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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

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: Anthony Mair
Photo: Anthony Mair

New and Notable: Broccoli Bar, I’m Eddie Cano, Osteria Costa, Philly Wing Fry and More

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

NEW

Broccoli Bar
Open: October 24
Location: Shaw
Lowdown: Two popular DC brands have teamed up to open a bar that’s as much about food and drink as it is about conversation and collaboration. &pizza and Broccoli City are behind the new Broccoli Bar. Of course, the menu is curated by &pizza with familiar favorites as well as an exclusive new pizza, Mad Cheddar, which is a riff on broccoli cheddar soup with cheddar, mozzarella, broccoli, cheddar beer sauce, pickled red onions and croutons. The special brunch menu includes an avocado toast pizza and breakfast pies like Cinnamon Toast with sweet ricotta, cinnamon sugar, banana, agave, cereal crunch and mint. The bar offers cocktails, beer and wine. The space will also host regular free events like Broccoli Talks and monthly community volunteer days. Broccoli Talks are the venue’s version of TED Talks, providing a platform for leaders in the community to discuss social entrepreneurship, education, technology and creativity. 1817 7th St. NW, DC; www.broccoli.bar

I’m Eddie Cano
Open: September 28
Location: Chevy Chase
Lowdown: When you say the name quickly, you’ll realize it’s a riff on the way an Italian speaker would pronounce the word Americano. That’s pretty much the restaurant in a nutshell: an Italian-American neighborhood joint with a playful side. The dual identity reflects the heritage of the owners, industry veterans Massimo Papetti of Cafe Milano and James Gee of ThinkFoodGroup. The menu is split in the same fashion with Americano dishes like garlic bread, fried provolone, spaghetti and meatballs, fettuccine alfredo, and chicken parm. The Italiano side of the menu is a bit more traditional with standbys like bruschetta, burrata, gnocchi, bucatini all’Amatriciana and tagliata. Standouts across the board include thin and crispy fried zucchini, grilled octopus with chickpeas, and spaghetti with baby clams. The pastas are all made from scratch and cooked al dente. Wines hail from Italy and the cocktail selection highlights aperitifs and digestifs. The décor – a long communal table, a mural of Italian icons and displays of clear bottles on copper rods – lends itself to a boisterous meal with the family or a romantic date night. 5014 Connecticut Ave. NW, DC; www.imeddiecano.com

Osteria Costa
Open: October 24
Location: National Harbor
Lowdown: MGM National Harbor has officially filled the restaurant space formerly occupied by Marcus in the conservatory of the resort. Osteria Costa is a coastal Italian spot that originally debuted at The Mirage in Las Vegas. The menu pulls flavors and traditions from the Amalfi Coast and the Campania region. A selection of antipasti like fritto misto, beef carpaccio and caprese crostini precede Neapolitan pizzas, fresh house-made pastas, grilled seafood and trattoria plates. Mozzarella is made from scratch daily, and a garden on the restaurant’s indoor terrace provides herbs for various dishes. Classic desserts like tiramisu and gelato round out the offerings. The space has various Italian backdrops, from the bright yellow accent wall with scenic photography to the peninsula bar and the pizza counter with views of the kitchen. 101 MGM National Ave. Oxon Hill, MD; www.mgmnationalharbor.com/en/restaurants/osteria-costa.html

Philly Wing Fry
Open: October 18
Location: Navy Yard
Lowdown: Philly cheesesteaks, chicken wings and waffle fries. The combination is a curious one, but for Chef Kwame Onwuachi, it’s simple: these are three of his favorite things in one meal. After opening Kith and Kin to critical acclaim, Onwuachi decided to revisit his fast-casual concept, which he tested as a pop-up in Union Market two years ago. He made a permanent home for Philly Wing Fry in the new South Capitol Hill Whole Foods via the market’s program that partners with local chefs. The menu is succinct with sandwiches, confit chicken wings, waffle fries and combo options. The Philly cheesesteak is the crown jewel, made with dry-aged Roseda Farm beef, smoked provolone, roasted garlic mayo, pickled pearl onions and caramelized onions, packed in a beef-fat toasted bun. It evokes feelings of nostalgia for Onwuachi, who grew up eating cheesesteaks in the Bronx. This version is his childhood favorite the way he prefers to eat it today, with locally-sourced, additive-free ingredients that meet Whole Foods’ standards. For vegetarians, he’s reimagined the Philly with crispy mushrooms, spicy mushroom spread, herbed lebne, smoked provolone and pickled Fresno chili. The sides borrow flavors from Afro-Caribbean cuisine like tamarind glazed chicken wings with crispy garlic and waffle fries dusted with Ethiopian berbere spice. If you want to eat Onwuachi-style, go for  “The Meal” with all three plus a choice of fresh juice. Whole Foods Market, 101 H St. SE, DC; www.wholefoodsmarket.com/stores/southcapitolhill

