Nibbles and Sips Around Town ~ September 23rd 2018

Jordan Wright
September 23, 2018
Photo credit: Jordan Wright

Paella Nights at the Fairmont ~ Muze Restaurant Earns High Marks ~ Eagerly Awaited Eaton Hotel Opens ~ Atlantic Magazine’s Upcoming Three-day Festival ~ Mount Vernon Launches Aged Whiskey and Hemp Demonstrations

Paella Nights at the Fairmont Hotel

Paella by Chef Jordi Gallardo in the gardens

Blink and You’ll Miss It:  The Fairmont Hotel has been serving up delicioso paella nights in its stunning gardens on Wednesdays throughout the month of September.  The last one is tonight, Wednesday September 26th

Serrano ham on Paella night ~ Tortillas de Patatas ~ Anchovies

Spanish-born Executive Chef Jordi Gallardo oversees a fantastic menu of gazpacho, pan con tomate, manchego cheese, serrano ham freshly cut from the bone, tortillas de patatas, a selection of Spanish olives, fresh anchovies and caramel flan.  Cozy fire pits and comfy outdoor sofas present a luxe venue for Chef Gallardo’s live paella station. 

Using a family recipe from his hometown of Barcelona, he prepares authentic paella featuring shrimp, chicken and mussels.  At $10.00 per person you’d be a fool to miss it. The hotel is also offering specially priced glasses and bottles of Spanish Cava and red and white Spanish wines along with Mahou Cinco Estrellas Beer at $5.00 each and Er Boqueron Gastro Ale at $7.00 each.

Flamenco guitarist Ricardo Marlow

Accompanying the festival is renowned Flamenco Guitarist Ricardo Marlow who has played with musicians of other genres, namely Charlie Byrd, Frank Vignola, Canut and Andre Reyes of the Gipsy Kings, The Washington Ballet, Kivanç Oner, Duende Camaron and many others. 

No reservations necessary. Just go!  The Fairmont Hotel is located at 2401 M Street, NW, Washington, DC 20037.  www.Fairmont.com

Muze’s East West Kitchen at the Mandarin Oriental

The Mandarin Oriental’s grand entrance

Off the top of my head I can name a scant few restaurants in DC where service meets food meets elegant ambiance.  Throw in a waterfront view and I’m all yours.  For a milestone birthday, I chose Muze in the Mandarin Oriental in hopes of a hushed dining spot with tables well-spaced apart, gracious service and fine dining with a view.  We were not disappointed.  Just entering the grandiose massive-columned lobby, dripping in marble with bespoke gardens beyond, foretells a luxury dining experience.  I hadn’t dined there since Executive Chef Eric Ziebold left the restaurant in 2014 when it was CityZen.  It stayed shuttered for a time after his departure and now a redesign and new chef have reinvigorated its stellar reputation.

Muze Dining Room ~ View of the Wharf Harbor 

We kicked off the celebration with a bottle of Moët toasting merrily while reveling in a glorious sunset over the Potomac River.  If you like a view, this second story, bird’s-eye panorama is breathtaking.

Angus Beef Tataki 

Executive Chef, Stefan Kauth was on holiday and our Labor Day meal was prepared by Sous Chef Justin Houghtaling who sent out a refreshing amuse bouche shooter of lemongrass, honeydew, coconut and mint to tease and awaken the palate.  With so many appealing starters and salads to choose from we could hardly decide and opted for four for the three of us – Tatsoi & Arugula Salad with pea shoots and pickled lotus root, Angus Beef Tataki with two sauces, Ahi Poke with bits of pineapple and house made shrimp chips, and Crab, Corn & Coconut Soup.  Once we’d ordered three waiters sprang into action orchestrating our courses, answering questions and promptly refilling our wineglasses throughout the evening.  It doesn’t get any more attentive than this.

Tatsoi Salad with lotus root ~ Amuse bouche ~ Crab & Corn Chowder

Each dish was beautifully refined reflecting a unique Asian-inspired personality coupled with French technique.  However, we all agreed that the soup stole our hearts.  Enhanced by red pepper crème fraiche, grilled corn niblets, pickled fresno pepper and Thai basil, it achieved a sublimely restrained balance that wowed us.  Woe betide to my poor husband who had to tolerate a duet of spoons reaching across the table for yet another taste.

Ahi poke with shrimp chips~ Lobster Pappardelle ~ Corn crusted Black Grouper

Because our entrée choices ranged from Wagyu beef to corn crusted black grouper to lobster pappardelle, a 2015 Willamette Valley pinot noir from Lemelson Vineyards was selected. During our meal Chef Houghtaling came to the table to gauge our response and garner oohs and aahs.  As for dessert, nothing could prepare us for the exquisite and delicious sweet finales whose brief menu descriptions inadequately revealed the sum of their parts.

Berry Cheesecake with strawberry sponge, raspberry and strawberry marmalade, strawberry emulsion and lemon-scented mascarpone

All this and perfect service too.  After some prodding, we discovered our extraordinarily knowledgeable waiter, Nicanor, ‘Nic’,
had been in the employ of chefs as legendary as Yannick Cam and Jean Louis Palladin, and in more recent years, Fabio Trabocchi at Fiola.  He had also spent 25 years at the Ritz-Carlton seeing to the needs of sophisticated diners.  Ask for Nic when you make your reservation
and tell him I sent you.

Muze is located at 1330 Maryland Avenue, SW, Washington, DC 20024. For reservations visit www.MandarinOriental.com or call 202.787.6148

Eagerly Awaited Eaton Workshop Hotel Opens

Eaton Workshop Hotel

Eaton Workshop Hotel wants innovators, artists, and social and creative incubators to work, stay and lounge at their hip new hotel, Kintsugi café, rooftop bar and lounge,
and upcoming restaurant.  Did I mention the secret bar?  More on that later. 

Kintsugi Cafe at Eaton

Executive Chef Tim Ma led a tour of the exciting new space that will cater to hip travelers and trendy residents.  Designed by Parts & Labor as a platform for creatives and progressive millennials, the hotel will feature Ma’s restaurant American Son due to open September 28th.  Though Italian food was the original concept the giant wood-fired pizza oven will now be used for roasting vegetables for his Korean-inspired cuisine.  Nights on the rooftop will feature a DJ after dark and guests are expected to linger in the hotel’s many workspaces and library.

Executive Chef Tim Ma takes a break on the rooftop patio at Eaton

As the driving force behind the hotel’s food and beverage program, Ma’s influence can be felt in all aspects including the recently open wellness-influenced Kintsugi café featuring craft coffee from Red Rooster Coffee of Floyd, Virginia, mushroom coffee, wellness teas from strong>Neakita, juices from Misfit Juicery and pastries, including gluten-free and vegan options from Pastry Chef David Collier.

The Alice in Wonderland mural in Allegory’s secret bar

If you’re in the know, you’ll find the secret Allegory cocktail bar hidden beyond a series of ordinary-looking doors on the main level towards the back of the hotel.  This stunning, romantically-lit bar features a large mural of Alice in Wonderland as seen by Ruby Bridges, the first African American child to integrate an all-white school in New Orleans in post-Jim Crow America.

The rooftop bar and lounge at Eaton

Eaton Hotel is located at 1201 K Street, NW, Washington, DC. For information and reservations visit www.EatonWorkshop.com.

The Atlantic Festival Partners with The Aspen Institute

October’s three-day festival will present some of today’s most influential thinkers and leaders in technology, politics, business and the arts.  Why do we care?  Well, for one thing, José Andrés is one of the speakers. And don’t we want to hear what former Secretary of State John Kerry, Audie Cornish Host of NPR’s “All things Considered”, Actor and Playwright, Harvey Fierstein, and dozens more from varying fields of expertise have to say about our future and the current state of the nation?  We do!  It promises to be the most comprehensive gathering of CEOs, politicians from both sides of the aisle, techies, award-winning reporters and intellectuals – all in one spot.  Actually it’s a few spots including Sidney Harman Hall, the National Portrait Gallery, Hotel Monaco, Gallup Institute and others, but all close together in Penn Quarter. October 2-4, 2018.  For tickets and information go to www.TheAtlanticFestival.com.  See you there!

