Book Hill Bistro

July 19, 2011

Stepping up from the street into Book Hill Bistro, guests ascend from the bustle of Wisconsin Avenue to an intimate and cozy nook where low lighting and soft jazzy chords ensconce passersby wandering in for a look at Georgetown’s new restaurant. The walls are colored in dusky reds and deep browns which immediately put you at ease. Book Hill’s comfortable seating has guests sinking into their chairs as they begin the anticipation of sinking their teeth into the menu’s dishes.

Once settled into the snuggly surroundings, guests are likely to be greeted by Chef Frank Petrello, arguably the heart and soul of Book Hill. Petrello brings an upscale touch and a New York attitude to his family’s long tradition of food service.

“I’ve been around a long time,” he says with a laugh.

Petrello’s menu consists of a variety of adventurous entrees. The lunch menu has a good mix of favorites, all altered slightly for more creative tastes. One such creation is the Book Hill Portobello Wrap, which comes with perfectly smoky and tender portabellas and complimenting floral vegetables. One guest described it as “tangy, yet sweet.”

For dinner, the evening specialties like the Grilled Marinated Duck Breast are sure to be a treat. The duck arrives on six succulent skewers and is presented with Petrello’s recipe for braised cabbage and potatoes au gratin. The duck breast, best served up medium rare, is a comforting treat just like the rest of the bistro.

“That’s how we do it here. This is a neighborhood place. In this economy, twice a month is a great customer. Our philosophy is if you come back a second time you’re a regular customer,” Petrello says.
Book Hill is growing from its infancy, opening just a few months ago, to hit its stride as one of Georgetown’s soon-to-be-premier dinner locations. And with a wine selection consisting of over 50 varieties and beer on tap, Book Hill is also great for the evening’s libation.

Though it doesn’t feel like it, cooler weather is just around the corner. Soon Book Hill’s beautiful patio area, glowing with lights and sweetened by the scents coming from Chef Petrello’s herb garden, will also be open for guests to enjoy. You’ll want to come by and to experience this cozy corner of Georgetown for yourself.

Cocktail of the Week

July 12, 2011

Saint Mark’s Square, The Grand Canal and the Rialto Bridge are must-see sights for visitors to Venice, Italy. Another top attraction for foodies, literary types and cocktail lovers is Harry’s Bar.

Many know the famed watering hole as a hangout for celebrities including Ernest Hemingway, Truman Capote, Charlie Chaplin and Woody Allen. Harry’s made also its mark in the culinary word when they invented carpaccio, a dish of thinly sliced raw beef.
But Harry’s most enduring gastronomical contribution may be the Bellini, a bubbly cocktail fashioned from white peach puree and Prosecco, a dry Italian sparkling wine.

According to their website, HarrysBarVenezia.com, the landmark bar was opened in 1931 by Giuseppe Cipriani, a bartender at Venice’s Hotel Europa, after he received financial assistance from a rich, young American named Harry Pickering.

Cipriani named his famous tipple after Giovanni Bellini, the fifteenth century Venetian artist, because the color of the drink resembled the pink glow in one of Bellini’s paintings.

Arrigo Cipriani, Guiseppe’s son, discusses his father’s innovation in his book “Harry’s Bar: The Life and Times of the Legendary Venice Landmark.”

“Peaches are in abundance throughout Italy from June through September, and my father had a predilection for the white ones. He experimented by puréeing small white peaches and adding Prosecco,” he writes. “Those who tested this new concoction gave it rave reviews.” Since then, this evanescent sipper has become an elegant brunch staple across the globe.
The general rule for mixing a Bellini is to use one part peach puree to three parts Prosecco. While it’s best to use fresh white peaches, commercially prepared brands are acceptable.

If you are making your own puree, Harry’s website advises not to use a food processor because it aerates the fruit. They recommend shredding the peaches with a cheese grater and using a strainer to collect the maximum amount of juice. If the peach mixture is too sour, add a splash of simple syrup or sugar.

