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Five Reasons You Need To Pickup A #FrayLife Passport ASAP

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

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

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

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

Anafre Offers Variety Of Mexican Seafood Flavor

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

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

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

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

Mole old fashioned // Photo: courtesy of Anafre

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: Drew Xeron

Squats and Margaritas: Fitness Blogger Erin Washington Finds Balance

Life is all about choices. Be a mom or be a writer. Do squats or drink margaritas.

But Northern Virginia based writer and fitness blogger Erin Washington has come to the conclusion that it’s not the either/or that makes life worth living; it’s having both things and finding the right balance that’s the key. 

Her first book, “Squats and Margaritas: A Journey to Finding Balance,” was released this month, and in it, Washington details her more than 20 year struggle to find that sweet spot between discipline and indulgence in her own life. She hopes that talking about her hard times will help others through their own rough patches.

“This book shares my journey through overcoming a serious eating disorder,” Washington says. “[I was] finding true happiness by living my life with balance. And it shows the reader exactly how they can do it too.”

Washington grew up in Ohio, played Division 1 soccer at the University of Dayton, and ended up in DC working for the Redskins. There, she met her future husband, former Redskins linebacker Marcus Washington. They married and have two young children.

These days, Washington juggles her roles as mom, writer and fitness blogger. Her more than 15,000 followers on Instagram look to her for inspiration.

“So many women are turning to social media to follow fitness influencers for motivation, and it’s exciting to be able to provide daily content to my followers and be able to motivate them in real time.”

She shares what works for her, and offers tips for getting back in shape after the holidays. Washington says it starts with what you’re eating.

“You can start by eating small meals more often versus having three large meals per day, and increasing your water intake. Nutrition is a big part of losing weight. Tackle that first by eating clean – no processed foods – every couple of hours, and drinking eight glasses of water each day, even when you’re not thirsty. When you start seeing results on the scale, you’ll feel more confident about getting in the gym and starting an exercise program.”

So why did she pick that title, “Squats and Margaritas?” For her, margaritas symbolize the balance she’s constantly working towards.

“A margarita, for me, is the indulgence I can’t live without. For someone else, it may be a beer or red wine. You have to allow for the thing that you can’t live without because if you know you can have that, you won’t quit on your healthy eating plan. If you cut something out of your diet that you love, you will eventually fail because you’ll be miserable. Restriction isn’t sustainable, balance is.”

Instead of restricting yourself, Washington says, you can have your indulgence as long as you find somewhere else in your diet and exercise plan to balance it out.

“Skip the bun on your chicken sandwich,” she says. “Don’t have a beer at happy hour if you’re having a margarita at dinner.”

And she offers one last tip for readers.

“The best margarita I’ve ever had is the jalapeno cucumber margarita at Matchbox. It’s the best. Trust me. I’ve done the research.”

For more on Erin Washington, visit her website www.squatsandmargaritas.com and follow her on Instagram @squatsandmargaritas. Find her new book on Amazon.

Halibut Cheek // Photos: Lanna Nguyen

Southeast Asian Cuisine Meets Southeast DC At Phing Tham

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

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

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

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

Steamed clams with Chinese sausage

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

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

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

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

Southeast x Southeast

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cathy Barrow // Photo: courtesy of Story District

Breaking Bread: Food Industry Vets And Celebrity Chefs Open Up To DC Audiences

Food tells stories about our lives: recipes handed down through generations with no exact measurements, a dish that was learned while traveling abroad or even a recipe discovered when you had to get creative with what little there was in the pantry – and it turned out delicious. Food tells stories about our families, our cultural heritage, our travels and so much more.

When searching for recipes online, you’d be hard-pressed to find a recipe that isn’t accompanied by a story of some kind. Even for cooks as challenged in the kitchen as I am, my favorite dishes all have their own stories – like the Egyptian macaroni béchamel that my mother refuses to write down exact directions for or the scrambled eggs with corned beef that makes up my father’s entire recipe repertoire (to be eaten straight from the pan with pita bread, no discussion).

The stories that surround the food we make can be touching, funny, nostalgic, painful or, likely in a lot of cases, some combination of all four. So, imagine the stories that professional chefs and those who work in the food industry can tell. Local arts organization and storytelling series Story District is hosting Breaking Bread to do just that: tell their stories. On December 17, celebrity chefs and insiders from the food and hospitality industry in the DC area will gather at Sixth & I downtown to share their stories onstage.

Their stories are as diverse and varied as the foods they cook. Celebrity chef and TV personality Carla Hall will tell a story about her time as a competitor on Top Chef. Washington Post food writer Cathy Barrow will tell the audience about a 60s dinner party scene, à la Mad Men. Chef Ashish Alfred, owner of three Bethesda restaurants (Duck Duck Goose, George’s Chophouse and The Loft at 4935), will tell his harrowing tale about overcoming addiction while choosing to remain in an industry that can be grueling.

