Wine on the Brain in Washington, DC
July 2, 2010
It’s been four years since our last DC Rising Stars and there have been a lot of changes in the capital city! DC has become a real wine city, with a strong sommelier scene, full of individual characters all passionate about wine—and their excitement is infectious. The stand-out sommeliers we tasted with at hotel restaurants showed what a difference enthusiasm can make, like Andy Myers of CityZen who compliments 2006 DC Rising Star Chef Ziebold’s Japanese-inflected cuisine, while living to challenge the diner with out-of-the-box pairings. Extremely personable Sommelier Carlton McCoy of Sou’Wester at the Mandarin Oriental adeptly pairs new and old world wines with Chef Rachael Harriman’s dishes. He strikes a remarkable balance between the inclusion of accessible recognizable flavors, varietals and regions (like a red curranty glass of Rioja) and esoteric picks, like the Basque Irouleguy he served us from a group of small villages in Gironceux France.
Ramon Narvaez at Adour balances some of the priceless bottles at his disposal at the St Regis with a more economically-friendly array of wines with zeal and creativity at this Alain Ducasse restaurant, astutely noting that customers buy more at lower price points and have a better experience than they would if they were concerned at having sprung for an expensive bottle. Michael Scaffidi of Plume at The Jefferson Hotel has a yen for half bottles and rare finds, both of which heavily populate his built-from-scratch wine list.
Each sommelier had their own distinctive personality, and this was true of the restaurant sommeliers we tasted with too. From by-the-glass guru Sebastian Zutant of Proof to young Brent Kroll of The Oval Room with his irrepressible flow of passion and knowledge, they made us look forward to every glass.
Spirits played a surprisingly big role in the capital city’s sommelier’s repertoire, and Beverage Director Caterina Abbruzzetti of Againn is no exception from her scotch locker and fabulous British Isles-appropriate pairings to her mixology program.
If there’s one thing we learned on our trip to DC, it was the major role established chefs and restaurateurs play in shaping young talent and allowing them to thrive. José Andrès and ThinkFoodGroup are big players in the DC area. His talented team of up-and-comers impressed us as always. Beverage director Jill Zimorski shapes an eclectic wine list for the group’s restaurant, while beyond-inventive DC mad scientist Chef Ruben Garcia of minibar by jose andres puts his creative touches on each mini-dish. Chef Mike Isabella of Zaytinya showed us what high-volume Mediterranean food should taste like with craveworthy spit-roasted lamb and adept use of acid in each dish.
Not to be out-done, Charlie Palmer boasts two very promising young protégés too—Chef Matt Hill’s dishes were exemplary flavorful American dishes that toed the line between elegant and comforting at Charlie Palmer Steak and Chef Alexander Bollinger of Urbana in the Hotel Palomar with his creative yet classic American cuisine made us see the variety of styles available in DC. Wolfgang Puck’s The Source to taste with RAMMY Award Winning Chef Scott Drewno. Restaurateur Ashok Bajaj and Knightsbridge Group feature some serious talent of their own, too: 2006 DC Rising Star Chef Tony Conte presides over DC's powerhouse The Oval Room. Learn more about this playful chef in our Feature including his bio, recipes and photo gallery. Pastry Chef Doug Hernandez of Bibiana prepares desserts with serious elegance and modern polish. We’re excited to get a taste of what Michel Richard is up to at Citronelle in our next trip. We ran into Chef Todd Gray at the White House where we witnessed a historic moment in food—the First Lady calling chefs to action with the Chefs Move to Schools initiative. At the 2007 ICC our theme 2007 was childhood obesity and the school lunch program. Hey chefs, here’s your call to action…get involved in your local schools lunch program. You can make a difference and now the White House is on board to help you!
But it’s not all about big name chefs and their skillful protégés. A crop of new and innovative chefs showed that hotels are able to have very serious restaurants that are dining destinations for locals and guests alike and that go beyond mere pit stops for travel-weary hotel guests. We saw elegant French-with-a-twist from Chef Damon Gordon of Plume in The Jefferson Hotel; Chef Julien Jouhannaud and Pastry Chef Fabrice Bendano of Adour at the St. Regis showed us that classic French is still delicious. Bourbon Steak may be the name of Chef David Varley’s restaurant at the Four Seasons, but it’s a misnomer for the ultra-modern creative dishes from this protégé of Las Vegas Chef Bradley Ogden.
Not far outside of the city, we found a culinary oasis in western Maryland. If we had known how beautiful historic town Frederick was before we went to taste with Chef Bryan Voltaggio of VOLT, we would have stayed longer! The ever-down-to-earth Voltaggio begins with recognizable comfort food classics and transforms them into thought-provoking dishes that lure the diner in and take them on an adventurous journey by way of the familiar; they paired nicely with Sommelier Neil Dundee’s New World and Old World finds.
A whole slew of next generation talent is bringing new flavors and a passion for DIY to the city. Chef Nick Sharpe of Sonoma prepares burrata in-house and serves it whole with tomato jam and fried bread crumbs. Charcuterie played a big part in this DIY attitude, and Againn Chef Wes Morton shows off his chops with a pork-heavy menu that featured country-style pâté, brawn, potted pork, and rillettes. Chef Haidar Karoum of Proof served us a diverse array of fancier charcuterie selections, including an outstanding chicken paprika terrine. But exciting techniques went beyond bringing charcuterie production in-house: you can see for yourself how Chef Nobu Yamazaki of Sushi Taro prepares turtle broth in our technique feature. His fine arts background is evident in his clean minimalist and modern Japanese dishes, taking perception of Japanese restaurant in DC away from formulaic and hackneyed Americanized Japanese food, proving what is really at the center of Japanese cuisine: balanced flavors like those in his turtle broth.
We’ve got at least another trip to DC this summer and we’re excited to discover more talent! We’re not done scouting for New York and Washington, DC Rising Stars—there’s still time to submit your nominations for chefs, pastry chefs, sommeliers, and mixologists. Houston, Chicago, and Portland are on the horizon for 2011, so get your nominations in for those cities, too.
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