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Across the Cutting Board with Ris

As spring blossoms poke through the chill and daylight begins to linger further into the evening, a certain festive anxiousness always seems to take hold. Our minds and mouths start racing prematurely toward the spring harvest, and we want to celebrate the warm weather, sitting outdoors at every opportunity with friends and family. And a Sunday brunch is like a foodie’s consecration of the spring season. Brunch being a community affair, everyone brings some dish to the table and the meal usually becomes a wild smattering of tastes. Plates pile with salmon, toast, eggs, cheese, coffee cake, potatoes, cured meats, fruit, and as the sweets and salts fall into one another, the ungoverned flavors run wild and ravishing. I surely can’t be the only one who has noticed the gastronomic transcendence of ham in a puddle of maple syrup run off from the waffle. Ris has certainly noticed. Just try her Croque Mademoiselle. Her new brunch menu is filled with comforting, community-inspired dishes and the playful mix of flavors they bring out. And much of their depth is likely due to the way the dishes were created. Ris turned to her line cooks Ali and Leah to help design the Sunday brunch menu plates. Circling the restaurant bar on a Saturday morning, they were huddled around two different versions of one dish. They had each made coddled eggs with tomato. Ris presided like a matriarch over the discussion and critique as they all tasted the two dishes and distinguished the strongest points of each. In the end, the recipe became a fusion of the two, combining their best elements. “Sometimes I wake up knowing exactly what I want a dish to taste like, what I want to go in it,” says Ris, as if she were talking about colors in a painting. “Other times, I’m not as sure, and so I field opinions. I love to edit and refine dishes too, and so this process is a good way to teach them to develop a dish that is worthy of serving—the weaving of flavors, colors and textures, like a tapestry. And it’s also great for them to get their voices on the menu.” The Croque Mademoiselle, Ris’ quirky cousin of the Croque Madame, was designed by Ali. To the traditional open-faced sandwich of grilled brioche with ham, a fried egg and Mornay sauce, she added a beer batter-fried onion ring. When Ris tasted it, she loved it, “but the yeastiness of the onion begged for a touch of sweetness…so I drizzled a bit maple syrup on top.” That little nip of sweetness is a flavor punch that unites the ingredients, adding that Sunday brunch punch of “anything goes.” The meat Ris uses for the beef hash is the leftover braised short rib from the night before. The traditional, savory flavors are modest and full, with that certain rounded quality that only leftovers can bring. Using braising liquid as the gravy doesn’t hurt either. Leah designed the breakfast pizza, piled high with Portuguese linguiça sausage and tomato fondu and topped with an egg. The pizza, loud, powerful and hearty, is a perfect pair to a Bloody Mary. Meanwhile, you can’t have brunch without pastries. Pastry Chef Chris’ blueberry cheese puffs have an ethereal quality and perfect texture, playing with subtle twangs of sour that bring out the baked blueberries and underscore the rich sweetness. They work well as a starter or desert. This family-style collaboration is echoed in home kitchens across the country. If you don’t like something at your dinner table, you let the cook (mother) know to adjust it next time. Granted, the culinary discussion in Ris’ kitchen versus most family kitchens is like the difference between reading Fitzgerald and Beetle Bailey. As I was getting ready to leave, satisfied to the point of incapacity, Rory, the pastry sous-chef, ran up to me with a tray of crispy, granular, golden donuts and told me to take one. He had just made them. It was the donut of the decade—a thick, rich, sweet O somewhere between a funnel cake and a coffee cake, with a crunchy crust and a thin, sweet glaze. I thanked him, and he went to Ris for approval. As I was walking out the door, I heard him shouting, “They’re going on the menu!” Sure enough, they were on the menu the next day. RIS Short Rib Hash by Alison Hartnett Serves 4 - 6 We use leftover braised beef short ribs from Saturday’s “Date Night” special for our Sunday Brunch hash and we use the braising liquid, reduced with port for the sauce. Hash is for leftovers, so feel free to substitute roast chicken, beef, pork, fish or vegetables and their sauces for this recipe. 2 large Idaho potatoes (about 2 lb.) Canola or peanut oil 1 large onion, diced ½ -1 lb. braised short rib, diced 1 cup sauce or gravy Salt and pepper Chopped fresh herbs 4 eggs Fresh chopped parsley, for garnish Bake the potatoes, skin on, until cooked through, 35-45 minutes at 350 degrees. Refrigerate whole until chilled. Peel and dice into ½ inch squares. In a skillet or frying pan, heat 2 Tbsp. canola or peanut oil and pan fry the diced potatoes in single layer batches until crispy, a technique called “rissole.” Let each layer of potatoes get crispy on one side before turning. Season the potatoes with salt and pepper and any other spices of your choosing. Remove the cooked potatoes to paper towels to dry. Add a bit more oil to the pan and sauté the onions until caramelized, 3-5 minutes. Fold the diced beef in with the onions. Add the cooked potatoes, balancing the ratio of meat to potatoes to your taste. Add ¼ cup of the sauce or gravy. Taste and adjust seasoning. Add fresh herbs to taste. Meanwhile, poach 4 eggs in a saucepot of simmering water with a dash of vinegar added to it. Crack each egg individually into a cup and gently pour into the simmering water. Room temperature large eggs take about 2½ minutes to soft poach where the yolks are runny and the whites are cooked through. Eggs directly out of the refrigerator will take a bit longer. Fresh market eggs are best. To plate, arrange a portion of the hash on to each of 4 plates, mold in a ring if desired. Make a slight well in the center, pour a bit of the heated sauce over the hash and place an egg on top. Season the egg with a bit of salt and pepper, sprinkle with chopped parsley and drizzle with a bit of good extra virgin olive oil. Having hot biscuits on hand will make you a star. RIS Blueberry Cheese Puffs by Chris Kujala For the Dough: 2 cups all purpose flour 1/8 tsp. salt 8 oz. unsalted butter (cold) 5 oz. sour cream For the Filling: 8 oz. cream cheese 1 large egg 4 cups granulated sufar 1 tsp. vanilla extract 1 tsp. finely grated lemon zest Blueberries The dough: Dice the cold butter. Mix together the flour and salt in a mixing bowl, then mix the butter until it is incorporated and the flour has a texture like cornmeal. Mix in the sour cream until fully incorporated and smooth. Shape into a ball. Wrap with plastic and chill until firm, about 4 hours. When ready to cook, process all the filling ingredients in a food processor until the mixture is smooth. Remove the dough from the fridge, and let sit for about ten minutes. On a floured surface, roll the pastry into a rectangle, about 1/8 inch thick. Cut the pastry into 3-inch squares. Place the squares into a 12-cup muffin pan. Press down on each cup to cover the sides and bottom. Spoon about 1 Tbsp. of filling into the shell and top with blueberries (just a few on each). Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.