Although their careers and experiences might seem intimidating to those who can barely boil water, the stories they’ll tell are about much more than just food.

“Any time I share my story, I hope people take away that if you want a different life, the only thing standing in your way is you,” Alfred told On Tap.

Alfred knew exactly what story he wanted to tell. But for Hall, who can be seen cooking – and acting – on TV and who used to model, narrowing it down to one story was more difficult.

“It’s like therapy when you’re going through [the process], because it’s so much and they are pulling these stories out of you, which is so incredible,” Hall said.

She ultimately decided on a story about her time on Top Chef because it’s a story of a struggle.

“People assume from the outside that success looks one way and I think in telling my story, it will show a different side of myself. People are so used to me being shown [in this] very happy [way], which is true. But this is a story [where] I am actually sharing a struggle.”

Although being in the competitive limelight of a show like Top Chef might seem natural for someone as used to celebrity attention as Hall, she had to get used to judgment – not only from the judges on the show but from the millions who were watching it, too.

“It’s emotionally hard. You feel emotionally exposed [and] vulnerable because you’re making your food and then you’re being judged. You’re being judged publicly by millions of people who can’t actually eat the food.”

When it was time for Barrow to pick a story, she thought she knew exactly what she wanted to tell: how she became a food writer. But she said the story, told on many a book tour, felt stale. Instead, she decided on something a little more glamorous.

“My story is about how the dinner party scene in the 60s and Andy Warhol and my dreams of stardom all came together.”

Barrow’s story will touch on the family history genre of food stories, describing a time when people – including Barrow’s mother – hosted or attended dinner parties every weekend. The 60s was the decade that most informed Barrow’s cooking experience.

“I have been cooking since I was a very young child, and I had really expanded expectations. I wasn’t just going to make chocolate chip cookies. I was going to make a madeleine, you know? The dinner party was what informed all of that for me. There was a whole ritual to it – the fine china, the linen, the crystal – and how shiny everything was. It was very fancy.”

And non-chefs have a lot to learn from those in the industry.

“I think there’s always something to learn from people in the food industry because that’s what we work with,” Barrow said. “There’s a lot more to us. These stories are stories of redemption and expansion and unlikely opportunity, and I think that that resonates in all aspects of life and every kind of work.”

These stories remind us of the fact that chefs are normal people. The food industry can be a difficult place to work on every level, even if you’re not in the spotlight.

“We are real people with real problems who are laying ourselves bare every time we serve a plate and invite you into our restaurants,” Alfred said.

Despite the diversity of their stories, everyone had a similar answer when about what makes DC’s food scene special: the people who work in it.

“There is a great community [in DC] where it doesn’t necessarily feel competitive,” Hall said. “It feels like we’re all in this together.”

Catch Hall, Alfred, Barrow and four other DC food industry vets speak at Sixth & I for Breaking Bread: Stories by Celebrity Chefs and Industry Insiders on Tuesday, December 17. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. and tickets are $30-$35. Learn more at www.storydistrict.org.

Sixth & I: 600 I St. NW, DC; 202-408-3100; www.sixthandi.org

Brookland pint flight // Photos: Chelsea Bailey

Drinking In A Winter Wonderland: The Local Lowdown On Seasonal Beers From On Tap’s Resident Beer Nerds

Two of our favorite local beer enthusiasts joined forces to find five spots around the DMV with diverse tap lists and rotating seasonal pours. Anna Jacoby and Chelsea Bailey found more than just winter warmers on their beer-focused adventure – they found beer menus that satisfied each other’s varying taste profile preferences.

“I like my winter beers like my soul: cold and dark,” Bailey says.

She tends to favor stouts, porters, black lagers and black IPAs. While winter isn’t her favorite beer season, Jacoby loves porters.

“I like stouts, too, but steer clear of winter brews that are too aggressive with spices. I don’t like it when my beer tastes like liquid allspice.”

If there’s one thing they can agree on, it’s that each beer has a time and a place. Whether it’s in front of a firepit or casually drinking with friends at the pub, there is a moment for every kind of beer. Read on to find out what happens when two strangers with a common love of craft beer, but very different taste buds, come together to try seasonal brews at some of the best beer spots in the area.

Brookland Pint

BROOKLAND PINT

716 Monroe St. NE, DC; www.brooklandpint.com

Brookland Pint, along with sister spots Smoke & Barrel and Meridian Pint, is known for its superior tap list curated by legendary beverage director Jace Gonnerman. At this Monroe Street locale, we created our own winter beer flight simply because #InJaceWeTrust. Our flight consisted of every dark beer that was on their list at the time of our visit.

