Crystal City Gets Good Stuff
A klieg-lit opening for Spike Mendelsohn’s Good Stuff Eatery in Crystal City brought out family, friends and TV crews earlier this month. Bravo’s film crew has been trailing Spike for his upcoming show Life After Top Chef – and apparently his guests too. An all-who-enter-within waiver was tacked to the wall outside the front door, warning guests they might make the final cut. Wannabes and the rest of us were undeterred, especially from inhaling his juicy burgers, cups of fiery hot chili and sweet potato fries. Champagne and beer made the rounds but were bested by those addictive Toasted Marshmallow milkshakes. P.S. The ultra-rich shakes get their creaminess from the addition of a daily house-made custard. I know. I asked… in the interest of my readers of course.
Spike has come a long and much-televised way from burger-flipping pool parties at the Rubell family’s Capitol Skyline Hotel (Remember the giant rubber duckies in the pool?) when the film crew from MTV”s Real World was shooting the young and restless and he was the ever-gracious host. Did I mention how telegenically cute he is? What’s next from the celeb chef? Could be another Good Stuff Eatery opening on M Street in Georgetown later this year.
La Forchetta is Roberto Donna’s New Playground
When it became known that Roberto Donna, cookbook author, restaurateur and James Beard Award-winning chef, would be cooking again after years of legal and financial hurdles, including the shuttering of his short-lived Galileo III experiment, gourmands began salivating for his signature Italian cuisine. La Forchetta, which shares patio space with Chef Geoff’s in the nicely wooded neighborhood of Wesley Heights close by American University, is Donna’s new laboratory. Owner Hakan Ilhanwho was aware of Donna’s woes as well as his talents has hired him to cook, not handle the finances. Crisis averted.
The tangerine-accented resto features a square-shaped bar surrounding a large brick oven for wood-fired pizzas. Should be cozy in winter. For now a cheery patio was the draw and most diners were outdoors the night we dined. We tried Donna’s signature risotto with truffles, spinach pizza, rockfish with pesto and Swiss chard, a dish of house made veal and pork sausages over polenta, and papardelle with ragu.
It took awhile to get our cocktails, which arrived at the same time as the food followed by the wine several courses later. A request to debone the fish didn’t pan out as hoped and in the darkening room I gave up plucking out the bones myself and put it aside. Also disappointing were the house made sausages – unexpectedly dry and without the hoped for juiciness to ooze into and flavor the polenta. Thankfully the pasta was up to Donna’s standards – light and tender – and served with wild boar ragu that had clearly benefitted from the low and slow cooking the sauce demands.
The pizza was a puzzlement. It comes uncut – a not well thought out decision. For the diner, who may not have in mind dividing their own pie without the benefit of a pizza cutter and work surface, it was flat-out annoying trying to cut a pizza with a steak knife while it slid around a small glass plate. As for its execution, instead of a mound of arugula the small pie sported a few leaves, sparse cheese, little sauce (though it was tasty), and a wide-edged underdone toppingless crust. We gazed wistfully at our neighbor’s salumi platter and wished we had ordered it with a bottle of chianti and a plate of pasta.
Would we return? Yes, now armed with foreknowledge. Sit outside on a balmy evening, order drinks, wait till you’ve finished those before ordering food, and stick to the simplest preparations. Note well: We saw the maestro hard at work shaving meats, not slaving over a hot oven.
Isabella Goes South of the Border
Mike Isabella has the Georgetown bar scene figured out. Cheek-to-jowl with the Modern and Rhino Bar and across from J. Paul’s, Isabella’s newest outpost after Graffiato is Bandolero, a low-key high intensity No Country For Old Men Mexican hangout, which is primed to go head to head with those well-known watering holes. The former Top Chef from Season 6 and 2010 Top Chef All-Stars had a totally rockin’ opening and former Top Chef fellow contestant, Jen Carroll, was there to cheer him on.
To keep up with the fast pace of a hot bar, Isabella has put some pre-made designer margaritas on tap. The “El Bandolero Margarita” and “El Mata Amigos” cocktails (“Mata” can mean bushy hair, a grove or the mastic tree? Clarification needed here.) flowed freely at the press opening last week. Currently the bar features over 65 tequilas and a dozen mezcals to choose from. Assistant General Manager, Ryan Jones, told me they’ll soon be off to Mexico in search of some obscure small-batch tequilas to ratchet up the inventory.
The décor, an intriguing hybrid of Mexican bordello meets medieval dungeon, is Elvis on black velvet dark with colonial era brick walls. But forget about the cave mood lighting, (Jones told me the lights were turned up for the event.) and order some food. You won’t be disappointed.
