Samantha Lee, Guest Contributor
June 9, 2016
Suma Restaurant + Bar
Suma Restaurant + Bar is an New American style restaurant located near Bethesda Row. Suma translates to “born in the summer”. Boasting an outdoor 20-seat patio with sectional sofa and basket-woven chairs, the indoor dining room comfortably seats up to 57 people. The large windows give off an airy feel to restaurant, while French doors bring in more natural light.
Chef Gene Sohn has been in the DC hospitality industry all his life. Eschewing a path to business school, he chose to become a chef. Moving up in rank and responsibility from dishwasher to Chef de Cuisine, he worked for the Robert Wiedmaier Restaurant Group including the prestigious Marcel’s and the ever-popular Mussel Bar in Bethesda for almost 8 years. Eventually he teamed up with Jay Evans, the former General Manager of Mussel Bar – Bethesda, and Jennifer Day to open Suma. Sohn aims at mastering simple, classical dishes with a modern twist.
Suma Restaurant Interior
Suma Art Decor
The restaurant is modern with an art deco vintage theme. Some of the quirky artifacts include a Japanese Pagoda, green pear-shaped candles in a lantern, decorative lamps with spiral-patterned shades, metal sculptures, and a golden glass bowl. In one of the corners of the restaurant a Vermouth Bianco poster oversees the room. Booths sport a honey brown pattern and lighting comes via vintage lightbulbs. Six bar stools create an intimate feel to the small spot.
The menu reflects the chef’s seasonal approach. In lieu of bread service, expect a plate of homemade pickled vegetables – spicy cucumbers, onion and cauliflower.
For my appetizer I chose Maryland Crab Dip – a slightly creamy, mix of fresh lump crabmeat with butter and Old Bay and topped with panko bread crumbles. It arrived in a cast iron skillet on a wooden plank with slices of warm baguette. I found it to be light and savory with no discernible filler.
Maryland Crab Dip
Of particular pleasure are the Deviled Eggs garnished with goat cheese, bacon bits, and chives and served over chipotle aioli.
Deviled Eggs Close Up
On the day I visited the specials featured Lobster Bisque, Salmon Burger, and Seared Tuna, all of which sounded delicious but I had my eye set on the Pan Seared Halibut, an entree of line-caught halibut fillet lightly seasoned with salt and pepper and dressed with a buttery tomato and caper sauce. Light in texture, it was accompanied by lemon-accented whipped Yukon potatoes and asparagus. The dish was perfectly prepared and delicately seasoned.
Pan Seared Halibut
Desserts were luscious sounding – Vanilla Creme Brulee, Banana Nut Bread Pudding, Chocolate Chip Brownie, Mango Sorbet and Pistachio Parfait – and it was difficult to decide. I opted for warm Vanilla Creme Brûlée made with freshly scraped vanilla bean pods and topped with a scoop of creme fraiche – a shareable portion that was light and not too sweet.
Suma Restaurant + Bar, 4921 Bethesda Ave, Bethesda, MD 20814. 301 718-6378. For information and reservations visit sumabethesda.com. The restaurant is open for lunch and dinner daily (except Monday’s). Happy hour is from 4-7 pm and brunch on the weekends is from 11 am-4 pm. Happy Hour specials include $2 off drafts, wine by the glass, all products from Maryland, and $1 oysters. The restaurant is three blocks south from the Bethesda Metro station. There is not a private lot but there are multiple public parking garages within a 0.5 mile radius.
Photo credit ~ Samantha Lee
June 13, 2016
The grounds of Wentworth Mansion
Last Friday the magnificent Wentworth Mansion served as backdrop for Southern Living magazine’s 50th anniversary celebration in Charleston, South Carolina. The iconic shelter magazine, rated as the largest regional lifestyle publication in the nation, paid tribute to its past by acknowledging its history of recipes and tradition with “A Taste of the Decades”. Southern Living Editor-in-Chief Sid Evans presided over the festivities greeting guests who strolled the grounds during the cocktail reception before sitting down to a lavish five-course dinner. Wine pairings were provided by Moet Hennessy.
Executive Chef Marc Collins, of the adjacent fine dining restaurant, Circa 1886, designed the five-course Lowcountry menu to reflect each decade of the magazine’s classic recipes. Collins a major player in the founding of Charleston Wine + Food, clearly was inspired by the culinary challenge.
