The Latest Dish

August 10, 2011

The coffee shop revolution has hit a new front with the opening of the uber-cool (check out the gossip columns for who goes there in LA) The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, at the Washington Hilton. It will be their second East Coast store, the first being Miami. It is slated to open this fall in the Connecticut Avenue lobby, with easy access for commuters in the Dupont Circle corridor. The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf is a Los Angeles, California-based coffee chain, with over 750 locations in 22 countries, including Australia, Brunei, China, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Israel, South Korea, Kuwait, Malaysia, Mexico, Philippines, Qatar, Singapore, Sri Lanka United Arab Emirates and Vietnam.

It’s official: the guys who brought you Matchbox have signed a lease to open at 14th and T, NW. This will be the fourth Matchbox in the D.C. area, as they also own and operate a fifth matchbox in Palm Springs, Ca.

Chris George plans to open Memphis Barbeque in the former Mackey’s Pub space in Crystal City before summer ends. A significant facelift is in the works. George got his start with Houston’s, but has also worked at Occidental Grill and Mike’s American Grill. There will also be a large patio for dining when the weather permits.

Bistro Le Zinc has arrived just in time to take advantage of the recent release of Woody Allen’s movie, “Midnight in Paris.” The Macomb Street bistro is owned and operated by Brasserie Beck’s former manager John Warner and executive chef David Ashwell, who also cooked at Marcel’s. The name comes from the term “les zincs” referring to the pewter bar counter tops often found in French cafes. There is seating for 60 inside and 20 on the patio.

The head chef of Café Atlantico, Richard Brandenburg, has been hired by Edens & Avant, one of the big boys in real estate development, as its first director of culinary strategy. Café Atlantico closed in June to make room for America Eats Tavern, the edible collaboration between Jose Andres’ ThinkFoodGroup and the National Archives.

The retail space on the corner of the 4th and Massachusetts Ave. NW (NoMa) will be the home to a new “European Café with wine bar” to be called TEL’VEH.

Chef Bryan Voltaggio has two restaurants in the works, both slated for next year. The first will be in Frederick, Voltaggio’s hometown and the site of Volt. The working name for the 10,000-square-foot space is North Market Kitchen, and it’ll have a large dining room, a store, and exhibition kitchen with stations for pasta, raw seafood, cheese, baked goods, and rotisserie meats. Voltaggio was inspired by New York’s Eataly. Closer to D.C. will be a bistro/steakhouse hybrid in Chevy Chase Pavilion, also home to a Cheesecake Factory. Voltaggio’s 220-seat restaurant will have an open kitchen.

Speaking of Eataly, rumor is that Joe Bastianich and Mario Batali are scouting sites in D.C. to open an Eataly, which is comprised of a food hall that sells gourmet foods and several restaurants. They will need a big space.

Developer Forest City Washington announced Monday the signing of seven new restaurants anchored by a Harris Teeter grocery store at its new project called The Yards near Nationals Park. The restaurants, all slated to open in 2012, will include Potbelly, Buzz Bakery, Austin Grill Express, Kruba Thai and Sushi, BRB-Be Right Burger, Huey’s 24/7 Diner and a brew pub from Neighborhood Restaurant Group, the group behind Birch & Barley and ChurchKey.

Chef Update: ThinkFoodGroup has promoted Joe Raffa, the head chef at Oyamel, to culinary operations director for the restaurant company, overseeing the culinary operations of 11 concepts in three U.S. markets. He will be replaced at Oyamel by industry veteran John Paul Damato, formerly the head chef of Jaleo in Bethesda. Chef Richard Beckel is the culinary force behind Thompson Hospitality’s BRB: Be Right Burger, awhile he is head chef at American Tap Room. A Culinary Institute of America in NY graduate, Chef Beckel has worked at Hooked Seafood Restaurant in Sterling, Va. as well as The Caucus Room in Penn Quarter, D.C.

Managers Update: Gil Fornaris has been hired as General Manager of Ping Pong Dim Sum at the new Dupont Circle location – slated to open in September, but will take on the roll of Operations Manager for both that and the Penn Quarter location. Morton’s, The Steakhouse in Georgetown has a new Sales and Marketing Manager, Carla McCully, who hails from Hilton Dulles.

Openings Update: Shaw’s Tavern slated to open by August on Florida Ave., NW. It appears the restaurants on the Georgetown waterfront at Washington Harbour will not be open until spring 2012. Pinkberry, the tart frozen yogurt shop, plans to open in Georgetown in October. RJ Cooper’s Rogue 24 opened on July 27, which is why he could not do the Chefs Go Fresh motorcycle ride on July 26 (bummer).

Bobby Flay is planning to open another Bobby’s Burger Palace at 2121 K Street, NW on Aug. 16 with his famed crunch burgers and boozy milk shakes.

Chefs Go Fresh

July 27, 2011

Yesterday, a long row of motorcycles sat in the hot morning sun on the sidewalk framing the doors of Brasserie Beck on K Street. The Washingtonians hurrying past in skirts and suits spared little more than a glance for the tough-looking bunch in black T-shirts and leather vests who smoked cigars and shot the breeze while two photographers circled, snapping their pictures.

This motley crew was a gathering of some of D.C.’s best chefs, all of them there for the “Chefs Go Fresh” event presented by Georgetown Media Group, publishers of The Georgetowner and The Downtowner, and Loudoun County, Virginia Department of Economic Development. The event was a resurrection of the popular “Chefs on Bikes” event which was last held four years ago, and was brought back with the intention of bringing D.C. chefs closer to local farmers and produce.

