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Photo: courtesy of Mintwood Place

Mintwood Place Elevates Happy Hour Menu

Three talented chefs – all who have made the rounds in DC’s fine dining scene – have helmed the kitchen as chef de cuisine at Mintwood Place since it was first opened by owner and RAMMY winner Cedric Maupillierin in 2012. Two years ago that title was taken over by Le Diplomate alum Matthew Cockrell, and this year he decided it was finally time to revamp the Adams Morgan brasserie’s happy hour menu.

“The happy hour menu before was just sad,” Cockrell says of the restaurant’s previous bar and lounge offerings. “It was literally just discounted portions of our regular menu.”

The menu, which will change throughout the course of the year, has since been updated with several modern French-inspired dishes that can’t be found on Mintwood’s regular dining menu. On the cocktail and sweets end, bar manager Matthew Wilcox and pastry chef Stephanie Milne have created new additions in line with each other’s respective expertise as well.   

The first iteration of the new menu at Mintwood Place is appropriately seasonal with a few inventive surprises. Wilcox concocted three new cocktails, two of which taste like autumn in a glass. There’s what he calls The Cayuga, a mix of rye whiskey, riesling, spiced cider, grenadine and tarragon; and Anjou Can Tell Everybody, a classy concoction of cognac, Anjou pear, lemon, lime and Peychaud bitters. For those who appreciate when a beverage includes a little snack for an all-encompassing flavor experience, the latter comes with a pear slice affixed to the rim of the glass. 

“My idea was to make a pear Sidecar,” said Wilcox of his fall-inspired interpretation of a traditional Sidecar, which is typically made with orange liqueur. 

Where the first two libations act as an ode to fall flavors, Wilcox turned to a sour cherry aperol for the third cocktail, All Over the Map. Sour cherry liqueur and pineapple juice are mixed with chamomile bitters and soda to create a light and refreshing cocktail. Here, Wilcox proves that just because it’s fall, that doesn’t mean you have to conform to the season’s staple flavors and spices. 

Chef Cockrell took the same philosophy to heart when thinking up new bar fare to add to the happy hour menu. A standout item includes a nod to DC’s own mumbo sauce, which is incorporated into incredibly tender smoked duck wings that come with a light and tangy take on coleslaw. The scent of this dish wafts from across the room when it makes its way from the restaurant’s open kitchen to your table.

Then there’s the comfort food: gooey skillet mac and cheese and crisp corn fritters paired with a chervil remoulade dip. It’s admittedly difficult to go wrong with food options that are covered either in warm and melt-y cheese or fried. 

Carnivore lovers will enjoy the chef’s charcuterie board which includes wild boar salami, pate, port wine onions and chicken liver mousse (a staff favorite). An artfully plated, warm and mouth-watering lamb merguez with chickpeas, cucumbers and beet hummus is equally satisfying.

These dishes, among the other selections from Mintwood’s new bar and lounge happy hour menu, are all shareable and less than $10. 

There are plans to add other seasonal dishes to the happy hour menu including moule frites with tomato and garlic broth with pancetta, fennel and crème fraiche, house-made duck and pork rillettes with pickled onions and rustic bread, and house-made Italian meatballs with tomato-basil sauce. 

Mintwood Place intends to include vegetable sides such as Chef Cockrell’s signature ratatouille with lemon quinoa and shaved turnips and parsnips. Pear onion tartlets will also be available along with autumn soups like split pea with Tasso ham, wild mushroom with crispy wild rice, and butternut squash with spiced pepitas. Mountain pies (also known as “Campfire Sandwiches”) will return by popular demand with apple, fontina and tarragon, Dijon and ham, gouda, caramelized onion, and frisée flavors.

The aforementioned happy hour specials at Mintwood Place are available Tuesday through Friday, from 5:30-7:30 p.m., Saturday, from 5:30-7 p.m. and Sunday, from 5:30-9 p.m. Draft beer is available for $5, as well as select red, rosé, white and sparkling wines for $6, a featured cocktail of the day for $8 along with the new selection of bar snacks, priced from $5 to $10 each. Dishes rotate monthly and are available exclusively in the 31-seat bar and lounge.

For more information about Mintwood Place, visit www.mintwoodplace.com.

Mintwood Place: 1813 Columbia Rd. NW, DC; 202-234-6732; www.mintwoodplace.com

Christian Montgomery // Photo: Cameron Whitman Photography

Constellation’s Little Shop of Horrors Plays the Hits

Once again, Constellation Theatre Company has demonstrated their mastery of smash hit musicals during the opening of its 2019-20 Season, dubbed Free Your Passion, with the cult classic musical Little Shop of Horrors, directed by Nick Martin. 

