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Nibbles and Sips

Jordan Wright
Whisk and Quill
February 2010

Wine Techno-Speak Cranks up the Message

If your wine talks to you have you had a bit too much to drink? Not if you’ve purchased a bottle with the new wine decoder technology embedded in the bottle itself. Holy vintage, Batman!

Producer Allegrini of Verona, Italy, known for their Valpolicellas using only their estate-grown fruit since 1557, has just launched a combination hand-held scanner and speaker, brand-named “Ecocoder” into its wine bottles. The wine-speak is activated by touching the surface of a wine label, instantly playing a prerecorded audio file stored in its memory card, allowing you to hear first-hand from the producer about the wine’s history, origin, production, flavors and ideal food pairings.

This cutting-edge wine communication system, patented by the Italian label designer and printer Modulgraf, was launched exclusively by Allegrini earlier this year at VinItaly, Italy’s largest annual wine trade show. As of this writing it’s only available in New York.

“The international wine market is thirsty for information about wine and Italian wines can be difficult for many consumers to understand,” notes winery owner Marilisa Allegrini.

Now if only it could make the pasta too!

Francophiles Rejoice!

I took in the opening of the stellar Chester Dale Collection at the National Gallery of Art last week and felt like a star-struck groupie. The Gallery owns these works but has never before mounted them in one glorious show. It was completely and blessedly overwhelming and I quite nearly threw my neck out of whack deciding which masterpiece to zero in on. There were works by Picasso, Monet, Manet, and Morisot, Degas, Cezanne, van Gogh, Matisse and Modigliani, Renoir et al…the finest representative art from Impressionism up to Modernism. A riveting oil, “Blue Morning’ by George Bellows, one of Dale’s final purchases, begged me to linger. This is a triumph of a show on exhibit through July.

Chef Michel Richard signs his book Happy in the Kitchen at the opening of the National Gallery's Chester Dale Collection exhibit - photo by Jordan Wright

Wait for it… Wait for it…. You expected to read about food in this story and here it is. The Gallery, in its infinite epicurean wisdom, has chosen Michel Richard to design the food for their Garden Café Francais. The award-winning world-renowned chef of DC’s Citronelle and Central Michel Richard fame, who studied under the distinguished chef Gaston Lenotre, has created a charming bistro menu that will have you believing you are dining on the Left Bank with Toulouse Lautrec sketching by your side. In-house Executive Chef David Rogers worked with Richard to translate the dishes for the newly expanded café.

See the paintings and dine on charcuterie, cassoulet, gougeres, coq au vin, ratatouille and so much more. French fromages such as Camembert, Comte and Livarot precede dessert in the French way. Fruit tarte, crème brulee, chocolate mousse or crepes Suzettes follow. Quelle joie!

Virginia Wines Wow at Wildfire Dinner

Wildfire's Executive Chef Steven Lukis checks on WUSA's Angie Goff's dinner - photo by Jordan Wright

Food and wine events continue to draw a crowd and it was a rollicking group that attended last month’s wine dinner at Wildfire Restaurant in Tyson’s Corner. James Roth, wine consultant and owner of Red, Hot and Bleu Wine Shop in Falls Church, conducted the dinner whose five courses were paired with Virginia wines. How can you go wrong starting out the evening’s festivities with Kluge’s 2004 sparkling Blanc de Blanc and an hors d’oeuvre of lump crab on an herb-roasted cottage fry with lemon mustard aioli and ending with a 2006 Barboursville Vineyards’ Cabernet Franc Reserve served with a molten chocolate cake?

Renee Catacalos, of the recently folded magazine, Edible Chesapeake, was there to speak of the importance of eating locally-produced foods, while WUSA’s 9News Now Morning Show’s savvy and stunning, Angie Goff, just wanted the scoop on the local artisanal cheeses served with a 2007 Prince Michel Cabernet Franc.

On hand local PR maven, Bunny Polmer, who started her successful career prepping mis en place for the likes of Wolfgang Puck and Craig Claiborne when she worked for retailer Kitchen Bazaar, setting up demos back in the day. Bunny knows finely minced parsley.

