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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

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

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

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