D.C. United Cornhole Tourament at Audi Field

D.C. United fans celebrated the start of fall with a cornhole tournament at Audi Field before the game against the Seattle Sounders. Fans pregames with a little friendly competition in a double elimination tournament, then enjoyed Sunday’s game with DC Fray drink specials. Photos: Mark Raker Photography

Oktoberfest at Dacha Navy Yard

Dacha Navy Yard hosted its opening weekend of Oktoberfest on Saturday, September 21.  This DC Oktoberfest celebration is every Saturday and Sunday until October 6, complete with brats, brews and music. Photos: Mark Raker Photography

DC Oyster, Wine & Beer Festival 2019

Union Market DC hosted the ultimate seafood and libations celebration on Saturday, September 21. Guests enjoyed 30 all-you-care-to-taste beers, wines and spirits, all-you-care-to-taste oysters, and other seafood dishes with access to restaurant tasting stations, and great music on the main stage. Photos: Mark Raker Photography

Driven to Clarity at Nationals Park

Every Friday night home game at Nationals Park is best spend on Budweiser Terrace. As the Nationals warmed up to play the Braves on September 30, fans enjoyed funk / pop-rock hits from Driven To Clarity. Photos: Kimchi Photography

Hand Painted Swinger at Nationals Park

Every Friday night home game at Nationals Park is best spend on Budweiser Terrace. As the Nationals warmed up to play the Marlins on August 30, fans enjoyed pop hits from Hand Painted Swinger. Photos: Kimchi Photography

Capitol Riverfront Concert Series at Yards Park: Trailer Grass Orchestra

The Capitol Riverfront concert series at Yards Park on August 30 featured live music from bluegrass group Trailer Grass Orchestra and ice-cold Corona and wine for a relaxing evening with waterfront views. Photos: Kimchi Photography

Photo: courtesy of Via Sophia

New and Notable: Casta’s Rum Bar, Oak Steakhouse, Piccolina and More

On Tap keeps locals in the know about the hottest new food and drink spots around town and the top culinary happenings of the month. Read on to get the inside scoop on what’s new and notable in the DC area.

NEW

Casta’s Rum Bar
Open: August 2
Location: West End
Lowdown: This colorful Cuban oasis is the result of a collaboration between the mayor-appointed Chairman of Nightlife and Culture, Vinoda Basnayake (who is also behind Heist Night Club and Morris American Bar) and the Cuban owner of Castañeda Cigars, Arian Castañeda. The indoor dining area and bar hides underground, but is full of life thanks to plenty of greenery, weathered walls and murals of the streets of Havana. Outside, the patio is infinitely Instagrammable, with lots more wall art and plants, dangling string lights and leaf tropical print upholstery. Chef Alberto Vega’s menu is made up of Cuban classics like a Cuban sandwich, empanadas, croquetas and ceviche Caribeño with citrus, mango, pineapple, cucumber and plantain chips. Cocktails are mainly rum-based and they don’t skimp on the rum. Choose from a simple mojito or a playful frozen Sexo Tropical with cognac, rum, coconut Red Bull and watermelon. For the full Cuban experience, pair your meal or drink with a cigar in the designated area of the patio. 1121 New Hampshire Ave. NW, DC; www.castasrumbar.com

Oak Steakhouse
Open: July 12
Location: Old Town Alexandria
Lowdown: Oak Steakhouse from Charleston-based restaurant group Indigo Road Hospitality has sprouted up in Alexandria. It’s the group’s second outpost in the area – the first being O-Ku Sushi restaurant in the Union Market neighborhood. Executive chef Joseph Conrad helms the newest location of Oak, highlighting Virginia ingredients with modern flair. The rustic reclaimed wood and exposed brick dining room gives way to a pewter tile open kitchen, where steaks and chops are the centerpiece. The options range from a modest 8-oz. Certified Angus Beef filet to a massive 36-oz., 60-day, dry-aged prime porterhouse for two. All the cuts can be enhanced with sauces and butters like the house steak sauce or black truffle butter, as well as accompaniments like a grilled half lobster tail or bone marrow. As if that wasn’t enough, there are decadent sides like baked and fried potatoes and crispy Brussels sprouts.  Don’t forget to start with appetizers like parker house rolls with cultured butter or creamy oysters Rockefeller. For dessert, opt for the peanut butter semifreddo, which mimics the flavors of a caramel apple, with caramel sauce, peanuts and Granny Smith chunks. 901 North Saint Asaph St. Alexandria, VA; www.oakalexandria.com

