In case you were otherwise occupied over Valentine’s/Presidents’ Day Weekend, chef Bryan Voltaggio has been making culinary moves. After a series of hints and tweets about a new restaurant called Aggio, the toque debuted the Italian-inspired spot on Valentine’s Day. The new restaurant-within-a-restaurant is located inside Range, though it boasts a separate menu and a white-tablecloth aesthetic.
While a pre-opening promotional video for the spot shows Voltaggio requesting a post-service meal of spaghetti and meatballs, the opening lineup goes well beyond red sauce. Voltaggio tweeted a menu that shows a six-course tasting option, riffs on classic dishes such as calamari Bolognese and prawns fra diavolo over buckwheat polenta, and an $89 Florentine steak for two with sea urchin. The next time you can try it out is Wednesday night; reservations are being taken separately from Range through Aggio’s phone line and OpenTable.
Just on the heels of Aggio’s debut, the Baltimore Sun reports a second location for Charm City at 616 Water Street. The Inner Harbor space is currently occupied by Tatu Asian Grill at Power Plant Live, which will relocate within the complex. Look for an opening by mid-spring, which will make a third Voltaggio spot for Maryland, along with Volt and Family Meal in Frederick.
Chef Mike Isabella may be a Jersey boy at heart, but he’s showing plenty of interest in the Old Dominion State. The toque announced plans for a Kapnos spinoff, Kapnos Taverna, in Ballston this summer. Next, he’s teaming up with Rappahannock Oyster Company’s Travis Croxton and Hilda Staples, who’s already a partner at Graffiato, for a Richmond branch of his popular Penn Quarter Italian eatery.
The new Graffiato will be housed in the historic building at 123 West Broad Street, formerly the home of Popkin Tavern. As at the original, you’ll find pasta and pizza from a wood-burning oven; we’re guessing the calamari-topped Jersey Shore pie and chicken with pepperoni sauce will migrate with the concept. Also in the works: more Prosecco on tap.
Kapnos Taverna isn’t Isabella’s only Ballston project. The chef has teamed up with the Ballston Business Improvement District for a Top Chef-esque competition to find Ballston’s “next great restaurateur.” Aspiring Ballston restaurant owners will submit online applications to the BID, and the most promising applicants will be asked for a business plan. The finalists will go on to participate in various events to demonstrate their skills, including Taste of Arlington. Isabella and the BID plan to select a winner by the end of June. The prize: a year of free restaurant space on the first floor of the Brookfield Office Properties building at 110 North Glebe Road. Let’s keep our fingers crossed Tom and Padma make an appearance somewhere.
Earlier this week, word came that Liam LaCivita, chef/partner at Liberty Tavern, Lyon Hall, and Northside Social, would leave his longtime post at the Arlington trio. His replacement: chef Matt Hill, who’ll step in as executive chef starting immediately.
Hill acted as the opening chef de cuisine at Range, and worked closely alongside Bryan Voltaggio before departing in mid-January. Prior to joining the team he spent nine years with the Charlie Palmer Group. Liberty Tavern sous chef Miljohn Dimaano has been promoted to chef de cuisine for the American restaurant. There’s no word yet on where LaCivita will turn up, but we hope to see his cooking soon.
On Wednesday, only one day after New York magazine knocked down chef Michel Richard with a tepid review of his just-opened New York restaurant, the New York Times came along and kicked him in the ribs. Hard. The review by Pete Wells is what the professionals call “savage.” It gave no stars and rated Villard Michel Richard only “fair.” If there’s any remote silver lining, it’s that in the process of reviewing the New York restaurant, Wells came to Washington to try out Richard’s DC eatery, Central, and liked it quite a lot. Ironic? Of course.
Wells leaves no bone unpicked in his review of Villard. The word “awful” appears. It is the kind of review people read out loud to one another, due to sentences like, “If Villard Michel Richard doesn’t make it as a restaurant, it could open as the Museum of Unappetizing Brown Sauces.” Ouch. And it gets worse: “If soldiers had killed Escoffier’s family in front of him and then forced him to make dinner, this is what he would have cooked.”
One of the more famous quotes ascribed to John F. Kennedy—“Washington is a city of Southern efficiency and Northern charm”—didn’t commend the District’s political climate. But when it comes to eating and drinking, “Southern efficiency” isn’t a negative reference. In the literal sense it’s the name of the newest Shaw bar from Derek Brown and Rappahannock Oyster Co.’s Travis Croxton, who also recently opened the oyster-cocktail den Eat the Rich next door to sherry-heavy Mockingbird Hill. More figuratively, the pullquote name means a down home vibe for Brown’s third venture in the burgeoning neighborhood.