DC Brau Penn Quarter Porter

Chelsea: I love how it has a malt profile but also chocolate notes. It’s super sessionable.

Anna: There are malty chocolate flavors but they’re not overpowering, so it’s not rich or like a milkshake.

Chelsea: Also, the mouthfeel is a lot lighter than what you get with a stout.

Chelsea: B // Anna: B

Perennial Artisan Ales Fantastic Voyage Stout

Anna: Wow. That’s complex. It’s thick and the opposite of the Penn Quarter porter and has some coffee notes. Tell me your secrets. What’s in it?

Chelsea: Coconut! It has a lot of chocolate notes and coconut.

Anna: It’s funny that it’s a seasonal winter beer style, but it has that tropical kick at the end.

Chelsea: It’s a well-executed stout. The mouthfeel is phenomenal: very smooth, thick, slightly sweet, but not overly sweet. I could have a whole pint of this.

Chelsea: A // Anna: A

Goose Island Bourbon County Vanilla Stout

Chelsea: Now I know I’m going to like this.

Anna: That smells familiar. What is that smell?

Chelsea: College.

Anna takes sip: Well, that’s different.

Chelsea: Good different or bad different?

Anna: It’s a lot. I appreciate the complexity of it. But I couldn’t like, sit and drink it casually.

Chelsea: It’s the perfect beer to have while sitting by a fire with blankets.

Anna: It’s an experience – a time-and-place kind of beer.

Chelsea: B // Anna: C

Quarry House Tavern

QUARRY HOUSE TAVERN

8401 Georgia Ave. Silver Spring, MD; www.fb.com/quarryhouse

Not even a fire, broken water main, or the resulting three-year hiatus could keep people from flocking to this Silver Spring classic. Resurrected in May 2018, Quarry House Tavern is an unpretentious, quintessential basement dive bar with grungy charm. Its list of over 200-plus beers or “beericulum vitae,” as general manager and drink curator Ellen Cox calls it, is extensive and wide-ranging. Cox is a human beer encyclopedia, so we knew we were in good hands. She is more than happy to nerd out with her customers when it comes to trying craft beer. One of the first winter pours we tried was an inaugural holiday bière de garde ale, which Cox explained is a French style of brewing that results in champagne-like carbonation. She tried it for the first time with us. Upon tasting, all-around enthusiasm ensued.

Two Roads Holiday Ale Bière de Garde

Ellen, whispering excitedly: See? Look at the tiny bubbles in this!

Anna: It does look like champagne. I probably wouldn’t have known it was a beer.

Ellen: Oh, that’s nice. It’s very clean for a holiday beer. That’s great!

Anna: I always worry about holiday ones because I feel like they’re going to overdo it.

Chelsea: I feel like people try to fill holiday beers with like, every single clove and allspice they have.

Ellen: Alright. I love this beer – the little bit of tartness, kind of almost like a cranberry in the back. And the bubbles are light on your tongue.

Chelsea: They’re like, “Hello!” It’s a little treat. It’s a very happy beer.

Anna: Nice surprise, this one.

Chelsea: B // Anna: B+

Southern Tier 2XMAS Spiced Double Ale

Anna: It smells festive, gingery.

Chelsea: It smells minty to me. That’s nice. It doesn’t taste like an 8 percent [ABV] beer. That’s dangerous!

Anna: I’m getting a little pepper at the very end.

Ellen: It’s like a white pepper almost.

Chelsea: This would pair really well with soft cheeses, I feel like. Some prosciutto or salami. Grapes.

Ellen: Grapes and some heavy-duty local honey.

Chelsea: Now I know what I’m doing for dinner tonight.

Anna: If a beer inspires you to plan an entire meal around it…

Chelsea: That tells you the beer has made an impression.

Chelsea: A // Anna: B+

Left Hand Chai Milk Stout Nitro

Anna: I’m getting a little bit of a sweet potato vibe.

Ellen: So good over ice cream.

Anna: Oh my god, that’s genius. It’s a milk stout?

Ellen: Yeah. Beer floats! You pick the porter, we provide the ice cream. It’s on our menu.

Chelsea: That’s what Left Hand does really, really well is a milk stout.

Chelsea: B // Anna: B

Jackpot

JACKPOT

726 7th St. NW, DC; www.jackpotdc.com

Jackpot has a beer-meets-speakeasy vibe. As you climb down the stairs to this basement bar in Chinatown across the street from Capital One Arena, you are not quite sure what to expect. Upon walking in, you are instantly greeted with the scent of warm, fresh popcorn. We reviewed the tap list here and were impressed with their winter offerings. They do not offer flights, but being the intrepid reporters that we are, we didn’t let that stop us. We ordered five pints, and while it was hard to choose, these were our top three.

