A Green Wolf Resides on 14th Street, Tapping the Trees, A Visit to Maple Avenue Restaurant, Station 4 Goes to Valencia for Inspiration and Porchetta for a Crowd at Jackson 20
One of the most frequent questions I get is, “What is your favorite restaurant?” It’s a fair question to ask of a food writer, but nearly impossible to answer, because in addition to the tried and true, there are umpteen places opening in our area every day, and really it all boils down to personal taste. Some want a place to channel their inner romantic, others a cozy spot to hang out with friends. Some want to see and be seen while others are seeking the ultimate in complex culinary techniques and a gastronomic high. I, your eager guinea pig, am out there sniffing and sorting, testing and reporting, ever ready to explore and share my impressions with you.
Lupo Verde – A Green Wolf Resides on Fourteenth Street
Since the 1980’s restoration of the Willard Hotel and Santa Fe Chef Mark Miller’s groundbreaking Red Sage restaurant, 14th Street has changed from an XXX-Rated peep show boulevard to a destination for serious food and a cool style. Beaux Arts buildings have been returned to their former glory and chefs and bartenders are vying for your attention from Pennsylvania Avenue to Shaw and beyond.
One of the newer destinations is Lupo Verde – fast becoming the hottest spot in town with its fantastic house made salumi and exquisite hand-rolled pastas. Thirty-four year old Calabrian Chef de Cuisine Domenico Apollaro helms the kitchen, bringing his knowledge of Italy’s boot region. I love this place and its brilliantly authentic Italian cucina. It’s just like dining with an Italian famiglia.
The corner facing brownstone has been lovingly transformed into a stylishly intimate retreat featuring a downstairs bar, two-level dining enhanced by floor-to-ceiling windows facing the street, and a glass-enclosed meat and cheese larder along the north wall of the dining room. It’s like gazing through the shop window of asalumeria.
If you have dined in Southern Italy, you will recognize many of these homespun dishes. If not, your server will patiently describe them to you. They are divided by Antipasti, Pizza al Tegamino (a Turin-style pizza served in an iron skillet), Primi, Secondi, Contorni (side dishes). I cannot to begin to recall all the salumi and fifty cheeses offered (most of which can be purchased to go), but they are either made in-house or sourced directly from Italy. Ditto for the fruity olive oil from a farm in Italy and accompanies the breadbasket.
On a recent visit we tried one of the many handcrafted cocktails like the Principessa combine blood peach puree, grapefruit bitters and prosecco; or the Sofia made with Don Ciccio & Figli hibiscus liqueur (a locally made liqueur), prosecco and hibiscus flower.
A perfect appetizer is Polpo al Cannonau – braised baby octopus with its crimson tentacles encircling a mound of orzo – dotted with seared peaches and flavored with squid ink vinaigrette – as close to coastal Italian as you can get barring a plane ride on Alitalia. Carpacccio di Carne Marinata is another delicious option – rosy-hued shavings of paper-thin beef atop arugula and local tomatoes with a garnish of padano.
Garganelli, one of the kitchen’s homemade pastas, is featured in a version with asparagus, thyme, bottarga(salted tuna roe) and prawns. Or try the Scialatelli al Nero that boasts head-on shrimp on squid ink pasta with a mix of seafood, egg yolk and saffron broth. Bravissimo, Chef, for not caving on using head-on shrimp. All the fat and flavor of these sea creatures is concentrated in the head, and too many chefs are removing the heads, deferring to the quirks of petulant neophobes. Take courage, dear diners, you don’t know what you’re missing!
In the Calabrian region you can find swordfish on many restaurant menus. Here it is served as Pesce Spada – a lightly grilled swordfish with mint-lime mascarpone, green bean salad and spaghetti timballo.
And though desserts are predictably simple, as Italians will typically have fruit or cheese and stroll the stradaafter dinner in search of gelato, they are far preferable after such a large meal.