Mount Vernon Releases Limited Edition Aged Rye Whiskey

Mount Vernon Releases Four-Year Aged Whiskey

George Washington was America’s foremost whiskey distillers.  Along with his wife, Martha, the founding father was no stranger to imbibing and entertaining his guests with an array of wine and spirits.  As gracious hosts the dynamic duo made sure that guests at Mount Vernon were well fed – and well oiled. To celebrate Virginia Spirits Month, Mount Vernon is releasing a mere 200 bottles of George Washington’s Straight Rye Premium Whiskey, distilled at Mount Vernon from Washington’s original recipe. Unlike earlier offerings from the reconstructed distillery, this spirit was aged for four years in charred oak barrels. George Washington’s Straight Rye Premium Whiskey is now available in 375ml bottles for purchase at the Shops at Mount Vernon and at George Washington’s Distillery & Gristmill site. These will sell out quickly – most likely to collectors.

Preparation of Rye Whiskey at Mount Vernon's Distillery & Gristmill

It’s intriguing to peek at Washington’s distillery ledgers from 1798 and 1799, to note that this whiskey consisted of 60% rye, 35% corn and 5% malted barley.  Considered its finest whiskey release to date, it shows a fruity aroma with hints of oak from the barrels and a palate-pleasant taste of apples, apricots and baking spices.  As with other releases, traditional 18th-century methods were in the production.  Additionally, all the grain in the reconstructed water-powered gristmill was fermented in wooden mash tubs and distilled in copper pot stills heated by wood fires. If you visit, and I urge you to, you will see the historic process in real time.

If you miss out on this special whiskey, several other spirits produced at Mount Vernon’s distillery are available this month, including George Washington’s Rye Whiskey – now designated the ‘State Spirit of Virginia’ – Peach Eau de Vie, and Apple Brandy.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the planting of the first crop of hemp on the property in centuries.

Industrial hemp seed ~ Planting at Pioneer Farm Site

And, no, it’s not for smoking.  This is industrial hemp.   Planted on their four-acre Pioneer Farm Site under the 2015 Industrial Hemp Law enacted by the Virginia General Assembly.  Hemp was used at Mount Vernon for rope, thread for sewing sacks, canvas, and for repairing the seine nets used at the fisheries. An interesting historical factoid: Washington’s diaries and farm reports indicate that hemp was cultivated at all of his five farms. In February 1794, Washington wrote to his farm manager, William Pearce, “…I am very glad to hear that the Gardener has saved so much of the St. Foin seed, and that of the India Hemp…Let the ground be well prepared and the Seed (St. Foin) be sown in April. The Hemp may be sown anywhere.” Mount Vernon plans to use the plant for interpretive fiber-making demonstrations.

George Washington's Distillery & Gristmill

George Washington’s Mount Vernon is located at 3200 Mount Vernon Memorial Highway, Mount Vernon, VA 22121.  The Distillery & Gristmill is located at 5514 Mount Vernon Memorial Highway, Alexandria, VA 22309.  For information call 703.780.2000 or visit www.MountVernon.org.

Nibbles and Sips Around Town ~ September 2018

Jordan Wright
September 2018
Photo credit: Jordan Wright

Mirabelle Wows with New Executive Chef Keith Bombaugh

The Dining Room ~ The classic absinthe fountain

Stop! Please put down your pencils (okay, that’s quaint), pick up your phone and make a reservation for Mirabelle DC. It has the most deliciously original, gorgeously presented, technique-heavy cuisine in town at this writing. If you consider yourself a gourmand (you know who you are) run don’t walk to this stylish sleekly modern restaurant where newly appointed Executive Chef, Keith Bombaugh, late of Meritage in Boston and the Michelin three-star restaurant Alinea in Chicago, has thrown down the proverbial gauntlet.

Mirabelle’s Executive Chef Keith Bombaugh

Bombaugh joins forces with “Tales of the Cocktail” award-winning Lead Bartender Zachary Faden, and Pastry Chef Zoe Ezrailson, most recently from DC’s Ellé. We enjoyed several unique drinks like the Earl Grey served in a teacup and made with the noted tea and tea liqueur. But it’s Jennifer Knowles, an advanced level sommelier of the Court of Master Sommeliers, that oversees both the restaurant and its wine cellar of 12,000+ bottles with over 2,600 labels on the wide-ranging list. Knowles, who partners up with Wine Director Karl Kuhn, arrived in style via Requin at The Wharf. Earlier in her storied career she had built the wine and spirits program at Plume at the Jefferson Hotel with a stint at Fiola Mare and four years at The Inn at Little Washington. You could well say, she’s wine royalty.

G & Tea cocktail served in a teacup

Knowles works with Faden to dream up fantastic cocktails like the Earl Grey-inspired G & Tea made with Bombay Sapphire Gin, Italicus Rosolio di Bergamotto (an Italian liqueur made with bergamot the central flavor in Earl Grey tea), plus brewed Earl Grey tea, egg white foam and Marcona almonds, topped with lemon zest and served in a teacup. After dinner you’ll want to select from their well-curated collection of French, Swiss and American absinthes prepared in the classic way drip by drip through a proper absinthe fountain.

Overlooking the patio with an amuse bouche

But before you get too seduced (or drunk!) by the astonishing list of cocktails and spirits, let’s talk food. Bombaugh’s approach to ingredients is sheer genius. Think René Redzepi’s world famous Noma for its wildcrafted ingredients – though Bombaugh’s not a forager himself. He rethinks everything familiar about a what a certain ingredient can do to a particular dish and then takes it outside its comfort zone. You will find yourself wondering how certain ingredients could go together so seamlessly… so brilliantly… so deliciously.

Pacific abalone

How you may ask, can Chinese lettuce root pair with abalone, sea beans and marinated myoga, a Japanese ginger. (He must have amazing suppliers for all these exotic ingredients!) To further enhance this dish, he adds a sauce of green curry “tapioca” as a tableside pour over and served in a glistening abalone seashell? Don’t ask. Trust, but verify.

Foie gras tacos

Naturellement, given Bombaugh’s French culinary training the restaurant also boasts such bistro classics as the requisite seafood tower. But adds steak tartare to the crustacea. Mon Dieu! Tarte flambée with smoked Viking sea salt and foie gras in a banana taco shell with preserved fruit on toasted pistachios makes it to the menu. Let me at it.

She Crab Soup

Take Maryland blue crab. We do. We love it in all its many iterations. Over the years we’ve dined on dozens of preparations of this regional favorite. But wait… imagine pairing the sweet she-crab and its roe with celtuce (a thick-stemmed lettuce originating from the Mediterranean) and pine nuts toasted with Old Bay seasoning. Then, using a molecular gastronomy technique, Bombaugh adds tiny spherical sherry pearls on top. Finally, a cashew butter-based sauce affords the dish its sumptuous texture while keeping each ingredient from losing its rightful singularity. It is sublime, as so many of his dishes are. Notwithstanding all the wonderful chefs and world class restaurants we have in this town, Mirabelle is a gamechanger. I am spoiled forever. La petite mort, if you know what I mean.

Lemon Honey Beehive

Pastry Chef Zoe Ezrailson takes a more fanciful approach to her desserts. One particular stunner playfully named, ‘Lemon Honey Beehive’, is akin to lemon meringue pie, but with lemon parfait and Meyer lemon curd encased in a torched bee skep-shaped honey meringue flecked with gold dust and surrounded by bits of honeycomb candy, Dulcery white chocolate pearls and raw honeycomb. It is a triumph.

Steps from the White House, Mirabelle DC is located at 900 16th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20006. Valet parking is $8 from 5pm till closing. For reservations call 202.506.3833 or visit www.MirabelleDC.com.

Nibbles and Sips Around Town ~ July 2018

Jordan Wright
July 2018
Photo credit - Jordan Wright

Chlöe Heralds Haidar Karoum’s First Solo Restaurant; Pineapple and Pearls Twee Dining; Lupo Marino – A Taste of the Amalfi Coast; Pow Pow Caters to Vegetarians on H Street; Pappe Celebrates the Dishes of Northern India; Marib – Yemeni Classics in a White-Tablecloth Restaurant

Chlöe

Seating at the open kitchen - The lively bar scene

As co-owner of the Asian-inspired Doi Moi, Lebanese-born Karoum has devised a melding of the many profiles of Southeast Asian cuisine to great effect in a sleek, lively space in the heart of Logan Square.  Earlier this year he opened Restaurant Chlöe by Haidar Karoum on Fourth Street in the booming Washington Navy Yard neighborhood.  This globally-inspired cuisine lets Chef/Owner Karoum incorporate his past experiences cooking Spanish, Modern American and Asian dishes to their best effect.  A recent dinner there convinced us that he has achieved that confluence of diverse cultures with aplomb as he dreams up new and enticing combinations.

