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The Scottsboro Boys ~ Signature Theatre

Jordan Wright
June 2, 2018 

The Scottsboro Boys races down the tracks like a runaway train from Chattanooga through Alabama and bound for hell.  On that train, on that fateful day in Alabama in 1931, a group of nine young, innocent, black teenagers – two brothers, the rest strangers – became horribly and inextricably tied to two white women.  They had all been “hoboing”, riding the rails without tickets.  Once caught, the women afraid of being jailed, accused the boys of rape.  That this gripping tale is a true story, may strike some as unfathomable.  But it is.  And it was.  Leave it to the brilliant composer + lyricist team of Kander & Ebb to turn a national crime story into a blockbuster musical in the form of a minstrel show.  They had colossal success with Cabaret (Nazis and gay performers in wartime Germany) and Chicago (a murder set in a prison and played out in a courtroom).  Nobody does it better.

Chaz Alexander Coffin (Mr. Tambo), Stephen Scott Wormley (Mr. Bones) and the cast of The Scottsboro Boys. Photo by Christopher Mueller

Minstrelsy shows were popular touring variety shows performed predominantly by whites in blackface from the early 19th century till the 1940’s.  African-Americans also had troupes who painted on exaggerated white lips and portrayed watermelon-eating stereotypes in overalls or minstrels in colorful suits in plaid and stripes.  They were led by a Master of Ceremonies who was white.  Here he is called the Interlocutor (skillfully played by Christopher Bloch) and he could be a dead ringer for Colonel Sanders.  In The Scottsboro Boys the boys are depicted as black minstrels playing out their lives on a stage under the control and direction of the Interlocutor.

How do you turn a Death Row, Depression era story into an entertaining one? First you address the country’s racist history and then you crack it wide open with a breathtaking amalgam of talent, eighteen unforgettable songs and a hard-driving story that just won’t quit.  Under the fine direction of four-time Helen Hayes Award-winner, Joe Calarco, this production breathes fire and fury in your face – and in your heart – from start to powerful conclusion.

Lamont Walker II (Haywood) and the cast of The Scottsboro Boys at Signature Theatre. Photo by C Stanley Photography.

Led by Haywood Patterson (Lamont Walker II), the boys form deep friendships to gird themselves against the women’s baseless charges, their cruel prison guards, an all-white jury and the lynch mob mentality of the South.  Walker will steal your heart with his deeply emotional portrayal of a teenager who pines for his mother and a life unfulfilled.

Backed by an 8-piece band enhanced by the sounds of tuba, banjo and tambourine, the travesty unfolds within the framework of a minstrel show depicting the boys’ trials and tribulations specifically their arrest and two of their eight trumped-up trials.  This colorful musical is set to a variety of period musical styles and features spectacular tap dancing.  Wowza!

Felicia Curry (The Lady) in The Scottsboro Boys at Signature Theatre. Photo by C Stanley Photography.

This staging is especially timely as it coincides with the recent opening of The Legacy Museum and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama in a city where a nine-foot statue of Jefferson Davis still stands in front of the Alabama State Capitol.

Absolutely takes your breath away!  Highly recommended.

Aramie Payton (Eugene Williams), Joseph Monroe Webb (Olen Montgo mery), Darrell Purcell Jr (Clarence Norris), Lamont Walker II (Haywood Patterson), Malik Akil (Charles Weems), C.K. Edwards (Roy Wright), DeWitt leming, Jr. (Ozie Powell), and Jonathan Adriel (Andy Wright) in The Scottsboro Boys at Signature Theatre. Photo by C Stanley Photography.

With Jonathan Adriel as Andy Wright, Malik Akil as Charlie Weems and Victoria Price, Chaz Alexander Coffin as Mr. Tambo, Felicia Curry as The Lady, C. K. Edwards as Roy Wright, DeWitt Fleming, Jr. as Ozie Powell and Ruby Bates, Andre Hinds as Willie Roberson, Aramie Payton as Eugene Williams and Little George, Darrell Purcell, Jr. as Clarence Norris and Preacher, Joseph Monroe Webb as Olen Montgomery and Stephen Scott Wormley as Mr. Bones.