Recently the restaurant launched a Saturday and Sunday brunch that adds breakfast pizzas, Nutella crepes and egg dishes to the menu’s regular fare. Be sure to order the Cestino di Pane, a basket of assorted sweet breads that includes zeppole. *You could live on these! (*This statement has not been approved by the Mayo Clinic.)
Hot in Vienna – A Visit to Maple Avenue Restaurant
Last week in New York City, the James Beard House hosted a dinner prepared by the “Rising Star Chefs of Virginia” and Tim Ma, Chef/Owner of Water & Wall and Maple Avenue Restaurant, was one of the five chefs selected to prepare one of the courses. His dish, “Partridge in a Pear Tree” reflected his playful approach to ingredients and techniques. Ma used the glorious bird, balancing out its gaminess with braised celery, fresh pears, and foie gras jus. That would be his way.
Last month I dined at the postage stamp-sized Vienna outpost that Ma developed as his first laboratory. Many of the dishes used trendy ingredients but were uniquely tweaked – Steamed Prince Edward Island Mussels with saffron coconut broth and spicy Chinese sausage, and another, a bowl of Thai-inspired caramelized okra seasoned with garlic and lime. Ma doesn’t hold back on chilies or peppers – even Shrimp and Grits gets a toss of piquillos. For tamer palates there is a Baked Mac and Cheese – a rich blend of blue cheese, cheddar and Gruyere topped with an herbed panko crust.
Entrées are equally creative. Pressing into service vegetables and meats from neighboring farms, Ma’s style borrows from Southern regional and enhances it with an Asian twist. I particularly loved the seared scallops with coconut risotto, scallions and basil ice cream.
As you can imagine, the menu changes with the seasons, so it’s impossible to count on any of the aforementioned, though the website doesn’t appear to have updated its options since the August menu. Reservations are required.
Hickory Dickory Dock – Tapping the Trees
I once dined al fresco on the top of a hill on actor Robert Duvall’s gentleman farm located just outside The Plains, Virginia. My husband had won the highest bid at a charity auction for a horse-and-carriage ride to his estate that included a champagne-fueled picnic with the organizer. When we arrived at the house to await instructions as to where to spread out our provisions, I saw one of the most magnificent examples of a Shagbark Hickory tree I had ever seen in all my born days. It was smack dab in the center of the circular driveway. Leaping out of the carriage, I loudly identified the tree at the very moment Mr. Duvall was approaching from behind with his wife, the Argentine beauty Luciana Pedraza. He was impressed I knew what it was and proudly explained it had been designated the Virginia State Champion. He then directed us to a road that led down into his valley and up again to a hilltop where we were to set up our luncheon, and bade us goodbye.
Minutes later, the couple ascended the ridge and strode towards our little group of now just three, the coachman having passed out in a shed from early tippling. He asked if they could join us, explaining that anyone who could identify a Shagbark Hickory was someone he was eager to know. And that is how we whiled away a crisp fall afternoon with Mr. Duvall and his stunning wife. He is a brilliant generalist and can converse on any topic under the sun and we did.
The reminiscence of that glorious autumn afternoon goes to explain my dot-connecting excitement when I discovered Hickory Bark syrup. Now you may feel that the connection is a bit of a stretch, but I assure you it is not as the syrup is made not twenty minutes away in Berryville, Virginia.
Joyce and Travis Miller of Falling Bark Farm began their business in 2011 making a small batch product foraged from Shagbark Hickory trees that uses a process of extraction that does not harm the trees. By concocting an extraction made from Hickory tree bark, and later sweetened with turbinado sugar or honey, they can make a sustainable product.
There are as many culinary uses for this amber-colored syrup as there are for any sweet syrup or honey. I just used it in place of honey when making a batch of granola, but it’s lovely in yogurt, on pancakes and waffles or on salmon, ham glazes or roasted Brussels sprouts with bacon. It has a distinct, yet mild, and somewhat nutty flavor.
For the Millers this business came as a bit of surprise. Though Travis had worked for major supermarket chains, Giant and Safeway, throughout his career he was eager to do something involved directly with customer service. After retirement he took on cabinet making before launching their syrup at a small farm market in Purcellville, which further led to the Bethesda Farm Market where he began to garner attention from chefs and locals excited about using his hickory syrup.