Putting It All Together – Saturday Morning Along Del Ray’s Mount Vernon Avenue

Good news for locavores. The popular producer-only Del Ray’s Farmers Market on Mount Vernon Avenue is now open year-round. Here you’ll find organic produce, meats, cheeses, yogurt, homemade pastas and sauces to accompany them, baked goods, jams, honey and herbs locally raised and/or grown. We love this small neighborhood market where you can get to know your local farmers up close and personal.

Augment your food shopping with a stop along the way at Cheesetique where you can select from over 330 local and international cheeses. Pick up some salami, prosciutto, patés and duck rillettes too. Which leads me down the block to Planet Wine, where a nice Cabernet franc from Virginia’s Horton Vineyards or the slightly drier Pigeoulet en Provence, a Grenache blend from Vaucluse, France, suggested by wine consultant Alyssa Blevins, complements the rillettes quite nicely.

Princesses Rule at Old Town’s Lavender Moon Cupcakery

Devil's Food Peanut Butter Mousse Cupcakes beckon at Lavender Moon Cupcakery - photo by Jordan Wright

Back in Old Town Alexandria at 116 South Royal Street, Lavender Moon Cupcakery is a must visit serving up delectable cupcakes using only the finest ingredients….sweet European butter, dark Belgian chocolate, whole vanilla beans and organic eggs from Joel Salatin’s Polyface Farm in Swoope, VA.

Owners Peter and Tammy Durkin are emphatic about using organic ingredients and no food dyes for their luscious cupcakes. To color their red velvet cupcakes, they use blood orange or pomegranate juice. The quality is evident in all their cupcakes baked up with seasonal flavors.

Sisters Sophia (left) and Rachel Margarella with their to die for cupcakes at Lavender Moon Cupcakery in Old Town - photo by Jordan Wright

In summer fruit-filled cupcakes contain fresh local berries, peaches and apples. Last week I sampled a few of their winter specialties: Flourless Chocolate with Sea Salt and Almonds (gluten-free), Vanilla Bean with Lemon Curd filling, Red Velvet, Buttermilk with Mexican Chocolate Pudding, Devil’s Food with Peanut Butter Mousse filling, Triple Belgian Chocolate, Blood Orange Dreamsicle, Mocha and Vanilla Vanilla.

All were exceptional, with a dense buttery crumb and ethereal icing. Yes, you really could taste the difference with the use of premium, all-natural ingredients. Birthday boys and girls tell your moms. They do full-size cakes too.

While there, two tiny princesses, sitting pretty on small café-style chairs, were enjoying their after-school treats. “This is to die for!” exclaimed one. Her companion was polite enough to refrain from speaking with her mouth full of Vanilla Vanilla.

Barton Seaver Takes His Message to France

At Bibiana Enoteca last Thursday, I ran into DC Chef Barton Seaver relaxing at the bar before his flight to France where he’ll speak on sustainable seafood. Barton, formerly of Hook, is a huge advocate for sustainable fishing and in his soon-to-be-open Diamond District Seafood Company restaurant and market he will source fish from a dozen different fishermen. Swordfish need not apply.

The new location will be at 14th and Q Street, back in his old stomping grounds, where he told me his first cooking gig was at the Black Cat, too many years ago to count. “It’s named for the shape of the district itself,” Seaver explains. We are looking forward to seeing him in his upcoming PBS series, “Turning the Tide” scheduled for Spring 2010.

Misha (center) with Nikki Giovanni and Patowmack Farm Executive Chef Christopher Rogers at a recent taping at the restaurant

ABC Launches New DC Cooking Series

And while we’re on the subject of a new TV series, “Cooking Up a Better Life with Misha” premieres next Saturday at 11am on ABC. The charming Misha will be featuring celebrities, politicians and local chefs. The show will be produced in a recently designed Virginia studio kitchen in Alexandria, where I visited her last month while she taped one of her first segments with the author of a cookbook that features DC’s embassy chefs and their recipes.

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