Photo: Cuisine Solutions

What Is Sous Vide? An Explainer On The French Cooking Method

You’ve probably heard the term “sous vide”. You’ve even most likely eaten food that was cooked “sous vide” without knowing it. In lead up to the International Sous Vide Day Celebration brunch at Conrad Washington DC on January 26, we put together an explainer with everything you need to know about sous vide.

What is it? 

Sous vide is French for “under vacuum,” which describes a cooking technique in which food is vacuum-sealed, then slow cooked in hot water. The International Sous Vide Day festivities coincide with the birthday sous vide’s greatest pioneer, Dr. Bruno Goussault. 

Why does it matter? 

The cooking method allows for food to cook at a precise temperature to enhance flavors and maintain moisture, consistency and nutrients that are often lost during conventional cooking techniques. Meats are extremely tender due to the slow cooking process and, since the food is vacuum sealed, there is minimal processing and preservatives needed to keep it fresh. Also, because the scientific technique is precise, the risk of overcooking or under cooking the food is almost zero. 

Cuisine Solutions, headquartered in Northern Virginia is the global authority on sous vide cooking – they have pioneered, perfected and popularized this innovative slow cooking technique that has been adopted by chefs from around the world. Big names such as Thomas Keller, Mark Miller and Daniel Boulud have worked with Cuisine Solutions in developing their own sous vide recipes. Even locally, a number of chefs offer up sous vide items on the menu.

The sous vide technique is also used in making cocktails – whether to infuse liquors with flavors or to use fruit, vegetable peels and seeds to make flavored syrups. For example: The peels and insides of a butternut squash or the trimming from a pumpkin, that would normally go unused, can be put through the sous vide technique to get an intensely flavored liquid used to enhance other dishes. 

Sous vide prepared items are gaining popularity worldwide and can be found in school programs, airlines and cruise ships, hotels, restaurants and retail locations, including major retailers such as Starbucks and Costco (look for the sous vide egg bites!). 

Where to try it? 

You’ll see sous vide items labeled on many restaurants across town, but you can also experience it at home by purchasing from My Cuisine Solutions. They offer a number of options – I especially love the 72-hour short rib, vegan chili, mushroom risotto and butter chicken. The coconut chai oatmeal is also delicious! 

You can also learn more about the French roots of this technique while enjoying innovative cuisine and craft cocktails prepared by Cuisine Solutions acclaimed chefs at the International Sous Vide Day celebration brunch on January 26 at the Conrad Washington DC Estuary restaurant. It’s going to be fantastic – special guest chef Kyle Connaughton of SingleThread Farm in California, which earned three Michelin Stars in 2018, is among the group of talented culinary innovators showcased at this brunch along with local chefs like Estuary’s Bryan Voltaggio, Unconventional Diner’s David Deshaies, DBGB Kitchen’s Nicholas Tang, Equinox’s Todd Gray and more.

The afternoon begins with a culinary experience featuring artful drinks, created by incorporating sous vide techniques, passed appetizers and concludes with brunch at Estuary, showcasing a number of food stations spotlighting signature sous vide proteins, as well as sous vide creations prepared by DC’s leading restaurants. 

International Sous Vide Day Celebration is on January 26 from 12:30-3:30 p.m. Tickets for this event are all-inclusive, priced at $125 per person and are available for purchase here. All proceeds from this event will benefit Careers through Culinary Arts Program

Conrad Washington DC: 950 New York Ave. NW, DC; 202-844-5900; www.eventbrite.com

Photo: DC Fray

Five Reasons You Need To Pickup A #FrayLife Passport ASAP

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Get your hands on one of the best new ways to get to know everything DC has to offer from food and drink to one-of-a-kind experiences. Here are five reasons why you need a Fray Passport.

Spend a Little, Save A LOT

Why pay full price on a night out or Sunday Funday when you can save 50 percent? There are more than $250 in savings in the Fray Life Passport with BOGOs galore. You’ll find 2-for-1 flights of rare whiskey samples at RiRa, 2-for-1 margaritas at Nellie’s, and even a 2-for-1 brunch deal at Medium Rare, just to name a few deals. 

You can even get savings on savings. Passports are $30, but you can save 20 percent by entering promo code FRAYPASSPORT20. Each offer is valued at $15-$20, so the passport basically pays for itself after one or two uses! Make memories. Save money. 

