Nibbles and Sips Around Town – December 23, 2017

Jordan Wright
December 21, 2017
Photo credit Jordan Wright

Dining at the Hay-Adams for a Christmas Steeped in Luxury and Tradition ~ Mike Isabella Opens His Biggest Project Yet ~ Crimson DC Whiskey Bar, Diner and Holiday Pop-Up ~ The Maple Guild’s Maple Pecan Sandies

The Hay-Adams Proves Irresistible 

Though I think and write about restaurants all the time, my mind can sometimes go completely blank when asked, “Where should we eat?”  My response goes something like this, “Ethnic, inexpensive, romantic, large group, trendiest restaurant, intimate, posh, close by, Metro accessible, craft cocktails, pre-theatre dinner specials?”  That usually ends the conversation with a thud.  People want one answer.  But with so many distinctly diverse options for cuisine and atmosphere, that’s the only way to narrow it down.

A few weeks ago, a friend asked where he and his wife should take their distinguished guests for Sunday brunch.  The globetrotting trio were flying in from London and he wanted to impress in an elegant spot where they could relax and enjoy easy conversation.  Brunch in the DC Metro area often means unlimited bloody marys or mimosas at a fixed price in a noisy, packed restaurant more suitable for large groups of friends or family.  And that’s fine if that’s your jam.  But for this group of sophisticated diners, that would most emphatically not do.

Holiday decor in the lobby ~ Tiny creatures adorn the decorations - all created by the hotel staff

Holiday decor in the lobby ~ Tiny creatures adorn the decorations – all created by the hotel staff

Given my friend’s specific parameters, I told him to book his party at The Lafayette at the Hay-Adams.  Recently chosen by Conde Nast Traveler for a 2018 “Gold List” Award, it checked all his boxes and more.  I knew the food and service to be superb and the hotel was gorgeously decorated for the holidays.

Verdict: They loved it!

Here are a few photos I took from the current holiday dinner menu.

Pan seared halibut filet with maitake mushrooms and wild rice pilaf ~ Octopus Za’atar with favs beans, merguez sausage, black garlic tahini and basil pistou

Pan seared halibut filet with maitake mushrooms and wild rice pilaf ~ Octopus Za’atar with favs beans, merguez sausage, black garlic tahini and basil pistou


Seared diver scallops with celery root purée, Brussels sprouts and saffron cream ~ Spiced Pear Strudel by Hay-Adams Pastry Chef Josh Short

Seared diver scallops with celery root purée, Brussels sprouts and saffron cream ~ Spiced Pear Strudel by Hay-Adams Pastry Chef Josh Short

For those who have never enjoyed the charms of The Lafayette, nor the ultimate insiders’ bar below stairs at Off the Record, I highly recommend you go.  But don’t let it get around.  It’s our little secret.  

Isabella Eatery Opens in Tysons Galleria

Malachite green doors beckon diners to relax beside a fireplace at Isabella Eatery

Malachite green doors beckon diners to relax beside a fireplace at Isabella Eatery

Former Top Chef Mike Isabella has come a long way from his early days at Zaytinya.  His explosive empire just got even bigger with the opening of his 41,000-square foot emporium, eponymously named Isabella EateryGraffiato, Arroz, Retro Creamery, Non-Fiction Coffee, Octagon Bar, Pepita, Kapnos Marketa, Requin and Yona all take their places on either side of a catwalk the second level of this exclusive shopping mall.

The bar at Pepita at Isabella Eatery ~ The chandelier and portrait gallery dining space at Isabella Eatery

The bar at Pepita at Isabella Eatery ~ The chandelier and portrait gallery dining space

Sit at one of the counters or pull up a seat up to a long wooden table, there are plenty of spaces for a crowd to chow down on any one of dozens of offerings from these varied cuisines.

