Cocktail of the Week

June 28, 2011

In London, early July marks the finals of the grandest tennis event in the world: Wimbledon. For spectators watching the volleys and backhands from the outdoor seats, the traditional method of cooling down is sipping on a Pimm’s cocktail.

Like the mint julep and the Kentucky Derby, Pimm’s and Wimbledon go hand-in-hand. The tipple is a mixture of Pimm’s No. 1 Cup liqueur and lemonade, garnished with strawberries, mint and cucumber.

Pimm’s is a mahogany-colored, gin-based spirit made from liqueur, fruit and spices. Like Coca-Cola, its exact formula is a closely guarded secret. According to the Pimm’s website, AnyoneForPimms.com, the spirit dates back to 1823 and James Pimm’s London bar, where patrons swallowed oysters with the ‘house cup’ – a gin-based beverage containing quinine and a classified blend of spices. It was served in vessels known as “No. 1 Cups.”

The popularity of the drink grew until it was known across England. By 1851, the Pimm’s line expanded to No. 2 (Scotch) and No. 3 (brandy) cups. The collection eventually grew to six, including No. 4 (rum) No. 5 (rye whiskey) and No. 6. (vodka). These later versions did not have the staying power of the original, but a brandy version infused with spices and orange peel is marketed as Pimm’s Winter Cup.

The first Pimm’s bar opened at the 1971 Wimbledon tournament, and today over 80,000 pints of Pimm’s and lemonade are sold to spectators each year.

Pimm’s comes close to summer drink perfection; its citrusy herbal flavor tastes fresh and invigorating on a hot afternoon. At only 25 percent alcohol, it can be enjoyed early in the day without knocking you out by dinner.

I first sampled Pimm’s at the home of one of my colleagues from the Associated Press, Bob Meyers. His wife Mary Jane Stevens, a native Brit, served me one during a pool party. For a person who doesn’t enjoy overly-sweet drinks, Pimm’s was a delightful and refreshing discovery.

“My parents had a pub and my mother would make Pimms for customers during the summer season,” Mary Jane said. “She made it with Pimms and lemonade (the equivalent of 7-Up or Sprite in the U.S.)”

As Mary Jane pointed out, the lemonade used in the traditional British potable is different than the U.S.-version. The British mixer is clear and bubbly, similar to a soft drink. Many substitute ginger ale, or lemon juice and soda.

Originally Pimm’s was garnished with a blue-flowered herb called borage. Nowadays, it’s usually dressed with a sprig of mint or cucumber. At Wimbledon, where strawberries and cream are the food of choice, the red berry accessory is a must. Other popular additions include apples, oranges, lemons or cherries.

With such a long history, some consider Pimm’s a drink for the older generation. But according to Mary Jane, the drink is growing in popularity among the younger set, “When my daughters went off to university in the U.K., they told me that Pimms was their favorite drink at the pub,” she said. “I noticed that it was being served during the Royal Wedding celebrations.”

Whether you spend this weekend watching tennis on the telly or mingling at a holiday cookout, try a Pimm’s cocktail for a crisp and unique refresher.

Classic Pimm’s Cocktail
Take a jug or long drink glass and fill it with ice.
Mix 1 part Pimm’s with 3 parts chilled lemonade. ?Garnish with mint, cucumber, strawberry, or fruit. Sprite, 7-Up or ginger ale may be substituted for lemonade.
Pimm’s No. 1 Cup may be purchased at Dixie Liquor at 3429 M Street in Georgetown.

The Latest Dish

June 13, 2011

Washington Harbor restaurants are slowly recovering. Sequoia, which was situated above the other restaurants and above flood level, is open. Tony & Joe’s and Nick’s Riverside Grill opened their patios only, grilling outdoors when the weather allows. Cabanas and Farmers & Fishers are still closed. Rumor has it that Michel Richard was planning to open a small restaurant at Washington Harbor before the flood happened. By spring 2012, there may be new entertainment aspects of Washington Harbor to appeal to those who love to dine and enjoy the river view.

Award-winning chef Jose Andres has developed another partnership, this time on the federal level. He is making a bold new move – changing Café Atlantico in Penn Quarter into American Eats Tavern from June 10 through Jan. 3, 2012 to complement the nearby U.S. National Archives upcoming exhibit “What’s Cooking, Uncle Sam? The Government’s Effect on the American Diet.” The first floor will offer more casual fare like hot dogs and cheesesteak (a signature item) and the second floor will be more formal, offering U.S. regional favorites. But one thing will not change. Jose plans to keep the six-seat mini bar operating during this time.