Piccolina
Open: July 29
Location: CityCenter
Lowdown: Chef Amy Brandwein’s restaurant family has grown by one with the addition of Piccolina, or “little one.” Her second restaurant complements the first, as an all-day café serving breakfast, lunch and dinner. It’s right across the alley from Centrolina restaurant and market, in the former RareSweets space, which was given an Italian makeover with brushed wood, hammered copper countertops, colorful and comfortable seating and a wood-fired oven. Much of the menu comes from that oven, including 10 rotating varieties of freshly baked breads and sandwiches, crepes and omelets cooked in custom long-handled iron pans and roasted fruits and vegetables like grapefruit and broccoli rabe. In addition, Piccolina is now home to several of the market offerings formerly at Centrolina, like pastries, coffee and prepared items like chicken salad, caponata and the beloved eggplant Parm. Rotating Italian varietals of wine as well as spritzes and house-made sodas pair well with the selections. Brandwein took significant time to prepare for the opening of Piccolina – she took a research and development trip to Sicily to perfect one of the featured wood-fired menu items, a stuffed flatbread called scacce. She also attended the San Francisco Baking Institute to learn the craft of bread baking. The menu will change with the seasons, as ingredients are available from the nonprofit farm DC Urban Greens. 963 Palmer Alley, NW, DC; www.piccolinadc.com

Via Sophia
Open: June 12
Location: Downtown
Lowdown: As part of the Hamilton Hotel’s multi-million dollar renovation, the property is now home to Via Sophia, a southern Italian osteria. The restaurant is headed up by executive chef Colin Clark, who served as the chef de cuisine at Fiola Mare. Sleek and bright, the space lined is with black and white quartz, illuminated by geometric fixtures and dotted with antique pizza paraphernalia. On the menu, Neapolitan pizza is a focus, kissed by the flames of the oak-burning oven handmade in Italy. Antipasti, crudo, pasta and hearty entrees like monkfish ossobucco round out the offerings. The beverage program skews heavily toward Italian wines, with local craft beers and spirits available as well. For an aperitif or a nightcap, head around the corner to the micro cocktail bar, situated off the lobby and hidden by day. Society is revealed at happy hour, when the 1920s art deco-inspired bar and lounge opens to the public. With dim lighting, dark leather, diamond glass chandeliers and curious artifacts, the space is reminiscent of the alleged interior of Yale’s Skull and Bones Society’s meeting hall. The succinct menu includes craft libations like the Triumvirate with whiskey, walnut liqueurs, dry vermouth and house bitters. 1001 14th St. NW, DC; www.viasophiadc.com

NOTABLE

Hook Hall
Location: Park View
Lowdown: DC’s coolest new event space has taken shape in a 13,500-square-foot 1940s building, with modern touches that don’t erase the antique character. On the walls, dark black bricks – actual cinderblocks – peek through industrial fixtures and a 15-foot projector screen. The café and tavern takes after its namesake, Captain Hook: Hook Hall is a place where no one will tell you to grow up. Dog- and kid-friendly, the space is filled with lawn games, communal tables and cabanas on the outdoor synthetic lawn. During the day, the café offers Vigilante coffee and food from Bread and Chocolate. In the evening, it turns into a bar and beer garden with cocktails, beer, wine and food from rotating local vendors like Rocklands, Smoke and Ember and Sunrise Caribbean. (After 9pm, it’s 21+.) The venue is regularly open to the public and also available for private bookings. Owner Anna Valero also plans to offer events like beer and wine festivals, edutainment courses, screenings of sporting events (including international soccer), workout classes and more. 3400 Georgia Ave. NW, DC; www.hookhall.com

Odd Provisions at Dio Wine Bar
Location: H Street
Lowdown: Pioneering natural wine bar, Dio, has partnered with a fellow woman-owned business to revamp their food offerings. [email protected] began this summer and is here to stay, featuring the food by Odd Provisions, a contemporary corner market in Columbia Heights. The new menu was designed with wine in mind – think cheese and charcuterie pairings, snacks like chicken liver mousse, hummus and pickles, as well as seasonal salads and sandwiches like the spicy salami with herb pesto, Gordy’s cherry pepper spread, fennel confit and pecorino. The partnership also means you can place special orders to buy Dio wines through Odd Provisions. 904 H St. NE, DC; www.diowinebar.com

Photo: Raisa Aziz

Big Flavors, Baller Bubbles At Zeppelin

While frosé floods the District in warm weather months, the creative minds behind Zeppelin encourage discerning drinkers to sip on something a little bit more progressive this fall. From the brothers behind the extensive cocktail list at Chaplin’s in Logan Circle, Micah and Ari Wilder crafted Zeppelin’s short but heavy-hitting cocktail list with one goal: be approachably esoteric.