View of Graffiato and Retro Creamery ~ The central lounge

View of Graffiato and Retro Creamery ~ The central lounge

Designed by Jason Maringola of the DC design firm Streetsense, it is a massive project.  One of the multiple dining spaces is shaped like a rotunda and features wood floors and walls.  Outfitted with a custom designed 25-foot wide $250,000 LED chandelier, it has gallery style art hung clear up to the rafters.  Each dining space is stylishly reflective of the type of food and drink served – tacos and margaritas at Pepita; pizza at Graffiato; sangrias, pintxos and tapas at the soon-to-open Arroz; oysters, lobster rolls, crab cakes and champagne at Requin; poke bowls, sushi and sake at Yona; tzatziki, hummus, spit-roasted meats and beers from DC’s 3 Stars Brewing Company at Kapnos Marketa.  And much, much more, including a small bakery at Non-Fiction Coffee.  Lastly, the Retro Creamery, which is done up in the style of a 1950’s ice cream parlor with banana splits, gelati, sundaes, shakes and floats.

Oysters, lobster rolls and Veuve Clicquot champagne at Requin ~ A group of friends enjoys the opening night at Isabella Eatery

Oysters, lobster rolls and Veuve Clicquot champagne at Requin ~ A group of friends enjoys the opening night at Isabella Eatery

There’s something for every taste.  An oyster and champagne bar caters to the luxe crowd, while takeout sandwiches and coffee drinks are for those on the go.  A spacious modernistic lounge with crackling fireplace becomes the perfect setting to gather over craft cocktails, caviar and steaks from the deluxe Octagon Bar.

Enter through the mall or up a separate escalator accessible from the parking lot on International Drive.

Crimson DC Whiskey Bar Opens in the New Pod Hotel 

Preparing specialty cocktails at Crimson DC ~ A perfect Manhattan at Crimson DC’s Whiskey Bar

Preparing specialty cocktails at Crimson DC ~ A perfect Manhattan at Crimson DC’s Whiskey Bar


The hunting lodge lounge at Crimson DC Whiskey Bar

The hunting lodge lounge

Okay, it’s officially a trend – speakeasies, Prohibition-era cocktails, whiskey, bourbon and house made moonshine.  But what if I told you can find all this in one spot.  In Chinatown.  With a view of the city.  It’s Ian and Eric Hilton’s a three-in-one destination. The whiskey bar is a vast room broken up into smaller areas for lounging or gathering at the U-shaped bar.  I’m not sure how many it seats at the bar.  Best guess more than 50.  Located below stairs in the stylish new Pod Hotel this spot has a Southern style party-all-night atmosphere.  Retro wood booths on one side and sofas and a hunting lodge-themed lounge on another.

The check in desk at The Pod Hotel

The check in desk at The Pod Hotel

The menu trends towards casual bar food – chicken liver parfait, Brunswick stew, a ham board with Virginia’s Olli Salumeria prosciutto, hushpuppies and Chesapeake oysters – fried and served in a po’ boy – or raw.

Nighttime view of the Chinatown Arch from the rooftop bar at Crimson DC

Nighttime view of the Chinatown Arch from the rooftop bar at Crimson DC

Take the elevator to the rooftop, where a cozy holiday pop-up bar is the perfect spot away from the madding crowd.  Overlooking the Chinatown Arch with a 360-degree view of the city, it has both indoor and outdoor seating.  Pop in for spiced lattes and gingerbread cookies.

The rooftop holiday pop-up bar at Crimson DC

The rooftop holiday pop-up bar at Crimson DC

A brightly lit, mid-century modern diner, bar and coffee bar is on the street level and open from 7am till midnight most days.  Top picks: gumbo, biscuits, shrimp and grits, and caramel cake a la mode. And if you’ve never had it before, try the corn pone!

The Maple Guild Beats Out the Competition 

What’s going on top of your Christmas morning breakfast stack – the perfect pancake topper from Vermont, naturally.  This Vermont-based maple syrup company is the best there is.  How do I know?  Because The Maple Guild’s Original Grade A Maple Syrup has won the coveted “Best of East” Award at the Natural Products Association’s Expo East, beating out 1500+ other exhibitors for the prize. Yes! 1500 other products of all kinds to win the top prize.

The Maple Guild Selection

This prestigious award, chosen by all press and influencers at the Expo, is the top honor bestowed upon exhibitors at the trade show. The Best of East is the third award The Maple Guild has won at Expos East and West in the past calendar year. 

