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Nibbles and Sips Around Town ~ August 8, 2017

Jordan Wright
August 8, 2017
Photo credit: J. Wright

Sofitel Launches Summer Menu – Baba Bar:  A Sexy Speakeasy Sans Password – Japanese Embassy Hosts Travel Writers – Peter Chang Opens Rockville Outpost – Silver Debuts Summer Menu – Hank’s Oyster Bar Proves Great Pairing for Nederburg Wines

 Let’s Play the French Way at Sofitel 

The lobby at the Sofitel

The lobby at the Sofitel

One of the most enjoyable ways to while away the hours is at the Sofitel Hotel DC where luxury is part of the brand.  Whether on the patio (large fans provide a breeze), in the intimate, modern-chic iCi Urban Bistro with its wraparound street-facing windows, or in the plush, loungy Le Bar, the hotel is a calming retreat, and a mere stone’s throw from the ongoing chaos of the White House.

(l-r) Salmon tartare with pickled Amish vegetables ~ Grilled octopus

(l-r) Salmon tartare with pickled Amish vegetables ~ Grilled octopus

Executive Chef Gyo Santa for prepares everything with great care and delicacy using the freshest ingredients with a perfectionist’s eye to alluring presentation.  Santa’s Asian-influenced spin on modern French cuisine is unlike anything being prepared in the city.  And we love it!

(l-r) Classic Bouillabaisse avec rouille ~ Classic Bouillabaisse avec rouille

(l-r) Classic Bouillabaisse avec rouille ~ Classic Bouillabaisse avec rouille

This summer he imagines the dreamy lavender fields of Provence and the fruits de mer of the Côte D’Azur to conjure up flavors to pair exquisitely with rosés from Aix-en-Provence.  A bouillabaisse with rouille, a whole grilled branzino a la Provencal with sauce vierge or roasted moulard duck breast with sliced Brussels sprout, rainbow carrots and poached pear in a sweet wine glaze – each dish could sing “Le Marseillaise”!

Rosé is perfect with the summer menu at iCi Urban Bistro

Rosé is perfect with the summer menu

Summer-inspired cocktails are decidedly South of France – “Tango St. Tropez”, “Cannes Cachet” and “Carte Blanche”.  Of particular note is the luscious sounding, “St. Maxime Side” made with Absolut Elyx, lime juice, in-house made strawberry syrup and fresh basil.

Heavenly chocolate bombe at iCi Urban Bistro

Heavenly chocolate bombe

Pastry Chef Samantha Meissel is killing it with her Chocolate Almond Bomb made with gluten free almond sponge cake, amaretto syrup, dark chocolate mousse, honey almonds, and chocolate Chantilly.  Other scrumptious desserts include, a fantastic salty caramel ice cream and refreshing summer sorbets, plus Tropical Pavlova with meringue cookie, Chantilly, mango and strawberry, tropical sorbet, and mango gel; the Bourbon Vanilla Crème Brûlée with citrus Madeleines; and the Valhrona Caramelia Sundae with chocolate sauce, and Chantilly.

And if you’re coming in later in the day, the hotel has refreshed their delightful Le Goûter program.  It’s a French concept, used to break up the afternoon, and consists of light, small bites desserts.  This delightful interpretation incorporates a mini Napoleon, a macaron, two small fresh fruit tarts, a mini vanilla brulee, and a Valhrona dark chocolate panna cotta.  It is served between 2:00pm and 5:00pm every day with coffee, tea, or champagne.

 Le Gouter

Le Gouter

Sofitel Hotel DC, 806 15th Street, Washington, DC 20005 – 202 703.8800 www.Sofitel.com

Baba Bar – Clarendon 

Baba Bar's intimate lounge

Baba Bar’s intimate lounge

Down a dark stairway and into the candlelight, Baba Bar is the super, sexy, small plates speakeasy where you don’t need a password to get in.  Brought to you by the Ambar folks, who are right next door, this is a cozy hangout with banquettes and comfy armchairs, small tables and phenomenal cocktails where you can tuck into flavor-forward Balkan nibbles that, dare I say it, are healthy with lots of vegan and vegetarian options to go along with steak, salmon and seared scallops.  You can even find the famed “Forest Gnocchi” here.

Baba Bar "Forest Gnocchi" dessert

“Forest Gnocchi” dessert

Cocktails are listed under “Light & Refreshing”, “Strong & Boozy” and “Spicy & Smoky” to suit your mood.  The spirits range from cachaça to rum, pisco to barrel-aged bourbon.  Mezcal makes an appearance as does slivovitz and the Balkan firewater, rakia, of which they have more than half a dozen flavors.