Chef & GM Update: Christopher Jakubiec was promoted to executive chef of Plume Restaurant at the Jefferson Hotel in downtown DC. He has been with the hotel since 2009, and previously worked at Quarter Kitchen in San Diego’s The Ivy Hotel and New York’s Ono restaurant. James Turner is the chef at Blue 44 on upper Connecticut Ave., NW, owned by Chris Nardelli, formerly of Café Ole in NW DC. Turner was formerly sous chef at Persimmon in Bethesda. Eddie Ishaq was named exec chef at Wildfire restaurant in Tysons Corner, owned by Chicago-based Lettuce Entertain You . He has worked at other Wildfire restaurants in Illinois. Dave Dilullo is the new general manager at Morton’s, The Steakhouse in Georgetown. He was previously with Ruth’s Chris.

Jacques Haeringer followed his dream and has finally opened Jacques’ Brasserie below the more formal and legendary L’Auberge Chez Francois in Great Falls. This more casual 30-seat dining room and lounge is a bit more affordable for friends and neighbors who can stop by more often.

Shenandoah American Grill, a southern-influenced bar and restaurant, will open in Restaurant Park in Ashburn, VA, where Otani, a Japanese steakhouse, used to be. It will offer American cuisine with a southern influence, and some recipes come from the kitchens of the partners and their grandmothers. This includes Krispy Kreme bread pudding – good, home-style southern cooking. Co-owners Sean Lakos and Lance Smith worked for Carrabba’s Italian Grill and P.F. Chang’s. The rather large restaurant will include a cigar bar (can you still do that?) complemented by a selection of 30+ scotches. It seats up to 350, including its patio space.

Warren Thompson of Thompson Hospitality (TH) is in expediting mode. In addition to his new gourmet burger concept, BRB Burger, he plans to roll out a BRB Burger food truck. He plans to open an American Tap Room in Clarendon this July as the brand’s new flagship store in the space on Wilson Blvd, where Sette Bello used to be. He expanded the name of Austin Grill (now there are six) to Austin Grill & Tequila Bar, introducing a beverage-oriented menu and refined tequila selection. And, this fall, the first free-standing Austin Grill Express fast-casual restaurant will open in College Park.

James Sullivan Sr., who started Clover Investment Group with sons James Jr. and Brian, has gotten deeper into the business by buying Café Deluxe and Tortilla Coast. The group bought Cafe Deluxe’s three existing locations, and the Tex-Mex Tortilla Coast on Capitol Hill, from founders Bo Marcus and John Breen. Clover will open a Tortilla Coast this fall on P St. NW, where McCormick Paints used to be. They plan to open a Cafe Deluxe in Gaithersburg’s Rio at Washington Center where Hamburger Hamlet used to be. They are also the creators of Tynan Coffee & Tea, with locations in Columbia Heights, Friendship Heights and Constitution Square. They expect to open additional locations in D.C. and Arlington.

Quick Hits
Mid-Town Café in Georgetown changed its name to Book Hill Café. Same owner; new chef. William Jeffrey’s Tavern is planning to open later this year at Siena Park on Columbia Pike in Arlington. It’s operated by Wilson Witney, Adam Lubar and Chris Lefbom of Rhodeside Tavern, Ragtime and Dogwood Tavern. Willy Koutroumpis, owner of Wild Willy’s Rock House & Sports Saloon in Annapolis, will open Kava in Annapolis.

Former Washington Bullet (from its only championship season) Kevin Grevey plans to open a FroZen Yo at 1900 M St., NW with FroZenYo founder and friend. Kevin also owns Grevey’s Restaurant & Sports Bar in Falls Church. TruOrleans, named for Louisiana native Tru Redding, is slated to open at 400 H St. NE in Atlas District. The executive chef is Andre Miller, previously at Ruth’s Chris Steak House. The Crystal City Marriott’s $6 million in renovations includes a new restaurant named BELL20 for its Bell and 20th streets location. It is an American tavern with more than 30 beers. It replaces CC Bistro.

Bobby Flay signed to open Bobby’s Burger Palace in September at The Varsity, a luxury student housing complex near the University of Maryland, College Park. The Varsity will also house a ChiDogO and an Austin Grill Express in the care of Papadopoulos Properties.