Chef Haidar Karoum

We began with Broiled Local Oysters, which may sound a bit pedestrian, but achieves elevated status with a Hollandaise-like sauce spiked with horseradish in one of the most alluring presentations – sitting atop multi-colored pebbles on a shiny rectangular tray.  My advice: Order several of these.  After that we allowed ourselves to be guided by our waiter who suggested the Green Papaya Salad with green beans, tomatoes and peanuts and dried shrimp in a tamarind dressing.  It encompasses all the elements of sweet, crunchy, tangy and vivacious while still being as light as a feather.

Green papaya salad ~ Broiled local oysters with horseradish cream

The Caramelized Cauliflower will prove a beacon to cauliflower lovers.  This Mediterranean-inspired dish is pinged with tahini, mint, garlic and toasted pine nuts for a smooth, fire-roasted result.

Caramelized cauliflower

Entrées are a suggested share and we complied by ordering the chef’s signature dish – Spice Roasted Chicken.  Drawing from his Asian textbook, Karoum interprets it as a Vietnamese preparation that finds the golden-crusted half chicken paired with a side of sticky rice and fresh Asian greens accompanied by a lively chili and lime dipping sauce.

Vietnamese spice roasted chicken

The cocktail menu is just as intriguing.  Of particular note was “Carabao Kick” made with Edinburgh Gin, calamansi (this tiny citrus fruit, aka calamondin, is trending like mad), lime and tamarind syrup.  Or opt for the summer refresher, “Classic Coconut Daiquiri”, whose status derives from a 12-year old Flor De Cana Rum blended with lime, pandan syrup and coconut water.  An extensive wine list features affordable bottles carefully selected to pair perfectly with this unique and varied cuisine.

Chlöe by Haidar Karoum is located at 1331 4th Street, SE, Washington, DC 20003 – 202.313.7007  www.restaurantchloe.com

Pineapple and Pearls

I don’t know what to make of the name of Aaron Silverman’s second Barracks Row restaurant.  Chef/owners seem to favor incorporating their grandmother’s, wife’s or children’s names.  Nonetheless, Silverman has got the Midas touch, if not in gold then certainly in pearls.  After all, he raised $1M in less than a year to launch Pineapple and Pearls, his latest endeavor.  Rose’s Luxury, which opened in 2013, is the chef’s first DC-based restaurant and, if the lines down the block are any indication, he has garnered a loyal following along with the multiple industry kudos he has received.

Silverman, who was raised in Bethesda, worked under Jonathan Krinn at the posh 2941 Restaurant in Falls Church before moving to Charleston, SC to work with Sean Brock at McGrady’s.  (Did you hear Sean Brock is leaving Charleston?!)  After returning to DC in 2011, he took time out to plot his next move… and it turned out to be a mad success.  Rose’s Luxury was named Bon Appétit’s “Best New Restaurant in the Country”.  It’s no wonder backers were willing to finance his next project.

Pineapple and Pearls has been the beneficiary of so much laudatory press you’d think you were at the feet of the great Escoffier himself.  That we chose the “Summer Bar Menu” at $150.00 sans alcohol (we did order a cocktail and glass of wine each) might have been a mistake.  It was certainly not the full court press guests in the main dining room were experiencing.  And though the food and presentation were creative, it was ultimately unsatisfying – all eight bites of it on a skinny barstool.

Foie Gras Nigiri ~ Summer squash tart

We began with a miniscule Summer Squash Tart with poppy seeds and ramp cream served on a stunning Christian LaCroix plate decorated with painted butterflies and crickets.  The little tart was followed by Fois Gras Nigiri, easily my favorite bite of the night.  Well, fois gras being that lusciously melty clump of pure goose liver fat, how could you go wrong?  That the single bite was purported to be prepared with Morita chiles and vegetable caramel, went unnoticed.  The unusual plate did not.  A Japanese anime line drawing of a dashing long-haired young dandy was centered on the two bits of foie gras appearing as though he was tossing the liver onto the plate.  It tasted as though it was sautéed in butter with a slight sweetness and that was just fine.  Just so you know, the food photos reflect portions for two diners – not one.

Smoked Potato & Date Agnolotti

Next at bat was Smoked Potato and Date Agnolotti with Robiola Bosina cream – a soft, mushroomy, Piemontese cheese – and wild rose vinegar.  Rustically presented and hidden beneath large leaves (basil?), the duet of walnut-sized agnolotti was light, tender, herbaceous and creamy.  I could have done with a large plate of this and been on my merry way.

House-Nixtamalized Corn Tortillas

Tortillas and tacos have wriggled their way onto every menu these days and this one was no exception. Two tacos the size of a beer coaster – one was duck croquette (Yes! A French taco!) with fig and juniper mole, the other, salmon boudin with basil salsa verde and kohlrabi cortido.  The duck was fiercely spicy.  Did I mention I love spicy?  This one burned the palate in its single bite.  The salmon, however, was as mild as expected.

Roasted Alina Duck

Here’s where things went horribly wrong.  The next “course” was beef filet and from the first bite it was unutterably over-salted.  I imagined it had been sitting in the ocean for a week or so.  Ditto for my companion’s.  Since it was completely inedible I asked to see our server.  I explained about the salt and asked the chef to taste it.  I was told the kitchen would substitute it for duck.  Very amenable.  When the manager came out with the duck, I asked if the kitchen had tasted the beef and What did they think?  He told me they hadn’t tasted it, but it had been salted by two different cooks, which upon later reflection, did not hold up.  The salt was not only on the outside, but throughout the meat.  Ditto for the ensuing duck, though by then we didn’t want to make another fuss.

Dessert was a small Coconut Tartufo enrobed in chocolate and Amareno cherries. The dessert was reminiscent of little ice cream bon bons.  Remember those?  All in all, the service was fantastic, the cocktails exquisite and the presentation super creative.

Red Bird cocktail

But, to gauge the restaurant’s cuisine, and do it justice, you’ll have to go the way of the full-on, 12-course tasting menu at $400.00 which is the only way dinner service is offered.  Maybe then you won’t go home hungry.

Pineapple and Pearls is located at 715 8th Street, SE, Washington, DC   202.595.7375  www.PineappleandPearls.com

Lupo Marino

Lupo Marino’s honey and blue dining room


Lupo Marino is one of the latest restaurants on DC’s fabulous District Wharf.  It’s the third restaurant by the team who brought you Lupo Verde and Lupo Osteria.  And you know how much I adore Lupo Verde.

Fair Warning:  It does not have a water view like many of the higher priced establishments which makes it way more affordable.  If it’s water view you want, take a stroll alongside the docks before or after dining.  This casual chic spot with a seaside décor is tucked away in one of the narrow side streets just off the cobblestone walkway.  It reminds me of the cozy ristorantes found in any piccolo villaggio en Italia where mamma and nonna are in the cucina and papà is a pescatore who brings in the fish fresh every afternoon.  In Italy, people go wherever the food is good and when it’s as good as this, it really only matters whom you’re breaking bread with.

The restaurant defines itself as Italian street food.  That said, we planned to take clear advantage of the fresh seafood specialties. But if you opt for pizzas, they are prepared in a handcrafted Marra Forni pizza oven that cooks your pizza at 900-degrees in three minutes.

The Marra Forni pizza oven

I’m not sure I’ve ever seen pasta or salad nor many of these dishes sold on the streets of Italy, so I can’t intuit why they call this “street food”.  It’s more akin to what you’d find in a wine bar – a very good wine bar – in Italy.  And speaking of vino, there are over 100 Italian wines to choose from!

Piccolina Spritz ~ Toto cocktail

In any case, what we did have I’d highly recommend.  Adorned with watermelon radish and fennel pollen, which lends a hint of anise, Tuna Carpaccio arrived drizzled with truffle vinaigrette speckled with microgreens and sitting on crisp flatbread.  It was summer in a bite and most welcome on this scorching day.