Harry’s is perched on the water, a quick stroll from St Mark’s. When my mother and I made our cocktail pilgrimage there, we arrived in the evening as a golden light streamed though the decorative windows.

The crowded bar was small and decorated in wood and butterscotch hues. While there was a certain austerity about the place, it was teeming full of tourists, guidebooks in hand. The room was filled and mom and I seemed to get lost among the other patrons. When we finally received our Bellinis, they were served in simple juice glasses, not the fancy flutes that usually hold champagne cocktails.

The elixir was light with a refreshing simplicity. Its balance of dry and sweet made for a lovely aperitif. While I enjoyed sampling the original, it didn’t taste any more special than the Bellinis, I have enjoyed at Paparazzi or Brasserie Beck back home in D.C.

However when the bill arrived, I realized the high price for my sip of history. Each Bellini cost 18 Euro or about $52 for two after the conversion. While I wasn’t expecting “happy hour” pricing in notoriously expensive Venice, mom and I decided to put our next $50 toward a nice bottle of wine and dinner at less famous, less crowded and quiet restaurant.

The Bellini
1.5 oz White Peach Puree
4.5 oz Prosecco

Add puree to glass. Slowly add Prosecco, gently blending with long spoon.

Dixie Liquor, 3429 M Street NW sells a variety of Proseccos.

The Latest Dish


Germany-based Vapiano expects to have six restaurants in the metro area, with the recent opening of their newest store in Reston. This will be a corporate location, as are the ones in downtown D.C., Penn Quarter, Ballston, Dulles Town Center and Bethesda. With the openings of stores in Charlotte, Chicago and Miami, they will have 13 units in the U.S.A. by the end of the year. That does not include the international stores.

North Carolina-based Fuel Pizza will open at 600 F Street and 1606 K Street in the former Burger King space. The chain got its start in a space that was formerly a gas station, hence the name. Make no mistake, it’s New Yorkers (who know their pizza) that started Fuel Pizza.

A neighborhood pop-up taco stand called Del Rey is slated to open at 9 and U Streets, NW. Its beer garden and tacos theme is the creation of Ian and Eric Hilton, who also own Marvin and American Ice Company. They plan to open next spring.

Aman Ayoubi of Local 16 opened the Lost Society, a steakhouse, at 14 and U Streets, NW. He and his partners will offer sustainable seafood and local sourced beef from a local farm in the dining space, lounge and roof deck.

Teaism is slated to open a new location at the Moderno condo building at the corner of 12 and U Streets, NW. That gives Teaism its fourth location in D.C. They have stores in Dupont Circle, Penn Quarter, and the downtown D.C. Lafayette Park area.

Tom Power, chef and owner of Corduroy, will open a second restaurant in the town house next door on 9 Street, NW. He’s chosen a new fabric to name it after – Velour. Décor will be minimalist, showcasing brick, concrete floors, wood and steel, with a menu price point of $20 or less per item. A spring 2012 opening is planned.

Turkish QSR: Mehmet Yasar Cicek, along with partners Hosam Ramadan, his college roommate and Arshad Khan, a New York-based restaurant industry veteran, has signed a master franchise agreement for Mr. Kumpir, a Turkey-based franchise with nearly 50 locations worldwide. This triumvirate plans to open its first U.S. stores. Kumpir is a loaded baked potato, so it is a familiar comfort food item. They hope to open up to 30 locations over the next five to six years, with New York next in line. They are looking for sites ranging from 1,000 to 1,500 square feet. Mr. Kumpir will offer several varieties of the kumpir stuffed-potato dish as well as sandwiches, pasta salads and desserts.