“We steer clear of trendy,” Micah says bluntly. “Whatever’s in, we try not to capitalize [on it].”

Their approach at the Shaw newcomer, which opened this spring, is to draw inspiration from experiencing taste and travel. From architectural aesthetics to discovery of an unusual and savory ingredient, the Wilder brothers pride themselves on not acting on things they see everyone else doing.

“[Ideas] don’t just come from our dining experiences,” Ari adds. “It’s not always from other restaurants and cocktail bars. A lot of it is a blank canvas with very little influence from other people and places. That’s what’s always been great about us working together. We can bounce ideas off each other and one thought turns into a whole new direction.”

A large portion of the cocktail list at Zeppelin is dedicated to the highball, a tried and true cocktail that requires only a few basic ingredients: ice, a base spirit and soda water. At Zeppelin, the base spirit varies between whisky, bourbon, gin or vodka. The common denominator? They’re all Japanese and hard to find elsewhere in the city.

While most highballs are meant to be slow-sipping, many fall flat as the soda bubbles dissipate. To create the perfect cocktail, the Wilder brothers asked themselves how they could ensure a drink for sipping and savoring throughout the meal.

“We love champagne,” Ari says. “We enjoy playing with bubbles.”

Enter the Toki highball machine, a device that is able to procure champagne-like effervescence by running water through a coil system that creates small, continuous bubbles. The bubbles pass through a baking soda tablet and finish as a stream. The water pours out slower than a soda dispenser, but the result is long-lasting bubbles.

“It’s like what you see what you’re looking at the bottom of a freshly opened bottle of champagne,” Ari continues. “Bubbles continuously rising, velvety texture. It keeps going and going.”

Rather than just using champagne or a sparkling wine to enhance the cocktails, each libation is finished with highball bubbles so the drinker can enjoy a well-balanced, bubbly cocktail over a long period of time without the effect falling flat. The brothers are proud enough of this finishing touch to include it in the list of ingredients as “Baller Bubbles.”

While the use of a highball machine isn’t the most unusual idea (it’s popular in New York and Chicago), the brothers continue to revolutionize their take on highballs by mixing Japanese spirits with unusual combinations of sweet and savory ingredients.

“We didn’t want a huge, ridiculous scotch program because it doesn’t play with most of our food,” Ari comments. “The direction was to have a smaller, procured program that would focus on newer brands of spirits that aren’t everywhere.”

In fact, food plays a big factor in their approach to Zeppelin’s cocktail program.

“Sometimes you see things that you normally wouldn’t even think to add,” Micah explains. “You take sweet in a different direction. A combination of several ingredients gives us an idea. Food is definitely more of an inspiration than beverage.”

At Zeppelin, Chef Minoru Ogawa influences the cocktail list not by way of menu planning but by providing access to lesser-known ingredients to the expansive sushi menu and Japanese street fare.

“Inspiration is just walking through our kitchens and discovering cool ingredients we’ve never heard of,” Ari continues. “A part of how we’re discovering ingredients is seeing how the chefs use [them] in their sauces. We get to see and test fermented pastes. We ask the chefs about it. We start playing with [the ingredients].”

Fermented yuzu kosho (a fermented paste made from green or red Thai chili peppers, yuzu peel, and salt) and sansho (Japanese peppercorns, which are similar to but more potent than Sichuan peppercorns) are both put to work along with ingredients like pandan, tamarind vinegar and choya plum to create the cocktails on Zeppelin’s menu. The yuzu kosho in particular is the defining ingredient for Zeppelin’s number one bestselling cocktail: The Heartbreaker.

“It really pushes the depth of the cocktail,” Micah confirms.

The brothers take pride in how often regulars will come into both of their locations with questions about hard-to-find spirits and liquors. They’re both emphatic about being an approachable neighborhood restaurant.

“We have a good chef and we love the neighborhood,” Micah says of their Shaw location. “We want to give the neighborhood what it needs.”

Ari adds that their passion is reinforced by people, and “it feels so much more valuable for us to develop such an amazing staff and culture of regulars and neighborhood supporters.”

So the next time you’re at Zeppelin, dive in with questions about the cocktail program. If you’re looking for a certain spirit, the Wilder brothers will most likely source it for you and incorporate it into the next iteration of their drink menu.

“[Our customers] continue to be a part of the decisions we make.”

