Maketto at Hanoi House Serves Its Street Food Indoors
Erik Bruner-Yang decided to do a pop-up test kitchen in advance of Maketto, his open air market and retail store slated for Lord knows when, it was a chance to revel in his Southeast Asian street food at the bargain price of $30.00. For that very affordable price of admission, we embarked on an eight-course Asian odyssey during which we became quite eager guinea pigs for the sweet heat of Thai/Viet/Cambodian regional cuisine. Until its official opening on H Street, Hanoi House, a Franco-Viet hip slip of a place on Fourteenth Street will serve as Maketto’s temporary quarters.
Bruner-Yang is a hands-on guy. One minute he’s in the kitchen making your dinner the next he’s serving and describing his dishes and the a la carte items on the dim sum cart. There’s also a full bar menu. Specialty cocktails called “Strongdrink” are a good way to start. I opted for “Silk Road,” a refreshing concoction of rum, coconut milk, ginger and vanilla –- perfect for a steamy summer night
On the night we dined the menu started with Hanoi House, a DIY Cambodian dish in which you pack with egg, tomatoes, rice noodles and Wagyu beef into a lettuce wrap, then dip the leafy cylinder into an irresistible pepper, garlic and lime sauce; then Bok Lahong, a spicy salad of green papaya, dried fish, and shrimp, chilies, and cabbage. As the meal progresses the courses get spicier – in a good way. Fried prawn heads, the spot where the crustacean guards its fat and flavor, are a gastronome’s nirvana. Pick up the head, suck out the meat, and rake out the good bits with your teeth. Lick your fingers and repeat.
As the kitchen brought out more courses we watched Chef de Cuisine James Wozniuk standing behind the bar pounding spices with a mortar and pestle, tattoos flexing with each smash while tantalizing aromas waft about the room. Next up was ground pork chili pepper ragout – spicy, addictive and enrobed in a tangy tamarind sauce with green beans and water morning glory stems, a plant I’d never encountered before. The insistence on its name from our server was so mystifying I thought I hadn’t heard her correctly. I later discover Bruner-Yang grows it at home from seed. The next day I look up its Latin name, ipomoea aquatica, to better understand its origin. It’s the same genus as our morning glory, however “water morning glory” is a separate species, not well known here but commonly used in Southeast Asian and Eastern cuisines. Mystery solved.
As quickly as one dish disappears another arrives. Everything moves at top speed with the fixed price, two-seatings-a-night plan. There were times we had to plead with servers to let us keep some of our courses, so eager were they to remove dishes we were still savoring. A Cambodian concoction of black sea bass, dill, and coconut milk was followed by Somlah Machoua chicken and pork broth based dish of tamarind, taro, lime juice, mint and crispy fried garlic – all mouth-wateringly delicious. In the end, I could have skipped the final dish of handmade fermented sausage that ended the savories with a whimper –- the only disappointment.
After all that we wondered if we could eat dessert too. But we had signed up for the total immersion experience and we couldn’t pass up shaved ice with sweetened condensed milk, fresh peaches and mochi served in a Mason jar. Could you?
Reservations required at www.HanoiHouse.com
Doukénie Winery Full of Surprises
Doukénie Winery came to my attention when I first heard of their Heritage Club, in which members have an advantage of pre-ordering their personal selections. In mid-July we took a leisurely drive to the winery’s 520-acre property in Purcellville in the region known as the Loudoun Heights Cluster where we could sit overlooking the mountains drinking their award-winning wines and partaking of a once-a-month evening of live music and Greek food. By the time we arrived “Bistro Night” was in full swing. Guests were grazing on humus, Greek salads, gyros, and baklava, and watching ducks and geese splash around in a nearby pond while the sun descended over the blue hills on a clear night. The barns and silo became silhouettes against the fading light and the water took on the sunset’s pinks and corals. Most couples had purchased bottles to share and along with the band the lively atmosphere gave the evening the feel of a private party.
Sébastien Marquet, Doukénie’s winemaker, is a cheery and sophisticated fellow who began oenological school in Burgundy when he was a mere sprout of thirteen. Naturally he gravitated towards the Côtes de Rhone and Bordeaux of the Burgundy region, the same wines he coaxes from Virginia grapes. The winery produces an astonishing collection featuring Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Mandolin, Cabernet Franc, Sangiovese, Syrah, Petit Verdot, Merlot, Vintner’s Reserve, and Hope’s Raspberry Legacy, a dessert wine created by blending blackberries and raspberries with oak-aged red wine. But the most popular among club members is the Mandolin and new offering, the 2009 Dionysus, made from 100% Merlot. All of Doukénie wines are made from the estate’s own grapes.
We trotted off close on Marquet’s heels into the cool temperatures of the Barrel Room for a tour. As he spoke of his life story and what brought him to America, he extracted samples with a glass pipette from oaken barrels coded by their variety and vineyard block. They were intriguing and complex, a good sign, certainly holding promise, but clearly needing time to develop – – though it was fun imagining what they might become.
He explained the name of the winery, which is how I first learned that, notwithstanding the Doukénie surname, these are most emphatically not Greek-style wines. So no retsina of course. Though with the focus on Greek rather than French food, it was a bit puzzling.
