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Nibbles and Sips Around Town

Jordan Wright
March 29, 2013
Special to DC Metro Theater ArtsBroadway Stars, and localKicks 

Greek Orthodox Easter Festival at Zaytinya

Head Chef at Zaytinya - Michael Costa - photo credit Jordan Wright

Head Chef at Zaytinya - Michael Costa - photo credit Jordan Wright

Jose Andres’ popular spot, Zaytinya, is planning a five-week festival beginning March 31st and ending on Greek Orthodox Easter, May 3rd.   Head Chef, Michael Costa, who continues his mission to create dependably delicious flavor-forward food, has devised some truly savory bites for the Lenten season.  Last week we had a chance to sample some of the upcoming dishes including mixologist, Juan Coronado’s dazzling cocktail, Apokreas.  Named appropriately after a Greek carnival celebrating Dionysus, it’s a combination of Metaxa, verjus, and maple syrup garnished with a red pickled quail egg and baby carrots.  Cue the bunnies!

Apokreas cocktail with pickled quail egg and baby carrot garnish - photo credit Jordan Wright

Apokreas cocktail with pickled quail egg and baby carrot garnish - photo credit Jordan Wright

A few of the traditional dishes we sampled were lachanosalata, shredded cabbage and carrot salad served in Brussels sprout leaves and dressed with olive oil, lemon and smoked walnut skordalia; sopa me lahanika aladoti, a smooth Lenten vegetable soup with cauliflower, rice, mushrooms, tahini and herbs topped with crispy cauliflower and black tahini; and clam stew from Lefkada, sea sweet clam soup with basmati rice.

Greek Easter offerings Yogurt, olives and lava beans -  Seasonal morsels from Zaytinya - photo credit Jordan Wright

Greek Easter offerings Yogurt, olives and lava beans - Seasonal morsels from Zaytinya - photo credit Jordan Wright

During the festival there will be an agorá outdoor market on Sunday, April 21st and Monday, April 22nd featuring artisanal foods, crafts and Greek music.  Look for Andres’ Pepe Food Truck to be out front selling spit-roasted lamb sandwiches served with tzatziki and pickled red onions.  Prizes of signed cookbooks, Zaytinya gift certificates, wines and other delights are being offered to benefit World Central Kitchen.

During the first week of the festival, the restaurant will host Greek cookbook author, photographer and journalist, Aglaia Kremezi for a collaborative wine dinner on April 3rd and a cooking class on April 4th.  Check the website for more deets.  www.Zaytinya.com.

Todd and Ellen Gray Host Seder Dinner With Recipes From Their Latest Cookbook

The NEW JEWISH TABLE by Ellen and Todd Gray

The NEW JEWISH TABLE by Ellen and Todd Gray

 The New Jewish Table (St. Martin’s Press) by Todd Gray and Ellen Kassoff Gray arrived at my door in galley form a few months ago.  Written with Washington Post food writer, David Hagedorn and sporting a foreword by Jewish cookery queen and DC local, Joan Nathan, the book is Gray’s modern spin on traditional Jewish cooking.  What really charms me as a cookbook collector is the backstories told by the writer, and in this collection the duo fills the space between the easy-to-make recipes with cooking tips and personal tales of their very different childhoods.  Ellen, a city-bred Jewish girl and husband, Todd, a country-bred Episcopalian, are the successful owners of Equinox Restaurant here in DC.  Between them they have written a book that speaks to their food memories yet reinvents familiar Jewish recipes in Todd’s fresh and elegant style.

The ceremonial Seder plate - Photo credit Jordan Wright

The ceremonial Seder plate - Photo credit Jordan Wright

This week the Grays hosted Passover Seder dinner for family and friends at Equinox and this scribe was lucky enough to snag an invitation.  Though I had attended a one Seder dinner long ago at the Palm Beach Country Club when I was a girl, I enjoyed revisiting the time-honored traditions, including the reading of the prayers by the guests and the unique ceremonial plate of baytzah (roasted egg), maror (bitter herbs), z’roa (roasted bone), karpas (green vegetable) and haroset (chopped apples, nuts and wine) to represent their exodus from Egypt to the Holy Land.

Guests read the Seder prayers

Guests read the Seder prayers

The Gray’s, who are known for their warmth and conviviality served dishes from the cookbook starting with a salad of roasted heirloom beets with golden raisins and Sicilian pistachios; Todd’s Black Angus beef brisket in red wine sauce with potato mousseline and wilted spinach and sesame seeds; quinoa with poached figs and mint; and finishing wondrously with a decadent flourless chocolate cake with caramel ice cream and bourbon vanilla sauce.  Now have I got your attention?  Mazel tov Mr. and Mrs. Gray!