Southern Living’s 50th Anniversary Dinner “A Taste of the Decades”
“Spam” disguised as Quiche Lorraine
Charleston Press Club Meat Balls ‘93
Fried Green Tomatillos, Jalapeno Jelly ‘97
Paired with Domaine Chandon Étoile Brut
Napa Valley, California (Founded in 1973)
Heirloom Tomato Aspic with Blue Crab
Heirloom Tomato Aspic
Blue Crab, Lemon Mayonnaise, Roasted Garlic Purée, Baby Basil,
Smoked Cheddar Croutons
Cape Mentelle Sauvignon Blanc/Sémillon 2015
Cape Mentelle, Margaret River, Australia (Founded in 1970)
Chicken with Cashews Salad
Chicken with Cashews Salad
Bibb Lettuce, Pepper Relish, Chicken Confit, Carolina Gold Rice Polpette, Cashew Butter, Sherry n’ Soy Vinaigrette
Newton Unfiltered Chardonnay 2013
Spring Mountain, California (Founded in 1977)
Seared Foie Gras with a side of Green Bean Casserole and Beech Mushroom and Parsley Salad
Green Bean “Casserole”
Seared Foie Gras, Crispy Onion Rings, Lemon Gelée,
Beech Mushroom & Parsley Salad
Cloudy Bay Marlborough Pinot Noir 2013
Marlborough, New Zealand (Founded in 1985)
A surprise dish served in a TV dinner tray of Edna Lewis’ Collard Greens, Blackened Catfish and Corn Pudding
Elegant Beef Blue
Rosewood Farms Wagyu Shoulder Tender, Blue Cheese Crust, Asparagus, Chardonnay Pan Sauce
Bodega Numanthia, Numanthia 2009 served from a magnum
Toro, Spain (Founded in 1998)
A Trio of Cakes ready to go out
A Trio of Southern Cakes – Hummingbird, Red Velvet and Coconut
What a night! What a heavenly fête! Don’t you just wish you were there.
Photo credit: Marc Collins
June 14, 2016
Special to The Alexandria Times
Brent Barrett (Georges) with Sam Brackley, Jay Westin, Isaiah Young, Ethan Kasnett, Darius Delk, Phil Young. Photo by Christopher Mueller.
A marabou boa-filled extravaganza blew into town with Matthew Gardiner’s La Cage Aux Folles. As glitzy as Vegas, as chi-chi as its French Riviera setting, and as campy and flamboyant as Jerry Herman and Harvey Fierstein intended, this six-time Tony Award-winning musical comedy hits all the right notes. Director Gardiner doing double duty as choreographer, takes on the story of two gay men with a nightclub in Saint-Tropez, where, as we all know, anything goes. At least that’s what Cole Porter taught us.
Georges, the straight-looking one (Is there an app for that?) and the club’s emcee, is played by Brent Barrett, who looks and sings like a young Robert Goulet. His paramour and right-hand man/gal is Albin, stage name Zaza, whom actor Bobby Smith portrays like the metamorphic stages of a caterpillar to a butterfly and the killer instincts of a shark.
DJ Petrosino (Jacob) and Paul Scanlan (Jean-Michel). Photo by Christopher Mueller.
Georges has a son, Jean-Michel (Paul Scanlan), the result of a quickie with a showgirl in a one-night-only heterosexual fling. The problem is the dear boy wants to introduce his dewy-eyed fiancée, Anne (Jessica Lauren Ball) and her ultra-conservative parents to his father and jet-setting mother. What ensues is a sort of gay version of Meet the Parents, with Georges, Albin and their snippy maid Jacob (DJ Petrosino). “I thought I hired a butler!” quips Georges. Keep your eyes on the hilarious Petrosino who is a first class scene stealer.
Bobby Smith (Albin). Photo by Christopher Mueller.
It takes place within the confines of their first floor nightclub and second floor home, with an occasional stroll along the shore to reminisce. Scenic Designer Lee Savage has upped the wow factor by giving us an insider’s view of the drag club’s green room. Two dressing rooms bracket the stage and we become voyeurs to the cross-dressing performers, primping and preening in various stages of undress.
Ethan Kasnett (Chantal). Photo by Christopher Mueller.
