Monday, February 3, 2014

Washington Social Diary

The whole kitchen crew, plus hosts Sarah and Bob Nixon, at a dinner to benefit Martha’s Table and DC Central Kitchen. In the photo in no particular order: Lee Derosiers, Chris Swensen, Bob Nixon, Spike Gjerde, Chris Fischer, Sarah Nixon, Kayla Foster, Olivia Pattison, Elizabeth Davies, Alison Kirby, Hannah Ragan.
Boozing and Binging Through The Polar Vortex
by Carol Joynt

This is how I’ve dealt with our brutal winter weather over the past couple of weeks. Not in tropical sunshine or on powdery slopes, but here, in my frozen hometown, eating. Not even a recent visit to New Orleans felt as gluttonous, and that was with meals at Bayona, August, Domenica, Galatoire’s and Luke! However, when the Polar Vortex hit the east coast, the only distractions to coincide with its arrival were invitations to parties that celebrated food and drink. I succumbed with the excuse, “I’ll start watching what I eat after the Super Bowl.”
Suitable for the Super Bowl: a quiche Lorraine and Key Lime pie from Red Truck Bakery in Warrenton, VA.
Last night included all the usual and irresistible high-calorie football foods. They, and Bruno Mars, made up for a dull game. The menu: chips with bowls of salsa, guacamole and hummus; Swedish meatballs; three-bean chili with cheese; buttermilk fried chicken; pulled pork barbecue sandwiches, with extra barbecue sauce; chopped vegetable salad; rounded out by a gorgeous quiche Lorraine and a Key Lime pie which were dropped off by their baker, my pal Brian Noyes, who owns Red Truck Bakery in Warrenton. The subject line on his email was "Your Favorite," with an offer to deliver. There was no choice but to organize a full blown viewing party. Phew.

Alice Waters and Joan Nathan, who along with chef Jose Andres created the Washington fundraiser Sips & Suppers
The feast and the big game have come and gone. No more excuses, but here's a reprise of the social boozing and binging in the days before.

All in one weekend there was a charitable extravaganza to raise money for Martha’s Table and DC Central Kitchen, who run programs to feed the homeless and hungry.

It’s called Sips & Suppers and was created several years ago by chefs Alice Waters and Jose Andres, and food writer Joan Nathan. The first night, Saturday a week ago, was a feast at the Newseum, where dozens of restaurants, food trucks, food entrepreneurs and bars set up buffets on three floors to feed approximately 700 guests.

I’m not one for eating while standing up – the image of a trough is too vivid - but I didn’t mind standing to sip the delicious Manhattans made by George Manolatos and Pete Conner for Cashion’s Eat Place. I also stopped by the table Luigi Diotaiuti of Al Tiramisu, which claims the bragging rights as George Clooney’s favorite DC bistro. Luigi, who served tasty duck prosciutto, also exhibited enough energy to melt the snow outside.
The Newseum as it began to fill up with the 700 people who paid $95 each for the "Sips" half of Sips & Suppers.
Sips & Suppers raises money for Martha's Table and DC Central Kitchen, who both work to feed the homeless and hungry. Antoin Washington, Franklin Garner and Gregory Jackson are students at DC Central Kitchen.
Chef Luigi Diotaiuti of Al Tiramisu was a most happy fella. You would be, too, if yours was George Clooney's favorite Washington restaurant.
The next night, Sunday, was a more relaxed occasion, even though another round of bountiful feasting. The “suppers” part of the weekend is dinner parties at private homes throughout the city, designed on purpose to “preserve the intimacy of the dinner party,” according to Waters.  My hosts, Sarah and Bob Nixon, did that quite well. The steps of their sprawling and handsome Georgetown home were marked with candles. Inside the house it seemed that every available fireplace – I counted 4 – had a fire blazing. We were welcomed with a choice of rum punch or Champagne.

The long dining table took up most of the library and was set to seat 27. The guests, paying $600 per person, included General Services Administration chief Dan Tangherlini, and Theresa Tangherlini, Deputy attorney general James Cole and Susan Cole, Abby Eisener of DC Central Kitchen and Kirsten Gercke, Andrew Cockburn and Leslie Cockburn, Jules Bernstein and Linda Lipsett, Anne Luzatto, Gordon Litwin, Jeh Johnson, Susan Dimarco, Susan Weller, Cintia Guimaraes, Andrea Angallaco, Jeffrey Elliot, and a drop by from Emily Lenzner.
Chris Swensen of Woodberry Kitchen, Lee Derosiers of The Beach Plum, Spike Gjerde of Woodberry, Chris Fischer of Beach Plum and Kayla Foster of Beach Plum.
Chefs at work in the kitchen.
Spike Gjerde and Hannah Ragan of Woodberry Kitchen.
Aprons, lemons, Champagne flutes at the ready.
In the large kitchen was another large and busy group, a combined team of chefs and staff from two beloved restaurants: Spike Gjerde and his crew form Woodberry Kitchen in Baltimore, and Chris Fischer and his crew from The Beach Plum on Martha’s Vineyard, coincidentally owned by our hosts, Bob and Sarah. I’m a big fan of Woodberry. It is, as Michelin likes to say about 3 star restaurants, “worth a trip.” Yes, even to Baltimore. Maybe, especially to Baltimore. ( The Beach Plum is a favorite date night destination of the Obamas and the Clintons.  
In the pantry, a pause before showtime.
While in the living room, Bob Nixon, on the right, welcomes guests.
This is how we do coats in Georgetown.
Fireplaces were blazing throughout the main floor of the house. We counted four. Sarah Nixon quite liked this hostess gift.
The library was transformed into an elegant dining room.
The guests prepare to sit down for a seven course dinner.
Kristen Gercke and Abby Eisener. Andrea Angallaco.
Jules Bernstein and Jeffrey Elliot.
Sarah Nixon and Andrew Cockburn.
Spike came to DC with an assortment of locally sourced foods, including oysters, while Chris flew down from the Vineyard also with oysters, and a pig, and, yes, we ate the pig. But that’s not all we ate. Here’s the full menu, not counting a range of canapés that were served at the start ...