Across the Cutting Board with Ris

Since Ris first brought me into her kitchen, she has told me the tales of Bob Juliano. Powerhouse lobbyist for almost forty years and an unmistakable Chicago native, Bob has been following Ris around since her days at Kinkead’s. Call it a culinary crush. This is a man who has gone to bat with the big boys of Washington, including the Executive Branch, usually fighting for the rights of the working class; he once successfully represented a coal industry coalition on legislation that protected the health care benefits of some 120,000 retired miners. He calls Rahm Emanuel an “old friend.” What Rahm probably doesn’t know is that Bob makes a mean marinara sauce. But don’t call it marinara sauce in front of Bob. To him, that’s like wearing a White Sox hat to a Cubs game: supreme ignorance of his hometown culture. If you ask for sauce in a proper Chicago-Italian establishment, he tells me, “They’d ask you what the hell you were talking about.” In Chicago, marinara sauce is gravy. And his has plenty of tomatoes and plenty of vodka. This emphatic adhesion to culture, tradition and flavor is what we would call food culture. Ris speaks endlessly about the food culture of Washington, and the challenges of defining the palette of a migratory population such as our own. We are a city filled with ambassadors, senators, commuters, news reporters and tourists. Every morning hoards of people flock into the District, and every evening just as many flock out. Even the President, the defining presence of the city, is only here for a few years before grabbing one last half-smoke at Ben’s Chili Bowl and waving goodbye. Establishing a local food culture is Ris’ enduring crusade, and one that she tackles daily in her kitchen. Her daily soup calendar, for instance, offers different soups every day, drawing inspiration from the regional cuisines of innumerable cultures, much like Washington itself. Come in one day for homestyle New England clam chowder, and go in the next for Thai duck soup. And Wednesday, just so you know, is Italian day. It is clear that Ris has something of a soft spot for Italian food. Her specials every Wednesday are steeped in Italy’s culinary traditions, which she clearly takes quite seriously. Her gnudi, little dumplings of ricotta, are some of the best things I have ever eaten. She even has a resident pasta maker, Pinat, a native Italian, who is always churning out fresh, handmade cavatelli and spaghetti whenever I come visit the kitchen. The elegant simplicity of Italian cuisine brings out the best of local, fresh produce, and requires high quality, richly flavorful ingredients—all the things important to Ris and vital to a healthy food culture. Ris had been anxious to consult with Bob, now an old friend, on her own gravy and meatballs. In a curious way, this is perhaps right on the pulse of Washington’s food culture. Start with a traditional recipe from the motherland. Bring it over to America through an immigrant family who hands it down to the son, who in turn grows up to work in government affairs, commuting between the nation’s capital and his hometown Chicago. The son meets a local chef in Washington and shares his family recipe with her. The chef introduces this recipe to the city, combining politics, commuting, immigration, migration and international cultural identity, melding tradition and progression to give the melting pot metaphor some literal and delicious grounding. As he cooked, Bob kept his face nearly submerged in the pot, perpetually smelling, tasting and adjusting the seasoning of his gravy. A dash of vodka, a sprinkle of fennel, a pinch of sugar. This taste was inoperably engrained in his memory, and it was just a matter of striking the right balance of seasonings, waiting for his tongue to register their harmony. Ris, now the acquisitive student, would dive in with him occasionally, asking questions, offering praise and frankly just having a good time. “My friends said I was crazy, going to cook for one of the best chefs in the country,” Bob said. “But I figured she’s French Canadian and I’m Italian. So what’s the problem?” Both Bob and Ris agreed that the key to great marinara/gravy is to let it sit and simmer for hours. And make sure to have leftovers. “As the flavors coalesce,” Ris said, “the gravy should get better every day.” The sauce was surprisingly soft in flavor, the fennel and the vodka adding a beautiful depth to the sweetness of the tomatoes. The delicate flavor of the meatballs, a mixture of beef, pork and veal, showcased the rare versatility of meat in a more subtle, secondary role. Really it was about the tomatoes, the seasoning and the patient simmering. But most importantly, it was about the tradition. Bob Juliano’s Gravy --- I think the key to making good gravy, after watching Bob Juliano in my kitchen, is to never take your eyes off the pot. All of that love and energy directed to the sizzling of onions and garlic in olive oil, the asphyxiating aromas, a heavenly drug in itself…. 3 Tablespoons olive oil 2 Tablespoons garlic, minced 1 cup onions, diced Sprinkling of salt and pepper 1 Tablespoon dried oregano 1 Tablespoon fennel seed ½ Tablespoon red pepper flake ½ Tablespoon dried thyme 1 can, 35 ounce, whole San Marzano plum tomatoes 1 can, 28 ounce, crushed tomatoes 1 can, 6 ounce, Contadina tomato paste 4 ounces vodka More salt and pepper More fennel seed 1 Tablespoon sugar, or to taste Warm a heavy-based sauce pot over medium heat. Add the oil and then the garlic and stir constantly with a wooden spoon. When softened and the oil is flavored by the garlic, add the onions and keep stirring until onions are soft. Season with a sprinkling of salt and pepper. Add the seasonings and stir some more. This initial cooking of the oil and aromatics takes about 15 minutes, with constant adoration. Stick your head in the pot on occasion to take in the splendor. Add the plum tomatoes by hand crushing each one into the pot. Add the crushed tomatoes and tomato paste and stir well. Add the vodka and more salt and pepper. Taste and adjust to preference with more fennel seed, red pepper flake, thyme leaves, etc. Simmer gently for 30 minutes, with a stir and a whiff every now and then. Add the meatballs (or sausages/veal chops/pork ribs) to the gravy and let cook about 15-20 minutes longer until meatballs are just cooked through. Every tomato will vary in flavor and acidity. Adjust final seasoning with all of your spices and with some sugar and even a dash more vodka. Do know that the gravy will taste even better the next day. ____ Bob Juliano’s Meatballs --- 1 ½lb ground meat, freshly ground, if possible: mixture of 3 parts beef, 2 parts pork, 1 part veal = 12 ounces beef, 8 ounces pork, 4 ounces veal 2 whole eggs ¾ cup fresh chopped Italian parsley 1 Tablespoon garlic, minced 1 ¾ cup Italian bread crumbs ½ Tablsepoon dried oregano ½ cup grated parmesean reggiano Salt and pepper Combine all ingredients. Make a sample patty to taste for seasoning and cook in a sauté pan or in the oven if it is on. Adjust seasonings to taste. Form into twelve 2-ounce meatballs. Throw in the gravy and cook until done. ____ Bob Juliano’s Bolognese Sauce --- 1/3 cup olive oil 2 Tablespoons garlic, minced 1 cup carrots, diced 1 cup onions, diced 1 cup celery, diced 1 Tablespoon dried oregano ½ Tablespoon dried thyme 2 pinches sugar Salt and fresh cracked black pepper 1 ½” ground meat, freshly ground, if possible mixture of 3 parts beef, 2 parts pork, 1 part veal = 12 ounces beef, 8 ounces pork, 4 ounces veal salt and fresh cracked black pepper 1 Tablespoon fennel seed I can, 35 ounce, whole San Marzano plum tomatoes 1 can, 28 ounce, crushed tomatoes 1 can, 6 ounce, Contadina tomato paste More salt and pepper More fennel seed More dried thyme ½ Tablespoon red pepper flake 1 Tablespoon sugar, or to taste Dash of vodka, why not? Warm a heavy-based saucepot over medium heat. Add the oil and then the garlic and stir constantly with a wooden spoon. When softened and the oil is flavored by the garlic, add the carrots, onions and celery and just keep stirring until onions are soft. Season with the oregano, thyme, sugar, salt and pepper. Stir and take it all in as above. Add the ground meat. Stir to break into chunks and mix in with the cooked vegetables. Season with salt and pepper. Add the fennel seed and cook, stirring often, never leaving the pot, breathe in the aromas, until the meat is browned. Hand crush the whole tomatoes in to the pot and stir in the crushed tomatoes and tomato paste. Add the seasonings, and let cook 30-40 minutes, gently simmering, until delicious. Stay with it. Stir and smell. Adjust seasoning at end. Again, save for tomorrow, if you can wait.

