Monday, March 3, 2014

Washington Social Diary

The Georgetown Waterfront Park over the weekend, before the snow. It may be the Potomac, but Fiola Mare conveys a vibe of Positano.
What’s New & Cool Now: La Piquette, Pinstripes and Fiola Mare
by Carol Joynt

The birds are chirping like mad, morning and evening, so let’s pretend that spring is here. Enough with winter, the houseguest who keeps coming up with a clever excuse to stay on. Oh, snap. As I write this on Sunday night, the forecast is for another 8-12 inches today. The houseguest wins.

If there is a snow day, though, I will make the most of it: work at home but also join random others who take lunch at the bar counter of Bourbon Steak. It’s become a snow day ritual this winter. Two weeks ago it was King Abdullah of Jordan (not at the bar, but spotted at a table), author Aiyaz Husain, whose new book is “Mapping the End of Empire,” having a day off from the State Department, his friend from the staff of Children’s National Medical Center, some other Georgetowners, some of Abdullah’s security (not drinking), stylist Isabelle Goetz (her salon is across the street), whose clients include Hillary Clinton, John Kerry and Queen Rania. I was with my sister-in-law, Martha Joynt Kumar, who is usually at the White House.
Snow days at the bar at Bourbon Steak have become a Georgetown ritual, because we've had so many days with the city shut down due to snow.
A tasty snow day lunch: Bourbon Steak chicken salad, with a glass of pinot noire and truffled sticky buns.
Stylist Isabelle Goetz takes a snow day lunch break with friends at Bourbon Steak.
Over the past few months I’ve raved about some interesting new arrivals in Washington -- Le Diplomate, Rose’s Luxury and Joe’s Stone Crab. On any given night there’s a swarm trying for a table at any one of them. Rose’s is the toughest, because they don’t take reservations, and last week they earned a nomination for a James Beard Award for “Best New Restaurant” in the U.S. The secret to Rose’s? Go early.

Kudos to another JBF nominee from DC, Vidalia, in the category of “Outstanding Restaurant.” It’s been in business for two decades, watched over by chef and owner Jeff Buben (himself a past Beard winner), serving fine southern cuisine – and a great happy hour – at its M Street location on the edge of West End, only minutes from Georgetown and Dupont Circle.
Vidalia, 20 years and still cooking ...
There’s so much that’s opening in Washington. Here are three new cool places that are on my radar and that you might give a try – that is, if you’re not giving up French food, Italian food or bowling for Lent. Don’t worry. They will be here for a while, and I list them in order of what opened first:

*La Piquette opened in Cleveland Park last November. The cozy one and a half room bistro is the creation of the same pair – Bruno Fortin and Cyrille Brenac – who own the “cave dweller” staple, Bistro Lepic and Wine Bar near Georgetown. The reasons to go to Piquette are its charm and the man in the kitchen, chef Francis Layrle. In a city with a dearth of French restaurants, there are even fewer French chefs in the kitchens. But Francis is the real deal.
La Piquette is in a hub of restaurants on Macomb Street in Cleveland Park. La Piquette has the vibe of a neighborhood Parisian bistro.
A native of Gascony, he came to Washington from Paris in 1973 to be Chef de Cuisine at the French Embassy, where he worked with eight ambassadors and their wives for more than three decades. Among veteran Francophiles here, the opinion is his tenure produced some of the most delicious food ever at the elegant residence on Kalorama Drive.

Layrle’s approach at Piquette is classic bistro fare, seasonal comfort food heightened with modern farm-to-table inspiration. Here’s what I’ve tried, so far, on a few visits: green salad, lobster risotto, razor clams on cavatelli, duck confit, steak frites, crème caramel, fresh raspberries with merengue. All of the dishes were superb. The room is packed with neighborhood people, meaning everyone is famous. (I’m kidding, but not entirely. It’s Cleveland Park, after all).
Chef Francis Laryle overees a menu of farm fresh bistro classics.
Piquette is open every day but Monday and serves lunch Wednesday through weekend brunch. Parking is a challenge, but it’s on the taxi circuit. Francis is always there. Ask him about his best friend, Daniel Boulud. They go back decades.

La Piquette

3714 Macomb Street NW
Piquette features an open kitchen, and one and a half dining rooms (upper and lower).
Chef Layrle is proud of his chalkboard menu.
There's also a chalkboard menu at the petite bar.
This is how the French bread arrives at table at La Piquette.
Piquette's house salad.
Wianno oysters.
Lobster risotto.
The Piquette charcuterie plate.
Sea bass.
A half roasted chicken with frites and grilled cauliflower.
Duck confit with lentils.
Crispy, creamy apple tart.
Creme caramel.
Raspberries with meringue and ice cream.
*Here is a bit of news that surprises people: there’s now a bowling alley in Georgetown. Pinstripes opened last month. I know how to bowl because I spent a few formative years as a military brat in Ohio, where my father was with the Strategic Air Command at Wright Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, Ohio.

There was not much else to do but go to the Saturday movie matinee, the roller rink or the bowling alley. Pinstripes has only two things in common with the bowling alley of my childhood – lanes and pins. Otherwise, it is entirely a different and more uptown scene. Black leather sofas instead of plastic seating, and martinis served at your lane between strikes.
The entrance to Pinstripes, on Wisconsin Avenue beside the C&O Canal.
Pinstripes is in the center of commercial Georgetown overlooking the C&O Canal. It offers bowling and bocce, and lots to eat and drink. I’ve been a few times with friends – both morning and evening – and we’ve had so much fun bowling, laughing, eating, drinking, bowling and laughing.

