Let’s Do Lunch: Capella Hotel

The opening of new hotels means the opening of new restaurants. This week for Let’s Do Lunch, we took in the Capella’s new restaurant, the Grill Room and Rye Bar. Located in the heart of Georgetown next to the C&O Canal, it’s a great setting to: do lunch. After reviewing the printed menu for that day, we started the course with warm baked bread and offering of baked bone marrow with parmesan and bread crumbs. I soon realized I was the only person savoring the creamy marrow for the guests at my table were too squeamish to try. We went on to try the smoked tomato soup and the spring pea soup, both vibrant in color and savory in taste. And what goes best with soup but the famed chopped lobster salad? The generous portions of lobster meat paired well with the crunchy corn and were highlighted by the citrus dressing. The meal could have ended there. But since we were at the Grill Room, we went on to try the dry aged strip loin and the grilled Atlantic halibut. The portions were large and were grilled to perfection. Though salt and pepper had to be added to the meal, it was satisfying and fulfilling. The true winner of the meal was the branzino fillet. The soft buttery flesh of the fish paired so well with the sautéed potatoes and vegetables, that if the menu must change daily, I pray for this to be a staple. As the meal went on and our stomachs expanded, we took a look at the sweet case containing beautifully sculpted confectionery treats. But time had run out. Clearly, we will have to make another trip. The Grill Room and Rye Bar Capella Hotel 1050 31st St. NW [gallery ids="119264,119233,119225,119282,119249,119241,119257,119269,119275" nav="thumbs"]

The Lesson of Terroir

The story of how I, a wine amateur, ended up preaching the gospel at the Wine Bar on the second floor of Bistrot Lepic is not worth telling. I tasted. I looked through books. I looked up grapes and regions and appellations. I asked questions of the French crew and received choice words, such as ‘inky’ and ‘sauvage.’ After one hectic Sunday night, the manager decanted – sniffing it in a big glass with satisfaction – a Pic Saint-Loup. He poured me a glass and I swirled it, and within, magically, was the manure from the manure spreaders of my childhood, along with the shale-y underground on which everything in our part of the world grew. Each time we taste a wine we get that lesson of terroir. This is what makes wine enjoyable – not to hoard, but to sample; to understand the earth a wine comes from, the weather, the slopes, the soil and its minerals; a sampling of the DNA of a particular place, its creatures, its flora, the traditional local dishes. I decant a Madiran for two French gentlemen and they savor it along with a venison fricassée, singing its praises with Gallic pride when I pour. A lady, a sommelier, orders a Bandol. She tells me she only decants vintage bottles. “Really?” I reply. “I would decant a young pinot or even a Beaujolais,” I say. “Beaujolais, I cannot stand Beaujolais,” the lady says, and we chuckle. A venerable vigneron from a small town in the Languedoc, in excellent shape well into his seventies, brings a rosé and a red for a wine tasting. I asked him about the vintage. “Every year is good in the South of France,” he says, and he smiles. For all my homework regarding French wines not of the modern style, I have a new crush: a varietal exotic to me, with a long history, a grape not easy to handle. I’ve been hearing how every seafood restaurant in New York is pouring Greek white wines. There have been whispers about the Xinomavro grape, dark red wines of northern Greece. Just in time for Valentine’s Day, I’m breaking out of my own routine, discovering the beauty of something new, beautiful, different, earthy and enjoyable with just about everything, sipping this foreign beauty in new company.

Cream Puffs Coming to Town: Beard Papa’s

While cupcakes still rule and macarons have staked a claim in Georgetown and frozen yogurt holds on, there is a new contender coming to town: the cream puff. Specifically, Beard Papa's -- an international chain of cream puff stores, begun in Osaka, Japan, in 1999 -- will be setting up shop at 1332 Wisconsin Ave. NW, formerly a yogurt store. The company reports that it hopes to open the Georgetown shop in late April or early May. Beard Papa's has more 250 stores in Japan and 300 worldwide. Its main product is a choux pastry shell filled with whipped cream custard, available in many flavors that include vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, green tea, hazelnut or coconut cream. Beard Papa's reports that it has served, as of this week, "453,418,099 cream puffs." Think of the popular sweets cafe of cream puffs and eclairs as the Japanese version of Krispy Kreme and more.

