Photo: Courtesy of Dirty Habit
Photo: Courtesy of Dirty Habit

Inside RAMW’s Winter Restaurant Week 2019

In light of the recent government shutdown, we could all use the hit of bliss that comes from sitting back after a glorious meal. Good thing winter is coming – Winter Restaurant Week, that is. The Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington (RAMW) is the driving force behind this foodie-focused week from January 14-20, with hearty, three-course meal options offered for reasonable prices at some of the area’s best restaurants. All 250-plus participants are offering lunch or brunch for $22 and dinner for $35.

If a restaurant has been perched atop your “someday” list because of the cost, now’s the time to cross it off. Rasika, Dirty Habit, Bresca, Nobu and Centrolina are among the noteworthy spots with can’t-miss deals. We got a sneak peek of some tasty dishes that will be served by this year’s participating restaurants, and after much judicious eating in the name of research, we’ve narrowed down a few of the best hits from the tour.

Feel like tearing into a pizza with friends and family?

Stroll through Capitol Riverfront to All-Purpose Pizzeria where broccoli and cheddar arancini – decorated with freshly grated pecorino and nestled on a swoosh of feta ranch – awaits like an old friend who got a stellar makeover. Be prepared to make some difficult choices, though. The pizzas will have you reaching into the depths of your soul to figure out which one is best for you. Ultimately, you can’t go wrong with any of them. Our personal favorites include the Buona (a next-level take on the beloved pepperoni pizza with a drizzle of Calabrian chili honey) and the Sedgewick (whipped ricotta, mozzarella, taleggio, parmesan, truffle honey and chives). One bite and you’ll forever be topping all your pizzas with honey. 79 Potomac Ave. SE, DC; www.allpurposedc.com

Wishing you could take a trip but just can’t make it work right now?

You and me both. Another Capitol Riverfront gem, Due South, will make you feel like you’re dining in NOLA. The gruyère and chive grit fries with creole tomato dipping sauce are particularly addictive – don’t say I didn’t warn you. 301 Water St. SE, DC; www.duesouthdc.com

Feeling dark and mysterious?

Put on your best film noir-inspired outfit and cozy up to the stunning atrium bar at Dirty Habit. The Penn Quarter spot’s stellar cocktail list includes gems like Rice and Roses (el jimador tequila or vida mezcal, chamomile-honey, lime, CO2) and a Restaurant Week dinner menu featuring not three but four courses including a must-have mushroom soup and grilled salmon. More of a brunch person? Dirty Habit is releasing their first-ever brunch menu in honor of Restaurant Week. While the three-course for $22 deal ends on January 20, Dirty Habit’s brunch will remain available seven days a week. We highly recommend the vegetarian burger, which is a big deal since those are hard to get right let alone rave about. 555 8th St. NW, DC; www.dirtyhabitdc.com

Learn more about all of RAMW’s Winter Restaurant Week 2019 here, and enjoy deals around the city from Monday, January 14 to Sunday, January 20.

Photo: Scott Suchman
Photo: Scott Suchman

Siren Mixes Shrubs and Seafood

The evening began ascending into a regal, underwater grotto where I wanted to reach out and touch the deep, captivating shades of blues and greens, perfectly capturing the depths of the ocean in the moonlight. Brass trim sparkled, bathed in a low golden hue emanating from the ceiling. Smooth jazz beckoned me deeper into the room. The whole effect was seductive, yet soothing. I now understand the name, Siren, as the restaurant’s atmosphere mimics the effects of a siren’s song.

Michelin-starred Siren by Robert Wiedmaier – located on the ground floor of The Darcy hotel near Logan Circle – is dedicated to seafood. The menu is constantly inspired by daily catches and its strong agricultural partnerships. However, the restaurant does more for their partners than just utilize their products; it celebrates them with FarmStead Evening dinners. This series spotlights the relationships Siren has with other regional businesses, and December 12, Siren turned the spotlight on Element Shrub: a family-run agribusiness that produces “herbal elixirs” that can be drunk on their own or incorporated into food and beverages.

The word shrub comes from the Arabic word “sharāb,” which means to drink. Shrubs are age-old beverages made from using vinegar to preserve fruits, herbs and spices. Element Shrub strictly uses organic apple cider vinegar containing raw enzymes and gut-friendly bacteria known as “the mother” as a base. With this as the foundation, a variety of fruits, herbs and spices are added for a diverse range of products.

Siren Chef Brian McBride worked with Element Shrub Founder Charlie Berkinshaw to create a five-course meal with pairings highlighting nine shrubs: blood orange saffron, honeydew jalapeno, lemon mint, cranberry hibiscus, grapefruit vanilla, pineapple turmeric, blueberry rosemary, chair pear and cranberry hibiscus. Attendees were seated in Siren’s elegant private dining space, which feels like part of the main restaurant but is secluded enough for guests to enjoy dinner with a different element of presentation and raucous conversation.

