Blue Man Group

Blue Man Group

The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
Jordan Wright
July 22, 2022
Special to The Zebra 

Blue Man Group Drumbone, Courtesy of Blue Man Productions

As you enter the Eisenhower Theater to take your seats for the Blue Man Group the red velvet curtains have already been pulled back to reveal the set. A massive five-story scaffolding chock-a-block with a myriad of lights and computer technology fills the stage. Waiting for the show to begin, we played a game of Let’s See If We Can Identify These Throwback Screens. Together we spied the winged blades of a LEO-SAT (low earth orbiting satellite), an Atari ping pong screen, an MS-DOS operating system – busy coding, a sound oscilloscope, asteroids, search engines, a geometric screen saver and a colorful goldfish screensaver. Wires and dials and switches are tucked into every nook and cranny. The single-page program reads, “The People here are mailing codes to space. They are receiving letters from space, in the form of codes. The codes are being delivered all around us, on paths, making an invisible architecture.” Hmmm… We remind ourselves that over 35 million people around the world love the Blue Man experience.

Blue Man Group (Photo/Evan Zimmerman)

When the three blue men plus a two-piece band emerge on stage, we thought we were prepared. The drummer had over a dozen clear plexiglass drums in his kit and the guitarist occasionally removed his guitar to join him on a smaller kit. What we didn’t predict was how highly orchestrated the lighting and sound effects would be and that the blue men would play their own array of cobbled-together instrumentation and how silly and clever their antics – absurdity coupled with unrestrained creativity. Wow!

Blue Man New Tour (Photo/Evan Zimmerman)

The level of electronika, phosphorescence, lights and percussion is mind-blowing. It’s a paradise for techies and those of us who are in total wonder at the wizardry of it all. Are they space aliens or computer nerds left alone to play in a giant warehouse filled with stuff? I couldn’t help but wonder. Whatever your conclusion the show is a non-stop sensory explosion of gizmos, gadgets and goofy gags. Their innocent antics befuddle the blue men themselves while keeping the audience in both wonder and hysterics. Rubber chickens cross paths with virtual reality headsets and one wild scene has a man tossing dozens of marshmallows into another’s mouth from the opposite side of the stage. Yes, he catches every last one and mushes them into his mouth!

Blue Man New Tour, (Photo/Evan Zimmerman)

Dressed in camouflage suits, the creatures step off the stage and into the audience half a dozen times to bring a member up to the stage to engage them in some nutty skit. In one of these, they woo two women with gifts and a ring, engineer a mock wedding between them, handcuff them, lose the key, then politely ask them to play Twister. All in pantomime. The women found it as hilarious as the rest of us.

As a frequent theatergoer, I particularly loved their response from the stage when a couple arrived after the show had begun. With mics turned up, they trained a spotlight on the couple as they made their way down the aisle singing this little ditty repeatedly, “You’re late! You’re late!”. You’ll be thrilled to learn that the audience roared and applauded until the beleaguered duo found their seats. The Takeaway: Don’t ever be late to a Blue Man Group show!

Highly recommended. Perfect for the whole family.

Through July 31st at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, 2700 F Street, NW, Washington, DC 20566. For tickets and information visit www.Kennedy-Center.org or call the box office at 202 467-4600.

Jersey Boys

Jersey Boys

The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
June 17, 2022
Jordan Wright

Photo/Joan Marcus

In an era when Motown was delivering hit after hit and Black singing groups ruled the charts, a quartet of Italian kids from the blue-collar town of Belleville, NJ began their journey to stardom. Most of them were small-time crooks who knew a hot hustle when they saw it. Tommy, one of the original members, was street smart enough to keep the others out of the worst kind of trouble, though most of them wound up serving time. After their release, they re-formed, playing local dives and bowling alleys – an arduous route followed by many bands back in the day. How Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons achieved the pinnacle of success and were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame defines this Tony, Grammy and Olivier-award winning musical.