More Than Just Drinks!

Most city passport-type programs only offer deals at bars for beverages. While we love a good cocktail or brew, the #FrayLife Passport includes deals and exclusive offers on food, drinks, activities and even gym memberships. Not just your typical happy hour. 

#FrayLife wants you to see more of DC than a bar’s liquor shelf. We want you to hook you up with a discount at Topgolf and Arlington Escape Room, or help you save on workouts at Balance Gym, F45, and Pacers Run Club. Eat, drink and explore DC. 

Get to Know the DMV, Not Just DC

A #FrayLife Passport gives you the perfect opportunity to try a cuisine you’ve never had, visit a neighborhood you’ve never been to, or give that new exercise fad a try. If for some reason it wasn’t what you expected, you can at least feel good about the fact that you didn’t have to pay full price! With deals in Maryland and Northern Virginia, in addition to DC, you can get out and explore everything the DMV has to offer.

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New deals each season! There will be a summer/fall Passport as well with new offers on things to eat, drink and do in the DMV so you’ll never get bored. 

Get Out of Your Comfort Zone

Shake up your routine and use this opportunity to try something new with your friends. It’s an ideal way to impress your special someone on your next date night, and is a fantastic way to explore the city if you happen to be new here…or even if you’ve lived here for years. 

Sold on it yet? Get your Fray Life Passport now! Over $250 in savings for just $30. Did we say $30? Not so fast! Enter the promo code FRAYPASSPORT20 for 20 percent off your order. 

All orders include free shipping. Passports offers will be valid until June 30. For more information, visit www.fraylifepassport.com.

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Anafre's pork shank // Photo: courtesy of Anafre

Anafre Offers Variety Of Mexican Seafood Flavor

If you are familiar with Mexican restaurants Mezcalero Cocina Mexicana and El Sol, you will know that the chef behind them, Alfredo Solis is not joking around with the food. (And if you are not familiar with those spots, you should get yourself there). 

Anafre, the coastal Mexican restaurant by the same group marks yet another labor of love. Opened this past November in Columbia Heights, Anafre showcases the diversity and depth of coastal Mexican cuisine, aiming to transport diners on a lovely culinary journey around Mexico.  

The name comes from the Spanish word for a “portable oven,” traditionally a clay pot that has an opening in the bottom where hot coals are placed that then heat up the dish atop the pot. In many Mexican countryside homes the anafre might be the only stove used. At the restaurant, this style of cooking is interpreted in an open kitchen where most items are prepared over charcoal.

Anafre’s vibe is chill and relaxed, the ingredients and food is always fresh and delicious, and the dishes are hearty and creative. It’s a perfect spot to let loose with friends for drinks or dinner. Best of all, everything is extremely reasonably priced, with entrees starting at $12. Oh, and did I mention the yummy cocktails?

Mole old fashioned // Photo: courtesy of Anafre

The drink list is made up of cocktails leaning heavy on Mexican whiskies, sotol, tequila and mezcal. The restaurant’s take on the Old Fashioned features Solis’ signature mole sauce – the drink is spicy, boozy and a must try. The Piña Colada Viaja a Mexico is a take on the classic cocktail that includes mezcal in addition to rum, coconut cream, pineapple juice and Tajín Mexican seasoningHowever, any of the cocktails by Heriberto Cassanero, previously of Reliable Tavern, Bar Lorea and Little Havana are enjoyable, and feature a range of concoctions in the price range of $10-$14. 

For appetizers, don’t miss the oysters al carbon con crab meat – oysters baked with jalapeno butter, topped with a generous heap of crab meat, a bit of cheese and served with bolillo bread – you’ll want it to soak up all that delicious butter. This dish was  lovely and decadent – and at $13 for six oysters, it’s an excellent deal. Other appetizers feature guacamole with lobster, seafood nachos with crab, and shrimp and pickled jalapenos. The queso fundido – prepared on top of the grill in a plant leaf with huitlacoche makes for a lovely presentation and tasty dish that’s just a bit different from other queso fundidos. 

The rest of the menu spans a variety of tacos, tortas and dishes. We very much enjoyed the chile relleno taco – tortillas topped with cheese stuffed chilis. The fried oyster taco was also delectable and comes with red cabbage, chipotle aioli and avocado. These tacos are not petite and as they are the “guisado” or stew style – they are substantial, homey and absolutely fantastic. At about $4, again I’m surprised at the incredible value for something so high quality. 

