Nibbles and Sips Around Town: Cedar Restaurant, Fogo de Chao, FLO Wines, Puro Café, and Iron Gate by Jordan Wright

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Cedar’s Aaron McCloud Creates Amazing Dishes with Olives from Spain

Olive salad at Cedar Restaurant.
Olive salad at Cedar Restaurant.

As one of eight U.S. chefs selected to highlight the use of Spanish olives in their cuisine by Olives From SpainCedar’s Executive Chef Aaron McCloud staged a spectacular five-course luncheon last week using recipes he devised and pairing the dishes with Spanish wines. Among the other well-known chefs chosen are Seamus Mullen of New York City’s TertuliaMichael Kornick, Chef/Owner of Chicago’s mkEthan Stowell, of Seattle’s Staple & Fancy and Anchovies & Olives; and Giorgio Rapicavoli of Miami’s Eating House. The concept was to show how non-Spanish chefs and home cooks can incorporate Spanish table olives into their recipes. Throughout the season McCloud will be featuring some of these dishes on Cedar’s menu.

McCloud, who gave up studying classical violin with Itzhak Perlman for a life behind the scenes, hails from Michigan and brings with him a farmer’s keen sense of natural ingredients in his approach to cooking.

Smoked trout with Meyer lemon and olive relish.
Smoked trout with Meyer lemon and olive relish.

At a luncheon last week the chef started the meal with a delicately crafted salad of spiced walnuts, arugula, Gordal olives, Manchego cheese and decorated the plate with nasturtiums. Our second course was smoked trout with pickled fennel, grapefruit supremes, preserved Meyer lemon and olive relish which was followed by Merino lamb loins crusted with olive powder and placed in a tart of olives with pickled royal trumpet mushrooms. Spanish Gordal olives made a second appearance stuffed into a roulade of wild boar loin and served with an olive salad and heirloom tomato salad dressed with bacon and olive vinaigrette.

Merino lamb with olive powder and pickled Royal trumpet mushrooms.
Merino lamb with olive powder and pickled Royal trumpet mushrooms.

Proving the versatility of the olive with meats isn’t as tricky as it is with sweets.  But McCloud overcame the challenge by using the milder type of uncured black olives in a silky panna cotta. The smooth egg-less custard was enhanced with a sweet herb “soup” of made from pineapple sage, lemon verbena, and sugar, and cooked down to a light syrup and poured over the dish at table and served with a white chocolate olive cookie. McCloud explained, “I decided to make a cookie and thought of substituting the olives for the usual raisins.” Sliced almonds spiced with cardamom, cinnamon, fennel seed, and cumin, and baked with maple syrup, provided the unique dessert with a delectable crunchiness. So delectable in fact that I secured the recipe along with a cache to take home.

Cedar’s website. More information on Spanish olives

Go With the FLO, Baby

Jazz Master Marcus Johnson at FLO Wines party.
Jazz Master Marcus Johnson at FLO Wines party.

What pairs best with wine and friends? Why, jazz of course! So say DC-raised Contemporary Jazz Keyboardist virtuoso Marcus Johnson and his partner Winemaker and Co-Founder Rob Piziali. FLO stands for “For the love of…” and there was a lot of love flowing from the top floor of Georgetown’s chic Puro Café last week when the pair debuted their gently-priced Red Blend, Chardonnay, and 2011 Moscato wines, all of which are produced and bottled in Napa Valley’s St. Helena. Though the company was launched only a year ago, the popular wines can already be found around our area in stores like CostcoWal-Mart, Target, Giant, Whole FoodsHarris TeeterTotal Wine and Farm Fresh, and hotels like Marriott and Four Seasons Hotel, in Washington, DC.

While guests enjoyed nibbles and sips Johnson tickled the ivories for his rapt fans – – one of whom won a lavish gift basket chockfull of gourmet goodies and bottles of FLO Wine. The company has teamed up with Thankfully Yours, a DC-based company, to create festive wine and food gift baskets for the holidays.

Johnson, a Billboard “Top 10” and NAACP Image Award nominated jazz musician with 15 studio albums to his credit, will be at  from December 12th to the 16th.

Visit www.FLOBrands.com to learn more about upcoming wine events in the area. To order their gorgeous gift baskets go to www.ThankfullyYours.com.

A Master Class in Brazilian Wines at DC’s Fogo de Chao 

Fogo de Chao restaurant.  A dizzying array of fifteen wines and thirteen “churrasco” style barbecued meats were served while Master Sommelier and Wine Educator, Evan Goldstein, kept the enthusiastic sippers engaged with a power point presentation of the regions of Brazil and the development of its industry.

Brazilian wines and churrasco at Fogo de Chao.
Brazilian wines and churrasco at Fogo de Chao.

After first reminding us that no less a wine connoisseur than British journalist and wine merchant Steven Spurrier (responsible for the legendary “Judgment of Paris”) had lauded Brazilian wines this year in an article featured in Decanter magazine, Goldstein urged us to begin with a delicate rose-colored sparkler before tasting more serious wines whose grapes are picked from vines brought to Brazil from early Italian and Portuguese settlers who arrived in the country in 1551.