Jesse Yan and business partner Vanessa Lim bought a building on 8th St., SE on burgeoning Barrack’s Row, planning to open a Mediterranean restaurant on the first floor and Spices on the second floor. Jesse owns Spices and Nooshi.

John Kent Cooke has chosen fine wine over football. The former Redskins’ owner’s son, along with Sean Martin, has opened The Tasting Room at National Harbor, their fourth in the region. The premium red wines are from Boxwood Estate, which he also owns. John got into wine while living in California in the early ‘70s when his father, Jack Kent Cooke, owned the LA Lakers and Kings. When John bought the Boxwood Farm in 2001, he entered the wine business. Boxwood has a customized GPS system to monitor viticultural practices and a computer that can control the temperature of fermentation tanks. The winery produces only 3,000 cases a year and sells its three varieties at The Tasting Rooms in Chevy Chase, Reston, Middleburg, and National Harbor. All wine bars feature the Enoround, which can do a perfect one, three or five ounce pour for tastings, using a card insertion system.

Restaurateurs are gearing up for their annual Oscars of the DC restaurant scene: the RAMMY Awards. Some of the awards are voted on by the public, such as Power Spot, Hottest Bar Scene, Neighborhood Gathering Place, and a city-wide balloting campaign for Favorite Restaurant. Those Favorite Restaurant finalists are: matchbox (Penn Quarter), Ted’s Bulletin (Barracks Row DC), Chef Geoff’s (Tysons Corner), Carmine’s (Penn Quarter), and Lima Restaurant (Downtown). Although I am not proficient at “handicapping” this race, since matchbox and Ted’s Bulletin are owned by the same folks, they appear to be frontrunners. Of the restaurants up for Best New Restaurant, Ris is has been open the longest – a year and a half – as it missed the deadline last year by a week, so Ris has had more time to build loyal guests. Todd Gray has been serving fine food in DC longer than any of the Chef of the Year nominees, so Advantage: Todd. Winners will be announced at the gala on June 26 at the Marriott Wardman Park. The awards gala is produced by the Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington. The annual black tie gala has a Carnevale theme, so masks are optional. I’ve already got mine.

Pickling with Ris

June 10, 2011

“This is an article about looking back and thinking ahead,” says Ris Lacoste, owner and executive chef of RIS in Foggy Bottom. “Pickling is such a great year-round practice, and now is the perfect time to start thinking about it. Think about everything that’s going to be coming your way—cucumbers, beans, okra, tomatoes, peppers, squash. You need to prep for it.”

Pickling, Ris explains, is something of a lost art. It wasn’t until around the time of WWII that processed and fast foods came about, and the practice of pickling, canning and preserving your own food became a peripheral afterthought of American home kitchens. “You used to just live on what was there,” she says. “You grew tomatoes and processed them for the winter in a root cellar. Canned food barely even existed at the market. But fast food and processing happened along with the expansion of the railroad system in the first third of the 20th century, and this age-old, wonderful art, born out of necessity, just dwindled.”

But as our food culture moves back toward tradition, and with consumers increasing demand for fresh ingredients, she sees hope for the future. “Everyone is trying to go back to what our grandmothers would recognized as real food,” she says. “And that is fabulous. But we’ve lost a little of the know-how, so we need to find our footing again.”

For those wanting to really get their hands dirty, Ris recommends the book “Putting Food By,” an old-world volume on canning, pickling, drying, curing, and preserving all types of foods, from vegetables and meats to jams and jellies.

But her personal go-to recipe for pickling is a quick process with simple ingredients, and it doesn’t take long. She brings to a boil equal parts cider vinegar, water and sugar, with some red pepper flakes, a bunch of tarragon and whole cloves of garlic for taste. After the mixture boils, she pours it over the vegetables (cucumbers and carrots are her favorites), adds a little salt and pepper, tightens the lid to the jar and puts it away.

“It’s ready in a few hours and lasts for months,” she says. In fact, it’s safe to say that pickling in general is quick and simple. And on top of everything else, it’s a great way to snack healthy.

You can preserve almost any vegetable or fruit, she says: cauliflower, radishes, beets, carrots, zucchinis, peppers and chilies, cucumbers, pearl onions, okra, mushrooms, asparagus, green tomatoes, corn, beans, and every sort of berry and crisp fruit—her kitchen has even pickled watermelon rind to use for dressing crab cakes, and it was delicious. And so many of these offerings are already here or approaching in the months ahead.