Another excellent dish is the 12-hour pork shank – it’s extremely tender and the meat falls off the bone, as one would expect from 12 hours of slow cooking done right, the marinade is thick and rich and spicy, and forms a delicious plate of food. There’s a reason this made it over from the Little Havana menu. It also makes excellent leftovers – and you likely will have leftovers as it’s another generously portioned dish. It’s almost ridiculous that this dish is only $14 – I would gladly pay double that. 

Other entrees are also solid and consistent – Anafre’s  abundance of seafood dishes honor Mexico’s many beach communities including Puerto Nuevo, also known as “Lobster Village,” where lobster is deep fried, split open and topped with butter. At Anafre, Puerto Nuevo-style lobster is accompanied by rice, beans, flour tortillas and topped with jalapeno butter.  The seafood enchilada is stuffed with shrimp and crab and topped with a red salsa – a hearty dish. 

To take full advantage of the charcoal grill, Solis also makes a Pollo A la Brasa – chicken cooked over wood charcoal making for a tender and tasty meat, and a slightly charred but crispy skin. The yuca fries here are fantastic, thinly sliced as opposed to the wedges typically found and crunchy all around. A whole chicken and three sides is just $22.

Dishes at Anafre are simple, elegant and fabulous, as the restaurant shows off the variety of Mexican seafood flavors – not something you find very often in Mexican restaurants. The food and drinks speak for themselves and I’d definitely come back here for a fun time with friends

Anafre: 3704 14th St. NW, DC; 202-758-2127; www.anafredc.com

Adam Greenberg // Photo: courtesy of Coconut Club

Coconut Club & Other Local Spots Explore Zero-Proof Drinks

Every year since my friends and I have turned 21, any given one of us may have opted to participate in Dry January: a month long act of abstinence from alcohol.  It’s traditionally thought of as a way to reset after higher-than-usual levels of reveling that, for many, kick off around Halloween and don’t relent until New Year’s, after which many of us lay in bed waiting for UberEats, waxing poetic on how nice it is to NOT be hungover and how we never want to feel like this again.

As a January birthday, I’ve bumped many a birthday dinner to early February to accommodate my loved ones who may be participating in dry January, or because I’ve pressed pause on drinking myself. But as whisperings of “I’m taking a break as soon as the holidays end” popped up in my social circles late last year, I realized many of us had already taken steps to cut back or take a dry month regardless of seasonal partying.

 There’s been a cultural shift around how we drink and why, from books like Sober Curious by Ruby Warrington exploring the realistic ins and outs of sobriety while maintaining a sparkling social life, or the rise of beverage manufacturers like Seedlip Spirits, who make “the world’s first distilled non-alcoholic spirits,” becoming a staple in booze-free drinks. Bartenders themselves increasingly opt for sobriety, deciding not to sacrifice their health or their craft in the process.

Reasons to not drink are vast and personal. Sobriety or just scaling back alcohol consumption surely exist en masse outside of the arbitrary post-holiday resets. But socializing over a drink still remains the often opted-for way to catch up with old friends, celebrate a milestone or unwind after you’ve had a week. In light of more and more people sobering up long term, we spoke to the acclaimed chef Adam Greenberg, who will be one of many local heavy hitters participating in Un-Plated’s Zero Proof event on February 24 at his Union Market spot Coconut Club

Greenberg walked us through the rise of the trend on a local and national level, removing the stigma around choosing not to drink (hint: take “mocktail” out of your lexicon), how Coconut Club is responding to the demand for well made, alcohol free libations and the pioneers of this movement who excite him and are paving the way for booze free options that are just as exciting as spirits the DC food and beverage world.

On Tap: The sobriety/sober curious movement has grown significantly over the years nationally. Why do you think that is?
Adam Greenberg: Outside the obvious reasons younger generations (thanks millennials) continue to be more health conscious. Staying sober whether full time, part of the week, dry January, etc., allows people to stay on target with their goals and have more balance. According to the World Health Organization the total amount of drinkers has decreased by about 5 percent since 2000.