Drifting very little from the Hollywood blockbuster hit, Martin’s plays the hits, making this intimate production a grand experience. 

Down on Skid Row, theatergoers will greatly appreciate the sublime performance of Christian Montgomery, as he leads the all-star cast as famed Seymour Krelborn. Keeping true with the quirky humdrum persona that is Seymour, Montgomery offers a brilliant comedic touch eliciting infectious laughter throughout the two-hour performance. 

Surpassing Montgomery’s timely quips and clumsy faux pas is his versatile vocal repertoire. His effortless delivery of numbers “Grow for Me” and “Suddenly, Seymour” will leave viewers desiring more. 

Montgomery is not a lone powerhouse vocalist in this ensemble, including the simply delightful Teresa Quigley Danskey, who dazzles as a redheaded version of Audrey, climbing to lofty vocal heights prompting chills. Though she strays from the intentionally dimwitted Audrey from the film, she delivers on the vulnerable damsel in distress quality, essential for the character.

Then there are the “doo-wop girls” Chiffon, Crystal and Ronnette, played by Selena Clyne-Galindo, Chani Wereley and Alana S. Thomas. With these ladies, it’s all in the details. Their well-balanced harmonies, subtle glances and laughable appearances in the background elevate this production. In addition, their eye-catching, exquisitely executed threads fashioned by costume designer Frank Labovitz helped this trio earn applause at each score’s end. 

In the story, as in real life, the true attraction is the insidious beautifully exotic Audrey II, perfectly voiced by Marty Austin Lamar. Designed by MattaMagical, and motioned by puppeteer Rj Pavel, Audrey II draws onlookers’ attention with each scene, as it steadily grows presenting vibrant hues of green and purple, rousing echoes of awe and jaw dropping expressions. 

Even the thick New York accents are a simplistic layer enhancing this production’s virtue.  

Though rare moments occur where one can see a pair of green legs behind the dancing potted plants (which could be remedied by an added layer of leaves early on), the designs within this production do not disappoint. From the apparent grimy concrete jungle to the bare flower shop, set designer A.J. Guban and props designer Alexander Rothchild’s produce a setting that transports audiences to an authentic 1960’s Skid Row. 

I must not forget to mention the “Steve Martin-like” Orin performance by Scott Ward Abernethy. Completely derived from the film, Abernethy takes very little risks in personifying the sleazy dentist who abuses Audrey throughout the play. While you will loath him consistently with every appearance, his death by laughing gas scene will leave you ill from giggles, perfectly ending the first act with a climatic punch. 

All in all, Constellation’s Little Shop of Horrors boils over with talent and grit, capturing the uncomfortable truth of domestic violence, with a beyond enjoyable musical extravaganza. 

Little Shop of Horrors is showing at Source now through November 17. Information and tickets are $19-$55 are available here.

CulturalDC’s Source Theatre: 1835 14th St. NW, DC; 202-204-7800; www.culturaldc.org

Photo: courtesy of Seven Reasons

Savory Sensations: Seven Reasons Chef Enrique Limardo Teams Up With Winemaker Sebastian Zuccardi

If you’ve strolled down 14th street in the last year or so, you may have come across the sight of a tall, handsome man plucking leaves from trees and nibbling on them. No cause for concern, folks, it’s just Chef Enrique Limardo from Seven Reasons tasting the neighborhood. 

“It’s one of my creative processes,” Limardo shrugs and smiles. “I have to taste everything. Sometimes, I get poisoned because I’m too crazy. I walk on the street and start looking for things that can inspire me.”

Everything is an inspiration to an artist like Limardo. But, if you call him an artist, he will deny it, opting instead for the descriptor “restless creative.” With his background in architecture and industrial design, he has an eye for shapes and colors. A simple leaf of a tree may beckon to him. A week later, diners might find that one of their cocktails or dishes includes an infusion of that very leaf.

“It’s not just local,” he says in all seriousness, eyes shining with vivid enthusiasm. “It’s the neighborhood!”

It might have struck me as strange to have a casual conversation about sampling potentially poisonous leaves at one o’clock in the morning but, after the dinner I indulged in, nothing seems out of the ordinary. 

The collaborative dinner with Chef Limardo and Winemaker Sebastian Zuccardi (Mendoza, Argentina) is unassumingly described as an 11-course dinner pairing flavors and wines. What the guests experience is a catapult shot far from a standard wine pairing dinner. 