The day kicked off with a breakfast at Brasserie Beck hosted by Chef Robert Wiedmaier, co-founder of the original “Chefs on Bikes” event. Before the chefs took off on their ride touring Virginia farms such as Endless Summer Harvest, Notaviva Vineyard and Stoneybrook Farm, The Georgetowner took the chance to ask these restaurant personalities a few questions.

We asked the chefs what is their favorite fresh ingredient to work with, and got a varied list of produce that is in season now and ingredients that are staples year-round. Chef Peter Russo of Chef Geoff said that his favorite ingredient is foie while Chef Clifford Wharton of Matchbox went with ginger and Weidmaier said he prefers white asparagus from Belgium. Tomatoes and potatoes were also given mention while two votes were put in for garlic.

“[There are] way too many things have to have garlic in them not to give it first billing,” said Chef Thomas Elder of Harth Restaurant.

When asked whose kitchen they were in when they weren’t in the kitchens of their respective restaurants, the chefs responded with an almost unanimous answer of their kitchens at home. Chef Vinod of Indique Restaurant said that he could be found in “my mom’s kitchen.” Elder and Chef RJ Cooper of Rogue 24 both said that Weidmaier’s kitchen was a favorite of theirs, while Weidmaier himself said that you’re most likely to find him “at home with my family in my kitchen.”

Finally, we asked each chef who their personal “Top Chef” is. Wiedmair gave a list of four: Chef Paul Stearman of Marcel’s; Chris Watson, the chef de cuisine at Brabo; Matt Hagen, the chef de cuisine at Weidmair’s Mussel Bar, and John Engle, the chef de cuisine at Weidmair’s Brasserie Beck. Vinod named Chef Mike Isabella of Graffiato, Chef Roberto Donna of Galileo III replied with Pellegrino Artusi, author of the famous Italian cookbook “La scienza in cucina e l’arte di mangiare bene,” and Cooper said that his “Top Chef” is the famous Ferran Adria. Weidmair, whose kitchen’s hot Belgian waffles and fresh scrambled eggs the chefs ate while answering these questions, was nominated at “Top Chef” several times, and Russo answered diplomatically, saying “my wife.”

20 Years of Peacock Café

July 26, 2011

A weekday afternoon at the Peacock Café is one of the few quiet times in the popular Georgetown Restaurant at 3251 Prospect Street. With the tables fully white-clothed and less foot traffic outside, you can get an appreciation of the graceful style of the place. Sitting at the bar, there’s a tennis match on the television between a Russian and a Ukrainian playing at the French Open, which adds to a vaguely casual international atmosphere here.

We talked the Shahab and Maziar Farivar, the brothers who own the Peacock Café, at a table by the back window looking out into an inviting patio. The whole scene looks and feels pleasantly prosperous, like the brothers themselves—Shahab in shirt and tie with a touch of gray in his hair, Maziar in his chef’s uniform, also a little gray, with some ounces added to his frame.

They will be celebrating the Peacock Café’s 20th anniversary on this stretch of Prospect Street, where they first opened back in 1991 as a six-seat restaurant/carryout without a real stove or kitchen. They have become a Georgetown neighborhood fixture in an area where competition includes the high end and glitzy likes of Morton’s and Café Milano.

In a way, the brothers Farivar are a classic American success story with an edge to it, given the times we live in. The brothers immigrated to the United States at a young age, sent here from Iran by their parents who would join them later in the wake of the Iranian revolution that toppled the Shah in the 1970s.

Even though Iranian family tradition of the educated classes are still a part of their way of doing things in America—politeness and manners seems to be a natural and genuine part of their makeup—the men see themselves as Americans, blessed with the opportunities that this country can provide to immigrants who work hard, have adventurous imaginations and have the courage not to be afraid to fail. Like all Americans, they were appalled by 9/11. “We could see the smoke from the Pentagon on Wisconsin Avenue,” Maziar recalls, uneasy with the friction between Iran and the United States.

Some of us at the Georgetowner were regular customers of the first Peacock Café location, 1,200 square feet filled with the smell of fresh bread and sweets. The division of labor back then already existed: Shahab was the front man, the greeter, the person customers and employees dealt with.

“He is the best,” Maziar says. “The best at his job because, you know how people can be in this business. Not everyone is good at the people part. But Shahab is. He’s more than good. He’s interested in people, he likes people, he’s got tons of charm, and everything he does and says is genuine, authentic. People can pick up on that.”

That’s one of those intangibles that make this restaurant—a bigger version of the original—a success. It’s hard to peg, for instance, what the restaurant is supposed to be. You wouldn’t, for instance, guess that the restaurant and the menu is the work of two gentlemen from Iran, “except that sometimes, I sneak some seasoning, some flavors in,” says Maziar. On its website, it bills itself as a contemporary American Restaurant and Bar, which is to say that the menu, eclectic as all get out, does include an array of burgers and maybe one of the best filet mignons around.

“Sometimes I think it must have seemed crazy at the time,” Maziar says. “We put together everything we had and we put it in this place. It was upstairs, in the square right by Wisconsin Avenue, but it fronted the courtyard on Prospect. We thought of it as a café and market, and we thought we might last a couple of years if we were lucky, and sometimes we weren’t sure about that. But you know, we did what we do now, except it’s bigger, with lots more employees, bigger costs to make the nut and a profit.

“Sometimes my mom and dad, they would sit there—there were only six seats, really—so that it would appear that we would have customers there all the time. Crazy, I know. A friend of mine would come in a lot too. But what people liked then was the unusual stuff. We did healthy, fresh before there was Whole Foods, we did gourmet coffee before there was Starbucks. People liked that.”

When they were busy back then, the line stretched out the door.

I liked the vegetarian chili, which is still on the menu and still as good as before. And for me to even admit proximity to vegetarian is the stuff of amazement to friends. But I’m not alone—Secretary of State Hilary Clinton recently celebrated her birthday here with husband Bill, and the ex-prez ate a healthy vegan dinner—quite a thing for a man who was something of a notorious burger king.

