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Whether you're nibbling on palak chaat or sharing a bunch of dishes, you'll want these wine recs. By Scott Greenberg
The newly renovated dining room at the Penn Quarter Rasika. Photograph by Jeff Elkins.

Rasika, with locations in Penn Quarter and West End, is one of the top Indian restaurants in the country, with cooking that emphasizes complex spicing over searing heat. To go with it, Sam Haltiwanger—wine director at the newly renovated Penn Quarter location—has assembled a wine list with a wide variety of thoughtful selections (an Argentine sparkling brut rosé made from Malbec at $12 a glass; a rare 2006 Reisling from Nikolaihof-Wachau, an Austrian estate that is the oldest biodynamic winery in the world). Need help pairing your next meal there? Here’s what I’d recommend.

If you’re getting palak chaat: And who isn’t? The crispy spinach—dusted with chickpea flour, flash-fried, and then lightly dressed with a mix of yogurt and tamarind/date chutney—is the kitchen’s most popular dish. Try the 2013 St. Cosme “Little James Basket Press” White ($11 a glass; $44 a bottle), a gem from the Rhone Valley. The blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Muscat Sec, and Viognier is fresh and aromatic, with lovely flavors of peach, lemon, and tangerine that balance the sweetness of the chutney yet cut through the yogurt.

If you’re having the chicken biryani: My favorite dish on the menu is this chicken baked in a casserole with aromatic spices and basmati rice, topped with a puff pastry, and served with a side of cooling raita. It calls for a big white that can both stand up to the spices and complement the chicken. The 2012 Sine Qua Non “In the Abstract” is a rare find on restaurant wine lists. The blend of white Rhone grapes (including Viognier and Roussanne) and Chardonnay from the cult wine producer Manfred Krankl is worth the splurge. It is a viscous wine, with cascading flavors of ripe apricot, white nectarine, grilled peaches, and baked apples—powerful and elegant at the same time. One caveat—at $295 a bottle, it ain’t cheap.

If you’re ordering tandoori salmon: The fish is coated with Kashmiri chilies, cinnamon, and black pepper, and then baked in a traditional tandoor. Given the smoky heat of the dish, I’d go for the 2010 Westrey Oracle Vineyard Pinot Noir ($58 a bottle) from Oregon’s Willamette Valley, which has aromas of cherry cola, black plums, and baking spices. Hints of cinnamon on the finish add an exclamation point to both the wine and the salmon, while smooth tannins cut through the rich texture.

If you’re playing it safe with chicken tikka masala: I don’t mean to seem obvious here, but an off-dry Riesling, like the 2012 Mercer from Yakima Valley, Washington ($56 a bottle) is a great match. The lush juiciness of the honeysuckle, lychee, and tangerine flavors plays off of the spices, and the bright acidity is the perfect foil for the rich, creamy sauce. A slight effervescence adds a refreshing touch.

If you’re sharing a bunch of things: There are some cool picks for both white and red wine lovers to share here. I think the 2013 Luigi Tacchino Gavi di Gavi ($50 a bottle) is a versatile, well-balanced white that was born to pair with a variety of things—it’d be great with mild seafood, like the black cod with dill, and with chicken dishes. Red wine aficionados should spring for the multi-faceted 2012 Chateau Raspail ($95 a bottle) from the Gigondas region of the Rhône Valley. Made from a blend of Grenache and Syrah, this cousin of Chateauneuf du Pape offers up a flamboyant bouquet of red and blue fruits mixed with crushed rock and floral undertones. It’d pair deliciously with many of the cheese-based dishes and vegetarian selections.

Posted at 01:26 PM/ET, 07/30/2015 | Permalink | Comments ()
Local craft breweries have given Washington a thriving beer culture. Now it’s hard liquor’s turn. By Will Grunewald
A tasting guide to the new—and some tried-and-true—small-batch local distilleries. Photographs by Jeff Elkins.

Mount Vernon

Historian turned distiller Steve Bashore leads a small team that uses historically correct methods, wooden buckets, and copper-pot stills to eke out two batches of whiskey on average a year. It’s worth a visit just to take in the aroma of wood smoke and sweet rye, but the gift shop does carry bottles that sell out quickly after each release.

Catoctin Creek

Scott and Becky Harris strategically situated their distillery in Purcellville in the heart of Virginia wine country, and even staunch wine lovers admit their Roundstone Rye’s warming spice and mellow sweetness are as comforting as a buxom Bordeaux. Skeptical? Try their Virginia Brandy, made from local grapes and aged in real Bordeaux barrels.

