Nibbles and Sips Around Town: ‘Union Market, Bidwell, the Launchology Series, and Sample Nibbles and Sips From Zaytinya’s Upcoming Greek Easter Festival’

In Which We Visit Union Market, Bidwell, the Launchology Series, and Sample Nibbles and Sips From Zaytinya’s Upcoming Greek Easter Festival 

Union Market DC.

Union Market DC.

The Craveable Union Market

The greengrocer’s stall at Union Market.

The greengrocer’s stall .

There are many things to lure the foodie to Union Market, the 140-year old recently renovated food hall that has been luring the food adventurer with its interesting jumble of cute stalls, that house a bespoke butcher, a juicery, bakers, kitchenware, a pickle maker, and eclectic eateries.

Harvey Market.

Harvey Market.

As a chef I have often been stymied by our area’s lack of good butchers and fishmongers.  Where does the home cook go to find the ingredients necessary to replicate the sort of dishes they’ve had while dining out.  For instance, where can you buy pork belly, guanciale, high quality calf’s liver and freshly cut veal shanks for home use?  Try George Lesznar’s Harvey’s Market, a family owned business since 1931.

Buffalo & Bergen at Union Market.

Buffalo & Bergen.

Who sells knishes fresh made bagels and New York style egg creams? Buffalo & Bergen’s throwback diner by Gina Chersevani is right here with a selection of fine crafted cocktails by the self-appointed ‘mixtress.’

Got a hankering for clams, oysters, shrimp or oyster chowder made with Benton’s bacon?  Pull up a stool at the Rappahannock Oyster Bar for some of Travis and Ryan Croxton’s locally raised oysters and seafood specialties.

“Porkstrami” sandwich at Red Apron.

“Porkstrami” sandwich at Red Apron.

Craving charcuterie or home made corned beef?  Stroll over to Nathan Anda’s Red Apron stall for a “porkstrami” sandwich or a stacked muffaletta and a pint of locally brewed suds.

Wondering who is fermenting their own pickles?  Snag some kosher style pickles and kraut at Number 1 Sons who prepare kale kimchi, caraway studded sauerkraut and an assortment of fabulous pickles.

Toki Underground chef James Wozniuk at Union Market.

Toki Underground chef James Wozniuk.

Can’t wait for Erik Bruner-Yang’s H Street market to open?  Stop in at Toki Underground’s pop-up where Chef James Wozniuk has a few sit-down booths for dishes like ba vong and Khmer lemongrass grilled chicken with rice vermicelli.

On June 14th the market kicks off its third annual ‘Sunday Supper’ series featuring a star-studded lineup of the country’s finest chefs and mixologists including Jose Garces,Spike Gjerde, Emily Luchetti, Nick Stefanelli, John Mooney, Aggie Chin, Jeremiah Langhorne, Rob Duncan, Santosh Tiptur, and Derek Brown.  For tickets and info contact Evelyn Hawkins at (301) 347-3298  or email ehawkins@edens.com.

Bidwell at Union Market

The marble bar at Bidwell.

The marble bar at Bidwell.

Bidwell is the Union Market’s 120-seat anchor restaurant and high hopes were for it to reflect the market’s philosophy for locally grown produce and in-house made ingredients prepared by a locally known chef – – and that it does.

Known to DC diners from his days at Red Sage and Raku, chef/owner John Mooney signed on early to the project, securing the building’s vast rooftop to grow herbs, fruits and vegetables using “aeroponic” gardening.  Last month I saw the beginnings of what promises to be an enormous garden where towers of plants will grow vertically.  For now the precious seedlings start life in tiny pots in a back storage area strung with 24-hour grow lights.  Mooney’s dedication to rooftop gardening that employs a system based on water, air and sunlight was honed over the years when as restaurant consultant for India’s Taj Hotel Group, he opened PURE by Michel Nischan, the country’s first organic restaurant.  The well-traveled chef, whose love of cross-cultural cuisine is reflected in his latest restaurant, also owns Bell, Book & Candle in New York’s hip West Village.

Escargots roasted with parsley butter and Yukon Gold potatoes.

Escargots roasted with parsley butter and Yukon Gold potatoes.

The first thing you notice about Bidwell is its character.  It is modern.  So many are these days with that 50’s living room style that seems to be ubiquitously punctuated with spice orange accents.  But here historic details are incorporated-subway tiles, reclaimed wood and Italian marble-giving the place an air of coziness. The large rectangular open concept room has an all-glass front that overlooks the outdoor dining.  At the far end beyond the bar is an open kitchen with dining counter–a perfect spot to view the organized chaos of the kitchen, and where my amiable dining partner and I had front row seats to all the action.

