Combined-in-advance mixers have long been the secret to fast service at high-volume bars, but only recently have we begun to see premade cocktails poured from a tap.
“Kegging” a batch of a restaurant’s specialty drinks ensures consistency—the only skill that the on-duty bartender needs is the ability to pour—and the draft cocktails often cost a few dollars less than their à la minute counterparts.
Here, five of our favorites.
El Codo Margarita from El Chucho
3313 11th St., NW; 202- 290-3313
Five bucks—four during the weekday happy hour (4 to 6:30 and all night Monday)—buys you an excellent on-tap house margarita at this Columbia Heights Mexican spot. Made with silver tequila, Triple Sec, and lime juice, it’s refreshing and balanced—just right with the menu’s unfussy tacos and tortas.
A Draft of Route 74 from Jackson 20
480 King St., Alexandria; 703-842-2790
Head bartender Dean Feddaoui will serve you an $11 refresher of watermelon water, lime, and orgeat (almond syrup with orange-flower water) poured from a tap crowned with a bobblehead of Andrew Jackson, for whom the restaurant is named. Feddaoui adds vodka and orange liqueur just before serving, but customers are also welcome to sip the concoction booze-free for $7.
Lemonade Punch from Kapnos
2201 14th St., NW; 202-234-5000
Taha Ismail developed three draft punches ($11) for Mike Isabella’s new Greek restaurant. Skinos, a floral Greek liqueur, forms the basis of a cocktail with watermelon, tarragon, and lemon. The gin ade—with Batavia Arrack, honey, thyme, and soda—gets a hint of smoke from a grilled lemon. Rum plus lemon-verbena tea, lemon, cane syrup, and angostura bitters make up the elegant third option, our favorite of the lot.
Sage-and-Green-Apple Gin and Tonic from Mockingbird Hill and Red Apron Butcher
Mockingbird Hill, 1843 Seventh St., NW, 202-316-9396; Red Apron Butcher, 1309 Fifth St., NE, 202-524-6807
Sage and tart apple complement the locally made Green Hat gin’s fennel notes in this effervescent debut from Brigade—a collaboration between Passenger/Columbia Room owner Derek Brown, bartender J.P. Fetherston, and a few of their friends. Find it for $9 at Brown’s new sherry bar, Mockingbird Hill, and for $9 at the Union Market location of the charcuterie shop Red Apron Butcher.
On-Tap Sangría from Hogo
1017 Seventh St., NW; 202-393-1313
At the easygoing tiki bar Hogo—run by Passenger co-owner Tom Brown—general manager Julia Ebell developed this slightly fizzy, island-inspired red-wine mixer with ginger, hibiscus, and lime juice ($8). Ebell’s drink is less intense than the typical tropical cocktail, but she sneaks in those citrus and spice notes to winning effect.
This article appears in the October 2013 issue of The Washingtonian.
Chef at Rasika and Rasika West End
Instrument: Tabla, an Indian-style pair of drums.
His learning process: “If I hear something often enough, I can play it.”
Tip for tabla mastery: “You play with your hands, so you have to have skillful fingers.”
Influences: Indian tabla maestros Zakir Hussain and Alla Rakha.
Where he plays now: “I have a tabla set and a drum kit at home, so I definitely keep the neighbors up.”
What he listens to in the kitchen: Pop, rock, Bollywood tunes, Hindi music.
Chef at Cedar
First restaurant job: Playing violin during Sunday brunch at the Gandy Dancer in Ann Arbor as a teenager.
Pay at the time: $100 an hour.
Training: At McCloud’s peak, he was practicing up to ten hours a day and spending summers at Michigan’s Interlochen Center.
How performing informed his cooking philosophy: “A lot of chefs have this idea that they cook for themselves. If guests like it, that’s great; if not, screw ’em. I’m the opposite because I cook for other people.”
Career high: Taking a class with violin virtuoso Itzhak Perlman.
Uncle Brutha's Allsauce No. 9
District native Brennan "Uncle Brutha" Proctor blends serrano chilies, ginger, and cilantro for his smoky twist ($8) on Mexican salsa verde. All the ingredients are natural and gluten-free.
Best for: Eggs and fish or pork tacos.
Where to find it: Order online at unclebrutha.com.
Woodberry Kitchen Snake Oil
Chef Spike Gjerde of Baltimore's Woodberry Kitchen uses fish peppers for this searing sauce ($12). The chili shows up on his menu in everything from deviled eggs to Bloody Marys.