OT: Why do you think this movement is picking up steam in DC?
AG: DC is one of the fittest cities in the U.S., so I think it’s a natural fit. Arlington ranked first and DC third in the annual survey conducted the American Fitness Index. This is just a personal observation, but the increasing legalization and usage of marijuana allows DC residents to experiment with things that might be a better fit for their lifestyle. Also, [I] see a shift in going out culture: there is less of a stigma to not drink while out.

OT: How often would you say customers ask for alcohol-free drinks beyond just soda or sparkling water?
AG: Multiple times per evening – I’d say one out of every five tables. Just like the vegetarian trend years ago, restaurants can’t just serve grilled veggies with balsamic. You have to have strong vegetarian options. Now customers are requesting/expecting an “NA Bev Menu.”

OT: How do you think restaurant and bar owners and staff can better cater to this growing lifestyle choice?
AG: Taking it seriously, first of all. Offering a plethora of options for sober guests is key and also making it both fun and high quality.

OT: Can you tell me what drew you to participating in Zero-Proof?
AG: Working with sober bartenders and seeing people sober on social media made our team realize that there is a huge group of people we could be better serving. We’ve partnered with Un-Plated to host a zero-proof cocktail event with some of the best bartenders in the city at Coconut Club on February 24. Participating bars include Compass Rose, Doi Moi, Beuchert’s Saloon, Espita Mezcaleria, Tiger Fork, Schillings Canning Company, Bourbon Steak, Columbia Room, Chaplin’s and Zeppelin. 15 percent of ticket sales will benefit Ben’s Friends, an organization aimed at creating a safe space for hospitality professionals to pursue and maintain sobriety in the number one industry that struggles with substance abuse.

OT: I know you’ve long offered the cracked coconut, which I’ve definitely ordered at happy hours when I’m taking a break from drinking, but do you have plans to incorporate more non alcoholic options to the menu?
AG: Yes! We are working with Chris our bar manager to develop more zero proof cocktails.

OT: How are you able to rework your cocktail menu to exclude alcohol? What stand ins take the place of booze in some of your drinks when one is requested?
AG: We’ve already designed zero-proof cocktails that are meant to be without alcohol. Our preference is to craft something intentionally that is delicious vs. changing the balance of a spirit based drink.

OT: Will the drink you’re making as part of Zero-Proof be available to order after the event?
AG: Yes we will keep [the Gin-Ger and Juice] on our menu!

OT: Can you tell me more about crafting the drink you’ll be featuring at the event?
AG: Gin-Ger and Juice [is] guava, lime, ginger, honey, mint and club soda. It’s like a tropical version of a spirit-free mojito, which people always love and enjoy when on beach time.

OT: What ingredients do you like to highlight in alcohol-free drinks?
AG: Fresh herbs and juices, house made syrups, and other high quality ingredients that we make. Example: Gin-ger and juice is an example of a zero proof cocktail we are serving right now.

OT: What do you think the future of the sober cocktail movement is in DC and the restaurant world as a whole?
AG: I think it’s becoming more of a staple in every restaurant and bar. Hopefully, it will be catered to more, less stigmatized. Also seeing more zero proof alcohol coming from some of the bigger suppliers.

OT: Are there any beverage directors or mixologists that are on your radar for great alcohol-free elixirs, or that you’re excited to work with during Zero-Proof and beyond?
AG: Allegory with Paul Gonzalez & Deke Dunne, [and for] low/no ABV [drinks,] Andy Bixby of Dram & Grain.

Zero-Proof will be held at Coconut Club on Monday, February 24 from 7-9 p.m. For a full list of participants, food and drink offerings and more, click here. 

Coconut Club: 540 Penn St. NE, DC; www.hellococonutclub.com

Sober in the City
Planning an outing but not planning to drink? Fear not: the bars below feature zero-proof options that are just as good and Instaworthy as a traditional cocktail.