NOTABLE

Pendleton Carryout Co.
Location: Old Town Alexandria
Lowdown: Incubators are pretty much the hottest thing in the food industry right now. A new one has hatched in Old Town Alexandria from the locals behind the forthcoming Madison Collective, The Peoples Drug and the former Tortilladora. It’s called Pendleton Carryout Co., also known as PCOC or “peacock.” That explains the avian logo and the colorful ornithological wallpaper in the bright, standing-room-only space. The goal is to serve as a test market for restaurants and brands looking to expand into Virginia. There will eventually be five rotating concepts in the building: three savory, one breakfast and one sweet. As the name suggests, the food is available for carryout and delivery. The two concepts currently anchoring Pendleton are Sliced and Laoban Dumplings. Sliced is from Chef Ed McIntosh and offers Roman-style pizza by the ounce (a slice is 8 ounces and a full pie is 32 ounces). The pies range from classic cheese and pepperoni to unique combos like burrata and ricotta cheeses atop chimichurri. Laoban has been roaming around the DC area for a couple of years and their menu at Pendleton features a selection of their signature dumplings like Thai chicken, pork and chive, and farmer’s fancy, served with fiery godmother and so so sesame sauces. 807 Pendleton St. Alexandria, VA; www.pendletoncarryoutco.com

Sushería
Location: Georgetown
Lowdown: What used to be Maté near the waterfront in Georgetown is now Sushería, a Peruvian and Japanese restaurant from owner Mauricio Fraga-Rosenfeld. The blend of these two cuisines is known as Nikkei, a culinary byproduct of the Japanese diaspora that landed Japanese immigrants amongst the flavors and ingredients of Peru. Fraga-Rosenfeld and Sushería’s consulting chef, Javier Angeles-Beron, embrace the concept and add their own flair with unusual sushi rolls that envelop Peruvian ingredients like lomo saltado and pollo a la brasa. The Lomo Saltado roll has strip loin steak, cream cheese, sautéed onions and potato strings, while the Pollo a la Brasa roll is made with beer-marinated chicken breast, avocado, aji amarillo sauce and potato strings. There are also more conventional maki, as well as sashimi, bright ceviches and Japanese rice bowls with Latin flavors. The bar emphasizes sake, available in shareable pitchers. Before reopening as Sushería, Fraga-Rosenfeld elevated the floor of the restaurant to provide street-level views and added modern design touches like crystal chandeliers. His vision for the space is an inviting, all-day lounge where visitors can linger with their laptops over lunch or have an elegant dinner. 3101 K St. NW, DC; www.susheriadc.com

Photo: Courtesy of O-Ku
Photo: Courtesy of O-Ku

New & Notable: Mikko, Pappe and More

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

NEW

Mikko
Open: May 1
Location: Dupont Circle
Lowdown: The former chef to the Finnish ambassador just opened his own café serving the food of his homeland. Mikko Kosonen got his start at his family’s restaurant Stockholm and attended culinary school in Helsinki. In the U.S., he’s been cooking for diplomats, heads of state and royalty, but now he’s expanding his audience to include average Washingtonians. Nordic cuisine relies on simple preparations of ingredients like seafood, rye, mushrooms, berries and roots. The menu at Mikko is succinct but true to form, with specialties like house-smoked salmon, Danish-style open-faced sandwiches, Finnish soups and Nordic pastries. The café space is cozy, with dishes on display in a cold case at the entrance, a few seats at a counter facing the kitchen in the back and a street-side patio with additional seating, where I enjoyed a Karelian rice and egg pie alongside a gravlax sandwich. There’s also a small market offering a selection of Nordic cookies, chocolates, breads, jams and sauces. A note if you go: the operation is cashless. 1636 R St. NW, DC; www.chefmikko.com

O-Ku
Open: June 22
Location: Union Market
Lowdown: O-Ku, a Japanese restaurant with roots in Charleston and sister restaurants throughout the South, expanded to the Union Market neighborhood this summer. Each of the locations has its own executive chef with a distinct menu and the DC kitchen is helmed by Chef Bryan Emperor, who has studied Japanese cuisine for more than 25 years. His menu features traditional sushi and sashimi as well as modern interpretations of Japanese specialties and wood-fired, robata-style dishes from a binchotan grill. Highlights include puffed rice-crusted Japanese sea bass and an out-of-this-world king crab California roll. The industrial and minimalist two-story space has ample seating in the bar room and wood-accented sushi room, a plush Japanese whiskey lounge, and a roof deck with views of Union Market. 1274 5th St. NE, DC; www.okusushidc.com