 

Tuna Carpaccio

Next, we dove straight into a plate of Fritto Misto which was as divino as any I’ve enjoyed on the Amalfi Coast during many summers spent in Positano.  A light coating of batter rendered calamari, sardines (they’re in season right now) and head-on prawns (the only way to eat them!) delectable.

Fritto Misto

A fire-grilled lemon half and creamy aioli provided the perfect tangy balance to this signature taste of the Mediterranean.

Seafood Paccheri

The menu reveals four types of handmade pasta and each one is quite different.  This is not your grandma’s red sauce ristorante.  The ingredients are more intriguing.  We chose Spaghetti Verde with wild pork carbonara and cured egg yolk topped with pickled ramps and Paccheri – a wide tubular pasta that went perfectly with the rich saffron broth, blue crab and shrimp.

Spaghetti Verde

Desserts are fairly predictable – tiramisu, espresso coffee bomb, and bombolini with nutella.  Stick with the gelati.

Be sure to check out the shelves against the backwall that feature many of the items used in the preparation of these dishes.  Snag some homemade pastas (especially the paccheri), EVOO, spreads, Italian sodas and the best canned tomatoes.

Lupo Marino is located at 40 Pearl Street, Washington, DC 20024.  www.LupoMarinoDC.com

Pow Pow

Tiger mural


Continuing with the Asian theme, which is ideal for hot summer nights, we found ourselves at Pow Pow, a small but popular vegetarian spot on H Street.  Close by the Atlas Performing Arts Center , this order-at-the-counter, eat-on-recyclable bowls joint caters to veggie lovers, and those who wouldn’t know it was vegetarian if they hadn’t been told.

Tokyo Roboto

When we arrived, we found the open kitchen active with hipsters rushing in to pick up their take away orders and others enjoying their dishes in the limited table space.  It’s a good choice for a pre-theatre bite if time is at a premium and/or you don’t want a sleep-inducing carb-attack during the show.

Purity bowl

The mock meat offerings are deceiving.  With so many warm spices and tangy sauces it’s hard to discern that the ribs are vegan, the chicken is plant-based, and the fried mozzarella sticks are made from cashews.

Taiwanese fried mozzarella

Even the Nutella in the Chimi Chimi Pow Pow dessert is dairy-free.  Though they call the menu vegetarian, I’m not sure I wouldn’t say it was vegan.  Just ask.  All I can say is that it’s a veggie-lover’s wet dream.

Pow Pow is located at 1253 H Street, NE, Washington, DC 20002 – 202.399.1364   www.eatpowpow.com.

Pappe

The busy dining room


A sliver of an Indian restaurant on 14th Street just above N Street is newcomer Pappe based on the authentic Northern Indian cuisine of New Delhi, with a few dishes from the Southern Indian region around Goa where vindaloo was invented.

Indian spice watermelon cocktail

The 85-seat restaurant has three owners Vipul Kapila, Sanjay Mandhaiya and Shankar Puthran, with Mandhaiya and Puthran Head Chefs.  The partners chose the name Pappe meaning ‘brother’ in Punjabi.  That’s how close they are.  As co-owner and co-chef of Pappe and Saffron in Ashburn, Mandhaiya brings a wealth of experience to the kitchen. Altogether they made the decision to celebrate their favorite dishes from home.  Curries like fiery Vindaloo; Palak with spinach, garlic ginger and tomato curry; Malabar, a coconut curry; and Korma made with cashews, mace, nutmeg and saffron.  Most of these are familiar to Western palates acquainted with Indian food – but these are nothing like the store-bought packaged meals, nor your dumbed down curries.  These renditions have personality and spark.

Lamb Korma

There are plenty of vegetarian options too.  Palak Paneer and Punjabi Aloo Gobi are familiar to many, but I was pleasantly surprised to see a dish I never knew – Baingan Bartha – a roasted eggplant dish with tomatoes.

Naan is one of those wonderful breads that can only be properly made in a woodfired oven.  There it takes on a smoky, crispy, doughy profile.  I like mine with garlic and herbs and plenty of butter.  Here you’ll find naan with green chiles and minced lamb and roti too.

Aloo Papdi Chaat

Two of us shared Aloo Papdi Chaat, Palak Paneer, garlic naan, Palaak with Cod and Chicken Pista Korma with a sauce of pistachio nuts.  We barely had room for sweet carrot pudding.  But for your sake, dear readers, we ordered it and were glad we did.

Carrot pudding

Over dinner I had a chance to chat with Kapila, a successful IT guy who shared his knowledge of the dishes and the specialty cocktails that are made from scratch and exotically spiced.  Kapila insisted I return for the super spicy Vindaloo, which he claims is the best outside of India.  I’m game.  Are you?

Pappe is located at 1317 14th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20005 – 202.888.8220  www.Pappe.com www.SaffronVA.com

Marib

We stumbled across Marib while eager to satisfy our Middle Eastern food cravings.  There are countless kabob spots in the burbs, but Yemeni?  Even Arab friends hadn’t heard of this place.  After two visits, I’m hooked.

Located in a strip mall in Springfield, we were pleasantly surprised to enter a large, off-the-radar, ethnic restaurant with uniformed waiters and white-tablecloth dining.  Most of the places in this area are ultra-casual and primarily dedicated to take away and catering.  Here tables have ample space between and the service is prompt and polite.  And though there are dishes that may be unfamiliar, servers are keen to answer any questions.

Shafout

Start with Shafout, described as a “chilled appetizer with layers of buttermilk, chopped almonds and walnuts, spring onions and mint leaves”.  This beautiful dish floats atop a flat bread called “lahoh” similar to the better known Ethiopian injera – though it seemed a cross between injera and pita.  Ruby red pomegranate seeds prove the perfect foil both for sweetness and lovely color against the cool green of the shafoutA handful of chopped lettuce, red onion, carrots and tomato lay perched in the center.  It is irresistible.

Lime cooler

Our server, Abdul, steered us towards the Lime Juice with Mint which is a typical Yemeni cooler.  It arrives at the table in a carafe frothy, citrusy and thirst quenching.  Add this to your order.  After dinner there is Yemeni coffee made with unroasted coffee husks and powdered ginger, or black tea with condensed milk and spices.  Both are uniquely warming.

Hummus with seared chicken, peppers and onions

On our second trip we had a party of six which allowed for more dishes to share.  This time we enjoyed the baba ganoush and hummus – each whipped to perfection and smooth as silk.  You can also order your hummus topped with seared meats (chicken, beef or lamb), peppers and onions.  It seems like a meal in itself, but don’t stop there.

Fahsa and Saltah

It’s an extensive menu with chicken, beef, lamb and shrimp all well represented.  Most of us went for the lamb prepared in many different ways.  Stewed with vegetables, slow cooked on the bone or shredded.  I chose haneeth both times.  Falling off the bone and served atop rice pilaf, it is meltingly tender and savory too with a myriad of spices from the marinade and accompanying sauce.  The stews, chockful of root vegetables, are equally as soul-stirring.  All the portions are large so plan on taking home leftovers which they are happy to box up.

Haneeth

Save room for dessert!  There are several that may seem unfamiliar but detailed descriptions are provided on the menu.  One of the most unusual combinations I have ever come across proved to be another two thumbs up.  Harking from the Arabian Peninsula, Areekah is made with tandoori bread, smashed bananas, fresh cream, ghee, cheddar cheese!!! and honey and topped with a sprinkling of nigella seeds.  You may wonder how on earth cheese could find its way into a dessert, but it does, and we were amazed at how creamy, tangy and delicious it is.

Areekah

Marib is located at 6981 Hechinger Drive, Springfield, VA 22151 - 703.376.3388  www.MaribRestaurant.com

Nibbles and Sips Around Town 2018

Jordan Wright
May/June 2018
Photo credit ~ Jordan Wright

District Distilling Co. for Father’s Day ~ Filipino Cuisine at Bistro 1521 Resto + Bar ~ Jackson 20 Launches Pop-Up Beer Garden for NOVA Pride Month ~ Maydān ~ The Occidental Grill & Seafood Restaurant ~ The Fairmont Hotel Royal Wedding Watch Party ~ 2018 Washington National Opera Gala  

Dads Unite at District Distilling Co.  

The complete line of spirits at District Distillery

Father’s Day isn’t just for dads, it’s also for those who love them, and District Distillery has a sweet deal for fathers.  The June 17th program “Bottle Your Own Spirit” will be at their U Street distillery, bar and restaurant just off 14th Street where their extensive line of hand-crafted spirits are distilled and bottled within three joined-together, historic townhouses.

