Cupcakes for the At-Home Connoisseur

Ooey, gooey, chewy cupcakes, creamy icing sliding off the tops, finger-licking, oh heck, paperliner-licking good, crumbs caught mid-air and time-warp flashbacks - a retro rewind to the innocent indulgence of old-fashioned cupcakes, where a kid’s eyeballs over-amp in megawatt lust and grown-ups get a tiny dessert sans guilt. Something for the whole family. Something to get us into the minivan and drive for miles only to stand in line…or maybe not. In the midst of all the current cupcake hooplah Chef Matt Finarelli breaks away from the pack to say, “Let’s make sophisticated cupcakes and teach everyone how to bake them at home!” Finarelli, who teaches several cooking classes a week at Open Kitchen in Falls Church, Virginia, in everything from tapas to tamales and pizza to pappardelle, demonstrates an astounding repertoire of international cookery coupled with a keen sense of humor and boyish charm. This month’s single session evening courses have included “Summer in St. Tropez”, featuring Julia Child’s salade niçoise, whole roasted branzino with lemon aioli (author’s weakness) and ratatouille. And for a light dessert, caramelized peaches with peach ice-cream and peach chocolate macaroons. How’s that for a foodcation to the South of France at home! During an island-inspired night class called “Caribbean Dream,” participants learned how to prepare grilled lobster, seviche atop avocado, and flaming rummed-up bananas Foster with both pineapple and coconut. It’s no wonder his classes fill up quickly. You are both student and diner! For his “Adult Cupcakes and Wine Pairing” Finarelli demoed and served six of his inspired recipes. Imagine, if you will, red velvet chocolate port cupcakes with vanilla port frosting paired with Terra d’Oro Zinfandel Port from Amador County, CA and dark chocolate and chipotle cupcakes with candied orange peel paired with Banfi Rosa Regale from Strevi, Italy. A bride-to-be with friends in tow came for a bachelorette party and were enjoying a few extra purchased glasses of champagne and port. Yes, you can do that too. How civilized. Andy Hoyle of Republic National Distributing described and poured for the class of 40 guests. “The cork pops here,” he quipped to an increasingly cheery group. Hoyle took a tricky menu-pairing complementing sweets with spirits. My favorite combination was a pretty prosecco and almond cupcake topped with rosewater and petite flowers. It was served with Kluge Estate Cru, a divine bubbly out of Charlottesville, VA. We heart our champers and this is a lovely one. Here’s your assignment while sipping: Prosecco and Almond Cupcakes with Rosewater and Fresh Blossoms Courtesy of Chef Matt Finarelli of Open Kitchen Yield ~32 cupcakes Ingredients: 4 cups cake flour 2 tsp baking powder 1 tsp salt 4 sticks butter – unsalted – softened 3 cups sugar 8 ea eggs 6 Tbsp milk ¼ cup Prosecco 2 tsp vanilla 1/3 cup slivered almonds – well chopped 1 recipe Rosewater Frosting As needed Edible blossoms (e.g. pansies, marigolds, small roses, cone flowers, herb flowers, lilac, lavender – all pesticide free and well washed.) Method: - Preheat oven to 350 degrees, line cupcake pan with papers. - Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt. - Beat together butter and sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. - Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. - With mixer on low speed beat in milk, Prosecco and vanilla until just combined. - Add flour mixture in 3 batches, beating until just combined after each addition. - Fold in almonds gently. - Bake until toothpick comes out clean – about 20 minutes. Cool and top with Rosewater Frosting and then edible blossoms. Rosewater Frosting Ingredients: 2 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, softened 1¾ cups confectioner’s sugar 5 tsp rosewater Method: - Beat cream cheese with an electric mixer until smooth. - Add confectioners sugar and beat on low speed until incorporated. - Add lemon juice and rosewater and beat until smooth. Open Kitchen wears many toques. It is a full-service caterer, a cooking school with hands-on and demo cooking classes, a flex-timeshare kitchen for local chefs to launch and grow their own business, and a bistro serving lunch Monday through Saturday, and dinner Thursday through Saturday. To check class schedules, restaurant hours and timeshare availability visit: or call 703-942-8148. For questions or comments on this article contact [gallery ids="99191,103315,103309,103312" nav="thumbs"]