Bresca
Buzzed-about Bresca has been a welcome addition to the dining scene on 14th Street and to our Instagram feeds since its opening in 2017. The Michelin-starred restaurant is frequently visited for both their food and incredible drink selections. A spot as well loved and innovative as Bresca wouldn’t be the same without equally creative alcohol-free options. Their “Boissons” menu features refreshing juice-based options that pair perfectly with their menu. And at $8 a pop, your wallet will thank you for staying sober. 1906 14th St. NW, DC; www.brescadc.com

Columbia Room
Derek Brown’s Drink Company empire had been at the forefront of innovation in the cocktail world both locally and nationally, so it’s no wonder his outpost Columbia Room in the cozy, creative Blagden Alley included no-proof cocktails long before the trend truly took off. As cutting edge cocktails are this bar’s signature, you can expect uncommon pairings like lime and allspice maple or bay leaf soda with citrus ash in these spirit free drinks. 124 Blagden Alley NW, DC; www.columbiaroomdc.com

Dos Mamis
Since its opening in 2019, this Petworth bar has been buzzed about nonstop. Believe the hype, especially when it comes to the self described “good vibes” spot’s emphasis on booze-free concoctions. Anna Bran-Leis and Carlie Steiner took great care to include a menu dubbed “Sobrio” as one of their regular offerings, which features three alcohol free cocktails made with the same care you’d expect from a craft drink made with the highest shelf liquors. 819 Upshur St. NW, DC; www.dosmamisdc.com

The Imperial
This highly anticipated, newly opened U Street Corridor destination also incorporated dry drinks into their regular cocktail menu. The beautiful, bright and airy spot by the team that brought you Jack Rose Dining Saloon is the perfect place to enjoy booze free bubbles (the rotating seasonal offering is infused with CO2 for a little something extra) and a bite at the raw bar without ruining your new year’s resolution or being tempted by alcohol. 2001 18th St. NW, DC; www.theimperialdc.com

Salt
For Virginians (or those crossing the river) looking for zero-proof drink options, Salt is the place to be. This brand-new Rosslyn spot, located in the JBG Central Place building, also incorporated spirit free options into their menu. Salt’s options include unexpected and exciting ingredients like egg whites paired with rosewater or salted cucumber with ginger. Dining companions who are drinking might even want to skip booze for the evening to give one of their enticing dry options a try. 1201 Wilson Blvd G113, Arlington, VA; www.saltrosslyn.com

Booze-Free Best Bets 
Stock your fridge or bar cart with these dry drinks that are zero booze but all deliciousness. 

Blue Ridge Bucha
Just because you’re off booze doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice lazy weekend afternoons spent at a brewery. Take the scenic drive to Waynesboro, VA to enjoy some of the region’s best kombucha, fresh from their taproom, or get your growler filled to take some home. They also have seasonal releases that rival the taste and excitement that comes with those of local breweries. 1809 E Main St. Waynesboro, VA; www.blueridgebucha.com

LaCroix LaCola
I’m picking this specific LaCroix flavor because it’s a dual purpose habit kicker: its cola flavors will make you forget you ever relied on Diet Coke or other Splenda-laden sodas for a cola fix, and its unique, bitey flavor is a great booze substitute to keep on hand when the craving for sugar, booze or both hits you. Available at most Whole Foods locations.

Mingle
If you’re craving something sweet, Mingle Sparkling Mocktails offer an elevated, spirit free sipping option with their lightly carbonated drinks flavored with natural botanicals. If you’re throwing a party and want to truly include friends and family who’ve chosen not to drink, or maybe you’re staying sober yourself, placing bottles of Mingle’s fun flavors on your bar cart are an excellent way to make those guests feel included in drinking fun, creative and sweet concoctions. My personal favorite is the blood orange elderflower flavor, whose gorgeous orange color looks great in a highball glass with a little extra sparkling water poured on top, garnished with a lime wedge. www.minglemocktails.com

Seedlip Spirits
At most of the aforementioned spots with alcohol free cocktails, you’ll find Seedlip present in lieu of a traditional clear spirit. Their herbal flavors – think those that come to mind with the words “spice,” “grove” and “garden” – pair beautifully with a simple tonic or sparkling water, and their website provides plenty of inspiration for dry cocktails. Grab a few of their bottles for your bar cart and let the sober mixologist in you run wild. www.seedlipdrinks.com

Sodastream
Similar to my LaCroix mention, this is a very utilitarian approach to keeping your house booze free, and comes with the added benefit of not even having to purchase a case of sparkling waters or other booze free drinks. Sodastream lets you carbonate your water at home, from a light bubble to a Topo Chico level, throat burning fizz (the only way to do it, in my humble opinion). Plus you’ll generate less waste from bottles and cans, you can add fun flavors to your bubbles for maximum experimentation, and many retailers offer CO2 canister exchanges that reduce the price and footprint of owning one of these nifty devices. www.sodastream.com