Best for: Dashing on rich seafood dishes.
Where to find it: Salt & Sundry in Union Market, 1309 Fifth St., NE; 202-556-1866.
Apinya Thai Chili Sauce
Love Sriracha? Try this similarly flavored Thai sauce ($6) out of Herndon. It delivers a bigger hit of ginger plus hints of garlic and roasted bell peppers.
Best for: Marinades, Asian noodles, and grilled meats.
Where to find it: Order online at apinya.co.
Capital City Sweet Hot Mumbo Sauce
The District's iconic condiment ($5)—a flavor mash-up of barbecue and sweet-and-sour sauces—gets extra punch from cayenne and habanero peppers.
Best for: Eggs and fish or pork tacos.
Where to find it: Order online at capitalcitymumbosauce.com.
Small Small Red Pepper Sauce
Aromatic berbere—a spice mix that's a key ingredient in Ethiopia's long-simmered stews—is the basis for this complex and fragrant sauce ($9).
Best for: Marinating meats and vegetables or substituting for awaze, a hot-pepper paste.
Where to find it: Order online at buysmallsmall.com.
Photographs by Jeff Elkins.
This article appears in the April 2013 issue of The Washingtonian.
In the world of dessert, canelés are an underdog. Those who have had the Bordeaux-born confections—made from crepe-like batter baked in thimble-shaped copper molds—tend to love them fiercely for their custard-meets-cake insides and slightly chewy, burnt-sugar exteriors. But canelés have yet to receive the recognition afforded their macaron and madeleine cousins. Stéphane Muszynski, a Frenchman who works in sales at a software company, is seeking to change that with Smack, his canelé delivery service that debuted in February and serves DC and its immediate suburbs.
The chicly packaged treats are perfectly burnished and still delicious even after sitting around a few days. Muszynski has come up with flavors of his own—salted caramel, raspberry—but we can’t get enough of the vanilla-bean-flecked originals. Order them, in sets ranging from 8 pieces for $10 to 50 pieces for $45, at iwantsmack.com, and a satin-bowed box will arrive the next day. There might never be canelé bakeries on every corner, but Muszynski’s sweets deserve to hit the big time.
This article appears in the December 2012 issue of The Washingtonian.
As a native of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, I’m tickled to see the grocery staples of my youth—chickens raised on Amish farms, for instance—receive star billing on Washington menus. The fascination with Pennsylvania farm products here means I get to try new-to-me foods from home, too, such as raw honeys ($5 to $8) from Stockin’s Apiaries in the small town of Strasburg.
I learned about Stockin’s from Columbia Room bartender Katie Nelson, a bee-nectar connoisseur who keeps her own hive on the roof of the bar near DC’s Mount Vernon Square. Nelson loves orange-blossom honey, which has a delicate, floral aroma and a rich, spreadable consistency—it’s great slathered on a buttered baguette for breakfast. Funkier and bolder, Stockin’s wildflower honey works well in vinaigrette or diluted into a syrup and combined with an earthy gin and lemon juice for a down-home take on a Bee’s Knees cocktail.
You can find both flavors, plus the company’s alfalfa and buckwheat honeys, at Smucker Farms of Lancaster County (2118 14th St., NW; 202-986-7332), which specializes in local produce and other regional treats.
This article appears in the October 2012 issue of The Washingtonian.
In their 1950s heyday, soda jerks hollered jargon such as “heavy on the hail” (extra ice) and “shot in the arm” (cola) at 100,000 soda fountains around the country.
About 125 traditional soda fountains survive today, and this fall local bartender Gina Chersevani is adding another with Buffalo and Bergen—a 15-stool bar at the new Union Market, DC’s answer to Philly’s Reading Terminal Market. Several other restaurants already serve from-scratch “pop.”
