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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

Photo: Kate Warren
Photo: Kate Warren

The Times and Travels of Odetta Hartman

Odetta Hartman describes herself as a vessel for stories, songs and sounds.

“Sometimes it feels like lightning striking, and other times, I’ll be really intentional about the poetry of it,” she tells us of her writing and recording process. “Without getting too witchy about it, I think that music is a really spiritual thing for me. I’m a superstitious person, and a fully formed song will sometimes come out of me and I’m just like, ‘Where did that come from?’”

Whether it’s some sort of musical witchcraft or simply fate, music has been embedded into the fabric of Hartman’s life for as long as she can remember. She recalls her New York City upbringing surrounded by music on the streets and exposure to avant-garde performances at her parents’ encouragement.

Hartman trained as a classical violinist and honed her self-described “nerd focus” on traditional folk music, writing a college thesis on ethnomusicologist Alan Lomax’s travels with author Zora Neale Hurston. Now she crafts a masterful blend of American folk and country with modern sensibilities, weaving many of her music-related memories into her songs.

When given the opportunity to move to DC, she embraced the change of scenery as a way to envelop herself in another city’s musical framework.

“I fell in love with DC really intensely, and I wasn’t expecting that,” she says. “It was an immediate crash landing into this really vibrant community. I understand that’s not most people’s experience with uprooting yourself to a new city.”

Similarly, the community embraced Hartman. She found herself collaborating with countless DC artists – Babeo Baggins and The Rob Stokes Band among them – and used the tightknit aspects of the city’s creatives to add another facet to the many things in her life she has to draw inspiration from. Jack Inslee, founder of Full Service Radio in AdMo’s LINE Hotel, provided creative direction on and produced both of her albums.

“Everyone is super supportive and really reached out and welcomed me. I know as an outsider New Yorker, I could have been just whatever, but I felt so immediately absorbed into the team. There’s a fluidity and openness that I really appreciate. In a place like New York, it’s a little more difficult to have the freedom and the space to do that, so I found it really refreshing.”

Even though her move to DC and work with the community here has been intentional, part of Hartman’s success is owed to her ability to embrace the unknown and accidental in both her creative process and music.

“A lot of it is just mistakes in the studio,” she explains, specifically of a moment on her sophomore record Old Rockhounds Never Die. “My favorite part of the record is on a song called ‘Widows Peak’ when an orchestra of strings comes in. That wasn’t supposed to happen. Jack accidentally triggered all the tracks. You can have an idea, but you have to be open to weird things happening.”

This year has seen Hartman hard at work, on tour for Old Rockhounds Never Die with bands like Let’s Eat Grandma and The Ballroom Thieves. Although she’s been exceptionally busy on the road, there’s a sense of complete joy in her voice as she explains how even a grueling schedule can give way to inspiration each night.

“Going to different markets and meeting different people is interesting [to me]. You get such a beautiful depiction of this slice of life in each town, talking to people and learning about the personality of different places.”

She pauses for a moment and ends with this.

“I don’t know if you can hear me smiling.”

Hartman plays Rock & Roll Hotel with The Ballroom Thieves on Thursday, December 6. Tickets are $15. Doors open at 7 p.m. Visit www.odettahartman.com to learn more about the artist.

Rock & Roll Hotel: 1353 H St. NE, DC; 202-388-7625; www.rockandrollhotelldc.com

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

Photo: Violetta Markelou // Wardrobe: Paul Stuart at CityCenterDC
Photo: Violetta Markelou // Wardrobe: Paul Stuart at CityCenterDC

A Day in the Life: CityCenterDC’s Timothy R. Lowery

Since breaking ground in 2011, CityCenterDC has maintained its 10-acre space as a hub of luxury retail, dining and living in its downtown location. Beyond its commercial use, the space has become a sight of interactive public art and activations that draw thousands of visitors to the spot each season. CityCenterDC’s holiday lights strung over Palmer Alley, designed by Swatchroom’s Maggie O’Neill, quickly became an iconic – and Instagrammable – view of DC during the holiday season. To get a better look at one of DC’s favorite holiday hangs, we spoke to Timothy R. Lowery, a director with the global commercial real estate firm Hines and general manager of the CityCenterDC project.

