Food and Drink, The Features, We Love Drinks

Drinks Preview: Mockingbird Hill

Derek Brown was describing the concept behind Mockingbird Hill one lazy, sherry-soaked afternoon. The name came from a line in Spanish Bombs, by The Clash (“The Only Band That Matters”) and the motif was inspired by the casual wine bars of Spain. It would feature some 54 sherries selected by his wife (and famous sherry proponent) Chantal Tseng, who was leaving Tabard Inn to work with him running the bar.

“So basically,” I said, “it’s a love letter to your wife.”

Opening tonight, their new bar is a love letter to a lot of things. To sherry and time spent in Spain. To family and friends. To both self-professed “sherry addicts” and to those who don’t know anything about sherry but are happy to learn. Located on 7th Street NW in a section of Shaw that’s primed to become one of the most exciting areas in the city, Mockingbird Hill feels like a new chapter in bar life for DC. It’s a casual spot to sip and learn, eat ham, listen to punk rock, and talk. It’s, dare I say, adult, in a very sexy way. I’m sure it’ll be packed for a bit, as new places always are in our city starved for more density, but eventually it’ll settle into that perfect third space bar. Continue reading

Comedy in DC

Winning Ticket: Puppet Stand-Up

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The above is what I imagine a bit of puppet stand-up with a Cherry Red-ish pedigree to be like, but I guess the truth will be a lot more varied. And less shellfish. But equally not safe for work, or, perhaps, anyone.

Sadly I will not be finding out, as I have a charity event to go to. But my loss can be your gain – I’m going to pick one lucky commenter to receive my two tickets to tomorrow’s 8pm show of Puppet Stand-Up, a “unique showcase of eighteen of the best puppet comics working today.” Just leave a comment below indicating you’re interested and if you’re the winner – selected by the highly scientific process of me opening up – I’ll email you the two PDF and you’ll have to find a printer. I’ll close entries sometime before noon tomorrow so don’t dawdle. Make sure you leave a valid email address so I can contact you.

Puppet Stand-Up happens Sat Feb 23 at 8:00 pm and 10:00 pm at the Warehouse Theater, 645 New York Ave NW, (202) 783-3933. The closest metro stop is Convention Center and you can be sure it’ll be funny and profane. Possibly in that order, but no promises.

Downtown, Food and Drink, Penn Quarter, The Features

First Look: New Menu at 901 Restaurant

All photos courtesy of Jessica Zachar

901’s motto, “Sexy. Sophisticated. Sharing.” had me a bit–how do I put it–standoffish, because sometimes you just want Simple. Straightforward. So mine. But last week, the Penn Quarter restaurant debuted their entirely new, revamped menu. One that actually matches the concept. Previously, the menu was haphazard and inspired by: all over the place. But the restaurant owners acknowledged their shortcomings and refocused the food, creating a brand new menu meant to be shared, and with a decidedly Asian flare.

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Food and Drink, The Features, We Love Drinks

Drinks Special: ArtBar’s Moonshine

Photo courtesy of Jenn Larsen
Cocktail, Art and Soul
courtesy of Jenn Larsen

ArtBar at the Liaison Capitol Hotel is one of those places I wish I could get to more often. Helmed by 2011 ARTINI champion Ronald Flores, it has a quirky vibe at the intersection of tourist and Hill trades, with the added benefit of Art and Soul’s nouveau country menu. Fellow WLDC author Tricia Barba (disclosure: Tricia also works at the hotel’s administrative office), convinced me to stop in and sample their new seasonal bar program, highlighting “modern moonshine.” We sat down with general manager Patrick Chiappetta as Flores walked us through the crafting of three cocktails, mixed and served in jelly jars.

Jelly jars? Very pantry to table.

“Modern moonshine” is just a sexy moniker for un-aged corn or rye whiskey, also known as white or silver whiskey, prepared legally by micro distillers now legitimizing a craft most often associated with bootleggers operating under the cover of darkness. ArtBar is featuring un-aged whiskey like Prichard’s Lincoln County Lightning, infused with fruits and herbs, then mixed up into cocktails highlighting tastes of the transition from winter to spring. Continue reading

Capital Chefs, Food and Drink, Penn Quarter, The Features

Capital Chefs: Mike Isabella of Graffiato (Part 2)

Photo courtesy of bonappetitfoodie
Mike Isabella’s Pork and Beans
courtesy of bonappetitfoodie