Chocolate Hazelnut Rugelach

Chocolate Hazelnut Rugelach

Click Link to Download Receipt in PDF
Chocolate Hazelnut Rugelach

A Persian Excursion in the Heart of Georgetown 

Word is out that one of Georgetown’s “in” spots for the past twenty-two years is serving Persian cuisine on Wednesday and Thursday nights.  Now that’s hard news, readers, especially when you consider this place has flown under the radar for over two decades.  So, yes, we had to see for ourselves what all the fuss and flutter was about.

When Iranian chef and Peacock Café’s co-owner Maziar Farivar, was tapped by the James Beard Foundation to cook a dinner for the Persian New Year’s celebration, Nowruz, he had to research his own country’s cuisine.  Inspired by the dishes of his childhood that were still close to his heart, he set out on a mission to learn how to prepare the dishes that the women in his family had brought with them to America.  From that jumping off point he and brother Shahab Farivar, decided to proudly offer his country’s cuisine in his own restaurant.

Regulars are familiar with Farivar’s everyday menu of American meatloaf, organic chicken, sustainable seafood and an array of pastas.  It’s the jumbo lump crab cake, grass-fed rib eye steak and lobster salad that up the ante.  But lately the clientele have been clamoring for his exotic Persian dishes and that is what we came for on a frigid winter’s night.

Fresh herbs with feta and beets and Pistachio soup at Peacock Cafe - Photo credit Jordan Wright

Fresh herbs with feta and beets and Pistachio soup at Peacock Cafe - Photo credit Jordan Wright

We pored long and hard over the menu and the specialty cocktail list from which we chose mango martinis made with homemade sour mix, fresh fruit and organic blue agave.  It was a good place to start.  Stymied by so many alluring menu choices, we vacillated wildly over our decisions before settling on the following - - borani-e laboo, red beet and yogurt dip with hummus, olives and seasoned flat bread; naaz, roasted eggplant with pomegranate; and panir va sabzi gthat with whole fresh herbs, feta radishes and dates.

An exquisite pistachio citrus soup, soup-e pesteh, arrived followed by khoresht qaymeh, which turned out to be a stew consisting of lamb and yellow split peas with sundried lime over basmati rice.  We also tried a dish called albaloo polo ba morgh, a pomegranate-glazed chicken dish with sour cherries in the rice.  We found the dishes to be quite small so there was ample room for dessert when we capped off the evening with the restaurant’s signature chocolate volcano.

P. S.  We tried to take some photos but, alas, the sexy, red-lit resto, bracketed by neighbors Neyla and Café Milano, is so charmingly intime that the photos aren’t quite up to snuff.   www.PeacockCafe.com.

A New Brunch Spot Shines in Shirlington

On the far end of what I’ll call the Shirlington Strip, that two-block boulevard lined with boutiques, bakeries, heaps of restaurants, one artsy movie theatre and, of course Signature Theatre, is The Curious Grape.  You may recall I swooned over young chef, Erik McKameys food last June, shortly after they expanded from a wine and cheese shop into a full size restaurant.  Now happily they have also expanded their hours to include a sit-down lunch on Saturdays and, more importantly, a scrumptious Sunday Brunch.

Flight of wine-based Bloody Marys - photo credit Jordan Wright

Flight of wine-based Bloody Marys - photo credit Jordan Wright

You would expect nothing less from a place that features wine at every turn, than their creative use of wine as a base for the ubiquitous Sunday morning drink, the Bloody Mary, which they just call “Mary” cocktails here.  There are three versions, but order the flight in order to try them all, thus finding a favorite, if you can, which is well-nigh impossible.  These cute cocktails served in half-size martini glasses snub their noses at vodka while providing an assuredly more preferable and less earth-shattering way to start your day of rest.

For the flight you’ll have the Ciao Bella, flavored with balsamic vinegar, roasted red pepper and basil and decorated with a morsel of cheese and sundried tomato on a bamboo spear.  The Bloody Maria, spices it up with smoked paprika, piquillo peppers and cumin seed and comes garnished with chorizo.  And lastly the Beijing Mary incorporates soy sauce, wasabi and sesame oil with a sprig of Thai basil.  Each one delivers a sort of sprightly perfection.  There are other brunchy drinks made with sparkling rose, sake, tawny port and sparkling hard cider as a base, but those will be for another day.