Red Bear Brewing Polar Bear Wheat Pale Ale

Chelsea: I really like this. I just wasn’t sure what to expect. Is it going to taste like a wheat or like a pale ale? But it tastes like both. I’m still a little confused.

Anna: This is subtly reminiscent of an amber ale.

Chelsea: This might be one of my new favorite winter beers. Good job, Red Bear.

Chelsea: A // Anna: B+

Alewerks Coffeehouse Stout

Anna: I want to put that on ice cream. I really do. When I drink it, I think of vanilla ice cream.

Chelsea: This to me is an example of a well-executed beer. Robust and full of coffee notes, but well-balanced.

Anna: This one keeps flirting with me. I keep wanting to try it and see what new flavors I’m going to get from it.

Chelsea: A // Anna: B+

Clown Shoes Hammer of the Lion

Anna: Do you like it?

Chelsea: I like it! The flavor changes from when you take your initial sip. This is 11 percent [ABV] so I was expecting to be bashed in the face with booze. This one is deceptive.

Anna: It looks like it is going to taste a lot more aggressive than it is.

Chelsea: B // Anna: C

Westover Market

WESTOVER MARKET AND BEER GARDEN

5863 Washington Blvd. Arlington, VA; www.westovermarketbeergarden.com

Westover Market and Beer Garden in Arlington is a whimsical, multifunctional establishment with a little bit of everything: all-in-one deli, beer garden, butcher shop, bar, bottle shop, bodega, grocery store, gift shop and even art gallery with wall-to-wall, booze-themed murals. Commenting on the bar alone would be a disservice to readers who have never been here. Westover’s multipurpose market is just as notable as its tap list. A wide range of craft beers line the walls and even wind up a few of the aisles. Each time we thought we had reached the end of the market’s beer selection, it just kept going. Back at the bar, we tried one winter cider and two beers.

Supreme Core Cider Ginger Beard Man

Chelsea: Going into it, my expectation was sweet. But that’s my general expectation of a cider.

Anna: Agreed. It smells like Martinelli’s apple juice but tastes nothing like it.

Chelsea: It smells the way an apple pie would smell, and then you take a sip of it. It’s very dry, very ginger. As someone who is not the biggest ginger fan, I think that this is all that I would be able to drink of it.

Anna: This is yum. I love the ginger. It’s not what I expected because I’m not the biggest cider fan. I was worried because it smells like it’s going to be so sweet.

Chelsea: C // Anna: A

Rocket Frog Brewing Company Best Buddy Milk Stout

Anna: That’s super smooth.

Chelsea: I love milk stouts, so this will always be what I gravitate toward. It’s coffee-forward but not overwhelmingly so, and lightly sweet but very balanced.

Anna: That’s really tasty. Sometimes, I can’t drink a stout and not think about putting it on ice cream. So, I want to put that on ice cream.

Chelsea: This has been a consistent thing with you.

Chelsea: A // Anna: B+ alone, A with dessert

Three Notch’d Brewing Company Oats McGoat’s Oatmeal Stout

Anna: This smells like a solid, straightforward oatmeal stout.

Chelsea: It’s toasty and roasty without it being overly coffee. It’s malty and very lightly sweet, but not overwhelming. The mouthfeel is super light.

Chelsea: B // Anna: B+

Galaxy Hut

GALAXY HUT

2711 Wilson Blvd. Arlington, VA; www.galaxyhut.com

This staple craft beer bar has so many different beers on tap that sometimes guests get overwhelmed, but the bar staff are happy to guide even the most inexperienced craft beer drinkers toward the right beer for their tastes. They want people to be able to come in, have a good time and enjoy what they are drinking. It’s what makes the Clarendon spot an overall great neighborhood bar. We were fortunate enough to be joined by Galaxy Hut’s Patrick Fish as we sampled their winter offerings.

Anderson Valley Nitro Cerveza Crema

Anna: I don’t smell anything notable with this one, but I like the taste.

Chelsea: It’s sessionable. I’m not getting a lot of flavor, but it’s something I would certainly sip on. I would consider this a casual beer to have during the winter that is not a dark beer.

Chelsea: C // Anna: C

Hardywood Bourbon Barrel GBS

Anna: This is sweet.

Chelsea: I agree. It is sweet. What I like about it, though, is that it doesn’t punch you in the face with the bourbon, which has been my hesitation with barrel-aged beers these days.

Anna: Personally, I don’t think I could drink a lot of it. It is just a little too sweet for me.