The Latest DishNovember 30, 2011

**Bryan Voltaggio**, chef/owner of **Volt** in Frederick, Md., is in high gear. In addition to his new **North Market Kitchen** in downtown Frederick as well as his new bistro **Range** (as in ?down on the ? ?) in Chevy Chase, he also plans to open a soup-and-sandwich concept on Frederick?s Carroll Creek Promenade, where **La Dolce Vita** used to be, called **Lunchbox**. The casual 30-seat restaurant is slated to be open before the end of the year. In the first quarter of 2012, Volt will introduce a prix-fixe $80 per person menu that changes each month, to replace the a la carte menu. Lunch service will be offered only on the weekends. Bryan also has an idea for a diner, yet to be named, that he wants to open on East Street in Frederick in what used to be a car dealership. He hopes for an early second quarter 2012 opening. And speaking of Bryan/Brian(s), **Brian McBride** has joined forces with **Robert Wiedmaier** (**Marcel?s**, **Brasserie Beck**, **Brabo** and **Mussel Bar**) to create a model for restaurants he and Wiedmaier hope to open together. He?s currently headquartered at Brasserie Beck, creating protocols and menus. They have just hired a new chef de cuisine, **Will Morris**, formerly of **Bourbon Steak**. It was time for new challenges and new horizons, as Brian had been at **Park Hyatt** for 25 years. **Mike Isabella** is moving at warp speed, it seems. **Graffiato** has been open only a few months and now has plans to open a Mexican restaurant in early 2012 in Georgetown where **Hook** was, until it caught fire ? literally. **Bandolero** will serve modern Mexican small plates. The frequently-changing menu will feature ceviche, tacos, vegetables and ?carbons,? which are Mike?s version of fajitas. **Jonathan Umbel** remains owner of the space. **Pie Sisters** plans to open this month on M Street in Georgetown near Key Bridge. It appears the parent company is **O?B Sweet**, created by the **Blakely** sisters: **Alli**, **Erin** and **Cat**, who announce on their website that ?Homemade pies are and have always been a staple in our family tradition ? ? Falls Church restaurant landmark, 2941, will close the first two weeks of 2012 to undergo renovations ? from the d?cor to the menu. It will become more casual and more appealing to every-week dining, not just special occasions. This more casual concept has worked well for **Michel Richard?s Central** and **Fabio Trabocchi?s Fiola**. **Stephen Starr** is to Philadelphia what **Danny Meyer** is to New York. Now, he?s set his scope in D.C. and plans to open a French bistro at 14th and Q Streets, N.W., before the 2012 fall session of Congress starts. His big hit concepts in Philly include: **Buddakan**, **Continental** (love the martinis), **Morimoto** and **El Vez**. Renowned mixologist (PX/Restaurant Eve) **Todd Thrasher** plans to open a new bar called **TNT**, named for his son **Tristan Noah Thrasher**. It will accompany **Eamonn?s: A Dublin Chipper** on Columbia Pike in Arlington. A March or April opening is planned. He will offer two cocktail menus ? one of old favorites, and one that?s brand new. **Quick Hits:** **Matchbox Management Group** signed a deal to open a **Ted?s Bulletin** at 14th and S Streets, just a block from the next **Matchbox** to open, at 14th and T Streets, NW. **Geoff Tracy** signed a lease to open in Rockville, where **Againn** and **Houston?s** used to be. He has his sights on a second-quarter 2012 opening. **SoHo**, aka Southern Hospitality, serving American food, will open at 1813 Adams Mill Road, N.W., where **Adams Mill Bar and Grill** used to be, by the end of the year. **Teaism** plans to open in Old Town Alexandria in March. Plans to open in the U Street Corridor are on hold for now. **Hawthorne Homemade Organic Juice Bar & Market** plans to open on Macomb St, N.W., where **River House** used to be. **Maddy?s Tap Room** inked a deal to occupy 1100 13th Street, N.W. **Cava Mezze Grill** has leased a 2,100-square-foot space for its next location in the Mosaic District (Merrifield, Va.) now under development. They have locations in Rockville, Bethesda, Capitol Hill, Clarendon and, soon, Tysons Corner. **More Quick Hits:** Look for a new bakery concept from **Mark Furstenberg**, formerly of **Bread Line**. **Maranon Caf?** will open in the old **Tegeste** location on 14th Street, N.W. This new Latino full-service restaurant plans to serve Mexican, Salvadorian, and Dominican food. **BlackFinn American Grille** signed a deal to open in Halstead Square in Merrifield, Va. It plans to open in summer of 2012. **Jason McCarther** plans to open **Box Bar & Grill** in Bethesda, featuring 15 televisions with all sports all the time and burgers and wings. Although **Chidogo?s** at 14th and U Streets, N.W., has closed -- as have several other retail operations there due to building renovation ? Chidogo?s **Robert Hisaoka** continues to move forward, planning to open in College Park before end of year and at National Harbor by Spring 2012. **Steak and Cheese**, the new concept from restaurateur **Michael Landrum**, created of **Ray?s The Steaks** dynasty, stealthly opened in Rosslyn where **Hell-Burger II** (also his place) was. They slice the beef ? not shave it. One of several reasons why they do not claim to be an authentic cheesesteak place, hence the name. **Openings Update:** **Nick?s Riverside Grill** and **Tony & Joe?s** are now slated to re-open in April, in Georgetown Harbour. Nick?s will expand into the former **Cabanas** space and will offer an expanded menu for lunch, dinner and brunch. Ray?s The Steaks in East River (Anacostia) plans to be open in January, with no menu changes planned. New York-based **Boqueria** now plans to be open in January at their downtown D.C. spot at 19th and M Streets, N.W. Cathal and **Meshelle Armstrong?s** ?epicurean emporium,? **Society Fair**, is expected to open by Christmas. It will include a bakery, butchery, wine shop, bar and demo kitchen. Four Fields (Ireland?s 4Ps) in Cleveland Park negotiated with its new owners to stay open until March 2012. **Chef Update:** **Duane Keller** is the new executive chef for the **Hamilton Crown Plaza Hotel** and **14K Restaurant**. Keller was most recently executive chef at the **Mason Inn and Conference Center Hotel** in Fairfax, and before that at **Capital Grill** in Chevy Chase. **Mio** is getting a new chef **Giovanna Huyke**, who is apparently the Julia Child of Puerto Rico. **Zentan** sushi chef **Jason Zheng** will be working for **The Hamilton**, the newest venue from **Clyde?s Restaurant Group**, when it opens this month. **Alexander Zeppos** is the new chef at **Logan Tavern**. Before that, he was the executive chef and director of operations for **Growlers** of Gaithersburg. **Chef Robert Weland** recently of **Poste** at the **Hotel Monaco** is now at **Cork Wine Bar** at Logan Circle. And chef **Ron Tanaka** of Cork Wine Bar is now at New Heights in Woodley Park. **Mari Vanna** is a Russian home-cooking themed restaurant planning to open on Connecticut Ave., N.W., in Dupont Circle next fall. It will be three stories and will have d?cor that is noticeably Russian-grandmother-esque (think tchotchkes). It will have a club-like atmosphere (think **Mansion** on O). It?s owned by **The Ginza Group**, which owns Mari Vanna locations in Moscow, New York and London as well as more than 70 other concepts in Russia. Menu varies from beef stroganoff to blinis topped with caviar. And vodka. Just like Jose Andres? minibar within Caf? Atlantico (now America Eats Tavern), **Amy Brandwein** will offer a seasonal 12-course menu at **Tavola 12**, a 12-seat restaurant within **Casa Nonna** on Connecticut Ave, N.W., near Dupont Circle.