At the Chet’s table with Chef de Cuisine Ines Campoamor.

At the Chet’s table with Chef de Cuisine Ines Campoamor.

Chef de Cuisine Ines Campoamor was in full command of the kitchen when we arrived. She is a whirlwind of efficiency, charm and energy who made a point of explaining every dish as it arrived. Admittedly we had a hard time selecting from all the alluring ‘Shared Bites’ and ‘Small Plates’ categories, so we ordered quite a few-just to cover our bases, don’t you know.

Red and Golden Beet Salad with melted Burrata.

Red and Golden Beet Salad with melted Burrata.

Most outweighed their plebian descriptions far exceeding what we expected.  Drunken Bean Dip was one such starter that didn’t sound particularly special, but we were urged to try it and we were glad we did.  It uses Pork Slap Beer that rounds out the flavors and there’s an option to add the in-house made chorizo. I suggest you do.

Crispy Fried Oysters.

Crispy Fried Oysters.

We followed with sustainably raised Old Salt oysters that are prepared two different ways.  We went back and forth on which to choose. But why not try both?  Crispy Fried Oysters with green chile buttermilk dressing and Roasted Oysters with garlic butter, bacon, and a parmesan crust topped with ribbons of frizzled celery root. We had to throw in the towel and call it a tie.  You can decide for yourself.

Marinated Fluke Sashimi.

Marinated Fluke Sashimi.

For a delicate sashimi you can do no better than the Marinated Fluke Sashimi with citrus, a hint of jalapeno and chopped herbs. You’ll find herbs get star billing at Bidwell and are tucked into nearly every dish including, as you might expect, escargots with thede rigeur soupçon of Pernod, giving us pause to reflect that all was right with the world, if only as a fleeting illusion.

Irish American Onion Soup.

Irish American Onion Soup.

Pacing ourselves not at all, we dove headlong into the Irish American Onion Soup shingled with Knockamore smoked Irish Cheddar. I loved this version that uses mushroom broth as its base, and the unusual smoky cheddar, so hard to find, must be sourced from an unnamed shop in New York City.

A playful dessert from Bidwell.

A playful dessert from Bidwell.

For the destination dish, I suggest planning an entire visit around the Lobster Tacos. Better than lobster rolls, (Hold the bread, Downeasters!) they’re served on a soft taco with avocado-tomatillo salsa, and merit a plateful. Not so exciting was the “Gin & Tonic” Verlasso Salmon entrée. Dry as a bone after marinating for several hours before being hash-tag grilled. Poor fish. He could have used a lot less attention and a lot more care. A temporary setback which we immediately rectified with a root beer float and Ines’s playful dessert of brownies, ice cream cookie sandwiches and meringues  We were the boss of the goat’s milk caramel sauce in a baby squeeze bottle.

The Launchology Series at The Howard Theatre 

The Launchology Series at the Howard Theatre.

The Launchology Series at the Howard Theatre.

In early April industree began presenting a fascinating insider look at the restaurant business with its Launchology Series.  Promising “candid conversations, unfiltered advice and real stories from industry leaders,” all sessions are held at the Howard Theatre.  Earlier this month I attended the second in the series of four.  As a former restaurant owner, I was quite impressed to hear from a panel that pulled no punches and were unflinchingly honest about their experiences in the hospitality industry.

“We originally came up with the concept for Launchology as a result of one of the original speaker series events we hosted,” said Alisia Kleinmann, founder of industree.  “Following that event, we were inundated with so many questions from members in the industry like, ‘How do I get a loan and a space?  I want to go brick and mortar but don’t know how?  How can we hire and keep great people?’ among other critical questions.  So we thought, lets put on a series that explains everything that members in the industry need to know from people who have actually done it all – and not just any people, but some of the best in the business.  And like our speaker series, we aim to keep it real.  The advice, stories and insight our panelists can give to the next generation may not always paint a pretty picture, but we want them to understand exactly what they are getting into, and the best way to go about accomplishing their plans and goals.”

Local entrepreneurs who offered samples of their wares offered a quick breakfast.  Among them Krave Jerky showed off their high protein, all-natural line of turkey, pork and beef jerky for those on the go; Dolci Gelati served up some cold treats – Pomegranate Honeydew and Cherry Blossom were especially welcomed; and Bub and Pop’s gave out scrumptiously juicy beef brisket on a bun.  I took a seat across from a young woman whose husband was a chef with plans to open a restaurant in DC.  He had sent her as his proxy.

