandeliers, cream-colored walls studded with celebrity photos (and a certificate from the Pope!), and an Italian mosaic of Botticelli’s Venus rising from the shell, we tasted eight Chiantis, each paired with Owner/Chef Vittorio Testa’s outstanding Italian cuisine.
Botticelli’s Venus Rising
It became a festive afternoon as Signore Cecchi urged us to raise our glasses in celebration of the 300-year anniversary of Chianti Classico as the world’s first designated wine region – Take that France! – while affording our small group a glimpse into the charmed life of a fourth generation winemaker.
His knowledge is boundless on the subject of Chianti and the Sangiovese and Vermentino grapes used for the estate’s wines and he was peppered with many questions. Here’s a tip for buyers: Identify these regional wines by looking for the Gallo Nero, on the label. The “Black Rooster” designation traces its lineage to 14th century Florence.
Signore Cecchi awaits guests with a collection of his estate wines
Established in 1893, Cecchi has estates in both Umbria and Tuscany in Castellino. The wines presented by our charming host ranged from the very affordable 2014 La Mora Vermentino at a suggested retail of around $20.00 to the pricier 2011 Coevo at $106.00. A table favorite proved to be the 2013 La Mora Morellino Di Scansano coming in at a modest $23.00.
For restaurants and stores in our area visit Cecchi wines.
Wild boar chops
I’d be negligent if I didn’t mention the excellent lunch dishes – the delicato calamari insalata (there is no substitute for superior olive oil), wild boar chops with sage and rosemary in a Marsala sauce (evoking memories of rustic Tuscan food), perfectly prepared pasta (it can be al dente without sacrificing a tooth!) and decadent house made Italian pastries – an almond cake with a layer of raspberries and Bacio di Napoli, a decadent chocolate cup filled with vanilla ice cream and zabaglione sauce, and topped with chocolate sauce and whipped cream.
Bacio do Napoli
This is an exceptional Italian restaurant that had somehow been off my radar and which merits many return visits.
The dining room at Ristorante La Perla
2600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20037
Ottoman Taverna Is a Rare Bird
Ottoman Taverna is an unquestionably upscale Turkish restaurant – a rara avis that focuses on refined Turkish cuisine in a fashionable series of rooms set apart from a long bar area by lacy wood panels. The bar with its glowing stone top says “Let’s party” while the marble floors and tapestries coupled with modern chandeliers and tobacco-colored leather banquettes suggest, “Let’s settle in for a relaxing meal”.
The wood fired oven at Ottoman Taverna
A spectacular copper wood-fired oven set off by a collection of the-cook-is-serious copper pots, signals that food here is taken very seriously. Ask SCOTUS Elena Kagan who was enjoying dinner with friends at a four-top by the floor-to-ceiling windows while we relaxed with hand-crafted cocktails chilled by hand-made ice cubes.
Ottoman Taverna Executive Chef Ilhan Erkek
The menu here reflects traditional Turkish cuisine yet on the higher end of the spectrum.
An assortment of mezzes
Hot and cold mezes rule the appetizers while fish, lamb, (the doner kebabs are a must have) and slow cooked dishes are the standouts.
Finish with baklava or the house made hazelnut ice cream. And, if Claudia is there, ask her to “read” your fortune from the muddy sediment that remains in the bottom of your Turkish coffee. Certain patterns will intuit your future.
425 I Street, NW, Washington, DC 20001
Sofitel “Wine Days”
Unfortunately, the “Wine Days” event at the Sofitel which featured the hotel’s new wine program and superb collection of French wines is coming to a close. Held in the posh Presidential Suite overlooking the city, Executive Chef Gyo Santa showcased delectable delights culled from his new menu and now being served at the hotel’s iCi Urban Bistro. Santa presented a fusion of flavors, some Asian-inspired, others adhering to the French menu the hotel is well known for.
From Sofitel’s extensive wine list
Smoked duck breast with Maytag blue cheese and a wedge of poached fig and spoonfuls of sesame tuna carpaccio with a sweet and tangy Asian sauce were as irresistible as beet tartlettes with Monocacy Ash goat cheese and a sliver of fresh orange. Naturally there were gorgeous platters of fruits and charcuterie, but the biggest surprise was the house made blackberry gelees and heavenly macarons. You can still find all of these and other treats on the bistro’s menu, along with such vintages as Chateau Greysac Medoc, The Seeker Pinot Noir, Louis Jadot Bourgogne, and Bieler Pere & Fils rosé from Aix-en-Provence. Did you know that rosé is the number one wine consumed in France? Perfect for Thanksgiving!
Smoked duck breast with figs
And that brings me to their Thanksgiving menu – an exceptional feast if you don’t want to cook or clean up. And who does? It starts off with a selection of butternut squash velouté with duck confit, foie gras mousse with raspberry glaze, or salmon gravlax with roasted beets, frisée and horseradish cream.
Beet tartlettes with Monocacy Ash goat cheese
Entrées are classic farm raised heritage turkey with wild mushroom stuffing, cranberry jam and mashed potatoes, or lobster risotto in a rich bisque, or roasted lamb loin accompanied by seasonal vegetables and apricot pepper jus.
Assortment of macarons
Have I got your attention yet? Finish with pumpkin cheesecake with caramel filling in a pecan crust or chocolate molten cake with fall spices in a pear purée. At $55 pp plus tax and gratuity, it’s a steal.
806 15th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20005. For reservations and information call 202.730.8800.
Blackwall Hitch Redux
Looking out at the water at Blackwall Hitch
Because Blackwall Hitch is eager to get things right after an uneven start last summer, we went back to see if anything had changed. First off I’m happy to report that service has improved dramatically. The staff is better trained and eager to please.
This is certainly one of the most attractive restaurants in Northern Virginia and notable for its five bars, a spacious lounge, outdoor dining, a seafood bar and a fabulous outdoor fire pit/bar area. Hot toddies, anyone?
The décor is absolutely gorgeous, nautical with chic Hamptons style. But be forewarned. It’s quite noisy when busy, so if you have a choice, ask for a banquette downstairs by the windows overlooking the water, or a high-top table upstairs, if it hasn’t been reserved for a private party. Note: The upstairs lounge and dining area would be ideal for office holiday parties, as would the large private dining room below.
A fall offering of Cauliflower Soup
One of the highlights here is the live music which starts out most nights at 9pm and goes till 1am. On Sundays it’s from 10am – brunch time – till 3pm. Check the website for the featured artist.
Fried soft shell crabs
So far the wine selections have been pedestrian and the food can be uneven. A delicious cauliflower soup was light and frothy with its ring of balsamic vinegar and maitake mushroom foam, and the fried softshell crabs when in season are large and succulent. But fish can be overcooked, as was a large portion of swordfish. (It’s a travesty when a beautiful piece of fish is ruined by overcooking.) And pass on the leaden, fire-roasted flatbreads, that can’t sub for an actual pizza.
Recommendations: Oysters on the half shell, fish and chips, seared Ahi tuna, crab cakes, shrimp and crab seviche, and killer sweet potato fries. I haven’t had the best of luck with the entrees since they opened. But key lime panna cotta with toasted almonds and strawberry sauce and an authentic 9-layer Smith Island cake were true winners.