Each plate is set with a hardcover book. Flipping through stunning photography of vineyards, artistic plates and wines, I kick myself for not knowing the dinner was based on a book launch between Limardo and Zuccardi, that is until I realize there is no book and no launch. I am simply perusing the evening’s menu. 

Frozen roses dangle in front of us as we are invited to clap our hands over them, showering our foie gras dolce de leche with shards of petals. An expertly executed chicken breast adorned with cheddar sauce makes me wish it was appropriate to lick plates in public. Nitro-surprises drive us to giggle like toddlers as our nostrils spew minty smoke and our palates are cleansed. And family photos, passed around by way of a recently-published recipe book, transport me from the construction-ridden streets of DC to the Zuccardi household at the foot of the Andes mountains.  

“These are my grandmother’s recipes,” Sebastian Zuccardi explains as he proudly shows us the published book that he compiled along with his siblings. Simple recipes like “lasagna” and “onion tarte” stand in strong juxtaposition with what is being served in front of us – duck confit ravioli, grapes, parmesan cloud. And yet, the two co-exist comfortably, mingling with the heat from the kitchen, the lusty caress of the wines, and the dimly lit room filled with laughter and language. It is transportive – like fine dining in a nonna’s kitchen.

Throughout the evening, Zuccardi paints a picture of a large family strongly rooted in their Italian heritage, while planting new generations of family and vines in Argentina. 

But the star storytellers are the wines. Even the most inexperienced of palates can discern the harmony of weather, water and soil in every sip. Before Zuccardi explains it, our taste buds can instinctively feel that the 2017 Zuccardi Fosil, Chardonnay, came from a high altitude, cool weather environment where the soil was almost oceanic; it was that crisp and clear. Each wine is terroir-driven; a perfect expression of place and time. 

While everyone sighs and gesticulates over the impressively plated dishes, I find myself being critical. Visually stunning, each element was delicious but, together, there is a sense of imbalance… until the wine pairing. Every sip brings synergy.

“We spent five hours tasting the wines,” Limardo tells me. “We [identified] every single element you can find in the wine and then we tried to pair every single flavor.”

When it comes to pairing wines, the thought is usually about what wine would best elevate the dish for the guest. In this case, the concept of pairing was overturned; wine became the primary ingredient both in and with the dishes. 

“If you taste the dish by itself, probably you can feel it’s unbalanced but when you try the wine it’s going to be the missing part of the plate,” Limardo admits. I AHA-ed in triumph. “That’s the idea!” he points at me with glee.

Despite the lateness of the hour, Limardo’s energy radiates. It’s not hard to imagine that this is the chef who changed his entire opening menu – on opening night – out of sheer boredom. 

“Now the staff trusts me a lot,” he chuckles. “They understand my process of changing the dishes…it’s gonna be better.”

 Co-owner and managing partner Ezequiel Vazquez-Ger is equally fast-paced. When I ask, “Why do so many new things when you’ve barely been open for six months?” his response is, “Why not?”

Limardo, who recorded a rock album amidst his architecture and graphic design and culinary studies, likens his process to that of famous musicians.

“It’s like the Rolling Stones,” he explains. “They know they’re always going to have to perform their greatest hits. But they’re always having new releases.”

For more events at Seven Reasons, visit here.

Seven Reasons: 2208 14th St NW, DC; 202-417-8563; www.sevenreasonsdc.com

Photo: Joshua Goodrich

New Kitchens On The Block: A Taste of DC Culture and Community

Everyone gathered under a tent as it rained outside on October 20. We were all waiting for part six of New Kitchens On The Block (NKOTB) to begin. If you are not familiar with NKOTB, it is an event where people can try food from new restaurants. The only twist is: These restaurants have not opened yet.

Nevin Martell and Al Goldberg host the scrumptious event in Mess Hall DC. Here, their goal is to help chefs promote their restaurants at one location and so local foodies don’t have to travel across DC for a taste of new cuisine. At this year’s edition of NKOTB, guests got to sample food from Maialino Mare, Hi/Fi Taco, Cranes, Tabla, Soko, Pearl’s Bagels, Bubbie’s Plant Burgers & Fizz, La Famosa, Emmy Squared and &pizza.

While the food was the main attraction, this was a time for the DC community to shine. People engaged in conversations as they mingled, drank and, of course, ate. Not to mention, the background included a bevy of popular music.

This event gave everyone the chance to taste DC culture, literally. La Famosa’s Chef Joancarlo Parkhurst shared his Puerto Rican food. His restaurant has family roots and gives Puerto Rican representation in the DC food scene.