It’s hard to exactly identify the quality of Peacock, until you talk to the brothers. Their personalities and tastes, their eager curiosity about the world, their love affair with quality, are like thumbprints all over the restaurant. And Maziar is a talented chef with a lot of soul, who adds an extra kick and a little song to some signature dishes, like the filet mignon with mushroom sauce, roasted duck Provencal, grilled lamb, the Bistro burger with gorgonzola cheese, and the seared tuna sandwich. If you’ve been absent for a long time, they treat and greet you like you were there last Saturday.

They’ve got art on the walls, currently Fashion Week photographs whose proceeds from purchase benefit various charities. They’ve got lots of light and lots of space. You can bring your parents there, your hip artist cousin, your significant other, your grandchild. You don’t hear much from food critics—except for a pair of local bloggers who call themselves the Bitches Who Brunch. Yes indeed. They loved the place and raved about the poached eggs and a smoothie called the Mango Tango.

It’s the quality of the food and offerings that count, to be sure, but often restaurants are more than just food. The story of the Peacock Café is in the event itself, the 20th anniversary, and the story of the brothers and the longtime employees. Several generations of Georgetown University students and their parents have eaten here on graduation day, for instance. “It’s graduation time now, and you know that’s always a bittersweet time for us,” Shahab said. “The kids and their parents that have been coming here will be gone, and that’s sad.”

And it’s really the story of these two men. For a long time, they lived together in Virginia, until Shahab married wife Micky ten years ago. They have two daughters, Ava, six, and Ella Rose, four. “He is the best uncle,” Shahab said. “But I had to kick him out.”

You will also notice that they’re close and comfortable, and that this is the house they built together. The Peacock—and the brothers Farivar—are a Georgetown institution, as much as any restaurant of long standing. They are a part of the Prospect block and a part of the daily life of Georgetowners, from brunchers and students, to residents and families. They’ve made three different attempts to expand—once in Dupont Circle, another time in Baltimore, and another more recently on K Street, right as the big economic meltdown hit.

They both agree there have been some mistakes. “But we learned from them, I like to think,” Shahab says. “I mean, we haven’t given up on expansion, but not right now. We’re here to stay, that’s for sure.”

Maybe, like some fictional character named Dorothy, they’ve learned that there’s no place like home. And home, for the immigrant brothers from Iran, is right here in Georgetown. [gallery ids="102558,102559,102560,102561,102562,102563,102564,102565" nav="thumbs"]

Strawberries and Asparagus: A Delicious Opportunity for Health


The Farmers Markets are almost in full swing. The Rose Park Market began on Wednesday, May 9 (every Wednesday, 3 – 7 p.m. through November), with the two most popular items in season: asparagus and strawberries. And of course, The Dupont Circle Fresh Farm Market is now open on Sundays, 8:30a.m. – 1p.m. This is the time of year to revel in the peak ripeness, flavor and nutrition of these springtime delicacies.

The recipe for curried chicken salad with strawberries comes from my mother and makes a very nice lunch offering. Like any curry dish, its perfect companions are a spicy or sweet chutney (try CHOP Market’s Nature Isle Chutney) and a cool yogurt. You could also top it on a baguette or stuff it into a tomato or avocado half. Serve with pickles, carrot and celery sticks or radishes. You can use any seasonal fruits such as peaches, grapes, oranges, or anything ripe and in season. Have fun with it. The beauty of spring is the wide array of options, and it’s hard to go wrong.

Strawberries are actually members of the Rose family, and there are over 600 different varieties. Choose freshly picked, ripe berries, as they will be the tastiest and will have the most nutrients. “Look for berries fully formed, bright red, without bruising or soft spots and with fresh-looking green caps,” says janie Hibler in her book, The Berry Bible. She continues with a word of caution: “Beware of buying out-of-season strawberries, as sometimes they are picked when they are only 40% ripe. These berries may turn red, but they will never develop sweetness and can be hard as an apple.”

Strawberries are considered a “superfood.” They have one of the highest antioxidant and nutrient contents of all foods, they are also low in calories—you can eat them in unlimited quantities. In fact, for your health, the more the better!

“A serving of eight strawberries contains more vitamin C than an orange,” says David Grotto in 101 Foods That Could Save Your Life. “Strawberries are also rich in folate, potassium, and fiber. They’re especially high in cancer- and heart-disease-fighting phytonutrients (beneficial plant compounds) called flavonoids, anthocyanins, ellagic acid, quercetin, catechin, and kaempferol.”

Asparagus, meanwhile, is packed with nutrients. Low in calories, it’s an excellent source of folic acid and Vitamin C, Thiamin, and Vitamin B6. Asparagus, like other fruits and vegetables, is sodium-free, and contains no fat or cholesterol. It is an important source of potassium and many nutrients, important for boosting your immune system and preventing heart disease, lowering blood pressure and even preventing cancer. According to the National Cancer Institute, Asparagus is the highest tested food containing Glutathione, one of the body’s most potent cancer fighters. Additionally, Asparagus is high in Rutin, which is valuable in strengthening the blood vessels.?This recipe for chilled asparagus spears in a creamy vinaigrette is a bright, balanced dish that I think brings out the best in asparagus.