Once the spot at 1841 Seventh Street, Northwest soft-opens on Friday, you’ll be able to sip over 30 Southern whiskies, jarred and on-tap cocktails (think a mix of smoked cola and white whiskey), house-made apple-celery soda, and brews from below the Mason-Dixon line. Columbia Room vet J.P. Fetherston helms the bar, while Eat the Rich’s Julien Shapiro dishes up plates inspired by Southern diners and lunch counters like deviled eggs, fried catfish, and peanut soup.
According to a release from the restaurant, you’ll be able to get a sneak-peek of the concept during a “Southern Whiskey 101” class, held on Wednesday and Thursday evening. Each of two nightly sessions will cover the history and production of one of the South’s greatest exports, as well as tastings of “classic and unusual whiskies” from Kentucky to the Carolinas.
Southern Efficiency. 1841 Seventh St., NW. Open Tuesday through Thursday, 5 to 12:30; Friday and Saturday, 5 to 1:30; Sunday 5 to 11:30.
Former White House chef John Moeller served three presidents during his stint in the kitchen at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue from 1992 to 2005: George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush. In that time he saw the expansion of American cuisine, the effects of 9/11, and the rising political role of chefs. All of that and more is detailed in his new memoir/cookbook, Dining at the White House. We spoke with the Lancaster, Pennsylvania, native about First Families’ likes and dislikes, cooking for picky foreign dignitaries, and the dish that won over both a Democratic and a Republican President.
What was the most challenging aspect of putting together this memoir/cookbook?
The most challenging part is laying it out and constructing a story and letting it flow. I was then able to throw in a lot of historical information, so I could combine historical facts with the story. Once we started doing that, the fun part was reliving the whole thing again.
George H.W. Bush banned broccoli from his menus. Were there ever other blacklisted foods?
Not really. We heard more about the favorites. As time went by, we incorporated a lot of vegetables into the menus. The ’90s were a fun time. We were going through a revolution in terms of cuisine, and there were a lot of new products. Chelsea [Clinton] didn’t like mushrooms, so we tried to stay away from those. The Clintons loved artichokes. Actually, all the families did.
You served both Bush administrations and the Clintons. Who had the most adventurous tastes?
I would probably say Bush Sr. They were very well-traveled, and we never wrote up menus ahead of time. We did that for the other Bushes and the Clintons. For Bush Sr., we just knew the parameters of things. There was the whole broccoli thing, but if you see everything they did eat, it outweighed everything else. I came from French kitchens and did everything I’d normally do—calf’s liver, oysters on the half shell, a Japanese-themed meal with sushi rolls and miso soup. When you’re cooking for the same people every day, you’re always looking for more things to work with.
How much creative license do you have as a White House chef, versus cooking from a canon of pre-approved recipes?
There’re two aspects of it. You’re basically a private chef cooking for the family. You learn what their likes and dislikes are, you write down notes, look at every plate that comes back; they push carrots to the side, they don’t like peas, etc. You try different things, but you have to know the parameters to work around. The other aspect is officially writing for state dinners and events. We’re officially a banquet house. There are no two menus that are exactly the same. I could work with local ingredients, seasonal ingredients. That’s the beauty of cooking—you look for inspiration everywhere.
What were the most interesting likes or dislikes you were told about?
Foreign dignitaries would come in, and I’d wait for their dietary restrictions, allergies, or preferences to start writing menus. The most unusual was the Prime Minister of Italy. He came in about ten years ago. The form said, “Does not like garlic, onions, and tomatoes.” I thought, “You have to be kidding! He can’t be Italian!” I think I made chicken-fried steak and mashed potatoes.
You have a section in the book dedicated to 9/11. How did you see security change when it came to food?
Security in the property changed, and that also affected the food. We have ways of getting food in there—there’re no trucks backing up to the White House on a daily basis—so we had to go pick things up. We had a meeting with the Secret Service and FBI in the weeks after 9/11 looking at everything we do. There’s no harm done now, but they basically said, “We have reason to believe they’ll try to deliver something through the food network.” We changed our way of procuring food and how we did things.
How do you think the role of the White House chef has changed in the past eight years?
From the time I went in and came out, it became more political. Do you remember what happened the day after president-elect Clinton became President Clinton? A letter was sent by Alice Waters, plus a petition signed by other chefs. It primarily said, “It’s time we have an American chef in the White House.” One of the reasons I was picked was that I was American with a French background.
You have a great story in the book about the adventures of finding fresh dover sole for Nancy Reagan when she visited. Did you field other interesting requests?
I wasn’t going to serve the former First Lady a frozen piece of sole! You just have to put out fires sometimes. There’ve been a number of times when I had to run out and pick things up just to make meals happen. Once the First Lady and President Clinton were heading out for church on a Sunday morning about 10:30, and she turns to the usher and says, “We’ll be back in an hour with about 20 for brunch.” I can’t remember half the things I did—an egg soufflé, maybe—but you just have produce it and make it happen. You need a wide range of cooking abilities so you can satisfy their needs.
