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Nibbles and Sips Around Town ~ October 31, 2016

Jordan Wright
October 2016
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

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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.

Seasonal cocktails at 701

Seasonal cocktails

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.

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Cauliflower Shawarma

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

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

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 at La Perla

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

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.

Calamari Insalata at La Perla

Calamari Insalata

 

Wild boar chops at La Perla

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 at La Perla

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

The dining room at Ristorante La Perla

2600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20037

Ottoman Taverna Is a Rare Bird

Ottoman Taverna

Ottoman Taverna

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

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

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 at Ottoman Taverna

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.

Moussaka from Ottoman Taverna

Moussaka

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 at Blackwall Hitch

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.

Oyster platter at Blackwall Hitch

Oyster platter

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

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

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 FoodCapital Crab Company; Best Food PresentationFarmers and Distillers; Best Booth Set UpIce Cream Jubilee; Best BrewDistrict Chophouse; Best CocktailLavagna. 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

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.

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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 at Ocean Prime

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 at Ocean Prime

‘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 at Ocean Prime

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 at Ocean Prime

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 at Ocean Prime are served with asparagus

Twin Maine lobster tails are served with asparagus

 

Ten layer carrot cake with pineapple syrup at Ocean Prime

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 at Ocean Prime

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 at Junction Bakery

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

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

Airlie House

Airlie House

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.

Barbourville Wines

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

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.

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