Book by David Thompson, choreography by Jared Grimes, music direction by Brian P. Whitted, lighting by Sherrice Mojani, costume design by Emilio Sosa, sound design by Ryan Hickey and scenic design by Daniel Conway.

Through July 1 in the MAX at Signature Theatre (Shirlington Village), 4200 Campbell Avenue, Arlington, VA 22206.  For tickets and information call 703 820-9771 or visit www.signature-theatre.org.

The Nance ~ The Little Theatre of Alexandria

Jordan Wright
June 4, 2018 

Bravo to The Little Theatre of Alexandria for their bold choice of The Nance.

Chuck Dluhy as Chauncey Miles – Photo credit The Little Theatre of Alexandria

Opening just in time for Pride Month, this little gem tells the story of a performer who plays a gay performer, who is actually gay.  Just to explain, in 1930’s New York with Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia and the League of Decency in control, this was cause for prosecution.  These were fraught times for gays both in public and in the theatre where frequent police raids terrorized performers and foreshadowed the demise of burlesque.  If you think that sounds far-fetched, Alexandria had a Blue Law, still on the books in the 1980’s, that forbade homosexuals from being waiters.  Former Mayor Jim Moran struck it from the books when a resident threatened to sue a King Street restaurant that had pencil drawings of nude males on the wall.

Chuck Dluhy as Chauncey Miles – Photo credit The Little Theatre of Alexandria

The Nance, the three-time Tony Award-winning play, taped by PBS for its “Live From Lincoln Center” series, is enjoying its first DC-area production.  It stars Chuck Dluhy as Chauncey Miles, an endearingly elegant elderly “nance” whose mincing ways in comic musical parodies with stage sidekick and straight man, Efram (Jack B. Stein) are packing them in at the Irving Theatre in Greenwich Village.

As is his nightly habit, Chauncey is cruising the talent at Horn & Hardart’s, a gay pickup spot where he meets the handsome Ned (John Paul Odle).  Young Ned has been on the streets since he left his wife for the gay life.  Chauncey, thinking him “trade”, invites him home for a quickie.  But complications arise when Ned falls in love with his footloose benefactor.

(l-r) Sylvie (Charlene Sloan), Joan (Danielle Comer) and Carmen (Janice Rivera) ~ Photo credit The Little Theatre of Alexandria

On the marquee with Chauncey are strippers Sylvie (Charlene Sloan), Joan (Danielle Comer) and Carmen (Janice Rivera) whose risqué bumps and grinds are also being targeted by the Mayor and his morality police.  The girls know there are spies in the audience and warn Chauncey to tone down the “pansy” stuff so they can keep their jobs.  “Don’t camp it up!”  they plead.  But Chauncey’s not alarmed.  He calls himself a Conservative, hates Roosevelt, thinks all liberals are Commies and that LaGuardia is just on a temporary tear awaiting his re-election – until the night the theater gets raided and Chauncey winds up beaten, bloodied and in jail.

Frank D. Shutts II has assembled a terrifically capable cast, though I was particularly captivated by Dluhy’s strong performance on a par with that of original cast member Nathan Lane – shtick for shtick – replete with eyerolls, double takes and pratfalls.  No small feat!  A five-piece band provides bada-bing-bada-booms for the strippers who are sometimes center stage but can also be seen spotlighted while stripping off to the side, thanks to the clever three-sided revolving set design by Dan Remmers.  And a serious hat tip to Ken and Patti Crowley’s lighting that conceives the show-within-a-show as beyond the confines of the stage, as well as the property design by Kirstin Apker for the hilarious personality switcheroo machine and so much more.

With Sarah Gale and Sarah Holt as Rose, the Wardrobe Mistress.  Music Direction by Christopher A. Tomasino, choreography by Stefan Sittig and conducting by Matthew Popkin.

Kudos to LTA!