On Tap: How did CityCenterDC’s holiday display and tree come to be?
Timothy R. Lowery:
In November 2014, we debuted the tree and had a tree lighting. We didn’t know if we’d have 10 people or a million people. The first year, we had a thousand people and it was a wonderful evening. The second year, we had around 3,000 attendees. Last year, it was 6,000 people and this year, we [already] have 40,000 people interested in our Facebook event for the tree lighting. What that shows you is this appetite to be part of something.

OT: Aside from growth in attendance, how have the holiday displays evolved?
TRL:
Fast forward through the years, and we’ve added components like Maggie O’Neill’s Dream Closet, which is 400 ornaments over Palmer Alley. It’s amazing because the inspiration is the retail iconography of the clothing hanger made by different geometric patterns. This will be our third time having that installation up. It was always our intent to create traditions. This is a huge amount of land to build a project on. The thing I’ve been saying from day one is that we want to give traditions to the community. That’s the overarching theme for the holidays. We’re so grateful for the traction it’s received in the community.


Work Must-Haves
Morning Earl Grey tea
My planner with my daily schedule
An organized environment
My Montblanc pen
My eyeglasses


OT: How did art and installations become such a huge part of CityCenterDC’s identity?
TRL:
The art installations happened very organically. In 2015, we participated in the [National] Cherry Blossom Festival after one staff member suggested we order pink lanterns and have our engineers put them up as our nod to the cherry blossoms. We had 400 pink lanterns of different shades and sizes [strung] along the alley. Social media went crazy. We realized after thousands and thousands of posts on social media that there was an appetite for public art. That’s not incongruent with the planning of CityCenterDC; we always planned on having art. We have art installations in the park and the plaza from time to time but the alley was such an interesting phenomenon. It’s exciting but a bit daunting because you always feel like you have to one-up yourself. I think we’ll stay with four seasons. Anything more than that could be too much.

OT: Outside of seasonal programming, what other art is housed in CityCenterDC?
TRL:
Two years ago, we did the Fancy Animals Carnival featuring an artist from Taiwan. This year, we did The Loop, which evolved because a friend of mine posted a picture of the same thing from New York. I texted her and asked what it was and our team reached out to the artists and installed it here. There’s really this appetite for unique experiences. As a society, we’ve moved away from pure product consumption. People are looking for experiences. They still have products involved, but they’re going to go somewhere they can get an experience in addition to a product. We have tapped into that at CityCenterDC.


Can’t Live Without
Family and loved ones
iPhone
My watch
Postmates
CityCenterDC


OT: Tell us a bit more about your role at CityCenterDC.
TRL:
I’ve been here since the beginning as a part of the project before we ever even finished construction. I remain at the helm of day-to-day operations at the center. On any given day, there’s some artistic component happening. At the end of the day, there needs to be a cohesiveness to our brand, and I’m the one that makes sure it all comes together.

OT: What is the best part of your job?
TRL:
This really is the truth and not just because we’re talking about the holidays: every year, I get up and welcome everyone to the tree lighting. And as I stand there and look out over thousands of people who have come and respond to what we’re doing, that’s one of the greatest thrills I’ve had. Even from an architectural standpoint, if you build this thing and no one responds to it, of what use is it? When you see people coming and enjoying whatever it is you’re offering, that’s the biggest thrill. If it weren’t for those people finding comfort here and finding whatever it is they’re looking for at the moment, then this would all be in vain.

Follow CityCenterDC on social media @citycenterdc and learn more about holiday installations and events at www.citycenterdc.com.

CityCenterDC: 10th & 8th Streets in NW, DC; 202-289-9000; www.citycenterdc.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

WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 03: Evgeny Kuznetsov #92 of the Washington Capitals skates with the puck in the first period against the Dallas Stars at Capital One Arena on November 3, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/NHLI via Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 03: Evgeny Kuznetsov #92 of the Washington Capitals skates with the puck in the first period against the Dallas Stars at Capital One Arena on November 3, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/NHLI via Getty Images)

Caps Finds Footing in Post-Championship Season

Alan May knows a thing or two about commitment after playing in the National Hockey League as a hard-nosed winger in a career that spanned several seasons. That’s why it’s been easy for him to notice a lack of intensity in the Washington Capitals during the early part of their 2018-2019 season.