Chelsea: The mouthfeel is a lot lighter than I was expecting. I’ve gotten used to a heavier mouthfeel with heavier beers. It also doesn’t taste like ginger, which makes me happy.

Chelsea: A // Anna: C

Ardent Imperial Milk Stout

Patrick: This one’s got that kind of nice sweet-but-not-syrupy, without being overpowering.

Anna: That is a level of sweet that I can tolerate.

Patrick: That is probably my favorite dark beer that we have right now.

Chelsea: This is really good. I would have multiple pints of it. It actually reminds me of Port City’s porter. It has a lot of the same roasty notes: slightly coffee on the back of the tongue, but not overwhelmingly so. This is a milk stout, right? It’s not super lactose-y.

Anna: I wouldn’t say that I would put this one on ice cream.

Chelsea: B // Anna: B

The Imperial Gin and Tonic // Photo: Rey Lopez

Behind The Bar with The Imperial’s Andy Bixby

Since its long-awaited opening in November, The Imperial in Adams Morgan has quickly become a destination for cocktail enthusiasts buzzing about the funky ingredients and collection of rare bottles and vintages. Bridging together multiple historic buildings, the highly anticipated three-level concept from Jack Rose owners Bill Thomas and Stephen King has become a multi-floor playground of sorts for beverage director Andy Bixby.

He’s able to let loose in the basement of The Imperial, where neighboring Jack Rose’s cocktail bar Dram & Grain has relocated to provide an outlet for offbeat and unconventional cocktails. The first floor focuses on a cocktail menu that pairs well with the raw bar, seafood and Mid-Atlantic menu offerings.

From building on and elevating base ingredients to presenting innovative cocktails with a new perspective, Bixby is constantly challenging his team to think about the next ingredient, the next recipe and the next concoction. We caught up with him to find out what first-time guests and repeat customers can look forward to at The Imperial this winter.

Andy Bixby // Photo: courtesy of Julep PR

On Tap: It’s been a long road to opening The Imperial. What are you most excited to share with guests now that you’re officially up and running?
Andy Bixby: I think it’s the full space. [Co-owner] Steve [King] has done a ton of work making sure the design is great. [Chef] Russell [Jones] has done an incredible job making sure the food is good. My hope is that I can help to complement and build upon that with cocktails I think are meant to be consumed with food. I’m excited for people to come out and try things that wouldn’t necessarily be the first thing they’d order, [and] to have people’s eyes opened up to new corners of the beverage world.

OT: The food menu is taking more of a role than at sister restaurant and bar Jack Rose. How does the beverage program play into the menu?
AB: I was very excited to take on this program as a sister program to Jack Rose because this allows me to flesh out more of my creativity. It’s always been about the food on this first floor. The beverages were always meant to help elevate and bolster that food program. The Cham-boo! is one of our cocktails featured on the main floor because it is the perfect pairing with the majority of our food. In essence, [it’s] a classic cocktail called the Bamboo. We’re taking that concept, force carbonating the whole thing and turning it into an emulation of how you drink champagne. But [it’s] actually just an elevated form of this cocktail.


The Imperial Gin and Tonic
Bombay Sapphire
House dehydrated grapefruit tonic
Clarified lemon & grapefruit
Juniper salt
Saline & CO2
Garnished with fresh grapefruit, thyme, tarragon & juniper berries


OT: A lot of the focus surrounding The Imperial’s opening has been centered on the rare bottles, vintages and unconventional cocktail ingredients. Talk to me more about the varied selection.
AB: [Bill Thomas] spent the last two years really scouring to curate vintage spirits. The oldest thing we have is a bottle-and-a-half of cognac bottled in 1854. We have turn-of-the-1900s madeira, ports and sherries. We also have 1960s Galliano Amaretto. As far as the real fun ingredients, that’s where the basement comes in. Right now, we have three base ingredients on the menu: a citrus amaro, a tamaro (three different amari blended together and sous-vide with tamari, shoyu, miso, mirin, lemongrass, ginger, sesame seeds [and] dehydrated lime), and an anisette. We can constantly rotate the menu while we keep [those] ingredients and start making new ingredients. The goal is that we can still always produce these drinks, or at least very close facsimiles of them, by the time people start to fall in love with them and want to keep coming back.

OT: The reception has been overwhelmingly positive so far, with lines out the door before the bar is even open. What do you think is behind this buzz and what does that say about the cocktail culture in DC?
AB: The cocktail culture in the city has changed drastically. I’ve been bartending now for almost 11 years and I’ve noticed a significant change in how people are going out and wanting to imbibe. Guests want to be educated [and] learn more. I’ve always focused on bartender-to-guest interaction because I want to make sure that if you have questions, you can have that outlet – somebody that can talk you through with confidence and understanding of what’s going on in the beverage. I think that’s [been] a huge change over the last couple of years.