Valli’s powerhouse falsetto and the group’s sweet harmonies, set them apart from other groups, but success didn’t come easily. After years as unknown studio backup singers for big recording artists, the group finally found their identity when a young Joe Pesci (Yes! that Joe Pesci.) introduced them to a little-known singer/songwriter named Bob Gaudio, who became the newest member of the group. Under Producer/Hitmaker, Bob Crewe they subsequently churned out megahits and apart from their personal troubles he kept them on the road and on the charts.

Jersey Boys

Thanks to Murray the K, a popular New York City radio disc jockey, the group got airplay of their first release “Sherry” which went straight to the top of Billboard’s pop charts selling one million records. Soon after, the hits and the fans kept coming – “Big Girls Don’t Cry”, “Walk Like a Man”, “Dawn” and dozens more.

Based on their fortunes and misfortunes and the vagaries of their love lives, the plot is the glue that supports the musical numbers. Fans will hear over two dozen of their biggest hits plus a few of their earliest song stylings. Sung by a quartet whose voices are a pitch perfect match to the originals, it comes off as a Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons live concert.

Photo/Joan Marcus

Former original Broadway cast member Jon Hacker plays Frankie. On press night his understudy the fabulous Justin Albinder filled in showing an astonishing falsetto range accompanied by slick dance moves. Expect James Brown-style splits and spins executed in retro sharkskin suits. All the band’s songs are choreographed as are those for a sexy mini-skirted girl group that accompanies the boys on tour. As Tommy puts it, “We put Jersey on the map.”

A high energy concert-style musical set in the retro 60’s and 70’s music scene, it features their greatest hits.

Highly recommended.

(Note: This show is appropriate for ages 12+ only due to strong language throughout.)

Photo/Joan Marcus

Directed by Tony Award-winner Des McAnuff; Book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice; Choreographed by Sergio Trujillo; Music by Bob Gaudio; Lyrics by Bob Crewe; Lighting by Howell Binkley; Costume Design by Jess Goldstein; Orchestrations by Steve Oric, Scenic Design by Klara Zieglerova; Sound Design by Steve Canyon Kennedy. The Jersey Boys Orchestra is directed by Noah Turner and Anthony Brindisi.

Starring Sean McGee as Bob Crewe/Donnie/Accountant/Finney/and others; Matt Faucher as Nick Massi; Eric Chambliss as Bob Gaudio; Devon Goffman as Tommy DeVito; Katie Goffman as Mary Delgado/Angel. The rest of the cast play multiple roles.

Through June 26th at The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, 2700 F Street, NW, Washington, DC 20566. For tickets and information call 202 467-4600 or visit www.Kennedy-Center.org

Blue Stockings

Blue Stockings
The Little Theatre of Alexandria
Jordan Wright
February 2022

 Special to the Alexandria Times

Ilyana Rose-Dávila (Maeve Sullivan), Melissa Dunlap (Celia Willbond), Elizabeth Replogle (Miss Blake), Tegan Cohen (Carolyn Addison), Madeline Byrd (Tess Moffat)

Blue Stockings harkens back to the late 19th century at Cambridge University at a time when women wore bloomers, didn’t have the right to vote, nor could they earn graduate degrees from the college. The term ‘blue stockings’ was a derogatory reference to a woman with literary or intellectual interests. No wonder the popularity of writers like Virginia Woolf and the Jazz Age were a thing a mere two decades later, though it should be noted that King’s College in London had a ‘Ladies Department’ in 1897 when Woolf attended.

Jessica Swale’s play is based on the true story of Elizabeth Welsh, the mistress of Girton College and Dr. Maudsley, the renowned male psychiatrist, (other characters in the play are fictitious) are at sixes and nines. Welsh is leading the charge to graduate a small, but brilliant, incoming class of young women of differing socio-economic backgrounds and fields of study. Dr. Maudsley espouses cock-eyed Victorian notions of women’s unsuitability to the rigors of higher learning attributing hysteria to the female body (he calls it the “wandering womb”), the destruction of natural maternal instincts, their inability to land a future husband and other antiquated notions. “Degrees for women are a dangerous idea,” he proposes. Hiss! Boo!