“There are going to be more pickles, beans, okra and tomatoes then you’ll know what to do with,” she says. “And if you can’t eat them today, think about how to process and store them for later.”

But pickling and jarring isn’t the only way to store food. Ris also recommends freezing, as long as it’s done right. If you freeze vegetables at its peak ripeness, for instance, they maintain their nutrients. “You can freeze tomatoes whole, you know. Or make a pasta sauce and freeze it for later. Dice peppers and freeze those. For berries, make sure to lay them flat and let them solidify separately in the freezer before you bag them together. It’s so great to be able to toss a handful of fresh, frozen raspberries in the microwave and mix them with yogurt for breakfast.”

Sarah Biglan, the head chef at RIS, walked me through the making of the kitchen’s signature pickled medley of cucumbers, red peppers and onions, which they serve on their burgers, sandwiches and chopped up in their Thousand Island dressing. The cucumbers are sliced thin, the red peppers and onions are julienned, and they’re put into a bath of ice water. “This hydrates them and helps them hold their crispness when you pour the hot liquid over them,” Sarah explains. It also neutralizes the pungency of the onions, which are by nature very sweet, and get their sharpness from oxidation. Hydrating them brings out their innate sweetness.

There are varying techniques for pickling different things, Sarah says. White onions and lighter colored vegetables should be pickled with champagne vinegar, a similarly colored liquid, while things like beets and red pearl onions go with red wine vinegar. With heartier vegetables like okra, carrots and string beans, a quick blanching would soften the vegetables and help them absorb the pickling liquid. Beets might even benefit from a light roasting in the oven, and mushrooms do well by a quick, light stir fry to bring out their flavors.

Removing the oxygen from the jar—called pressurizing—will prolong the shelf life whatever you pickle. Once you’ve added the pickles and the liquid to the jar, loosely tighten the lid and place it in a pot of shallow water on the stove. Turn the burner on and as the liquid heats up, the “button” on the top of the lid will be suctioned down.

The other great thing about pickling, says Ris, is that there’s no wrong way to flavor them. Boil up the mixture with rosemary, oregano or thyme, fennel seeds, cumin, mustard, anise or dill. Odds are, if you like the flavors, they’re going to taste great pickled.

“We’re just touching on a Pandora’s box of possibilities,” says Ris. “Ours is just one pickling method, but it’s absolutely something to think about as you approach the bounty of the season.”

That said, the house pickles at RIS are awfully good. I was eating them with a fork, and threw fresh cucumber slices into the leftover liquid for round two. Try this recipe to get you started.

Pickled Red Pearl Onion

1 bag (12-10 oz packs) of peeled Pearl Onions, red

Pickling Solution
2 qt water
2 qt red wine vinegar
2 qt sugar
½ cup Mustard Seed
2 Tbsp Coriander, whole
2 Tbsp Black peppercorn
6 whole cloves

Peel pearl onions and place in a large 2-gallon, plastic container. Combine all pickling ingredients in a large saucepot and bring to a boil, stirring frequently to dissolve all sugar. Remove from heat when mixture boils and immediately place pearl onions in hot liquid. Let simmer for five minutes, or until onions are tender. Refrigerate at least 24 hours before using.

RIS Bread and Butter Pickles

Pickling Solution
3 cups Champagne vinegar
3 cups water
5 cups sugar
1 ½ tsp turmeric
1 ½ tsp celery seed
2 tTbsp mustard seed
1 ½ Tbsp salt

Pickled Vegetable
6 thin slices Cucumbers
1 julienned Red Bell Pepper
1 julienned White Onion

Method
Slice and soak all vegetables to be pickled in ice water for at least 1 hour.
Strain vegetables and remove all ice (any ice will melt and weaken the pickling solution). Before straining vegetables, combine all solution ingredients in a pot and whisk to dissolve sugar. When simmering, and once all the sugar is dissolved, remove from heat and pour over vegetables. Weight down pickles with 2 or 3 plates cover in plastic wrap so that they stay submerged in the pickling liquid, cool in the fridge. Once cool, distribute pickles into a jar or container.

Variation
Substitute thinly sliced watermelon rind for cucumber. Use on summer dishes like fish and crab cakes.

Truckeroo brings DC food trucks together on June 3rd

May 20, 2011

Anyone working in downtown Washington knows about the growing population of food trucks offering a wide variety of gourmet dining choices.