Pork belly, the stuff of Gods. And if you’ve had the delectable version at Graffiato, you know exactly what I’m talking about–melt in your mouth pork with that nice seared, caramelized outer edge, complimented by a roughly pureed bed of cannelini beans. Chef Mike Isabella shared the recipe with me in the most recent Capital Chefs which you can find after the jump. On a cold winter’s day, this dish is perfect.
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Capital Chefs, Food and Drink, Penn Quarter, The Features

Capital Chefs: Mike Isabella of Graffiato (Part 1)

Photo courtesy of bonappetitfoodie
Mike Isabella of Graffiato
courtesy of bonappetitfoodie

Chef Mike Isabella describes himself as intense, focused and driven. And at first you might be intimidated by the tattoos or the serious face when he asks a line cook about a certain dish, not to mention his culinary prowess that landed him on Top Chef and as a runner-up on Top Chef All Stars. But then you mention you’re both from New Jersey or make an astute comment about a dish, and right away the ice is broken, the conversation is off to a start and you wonder how anyone could describe the chef as anything but affable and welcoming.

Like many of the chefs I talk to, Isabella started cooking at a young age just by keeping busy in the kitchen with this grandmother. “I loved the smell of her cooking. Helping her kept me occupied,” he said. From there, becoming a chef was a no-brainer. “This was the only thing I wanted to do. So I knew I couldn’t fail and I worked my ass off.”

The northern Jersey native started out at The Restaurant School in New York, followed by a stint in Philadelphia working with the likes of Stephen Starr, Jose Garces and Marcus Samuelsson. After Philadelphia, Isabella moved to Atlanta to work at a greek restaurant, Kyma, before coming to DC to be the executive chef at Jose Andres’ Zaytinya for three years. Today, you probably know Isabella best from Top Chef and from Graffiato, his Italian restaurant he opened in Chinatown this past summer. “I had grown up in New Jersey, went to New York and then Philly and Atlanta, but I couldn’t find the right fit for me,” Isabella says. In a goldilocks-esque moment, it turned out that DC was just right for the chef. “DC is the perfect size,” he says, adding that the farms in the area are a huge asset. “This city sticks together. We all [in the culinary scene] support one another and make each other better. Chefs here always welcome new people with open arms.” Continue reading

Capital Chefs, Food and Drink, The Features

Capital Chefs: Haidar Karoum of Estadio & Proof (Part 1)

Photo courtesy of
‘Haidar Karoum of Proof and Estadio’
courtesy of ‘bonappetitfoodie’

Haidar Karoum, executive chef of Estadio and Proof, is a breed of chef who always knew he belonged in the kitchen. Looking back on his childhood, he can remember being in awe of the produce and meat aisles of grocery stores and one time getting purposely lost in Harrod’s food hall when he was 9 years old. He remembers being “obsessed” with cooking shows such as Great Chefs of the West and rushing home to catch them on TV when he was 12. “I’m constantly immersed in food. My condo is littered with cookbooks. You can’t go into any room without there being a stack of them,” Haidar laughs.

After high school, the northern Virginia native attended the Culinary Institute of America and thus began his long and impressive cooking career. He externed with Michele Richard at Citronelle and much later he became chef de cuisine at Restaurant Nora in Dupont Circle. Straight out of culinary school, he worked at the now-closed Gerard’s Place. “He was like a God,” says Haidar, talking about french chef Gerard Panguard and his first job out of culinary school. “His philosophy of simplicity and his influence were important to me. It was an honor to work in his kitchen.”
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Food and Drink, The Daily Feed

RJ Cooper’s Rogue 24 Opens July 27

Photo courtesy of
‘The Proper Way to Use a Knife’
courtesy of ‘Sprezzatura Images’

The long-talked-about and much anticipated Rogue 24 by RJ Cooper is slated to open on July 27. The 52-seat restaurant near the convention center will feature a theatrical open kitchen in the middle of the dining room, and will offer either a 16-course or 24-course menu. And while there’s no bar, per se, for you to wait at when the restaurant is undoubtedly packed when it first opens, there is a 14-seat “salon” where you can order cocktails and tastings a la carte.

“Rogue 24 is both a studio and stage for dedicated culinarians and sommeliers to have an immediate impact on guests with their knowledge and commitment to excellence,” said chef and owner RJ Cooper in a media release. “For guests seeking an intimate dining experience, we’ve turned the traditional restaurant inside out and brought the kitchen to the guests. Each table is a chef’s table, and each course is carefully constructed to build upon the flavors of the previous course, guiding the taste buds on an unexpected journey.”