(Back row) Tegan Cohen (Carolyn Addison), Melissa Dunlap (Celia Willbond), Madeline Byrd (Tess Moffat), Ilyana Rose-Dávila (Maeve Sullivan)
(Front row) Robert Heinly (Dr. Maudsley/Professor Collins), Anne Hilleary (Miss Bott/Mrs. Lindley), Michael King (Holmes), Ali Cheraghpour (Edwards), James Blacker (Lloyd),
Paul Donahoe (Mr. Banks)

Under this aggressive male pressure, the ladies are subjugated at every turn. Treated as a curiosity they are chaperoned, cosseted, and degraded by the male students until they join forces in solidarity with the women’s movement to gain the vote. Oh, activism! Funny how assertiveness works to the women’s advantage!

Director Marzanne Claiborne pulls together a brilliant cast who really click affording us a tightly woven production that encompasses both drama and relevance. Urged by the sympathetic professor Mr. Banks (splendidly portrayed by Paul Donahoe) for the men to explore their passions, the flirtatious Ralph Mayhew (Michael Townsend) gives a hilarious delivery of an Italian love poem to aspiring student Tess Moffat (Madeline Byrd). Byrd is the glue that drives this play ever forward. Both her comedic timing and her intensity are spot on and she is tremendously engaging as the striving student whose character is flawed but brave, whose heart is broken but rallies in her ardent quest for education.

Other notable performances are crafted by Robert Heinly as Dr. Maudsley whose evil intentions are reminiscent of Snidely Whiplash; John Paul Odle as Will Bennett, the well-intentioned brother of Tess; Melissa Dunlap as fellow student Celia Willbound; Tegan Cohen as sophisticate Carolyn Addison; and Ilyana Rose-Dávila as Maeve Sullivan, a girl from a poor family who struggles to keep her spot at the school when summoned home to care for her orphaned brothers and sisters.

Paul Donahoe (Mr. Banks), Will Cooke (Professor Radleigh), Robert Heinly (Dr. Maudsley/Professor Collins), Joel Durgavich (Librarian/Professor Anderson/Man in Tea Parlor)

There are 13 scenes in Act I alone – 12 in Act II. It seems like an improbable challenge to pull off, but pull it off they do with smooth transitions, musical interstices and a variety of set changes that place the characters in a typical dorm room, a classroom, the outdoors, the headmistress’s office and other settings typical of campus life with the backdrop of the college’s ivied towers.

Produced by Lloyd BittingerMargaret Chapman and Christine Farrell. Assistant Director Hilary Adams; Period Costume Design Joan Davis; Italian Dialog Coach Dominica Marchetti; Lighting by Franklin Coleman; Set Design by Charles Dragonette.

Additional cast members: Liz LeBoo as Elizabeth Welsh; Ali Cheraghpour as Mr. Banks; James Blacker as Lloyd; Michael King as Holmes; Elizabeth Repogle as Miss Blake; Anne Hilleary as Miss Bott/Mrs. Lindley; Joel Durgavich as Librarian/Professor Anderson; Hilary Adams as/Khalia Muhammad as Minnie; Michael Rufo as Billy Sullivan; Will Cooke as Professor Radleigh; Robert Heinly as Dr. Maudsley/Professor Collins; Manus Nunan as Mr. Peck/Waiter.

This is a fine piece of theater from LTA and one I can most assuredly state, is worthy of appreciation. Highly recommended.

Through March 19th at The Little Theatre of Alexandria, 600 Wolfe Street, Alexandria, VA 22314. For tickets and information call 703 683-5778 or visit www.TheLittleTheatre.com.

Suddenly Last Summer ~ Avant Bard Theatre

Jordan Wright
March 4, 2020 

There’s something rather quaint about Tennessee Williams now.  His sultry Southern romances no longer seem shocking, though the stories are like listening to a fine storyteller spinning a yarn on the veranda of an old house on a steamy summer night.  They’re always captivating and, though we know it will not turn out well for the characters, we wait breathlessly to hear how they navigated turgid waters.

Erik Harrison as George Holly and Megan Morgan as Mrs. Holly in Avant Bard’s ‘Suddenly Last Summer.’ Photo by DJ Corey.