This summer, Georgetown Events will be hosting Truckeroo, a monthly festival where 20-25 food trucks will gather at the corner of Half St. and M St. NW in Das Bullpen, across the street from Navy Yard Metro and one block from Nationals Park. The Nationals will be in Phoenix playing the Diamondbacks.

Featured food trucks will include Big Cheese, which sells grilled cheese, Red Hook Lobster Pound, which has lobster roles, and Floridano, famous for their ice pops. Das Bullpen will also offer their European beer selection.

This summer’s first Truckeroo will be Friday, June 3rd from 11 p.m. to 9 p.m. Admission is free. There will also be live music at the event. The Nationals will be in Phoenix playing the Diamondbacks.

Truckeroo was the idea Bo Blair, owner of The Bullpen and Das Bullpen beer gardens, and in conjunction with the DC Food Truck Association, Capitol Riverfront BID, Washington City Paper, and Food Truck Fiesta.

To look at the full list of trucks, visit Truckeroo’s homepage.

The Latest Dish

May 17, 2011

From Steve Ells and the folks that brought you the amazingly successful QSR idol, Chipotle Mexican Grill, comes a new concept in the same QSR style. It’s called Shophouse Southeast Asian Kitchen (a mouthful in more ways than one) and will open its first store—a test market store—in Dupont Circle on Connecticut Ave., NW near the north Metro stop. The Asian-themed concept is slated to open this summer, but the Ells’ tweaking process is known to take time. No plans to expand beyond the first store yet.

New York City’s Luke’s Lobster, the lobster shack-themed restaurant concept founded by Georgetown grad Luke Holden, is scouting Penn Quarter for its first store in DC. Holden gets his seafood bearings from his father Jeffrey, who owns Portland Shellfish and is one of the owners of Luke’s. Other owners include Luke’s brother, Bryan, who lives here in Washington, and Luke’s friends Scott Bullard and Ben Conniff. A summer opening is planned.

Mid-Town Café opened on Wisconsin Avenue near Q St., next door to ILO Salon, and changed its name to Book Hill Café (for obvious reasons). The chef operator is Matthew Mohler, who has worked at Adour at the St Regis Hotel and J&G Steakhouse at the W Hotel. So American fare will highlight the menu. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are on the menu, as is an outdoor patio.

Quick Hits: It appears that Orlando-based Seasons 52 loves this area enough to sign a deal to open a second location, this one in Tysons Corner Center. Their first in the region opens in across from White Flint Mall in Bethesda. Yet another summer opening is planned. Salt & Pepper, by Chefs Nathan & Lindsey Auchter, joined by Robert Golfman and Suechen Chen (formerly of Bambu) will open where Kemble Park Tavern used to be in DC’s Palisades.

Another burger place opening this summer: Korean-based concept Kraze Burger is slated to open on Bethesda’s Elm Street. Expansion is expected to continue in North Bethesda, and Dulles and Georgetown will follow. They will also offer tofu and veggie burgers as well as salads.

Speaking of BGR, the chain plans to open a Clarendon restaurant at the corner of N. Highland Street and Wilson Boulevard. That would be the sixth BGR in the area. They have another Arlington location on Lee Highway in Clarendon).

Ivan Iricanin’s new taqueria, El Centro D.F., serves authentic Mexican food near his partners’ other restaurant, Masa 14. His partners are Kaz Okochi and Richard Sandoval. El Centro D.F. will occupy three floors in the 14th Street, NW building. Dinner and lounge on the lower level with the traditional taqueria on the first floor. Rooftop bar upstairs. Can’t wait for those warm summer evenings.

Richmond-based Café Caturra, a coffee house and wine bar, also plans to open in Arlington on S Glebe Road this summer—coffee during the day, wine in the evening. An outdoor patio is also part of the plan for the summer opening. Café Caturra was founded by musician turned restaurateur Jeff Grant.

Chef Update: Former Westend Bistro sous-chef Adam Barnett will be head chef at Eventide. He previously worked at another restaurant in the group, Liberty Tavern, as well as the Inn at Little Washington.

Openings Update: Ping Pong Dim Sum’s Dupont Circle location plans to open in early August, for the time being. Pinkberry, which just opened on Connecticut Avenue near M Street, plans to open (in no particular order) in Leesburg, Clarendon, National Harbor and Georgetown.