But this show is not all show. There are no lip-synching Diana Ross lookalikes in this line up of gender-bending chorines. This is the real deal. Hey, even Jesus makes an appearance, but I’ll keep the surprise. No one here is, to borrow a phrase, ‘resting on pretty’. Gardiner has cast some extraordinary performers with pipes that can go from alto to soprano in a New York minute, fantastic dance skills (Did he really? OMG to the full splits and high kicks) and GQ-worthy bodies too. Big applause to the supporting cast of Les Cagelles: Sam Brackley, Darius R. Delk, Ethan Kasnett, Jay Westin, Isaiah W. Young and Phil Young. How they transform themselves into glam divas is alone worth the price of admission! Extra ‘chicken cutlets’ (gel inserts) all around. And an additional hats off to Frank Labovitz’s over-the-top, ab fab, feathered and sequined costumes, and Anne Nesmith’s endless assortment of towering wigs.
But there’s a plot here too and notwithstanding the lights (kudos to Jason Lyons) and sound (hats off to Lane Elms) we are treated to one of the year-to-date’s best performances by Bobby Smith, in a tour de force portrayal of Albin, the headlining drag performer whose boundless love and sacrifice teaches us the ultimate truth of what “family” really means.
Highly recommended for its tender love story and comic relief in the midst of our turbulent times.
Through July 10th at Signature Theatre (Shirlington Village), 4200 Campbell Avenue, Arlington, VA 22206. For tickets and information call 703 820-9771 or visit www.sigtheatre.org.
June 12, 2016
Special to The Alexandria Times
Shylock (Matthew Boston) looks on disapprovingly as Lorenzo (William Vaughan) tries to steal a kind word with Jessica (Dani Stoller) – Photo by Teresa Wood
Resident Dramaturg, Michele Osherow, lays out the historical landscape behind playwright Aaron Posner’s architecture of his world premiere, District Merchants – a re-imagining of The Merchant of Venice. Commissioned by Folger Theatre as part of its 2016 celebration of 400 years of Shakespeare, this rendition becomes an exploration of class and difference among Blacks and Jews in the post-Civil War era.
To circumscribe the tumultuous times that defined the 1870’s when Blacks had won their freedom and the country was struggling to get its footing, Osherow reminds us that “the England into which Shakespeare was born had barred Jews for centuries.” And further, “that members of the Jewish race were believed to have murderous impulses”. In fact, she explains, in many instances violence against Jewish creditors were committed to avoid paying back debts. She faults “the hypocrisy of a world obsessed with cash and credit.” And it is within this context that we can better comprehend Posner’s intent to humanize Shylock.
Shylock (Matthew Boston, right) works out the terms of his loan with Antoine (Craig Wallace) in Aaron Posner’s ~ Photo by Teresa Wood.
Set amid the reconstruction era in Washington, DC, we find Shylock (Matthew Boston) and Antoine (Craig Wallace as the character better known as Antonio), two rapacious opportunists looking to make their fortunes in a dramatically altered nation. For Shylock it is money lending, aka loan sharking. For Antoine, a free Black man, it is any scheme that he can put his mind to. “You can think of me as an opportunistic philanthropist or a philanthropic opportunist, or you can just think of me as an American,” he boasts, neatly absolving himself of both guilt and responsibility.
Nessa (Celeste Jones, left) is stunned to hear of Portia’s (Maren Bush) inspired plan to disguise herself as a male lawyer ~ Photo by Teresa Wood.
In Posner’s version the beautiful heiress Portia (Maren Bush) struggles to assuage her White guilt with her Black maid Nessa (Celeste Jones), while at the same time, she is clueless that her adored suitor, Benjamin Bassanio (Seth Rue), is a penniless mulatto. Concurrently the pious Jewess Jessica (Dani Stoller), daughter to Shylock, is falling for Lorenzo (William Vaughan) a Wasp with little education but mad skills in wooing. For her, he’s a way out of her father’s oppressive household. For him, she is a ticket to a new and prosperous life. Vaughan plays up the ‘aw shucks’ outlier to an endearing hilt – cagey meets naïve is a tricky balance – and he nails it. Meanwhile Lancelot (Akeem Davis), Shylock’s servant, bobs and weaves his way into Nessa’s heart. Davis makes the most of this secondary role through charm alone.
Lancelot (Akeem Davis) receives a most important letter from Nessa (Celeste Jones) ~ Photo by Teresa Wood.
