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Nibbles and Sips Around Town – February 2014

Jordan Wright
February 2014
Special to DC Metro Theater ArtsBroadway Stars, and LocalKicks

Photo credit – Jordan Wright  

Bistro Vivant Gets a New Chef

For those of us that crave the comforts of French country cooking, Bistro Vivant is a cozy McLean restaurant whose delicious food and solid wine list have beckoned me back since I first wrote about them last summer.  Recently there has been a changing of the old guard and I wanted to see for myself if this hidden gem was still a contender.

Bistro Vivant's new Executive Chef Katie Busch

Bistro Vivant’s new Executive Chef Katie Busch

Katie Busch, the restaurant’s new Chef de Cuisine, is a twenty-nine year old whiz kid with tons of experience from all the right places.  Busch came to the 75-seat bistro bar via New York and Philadelphia where she honed her craft at Hospoda, Aureole by Charlie Palmer, Fishtail by David Burke and David Burke Townhouse, Eden South Beach, the Oak Room at the Plaza Hotel and The Modern – all top drawer dining destinations.  She’s also cooked alongside the big boys at Striped Bass Restaurant and Brasserie Perrier under chefs Georges Perrier and Christopher Scarduzio.  Street cred?  She’s got it in spades!

Inside the cozy bistro

Inside the cozy bistro

Busch plans to keep classic starters on the menu – – French onion soup, escargots de Bourgogne and foie gras – – though her twist on the sumptuous standard is to partner it with Marcona almond crumble, poached quince and cider gastrique.   And I’m fairly certain you can expect to see her version of hand-cut beef tartare stay on the menu.  She’ll prepare it deconstructed if you prefer, which I do, allowing the quail egg yolk, capers, cornichon and shallots to be combined at table.  Her take on the newly-ubiquitous grilled octopus is my hands-down favorite – – a harmonious dish of lightly charred octopus, fingerling potatoes, smoked paprika, chorizo and green olives.

Foie Gras with Marcona almond crumble, poached quince and cider gastrique -- Beef Bourguignon

Foie Gras with Marcona almond crumble, poached quince and cider gastrique — Beef Bourguignon

Also on the winter menu is boeuf bourguignon.  Busch’s version uses wild mushrooms, red pearl onions and tiny heirloom carrots to complement the savory slow-cooked beef.  Her use of the au poivre sauce is to use the familiar green peppercorn on pan-seared duck confit paring it with crusty cheesy potatoes dauphinoise.

Steak tartare -- Lobster Pasta with shellfish cream

Steak tartare — Lobster Pasta with shellfish cream

A consummate schmoozer whose knowledge of wines is impressive Turkish owner Aykan Demiroglu is over the moon with his new chef and the restaurant continues to exude the same friendly Euro vibe as the day it opened.  General Manager Shannon Paretzski, who reminds this writer of the ever-gracious Diana Damewood of the old Dominique’s Restaurant in DC, makes sure you are coddled and satisfied.

Agua 301 Opens on DC’s Capital Riverfront

Agua 301 along the Capital Riverfront

Agua 301 along the Capital Riverfront

The redevelopment of the Washington Navy Yard area and the impressive Yards Park along the Southwest DC waterfront is becoming the latest hip hangout for the city.  Already Blue Jacket and Osteria Morini have made a home in the Capital Riverfront neighborhood and DC’s Ice Cream Jubilee is due to open any day.  Latest on the scene and just in time for the start of baseball season is newcomer Agua 301 boasting a familiar local chef Antonio Burrell, formerly of Redwood and Masa 14.  Burrell is rocking out modern Mexican cuisine with innovative twists on the traditional tacos, burritos and guacamole.

Agua 301 Executive Chef Antonio Burrell

Agua 301 Executive Chef Antonio Burrell

Husband and wife team Stephen and Amanda Briggs have partnered with Stephen’s stepfather, former U.S. Congressman David Bonior in the new venture.  As expected high on the bar menu’s long list of drinks are Margaritas, and there are over a half dozen to choose from. I liked one made from blood oranges, Milagro Reposado and Cointreau.  It was a lot easier than trying to decide on one of a selection of sixty types of tequilas, from blancos and reposadas to anejos and mezcals that are spelled out on the bar’s menu.  Depending on your mood you might just want to stick to an agua fresca “mocktail” made with hibiscus, watermelon and pineapple.  With its sweeping view of the Anacostia River, Agua 301 should be a great place to celebrate  – or drown your sorrows – after a Nats game.

2941 Lightens Up

2941 Restaurant - Falls Church, VA

2941 Restaurant – Falls Church, VA

Last week I enjoyed the new “lightened up” menu of Bertrand Chemel and the savvy pairings of Sommelier Jonathan Schuyler at 2941.  Chemel was not in the kitchen that night but his trusted Chef de Cuisine Kyoo Eom prepared dish after delectable dish from the winter menu.

A polished new look and an updated menu have kept 2941 from feeling fusty and out of date.  Banished are the jellyfish décor and white linens.  Featured are two of artist Jose Alvarez’s massive psychedelic paintings and a rare and ancient life-size amethyst geode that gives the space some added bling.

