Scene: Compared to last year’s soirée, which was held in the downstairs ballroom of the Marriott Wardman Park hotel, this year’s fell a bit flat. Perhaps it was the gargantuan room—the cavernous space looked nearly empty, even as the crowd peaked at 500 people—or maybe it was the bummer economy, but the crowd was less electric and more reserved than last year’s.
Also absent were many of the A-list restaurants that turned out a year ago. Whereas the 2008 event saw the likes of Central Michel Richard, Restaurant K, and Butterfield 9 (R.I.P.), this year’s team of restaurants had us puzzled—we’d never even heard of a number of them. That’s not to say the food wasn’t delicious (we’ll get to that in a minute), but the shift in restaurants in attendance was noticeable.
The live auction was the highlight of the evening and seemed to perk up the crowd a bit. Fast-talking auctioneer B.J. Jennings coaxed $10,000 out of the crowd in a plea for one-time donations ranging from $50 to $1,000. The funds raised will provide more than 33,000 meals for the needy in DC, Jennings said.
A live band rounded out the night with covers of feel-good oldies—think: “Under the Boardwalk”—that brought denim-clad couples to their feet. The event wrapped up around 10.
Most recognizable vendors: Vidalia, Art and Soul, and Hello Cupcake.
Most unusual garnish: The squid-ink tuille in a cup of onion vichyssoise with crab meat, compliments of Vidalia.
Most innovative dish: Espresso-crusted raw tuna with soy-sauce whipped cream from Better Basics Catering.
Best alternative to a sausage: A scallop boudin blanc, served with stewed tomatoes, by Sodexo-Stevenson College.
Best sausage (and other assorted charcuterie): Artisan MeatCrafters, a new partnership with sausage master Jamie Stachowski and Mitchell Berliner, which served its duck prosciutto, Portuguese linguiça, wild-boar sausage, and bull sausage. Stachowski and Berliner will sell their meats to restaurants and retail shops in the near future.
Most refreshing dish: A mix of crunchy greens, lightly dressed, from Endless Summer Harvest, a Loudoun County-based farm that sets up tents at the Dupont Circle and Penn Quarter farmers markets. Between bites of cream-based soups and decadent cupcakes—is there any other dessert option in this town?—a salad was like a palate cleanser.
Best Southern cooking: Agraria’s pork belly, a juicy square of fat, paired with a creamy helping of spoonbread—a cornmeal-based cross between pudding and cornbread.
Best use of a candy bar: Butterfinger crumbles that added a crunch to a caramel-flavored bread pudding served by Cowboy Cafe.
Biggest disappointment: The program promised Volt—number 15 on The Washingtonian’s 100 Very Best Restaurants list—but the Frederick restaurant didn’t show.
Ratings (see the explanation of our ratings system here):
Boldface names: 1 (out of 5)
Swankiness: 1 (out of 5)
Food and drink: 2 (out of 5)
Overall exclusivity: 2 (out of 5)
Total: 6 (out of 20)
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