But it’s not just their syrups – Salted Caramel, Bourbon Barrel, Cinnamon and Vanilla Bean (Salted Caramel is off the chain!) – you’ll want to try their maple syrup-sweetened fruity teas and maple cream – that luscious spread that you schmear onto your morning toast.  Another product is tapt., a fruit-infused tree water with vitamins, minerals and electrolytes that was the winner of the “Hydration Award” by Runner’s World.  Plus, they make a fruit-infused green or black tea sweetened with their maple syrup.  And DC distillery Jos. A. Magnus & Co. is using some of the different flavored syrups in their Cocktail of the Month.

The Maple Guild is essentially the Willy Wonka of the maple syrup industry, dreaming up creative and innovative ways to consume maple. The heart and soul of the company’s products shows through in their organic steam-crafted syrups tapped from their 25,000-acre farm in Island Pond, Vermont.  Metro DC area residents can find The Maple Guild’s products on OnLine and in-stores at Wegmans, ROOTS Market, GLUT, and MOMs Market. 

Maple Pecan Sandies (recipe by Captain Cookie)


  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/2 cup The Maple Guild original maple syrup
  • 1 cup oil (corn, canola, or vegetable oil all work fine)
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 4 cup flour
  • 1.5 tsp salt
  • 1.5 tsp cream of tartar
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 2 cups chopped pecans


  • Preheat oven to 375*
  • In a bowl, cream the butter and brown sugar together until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs one at a time until fully incorporated. Stir in the powdered sugar, maple syrup, oil, and vanilla until well mixed.
  • In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, salt, and cream of tartar. Add to the butter mixture and mix on low, scraping the sides of the bowl until everything is uniformly mixed in (don’t over-mix)! Stir in the two cups of chopped pecans.
  • Optional: Cover dough and chill for one hour before baking – this will make the sticky dough easier to handle.
  • Scoop by tablespoons and bake at 375* for 10-12 minutes or until cookies are puffed with golden edges.

Finishing Touches

  • Place one scoop of Salted Caramel Ice Cream between each cookie.
  • For the true maple lovers, drizzle maple syrup on top of the ice cream before placing second cookie on top.
  • Dig in!

Nibbles and Sips Around Town ~ November 2017

Jordan Wright
November 2017
Photos by Jordan Wright

Wines of Lugana ~ Fiola Mare on Georgetown Waterfront ~ Sunday in Saigon – Upscale Vietnamese in Alexandria ~ Honeygrow Provides Healthy Choices in Pentagon City ~ Pokéworks at The Block in Annandale ~ Duck Donuts Comes to Northern Virginia ~ Red’s Table Wine Spanish Wine Dinner and Upcoming Whiskey Dinner

 Wines of Lugana, Italy 

Six of the Lugana wines that range from soft and fruity to lemony and herbaceous

Six of the Lugana wines that range from soft and fruity to lemony and herbaceous

A luncheon and wine primer hosted by the Consorzio Tutela at Café Milano proved to be the perfect setting for learning about the wines of Lugana DOC.  This wine-growing designation in the province of Brescia, is situated in the southern part of the beautiful Lake Garda in Northern Italy, 150 miles east of Venice and 150 miles west of Milan, and southwest of the Dolomite Mountains.  The volcanic soil of clay and sand is rich in mineral salts, and the lake, which was formed from a volcanic eruption 10,000 years ago, supplies 30% of its fresh water to all of Italy.  This area also has the advantage of being warm enough to have olive trees with a Mediterranean climate. Perfect for the grapes too.

A map of the region

A map of the region

As a travel destination, the Lake Garda region is hugely popular with tourists and many of the wineries have their own restaurants, bars and lodging.  Cyclists can ride around the circumference of this picturesque lake taking in water views and visiting wineries along the way.

The Lugana wines pairing menu at Café Milano

The Lugana wines pairing menu at Café Milano

Currently the largest market for this thick-skinned grape is surprisingly Monaco. Following that their largest audience of consumers is Germany.  And though the winemakers have seen a ten percent increase in production per year for the past ten years, there were only 15,120,133 bottles of these extraordinarily expressive produced in 2016.