As the story goes doukénie means “duchess” in Greek and reflects the name of the woman who was the first generation of Bazacos to come to America. She was fourteen, a slip of a girl when she came alone by boat in 1919 from Greece. Her father was a winemaker and she grew up in the vineyards around their home. Traveling with scant possessions, she nevertheless chose to bring her mandolin, the symbol of which later has become the winery’s logo.
It was Hope Bazaco, Doukénie’s daughter and the winery’s matriarch, who shared her story with me as she fed the ducks from her golf cart. Hope is originally from Brooklyn, New York where her mother settled among other Greek ex-patriots. And it was Hope’s son, George, a local pulmonologist, who with his wife, Nikki, purchased their first tract of land in 1981. Together they planted their first vines in 1986 as Virginia’s wine industry was finding its identity. They called it Doukénie Winery after Hope’s mother who lived on the Loudoun farm for many years.
Bistro Nights are held on Fridays through the end of September. On September 26th they celebrate the harvest with one of their biggest events of the year – the Italian Festival, featuring Italian food, wine tasting, grape stomping, live music and activities for the kids. Resident geologist, Leanne Weiber, will take visitors on a guided tour of the vineyard by hayride to explain the area’s terroir. For more info visit www.DoukenieWinery.com.
Osteria Marzano – Hidden in Plain Sight
On the first floor of a glamorous high-rise, far more apropos of South Beach or Vegas, is the brand new Osteria Marzano. Located in a cluster of office buildings near Alexandria’s Kingstowne shopping area, it is an unexpected beacon of light in an area better known for chain restaurants and strip malls.
Carmine Marzano has been cooking his country’s cuisine for over 30 years – first training at the prestigious Istituto Alberghiero Statale di Pienerol and later launching his career as the Executive Chef at the exclusive Ristorante Giudice in Turin, Italy where he remained for three years before coming stateside to assist acclaimed chef, Roberto Donna, with the opening of Galileo. Marzano served as Donna’s sous chef for four years before opening Luigino’s in 1993. Sadly Luigino’s shuttered its doors in 2003 after a great run.
Fast forward to three months ago when Carmine finally put his name on the door at Osteria Marzano. Along with his partner and daughter, the beautiful Elena Pouchelon, they have superseded all expectations in the creation of a stunning modern restaurant that covers both the Northern and Southern regions of Italy with dishes from the sophisticated to the casual.
Since opening three months ago it has garnered a loyal fan base from locals who pop in for lunch, drinks and apps after work or dinner at the end of the day. Families, too, have discovered the wood-fired brick oven for pizzas and small plates called assaggini – perfect for kids. We dropped in last month for dinner and came away thrilled, sated and loaded down with doggie bags or more candidly, lunch for the next few days. Last week tables and chairs were added outdoors across from a burbling fountain, providing a romantic spot for dining under the stars.
Chef Marzano has a light touch that works in dishes like thinly sliced salmon crudo with truffle oil and a toss of lemony greens, and Ahi tuna carpaccio with pink peppercorns. Try the little polpette. They are heavenly. Made with veal, beef, and pork and served with a scoop of ricotta, they nearly float off the plate.
All the meats on the salumi board are first rate. Ditto for the cheese board that includes marvelous cheeses from five different regions of Italy and comes with ciabatta bread and house made fig jam. Vegetables are prepared gently as are salads, a touch of olive oil, a squeeze of lemon and a hint of garlic. A veal osso buco could have been heartier, its accompanying risotto, brighter and more al dente. The sauce lacked the depth and richness the veal deserved. It’s a dish best made a day or two in advance allowing it to bring the flavors together.
Osteria Marzano’s menu is short story-length. There are fourteen pasta dishes alone. Imagine! One for every other day of the month! Each made in house. You can’t go wrong with a dish that incorporates the restaurant’s basic marinara, a sauce made here that is perfectly balanced – fresh and tangy, not sugary, with the distinct flavor of good quality tomatoes and herbs.
But let’s talk pizza – the offerings are dizzying. Feta, fontina, gorgonzola, buffalo mozzarella, provolone and ricotta are the cheese choices. Dozens more toppings attract. Expect the usual sausage and pepperoni, although the sausage is made here. But it was the grilled eggplant, Italian bacon, shitake mushrooms, and even fresh clams and mussels that caught my eye.
Heads Up: Be sure to let the server know you want your pizza charred. Apparently diners in the hinterlands haven’t gotten the word that 50’s style pizza has gone the way of bobby socks and poodle skirts. Customers keep sending it back thinking it’s burned and the restaurant has had to dumb it down. So be sure to tell the pizzaiolo to prepare it the way he knows best – the traditional way, the correct way. Because that is how they do authentic Italian pizza here. Of course, my readers already knew that!
And speaking of pizza, have it for dessert. Yes, you read it right. The Nutella dessert pizza is bad to the bone – as in good bad – as in crazy mad fabulous! Think Italian s’mores. First the creamy hazelnut chocolate spread is smeared over cooked pizza dough. Mascarpone goes on top with handfuls of toasted pistachio nuts and tiny marshmallows. Finally it’s slid into the wood-fired oven, which is sort of like a campfire, if you get my drift. The marshmallows melt over the nuts and into the Nutella creating an insanely craveable sweet that turns grownups into kids. Do not miss it.
So close your eyes and pretend you’re in Roma or Napoli or Firenze. Because this is as close as it gets to the real deal without Alitalia.
All photo credit to Jordan Wright.