Did you notice a difference in taste between Republicans and Democrats?
No, they’re all pretty hungry people. One winter day in ’96 I did a Pennsylvania Dutch-style chicken pot pie, where you cook the noodles into it. I love it, and it’s very flavorful. I made it for President Clinton, and found him over the bowl, wolfing it down. I could see the top of his eyeballs. He gave me the thumbs up and said, “This is the kind of food I like.” It became part of the rotation. Ironically, when George W. Bush came in, I made the same style of pot pie. I found him leaning over the bowl; he gave me a thumbs up and said almost the exact same thing: “John, this is the kind of food I like.”
New BLT Steak toque Jeremy Shelton has cooked at the restaurant for just under a month, but we’re already seeing changes on the steakhouse menu. The toque arrived from Miami, having cooked at Scott Conant’s Scarpetta and a branch of Michael Mina’s Bourbon Steak. We spoke with the avid hunting fan about his ideal steakhouse dinner, making moist turkey (it’s almost Thanksgiving, after all), and what he’d like to cook for the First Couple.
What’s your ideal BLT Steak meal?
I’d probably go with the classics and have tuna tartare to start, then the rib eye with the bone marrow, and finish off with the peanut butter mousse. It doesn’t get much better than that.
You’ve been described as a “Wagyu master.” How do you become one?
Those were certainly not my words! Right now we have three main cuts, and we’ve put on a Wagyu strip—it’s probably an eight, nine grade if you want to put it on the scale—and it’s all Australian Wagyu. I’m trying to get ahold of some American Wagyu. We’re really looking to add some cuts at a more reasonable price, so you don’t have to go out and spend $90 just to eat a Wagyu steak.
If you really want to splurge, what’s the best Wagyu you can get in the States?
That’s definitely the Japanese A5 Wagyu, hands down. It all depends on how you serve it, but BLT Steak [in New York] sells it at $25 an ounce with a four-ounce minimum, and that’s probably along the lines of what we’ll do. It’s just so rich and fatty and decadent that you can’t eat too much of it.
You worked at Scarpetta. Will we see Italian influences on the menu?
Scarpetta was one of those dream restaurants where everything seemed perfect. The chef’s name was Mike Pirolo, and he was a large influence on me in terms of molding my career. I shifted from being a cook to more of a chef that thinks outside the box, and makes things better wherever I am. That was one of my best restaurant experiences, and I fell in love with pasta. The beauty of Italian food is that it’s so simple and straightforward, and very ingredient-based. Still, I want to make sure what we’re doing stays true to the concept of the restaurant.
What are some of the new dishes you’re excited about?
We have a cobia dish right now with cauliflower purée, uni, and finger limes. It’s ash-crusted: basically scallions that we put it in the 1,200-degree broiler until they’re completely charred, and then grind it all up and crust the top of the cobia with that ash. You think it’s going to taste burnt, but it just has this earthy, savory flavor to it. It works really well with the cobia, because it’s such a fatty fish. And then we have the finger-lime vinaigrette, which is like a caviar that pops in your mouth.
What are some of the things you’ll do with the bar menu?
We’re looking to get a more snack-based bar menu going—not something that’s just easy to share at happy hour, but more through the course of the night. We’re basically trying to revamp the entire thing. We talked about making jerky, and it’s something I love to do, I just want to make sure we do it in a way that’s true to the concept of the restaurant. You don’t want businessmen coming in and sitting down to eat a piece of jerky.
The Obamas have been know to drop by BLT Steak. If they came in tomorrow and you could make anything, what would it be?
One of the things I have on the blackboard menu now is a confit pork shank. It’s confited for three and a half hours in lard—I know that doesn’t sound so appealing—and then it’s deep-fried. We braise it in a caramelized onion jus to order, and it’s served over polenta with gremolata on top. It’s so good.
Since we’re coming up on Thanksgiving, what’s your tip for moist turkey?
You have to keep checking it, and when you think it might be done, it probably is. You have to go with your gut instinct, and don’t be afraid to undercook it. Once you overcook it, it becomes dry, but if it’s undercooked you can always cut into it and throw it back in the oven for a little bit. I think it’s also best for the anatomy of the bird to separate the legs and the thighs from the breast and roast the breast separately.
“I’ve cooked probably 3,000 turkeys in my life, and every one has always been spot-on for this recipe,” says Cathal Armstrong, chef/owner of Restaurant Eve.
He learned the method from his father, and a version of the failproof recipe will appear in My Irish Table, Armstrong’s first cookbook, debuting in spring 2014.
While there are many ways to tackle a turkey, Armstrong swears by his: The bacon-wrapped bird first steams in the oven, ensuring moist meat, and is then roasted at a higher temperature to crisp the skin. Health departments don’t recommend stuffing the turkey, but as chef says, “if you decide to be risky like your grandmother,” make sure you take the weight of the stuffing (about a pound here) into account for the cooking time.