Set in New Orleans in 1935, Suddenly Last Summer reflects a time when electroshock therapy and lobotomies were still in style, when women got the vapors and took laudanum or cocaine and could be committed to an asylum by their husbands for postpartum depression.  Were they crazy or just “handled” in order to be disposed of?

In this story the beautiful and captivating Catherine Holly is holding up the dispersal of a large family inheritance with the telling of a shocking tale about how Mrs. Violet Venable’s son died in a rural Mexican beach town.  The problem is no one wants to hear it.  They hold a high position in society and, if the family doesn’t squelch her story, their reputations will be forever tarnished.  Nowadays there’s not so much attention paid to a few black sheep in a family.  But in that time, and in that place, one’s entire social standing in a community rested on their good name.

Sara Barker as Catherine Holly. Photo by DJ Corey.

Violet fancies her son, Sebastian, an aesthete – a poet and gardening enthusiast with little time for carnal pleasures.  They travel the world together and she becomes accustomed to the attention he garners for his looks and charm.  When Catherine replaces the sickly woman on his stylish adventures, Violet becomes enraged.  Catherine reveals to the others, the Sebastian’s dark side that Violet knew about, and even indulged, but was not willing to acknowledge.  Tragically, Catherine’s future as a free woman is at stake if she reveals the truth of the horrific way he died.  Jealousy and greed drive William’s extraordinary characters and remind us of how brilliant a playwright he was.

Under the fine direction of Christopher Henley, the play crackles with a terrific cast, most especially Cam Magee and Sara Barker who we loved in Avant Bard’s production of Emilie: La Marquise du Chatelet Defends Her Life Tonight.

The play is preceded by a little-known, twenty-minute, two-person production also written by Tennessee Williams and called Talk to Me Like the Rain and Let Me Listen. 

With Cam Magee as Mrs. Violet Venable; Matt Sparacino as Doctor Cukrowicz; Miss Kitty as Miss Foxhill; Erik Harrison as George Holly; Megan Morgan as Mrs. Holly; Sara Barker as Catherine Holly; and Christine Hirrel as Sister Felicity.

Scenic Design by David Ghatan; Lighting Design by Ian Claar; Costume Design by Anna Marquardt; and Sound Design by Clay Tuenis.

Through April 5th at Avant Bard Theatre, Gunston Hall Arts Center, Theatre Two, 2700 South Lang Street, Arlington, VA 22206.  For tickets and information visit www.AvantBard.org/tickets or call the box office at 703.418.4808.

Nibbles and Sips Around Town ~ July 8, 2019

Jordan Wright
July 8, 2019 

Celebrate Wimbledon at the Fairmont and Bastille Day at the Sofitel Both Events on July 14th 

On Sunday, July 14th Georgetown’s tony Fairmont Hotel is planning a British invasion to honor the 2019 Wimbledon Championships.  From 11am till 2pm guests will view the men’s finals on the big-screen in the hotel’s stunning garden courtyard while feasting on traditional British fare including flutes of champagne, Pimm’s cup and G&Ts.

Spectators will view the men’s finals on huge screens while trying out their backhand and forehand on a miniature tennis court.  Wearing green, purple or white will make you eligible for prizes for the best garden party or tennis attire. Overnight stays, dinners and brunches are some of the prizes to be ‘lobbed’ at the winners.  Tickets are $25 per person.

Executive Chef Jordi Gallardo and his team will feature an all you can eat $25pp array of passed delicacies without any ‘foot faults’!

  • Traditional, Finger Sandwiches
  • Salad Buffet with Salmon, Smoked Trout and Sirloin Steak
  • Scottish Eggs
  • Lamb Chops and Sausages from the Grill
  • Fish and Chips
  • Mini Pork Pies

Pastry Chef Charles Froke plans an extensive dessert buffet.  Here’s the scrumptious menu.

  • Strawberries and Cream Station
  • Scones with Clotted Cream
  • White Chocolate & Cherry Tennis Balls
  • Summer Berry Trifle
  • Sticky Toffee Pudding Cake
  • English shortbreads
  • Strawberry rhubarb crème

Bottomless Pimm’s cups and mimosas are $15 pp or sip on the Juniper G&T or Thiénot Brut Champagne at $10 each.  Live entertainment provided by the Dom Petrellese Quartet playing British favorites.