Bubbie’s Plant Burgers & Fizz showed how veggies are capable of satisfying people’s burger cravings. This take on burgers reflects what we are seeing with restaurants offering new vegetable alternatives. These two different restaurants are just an example of how the featured chefs captured a mix of DC’s traditional and modern culture.

Food brings us all together. Attendees Moo and Josh liked listening to the playlist and watching chefs prepare their food. Sharmeen and Pinar described NKOTB as an awesome weekend activity, before excusing themselves because they were excited and wanted to continue to “stuff their faces.”

Mwame, Nana, and Nina were repeaters who returned because they enjoyed the top-notch food and meeting the people behind their meals. After attending their first NKOTB event, they even visited one of the newly opened restaurants featured. They applauded the diversity at the event but wished for an African restaurant to get featured.

At the end of the successful lunch session, Al Goldberg said, “the DC food scene is alive more than ever. [NKOTB] shows new chefs reinventing cuisine.”

The event was a delight, and many attendees expressed that they would go to these restaurants when they opened. People who attended NKOTB got a taste of good food, DC culture and the community. It was a genuine experience that will make everyone appreciate what the DC food scene has to offer.

For more information about Mess Hall DC’s s events, visit here.

Mess Hall DC: 703 Edgewood St. NE, DC; www.messhalldc.com

Photos: Kimchi Photography

The Black Keys Adapt Sound for Let’s Rock Tour

When a band like The Black Keys plays The Anthem, it raises the question: Could we see the end of arena shows? And would that be better for rock music? It was a fitting query during their set on October 12, which fell on the second anniversary of the waterfront mega-venue’s opening. 

To catch everyone up to speed, The Black Keys are a rock band – formed by guitarist/vocalist Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney – that rose from the rust belt and rubber factory landscape of Akron, Ohio in the early 2000s as part of that era’s garage rock revival (The White Stripes were the most prominent flag-bearers). The duo’s first records drew on vintage sources and familiar soundscapes to color their raw, early records: sneering electric blues, fuzzy psychedelia, rubber-burning, hot-rod worthy rock n’ roll, and a sense of earworm melody and warmth derived from Motown soul. The group best packaged that sound for a wider audience on the 2010 release Brothers and have since expanded that formula to a more arena/classic rock breadth on their most recent three releases.

The Black Keys’ new album, Let’s Rock, is something of a “back-to-basics” record for the band, cutting out the added expanse of keyboards from their last record and producing it themselves. The current live show (which appears again at The Anthem tonight) holds a kind of similar ethos, attempting to balance stadium swell and rock club sweaty rave. In an arena, like Capitol One, the Keys are somewhat lost by the sheer distance, size and design of the space. But in a venue like The Anthem, their lies a possibility for the band to have the best of both worlds. 

Attendees of most-large scale concerts will tell you that hearing the music – the nominal ritual that you are partaking in, en masse – is one of the biggest challenges of the night (in addition to seeing your favorite performers, depending on your seats). So, when The Black Keys hit the stage with their five-person live band, the first thing I thought was “this is actually not loud” and that’s in spite of the group’s attempts to ensure greater volume. The Keys have this neat magic trick for playing the in the enormous spaces they do now, an illusion based on sound. Even though there are five musicians on stage – one drummer, one bassist, three guitarists – you are led to believe only Auerbach and Carney are playing. The backing musicians lock in tight with the leading men: guitarists Steve Marion and Andy Gabbard shadow Auerbach, making the one guitar roar with the strength to shake rafters while bassist Zach Gabbard does an intricate dance with Carney’s drums, hitting his bass notes off the bass drum and toms to give the rhythm some subwoofer oomph. The trick works as well for older cuts like “10 A.M. Automatic” or new ones from Let’s Rock like “Walk Across The Water.”

The condensed space – The Anthem holds about 6,000 max, half of most arena crowds – the crystalline, specific details in The Keys’ vintage sound came through like an unearthed vinyl on a turntable. Auerbach’s onslaught on pristine, wizened guitars could attack the airwaves with their full potential, hitting the crowd with a sharp but warm sound that bites like your favorite whiskey. On “Strange Times,” from the group’s 2008 album Attack & Release, Carney and Auerbach’s fingers flew across their instruments in an accelerated blur, leaving behind the distinct smell of burnt rubber from Akron’s Firestone tires.