The versatile Chemel rises to the transformation with a flotilla of alluring new dishes sacrificing neither stylish cuisine nor top tier ingredients.  In addition prices have dropped from $200.00 for the tasting menu to a more affordable $85.00 for a five-course tasting dinner.  Add $45.00 if Schuyler pairs your food from the vast wine cellar.

Savoy Cabbage Soup -- Smoked Burrata Ravioli

Savoy Cabbage Soup — Smoked Burrata Ravioli

Small bites run the gamut from escargot or Mangalica ham tarts to mushroom tartine.  I loved the Savoy cabbage soup with potato truffle and the crispy sea scallop with cod, cannellini beans and razor clam.  Pastas are made in house and you’ll be hard pressed to decide.  But I found the ultimate swoon to be smoked burrata ravioli.  Imagine oozy burrata meets Asian spiced duck breast and earthy escarole for a dance around the plate.

Steamed Sea Bass -- Sea scallop stuffed with bacalao and razor clam

Steamed Sea Bass — Sea scallop stuffed with bacalao and razor clam

Another brilliant marriage is the chef’s steamed Sea Bass atop sushi rice and a raft of poached celery hearts brightened by scallion-lime salad.  It’s as light as a feather and reminds me of Michel Guerard’s cuisine minceur and his radical lightening up of traditional French dishes.

Pastry Chef Caitlin Dysart continues to dream up new versions of old classics for a dessert menu whose header reads, “Never Say Never”.  So many charms, so easily swayed.  I enjoyed the elegant throwback dessert Mont Blanc served with chestnut and Calvados ice cream, cocoa-hazelnut dacquoise, chestnut cream and hot chocolate – most assuredly not the kind sipped from your morning mug.  Even more intricate a confection is her gateau de crepes, a many-layered cake filled with pecan praline mousse, pumpkin coulis and rum-soaked raisins.  Dysart makes all the ice creams too.  Don’t come crying to me if you can’t make up your mind.

Caitlin Dysart's Gateau de Crepes

Caitlin Dysart’s Gateau de Crepes

Gourmet Delicacies

Over the past decade sophisticated home chefs have begun appreciating olive oils and vinegars that express the terroir of their origin, and the popularity of these artisanal olive oil shops has exploded.  Ah Love Oil & Vinegar distinguishes itself from other stores with some of the most delicious and unique delicacies to be found.

Cary Kelly owner of Ah love Olive Oil & Vinegar

Cary Kelly owner of Ah love Olive Oil & Vinegar

One of the ways world-traveler and owner, Cary Kelly, finds the very best for her shop is by scouring the New York Fancy Food Show each year sampling dozens of products and meeting producers from around the world.  But she also takes an annual trek to California vineyards, where winemakers have recently begun getting into the olive oil business.  On one of her trips to Sonoma Kelly found the B. R. Cohn Winery, a small boutique vineyard producing not just olive oil but also Chardonnay and Champagne vinegar made from their wines.  Another company, the women-owned Grove 45 in Napa Valley produces a high quality olive oil made from olive trees grown from cuttings brought over from Italy.

Three Pigs

Three Little Figs jam

But the bright Mediterranean-inspired décor of the shops features far more than fresh olive oils and aged balsamic vinegars.  Himalayan salt block cooking surfaces share space with hand-carved Tunisian olive wood cheeseboards and bowls, and shelves are chock-a-block with delicacies like L’Epicurien’s Dark Chocolate Spread with Candied Orange Peel from France (sublime on a croissant) and Three Little Figs small-batch Balsamic Fresh Fig Jam made with whole sprigs of rosemary and aged balsamic vinegar – – perfect on brie or used as a glaze for salmon.  The Pacific Northwest company’s Tomato Tapas Jam flavored with smoked pimentos, cumin, ginger and jalapeno is especially well suited for duck or lamb.

BabyCakes gluten-free, vegan and kosher Chocolate Chip Cookie, Fudge Brownie mixes

BabyCakes gluten-free, vegan and kosher Chocolate Chip Cookie, Fudge Brownie mixes

For the home baker there’s Brooklyn’s BabyCakes gluten-free, vegan and kosher Chocolate Chip Cookie and Fudge Brownie mixes, and Zocalo Gourmet gluten-free and organic Peruvian ancient grains products like purple corn flour, organic mesquite flour and sweet potato flour.  Another wonderful gluten-free item are the DeCio pastas handmade in Arizona.

 Zocalo organic Peruvian ancient grains purple corn flour, mesquite flour and sweet potato flour

Zocalo organic Peruvian ancient grains purple corn flour, mesquite flour and sweet potato flour

This week Kelly will add a line of gourmet truffle products from La Rustichella.   For the cook looking to elevate a risotto to new heights choose from white or black truffle oil or glam up pasta with the truffle paté spread or porcini mushroom spread.

In The Village at Shirlington, 4017B Campbell Avenue or in The Mosaic District, 2910 District Avenue, Fairfax, VA


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