Openings Update: Rabbit, the salad + protein concept from the folks who brought you TangySweet and Red Velvet Cupcakery, is expected to open this month in Clarendon. District Commons and Burger, Tap and Shake (from the folks who brought you D.C. Coast, Ceiba, Acadiana and the soon to shutter Ten Penh) slated to open in August. Ping Pong Dim Sum (now in Penn Quarter) slated to open its second location at end of August. Shaw’s Tavern to open this month on Florida Ave, NW. Redeye Grill from the Fireman Hospitality Group (Fiorella Pizzeria, Bond 45) slated to open at National Harbor by year’s end. Side note: If you have not seen Bacchus sitting atop the tortoise with floating mozzarella balls floating in the trough at Fiorella, that alone is worth the trip. Insurance issues abound for the restaurants at the flooded Washington Harbor on the Georgetown waterfront. Tony & Joe’s and Nick’s Riverside Grill have their patios open – and have the grill out and the outdoor bar open. Clyde Restaurant Group’s new 35,000 square foot restaurant and music venue where Borders Books used to be on 4 Street NW, is slated to open by year’s end.

Quick Hits: Rogue States to reopen at Black and Orange (Baltimore Orioles fan?) Reynold Mendizabal plans to renovate Rogue States with better venting so it appeases neighbor’s issues. Philadelphia superstar restaurateur Stephen Starr plans to open his first restaurant in the ever popular 14 Street corridor. Penny and
Mike Willimann will open Olio (olive oil in Italian), an olive oil tasting room, in Old Town Alexandria. It will offer 30 to 35 varieties of flavored olive oils and balsamic vinegars for sale in a tasting room setting similar to a wine shop. Next year may bring a much anticipated new location to an established steakhouse in the suburbs. Starfish Café on Barracks Row on 8 St in the southeast will reopen as Lavagna Italian Cuisine.

Chef & GM Update: Umer Naim is the new general manager at Ping Pong Dim Sum in Penn Quarter. Previously, he was with Starr (as in Stephen) Restaurant Organization in Philadelphia. Brenton Balika is the new pastry chef at Bourbon Steak at the Four Season hotel. Salim Nahhas is the new pastry chef at Alexandria Pastry Shop. The native of Jordan represented his country in the World Pastry Cup in Paris.

Across the Cutting Board with Ris

June 28, 2011

Soup tends to be associated with nourishing the soul, warm and hearty. In the dead of winter, a bowl of potato soup wards off a chill and during the weakest day of an illness, nothing is more comforting than a bowl of homemade chicken soup. While all this might be good for our heat-flattened soul, we are expecting a high of 88 degrees, and it’s just too hot. The heat continues to pummel the cobblestone streets of Georgetown in the familiar haze of humidity DC is famous for. Hungry and hot, locals and tourists alike drag themselves along sweltering sidewalks in search of an oasis, craving something cold, light, and refreshing.

“French Onion is everyone’s favorite, but I have to take if off the menu once the thermostat reads 70 degrees” says Ris Lacoste, at her namesake restaurant, RIS, on the corner of 23rd and L.

Luckily for her many soup fans however, Ris has a relatively simple solution to compliment her daring and creative menu: cold soups, the summer’s ready cousin to the wintery favorite.

Ris attributes her delicious soup creations to the not-so-secret concept of incorporating fresh local ingredients. We are fortunately returning to a locally grown society, appreciating the need for real food. Summer bears the fruits of local labor. By nature, summer’s bounty provides us with the perfect ingredients for cold soups – beets, tomatoes, cucumbers and potatoes.

“I was just at the Farmer’s Market and the bounty is here: fresh things from Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania. So now I can plan my summer menu,” Ris says.

Ris and her staff have been anticipating the bounty of summer since early spring. They’ve worked diligently to come up with soup ideas and turn them into reality. Ris is using simple logic to invent bold new combinations.

“Crops that are grown at the same time and in the same place should be paired with each other.” Ris says.

Pair foods that grow together; “If they grow together, they go together.”

Though I, like many people, claim to have a passion for food, Ris possesses a palpable intuition about her craft. She describes her love for food, her restaurant, and even the content of this column as being something more than just a simple enthusiasm about cuisine.