New Year’s Eve at Grand Central DC

Photos: LAFlicks Photography

Photo by: In His Eye Photography (www.inhiseye.com)

New Year’s Eve at Kelly’s Irish Times

Kelly’s Irish Times celebrated the new year with an open bar, including a special Jameson bar, appetizers, live music and more. Photos: Naku Mayo

Dirty Habit // Photo: Drew Hairston

8 Warming Winter Cocktails

‘Tis the season for jolly merriment and drinking to stay warm – because nothing provides warmer layers than rounds of spiked toddies and hot chocolate. Check out these eight cocktails that will keep you nice and toasty for whatever Polar Vortex, Snowpocalypse or Bomb Cyclone rolls into DC this winter. 

Astoria DC

1521 17th St. NW, DC
Known for serving up heat in the form of Sichuan-style dishes, the sultry Art Deco bar offers more ways than one for patrons to warm up. From chili wontons to numbingly spicy water boiled beef (a staff favorite), the word “flammable” is taken to new levels. Eat your heat or pony up to the bar and order the seasonal Whispers of Winter. With rye whiskey, ruby port, oloroso sherry and brown sugar, Astoria’s spin on the Hot Toddy spotlights fortified wines. 

Blue Duck Tavern

1201 24th St. NW, DC
Cozy up at the Park Hyatt’s outdoor garden terrace suited up for the winter months with fire pits, soft blankets and hot beverages. The Fire Garden at Blue Duck Tavern is armed for the colder weather with a bevy of warming drinks including their take on the traditional Toddy. The Forbidden Forest with local Copper Fox rye whiskey (infused with Lapsang souchong tea), saffron honey, Meyer lemon juice is capped with black truffle foam and cracked pink peppercorns. 

Conrad DC

950 New York Ave. NW, DC
Head to the City Center destination for a luxe Apres ski experience featuring themed decor, staff decked out in Moncler gear, dishes fitting for a day on the slopes, fire pits (with blankets at the ready) and warm cocktails including a deliciously rich hot chocolate spiked with your choice of Illegal Mezcal or Patron XO. 

Dirty Habit

555 8th St NW, DC
An ideal pit stop after a day of ice skating at the Sculpture Garden or walking around the National Mall, get toasty with a seasonal hot gin punch made with Monkey 47 Schwarzvald Gin, Cardamom, Bouquet Garni and Blood Orange. The outdoor patio is outfitted with fire pits and blanket throws to add an extra layer of warmth.

Hook Hall

3400 Georgia Ave. NW, DC
The Park View tavern is channeling all of the ski chalet vibes this winter. Cozy sectional seating, heated areas, and plenty of plush blankets and pillows add to the ski lodge feel. Sip on a traditional Gluhwein while noshing on Bavarian bites such as pretzels served with spicy mustard. 

Miracle on 7th Street

1843 7th St. NW, DC
The infamous pop-up bar has returned for another season, armed with a collection of festive cocktails. This year’s decor pays homage to baseball hometown heroes, the Nationals, with oversized bats and balls, and Baby Shark paraphernalia. Guests looking to warm up from their time spent outdoors waiting in line to gain entry should opt for A Christmas Prince and Chill made with Maker’s Mark bourbon, red wine hot chocolate and vanilla marshmallow.

Ritz-Carlton Georgetown

3100 South St. NW, DC
In honor of the holidays, the Living Room at the Georgetown Ritz will be unveiling a new cocktail each day of December leading to Christmas. The merry libations include everything from cinnamon-infused gin to boozy takes on eggnog. If you’re looking for seasonal sippers post-holiday, order the warming Winter Spice with whiskey, cognac, spiced syrup, lemon juice and hot apple cider, which will be available throughout the season.

Stable

1324 H St. NE, DC
The Alpine-themed restaurant is known for serving up Swiss staples like traditional cheese fondue, raclette and spaetzle but come wintertime, guests can imbibe seasonal creations filled with schnaps and spices. Looking for something over the top? Opt for the Feuerzange with mulled wine flambéed, Goldschläger and cinnamon liquor.  