May, who played with Washington for five seasons in the early 90s and became a fan favorite with his tenacity, says it’s understandable the Capitals got off to a lukewarm start given how much energy was spent gutting through a grueling playoff format last season. That ended, of course, with the team bringing home a championship to DC in the form of the Capitals’ first-ever Stanley Cup.

“I believe they’ve been underachieving,” says May, now a hockey analyst for NBC Sports Washington, which involves regularly covering the team he once played for. “It’s not that they’re not trying, or they don’t give a damn. It’s an emotional hangover from last year and the playoffs. April, May and June were so intense. It’s nothing the players here had ever seen.”

The Caps and DC sports fans alike let out a collective sigh of relief after they won the cup, which represented the first championship for the town since the Redskins won the Super Bowl following the 1991 season. The party began almost immediately after the June 7 victory in Vegas against the Golden Knights and continued through the summer.

But then September and training camp were upon them and it was back to business. The team returned mostly intact, minus checking center Jay Beagle and backup goalie Philipp Grubauer. The key change came behind the bench where Barry Trotz was replaced by Todd Reirden after having served as head coach for four seasons.

It is rare for an NHL head coach and his team to part ways after winning the Stanley Cup, but it reportedly came down to Trotz and Caps management being unable to agree on a contract extension. Trotz initially came onboard with a four-year contract, and he coached the team in lame duck status last year. He ultimately joined the New York Islanders where he now serves as their head coach.

The spilt between Trotz and the front office also had much to do with the respect felt for Reirden. He served as an associate coach under Trotz and was widely considered around the league as a top young coaching candidate. The Caps are comfortable with Reirden, and continued success is expected under his tutelage.

“They all love the coach,” May says. “They’re all supportive of Todd Reirden and I think that transition [from Trotz] was easy.”

So, what could have contributed to the team’s lackluster start besides an emotional hangover? It wasn’t a terrible beginning, as the Caps were 10-7-3 with 23 points as of November 20, and they appeared to have begun picking up the pace. But when a team is led by stars like captain Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, John Carlson, Braden Holtby and Evgeny Kuznetsov, it’s expected they will be competing near the top of the standings on a consistent basis.

May says the team was noticeably different without power winger Tom Wilson, who was suspended for 20 games after what the NHL deemed was an illegal check to the head of a St. Louis Blues player during preseason. The rugged Wilson, who plays on the top line with Ovechkin and Kuznetsov, saw the suspension reduced by a few games after an appeal and immediately made his presence felt by scoring a goal in his first game back November 13 against the Minnesota Wild.

Wilson is expected to solidify the lineup while bringing a physically intimidating edge back to the Capitals. The winger was signed to a six-year contract extension after having a career year last season with 14 goals, 21 assists and 187 penalty minutes.

“His suspension really hurt the team,” May says about Wilson’s hiatus. “He brings a maximum level of intensity. He’s a physically dominating player and he scares the daylights out of the other teams’ defensemen.”

Besides missing Wilson, other aspects of hockey that are not as evident as goal scoring such as killing penalties and play away from the puck plagued the Capitals in the early going.

“The way that they’re playing when they don’t have the puck has to be a lot better,” says May, adding that overall physicality and mental awareness had been lacking.

It’s not often that a team misses the playoffs the year after winning the cup. The Los Angeles Kings were the last to suffer the indignity in 2015, and before that it was the Carolina Hurricanes in 2007. Do not expect this Capitals squad to endure that fate. While it is common for championship teams to start out sluggish due to fatigue, they usually find their footing and get back to a winning formula. The Capitals will certainly want a chance to defend their title come spring.

For more information on the Washington Capitals’ current season, go to www.nhl.com/capitals. Follow Alan May on Twitter @MayHockeyNBCS.

Capital One Arena: 601 F St. NW, DC; 202- 628-3200; www.nhl.com/capitals

Photo: Courtesy of Sally's Middle Name
Photo: Courtesy of Sally's Middle Name

Foodie Forecast: DC Cocktail Week Returns

DC Cocktail Week is taking our city by storm again this fall with innovative cocktails carefully crafted by 60-plus participating local restaurants and bars. From November 12-18, DC area foodies are invited to enjoy the ultimate one-price food and cocktail pairings at this annual Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington event. On Tap chatted with a dozen DMV-based spots participating in this year’s festivities to get the scoop on their featured cocktails and buzzworthy beverage programs.