Kjerstin’s Curried Chicken Salad with Strawberries and Roasted Almonds

Serves 4

2 cups chicken breast meat, cooked, chopped (about 2 half breasts)
1 pint low sodium, nonfat chicken stock
1/3 cup small mild onion, chopped
1-1/2 cup celery, chopped
1 cup seedless grapes, halved (or other available fruit)
¾ pound strawberries, hulled and quartered
3 Tbsp fresh dill, chopped
3 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley
1 tsp curry powder, or to taste
1 oz almonds or walnuts, toasted and chopped
1/4 cup low fat ranch-style or cucumber dressing

Poach the chicken breasts in stock until cooked. Let cool, then chop in bite-size pieces. Add the rest of the ingredients and chill. Serve chilled. Per serving: 230 calories, 8 grams fat, 1 grams sat fat, 19 g carbohydrates, 3 grams fiber, 20 grams protein

Chilled Asparagus in a Creamy Tarragon, Shallot, and Roasted Walnut Vinaigrette

Serves 6 to 8

2 lb asparagus, cleaned, tough ends removed, cut in 1.5 inch pieces
1 Tbsp walnut or canola oil
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup roasted, unsalted walnuts, chopped
1 small (4 oz) red bell pepper, finely chopped (roasting optional)
1 bunch (1/4 cup) green onions, finely chopped

Vinaigrette:
2 Tbsp tarragon vinegar
4 Tbsp walnut oil
2 Tbsp low fat Greek yogurt
1 shallot, finely chopped
2 Tbsp fresh tarragon, finely chopped
1 Tbsp fresh parsely, finely chopped
1 Tbsp fresh chives, finely chopped
Salt and pepper to taste

If you are using raw walnuts, toast the walnuts: place in a single layer on a baking sheet in a 350 degree oven for 8 to 10 minutes until light golden brown. Let cool, then chop.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Prepare the vinaigrette by mixing all the ingredients in a bowl large enough to fit the asparagus, red pepper and green onions. Place the bowl with the vinaigrette in the refrigerator so that it is cool when the asparagus comes out of the oven.
If you wish, peel the stalks of the asparagus for a more tender vegetable. Slice the asparagus stalks diagonally into bite-sized or approximately 1.5 inch pieces. In a large bowl or plastic bag, toss the pieces in the walnut or canola oil and a light sprinkling of salt and pepper, until the asparagus is coated lightly with oil. Place on a baking sheet in a single layer and cook for 5 minutes in the middle of the oven. Pour the hot asparagus into the cool vinaigrette to help discontinue the cooking of the asparagus, so that it remains al dente. Do not overcook! Add the red bell pepper, green onions, and nuts. Toss and serve immediately while still warm, or serve chilled. About 1,000 calories for the entire dish.

Seasonal Menu Debuts at B. Smith’s


Union Station, the magnificent early 20th century train station that houses B. Smith’s Restaurant in Washington, DC, is one of the most majestic buildings in the city. Designed by distinguished American architect Daniel Burnham, it has been a national landmark since its completion in 1908. The splendid Beaux Arts statuary was created by no less a sculptor than Louis St. Gaudens, whose 50-plus figures in the station were considered his finest work. Adding to its stony provenance is its proximity to the US Senate and the charming Le Notre-inspired gardens.

Sixteen years ago the stunning Barbara Smith, Vogue supermodel and African-American style setter, opened her very popular restaurant along the south side of the building. Housed in what was once known as the Presidential Suite, it is the same site where US Presidents and dignitaries once convened before their inaugurations. With its spectacular décor, lavish period chandeliers and Presidential seals still intact, it is in these turn-of-the-century rooms where B. Smith, as she is known, serves her delightful mix of Cajun Creole and Southern cuisine.

Recently I visited the restaurant to try out her new fall menu. I found her signature style still in place with smartly suited and wine-savvy servers, low country cuisine and a genteel atmosphere. In the background a baby grand played softly as we sampled fried chicken livers with onion confit and pineapple chutney, crawfish and crab dip and pan-seared grouper over hoppin’ John rice with a citrus beurre blanc. The osso bucco with creamy asparagus risotto didn’t speak to the Southern style but was tender and lusciously sauced all the same.

Several well-chosen and gently priced wines accompanied our dinner. We began with a 2008 Caymus Conundrum…a blend (I know, I know, but just get over it. I did!) of California whites, but soft and lovely with honeysuckle overtones, and followed up with a 2007 Sacred Hill Marlborough Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc, in which I divined chocolate, plum and cinnamon tones.

B. Smith’s still keeps their ever-popular Bourbon Street bread pudding on the menu, but it was the beignets that really charmed. Oh, to have a half a dozen of these warm, sweet treats for breakfast with a cup of French Market chicory coffee!

For reservations visit www.bsmith.com [gallery ids="102495,120217,120223" nav="thumbs"]

Food News Calendar


Restaurants around town are offering up a plateful of events. From culinary classes to food festivals, the local dining scene is freshening up for spring.

Westend Bistro by Eric Ripert has introduced new menu items, which it debuted at a hugely successful tasting night last February 17. The new mouthwatering plates include a chicken-fried pork belly appetizer, black walnut and cauliflower soup and a succulent triggerfish.

Citronelle will host a five week wine series, starting with Wine Profiling, Saturday February 26 from 1 – 3 pm. The restaurant, located at 3000 M Street NW, will continue the series March 18, April 30, May 12, and conclude on June 18. Classes are $100 individually, with deals varying on how many classes you sign up for. Reserve a space by calling 202 625 2150.

The Herman J. Wiemer Winemaker Dinner at Chef Geoff’s Downtown will take place Tuesday March 22 at 7 pm. Fred Merwath, winemaker and owner of Herman J. Wiemer Vineyard, will be the featured speaker at the dinner. The menu features five courses each paired with a featured wine. Chef Geoff’s Downtown is on 13th Street between E & F NW. Tickets are $69 and can be purchased at ChefGeoff.com

Oyamel Cocina Mexicana will celebrate the fourth annual Tequila & Mezcal Festival March 14 through 27. Oyamel, 401 7th Street NW, will be offering premium tequila and mescal, served in flights, and specialty cocktails. Stop by Oyamel from 4 – 6 pm March 15 – 24 to enjoy complimentary samples of tequila and mescal. A celebratory menu will also be available during the festival, incorporating the spirits.