Due to the fact that there are only 4,628 acres in vine, it is the most expensive white wine in Italy.   Genetically the Turbiana grape is distantly related to Trebbiano di Soave and is a distant cousin to Verdicchio, but don’t let that distinction define its profile.  After tasting a dozen wines from the region, made exclusively with this single grape, I can say that it has stunning versatility, as well as affordability.

Arugula salad starts the pairings

Arugula salad starts the pairings

There are a number of expressions of this grape and they are all very individual.  They range from soft and floral, fruity to crisp, lemony and herbaceous and even sweet as in the late harvest wines.  And most of the wine is made un-oaked.

Ca Maiol from Lugana - a delicious sparkler

Ca Maiol from Lugana – a delicious sparkler

The basic Lugana is fruity and dry and is rarely exported; ‘Superiore’ requires one year of aging to mature; Reserva is aged for 24 months – six months in bottle; the late harvest Vendemmia Tardiva is only made by three wineries; and the very lovely Spumante is in limited production.  That said, it is finding its way into some of the finer restaurants in our area. 

Fiola Mare at Georgetown Harbor 

One of the most recommended restaurants in Metro DC is Fabio Trabocchi’s Fiola Mare.  Along with his wife, Maria the dynamic duo has launched five of the most successful concept restaurants in town.  Here the thrust is seafood – freshly caught, sustainably raised and served with an elegant Italian flourish.  It is everything you’d dream of in a posh seafood restaurant in coastal Italy.

An assortment of crudi and prosecco cocktails at Fiola Mare overlooking the waterfront in Georgetown

An assortment of crudi and prosecco cocktails at Fiola Mare overlooking the waterfront in Georgetown

Situated alongside the Potomac River on the Georgetown Waterfront boardwalk, its sea blue awnings beckon diners to this nautical themed restaurant.  Inside bistro chairs are fitted out with white piped, navy blue cushions, just what you’d expect to see on a luxury private yacht.  Windows open out to take in the view of Kennedy Center, and a nearby park is the perfect spot for an after-dinner stroll.

The sleek bar at Fiola Mare

The sleek bar

It’s a lively place, not conducive to easy table talk, but the large, narrow dining room sporting cream colored banquettes is arranged to see and be seen.  Even the bar, stocked to the ceiling with aperitivos like Cynar and Campari, has a clear view to the main dining room.  A smaller room with coffered ceiling, paintings of sailboats, and a marble-topped bar looks to be perfect for private parties.

Seafood Ancona at Fiola Mare

Seafood Ancona

Dinner began with a pair of ‘Bellagio’ cocktails and a quartet of raw tuna, caviar, sea urchin and foie gras mousse.  It merely whet our appetite for more.  Our server suggested we order the ‘Ancona’ – – Madagascar shrimp, clams, oysters, scallops, mussels, bay scallops, king crab, langoustines and more tuna tartare.  Who could say no?

Fabio Trabocchi’s famous lobster ravioli

Fabio Trabocchi’s famous lobster ravioli

One of Trabochi’s best known dishes, is his Lobster Ravioli.  There is a reason for this.  The pasta, nestled in a delicate sauce, is as sheer as a silk stocking and what lobster the ravioli doesn’t accommodate within, is added to the final dish.  It is deluxe…and it is legendary.  We followed that with pan-seared fish, whose heritage I cannot now recall, but it was served on soft polenta with baby zucchini.  I’m fairly certain that was the only vegetable I made contact with all night.

The ‘Marchesi’ chocolate and pistachio dessert at Fiola Mare

The ‘Marchesi’ chocolate and pistachio dessert

Allowing for a dessert to share, Pastry Chef Christian Capo created an exquisite terrine of dark chocolate with pistachio gelee and pistachio mousse that I am still dreaming of.

Fiola Mare – 3050 K Street, NW, Washington, DC 20007.  For reservations call 202.628.0065 or visit

Sunday in Saigon 

The name alone is enticing, conjuring up exotic images of the day of the week best known for relaxing.  But it’s not just the name that lures me to the regional Vietnamese dishes in this hip, welcoming atmosphere.  It’s as much that as the owner’s attention to detail.