On The Calendar: Zoofari at the National Zoo – Thursday, May 19; Wine Enthusiast’s Toast of the Town at National Building Museum (still a few slots open) – Friday, May 20; RAMMY Awards at Marriot Wardman Park (Carnevale theme) – Sunday, June 26.

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 LindaRothPR.com.

Across the Cutting Board with Ris

May 4, 2011

“Other than shad roe,” said Ris, as we walked around the farmers market on a windy Saturday afternoon, “asparagus is just the harbinger of spring.” Looking around, every vendor had buckets of the fat, twiggy vegetables, rubber-banded in bunches with their spiky pompadours pointed toward the sky. And everyone at the market that day seemed to be there just for the occasion with baggies, satchels and Radio Flyers overflowing with springtime’s most famous green.

With their celebrated six-week lifespan, asparagus is like a revered culinary house guest that restaurants gear up to accommodate every season for their brief, glorious visit. On the first warm days of each year, anticipation for them is immediate and stifling; in a draft of last month’s column, I prematurely alluded to the crunchy spearheads, caught up in simultaneous thoughts of spring afternoons and their companionable treat. Ris had to hold me back, imploring me not to let loose a wave of untimely kitchen references.

“But it’s true,” she says. “There is something about being able to just eat asparagus fresh, right out of the ground that screams spring, freshness, growth. It’s revitalizing. They are such stunning, beautiful vegetables, and so much brighter than produce you see in the winter, that it awakens a certain spirit within us, and a desire for seasonal produce.”

Whether grilled, sautéed, steamed, roasted or fried, asparagus’ distinct flavor, crispness and seasonality have made it a delicacy for millennia. It was cultivated by the ancient Greeks and Romans, who also dried it out for use during the winter months. There is a recipe for asparagus in the oldest surviving cookbook from the third century AD, and a rendering of the spears even grace an ancient Egyptian frieze dating back to 3000 BCE.

“And it lends itself so well to so many flavor sensations,” says Ris. Asian cuisine uses it frequently in stir-fry, Italians wrap it in prosciutto, the French steam it and drizzle it with Hollandaise sauce, the Greek grill it with olive oil and a squeeze of lemon. Shave it with a potato peeler and mix it with salad greens, throw it in eggs or add it to almost anything for a fresh twist on classic dishes.

As for Ris, she has her own ways of dealing with this springtime herald. Her favorite, simple method of cooking asparagus is a quick pan roast. She puts a skillet on the burner until its quite hot, making sure the pan heats evenly and all the way through. She drizzles some oil in the pan, a couple tablespoons at the most, and as soon as it heats up she throws in the asparagus, tosses it around and covers it with a lid. Ris lets the asparagus sit for three to five minutes, unconcerned with unevenly browning the spears. “It adds character,” she says. “This steam/sear method gives the asparagus a great texture while allowing it to largely retain its moisture and flavor without being diluted.”

She then lifts the lid, adds salt, pepper and a squeeze of fresh lemon, and flips them. “I wait for the asparagus to cook a bit before adding the salt and pepper because it needs to soften up and release some water before the outer skin can absorb other flavors.”

After another minute or two on the pan, she takes them off and plates them, adding a sprinkle more lemon, pine nuts, fresh croutons, chopped hardboiled egg, a shave of parmesan and some quality feta cheese. “The feta is a power house flavor that balances the strength of the asparagus,” she says.

This is too easy and too good of a dish not to try for yourself. Ris recommends picking up the feta from Lebanese Taverna, which according to her has the best around.

In the kitchen at RIS, however, asparagus gets more of a royal treatment. Her asparagus and grapefruit salad, a “combination of dishes that came together over the years,” is a customer favorite. “This is one of those dishes where people cry when we take it off the menu each season,” she says. “But what can you do? We put it on the menu when asparagus is in season, and you take it off when it’s gone.”

It is at once deceivingly simple and meticulous in its preparation. The asparagus is marinated in house-made miso vinaigrette, and the dish is topped with a ginger-lime glaze. Both are fairly elaborate, but worth the effort depending on the depth of your love for this world-class delicacy. “Asparagus, with its strong almost bitterness, mixes so well with acid and citrus from the grapefruit and dressings. The flavors temper each other and balance the palate.”

But the bottom line is: asparagus is now. Run to the farmers market and pick it up while you can. This weekend will also see the arrival of strawberries, Ris informs me. Perhaps a seared tuna steak with goat cheese, strawberries and fresh asparagus? What are you waiting for?