Photo: Courtesy of American Son

Photo: Courtesy of American Son

Allegory, American Son & Wild Days at Eaton Workshop

The brand-new Eaton DC isn’t just the latest boutique hotel downtown; it’s a progressive space designed to promote social justice and a strong sense of community. Eaton DC is home to two cocktail bars, the speakeasy-style Allegory and enclosed rooftop venue Wild Days, and Chef Tim Ma’s latest venture American Son, a stunning comfort food restaurant with a nod to global fare.

“Every space [within Eaton DC] has its purpose and feel to it that’s different than anyplace else,” says Ma, who also owns popular French-Asian fusion spot Kyirisan.

He says that everything on American Son’s menu is very ingredient- and produce-driven.

“If you look at the menu, it’s the [main] ingredient – that’s how you name each cocktail. That’s the centerpiece of each one.”

Eaton’s beverage manager Alexandra Bookless is particularly excited about the Apple, one of American Son’s fall cocktails.

“I think that the Apple will be a huge hit,” she says. “It’s a quintessential fall/winter flavor. Some whiskey and cherry in there give it some nuttiness. I think it’s super delicious, so I hope people like it.”

Guests can enjoy quality tequila- and mezcal-heavy cocktails at Wild Days. Whether you’re lounging by the outdoor firepit or enjoying high-energy live music, you can sip on a refreshing drink like featured cocktail Imagine, an apple-celery margarita with an ancho-celery-salt rim, or Plug on Oaxaca, a spin on traditional cocktail Lion’s Tail that Bookless says is served on the rocks with mezcal “so you get that smoky flavor going into fall.” The celery margarita and smoky cocktail were crafted to pair perfectly with Ma’s Asian-inspired taco menu.

Back downstairs, Allegory’s intimate ambiance makes you feel like you’ve stumbled upon a hidden locale. Guests navigate from Eaton’s lobby to its politically charged library where they’ll find a subtly nestled door to Allegory leading to the dimly lit, art-filled space. Ma says the bar was designed to resemble the Bemelmans Bar on the Upper East Side. Bookless recommends Allegory’s Kokoro, a unique take on a gimlet.

“Instead of gin, we use a split base of sake, sherry and overproof rum,” Bookless says.
Add house-made fino, lime cordial and amazake to the mix and suddenly you have a “really nice light, fermented, yeasty, bready flavor,” according to the beverage manager.

“It’s cool and beautiful in its own way,” she says of the Kokoro.

But her passion extends to Eaton DC as a whole.

“We’re a different hotel, and we have very concentrated and curated programs here. I hope people can appreciate and enjoy them.”

1201 K St. NW, DC; www.allegory-dc.com; www.americanson1978.com; www.wild-days-dc.com


Photo: Courtesy of Baba

Photo: Courtesy of Baba

Baba

This Balkan cocktail bar tucked beneath Ambar’s Clarendon location offers an eclectic drink menu ranging from light and refreshing to strong and buzzy.

Mixologist Marko Strugar says Baba recently added a new category to its cocktail list – Drinks with Benefits – featuring WU Gentleman, a twist on the famous New Orleans libation Vieux Carre that’s served in a jar full of smoke right before your eyes.

“We will be playing with rakia, [our] national brandy made from fermentation of different kind of fruits,” Strugar says. “Rakia warms you up in any shape.”

Pro tip: try the spot’s popular cocktail Welcome to Belgrade, made with apple-based rakia, vodka and apple juice.

2901 Wilson Blvd. Arlington, VA; www.baba.bar


Photo: Maya Oren

Photo: Maya Oren

Colada Shop

You don’t have to travel far for the holidays to enjoy an island-inspired cocktail. In fact, you can drink a fruity, citrus-flavored rum cocktail right in DC – or nearby Sterling, Virginia – at Cuban-inspired Colada Shop. With an impressive lineup of authentic Cuban coffee, cocktails and fare, beverage director Mario Monte is excited to focus on warm spices used widely throughout the Caribbean like sweet plantains, cinnamon, brown sugar, lots of citrus, tamarind and delicious, homemade cider for Colada’s winter libations.