Much to my delight, we were greeted with a glass of champagne, providing a sensation only truly good champagne can. No sooner than when I placed my flute on the table, my hand held a glass once more with the welcome “Shrub Down” cocktail – a concoction of blood orange saffron soda shrub with citric honey syrup and orange bitters. Every sip was robust, a marriage of all its ingredients washing across every part of my taste buds.

However, this cocktail was nothing compared to the amuse-bouche. The dish, a salty Gigamoto oyster topped with a brilliant honeydew jalapeno shrub gelée, prompted diners at my table to perform an impromptu rock-paper-scissors match for who could eat the coveted last oyster. Unfortunately, it wasn’t me; damn the scissors.

As I was getting over my angst at not having a second oyster, a delicate bowl of bay scallops with lemon mint and spruce was set. Accompanied by “Shrubbles,” a cocktail with cranberry hibiscus shrub and sparkling wine, the scallops were the true star of the course. Perfectly paced, a bowl of peekytoe crab under a sabayon sauce of grapefruit vanilla shrub soon followed. The dish proved whimsical, unusual and perfectly pleasant.

The crescendo of the meal was not a flamboyant whole-roasted fish, but a Rohan duck with blueberry rosemary shrub, Brussels sprout leaves, black trumpet, black onion soubise and master stock brittle. For this course, I have only two things to say: first, anything that resembles spittle should firmly be left off the plate; the reign of foams and airs needs to be over. Second, the concept of stock brittle was excellent, but its execution left me feeling like a three-year-old panicked about her teeth never unsticking after biting off too much caramel candy.

The crowning jewel of the evening was the caramel pear compote made with a crispy crepe, chai pear shrub apricot sauce, toasted rice ice cream and hazelnuts. Coming from someone who is not a dessert person, this dish deserved a standing ovation. Delightfully made to look like egg rolls, every bite was crispy on the outside with a warm, soft middle full of perfectly textured sweet fruits that were heightened once paired with toasted rice ice cream.

For more information about Siren and their FarmStead Evening series, visit here. For information about Elemental Shrub, visit here.

The Darcy: 1515 Rhode Island Ave. NW, DC; 202-521-7171; www.sirenbyrw.com

YearOfBeer_AuldShebeen_121318 (57)

December Year of Beer Sampling at The Auld Shebeen

The Auld Shebeen in Fairfax hosted the last Year of Beer sampling of the year featuring complimentary appetizers, a gift card raffle, beer samples from five breweries and live music. Each brewery served two brews from their portfolio, including winter beers.

Rosslyn_120618_Overbey (29)

Rosslyn Holiday Cheer

Rosslyn hosted its annual holiday event on Central Place Plaza with live music from Jarreau Williams, food from Timber Pizza Co., sips from Belle Isle Moonshine, sweet treats and more. Photos: Devin Overbey

Photo: Courtesy of StarChefs
Photo: Courtesy of StarChefs

StarChefs Honors Rising Stars in DC’s Culinary World

Amidst the sticky heat in June of this year, a buzz was rising from restaurants around the District. StarChefs, a platform and publication for restaurant industry professionals, was searching for “the future of American cuisine” through their Rising Stars initiative – including a stop in the nation’s capital to review the talent.

In preparation for StarChefs’ visit, prominent chefs around the city poured over their menus, determining what to put on display. One of those chefs was Drew Adams of Bourbon Steak, whose approach was simple: “Let’s have fun with it.”

Adams will be honored during the Rising Stars Awards ceremony and tasting gala at Union Market next Tuesday, December 11. Himitsu’s Kevin Tien and Kith and Kin’s Kwame Onwuachi are among the 24 local chefs accepting awards. Rising Stars is a prominent mention in the world of chefs that helps to launch and strengthen careers, highlighting those with “strong, compelling culinary philosophies and are committed to fostering a culinary community by sharing their knowledge with fellow professionals.”

Those who are familiar with Adams’ work know of his extensive experience in fine dining, as well as his love for whimsy. This was captured perfectly on a plate when he presented a scallop-on-scallop crudo dish with scallop cream made from abductor muscles and scraps. The dish was topped with chive oil, caviar and a squid ink tuile for a touch of salinity. A little-known fact about Adams is his love of foraging.

“I’m obsessed with it,” he says. “It’s nice to get out of the city and outside. I started off with ramps about five or six years ago, and then just went down the rabbit hole.”

For StarChefs, Adams plated up a tartine of chargrilled sourdough with ricotta, asparagus, peas, fiddlehead ferns, Edwards ham and pickled green tomatoes – a dish that rotates seasonally on Bourbon Steak’s menu. No prominent culinary philosophy is complete without a nod to nostalgia. For Adams, it’s a simple dish that does the trick.