Asparagus and Gingered Grapefruit Salad
—-
By Ris Lacoste

“Don’t be afraid of these ingredients. These are great, versatile dressings that work well with many salads and keep forever in the fridge. They’re well worth the effort.”

Serves 6
2 cups miso vinaigrette (see recipe below)
2 cups ginger glaze (see recipe below)
42 pieces of large asparagus
36 sections of pink grapefruit, 4-5 grapefruit
¼ cup mixed black and white sesame seeds
2 scallions, cut thinly at an angle
salt

Make the miso vinaigrette and ginger glaze ahead of time and keep in the refrigerator. Ever so slightly peel each stem of asparagus to eliminate any stringy toughness and to ensure even cooking. Blanch in a large pot of boiling salted water until the stems just bend, 3-5 minutes. Remove immediately to an ice bath to stop cooking and preserve green color.

Remove from the water as soon as the asparagus is chilled and drain. Asparagus is much more flavorful if not served ice cold, so keep at room temperature if just before service. If not, refrigerate until 10-15 minutes before ready to use.

Section grapefruit into a strainer over a bowl. Squeeze out as much juice as you can from the remaining fruit pith. Make sure the sections are whole and cleaned of all pith. (It is best to buy a couple of extra grapefruit, to assure enough perfect sections.) Place the sections into a separate bowl and cover with ginger glaze. Drink the fresh squeezed juice.

To arrange the salad, cover the asparagus with a cup or so of the miso vinaigrette, saving enough to dress the bottom of each salad plate. Let the asparagus soak in the dressing for a couple of minutes. Meanwhile, cover the bottom of each salad plate with a layer of the miso vinaigrette. Arrange a log pile of 7 asparagus spears in the center of each plate. Arrange 3 grapefruit sections fanned out on each side of the asparagus. Sprinkle with scallions and sesame seeds.

Miso vinaigrette
—-

Makes 3 cups
3 inches fresh ginger, peeled and finely diced
1 tablespoon garlic, minced
1 tablespoon miso
1 ½ tablespoons chile paste with garlic (essential ingredient, found in Asian markets)
½ bunch cilantro, chopped
3 ounces sherry
4 ounces rice vinegar
5 ounces fish sauce (nuac nam, also found in Asian markets)
2 ounces lime juice
1 tablespoon honey
1 ounce sesame oil
4 ounces peanut oil

Combine all of the ingredients in a bowl except for the sesame oil and peanut oil. Whisk in each oil one at a time. This dressing will last indefinitely, covered in the refrigerator.

Ginger Lime Glaze
—-

Makes 2 cups
8” ginger, peeled and cut into very fine threads
zest of 4 limes
1 ½ cups tarragon vinegar
¾ cup sugar

Combine all ingredients in a non reactive pot. Bring to a boil. Remove from the heat and let sit for 5 minutes to infuse flavors. Bring back to a boil and repeat process. Bring back to a boil for a third time. Set aside until cool enough to cover and refrigerate. The glaze will last indefinitely and makes a great iced or hot tea base.

The Latest Dish

April 20, 2011

In the continuing saga of Gifford’s Ice Cream and Candy Co., principal Neal Lieberman has seen the fruits of his efforts coming to blossom. He came to an agreement with Chevy Chase Land Company to re-open the Gifford’s in Chevy Chase in early April. Also, Gifford’s and ACKC (Artfully Chocolate Kingsbury Confections) have formed a marketing partnership, so that all of the ACKC locations will be scooping Gifford’s ice cream. ACKC will manage the Gifford’s location in Chevy Chase. Still more news in the right direction: Gifford’s will now be carried in all three area Balducci’s markets, as well as the Balducci’s & Kings markets in New York and Connecticut, which makes 34 stores total, serving five Gifford’s pint flavors. As part of a continued expansion selling to area restaurants looking for local, all-natural ice cream, Gifford’s and BGR: The Burger Joint have teamed up to offer Gifford’s milkshakes at all of the Burger Joint restaurants in DC and Bethesda, as well as the new BGR locations in Springfield, Va., Clemson, SC, and coming soon to Cabin John, Md., Columbia, Md., Mobile, AL, and Miami, FL.

Zed Wondemu has sold her renowned Ethiopian restaurant, Zed’s Ethiopian, to an Ethiopian couple with a strong background in food and beverage, who plan to rename it Das Ethiopian. Das translates to “tent” in Ethiopian. The location will get a facelift as well as some new menu items. They will still be the first outdoor dining spot you come to on M Street on the west side of Georgetown.