“Our special item this winter season, [the Carajillo cocktail is] a gorgeous blend of rum and Licor 43 that is truly diverse,” he says.

This seasonal cocktail is served hot with fresh espresso or shaken up in a coupe. Warm up this winter with the Carajillo and other featured drinks on Colada’s menu.

1405 T St. NW, DC and 21430 Epicerie Plaza, Sterling, VA; www.coladashop.com


Photo: Courtesy of FISH by José Andrés

Photo: Courtesy of FISH by José Andrés

FISH by José Andrés

Fish by José Andrés at MGM National Harbor is known for its elevated seafood classics. The cocktail menu “captures the spirit of Chef José Andrés, while equally remaining conscious of the flavors he commands from the dishes he creates,” says MGM Director of Communications Malik Husser.

“Our mixologists take pride in [their craft], always wanting to provide an imaginative experience,” Husser continues. “This winter, we have a spirit-focused menu with warm flavors. We’ll be using less sweeteners and juices to allow each spirit to be elevated.”

Customer favorites include José’s Gin & Tonic, the Tractor Pull and DC Cocktail Week pick the Salt Air Margarita.

Husser says all of these cocktails are balanced and “created to blend seamlessly, allowing the spirit to play the leading role.”

101 MGM National Ave. Oxon Hill, MD; www.mgmnationalharbor.com/en/restaurants/fish-by-jose-andres.html


Photo: Courtesy of Iron Gate

Photo: Courtesy of Iron Gate

Iron Gate

Greek and Southern Italian-inspired mainstay Iron Gate will incorporate smoke, root vegetables, earthy amaro and nuts into its seasonal drinks. Spirits manager Nick Farrell says the Dupont Circle restaurant’s Choc Full O’Nuts blends Italian coffee liqueur, nocino, port-finished rye and a touch of chocolate, and predicts that the cocktail will be a favorite throughout the winter months.

Iron Gate is all about what’s fun for the guests, such as the sharable Greek sangria or the eye-catching Amaro Highball featured during DC Cocktail Week. This Italian cocktail is served in a Coke bottle and is “straightforward, challenging and whimsical all at once.”

“The [Amaro Highball] really does taste like a cola so you can just enjoy it without even thinking about it,” Farrell says. “We have fun with ideas and flavors.”

1734 N St. NW, DC; www.irongaterestaurantdc.com


Photo: Mi Vida

Photo: Mi Vida

Mi Vida

This high-end Mexican restaurant at The Wharf is featuring the Famous Sling for DC Cocktail Week, concocted with Fidencio Clásico mezcal, Plantation Rum Pineapple, Aperol and St. George Raspberry Brandy – just one of many ingredient-packed beverages at the waterfront spot.

“We celebrate agave,” says beverage director Darlin Kulla.

The secondary part of the drink menu “highlights creative cocktails with different agave spirits such as mezcal and sotol.”

This season, expect intense, warming flavors at Mi Vida.

“We see a similar trend with exploring anejos and mezcal,” Kulla continues. “The smoke and spice in both appeal to guests in the colder months.”

If you’re into sweet and spicy, sipping on the Cielo Rojo Margarita made with spicy watermelon juice will add some heat to your chilly days.

98 District Sq. SW, DC; www.mividamexico.com


Photo: The Partisan

Photo: The Partisan

The Partisan

Penn Quarter’s The Partisan, which shares walls with Red Apron Butcher and is a go-to cocktail spot for local theatregoers pre- and post-show, is always trying to find creative ways to express flavors on its drink menu.

“We go back and forth with our chef team, [distilleries] and even [local] farmers to create drinks that are whimsical, nuanced and just plain smashable,” says spirits manager Brian McGahey.

Chef Nate Anda concocts dishes with rich, deep flavors, and McGahey says the cocktail menu aims to support that with “balanced acid profiles and savory notes.”

“From herbaceous to spiced, [our] drinks have enough body and flavor to warm you up.”

The Everlasting Gaze seems to be the right cocktail for chilly weather, featuring Maison Rouge Cognac, Velvet Falernum, roasted Yokohama squash puree, coconut cream and St. Elizabeth Allspice Dram. Come try this boozy, flavor-packed drink during DC Cocktail Week.