The Cajun Experience

Tapas, fish, and sandwiches can sometimes get dull. Your taste buds are yearning for something new and exciting with a kick. Gumbo, jambalaya, and po-boys are delicious entrees that will make your mouth water and your taste buds thrilled. Last month Bryan and Melissa Crosswhite, along with Dan Allen, added a third location to their restaurant repertoire right here in DC, The Cajun Experience, giving locals a taste of the Cajun south. The Cajun Experience is located at 1825 18th Street, just four blocks north of DuPont Circle, next door to the ever-popular Louriol Plaza. The authenticity of Cajun Food, according to Brian, is less about academic techniques and more about your roots and how you were raised. It is important to Brian to provide the core of an authentic New Orleans experience, which includes the menu and atmosphere, and even the drinks. The Cajun Experience offers live, New Orleans-style jazz every Friday and Saturday night. The drink menu features an array of New Orleans specialties, from hurricanes to hand grenades. And just like the restaurant’s name, the food speaks for itself. Satisfied customers rave about the Crawfish Etouffee, easily the most popular dish on the menu. Brian’s Creole and Cajun seasoning blends, and the rest of the kitchen’s recipes have all been handed down from generation to generation, making these dishes spot on Cajun classics. In the midst of a recession, Bryan and his partners took an opportunity to open the first “down home” Cajun restaurant in DC, following successful openings in Leesburg and Purcellville. Their mission is to draw customers in with their genuine techniques, fabulous drinks, southern ambiance, and of course, home cooked classics. The Cajun Experience is open 7 days a week for lunch and dinner. Photos by Pat Ryan [gallery ids="99596,105019" nav="thumbs"]