Learn more about Zeppelin at www.zeppelindc.com.

Zeppelin: 1544 9th St. NW, DC; 202-506-1068; www.zeppelindc.com

Beef pares // Photo: Sieg Fuster

The Best of Both Worlds: Tiki on 18th Opens Above Filipino-Inspired Sports Bar

To stand out in the rising culinary metropolis that is the DC area and have staying power, you should be prepared to offer up something different from the crowded pack of gems. That is exactly how Jo-Jo Valenzuela approached serving up mouthwatering Filipino food at sports bar The Game in Adams Morgan, and the menu at their new upstairs getaway Tiki on 18th.

After all, one can go to any sports bar in the District and get a beer and watch the game. But where can you find one that also serves up meticulously prepared sizzling sisig – a popular Filipino dish of grilled pig’s ears with crispy pork belly – or lumpiang shanghai, heavenly pork and mushroom spring rolls with a sweet mango chili sauce?

“The funniest thing I’ve ever heard was when somebody looked at the menu and then just asked me, ‘What is this?’” Valenzuela says of The Game’s menu. “And I said, ‘Well, I’m Filipino.’ And the individual said, ‘Oh, so you’re a Filipino bar?’ And I said, ‘No, we are a sports bar. The cook just happens to be Filipino.’”

Valenzuela is well-known in the area for his expert mixology skills, with previous stints at Brine in Mosaic and AdMo’s Jack Rose Dining Saloon. But, The Game and now Tiki on 18th take Valenzuela from overseeing the bar to also being in the kitchen.

“If you’re passionate about making good drinks, cooking is a big part of mixology and it basically evolved into that,” he says. “Anyone can make wings, burgers or nachos and buy the best ingredients, and it’ll be good. But I grew up in the Philippines and know Filipino food, and that’s my passion. So, if I’m doing a sports bar, I’m going to do the food I’m comfortable with.”

A packed crowd on a recent college football Saturday certainly suggests customers are as equally comfortable with Valenzuela’s food.

“We have one customer that will sit in an hour’s worth of traffic just to come have the sisig,” Valenzuela says of the dish, which involves quite the tedious but worthwhile preparation process. “That’s pretty amazing.”

Along with the sisig, which Valenzuela says The Game has become known for, other dishes he recommends are the gambas al ajillo – shrimp with garlic chili oil and lemon served with crusty ciabatta – or the rice bowls, especially the beef pares with braised beef brisket and garlic fried rice.

For drinks, Valenzuela’s 2015 DC Rickey Competition-winning rizal is on the menu, as is a creative riff on the old fashioned. I Love My BBC (Bacon, Bourbon, Chocolate) combines bacon fat-washed Bulleit Bourbon, orange-maple syrup and chocolate bitters for a fresh take on the classic cocktail.

Upon venturing up the stairway from The Game to the second-floor Tiki on 18th, which opened this July, the vibe immediately changes to an island green paradise. Bright, palm-printed paper covers the walls of the intimate space, with gigantic wicker-patterned chandeliers and an eye-catching tiki bar to complete the tropical vibe. Guests can venture out to the Luau Patio, accented by the “Let’s Tiki, Baby” neon sign.

And while the DC area is no stranger to tiki bars – with the likes of Coconut Club near Union Market and Tiki TNT at The Wharf opening recently – the combination of talent behind the cocktails and bites at Tiki on 18th is giving it some significant advantage. Valenzuela’s partners at the tropical spot include Jonathan Peterson, co-founder of Rum Day DC, and former Service Bar bartender Saab Harrison.

“I’ve had cocktails in the area and in Chicago and New York, and the drinks we have up here are some of the best,” Valenzuela says. “We are extremely careful with how we do things upstairs.”

Cocktail favorites include the Missionary’s Downfall, a made-to-order, frothy, mint-and-fruit concoction that comes in a decorative white-and-green cup, topped with colorful fresh mint. The menu playfully describes the drink as “a pineapple, mint, peach jacuzzi in a blender.”

Valenzuela recommends adding the 1933 Mai Tai to your tasting list as well. The original recipe uses Jamaican rum, Demerara rum, lime and orgeat, creating the perfect flavor combination with a colorful pink-and-yellow tone. Another favorite is the Dons Mix Paloma. Described as “on a Mexican beach with earnest,” the tequila, lime, grapefruit and soda cocktail with a hint of cinnamon is served in a tall tiki cup.