“My family were not cooks,” he laughs. “My grandmother would marinate steak with Wish-Bone dressing and then throw it in the broiler and, somehow, I loved that fatty steak with the acid coming through.”

Adams elevates this fond childhood memory by marinating pork with balsamic and local maple syrup, and then caramelizing it on the grill. The pork is topped with pickled mustard seeds and charred mustard greens, and served with white balsamic and beet puree.

“The fine dining part is great, but when you have a wholesome meal with a nicely composed entrée, it makes you smile. And that’s awesome for me.”

Adams saved the best for last and, luckily for Rising Star Award attendees, his olive-fed wagyu beef is on Tuesday’s menu.

“We made and clarified miso with barley and dashi,” Adams says. “We put the seared olive-fed wagyu on top of a bed of raw mushrooms with a little chive oil on top and covered them in honey truffles.”

The truffles have a sweet yet Szechuan-like taste, making your mouth tingle. The broth will be poured tableside.

“It’s over the top,” Adams admits, chuckling.

Tickets to Tuesday’s event are available here. Awards ceremony at 6:30 p.m., gala from 7-9:30 p.m. Learn more about StarChefs’ Rising Star initiative here.

Dock5 at Union Market: 1309 5th St. NE, DC; www.unionmarketdc.com

Wharf_BoatParade_120218_Gervasi (99)

The District’s Holiday Boat Parade 2018 at The Wharf

The Wharf celebrated the start of the holiday season with the annual Holiday Boat Parade, featuring a huge lineup of beautifully decorated boats, music by GoGo Gadjet, a s’mores firepit, the lighted Christmas Tree, winter drinks at the Waterfront Wine & Beer Garden, pictures with Santa, and a show-stopping fireworks show. Photos: John Gervasi PhotoArts LLC

Photo: Courtesy of Lukas B. Smith
Photo: Courtesy of Lukas B. Smith

Behind the Bar: Left Door, Destination Wedding and Prequel

Don’t let the cold keep you inside this winter. With a whole host of festive drinks throughout the District, there are plenty of reasons to bundle up, venture out, and indulge in the sweet, the spicy and the seasonal this winter. We rounded up three of our favorite winter-ready drinks to add to your list of spots to enjoy over your holiday break.


 

Photo: M.K. Koszycki

Photo: M.K. Koszycki

Left Door
Mick Perrigo, Owner

On Tap: What are your winter-centric drinks for this year?
Mick Perrigo: What I’m making now is the Cocoa Nog Fizz, and we do this drink every year. It’s a refreshing but fattening eggnog drink. We’re doing it a little differently this year than in the past. Last year, we did it just with Irish whiskey and brandy.

OT: What other items on your menu tend to do well during the holidays?
MP: We’re going to have a bubbly drink called Krampus Got A Brand New Bag with tequila, lime, agave, allspice dram, angostura bitters and a sparkling rose.

OT: What’s your favorite drink on the menu and why?
MP: I’d say it’s probably the Where the Buffalo Roam. It was a drink I had been working on for a while. It’s delicious, dry and altogether a refreshing cocktail.

OT: What sets Left Door apart from other bars in the area?
MP: We stay true to exactly what we said we would do when we opened up: we focus on hospitality and on the cocktails. I don’t feel like we’ve strayed from that, and I think that’s the reason people keep coming back here.

 

Photo: M.K. Koszycki

Photo: M.K. Koszycki

Cocoa Nog Fizz
Catoctin Creek rye
Brandy
Sherry
Egg white
Heavy cream
Vanilla
Cane
Cocoa powder
Nutmeg
House-made cinnamon tincture

Left Door: 1345 S St. NW, DC; www.dcleftdoor.com


Photo: Courtesy of Lukas B. Smith

Photo: Courtesy of Lukas B. Smith

Destination Wedding
Lukas B. Smith, Owner

On Tap: What winter drinks are you featuring this year? 
Lukas B. Smith: We like to keep our menu rolling, so guests can expect to see a lot of seasonality. Our first drink of fall is the Tee & T. It features Teeling Irish whiskey and a spiced pineapple tonic from a new recipe of mine. The tonic is made with molasses, allspice, cinnamon, turmeric, cayenne and ginger to ride along with pineapple husk, lemon stock and cinchona. The spices and molasses bring around autumnal feels but the tonic stays bright and poppy.