John Engle will return to Brasserie Beck and take on the position of Chef de Cuisine. Engle, most recently at Mussel Bar in Bethesda, will be serving up the brasserie’s signature mussels, along with other Belgian favorites. 1101 K Street NW.

Open Kitchen’s next spread of cooking classes will be going on February 27 – March 1. The hands-on classes cover everything from cupcakes to the cuisine of Venice. The classes run for three hours and range from $79 to $89 per class. Details on the classes can be found at OpenKitchen-DCMetro.com

The Source by Wolfgang Puck launched its new Presidential Menu Tasting on Presidents Day, which featured all of the dishes enjoyed by President Obama and the First Lady during their January dinner at the restaurant. The special menu will continue during regular business hours in the main dinning room of The Source, 575 Pennsylvania Avenue NW.

HomeMade Pizza is now open at 1826 Wisconsin Ave. NW. The take-and-bake pizza shop makes everything with fresh, all natural ingredients. Stop by the new store February 23 and 24 for the launch party and take part in fresh produce giveaways and free pizza.

Even more pizza is hitting the area when Pizzeria da Marco opens its doors at 8008 Woodmont Ave. in Bethesda on March 28. The pizzeria will feature authentic Neapolitan pizza cooked in a handcrafted wood-burning oven.

Fourteen Alexandria restaurants participated in the Cherry Challenge earlier this month. Restaurant chefs competed with cherry-inspired dishes, drinks, and desserts. This year’s winners were no strangers to the competition. For the third year in a row Temp Restaurant placed in the finals, taking the win in the starters category with their Insalata di Ceresa e Mela di Fuji. Murphy’s Irish Pub and Restaurant won the entrée with their three-time winning Duck a la Cherry. Sweet Cherry Rye from Food Matters took the prize in drink, and an ice cream from Dishes of India won dessert. Each person who ordered the dish or menu item was given a ballot to judge the item on taste, presentation, and creativity.

The half beef, half pork smoked sausage has long been considered the District’s signature dish. Domaso will be hosting its first annual Top Dog Half Smoke Challenge, Sunday May 1 at 3pm. Ten area chefs will be presenting their interpretation of the local favorite. Admission is $20 per person and includes samples of all ten half-smokes, a signature Skyy Vodka cocktail, tax and gratuity. Domaso will be donating 100 percent of the proceeds to Brainfood, a non-profit youth development organization based in DC that helps build life skills and promotes healthy living. The restaurant is located at Hotel Palomar, in Arlington, VA.

Support the rebuilding of the Fauquier Livestock at the Cattlemen’s Hoedown, February 26 at Barrel Oak Winery. The benefit runs from 6-9pm in Delaplane VA. The night will feature a live and silent auction, wine and appetizers. Tickets are $25, reservations can be made at 540-364-1572.

Wright on Food


The past two months have brought a variety of assignments and pleasures: interviews with Bravo’s Top Chef finalist Kelly Liken; BLT Steak’s Laurent Tourondel; Eric Ripert, star of the PBS series “Avec Eric”; a meeting at the Sofitel with patriarch Giorgio Gucci, third generation of the Gucci empire, in town to testify to Congress about the pervasiveness of black market goods and to offer ideas for new ways of enforcing existing laws. Of course, we all want the latest accessory. But he warns to stay away from the sidewalk vendor handbag and wristwatch knockoffs. He tells me plans are to arrest the buyers as well!

Giorgio Gucci Launches 50 Year Old Connoisseur Cognac

Gucci is launching an ultra premium brand connoisseur cognac, “Giorgio G”, this week at the Pierre Hotel in New York City where his 30-, 50- and over 50-year old cognacs will sell at auction with the remaining 4,000 bottles offered to collectors. The indelibly charming Signori Gucci completed our interview with a kiss on the hand. Viva Italia!

5,000 Bottles of Wine on the Wall (Countdown to Zero)

A stay at the Vail Cascade Resort and Spa in Colorado earlier in the month brought us to pinnacles of dining higher than Vail Mountain itself. The food scene there is as breathtaking as Vail Mountain. We dined at the resort’s Atwater Restaurant, where dinner is often served entirely by candlelight overlooking the sparkling
Gore Creek. Larkspur has a wine list so extensive it was in “mouseprint” so as to allow guests to lift the weighty leather tome in order to select one of 5,000 bottles from over 500 labels.
Restaurant Kelly Liken, she of recent Top Chef fame, created an elk carpaccio stole my heart and thoughtfully celebrated my birthday with a personalized menu.

Paradise Among the Turkeys and Elf Watermelons

One of my favorite local chefs, Robert Townsend, prepared a spirit-soothing luncheon and turkey tasting at Ayrshire Farm (You can order your organic and humanely raised heritage turkey from their Home Farm store in Middleburg) and introduced me to a new vegetable from his garden. Have you ever seen a Mexican sour gherkin? So cute! It looks like an elf’s watermelon. In its natural state, it is crunchy, tart and lemony, like a kosher pickle. Conveniently, you can grow it in a pot with a trellis. How perfect!

The gorgeous early fall afternoon was shared with two-time James Beard award-winner Joan Nathan, whose latest book, “Quiches, Kugels and Cous Cous” is set to be released next month. Joining him was entrepreneur extraordinaire Mitch Berliner, whose company, MeatCrafters, makes freshly cooked, cured and smoked meats that sell at the Bethesda Central Farm Market. Mitch was a co-founder back in the day, before the term “locavore” came on the scene—if you go back that far.