Tony and Joe’s Fetes Tony on His 77th Birthday

Tony Cibel celebrated his 77th birthday with a couple hundred of his closest friends June 5 at his waterfront restaurant at Washington Harbour, Tony and Joe's Seafood Place, which marked its 25th year in 2012. Cibel is a native Washingtonian. Tony Cibel founded Tony and Joe's with Joe Rinaldi in October 1987 at the newly constructed Washington Harbour. His business projects have expanded since then. Cibel is the patriarch of the Oceanside Management Family of restaurants, which has included the Dancing Crab, Tony & Joe’s Seafood Place, Nick’s Riverside Grille, Kaufmann’s Tavern, Cabanas and the Rockfish. Tony and Joe's survived the April 2011 flooding at the waterfront that damaged it and several other places. With a re-design, it emerged better than ever. Party-goers were treated to oysters, shrimp, lamb chops, sauteed soft-shell crabs, split lobster, prime rib and drinks, of course -- and, yes, there was dancing. [gallery ids="101765,141303,141306,141309,141298" nav="thumbs"]

We’re Not Kidding Around: Soupergirl Is Now on M Street

Soupergirl, a small, eco-friendly restaurant featuring homemade vegan and kosher soups and salads, has opened a new takeout store at 1829 M St., NW, in the former Yo-Cake location. Known for its various gazpachos in watermelon, beet, peach and tomato, the shop offers five soups, warm or chilled, that change daily on a rotating schedule. All of the soups – starting at $6 -- are plant-based, made up of fresh vegetables, beans, grains, herbs and spices, and have interesting names, which originate from the owner’s previous career as a stand-up comedian in New York City. In addition to soups, the menu includes green salads, grain salads, sides of bread and hummus, and desserts. It also features delivery and catering services. The 750-square-foot site in the heart of the downtown business district is the second Soupergirl to hit Washington, D.C. The first, located on Carroll Street, NW, near the Takoma Metro Station, opened its doors in 2011, and is where all the food sold at both locations is prepared. Because of its smaller size, the new shop does not have the space for seating, but it features a counter window for customers to enjoy a quick lunch. However, the new takeout location offers a wider variety of soups each day than the Takoma store does. Sara Polon, also known as “Soupergirl,” is the founder and owner of both locations. She decided to get involved in the local food movement after reading Michael Pollan’s book, “Omnivore’s Dilemma,” and was inspired to create a restaurant that offers healthy dining options made from only the freshest seasonal ingredients, many of which are organic and grown on local farms. Her business began in 2008 as an online ordering system and has since developed into a popular lunch spot for Washingtonians on the go. “This store is more of a ‘Soupergirl Express,’ ” Polon said. The takeout option is ideal for businesspersons who only have time to pick something up before eating lunch at their desk, she said, adding, “I am on a mission to provide good, healthy food to as many people in the area as possible.” Polon’s success can partially be attributed to her mother, Marilyn, or “Soupermom.” She is responsible for crafting each recipe down to the final spice as well as cooking the soup from scratch each day. The food at Soupergirl is kosher-certified by Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld of Ohev Sholom -- The National Synagogue. The food is also certified by the Washington, D.C., chapters of Slow Food and REAL (Responsible, Epicurean and Agricultural Leadership) -- organizations that promote restaurants that support local, seasonal and sustainable food sources in their kitchens. “You’re going to feel clean when you eat this food,” Polon said. “You will recognize every item on the ingredient list.” Soupergirl’s signature soups and salads are available in Whole Foods Market, eight Sweetgreen locations in the D.C. area and Glen’s Garden Market in Dupont Circle. The M Street shop is open 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., Monday through Thursday and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m, Friday. It is closed weekends and on Jewish holidays. [gallery ids="116374,116372" nav="thumbs"]