Chrysanthemum tea at Sunday in Saigon

Chrysanthemum tea at Sunday in Saigon

French rattan bistro chairs and wide umbrellas welcome outdoor diners while a cozy, carpeted nook for hanging out in wing-backed chairs offers a plush respite while waiting for your table.  There’s even a tech-savvy card-operated wine automat for sampling a rotating selection of wines in ounce increments.  Help yourself.  Even the décor shows a personal touch with Asian antiques, moth orchids and a feature wall of brightly colored sheet music and album covers from the 1960’s through the 70’s.  These almost Pop Art covers from the owner’s private collection derive from controversial love songs that came out during the Vietnam war and were outlawed by the Communists until 1975.

Owner, My Kieu Huyhn, of Café Banh Mi, a tiny spot on Cameron Street in Old Town, opened this more elegant, spacious spot in June in the former Teaism beside the Old Town Trader Joe’s.  “Mimi”, as she’s called, aims to showcase a modern Vietnamese aesthetic using higher end ingredients in traditional dishes.

The cozy lounge at Sunday in Saigon

The cozy lounge

Here you’ll find unusual offerings like Pho Bo Wagyu – Wagyu Beef Pho in Oxtail Broth; Com Tay Cam Chay – incorporating seitan, lotus seed pumpkin and rice prepared in a traditional clay pot; Canh Chua – a Viet bouillabaisse with prawns, salmon, pineapple and tamarind.  For a refreshing and filling salad try the Tom Hum Xa Lach – lobster salad with avocado, mango, and hearts of palm with a delicate passion fruit vinaigrette, or go with a version of the Saigon seafood pancake, here called a ‘Vietnamese crepe’, that’s loaded with shrimp and veggies.  Options for sides include coconut rice, brown rice or black rice.

Exceptional service.

682 North St. Asaph St., Alexandria, VA 22314.  For more information visit or call 703 549-7777.


honeygrow’s monthly list of local farms where ingredients are sourced.

honeygrow’s monthly list of local farms where ingredients are sourced.

Hmmm, I thought.  Honeygrow is an odd name for a restaurant.  Then I learned it’s a contraction of ‘Honestly Grown’.  And that defines the concept to a tee.  It checks all the boxes for eco-friendly – like sustainably grown ingredients (many organic), recyclable flatware and bowls, and locally sourced ingredients.  That’s all well and good, you say, but how does it taste?  Well, here you’re the chef, customizing your order from a dizzying assortment of ingredients to create a bowl of healthy deliciousness.  Just the way you like it.  A wall-mounted chalkboard lists local farms cueing the diner to their place of origin.

At the Pentagon City location (another outpost is in DC’s Chinatown), a few feet away from the Crystal City Ritz Carleton, it’s past lunch hour and a line has already formed for takeout orders.  Though there is a section for dining-in, it appears most of the patrons have walked over from nearby offices to pick up their pre-orders.  Security badges are ubiquitous in this area, and it’s fairly easy to discern government employees from mall shoppers – office dress and military uniforms vs. comfy casual.

honeygrow in Pentagon City

honeygrow in Pentagon City

Initially, it’s a bit daunting with many options to choose from, but the menu guides the diner with a few basic ‘bowls’ featuring both cooked and raw options.  From there you’ll tailor the finished bowl choosing from a raft of different dressings and toppings.  Dishes are primarily designed around Asian and Mediterranean themes with a guide to gluten-free, vegetarian and/or calorie count – if you’re watching your waistline.  Proteins range from poached chicken and hard cooked eggs to bacon, turkey, spiced tofu or beef, nuts (walnuts or cashews), cheeses and legumes.  There’s even a regional stir-fry or a create-your-own option.  And all meats are all natural, antibiotic and hormone-free.  High five, up top!

Culinary director, Chef David Katz, previously of Philadelphia’s award-winning Mémé and Creekstone Farms, carefully considers each ingredient offered, from sustainably raised meats to sauces and dressings prepared from scratch daily. Produce is always fresh (honeygrow eschews freezers).