Key lime panna cotta
Update: A new fall menu was just about to launch since I visited in late September, and newcomer Chef de Cuisine Arra Mente Lawson, a protégé of Jean Louis Palladin, aims to turn things around. Look for his daily specials he calls, “Ode to Palladin” in which he evokes dishes influenced by the great French chef. With Lawson’s experience in French cuisine along with his Southern roots, the menu is slowly evolving and I hope to keep an eye on his progress.
A basket of fluffy biscuits inspired by Chef Lawson’s Southern roots
Note: The restaurant will be serving a traditional Thanksgiving buffet with all the trimmings for $38 pp, plus tax and gratuity. Oysters and jumbo shrimp included!
5 Cameron Street, Alexandria, VA 22314. For reservations call 703.739-6090.
Night at the Yards Gives Back
As one of four judges at the 9th annual “Night at The Yards”, I was privileged to represent Washington Life magazine while tasting some fabulous offerings from area restaurants.
The event benefits education and job training programs serving at-risk youth and young adults. Here are the results of the competition. Best Food – Capital Crab Company; Best Food Presentation – Farmers and Distillers; Best Booth Set Up – Ice Cream Jubilee; Best Brew – District Chophouse; Best Cocktail – Lavagna. My favorite beer that didn’t win was ‘Hefeweizen’ wheat beer from Gordon Biersch. Tastiest dish that didn’t win was a creative salad from Art-Drenaline in the Anacostia Art Center. Meanwhile upstart LA/San Francisco coffeemaker, Philz Coffee, now in Adams Morgan and The Yards, was getting all the buzz.
Kids enjoy a myriad of programs from Living Classrooms of the National Capital Region
Described as casual-festive, the event raises critical funds for Living Classrooms of the National Capital Region‘s hands-on education, workforce development, and violence prevention programs for at-risk youth and young adults.
Two live bands – The Psycho Killers (a Talking Heads Tribute Band) headlined followed by a tribute to Stevie Wonder presented by Squaring the Circle & Friends. Legendary saxophonist Ron Holloway was on board and a dance performance by the young Queen Beez who are from the program that uplifts DC young girls through music and leadership.
Over 30 of the area’s restaurants served up nibbles and sips along with beer, wine and craft cocktails while guests bid on sports memorabilia, gift cards to local restaurants and businesses, and a tour through France’s Bordeaux wine country. For more info on these and other events visit. .
Ocean Prime Hits the Heights
A wall of wines
Destination: Over the top luxury restaurant, tailor made to impress guests, clients and your significant others. A place to see and be seen.
‘Berries and Bubbles’ gets hand poured at table
On opening night at Ocean Prime, the sky was the limit. Seafood towers billowed with dry ice as they reached for the rafters, smoking cocktails (more dry ice), massive steaks, lobster mashed potatoes and richly lavish desserts. This is not the place to count calories. Your only challenge will be to decide from the drool-worthy items on the menu. Bring a crowd. You’ll want to try everything.
The smoking seafood tower
Housed in the former Ceiba, the restaurant is now a glam spot with plenty of razzle dazzle. Four of us ate our way through the menu (well, we tried) beginning with that smoky cocktail ‘Berries and Bubbles’, a champagne and Belvedere vodka fresh fruit sparkler that brought oohs and aahs as it was hand poured at table.
Filet mignon with hollandaise
We remarked on the fresh briny oysters and the quality of the shrimp and lobster, that sang of the sea. Prime steaks come with an assortment of sauces including black truffle butter, béarnaise, and garlic shrimp scampi, while Maine lobster tails are simply bathed in butter. Want a 16-ounce rib eye? It’ll set you back $51, but you’ll be making steak sandwiches for days.
Twin Maine lobster tails are served with asparagus
Ten layer carrot cake with pineapple syrup
This was not a night for chicken, though it is organic and antibiotic-free and is sourced from Freebird Farms in Maryland. Nor did we have our eyes on a Duroc pork chop, though they are dry-aged and beautifully marbled. The consensus at the table was to order the most decadent dinner imaginable, and that’s exactly what we got.
As an added attraction the service is impeccable – bow-and-scrape all the way. And, though the place is lively, and separated from the bar by a lacy coral screen, you can hear your tablemates, though the back dining room is quieter and more private.
A view to the bar
Ocean Prime is the 25th restaurant of renowned restaurateur, Cameron Mitchell, and boasts an impressive wine list honored by Wine Spectator.
Five stars, if I gave them out. Book now for the Inaugural weekend.
1341 G Street, NW, Washington, DC 20005. For reservations call 202.393.0313.
Junction Bakery & Bistro Opens in Del Ray
If you like rustic baked breads, muffins, brioche, croissants, cakes, cookies, scones and assorted pastries, trot over to Junction Bakery & Bistro, the newest kid on Monroe Avenue, and the latest venture by Noe Landini of Landini Brothers restaurant in Old Town Alexandria, and chef Nathan Hatfield.
With cold-pressed juices from their own Grateful Juice Co. and Culpeper native, Commonwealth Joe Coffee Roasters, keggers of ‘Nitro Cold Brew Coffee’, it’s an all-around hit in the neighborhood.
The day’s breads
Eat in or pick up grab-and-go sandwiches for breakfast or lunch. Try the Short Rib Grilled Cheese on roasted garlic sourdough or, for a vegan option, Golden Quinoa with summer veggies, fava beans, caramelized onions and almond mint pesto. Chicken Liver Toast with onion jam called to me. Soups change each day on the whim of the chef. And I loved the seasonal Pumpkin or Apple hand pies as a capper.
Junction Bakery bakes its rustic breads, muffins and sweet pastries on site in the gleaming kitchen behind the register
1508 Mount Vernon Avenue, Alexandria, VA 22301.
Airlie Plans Barboursville Wine Dinner
Located in horse country in Warrenton, the beautiful Virginia hills unfold to reveal the magnificent estate and resort of Airlie, a property of over 600-acres.
On Thursday, November 17th they will host the last of their ‘Signature Dinner’ series wine dinners featuring award-winning wines from Barboursville Vineyards.
Executive Chef Hector Cruz and his culinary team have drawn on autumnal flavors to expertly pair with varietals from Barboursville. The evening begins at 5:30pm with a welcome reception featuring passed hors d’oeuvres and select Barboursville wines. Guests will have the opportunity to meet winemaker Luca Paschina, as he shares the story of how his humble roots in Piemonte, Italy inspired his lifelong passion for wine, food, and the soil.
Chefs in Airlie’s Local Food Project Garden
Chef Cruz will prepare a flavorful menu using vegetables and herbs from Airlie’s 4-acre organic garden as well as provisions from a hyper-local networks of farms.
The menu includes an Amuse Bouche, Scallops and Cream Polenta paired with Barboursville Viognier Fall Salad paired with Barboursville Chardonnay, all natural Grilled Veal Rack paired with Barboursville Cabernet Franc, Poached Pear, Garden Lavender and Rainey’s Dream Cheese Ice Cream paired with Barboursville Phileo.
Tickets are $75 pp and available at Dinner Reservation featuring Barboursville Wines or call 540.341.3299. For out-of-towners think about staying the night. For room reservations call 540.347.1300.