The menu is cleverly laid out in food and wine columns to aid the diner in pairings, and since the list quite extensive, you might want to stick to the script.  Most selections can be ordered by the half glass, so as you work your way through their well-culled offerings, you can convince yourself you are getting an education in wines from around the world.  Blissfully all wines are $13.00 and under for a full glass, so drink up, it’s study hour.

Baked goods are made in house, so try a coconut lavender muffin or cinnamon bun to break the fast.  We dove in hard selecting a few starters to share.  Doughnuts with wild boar, hoisin sauce and pickled onion were a tasty balance of flavors we couldn’t get enough of was an earthy foil for a dish of airy ricotta blintzes sweetened with cranberry compote, caramelized honey and thyme.   And a gooey wine-kissed Abondance cheese fondue, served only as a small plate, proved a tease I’d like to see offered as an entree.

Wild boar doughnuts at the Curious Grape - photo credit Jordan Wright

Wild boar doughnuts at the Curious Grape - photo credit Jordan Wright

Driving me mad with craving as I write this, was the house made flat iron corned beef accompanied by sweet potato hash, poached egg and salsa verde.  Why, you may ponder, is this corned beef so different from all others?  Why is it so irresistible, so craveable?  It is because to achieve this wonder you must first appreciate the marvel of well-brined, slow-cooked meat, a process that renders the beef mouth-meltingly tender.  But here’s why this one supersedes the others.  In a twist of brilliance, the chef puts a thick slice of the boiled meat onto the flat top grill, searing the flesh and giving it a crusty ‘bark’.   Gourmands, it does not get any better than this, except when the yolk of a perfectly poached egg oozes over the meat and onto the crispy potato hash below.

Flat iron corned beef on sweet potato hash - photo credit Jordan Wright

Flat iron corned beef on sweet potato hash - photo credit Jordan Wright

Next I was eager to try what is referred to as the Spanish breakfast, a potato and leek “tortilla” with Serrano ham and Zamorano cheese.  I am a sucker for any dish that lists leeks as an ingredient.  But this one was a disappointment, as the eggs were dry, the whole concoction flat as a board, the leeks, well, I’m not sure where they went to, and the delicate imported ham was seared to smithereens.  Even the sweet note of quince on the side could not redeem it.  I hope they get a better handle on this, since apart from an apple pancake soufflé, it was the only other egg dish.

Ricotta blintzes - photo credit Jordan Wright

Ricotta blintzes - photo credit Jordan Wright

As a footnote we decided to wait until we had finished with our bloodies before ordering coffee and tea.  The restaurant has an extensive coffee bar menu and additions like house made vanilla bean, hazelnut and toasted almond syrups to flavor the java.  My cappuccino with hazelnut syrup was lovely but my cohort chose a Chai latte that sent us into orbit.  It seems the barista makes pouches of well-chosen spices for this drink and it’s terrific.  All in all we concluded that the Curious Grape is a most welcome addition to the brunch scene and we’ll be back very soon.  www.CuriousGrape.com.

Last Chance for The Garden Café’s British Menu at the National Gallery 

The Garden Cafe at the National Gallery of Art - photo credit Jordan Wright

The Garden Cafe at the National Gallery of Art - photo credit Jordan Wright

By last count I have already made three trips to the Garden Café Britannia to dine on Cathal Armstrong’s British-inspired menu at the museum and I am still smitten.  With the opening of the large and gorgeously curated Pre-Raphaelite exhibition, I have returned with both local and out-of-town friends luring them in with the fabulous buffet, the elegant fountain setting and the best lunch deal in town (at $20.75 for all you can eat, it’s a steal).  They have all been giddy with delight over the food, which is consistently wonderful and overseen by the National Gallery of Art’s Executive Chef, David Rogers.

Carrots and turnips - Cornish pasties at the Garden Cafe

Carrots and turnips - Cornish pasties at the Garden Cafe

The menu will stay in place until the end of April, but hurry!  In early May, to complement the Gallery’s upcoming Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes exhibit, famed chef Michel Richard will transform the café into the Garden Café Ballets Russes.  Expect dishes with both a French and Russian influence as the master creates a menu featuring Russian black bread, lentil salad, chilled borscht, blini with caviar, grilled eggplant, beef stroganoff, salmon coulbiac, and strawberries Romanoff for dessert.  Na zdorov’ye!

Digging in at the Garden Cafe Britannia - photo credit Jordan Wright

Digging in at the Garden Cafe Britannia - photo credit Jordan Wright

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