Left: The big winners of the night were Todd Gray (Chef of the Year) and Jose Andres (Capital Achievement Award). Right: Guests Lauren Westcott and Keriann Doherty enjoy a cocktail. Photographs by Kyle Gustafson
Big winners of the night included Todd Gray, who finally nabbed the Chef of the Year title after decades of cooking in Washington, and José Andrés, who was honored with a career achievement award. Scott Drewno, who claimed Chef of the Year in 2010, came back to accept the Best Fine Dining Restaurant award for The Source. You can read about the rest of the winners, official and otherwise, below.
Before leaving for New York City in 2007, chef Fabio Trabocchi wowed diners with his innovative techniques at Maestro in Tysons Corner. And just as Trabocchi returns to DC to open Fiola in Penn Quarter this spring, one of his famous tricks—smoking with hay—has been appearing on area menus.
Trabocchi mostly uses hay to smoke fish. But we’ve spotted hay-roasted strip loin at Jackie’s in Silver Spring; hay-smoked grits at Patowmack Farm in Lovettsville, Virginia; and carrots smoked in hay at Volt in Frederick.
At DC’s Bibiana, chef Nicholas Stefanelli uses a combination of alfalfa, timothy, and orchard grasses—all types of hay—from famed pork farmer Bev Eggleston to smoke sweetbreads as well as potatoes for gnocchi.
“It makes things sweeter because it has a very fragrant smoke,” Stefanelli says. “It doesn’t have that really hard smoke that you get from applewood, pine, or oak.”
It’s only natural that Stefanelli began playing with hay—he worked with Trabocchi at Maestro and followed him to New York, where they roomed together. Stefanelli notes that all chefs learn from mentors and go on to put their own spin on things.
Few breakfasts are simpler and more satisfying than a bagel with cream cheese and slices of lox—the cured, cold-smoked salmon that’s the pride of many a Jewish deli. Now it’s become the pride of many kinds of restaurants. We’ll start at the humble end of the spectrum:
Royal Bagel Bakery & Deli. This family-run shop excels at the tried and true—cream-cheese-smeared rounds layered with Nova lox.
2 Amys. Sunday mornings, the pizza oven at this Cleveland Park Italian spot creates house-made bagels using whey left over from the buffalo mozzarella and slathered with house-made cream cheese. They’re topped with—what else?—lox cured in-house.
Michel. In Michel Richard’s whirring mind, a breakfast staple becomes a dinner appetizer in the form of a many-layered terrine of salmon and crème fraîche.
Volt. Thin slices of braised, cold-smoked, and sous-vide-cooked Arctic char are paired with “flavors of everything bagel”—crumbs of brioche pulverized with bacon, garlic chips, and coriander.
Move over, crabcake. Lobster rolls are encroaching on your territory. Washington has seen an influx of the New England sandwich in the last year or so, and there's about to be another player in town.
Last night, New York-based Luke's Lobster co-owners Ben Conniff and Luke Holden signed a lease and secured permits for a 700-square-foot space at 624 E Street, Northwest, in DC's Penn Quarter. They hope to open by the end of May.
The menu will be a carbon copy of the one at the three locations in New York City, which in addition to a lobster roll, includes New England clam chowder and lobster bisque from the Maine-based company Hurricane's Soups, Maine Root soda, and Empress crab claws.
Chefs have upgraded hot dogs, burgers, and pizza, so the next haute-junk-food trend probably was inevitable: Some restaurants are forgoing bottled sodas in favor of making their own. At Logan Circle’s Estadio, the citrusy tang of Sprite is reimagined as bitter lemon. In Old Town, the Majestic is offering watermelon-mint and spicy ginger varieties. More-exotic mixes—ginger-yuzu, cucumber-citrus—can be found at the Penn Quarter sushi spot Sei, and the nearby PS 7’s makes a seasonally appropriate pumpkin soda.