One of the more intriguing factoids about the region’s wines is that Brazil has two harvest seasons every year. By applying a product called Dormex, growers can encourage early ripening that results in two seasons of picking grapes.

There are five dominant wine-growing regions in Brazil, though currently only three have certifications of origin. The main regions are Santa Catarina, Serra Gaucha, Serra do Sudeste, and Campanha in the Southern region of the country, and Vale do Sao Francisco in the Northeastern Region near Bahia. Serra Gaucha is considered the most important and largest wine region within Rio Grande do Sul.

We sampled a 2009 Cave Geisse Terroir Nature, a glamorous sparkler made by Maurice Geisse, a Chilean winemaker who once worked for the house of Moet & Chandon and who is now using his considerable talents at his family’s vineyard in the Serra Gaucha region.  But an appealing parvenu nipped at its heels.  Retailing at half its price, Casa Valduga Brut 130 is a sassy sparkling wine once lauded by former French President Nicolas Sarkozy during a visit to Brazil.

As we progressed to the still whites, I was surprised to hear that Moscatos and Chardonnays dominate the whites. In fact Lidio Carraro Dadivas Chardonnay is made by fifth generation Italians and has been chosen as the “Official Wine of the World Cup”.

The stellar Salton Pinot Noir.
The stellar Salton Pinot Noir.

The Stellar Salton Pinot Noir

Here are the wines that stole my heart and they were all reds.  Salton Pinot Noir 2012 (young yet, but holding distinct promise); Salton Desego 2008, a Merlot aged in 50-50 French and American Oak; Perini Marselan 2010, another youthful vintage with the unusual cross of Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache from a vineyard dating back to the 1870’s; Lidio Carraro, Quorum, a pricey Merlot, Cab, Tannat, and Cab Franc blend from 2006; and Pizzato CONCENTUS 2007, a knockout at $25.00.Look for these at www.FogodeChao.com

Iron Gate – History Restored 

The much-anticipated opening of Iron Gate on N Street turned into one the most fabulous private gatherings for a restaurant opening ever. While many guests reminisced about their dining experiences in days past, there was no one present that could have said they were there when it was opened in 1923 by the General Federation of Women’s Clubs. The group whose headquarters are in another historic building next door, is still the Iron Gate’s landlord. To this day the Federation Director’s private residence overlooks the restaurant’s garden from atop the third story.

The wood fire oven at Iron Gate.
The wood fire oven at Iron Gate.

For those who may have dined here before the restoration slash remodel, the surprise will be an enclosed and two-story dining space and bar area inside the restaurant’s elegant carriageway. The entrance is now dominated by magnificent lead-framed windows that rise two stories up to meet the building’s original keystones. Iron lanterns, and a pair of repurposed chandeliers retrieved from an old theatre in Baltimore, light the old brick walls. In the bar a massive walnut-framed mirror that was discovered in a garage in Silver Spring, overlooks the 10-seat bar.  The large bricked garden, adorned with century old wisteria and still-producing grapevines, sports an electronic awning for inclement weather. A romantic aura fills the main dining area where dark wainscoating, flickering candlelight and a roaring fireplace lend an air of charming intimacy.

The style of cuisine is drawn from the traditional dishes of Greece, Sicily and Sardinia with a menu arranged by category – “Garden,” “Water,” and “Pasture.”  Diners make their selection from a four- or six-course menu (with or without wine pairings). Some items are available a la carte at the bar or on the patio. Leading a trio of seasoned and award-winning professionals is noted Chef Tony Chittum who left Vermillion in Alexandria’s Old Town to showcase his creativity in this beautiful space. He is flanked by Mixologist Jeff Faile, formerly of Casa Luca and Fiola, and Wine Director Brent Kroll, formerly of Adour at the St. Regis.

At the friends and family opening, plates were piled high with everything from spit-roasted pig, broccoli bruschetta bright with house-made ricotta, and garnished with a tiny sardine. Crispy sunchokes with yogurt dipping sauce and light-as-a-feather veal sweetbreads were delectable treats as were the grilled fennel sausages that had an insinuating way of demanding repeat attention. I loved an Ouzo Punch, made with rosemary, ouzo and Galliano. I haven’t seen Galliano in a cocktail since “Golden Cadillacs,” made with the herb-infused yellow Italian liqueur, crème de cacao and cream, were all the rage.

Sweet things await at Iron Gate.
Sweet things await at Iron Gate.

The sweets were playful – Campari marshmallows, loukamades, hot from the oven and dripping with orange blossom glaze, and Sicilian pistachio buckeyes coated in chocolate. Sheer ambrosia.

With classic architecture, intriguing history, celebrated chef, a gorgeous garden, fireplace, separate bar, intimate dining room, and sidewalk patio, Iron Gate is truly dressed to impress.

All photos by Jordan Wright.

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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.