IN THIS ISSUE
WHAT'S DOING IN DC?
By John Mariani
NEW YORK CORNER
By John Mariani
NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR
TWO FINE WINE TASTINGS
By Geoff Kalish
WHAT'S DOING IN DC?
By John Mariani
George and Martha Washington's Dining Room at Mount Vernon
Funny how Washington’s restaurant scene
is just now being recognized by the food media,
including the Michelin Guides, as one of
America’s finest food towns. It long has been,
dating back to the Reagan Era and the “power
places like Le Pavillon, Jean-Louis at
The Watergate, Le Lion d’Or, The Jockey Club,
Cantina d’Italia and Duke Ziebert’s were packed
with pols and the lobbyists who seduced them.
By the 1990s D.C. was competitive with any city its size in the U.S., with innovative restaurants like Vidalia, Red Sage, Goldoni Galileo, DC Coast and I Ricchi (see below) opening regularly. So I’ve made annual visits to the Capital to check out what’s new, re-configured and still as good as ever. Here’s this year’s report.
It had been a very long time—1986 to be exact—since I’d stepped foot into The Watergate Hotel, which at that time was home to the illustrious Jean-Louis restaurant headed, until 1996, by the late master chef Jean-Louis Palladin. For all those years since, the hotel never made much of an effort to come even close to that level of fine dining.
Fortunately, however, the new restaurant Kingbird, if not trying to serve haute cuisine, has, under Chef Michael Santoro, restored a good deal of luster to a property that has always had a troubled history going back to the Nixon days, when its very name became synonymous with political shenanigans, even to the point of pundits attaching “-Gate” to practically any scandal.
Even today the current management offers a tour of “The Room Where It Happened - Scandal Room 214,” containing items from the era. After several ownership changes, the hotel, now owned by Euro Capital Properties, has kept its original brutish, toothy exterior by Luigi Moretti, has had an amazing transformation inside by Ron Arad. Today it has a futuristic spaceship look—more Forbidden Planet than Space Odyssey or Star Wars—done in many shades of white and gray and using Slinky toy-like chrome spirals from floor to ceiling as leitmotifs, beginning at the gleaming reception desk.
The very spacious bedrooms benefit from the sweeping curvature of the building overlooking the Potomac, and the décor of the rooms mirrors a minimalist look brightened by rich leather fabrics and plum-colored carpets.
The restaurant, which serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, uses the same motifs, with those soaring columns and hanging metal beehive lighting, and whose colors mimic that of the local kingbird. There is a glam bar on the way to the main dining room.
Executive Chef Michael Santoro, who had experience at the experimental restaurants The Fat Duck outside London and Mugaritz in Spain, then as chef de cuisine at the Blue Duck Tavern in D.C., is crafting a menu that seems highly personalized, with plenty that might be called sophisticated comfort food and much else that is artfully composed around the seasons.
At my recent meal I began with a very good warm heirloom tomato with sheep’s milk ricotta, basil and candied olives ($16) and excellent Madai snapper crudo with a mosaic of avocado, radish and kalamansi ($20), whose textures were melded both sweetly and sensibly. Best of all was a warm summer tart of eggplant caponata and edible flowers ($13). That evening the seven-herb ravioli in an olive and capers sauce vierge and basil pesto ($15) had rather dry, chewy pasta dough and not much flavor.
For main courses, the Elysian Field saddle of lamb
was a fine piece of meat, served in a
Mediterranean style with smoked couscous, charred
eggplant and cucumber variations ($48), every
component complementary to boost flavors.
Barbecued veal cheek was lusciously rendered, with grilled binchotan fresh beans, pickled sea beans and tomato ($34), while an eight-ounce beef tenderloin with cabbage, Shiraz wine and maître d’hotel butter ($48) had all the classic complexity it should.
Kingbird stocks an impressive wine cellar, with a good selection of bottles under $50 but way too many wines above $150. A Peter Michael “Ma Belle-Fille” 2014 is about $100 retail, but $260 at Kingbird.
With its décor, its bar and its serious menu and wine list, Kingbird has more than shattered its lackluster image as a mere hotel dining room and restored it to The Watergate. Now, with its outdoor terrace, panorama on the river and the city, and its shiny new look, there are plenty of reasons to dine well here.
Just last week, the hotel introduced its Top of the Skate, a brand new rooftop skating rink at the Top of the Gate, rooftop bar, with a 360-degree view of the nation’s capital, as well as a special menu with seasonal offerings and treats such as Stromboli, S’mores, German-style hot pretzels and Mulled wine.