OT: Can you tell me more about the menu and concept in general?
LBS: Our goal was to make a bar that had good, balanced drinks, fair pricing and extremely fast and friendly service. We run draft cocktails with both CO2 and N2, and a frozen machine to keep things moving. As far as concept goes, I feel that weddings are the best examples of get-togethers. People are at weddings not so much to dine, drink or dance but to have an all around good time, all the while celebrating togetherness, family, friendship, traditions and new beginnings. They’re great.

OT: What sets Destination Wedding apart from other DC bars?
LBS: Over 90 percent of what we serve is made by Redbeard at Union Kitchen, meaning we’re more than 90 percent waste-free. We use dehydrated garnishes, clarify juices for enhanced stability, and repurpose the hulls from citrus and pineapple juicing to make our syrups and, occasionally, our bittering agents.

Photo: Courtesy of Lukas B. Smith

Photo: Courtesy of Lukas B. Smith

Tee & T
Teeling Irish whiskey
Spiced pineapple tonic
Pineapple husk
Lemon stock
Cinchona

Destination Wedding: 1800 14th St. NW, DC; www.fb.com/destinationweddingdc


Photo: M.K. Koszycki

Photo: M.K. Koszycki

Prequel
Rob McGill, Beverage Director
Rob Long, Head Bartender

On Tap: Tell us a bit more about the Left-handed Golf Clubs, your pick for a great seasonal drink.
Rob Long: I first infused plums and nutmeg with brandy about two years ago, and added the allspice dram to get more seasonal winter notes. It worked but it wasn’t quite right. Then Rob was messing around with the pear and red wine syrup, which added a depth and body. The pear, which we poach in the syrup, is delicious. It’s an old fashioned style drink, it’s pretty spirit-forward and not too sweet.

OT: What other drinks from your expansive cocktail menu would you say are holiday flavor-forward?
Rob McGill: We change things up pretty much weekly, especially if we have a new spirit coming in. We have been doing the Meowzabub which has a great spice to it, and people seem to really enjoy spicier drinks.

OT: If you had to pick a favorite, what would it be and why?
RL: I’m really proud of the Warm & Fuzzy. It uses cachaca, which is an underused spirit, and a little bit of citrus, cinnamon syrup and Benedictine for an herbal note. It’s on the sweeter side but it screams Christmas – it’s like if cinnamon gave you a hug.
RM: I’m torn between the Freeman Morgan and the Oh Bother. The Oh Bother was changed up for the fall so it wasn’t as floral and we added rosemary, but it’s really straightforward and definitely a bestselling drink that we get great feedback on.

Photo: M.K. Koszycki

Photo: M.K. Koszycki

Left-handed Golf Clubs
Plum & nutmeg-infused Maison Rouge VSOP
Red wine & spiced pear syrup
Allspice dram
Cherry bark vanilla bitters

Prequel: 919 19th St. NW, DC; www.prequelrestaurant.com

Glasses with different sorts of craft beer, wooden barrel and barley. Retro stylization
Glasses with different sorts of craft beer, wooden barrel and barley. Retro stylization

What’s On Tap: December 2018

Greetings, beer nerds! As you likely know, there are a number of fantastic spots in the DMV where you can grab a pint, and their menus are always evolving and adapting to your tastes. If you’d rather avoid the guessing game, check out what’s coming up at a few of these fine establishments.

MONDAY, DECEMBER 3

Profs & Pints: Nightmares Before Christmas
Profs and Pints presents: “Nightmares Before Christmas,” a discussion of Krampus and other dark holiday lore, with William Egginton, professor of humanities and director of the Alexander Grass Humanities Institute at Johns Hopkins University. The star of the talk will be Krampus, the hairy, horned, demon who accompanies Saint Nicholas in visiting homes in Germany, Austria and other Central European nations every December 6. 6-9 p.m. $12-$15. The Bier Baron Tavern: 1523 22nd St. NW, DC; www.bierbarondc.com

WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 5

Lost Rhino Beer Release
This First Wednesday release is the last of 2018 and Lost Rhino is ending on a high note with Pynk Skyes at Night – Sour Blonde Hybiscus. The brewery will also have two holiday events throughout the day including Christmas tree decorating and cookie decorating. Guests will be able to use their creativity to help dress both. Lost Rhino Brewing Co: 21730 Red Rum Dr. #142, Ashburn, VA; www.lostrhino.com

Holiday Beer Tasting
Join Mad Fox Brewing for a festive holiday sit-down beer tasting where you can meet the brewers and brewery/brewpub owners from across the region and taste their wonderful winter selections. Cost is $55 per person with the evening hosted by Bob Tupper. Each brewer/owner will discuss their beer and answer any questions that you have. Don’t miss the rare opportunity to meet and talk to key individuals in the brewing industry. 7-10:30 p.m. $55. Mad Fox Brewing Company: 444 West Broad St. Falls Church, VA; www.madfoxbrewing.com

