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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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”.
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.
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.
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.
Through January 1st at 165 Waterfront Street, National Harbor, MD 20745. For tickets, hours and special overnight packages visit www.ChristmasonthePotomac.com.