Nibbles And Sips Around Town: ‘What’s New And What’s Happening In Your Neighborhood’ by Jordan Wright

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It’s been a whirlwind of deliciousness since my last column.  Umpteen restaurants have opened in the Metro area, most notably Ambar with its authentic Serbian chefs in a modern setting housed in an old brownstone on Capitol Hill; Suna, across from Eastern Market; and Bryan Voltaggio’s Range, which at 14,000 square feet is an astonishingly large undertaking for gourmet food.  So far reviews are good. Not much to personally report as sadly I missed the recent press opening.

Range Restaurant – Potato Vodka.
Range Restaurant – Potato Vodka.

In Dupont Circle the Russian-inspired Mari Vanna is getting a lot of buzz. Could it be the vodka or the Ovechkin-watchers? With outposts in London, Moscow and New York Mari Vanna has planted its Cossack boots firmly in DC. Where else could we get pirozhok, borscht and caviar with blini?

Energy Kitchen Black Bean and Mango Salad and Cali Veggie Burger.
Energy Kitchen Black Bean and Mango Salad and Cali Veggie Burger.

On K Street the 500-calories-or-less fast food concept Energy Kitchen has weight-watching office workers in its thrall. The healthy fast-casual resto developed by Anthony Leone and Randy Schechter plans an additional outlet in DC soon. Here smoothies are called “Smart Shakes” and have energy-boosting ingredients like fresh fruits, protein powder and yogurt. Add to that a wrap; veggie, turkey or bison burger; or a large salad and one of their low-cal sides like black bean and mango or creamed spinach and eating light and right never tasted so filling!

The bar at Ambar. Photo by Jordan Wright.
The bar at Ambar. Photo by Jordan Wright.

The aforementioned Ambar is the much-anticipated restaurant from Richard Sandoval and Ivan Iricanin whose Balkan Peninsula style-cuisine is helmed by Serbian-born Executive Chef Bojan Bocvarov, Pastry Chef Danilo Bucan and Sous Chef Ivan Zivkovic. The restaurant plans a Valentine’s Day dinner of Roasted Squash Salad with mixed greens, panko-crusted mozzarella, crispy bacon and pomegranate dressing; Cheese Pie with phyllo, cucumber yogurt and red pepper spread; Roasted Mushroom Crepe with red pepper emulsion, béchamel and gouda; Veal Stew with kajmak and sautéed onions and carrots, as well as Sesame Crusted Atlantic Salmon with spicy eggplant jam, sesame crust and horseradish sauce. I certainly hope there’s a dessert in there somewhere.

Priced at $35 per person exclusive of tax and tip, couples select one drink each from the house red, house white, Mango Lemonade, Mojito Classic, Margarita Classic, Grappa Rakia, Corona or National Bohemian. Believe me one Mango Lemonade will cure what ails you, so you’ll be tempted to have a few. Follow your impulses!

Nando’s Peri Peri in Old Town Alexandria. Photo by Jordan Wright.
Nando’s Peri Peri in Old Town Alexandria. Photo by Jordan Wright.

In Alexandria Nando’s Peri Peri the South African-roots flavorama has opened an outlet on King Street and at National Harbor recently. Known for its flame-grilled chickens, fans choose sauces ranging from mild to I-double-dog-dare-you hot as accompaniments. Have it with some spicy garlic olives and sangria – that’s the Afro-Portuguese influence.The international concept restaurant chose the DC area for its US debut and it’s been going gangbusters ever since.  Lesser known but just as yummy is the pea mash with parsley, mint and chili, and the gooey grilled halloumi.

Nottinghill Restaurant & Garden Area.
Nottinghill Restaurant & Garden Area.

One of my new favorite spots is the super creative Asian-fusion Sushi Naru with its multiple sushi masters and sleek blond wood interior. Very flavor forward, if you like that kind of thing – and I do. Also in Old Town is the upscale Notting Hill, which slid elegantly into the former Le Gaulois space just a few weeks ago. The restaurant, proud of their local farm-sourcing, will reopen the pretty garden in spring but in the meantime is hosting the Saturday night sing-a-longs formerly at the now-shuttered Bistro Lafayette.

Old Town Theater owner Bob Kaufman on Opening Night and some of the evening entertainment. Photo by Jordan Wright.
Old Town Theater owner Bob Kaufman on Opening Night and some of the evening entertainment. Photo by Jordan Wright.

It’s a hit! Old Town Alexandria has gotten its historic King Street Theatre back and that’s no joke, unless of course you want to make something of it, which is what the upcoming talent intends to do. Comic relief is on the bill for the foreseeable future in the stunning and totally restored 1914 Old Town Theater. Ask about the hidden windows and secret stairway uncovered during the rehab.

Invasive Fish Gets Its Due

Snakehead Fish.
Snakehead Fish.