THURSDAY, DECEMBER 6

Rocket Frog Beer Showcase
Join Rocket Frog and DCBeer.com at Meridian Pint for the release of Snark Infested Waters, a schwarzbier and the first beer the local beer news and events website has collaborated on its nearly 10-year history. Sterling, Virginia’s Rocket Frog opened in May and has already, impressively, picked up a Great American Beer Festival Medal. Meridian Pint, the Columbia Heights restaurant and bar notable for discovering and promoting up-and-coming DC area breweries, will also showcase eight other beers from Rocket Frog. 5-9 p.m. Free to attend. Meridian Pint: 3400 11th St. NW, DC; www.meridianpint.com

FRIDAY, DECEMBER 7

Barrel-Aged Flight Night
Join this winter at Denizens Brewing Co. as they begin a series of special tastings of their barrel-aged beers. Each night they’ll feature special flights of beer from their reserves to showcase the flavor profiles and complexities that barrel-aging can offer. A member of the brewing team will be on hand to answer questions and lead discussion about these rare offerings. Flights are priced individually and there is no ticket or cover charge for this event. 6-9 p.m. Free to attend. Denizens Brewing Co.: 1115 East West Hwy. Silver Spring, MD; www.denizensbrewingco.com

SATURDAY, DECEMBER 8

Ugly Sweater Party
It’s fun being tacky…jump into your Mom’s jumper and come dance your holiday stress off. Marshalls and TJ Maxx gift cards awarded for top three ugliest outfits. Holiday onesies also welcome at the year-round climate controlled beer garden.  7 p.m. – 2 a.m. Free to attend. Wunder Garten: 1101 First St. NE, DC; www.wundergartendc.com

SUNDAY, DECEMBER 9

7th Annual Holiday Party
For the 7th year in a row, 3 Stars Brewing is hosting their massive Holiday Extravaganza at the brewery. As always, they will have a ton of rare and limited releases on draft, specialty can offerings, guest taps and a few surprises. Also joining the festivities will be food trucks, DJs, live performances, face painting, photo booth, games and more. 1-6 p.m. Tickets $10. 3 Stars Brewing Company: 6400 Chillum Pl. NW, DC; www.3starsbrewing.com

Santa Comes to Atlas Brew Works
Santa is heading down from the North Pole and stopping in the Atlas Tap Room. Whether naughty or nice, bring the family (including well-behaved dogs) for a fun day of pictures on Santa’s lap and delicious solar powered craft beer of course. Pictures are gratis (please bring your own camera) but Santa is accepting donations to go towards his fundraising efforts for the Saint Baldrick’s Foundation. 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Free to attend. Atlas Brew Works: 2502 West Virginia Ave. NE, DC; www.atlasbrewworks.com

THURSDAY, DECEMBER 13

Cellar Series: Maker’s Mark Barrel Aged Tidings
Join as Port City Brewing rolls out their second barrel aged collaboration with their good friends over at Rebellion in DC. Last time they used Rebellion’s barrel for a delicious hopped up Double Wit, and this time around they used the barrel from Rebellion’s Maker’s Mark Private Select and aged their winter seasonal, Tidings Ale. 5-11 p.m. Free to attend. Rebellion DC: 1836 18th St. NW, DC; www.portcitybrewing.com

Rustico Ballston Toys for Tots
Rustico Ballston will host the 3rd Annual Toys for Tots Holiday Party, featuring the United States Marine Corp. Since no party is complete without food and drink, you can expect no less than 20 hard-to-find winter ales on draft, alongside a special holiday-themed menu from the kitchen. For the third straight year, this event will serve as an official Toys for Tots charity drive. 5-11 p.m. Free to attend. Rustico Ballston: 4075 Wilson Blvd. Arlington, VA; www.rusticorestaurant.com

SATURDAY, DECEMBER 15

DC’s 8th Annual Snow Day Bar Crawl
As the days get colder and the nights get longer, we all could use a day off. Wouldn’t it be nice to re-live the feeling of getting a surprise day off from school due to that lovely wintry mix? This event is giving you an adult snow day. Whether or not there’s actual snow, there will be drinks, festive music and a fun crowd to help you just let it go. Tickets get you a color-changing snow day cup, a souvenir koozie, drink specials and more. 3-10 p.m. Tickets $30-$40. Registration at Blackfinn Ameripub: 1620 I St. NW, DC; www.snowdaybarcrawl.com

SATURDAY, DECEMBER 15 – SUNDAY, DECEMBER 16

Night of 1,000 Santas
This is DC’s largest SANTACON party. Calling all Santas, Ms. Clauses, perverted elves, grinches and naughty-listed adults. Santa’s favorite beer garden becomes a hedonistic holiday-themed adult costume dance party at this second annual holiday event. Whether you are naughty or nice, this is the event where it is certainly nice to be naughty, as you get a chance to throw brews back with several different Santas. 7 p.m. – 2 a.m. Free to attend. Wunder Garten: 1101 First St. NE, DC; www.wundergartendc.com