To complement the cocktails, Valenzuela offers a tasty menu at Tiki on 18th of “easy bites” including pulled pork tacos, fatty braised beef tostada, grilled skewers and Mexican street corn. Filipino flavors still inspire the menu upstairs, with BBQ glaze marinade on the pork belly kebabs and a heavenly seasoning on the beef skewers. On Sundays, guests can enjoy all-day brunch from 12-8 p.m. with offerings including avocado toast with grilled pork belly, enchiladas with eggs and tostadas with kālua pork.

In the vast array of DC restaurant concepts, Filipino food in a sports bar on one floor and a tiki bar with tacos and kebabs on another is certainly a unique setup. But Valenzuela laments that if you want to be successful in this business, you truly need to find a niche – and you need to be in it for the right reasons.

“All the big places are closing and that’s really sad, but that just means that everyone needs to step their game up. You have to love what you are doing, otherwise there is no point in doing it.”

Valenzuela says he is hoping to keep the foot traffic flowing through The Game as various sports seasons start getting underway this fall, with plenty of televisions and game-day specials to come. Meanwhile at Tiki on 18th, as the temperature in the District begins to cool down, the tropical escape is sure to keep everyone warm.

Tiki on 18th and The Game: 2411 18th St. NW, DC; 202-846-1952; www.tikion18th.com and www.thegamedc.com

Photo: courtesy of Bold Rock

Bold Rock Embraces Pumpkin Season With Fall’s Harvest Haze

Pumpkin season has creeped closer and closer toward summer ever since Starbucks unveiled its Pumpkin Spice Latte way back in 2003. Since, the ultimate coffee combo has sparked a renaissance of culinary experimentation featuring the orange veggie with products ranging from coffee (duh) and pastries to this year’s Pumpkin Spice Spam (what now?) While a hint of the squash plant in a latte was a can’t-miss, the flavor’s foray into salted meats seems like a leap – but people just can’t seem to get enough, so why not? At least that’s Bold Rock’s approach.

“It’s always been a request from the customers,” says Lindsay Dorrier, Bold Rock Hard Cider’s director of new business development. “We tried to skew in the opposite direction because pumpkin was an obvious choice, [but] we finally caved because the customers wanted it so badly.”

This is likely music to the ears of cider aficionados who double as pumpkin enthusiasts. Yes, the Nellysford, Virginia-based cidery is following the unshakeable trend of tossing out a pumpkin product with its 2019 fall seasonal Harvest Haze. But Dorrier says the flavor will still be distinctly Bold Rock as the cidery took heavy precautions against simply pumping out something they knew could sell.

So while the cider is unlike the brand’s typically crystal-clear beverages – with floating bits and pieces of our favorite orange edible providing a unique texture – apples are still front and center and prevalent throughout.

“We wanted to craft a pumpkin-infused cider that was still a quintessential Bold Rock cider,” he says. “It’s still an apple cider. It’s just got a hint of pumpkin. We really tried to capture a flavor profile [for] the entire fall harvest.”

Dorrier says the team prepped for the fall season’s newest addition for about eight months, adding that the cidery was still tinkering with what would become the final product at the 11th hour. While the bottle features an orange logo, it’s clear the team didn’t take the path of least resistance by simply dialing up pumpkin flavors. Instead, the cider makers sought to capture the entire palate of the fall season.

“We wanted to create something that we could toast to the entire fall harvest,” he says. “Pumpkin is an important [part] of the flavor profile, but not the entire part. [For] any seasonal variance we use, all the alcohol comes from apples, but we want it to shine through as well. We add in a jolt of excitement depending on what we want to do with the flavor.”

While most fall pumpkin-infused products veer on the sweet side, including other ciders, Bold Rock was weary of overdoing it with Harvest Haze. While they ultimately want to nail it with cider drinkers who championed this special varietal, Bold Rock didn’t want to produce a cider that couldn’t be enjoyed by people who aren’t as cavalier about pumpkin consumption.

“We try to bridge that gap between pumpkin-crazed and the people fatigued,” he says. “We wanted something that could appeal to both. We wanted some nuance in that profile. We didn’t want the drink to live and die [with] that pumpkin preference. If you crave the dry, we have it covered. If you want something fruit-forward, we have that, too. We’re just trying to explore all corners of the palate.”

With apples hailing from Virginia and pumpkins sourced from the Pacific Northwest, the cider hits all marks for both the cider crazed and those enthusiastic drinkers looking for anything featuring the season’s most versatile vegetable.

Bold Rock Hard Cider’s Harvest Haze hits shelves in October and will be available throughout Northern Virginia and DC. For more information about the seasonal release and other Bold Rock varietals, visit www.boldrock.com.