Thanksgiving Turkey and Stuffing
Serves 8 to 10
For the turkey:
1 (15-pound) turkey, such as those from Fields of Athenry Farm (available at Society Fair)
1 package pork bacon
1 roll aluminum foil
1 pint chicken stock
For the stuffing:
1 pint chicken broth
½ pound diced bacon
1 large yellow onion, diced
1 large Idaho potato, diced
4 cups sourdough bread, diced
4 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
2 tablespoons fresh rosemary, chopped
2 tablespoons fresh thyme, chopped
3 tablespoons fresh sage, chopped
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
For the pan gravy:
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
2 quarts chicken stock
Make the stuffing and turkey:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
In a bowl, thoroughly combine the ingredients for the stuffing. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Rinse the turkey cavity and pat it dry. Fill the turkey cavity with the stuffing. Tie the legs together tightly. Cover the neck cavity with foil to ensure the skin doesn’t burn and the stuffing stays moist.
Place the turkey on a baking rack set inside a baking sheet, or place turkey on a traditional turkey baking pan with a raised rack.
Cover the breast of the turkey with strips of bacon, followed by a layer of foil to cover this area only.
Pour 1 pint of chicken stock into the baking sheet or pan. Place in the oven.
Cook the turkey for 15 minutes per pound, plus 15 minutes to begin (about 4 hours total for a 15-pound turkey). One hour from finish cooking time, remove the foil from the stuffing section and the breast section, along with the bacon. Increase oven temperature to 400 degrees. If you want to test the doneness of the bird with a meat thermometer, the target temperature is 165 degrees.
Make the pan gravy:
Once the bird has been removed from the oven, add a small amount of chicken broth to the pan drippings. With a whisk, get the drippings and the liquid moving around.
In a separate bowl make a roux, mixing the flour and butter together.
Set a saucepan over medium heat and add the roux, followed by the chicken stock and pan drippings. Gradually add more chicken stock, stirring, to adjust for consistency (it should be the texture of a light soup). Bring the mixture to a boil until it thickens to a brown gravy. Once it has a thick consistency, remove from the heat and pass it through a fine strainer.
Come December, you can get a taste of Menu at Table—and no, we don’t mean Table’s menu. Chef Frederik De Pue—who’s fond of naming restaurants after the inanimate objects within—is set to debut his next venture, called Menu, in January. Guests can get a sneak preview during a three-day pop-up at his Shaw bistro December 9 through 11.
The upcoming market/wine bar/restaurant will be housed in the same lofty Penn Quarter space where De Pue briefly operated Azur. The ground floor will operate as a specialized grocery and coffee bar, while the upper levels provide more of a sit-down experience with a wine bar and restaurant. Dishes from the latter will be previewed at Table in a three-course $45 menu, including desserts from newly hired pastry chef Jason Gehring (formerly the fried-dough master at Astro Doughnuts & Fried Chicken). Will Menu boast an in-house bakery (called Oven) for European-style beignets? We can only hope so.
Metro Cooking DC returns to the Convention Center this weekend with plenty of culinary star power. One of our favorites: Hugh Acheson, author of the James Beard Award-winning cookbook A New Turn in the South, and a recurring Top Chef judge. We talked with the Georgia-based restaurateur about his favorite cookbooks, the essence of Southern cuisine, and what the heck to do with kohlrabi.
Do you have any plans for dining while you’re in Washington?
I’m there so briefly. I do love the city, though. My sister lives in Alexandria. People like José Andrés and Eric Ziebold are just amazingly important to the food scene. Restaurant Eve, Zaytinya, and CityZen—all those places are usually high on the list.
You’re focusing on A New Turn in the South at the Metro Cooking show. What other cookbook projects are you working on right now?
I have one coming out in March, which is more of a gift book on pickles called Pick a Pickle. It’s 50 fermentation and pickling recipes. I’m working on another called Eat Well, which is a look at how you use everything in your CSA box. It kind of evolved from people asking me things like, “What the heck do you do with kohlrabi?,” and me having to answer. So I’m going to answer in book form.
So what the heck do you do with kohlrabi?
I like making kohlrabi slaws. You know that simple, mayonnaise-less chopped slaw with lots of lime, some roasted chilies, and really finely cut kohlrabi. Just let that sit at room temperature and macerate. You can also make purées with it, or roast the batons.
What’s the most challenging thing to find in your CSA?
Eight weeks of lettuce is always a little challenging. People wane toward the end of it. I like lettuce and salad, but it’s hard to make sure you’re using it all. I love grilling firmer lettuces like romaine. Sautéed lettuces are really good, almost like you’re cooking in a wok. There’s a lot of versatility in them.