OT: If you had to select one drink from the menu that you’d recommend to guests, which would you go with?
AB: I think the Cham-boo! is an incredible cocktail that helps bridge [the gap between] people that love cocktails but also those that don’t necessarily want to think about cocktails as much. Our Imperial Gin and Tonic [is] our cornerstone drink to what I want the program to be. It is a Spanish-style gin and tonic served with Bombay Sapphire, our house dehydrated grapefruit tonic and a little bit of juniper salt. The tonic itself has clarified lemon and grapefruit. [It’s] fully carbonated [and] we serve it in a large balloon glass with a grapefruit wheel, thyme and tarragon bunched together [with] juniper berries. I think it’s an aesthetically beautiful cocktail. It’s simple in concept, but we are giving you a gin and tonic that is wildly different from any gin and tonic you’ve had before.

The Imperial: 2001 18th St. NW, DC; http://imperialdc.com

Photo: courtesy of Bourbon Steak

10 Cozy Spots: Where to Imbibe, Nosh and Warm Up this Winter

With winter creeping up on the calendar, motivation can wane to get out of the house and into the cold. But rather than stay stuck inside, aim for a meal with a side of warmth and comfort. Be it beside a fire, curled up with a blanket, or just enjoying an indulgent plate of fondue or curry, here are 10 bars and restaurants where you can be sure to stay cozy this season.

Bourbon Steak

As long as it’s cold outside, the patio at Bourbon Steak in Georgetown will welcome guests with three premium champagne-themed bubbles. Each enclosed dome has its own theme: one dedicated to Dom Perignon, one to Krug and one to Ruinart. While each bubble has suggested pairings, the restaurant’s entire menu is available throughout the patio, including drinks. “You can sit in there and have a full dining experience,” says general manager David Van Meerbeke. “We see it as an extension of our restaurant.” Reservations are highly suggested, and each bubble has a reservation fee along with a food and beverage minimum. They’ll be available through the end of winter. 2800 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, DC; www.fourseasons.com/washington/dining/restaurants/bourbon_steak/

Brasserie Liberte

French classics get a fresh look at Georgetown’s newest brasserie – a casual location for lunch, dinner and brunch. Expect French onion soup, beef or vegan mushroom bourguignon, steak or mussels with fries, and more. The cocktail list is extensive, as is the selection of French wines. And its spacious booths – including one modeled off a Fabergé egg – are great for lingering over some pastries and coffee. 3251 Prospect St. NW, DC; www.libertedc.com

Butter Chicken Company

Fight the midday blues with a hearty lunch at this Indian newcomer near Foggy Bottom and the White House. Owner Asad Sheikh, who also owns two Bombay Street Food locations in the District, keeps this fast-casual kitchen simple. “Our classic Indian dishes like butter chicken, chicken tikka masala and saag paneer are hearty, and the spice level brings on the heat and warms you up,” he says. Meals come as combo platters, generously sized with a choice of entree (a vegetarian option is available), rice, two sides and naan. The restaurant opens at 11:30 a.m. Monday through Saturday and closes once the day’s food is out. 818 18th St. NW, DC; www.usabutterchicken.com

Conrad Hotel

Along New York Avenue, the luxury Conrad Hotel is bringing the charm of a French ski lodge to downtown DC. Director of food and beverage Troy Knapp says guests can defrost with a rooftop après-ski experience that includes blankets, fire pits, thermoses full of spiked beverages and hearty snacks designed to evoke the alps. Drinks include shareable hot buttered rum and “haute” toddies along with wines by the glass, beers and other wintery cocktails. For food, graze on a European meat and cheese board or indulge with a rich croque madame sandwich with duck confit. S’mores offer a sweet ending to any evening. Groups of four to 12 looking for something extra can opt for the Conrad’s fireside vintage port experience, served with Stilton-style cheese. “We’ve secured a few bottles of Fonseca port from the 85 vintage and we’re presenting it with a traditional glass breaking method, which is really quite impressive,” Knapp says. 950 New York Ave. NW, DC; www.conradhotels3.hilton.com

Dram & Grain

After a 15-month closure, one of DC’s best cocktail bars got new life this November when it opened in its new Adams Morgan home. Located beneath The Imperial, Dram & Grain offers reservations for seated tastings as well as an à la carte menu and space for walk-ins. Drinks include unique creations and classics mixed with house-made ingredients like baked citrus amaro, black peppercorn tonic and nigiri jasmine rice syrup. A separate fireplace room seats 24 and is available for private events.
2001 18th St. NW, DC; www.dramandgrain.com