'Wild June' Gin

Head Distiller Matthew Strickland will be on hand to take guests on a tour of the copper stills while they learn about their unique distilling methods.  Tastings of their extensive line of spirits – vodka, bourbon, whiskey, gin and rhum – are just part of the fun.  On a recent visit I fell hard for their Wild June Western Style gin made with wildcrafted local juniper berries and a new release – “Embassy Row”, a white crème de menthe made with locally sourced fresh mint (from the chef’s family farm) and local wildflower honey.  This is not your grandparents’ nasty, sickly-sweet green stuff.  This one’s a game changer.  Light and white - it's perfect for a mint chocolate martini, grownup's smoothie or your next batch of brownies.

“Texas Muleshoe” signature cocktail served in a frosty copper mug

After the tour, fill your bottle with their award-winning C&O Tradesman Whiskey – unfiltered and cask strength – from the French rhum or apple brandy casks. The bottle then gets a personalized label.  Reservations are a must.  202.629.3787

While there, plan to dine on Executive Chef Justin Bittner’s seasonal American cuisine.  Since the event is on a Sunday, plan on brunch.  Or, if dad has plans to sleep in, they’re open for lunch and dinner too.  Faves: Smoked Trout Rillettes with cornichons, pickled onions, and pumpernickel toast points;

Chef Frank’s meatballs

Chef Frank's Meatballs with pork, veal, lamb, fontina cheese, mascarpone polenta and house marinara; Beets Six-Ways Salad with beet raisins and beet jelly, served with herb buttermilk yogurt;

Squid ink tagliatelle

and Squid Ink Tagliatelle with shrimp, calamari, piquillo pepper and saffron cream.  Save room for a delicious slice of chocolate pecan pie à la mode.

Smoked trout rillettes

District Distillery Co. is located at 1414-1418 U Street, NW, Washington, D.C. 20009. 202.629.3787  www.District-Distilling.com

Bistro 1521 Resto + Bar ~ On the Cutting Edge of Filipino Cuisine 

In a sunny corner spot along Glebe Road in the Clarendon neighborhood sits Bistro 1521, the latest outpost for Filipino food.  The spacious contemporary design features rows of booths, a large bar and plenty of outdoor seating.  The six-month old spot takes its name from a historical expedition in 1521 undertaken by noted Portuguese explorer, Ferdinand Magellan, who, traveling under the Spanish crown, discovered the archipelago that later formed the nation of the Philippines.  Because of that happy accident, the typical Filipino cuisine reflects a combination of Spanish, Malaysian, Chinese and, in more recent decades, U. S. influences.

After sampling their cuisine at an afterglow party at Mosaic Theatre a few months ago, we excited to delve further and were not disappointed.  In fact, we were delighted to extend our knowledge of this much-trending cuisine and found some amazing dishes along with beautifully balanced, fantasy-like cocktails.

Kiwi cocktail ~ Delicious cocktails

Filipino cooking will remind you somewhat of other Asian cuisines, but with a twist.  They use ingredients not found on most menus – like jackfruit, tamarind, palm fruit, kalamansi (we know it as calamondin), casava and purple yams.

Ukoy fritters

Pinoy (Filipinos) love adding fruits to dishes of all kinds – beef, chicken and fish like bangus, a type of tropical fish also known as chanos or 'milkfish' prepared here in a dish called ‘Seafood Sinigang” – that are balanced against spicy, tart and salty ingredients.

A basket of lumpia

Expect cellophane and rice noodles in many different interpretations, as well as hot and spicy dips and smooth sauces often tempered with coconut milk.  Thankfully the menu explains everything in detail and servers can offer precise details about preparation. I even got a quick lesson in the correct pronunciation of their vowels.

Halo-halo

Halo-halo has a short 'a'.  Unlike what an angel or saint has around its head.  Very useful, as I expect to return and don’t care to sound like a total dunce.

Palabok (cellophane noodles)

Vegetarians will find plenty of options at Bistro 1521.  If you’re in the neighborhood try the $9.99 weekday special lunchtime rice bowls or drop in for Happy Hour – weekdays from 3pm - 7pm.

Fair warning: Highlights are mind-blowing desserts like ginataan, ube cheesecake, turon, kalamansi pie and halo-halo.

Calamansi cake

Halo-halo is a fantastically festive, tripped out confection with layers of colorful fruits and ice cream – usually made from purple yams called ube.  Toppings include a combination of jellies and fruits.

Ube cheesecake

Our version had ube with lychees, jackfruit, coconut jelly squares, sweetened condensed milk and coconut shavings.

Bistro 1521 is located at 900 North Glebe Road, Arlington, VA 22203.  For information and reservations call 703.741.0918.  Email to place a catering order.

Jackson 20 Launches June Pop-Up Beer Garden for Pride Month 

The lobby of The Alexandrian hotel - home to Jackson 20

A beautifully planned, well-executed Spring Forager Dinner at Jackson 20 by Executive Chef James Hudson, brought wows from the journalists in attendance last month.  It began with an amuse bouche of compressed watermelon drizzled with balsamic vinegar, bits of goat cheese and micro mint.  I could have eaten a bowl of this refreshing combination.  But no.

Corn chowder with Maryland blue crab

This was just to whet the appetite for the inspired four-course dinner.  The amuse was followed by a corn and roasted red bell pepper chowder garnished with Maryland blue crab.

Skillet cornbread

I’m regaling you with all of these dishes not to torment you, but to let you know that Hudson has been killing it in the kitchen since his arrival earlier this year.

Seared red snapper with saffron sauce

The “Starter” (I tried to pace myself.  Insert slap-to-the-forehead emoji here.) was a large portion of seared red snapper with a mixed watermelon, arugula and toasted almond salad finished with creamy saffron sauce and crisp bacon.

Hickory smoked sous vide beef short rib

You could have left me right here to die until the arrival of the hickory smoked sous vide beef short rib which was falling-off-the-bone tender and served with tri-colored fingerling potatoes.

A brief note about the wine pairings carefully selected by General Manager Chris Ratier who knows wine as we have learned from past visits.  He chose a Jefferson Vineyards Chardonnay Reserve out of Charlottesville, VA to serve with the amuse bouche and a Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc for the soup.  I have written about the well-priced Kim Crawford collection in the past and highly recommend these New Zealand wines.  A Ravenswood’s Sonoma Zinfandel complemented the braised short rib.

Strawberry galette

After all that, I worried that dessert might prove overkill.  But Hudson, clever as a fox, knew to bring on something light and seasonal and offered up a strawberry galette with vanilla bean gelato.

BREAKING NEWS – Okay, call it an update if you like.  In partnership with Port City Brewing Co., an Alexandria, VA-based brewing company, Jackson 20 will host a month-long beer garden in the hotel’s outdoor courtyard starting June 3rd.  That makes Alexandria, VA home to one of the area’s only pop-up outdoor beer gardens, a Prohibition-era staple.  New seasonal brews will be featured every weekend and a portion of all proceeds will benefit NOVA Pride, a non-profit organization founded to educate, advocate and celebrate in services to the LGBTQ+ community of Northern Virginia, in celebration of Pride Month.

Jackson 20, 440 King Street, Alexandria, VA 22314. 703.549.6080 www.TheAlexandrian.com

The Occidental Keeps History In Its Place 

New bar entry at the Occidental

The Occidental has had a redo, but never fear.  The dozens of iconic black-and-white photographs of formidable figures in Washington political history remain on the storied walls, but the bar has been relocated to the upstairs level accessed by the outdoor steps just beyond the outdoor fountain.  The two-tiered street level is now just for dining and gazing out at guests sitting beneath royal blue patio umbrellas.

About the bar.  It is now a showcase for the very talented Frankie Jones to concoct cocktails to an appreciative audience.  Jones reads his clientele like a seer.  Depending on your preferences, the DC native will design a drink to your specifications or suggest one he’s created from the new cocktail menu.  I like that kind of service.  It’s rare.  Give yourself over to Frankie’s expertise.

Dinner here is white tablecloth with tiny table lamps providing a soft glow over the dark wood.  New York-bred Jake Addeo is the recently appointed Executive Chef and has brought a few ideas of his own to the menu.  Many favorites still remain, though some have been reinterpreted to highlight local ingredients and confirm that you are indeed in the South.  I felt famed chef Sean Brock’s influence in a number of dishes.

