Nibbles and Sips Around Town: ‘Fancy Food Show’ by Jordan Wright

With over 180,000 products from 80 countries and regions on display at this week’s Fancy Food Show in DC, even a veteran show-goer needs a game plan before navigating the packed convention floor. Armed with the show’s diagram I hit the cavernous souk-like space like a laser-guided missile.

I like talking with the startups – entrepreneurs who are just getting their feet wet in the marketplace. Most are looking for East Coast distributors for products already found in stores on the West Coast. Scads of delicacies captured my eye and palate. Here’s a first look at a few I swooned over.

Calamondin Café

Calamondin Cafe’s cakes and coulis. Photo by Jordan Wright.

Laurie Gutstein, MD presides over 1,000 calamondin trees on Pine Island, an area close by Ft. Myers along the Gulf Coast of Florida. Better known as a region for palm tree growers along with vegetable, mango and lychee farms, Gutstein’s family farm sits  in the community of Bokeelia close to Matlacha, a quaint fishing village, evocative of “Old Florida.”

The plant’s history in this country began in 1899 when American botanist and plant explorer David Fairchild, brought back some seeds after an expedition to Panama. Along with his benefactor Barbour Lathrop they introduced citrofortunella microcarpa to South Florida. Floridians took to planting the prolific tree in their backyards making desserts and preserves from the golf-ball sized fruit. The glossy leaved plant produces an orange-hued fruit with a thin rind and near-zero pith, packing a lot of juice for its miniature size.

By the mid-20th century, when a destructive fruit fly began besieging the trees and the arrival of modern foods turned many home cooks from the kitchen, its culinary use went the way of the butter churner. That is until a few years ago when Gutstein unearthed a recipe from an old family friend and started tinkering with different formulas to create teacakes glazed with the sweetened fruit whose unique flavor profile, rather like a cross between a kumquat and a tangerine, has a wow factor of ten. Now you can order her moist calamondin-drenched cakes in three sizes or have your own jar of sunshine with her calamondin coulis.

SeaSnax

SeaSnax Chef Roscoe Moon. Photo by Jordan Wright.

Kale chips have been gaining a lot of traction lately but seaweed’s luster is on the rise thanks to a recent tout from TV’s Dr. Oz who featured SeaSnax in a recent episode. These crispy roasted seaweed snacks from Korea are nutritious and addictive, and converts will like that they’re non-GMO, gluten free, with no artificial colors, flavors or preservatives. Did I mention all the vitamins and minerals seaweed contains? Nine flavors from Spicy Chipotle and Toasty Onion to Classic Olive and Wasabi, it comes in full-size sheets or nifty grab-and-go packs. Visit their website to find a store near you.

Types of seaweed used in SeaSnax. Photo by Jordan Wright.

Living Tree Community Foods

Nut butters from Living Tree Community Foods. Photo by Jordan Wright.

Founder and president of Living Tree Community Foods, Jesse Schwartz is a former professor and amateur botanist. During the 1970s he spent much of his time roaming California’s Santa Cruz Mountains, the Sierra foothills and Mendocino County collecting rare heirloom varieties of apples.  Through a process of grafting he brought many of these old time apples back from extinction.  Schwartz first started by making and selling almond butter, eventually growing his business to 25 different nut and seed butters along with olive oils, chocolate, bee pollen and many other “alive” products – all are unheated and organic.

At the show were samples of Almond, Pistachio, Walnut and Hazelnut Cloud – each one smooth textured and distinctive. One of their latest products and certainly one of the company’s most intriguing, is Berkeley Buzz Butter, made with chocolate, acai berries, ginger, rosemary, cinnamon and honey and a whole host of other organic ingredients. Visit their website for recipes and to order by mail.

Bovetti Chocolates

Last year I discovered an amazing product from the Italian company Bovetti, an artisan chocolatier whose elegantly made chocolates rise above so many competitors. After misplacing their product materials and unable to recall the company’s name, I deliberately sought them out again this year. The company produces an outstanding range of over 140 different chocolate bars all from fair trade chocolate. Some have spices added such as Sichuan pepper, espelette chili, ginger, cardamom or fennel. The fruity ones add candied apricots, cherries, and bananas. And some feature flowers like violets, rose petals and jasmine. My favorite is their line of Aperitif Chocolats, tiny seeds of fennel, aniseed, rosemary and pink peppercorns individually enrobed with white or dark chocolate creating miniature spheres that explode with flavor. Find them at their website.

DC’s BuddhaFest Inspires

Tara Brach at BuddhaFest. Photo by Jordan Wright.