Not only is the restaurant owned and led by RJ Cooper, former Chef de Cuisine at Vidalia and 2007 James Beard Foundation award recipient for Best Chef in the Mid-Atlantic, but Cooper is bringing a team of all-stars to the restaurant as well. Derek Brown of the Columbia Room will be in charge of the cocktail and mixology program, and Matthew Carroll, who was previously the wine director at 2941 and the sommelier at the Inn at Little Washington, will serve as the GM and sommelier. Not a shabby lineup at all, eh?

You can start making reservations on July 14, and note that you’ll need to give your credit card to hold a reservation. My advice is to get your dialing fingers ready since I’m betting reservations will be snatched up quickly…

Capital Chefs, Food and Drink, The Features

Capital Chefs: Scott Drewno of The Source (Part 2)

Photo courtesy of
‘Dumplings at The Source’
courtesy of ‘bonappetitfoodie’

I’m the type of cook that likes a challenge in the kitchen, and one that I’ve been meaning to take on is making my own Chinese food rather than calling for delivery. So these dumplings are the perfect solution. They’re delicious and you’d be surprised that they’re not all that hard to assemble.

Scott Drewno has included two recipes for chicken dumplings and pork potstickers. Read the full recipes after the jump. An make sure to visit his dumpling restaurant if you love these as much as I do!

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Capital Chefs, Food and Drink, The Features

Capital Chefs: Scott Drewno of The Source (Part 1)

Photo courtesy of
‘Scott Drewno of The Source’
courtesy of ‘bonappetitfoodie’

Having cooked for the President and one of the most renowned chefs in the world, as well as having cleaned up consistently at cooking competitions throughout DC, you would think that Scott Drewno would have an ego even bigger than his over six-foot frame. But when I asked him how he deals with the hectic schedule and all of the pressure that comes with such success, his answer revealed just how humble and grounded he is.

“The thing I’ve learned is that you’re only as good as the team you surround yourself with,” Drewno says. “At times it’s stressful, but it’s also a really exciting job.” When I met with Drewno, executive chef of The Source by Wolfgang Puck, he had just gotten back from a corporate retreat in Las Vegas where Wolfgang Puck had asked his various chefs to cook something he had “never seen before.” No big deal, you know, cooking for a chef who’s palate has tasted just about everything and just so happens to be your boss. “Wolfgang Puck is a visionary. He’s very smart and he’s built a great team,” Drewno says.

For Drewno, who was named chef of the year at the 2010 RAMMY’s, he was the type of person who knew he always wanted to be in the kitchen. “Did the industry find me or did I find it?” he jokes. “I really like the roller coaster. No two days are alike and it’s exciting every day. Fifteen years and it’s never felt like a day of work.”
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Food and Drink, People, The Features, We Love Drinks

We Love Drinks: Andy Duffy

Photo courtesy of
courtesy of ‘Jenn Larsen’

We Love Drinks continues our series where we look behind the bar, profiling the many people – from mixologists to bartenders, sommeliers to publicans – who make your drinks experience happen.

Up to this point in our profile series, we’ve mainly focused on the craft of bartending, a profession that’s finally getting its due. We’ve also talked to a few beverage program and bar managers, the people who design menus and run operations. But what about doing all that and more? What does it take to own your own bar?

I’ve always been fascinated with the idea of owning a pub, and I’m sure I’m not alone in that idea. To get behind the dream to the reality, I sat down with Andy Duffy on a Saturday afternoon while hockey fans cheered in the background. As I spoke with him about Duffy’s, the Irish tavern that bears his name on Vermont Avenue near the 9:30 Club, it struck me that its one of those “third places” in my life. I’ve had friends work there, close friends are regulars, and hardly a week goes by without someone saying, “I’m heading to Duffy’s tonight.” There have been hockey game viewings, dart league matches, birthday parties and New Year’s. Duffy’s is my neighborhood pub.

Andy Duffy is most definitely the reason why we keep returning. But like the best publicans, he shies away from self-aggrandizement. There isn’t even a picture of him in this profile, at his request, because he believes the bar should be front and center. For him, the primary motivation to have his own place is the people factor. His low key pub is the “living room” for this intersection that used to be marked only by being a rough and tumble wasteland, now occupied by condos, the nearby Howard Plaza Towers, and newer bars like American Ice Company. More development is coming soon, but it’s still a bit rough in a different sense – Duffy’s has restrictions on its hours and is unable to stay open after midnight on weekdays, meaning when concerts let out he loses those potential customers. That’s a financial impediment to a pub’s success, and hopefully the results of a recent hearing will help change that in the future.