The Latest Dish

It’s official now. Mark Bucher plans to open Medium Rare, a less expensive steakhouse concept in Cleveland Park, featuring Michel Richard consulting on sauces and desserts. Mark is the guy who brought us BGR (the burger joint), so he knows how to appeal to our carnivore tastes. Brian Zipkin, formerly of Ray’s The Steaks, has been hired as the general manager of the 100-seat restaurant, which was designed by Adamstein & Demetriou. Medium Rare, where Yanni’s Greek Tavern used to be on Connecticut Avenue, may open this month. Latest addition to the burger wars scene is BRGR Shack, a 1000-sq ft space that will offer five or six different grass-fed beef burgers, hand cut fries (sweet potato fries too) and milkshakes. The most noticeable addition is beer and wine. It just opened on Fairfax Drive in Ballston. The parent company is 24/7 Good Food Inc. Its name is dangerously close to Mark Bucher’s BGR: The Burger Joint or Danny Meyer’s Shake Shack. A garage-style front door can be lifted up to create a patio (more seating!) in warmer months. Of course they plan to expand. The Fireman Group, which opened Bond 45 at National Harbor last year, plans to open Fiorella Pizzeria e Caffe this April, also at National Harbor, right on the waterfront below Rosa Mexicana. It’s all about the pizza, featuring 30 different varieties of the thinnest yeast-less crust. Daisuke Utagawa, co-owner of Sushiko in Glover Park and Chevy Chase, has plans to open a ramen restaurant, specializing in bowls of Japanese noodles, as ramen is very close to Japanese hearts – and stomachs. The site on 6th Street, NW, behind the Verizon Center may not open for a year, as there is a lot to do to the building. It will share the neighborhood with Mike Isabella’s Graffiato. Daisuke is partnering with Yama Jewayni, the founder of 18th Street Lounge. Piero’s Corner Italian, on Franklin Farm Road in Herndon, has signed a lease for a second location on Main Street in downtown Fairfax, where you’ll find Carlos O’Kelly’s. Chef/owner is Gian Piero Mazzi. The menu is Northern Italian, as that is where he hails from. His partner is Jon Soto. An April opening is planned. The Cajun Experience, a Leesburg-based restaurant chain that has been hunting for a Washington-area location, has signed a lease at 1825 18th St. NW, the former Inti Peruvian Restaurant location, near Lauriol Plaza. Construction has already begun on the restaurant, according to co-owner Bryan Crosswhite. The restaurant will seat 70, with a 35-seat patio. The big advantage over the Leesburg location: a bar. Bryan plans to make it the official bar for New Orleans Saints fans. The plan is to open six Cajun Experience restaurants in the region. The owners of Guajillo and Casa Oaxaca came to an agreement with Arlington County to manage the restaurant inside Artisphere, the county’s new cultural center. Expect a Mexican-influenced menu. The team takes over in February. The county spent several months looking for an operator. We didn’t notice that Blue Banana, a new sports and rock n’ roll bar with live bands, opened in Petworth on Georgia Avenue. What the 100-seat place still does not have is food, as the kitchen is under construction. Expect bar food like nachos, wings and sliders. General manager Jamie Hess says a beer garden will open in the back in the spring. Quick Hits: Sterling-based fast-casual Thai By Thai, owned by Eed Landon, has added a location in Fairfax on Fairfax Blvd. Customers order and pay at the counter, and their food is brought out to them. Pizza Autentica, which recently opened in Ballston, just signed another lease in downtown/West End DC at 2121 K St. NW. The Brickskeller’s new name is Bier Baron, not Rock Creek as previously reported Chef Update: Robert Gadsby has been named Corporate Chef for Ridgewells and Haute Catering by Ridgewells. He previously worked with Robert Wiedmaier at Mussel Bar BY RW. Thomas Elder has been named Executive Chef of Härth, a new restaurant concept at the Hilton McLean/Tysons Corner. Chef Elder will source most of his products from the Shenandoah farms in the region, taking full advantage of the wood-fired grille that sparked the restaurant name. They plan to open by Cherry Blossom season. Neighborhood Restaurant Group has named Tiffany MacIsaac as executive pastry chef for the restaurant collection, which includes Tallula, EatBar, Vermillion, Rustico, Buzz, Birch & Barley and Churchkey. Salt Lake City-based Cafe Rio Mexican Grill plans to open six stores in the DC metro region over the next two years. Virginia locations include Manassas, Falls Church, Chantilly and Alexandria. Cafe Rio has leased space in Sudley Manor Square Shopping Center in Manassas, planning to open by late spring. Cafe Rio is also expanding into Maryland with locations planned for Germantown and Olney. Gillian Clark has signed a lease to open Kitchen On K Street at Third and K Streets NE (NoMa neighborhood) in the Loree Grand at Union Place. She is best known for Colorado Kitchen, a Brightwood restaurant that specialized in comfort food. Kitchen on K will bring a smile to those who loved the food at Colorado Kitchen. You may recall that Gillian opened The General Store in Silver Spring last year. She has another urn in the fire, with The Meeting House in the Petworth neighborhood. Fairfax-based pizza chain, Paisano’s, is now in the concessions business. They signed a deal to be the exclusive pizza provider at George Mason University’s Patriot Center. Founder and owner Fouad Qreitem cut a deal that gets Paisano’s prominent placement within the venue, which holds 160 events a year. Paisano’s currently has six area locations, with deals signed for Crystal City and Tysons Corner. Linda Roth Conte is president of Linda Roth Associates, Inc (LRA) specializing in making creative connections through media relations, marketing initiatives, community outreach and special events for the hospitality industry. Contact Linda at Linda@LindaRothPR.com or visit her web site at LindaRothPR.com.