September 15, 2016
All photo credit – Jordan Wright
The view from 20-Minute Cliff
Usually a trip through Nelson County has us making a beeline to Charlottesville. And though Thomas Jefferson’s university town has beauty, history and terrific restaurants, there are tons of other attractions in this bucolic county worthy of a visit – and a few night’s stay. Let Route 151 be your guiding star. For our adventure we allowed five days and four nights, and only scratched the surface, vowing to return to the places we discovered and those we’d heard about and missed. And although this is piece is entirely subjective, feel free to design your own trip by cherry-picking from our favorites.
Farms dot the landscape on the Blue Ridge
Once past the Manassas exit on Route 66, the road opens up to spectacular vistas, rolling countryside and the eastern side of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Bill Coffee’s family-owned Buckland Farm Market outside of Warrenton on Route 29, is always our first stop. The large farm store has a dizzying array of homemade cheeses, fresh fruits and veggies, plants and preserves, and more importantly, a wide array of mouth-watering baked goods. In autumn there are pumpkin turnovers and pumpkin whoopee pies along with Southern pecan and apple pies. You’ll also find the widest selection of Bob’s Red Mill products. If you’re on an overnight stay, bring a cooler and stop on the way home for farm-raised beef and eggs. The haunted corn field will open weekends throughout October and pick-your-own pumpkins are in the field now.
The Spa at Wintergreen Resort
After purchasing a few jars of local honey and the prerequisite snacks, we proceeded up the mountains to check in at Wintergreen Resort, heading post haste to the serenity of The Spa for massages. The full-service spa offers a variety of options and we chose a combination of Swedish, deep tissue and reflexology. The ‘Green Tea and Lemongrass’ stress-shedder includes a salt scrub, hot stones and Vichy shower for the ultimate in relaxation. From now till November the treatment switches over to the autumn-inspired ‘Pumpkin Chai’ sugar scrub. Afterwards don plush terry robes and relax with a cup of herbal tea in the lounge overlooking the woods, or a swim in the indoor pool. Finish your hydrotherapy in the steam room or sauna before heading off to dinner.
Fresh cut bouquet from Pharsalia
Wintergreen has several dining options and the Copper Mine Bistro in the heart of Blackrock Village is the homiest of all. Have breakfast here if you are planning on morning activities at the resort. Golf, tennis, mountain biking and skiing are the most vigorous activities, but for less of a workout there’s yoga, trail walking and swimming. Visit the Nature Center to learn about the flora and fauna and archeological history of the area. Guided walks leave from here or you can venture out on your own using their free trail maps.
Devil’s Grill is the resort’s fine dining restaurant. And as with the other four restaurants, guests can go casual, though here tables are dressed up with candles, flowers and white linens signaling a fancier repast. A new chef has arrived since we dined there in late June, but expect locally-sourced seasonal food with a gourmet flair.
The morning brought rain and mist and the fern-bordered path to the Copper Mine Bistro was dense with fog. Weather in the mountains has a habit of improving after a few hours and by the time breakfast was over the sun had broken through the clouds and we took off for the mountain course to make an early tee time.
Devil’s Knob golf course
Devil’s Knob is the most challenging of the two courses (18 holes at Devil’s Knob and 27 holes at Stoney Creek), and I’m afraid in our zeal we didn’t do it justice. But it was worth every scenic moment. Sitting at an elevation of 3,800 feet and cooler than its sister course, Stoney Creek (designed by Rees Jones), we found wildflowers and wildlife our chief distractions. This beautifully laid out Ellis Maples designed course takes advantage of the spectacular mountain views and rushing streams cascading down from the mountain tops.
The cottage gardens at Basic Necessities
Lunch brought us off the mountain to a small cottage surrounded by a lush perennial garden where we met Kay Pfaltz, an avowed Francophile with a joie de vivre that’s indelibly contagious.
Let Kay Pfaltz choose your wine
Kay is the author of the charming memoir Lauren’s Story: An American Dog in Paris and co-owner of Basic Necessities with Sallie Justice and Rosie Gantt. Together they helm this restaurant and retail store. The enchanting spot reflects a distinctly French flair drawn from Pfaltz’s years as a writer living out her dream in Paris with her adored beagle, Lauren.
The shop at Basic Necessities
In the front section the shop is filled with a wide array of cheeses, freshly baked baguettes, patés and sausages – perfect for pairing with wines from Pfaltz’s expertly selected collection.
Pfaltz, who pens a local wine column, makes her selections based on taste, style and affordability and I homed in on a few sumptuous, well-priced burgundies and a number of carefully curated Virginia wines from the Commonwealth’s better winemakers. Her clientele certainly benefits from her discriminating, Gallic-honed palate to guide them.
Chocolate cake at Basic Necessities
The dining area is in the back and overlooks more gardens. Provencal patterned tablecloths echo the French theme while floral print china and sprays of wildflowers in stone crocks adorn the tables. Lunches are served Tuesday through Sunday, with dinner service on Friday and Saturday nights only.
Thanks to Justice and Nelson County cook, Mae Collins Tyree, we were able to partake of a lovely French-inspired luncheon.
Charcuterie platter at Basic Necessities
I was particularly taken by the delicacy of a watermelon + tomato gazpacho, a classic Croque Madame and a lavish charcuterie platter with all the accoutrements. Pfaltz’s choice of a nice French rosé put us in mind of the French Riviera on a summer’s day. We capped off our French feast with a slice of richly dense and multi-layered chocolate cake.
Nelson County boasts ten wineries, three craft breweries, two cideries, one meadery and two distilleries. You will most assuredly not get to visit them all in one trip. We gave it our best shot and epically failed. However you choose to approach this tempting dilemma, it is ultimately more satisfying to focus on a few, all the better to savor the experience. In this way you’ll be able to spend quality time with folks eager to share their passion for the land and their commitment to their products.
Tony and Elizabeth Smith at Afton Mountain Vineyards
At Afton Mountain Vineyards winemakers Tony and Elizabeth Smith are proud owners of their upscale winery whose vines were planted in the 1970’s. Formerly known as Bacchanal Vineyards, the Charlottesville couple bought the vineyard in 2009, and doubled the acreage under vine. They expect their annual production of 2,200 bottles to increase to 5,000 in the next few years under the care and watchful eye of winemaker Damien Blanchon who hails from the South of France.
Currently the winery produces 15 varieties – something for everyone’s palate. Their 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon and 2012 Petit Verdot recently won gold at the 2016 Monticello Cup Wine Competition and they are exceedingly proud of being the area’s only producer of Pinot Noir.
Enjoying a glass of Petit Verdot Reserve at Afton Mountain
From the elevated tasting room on a drizzly afternoon you might see a group of horseback riders make their way across the vineyard.
Riders tour the vineyards at Afton Mountain Vineyards
Rebel’s Run at Afton Mountain is a nearby stable providing guided tours of the vineyard and the scenic countryside. Riders stop in to relax with a glass of wine beside the lake before heading back to the stables. ‘Sip and Saddle’ packages can be booked through the stables or local B&B’s who pack box lunches for the riders.