Lyon Distilling Company

This year-old St. Michaels outfit churns out spot-on corn andrye whiskeys as well as white rum, but distiller Ben Lyon’s staple is dark rum, a blend of molasses and sugar cane distilled in particularly small pots to heighten the caramelized goodness, then aged in barrels.

Twin Valley Distillers

Edgardo Zuniga—a former sous chef at Old Ebbitt Grill, Founding Farmers, and Clyde’s—is the first to tell you he’s learning as he goes. But only a few months into full-bore production in Rockville, Zuniga already hits all the right notes in his Seneca Bay Rum. He recently completed what he believes is Maryland’s first-ever batch of bourbon.

New Columbia

Inside an unassuming cinder-block building near Union Market is a state-of-the art, sculptural copper still imported from Germany that produces Green Hat, a gin distantly related to the standard juniper-laden London Dry. Herbal flavors are emphasized for a unique and, frankly, better G&T experience.

One Eight

Set to open in the new year, One Eight ’s tasting room on Okie Street, off Northeast DC’s New York Avenue, will feature its gin and rye whiskey but will also bring DC’s first vodka since Prohibition, made from local grain. One Eight’s proximity to New Columbia and Atlas Brew Works will make the Ivy City neighborhood a boozehound’s paradise.


This article appears in the January 2015 issue of Washingtonian.

Posted at 09:56 AM/ET, 01/16/2015 | Permalink | Comments ()
Not-your-average vodka, whiskey, and more to come from DC's second modern distillery. By Anna Spiegel
One Eight Distilling, the District's second modern production distillery, opens Saturday. Photograph courtesy of One Eight.

The newest member of the District's growing local drinking scene makes its debut on Saturday. One Eight Distiling, DC's second production distillery since Prohibition, opens its doors in Ivy City just off New York Avenue, Northeast. Founders Sandy Wood, Alex Laufer, and Jared Earley invite spirits fans in for free tours of the 7,500-square-foot production space and samples of the first two products: District Made Vodka and Rock Creek Whiskey. Here's what to know before you go.

The vodka isn't tasteless.

Bar buffs are known to turn up their noses at vodka, the supposedly characterless, flavorless drink. The One Eight team hopes to change that perception with their version.

"There's a notion that vodka should have no flavor and that it's easy to make," says Wood, who worked at distilleries in the US and Scotland before opening in DC. "Neither are true unless you're an industrial producer."

The team uses a rye base—instead of more common potato or wheat—to lend a depth of flavor to the spirit, which also imparts a touch of sweetness. In addition to mixing cocktails like a Moscow mule, Wood says it's tasty sipped neat.

Local means more than just a District address.

Another reason for picking rye as the mash base for both the vodka and whiskey is that it's a local crop with a history in the mid-Atlantic. The grain was the top choice for pre-Prohibition distilleries, and is partially sourced for One Eight from Maryland's Eastern Shore; more comes from North Carolina. The name also nods to DC. Among other things Article One, Section Eight of the Constitution called for the establishment of a district as the nation's capital.

You can try One Eight's brown liquor in two-plus years.

Currently the distillery bottles its unaged, "white" whiskey, which is less sweet than a corn-based version, with touches of spice. More whiskey is aging in new, charred American oak barrels (a legal requirement for producing American bourbon). Smaller 25-gallon barrels may be released as soon as a year and a half from now, but larger 52-gallon versions won't be ready for at least two, with plans to hold some barrels eight years and beyond.

Gin is on the way.

Green Hat won't be the only District gin producer in the neighborhood in a few weeks once One Eight's Ivy City Gin is released. The team is still toying with the formula, but plans for a less herbaceous, drier type of gin. Variations for the future could include a Genever-style (more juniper-flavored), and a barrel-aged line.

Tours are free, and food truck eats are available.

The distillery will be open for free tours and tastings (21+ only) on Saturday from 1 to 4, starting this week. Admission is first come, first served, and groups will be kept fairly small to allow for questions. Once production is up and running, the team plans to collaborate with local restaurants, bars, and liquor stores—but for now you can buy bottles of the vodka ($36) and white whiskey ($34) on premises. A lineup of food trucks has been scheduled to provide food, starting with Red Hook Lobster Pound this Saturday. Still, don't plan to booze up on location; District law limits to three spirit samples per person, per day.

One Eight Distilling. 1135 Okie St., NE; 202-636-6638. Open to the public Saturdays from 1 to 4; large groups of 30 or more by appointment.

Posted at 01:42 PM/ET, 01/09/2015 | Permalink | Comments ()
The market from the Cashion’s team prepares to shutter. By Anna Spiegel
Get your charcuterie fix before the wine shop closes in October. Photograph by Scott Suchman.