Now three decades in
business, I Ricchi in Dupont Circle has never
been better, and owner Christianne Ricchi will
probably never be satisfied tightening,
refining and tweaking the food and wine.
The beautiful, rustic Tuscan décor with its
terracotta floors and wood-burning hearth
looks as inviting as ever, and Ricchi herself
seems to know everyone at every table, as well
she should, for her regulars, who are legion,
are assured that no one in D.C. will take
better care of them. No one in the
business gets more of an earful of political
gossip than Ricchi. In addition, she’s been a
champion of women in the culinary world and
has the awards to prove it.
NEW YORK CORNER
By John Mariani
35 East 21st Street (near Park Avenue)
What can I say about
a restaurant with very good food that I’d never
want to go back to?
NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR
TWO WINE TASTINGS OF NOTE IN
Grgich Hills Estate: 40 Years Young
Recently, as part of
the 40-year anniversary of the founding of the
winery, a tasting of new releases was organized
by Jonathan Land, enthusiastic sommelier/manager
of The Wine Loft of Naples in Naples, Fla. It
featured the winery’s U.S. representative, Carl
Russo, discussing the wines and provided an
opportunity for The Wine Loft’s newly appointed
chef, Gilbert Loera, to show off some of his
talents in “small dishes” to pair with the
wines. Of importance: Under the direction of
Mike Grgich’s nephew, Ivo Jermaz, the winery’s
366 acres of vineyard are maintained
“naturally,” without artificial fertilizer,
pesticides or herbicides. (On a sadder note,
Ivo’s house succumbed to the recent fires and he
and his family are currently residing in the
winery’s guest house.)
A first course of fig
and prosciutto crostini was accompanied by the
2014 Grgich Hills Fume Blanc ($31). Made from
Sauvignon Blanc grapes grown in the winery’s
American Canyon and Carneros vineyards (at the
southern tip of Napa Valley, near San Pablo
Bay), the wine showed a pale straw color,
bouquet of new mown hay and lemons with a taste
of lemongrass and notes of anise, with a
surprisingly long finish that married well with
the sweetness and crunchiness of the crostini.
And the 2012 Grgich Zinfandel, blended with a very small amount of Petite Sirah and aged for 14 months in large French oak casks, had a bouquet and taste of black cherries and ripe plums. And, although I would have preferred it with the lamb, it mated quite well with a dessert consisting of a chocolate brownie topped with fresh blackberries—the Zinfandel enriching the flavor of the fruit. And for a finale, we were offered a taste of the 2013 Violetta Late Harvest ($85/375ml bottle), which had a honeyed taste of pears and apricots with a touch of acidity in its finish, a bit too sweet for the brownie, but would most likely mate well with fruit and/or ripe cheeses.
Rhone Ranger Shootout
Although the 2014
Crozes Hermitage Blanc from Perrin ($19) was
made from 100% Marssanne grapes and the 2014
Tablas Creek Espirit de Beaucastel Blanc was a
blend of Roussanne (72%), Grenache Blanc (23%)
and Picpoul Blanc (5%), they showed similar
aesthetics, with a bouquet and flavor of apples,
pears and citrus, and should go quite well with
seafare, especially shrimp and prawns. However,
the Tablas Creek wine showed a depth and
richness bound to improve over a few years,
while the Perrin wine is unlikely to improve
much over time. Next up was a comparison of the
2014 Perrin Crozes Hermitage Rouge ($24) and the
Tablas Creek 2015 Côtes de Tablas Rouge ($37).
Even taking the slight difference in vintages
into account these were vastly different wines.
ALSO, NEW EVIDENCE SHOWS THAT WATER WILL NOT
MAKE YOU FAT! OKAY, MAYBE A LITTLE BLOATED.
Based on advice by researcher Brian Wansink,
of Cornell U. :
FOOD WRITING 101:
AVOID CLICHÉS THAT SOUND
STOLEN FROM AN OLD EPISODE
OF "THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW."
"The South is amassing restaurants with national acclaim like a collection of prized cast-iron skillets."--Jed Portman, "Where We're Eating in 2017," Garden & Gun Magazine.
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Eating Las Vegas
JOHN CURTAS has been covering the Las Vegas
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Essential Restaurants (as well as
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He can also be seen every Friday morning as
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Wagners on KSNV TV (NBC) Channel 3 in
nickonwine: An engaging, interactive wine column by Nick Passmore, Artisanal Editor, Four Seasons Magazine; Wine Columnist, BusinessWeek.com; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.nickonwine.com.
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