Christine and Denver Riggleman beside casks of their aged bourbon
A stop at the wildly successful upstart Silverback Distillery introduced us to Virginia-born owners Christine and Denver Riggleman. After years of living the transient military life and raising their three daughters, Denver offered his wife Christine the chance to choose their next path. To his utter surprise, she told him she wanted to start a distillery. Their daughters, who are very much hands on in the endeavor, voted on the nickname they had given their father, “Silverback”, after the massive gorilla – their term of endearment in reference to his large build. (He has since shed the excess pounds and it’s difficult to picture him as inspiration for the simian moniker.)
The tasting lounge at Silverback Distillery
Silverback Distillery opened for business less than two years ago and has already been the recipient of eight international awards. Combining a blend of Virginia grains with American craftsmanship, they currently offer Beringei Vodka, Strange Monkey Gin (winner of Double Gold at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition), Blackback White Grain Spirit and Blackback Rye Whiskey. An aged bourbon is coming soon. Stop in for mini cocktails – the London Mule with gin, ginger beer and lime juice was our favorite quaff. They have limited distribution and most sales are here at the Tasting Room, so be sure to pick up a bottle or two to take home.
Bold Rock’s Tasting Room
Close by you’ll find two local craft cideries – Bold Rock Hard Cider uses 100% apples from the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, while Blue Toad Hard Cider gets 100% of their apples from New York state. No concentrate bases whatsoever like the larger cideries. Farm to Tap.
A worker checks the hoses on the tanks at Bold Rock Hard Cider
Bold Rock is a massive operation with three locations in Virginia and one in North Carolina, while Blue Toad is a tiny speck on the map. Try them both and judge for yourself.
The Tasting Room at Blue Toad Hard Cider
If you’re looking for an active bar scene, Devils Backbone Brewing Company is nearby. This large craft brewery, recently purchased by Anheuser-Busch, is set on 100-acres of farmland with plenty of outdoor seating in its naturalistic gardens. Families congregate at the covered outdoor bar as children explore the paths.
Barbecue at Devils Backbone
The restaurant features sixteen beers on tap to pair with simple pub food.
The restaurant at Devils Backbone Brewing Company
If you’re lucky enough to be in Nelson County on a Saturday, head for the farmer’s market. Along with pretty flowers, fresh fruits, cheeses and veggies, you’ll find some unusual vendors like local bladesmith, T. Hipps, whose line of heirloom quality handmade cutlery called Karma Blades, will set you apart from the run-of-the-mill chef or hunter. Or Lynne Ross of La Sunflower who makes her beauty products with comfrey and other natural home grown herbs.
Purple cauliflower from the season’s bounty
Stop by Barefoot Bucha’s stand to try their organic kombucha made locally with organic ingredients and served on draft and pick up a homemade lemon meringue pie from The Hungry Fox.
The James River Cut-ups entertain the crowd at the Nelson County Farmers Market
Hopefully you brought a cooler to take home John and Jade Sonne’s organic pork, eggs and berries from Spruce Creek Farms and some kimchi and fermented drinks from Farmstead Ferments.
Fermented vegetables from Gathered Threads
Where else can you find okra hot dogs and cider brats? Why from The Rock Barn, of course. Other unique finds are fermented vegetables from Gathered Threads, who offer wide range of products from tsukemono, gingered carrots and apple & juniper sauerkraut.
Essences from Primal Wisdom
My personal favorite from Virginia Vinegar Works is ‘Blackberry Cabaret’. Not too sweet, not too tart – it’s the perfect addition to any kind of salad.
Sandy Beebe shows her artwork
And, if you want to know why painter and printmaker Sandy Beebe, whose works are reminiscent of Grandma Moses, moved to Nelson County, she’s at the market every Saturday and is delighted to chat about its charms.
Mary Wolf owner of Wild Wolf Brewing Company
All this food and no stove to cook it, was making us hungry. So turning back onto the Brew Ridge Trail we headed for lunch at Wild Wolf Brewing Company to meet owner Mary Wolf whose son Danny Wolf is the Master Brewer.
Wild Wolf’s restaurant is housed in a restored schoolhouse
This unique, eco-friendly, family-owned brewery, offers a wide array of beers and a restaurant housed in a former 1910 high school with wrap-around porches. Stroll around the 10-acre former garden center to enjoy ponds, a water wheel, a biergarten and rustic outbuildings.
The Gazebo gardens at Wild Wolf
The restaurant has an exceptional Head Chef in Chris Jack, and a talented Pastry Chef and Baker in Higgins Stewart, both of whom create truly memorable food. According to Mary two years ago she and Danny decided to go farm-to-fork. Now they send spent grain from their hops to a local farmer to feed his cattle in trade for beef.
Herbed gazpacho ~ Shrimp and grits
Eggs come from the chickens that live beneath their hops vines, and there’s a vegetable garden for much of the produce and summer herbs tucked into Jack’s dishes.
Chickens feed on insects beneath the hops vines at Wild Wolf
In the kitchen heritage breed Autumn Olive pigs are butchered for sausages and the ground pork is added to burgers. Grits are prepared using stone ground corn from the nearby Woodson’s Mill in Nelson County. The craveable, crisp-crusted cornbread brought steaming hot to the table in wire baskets, is made with Ula Tortilla’s organic, locally grown, non-GMO corn flour. This rustic restaurant retreat is a must stop for excellent, chef-driven local cuisine and hoppy IPAs made with Cascade hops used in their “Primal Instinct” IPA. We loved knowing Wild Wolf was selected as the Virginia Green Brewery of the Year.
The Tasting Room at Democracy Vineyards
Was it the wine or the beer? But somehow we missed the turnoff to Del Fosse Winery leading us to a scrappy little vineyard that hadn’t been on our radar. Democracy Vineyards may not be on many people’s list, but we loved its quirky theme and amazing collection of political memorabilia that lines the walls of the ultra-modern tasting room. Started by Susan Prokop and Jim Turpin on an old apple farm, Democracy now features eleven wines with such startling names as ‘Suffrage’, ‘Freedom’, ‘Magna Carta’ and ‘Velvet Revolution’. Be sure to taste their ‘Parliament’ 100% Petit Verdot dessert wine, and ‘Freedom’ a ‘Pinotage’ varietal.
A short drive away is the Virginia Distillery Company, where the elegantly furnished Visitor’s Center signals this luxury brand. This summer the company launched ‘The Virginia Whisky Experience’, a one-of-a-kind guided interactive tour and museum experience for its visitors. It includes a tour of the state-of-the-art distillery and the Cask House ending in a tasting of their Virginia Highland Malt and a sampling of their craft cocktails either in the Visitors’ Center or on a 2,000-foot patio replete with water and fire features.
Inside the distillery
Fed by seven converging springs, the distillery was the dream of George G. Moore, an American visionary who was determined to see Virginia whisky come back to an area once better known for its Prohibition Era stills. Moore died three years ago and the project was taken up by his son, Gareth Moore and wife, Maggie, who have shown the same pioneering determination. While VDC’s whisky was aging in used bourbon casks for a minimum of three years, they began distilling and aging their Virginia Scotch Whisky in the Scottish Highlands and shipping it back to Lovingston, finishing here in port-style wine casks where it will age for six to twelve months. Not all the malted barley will come from Virginia, as there are not enough local farmers able to fulfill their needs, so most will be sourced from Scotland’s famed Boby malt mill.