709 D St. NW, DC; www.thepartisandc.com


Photo: Courtesy of Sally's Middle Name

Photo: Courtesy of Sally’s Middle Name

Sally’s Middle Name

Approachable, local and educational are the adjectives beverage director Gary Enchelmaier uses to describe the cocktail menu at Sally’s Middle Name.

“I try to use the most local ingredients and create the drink menu with base spirits in mind,” he says.

The hip H Street locale’s cocktails are sure to be warming and welcoming this winter, and Sally’s perfect example of that is DC Cocktail Week pick the Golden Hind made with One Eight Distilling’s District-made, barrel-aged gin, local apple brandy, local amaretto and black walnut bitters. Though the cocktails are experimental and delicious, Enchelmaier says ultimately, the goal is to let the food shine.

“I’ll work with the kitchen to really see where they’re going. My decisions for the bar have to pair well with our food first.”

Stop by this farm-to-table spot for a unique and fresh pairing experience. And for every cocktail pairing sold during DC Cocktail Week, Sally’s Middle Name will donate $1 to Roots for Life, a nonprofit centered in food-insecure DC areas to educate and empower communities.

1320 H St. NE, DC; www.sallysmiddlename.com


Photo: Courtesy of Slate Wine Bar + Bistro

Photo: Courtesy of Slate Wine Bar + Bistro

Slate Wine Bar + Bistro

“Simple, yet eclectic,” says chef and sommelier Danny Lledó about the Glover Park spot’s drink menu. Slate will offer two new cocktails for DC Cocktail Week: the “light, airy and refreshing” Flying Monk made with vodka, green chartreuse and lime juice, and the festive Pumpkin Old Fashioned featuring roasted pumpkin-infused whiskey.

Slate’s extensive wine list looks to “introduce new tastes of obscure and unique wines to discover” while the cocktail menu aims to maintain “a balance of boozy cocktails and more fruit-driven cocktails,” according to Lledó.

Indulge in other deliciously balanced Slate favorites such as The Lobbyist (Slate’s take on a rickey) or The Prossecorita, a refreshing margarita topped with prosecco and berries.

2404 Wisconsin Ave. NW, DC; www.slatewinebar.com


Photo: Courtesy of Stable

Photo: Courtesy of Stable

Stable

This Swiss establishment on H Street offers a particularly creative theme for its cocktail program, focusing on “medicinal” concoctions like absinthe, amaro, schnapps and other authentic ingredients like old-school and herbal liquors from Switzerland.

“We’re focusing on our medicinal cocktails during the flu season,” says beverage director Silvan Kraemer. “And hot cocktails come back into play around the end of November.”

The Immune Booster has been a popular cocktail this fall, featuring bourbon, raspberry schnapps and lemon juice.

“During the fall, people tend to drink darker spirits,” he continues. “They can enjoy this well-balanced cocktail with nice acidity, bourbon notes and that fresh rose hip finish.”

Try Stable’s DC Cocktail Week pairing for something truly unique: a ham and Dijon mustard croissant and the Brandied Pear Cocktail made with Asbach Uralt brandy, Williams Pear Schnapps, lemon juice and rosemary simple syrup.

1324 H St. NE, DC; www.stabledc.com


Photo: Succotash

Photo: Succotash

Succotash

This upscale, Southern-inspired spot in Penn Quarter puts a heavy focus on whiskey – specifically bourbon – as its driving force, according to beverage director Darlin Kulla.

“We update our cocktails based on seasonality while focusing on crafting great classics such as [the] Old Fashioned, Manhattan [and] Mint Julep, among others.”

With a menu of fun, Southern-themed cocktails like Hey Peaches and Scarlett Sunset, Succotash is adding another smashing option for DC Cocktail Week: bourbon-based libation Hey Peanut featuring Buffalo Trace Eagle Rare bourbon, house-made salted peanut orgeat and yellow chartreuse.

Kulla says bourbon drinkers come out in the winter ready to explore new takes on their preferred spirit, so be sure to check out Succotash during the event to expand your palate.

915 F St. NW, DC; www.succotashrestaurant.com


Photo: Unconventional Diner

Photo: Unconventional Diner

Unconventional Diner

Chef David Deshaies is turning a familiar flavor pairing into what beverage director Andra Johnson calls “a twist on a popular classic” for DC Cocktail Week.