To create her summer soup calendar, Ris engendered variations on classic favorites and modern cold soups and experimentally perfected the flavor combinations. Ris mixed up five savory soups embodying everything from veggies to nuts to fruit to liqueur. She then let Jessica Buchanan, who consults Ris on recipes, work through the restaurant sized recipes to make smaller printable versions, so others can try them at home.

There is no wrong way to fashion a cold soup, chunky or smooth, nippy from the start or cooked and chilled. Try experimenting until something tastes precisely right. Skin the vegetables, or leave the skins on. Try adding a splash of your favorite dressings. Think of your favorite salad ingredients and imagine the flavors and textures in a liquid base.

Some tips from the chef: Freeze a portion of your soup into ice cubes and add them to the soup just before serving. Your soup will stay icy cold without being watered down. Chill your bowls. Make your cold soup enough time in advance that it will be very cold. A day in advance is great. They often taste better after the ingredients have had time to mingle together.

Garnish is the final step. To finish off your summery soup, embellish with crunch and texture, balancing acts to what is already in the soup.

“Love garnishing, just go crazy,” she says.

Cold Beet Coup
Yield: 6 cups

Ingredients:
3 C. Red Beets (6 small red beets), roasted & coarsely chopped
½ Onion, sliced
3-4 Cloves Garlic, roasted
1 Small Fennel Bulb, coarsely chopped
(Save a few fennel fronds for garnish)
¼ C. Fresh Parsley
2 T. Olive Oil
Salt & Pepper
½ tsp. Ground Cumin
2 C. Vegetable Stock or Water
½ C. Orange juice (1 orange)
1 T. Pernod (or anise flavored liquor)
1 T. + 1 tsp. Balsamic Vinegar
6-8 Grinds Fresh Group Black pepper
1 tsp. Salt

Garnish:
¼ C. Pernod
1 T. Honey
½ C. Sour Cream
Fennel Fronds

Note: To roast beets & garlic, preheat oven to 400 degrees. Trim tops & bottoms of beets & cut the top off a bulb of garlic (so some flesh of the garlic is exposed). Season with olive oil, salt and pepper. Spread on a sheet pan, cover loosely with foil and roast for 30 minutes. Let cool before peeling skin and roughly chop. Squeeze roasted garlic out of skins into a bowl. Set aside until ready to use.

In a Dutch oven, heat two tablespoons of olive oil. Sauté onion, fennel, roasted garlic, salt and pepper until slightly soft or translucent, about five to eight minutes. Add parsley, roasted beets, cumin and sauté for another three minutes. Add vegetable stock and simmer soup for 20 minutes. Remove from heat and add orange juice, Pernod and vinegar. Let cool slightly. Puree soup until smooth, adding more vegetable stock if needed to thin out. Season with ground black pepper and salt. Chill immediately overnight.

Meanwhile, bring Pernod and honey to a simmer and reduce until it’s a light syrup, approximately 10 minutes. Cool syrup. Combine with sour cream, thinning out with a little water or milk until able to drizzle.

Serve cold beet soup with a drizzle of Pernod Cream and fennel fronds.

You can also garnish with a small crumble of goat cheese or feta, or just plain sour cream.

Cucumber & Yogurt Soup
Yields: 6 Cups

Ingredients:
4 English/seedless cucumbers (approximately six cups), peeled, seeded and roughly chopped
1 cup plain yogurt
2 scallions, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon fresh dill
1 tablespoon salt
½ tablespoon black pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil

Garnish:
cucumber
radish
4 pieces of white bread

Instructions:
Puree all ingredients in a blender until smooth. Taste for salt, if needed. Chill immediately for four hours or overnight.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Cut the crust off the bread and then piece into ¼ inch squares. Toss with olive oil, salt and pepper. Toast in the oven for eight to 10 minutes. Slice the cucumber and radish very thin or use a mandolin, and set aside.

For serving, garnish soup with a slice of cucumber, radish and a few croutons for crunch.

You can also substitute the dill for fresh cilantro and garnish with a Greek raita and toasted pita chips. Or try it with mint or parsley for a different twist on flavor.