Freshly bottled juices and salad your way at honeygrow

Freshly bottled juices and salad your way

As for drinks the best choice is to go with the cold-pressed, sugar-free juices in to-go bottles. “Better Off Red” is beet-based with watermelon and raspberry; “Green Is Good” features apple, spinach and cucumber; and “Orange You Thirsty” blends oranges, carrots, ginger and lemon.  They are all delicious and, of course super-healthful.  We tried all three and each was refreshing with well-balanced flavors.

A stir fry bowl from honeygrow

A stir fry bowl

Expect the same health-conscious dessert approach from this Philadelphia-based export.  Opt for a base of fresh fruits topped with local honey – wildflower, buckwheat or clover – and top it with fresh cinnamon whipped cream or local yogurt, coconut, granola, ginger snaps or dark chocolate chips and you’re good to go.

Clearly, a popular neighborhood spot, especially for those who embrace a vegetarian and vegan lifestyle.

Opening its newest location in Rockville on December 8th at the Montrose Shopping Center, honeygrow will offer its first 100 guests complimentary meals (choice of one stir-fry or salad, as well as a fountain drink,) on opening day.  Additionally, the Rockville Pike location will feature artwork by local photographer Ian Jared Bell.  1100 South Hayes St., Arlington, VA 22202.  To check out other locations visit

Pokéworks at The Block 

I’ve been to The Block six times.  But I always go to Pokéworks.  I’ve even got my little buy-twelve-get-one-free card to prove it.  I haven’t written about them before because I wanted to keep it secret, but it’s too late for that.  This spot is jumping day or night.  Located in Annandale in a forgettable strip shopping center that features a K-Mart, a Korean bakery and a nail salon, it was a former Wendy’s, or so I’ve heard.  You’d never know it.  It’s since been redesigned into a stylishly industrial-hip open floor plan resembling a mini-food hall.   You’ll find three other counters – Balo Kitchen – Asian comfort food, Roots – Thai street food, and SnoCream, a Taiwanese shaved-ice shop with uniquely flavored ice creams.

The Block in Annandale

The Block in Annandale

A bar with TV screens runs the length of the space, but at lunch time no one sits there.  Communal tables allow for easy conversation amongst strangers and I’ve chatted up a table of middle-aged Chinese-American ladies, a Vietnamese-American gaggle of girls and a mother with teenage daughter who was off to LA for an acting gig who showed me photos of one of The Block’s nighttime themed parties and her sparkly, pink unicorn costume.

Poké bowl at Pokéworks

Poké bowl at Pokéworks

From humble roots as a popular DC food truck, Pokéworks offers bowl or seaweed wrapped burrito options.  First choose from a base of kale noodles, brown rice or sushi rice, then select from two or three proteins (price increases only a dollar) – raw ahi tuna, raw salmon, raw albacore tuna, cooked shrimp, raw scallops, organic tofu or cooked chicken.

Different choices of protein and toppings at Pokéworks

Different choices of protein and toppings

Mix-ins are too numerous to mention here, but I am regularly drawn to edamame and diced mango.  Eight different dressings are offered, but I like the ponzu or umami shoyu.  Then toppings are applied.  Avocado and wasabi tobiko are a bit extra, but the other eight are standard options.  Lastly ‘Your Crunch’ is applied.  Choose from roasted macadamia nuts, garlic crisps, lotus chips, shredded nori and more.  As many as you like.  Enjoy.  Just keep this cool spot on the down low.

Be sure to check out their new monthly night market starting this Saturday and Sunday November 24th and 25th from noon till 10pm.

The Block 4221 John Marr Drive, Annandale, VA 22003

Duck Donuts Arrives in Alexandria, VA 

Teens await opening of Duck Donuts

Teens await opening of Duck Donuts

Russ DiGilio, founder and owner of Duck Donuts has rapidly expanded his Outer Banks shop into a franchise operation.  Now with 12 locations in Virginia and Maryland, this unique donut concept allows guests to choose their own donut, base, icing and toppings – all made to order and served hot on the spot.  Coatings go outside the norm with flavors like maple, peanut butter, strawberry, blueberry and lemon to underscore toppings – sprinkles, coconut, bacon and Oreo.  Drizzles include hot fudge, blackberry, raspberry and salted caramel.