We’ve seen far more restaurant openings than closings of late, but sadly a neighborhood favorite is on the outs. A.M. Wine Shoppe, the Adams Morgan market from Cashion’s Eat Place owner Justin Abad and chef John Manolatos, is set to close its doors on Monday, October 7. Abad says the team was unable to reach an agreement on the lease’s renewal terms with their landlord, and decided to shutter the operation after three-plus years of selling wine, charcuterie, and deli sandwiches.

On the positive side, Abad and Manolatos are turning their attention toward opening a new concept. Much is still in the works, including a location, which Abad hopes to find in Adams Morgan or possibly Shaw. The ideal: a full-service neighborhood restaurant that’s more casual than Cashion’s but still focused on quality, seasonal ingredients.

“It’ll be the kind of place John or I would want to go and relax on a Tuesday night,” says Abad.

In the meantime, stop by the wine shop before it’s gone for good. Steep discounts are planned for all remaining items during the last week of business.

Posted at 12:50 PM/ET, 09/23/2013 | Permalink | Comments ()
Buy your mom something she’s guaranteed to enjoy. By Jessica Voelker
Drinking wine with mom: the best way to celebrate on Sunday. Photograph courtesy of Shutterstock.

If you’re doing it right, buying a bottle of wine for someone is a highly personal gesture. You have to know what your giftee likes—Chardonnay, sparkling wine, dry South African varietals, etc.—and offer something that will fit their tastes while also presenting the chance to try something new. For the wine-drinking mother, a well-chosen bottle is a no-brainer gift. Mom feels special, then buzzed; siblings—petals falling from the sad little bouquets clutched in their fists—shrink in the certain knowledge of your new status as favorite kid forever. (Okay maybe not forever, but certainly through Sunday.)

Great news: This moment of M-Day glory can be achieved by even the most novice of wine purchasers, thanks to this mère-minded list of white and rosé options selected by wine experts around town. The best part? They’re all under $25—less than it costs to order a dozen daffodils to Mom’s door.

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Posted at 11:25 AM/ET, 05/09/2013 | Permalink | Comments ()
The experts at Neighborhood Restaurant Group solve your V-Day drinking dilemmas. By Jessica Voelker

Beer expert Greg Engert. Photograph courtesy of the Neighborhood Restaurant Group.

Some people think about what beer and wines to pair with their food every day. Others think about it, like, once a year—on Valentine’s Day, for instance. Whichever side you fall on, this list should help you find something to drink alongside that extravagant home-cooked feast.

We dreamed up eight Valentine’s Day menus—all of which, given a little preparation and patience, are totally doable at home. Then we challenged Greg Engert and Brent Kroll—the lead beer and wine experts at the Neighborhood Restaurant Group (Birch & Barley, Evening Star Cafe, Vermilion, and more)—to come up with suitable pairings for each. They went above and beyond with some inspired choices to ensure your February 14 dinner really stands out. Call the fine wine and beer store near you to find out if they stock the selections below—then get cooking.

You’re cooking: A classic beef bourguignon.

Greg suggests: Abbaye de Saint Bon-Chien, Brasserie Franches-Montagnes, Switzerland

This annually released ale is composed of strong, soured red ales aged in countless wine and spirit barrels, then masterfully blended. What results is a vinous brew, one that dovetails with the red wine braising liquid. The acidity of Bon-Chien—which digs into the stew—is balanced by toasty, oaky sweetness that mellows the tang of the garlic and herbs while complementing the rich flavors of the braised beef.

Wine savant Brent Kroll. Photograph courtesy of Brent Kroll.

Brent suggests: 2003 Chateau Musar, Bekaa Valley, Lebanon

With a dish like this, it’s easy to lean toward Rhone or Bordeaux varietals. This wine is a blend of both that has bottle age, earth, very ripe fruit, and spice. Although the dish originates from Burgundy, it’s a little strong for most Pinot Noirs. The Musar is tailor-made for the weight and secondary notes of mushrooms, onions, and garlic usually found in the dish.

You’re cooking: Filet mignon with mashed potatoes and braised greens.

Greg suggests: Ayinger Celebrator, Privatbrauerei Franz Inselkammer, Germany

As filet mignon is a lean cut with restrained flavor intensity, I like a brew that is potent yet composed, bold without being big. Doppelbocks, like Celebrator, offer just the right amount of dark bread, toffee, and candied fruit to simultaneously sauce the dish and echo the caramelized (i.e., seared) exterior of the steak.

What to pair with osso buco, miso-glazed salmon, and more.