Start with orange infused pumpkin seed spread with jalapenos or chunky guacamole made with salsa roja and served with masa chips and chicarrones. On to Taquitos and Tostados. I couldn’t get enough of the Maryland blue crab tacos with coconut, red chili and purple potatoes – and I’m still craving the tuna, ginger and sweet potato. Fabuloso! And though I delighted in the mahi mahi taco, I noted there’s one made with lobster to try another time. A perfect balance of smoky and spicy was revealed in tacos of suckling pig, apple and habanero mustard, and succulent pork cheek flautas to dip in queso anejo.
In any case Isabella knows the basics of Mexican cooking from his early days on the line. “I used to cook in a Mexican restaurant in New Jersey,” he told me. As for his reinvention of Mexican street food he says, “It’s Mexican with a twist!” Viva la révolution!
Paul Bakery opened another of their traditional boulangerie cafés, this one in a stunner of a building on Connecticut Avenue near Dupont Circle. Now you can get your café au lait and croissant or sack of macaronson your way to work. Working lunch in the conference room during déjeuner? Impress your K Street clientele with crépes and tartes for lunch.
Brigitte Bardot is coming to Washington! Well, virtually anyway. The photo exhibit “BB Forever – Brigitte Bardot, The Legend” features France’s most alluring sex kitten and opens June 21st through September at the Sofitel Washington. Concurrently the hotel will offer a special ”French Icon” package, which includes luxury accommodations, daily breakfast for two in iCi Urban Bistro, and dessert for two in Le Bar. It’s the first time an exhibit about the iconic movie star and animal advocate will appear in North America. Sofitel has also created a special collector’s edition catalogue for the exhibit that includes rare photos, accompanied by commentary and anecdotes by journalist and author Henry-Jean Servat, as well as an editorial by the legend herself.
New Chef New Menu at Alexandria’s Morrison House
Brian McPherson, former executive sous chef at Poste is now heading up the kitchens at The Grille at Morrison House, the tony boutique hotel in Alexandria’s Old Town. McPherson recently crossed the Potomac where he worked as executive sous chef under Rob Weland for the past five years.
The Grille has a well-known piano bar scene on Thursday nights and cast members as well as talented local songsters from the area drop by to trill show tunes and light opera for guests.
McPherson is already doing great things with both upscale and foraged ingredients and at last week’s spring-inspired dinner there was no exception. Opt for the clubby Grill Room (the formal dining room desperately needs a makeover) and start with the artichoke paté with black truffles, marinated artichoke hearts and artichoke chips. Follow with English pea pistou with hedgehog mushrooms and pea shoots or asparagus and nettle soup with crème fraîche, radishes, asparagus tips and ramps. Take it from me, it was like grandmere’s potager. Rosy lamb filets served with a bordelaise jus are rich and meaty, and a salad of radicchio, curly endive, pecans and Cashel Bleu cheese is one I’ll try to recreate at home.
But the pièce de résistance for me was the most heavenly bouillabaisse I’ve ever eaten outside of Marseille. Served with a proper rouille sur baguette and floating in saffron broth were tender pieces of lobster, halibut, mussels and scallops. Formidable!
For dessert we shared McPherson’s insouciant nod to strawberry shortcake with lightly macerated strawberries over a delicate olive oil cake with a rose-infused sauce and basil ice cream on the side, as well as raspberry panna cotta with fresh raspberries and sorbet made from the juice of the same.
If you aren’t up for ditties from the Washington Opera’s off-duty supernumeraries, skip Thursdays – otherwise book a table as fast as you can.
Wolfgang Puck Expands His Empire to National Harbor
The swank press opening of Puck’s new catering space at National Harbor was an event worthy of the innovator himself. A breathtaking view of the Potomac River coupled with Puck’s stylish cuisine and artisanal cocktails gives this event space an advantage unlike many others in the area. We dined on fresh ravioli, soft shell crab sliders, warm asparagus soup, those legendary pizzas (prosciutto and arugula was the clear winner for me) and Korean short ribs served with half a dozen toppings from scallions to house made kimchee.
Puck installed a brand new state-of-the-art kitchen in the unused space and trained his staff to reflect the same high standards one comes to expect at his DC resto, The Source, which also has a successful catering division in the Newseum.
Sleek and chic is the dynamic. Oscar-worthy cuisine is the result. The Sunset Room at National Harbor promises to be a premiere destination for conventions, weddings and other social occasions. With a capacity to host private events of up to 2,000 guests and do it in elegant innovative style, Puck’s mantra of “Eat! Love! Live!” translates into LA style parties for the East Coast.