And then it was time to get down to business.  The panel consisted of Kathy Hollinger, President of the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington (RAMW);Thomas Dailey, Potomac Construction Services who has built out a number of restaurants in our area; Jeff Black, Black Restaurant Group; Peter Hapstak ofHapstakDemetriou+; Russell Stillwell of Next Step Design; Conan O’Sullivan ofSONA Creamery; public relations maven, Jennifer Motruk Loy and Tim Ma of Water & Wall and Maple Avenue Restaurant.  Washington Post Food Writer, Tim Carman, who will moderate all the discussions, kicked off the questioning.

Here are a few pearls of wisdom heard at this session.

On choosing a space:

  • Tim Ma – Try to get an existing space that has already gone through the permits applications.
  • Hapstak – Some spaces don’t want to be restaurants.  The costs of installing the exhausts can be very expensive.

On keeping a project on budget:

  • Stillwell – It’s important to do checks as you move along.  At a certain point it’s important to put your pencils down and just get it done.  At the end of the day you just have to hit those numbers for your client.

On restaurant and bar regulations:

  • Hollinger – It’s been crazy in the year and a half I’ve been President.  Everyone is being slammed across the board.  It feels volatile.  Restaurants are being targeted, though I don’t feel these [city] agencies are sophisticated enough to have a strategy.
  • Black – Virginia is tougher than DC.  Even if we do things according to code we can get a rogue inspector that may insist on something that isn’t even in the code.  You have to eat your pride to make sure your project doesn’t go off the rails.

On interior design:

  • Hapstak – We are moving away from the Brooklyn hipster thing and the reclaimed wood thing.
  • Loy – Our design sensibilities have changed.  You can now get advanced materials that look like they’ve come off a barn.

On efficient kitchen design:

  • Hapstak – Our greatest resource is Google.
  • Black – One of my favorite expressions is, “I pay for every step my employees take.  If they take an extra step I lose money.”  Design, time and money balance with food and scale.

On new or used equipment:

  • Ma – Not for refrigeration!  It’s like one year and done!

On opening a new restaurant:

  • Black – Restaurateurs are perpetually optimistic and eternally pessimistic.  Before you open a restaurant you should go to your ANC meetings to know what your customers want.  They’re all very different and have power over your liquor license. You don’t want to sign a lease that you can’t get out of if you don’t get your liquor license.
  • Hollinger – I think the ANCs [Advisory Neighborhood Commission] and BIDs [Business Improvement District] are much more powerful than any of the agencies.  We try to work with all of them and create and cultivate those relationships.

For tickets and information on the remaining session on May 13th  visit their website

Greek Easter at Zaytinya 

ThinkFoodGroup’s Head Mixologist Juan Coronado shows off his Baklava Soda.

ThinkFoodGroup’s Head Mixologist Juan Coronado shows off his Baklava Soda.

Zaytinya will hold their annual and ever-popular two-week festival from April 20th till Greek Orthodox Easter on May 3rd.   Chef/Owner, Jose Andres, and Head Chef Michael Costa  have created a splendid new menu for the Lenten season with seasonal dishes that incorporate authentic Mediterranean ingredients.

Last week we sampled them along with mixologist, Juan Coronado’s specialty cocktail he calls “Mellow Yiayia” made with rye, honey-walnut syrup, lemon juice and St. Elizabeth’s Allspice Dram. Yia Yia as you may know is an affectionate term for grandmother. I’m sure even my Danish grandmother would have loved this. Coronado has also concocted a Baklava Soda, which is perfect for mixing with bourbon or rum. The fizzy mixer is made from honey, black walnut syrup, lemon juice, and cinnamon.

Lobster Avgolemono for Zaytinya’s Greek Easter Festival.

Lobster Avgolemono for Zaytinya’s Greek Easter Festival.

To culminate the celebration, on Saturday, May 3rd from 11:30am to 4pm, Zaytinya will host Agora, its annual Greek outdoor market event.  Agora introduces guests to unique Greek artisanal products, wines and more. The free festival includes live music, Spartan warriors, and complimentary loukamades. 

Maroulosalata a housemade fresh myzithra cheese with brown butter hazelnuts and Earth 'N Eats greens.

Maroulosalata a housemade fresh myzithra cheese with brown butter hazelnuts and Earth ‘N Eats greens.

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