Hazel

Shaw has no shortage of food and drink options. But few things cut through the chill better than the heaters, fire pits and blankets on the Hazel patio. Inside, grab a local craft beer and a meal of Turkish-inspired food from chef Robert Curtis. A good starting point is to order up a few dips and spreads – sweet potato hummus, red pepper and walnut muhammara, for example – served with a side of pita-style “laffa” bread. The rest of the menu is structured from appetizers to medium and large-sized entrees of swordfish or lamb neck, all meant to be shared. 808 V St. NW, DC; www.hazelrestaurant.com

LAnnexe

Take a break from holiday shopping and stop in for a cocktail and a bite at this European-inspired M Street bar. Drinks are crafted from behind the zinc bar using craft spirits and house-infusions. “We want our space to be as welcoming as we are, like guests to our home,” says owner Fady Saba. “So, being at the bar is like when you gather in a friend’s kitchen, move about, have a bite, a sip, a chat.” Drink recipes range from melon-infused vodka to a turmeric root rum. Savory dishes include small plates like corn hummus with subtle heat, skewers of scallops and pork belly, and spreads of cheese and charcuterie. It’s the mushroom toast, however, that Saba says has become a customer favorite. “The combination of pecorino cheese with pine nut jam and sage blends perfectly with the mushrooms, but the melt-in-your-mouth brown butter powder sprinkled over it is the real secret to its popularity,” he says, recommending a pairing with the bar’s twist on an old fashioned. In addition to the bar, the dining room offers space for more conversation with friends, as does the low-lit “library” in the rear. 2917 M St. NW, DC; www.lannexe-bar.com

Officina

Carb load with fresh pastas and other Italian favorites at this Wharf neighborhood restaurant and market. Have a meal in the dining room, grab some food and ingredients to cook at home, or bundle up with a blanket, fireside seat and river views on the rooftop terrazza, open year-round. 1120 Maine Ave. SW, DC; www.officinadc.com

Stable

Swiss culture and cuisine come together at this cozy H Street eatery. Ward off winter’s cold, dark days with a bubbling vessel of traditional cheese fondue mixed with garlic and black pepper or schnapps. Equally warming are the chicken wings, raclette toast, and hearty venison loin served with spaetzli, braised red cabbage and chestnuts. For drinks, knock back a European beer or go for the strong Immune Booster cocktail, made with bourbon, rose hip, lemon juice and raspberry. 1324 H St. NE, DC; www.stabledc.com

Tabard Inn

The Tabard Inn is the oldest continuing running hotel in DC, catering to locals and guests alike. Sunday, Monday and Tuesday nights bring live jazz to its fireplace lounge – an ideal setting during the winter months. Dinner dishes run the gamut from duck leg confit and heritage pork chops to gochujang cioppino. 1739 N St. NW, DC; www.tabardinn.com

Dio // Photo: Durazo Photography

Unexpected Bubbly: Your Cheat Sheet To Unique Sparkling Wines In The District

Nothing says “celebration” quite like opening a bottle of bubbles, and there’s no better time to celebrate than the holidays. It’s easy to default to champagne as the bubbly of choice, but with the variety of excellent sparkling wine made the world over now, it’s time to try something a little different. These destinations showcase some of the city’s best wine lists with an impressive breadth of wines across many regions, styles and price points. While they are great wine spots overall, we specifically asked about some out-of-the-box sparkling wines to enjoy this holiday season so read on for your local cheat sheet of unexpected bubbly.

City Bubbles at City Winery

City Winery Beverage Director Magdala Francillon recommends the City Bubbles this holiday season. The grapes are brought from the largest vineyard in the Penedès region of Spain: the home of cava. The City Bubbles cava is aged for 12 months and “has fine champagne-like bubbles with notes of zesty citrus and brioche.” Magdala recommends this for the holiday season because it is outstanding quality at a tremendous value ($11 by the glass, $55 by the bottle).

She suggests pairing this wine with Mediterranean-inspired dishes at the Ivy City restaurant. Her recommendations include Chef Brandon Ingenito’s mussels with garlic, shallots, pancetta, cream and grilled ciabatta or his smoked pork belly served with braised collards, spiced apples and honey mustard glaze.

1350 Okie St. NE, DC; www.citywinery.com/washingtondc

Fable Farm Fluxion Ancestral & Old Westminster Pét-Nat at Dio Wine Bar

This H Street spot focuses on natural wines made from organic or biodynamically farmed grapes with no added yeast or other additives. Owner Stacey Khoury-Diaz has two recommendations: one local and the other domestic.