Watching the sea of (thousands of) faces on the floor of The Anthem was like observing a human body undergoing a reflex test; some songs hit and made the limbs dance, others landed with a thud. The audience churned like a storming sea during the main-set close, one-two punch of “Little Black Submarines” and “Lonely Boy” but chattered through new material like “Eagle Birds” and “Fire Walk With Me.” Even though the songs of Let’s Rock exist in more of a continuation with the Keys’ leaner, earlier sound, why the disconnect? Could that explain why rock music seems to slump on a major cultural level, rarely present in arenas or on the Billboard charts?

This is where a venue like The Anthem comes into play – what if The Black Keys played more like it, cut down on the big visuals, bigger sound, bigger band and played just Auerbach and Carney again? There was so much rich detail in older numbers – like the hot rod rev-up into “Thickfreakness” or the lip-curling snarl of “Howlin’ For You” – that could be heard in this space. Both songs were made when the band didn’t have to stretch their sound into arenas that are acoustic nightmares; what sonic potential do they have revisiting a pared-down yet big enough sound? What if other bands followed suit?

The Black Keys gave a glimpse of that with their opening number “I Got Mine,” another from Attack & Release, where there were no fancy visuals, no projections. Just the start of the duo weaving an illusion it was just the audience and them, as it always was. That was an exhilarating moment.

The Black Keys are set to play another set at The Anthem tonight. For more information visit here.

The Anthem: 901 Wharf St. SW, DC; 202-888-0020; www.theanthemdc.com

Photo: Darian Volkova, courtesy of State Academic Mariinsky Theatre

Review: Mariinsky Ballet’s Paquita at the Kennedy Center

A young girl and her father are sitting across from me on the shuttle bus to the Kennedy Center. She’s wearing colorful dinosaur tights. I look down at my own tights – black with a small tear threatening to become a hole. The other people on the shuttle are dressed in crisp suits and elegant dresses. We’re all on our way to see the Mariinsky Ballet perform Paquita

I worry that once I step inside the building, I’ll feel even more out of place. The stereotype of the stuffy ballet attendee doesn’t coincide with my thrift store dress or the fast food I ate for dinner. Am I couth enough to see a ballet? Am I couth enough to use the word couth?

I’m not sure how ballet took on this reputation, but Paquita was far from stuffy; it was whimsical, exciting and heartfelt. A storybook narrative that came to life with every twirl of a cape or swish of a skirt. The picturesque painted sets and hanging props served as a beautiful backdrop for the romantic tale of Paquita and Andres.

As a ballet beginner, the playbill proved a great companion. The clear synopsis quelled my fears of confusion. While normally spoilers are unwanted, they were helpful in knowing what’s happening while still being able to focus on the dancers. It also provided history about the production and the Mariinsky Ballet. You don’t have to know the difference between a pirouette and a plie to understand the storyline or appreciate the talent involved. 

Maria Khoreva was stunning as the spirited, strong-willed Paquita. Stolen from nobility at birth, Paquita now lives as a street dancer with a traveling group. She has many adoring suitors, but it is Andres who she asks to prove his love. Andres joins the travelers but finds troubles when the group is accused of theft. The third and final act ends in a grand pas wedding that features lead performers and soloists.   

I found myself being caught off guard by the moments of humor. I genuinely didn’t know that ballet could be so funny. One scene featured two men dancing, perfectly in sync, beneath a horse costume. A third man proceeded to try and ride said horse. The audience was audibly amused. Several times throughout the performance awes and exclamations could be heard throughout the arena. It felt like we were all watching a sporting event together and our team was doing really well. 

Outside of the opera house is a glass case featuring the costumes worn in the show. Every handsewn bead is a reminder of the work put into the show. Every tutu was perfectly fluffed. Every note of the orchestra, lead by Gavriel Heine, was at the exact right moment. The amount of syncretization that goes into the production is unfathomable to me – I can’t even get all of my friends to show up for lunch at the same time. Yuri Smekalov managed to create a nearly three-hour dance routine that never became dull or tedious.   

You can wear an expensive suit or dinosaur tights and it doesn’t matter because ballet is a form of escapism. Who doesn’t want to enter a world where all conflict is fought through dance and everything ends with a big wedding? There is a reason why the Mariinsky Ballet has been putting on performances since the 18th century, and it has nothing to do with the disposition of the audience. It’s the combination of beauty, passion and skill that makes going to the ballet a timeless event. 

The Mariinsky Ballet’s Paquita is being performed at the Kennedy Center through October 13. For information on tickets and showtimes, visit here.