The Latest Dish

Theater was always a part of Jose Andres’ aura. Now he has a presence at the newly renovated Arena Stage on DC’s southwest waterfront. Next Stage by José Andrés offers eclectic soups, salads, sandwiches and entrees, some even themed to currently running shows. The café is located on a balcony facing Arena Stage’s glass-fronted entrance. More lobster: Michael Landrum, owner/operator of RAY’S THE STEAKS and assorted other Ray’s-themed restaurants, will open The Lobster Pot, a seafood restaurant at 1650 Wilson Blvd. in Rosslyn. From the folks who brought you Grapeseed in Bethesda, comes a new lobster concept called FREDDIE’S LOBSTER. Lobster is not as expensive as it used to be, which may account for the new lobster outlets, from trucks to carryout. This is one white meat you cannot say tastes like chicken. The BRICKSKELLER is planning a facelift and has changed its name to BIER BARON. Don’t worry, they will still serve more beers (1200) than any other place in town, as it always has. New owners Megan Merrifield and her husband are operators. They also own Windsor Inn, Embassy Inn and District Hotel. The reopening is planned for the early part of the new year. THE ROOKERY, owned by Bo Blair, has re-opened as BAYOU, a New Orleans-style restaurant at 2519 Pennsylvania Ave., NW with Chef Rusty Holman at the helm. Look for New Orleans favorites -- Po Boys, gumbo, shrimp and grits and live jazz during dinner. Chef and Executive Update - MATCHBOX Chinatown has named Cliff Wharton as executive chef. Wharton once a striving rock star, joins matchbox from Ten Penh, where he became a culinary star. Tom Meyer has been named president of CLYDE’S RESTAURANT GROUP. Tom had been executive vice president for CRG since 2002. Natalie Vella has been named general manager of RIS, a promotion from her position as assistant GM. Ramón Narváez is returning to Robert Wiedmaier’s restaurant empire (Brasserie Beck, Brabo, Mussel Bar by RW, Marcel’s) as wine and beverage director. Starting at Marcel’s in 2002, he left in 2008 to become the sommelier at Adour located at the St. Regis Hotel. STELLA RESTAURANT is coming to the Traville Shopping Center in North Potomac where The Vyne Restaurant was, this month. Owners and brothers George and Stratton Liapis have owned and operated The Lunch Box Carry-Out Shoppes in downtown D.C. and Bullfeather’s of Capital Hill. Ray Niederhausen, a graduate of Stratford University, will be the executive chef. Stella will offer steakhouse steaks, chops, organic chicken, as well as full bar service, including a diverse wine list featuring wines from California, Italy, France, Argentina and Greece. TERASOL, a French bistro with an artistic mix of food and artwork, has newly reopened at 5010 Connecticut Ave, NW after a nearly two-year hiatus. Owners Sabrina Ousmaal and Alan Moin offer a 400-square-foot art gallery with art, jewelry and pottery for sale, and a 1350-square-foot restaurant serving French cuisine. SALT & PEPPER, a new breakfast spot, is slated to open in the Palisades neighborhood on the second floor of 5101 MacArthur Blvd, NW, above Bambu. Owners Sue Chen and Robert Golfman call it a modern twist on diner classics. They also plan to offer alcoholic beverages in addition to the diner menu. Yes, it’s true. KEMBLE PARK TAVERN has closed. Linda Roth Conte is president of Linda Roth Associates, Inc (LRA) specializing in making creative connections through media relations, marketing initiatives, community outreach and special events for the hospitality industry. Contact Linda at 703-417-2700 or linda@lindarothpr.com or visit her web site at www.lindarothpr.com