Cocktail of the Week

While most drinkers are familiar with beer, wine and spirits, sake, a rice-based alcoholic beverage of Japanese origin, has an aura of mystery about it. Pronounced Sah-KAY, many view it as an exotic and foreign elixir. Known as “The Drink of the Gods,” sake is the national spirit of Japan and has been consumed for over 4,000 years. Sake is often referred to as rice wine. However, it is made through a brewing process similar to the way beer is made. Many people are first exposed to sake in a sushi bar or Japanese restaurant, and never try it elsewhere. The most common sake served is Futsu-Shu, which would be equivalent of table wine. But like wine, sake comes in a variety of premium categories. These types are distinguished by the degree to which the rice has been polished and the added percentage of brewer's alcohol or the absence of such additives. More and more of these sake styles are breaking into the US market. According to Imbibe magazine in 2007, for the first time ever the dollar figure for sales of premium sake in the US exceeded that of generic Futsu-Shu. As the popularity of sake increases, it has begun to appear on cocktail menus as bartenders and mixologist discover its versatility. Market Watch magazine reports in April 2011 that bartenders are combining sake with distilled spirits in cocktails as a way of enhancing their flavor profiles. Todd Richman, corporate mixologist for Sidney Frank Importing Co., which markets the Gekkeikan portfolio, sees sake cocktails as an emerging category. “It has a lot of finesse,” he says. Richman believes that sakes fit well with the handcrafted cocktail movement, which touts fresh-squeezed juices and house-made ingredients. A spattering of Washington restaurants serve sake cocktails. A popular item at Zentan is the Spicy Thai Martini made with Nigori unfiltered sake, chili infused Russian Standard vodka, St. Germaine and a splash of cranberry. At Poste Brasserie, the Plum Blossom is a cherry-infused sake cocktail finished with plum soda. Another popular trend is using sake in place of the base spirit in familiar cocktails. For example, in a Saketini, the classic martini is given a new twist when sake is substituted for vermouth and mixed with gin. A sake screwdriver and Zipang mimosa combine sake and sparkling sake respectively with orange juice. These reinvented cocktails are popping up on menus not just at Asians spots, but steakhouses, tapas bars and conventional restaurants as well. According to Market Watch, Ruby Tuesday is one of Gekkeikan’s largest customers due the chain’s use of Gekkeikan sake in their sangrias. One of my favorite sake libations is an updated version of the Sex and the City favorite, the Cosmopolitan. The Sake Cosmo replaces limejuice with sake. I like the way the acidity of sake blends with the tart flavor of cranberry. The orange sweetness is highlighted with a touch of earthiness. It’s just enough difference to give this fading favorite a breath of new life. Sake Cosmo 1 oz Vodka 1 oz sake 1 oz orange liqueur 1 oz cranberry Combine ingredients in a shaker with ice. Pour into a martini glass. Different styles of sake may be purchased at Dixie Liquor (3429 M Street in Georgetown)

