Guests at Washingtonian’s AT&T Best of Washington party Wednesday night saw the National Building Museum transformed into a veritable Candyland, with cotton candy cocktails and glass jars stuffed with jellybeans and Jolly Ranchers. But when it came to the food, there was a second, unofficial theme amongst the 60-plus restaurants taking part in the event: corn—and not the caramel kind.
There was pickled corn, charred corn, corn sabayon, and many a corn soup. Equinox’s Todd Gray and Scott Drewno of the Source took inspiration from the summery crop, and we loved Ardeo + Bardeo’s chilled corn bisque topped with smoked rock shrimp. At the Vidalia table, meanwhile, we picked up a standout corn panna cotta with black truffle and duck cracklings.
To wash down all those seasonally driven bites: drinks at the Patrón Bar, atop which was perched a pink-clad model clutching a bundle of giant balloons. A basil-infused Patrón margarita got the night off to a great start, and some clever party-goers caught wind that there were boozy “poptails” to be had at the Bar Pilar station, thanks to ever-inventive barman Jonathan Fain.
But back to the food: We knocked back briny oyster-and-lemongrass shooters from Elisir chef Enzo Fargione, sampled the Majestic’s Maryland rockfish sashimi with soy-yuzu vinaigrette, and downed Adour’s delicate spoonful of lobster, heirloom tomatoes, and mozzarella. The Luke’s Lobster crew served up buttery rolls stuffed with sweet shrimp, while over at the Bombay Club, shrimp balchao packed serious chili heat.
Easy-to-eat options were especially appreciated as we tried to keep a firm grip on Liberty Tavern’s delicious rum-and-blueberry-iced-tea cocktail. Central cleverly miniaturized its classic goat cheese Caesar salad with a maki-like cylinder wrapped in rice paper. Avocado-stuffed puri from Rasika chef Vikram Sunderam was the perfect no-mess one-biter. We picked up cups of bacony pecans from Ripple, then stopped ourselves from second rounds of two finger sandwiches: simple-yet-addictive BLT squares on buttery Texas toast at Ted’s Bulletin, and decadent lamb terrine on yogurt-spread pita from Blue Duck chef Sebastien Archambault. Then again, we were more than happy to take a break from our drinks to dig into a taco salad by Diana Davila-Boldin, chef at Jackie’s and El Chucho—a crispy shell layered with braised pig, huitlacoche, and pickled onions.
While it was nearly impossible to take a step without spotting a rainbow-swirled lollipop or flowing white-chocolate fountain, chefs brought lots of sugary treats of their own. Founding Farmers turned bacon on a stick into a candied confection. Adour displayed gorgeous palettes of its famous macarons in flavors like salted caramel and peanut butter and jelly. New Heights went traditional with many-layered carrot cake, but then threw in an unexpected party favor: gin lollipops. Citronelle proffered the evening’s lightest dessert, an ethereal orange mousse. And the Oval Room put a fresh spin on after-dinner drinks with boozy snow cones.
The after-party was hosted by Mike Isabella at Graffiato just a few blocks away. An industry crowd including chefs like Adam Sobel (Bourbon Steak), Haidar Karoum (Proof, Estadio), Eric Ziebold (CityZen), Fabrice Bendano (Adour), and Anthony Lombardo (1789) hung in the downstairs bar drinking wine and noshing on Jersey Shore pies.