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Nibbles and Sips Around Town ~ December 2018

December 2018
Jordan Wright 

Del Mar at The Wharf DC ~ Kith + Kin ~ Baba Presents New Fall/Winter Menu ~ Hay-Adams’ Deluxe Dining with New Chefs ~ Elegant Holiday Teas at the Mandarin Oriental and the Hay-Adams ~ Santa Visits The Fairmont Hotel ~ Taco Bamba Taqueria ~ Lupo Verde 

Del Mar 

Menu cover art

For Fabio and Maria Trabocchi Del Mar is the culmination of their dreams and continuing proof of their domination in the pantheon of DC restauranteurs.  Located on The Wharf DC, this one is without doubt, the largest and the most glamorous to date of all their restaurants.

The downstairs bar

Soaring ceilings and massive windows overlooking the harbor give one the sense of being on a luxury liner ready to pull anchor and set sail.  Unfortunately, it is also the noisiest in their collection, as nothing seems to have been done to buffer the clattering sounds of servers and the chattering sounds of cheerful patrons.  Tile floors don’t help ameliorate the sound either.

An upstairs dining room

We climbed a sweeping staircase to dine in one of the many rooms where glittering chandeliers, made from suspended glass goblets and ancient murals depicting sea voyages in clipper ships, compete for attention with comfy, contemporary navy and red velvet chairs and brass sconces.  The room is framed by black-and-white tiled floors and velvet drapes.  It is a stunning space – more formal and brightly lit than the other dining rooms.  So bright and nautical, that as the evening progressed, I felt as if I’d be forced to confess to the crimes of my wayward ancestor – the notorious Blackbeard.  But I digress.  We came for the food informed predominantly by Maria’s Spanish heritage.

I have long been a fan of the gazpacho at the now-shuttered Casa Luca, their 9th Street bistro.  This version is different.  It is served with small bits of Spanish blue cheese – a concept borrowed from one of the servers whose Spanish grandmother serves it that way.  The velvety-smooth cold soup is done as a pour over and served with a sweet tomato sorbet.  It is heavenly.

Seafood paella

Paella is one of those iconic dishes that defines Spain’s cuisine all over the world.  Here it is served for two in a large paella pan with a sumptuous mélange of perfectly charred seafood.  It is a masterpiece to behold, and the servers know it.  They deliver its bounty to the table as though it were the Holy Grail.  Unfortunately for us the seafood was overcooked – thus dry – which is not reflected in the photo I took of it in all its glory.

Sobresada

The dish we went gaga over is an intriguing one with a back story.  It’s a recipe borrowed from Maria’s Spanish grandmother.  Sobresada is a spreadable sausage aged for one year in a pig’s stomach and hung in a cave.  Made for the restaurant in Chicago by a butcher who has the perfect conditions to properly cure it, this spreadable sausage is brought tableside encased in its birth home.  There the waiter carves out individual portions plated for each guest.  The basketball-sized pig container reveals the most delectable spread to smear on toasted bread.  It is divine.  You can even have it at the bar if you like.  Flown in weekly by the dozens of pounds, it is destination-worthy.  You will thank me.  All other dishes we dined on faded from memory.

Del Mar is located at The Wharf, DC, 91 Wharf Street, SW, Washington, DC 20024.

Kith + Kin 

Ever since I met Kwame Onwuachi this summer, I have been eager to experience his food and I’m not the only one.  Unfortunately, the first restaurant he opened, Shaw Bijou, had a set menu with a soaring price tag, and only the one-percenters could afford to dine on his much-lauded food even after his soaring success on Top Chef.

Chef Kwame of Kith + Kin

Alas, the restaurant shut its doors within three months after a great deal of controversy that he had bitten off more than he could chew, so to speak.  To his credit, the Brooklyn-born Nigerian dusted himself off, got a deluxe restaurant to helm and we 99 percent are all the better for it.

The dining room at Kith + Kin

Kith + Kin is beautifully ensconced in the Intercontinental Hotel at The Wharf DC.  The restaurant itself is an extended rectangle – a beautiful space, light and airy and decorated in soft, cream and grey tones.  Separated from the picturesque harbor by a narrow cobblestone street, it boasts high ceilings and large windows that open in fair weather.  Everything we ate was first rate including the service and the cocktails, but most especially Onwuachi’s style of cooking that ranges from Nigerian and Jamaican to West African, the Caribbean and the American South where his travels have taken him over his 25 years.

Mom Dukes Shrimp

We swooned over Mom Dukes Shrimp, Mushroom Forest and Rouget Escovitch, a Jamaican red snapper dish served with red beans and plantains, and a deeply indulgent Chocolate Rum Cake with Carrot Ice Cream, Milk Foam Tuiles and Sorrel.

Jamaican Red Snapper with Red Beans and Rice

The cake was ultra-chocolatey and the carrot ice cream… who knew?… scrumptious.  Flavors were familiar and not.  There was always that elusive ingredient which added to the mystery and that we played a guessing game trying to pin down.

Chocolate Rum Cake with Carrot Ice Cream and Milk Foam Tuiles

Kith + Kin is located in the Intercontinental Hotel at The Wharf DC. 801 Wharf Street, SW, Washington, DC 20024.