The Fairmont Hotel is located at 2401 M Street, NW, Washington, DC 20037.  For reservations visit Eventbrite .

Bastille Day Picnic at the Sofitel

Some go all out with fabulous costumes! Here’s Louis XIV the “Sun King” at last year’s Bastille Day Party at the Sofitel

Want to leave London for Paris?  At the Sofitel Washington DC on Lafayette Square the Bastille Day celebration kicks off with their 2nd Annual Bastille Day Picnic in the Opaline Bar & Brasserie from 2 till 4pm on July 14th .  The deluxe hotel will pull out all the stops with French music, French picnic fare, champagne, rosé, fun photo ops, a caricaturist and more.  Prizes will be awarded for best parasols and best French attire.

Bastille Day Picnic at the Sofitel

The Sofitel is located at 806 15th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20005  www.Sofitel.accorhotels.com

Go!  You can do both!

Nibbles and Sips Around Town ~ June 2019

Jordan Wright
June 2019
Photo credit: Jordan Wright
 

East Indian Glamour at Punjab Grill ~ Gâteau Bakery Café & Tea Room Brings Bespoke British Tea Time to Old Town Warrenton ~ High Street Café – Latin-inspired Brasserie in Georgetown

 Punjab Grill  

Glamorous table setting at Punjab Grill

As a great admirer of Indian cuisine (inspired by my mother who turned down a marriage proposal from the last Maharaja of Sarila , I have been delighted with the wide variety of Indian restaurants around DC.  Dining at the award-winning Rasika or Indique  or Bombay Club (think days of the Raj) spring to mind.  Even casual spots like Indigo and Pappe   – which all are on my short list.  Travel outside city limits and a new Indian restaurant seems to pop up every month.  The more exposed we are to the joys and complexities of Indian food, the more we want to try a new one.

Tandoori Tiger Prawns at Punjab Grill

Punjab doesn’t tumble neatly into any of these categories.  It stands alone as a temple to Indian fine dining with its luxe décor – Hermés plates, napkin rings and gold-handled silverware – and well-trained, crisply uniformed waitstaff.   If I were hosting a dream dinner party it would be luxuriating in its private dining room where 150,000 miniature, convex mirrors reflect the light from dozens of candles and low-lit chandeliers, and where a long dining table inlaid with mother-of-pearl creates a glimmering, shimmering ambiance that reeks of regal sophistication.  Dubbed the ‘Sheesh Mahal’ or ‘Palace of Mirrors’ it accommodates ten of your nearest and dearest.

Punjab Grill’s Chutney Flight

Another dining room – dubbed the ‘Passage to India’ is inspired by the private railroad car journeys through India taken in the comfort of royal saloons.  Each table is supported by a hand-carved marble base, sourced from the same mines as the Taj Mahal.  Its walls are artfully decorated with beautifully carved wooden latticework.

Malabar Macchi- Chilean Sea Bass with jaggery cumin glaze, Brussels sprouts thoran and kokum coconut sauce

A translucent onyx bar at the entrance beckons you to order one of their delicately-spiced cocktails.  Decorated with marble inlays and aglow with amber lighting from within the stone, it makes for a dramatic introduction to the dining rooms where dishes are treated as works of art.

Aloo Tikki Chaat surrounded by pomegranate seeds

A must-have starter is the sampler of six distinctive chutneys – mango, pineapple, mint yoghurt, ginger tamarind carrot pickle, turnip pickle, radish pickle and laccha onion surrounding an assortment of crisp “breads” – poppadum, dosa crisps and naan grissini.  The pink one is tinted with beet juice.

As beautiful as the dishes are, they are not mere window dressing.  The food is divine – a tribute to Executive Chef Jaspratap ‘Jassi’ Bindra’s modern twist on Indian cuisine.

Salted Caramel Paneer Cheesecake​ (L) ​–​ honey cashew crust, mascarpone cream / Chocolate Pistachio Giandiya (R)​ ​–​ cardamom ganache, chocolate sable

Punjab Grill, 427 11th Street NW, Washington, D.C. 20004. Reservations are recommended.  Call 202 813.3004 or visit ​www.punjabgrilldc.com Valet parking is available at dinner.