Because of the way it’s set up, each sofa shares a table with a sofa across from the table. It makes it interesting. On one visit the opposite sofa was occupied by a couple who made out most of the time, occasionally coming up for air and to swing a ball down the lane.  Another time it was an International Monetary Fund couple – German and Spanish – with their young son. They were delightful. The other evening our neighbors were young professionals and we all cheered for each other. This is a good time, a diverting alternative to the same old. It’s active, not passive, and a little bit of “beyond the Beltway” brought close to home.
Not your every day bowling alley. The check-in desk at Pinstripes, with bowling shoes and socks and bottles of wine.
The busy bar at Pinstripes.
The dining room at Pinstripes. Through the glass doors is a deck that overlooks the C&O Canal.
A bit and a drink before bowling? Players can also eat and drink at the lanes.
Go to Pinstripes with friends. Bowling skills are helpful but not essential. They provide shoes and socks. There’s a big bar and a dining room, but do play a game: bowling or bocce. Don’t be surprised if company CEO, Dale Schwartz, in from Chicago, comes up to introduce himself.

Pinstripes has an extensive menu of what I like to call “stoner food.” It doesn’t mean you have to be stoned. The food is tasty in that irresistible way that food is tasty when you are stoned. I like the pizza a lot, the sliders are essentially a mini steak sandwich, and there’s a healthy and delicious Brussels sprouts salad. S’mores rule the desserts. Sunday brunch is a vast buffet.

1064 Wisconsin Avenue
During daytime bowling the lights are up bright at Pinstripes.
At night the lights are turned down low.
Instead of plastic seating, bowlers have black leather sofas.
Dale Schwartz, CEO of Pinstripes, is a familiar sight at bocce and bowling, introducing himself to customers.
Brussels sprout salad.
The pinstripes pizza scores a strike.
For fans of flatbread, the Pinstripes menu has many choices. Here, the chicken club.
The pinstripes sliders are essentially mini steak sandwiches.
Dessert at a bowling alley? At Pinstripes, yes. Cheesecake and...
S'mores (you work off the calories bowling).
Fiola Mare could be the next big thing in DC restaurants. It’s been open only a week and with notable provenance: the owners are Fabio and Maria Trabocchi – restaurant entrepreneurs, parents and, as if you didn’t get that, Italian. Fabio grew up in the Le Marche region and his background includes a few Michelin-starred restaurants in the old country.

In the U.S. he has scored multiple accolades, including a James Beard Award for his time at Maestro in Tysons Corner, Virginia. He went from there to New York, where he earned 3 stars from The New York Times for Fiamma. But then he returned here, where there’s so much love for him and Maria. In 2011 they opened Fiola in Penn Quarter. The critics raved.
Fiola Mare at the dinner hour, with the Kennedy Center downriver.
It’s too soon to know the critical reaction to Fiola Mare but, with its sweet location overlooking the Potomac River in Georgetown, its stylish décor and haute seafood menu, the early public reaction is enthusiastic.

Fiola Mare is a little piece of Positano brought to the Georgetown Waterfront Park. There are no ship’s wheels or fishnets, but a subtle thread of nautique is in the details of the look. The tables and the views embrace the water the way the chef ‘s menu embraces oysters, crudo, caviar, Dover sole, Branzino, lobster, and all kinds of pastas with clams, prawns, scallops and sea urchin.
Maria Trabocchi and her husband Fabio are DC restaurant superstars.
I’ve stopped in a couple times, once for dinner with a friend, and after our meal we spent some time with Maria, who graciously showed us around. She has every reason to be stressed but she’s not.

I can’t wait to return to Fiola Mare on a warm day when the big sliding windows are pulled wide open to the breezes. I predict a lively summer scene, a welcomed escape to la dolce vita.

Fiola Mare
3050 K Street Northwest (they have valet parking)
202-628-0065 (and on OpenTable)
These tables, numbered in the 80s, are prime Fiola Mare seating, as close to the Potomac as possible without being on a boat.
Sunny daytime at Fiola Mare. When the weather warms, the big glass doors will be pulled open to the breezes.
More daytime views.
The bar is comfortable for drinks but also for a meal. There's also another bar that comes with a private dining room.
This bar is in a part of the restaurant that can be made private. The Kennedy Center is in the distance on the right.
Fiola Mare's kitchen table, thoughtfully, is not exactly in the kitchen, but adjacent.
The kitchen table's view into the kitchen (close but not too close). A martini with a twist to start dinner.
The table side preparation of the Dover sole.
The Dover sole is grilled, which is delicious, is served with grilled lemons and three sauces.
A burst of lemon for dessert.
For the perfect attire to wear to Fiola Mare, just drop in to the new Calypso store only a few blocks away on M Street. Company CEO Mindy Meads was in town last week – with NYSD contributor Debbie Brancroft, who is also with Calypso – to help host an opening party, where the co-hosts included Katharine Weymouth, Lois Romano, and Andrea Miano. This colorful boutique (Mindy said there are now close to 50 across the country) started out in 1992 in St. Barth’s and its held tight to its Caribbean chic, which plays just as well on the Amalfi/Potomac coast.
At a Calypso boutique opening party, Andrea Miano, Mindy Meads, Debbie Bancroft and Katharine Weymouth. (Photo courtesy of Daniel Swartz).
Follow Carol on twitter @caroljoynt