Lupo Marino 

Lupo Marino’s new chef is Juan Prieto.  Formerly of Miami Beach where he worked at the ultra-modern Juvia, Stephen Starr’s brasserie Le Zoo in Bal Harbour, and two Art Deco properties – The Vintro and the Japanese-inspired Katsuya at The Raleigh where he specialized in seafood.

I have written about this cozy restaurant which has had its hits-and-misses, but is now settled in nicely and in a busy spot in The Wharf neighborhood.  Apart from its small plates, wood-fired pizzas, and aperitivos, the restaurant will feature a special dish on weekends through December.

Lobster Cacciucco

I am absolutely crazy about this dish (I had a preview last month) and the careful way Prieto prepares it.  It’s called cacciucco – a rich, tomato-based, Tuscan fish stew with lobster, mussels and head-on shrimp.  Don’t miss it!  Pro tip:  Pick up some of their Italian products to take home.  I brought back a pound of the paccheri – ziti on steroids – perfect as a base for slow-cooked meat sauces.

Lupo Marino is located at The Wharf DC at 40 Pearl Street, SW, Washington, DC 20024.

In Which I Finally Get to Taco Bamba Taqueria 

What took me so long?  A rare trip to Vienna (Virginia!) found me in a small strip mall where I spied a Taco Bamba outpost.  Fortune favors the adventurer.  Victor Albisu, a RAMW “Chef of the Year”,  is showing the burbs how amazing tacos and carnitas made with a vivid imagination and unique ingredients can be.

Two tacos – Pulpo al Pastor and Bulgogi Bullfight

Charred octopus, slow-cooked goat, tripe and tongue are among the more unusual, with poutine taco offered at the Falls Church location only.  A Mick Nugget taco surprises with crispy fried chicken.  Look for the Japanese ingredients that can be found throughout the extensive menu.

Quick report: I returned a few more times to sample some of the other offerings.  With tacos, nachos, seviche and house made salsas you could eat there a dozen times and never have the same thing twice.  Try the pozole – pork stew with hominy – tis the season for this tummy-warmer – and finish with a slice of trés léches cake.  It’s the bamba!  For all locations visit Taco Bamba.

Game Changer at the Hay-Adams with a New Chef de Cuisine and Pastry Chef 

From the left Hay-Adams Executive Chef Nicolas Legret, Pastry Chef Elenor Apollonio-Frantz and Chef de Cuisine Jacopo Beni

A recent dinner in The Lafayette at the Hay-Adams Hotel showcased the talents of new Chef de Cuisine Jacopo Beni and Elenor Apolonio-Frantz as Pastry Chef. The duo, who have  Michelin experience under their toques, will work under the direction of Executive Chef Nicolas Legret producing contemporary American cuisine in The Lafayette fine dining restaurant, as well as my favorite hangout near the White House, the legendary Off The Record bar where the burgers and politico sightings are off the chain.

At the four-course dinner we were served on some of restaurant’s lovely new Wedgewood china that sports a pattern used only in one other hotel in the world.

The Hay-Adams new Wedgewood china

We began with hors d’oeuvres and cocktails before taking our seats for a parade of sumptuously prepared dishes.  Consider, if you will Beef Wellington. Though it was prepared without the foie gras interior, it was heavenly and a divine treat when you’re aiming to impress or out celebrating a special occasion.

Beef Wellington carved at table

I dined there early this year and note the menu is braver with the inclusion of more seasonal vegetables accompanied by classic sauces.  Think French, not the heavy cream sauces of yore and with locally-grown ingredients. I have always thought Legret was a master in the kitchen, and now he has Beni to teach and, as well, be influenced by Beni’s experience cooking in some of the leading restaurants of the world.

Beef Wellington receives its red wine sauce pour over

For the holiday season Legret and Beni are creating a traditional celebratory menu featuring flavorful delights for teatime.  Guests enjoy a selection of tea sandwiches including English Cucumber with tomato and mint; Farmhouse Egg Salad with Bibb lettuce; Smoked Salmon and Lemon Chive Cream Cheese; and Tarragon Celery Tuna Salad.  Children will relish their own special menu featuring Hot Chocolate and Fruit Teas, Assorted Tea Sandwiches, including Ham & Cheese, Peanut Butter & Marmalade, and fresh fruit salad.

The Hay-Adams dressed up for the holidays

For the sweet side of tea service, Pastry Chef Elenor Apolonio-Frantz plans a selection of Viennese and French confectioneries. Highlights include Warm Orange and Cherry Scones with Devonshire cream and organic strawberry preserve; Raspberry Pistachio Opera Cake; Chocolate Choux Puffs; French Fruit Tartlets, Passion Fruit, Coconut, Mango and Pineapple Vacherin and Salted Caramel Macarons. Teas are from the Mighty Leaf Tea Company. Now doesn’t that sound divine?

The Hay-Adams is located at 800 16th Street, NW, Washington, DC20006. For reservations call 202 638-6600. .