Eat, Drink and Cook Like an Umbrian

East of Tuscany, in the Apennine Mountains, Umbria is known as il cuore verde d’Italia: the green heart of Italy. Since the fall of 2014, when the Via Umbria store first appeared in Georgetown as a pop-up, that green heart has been beating at 1525 Wisconsin Avenue. Owners Bill and Suzy Menard (who met while working on Walter Mondale’s presidential campaign) recently launched the store’s galleria, a renovated second-floor space equipped with a professional kitchen, where they hold events to complement the other facets of their Umbria-obsessive business. On the first floor, the emporio offers a carefully curated selection of Italian wine, olive oil, pasta, specialty foods (including chocolate), kitchen items, linens, glassware, jewelry and — notably — the hand-painted ceramics known as maiolica from Deruta in Umbria, a ceramics center since Etruscan times. Examples of food and kitchen items are: Verrigni spaghetti with squid ink ($8), Il Boschetto Grigliata sea salt ($12), Mancino flavored olive oil ($16), a pasta slicer ($22.50), bread cutting boards ($50 and $90) and copper two-handled pots ($110, $140 and $165). For those what want to try living like an Umbrian in Umbria, the Menards rent La Fattoria del Gelso, their eight-bedroom, 18th-century farmhouse in Cannara, a village near Assisi famous for its onion festival. Saturday-to-Saturday rentals go for 3,000 euros in low season and 4,000 in high season. The Menards, who maintain a kind of cultural dual-citizenship, first bonded with Italy after spending a summer in Fiesole when Bill was a student at Georgetown Law School. They started the shop Bella Italia in Bethesda in 2003, running it for 10 years and purchasing their Cannara farmhouse in 2008. Among the upcoming events in the galleria are wine dinners on Dec. 7, 8 (Tabarrini vineyards) and 12 (medieval wine dinner with guest chef Robert Van Rens). On Dec. 9, there will be both a cooking class with Dorrie Gleason focusing on crostatas, tarts and fruit pies and a culinary mystery program, “Pasta, Passion, and Poison.” A book club next meets on Dec. 17 to discuss “Hunting Truffles” by Dick Rosano. Italian chef Simone Proietti-Pesci will be in D.C. from Jan. 8 to Jan. 24. Details, online ordering of emporio items and the Dolce Vita blog are available at [gallery ids="102173,132315,132276,132284,132292,132304,132309,132299" nav="thumbs"]

Cocktail of the Month

Without a doubt, winter has arrived in our nation’s capital. Whether it’s a Georgetown preppie clad in cashmere and Burberry plaid or a hipster walking down 14th Street with boot socks, fringed jacket and infinity scarf, everyone in the metro area is bundled up and trying to beat the cold. My December visit came as a shock to my body. As a D.C. expat living on a tropical island, I am accustomed to temperatures of 30 degrees Celsius, not Fahrenheit. While dressing in layers and pulling warm clothes out from my storage bin helped my plight, I found a more jovial cure: hot cocktails to soothe the soul and defrost my frozen bones. On the weekend before Christmas, I felt like I was turning into a snowman while shopping at the outdoor holiday market downtown. Fortunately, a remedy was close by. Across F Street, Nopa Kitchen + Bar features a diverse menu of winter-warmer cocktails. I sampled three of their hot tipples, each one completely different. The first was called Nopa’s Punch, their version of mulled wine, a Northern European winter staple. Served hot, this beverage is usually made with red wine, various mulling spices and citrus fruits. It is often enhanced with another flavored liquor such as schnapps or brandy. It immediately took me back a few years, when my partner and I strolled through the Christmas market in Belfast, Ireland, admiring the local crafts, riding a Ferris wheel and taking a break from Guinness as we stayed cheerful with a soothing glass of spiced hot wine. Nopa’s version starts off with a good quality red wine. Beverage Director Jesse Hiney says that doing so is important because the flavor comes through in the finished product. The wine is mixed with a spice mixture, Granny Smith apples, orange, lime and Becherovka, a Czech liqueur spiced with ginger and cinnamon. The result is a drink that is a bit bolder, with a more pronounced spicy flavor than most of the mulled wines I have tried. It is served with a gluten-free ginger cookie that echoes its snappiness. Hiney says he has received many compliments from European customers accustomed to drinking mulled wines, who call Nopa’s version especially nice. Nopa also offers a classic hot toddy with a striking twist. The base liquor for this drink is a cardamom-infused bourbon that dominates the flavor. According to Hiney, whole cardamom pods are left to infuse in bourbon for a month. The whiskey is combined with lemon juice, spiced apple syrup, honey and hot water, then topped off with an amaretto meringue made by Nopa’s pastry chef, Jemil Gadea. The final result tasted like a hot lemon meringue pie from an exotic land, the cardamom flavor shining through. The fluffy topping merged seamlessly into the hot liquid, with the amaretto and spiced apple syrup tempering the strong spicy flavor. Finally, for a truly decadent treat, one should not miss Nopa’s adult version of hot chocolate. Starting off with 65-percent, single-origin Ecuadorian chocolate, this delicacy is served with a choice of liqueurs including Frangelico, Grand Marnier and Kahlua. By using superior chocolate, Nopa has created a delectable and incredibly rich dessert in a glass. Hiney suggested I sample it mixed with Patrón XO Café Incendio, a liqueur forged from arbol chiles, Criollo chocolate and Patrón tequila. This newly created spirit magically combines the flavors of spicy and sweet with a touch of heat. When used in Nopa’s hot chocolate, the result is extraordinary. It comes served with a light and pillowy homemade marshmallow, a special touch. The marshmallow easily blends into the rich and thick chocolate, giving it a smooth, silky finish. By the time I had sampled all three of these warmers, my body had thawed. I had shed my alpaca poncho and faux fur jacket. I was ready to face the bitter chill and carry on – full of cheer – with my holiday errands. Readers can sample these cocktails at Nopa Kitchen + Bar, 800 F St. NW.