DC’s BuddhaFest last weekend was a blissed out affair designed to put you in touch with your inner self. Aren’t we all seeking that elusive state? The Pink Line Project hosted the festival at the Spectrum Theatre in Rosslyn where Friday night’s speaker, Ohio Congressman Tim Ryan (D), spoke to the rapt audience with a discussion of his new book, “A Mindful Nation”.   The former quarterback cut a dashing figure as he expounded on the country’s “quiet revolution”.  His programs on “mindfulness” have recorded an impressive success rate in major universities, corporations, prisons and high schools. But he seemed most proud of its successful teaching to returning vets suffering from PTSD. Sharing the stage with Ryan was Tara Brach, author, psychologist and founder of the DC Buddhist Fellowship along with her husband, yoga instructor Jonathan Foust. A screening of the award-winning and inspirational documentary Buddha’s Lost Children closed the evening.

Ode to the Grape at The Curious Grape

Lemongrass shrimp at The Curious Grape. Photo by Jordan Wright.

At The Curious Grape in Arlington’s Shirlington Village I found myself snug in a suéded banquette basking in the sunny glow of a restaurant with a full wall of floor-to-ceiling windows.  The former wine and cheese shop has moved around the corner from their former home and added a restaurant. The stylish new digs have a relaxed modern flair with honeyed wood floors and ebony-hued tables and chairs. A vineyard inspired mural soars over the black granite topped bar – a great spot within a short walk to Signature Theatre and the local arthouse movie theatre. Driving home the grape décor is the purple room-length banquette with accenting purple napkins.

‘Wine, Dine and Shop’ is the resto’s tag line. The shop section features coffees, chocolates, and artisanal products while over 300 well-chosen wines are cradled in cherry wood rows of racks.  Over 25 varieties of chocolates including Vosges Haut-Chocolat, organic Taza, the ultra elegant Amedei from Tuscany andAskinosie, rated “The South’s Best Chocolate” by Southern Living Magazine. The La Salamandra Dulce de Leche, with or without chocolate is an indulgent drizzle over vanilla ice cream.  There are olive oils too.  L’Estornell an organic 100% arbequiña olive oil from Spain being one of my faves. I also spied Vincottofig vinegar and Revolution Tea, and coffees from roasters Novo Coffee of Colorado and Lexington Coffee via the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia. A case of international cheeses for take home stands beside the café’s extensive espresso and pastry bar.

The restaurant wants to share its not inconsiderable knowledge of wines. Co-owner Suzanne McGrath, a certified wine educator and her partner, Katie Park, hold frequent seminars highlighting regions from Spain to Oregon.  The night we visited wine consultant Cheryl Hauser was conducting one of the weekly Thursday night wine tastings in the private glassed-in dining room.

The menu itself is designed to assist by guiding the diner to suggested wines for the most optimal pairing for its seasonally inspired dishes. Thirty wines are available by the glass or half glass and most of the dishes can be ordered in half or full portions. An alluring prospect for those of us who prefer a different wine with every course and look to sample a variety of dishes. In addition there are more beers, both by bottle and draft, local and imported, than I could possibly describe here.  Suffice it to say the full or half drafts would make for an evening of adventurous tasting.

Straight out of the gate the food was creative and memorable. Executive Chef Eric McKamey, who at the tender age of 28 has worked in some of Washington’s finest kitchens including PassionFishLocal 16 Proof under Haidar KaroumCentral under Michel RichardCityZen under Eric ZieboldPalena under Frank Ruta and the now-shuttered 2941 under Jonathan Krinn, has a firm grasp on flavor, technique and presentation.

Baby artichokes starter at The Curious Grape. Photo by Jordan Wright.

We sampled a silken yellow tail with preserved lemon and a piquant radish salad before moving on to baby artichokes with spring garlic and breadcrumb topping.  A daily special was fresh tuna salad over tart fried green tomatoes paired nicely with a Michael Shaps Viognier from Virginia Wineworks. Another winning dish was lightly charred head-on lemongrass shrimp complemented by roasted peanuts and Thai basil and nestled cozily over rice noodles bathed in cucumber tamarind vinaigrette.

Pan seared sea scallops. Photo by Jordan Wright.

Entrees beckoned. Red wine braised lamb shoulder falling off the bone proved meltingly rich and tender. Pan-roasted sea scallops partnered up with firm textured black rice, baby bok choy and a delicate plum wine beurre blanc and was a neat foil for “Le Orme”, a 2009 Barbera from Michele Chiarlo.

Desserts were a grand hoorah to the restaurant’s house-made pastries – a charming tuile cup filled with lemon mousse perched on a puddle of lavender blueberry preserves, and a dark chocolate pot de crème with caramelized hazelnuts and chocolate batons.

There are four types of three-cheese platters broken up into categories according to types of wines.  Our “White Wine Cheese Selection” included white Stilton with apricot, Gruyère de Compté and Beehive Teahive from Utah. And thanks to the menu’s guidance we opted to pair it with a Vajra moscato and a Douro Valley Croft ruby port. Clearly both chef and sommelier have created a most harmonious union!

Highly recommended.

 

 

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