The trendy restaurant – just a stone’s throw from the Washington Convention Center – will offer the foie gras PB&J to adventurous eaters during the event. Served on toast with Concord grapes, port reduction, pomegranate seeds, sliced celery and dehydrated peanut butter snow, the dish will be paired with The Jam, made with Dogfish Head Roasted Peanut Vodka, Jack Natural Grenadine, port reduction and lemon.

Not into PB&J? Go for the seasonally versatile Paradise City with bourbon, hibiscus liqueur, Velvet Falernum and lime, served on the rocks and garnished with an orchid blossom.

“The flavors are fresh and fun without being too bright or too sweet,” Johnson says. “[The Paradise City has] definitely [been] a crowd-pleaser since I put it on the list back in July.”

1207 9th St. NW, DC; www.unconventionaldiner.com


DC Cocktail Week takes place from Monday, November 12 to Sunday, November 18. To learn more about pricing and participating venues, visit www.dccocktailweek.com.

Photo © Tony Powell. Arena Stage "Anything Goes." October 5, 2018
Photo © Tony Powell. Arena Stage "Anything Goes." October 5, 2018

Anything Goes: Arena Stage Breathes New Life into Golden Age Classic

For a con man on a mission to stop the woman he loves from engaging in a romantic relationship with some Joe Schmoe from another world, anything goes. At least that’s what Arena Stage’s retelling of the classic play entails, with stowaway Billy Crocker on a mission to get to his beloved Hope Harcourt aboard a luxurious cruise ship using every ounce of his street knowhow.

Anything Goes runs from November 2 to December 23 on Arena’s Fichandler Stage, with the theatre’s artistic director Molly Smith at the helm of the production. During the SS American’s journey from NYC to London, Crocker must use various disguises and the help of his friends to win back his love.

“There’s the romance and the love,” says High School Musical’s Corbin Bleu, who plays Crocker. “What’s fascinating about this piece is the differences in class. Billy’s had to fight his way to the position he’s at in the world. He wasn’t born with a silver spoon in his mouth at all and this woman was, but [she’s] had it shoved in her mouth and [doesn’t] want her mother having a hand in everything.”

The musical is set in the 1930s, which local actress Maria Rizzo says is one of her favorite eras.

“It’s a vibrant time to sing music,” she says of the decade. “That’s what’s going to draw our audiences to the show, because there are so many songs people will recognize.”

Rizzo plays tough-talking Erma, balancing the character’s strength and independence with her playful demeanor.

“I feel comfortable playing characters who are big and exciting. I think it’s easy to slip into a stupid or flaky version of her, but I refuse to play a woman who’s dumb. There are so many women written well, like Erma. She’s street smart, even if she doesn’t talk like the classiest of broads.”

To get into character, Rizzo changed her accent by mimicking folks who say “New Joisey” instead of New Jersey. The actress says she shares a lot in common with Erma – namely her resilience and fascination with the here and now – although her character does love attention from the boys.

“So that and [her] voice were the two opposite qualities.”

For Bleu, navigating his role was more difficult because he is playing a character who is playing characters. Each of Crocker’s disguises requires its own mannerisms and voices.

“I know I am a hopeless romantic, and there is that aspect of Billy. He’s willing to go to the ends of the earth to win this woman’s heart, even after being continually denied. There’s several different accents and disguises, and while doing that you have to make sure it stays Billy.”

Bleu and Rizzo are both fawning over the choices Smith has made throughout pre-production, culminating in the new look and feel she’s bringing to this 1934 musical.

“What I love so much about Molly’s shows is that she typically casts cross-culturally, and it’s really reflective of what America looks like today,” Rizzo says. “Even though this show is from the 1930s, and the original cast would have been all white actors, that’s not the show you’ll see because that’s not the world we see right now. It gives the piece a more powerful voice.”

Smith also encourages performers to dig deeper, including the development of character backstories and experiences.

“We had to find ways to make [the script] justified, and we even brought backstories not in the text,” Bleu says. “We all had to come up with our own improvisations of our characters, [and what] the biggest turning point of your character’s life was. It was really, really interesting. I’ve never been part of a production where that process was so open to everyone.”

With fresh faces breathing life into beloved characters, this version of Anything Goes will undoubtedly emotionally engage audiences who span generations.