Year of Beer at Dudley’s Sport & Ale

Dudley’s Sport & Ale in Shirlington hosted our winter beer sampling on Wednesday, December 11. Guests sampled four different breweries, tasting two craft brews from each spot while enjoying complimentary appetizers. Photos: Devin Overbey

Halibut Cheek // Photos: Lanna Nguyen

Southeast Asian Cuisine Meets Southeast DC At Phing Tham

After quietly opening in late fall, Chef Andrew LaPorta’s Pesce Too pop up restaurant has transformed into a permanent space for his love letter to Southeast Asian cooking: Phing Tham.   

Instead of focusing on a specific country for his latest endeavor, the cozy second floor restaurant (located in Bullfrog Bagels’ upper level) celebrates the entire region and at its best with fresh ingredients and simple preparation.

Drawing from his time spent living and working in Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia and other countries in Southeast Asia, the dinner menu is split into two main sections reflective of the concept’s name: Phing and Tham. The former is a nod to traditional cooking methods using a charcoal grill, and features a range of seafood and other proteins prepared accordingly. The latter refers to the sounds made from salads as they’re prepared with a mortar and pestle. 

Menu highlights include halibut cheek with pigeon pepper and garlic; glazed spare Ribs made with black bean, a chili rub and an Instagram-worthy Giant Prawn with garlic and shrimp oil. Grilled octopus is pulled from one of Pesce’s list of fan favorites, but prepared with a honey chili glaze instead of the polenta and cherry tomatoes that it’s currently served with at the Dupont Circle seafood destination. 

Steamed clams with Chinese sausage

Guests can pair their proteins with flavorful, punchy salads and vegetables including mango mixed with brown sugar and chili; green papaya with tomatoes and cilantro; and long beans prepared with chili, garlic and tomatoes. The à la carte options of these smaller plates allow guests to pick and choose a variety of dishes to taste their way through the menu.

The bottom third of the menu features a shortlist of larger, shareable selections. Here, LaPorta has added a rotating curry of the week – the base of all curries are made by his wife, who is from Laos. Expect to find staples like mee ka tee with pork, egg, shredded cabbage, long beans and bean sprouts over rice noodles on the revolving list of curries (plans for a fish head green curry are in the works). Whole grilled fish served with bones in tact and a platter of lettuce, herbs and accoutrements to make lettuce wraps is a hands-on dining experience. Rounding out the Table Plates is a large format dish of steamed clams with Chinese sausage in a ginger broth served with sticky rice. LaPorta makes the Chinese sausage himself and plans to add more varieties down the road. 

A rainbow of house-made sauces neatly arranged on a tray accompany all dishes – the greens, yellows and reds of chilies, fish sauce and soy act as spice augmenters. Although most dishes LaPorta sends out of the kitchen are “unapologetically spicy,” guests can dial up the heat level with everything from Sambal Olek to a condiment simply named “Green Sauce,” which combines layers of flavors from roasted green chili, Datu Puti, and soy. These spicy sidekicks are a familiar sight and nostalgic in a sense. One in particular has been dubbed by LaPorta as “SE Asian Mother Sauce” and is a staple in many Asian households – a combination of fish sauce, garlic and red chili. 

To help balance the heat from the menu, bar director Sarah White has devised a cocktail list to complement LaPorta’s dishes while cooling off diners. The Smooth Operator with gin, cucumber, ginger, aloe, lemon and bubbles is one such libation. A cocktail titled Southeast x Southeast mixes whiskey, coconut, kaffir lime, lemongrass and bitters to create an almost broth-like beverage and doubles as a dessert drink. A cheeky menu addition, The OG Truly, pokes fun at the recent millennial trend – and is in essence, a vodka cranberry.

Southeast x Southeast

Part of LaPorta’s mission with Phing Tham is to showcase traditional Southeast Asian cooking styles, incorporating spice but not for the sake of spice by presenting quality ingredients and letting them speak for themselves. He’s making dishes authentically flavorful without overthinking and adding too much, something he’s noticed in other restaurants of similar fare around DC. His goal is to remain true to the essence of what makes this type of cuisine shine: simplicity. 

Phing Tham is open for dinner Wednesday through Sunday at 5:30 p.m. Bar opens at 4:30 p.m. For more information or to make a reservation, visit here.