Gâteau Bakery Café & Tea Room

Gâteau Bakery Café and Tea Room in Warrenton, VA

I met owner Lora Vennettilli Gookin at a Gold Cup event in The Plains, Virginia a few years ago.  I had been gobbling up her delicious pastries while visiting the Airlie tent and was introduced to her by a mutual friend.  Lora let me know she was opening a bakery in Old Town Warrenton and was in the process of restoring a historic building in the center of town.  She promised to contact me when it was ready.  Fast forward two years later and Lora made good on her pledge and that was how I came to experience Gâteau Bakery’s delightfully delicious afternoon tea.

Owner/Baker Lora Vennetilli Gookin in front of the historic bank’s vault where she houses the collection of cups and teapots used for tea service.

A short drive out from DC, and a world away from the stresses of the city, the charming bakery plus tea room is situated near the Fauquier Courthouse and Fauquier History Museum and Old Jail, both of which are worth a visit.  Built in 1860, the bakery itself with its interior brick walls is housed in what was once the Bank of Warrenton.  On one side you’ll find the tea room on the other near the entrance a gift shop, takeout bakery and a café serving soups, salads and sandwiches.

Baba au rhum at Gateau Bakery

Lora is a superb pastry chef and enterprising baker.  All the scrumptious baked goods are baked by Lora and her well-trained staff of bakers.  In the bakery section you’ll find lots of flavors of cakes (caramel cakes!) and cupcakes (coconut chocolate almond!) plus savory treats to take away – cupcakes, muffins, biscuits, cookies, cakes and classic desserts like baba au rhum.  For those with specific food issues or allergies, you can still have your cake and eat it too with gluten-free, dairy-free and/or vegan options.  For my friend and I, the exquisitely prepared afternoon tea is what we came for.  Take away sweets can wait.

Different levels of the tea experience are offered.  I recommend you go all in with the Royal Tea featuring cucumber sandwiches, mini savory puff pastries with tomato, basil and mozzarella, scones (flavors at the whim of the chef), Virginia ham and sweet potato biscuits served with mustard butter, curried egg salad, mini chocolate tarts with shortbread crust, and an assortment of cookies and scrumptiously rich cake bites.  It is a tea lover’s dreamland heightened by the freshly whipped cream and seasonal fruit jams.

The bakery and gift shop at Gâteau

Twenty-five varieties of tea grace the menu.  Your selection is brought to the table in an individual pot, kept warm with hand-knit tea cosies Lora has made in England.  Each pot and cosy are unique and tea varieties are custom made exclusively for the bakery by Green Alchemy Herb & Mercantile Company owned by nearby Lovettsville residents, Sarah and Peter Roussos, a former chemistry teacher.  Be sure to take home a few of these unique teas.  The Roussos’s ‘American Chai’ has been patented and is the perfect morning sip.

The Royal Tea at Gateau Bakery

Lora also serves a Children’s Tea, which is the best way to introduce your child to the finer things in life (including good table manners).  The Gentleman’s Tea is more meat- and cheese-centric and features bison sliders and smoked gouda grits washed down with a sprightly pilsner.  For those craving something with a bit more punch, the bakery has a full-on liquor license that includes cocktails, wine, beer and champagne.

Once a career civil engineer who, encouraged by friends, attended pastry school in Scottsdale, Arizona, Lora has her own style.  Though many of her pastries are of the classic variety, this is not your average corner bakery.  On-trend sweets as well as gorgeously decorated multi-tiered wedding cakes that are her most popular items.  Lora is committed to the best quality ingredients – many of which are locally sourced.  A visit to her website reveals more about her exacting practices.  “All of our cakes, fillings and frostings are skillfully made from scratch using select organic ingredients, no shortening, unbleached and unbromated flour, aluminum free leaveners and non-GMO ingredients.”