What’s Cooking, Neighbor?

From its opening in 1960 in a Federalperiod house near Georgetown University, 1789 Restaurant has always been known for excellent lamb. “When I came on, it was the first thing I noticed,” says Anthony Lombardo, who was appointed executive chef in 2011. (We got together for a chat at his favorite table, number 26 in the Manassas Room.) “It’s a signature dish by popular demand. So, I sourced the best lamb I could find, from a small Mennonite farm in Cumberland, Maryland.” His seasonal American menu, with entrée headings of Sustainable Seafood and Humanely Farmed Animals as well as details of origin for the farm-goods purveyors, leaves no doubt of his locavore leanings and eco-consciousness. “You won’t see tuna or Chilean sea bass on our menu,” he says. “We’re looking at the big picture, the future of agriculture.” Lombardo developed a love of the land and cooking from an early age. Growing up in the Detroit suburb of Sterling Heights, his family enjoyed weekend drives for seasonal produce sold at roadside stands. “In summer, it was Michigan corn every night for two months,” he fondly remembers. On yearly fishing trips to Canada, teenage Anthony learned how to properly fillet and cook the catch of the day. At extended family gatherings of this Italian clan, it was his aunt Mary who “always destroyed everybody” with homemade angel hair pasta topped with fresh tomatoes and basil from her garden. After graduating from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., in 2004, Lombardo was off to a four-month Slow Food program in central Italy, where he worked in a butcher shop taking apart whole animals. He credits Luciano DelSignore, owner of the renowned Bacco Ristorante in Southfield, Mich., for his kitchen management skills. “He was my career mentor, who taught me how to run an efficient, effective restaurant.” Such expertise serves him well at fine-dining 1789, the crown jewel of Clyde’s Restaurant Group. Expanded over the years to four townhouses, there are six dining rooms, decorated with early American antiques and historical prints. Tables are set with fine linens and giltedged Limoges china. Gas lights flicker. The restaurant’s numerical name honors the year when the land was first purchased by Archbishop John Carroll (Georgetown University’s founding father), the village of Georgetown was incorporated and the Constitution of the United States was adopted. “We have customers who have come for their wedding anniversary for 30 years. They come for Christmas, for birthdays,” says the chef. “They have their favorite tables and servers.” A recent trend is the growing number of same-sex couples who choose the 55-seat Middleburg Room for their wedding receptions. “That’s really cool,” he says. For Restaurant Week 2014 (Jan. 13-19), chef Lombardo’s menu includes a choice of starters – Brussels sprout salad, pork terrine or oyster stew – and entrées – lamb shoulder with bone marrow grits, teres major beefsteak with roasted maitake mushrooms or scallops with oxtail ragu. For dessert, pastry chef Ryan Westover offers carrot cake with purple carrot sherbet or an ice cream sundae. Calling his Brussels sprout appetizer “a nice, healthy, hearty winter salad,” Lombardo says, “It’s not cooked to death with bacon and oil, but rather the raw sprouts are shaved, saving the vitamins and minerals.” Brussels Sprout Salad Serves 4 Ingredients: 1 pound Brussels sprouts, shaved thinly 1 1/2 cups toasted pine nuts 3/4 cup shaved pecorino Toscano cheese 1 head Belgian endive, julienned For the dressing: 4 tablespoons grain mustard 3 tablespoons lemon juice 10 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil Salt and pepper to taste Directions: Combine all ingredients What’s Cooking, Neighbor? visits with wine, food and entertaining professionals who work in the Georgetown area. Georgetowner dining columnist Walter Nicholls is the food critic for Arlington Magazine and a former staff writer for The Washington Post Food section.

Five Fall Favs

Autumn is a celebratory season here in Georgetown, as locals and visitors alike come to the neighborhood to enjoy the scene before winter’s bite...