Phing Tham: 317 7th St. SE, DC; 240-855-8178; www.pescetoo.com

 

Astro Lab Alfie American Stout, Seasonal Barrel Aged Sagamore Spirit and the Figure of Speech at Round House Theatre's Fourth Wall Bar and Cafe // Photo: Kaley Etzkorn

Round House Theatre’s Fourth Wall Bar and Cafe Creates Community Among Theatergoers

I have a typical procedure when going to a theater. I like to get there early but not too early, I want the doors to the seats to already be open. Then, I pick up my ticket and take my seat. I feel this is pretty standard for most theatergoers. Except for when seeing a show a Round House Theatre.

When going to see their production of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, I thought I arrived too early because no one had taken their seats yet. Instead, people gathered around the bar or were sitting at tables having actual conversations. The kinds of conversation between strangers that happened before people went on their phones and avoided eye contact.

This was Round House’s intention. Artistic director Ryan Rilette says the theater wanted to be a place for audience members to congregate and talk about performances while also being able to enjoy a drink or meal.

Spread Trio // Red Pepper Hummus, Spicy Whipped Ricotta, Spinach & Artichoke Dip // $9 // Photo: Kaley Etzkorn

“So much of what Round House does is about big C community, about trying to build community through our work. With every show we do, we’re reaching out to different groups trying to figure out what is the right kind of audience for this show? How do we build the community around the show?” Rilette asks.

“The idea of using our space to build community, we already have a space that a lot of people will rent, but how do we find a way to increase dialogue among audience members to make it a more comfortable experience and to really create more of a sense of community? This bar and cafe was the idea.”

Butter Chicken and Rice // Tandoori Chicken in Mild Tomato Curry // $10 // Photo: Kaley Etzkorn

I decided to order one of the specialty drinks for this production, a Figure of Speech
made of Linganore mead, Pimm’s No. 1 Cup and lemon juice. While I expected to be a wallflower, two ladies who were also sampling the cafe menu quickly join me. We chatted about our excitement and knowledge of the show. I had never had such an enjoyable pre-show experience.

After the show, the actors (including an adorable golden retriever puppy) came out and greeted audience members. While it was odd hearing them without the show’s required British accents, it was an intimate experience getting to revel with the cast.

“I feel like we as a society are so disconnected from each other,” Rilette says. “Our virtual connect through social media, email, phones and everything is our primary connection. It used to be that the church fulfilled this function for a lot of people as a place to gather, turn everything off and be able to communicate, but less and less people go to church. I feel like arts are a deep connection that asks big questions and is a chance to meet like-minded people and converse with them about what you just saw. To me, when that all clicks together, there is nothing better.”

Harvest Bowl // Wild Mushrooms, Sweet Potatoes, Roasted Cauliflower, Butternut Squash, Super Greens, Truffle Vinaigrette // $13 // Photo: Kaley Etzkorn

Rilette imagined a space that was inviting and created community, but it also needed to have really good food. Food and beverage manager Hudson Tang decided to take the Fourth Wall Bar & Cafe to the next level by including themed items as well as using all local purveyors.

“It can be hard to come up with ideas for a themed menu,” Tang says. “Since [The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime] takes place in England, it was a bit easier.”

The British-themed menu includes dishes inspired by Indian cuisines such as Butter Chicken and Aloo Gobi as well as traditional English treats like breakfast quiche, steak and stout pie and Beef Wellington. In addition to their Figure of Speech cocktail, they also have Toby consisting of Tenth Ward Autumn Liqueur, Tenth Ward Caraway Rye, Paromi Cinnamon Chai and vanilla syrup. For a non-alcoholic option, the strawberry float is a delicious combination of coconut milk, strawberry syrup and ginger beer.

Spicy Veggie Pie // $8 // Photo: Kaley Etzkorn

The menu rotates with each show but what remains is the bar and cafe’s commitment to supporting local vendors. Linganore Wines of Mt. Airy, MD, Lotus Grill & Bar of Bethesda, MD and Moorenko’s Ice Cream of Silver Spring, MD are a few of many local purveyors to be featured.

“It can be a challenge finding vendors with good food that holds, but it’s important that everything is sourced locally and thematic,” Tang says.

Astro Lab Alfie American Stout, Seasonal Barrel Aged Sagamore Spirit, and the Figure of Speech // $8, $13, $11 // Photo: Kaley Etzkorn

The Fourth Wall Bar & Cafe opens one hour prior to curtain. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time runs until December 22. For tickets or more information visit here.

Round House Theatre: 4545 East-West Hwy. Bethesda, MD; 240-644-1100; www.roundhousetheatre.org