Director Michael John Garces skillfully directs Posner’s timely re-interpretation with an engagingly intense cast whose characters are carefully crafted to allow us to be drawn in by their passions and nonetheless disgusted by their hostilities and intolerance. Boston’s Shylock remains chillingly coldhearted. But Posner reveals a shaft of explanation in the moneylender’s second act soliloquy when he demands that we, the audience, feel his pain, his outcast status, the loss of his daughter. Stoller, as his daughter, is wonderful – exceptionally expressive and nuanced. Maren Bush proves to be utterly engaging as the gender-switching Harvard law grad, holding the audience captive in a wait-for-it, wait-for-it moment of cringe-worthy indecision as to whether or not to marry Bassanio. “I’m stuck,” she finally blurts out, “I wish I could say ‘yes’, that the world was different. But I’m not big enough inside.” Craig Wallace as the swaggering Antoine, the antithesis of of a compliant Black man, gives a commanding and indelible performance.
Themes of financial scandal, racial injustice and religious conflict keep the story relevant. Modern colloquialisms keep it alive.
Through July 3rd at the Folger Theatre at the Folger Shakespeare Library, 201 East Capitol Street, SE, Washington, DC 20003. For tickets and information call 202 544-7077 or visit www.Folger.edu/theatre.
May 25, 2016
Special to The Alexandria Times
Maulik Pancholy as Katherina and Peter Gadiot as Petruchio. Photo by Scott Suchman.
A curious production of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew is currently showing at Sidney Harman Hall. I say curious, because it doesn’t have a real identity – unless you want to call this classic play a gender-bending musical with anti-feminist leanings. In another words, it’s all over the place in terms of direction and cast.
Oliver Thornton as Bianca and Maulik Pancholy as Katherina. Photo by Scott Suchman.
Tapping into Shakespeare’s use of an all-male cast, Director Ed Sylvanus Iskander has instead given us an ersatz drag show (I’ve seen far better) performed by an oddly uneven cast. The only thing worth holding your breath for is Tony Award-winning Jason Sherwood’s heart-stopping, gold gilded, rotating set, Seth Reiser’s intricate lighting design and Duncan Sheik’s rock music with a catchy backbeat. But, trust me, you will never hear a cast recording of Sheik’s terrific music, since the all-male voices were either gravelly or garbled and, far too often, off-key.
Matthew Russell as Tranio and Telly Leung as Lucentio. Photo by Scott Suchman.
Before I enumerate the plethora of disasters this dismal interpretation holds in store for lovers of the Bard of Avon, I must give credit to the two performers who, despite all discombobulations, kept this three-hour snoozefest from becoming even more intolerable. Peter Gadiot as Petruchio is a marvel of timing, delivery and believability. Blessedly he became the glue that held the plot, as it were, together. And the hilarious stage antics of André De Shields who exudes the classical training and timing of a true actor’s actor, most especially in a hilarious death scene.
Modern day renditions of this comedy are more likely to have the tongue firmly planted in the cheek when it comes to interpreting Petruchio’s male dominance and Kate’s subservience. Nowadays the misogynistic elements are firmly tamped down and contemporary stagings present it as a light-hearted romp with Kate’s willfulness interpreted as her independent feminist spirit. But here Iskander offers up Kate as a victim of the Stockholm Syndrome, subjugating herself and willing the other “ladies” of her acquaintance to follow her lead, which results in them genuflecting side by side in the finale with palms upraised to God, giving themselves over to the demands of the men to be good, obedient wives. I felt as though I’d been hurtled backwards into a time warp before women had the vote.
Under Eskander’s direction Loren Shaw’s costumes veer wildly from classical robes to modern street wear – dressing Bianca in a pink 50’s chiffon frock, the “obvious” males in exaggerated codpieces and Hortensio sporting silver sequined high heels after a make out session with one of the women’s suitors. What’s the point? Ask the paparazzi that appear on stage to snap photos of Bianca acting like Madonna. Maybe they can explain. And I won’t dignify the bondage scene either. So let’s just move on, shall we? Unless you need an explanation for Lucentio in 1970’s pimp’s fur coat and fedora, or a reason for Petruchio’s antlers. Hardly worth the ink.
The cast of Shakespeare Theatre Company’s production of The Taming of the Shrew, directed by Ed Sylvanus Iskandar. Photo by Scott Suchman.
At the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Sidney Harman Hall through June 26th 2016 at 610 F St., NW Washington, DC 20004. For tickets and information call 202 547-1122 or visit www.ShakespeareTheatre.org.