An assortment of Duck Donuts served hot!

An assortment of Duck Donuts served hot!

Excited teens from a nearby school peered through the windows, but were a day early for the grand opening.  Nonetheless, six-franchisee owner Alvin Barnuevo graciously brought out a tray of donuts to the students.  Kudos, Alvin.  You just made a whole new crop of friends.  Duck Donuts 3610 King Street, Alexandria, VA 22302.  For other locations or to place orders in advance, visit

Red’s Table Pairs Spanish Cuisine with Wines 

Spanish wines at Red’s Table dinner event

Spanish wines at Red’s Table dinner event

Red’s Table’s executive chef is nothing if not versatile.  Definitely worth the drive out to Reston for a guided wine pairing dinner served outdoors on their spacious deck overlooking Lake Thoreau.

Confit of rabbit, romesco sauce and white beans at Red’s Table

Confit of rabbit, romesco sauce and white beans

The six-course dinner, complemented an ambitious dinner by Executive Chef Kevin Ettenson.  Because it was such an extensive showing of wine pairings I am listing them so that you can recognize some of your favorites – Cava Brut, Bodegas Murviedro Corolilla, Valencia, NV, Hondarribi Zuri, Bodegas K5, Pilota, D.O. Getariako Txakolina, Basque, 2016, Albarino, Adega dos Eidos, Eidos De Padrinan, Rias Baixas, 2016, Garnacha Blend, Casa Gran del Siurana, GR-174, DOC, Priorat, 2014, and Tempranillo, Dominio Basconcillos, Vigna Magna Seis Meses, Estate, Ribera del Duero, 2015. 

Hangar steak with salt bath roasted potatoes and roasted piquillo peppers at Red’s Table

Hangar steak with salt bath roasted potatoes and roasted piquillo peppers

These sumptuous wines were served with jamon Iberico y membrillo crostini; tomate tartare; gambas al ajillo; conejo con Romesco; lomo de buey con patatas y piquillos; and a dessert of petits fours.  Tell me you can find a better deal for $85.00 per person.

Roasted tomato confit with shallot aioli at Red’s Table

Roasted tomato confit with shallot aioli

To catch one of these special pairing dinners, make a reservation now for the upcoming Whiskey Dinner on Saturday, December 9th.  For $85.00pp the evening’s offerings will feature both domestic and imported whiskeys over a four-course dinner. Five whiskeys from the U.S. and Scotland will be served to include – Bulleit Rye Whiskey, Bulleit Bourbon 10 Year, Ardbeg Corryvreckan, Oban, Glenmorangie Nectar D’or, and Glenmorangie Signet.   Here’s the plan.

Welcome Cocktail
Smokey Pete featuring Bulleit Rye Whiskey
paired with
Fried Chicken Biscuit with house pickles

 First Course
Bulleit Bourbon 10 Year – Fig Smash
paired with
Bourbon French Toast with house smoked hickory syrup

Second Course
Ardbeg Corryvreckan, shaken with orange & chamomile syrup
paired with
Seared Scallops with orange crème fraîche, crispy capers

Third Course
Oban with large sugar cube soaked in bitters
paired with
Roasted Pheasant with wild mushroom ragu and black mission fig marmalade

Fourth Course
Glenmorangie Nectar D’or, chilled and poured over a grilled pear slice
paired with
Lemon-Infused Almond Cake with honeycomb candy, dates, and lightened lemon curd

Optional Fifth Course
(for an additional $25.00)
Glenmorangie Signet, served neat
paired with
Dark Chocolate Ganache with toasted cinnamon rolled in crushed espresso beans 

Red’s Table is at 11150 South Lakes Drive, Reston, Virginia 20191. For reservations call 571.375.7755 or visit

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

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.


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


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 –

(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

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 and for Nederburg winess visit

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