Go-Go Techno for Bittman

Meanwhile, Mark Bittman, in his latest foray into the techno-world of home cooks, has launched an app for iPhones based on his book “How to Cook Everything Essentials”, which is the “Joy of Cooking” for young moderns.

Tourists Wowed by Cheesecake “Ice Cream” Cones

A private behind-the-scenes tour of The Source’s catering kitchens, led by Executive Chef David Spychalski, proved to be delicious. After shooting the beautiful food in the Newseum’s cafeteria, I sat down to enjoy it, dining on tempura soft-shell crab, sushi, and all manner of scrumptious desserts. Heads up: if you’re invited to an event at the Newseum, expect scrumptious food. Spychalski, who has been perfecting some creative new offerings, then served up samples to the surprised tourists who had been eagerly watching the whole tasting. Grateful, bug-eyed and thrilled were their reactions to cheesecake ice cream cones, chocolate truffle lollipops and massive trays of glistening sushi. The kids, thinking they were part of a TV show, became instant autograph hounds.

Local “Top Chef” News

A premiere viewing party for “Top Chef Desserts” was held at Hook for pastry chef and “Top Chef” contestant Heather Chittum. Although she was nowhere to be seen, (Bravo contractual restrictions
were in full force) her spirit was very much alive with a table the length of the restaurant chockfull of her signature desserts. Her crave-inducing Salted Caramel Chocolate Tart and Whoopie Pies were paired with champagne cocktails while guests watched Chittum on the big screen. Virtual Heather, but real desserts!

The town is abuzz with the news that “Top Chef” alumnus Mike Isabella will open his new restaurant, Graffiato, at 707 6th Street with investor Bryan Voltaggio next February. Isabella was the former head chef at José Andrés’ Zaytinya, still one of our favorite spots.

Eat, Chat, Drink – Ayurvedic Style

My search for an Ayurvedic Indian restaurant brought me last month to the Van Ness area, where I dined at Indian Ocean, the only one of its kind in our area. The Ayurvedic style of cooking reflects the ancient Hindu art of medicine and prolonging life, and owner Raj Kapoor is an avid messenger of the philosophy.

Everything we sampled, including the traditional dishes like Chicken Tikka Masala, Lamb Roghan and tandoori oven baked dishes, were so much fresher and lighter. The secret: they don’t use butter, ghee or heavy cream. Also noteworthy is that nothing is canned and no flour or sugar is ever used; only yogurt cream and olive oil.

With a menu that favors Goan and Northern Indian cuisine there is much to like, and the UDC and Harvard Law students fill up the place at lunchtime. Their exclusive use of halal meats brings in the local embassy crowd who often use Indian Ocean to cater their receptions.

Mango, mint, tamarind and date chutneys are made in-house, and are more delicate and less sugary than most versions we know. Standouts were Palak Gosht, Samosa Chat, Onion Kulcha, Kabuli Naan, bread stuffed with raisins, cashews and almonds. The Goan influences fill the menu with seafood dishes using lobster, trout, salmon and prawns, and there is a wealth of vegan dishes. They are open seven days a week with a champagne brunch on Sundays.

Red Fruit Festival is a Red Hot Hit

The first annual Mid-Atlantic Red Fruit Festival, held in the Pavilion Room at the Ronald Reagan Building, was a red-hot hit! In a contest sponsored by the Washington Post, winning home cooks from our area were paired with top local chefs who recreated, and in some cases amped up their recipes. My favorites were food blogger April Fulton’s Tomato Tarte dessert. Fulton, whose blog is TheFoodScribe.com, was paired with Chef Xavier Deshayes. She told me Dessaye added hazelnuts to her tart crust and a sugared mint leaf. Bravo to him! It was highly addictive. Another winner in my book was Jessica Sidman whose blog, TheFrozenFix.com, reports on her ice cream and sorbet experiments. Sidman was paired with local chef Michael Lund, formerly of Zynodoa in Staunton, VA, who consults with restaurants and teaches Farm-to-Table classes at Stratford University. Lund served her Green Tomato Marbled Goat Cheese Ice Cream in mini black pepper tuiles topped with crushed corn nuts.

Fashion for Autism – Features Breakout New York Designer

Throngs of Georgetown’s adorable fashionistas ganged up for the cause at City Tavern Club. The venerable old watering hole was rocking with disco lights, a performance by Julliard concert pianist Edvinas Minkstimas, and a full-blown red carpet fashion show with designs for men and women by Colombian-born Edwing D’Angelo. The silent auction featured a pair of glittering eight-inch heels by Fever Footwear. Well, I suppose you could just wear them to bed! Miss DC 2010 Stephanie Williams was on hand to help us eat the chocolate and vanilla cupcakes from Serendipity3. When, oh when, will they serve the first Frrrozen Hot Chocolate confection in DC? [gallery ids="99210,103454,103475,103471,103459,103467,103464" nav="thumbs"]

Eating Up the Cherry Blossoms


Magnificent monuments, a cupcake craze and powerhouse politics are not the only things that make the nation’s capitol unique. The annual Cherry Blossom Festival welcomes the spring season with the blooming of beautiful flowers and three weeks full of events. This year, the Cherry Blossom Festival kicks off on Thursday, March 24 with a fundraiser at the Washington Monument. This event, known as “Stand with Japan”, is organized to express our condolences and support for Japan in the wake of their recent tragedies. All donations go to the National Cherry Blossom Festival Red Cross Online Donation site and will benefit the Japan Earthquake and Pacific Tsunami Fund.