Cocktail of the Week


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.

Cocktail of the Week


A perfectly crafted cocktail can be considered a work of art. But what about a tipple inspired by a work of art? At Café Atlántico, already known as one of the premier spots in Washington for handmade cocktails, the “The Daisy If You Do” was sparked by Frederic Remington’s sculpture ”Off the Range (Coming Through the Rye).”

The drink, conceived by lead bartender Owen Thomson, was created for an annual competition held at the Corcoran gallery. The city-wide cocktail competition, poetically named Artini, called on area mixologists to invent a potable inspired by a piece in the Corcoran’s collection. Thomason was assigned Remington’s sculpture.

The piece is an animated representation of the Old West, consisting of four rowdy cowboys shooting off their guns while rollicking their way on horseback. The sculpture invokes the rugged, bronco-busting spirit of adventure and wrangler masculinity.

Thomson’s coordinating cocktail does not disappoint. The ingredient list is one of carefully calculated vision – leather-infused tequila, 16-year-old single malt Scotch, lemon, and St. Germain elderflower liqueur flavored with toasted rye.

When Thomson first examined the sculpture, he immediately thought of crafting a drink with either leather or gunpowder. He decided leather would be a fun flavor to work with because it is often used a descriptive term for tasting wines or liquors.

However the difficult part, it turned out, was not finding a way to infuse the leather flavor into liquor but finding the actual leather. According to Thomson, most commercial methods of tanning are chemically based, but originally, leather was made using vegetable oils. Thomson had to track down a saddle-maker in Tennessee who still tans hides using this traditional method. Once he acquired the food-safe leather he steeped it in tequila overnight to impart a smoldering woody flavor that combines beautifully with the smoky agave.

The drink is formulated after the classic daisy cocktail – which is essentially a basic sour (liquor, citrus and sweeter,) topped with soda water. The “Daisy If You Do” moniker is borrowed from a line from the legendary gunslinger Doc Holliday.

For the citrus portion of the drink Thomson uses fresh lemon juice, and for the sweetener, St Germaine elderflower liquor. In order to match Remington’s sculpture title of “Coming through the Rye,” Thomson, toasts rye berries then soaks them in the liqueur for three days. While St Germain normally has a cloying honeysuckle flavor the rye infusion tempers the liqueur with toasty orange-like nuance. Thomson finishes his work with a dash of Lagavulin 16-year Scotch which yields rich peaty finish.

While the name Daisy sounds delicate, this is definitely a drink worthy of a beefy cowboy. Thomson’s piece boasts a multi-layered, slightly sweet, yet deep smoky flavor without becoming heavy. It has the substance to stand up to a Texas-size steak, but light enough to be refreshing in the summer heat.

Daisy If You Do

1 1/2 oz Leather infused tequila
3/4 oz. St Germain infused with toasted rye
¾ oz. fresh lemon juice
Dash of Lagavulin 16-year-old Scotch
Soda water.

Combine first four ingredients in a tall glass, top with soda water, and garnish with a lemon twist.

Readers may try the Daisy If You Do at Café Atlantic located at 405 8th Street NW Washington DC. Tequila, St Germaine and Lagavulin Scotch may be purchased at Dixie Liquor in Georgetown.

A Window Into Wine

June 10, 2011

If there is one tool most vital in propelling the East Coast wine industry towards a West Coast level of prestige, that instrument is education. This applies for both the consumer and the producer. As the next generation of winemakers gains a more extensive understanding of the science behind the techniques, the Mid-Atlantic States are producing wine of an increasingly high caliber. Simultaneously, the desire of the consumer to learn more about tasting, pairing, and international wine continues to spread, guiding the entire regional industry towards a more sophisticated focus.

In response to this progression there are more opportunities for wine education in the East than ever before. Because of the wide array of classes, programs, and certificates now available, it can be confusing to differentiate between types of training. Whether you are a potential viticulturalist, a sommelier-in-training, or merely hoping to feel a little more confident perusing a restaurant’s wine list, there are finally accessible programs geared to your goals.