Lots of Cleveland Park residents use Spices for takeout and delivery, but the food is at its best in the warmly lit dining room. We dug into a tangy salad of green papaya, mango, and red cabbage, and another Vietnamese classic—grilled shrimp over cold vermicelli with nicely crunchy spring rolls, cucumber, mint leaves, and peanuts. Less inspiring: gummy drunken noodles with flavorless minced chicken and the limp, over-steamed edamame. 3333-A Connecticut Ave., NW; 202-686-3833. —JV
Ray’s to the Third
We took the casual route at Michael Landrum’s latest restaurant. The enormous Mack burger—with American cheese and tangy “heck” sauce—was juicy perfection. Tender slices of rib eye elevated a sandwich that included melted American and provolone and grilled onions on a Lyon Bakery sub roll. A side salad lent lovely contrast to the sandwiches, and a boozy shake with bourbon and bacon bits made an indulgent ending. 1650 Wilson Blvd., Arlington; 703-974-7171. —JV
Spike and Amy Gjerde may have their mind on new projects, but that hasn’t diminished anything at their farmhouse-cool flagship. Our table became cluttered with terrific snacks: cucumbers seasoned with fish pepper, crab dip with a shot of sherry, a crisp salad of charred sugar-snap peas. Excellent desserts—from a blackberry meringue pie to a marshmallow-and-malt sundae—helped make the meal one of the best we’ve had here. 2010 Clipper Park Rd., Baltimore; 410-464-8000. —AL
This article appears in the September 2012 issue of The Washingtonian.
Barack and Michelle Obama have developed a reputation for dining out in Washington more than any other recent First Couple. Whereas George W. Bush rarely ventured outside the White House for food, the current President and First Lady seem to love their covert trips off the reservation. Here’s a guide to where they’ve eaten out—and with whom.
Politicos, Prime Ministers, and Presidents
1789: With German chancellor Angela Merkel
Woo Lae Oak: With South Korean foreign minister Kim Sung-huan, and South Korean president Lee Myung-bak
Ben’s Chili Bowl: With former DC mayor Adrian Fenty
Regular Folks and Contest Winners
Took the Kids
Birthdays and Anniversaries
Obama-inspired dishes proliferated in 2008, but some have had staying power. Here’s how restaurants are celebrating the eater-in-chief:
Prez Obama Burger
A $6.98 pileup of bacon, onion marmalade, Roquefort, and horseradish mayo at Good Stuff Eatery.
Obama’s Home Sweet Home
A riff on a rickey made with Bulleit bourbon, lime, club soda, and pineapple juice at DC’s Topaz Bar.
This article appears in the September 2012 issue of The Washingtonian.
Cuba Libre Float at Bar Pilar
It’s not on the cocktail menu, but ask beverage director Jonathan Fain to make this combo of rum, Mexican Coke, and vanilla gelato topped with absinthe-laced whipped cream and cherries soaked in Southern Comfort. The complex concoction comes in a Coke bottle with the top lopped off.
Lemonade-Thyme Snow Cone at the Ritz-Carlton Lobby
Crushed ice gets a kick of vodka at this twinkly drinks spot—light, bright lemonade-thyme is the best of the three flavors, but you can try strawberry-basil and blueberry-mojito when you order the “trio.” Just don’t count on driving home.
Shake-and-Bake Cordial Shake at Ray’s to the Third
Restaurateur Michael Landrum stays true to his over-the-top style with this boozy, sweet-then-salty libation combining chocolate syrup, caramel, vanilla ice cream, bourbon, whipped cream, and bacon bits.
Smoking is a technique originally used to preserve meats and fish, but some chefs are smoking everything from gnocchi to ice cream. At home, the process often requires a custom-built smoker plus a few hours. It wasn’t till we spotted bartenders at DC’s Elisir using a Smoking Gun that we learned a shortcut.
The restaurant uses the tool ($100 at Williams-Sonoma) to blow cool smoke made from pipe tobacco and hickory chips—among the many chips that can be ordered with the gun—onto brandied cherries for a Manhattan. In the dining room, an applewood cloud billows from a branzino-filled cigar box. We fired up the gun to give it a try. Unlike hot smoking, cold smoking won’t cook food, so the gun is all about flavor, and it’s best used on ingredients incorporated into a dish or drink.
Cherry-wood-smoked whiskey-pecan ice cream on apple pie was delicious, and bourbon-barrel-smoked cream stirred into espresso created a smooth, alcohol-free Irish coffee. It also works as a finishing touch. Steak smoked with hickory before searing didn’t retain a woodsy flavor, whereas hitting roast chicken with a cloud of the same recalled hours in a smokehouse. Want to play magician? The Elisir effect is easy: Pipe applewood smoke into a glass, invert it over a sliver of raw salmon, and the sweetly smoky fish appears in a heady cloud when the glass is lifted.
This article appears in the May 2012 issue of The Washingtonian.