Guests settle in for a tasting of Virginia Highland Malt
Until their on-site product has aged completely, the tasting room offers the Scottish-distilled Virginia Highland Malt in a number of specialty cocktails. We particularly enjoyed the ‘South of Manhattan’ which we paired with their specialty Gearhart’s Chocolates Whisky Truffle made with their Highland Malt and sold in the gift shop.
Carol mixes the ‘South of Manhattan’
‘South of Manhattan’ Cocktail from Virginia Distillery
- 4 ounces Virginia Sparkling Cider
- 1/2 ounce Luxardo cherry juice
- 2 dashes cardamom bitters
- 2 ounces Virginia Highland Malt Whisky
- Orange peel
- Luxardo cherry, for garnish
South of Manhattan
In a shaker, mix together cider, cherry juice and bitters. Add two ice cubes and the Virginia Highland Malt Whisky. Stir and strain into a coupe glass. Rub the rim of the coupe glass with the orange peel and garnish with the Luxardo cherry and the orange peel.
Fourth generation owner Jim Saunders
Jim Saunders is the fourth-generation owner of Saunders Brothers founded in 1915. The affable farmer took time to drive us in his bright red truck through hundreds of acres of peach, apple and Asian pear orchards plus 36 varieties of boxwoods. (You’ve probably seen their boxwoods in the White House gardens, planted during the Kennedy administration.)
Bouncing along the rutted farm roads, Jim regaled us with tales of the 1200-acre Nelson County farm. Jim’s father, Paul Saunders, is the family genealogist and successful author, penning two wonderful books, “Heartbeats of Nelson”, a fascinating 634-page photo-filled anthology on the history of the county and its people, beginning in pre-Civil War times to the present day. His second book, “Down on the Farm”, tells the history of the Saunders’ family life and the business of running the farm. You can get pleasantly lost in these emotionally-connected stories of life and times by the Piney River.
Author Paul Saunders – Heartbeat of Nelson & Down on the Farm
We finished the tour in the farm store with Homestead Creamery’s delicious homemade peach ice cream from their Farm Market and left toting a basket of early yellow Sentry peaches destined for our cobblers. Look for Saunders peaches, apples and pears at Whole Foods. Their Albemarle Pippin was Thomas Jefferson’s favorite apple and is great for baking as well as cider.
Early season Sentry peaches
The Rock-n-Creek Cabin is the most unique accommodation I have ever come across. A rustic two-level A-frame cabin with wraparound porches, it is set in the woods and encircled by a series of ponds. And though I was not particularly keen on the unidentifiable insects flitting around the bathroom floor, it’s more luxurious than camping out.
Amid his oak baskets Christy gets to work on a new decoy.
Host and owner Richard Christy is a renaissance man. He is an accomplished chef, caterer, self-taught decoy and shorebird carver, and basket weaver. His Buck Island Bay Decoys and Mountain Man Basketry studio is adjacent to the cabin. I tell you this because you will be interacting with him as he prepares your dinner. He is a font of information about the area’s wonders and a fascinating conversationalist. As a former chef to Gerald Ford, he has helmed many restaurant kitchens around the country and continues to consult on new food products for major producers.
Richard Christy Chef/Owner of Rock-n-Creek Cabin with the first course
Back to the experience. When booking your reservation, Christy will ask what style of cuisine you would like him to prepare. In my case I left it to him, and after he had checked out this website, he decided he would do something un-restaurant-like and totally out of the ordinary, choosing to prepare a “wildcrafted” dinner sourced entirely from wild edibles – with the exception of the vanilla, flour and sugar used in the dessert.
Our dinner was entitled ‘WILD THING – I Think I Love You’ and Christy presented us with a beautifully printed menu of our three-course dinner.
As we sipped our wine from barstools looking through to the open kitchen, the pony-tailed chef tossed freshly foraged salad greens – creek lettuce, lamb’s quarters, dandelion, chicory and cattail hearts – topping them with grated pickled duck egg, toasted pumpkin seeds and buttermilk dressing. Our palate refresher was “Apple Pie Moonshine”, his signature concoction of homemade moonshine, cinnamon and apple cider. Strong medicine meant for those who spend the day foraging and hunting in the woods as opposed to tooling around country roads in an air-conditioned SUV.
Blue catfish entree
We took our seats in candlelight while Christy prepared our next course – blue catfish filets in brown butter on creamed ramps and nettles, finished with preserved fig. A side of savory sweet potato and caramelized onion puree added sweetness and extra complexity. It was divine!
Pound cake with wild blackberries, honeysuckle crema and spruce tip ice cream
Dessert was a harmonious medley of foraged ingredients. Dense pound cake served with stewed wild blackberries and enhanced with honeysuckle crema and hand-churned spruce tip ice cream. I can assert without equivocation that I have never enjoyed a meal more uniquely delectable.
The cabin with its full-sized kitchen has all the amenities you’ll need whether your bringing the whole family or looking for a romantic getaway for two.
A small group of visitors await a tour of Swannanoa Palace
High atop the Blue Ridge Mountains sits Swannanoa Palace – one of those intriguing places, you never knew existed.
A view from the mountaintop at Swannanoa
Built in 1912 to replicate the style of the Villa Medici in Italy’s famed Borghese Gardens, millionaire philanthropist and railroad magnate James H. Dooley and his wife Sallie May used the 22,000-square foot Italian Renaissance Revival villa as their summer mountaintop retreat. (You may be more familiar with the Dooleys’ better known Maymont home and gardens set beside the James River in Richmond.) It is divinely lavish with exquisite frescoes, carvings and massive fireplaces of Sienna and Carrara marble. Hidden doors and a secret elevator are revealed to the curious visitor, and the incongruous ‘Persian Smoking Room’ features teakwood carvings, mosaics and a mosque fresco above the fireplace. An exquisite Moorish lantern, bejeweled with sapphires, rubies, amber and opals, hangs above the exotic decor.
Architectural details abound in the decaying palace – A bejeweled Moorish lantern lights up the ‘Persian Smoking Room’
The 52-room Afton mansion appears to be haunted and one group claims evidence of the ghost of Sallie May. A few years ago a team of ghost hunters from the Twisted Paranormal Society set up night beams and recording equipment in the mansion claiming to have recorded spirits within. One year later they returned under the auspices of another paranormal show called The R. I. P. Files attempting to identify the ghosts who reside there.
The expansive pergola depicted in the Tiffany window has fallen into disrepair
The white marble palace is mostly abandoned, but guided tours of the ground floor and gardens are given seasonally from May through November on Saturdays and Sundays.
A Tiffany window at the top of the grand stairway portrays Sallie May Dooley in her gardens at Swannanoa
On our tour Victoria Airisun Wonderli, author of Swannanoa Palace – A Pictorial History of the Past and People, was busy signing her fascinating book on the history of the mansion. There is currently no website for the property. For information on visiting hours call 540 942.5201.
Author Victoria Airisun Wonderli signs her book on Swannanoa
It was high time to shed any notions of ghosts and spirits and things that go bump in the night. And what better way to exorcise the demons than a glass of wine and a spot of lunch?
Cardinal Point’s grounds provide stunning views of the mountains
When we arrived for lunch on Sunday two musicians were playing mellow tunes on the deck at Cardinal Point Winery. Overlooking gardens abloom with roses and daylilies, we settled into a spacious sofa feeling carefree and peaceful.