SUNDAY, DECEMBER 16

Wetten Winter Beer Dinner
Enjoy a four-course beer dinner with Wetten Beer pairings. The beers are sourced by local guru Dean Myers and rarely found in the US or not yet released, this beer dinner is the perfect holiday date night or group get-together. 7-10 p.m. $60. Granville Moore: 1238 H St. NE, DC; www.granvillemoores.com

MONDAY, DECEMBER 17

Painting & Pints: Winter Birch
Join in the Fairwinds taproom for the monthly paint night. Sessions run approximately 90 minutes and the tickets include your first pint. Painting begins at 6 p.m., so be sure to arrive early to grab a great seat and great beer. 6-7:30 p.m. Tickets $30. Fairwinds Brewing Company: 7000 Newington Rd. Lorton, VA; www.fairwindsbrewing.com

FRIDAY, DECEMBER 21

The Longest Night of the Year
This winter solstice, Port City isn’t going to think about the shortest day of the year. Rather, they’ll celebrate the longest night of the year at headquarters with the return of three beers, live music and extended hours. Join for the return of Rauch Märzen, Long Black Veil and Barrel-Aged Porter for your winter solstice. 12-11 p.m. Free to attend. Port City Brewery: 3950 Wheeler Ave. Alexandria, VA; www.portcitybrewing.com

THURSDAY, DECEMBER 27

Blackwall Hitch Devils Backbone Beer Dinner
Enjoy Devils Backbone craft beers paired with Blackwall Hitch coastal cuisine. Event to be charged at the restaurant. Call to reserve a spot today. 7-10 p.m. Must register. Blackwall Hitch: 5 Cameron St. Alexandria, VA; www.blackwallhitch.com

Photo: The Bruery
Photo: The Bruery

Hoppy Holidays: A Beer Lover’s Gift Guide

‘Tis the season of giving, at least that’s what you’re supposed to do. But you know what you’re not supposed to do? Give crappy gifts. We’ve all heard people say, “It’s the thought that counts,” to mask their disappointment after getting a tacky tie or coffee mug.

It’s always a safe bet to put a little extra thought into your gifts, and to really know your audience. If you’re shopping for a beer lover this holiday season, we have you covered. From local options to items you can have delivered to your doorstep in time for an exchange, the beer-themed gift ideas below will have you looking like a thoughtful giver, and that’s what it’s all about, right?

Beer Memberships

“The Bruery’s societies (our beer clubs) are the heart of our business,” says Ethen Adams, The Bruery Store’s area manager. “We love to experiment with flavors and aromas in our beers, and push brewing to new levels.”

Instead of giving someone a six-pack you picked out, why not let the brewers do it? With a beer membership from The Bruery, new experimental beers will be sent several times a year, giving your favorite beer fan an excuse to try variations outside of their comfort zone.

“While many of us have tried and trusted brands, I dare say that a true beer lover is always on the lookout for the next beer that will wow them,” Adams says. “We’re taking this beer journey alongside our members and as such, we try to treat them like a part of the family.”

The Union Market-based shop is also offering a 10 percent discount on their last quarterly installment of the 2018  Preservation Society, bringing the total to $70. Readers of On Tap can sign up online at The Bruery’s website with the discount code OnTapPS18. Each quarterly package comes with three bottles, including a barrel-aged strong ale, a sour ale and a limited experimental beer.

Other memberships on our radar include the DC Brewers’ Guild membership and the international Microbrewed Beer of the Month Club. Learn more about the latter at www.beermonthclub.com.

The Bruery Store at Union Market: 513 Morse St. NE, DC; www.thebruery.com

Beer Gear

This one might seem obvious, but let us preface that not all merch is the same. A few breweries in the area are extremely meticulous, setting an extremely high standard for others to keep up with.

“There’s a deep connection between a community and its local breweries, and we’re forever grateful for the passion that people feel for our business,” says Chris Van Orden, Port City Brewery’s manager of marketing and beer strategy.  “We spend a ton of effort making the best beer possible for them, so we want to make sure everything else we offer all meets the high standard.”

Merch is a regular discussion topic at the brewery’s weekly meetings, where the team always tries to plan two seasons in advance. While a ton of places only offer shirts and hats, Port City sells socks, hoodies, dog collars and other unique items.

“We’ve found a few designs with a broad appeal that we keep in stock, but we’re constantly looking for new items that set us apart,” Van Orden says. “So there’s always something new on offer: lapel pins, bike jerseys, socks. We’re delighted each and every time a person decides that they enjoy Port City enough to wear our name on their back or carry our logo on their growler.”