Across the Cutting Board with Ris: Thanksgiving Special

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . To Ris Lacoste, Thanksgiving should be a simple affair. The dishes featured on her restaurant’s “To Go Sides and Pies” menu are effusive and original, yet comforting and familiar. The cuisine goes beyond unique spins on old favorites, recalling brilliant tastes or textures and producing them in an entirely new context. But Thanksgiving isn’t about reinventing the wheel, as she makes clear. To her, Thanksgiving is the raw, savory, unfettered beauty of the fall harvest and family. “I dedicate Thanksgiving dinner to my mother,” she says. “I still can’t do it like she can.” Preparing Thanksgiving dinner in a cramped kitchen with an undersized oven and limited counter space, Ris’ mother had a graceful choreography and skill. Wielding casseroles, turkeys, stuffing, gravy, and everything in between, she singularly churned out unforgettable, steaming hot Thanksgiving dinners year after year for her large family. The love in Ris’ voice, as she recalls these moments, illuminates the role her mother surely played in her initial passion for cooking. What makes this holiday Ris’ “absolutely favorite all time meal,” is the patience and warmth it instills within us all: a long preparation, the slow gathering of guests, the cooling effect of the fall weather and the brightness and energy it brings with it, and the football game whirring in the background. It is perhaps the only holiday not crowded by commercialism she says. It’s the calmest American holiday, where you’re free to sit back and “enjoy the tryptophan buzz.” Now, this isn’t to say that it’s a cakewalk in the kitchen. While the food should be simple, rich, and balanced, a Thanksgiving dinner is a tremendous undertaking. When she ran 1789 Restaurant, Ris began Thanksgiving preparations ten days out for 700 guests, and through her years of experience, she punches one point above all others: Have your MISE EN PLACE. For those who don’t know, this effectively means to keep organized, be ahead of the game, and THINK. Dice all your vegetables, measure all your ingredients, get out your cooking tools, sharpen your knives, and have everything laid out before you begin cooking. “Everything you can do ahead of time,” says Ris, “do it.” She advises to start prepping a week in advance. Get your turkey, which will probably need to thaw. “Thaw it outside on your back porch if you have to,” she suggests. The nighttime weather is perfect this time of year for thawing a bird. Get all your non-perishables: potatoes, cranberries, marshmallows, onions, and squash. Think and plan ahead. Turkey, for example, takes a lot of oven time. So what to do about all those other dishes that need to be baked or broiled? If they are dishes that can be warmed up, like casserole or stuffing, make them a couple of days before and reheat them on Thanksgiving Day. “Work it out so all you have to do on Thanksgiving Day is cook the turkey, make the gravy, mash the potatoes, and cook the green vegetables,” she says. Ris and I decided to focus on anything but the bird. Debates will always rage on the best method to cook a turkey. Some brine it. Others insist upon smoking it. Some stick a Budweiser in its back end and deep-fry it in an oil drum. All of these methods can be rather delicious, and all require different techniques and equipment. But birds aside, a Thanksgiving meal should strive to find a perfect balance: the savory and the tart, the bitter and the sweet, the rich and the light. The brightness of Thanksgiving dinner is the interplay of its components, the harmony and orchestration of flavors, says Ris, “as if all the dishes grew up together and played in the sandbox and complemented each other, bringing out each other's best.” In our case, the dishes were bread stuffing with sausage and sage, sweet potato gratin, and cranberry sauce with vanilla, maple syrup, and cassis. Stuffing, she tells me, can be loaded with any bread you want: crusty white, rye, pumpernickel, wheat, whatever. Cornbread, she says, is especially good. Oysters, Cajun spices, grains, and nuts all make nice additions. The possibilities are endless. Hers is fairly traditional, but as this recipe proves, a little goes a long way. A bit of cayenne brightens up the juices from the sausage, and the sage and thyme compliment the cranberry sauce brilliantly. You’ll be eating the cranberry sauce straight with a spoon. The orange cuts the tartness, and the maple and cassis add a wonderful depth to what is usually a very plain sweetness. She showed me that the cranberry sauce doesn’t require much liquid. Cranberries are filled with a great deal of pectin, a natural gelatin that acts as a gelling agent, such as in jams and jellies. When cooking the cranberries, they begin to pop, and the pectin gets to work. A refreshing spin on sweet potato casserole, the gratin would be a welcome addition to any Thanksgiving table. I watched her slice the sweet potatoes very thin, not much thicker than a water cracker. Thicker potatoes will slide around, she explains. They won’t stand up when plated, and the presentation will be sloppy. Thinner slices will bind better, as more of the starches will release and act as glue. “Like the mortar in between the bricks,” she said. Thanksgiving, says Ris, is a true fall harvest, highlighting the season’s choice offerings: root vegetables, potatoes, cabbage, pumpkin, greens, herbs, and grains. As a cook, you should enrich the traditions by using as many fresh and locally grown ingredients as you can get your hands on. While some of the smaller farmers’ markets may have begun to close, Dupont Circle and Arlington’s markets are open year-round, and Whole Foods is always a good place to check for organic, local produce. Freshfarmmarkets.org is a helpful site if you’re looking for places to find local produce or fresh markets. If you can’t find the time to prepare a complete Thanksgiving meal, these dishes and more will be available right from Ris’ kitchen for your table, including pies, sides, gravy, and cranberry orange bread. Call the restaurant as soon as possible to place your order or go to www.RisDC.com. Cranberry Sauce with Vanilla, Maple Syrup & Cassis (Yields about 4 cups) 6 cups (about 1 1/2 lbs.) fresh or frozen cranberries, picked over and rinsed 2/3 cup granulated sugar 1/3 cup fresh orange juice (from 1 orange) 1/3 cup crème de cassis black-currant liqueur) 1/4 cup maple syrup 1 Tbs. finely grated orange zest (from 1 orange) Half a vanilla bean, split and scraped 1 cinnamon stick Put 3 cups of the cranberries and all the remaining ingredients in a 