Cocktail of the Week

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.

Cooking and Camaraderie at 2013 RAMMYs

UPDATE The 2013 Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington awards night, known as the “Oscars of Washington, D.C., area restaurants,” burst with flowers, food and wine as its theme, “Restaurants in Bloom,” took on a whole new meaning June 23. The Washington area became the home of 50 new restaurants this year, making the RAMMY awards, such as the one for “Rising Culinary Star of the Year,” a more competitive honor. Hosted at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel, the RAMMYs recognized members of RAMW for their exemplary commitment to the District and its suburbs as well as for love of food. The Marriott Wardman Park Hotel also received the Joan Hisaoka Associate Member of the Year Award for its commitment and support of RAMW. More than 1,600 attendees wined and dined at food stations with wine pairings and a chocolate fondue fountain. The honor of the night, the Duke Zeibert Capital Achievement Award, was given to longtime D.C. resident and former restaurant owner Linda Lee, for helping make D.C. more of an international destination. For one, Lee has helped to entirely revitalize Chinatown. Other individual notable winners included Ashok Bajaj, from Knightsbridge Restaurant Group, winning Restauranteur of the Year, Fabio Trabocchi from Fiola as Chef of the Year and Scot Harlan from Green Pig Bistro (Arlington) as Rising Culinary Star. Chef Beverly Bates took the cake for Vidalia, winning Pastry Chef at this year’s awards. Luis Noriega of Zengo won Restaurant Employee. Mintwood Place was voted Best New Restaurant, and Bar Pilar grabbed the title of the Hottest Bar Scene. Separated by just a few blocks in NW, 14TH Street between Logan Circle and U Street proved its diversity with Bar Pilar’s win and with Estadio recognized as an Upscale Casual Restaurant. Triple-threat restaurant manager Michael Nevarez of Vidalia, Bistro Bis and Woodward Table won the RAMMY for Restaurant Manager. In the wine and dine department, Room 11 took the RAMMY for Beverage-Mixology Program and March’s by Robert Wiedmaier won for Wine Program. Dupont Circle’s C.F. Folks Restaurant was recognized as Casual Restaurant of the year and West End’s Blue Duck Tavern won Fine Dining Restaurant. The Power Spot award went to P.J. Clarke’s, and Nellie’s Sports Bar can now be known as Neighborhood Gathering Place. Georgetown’s M Street landmark, Clyde’s of Georgetown, received the Honorary Milestone award in honor of its 50th year of business. END UPDATE The 2013 Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington awards night, known as the “Oscars of Washington, D.C., area restaurants,” bursted with florals, food and wine as its theme, “Restaurants in Bloom,” took on a whole new meaning June 23. The Washington area became the home of 50 new restaurants this year, making the RAMMY awards, such as the one for “Rising Culinary Star of the Year,” a more competitive honor. Hosted at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel, the RAMMYs recognized members of RAMW for their exemplary commitment to the District and its suburbs as well as for love of food. More than 1,600 attendees wined and dined at food stations with wine pairings and a chocolate fondue fountain. The honor of the night, the Duke Zeibert Capital Achievement Award, was given to longtime D.C. resident and former restaurant owner Linda Lee, for helping make D.C. more of an international destination. For one, Lee has helped to entirely revitalize Chinatown. Other notable winners included Ashok Bajaj from Knightsbridge Restaurant Group winning Restauranteur of the Year, Fabio Trabocchi from Fiola as Chef of the Year and Scot Harlan from Green Pig Bistro as Rising Culinary Star. Mintwood Place was voted Best New Restaurant, and Bar Pilar grabbed the title of the Hottest Bar Scene. Georgetown's M Street landmark, Clyde’s of Georgetown, received the Honorary Milestone award in honor of its 50th year of business.

What’s Cooking, Neighbor?