With a strong brand backed by great beer, Port City gear will allow you to represent a local spot with strong ties to the community.

Other spots we recommend for merch include DC Brau and ANXO Cidery & Pintxos Bar.

Port City Brewing: 3950 Wheeler Ave. Alexandria, VA; www.portcitybrewing.com

Walking Tours

There are a number of breweries to tour in the DMV, but for a next-level experience, organize a walk through the famed Heurich House Museum for the beer head in your life.

The Dupont Circle mansion was built in the 1890s by German immigrant and local brewer Christian Heurich. His family lived there until 1956, and the house still includes all original interiors and a number of family collections.

Though the Christian Heurich Brewing Co. location was torn down in 1962, the museum features a rotating exhibition of more than 1,000 items including bottles, cans, signs and other branded objects from the old DC brewery. The collection is on loan from local collector Jack Blush, but the museum is currently fundraising to acquire and display it permanently.

Patrons can tour the museum for free (donations are welcome), but you can also treat your beer-crazy friends and family to an hour-long brewmaster tour that concludes with a beer tasting. Groups of 10 to 20 can enjoy the tours for $30-$40. For specifics, email events@heurichhouse.org.

Other places to tour include the Flying Dog “Beer Geek” iteration in Frederick, Maryland or Brookland’s Right Proper Brewing Company.

Heurich House Museum: 1307 New Hampshire Ave. NW, DC; www.heurichhouse.org

Beer-Focused Dinners

“Wait a second, Trent. Didn’t you say that played-out gifts weren’t what we were talking about here?” Yes, but you have to stick with me on this one as there’s a method to the beer-crazed madness here.
DC has welcomed a litany of terrific eateries over the past few years, and some of them include some particulary intriguing beer menus.

Chief among them is Tiger Fork, a Hong Kong-inspired restaurant in Blagden Alley featuring numerous Asian beers on the menu.
Think of this as tackling two problems at once: you want to get a gift for a brew head, but you also want to eat delicious Asian food.

Another restaurant with an eclectic selection is Capitol Riverfront’s The Salt Line, whose beer selection pulls from all over the country. Not to mention, they have a delectable menu with dishes that pair fantastically with just about every brew you can think to order.

So yes, we’ll admit dinner isn’t super high on the creative side, but you can’t forget to eat when you’re drinking a well-crafted beverage.

We also highly recommend the buzzworthy Bad Saint in Columbia Heights and Himitsu in Petworth for their eclectic beer and food selections.

The Salt Line: 79 Potomac Ave. SE, DC; www.thesaltline.com
Tiger Fork: 922 N St. NW, DC; www.tigerforkdc.com

Ask The Expert

We asked Theresa McCulla, historian for the American Brewing History Initiative at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, for a few beer-themed gift recommendations.

“Be a better enthusiast through books,” McCulla advises. “The past few years have seen a bumper crop of books about beer: brewing manuals, books about important historical events like Prohibition and the craft beer revolution, and brewers’ memoirs.”

Beyond books, McCulla recommends some of the things we’ve already talked about including places that can pair food with beer, eclectic merchandise and tours. One suggestion involves helping to make the brewer happy.

“Bottles are classic, [and] cans and crowlers are handy, but brewers prefer when you drink their beer out of the proper glassware. Research the correct glassware for your favorite kinds of beer and make sure you have them on hand when happy hour rolls around.”

Lastly, McCulla says to look up anything philanthropic your favorite brewery may be involved with that you can contribute to.

For more information about the American Brewing History Initiative, visit www.americanhistory.si.edu.

Photo: Laura Metzler
Photo: Laura Metzler

Sugar Rush: DC Pastry Chefs Chat Holiday Sweets

With the recent openings of bakeries and the growing profiles of local pastry chefs, DC’s bakery game is on the rise – literally. Spinning sugar into showpieces, whipping meringue into mini mountain peaks and constructing cakes into literal works of art, DC dessert masterminds are showing how their craft is a vital part of the food scene in the nation’s capital.

So what’s the buzz behind DC’s sugar rush? It’s no secret that in recent years, the food scene in the District has exploded. In 2016, Bon Appetit named it the Restaurant City of the Year, and in the same year, Michelin awarded DC with its first-ever guidebook. What does that mean for pastry chefs and the bakery niche?

“It’s definitely an exciting time for food in general in DC, and it’s nice to see that pastries have kind of caught on to the wave of openings and young chefs becoming owners of businesses,” notes Buttercream Bakeshop’s owner and pastry chef, Tiffany MacIsaac. “There’s a lot of great places to get pastries now.”