As the duo took requests, we gobbled up a delicious box lunch of salad and sandwich while alternating between Vinho Verde-styled, ‘Green’ and a lively estate-grown Cab Franc rosé. Ginger and Maya chocolate bars from Gearhart, the Richmond-based artisanal chocolatier, were the sweet finish.
Lunch on the covered deck at Cardinal Point Winery
During lunch, Sarah Gorman, sister of owner Tim Gorman, spoke with us about the evolution of her brother’s vineyard which currently has 15 acres under vine.
She told us how Tim, one of a smattering of Virginia owners who is also a grower, came to be a winemaker. Tim is known for his fresh and innovative takes on classic vinifera, and naturally is very passionate about the growing side of things. Gorman got into winemaking as a result of being frustrated by how the grapes he was growing for other vineyards were not being honored. A creative winemaker, he prefers to ‘read’ the grapes when they are ready. This tells him what kind of wine to make as opposed to having to force a grape to become something other than what it should be.
In a small winery such as this, he can come up with innovations, and he does. His ‘Clay Hill’ Cabernet Franc, made with grapes from a neighboring vineyard, was a 2016 Virginia Governor’s Cup Gold Medal winner. A classic Loire Valley style, it has also done well in international competition. Be sure to sample some of these unique wines unknown to other Virginia wineries – like the 2014 ‘Quattro’ made from Riesling, Gewurtztraminer, Viognier and Traminette grapes for an off-dry wine with notes of candied apple and pear.
Wine and chocolates at Cardinal Point Winery
Interpreting how each fruit has evolved in a season allows Tim to inform his winemaking decisions. For his 2015 ‘Frai Chardonnay’, a wine with peach, pear and tropical notes, he stopped the ferment short of dry, leaving it with only 2% of residual sugar. Sarah mentioned that the 2015 unoaked ‘Hopped Chardonnay’ is flying out of the tasting room with buyers surprised at how differently a chardonnay grape can be expressed.
The winery also features a five-bedroom 19th century farmhouse for overnight stays. Check the website for upcoming events.
After doing a bit of shopping at Tuckahoe Antique Mall, we pressed on to Veritas Winery where we would spend our final night. No, not in a vat of grapes, but at the bespoke Farmhouse at Veritas.
The flower filled pergola greets visitors to Veritas Winery
What we came upon was a breathtaking winery with vast expanses of green lawns, acres and acres of vines and a production facility that sustains a wine-drinking clientele of over 3,000 club members and boasts a grand ballroom for weddings and large events.
The busy tasting room at Veritas Winery
Founded by Andrew and Patricia Hodson, a British couple who moved to the county to lead a quieter life, they thought they’d put a few acres under vine. In a short time, their flight of fancy became one of the most successful, and stunning, wineries in Virginia with many of their family members filling the roles of winemaker and managers. We took a lengthy tour of the production facilities which are vast. And though I took reams of notes, most are cryptically abbreviated. Here’s what I can be sure of. All their grapes are grown in the Monticello AVA, which consists of four counties including Nelson, and they bottled and sold their first wines, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot, in 2002. Their philosophy is to exclusively use estate or local grapes and they are most excited about a merlot they are testing using grape pomace (the skins, pulp and seeds from grapes).
Sheep graze alongside the vines at Veritas
As for the technical stuff, they employ a reverse osmosis machine and a state-of-the-art gyro cube for riddling and they are very proud of their gravity-fed vineyard. I felt myself going into shutdown mode, either from too much technical stuff, or the fact that we had come inside to refrigerated cellars from 98-degree heat.
The tasting went swiftly as I passed over some too young reds to get to the best of the lot. The 2014 ‘Vinter’s Reserve’ Red is their most promising wine right now, as the 2013 cuvee won the Gold Medal at the Governor’s Cup and I found the 2013 Petit Verdot to be coming along nicely. I had a particular affinity for the 2015 Viognier which is touted as cellaring well, and a more delicate than expected version of ice wine called ‘Kenmar’.
The Farmhouse at Veritas
We checked into The Farmhouse at Veritas, more of a bespoke estate home, elegantly appointed with walls of books, an old-fashioned billiard table in the Gathering Room and fine antiques. High-end decorator touches grace the eight suites that are outfitted with high-quality linens and premium amenities. Not your typical roadside B&B, the 1839 home was where the Hodson family lived when they first took ownership of the former horse and cattle farm. Guests can also opt for ‘The Barn Cottage’, a charming two-bedroom, two-bath cottage with a fireplace in the living room and a full-size kitchen available for guests.
Outdoor dining at Blue Mountain Brewery
As much as I preferred to luxuriate in such splendor and sneak off with a book to the second-story front porch, we took off down the road for dinner at the Blue Mountain Brewery where we arrived in time to watch the sun set. The award-winning brewery is proud of its 20 varieties of craft beers made with their own hops, Simcoe, Cascade and Centennial, and using deep well water as well as brewing exclusively in Nelson County since 2007.
Combo pizza at Blue Mountain Brewery
Char-grilled pizzas and burgers including plenty of vegan options are made from scratch and designed to pair well with a myriad of beers. (Local wines and even kombucha are available too.) We sat on the outdoor terrace watching kids run around the lawn while a lively group played cornhole. Check the website for upcoming Oktoberfest events.
The potager garden and dining gazebo at The Farmhouse at Veritas
Morning at The Farmhouse brought a champagne breakfast of fresh fruits, croissants and omelets prepared to your liking by the estate’s chef. We eschewed the screened-in porch to enjoy the pleasures of a large brick-floor gazebo. Surrounded by the raised beds of the kitchen garden and row upon row of Chardonnay vines we whiled away the hour sipping the aforementioned Mousseux while butterflies and honeybees flit about the roses and coneflowers. A very civilized way to begin the day before returning homeward. Check the website for upcoming yoga and hiking retreats.
July 26, 2016
Ashlar at the Morrison House ~ The Return of The Majestic ~ True Food in the Mosaic District ~ Author Luncheons at the Hay Adams ~ Edible Flowers Decorate the Plate
Swank Modern Interior and New Chef Dazzle at the Morrison House
View of the Morrison House portico from Ashlar
At long last the Morrison House the elegant boutique hotel in Old Town, Alexandria has shed its dowdy decor to feature a snazzy redo by Los Angeles–based DH Design. In the dining room the facelift is reflected in soft colors of sage and sand. Banquettes are covered in a soft honey tone and dark wood tables give a hint of tavern style. The outdated bar with its clubby red leather wingback chairs has given way to an elegant reception room for private events.
The new, more fashionable style is reflected in the bar area which has moved to just off the foyer. Black and white photographs of notable intellectuals and their famous quotations signal the hotel’s design aesthetic has moved into the 21st century. And so has the food.
(l-r) Brian McBride – Chef, Maria Concepcion – Lead Bartender and Bobby Surdam – Executive Chef
Virginia native, Bobby Surdam, has been brought on as Executive Chef at the re-christened Ashlar Restaurant and Bar where the menu has turned toward colonial traditions and a tavern style of fine dining. Surdam comes well-schooled by some of DC’s leading chefs including Robert Wiedmaier of Marcel’s and Brian McBride formerly of Blue Duck Tavern. Of late Surdam helmed the kitchen at Red Owl Tavern in Philadelphia, another Kimpton property. Surdam’s approach is an upscale interpretation of American regional cooking using the finest ingredients from Mid-Atlantic farms and beef producers, as well as local Maryland seafood.