Casual, Everyday Delicious

Our reputation as the home of Capitol Hill power lunches – which, in many ways, our chefs are still trying to shake – has become a sort of cultural heritage, building a duality of seriousness and leisure that pervades the sensibilities of dining rooms and kitchens across the city. It is excellence meets informality, seriousness meets raucousness. Washingtonians work hard and expect good food to come from places that soothe their collectively weary spirits. We want a place to sit and relax without putting on appearances. Here at Georgetown Media Group, we were excited to explore this side of dining: the restaurants and chefs that offer extraordinary cuisine without requiring a bank-breaking budget or jacket and tie. We wanted to know where the city’s frequent diners grab a great bite, to track down the casual, everyday delicious. With the RAMMYs -- Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington’s annual restaurant awards -- coming up on June 22, it was a perfect time to highlight some of our favorite nominees. Washington’s restaurant community recently lost an important member of the family, former Washington Post food writer Walter Nicholls. A longtime champion and translator of our area’s food culture, particularly significant in calling attention to the once-cloistered pockets of authentic Asian and Latino cuisine, his passion for food helped elevate our culinary scene to its current status. This issue is made in his memory: these are the kind of restaurants that Walter loved. Tim Ma Water & Wall, Maple Avenue Restaurant RAMMY Nominations: Rising Culinary Star of the Year, Upscale Casual Restaurant of the Year Tim Ma should never have opened a restaurant. At least that’s what he says. Working for eight years as an engineer before attending culinary school, he found a restaurant for sale on Craigslist in Vienna, Va., and bought the lease. With a handful of friends and his wife and business partner, Joey Hernandez, he opened Maple Avenue Restaurant in 2009. “It should never have happened,” he said. “And it didn’t go well for a very long time. But I’m pretty used to succeeding through failure. So we just evolved very quickly and kept drastically changing the menu until we hit on something that we knew was right. And in the process we taught ourselves how to run a restaurant.” An experimental fusion of French and Asian cuisine, Maple Avenue is a culinary destination, currently RAMMY-nominated for Upscale Casual Restaurant of the Year. Their seared scallops – served on a bed of coconut risotto with scallions and basil ice cream – are alone worth the trip. “You see risotto in a lot of places,” says Ma. “But we wanted to introduce these Asian flavors that I knew would pair well with the scallops. And infusing a delicate herb like basil into such a rich plate was an interesting challenge.” Despite Maple Avenue’s success, Ma took his unique culinary style and approach in a different direction with Water & Wall, his new restaurant in Arlington, to better fit the profile of the surrounding neighborhood. “Eventually it’s the neighborhood who will support you,” he said. “And the French-Asian thing didn’t catch on in the same way as it did in Vienna. The tilt that we’ve taken is now more traditional French-American food, but in our style. It tends to be a lot more playful, a little tongue-in-cheek.” For example, Maple Avenue had a rib platter with a Dr. Pepper-based barbecue sauce. At Water & Wall, it was reimagined as a cured, slow-braised beef brisket. “My sous chef is from Tennessee and has a southern tilt to his cuisine, so we made it a Cheerwine-based sauce,” utilizing the red cola distributed exclusively in the South. It is paired very simply with applewood-smoked mashed potatoes and pickled mustard greens (Ma’s favorite part of the dish). Water & Wall’s soft-shell crab is a seasonal must, gently tempura-fried and served with sauteed spinach, house pickles and an Old Bay aioli. “I love what’s happening with this area’s food culture,” says Ma. “If this were ten years ago, I would have never been interviewed for anything – no one would care who I was. But the fact that there’s all this attention on D.C. food makes you feel rewarded for working hard in an industry that for the most part, until five years ago, was never rewarded for working so hard.” 3811 N Fairfax Dr, Arlington 703.294.4949 147 Maple Ave. W, Vienna 703.319.2177 Will Artley Pizzeria Orso RAMMY Nominations: Everyday Casual Restaurant of the Year, Everyday Casual Brunch of the Year “As a cook and an eater, I’m really most attracted to the craftsmanship of old, lost arts like bread making,” says Will Artley, head chef of Pizzeria Orso. “Pizza dough takes an extreme amount of discipline and you will always continue to learn.” Artley and Pizzeria Orso defy every expectation. A neighborhood pizza place in Falls Church, Va., Pizzeria Orso sits on the ground floor of a four-story office building off Lee Highway. A makeshift vinyl sign dangles next to gray block letters that read “TAX ANALYSTS,” visible from the interstate beyond a local burger joint and an auto-parts retailer. But inside this unassuming building, Artley is making some of the best pizza in the Washington area. A RAMMY-winning chef for his work at Evening Star Cafe in Alexandria and a finalist on Food Network’s “Chopped,” Artley had been looking for his next move. When Pizzeria Orso came his way, he saw an opportunity to put Falls Church on the map and return to his roots as a neighborhood chef. “I had never done pizza,” he says. “But what I saw in Falls Church was a tight-knit community who stuck by each other. And I wanted to be a part of that.” He immediately enrolled in a bread program at the Culinary