Through June 23rd at The Little Theatre of Alexandria, 600 Wolfe Street. For tickets and information call the box office at 703 683-0496 or visit www.thelittletheatre.com

Giselle ~ Ballet Nacional de Cuba ~ Kennedy Center

Jordan Wright
June 1, 2018 

With the continuation of the Cuban Arts festival Artes de Cuba: From the Island to the World – the largest presentation of Cuban Arts in the United States – one of the world’s most prestigious ballet companies, the Ballet Nacional de Cuba, performs Giselle through Saturday with additional matinees on Saturday June 2nd and Sunday June 3rd.  I give you this up front so can grab tickets ASAP.

Alicia Alonso takes a bow with principal dancers, Sadaise Arencibia and Dani Hernández, after their performance in Giselle at the Kennedy Center

Alicia Alonso takes a bow with principal dancers, Sadaise Arencibia and Dani Hernández, after their performance in Giselle at the Kennedy Center

After four decades since her last appearance at the Kennedy Center, legendary dancer and choreographer, Alicia Alonso and her acclaimed troupe return to the Kennedy Center.  The nonagenarian, who now serves as both Artistic Director and Choreographer, was on hand to cheer on her dancers, but she too garnered wild applause after the opening night performance when she was led onstage by premier danseurs, Sadaise Arencibia (Giselle) and Dani Hernández (Albrecht, Duke of Silwesia).

Ballet Nacional de Cuba  Giselle Ginett Moncho as Myrtha, Queen of the Wilis ~Photo by Teresa Wood`

Anyone who knows a whit about ballet knows of Alonso’s numerous achievements over her 80-year career.  She was the epitome of a prima ballerina during the 20th century working in America with Mikhail Fokine, George Balanchine, Leonide Massine, Bronislava Nijinski, Anthony Tudor, Jerome Robbins and Agnes de Mille as a principal dancer with the American Ballet Theatre.  So, we were decidedly gobsmacked to see her up and about and traveling back to America to celebrate – and choreograph – both Giselle and Don Quixote whose short run ended May 31st.

Ballet Nacional de Cuba Giselle Ballaeina Troupes ~ Photo by Teresa Wood.

The story of Giselle is that of a peasant girl who falls for a handsome Duke, only she doesn’t know he’s a duke (he’s disguised as a farmer).  She discovers his noble station when she is spurned by his family and fiancé.  The folk tale derives from a Slavic belief that girls who have not become brides before they die, return to earth as sylphs to their true loves, haunting them until death.

Ballet Nacional de Cuba_ Giselle_Raúl Abreu as Albrecht, Duke of Silesia and Sadaise Arencibia as Giselle_Photo by Teresa Wood.

Alonso’s version of Giselle is considered the most accomplished one as it more smoothly merges the pastoral dynamic of Act One to the spirit world of Act Two.  Of particular note is Giselle’s emergence from her tomb to woo Albrecht in an ethereal almost otherworldly solo by Arencibia and Hernandez’s response in a pas de deux that matches her statuesque grace with powerful leaps and gorgeous lifts.

Highly recommended.

At The Kennedy Center, 2700 F St., NW, Washington, DC.  For tickets and information call 202 467-4600 or visit www.Kennedy-Center.org.

Camelot ~ Shakespeare Theatre Company

Jordan Wright
May 30, 2018 

The days of light-hearted versions of Camelot may have gone the way of 50¢ bus rides.  The whole frothy, castle keep shtick flies out the window in director Alan Paul’s modern interpretation of Lerner & Loewe’s Broadway hit musical of the early 60’s.  And I must admit, I wasn’t ready for such a sea change.  For those of you who remember the 60’s (you’re excused if you don’t), the original cast starred the magnificent-voiced Robert Goulet, Julie Andrews (‘nuff said) and sex symbol at the time, Richard Burton, before he was actually knighted.  Paul delves deeper into the sociological and psychological implications of the 12th century Knights of the Round Table and comes up with a view edgier, darker, and a lot more Shakespearean.  We should have expected it.