In 1880, the University of California Davis launched the very first accredited Viticulture and Enology program in the United States, only to be shut down in 1919 with the establishment of Prohibition. The department was reinstated in 1935, and for years it remained the only prominent resource for a comprehensive education in winemaking or grape growing within the US. Gradually, a few other West Coast institutions also began offering degrees in the field, but it wasn’t until 2008 that Cornell reformed its long-running viticultural research division into its own freestanding department, becoming the first Enology and Viticulture degree in the East. This was an essential step not only for the education of future winemakers, but also in the acquisition of expertise and the establishment of a venue for research specific to local conditions.

The quality of East Coast wine has greatly benefited from this resource, directly apparent in the advancement of vineyard management and winemaking techniques. But only recently have other Universities in the region begun to offer alternative programs. Virginia Tech now offers an Enology and Viticulture concentration within its Food Science and Technology department, and just this year the community college in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania began accepting students to its new undergraduate department. Most programs now offer online extension courses as well.

If you are more interested in the sale, service, or discerning consumption of wine, there are often multiple privately owned wine schools in any metropolitan area. There are a few “academies” right in D.C. that offer a variety of educational opportunities for anyone, from the casual buyer to the aspiring professional. Both the Capitol Wine School and the Washington Wine Academy offer classes connected with the WSET (Wine and Spirits Education Trust), which provides a widely accepted measure of proficiency. Generally, one can earn WSET Certificates at the Intermediate or Advanced Level, which can be helpful if you hope to get a job at a restaurant or wine retail store.

These programs usually charge an entry fee specific to the certificate level you’re aiming for, and then may have classes once a week or so for several weeks. The classes may start out with more general tutorials on global wine regions and basic winemaking knowledge, but will progress toward more specific tasting comparisons of different varietals and styles.

Additionally, the WSET also offers a more official Diploma, which is often considered the first step towards becoming a Master of Wine. This distinction is achieved by only a handful of people in the world and takes an additional minimum of three years to complete. The Master of Wine exam is said to be an arduous ordeal of essays and taste tests, including a section that requires the participant to name the vintage, region, and exact producer of several wines in a completely blind tasting—a sort of ultimate wine challenge.

Sounding a little beyond your personal ambition? Are you looking for a more recreational atmosphere, where you might choose to learn about a selected topic now and then? As the industry recognizes the growing consumer interest in a deeper understanding of wine, some wine-focused restaurants and boutique retail shops are offering their own classes and educational events. One example can be found at the Philadelphia-based wine, beer and tapas bar Tria. With three locations downtown as well as a separate “classroom” location, Tria’s staff hosts educational seminars often focused on a different varietal each week, as well as periodic food-pairing classes and specialty flight tastings that you can sign up for in packages or as a one-time experience.

Despite this plethora of available outlets, the best place to start is at your local wine shop or wine bar. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. I guarantee you that most wine industry employees live for those moments when they can “nerd out” over their passion for vino with a customer who is genuinely interested in the subject. People get into the business because they love to drink, learn about, and talk about wine—they’re sure not in it for the money, I can tell you that much—and I think you may be surprised at the enthusiasm and aptitude that may be sitting right there at the corner store.

Caroline Jackson now works for Chehalem Winery in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. She has a degree in English and a background in East Coast wine sales and winemaking. Visit her blog, Sips and Sounds, which pairs daily music selections with a wine or craft beer.

Pickling with Ris


“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.

Window Into Wine

May 31, 2011

Whether it’s local wine, craft beer or fine cuisine, these bourgeoning industries are always benefited by producers and consumers developing a broader understanding of the product. In other words: Education. East Coast residents have come a long way in aiding the growth of these industries through knowledge and general interest, and yet there are still many common misconceptions about wine and how it is made and marketed that hamper the progress of East Coast wine promotion. To understand more about what’s in the bottle, what better place to start than what’s on the bottle.