 

Baba Restaurant & Cocktail Bar Continues Its Evolution 

Little Baba, one of the coziest, most intimate speakeasies around, has launched its new winter menu, and it’s filled with plenty of Serbian soul food.  Unlike the brightly lit, white-tile and fern décor of its upstairs sister restaurant, Ambar, this small spot urges you to plant yourself into a comfy banquette and veg out while devouring small bites and a menu of specialty cocktails.  Perfect for date night or a small group of friends, owner Ivan Iricanin and partner Uros Smiljanic keep their culinary compass constantly set on re-fresh mode.  It seems Baba is their personal test lab for new dishes culled and updated from classic Serbian recipes.

On a recent visit we taste tested a dozen dishes and came away wowed.  From one of the best steak tartares to an interesting twist on the typical bacon-wrapped dates.

Tuna and beet tartare

Here tender prunes sub for dates – a far superior combination.  Wrapped in a smoky bacon, they are stuffed with creamy goat cheese and drizzled with balsamic glaze.

Sautéed forest mushrooms with polenta and truffles

Other delicious small plates are salmon tartare with beets, quinoa and pine nuts, sautéed forest mushrooms with crispy polenta and truffles, sumptuous five-hour lamb, barley risotto with vegetables and mascarpone, and eggplant with apricots, feta, toasted almonds and Kalamata jam.

Eggplant with apricots, feta, toasted almonds and Kalamata jam

Appetite whetted?  Find your favorites.  Chacun à son goût!

Steak tartare

On the cocktail front,  award-winning mixologist Esteban Ordonez has created some new winter-warmers.  As is his style, Ordonez uses fresh herbs and fruits, house made syrups, and Serbian liqueurs to concoct these un-ordinary cocktails.  The bar boasts 36 varieties of rakia, the Serbian liqueur that’s employed in several of the cocktails.  Fun Fact:  It take 40 pounds of raspberries to make one bottle of rakia!

For music lovers: After 8pm till closing, it’s Acoustic Night on Wednesdays and Latin Night with a DJ on Thursdays.

Coming soon: The owners’ Street Guys Hospitality Group is busy totally transforming the former La Tasca into the Mexican-themed, Buena Vista.  It’s directly across the street.  How convenient!

Baba is located at 2901 Wilson Blvd., Arlington, VA 22201.  www.Baba.bar

Christmas at the Mandarin Oriental 

In the spirit of the holiday season the Mandarin Oriental DC is celebrating with festive décor, culinary treats, relaxing spa treatments, and special visits from the North Pole. The halls are decked with holiday cheer featuring an edible replica of the neighboring Jefferson Memorial created by Executive Pastry Chef Christophe Frigara.

Make a date for the Holiday Tea set amid a backdrop of seasonal décor and boasting of multiple tiers of cakes, cookies, and savory treats for children and adults alike. Friday through Sunday through December 23rd at 2:30 – 4:30pm.  The Holiday Tea will host Santa Claus on December 15th, 16th, 22nd, and the 23rd.

Gather the family and enjoy an elegant Christmas Day brunch buffet at Muze by Executive Chef Stefan Kauth with traditional holiday favorites and specialty selections including an omelet station, cheeses and charcuterie, salads, carving station, sushi, dim sum, and little fans buffet. December 25th, 2018, 12-4pm.  The Mandarin Oriental Hotel is located at 1330 Maryland Avenue, SW, Washington, DC 20024.

Holiday Tea at The Fairmont Hotel 

Sleigh bells are ringing at Fairmont Hotel in Georgetown where Santa has checked into his DC residence bringing comfort and joy to all who believe in the magic of the holiday season. And we do!  Check out Pastry Chef Charles Froke’s Georgetown University’s Healy Hall crafted in gingerbread.  On display in the hotel’s Santa Suite and free for guests to visit on Saturdays and Sundays from 11am – 3pm.

Georgetown’s Pastry Chef Charles Froke, has created Georgetown University’s Healy Hall in Gingerbread.

All children, naughty or nice, are invited to stop by Santa’s suite with their parents on Saturdays and Sundays between 11am and 3pm through December 23rd.   Each child will enjoy yummy treats and a holiday keepsake to commemorate the visit. Those writing a letter to Santa, while in his suite, will receive one back.  Due to his busy schedule he will depend on the postal service, rather than his sleigh, to deliver his response.

Georgie, Fairmont’s new Canine Ambassador is a 12-week old yellow Labrador.  She was adopted by the hotel from Guiding Eyes for the Blind and she loves to meet families. You can find her in the Santa Suite on Saturdays.

Georgie, Fairmont’s new Canine Ambassador, visits the Santa in his Suite on Weekends-

In preparation for Santa’s check-in, Fairmont has partnered with elves who have been busy transforming his suite into a whimsical winter wonderland.  Exquisitely decorated trees twinkle with a host of enchanting details – from an elegant, mirrored dining table set with places for Santa and his special guests to a letter-writing station for leaving holiday wish lists.

Santa’s Suite is available for family visits at no charge, however guests are encouraged to make a donation to Horton’s Kids during visits. For complimentary admission acquire tickets on Eventbrite. Fairmont Hotel is located at 2401 M Street, NW, Washington, DC 20037.

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