Whenever I'm feeling a little blah or beat, I treat myself to lunch at Patisserie Poupon. I never waiver on menu choices. I have have-to-haves. At one of the tiny corner tables in the rear of the attractive bakery/cafe, past the gleaming showcases of fancy French pastries, next to the specialty coffee bar, I rejuvenate with a healthful crudités salad composed of a variety of select fresh vegetables and a sandwich of yummy country pâté with cornichons on buttery brioche. A perfect pairing. In minutes, any troubles fade away. The owners are husband-and-wife team Joe and Ruth Poupon, pastry chefs who met at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y. Joe is a native of Brittany in France and Ruth hails from College Park, Md. After working in restaurants for several years in Washington and New York, together they opened their flagship Patiserrie Poupon take-away bakery in Baltimore in 1986. The Georgetown location opened in 1998. In late March, a third location – Cafe Poupon – opened as a 30-seat eatery and bakery four blocks from the Inner Harbor on Baltimore’s historic Charles Street. "The new place, it's just gorgeous," says Ruth Poupon at an impromptu pastry tasting in her second-level office above the Georgetown location. "The building is a former Masonic Temple, built in 1866, with lots of French and Italian Renaissance-inspired detail." At all Poupon locations, there is something sweet for everyone. The shop's many French-born customers order a wide variety of favorites, including breads, cakes and pastries. "In particular, they like our Paris-Brest," she says. The doughnut-shaped, almond-topped pastry is split and filled with a praline-flavored buttercream. American-born customers are less adventurous and "tend to go for just a few things," like the luscious strawberry cake, cream-filled and chocolate-covered éclairs and the classic, crisp, layered Napoleon. The bakery's large Middle Eastern following "loves our croquembouche for any kind of celebration," she shares. French for "crisp in the mouth," the decorative dessert (order in advance) is made with bite-size custard-filled cream puffs, coated in caramel and stacked into a tower shape. For a theme party, the sugary puffs may also be fashioned into the form of, for example, a baby stroller, train or teddy bear. The preparation must be exacting. "There can be no air in the filling and the caramel cannot be dark and bitter," she says. The weather also comes into play. "On a humid Washington summer day, the caramel can get sticky and melt. I say, this time of year, get a cake. We are pastry people who believe in what we do and want to do it well." For a "perfect day" on the 1600 block of Wisconsin, she suggests dropping the car off at Detailz Fine Auto Cleaning for the works, inside and out, followed by an appointment at the beauty destination IPSA For Hair. "They are the very best," she says. "Then you have time for a little clothes and antiques shopping nearby. Then, have lunch with us." Patisserie Poupon, 1645 Wisconsin Ave., NW, 202-342-3248 (patiserriepoupon.net) Raspberry Choux Makes 15 individual-sized puffs Ingredients for the pâte à choux: 1/2 cup water 1/2 cup milk 8 ounces butter (one stick) A pinch of salt 1 cup all-purpose flour 4 large eggs, plus 1 for brushing Directions Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line two baking trays with parchment paper. Combine the water, milk, butter and salt in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and add flour all at once, stirring with a wooden spoon until the dough forms a ball. Remove from heat and beat in the eggs one at a time, mixing thoroughly between each addition. Use a pastry bag or spoon to transfer the dough onto the baking trays in balls approximately 1 1/2 inches wide. Beat the extra egg and brush the tops of the dough balls with a soft brush. Score the tops gently with a fork. Bake until golden brown all over and under, approximately 20 to 25 minutes. Ingredients for the diplomat cream 1 1/4 cups whole milk 3 egg yolks 1/8 cup all-purpose flour 2 teaspoons cornstarch 1 vanilla bean 1/2 cup heavy cream, whipped 2 pints fresh raspberries Directions Split the vanilla bean and scrape the seeds into the milk along with the pod. Bring to a boil. Meanwhile, beat the yolks and sugar until thick and fluffy, then beat in sifted flour and cornstarch. Temper into hot milk by adding a ladle of hot milk to yolk mixture. Whisk and add to pan, stirring constantly over medium heat. Bring to a boil, simmer for a minute, pour into heatproof bowl and cool. Once cool, refrigerate (can be made a day in advance). To serve, stir and smooth the cold pastry cream and gently fold in the whipped cream. With a sharp knife, remove the tops of the pâte à choux. Fill each pastry with the diplomat cream. Top with fresh raspberries and dust with powdered sugar. The Georgetowner family was shocked and saddened by the recent loss of food writer Walter Nicholls (see obituary on page 8), who created “What’s Cooking, Neighbor?” We will miss his presence dearly in the paper and in the neighborhood he loved.