Inspired by his grandfather, who used to operate a soda fountain, Spike Mendelsohn adds a dose of nostalgia at Capitol Hill’s We, the Pizza, where the carbonation for his 12 soft drinks comes from a tap. Using mostly local ingredients, he pours such vintage flavors as sarsaparilla, New York–style egg cream, and a Shirley Temple; his not-too-sweet pineapple gets our top vote.
A sign the trend is in full swing? It’s spawning products even more low-end: Café Saint-Ex in DC’s Logan Circle has carbonated that old college-freshman favorite, Boone’s Farm fruit-flavored wine.
The half-smoke—the native-to-Washington sausage that’s plumper and spicier than a hot dog and resembles kielbasa—is making its way from Ben’s Chili Bowl, the baseball stadium, and street carts to the big leagues. Cibola Farms, based in Culpeper, sells meats at area farmers markets and offers a bison half-smoke that co-owner Rob Ferguson says is a bit denser than a traditional version. The Penn Quarter restaurant 701 makes its own half-smoke served on a soft white New England bun with a beer-and-cheese sauce. The Source is using a house-made half-smoke as a garnish for its District Bloody Mary at brunch. Even celebrated chef Johnny Monis has recreated the smoky links at his Dupont Circle destination, Komi, topping them with ramp relish. Too bad you can’t find those at 3 AM.
This article appears in the November 2010 issue of The Washingtonian.
Kusshi oysters: These small but deep-shelled and meaty oysters from British Columbia are nudging Kumamotos aside.
Pawpaw: Pastry chef Anthony Chavez of 2941 is a fan of this soft, tropical-scented fruit.
Lemon balm: Its aromatic leaves, used as a medicinal soother for centuries, are now accenting cocktails.
Lola duck: A lean, intensely flavored designer fowl from New York’s Hudson Valley—a cross between a white Pekin duck and a mallard.
Bush basil: Tiny and spicier than the common sweet basil, this herb is showing up in more than just pesto.
Kindai tuna: Prized bluefin tuna has all but disappeared from menus because of overharvesting, but a Japanese lab is raising this fish in a sustainable way.
Castelvetrano olives: Mild green olives from Sicily, ideal for a warm bar snack.
Mangalitsa pork: These curly-haired Hungarian pigs, beloved for their heavily marbled meat, only recently came to the United States.
Argan oil: You’ll find this restorative Moroccan oil in hair salons but also in dishes such as lamb tartare and cauliflower couscous.
Rishiri kombu: The top-of-the-line Japanese kelp is heavy on umami, the earthy, savory taste known as the “fifth flavor.”
This article appears in the October 2010 issue of The Washingtonian.
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Morou Ouattara hopes to reopen his African-inspired Old Town restaurant, Farrah Olivia—which closed last April—in DC by the end of this year. But diners don’t have to wait to get a taste of his deconstructed dishes: Once a month at Kora, his Italian trattoria in Crystal City, Ouattara is creating what he calls an “ethnic dining experience.” Translation: cooking that’s a lot closer to the Kobe-beef tartare with berbere oil from his old menu than to spaghetti and meatballs.
Prince of Petworth wrote Sunday that Washington is getting yet another food truck, which makes us think it's only a matter of time before Tweeting carts outnumber half-smoke vendors. Sounds good to us. In the last couple weeks, DCSlices, a mobile pizza kitchen, and the sandwich-hawking Rebel Heroes rolled into the streets. We want to know: What's your favorite food cart? Let us know in the comments!
A great deli pickle—the kind that lands on the table at places like Katz’s in New York City—isn’t easy to come by here, especially in a grocery-store aisle. So Arondo Holmes, a coffee vendor who grew up making homemade pickles with his mom in Northern Virginia, set out to elevate Washington’s spears. His Oh! Pickles creations are now a presence at local farmers markets. Half sours and—our favorites—the ones simply called sours are the most Manhattan-like, but Holmes says upstate New Yorkers go for red-hots, made with a fiery brine that lives up to its name. Most popular are his mom’s pickled beets—“the first thing I sell and the last thing I sell,” Holmes says. Now all we need is some worthy pastrami.