Pappe
Open: June 4
Location: 14th Street
Lowdown: Vipul Kapila never ordered lamb vindaloo in Indian restaurants in the DC area because he couldn’t find a version that lived up to the fiery dish he remembers eating growing up in Delhi. That is, until he tried a truly authentic rendition at a restaurant in Falls Church. One bite, and he was hooked – so much so that he decided to team up with the chefs behind the dish, Sanjay Mandhaiya and Shankar Puthran, to open Pappe and finally bring a neighborhood Indian restaurant to 14th Street. That vindaloo is a star curry on the menu and I can attest, it is fiery. The menu also features three dishes that Mandhaiya learned while staging in India: butter chicken, chana pindi and taar gosht. Other popular items include vegetable samosas, prawn koliwada, junglee laal maas, fish chittnad and fire-grilled baingan bartha. The drink list draws on Indian spices like cardamom, tamarind and curry leaves for cocktails, sodas, teas and of course, mango lassis. The space is inspired by a New Delhi fabric market, with silk textiles draped over the tables, lanterns made from fabric-dyeing baskets and murals similar to those found painted on homes in Indian villages. The mural artist, John DeNapoli, is also behind the renditions of traditional Indian scenes that have been infiltrated with modern touches, such as a family in DC sports gear and an elephant marked with Uber and Lyft logos. The restaurant’s name means brother and Kapila said he wanted it to feel casual and welcoming while also capturing the bold, complex and exciting personality of his native country. 1317 14th St. NW, DC; www.pappedc.com

Tacos, Tortas & Tequila and Buena Vida
Open: May 4
Location: Silver Spring
Lowdown: Serbian restaurateur Ivan Iricanin, who popularized Balkan food in DC with Ambar and BABA, is steering his restaurant group south of the border with two new Mexican concepts in one building in Silver Spring. Both have a unique personality, but the common thread is house-made tortilla products and local, organic ingredients. Located on the ground floor, Tacos, Tortas & Tequila (TTT) is a casual taco joint that serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. The menu spotlights traditional tacos, tortas and tequila in addition to tostadas, quesadillas, taquitos, desserts, milkshakes, agua frescas, and Mexican sodas and beers. For breakfast, there are plenty of egg dishes and coffee drinks. On the second story, Buena Vida is a more upscale restaurant that offers an all-you-can-eat small plates deal for $19.99 during lunch and $35 during dinner. The dishes are more contemporary, like a mezcal-cured salmon tostada, a skate wing chicharron and fingerling sweet potato tostones. And Northern Virginia residents, fear not. Iricanin will be opening a second location of TTT and Buena Vida this fall in Clarendon opposite his Balkan spots. 8407 Ramsey Ave. Silver Spring, MD; www.tttrestaurant.com

NOTABLE

Butterfly Tacos y Tortas
Date: May 2
Location: Penn Quarter
Lowdown: José Andrés’ restaurant group, ThinkFoodGroup, has a spot in Penn Quarter dedicated to testing out new fast-casual concepts temporarily and gathering feedback from customers before officially debuting the restaurant. This R&D space is called ThinkFoodLab, and the latest occupant is Butterfly Tacos y Tortas. Think of it like the casual little sister of Oyamel, with a menu inspired by Mexico City’s street food. As the name implies, the two staple dishes are tacos and tortas. Don’t miss standouts like the taco filled with shredded beef in a smoky chile sauce and the torta stuffed with seared pork belly, guacamole, salsa, black beans and lime. There’s also a selection of salads, snacks, desserts and agua frescas, including fried potatoes with mole poblano and strawberry-lime-chile paletas. Fans of the concept will also be able to find the Mexican fare at a second location at D.C. United’s new Audi Field. 701 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, DC; www.thinkfoodlab.com

Hill Country’s Backyard Barbecue
Date: May 16
Location: National Building Museum’s west lawn
Lowdown: Hill Country Barbecue Market has once again taken over the National Building Museum’s west lawn for the annual Backyard Barbecue pop-up. It’s all part of the museum’s Summer Block Party, which centers on an interactive exhibit called “Fun House.” On the lawn in the afternoons and evenings (Wednesday through Sunday), the restaurant serves up sliced brisket, pulled pork sandwiches, Texas cheesesteaks and smoked hot link sandwiches, along with cocktails, wine and beer. On Fridays and Saturdays, there’s also live music. The pop-up runs through September 3. 401 F St. NW, DC; www.hillcountry.com/dc