Addeo is understandably proud that sauces, soups, savory relishes and crisp-crusted, skillet cornbread served with honey butter, are all made in house.

Lobster bisque

These are the dishes we had, and loved, and one we didn’t.  Begin with the lobster bisque.  I insist.  It is not laden with heavy cream, but boasts a rich, deeply flavored stock made with the oven-roasted shells of the cold water crustacean with lovely nibblets of lobster meat and dotted with candied fennel compote.

Pan seared foie gras

Please order the Hudson Valley foie gras.  A beautifully decorated plate of pan-seared foie gras playing off huckleberry sauce, golden raisin gel, onion confit and spiced foie gras bread pudding.  Decadent and divine.

Grilled Spanish octopus and Cheshire pork belly

We tripled our odds with grilled Spanish octopus and Cheshire pork belly, lacquered with sorghum and partnered with sunchoke cream and green tomato relish.

Eastern seaboard halibut

For entrées we chose Eastern seaboard halibut and pan seared duck breast.  The halibut with celery root purée, fried artichokes and lobster glacé was mouthwateringly delicious.  The duck, not so much.  If you like your duck with a crisp skin, and I do, this one’s not for you.

Gloss over that misstep and head straight for dessert.  We swooned over the lemon-ginger crème brûlée crowned with a cookie and a slice of chocolate dulce de leche bar (who wouldn’t?), but we were on opposing sides regarding the vinegar pie.  A quintessential American custard pie immortalized by Laura Ingalls-Wilder of The Little House on the Prairie fame, it uses vinegar in the same way that you would add vanilla – just a smidge.

The Occidental Grill & Seafood Restaurant, 1475 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20004.  www.OccidentalDC.com  202.783.1475

The Fairmont Hotel Throws a Royal Watch Wedding Party 

Everybody celebrated including Yours Truly

Either you were curled up in bed watching Prince Harry and Meghan Markle tie the knot at o'dark hundred, or you were out gallivanting in a fascinator at one of the many parties that gave Anglophiles something to cheer about.  After all, even if the royals bore you to distraction, this wedding was nothing like the pinkies-up wedding of Prince William and Kate, nor the mega-nuptials of Prince Charles and Diana.  Not even close.  Meghan has broken the mold for all future royals.  As an American, an actor, a bi-racial self-determined feminist, global ambassador for World Vision, and Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World, this beautiful 36-year old stunner has won the hearts and minds of both Brits and Yanks.

A trio of royal watchers ~ Old and young enjoy the royal festivities

Some watch parties around town began their festivities at the ungodly hour of 7am to synchronize with British time.  Wisely, The Fairmont chose to start at the civilized hour of 10am.  Because, really, did we need to see it in real time when we could watch it in perfect comfort and well-tended bliss on wide screen TVs?

The artistically-decorated, Union Jack-influenced, 'Summer Berry Trifle'

After receiving our Union Jack flags for waving at the royals, bartenders mixed up G & Ts, Pimm’s Cup, and offered glasses of rosé and flutes of champagne.  Dozens of canapés flew by –  I recall duck confit and salmon-and-cucumber sandwiches.  For the sweet tooth there were cups of mixed berry trifle and squares of lemon elderflower wedding cake made from the same recipe as Harry and Meghan’s royal wedding cake.  It was an all-around posh assemblage of ladies, gents and a few Beefeaters memorializing the union of Harry and Meghan’s marriage.  No one spoke of the American War of Independence, because this was a revolution that united, rather than divided, the two countries.

Royal wedding watchers gather to celebrate

Update – The Fairmont recently unveiled their $27 million renovation – lobby, guest rooms, ballroom and courtyard gardens – and it’s absolutely beautiful.  Stayed tuned for news about the restaurant’s upcoming redo.

The Fairmont Hotel, 2401 M Street, NW, Washington, DC 20037 - 202.429.2400

Washington National Opera Gala 

Cast and chorus take their bows at the WNO Gala

On a glorious late spring evening guests gathered on the promenade for the annual Washington National Opera (WNO) Gala at the Kennedy Center.

Pre-concert buffet

The reception kicked off promptly at 4:30pm with passed canapés and a lavish hors d’oeuvres table that could have passed muster as dinner – rockfish with orzo and veal filet shared buffet table space with assorted salads and scrumptious pea and goat cheese gougéres.

Live Grecian muses grace the fountains along the promenade

Guests swanned about, champagne flutes in hand, with fellow board members, supporters, celebrities and journalists as live Grecian muses stood gossamer-clad and motionless around the fountains.

Pretty veggie posies

A lovely flutist in lavish medieval costume wandered musically amid the thousands of roses, peonies and liatris decorating the fountains.

A masked flutist strolls among the guests

Kennedy Center President Deborah Rutter, Chairman David M. Rubenstein and WNO Artistic Director Francesca Zambello were tuxed, gowned and glam along with the hundreds of guests who came for the pre-dinner concert.  The evening celebrated the music of famed American composer Leonard Bernstein and his daughter, writer/broadcaster/filmmaker, Jaimie Bernstein was on hand to regale the audience with tales of her father.

Performers included Julie Gunn, Nathan Gunn, Isabel Leonard and Kathryn Luwek, Eliza Bonet, Allegra De Vita, Michael Hewitt, Christopher Kenney, Madison Leonard, Alexander McKissick and Kerriann Otaño along with mega Broadway leading lady, Patti Lupone who hilariously sang both the Tony and Maria parts of “Tonight” from West Side Story, that she declared to be her childhood favorite musical.

Famed conductor, John DeMain, who had conducted the world premiére of Bernstein’s last opera, A Quiet Place, led the WNO orchestra and the rousing chorus.  Those with premier tickets went on to deluxe post-theatre dinners at a dozen embassies around town.

Maydān 

Flames leap to the top of the copper hood as a unicorn keeps watch

Something about Maydān feels prehistoric.  As if man had just discovered fire as a way to cook food.  A massive open-flame grill in the center of the room is where chefs dart about in a cook's ballet of sorts.  Bright orange-red flames rise up to lick the top of the massive copper dome providing much of the light to the cavernous warehouse as a silver unicorn head perches above signifying what, exactly.  Your guess is as good as mine.

The approach to the two-story brick space is through an alleyway, reminiscent of the souk markets of the Middle East.  An arched doorway washed in slate blue leads to a small anteroom curtained off from the bar and dining area.  There you wait until you are shown to your table and enter into a world apart.

The bar scene at Maydan

Inside it’s dark, cave-like, loud and festive.  Menu covers are inspired by Lebanese-American prophet, painter and poet Gibrán Khalil Gibran, and there is a distinct Middle Eastern ambiance reflected in the blue-and-white ceramic plates and handmade tiles.  A cozy booth, tucked beside the kitchen and lit with a pierced metal lantern, reminded me of Morocco.  The décor explains owner Rose Previte’s choice of ‘maydan' - from the Persian meaning meeting place.

Lamb kebab with pickled onions

So, we are meeting… over kebabs and muhamarra, marinated lamb shoulder and baba ghanoush.  A modest supper, nevertheless lavish with exotic spices and delicious flavors.  You'll find fresh mint and yoghurt feature prominently as do nuts and pomegranates, tahini and ras el hanout, the North African spice mix redolent with the aromas of cumin, ginger, coriander, allspice, pepper and cloves.

A sample of dishes tahini

Another spice mix you'll find here is za'atar.  Used to season all manner of dishes in Syria, Palestine, Lebanon and Israel as well as other countries in the Arab world, it is made from the dried berries of the sumac tree, hyssop, thyme, sesame seeds, marjoram and oregano, and is used liberally to season meats, labneh and breads.

Lamb kebab with pickled onions

The menu is arranged by salads, spreads, condiments, “from the fire dishes”, seafood and grilled kebabs.  Two Executive Chefs Chris Morgan and Gerald Addison share the helm on alternate nights.  It’s mostly meze (small plates) with the exception of three larger main dishes - whole chicken prepared with turmeric, coriander and toum (a Lebanese whipped garlic sauce), a large ribeye spiced with fenugreek and adjika (a spicy Georgian paste), and a lamb shoulder seasoned with Syrian seven spice.  These are meant to share.