We all know what it’s like to walk into a wine store and feel a little overwhelmed by the choices. Maybe your original goal was to try something new, but then the eight-syllable hyphenated French classifications and various ranches of Napa start to blur together, and you end up just grabbing your regular go-to Cab. As you may already know, there are two main styles of wine labeling, largely considered Old World vs. New World. European wines will rarely tell you the grape varietal of the wine, so it is up to you to become familiar with which regions (Bordeaux, Rioja, Piemonte, etc.) produce what kind of wine, and furthermore which sub-regions and specific producers or “Chateaus” you prefer. It is then up to the buyer to become familiar with what kind of wine is made in which region to know what each bottle contains, although a few French and several Spanish and Italian producers are moving toward a more modern style. New World wines (anything not from the original Western European regions) will generally state the grape or the name of the blend right on the front label, and may often provide additional varietal information or tasting notes on the back.

Another common source of label confusion is the designation of “Estate” wines. In general, if a wine is labeled “Estate,” that usually means that the grapes used are grown in vineyards owned by the winery within a certain distance from the production site. It gets tricky, however, because the bottle may not say “Estate” for this to be the case. Many smaller production wineries exclusively use their own estate-grown fruit, but may not advertise as such on their labels. I always recommend visiting a winery’s website to find out more about where they are getting their grapes.

Many larger production wineries may have several acres of their own estate vineyards and then source the rest of their grapes from neighboring growers, and then will often produce a separate smaller batch solely from estate grapes that may go into a special reserve bottling. However, non-estate wine does not always mean it is lower quality. There are many excellent winemaking operations that carefully choose only the best vineyards to source from and have developed close simbiotic relationships with specific growers. Just as some of the best vineyard owners don’t make wine at all, some great wineries don’t own any vines and still manage to produce world-class wine.

If a winery is not diligent in its involvement with a source vineyard during the growing season, they may end up with some unpleasant surprises come harvest time that will negatively affect the quality of their wine. However, there are many highly respected winemakers that have long-running relationships with the vineyards they source from and are well versed in the importance of communication between winery and growers. Many of the most prestigious wineries in the country buy grapes from several different vineyards, all with premier growing sites and acclaimed viticulturalists. When it comes time for production, wineries often keep grapes from specific vineyards separate through the fermentation and aging process. Then, when it’s time to blend, each barrel is tasted and assessed; here, the winemaker may set aside a few barrels that are most expressive of a specific vineyard’s terroir to be bottled as a “single vineyard” release.

For example, Oregon is famous for it’s Pinot Noir and cool climate white wines that come from the Willamette Valley. Then the greater Willamette wine region is separated into more specialized AVA designations that group together topographical areas with comparable climate and soil composition. Beyond that, there are many specific vineyards that are renowned for the caliber of their particular site. If a wine is made from grapes that came from several places throughout the valley, the bottle will then only be a general “Willamette Valley” designation; others some may specify, for example, the Dundee Hills AVA and may showcase characterstics of its particular soil type, or even further, state the exact name of the Vineyard that it came from (i.e. Temperance Hill, Palmer Creek, Stoller, Bryan Creek, etc.).

This somewhat parallels the traditional European system of classification, where a Pinot Noir from France may not only tell you it is a Bourgogne, but also from the Côte de Nuits region, and furthermore from the Grand Crus vineyards of Romanée-Conti. In France (and paralleled throughout Europe), the Appellation d’origine contrôlée laws decided long ago which wines deserve the most prestigious title of Grand Crus, which may be called Premier Crus, which may only use the “village” name, and which are merely to be considered generic Bourgogne. The New World regions are young enough that this kind of quality distinction is not so set in stone, and therefore it is up to you to read, taste, and decide which wines stand out in the ever-growing pack.

Caroline Jackson now works for Chehalem Winery in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. She has a degree in English and a background in East Coast wine sales and winemaking. Visit her blog, Sips and Sounds, which pairs daily music selections with a wine or craft beer.