Nibble and Sips Around Town – September: ‘Destination McLean, Virginia’ by Jordan Wright

With umpteen restaurants opening in the DC Metro area of late one might be reluctant to venture to the outlying burbs. But I assure you this 25-minute hop from the center of town to this destination restaurant is worth the drive. Tooling up the GW Parkway and basking in the seasonal panorama is part of the adventure. You might stop along the way at Roosevelt Island and stroll the paths on a crisp fall day or catch a stay-in-your-car view from a Potomac River overlook. Peer down the cliffs and you might spot a Great Blue Heron eyeing his supper or catch a glimpse of Georgetown University’s scullers rowing to the cadence of the coxswain’s call.

Bistro Vivant’s daily specials. Photo by Jordan Wright.

Bistro Vivant is the perfect and rare combination of delicious food, knowledgeable service and charming ambiance. That it is housed in a former BBQ joint in a lackluster strip mall is quickly forgotten as soon as you enter. Here’s a place that gets the details right and has a well-heeled clientele who appreciates the effort.

Bistro Vivant’s co-owner and sommelier Aykan Demiroglu. Photo by Jordan Wright.

Owned by Domenico Cornacchia, who is also the Executive Chef, and Aykan Demiroglu, the four month-old bistro is reminiscent of a Montparnassian retreat orchestrated by Toulouse-Lautrec himself. At the end of the long granite-topped bar sits an ice-filled silver bowl where bottles of champagne await and mason jars of fresh fruit and vegetable garnishes stand single file. Bottles of wine are stacked to the ceiling and bentwood stools cozy up to high-top tables alongside the 22-seat bar.

Escargots en cocotte. Photo by Jordan Wright.

The sunny space succeeds with a refreshing absence of pretense. Dark wood accents, creamy walls and a tiled floor convey a no-nonsense we-are-all-about-the-food-and-wine message, leaving the distinct sense that no trendy restaurant designer had a hand in the décor. Rather it feels effortless and familiar – as if Paris were your usual stomping ground. Open and airy with windows lining the room, the focus is a giant blackboard scribbled with the day’s specials, an ever-changing selection of classic French bistro “soul” food.

New Zealand cockles with chorizo. Photo by Jordan Wright.

On a recent evening Demiroglu sprinted from bar to dining room in this lively place checking on patrons’ dishes and pouring wines. “Here try this one,” he says, offering a Pouilly Fumé. “I think this will go best with your lobster. Not to your taste? Okay, try this. It’s from a very small French winery, no one else carries it in the US,” the Turkish-born sommelier urges, pouring an estate grown Chablis, this one right on point.

Bistro Vivant’s wine program is exceptional for any restaurant. Wines are offered by the bottle, carafe, half carafe and glass and are ninety percent French sourced.  “We seek out small boutique wineries in France,” he beamed, “They’re just not found in area restaurants or stores.” Daily menu specials suggest pairings but Demiroglu seems happy to accommodate individual tastes.

Each Sunday he haunts the Dupont Circle Market to select produce from local farmers and twice a week much of the restaurant’s seafood is flown in from the Mediterranean. Briny New Zealand cockles, spiked with chorizo and bathed in a light saffron broth, are spicy and delicious as are the shelled escargot served en cocotte in a sauce of butter, wine, roasted garlic cloves and herbs. Swoon-worthy is the whole poached lobster with fava beans, baby fennel and heirloom tomatoes atop two dazzling sauces – one of carrot ginger, the other a basil pistou.

Recently a posh burger has joined the ranks. Eponymously called the Pat LaFrieda Burger, after the New York butcher to renowned chefs such as Mario Batali, Danny Meyer and Laurent Tourondel, the custom made seven-ounce patty is made from Black Angus beef, chopped not ground, and boasts two parts chuck, one part brisket and one part boneless short ribs. The juicy wonder comes with Niçoise olive tapenade, grilled tomatoes, vinegar-spiked grilled onions and aged Comté cheese on a brioche bun.

Poached lobster with two sauces. Photo by Jordan Wright.

Reservations are highly recommended. On the weeknight we dined – several disappointed diners had to be turned away. Call (703) 356-1700 and visit their website for further information.

Praise For Fruity Wine Vinegars

I’ve been trying to compartmentalize. Work some/play some segments dictated by weather and deadlines. At home healthful meals are prepared quickly with ingredients able to last a few days between catch-as-catch-can shopping. With heirloom tomatoes at their juiciest and pickling cucumbers at their crunchiest, a nutritious meal can be ready in a jiff. Just add some crumbled goat feta, radish slices, drizzle with EVOO and lightly sprinkle Satsuma Wine Vinegar from Southern Skillet over all. Fresh greens or arugula form a green nest packed with vitamins and chlorophyll. Pack in some protein with cooked chicken, seared scallops, shrimp, lobster (if you’re feeling flush) or a lightly boiled egg. Fresh herbs from the windowsill are quickly snipped in.

I discovered these delicate vinegars earlier this year at the Fancy Food Show and have been slipping in a dash or two in lieu of lemon juice. If you like white wine or champagne vinegar you will love these for their subtle flavorings and adaptability.

The Alabama-based company also makes five other wine vinegars.  Red and White Muscadine, Sugar Cane, Tomato and Blueberry. The Sugar Cane Wine Vinegar goes nicely with bacon-wrapped quail; the Blueberry lends itself to enhancing fruits and the White Muscadine cheers up a béarnaise sauce. Try the Tomato to add a unique dimension to andouille gumbo and tomato gravy. You get the idea.

Southern Skillet Vinegars.

Here’s a recipe using the Tomato Wine Vinegar from Southern Skillet Chef Amos Watts of Jax Fish House in Denver. It even uses our local Rappahannock River Oysters!

Gazpacho Mignonette
3 tomatoes
1/2 cucumber
1/3 red onion
3 cloves garlic
4 sprigs cilantro
1 sprig basil
1 bottle Southern Skillet Tomato Wine Vinegar
3 Tbsp. sherry vinegar
1 Tbsp. brown sugar
2 tsp. salt

Puree all ingredients in a blender and let sit in the refrigerator overnight.  Strain through fine cheesecloth or a coffee filter.

Then add ¼ cup chopped shallots
1 Tbsp. coarsely crushed pepper
1 bunch cilantro, chopped

Use on top of freshly shucked Rappahanock oysters or as a sauce for fish or steak.

These unique vinegars haven’t hit the stores yet, but you can find them on Amazon.

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