Anything Goes has a lot of potential for a lot more depth than most Golden Age musicals,” Bleu continues. “You have an incredibly talented ensemble and the choreography is going to be incredible, so there will be that excitement of having seen a great performance.”

Catch Anything Goes on Arena Stage’s Fichandler Stage from November 2 to December 23. Tickets are $92. For more information on the play, visit www.arenastage.org.

Arena Stage: 1101 Sixth St. SW, DC; 202-488-3300; www.arenastage.org

Scotch

A Survey of Scotch

Whisky and bourbon continue to dominate bar shelves and cocktail menus around DC, all the more so as the brisk temperatures roll in and the nights become longer. The sweet, nutty and woody notes of a well-made Old Fashioned cut through even the stiffest of fall gales. Yet for all of DC’s growing interest in and curiosity toward brown spirits, the city is still warming up to cocktails made with Scotch whisky – arguably the most well-revered style in the family.

For one, Scotch (referring to whisky made across Scotland) is often seen as a high-quality liquor that shouldn’t be mixed or diluted with other spirits or ingredients.

“While Scotch has been around forever and is one of the most beloved spirits in the world, it’s known to be by itself,” says Chris Mendenhall, lead mixologist at Quadrant Bar in DC’s West End.

He says he’s only used Scotch whiskies in a handful of the recipes he’s created for Quadrant, bringing up another reason for the overall lack of Scotch drinks on cocktail lists.

“Scotch is very difficult to work with,” he continues. “It has such a strong character to it.”

This character ranges from the pungent and smoky peat of whiskies from Scotland’s Islay region to sweeter, grassier drams of Speyside. The possibilities are enough to make a drinker’s head spin before ever taking a sip. Placing the spirit in a cocktail requires some additional, careful calculation.

“In an original cocktail, using Scotch is tough,” says Ben Long, general manager of Reliable Tavern in Petworth. “The ingredients need elbows.”

In other words, they need enough of their own “oomph,” or elbow room, to remain distinct without becoming overpowered. Think ingredients like ginger and zippy citruses.

Mendenhall is a fan of the Blood and Sand, a classic drink and a feature on his upcoming cocktail menu. It features Scotch, sweet vermouth, cherry brandy and freshly-squeezed orange juice, resulting in a flavor profile that softens up some of the spirit’s harsh edges.

Classic Scotch cocktails are also a favorite at Reliable Tavern, where bartenders guide guests through cocktail orders by asking about preferences in spirits and flavors. Long calls it an Omakase-style experience, borrowing the term from the world of Japanese sushi tasting counters where the chefs take the lead in guiding diners.

Long says he and his staff usually tend to gravitate toward classics and riffs of tried-and-true recipes rather than going for original creation, a technique that’s especially useful when dealing with Scotch.

His suggestions for go-to Scotch drinks vary from the citrusy Penicillin with lemon juice and simple syrup to a twist on a stirred drink like an Old Fashioned or a Manhattan. He also recommends a drink called The Short Walk Home made with a dash of honey, a dash of Benedictine liqueur, Scotch, bitters and an orange twist.

That’s not to say that Scotch has no place in unique creations. At downtown’s Rare Steakhouse, bar manager Chelsea Wood happened upon the tasty Smoke Signal cocktail after quickly whipping something together for a happy hour regular who asked for something that was both smoky and smooth. The boozy drink features a rinse of Laphroaig whisky, Eagle Rare bourbon, honey and orange bitters.

“It’s one of my favorite cocktails that we made for the menu,” Wood says. “You’re not assaulting the palate with a really smoky, peaty Scotch.”

Offsetting that bold flavor is key when it comes to acquainting guests with a spirit that many are still dipping their toe into.

“The general population that’s coming into restaurants doesn’t really have a palate yet for some of those brown, stronger spirits,” she continues. “You have to find a way to play with [Scotch] and make it approachable and not scary.”

Check out the locations below for original takes on Scotch cocktails.

Quadrant Bar & Lounge: 1150 22nd St. NW, DC; www.ritzcarlton.com/en/hotels/washington-dc/dc/dining/quadrant
Reliable Tavern: 3655 Georgia Ave. NW, DC; www.reliable-tavern.com
Rare Steakhouse: 1595 I St. NW, DC; www.raresteaks.com/location/washington-dc