Cocktails

Fresh fruits, herbs and vegetables, many from Amish farms, are used in the preparation of these cocktails, or “mocktails” if you prefer.  It is one of the most excitingly diverse bar programs around.  Of course, you would know this if you had visited Ambar’s two other outposts, the one on Capitol Hill, or the other next door.

That this hip spot serves brunch from 8am till 3pm blows my mind.  Coffee is from the fantastic Philadelphia-based La Colombe.  It doesn’t get any better.  Good Morning, “La Colombe Martini”!  I’m serious. Order one.

(l-r) Wild mushroom toast with kajmak ~ Beet salad

Little known secret – the kajmak, a type of butter used in the “Wild Forest Mushrooms” on toast and also the “Scallop Trio”, adds pulverized nori, bacon and parmesan cheese to this addictive spread.  It is to die for!

(l-r) Salmon tartare ~ Seared scallops

Baba, 2901 Wilson Blvd., Arlington, VA 22201 – 703 312.7978  www.baba.bar

Silver 

Ype Von Hengst, Executive Chef at Silver

Ype Von Hengst, Executive Chef

Chef and Nutrition Guru Ype Von Hengst and Bob Giaimo have forged a powerful partnership with their Silver Diner restaurants. Last year we wrote about their latest venture, Silver, a stylish Art Deco-inspired restaurant in Bethesda that is a hugely popular neighborhood destination.  The night we visited was “Meet the Chef” night and Ype was there in full-on gracious mode – charming guests and overseeing details.  The monthly program was instituted this summer to introduce patrons to the congenial chef and it’s caught on – chiefly because of the Dutchman’s engaging personality.

Silver aims high.  Hoping to be everything to everyone it boasts a menu jam packed full of nutritionally-dense ingredients, many sourced from local farms, elevated diner fare and upscale casual dishes.  (Read more here – http://whiskandquill.com/nibbles-and-sips-around-town-december-26-2015)

(l-r) Goat cheese bruschetta ~ Avocado toast

(l-r) Goat cheese bruschetta ~ Avocado toast

On the night we visited the energetic Chef Ype, who has clearly discovered the fountain of youth, was dropping by each table with greetings for all the patrons.  He made a few suggestions which we were glad to follow – the menu is enormous! – and we tried his recommendations beginning with the excellent Goat Cheese Bruschetta and Avocado Toast.  Now I know they are ubiquitous these days, but these are exceptional.  The bruschetta is made with a pine nut pesto, tomato, sunflower seeds and balsamic drizzle.  See how many healthy ingredients are involved in this simple offering!  Ditto for the avocado toast which incorporates queso fresco, thinly sliced radishes, tomatoes, pomegranate seeds and basil oil with the smashed avocado that is then served on slices of fresh country bread.

(l-r) Creekstone Farms steak frites ~ Pan-seared ocean scallops

(l-r) Creekstone Farms steak frites ~ Pan-seared ocean scallops

Did we stop there?  No, because my dinner partner had a hankering for a fine steak, while I had my eye on pan-seared ocean scallops with lemon garlic sauce.  All the dishes listed on the menu are annotated with their respective calorie, fat, cholesterol, carb, fiber and protein counts.  You know what you’re getting even if the dish you choose might compromise what limits you set for yourself.

But we weren’t there to enumerate our caloric consumption, so we dug into dessert with abandon.  (Warning: Desserts do not come with calorie counts.  You’re on your own here, though “Hand-Spun Shakes” can be ordered low-fat.)  These are of the super yummy, over-the-top variety.  Both the “Campfire Sundae” and the “Pistachio Mousse + Chocolate Brownie” plus fresh raspberries were satisfyingly delicious.

(l-r) Pistachio mousse ~ Campfire sundae

(l-r) Pistachio mousse ~ Campfire sundae

Check out “Pups on the Patio” every Thursday from 4pm till 7pm.

Silver, 7150 Woodmont Avenue, Bethesda, MD 20815 – 301 652.9780  www.EatSilver.com

Nederburg Wines at Hank’s Oyster Bar Prove a Winning Combination 

Thanks to Nederburg and their we had a chance to revisit Hank’s where they paired their South African wines with some immaculately fresh seafood dishes and a heaven-can-wait lemon merengue pie.

(l-r) Assortment of local oysters ~ Fried scallops and calamari and shrimp seviche

(l-r) Assortment of local oysters ~ Fried scallops and calamari and shrimp seviche

Hosted by Andrea Freeborough, the Cellar Master of Nederburg, we heard the story of Nederburg and got a primer on the latest vintages.  Established in 1791 the historic winery is on the Western Cape province of South Africa where they use a progressive and pioneering approach to winegrowing and winemaking that has earned them a wealth of respect worldwide.