4-qt. saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, reduce the heat to medium, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the cranberries have popped and broken down and the juices look slightly syrupy, 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in the remaining 3 cups cranberries and cook until these have popped, 3 to 5 minutes more. Remove from the heat, discard the vanilla bean and cinnamon stick, and let cool to room temperature. Cover and refrigerate if not serving right away. Ris Tips: The cranberry sauce can be made up to one week in advance if refrigerated. Return to room temperature before serving. Sweet Potato Gratin with Caramelized Onions (Serves twelve) 2 oz. (4 Tbs.) unsalted butter; more for the baking dish 2 lbs. yellow onions, thinly sliced (about 6 cups) 1/4 cup sherry 1/2 tsp. kosher salt; more to taste 1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper; more to taste 2 cups heavy cream 3 sprigs fresh thyme 1/2 Tbs. freshly grated orange zest (from 1 orange) 1/2 tsp. cayenne 4 lbs. sweet potatoes (about 5 medium) 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmiagiano-Reggiano 1 bag of marshmallows 1 cup (4 oz.) pecan halves, toasted and chopped Heat the butter in a heavy-based 12-inch skillet over medium heat until it begins to foam. Add the onions, reduce the heat to medium low, and cook slowly, stirring occasionally, until the onions are soft and nicely browned, about 30 minutes. Deglaze with the sherry and let cook until liquid has evaporated, about 3 minutes. Season with the 1/2 tsp. each salt and pepper. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool slightly. Meanwhile, put the heavy cream, thyme, orange zest, and cayenne in a 2- to 3-qt. saucepan. Bring to a boil, remove from the heat, and steep for 15 minutes. Remove and discard the thyme sprigs. While the cream is steeping, peel and cut the sweet potatoes crosswise into 1/8-inch-thick slices. Position a rack in the center of the oven and another rack directly below. Heat the oven to 350°F. Lightly butter a 9 x 13-inch baking dish. Arrange about one-third of the sliced sweet potatoes in a double layer on the bottom of the dish, slightly overlapping the slices in each layer. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Spread half of the onions over the potatoes and drizzle about one-third of the cream (2/3 cup) over the onions. Sprinkle one-third of the grated parmesan cheese. Arrange another third of the potatoes in two more overlapping layers and season lightly with more salt and pepper Spread the remaining onions over the potatoes and drizzle another third of the cream over the onions. Sprinkle another third of the grated parmesan. Use the remaining sweet potato slices to make two final layers, pressing down with your hands to compact them. Season lightly with salt and pepper, and drizzle the remaining cream over the potatoes, trying to cover them as much as possible. Sprinkle with the remaining grated parmesan. Put a foil-lined baking sheet on the lower rack to catch any drips. Cover the gratin tightly with foil and bake on the center rack until the potatoes are almost tender but still offer a little resistance when pierced with a fork, about 1 hour. Remove the foil and bake until the sweet potatoes are completely tender and the top is lightly browned and bubbly, 30 to 40 minutes. Raise the oven temperature to 375°F. Cover the top of the gratin with a single tight layer of marshmallows and sprinkle with all of the chopped pecans. Return the baking dish to the oven and bake until the marshmallows are beautifully toasted to a golden brown, about 5 minutes or less. Keep an eye out not to burn them. Ris Tips: The onions can be made up to 3 days in advance, if refrigerated in a bowl covered with plastic. The gratin can be baked up to 1 day ahead to the point of adding the marshmallow topping; reheat at 375°F until bubbling hot throughout, about 20 minutes, add the topping, then bake 5 minutes or less. Heating the cream beforehand will speed up the gratin’s cooking time. Sausage-Maple Bread Stuffing (Serves twelve) 2 lbs. dense, chewy bread, cut into 3/4-inch cubes (about 15 cups) 3 oz. (6 Tbs.) unsalted butter, softened 1/3 cup chopped fresh thyme leaves (from about 1 oz. thyme sprigs) 1/3 cup chopped fresh sage leaves (from about 3/4 oz. sage sprigs) 3/4 tsp. poultry seasoning 3 cups medium-diced yellow onion (2 medium) 3 cups medium-diced celery (6 large stalks) 7 1/2 cups low-salt chicken broth 2 bay leaves 1 smoked ham hock (about 1 lb.) 1 1/2 lbs. bulk pork breakfast sausage 1/3 cup maple syrup 1 1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper Kosher salt Lay the bread cubes in a single layer on two baking sheets. Leave out to dry completely at room temperature, tossing once or twice, for about two days. Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 375°F. In a heavy-based, 8-qt. stockpot or Dutch oven, melt 3 Tbs. of the butter over medium heat until it begins to foam. Adjust with more liquid or bread depending on desired texture. Stir in the thyme, sage, and poultry seasoning and cook just enough to coat the herbs and season the butter, 30 to 60 seconds. Stir in the onions and celery and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and fragrant, about 15 minutes. Add the chicken broth, bay leaves, and ham hock and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium low and simmer until the liquid reduces by one-third, about 30 minutes. Meanwhile, put the sausage on a rimmed baking sheet and break it into quarter-size chunks. Roast until cooked through, about 15 minutes. Let cool, and then chop the sausage into smaller bits. Add the sausage to the broth and simmer just to allow the flavors to meld, about 5 minutes. Remove the ham hock and bay leaves. Discard the bay leaves and set the hock aside to cool. Stir the dried bread, several cups at a time, into the broth until all of the broth is absorbed and the bread cubes are well moistened. Stir in the maple syrup, pepper, and the remaining 3 Tbs. butter. When the hock is cool enough to handle, pick off the meat, chop it into small pieces, and add to the stuffing. Season to taste with salt if necessary (depending on the sausage and ham hock, both of which are salty, there may already be enough). Transfer the stuffing to a 9x13-inch baking dish and bake uncovered at 375°F until heated through and crisp on top, about 20 minutes if freshly made, or about 30 minutes if made ahead. Ris Tips: The bread can be dried weeks in advance, bagged, frozen, and then thawed when ready to use. The stuffing can be made (but not baked) up to 2 days ahead and refrigerated, covered.