Kennedy Center: 2700 F Street, NW, DC; 202-467-4600; www.kennedy-center.org 

"Lucid Motion" by Rhizomatiks // Photo: courtesy of ARTECHOUSE

ARTECHOUSE Provides View of Art’s Future

Walking into the Lucid Motion exhibit at ARTECHOUSE, I felt like I had stepped into a video game. The main room featured three floor-length screens that projected a video of images showing movement and lights that reflected onto the black floor. The multi-colored bars bounced on the walls in time with each piano note, a futuristic figure danced, drawing out her movement as shapes and fragments of light followed her.

As the name suggests, ARTECHOUSE is a house of art and tech. The space provides a platform for groundbreaking and experimental artists to get their work in front of an audience. Co-founder Sandro Kereselidze says the exhibits are very much a “collaboration” between the space and the artists. Having three locations in the United States, “Lucid Motion” by Daito Manabe x Rhizomatiks Research is the latest exhibit here in DC.      

Manabe is a Japanese designer, programmer and DJ. Launching his company, Rhizomatiks Research in 2006, Manabe now serves as co-director. Similar to the mission statement of ARTECHOUSE, Rhizomatiks attempts to push the boundaries art through his use of technology. This is Manabe’s first solo exhibition in the U.S.

In addition to the main room and its looping video projection, the exhibit featured two others offering authentic interactive experiences. To my right, a thick black curtain exposed a space that featured a large screen showing what appeared to be groupings of glowing, colorful shapes and black lines. As I moved, the configuration moved with me, creating a vaguely human figure on the screen. Despite mirroring my movements, the shapes and lines were still tied to the beat of the music from the main room. 

To my left offered four more screens for audience interaction. All were similar experiences of lines and shapes, blurring into multi-chromatic colored figures, 3-D depth cameras capturing movement and depicting an alternate world. 

Manabe also made use of Augmented reality, or AR, taking computer-generated images and bringing them into the real world. While games like Pokemon Go has made use of this technology used, I had never considered that it could be used to create art.     

My favorite part of the exhibit came when I was handed an iPad in a room with objects sitting atop black tables. A dancer brought to life by AR twirled around the keys of a soundboard, stepping on the keys and creating sound.

Some of the objects were 3D printed specially for the dancer’s movement. Black posters hung on the wall – and when exposed to the iPad, the silhouette of the dancer appeared. She was connected to white lines like a marionette doll, fading in and out, while the lines continued to move. 

The exhibit isn’t the only part of ARTECHOUSE to explore augmented reality. Its bar is the first in the United States to feature this technology. Drinks and cocktails at the bar are served with an image on a coaster or sometimes on the food. With the ARTECHOUSE app, the audience can then scan that image and interact with it. In addition to using AR, the bar also themes its drinks based on the current exhibit. For Manabe’s work, Japanese ingredients were used and a human figure inspired by the silhouette was chosen for the glass.

Manabe’s work was unlike any art exhibit I had experienced before. It shows the future of what dance and art can be in a space like this. The blend of technology and creativity produces an experience that is both entertaining and interactive for audiences of all ages.

“Lucid Motion” runs through December 1. Tickets range from $8-$20. For more information on the gallery or the exhibit, visit here.

ARTECHOUSE: 1238 Maryland Ave SW, DC; www.dc.artechouse.com

Photo: Mark Raker

Shuck, Slurp, Repeat: Chesapeake Oyster Fest Deliver Supremely Delicious Shellfish to Union Market

“Shuck, slurp and repeat – that’s what it’s all about,” said Greg Nivens, who along with other members of the Trigger Agency, braved the unseasonably warm temperatures to steam and grill seafood for the attendees.

The 9th Annual Chesapeake Oyster Wine and Beer Festival took place on Saturday September 21 at Union Market’s Dock 5, where a number of people avoided the heat by scarfing down wonderful seafood dishes paired with seasonal beers. 

 It was easy to follow those directions to enjoy all seven oyster stations, but the options also included mussels, clams and shrimp. An estimated 30,000 oysters were consumed between the two sessions.

There were casual eaters and true oyster devotees, and some people even carried tasting books to take notes on the different types of oysters. 

This event provides attendees with the chance to eat all of the oysters they could, and to learn more about the different varietals of the shellfish. Everyone who has ever tried knows it takes skill to open oysters, and expert shuckers take it another level, something like an art form. 

Pros were happy to share information about the oyster farms, as well as variety of options. The environment and terroir (waters) they grow in help determine the oyster’s size and flavors.

Shuck, Slurp and Repeat – that’s what it’s all about,” said Greg Nivens

Some of the selections were big and plump, and some were small. They ranged from sweet to briny, however, for the oyster lovers committed and new, they all had one thing in common: they were delicious .