The couple says that 95% of their business is wholesale. Some of their loyal clients are the Twisted Vine Wine Bar in Arlington who uses it in brunch dishes and Salamander Resort & Spa, whose Chef de Cuisine Chris Edwards serves it with pancakes and waffles. In Winchester Chef/Owner Ed Matthews of One Block Westuses it in a myriad of ways. As his menu changes nightly, he recalled a few dishes he has used it in. For savory dishes he likes to drizzle it over Prosciutto-Wrapped Scallops with Grits; Hickory-Smoked Minnesota Walleye with Asparagus, Radishes, Morels; and Pork and Grits, a dish made of house-cured pork belly, coarse yellow grits, poached egg, and pimentón sauce. Another application Matthews has employed is as a dipping sauce for an open-faced pork belly sandwich with tangy slaw and a poached egg.
Dessert brings other pleasures to the One Block West table like Hickory Syrup and Black Walnut Gelato; Pumpkin Pie-Spiced Crème Caramel with oatmeal lace cookie, crème Anglaise, chocolate-orange cremoso and hickory syrup. For this last one Edwards adds a graham cracker crust.
To find it in our area try Glen’s Garden Market and Gone Native Foods at Union Market, both in DC as well as some Whole Foods and Fresh Market stores in Northern Virginia. They also make a private label syrup forAsh Lawn-Highland and the Mount Vernon Estate. “We get calls every day from companies wanting to use our product. Next we plan to work with the Appalachian Brewing Company in Harrisburg, PA who will use our syrup to brew a specialty beer,” Travis says.
Falling Bark Farm’s most deluxe product to date is the 180 Reserve Cask Hickory Syrup. It is aged for one hundred days in organic rye whiskey barrels from local distiller Catoctin Creek. To use any of their syrups at home Miller recommends making a 6-1 ratio of seltzer water to syrup for a delicious soda. He also mentioned making a delicious ham glaze of equal parts of bourbon and syrup. To order by mail visitwww.wildwoodshickorysyrup.com.
Jackson 20’s Splendid Table
On a warm end-of-summer evening in Old Town Alexandria we dined al fresco in the courtyard at Jackson 20, a restaurant in the upscale Hotel Monaco. Teak tables placed in a long row held blue glass candleholders and vases filled with wildflowers. White linen napkins encircled by silver pig napkin rings stood by each setting and after a few glasses of Gruet an epic feast commenced with house made charcuterie and “pig butter”, a pure lard concoction made for spreading on toast.
An exquisite Farmers Beet Salad of pickled watermelon rind, arugula, BBQ pecans and Pipe Dreams Fromage, a runny, delicate flavored cheese, sat beside another salad of tomatoes and basil.
The special order “Porchetta Roast” dinner is served family style and involves a pork shoulder that is spit roasted with crackling bronzed skin and stuffed with pork sausage. It was brought to the table on a large wooden platter surrounded by a symphony of Southern side dishes – collards, mac and cheese, biscuits, corn bread, and Brussels sprouts with chanterelles.
Prepared by Executive Chef Brian McPherson, the best part is that with just one week’s notice you can order this fantastic dinner throughout the fall season for a minimum of eight guests at $38.00 per person.
Station 4 Visits Valencia
Our friends at Station 4 have taken to serving paella on Wednesday nights. Executive Chef Orlando Amarowill be creating a different Valencian rice dish each week incorporating many of the ingredients he sources from local farmers, fishers and meat purveyors. Some of the dishes to expect later this month are Del Mar y de la Tierra Paella – a delicious olio of saffron rice, shrimp, mussels, squid, chicken, chorizo and sweet peas on September 17th and Clams and Chorizo Paella made with lobster broth, chorizo, Manila clams, and mixed peppers offered on September 24th. Paella is priced at $25 for one person or $35 for two guests. For the perfect pairing try a carafe of sangria for an additional $15.
All photos by Jordan Wright.