• Iced Oysters from Martha’s Vineyard and the Chesapeake Bay with an assortment of sauces, including mignonette and Spike’s own Snake Oil.

• Beetlebung Farm Beef Carpaccio with sunflower oil, pickled Next Step mustard seed, hillbilly salt and herbs.

• Tender Winter Greens with Mermaid Farm feta, grilled bread, and honey.

• Whole Wheat Rigatoni with fromage blanc and black pepper
• Beetlebung Farm Suckling Pig with rosemary, garlic, anchovy, sweet potato spoonbread and creamed kale.

• A restorative fish brother

• Raspberry Pecan Linzer with Bay ice cream

• Woodberry Kitchen amaretto

• Mignardises and pressed coffee
The wines at the ready. Lee Derosiers shucks the oysters.
The first course — oysters on the half shell from Martha's Vineyard and the Chesapeake Bay.
Spike prepares the beef carpaccio.
Between courses, Abby Eisener of DC Central Kitchen tells the guests about how the money raised will help feed the needy.
Winter greens with feta cheese, grilled bread and honey.
Lee Derosiers slices the roast suckling pig while Chris Fischer brings it from the kitchen. It had traveled with Chris from Martha's Vineyard.
Chris and Spike serve the roast suckling pig.
Bread pudding, creamed kale and roast suckling pig.
Preparing the "restorative" fish broth that was served after the pig but before dessert.
Treats for after the dessert of raspberry pecan Linzer.
I walked the two blocks home but needed to walk at least 20. Instead I hopped into bed and turned on the last quarter of The Grammy Awards, with all those skinny rockers in skinny clothes. As noted above, my mantra was, “after the Super Bowl.”

Mid week came the opening of Joe’s Stone Crab. If you know Miami then you know Joe’s – one of the original purveyors of those seasonal delicacies, the stone crab claw; a giant, sprawling restaurant, famous for the food, the wait for a table and bustling service. In 2000, the owners of Joe’s entered into a franchise arrangement with Chicago-based Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises, which opened the first Joe’s in Chicago and Las Vegas but with the new name Joe’s Seafood, Prime Steak & Stone Crab.

The Washington Joe's Stone Crab is in a beautiful period building, originally the Union Trust Bank building, only two blocks from the White House.
The Washington Joe’s launched last with what had to be the biggest restaurant opening party in memory, maybe in recorded history. They invited 1500 guests, including a who’s who of DC’s usual partygoers, for an all you could eat and drink evening of premium alcohol and stone crabs, steak, oysters, shrimp, Alaska king crab, hashed browns, spinach, mushrooms, and desserts. The staff to patron ratio felt almost one to one.

In the mix were LEYE’s founder Rich Melman, and managing partner Mike Rotolo. Also greeting guests was Billy Marovitz, a key backer, whose background includes  politics, the real estate business, settling an insider trading charge with the SEC in 2011, and he is also the ex-husband of Christie Hefner.  Did I say colorful characters? “All very Chicago,” said a mutual friend who was there.

It was quite the party, and raised the bar high for future Washington restaurant openings.

The task ahead for Joe’s is to fill those seats when it’s not an all-you-can-eat grand opening. The setting is in a gorgeous old bank building and it is quite glamorous with the high ceilings, chandeliers, columns, marble, leather banquettes, and white tablecloths.
The bar dining room at Joes'. Only some of the restaurant's 350 seats.
The bar on opening night, when the guest list was at 1500 people.
Rich Melman, on the right, greets some of the first dinner guests at Joe's Stone Crab DC.
A signature table setting at Joe's.
Like Miami, the service is robust. It has the potential to be for the lobbying and lawyer crowd what Le Diplomate has become for the gay elite and the stylish, and Rose’s Luxury for fashion-forward hipsters: the place to see and be seen. All three, because of their reputations, will attract tourists, but tourists alone can’t float a restaurant in Washington. There needs to be a loyal local base, too. Diplomate has the beginnings of that, Rose’s is on the cusp, and time will tell for Joe’s.

All three are the latest in a list that keeps growing of chefs and restaurant entrepreneurs who want to be in Washington as the city transforms into a culinary destination. Daniel Boulud swears he’ll be opening a DBGB in 2014. Top Chef winner Paul Qui was reported to be looking around.

I better keep my Super Bowl vow.
On opening night, guests could eat as many of these seafood bowls as they wished.
Joe's wedge salad.
Classic Joe's stone crabs. Missing from the picture, the famous mustard sauce.
Two musts at Joe's: fried sweet potatoes and cole slaw.
Mashed potatoes.
Hashed brown potatoes.
Banana cream pie.
Boston cream pie with Key lime pie in the background.
Photographs by Carol Joynt.

Follow Carol on twitter @caroljoynt