My advice.  Bring a group, otherwise you might be sharing a four-top, which is fun or not, depending if you are on a date, which we weren’t, but our table strangers were and love was in bloom.  Order more condiments than you think you need.  At $1 each it’s not a big deal.  And no matter what mains you decide on, be sure to get at least three or four spreads.  All dishes come with fluffy naan bread straight from the tandoor oven.  Ask for more and ye shall receive.

Maydān – 1346 Florida Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20009 – 202 370.3696  Reservations are advised.

Nibbles and Sips Around Town ~ March 20, 2018

Jordan Wright
March 2018
All photos and videos by Jordan Wright

Sakura Yume Cherry Blossoms at Artechouse ~ Jackson 20 Gets New Chef ~ Sips & Suppers Breaks Its Fundraising Record ~ Blue Star Reception Celebrates Military Chefs ~ Punjabi By Nature Hidden In Plain Sight ~ Sushi Ko Offers A Great Lunch Deal ~ Le Grenier on H Street ~ Hank’s Pasta Bar Now Open For Lunch 

Sakura Yume Cherry Blossoms at ARTECHOUSE 

Interactive Japanese lanterns light up along the path

Bespoke cocktails with laser printed blooms and a trippy technicolor wonderland welcome guests to ARTECHOUSE this season and just in time to clear away our wintry blues. The interactive displays use depth cameras to cover walls with floating cherry blossoms and elusive fish that dart in and out of the picture as you sweep your hand though the air to create your own patterns.

Lorne Covington, whose company Noirflux created the enormous central exhibit, tells us he left Silicon Valley to create more relatable and engaging technology.  His first grant came from the famed Burning Man.

Artists Nathan Solomon and Karan Parikh designed an interactive koi pond nestled amid “mountains” where visitors can “feed” the fish and watch them swarm.

Another cleverly designed room, “Bloom” by John-Mark Collins of Storylab, invites guests to sit on tatami mats and play with room-sized light boxes to create their own psychedelic patterns while dining from bento boxes.

Cocktails have digitally printed designs

The augmented reality exhibit is on view through May 6th at ARTECHOUSE, 1238 Maryland Ave SW, Washington DC 20024  For tickets and information visit online.

Cherry Blossom Dream at Artechouse

Jackson 20 Gets New Chef 

Since the Marriott’s high end Autograph Collection took over the former Hotel Monaco in Alexandria, now called The Alexandrian, changes have been afoot.  The rooms and décor are the same but the chef is new and the wines are excellent and affordable.  In fact so much is affordable, a Saturday and Sunday Brunch that goes from 8am till 3pm!, daily breakfast specials for $5, Happy Hour rail cocktails and select wines for $5 per glass, and some delicious dishes from Executive Chef James Hudson.  The style of cuisine remains the same – upscale Southern regional served in satisfying portions – but Hudson has been given free rein to imprint the restaurant with his own twist on the classics.

Roast Salmon with succotash

A recent visit had us swooning over the shrimp and Anson Mills grits enhanced by caramelized onions and white wine and a vegetarian corn and pepper chowder that was the soup of the day.  Entrée specials change and ours was a salmon with succotash and duck with cherry sauce, a dish that recently won the restaurant a “Best of Alexandria” award.

(L-R) Banana Cream Pie with blackberries and caramelized bananas ~ Appalachian Pudding

And for a sweet finish, you can’t go wrong with the Appalachian pudding, a comfort food that shares menu space with Banana Cream Pie.  Sunday Nights are three-course Fried Chicken Suppers for $22.

Jackson 20, 480 King Street, Alexandria, VA 22314  The Alexandrian.

Sips & Suppers Breaks Its Fundraising Record 

(l-r) Friends, foodies and chefs enjoy the brunch before the Sips & Suppers dinners around town ~ K. N. Vinod, chef/owner of Indique

When top chefs and gracious hosts get together, it’s culinary magic.  Once again, Alice Waters and Joan Nathan have corralled the best of the best to prove that foodies love to get together in a relaxed setting and dish…about food and wine…what else?

(L-R) Tenth anniversary dinner for Sips & Suppers ~ The table set for Sips & Suppers at the home of Nicole and Casey Aandahl

Founded in 2009, the annual event benefits DC Central Kitchen and Martha’s Table.  This year’s event broke previous records.  In a statement on this year’s success the group declared, “We raised over $650,000K (conservative estimate) this year and nearly $4 million over ten years.”

Joan Nathan with fellow chef at her brunch

Earlier in the day Nathan hosted many of the chefs and food writers for a lavish brunch at her home.  The popular event featured dozens of dishes including shakshouka, the Israeli (by way of North Africa) egg dish that everyone is raving about.

The Gordy’s Pickles ladies make bloody marys at the home of Joan Nathan

DC-based Gordy’s Pickles and Green Hat Gin paired up for the bloody marys, mother/daughter-owned California winery Pescadero Creek Vineyard provided the wines, and there were several dishes prepared according to recipes from Nathan’s latest cookbook, “King Solomon’s Table”.

Anthony Lombardo and Sal Ferro prepare desserts

This year we were the fortunate guests at the home of Nicole and Casey Aandahl who had scored the talents of chefs, Anthony Lombardo, formerly of 1789 and now cheffing in Detroit, and Sal Ferro of Old Ebbitt Grill. The duo started us off with sparkling prosecco and frittata sarde and oysters on the half shell as hors d’oeuvres.

(l-r) Preparing the shakshouka ~ Cheese and bread display at Joan Nathan’s brunch party

This was followed by a sumptuous five-course dinner for our very large group.  The Italian-inspired meal began with creamy salt cod, bitter greens and crispy potatoes.  As pasta is always the second course in an Italian dinner, this was orecchiette and rapini ragù with pecorino and carrots.

Swordfish with cara cara oranges, fennel and pistachios

Then fish, which was pesce spade – swordfish with cara cara oranges, fennel, pistachio and gigante beans.  The meat – brasato, a red wine braised, Piedmontese pot roast was served with root vegetables.

(l-t) Brunch calls for beet and kale salad ~ A refreshing brunch dish of fresh tropical fruits

Each course was paired with a different wine including a fabulous dessert of anisette custard with Amaretto cookies paired with Malvasia.  Needless to say we waddled home, and slept like babes dreaming of the Italian Riviera.

Blue Star Reception Celebrates Military Chefs 

Top military chefs from all six branches combined their talents with DC chefs and Mixologist Todd Thrasher (Potomac Distilling Company and Tiki TNT) to provide an evening of tempting treats and fancy cocktails to celebrate Blue Star Families and Blue Star Neighbors.  The event which entertained military families as well as the nation’s top brass, was hosted by General George W. Casey, Jr., USA (ret) and Sheila Casey at the US Chamber of Commerce.  Also featured were inspiring videos and prestigious awards for a heartwarming evening of fun, food and camaraderie.

(L-R) Jennifer Medeiros and Robert Wiedmaier ~ Smoked Salmon Napoleon

At the Air Force Table, Chef and Restaurateur Robert Wiedmaier of Marcel’s partnered with MSgt Jennifer Medeiros on mini Napoleons of Scottish Smoked Salmon.

(l-f) Chris Clime and Michelle Brown ~ Open Blue Cobia “Pastrami”

Chef Chris Clime of PassionFish worked with SSG Michelle Brown of the Army to create Open Blue Cobia “Pastrami” with mesquite smoked piquillo pepper and n’duja tapenade.  Kyle Bailey of The Salt Line and CSCS Derek Johnson of the Coast Guard conjured up Hiramasa Crudo with blood orange ponzu geleé, salsify-sesame pureé, popped amaranth and nasturtium leaf.

(L_R) Tyler Gaswint and David Guas ~ Shrimp Burger

Chef David Guas of Bayou Bakery and TSgt Tyler Gaswint of the National Guard came up with a Gulf Shrimp Burger dressed with pickled jalapeño okra tartar sauce.

Chef Todd Grey of Equinox and SSgt Hirram Carrion of the Marine Corps dreamed up Tahini Grits with minted lamb meatballs and z’ataar chips, and Ris Lacoste of Ris and CS1 Frida Karani of the Navy offered up New England Clam Chowder.  Dog Tag Bakery’s Chris Licciardi and Kyle Wronsky plied us with mini parfaits of cherry mousse, chocolate and whipped goat cheese.