“Since we work with natural wines at Dio, some of my favorite bubbles are pét-nats (short for pétillant naturel),” she says. “The short story on this type of wine is that it’s all naturally occurring bubbles. In more technical language, that means primary fermentation starts and finishes in the bottle and the wine is often not disgorged, leaving the final product cloudy.”

When you are drinking a pét-nat, you are drinking something unpolished and unadorned – and that’s the beauty of it.

“We have many wines made in this style, but some of my favorites are the pét-nats from Old Westminster Winery in Maryland. They make these types of bubbles from grapes like syrah, muscat, pinot gris and more.”

And yes, you can try all of them at Dio. According to Khoury-Diaz, the flavor profiles have quite a range depending on the grape, but the muscat is floral, fresh and “absolutely chuggable.” Another bubbly recommendation is the Fable Farm Fluxion Ancestral from Vermont.

“It’s actually a cider made from wild foraged apples, but the producers consider themselves winemakers so we do, too. The Fluxion is bright, funky and earthy.”

Diaz says that both the Fable Farm and Old Westminster have cutting acidity, which pair well with fatty dishes: everything from fried foods to salty and savory charcuterie.

904 H St. NE, DC; www.diowinebar.com

Mousseux Bugey-Cerdon Rosé La Cueille at Plume

Inside the historic Jefferson Hotel downtown, Plume has a spectacular selection list with tons of wines emphasizing Spain, France, California and plenty of local Virginia favorites. Thomas Jefferson was truly a wine connoisseur, and the wine list at Plume pays homage to his passion. There are over 50 vintages available, a variety of half bottles and helpful suggestions of “hidden gems,” which highlight rare wines of quality and distinction. Plume Manager Sean Mulligan is a fan of pét-nat styles for the holidays.

“Pét-nat, or méthode ancestrale, is a method of sparkling wine production used all over the world and is quintessential for a holiday pour,” he says. “At Plume, we have the following listed on our dessert wine list by the glass for patrons to taste and enjoy: Patrick Bottex, Mousseux Bugey-Cerdon Rosé La Cueille.”

Mulligan’s pick goes for $12 a glass – a steal at this Michelin-starred restaurant.

1200 16th St. NW, DC; www.plumedc.com

Schloss Vaux Cuvée Vaux Brut at The Eastern

Midcentury-inspired The Eastern in Capitol Hill has a wine list of over 40 wines by the glass and bottle with a menu helpfully organized to find something new based on the style of wine you typically like. General manager Robert Morin recommends the Schloss Vaux Cuvée Vaux Brut if you like champagne, for $13 a glass and $48 a bottle.

“This sparkling white wine from Germany is just banging,” Morin says. “Made in the champagne style from pinot noir, pinot blanc and Riesling, there’s that German, cold-weather acidity that cuts through all of the heavy holiday meals but with a creamy finish from the bottle age and 24-month lees aging.”

360 7th St. SE, DC; www.easternwinebar.com

Sella & Mosca Brut at Maxwell Park

Shaw’s Maxwell Park has an extensive and serious wine program, with many selections that change monthly and over 500 selections by the bottle. For a current sparkler, sommelier Niki Lang recommends the 2018 Sella & Mosca Brut from the Sardinia region of Italy for $12 by the glass and $48 by the bottle. Made with the Torbato grape, which is exclusive to Sardinia, Sella & Mosca revived this once-rare white wine grape producing both still and sparkling wines.

“Facing near extinction, Sella & Mosca decided to cultivate Torbato,” Lang says. “Grown on the Northwest corner of Sardinia in Alghero, these limestone-rich soils add complex minerality and its proximity to the sea intensify this with sea spray and savory aromas. Sea spray, acacia and fresh honeysuckle bring you in, followed by brioche and almond. Finally, the fruit appears with fresh quince, green apple skin, star fruit and apricot. Next time you see this, drop the prosecco and proceed with no caution.”

1336 9th St. NW, DC; www.maxwellparkdc.com

Cuvée José at Jaleo

Is there anything José Andrés cannot do? The Cuvée José, created to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the chef’s Penn Quarter mainstay Jaleo, was a collaborative effort between ThinkFoodGroup Wine Director Andy Myers, Pepe Raventós of Raventós i Blanc, ThinkFoodGroup Sommelier Jordi Paronella and Andrés himself.

“The wine represents a traditional approach to Spanish winemaking with a clearly modern touch,” Myers says. “We have found the wine to brilliantly complement the cuisine at all of our ThinkFoodGroup concepts.”

The exclusive bubbly is made in the region of Conca del Riu Anoia in Spain and has a delicate, creamy and toasty character with notes of green apple. Find it at all local Jaleo locations as well as Zaytinya and China Chilcano, and be sure to ask about food pairings for these bubbles.

480 7th St. NW, DC; www.jaleo.com