This year, the Chesapeake Oyster Wine and Beer Festival partnered with The Oyster Recovery Partnership (ORP). There were special “recycling stations” provided for the shells. These recycled shells help to improve the health of the Chesapeake Bay. Kevin Boyle of Shore Thing Shellfish in St. Mary’s County, Maryland said that “farming oysters is beyond sustainable, it is restorative; creating life and ecosystems where there was nothing.” The organization loves this event, because it allows the people of DC to enjoy the oysters and connect to the Potomac.

In addition to the seafood, folks enjoyed Hard Times Cafe chili and barbecue from Kloby’s Smokehouse. There were also several dozen beers, wines and spirits available for sampling, using the commemorative sampling glass provided.

Participants also enjoyed pairings. Blue Point Brewing Company was pouring a number of styles, and locally-brewed Granite City Brewery sampled their SMASH beer, single malt and single hops as well as the seasonally available Blue- Eyed Brunette Bourbon Brown Ale. 

Champagne pairs wonderfully with oysters, so naturally, the Korbel Champagne bar was a popular destination. The wine station offered a number of tasty varieties, and local distilleries assisted attendees with spirits, allowing for attendees to truly customize their pairings. 

As Shakespeare said “The world’s mine oyster” but on Saturday, it is safe to say that the oysters were our world.

For more information about the Chesapeake Oyster Wine and Beer Festival, visit here. Want to relive the festival? Check out Mark Raker’s photo gallery

Photo: courtesy of Max Weinberg

Max Weinberg’s Jukebox Plays the Hits at the Hamilton

If you happened to be walking around 14th and F Street Northwest this past Saturday night, you may have thought there was an earthquake or a storm somehow brewing underground. Rather than a natural disaster, what you heard was Max Weinberg’s stadium-sized drum storm shake the Hamilton Live to the rafters. The Mighty Max has spent the better part of the past 45 years touring the globe as the ticking heart and time keeper for Bruce Springsteen and the legendary E Street Band. He cannot so readily abandon such a huge sound – hearing him rumble into a leaden version of Cream’s “White Room” was like hearing a jet engine up close – but without the arena rock spectacle, Weinberg enjoys free reign to pick up some of his older musical machinations.

His Jukebox, which played the Hamilton on July 13, might appear at first glance to be a cover band focusing on 60s and 70s rock classics, but there’s a deeper tradition at work. Weinberg and other members – Glen Burtnik, Bob Burger and John Merjave – all emerged from the bar band scene of New Jersey. In this school of thought, the musicians do not seek to replicate the music and personalities of others, as tribute outfits like Rain and Zoso do for the Beatles and Led Zeppelin, respectively, but neither do they attempt to play rock star, using someone else’s songs as a vehicle for flashy, boorish showmanship.

They walk a fine line at the border of homage, one between interpretation and recitation. Take David Bowie’s “Rebel, Rebel,” performed with gusto by the group: guitarist John Merjave got the strings down to a T, walking that razor-thin wire between glam sparkle and garage brash that makes the sound so irresistible. The quartet approached numbers like Tom Petty’s “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” (featuring Max’s wife Rebecca belting the harmonica part) or Elvis Costello’s “(What’s So Funny) ‘Bout Peace, Love and Understanding,”  with similar respect, bringing the sound of the original recordings to life like they were on your Spotify playlist; but played by a live band.

What Weinberg’s jukebox does could be accused as being a simple nostalgia act; but all the band members came up in an era where your livelihood as a musician depended on oh well you could play someone else’s record. Springsteen noted in his autobiography Born To Run that a major conflict in one of his earliest bands was over the fact that their drummer couldn’t play “Wipe Out,” which was a requirement to be taken seriously in the Jersey scene of the 60s. Of course the trick then and now is to also add just enough of your own spin where you can, to capture the spirit of the radio hits but with a twist. Bob Burger treated Johnny Cash’s “I Walk The Line” like taffy, stretching and collapsing his phrasing as needed, but howled the final “I Walk The Line” like a lonesome train-whistle. The Dave Clark 5’s “Glad All Over,” already a choice vehicle for drummers, got an extra oomph of percussive thrust from Weinberg’s titanic hits.

Weinberg’s Jukebox also added a couple tweaks to some of The Boss’s biggest hits: “She’s The One” and “Dancing In the Dark,” driven here by a dual-guitar rather than the traditional keyboard parts, slide into something of a surf rock shimmy, as if they were road tested over countless sock hops and greaser halls up and down the Jersey shore. It may not be a hard connection to make on paper, but Weinberg and his band went deep into the roots of these songs – ones that the drummer himself as played for decades – to bring those buried elements to the surface. It was a small revelation.