Along with fundraisers, festivals and parades, local restaurants are also joining in on the festivities. Restaurants all over town are offering a special Cherry Blossom Festival menu. The menus include desserts, entrees, and cocktails, all inspired with a cherry twist! From duck confit with sour cherry compote and braised artichokes to a chocolate covered cherry martini, the menus will be sure to satisfy. Below is a list of participating restaurants and their offerings.

Againn
– Eton Mess with Brandied Cherries
– JP Caceres’ Cherrio Cocktail (vodka, cherry herring liquer, lemon juice, rose water, egg whites)
1099 New York Ave NW. 202 639-9830

Art and Soul at the Liason Capitol Hill, an Affinia Hotel
– Steamed Southern style pork buns with sour cherry hoisin dipping sauce
– Grilled tuna with coriander spiced rice, marinated bok choy, maitake mushrooms and ginger chile glaze and Yuzu ginger trifle with sour cherries and candied kumquats
– Cherry Pick Cocktail (Vodka, sake, cherry reduction)
415 New Jersey Ave NW. 202 393-7777

Bangkok Joe’s
– Peking Duck Bao with cherry-hoisin sauce
– 7-spiced roasted shrimp with caramelized tomatoes and cherry ponzu butter sauce
– Warm cherry upside down cake
– Frozen cherry bellini (champagne, bing cherry, cream sherry, lime juice)
3000 K Street NW. 202 333-4422

Café Dupont at The Dupont Hotel
– Goose Liver Torchon with cherry orange compote
– Chargrilled NY Strip Steak with a cherry reduction
– Vanilla Bean Pana Cotta with a cherry crumble
1500 New Hampshire Ave NW. 202 939-9596

Carmine’s
– Sicilian Triple Cherry Cassata
– Frozen Cherries Jubilee (Cruzan Rum, Luzardo Maraschino Liquer, port, lemon juice, brandied cherries)
425 7th Street NW. 202 737-7770

Cuba Libre
– Barbacoa de Pato con Cerezas
– Cherry Tini (Pyrat XO Rum, Combier, lemon grass- infused guarapo, bitters, bing cherries)
– Coconut Cherry Frozen (Three Olives, cherry vodka, lemon grass- infused guarapo, coconut puree, maraschino cherry juice)
801 9th Street NW. 202 408-1600

Current Sushi
-Cherry Blossom Martini (cherry vodka, sake, black cherries)
1215 Connecticut Ave. 202 955-525

Dino
– Tart Cherry Gin Cocktail (Plymouth Gin, Leopold’s Tart Michigan Cherry Liquer, Orchard’s Cherry Liquer, Leopold’s Cranberry Liquer, lemon juice, simple syrup, club soda)
3435 Connecticut Ave. 202 686-2966

Farmers and Fishers
– F&F’s Cherry Slump
3000 K Street NW. 202 298-0003

Georgia Brown’s
– Peanut Butter and Jelly Foie gras with dried cherry jelly
– Chicory Rubbed pork tenderloin with cherry and balsamic demi-glace
– Dark Cherry glazed roasted free range chicken
– Mexican chocolate and cherry cobbler with cinnamon sticky bun ice cream
– Cherry Mojitos (cane sugar, ginger, cilantro, a cinnamon swizzle stick)
950 15th Street. 202 393-4499

Hudson Restaurant
– Free Range Lamb with chervil johnnycakes and bing cherry gastrique
2030 M Street. 202 872-8700

J.Paul’s
– Baked Brie with cherry marmalade
– Cherry and Pecan Crusted Lamb rack
– Cherry Almond Strudel
– Sam Adams Cherry Wheat Beer
3218 M Street NW. 202 333-3450

Kaz Sushi Bistro
– Cherry Blossom Special Chitashi
1915 I Street. 202 530-5500

Kellari Taverna
1700 K Street. 202 535-5274
– Cherry Blossom Salad with jumbo shrimp and cherry balsamic
– Pan roasted fagri with a bing cherry demi glace
– Greek yogurt with sour cherry preserves
– Kellari Cherry cocktail

Morton’s The Steakhouse
– Cherry Blossom Cocktail (three olives cherry vodka, lindemans cherry limbic, and prosecco)
1050 Connecticut Ave NW. 202 955-5997

Neyla
– Duck Manti with dried Cherries
– Baby arugula with arak soaked cherries
– Pan roasted grouper with kiln dried cherries
– Dark chocolate cherry crème brulee
– Chocolate covered cherry martini (Valhrona chocolate, vanilla vodka, and dark cherries)
3206 N Street. 202 333-6353

Old Glory
– Sam Adams Cherry Wheat Beer Battered Onion Rings with Sweet and sour dried cherry cherry pepper dip
– Old Glory Red Stag Bourbon Buffalo Wings
– Cherry Cola BBQ Glazed Salmon with cheddar cheese grits, backyard cucumber slaw, and grilled beefsteak tomato galette
– Black Forest Cheesecake with cherry brandy chocolate sauce
– Red Stag Mint Julep( red Stag Cherry Bourbon, vanilla bean, mint, simple syrup, cherry brandy, soda, red stag- soaked maraschino cherry)
3139 M Street NW. 202 337-3406

Plume at the Jefferson Hotel
– Duck Confit with sour cherry compote and braised artichokes
1200 16th Street. 202 448-2300

Ten Penh
– Togarashi Seared Tuna Tataki with seaweed salad and ponzu sauce
– Duck confit and wild cherry gyoza with daikon and toasted pinenut salad
– Pan seared black grouper with a scallion crabmeat rice noodle crepe and black bean sauce
– Dried cherry and rhubarb crisp with honey, vanilla, and sesame ice cream
1001 Pennsylvania Ave. 202 393-4500

Zola
Cherry Cured Valentine Miller Ham Rillettes with cherry gelee and brioche
Anise glazed sea scallops with country ham, ramps, and cherry suds,
Roast quail with cherry aigre-doux, goat cheese polenta and seedling salad
Cherry braised beef short ribs with sunchoke puree, pea tendrils and foie gras emulsion
Cherries with bruleed vanilla sponge cake and tonka bean cream
800 F Street. 202 654-0999
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Cupcake Challenge: Cocktail Hour


&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp Have you ever dreamed of a world filled with cupcakes? Were there cupcakes everywhere you looked, with smiling servants at the ready? Was the heavenly aroma of sugar hanging sweet in the air? Best of all were you able to taste each tantalizing treat and experience the joy of tingling taste buds as you took bite into each sweet?