Posted at 11:15 AM/ET, 02/13/2013 | Permalink | Comments ()
And you thought getting a seat at ChurchKey was difficult last week. By Anna Spiegel

ChurchKey’s multitude of taps makes it a go-to spot for beer lovers. Photograph by Chris Leaman.

Washington’s bartenders are getting a lot of national magazine love of late, confirming what we already know: The District drinking scene is pretty great and just keeps getting better.

GQ just published a big beer-filled issue that lists ChurchKey and Birch & Barley as one of its 12 Bars for Beer Lovers, alongside Bailey’s Taproom in Portland and Brooklyn’s Spuytin Duyvil. (Unfortunately we didn’t make it into the 5 Best Beer Cities in America category—damn you, Philly.)

Rogue 24 cheftender Bryan Tetorakis is named Mixologist of the Month by the tony folks at Wine Enthusiast for his molecular spins on classic drinks. We’ve been fans of Tetorakis’s work for awhile, from smoked highballs at an outdoor concert to a spin on an Aviation cocktail with a cherry sphere at a $1,000-per-person fundraiser. Meanwhile, Rogue 24 chef R.J. Cooper is making a few Internet waves of his own: He’s set to appear in a six-episode Web show called Chefs of Anarchy, beginning this Thursday.

What Washington bars do you think should be getting more attention, national or otherwise? Leave us your suggestions in the comments section.

Posted at 01:30 PM/ET, 10/02/2012 | Permalink | Comments ()
Buying organic quinoa just got a whole lot more fun. By Anna Spiegel
What’s more fun than grocery shopping? Buzzed grocery shopping. Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Attention, shoppers: It’s time for happy hour. Thrillist brought word* this morning that several area Whole Foods have recently launched bars, including locations in Arlington, Alexandria, and Tenleytown, with a P Street pub on the way in October. (Sorry, Marylanders, you still can’t buy alcohol in the grocery store, let alone drink it.)

Fueling your market run are local draft beers, wines by the glass, and organic coffee and espresso drinks. Each store has a slightly different layout, but you can grab a stool at all three bars for a boozy shopping break, take your beverage into the more spacious cafe seating areas to pair with your meal, or carry drinks around the store while you browse. To that end, shopping cart cup holders are in the works.

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Posted at 01:50 PM/ET, 09/18/2012 | Permalink | Comments ()
Forget the LITs you drank in college. This recipe makes a case for the much-maligned booze bomb. By Anna Spiegel

It's blue, it's powerful, it's delicious: Rachel Sergi's Long Island iced tea. Photograph courtesy of Rachel Sergi.

The Long Island Iced Tea may bring back (hazy) memories of college, but there’s no reason this booze bomb should be relegated to sophomore year. Just ask Jack Rose Dining Saloon cocktail guru and documented LIT aficionado Rachel Sergi.

“I absolutely love them,” says Sergi, whose friend and fellow bartending superstar Gina Chersevani is also a fan. “I love iced tea to begin with, and me and Gina work hard on making cocktails all the time. But every once in a while, we want something that just tastes easy. It’s either a Long Island done properly or nothing.”

Sergi’s advice on being certain that a given bar is an LIT-safe space? “Ask if they have sour mix on the gun.” If the answer is yes, you should probably steer clear. Better yet, whip up your own version at home with Sergi’s recipe, which doesn’t stray too far from the common potent mix of vodka, gin, rum, tequila, a sour element, and Coca-Cola. Instead of bottled sour mix, Sergi uses fresh lemon juice and citrusy Bols Blue Curaçao, and swaps out the Coke float for an easy-to-make cola syrup. The best news for your end-of-summer bash: You can brew a big batch in advance (keeping the syrup on the side) and mix to order or let guests pour their own. It should go without saying, this is one powerful concoction—consume accordingly.

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Posted at 12:15 PM/ET, 09/07/2012 | Permalink | Comments ()
Fancy mint-citrus or tamarind soda at your cocktail party? Bartender Nicole Hassoun is at your service. By Jessica Voelker
Custom gin and tonics: the next big thing at cocktail parties? Photograph courtesy of Flickr user LexnGer.

Punched up with flavor combinations such as purple basil and pink peppercorn, bartender Nicole Hassoun’s custom tonics have earned the Gin Joint—the twinkly little boîte below the New Heights restaurant in Woodley Park—a following among gin-and-tonic lovers. So much so that she even teaches a popular class on making tonic (the weekly lessons are sold out through September, but check the website in a few weeks for an updated schedule).

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Posted at 10:40 AM/ET, 08/29/2012 | Permalink | Comments ()