A new American bistro called Sixth Engine will open in an historic former firehouse in the burgeoning NoMa area of the Mount Vernon neighborhood. Pioneer developer Douglas Jemal bought the landmarked property from D.C. in 2005 knowing a thing or two about up-and-coming areas. He signed a deal with Gavin Coleman of The Dubliner on Capitol Hill and partners Jeremy Carman, Paul Holder, Paul Madrid and Tim Walsh of Town Hall in Glover Park. They plan to open a 3,600 square-foot American tavern-style bar and restaurant. They will even restore the firehouse’s old pole — fill in the blank for crazy bar promos here.

Chef/Manager Update: The new exec chef at Central by Michel Richard in Penn Quarter is Jason Maddens, a former sous chef at the new Michel in The Ritz-Carlton, Tysons Corner.

Pizzeria Orso’s new pizza chef is Chris Nye, a 30-year-old sous-chef from 2941 restaurant, owned by the same folks who own Orso.

Fabio Trabocchi, who is opening Fiola where La Paradou used to be in Penn Quarter, has hired Miles Vaden as executive chef. He was formerly of at Eventide in Arlington. Trabocchi refers to Vaden as his rising star. Adrian Reynolds, a former sommelier at Pizzeria Mozza in Los Angeles, will oversee the wine list. Jeff Faile, formerly of Palena in Cleveland Park, is the bartender supreme at Fiola. Jason Gehring, the former pastry chef at Cindy Wolf’s Charleston in Baltimore, takes over those duties at Fiola. Interesting tidbit: The restaurant was known as Bice in the mid-1990s, where Fabio first started cooking in the US and met his wife Maria.

NYC’s incomparable restaurant impresario, Shelly Fireman, plans to open Fiorella Pizzeria e Caffe in May at National Harbor. Everything is imported from Italy – even the workers, who are the only ones who can install the lighting fixtures from Milan. It is his second venture into National Harbor, as he opened Bond 45 in January 2010.

There’s more pork coming to DC – who didn’t know that? Actually, Alicart Restaurant Group, the NYC company who brought you Carmine’s, plans to open Virgil’s Real Barbecue, targeting Penn Quarter, since Carmine’s has done so well there. It may open by year’s end at the earliest.

We wrote about this awhile ago, but things are going into full gear now with Mike Anderson’s new three-pronged Del Ray project at 2312 Mount Vernon Ave. The barbecue concept, Pork Barrel BBQ, has the biggest space, complete with a long bar (always a good ROI). Then there’s the sushi and sake bar which Mike needs to name real fast – how about Mt V Sushi & Sake? The third part of the F&B triumvirate is Chop Chop, a fast-casual restaurant serving Asian dishes. All three spaces share a dishwashing and prep area, as well as storage.

If you like Dupont Circle’s Public Bar and Metro’s red line, a second Public Bar is planned for Tenleytown, where Dancing Crab used to be on Wisconsin Ave, NW. Co-owner Tony Hudgins of Public Group, says there will be more interactive games, like skeeball. Although the Tenleytown space is smaller, the kitchen area is larger so expect more food to come out of the kitchen there, especially with the team behind Founding Farmers helping to develop the menu. Public Group also operates Lupe Cantina in DC and Sushi Rock in Arlington.

Ashok Bajaj, Knightsbridge Management, with an impressive restaurant empire in DC –from Bombay Club serving Indian food to Bibiana Osteria Enoteca serving Italian cuisine, plans to open his eighth restaurant in the area, at the new 22 West Residences in the West End. Construction begins in late summer so it may not open until 2012.
Nancy Koide and Errol Lawrence of Sei and Oya plan to open Sax where Posh used to be on 11th Street, NW. Think gold and gilded and red velvet. Jonathan Seningen, most recently with Oya, will be the executive chef. Sax will offer contemporary French cuisine on small plates sans utensils. A May opening is planned.

Barry Berkowitz, the operator of The Melting Pot restaurants in this region plans to relocate his popular Reston fondue restaurant to Plaza America, off Reston Parkway. The current location on Wiehle Avenue will remain open through May so look for a June opening for the new spot, which will include an 80-seat patio and non-fondue bar and patio menu.

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 LindaRothPR.com

Across the Cutting Board with Ris

April 5, 2011

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

March 11, 2011

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

February 10, 2011

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"]