Upcoming is the “Snakeheads At The Harbour!” dinner at Tony and Joe’s to benefit Miriam’s Kitchen and the Oyster Recovery Partnership on Georgetown’s restored waterfront, the perfect metaphor for restoration and recovery. On January 28th top DC chefs Scott Drewno of The Source by Wolfgang PuckVictor Albisu of Del CampoChad Wells of The RockfishPhillipe Reininger of J&G Steakhouse at The W HotelAdam Litchfield, from Cause The PhilanthropubDennis Marron, of Poste Moderne Brasserie, David Stein, of Tony and Joe’s Seafood Place and Matt Day of Woodberry Kitchen will prepare a number of delicacies. All chefs will do their culinary best to turn the mighty snakehead into a palatable fish…as long as it doesn’t taste like chicken! Though the invasive beast is named in the event, there will be lots of sustainable seafood too, thanks to host ProFish. Purchase tickets here.

Annual Capital Wine Festival Kicks Off With a Grand Tasting

Cured meats at The Fairfax Hotel’s wine event – Photo Jordan Wright
Cured meats at The Fairfax Hotel’s wine event. Photo by Jordan Wright.

The tony Fairfax Hotel at Embassy Row is gearing up for its annual Capital Wine Festival dinners in February and March and Nibbles and Sips was on hand for the grand opening reception Friday night. The ballroom held several stations related to the reds and whites. The meat station offered lamb loin and beef tenderloin, another had cured meats and local cheeses (loved the La Quercia prosciutto and Maryland cheesemaker Cherry Glen’s Monocacy Ash goat cheese).

Cherry Glen Monocacy Ash goat cheese. Photo by Jordan Wright.
Cherry Glen Monocacy Ash goat cheese. Photo by Jordan Wright.

At the seafood station, tailored to pair with the evening’s white wines, was Executive Chef Christopher Ferrier, who eight months ago dovetailed seamlessly into the hotel’s classically elegant yet modern dynamic. Ferrier served up a luscious smoked scallop seviche topped with baby celery sprouts,togarashi and a light sauce made from yuzu, lemon, lime, and grapefruit juices with sriracha and served in a tiny scallop shell.

Smoked Scallop Seviche. Photo by Jordan Wright
Smoked Scallop Seviche. Photo by Jordan Wright

Boutique California wines were offering generous pours. From Napa were DarioushMiner Family WineryHeitz Wine Cellars, Burgess CellarsPatz & HallPine Ridge Vineyards, and artisan winemakers Julie Johnson’s Tres Sabores Winery along with her son Rory Williams’ Calder Wine Company. From Italy’s Alba area, where the rare white truffles are hunted, came the classic wines from Pio Cesare who make the coveted Piedmontese barolosbarbescosnebbiolos, and barberas. These exceptional wines will be featured at the wine dinners. What a tease!

The Ladies of Boxwood Winery. Photo by Jordan Wright.
The Ladies of Boxwood Winery. Photo by Jordan Wright.

Squeezed into the mix were two Virginia wineries, Boxwood whose wines are distinctly French-inspired, and Barboursville, known for winemaker Luca Paschina’s Italian styled wines. As I raved about Barboursville’s Octagon, and who doesn’t, the sommelier took out a bottle hidden behind a backpack and poured me a glass. Squeaky wheel gets the grease, as my mother used to say. For tickets and dates of the upcoming dinners, click here.

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Jordan Wright
Jordan Wright is an accomplished writer on food, spirits, travel, and theatre. Her clients include the tony Georgetowner and hip sister publication the Downtowner, the Washington Examiner and San Francisco Examiner, as well as LocalKicks.com, DC Metro Magazine, Washington Life Magazine, Washingtonian Magazine, MDTheatreGuide.com, The Alexandria Times, Hartkeisonline.com, and now DCMetroTheaterArts. Her articles feature restaurant openings, food and wine events, food-oriented film reviews, farmer’s markets, food trends, restaurant reviews, food memories, new food products, hotels, spas, resorts and interviews with the country’s leading chefs – from Jose Andres and Top Chef’s Carla Hall, to CakeLove’s Warren Brown and Top Chef’s Spike Mendelsohn. She has also interviewed famed chef and TV star, Anthony Bourdain, Eric Ripert, cookbook author Joan Nathan, and director Robert Kenner for an in-depth article about his film Food, Inc. Photographs by Wright accompany many of her articles and NBCNews.com has picked up and used several of her stories. Jordan Wright hails from three generations of show business. Her grandmother, Betty Morton, was a Ziegfield Follies girl; her step-grandmother Corinne Griffith, a noted author and silent screen star wrote Hail to the Redskins; her father, Georgie Price, an entertainer and founder of The Lamb’s Club in New York, as well as a CBS radio show host, songwriter and vaudevillian; her sister, Penny Larsen Vine, a theatre critic both on radio and in print for Variety, a former longtime member of the Outer Critics Circle, and a lead performer in countless national touring companies; one brother, Peter Price, appeared in leading roles in over 16 major motion pictures for MGM; while her other brother, Marshall Price performed at Carnegie Hall. Niece, Stephanie Vine, was the final Annie in the original production of Annie on Broadway, and niece, Liz Larsen, has received two Tony nominations and a Helen Hayes award for lead actress in Sunday in the Park with George. Wright sang with Columbia Records in New York and Barclay Records in France. In the sports world her grandfather was the original owner and founder of the Washington Redskins football team. Wright has traveled throughout four continents and currently resides in Old Town Alexandria.