&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp The National Capital Area Cake Show made this dream a reality for hundreds of cupcake enthusiasts on Saturday as they hosted the first ever, Cupcake Cocktail Hour. Hosted at the Northern Virginia Community College, 54 cupcake bakers brought sample sizes of cocktail inspired cupcakes. By the end of the night, it was estimated that there were 154 different types of cupcakes for sampling with over 700 guests attending the event.

&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbspThis was the 3rd annual National Capital Area Cake Show, with over 8,000 people in attendance throughout the two day show, March 26-27. The show ran from 9-3 each day offering classes, cake tours and even a television-style live challenge. The Cupcake Challenge grew out of an idea of combining a tasting competition with a fun theme.

&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp“Cupcakes have kind of exploded in DC. While cake decorating appears intimidating to some, no one is afraid of a cute cupcake!” said Melissa Westervelt, who spearheaded the idea of a Cupcake Challenge. “There are people out there making really great stuff in their home kitchens and in new bakeshops. I wanted to elevate that, to draw the ‘cupcake people’ into this great community atmosphere.”

&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp Amateurs as well as professional bakers were invited to participate in the challenge, allowing those new to the business a chance to get their name out while well-established bakeries were able to share their reputation with a wider audience. 11 professional and 43 amateur bakers took the challenge to create original cocktail cupcakes.

&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp “People are passionate about cupcakes. I know competitors with no culinary background who worked for weeks to perfect their recipe and they can be very proud of the results! I even heard about a few baking days, tasting parties, and Facebook friendships that formed as people developed the perfect cocktail cupcake,” Westervelt said. “Area professionals need a place to shine too. If I want a cupcake right now, I am walking into one of their shops. They were totally open to creating new flavors, engaging with the other bakers and creating some amazing display pieces for the Cupcake Challenge.”

&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp The challenge was advertised with the National Capital Area Cake show, but ticket sales soared after a promotion with LivingSocial, which offered five free tickets for cupcakes along with the price of admission. The campaign was responsible for the sale of 550 tickets to the Cupcake Challenge alone and close to 1,585 general admission tickets to the show. Proceeds from the event benefitted Icing Smiles, a non-profit organization that provides custom celebration cakes and other treats to families impacted by critical illness of a child

&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp“Baking is more than mixing up flour, sugar, and butter. It’s the muse, the creative process, the joy of the celebration that the sweet is created for. When I stumbled into the world of cake shows and competitions, all of that was amplified,” said Westervelt. “There is this network of artists where the competitive spirit is real, but the goal is camaraderie, sharing knowledge, and demanding something tastier and more gorgeous than you have ever made before.”

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Move Over Cupcakes: Say Hello to Georgetown Pies


For many people nationwide, a homemade pie is as symbolic of the American Dream as baseball and a house with a white picket fence. For Alli, Erin and Cat Blakely, three sisters from Northern Virginia, pie is also a personal dream that they plan on bringing to Georgetown by the end of this summer with the opening of their pie shop, O’B Sweet.

The sisters, who grew up in Great Falls, spent a lot of time in Georgetown throughout their childhood, attending church at St. John’s on O Street. “We’re just local girls, and that’s why we wanted to stay in Georgetown with our shop,” said Erin.

They started their baking careers early in life when their mother taught them how to can fruit and make pies, “to keep us all busy,” said Erin. After following separate careers in different fields, the Blakelys finally decided to fulfill their dream of operating a family business.

“We’re sisters. There’s three of us. We’re all two years apart,” said Erin. “We’re best friends and baking pies was something that brought us all together having fun even on the holidays after our lives kind of took us in different directions.”

Even the name the sisters chose reflects their family roots. “We’re Scott-Irish, so the ‘O’ kind of brings in that part of us,” said Erin. “The ‘B’ is for our last name, Blakely, and the ‘Sweet,’ obviously, is because we’re sweet.”

The trio is currently looking at retail space at 3833 Prospect St., according to Robert Tack, the real estate broker representing O’B Sweet. The market, Tack noted, is ready for a new sweet tooth craze—a refreshing idea noting the area’s baffling cupcake fetish.

“I think they’re gonna do well with their concept,” he said.

The Blakelys are already setting themselves apart from average Georgetown bakeries and cupcakeries. The shop will feature an array of savory and sweet pies in three sizes: nine inches, seven inches, and “Cuppies,” single-serving mini pies that are original to O’B Sweet. Because most of their fruit comes from local growers, their menu of flavors rotates seasonally, while their cream pies will be available year round. The shop will cater events as well as delivering pies and providing seating where customers can enjoy their Chocolate Bourbon Pecan Cuppies with coffee or hot cocoa.

While the shop has a few months until their grand opening, O’B Sweet’s catering business is already up and running. The sisters have supplied weddings, birthdays and dinner parties with their homemade pies and plan to continue this service through the process of opening their store.

“Pies are really all-American classics, so we’re trying to take that and make it more mainstream,” said Erin. “It’s giving people the option, instead of going to cupcakes, to go to pies… There’s nothing like this in Georgetown.”