We loved how nicely their wines from the new ultra-premium “Heritage Heroes” line sidled up to the seafood dishes as we tasted vintages from Nederburg’s latest vintages which includes The Brew Master, named for Johann Graue, a brew master in his native Germany who bought Nederburg in 1937 and adapted his experience to pioneer viticulture and winemaking in South Africa; The Young Airhawk that pays tribute to Johann Graue’s son, Arnold; and The Anchorman named for Nederburg’s founder, Philippus Wolvaart, who bought the farm in 1791 and planted Chenin Blanc, amongst other varietals such as the Winemaster’s Reserve Chenin Blanc.  These vintages dovetail seamlessly into the summer season.

Key lime pie

Key lime pie

Hank’s Capitol Hill, 633 Pennsylvania Avenue SE, Washington, DC 20003 – 202 733.1971 www.HanksOysterBar.com and for Nederburg winess visit www.TerlatoWines.com

Japanese Embassy Offers Culture and Cuisine to Travel Writers

The display from the Japanese National Tourism Organization

The display from the Japanese National Tourism Organization

 The Japanese Embassy and the Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO) along with JAL and purveyors of fine food and spirits presented a dazzling array of authentic musicians, sushi chefs and other traditional Japanese cuisine to excite travel writers and travel agents.

Kyoto musician

Kyoto musician

Held at the magnificent Ambassador’s residence on Nebraska Avenue, the seminar and reception was to celebrate the International Pow Wow (IPW), one of the country’s largest events to promote travel.  The focus was on Tohuku, and featured some of their regional sakes.  Tohuku is an area hard hit by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami and which is now welcoming tourists to their charming

(l-r) Waterfalls in the Japanese tea gardens ~ The formal gardens at the Japanese Ambassadors's residence

(l-r) Waterfalls in the Japanese tea gardens ~ The formal gardens at the Japanese Ambassadors’s residence

The event host was Kelley Ferro, an award-wining travel journalist and filmmaker who visited Tohoku and created videos of her experience.  Watch here – Tohoku.

Representatives from Shiki-Shima, Japan’s new ultra-luxurious, high speed sleeper train that travels from Tokyo to off-the-beaten track places like Tohuku, greeted visitors.  H. E. Ambassador Kenichiro Sasae gave opening remarks before turning over the microphone to Keith Kirkham, Incoming Minister for Commercial Affairs for the embassy.

(l-r) Buffet supper features Japanese delicacies ~ Sakes from Tohoku

(l-r) Buffet supper features Japanese delicacies ~ Sakes from Tohoku

A toast was made, “Kanpai” followed by Kelley Ferro and a lavish dinner reception before Ryoichi Matsuyama, President of JNTO, gave closing remarks.

Peter Chang Opens Q in Rockville

A soft opening at Q

A soft opening at Q

Peter Chang’s empire keeps growing.  This is his seventh restaurant and all are located within Maryland and Virginia – all the better for Chang and his partner Jen Lee to check on their cooks and keep the standards up to snuff.

Peter Chang (right) cuts up with his Chef de Cuisine at Q

Peter Chang (right) cuts up with his Chef de Cuisine at Q

Their latest venture Q by Peter Chang is in a tony section of Rockville and boasts a glitzy outpost tailor made to showcase Chang’s fine Szechuan cuisine.  A large sunken slate patio, with spaciously arranged tables, dresses up the street side.  Inside it is ultra-modern with geometrically-shaped chandeliers and a concrete floor befitting Chang’s contemporary approach.  Walls are paneled with carved dark woodwork and angular wood tables run alongside the green leather banquettes.

The sunken patio at Q

The sunken patio at Q

If you’ve ever dined in Chang’s other locations you’ll know that he doesn’t hold back on the heat.  Seasonings can be fiery hot.  Tiny Szechuan red chiles take center stage in many dishes, but ask and your server will point you to milder fare.

Chicken with chiles at Q

Chicken with chiles

I’ve learned that when the salt factor rises, it ameliorates the ferocity of the spiciness somewhat, as does the addition of some sweetener to the accompanying sauce.  But don’t be surprised, even if you think you know Szechuan cuisine, if you’ll have to recalibrate your palate to adjust to these authentic dishes.  And be sure to check out the dim sum platter. Served only at lunch, it consists of nine samplings rotated seasonally.

(l-r) Pan-fried scallion and scallop dim sum – Scallop dim sum

Faves:  Pan-fried shrimp dumplings, scallion bubble pancakes, pork with chiles, roast duck pancakes, cumin lamb chops, “big buns”, pan-fried scallop or shrimp buns.

(l-r) Cumin lamb chops – Peking duck

Q by Peter Chang, 4500 East West Highway, Rockville, MD 20814 – 240 800.3722  www.qbypeterchang.com

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