Complementing Surdam’s dishes, Lead Bartender Maria Concepcion, draws from colonial era spirits once imbibed in homes and taverns in Alexandria. To that end, Virginia whiskey, beers and wines are well represented. And that’s fine. But its her elegant cocktails, flips, syllabubs and punches, made with rum, madeira and sherry, spirits that were once brought into the port city by ship, are the most alluring. Well-researched colonial era recipes have led her to offer a variety of punches harkening back to the days of Alexandria’s grand balls and receptions. Sampled at the ribbon-cutting reception in May were two such recipes – one made with Broadbent Rainwater Madeira and another a non-alcoholic Lavender and Honey Lemonade.
Last month we dined at Ashlar and here are highlights from our June supper.
Snapper Crudo with radish, dill, pickled cucumber, jalapeno, beet chips, spring onions and espelette – lovely and light.
Spring Gnocchi with asparagus, fiddlehead ferns, fava beans, English peas and mint pest – a sensational dish in which every element harmonizes yet each shines on its own.
Maryland Rockfish bouillabaisse
Another is the rockfish, delicate and aromatic with an ethereal smoked tomato broth that includes calamari from Judith Point, briny cockles and Prince Edward Island mussels.
Ashlar’s Chocolate Cake with berries
We bypassed the four different steak cuts for lighter fare, although I’ve heard raves about the bison strip steak from Gun Powder Bison & Trading Co. in Monkton, MD and the American Wagyu hangar steak from Snake River Farms. All steaks are served with a choice of béarnaise, red wine jus or green peppercorn jus.
If you’ve never visited this unique hotel and just want to get a feel for its charms, try its Happy Hour on the patio and unwind over local oysters and charcuterie, or cheeses from North Carolina’s Goat Lady Dairy.
Ashlar is located at 116 South Alfred Street, Alexandria, VA 22314. For reservations call 703 838-8000 or visit www.AshlarRestaurant.com
Majestic Restaurant Returns to its Lofty Perch with New Chef
The Majestic Cafe
After the departure of Chef Shannon Overmiller and Cathal Armstrong early last year, The Majestic has had its ups and downs. A new chef to replace Overmiller didn’t last long and the restaurant decided to close its doors for a reboot. Thank heavens, it did. The original Art Deco period décor has since been enhanced with a skylight, tin ceilings, a Jazz Age mirrored light and an eclectic collection of prints, paintings and photographs filling every inch of wall space.
The Majestic Cafe
But let’s turn our attention to newly minted Executive Chef Gaby Hakman. Let’s hope she stays on. Hakman, who hails from a Greek/Israeli family with a long history as restaurateurs, honed her chops in New York City and Miami’s South Beach where she cooked in some of the hippest restaurants that young people tweet about. There among the trendoids, she had a chance to strut her stuff and develop her modern approach to Mediterranean cuisine.
My first introduction to Hakman’s cooking was a beet salad that I can’t get out of my head. Beet salads are on nearly every menu these days, but what makes this one stand out is the details. Hakman roasts sweet baby beets – golden, rosy red and dark purple beets – adds orange supremes, cascades toasted pistachio nuts over the top, and positions the yummy bits over a creamy sauce of whipped goat cheese. It’s her approach that’s exciting and the combination of earthy, creamy, sweet and fruity that makes this salad sing.
Another is the charred octopus. Here Hakman treats it to the smoothest puree of chickpeas, a drizzle of harissa and serves the wood-charred tentacle with arugula and plump Greek olives.
Rosy red steak tartare has the requisite capers, anchovy and cornichons but with a homemade lemon mayonnaise to boot. Fish is served whole and grilled over a wood fire. A head-on dorade (aka bream) gets a slather of salsa verde over its crispy skin and is sopped up into tiny roasted potatoes. It’s a typical Greek preparation found in seaside tavernas.
Two other dishes I heartily recommend are the Roast Chicken Panzanella, a perfectly executed, spit-roasted, soul-satisfying bird and melt-in-your-mouth Lamb Meatballs spiked with currants and pine nuts. Both are tender and juicy in their own way.
Pastry Chef Michelle White, who does double duty at another of Alexandria Restaurant Group’s spots, Virtue Feed & Grain is a treasure. Her Coconut Cake is truly sublime. I have slaved over a coconut cake myself and know full well that if done right, it can take half a day’s labor. I have never baked another, though it’s certainly worth the trouble if you have the time and inclination. If not, White’s is one of those small miracles.
Nutella Budino with Caramel “Crack” Cookies
Ditto for what the staff calls her “Caramel Crack Cookies” served with Nutella Budino, a happy marriage of mousse and pudding topped with whipped cream.
The Majestic Café is located at 911 King Street, Alexandria 22314. For reservations visit www.TheMajesticVA.com
True Food Kitchen ~ A Restaurant from the Master of Healthy Eating
Phoenix-based Dr. Andrew Weill has your health in mind. Founder and director of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine, Weill is the bestselling author of numerous books on healing, aging, wellbeing and cooking, including his seminal cookbook, True Food: Seasonal, Sustainable, Simple, Pure (Little, Brown and Company, 2012) with Co-Authors, Sam Fox and Michael Stebner. Many of the 125 recipes culled from the book reflect the philosophy behind his collection of twelve health-conscious True Food Kitchen restaurants. Located around the country, this one is located in the Mosaic District of Fairfax, VA.
True Food Kitchen
As a world-renowned pioneer in Integrative Medicine, Weill introduces diners to his healthy eating philosophy in this rustically-designed restaurant reminiscent of a Topanga Canyon restaurant.
The first thing you notice when you arrive at the bar is the comforting whirr of juicers churning out cocktails and mocktails made with fresh seasonal ingredients.
A trio of Natural Refreshers x two
The restaurant’s menu trends towards Asian and Mediterranean cuisine as Dr. Weill’s recipes draw inspiration from his own anti-inflammatory food pyramid. Pizzas are crafted with daily-made spelt and flax dough, eggs are organic, beef is sustainably raised, and fish are sustainably harvested. All boxes checked!
On a recent visit I sampled a few items from their seasonal menu and found a lot to swoon over and one that didn’t meet the high bar the restaurant sets for itself.
Edamame Dumplings and Kale & Avocado Dip got us off to an impressive start, and there was much oohing and aahing over a trio of “Natural Refreshers” – Medicine Man, a combo of anti-oxidants from seabuckthorn, pomegranate, cranberry, honey, black tea and soda;
Kale and Avocado Dip
Kale-Aid, made from kale, apple, cucumber, celery, lemon and ginger; and Honey Bee Ginger Beer from ginger, honey, chai spices and lime.
Braised Artichoke Pizza
Crisp-crusted braised artichoke pizza showed nice acidity from lemon ricotta, and the vegetarian Street Taco was a satisfying choice for my vegan accomplice.
