Barton Seaver roasting the wild striped bass. Photograph by Kevin Allen.
When is a Sunday Supper more like a Saturday night dinner party? When it’s hosted by Sarah and Bob Nixon, who seem to know no bounds in making sure their guests have a festive evening—regardless of whether it’s a “school night.” The culinary feast at their Georgetown home was one of the 20 intimate dinners organized to benefit DC Central Kitchen and Martha’s Table, with tickets going for $550 per person.
The celebrity chefs were Barton Seaver, Teddy Diggs, and radio host Kojo Nnamdi, though Nnamdi happily pointed out that his role was to watch the Giants-49ers NFC title game on the kitchen TV and give updates to Barton and Teddy while they cooked. He performed his job well.
Sarah Nixon said at the outset, “This is probably not the best night to have a dinner party, but everyone’s welcome to watch the game as much as they want.” Fortunately the game’s tie, which sent it into overtime, happened immediately after the dessert course.
From family experience the Nixons know not to compete with television too aggressively. Both have production backgrounds. Bob’s long career includes producing ABC’s American Sportsman series, as well as documentaries on sea turtles, the Amazon, and endangered species, and he produced the feature film Gorillas in the Mist. His mother, Agnes Nixon, created the soap operas One Life to Live and All My Children. Both Bob and Sarah are dedicated environmentalists. If that’s not enough, they’re also in the inn and restaurant field: They own the Beach Plum, a Martha’s Vineyard favorite of the President and the First Lady, and another island restaurant, Home Port, where Teddy Diggs is chef.
Dinner guests arrived to sparkling wine and oysters by the fire in the den. The oysters, fresh from Martha’s Vineyard, came with a story that prompted Sarah to call them “play-date oysters”: Diggs’s child is in a playgroup with children whose parents include island oystermen. The playgroup parents hauled more than 100 Katama Bay oysters, and Diggs brought them with him. He and Seaver grilled them lightly and served them in a bath of their own liquor. We slurped them right from the shell.
The other canape was a selection of pickled veggies, such as purple cauliflower and yellow wax beans, prepared by Seaver’s wife. Like the oysters, the veggies were irresistible.
Before we sat down for our six-course meal, Seaver explained a little about the preparation of various items. He said the fresh wild striped bass—“one of the great success stories of sustainability”—was roasted over the dying embers of a fire, finished with seaweed stock, and topped with charred kale butter. The braised Jamison Farms lamb was cooked over the flames in his home fireplace in an old popcorn popper. “My wife couldn’t believe it,” he said. The result was incredibly tender and flavorful.
Also on the menu: Vineyard bay scallop tartare with truffles, apples, and celery; braised fennel with orange, almond, and yogurt; and a dessert of pear, almond frangipane, and dark chocolate sorbet. Oh, and football. At various times during the evening, someone (several someones, during particularly intense plays) would slip away and return with the score. These ups and downs did not impair the flow of the meal.
One of my dining partners was Filippo Bartolotta, who came over from Florence to organize the wines for all 20 dinners. He’s worked with Sunday Suppers for three of the program’s four years, and each year he goes about the wines differently. Last year he picked individual wines for each dinner, a task he referred to as “crazy.” This year he selected the same three wines for all the dinners, making it somewhat less labor-intensive. They were wonderful choices: a 2009 Soave Classico, a 2005 Sagrantino di Montefalco Collepiano, and a 2006 Vigna Paradiso, Amarone della Valpolicella. He got the winemakers and shippers to contribute the more than 400 bottles of wine that were served at all the dinners.
Bartolotta was amused that he was eating at the Nixons’ but would be leaving to walk up the hill to another one of the Sunday Suppers—at the home of Bob Woodward. (The Nixons are of no relation to the former president.)
Also at the table was Lindsey Buss, the president of Martha’s Table, which copes with the short term-impacts of poverty with the help of 10,000 volunteers a year. He called the enormous public support “an opportunity for people to live their values,” and said the money raised from the Sunday Suppers “makes a big difference as we try to make ends meet in a recession.”
The other guests of the Nixons included Ginny Grenham and Paul Zevnik, Linda Semans Donovan, Peg Mangan, Cintia Guimaraes, Leslie and Andrew Cockburn, Ann Luskey, Emily Lenzner, Dan and Theresa Tangherlini, Sharon and Chris Warner, and Betina Buss.