Ken Clark as King Arthur ~ Photo credit Scott Suchman

Paul has assembled a fine cast to see his vision through.  DC-based actor Ted van Griethuysen plays Merlyn the Magician.  Van Griethuysen, an eight-time Helen Hayes Award winner was awarded the Robert Prosky Award for “Outstanding Lead Actor in a Play” at the Helen Hayes Awards this May.  Merlyn is the defining influence on the young King’s life, at least until wise King Pellinore (skillfully played by Floyd King) steps up to the plate as his confidante after Merlyn loses his powers.  Pelli has been around the block.  The sympatico King Arthur (Ken Clark) wants peace and justice to flourish in Camelot in a new social order rejecting violence and bloodshed and stripping the powers of the landed gentry.  Proposition: The feisty knights would be dumped into the dustbin.

Queen Guenevere (Alexandra Silber) and Ken Clark as King Arthur ~ Photo credit Scott Suchman

Meanwhile, the beautiful and spirited Queen Guenevere (Alexandra Silber), and his closest comrade, Lancelot du Lac, the handsomest and most vaunted knight in the land (played by the dashing Nick Fitzer), become lovers and their treasonous romance becomes the talk of the court.  Enter Mordred (Patrick Vaill), the King’s illegitimate son.  Plotting to seize the throne through blood and terror, he threatens to reveal the Queen’s secret love affair.  Nevertheless, the lovers cannot bear to part.  “If Ever I Would Leave You”, sung by Lancelot, is one of the songs everyone remembers.  I could have sworn I heard humming from the audience.

Nick Fitzer as Lancelot Du Lac and Alexandra Silber as Quenn Guenevere ~ Photo by Scott Suchman

Vaill, a Bard College alum, uses his Mick Jagger looks and indelible charm to give us a gutsy-cool, bad boy Mordred – a character who declares “Fie on goodness!” and whose wicked, leather-clad street-thugs prove to be King Arthur’s undoing.  “The table is not round,” Mordred insinuates.  “It is a triangle.”  And as we all know, three’s a crowd. 

Nick Fitzer as Lancelot Du Lac and Alexandra Silber as Quenn Guenevere ~ Photo by Scott Suchman

The cast is wonderful most especially Clark, Vaill and Fitzer whose musical numbers and fiery soliloquies bring the house down.  Led by designer Ana Kuzmanic, STC’s masterful costume department has outdone themselves with yards of heavily embroidered silk, chiffon and velvet for the women, and leather outfits, voluminous capes and gleaming suits of armor for the knights.

Patrick Vail as Mordred, Alexandra Silber as Guenevere and Michael Bingham as Ensemble ~ Photo by Scott Suchman

Alas and alack, I found the unimaginative, wood-paneled backdrops by Walt Spengler to be lackluster, but his use of disappearing platforms for set changes and descending-from-the-rafters bevy of shiny knights to be eye-popping.  Fight choreographer David Leong handles the flashy sword fights and choreographer Michele Lynch delights with the lovers’ waltz among rose petals and the lusty courtiers a-Maying.

Cast of Lerner & Loewe’s Camelot ~ Photo by Scott Suchman

With Music Direction by James Cunningham, Lighting Design by Robert Wierzel, and Sound Design by Ken Travis.

With Melissa Wimbish as Nimbue, Mark Banik as Sir Dinadan, Brandon Bieber as Sir Sagamore, Paul Victor as Sir Lionel, Ben Gunderson as Squire Dap and the adorable Trinity Sky Deabreu as Child.  Knights and Ladies of the Court include Michael Bingham, Veronica Burt, Julio Catano-Yee, Chadaé, Jennifer Cordiner, Bridget Riley, Frankie Shin, and Casey Wenger-Schulman.

Through July 8st at Sidney Harman Hall 610 F Street, NW, Washington, DC 20004.  For tickets and information call 202 547-1122 or visit www.ShakespeareTheatre.org.

Nibbles and Sips Around Town

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.