Guests sipping Thrasher’s craft made cocktails were asked to vote by handing out beads to their favorite chefs.  I couldn’t stay to see got the prize for the most popular, but all the dishes were winners.

Punjabi By Nature Hidden In Plain Sight 

Hard by Fairfax’s Mosaic District in Vienna, VA is a small but popular Indian restaurant.  Hidden in a modern residential area a few blocks away is Punjabi By Nature, where we sampled Northern Indian dishes from New Delhi.

Owner Rajiv Chopra

Rajiv Chopra is the managing director and overseer of the menu.  His other two eateries are currently located in Leesburg and Chantilly.  He hopes to open a fourth in Reston later this year.  More manager than daily chef, the New Delhi native worked in restaurants there for 20 years. “I took no culinary courses,” he said. “I just worked in the kitchen.”  He also attributes his culinary skills to his mother.  “I learned from my Mom in New Delhi,” he said.  “Now she tells me which of my recipes to use.  And I do that.”

Chopra also relies on a partnership with his wife, Shivani Chopra.  “She believes in me and inspires me to do all this,” he said.  “And on the other hand, she helps me a lot, too.   Without her help, this would not be possible for me.”  Both his parents love that he is involved in the restaurant business, living out his life’s passion.  Moreover, Chopra says that making people happy with his food is all part of his passion.

(L-R) A pair of sweet treats at Punjabi By Nature ~ Choley bhature at Punjabi By Nature

I visited the Vienna location, where I found an extensive menu with Chopra happily acting as guide.  We began with his recommendation of a unique New Delhi treat – choley bhature, a puffed-up wheat bread that looks like a golden balloon and comes with a ramekin filled with a traditional chickpea spread, which is dark and richly flavored – unlike anything served in area Indian restaurants.  A second bread appetizer with the same chickpea spread calls for kulcha, a flat bread.  I was asked if I wanted it spicy, I did!, and wasn’t disappointed with the level of heat.

(L-R) Lamb biriyani at Punjabi By Nature ~ Curry dish from Punjabi By Nature

The balance of the menu showcases New Delhi cuisine.  Some you’ll be familiar with and some you’ll have to be brave enough to try – butter chicken, lamb seekh kabab, tandoori chicken, grilled lamb chops and lamb curry, and four different styles of the famous Indian rice specialty, biryani.  There are eleven types of breads, from onion kulcha and garlic naan to a house special – the chef’s unique chocolate naan – which is both savory and sweet.

You are sure to recognize the traditional desserts – gulab jamun/rasmalai and faluda kulfi, the traditional Indian frozen dessert.  A full bar includes frozen margaritas.

Punjabi by Nature, 2750 Gallows Rd, Vienna, VA http://www.punjabibynature.us

Sushi Ko Offers A Great Lunch Deal 

I can’t say enough about Sushiko’s Lunch Tasting Menu deal.  Three amazing courses that are quite filling and beautifully prepared for $25 per person.  For anyone who has ever dined at the popular restaurant, in the posh neighborhood of Chevy Chase, you know that dinners there can run into the hundreds of dollars – especially if you partake of the pricier sakés and the sushi chef’s omakase nigari or sashimi menu.

Owner Daisuke Utagawa schooled me in Japanese izakaya style cuisine and sakés at a three-hour dinner at his DC restaurant Daikaya back in 2013, then again in 2015 in sushi and temaki at Sushiko.  Unfortunately, I hadn’t been there since.  In all fairness, I haven’t been to Chevy Chase since then either, because... traffic.  But at lunchtime getting there from DC or Northern Virginia is a breeze.

(L-R) Assorted sushi and sashimi ~ Bread pudding with green tea whipped cream and matcha ice cream

We opted for the three-course luncheon menu.  No substitutions and only $25.00.  If you’re feeling flush there’s also a four-course lunch menu for $55.00, but that’s quite a jump in price and we’re sticking to our budget, or so we promised each other.

(L-R) Seaweed salad ~ Seared Salmon with shiitake mushrooms, bok choy and sweet potato purée

Choose from – Miso Soup or Sushiko Seaweed Salad to start.  Then a choice of Shrimp Tempura or Tsukuri, or a four-piece chef’s selection of the sashimi of the day.  Lastly roasted salmon or four pieces of nigiri and six of maki.  Each element is superbly and delicately prepared.  The salmon was exquisite and came with steamed baby bok choy, shitake mushrooms, sweet potato pureé and rice.  That course, in and of itself, was worth the $25.  My partner guarded his sushi fairly well, but I snuck in a taste with my trusty chopsticks and again, perfectly prepared with the finest and freshest fish.  Utagawa is a stickler for the best fish!

Confession:  We blew the budget slightly.  We split the Sansho Bread Pudding with green tea whipped cream and I will never regret it.  Neither will you.

5455 Wisconsin Avenue, Chevy Chase, MD 20815. Sushiko Restaurants

Le Grenier on H Street 

There’s been a lot of excitement about the revitalization of H Street.  Restaurants have come and gone and now that the trolley is running smoothly, there will surely be more changes and even more residential development.  It’s one of the hottest neighborhoods in town.  I find myself there frequently as I cover Mosaic Theatre at the Atlas Performing Arts Center, and I’m always on the hunt for a good restaurant nearby, especially one that’s warm and welcoming with good, reliable food and an excellent bar program.

(l-r) The bar ~ French onion soup at Le Grenier

Most of the places in the area are trendy, noisy and/or dark.  After-work spots for a burger and pizza, a beer (or four), and a bowl of chili or ramen.  Okay, there’s a time and place for that too.  But I recently discovered Le Grenier, and fell in love.  An indelibly charming French restaurant with classic bistro food and cool French music, it’s just the sort of place you’d find in a Parisian neighborhood.  Expect onion soup topped with gruyére, charcuterie and house made patés, a well-curated selection of French cheeses, escargots, boeuf Bourguignon, cassoulet, hangar steaks and fish – all prepared creatively and overseen by owner, Marie Ziar.

There are two ways to go.  A fancy dinner with fine wines for a romantic tête-à-tête or casual bites with well-priced wines by the glass.  We had small bites at the marble-topped bar and enjoyed talking with a very interesting group from the neighborhood.  Either way this two-level space, warmed up by exposed brick walls and antiques, has a classy clientele and a lively bar scene.  Perfect for before or after the theatre.

Le Grenier, 502 H Street, NE, Washington, DC 20002 www.LeGrenierDC.com.

Hank’s Pasta Bar Now Offering Lunch 

A staple in the north end of Alexandria’s Old Town, Hank’s Pasta Bar is reinstituting lunch hour dining.  The industrial look, cozy restaurant is a favorite in a neighborhood better known as residential.  Is it destination dining?  Probably not.

(l-r) The back dining room ~ A cozy seating area at Hank’s Pasta Bar

Most Old Town visitors prefer to stay closer to the King Street scene.  And the reality is there are not many offices in the area.  But there is usually parking, which in and of itself is a plus, and it’s an easy 15-minute walk to the Braddock Metro Station.  All that said, it remains to be seen if they can make a go of it during the day.

(L-r) Charred octopus with fennel arugula salad ~ A starter of meatballs and sauce

A few weeks ago I was invited to try a few of their lunch offerings and they were pleasantly surprised at the menu.  We selected a few appetizers and two entrees.  For starters charred, tender octopus with arugula fennel salad, and meatballs of beef, veal, pork and lamb in a homemade tomato sauce – likely the same pomodoro, or “gravy” as my Italian friends insist I call it, used in their pasta dishes.

(L-R) Chicken Marsala ~ Hibiscus Panna Cotta

A lovely eggy fettucine, made in house as is all their pasta, was next up.  Served with a Bolognese sauce of braised beef and root vegetables, it is exactly the sort of tummy-warming dish for a chilly day.  Ditto for the lemony Chicken Marsala with its sauce of mushrooms and tomatoes and plenty of fresh herbs.

Fettuccine with Bolognese at Hank’s Pasta Bar

After all these filling dishes, would we have room for dessert?  The question lay before us until we saw the alluring choices.  Yes!  We, most assuredly, will have the Hibiscus Panna Cotta with blueberry, lemon and lavender gelatin.  A perfect ending to our lunchtime adventure.

Hank’s Pasta Bar, 600 Montgomery Street, Alexandria, VA 22314  www.HanksPastaBar.com