The Week in Food Events: Ugly Sweaters at Saint-Ex and Lia’s White Truffle Feast

Plus: Birch and Barley’s holiday party, a cheese class at Seasonal Pantry, and much more.

Equinox celebrates the winter solstice this Friday. Photograph Courtesy Equinox

The holidays are upon us, which means lots of excellent food and drink events this week, beginning Monday (tonight), when you can hit up two of three events if you’re feeling spry. It all starts with a special happy hour at Graffiato from 5 to 8 that doubles as a fundraiser for Share Our Strength, a nonprofit that fights childhood hunger. Snag a complimentary glass of house wine, beer, or punch while snacking on free hors d’oeuvres (Jersey Shore pizza, smoked mozzarella arancini) from chef Mike Isabella. The $25 event is a lead-up to the Taste of the Nation DC (i.e., a rare chance to see all your celebrity/rising chef crushes in one place), and you can purchase tickets for both here. (The latter party isn’t until April 2012, but tickets sell out early.)

After that, a difficult choice presents itself. Seasonal Pantry, the-not-so-hidden Shaw gem, is hosting a holiday cheese tasting and class at 7. Fromager Carolyn Stromberg of the Cheese Course leads you through the cheeses, offering tips on storing, serving, and pairing with wine. Unfortunately, chef Dan O’Brien can’t pour vinos on the spot—for that, you have to get one of the coveted supper club tickets—but he will provide tasty accompaniments like pear-walnut conserve and apple-cranberry butter. The $35 lesson is limited to 12 participants, so buy tickets online asap.

Meanwhile, there are somehow still a few spots left for Birch & Barley’s holiday party at 7, something of a miracle given the event features tastings of rare, small-batch beers from Greg Engert and twists on classic holiday fare (served family-style) from chef Kyle Bailey. Delectables on offer include Port City Brewing Santa’s Little Helper Bourbon Barrel-Aged brew, Hanukkah “chop suey” over crispy latkes, and a goodie bag stuffed with Christmas cookies from pastry chef Tiffany MacIsaac (see the full lineup on the Facebook event page). A portion from each $45 ticket benefits Martha’s Table. Call 202-567-2576 for reservations.

Whichever treatfest you attend, save some space in your stomach for Tuesday’s white truffle dinner at Lia’s ($259, including tax and tip). Starting at 7, chef Cesare Lanfranconi gets crazy with the culinary “white gold,” whipping up dishes like risotto with fresh white truffles from Italy’s Piedmont region, and truffled beef tartare. Sommelier Elli Benchimol pairs each of the four courses with Piedmontese wine.

Then on Wednesday, it’s time for something completely different: Cafe Saint-Ex’s annual Ugly Sweater Party. Yes, you have to dress up, but it’s worth it—especially if your sweater is deemed the most hideous in the house, in which case you’ll win a $50 Saint-Ex gift card. Be sure to layer, though; deejay Soul Call Paul is spinning on the downstairs dance floor, so it’ll probably get a little toasty. Check out the Web page for more details.

There’s more holiday cheer to be had on Thursday at A.M. Wine Shoppe, a neighborhood haven for cheese, wine, and charcuterie lovers. Co-owner Justin Abad (you know him from Cashion’s Eat Place) joins his business partner and Cashion’s chef John Manolatos for an informal holiday wine and food pairing at 7. Manolatos is preparing spiced pork rillettes and porcini mushroom risotto with stewed meat to savor alongside the shop’s cheese of the month, Taleggio. Abad pours favorite wines—also available for purchase, of course. Reserve a space ($28 per person) by e-mailing or calling 202-506-2248 by Tuesday, December 13.

Friday, start the evening off at the Butcher’s Block with a complimentary Champagne tasting from 6 to 8:30. The shop’s wine distributor, James Kelaris, is pouring six varieties of bubbly, ranging from wallet-friendly picks like Jansz sparkling rosé from Tasmania ($15) to Voirin Jumel Champagne ($42) and up. If you like what you sample, there’s a 15 percent discount on cases—handy for big holiday gatherings. (The tasting will be repeated on Wednesday, December 21.)

While technically the winter solstice happens on December 22, Equinox is hosting its annual Winter Solstice Dinner this Friday, December 16, at 7. This is chef Todd Gray’s first event with newly appointed executive chef Karen Nicolas. The two toques have concocted an appealing five-course lineup: soft-poached duck egg with gnocchi and truffles, juniper-brined venison with hazelnut spaetzle, chestnut cremeux, and more. The $125 meal includes wine pairings, plus a festive Prosecco starter. Call 202-331-8118 for reservations.

The Kennedy Center’s brunch with Santa is a 15-year DC tradition, and this is the last weekend you can treat your kids to French toast and a visit with Saint Nick (bonus: there’s a gratis glass of bubbly in it for you). At 10 AM on both Saturday and Sunday, the Roof Terrace Restaurant spreads out a buffet with made-to-order omelets and raw oysters, as well as kid-friendly eats, and offers live jazz to accompany the meal ($40 adults; $20 kids). Visit the Web site for more info, or call 202-416-8555 for reservations.

Finally, if you haven’t checked out the newest farmers’ market in town, it’s worth heading to the Skyland Shopping Center on Saturday from 10 AM to 2 PM. You can browse the stalls and catch a cooking demo with The Chew’s Carla Hall at 11 (the market is also called DC Chew, but there’s no relation to the ABC show). In addition to the usual fruits and veggies, look for vendors selling sweets, kettle corn, smoked fish, and a variety of other goods.

Happy eating!

Food Editor

Anna Spiegel covers the dining and drinking scene in her native DC. Prior to joining Washingtonian in 2010, she attended the French Culinary Institute and Columbia University’s MFA program in New York, and held various cooking and writing positions in NYC and in St. John, US Virgin Islands.