Gâteau Bakery Café and Tea Room is located on 12 Culpeper Street, Warrenton, VA 20186. Reservations are recommended for afternoon tea.  Call 540 347.9188 or visit www.1gateau.com

High Street Café  

The bar at High Street Café

Imagine my surprise to find Georgetown’s old Paolo’s turned into an American brasserie with a Latin flair.  It’s like having culinary Europe at your doorstep.  Veteran restauranteur Manuel Iguino is back and center stage.  (Nearly a decade ago he served the pounded plantain dish mofongo at his Puerto Rican-influenced restaurant Mio.)  Whether sitting on the patio smack dab on Wisconsin Avenue (perfect for people-watching) or perched at the intimate bar, or nicely cosseted on a banquette, Georgetown’s hustle-bustle is at eye level.  Located in the heart of Georgetown’s toniest environs, his latest venture, High Street Café, affords diners a sunset view, an accomplished chef, Gerard Cribbin, and an ambitiously creative cocktail program by Beverage Director, Carl Townsend.

Cribbin, who once cheffed a few blocks away at Filomena’s making fresh pastas, drifted farther south.  After stints in Greenville, SC, a noted foodie destination where he was chef and co-owner of Gerard’s, he cooked at The Lazy Goat and later became the executive chef at Coal Fired Bistro.  For now, he’s back in the nation’s capital.  Let’s hope he stays.  At Coal Fired Bistro his seafood bisque became all the rage.  It’s one of his specialties and on the menu here.  Cribbin has his own way of interpreting the dishes we think we’re familiar with.  A starter of tuna tartare was a surprising refresher.  Not your usual raw fish dish, this version becomes elevated with the addition of tiny cubes of sweet mango and a silken dressing of orange cream.

Scallops with wild mushrooms, sherry cream, spinach and saffron risotto

A wide array of menu items (I spotted lechon pizza!) beckons, but I drilled down on a calf’s liver starter.  Now there are a lot of things that can go wrong with this rarely encountered delicacy – a chef that thinks it’s okay to substitute beef liver (too bitter), overcooking (tough as shoe leather) and near-raw onions.

Calf’s Liver with caramelized shallots

The onions must be caramelized through a process of long, low and slow cooking.  For those who are equally as discerning about liver and onions, I can report that this one was sheer perfection and served with caramelized shallots.  Even better, as these tiny bulbs yield a sweeter result.

Tuna Tartare with mango, orange cream and baby kale

Another dish I measure a restaurant’s chef by, is Spaghetti alla Vongole.  Cribbin prepares it with the tiniest of sweet clams, plenty of garlic, seasoned bread crumbs and a charred lemon on the side.  Memorable.  A dish of perfectly bronzed scallops with wild mushrooms and sherry cream and risotto was oh, so rich and delicious too.

Spaghetti alla Vongole

Although I was racing off to the theatre and I usually forgo a drink when I’m working, I wanted to try, on this very hot day, just one mojito.  It’s a good way to test a bar’s credibility as too often this classic Spanish cocktail is dumbed down by a lazy bartender who plants a solitary sprig of mint and calls it a day.  Townsend’s was a veritable garden of mint and limes and super hydrating.

High Street Café’s Mojito

Here are a few of Townsend’s specialty summer cocktails:  ‘Mai High Tai’ with Novo Fogo Cachaça, Dry Curaçao and orgeat; ‘Seasonal Buck’ with Gin Lane 1751 ‘Victoria’ Pink Gin, lavender and ginger beer; ‘Ponce Old Fashioned’ with Don Q Añejo Rum, turbinado and bitters; ‘Spicy Guava Pisco Sour’ with Soldeica Pisco, Ancho Reyes and sichuan syrup; and ‘Paloma-rita’ with Rooster Rojo Tequila, lime and grapefruit soda.

Two house-aged cocktails presented by High West Whiskey are also featured – the ‘Chili Aged Manhattan’ with High West American Prairie Bourbon, vermouth and Amargo de Chile; and the ‘Caribbean Negroni’ with Don Q Gold Rum, Tiki Lovers Dark Rum, amaro blend and vermouth blend.

A return trip (with alcohol) is definitely on the horizon.

High Street Café – 1303 Wisconsin Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20007.  Call 202 333.0256.