Unfortunately, my sea bass, a lovely and delicate white-fleshed fish, had spent too much time in the saute pan, though its accompanying cushion of asparagus, sugar snap peas and roasted mushrooms in a lemon-nooch emulsion was heavenly. Did I tell the server it was dry? Yes. Did they offer to redo it? Of course. Did I know what “nooch” was? No. But I did a bit of research and discovered it’s short for nutritional yeast. I am not a vegan. End of discussion.
We went for a trio of desserts. All the better to try three out of four of the daily in-house made sweets. On this day they were strawberry crumble, coconut chia pudding and a chocolate delight topped with ice cream. Though I can’t recall the precise descriptions, I can only hope we didn’t disturb the surrounding tables by fighting over the final spoonful.
Open 11am till 11pm, True Food Kitchen is located in the Mosaic District at 2910 District Avenue, Fairfax, VA 22031 www.TrueFoodKitchen.com
When to Spring for a Lavish Luncheon
Author Kristin Hannah takes questions from the guests. Photo credit Dan Chung
The stimulating “Author Series” at the Hay-Adams recreates the salons of yesterday when acclaimed writers held court in private homes. Though the trend of the ever-popular bookstore tradition of nightly author talks continues, those fold-out chair gatherings can’t compete with a lazy afternoon spent on the 9th story rooftop of the Hay-Adams listening to a featured author while enjoying an elegant three-course luncheon.
Provençal Vegetable Salad with herb pistou vinaigrette
Nicolas Legret, who has been promoted to Executive Chef since the departure of Chef Peter Schaffrath, has shifted the hotel’s cuisine to reflect his heritage.
Seafood Boudin Blanc with bouillabaisse reduction
His superb execution of familiar French classics – a Provencal vegetable salad, an exquisite seafood boudin blanc with bouillabaisse reduction, and seasonal peach and cherry clafouti with crème fraiche ice cream – accompanied by champagne and Sancerre, proves that the hotel is serious about stepping up its culinary profile in a very competitive town.
Peach and Cherry Clafouti
At last month’s white linen event the conversation was lively between noted author Kristin Hannah and the assembled guests. Hannah explained how she began writing with her mother who was terminally ill with cancer. At the time Hannah was studying law and this was a way for the women to spend more time together.
Her first manuscript was 600 pages, but when she submitted it her agent’s response was, “You may have talent, but frankly it’s impossible to tell.” Thankfully for her legion of fans she kept at it. “I had an insatiable appetite for writing,” she revealed.
Selwa “Lucky” Roosevelt at the book signing
Now a successful author of 21 historical romance novels, the tawny blonde told guests that she writes in longhand and she doesn’t like to diagram characters, plot and motivations. “I realized that my best writing is when I am more fluid,” she said in answer to a question about her methodology. She also spoke of her commitment to writing romance novels. “Women’s stories are far too often lost, forgotten or overlooked.”
After lunch Hannah signed books for the tony crowd who included author, journalist and former U. S. Chief of Protocol, Selwa “Lucky” Roosevelt.
Next in the series will be Executive Editor and Executive Vice President of Random House, Jon Meacham, whose latest book, Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush, will undoubtedly draw a different crowd. The Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power, will speak on the relevancy of the Bush era model of governing by diplomacy and prudence in domestic affairs.
The Hay-Adams is located across from the White House at 800 16th Street NW, Washington, DC 20006. Tickets to the September 23rd luncheon will be available for purchase online beginning September 3rd. For more information email email@example.com or call 202.835.2263.
Food and Flowers ~ Recipes from Kitty Morse’s Book “Edible Flowers”
A recent trend to decorate dishes with edible flowers hasn’t been lost on author and TV and radio personality Kitty Morse whose book Edible Flowers – A Kitchen Companion with Recipes (Chefs Press) was first published in 1995. Morse was in the forefront of the food-and-flower movement and a revised and expanded issue of this book is still sought after by cooks and caterers who like to pretty up the plate with eye-catching blossoms.
I was intrigued by Morse’s book which reminded me of my first experience using flowers in food. Inspired by famed naturalist and author Euell Gibbons’ book Stalking the Wild Asparagus (1962), I bravely sautéed daylily buds into a stir-fry. From there I graduated to sprinkling violets, marigolds, redbud blossoms and dandelion greens into salads. I’d come a long way from the child who spent summers sucking the nectar out of honeysuckle flowers.
Morse, a native-born Moroccan, has penned ten cookbooks, five of them on the cuisine of Morocco and North Africa. Her memoir with recipes, Mint Tea and Minarets: A Banquet of Moroccan Memories, was chosen Best Arab Cuisine Book/USA/2013 by the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards.
Morse has graciously allowed me to share two of her recipes with you. Note: If you don’t have a garden to forage from, farmers’ markets often carry edible flowers. But be sure your blossoms haven’t been sprayed with any chemicals. Another source for edible flowers is online at www.MarxFoods.com.
Cherry Clafoutis with Lavender Blossoms
The subtle aroma of lavender infuses this classic clafoutis, a rustic dessert from the Limousin region of France featuring cherries suspended in a thick pancake-like batter that puffs up.
- 3 tablespoons fresh or dried lavender blossoms, divided use
- 1 cup warm milk
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 2 1/2 to 3 cups fresh or frozen Bing cherries, pitted
- 1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 3 eggs
- 1/2 teaspoon pure almond extract
- 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons almond meal
- Fresh or dried lavender blossoms, for garnish
- Whipped cream, for garnish if desired
If using fresh blossoms, strip them off the stems. Place 2½ tablespoons of the fresh or dried blossoms in a small sachet or tea infuser and place in the warm milk. Cover and infuse for 30 minutes. Discard sachet and set aside.
Preheat the oven to 375°F. Grease an 8×8-inch baking dish or 4 individual dishes and dot the bottom(s) with the butter and cherries.
In a bowl, whisk the infused milk, sugar, eggs, almond extract, flour, almond meal, and remaining lavender blossoms. Pour the mixture over the cherries. Set the baking dish or dishes inside a larger pan filled with enough warm water to reach halfway up the dish sides.
Bake for 55 to 60 minutes, or until set. I prefer this served warm. Garnish with lavender blossoms and a dollop of whipped cream, if desired.
Chilled Lilyed Melon & Mango Soup
Daylily (Hemerocallis species and cultivars) live a mere 24 hours. This graceful native of Asia, one of the few edible lily varieties, has long been prized for its color and beauty, as well as for its culinary properties. The petals are crunchy and fresh testing, much like a crisp lettuce leaf. In China, tiger lily buds (Hemerocallis fulva), or “golden needles,” are dried and added to soups or stir-fries. Beautifully presented, this chilled melon-mango dish makes a light and refreshing summer starter or dessert.
- 1 mango, cubed
- 1 medium in-season melon, cubed
- 1/4 cup fresh orange juice
- 1 cup sliced strawberries
- 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
- 2 tablespoons orange liqueur
- 5 daylilies, for garnish
In a blender, purée the mango, melon, and orange juice in batches until smooth. Transfer to a bowl and refrigerate. Rinse the blender and purée the strawberries, sugar, and orange liqueur. Transfer to a bowl and refrigerate. Chill the purées for 2 hours before serving. To serve, ladle the melon mixture on one side of a shallow soup bowl. Ladle the puréed strawberries next to it without mixing. Cut 1 daylily into thin strips and sprinkle on top. Decorate each bowl with a whole flower and serve immediately.