For pastry chefs who double as business owners, part of the draw to open their own storefronts is the opportunity to create on a whim. MacIsaac’s menu of treats includes addictive cinnascones, savory breakfast bombs and custom cake orders dreamed up in her Shaw bakery.

“That was one of the reasons why I wanted to open a bakery,” she continues. “I wanted to be able to cook whatever I wanted – when I wanted – and put it out on the shelf.”

For Foreign National Pastry Director Pichet Ong – the culinary talent behind LINE Hotel eateries Brothers and Sisters and Spoken English, as well as H Street’s Maketto and a handful of other local spots – the environment in DC has encouraged a new wave of chefs and restaurant openings.

“I think it’s just part of the growth of the restaurant industry here,” says Ong, who is known for signature desserts highlighting fruit, Asian flavors and herbs, and savory ingredients. “DC is unique in that way, in that it has always boasted a huge pool of local talent – and from that, they each have their own unique experience.”

Beyond the burgeoning culinary environment in the DC area, Schlow Restaurant Group’s Alex Levin says it’s about chefs evolving and elevating their game. From managing the pastry program at Osteria Morini to his current position as executive pastry chef for all Schlow Restaurant Group’s eateries, he’s created new businesses within those concepts such as his popular pop-up bakeries.

“[I] have this amazing platform to be creative and make desserts, but also be a business mind about it and think about how we can create new experiences within our concepts so that we’re constantly challenging ourselves,” Levin says. “I can have the best of both worlds, where suddenly being a pastry chef is a real benefit for a company to have. I believe that’s what a lot of other people are doing too. They’re showing their value in ways that go far beyond what they do on the menu.”

With so much talent on the rise, it would be easy to assume competition is stiff. But amongst DC chefs, it seems to be all about community over competition. MacIsaac notes that just in Shaw alone, there’s a number of bakeries and restaurants with pastry offerings beyond Buttercream Bakeshop.

“Right around the corner is Seylou [Bakery], and then across the street is Unconventional Diner,” she says. “It just really goes to show there’s lots of people that want good pastries in this city and there’s plenty of business to go around. I think we all rise together, so I think it’s good that there’s more things opening.”

With the holidays right around the corner, bakeries and pastry kitchens have shifted gears toward seasonal treats. Expect fun DIY cake kits from MacIsaac’s shop outfitted with all the decorating accoutrements including piping bag, piping tip, buttercream, sprinkles and paper toppers.

“They’re little four-inch cakes, so it’s enough for one or two people to eat. We’re kind of reinventing the whole ‘leave a cookie for Santa.’ We’re thinking people might want to leave a cake for Santa.”

The kits also double as a gift for holiday soirées.

“It’s a fun thing for people to get for parties because it can be an activity, the dessert and the gift – all rolled up into one,” MacIsaac says of her kits.

Buttercream Bakeshop patrons can enjoy holiday cookie lattes with “cookie butter spread, molasses and all of the spice.” Essentially, they’re gingerbread cookies in latte form.

Although Ong didn’t grow up with traditional American holiday flavors and ingredients, he’ll be putting his spin on winter favorites over at the LINE including a salted caramel apple pie with a smoky flavor and a persimmon dessert featuring jasmine tea for Spoken English.

Schlow Restaurant Group’s eateries will also highlight seasonal desserts. Indulge in the triple chocolate s’mores budino or the apple tart with almond frangipane at Alta Strada. Levin is also running a December pop-up, located at Casolare Ristorante + Bar in Glover Park and Alta Strada’s DC and Mosaic locations, where guests can order winter treats like a classic linzer cookie filled with raspberry jam. Levin will be hosting his second annual People’s Hanukkah Party at Casolare on December 6 where he’ll be slinging sufganiyot – the traditional donuts typically only found during Hanukkah – as well as latkes and other savory bites.

After the holiday season is over and DC denizens transition into the new year, what can be expected from the bakery scene? Ong predicts an even greater rise for pastry chefs.

“I think for sure there’s going to be more openings of restaurants in DC,” he says. “We’re going to hopefully see more pastry chefs coming to the scene. There’s a lot of really great pastry chefs already in DC, but you’re going to see more of them coming into prominence.”

Learn more about the delectable items offered at the spots below. 

Alta Strada: 2911 District Ave. #150, Fairfax, VA; www.altastradarestaurant.com
Brothers and Sisters: 1770 Euclid St. NW, DC; www.brothersandsistersdc.com
Buttercream Bakeshop: 1250 9th St. NW, DC; www.buttercreamdc.com
Casolare Ristorante + Bar: 2505 Wisconsin Ave. NW, DC; www.casolare.com
Osteria Morini: 301 Water St. SE, DC; www.osteriamorini.com
Spoken English: 1770 Euclid St. NW, DC; www.thelinehotel.com/dc