So was hearing the Jukebox play more straight covers of Springsteen signatures like “Thunder Road.” If you were too caught up in the rush of hearing 23 songs played in two hours, you might have had an epiphany moment, revealing that when Weinberg leans fully into some of those classic drum fills: he’s the guy that wrote them! You’re not hearing them from 200 miles away in an arena, you’re standing feet from the source. For the Springsteen faithful, the moment can border on biblical; for the more casual fan, you at least remember that one of the greatest rock n’ roll drummers in the world is playing mere inches from you. That alone is worth the price of admission. 

For more information about Max Weinberg, visit www.maxweinberg.com.

Photo: Firefly Music Festival

Stars Shine Bright at Eighth Firefly Music Festival

The eighth edition of the Firefly Music Festival, from June 21-23, proved to be its best ever, with the three-day event in The Woodlands of Dover International Speedway Dover seeing great headlining acts from the likes of Panic! At The Disco, Travis Scott and Post Malone

Brendon Urie and his Panic! At The Disco bandmates truly lit up the night on Friday. Coming off his successful Broadway run in Kinky Boots, Urie revamped old classics with amazing belting, wowing the crowd in the process. They brought out real instruments to replicate the synth sounds on various songs, and the energy they put forth and received from the crowd was incredible. 

Urie recounted how “I Write Sins Not Tragedies” was released 15 years ago and talked about how the song launched the band into the “amazing ride that been developing” since. 

An earlier act on the day was Max Frost, who even though was performing to a smaller crowd, definitely made a new collection of fans hearing his music for the first time. Alison Wonderland was another who earned cred from the Firefly crowd with killer female energy coming from her DJ spectacle. 

The Party Pupils were another highlight of the first night, playing the smaller Treehouse Stage. Great fan interaction made for a positive experience for everyone and they vibed well with the audience. The group mixed old classics like “Ms. Jackson” and “Pony” with original songs by one of their creators, Max.

On Saturday, Brockhampton, the American rap collective formed in San Marcos, California had their spotlight members take the stage. They utilized an airplane set, which they used theatrically throughout their songs. The group’s high energy and big movements amped up the crowd.

Longtime favorites Death Cab For Cutie proved they are still a force to be reckoned with on the festival circuit and played some of their biggest hits, including “Northern Lights,” “Transatlanticism” and “Black Sun.”

Travis Scott finished off a long, yet incredible Saturday with a collection of his top songs and plenty of covers, including songs by the likes of 2 Chainz, SZA and Kodak Black. He began his set with “Stargazing” and “Carousel” back to back, and finished with “Goosebumps” and “Sicko Mode.” His set was something to behold, as it was a complete carnival atmosphere, complete with a neon merry-go-round, pyrotechnics and fun everywhere you looked.

Passion Pit served as the post-headliner, closing the night with a mix of indie and dance favorites including “Carried Away,” “Take a Walk” and “Make Light.” The set provided a great end to a busy day of concert-going.

On Sunday, AJR, comprised of multi-instrumentalist brothers Adam, Jack, and Ryan Met, were another highlight for Firefly attendees. The trio made a strong effort to connect with the crowd and their enthusiasm and goofy nature made them very relatable. 

Vampire Weekend started its set with “Bambina” and delivered almost 90-minutes of great music, mixing in old and new favorites including “A-Punk,” “Ya Hey” and an SBTRKT cover of “New Dorp, New York.”

Post Malone, the headliner on Sunday night, had the audience acting as background singers, with a full chorus of vocals singing along to every show. Post’s songs range from sad ballads to party anthems and he had everyone joining him for every single word, playing tunes from both his albums. His energy and soul stayed high all night and his voice and guitar skills absolutely shined. The 23-year-old Malone also told fun backstories behind his songs and gave some sweet inspiration anecdotes. 

The festival also saw some noteworthy performances by a diverse collection of artists, including Kygo, Tyler, the Creator, DJ Snake, ZEDD, Courtney Barnett, TLC, Lykke Li, Bishop Briggs, Lauren Daigle, Alison Wonderland, King Princess, Jessie Reyez and Tank and the Bangas.

And it just wasn’t the music that made this trip to the Woodlands so wonderful. With more than $4 million in upgrades in 2019, attendees were treated to upgraded facilities, top tier entertainment (in addition to festival performances) and creative programming all designed to foster a sense of camaraderie and community during the long weekend of music. 

For information about 2020’s Firefly Festival, visit here.