Institute of America, and before long, Pizzeria Orso was making waves. “It’s instilled in chefs from the get-go to constantly strive for perfection,” he says. “But neighborhood restaurants are so special because they teach you that perfection is subjective. Perfection is someone walking out of your restaurant satisfied, happy and wanting to come back.” His pizzas, crafted in the age-old Neapolitan tradition, are simple and extraordinary. The marinara pizza with house sausage is perhaps the perfect example: tomato puree with hand-chopped tomatoes, sea salt, olive oil, shaved garlic and oregano. “It’s one of the most classic pizzas,” Artley says. “I know it seems strange not to have cheese on a pizza, but I promise you’ll be sold. It’s simplicity and beauty, without being crushed under the weight of forty toppings.” Beyond the pizzas, diners would be remiss not to try the grilled lentil salad over grilled squash with green peppercorn dressing. The seared scallops with corn succotash and tomato jam is also an unexpected highlight. Grilled octopus with white artichoke puree and white bean ragout is a slice of southern Italian divinity, worthy of Poseidon himself. “I want people to come get to know us,” says Artley. “If you’re a vegan, gluten-free, I can cook for you. I want to do it. I want everybody who walks in these doors to have a great experience.” 400 S Maple Ave., Falls Church 703.226.3460 James Huff Pearl Dive Oyster Palace RAMMY Nomination: Everyday Casual Restaurant of the Year, Everyday Casual Brunch of the Year, Manager of the Year (Tyes Zolman) Chef James Huff has spent his career falling into the sea. From cutting his teeth with groundbreaking D.C. seafood chef Bob Kinkead in the late nineties to working at Emeril Lagasse’s Delmonico Steakhouse in New Orleans, his career seems to have been destined for a focus on fish. It is only natural that he would end up in Washington working for Black Restaurant Group, arguably the royal family of Washington-area seafood culture. But when he came across the opportunity to run Pearl Dive Oyster Palace, Black Restaurant Group’s 14th Street hot spot, Huff wanted to bring more to the table than your average array of fine-dining oceanic gastronomy. “Everyone in our kitchen comes from fine-dining backgrounds,” he says. “And that knowledge and technique is the backbone of all our cooking. But there are a lot of people in this city just like me – three kids and a busy life – and I want to cook for them, give them a neighborhood gathering place, somewhere they can swing by any time of day and get simple, consistent, quality food and service.” The highlights of the menu, to hear Huff tell it, are the simple delicacies, such as the wood-grilled oysters with garlic, red chile butter and gremolata and the wood-grilled redfish, a skin-on filet that picks up the natural richness of the wood smoke, served with cayenne stoneground grits and a simple brown butter sauce with sage and pecan and lemon. The cornmeal-fried oyster po’ boy with cayenne aioli and the Dive Burger with roasted green chilies, pepper jack and bacon are also things of not-so-guilty epicurean pleasure. The servers wear t-shirts and jeans and greet you with a warm smile. The exposed brick of the walls reflects the streetlights, making you feel like you’re hanging out in your best friend’s kitchen. Pearl Dive is a place to relax and enjoy the simple pleasures in life. “At the end of the day,” says Huff, “we just want to make food taste good. That’s our mantra.” 1612 14th St., NW 202.319.1612 Victor Abisu Del Campo RAMMY Nomination: New Restaurant, Chef of the Year “I like eating really authentic foods,” says chef and restaurateur Victor Abisu. “And that’s what I wanted to cook. Good food, the food of my heritage.” This was the inspiration for Abisu’s flagship restaurant, Del Campo, when he opened it in Chinatown in 2012. The airy, agrarian space is home to a meat-driven, wine-centric menu that brings together the chef’s Latin American roots – from his Peruvian mother and Cuban father – as well as his childhood experiences in an Argentine butcher shop. “We are focused on the grill culture of South America, the parrilla,” he says. “My mission is to showcase these cultures in the ways that they affected me, and paint a picture of what I love about each one.” Everything touches the grill at Del Campo, transporting diners to the Andes Mountains, where they are connected to the history of it all. The restaurant’s grilled octopus causa is based on a traditional Peruvian dish dating back to the late 19th-century War of the Pacific. Abisu breaks it down in a way that is undeniably tasty. The octopus is served with tuna confit, prawns, pickled leeks, potato, piquillo peppers and avocado. Each ingredient is independently grilled, then they are stacked together, offering a smoky, 360-degree crunch. Rolled Wagyu skirt steak stuffed with cheese, burnt onions and rosemary is inspired by an Argentine dish called matambre, a rolled piece of meat stuffed with vegetables and poached. Needless to say, Abisu’s variation goes right to the grill, and results in a flavor both ancient and mesmerizing. Del Campo’s tuna ceviche utilizes a citrus dressing made from smoked uni. “Even our ceviche touches the grille,” says Abisu. Putting together timeless, old-world techniques and elevating them to an approachable level, Del Campo offers a perspective on dining unique to Washington’s culinary scene. “It’s a balance you have to strike,” says Abisu. “You want to be satisfied as a chef and cook the food you love, but you also want to reach a wide audience. Hopefully that goes hand in hand when you stay true to yourself.” 777 I St., NW 202.289.7377 [gallery ids="101773,141166" nav="thumbs"]