The Latest Dish

David Guas will launch his much anticipated bakery, Bayou Bakery, Coffee Bar & Eatery, in November in the Courthouse neighborhood of Arlington. This homey, deep south, 70-seat café will offer plenty of Louisiana favorites from the New Orleans native. Delights include muffalettas, boudin, andouille sausage, jambalaya, porKorn, beignets, chicory coffee, pralines, cakes, pies, and puddings. There will be lots of Counter Culture coffee to complement the savory and sweet all-day menu. SWEET CHEF UPDATE: Peter Brett has been named pastry chef for both the Park Hyatt Washington and its restaurant, Blue Duck Tavern. Brett is a graduate of Boston University’s graphic design program and L’Academie de Cuisine’s pastry arts program, where he studied under former White House pastry chef, Roland Mesnier. Quite impressively, one of his wedding cakes is also featured on the United States Postal Service wedding stamp. SAVORY CHEF UPDATE: Jason Brumm has been tapped to be the chef at P.J. Clarke’s, at 16th & K Streets, NW. He was previously at Radius 10 in Nashville. DC Central Kitchen and its for-profit arm, Fresh Start Catering, have hired some well-known chefs to run their programs. David Strong has been named culinary director of Fresh Start. He was formerly executive chef with Haute Cuisine on Capitol Hill (a division of Ridgewells). Tim Miller, formerly of Mie N Yu, has been named executive chef. Ed Kwitowski, formerly of Ris and Bistro Bis, has been named executive chef of Fresh Start Contract Foods. Demetri Recachinas has been named Fresh Start programs manager. Previously, he had been with Buck’s Fishing & Camping. The team is headed by Gregg Malsbary, director of revenue generating programs. WOMEN RULE: Kimberly Geherin is the new general manager at Morton’s in Crystal City. She hails from Morton’s in Denver. Sherry Abedi has been named general manager at Ping Pong Dim Sum in Penn Quarter. Amy Troutmiller has been named general manger of West End Bistro by Eric Ripert at The Ritz-Carlton, Washington, DC. She was previously assistant general manager at Urbana Restaurant & Bar at Kimpton’s Palomar Hotel in Dupont Circle. Linsey Haynie is the new event coordinator for Ris in DC’s West End. She moves over from the Metropolitan Club. From the folks who brought you Againn and Againn Tavern comes Italian Shirt Laundry (wood-fired pizza with a splash of gourmet deli) and Italian Cinema (If pronounced correctly, it’s “Chinema”.). They will join the hot spots that have recently opened along 14th Street, NW. Both restaurants are slated to open early in the first quarter (permit Gods willing) and both will have low price points ($10 per person). Italian Shirt Laundry is named for what used to be in that space during its last 100 years – yup, a laundromat. For Italian Cinema think Italian cheeses and salami (charcuterie). Check out the videos projected on the walls, which define its cinema moniker. Healthy dining comes to DC by way of France — no joke. Annie and Didier Leconte, joined by their son Eric, plan to open a healthy café called Litestars. There is a limited menu: savory tartlets, salads, and soupdrinks (drinkable soups – no spoon needed). They plan to open mid-October at 21st & L Streets, NW. Aiming to open by the beginning of October: Cubre Libre (Penn Quarter), DC3 (Barracks Row), Arlington Rooftop Bar & Grill (Clarendon), Serendipity3 (Georgetown), Galileo III (Downtown DC), Pizza Paradiso (Old Town, Alexandria), and P.J. Clarke’s and Sidecar, its spiffy clubby downstairs (Downtown DC). One of its unique attractions that will lend a nod to its NYC roots: the men's room will house a pair of large, winged urinals from the 19th-century that have graced the original P.J. Clarke’s saloon since 1884. Rustico’s new Ballston location plans to open mid-to-late October. Steve Mannino will be executive chef over both Rustico restaurants – Ballston as well as the original one in Alexandria. Yes, there will be a Buzz Bakery next door to the new one in Ballston. Michel, the restaurant by Michel Richard at The Ritz-Carlton in Tysons Corner, is targeting a mid-October opening. Queen Vic, on H Street in Atlas District, hopes to be open by mid-to-late October. Slow Food DC will be joined by Poste Moderne Brasserie to host a pig roast (ah, memories of Jean-Louis Palladin) to announce the new program, "Slow Food DC Snail of Approval.” The program intends to identify local food establishments and artisans that exemplify the Slow Food mission: good, clean, fair food. Nominations for Slow Food DC can be made after October 3, by members and supporters, using a simple form on Slow Food DC's website — www.slowfooddc.org. Slow Food DC will give out the first round of Snail of Approval stickers in 2011. A panel comprised of chefs, culinary professionals, and industry representatives will judge the award submissions. The Amsterdam Falafelshop, a fast casual restaurant in Adams Morgan, became only the eighth franchise system to be headquartered in Washington, DC, according to Arlington, VA-based FRANdata. FRANdata is a franchise research company that tracks and analyzes franchises and their performance. Their planned expansion is strategically targeted to the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, and Southeast regions. Congratulations to Didier Rosada and Mike McCloud of Uptown Bakers. Uptown Bakers’ master baker and vice president of operations, Didier Rosada, was named a Top Ten Bread Maker in America by Dessert Professional magazine. Featured in the October issue, the annual award pays tribute to the country’s best bakers, based on quality and creativity. Uptown Bakers is owned by McCloud. ON THE CALENDAR: Tuesday, October 26: March of Dimes Signature Chefs Auction with Chef Ris Lacoste and WJLA-TV anchor Leon Harris. Saturday, October 30: Les Dames d’Escoffier’s Taste of Stokes event at the E.W. Stokes Public Charter School in NE DC to bring attention to the unique school lunch program and the community partnership. Thursday, November 11: Capital Food Fight to benefit DC Central Kitchen.

Is the Price Right?

After you enjoy some great barbecue food in Georgetown, try doing some grilling of your own. This week for “Is the Price Right?” we visited five area grocery stores – Dean & Deluca, Giant, Safeway, Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods – to find the best deals on side dishes to add to your summer barbecue experience. Baked beans are always a summer favorite and relatively cheap. To get the best price pick up Giant’s name brand baked beans at $0.85 for a 16 oz. can. Safeway also has a cheap product at only $0.09 more expensive with Bush Brother’s Country Style 28 oz. baked beans for $1.79. The most expensive baked beans were Whole Food’s 365 Everyday Value brand at $2.69 for 15 oz. A summer barbecue would not be complete without corn on the cob. If you’re buying in bulk or for just a few pieces of corn, the best place to shop is Giant with eight pieces for $1.88 and $0.23 each. Corn on the cob prices are similar at the other four locations. To get in something sweet and healthy, pick up a watermelon. Depending on how big of a watermelon you’re looking for, Whole Foods prices watermelon at $0.99/lb. while Trader Joe’s watermelons are $3.99 each. Dean & Deluca charge $6.00/lb. What’s a barbecue without potato chips? Try Trader Joe’s multigrain salted 11.5 oz. chips for $1.49, but if you’re craving Lays Original potato chips you can get two 11 oz. bags for $6 or a 16 oz. bag at Safeway for $5.49. After all these delicious sides, you’ll want something cool to drink. Try Blossom Time lemonade at Safeway where you can get 1 gallon for $2.79. Giant offers the next best price with 1 gallon of Turkey Hill lemonade for $2.79. Dean & Deluca has the most expensive lemonade from Nantucket Nectars with 17.5 oz. for $2.25. These sides will go great with any type of barbecue you’re interesting in cooking and make for a mouth-watering meal. Check out “Is the Price Right?” in The Downtowner for the cheapest ingredients to make a homemade pizza. Be sure to read next issue for more delectable and economical treats. For a further examination of pricing, see the chart below.