He took a serious risk opening his own bar. The five year anniversary is May 11. I wanted to know, has it been worth it? Continue reading

Food and Drink, The Features, We Love Drinks

We Love Drinks: Return to the Columbia Room

Photo courtesy of
‘Architectural Ice’
courtesy of ‘Jenn Larsen’

A lot has happened since my first visit to the Columbia Room in June of last year. Owner Derek Brown’s martini has been rightly lauded as the best in the country by GQ, for instance. I keep returning to this oasis, whether for classes or for service, because it truly is one of the most special places you can go to enjoy a perfectly crafted drink. There’s a meticulous attention to beauty, history and taste here that we are lucky to experience in DC. After reading Fedward’s round with Katie Nelson in February, I knew I had to get back even more. So last week found me at a much-anticipated girls’ night out at the cocktail spa. We weren’t disappointed.

I asked Derek Brown after my last visit if he feels much has changed since opening. “Nothing has changed dramatically from our opening. We’ve just gotten better at what we do and more popular along with it. We’re especially grateful for all the accolades -from the Washingtonian to GQ – as it’s very gratifying when you work as hard as we do to see people enjoying the fruits of your labor.”

And what exquisite fruits… that night the girls and I sat down at the bar tended by the talented Katie Nelson, with three Season Tickets garnished with mint and cucumber to start. Spring may have failed us outside in the chill, but inside was a garden of delights.  Continue reading

Ward 5

Dispatches from Ward 5: High Density Edition

Photo courtesy of

courtesy of ‘TomLeGro’

If you’ve ever been to Rustik in Bloomingdale, you’ve probably noticed that it has this big, gorgeous patio… with nothing but firewood on it. Rustik has a voluntary agreement with the Bloomingdale Civic Association allowing patio seating for reduced hours, but has not yet secured the public space permit required to actually seat people outside. The hearing with the Public Space Management Administration is on March 24, and neighbors are writing letters in support of Rustik’s petition to Juan Amaya at the Space Permit Office.

In Brookland, the 901 Monroe project is moving along through the hearing process. On March 14th, the Zoning Commission held a setdown hearing on the project. The commission seems generally in favor of the idea, but would like to consider setting down a version of the plan with zoning that would restrict its height further. The Commission has asked for a number of additional documents: shade studies  on how the proposed development will affect the surrounding area, perspective drawings of how it will look from various points around the neighborhood (12th Street retail, the Metro station, etc.), as well as a copy of the Brookland Small Area Plan. The developers have until tomorrow to turn in this information and the Commission will consider the issue again at their March 28 meeting. Continue reading

Food and Drink, The Features, We Love Drinks

Drinks Special: Sake at Kushi

Photo courtesy of
‘Kushi 02’
courtesy of ‘Max Cook’

In the whole wide world of drinks, there’s nothing more intimidating to me than a sake menu. Staring at the thirty-six selections at Kushi Izakaya & Sushi, my brain usually goes blank. Add shochu and my head really spins. It may be the Japanese. At least I can bumble my way through a French wine list, but sake? Forget it. So when my WLDC partner-in-photographic-crime Max Cook and I had the chance to spend some time with their beverage director, George Young, to learn about sake, we jumped. Well, I jumped, Max loves sushi more than sake. But after just an hour reviewing the basics of production and sampling the menu, I felt much less intimidated and am now eager to explore more.

Luckily, George himself is newly converted to the joys of sake and proved the perfect host to de-mystify the nature of rice wine. Wait, let’s start with that phrase – sake isn’t actually “rice wine,” as wine implies production from fruit. Sake comes from rice, and therefore is considered its own category. But how does rice become sake? What’s the difference between those cloudy white liquids and the clear ones? And what about hot versus cold? George patiently explained it all for us. Continue reading

Entertainment, The Features, We Love Arts

We Love Arts: On the Razzle

Michael Glenn, Matthew McGloin and Ashley Ivey in Constellation Theatre Company's "On the Razzle." Photo credit: Daniel Schwartz

Imagine polishing off several bottles of bubbly with your ditzy old Aunt. That’s the kind of delightfully dizzy night you’re in for with Constellation Theatre Company‘s madcap production of Tom Stoppard’s On the Razzle. There are more groaning puns and twisted tongues here than I can possibly quote. The completely ridiculous wordplay seems endless, gorging itself on a verbal box of chocolates until the farce bursts at the seams. You’ll feel like a goose stuffed with foie gras. Yes, I meant to mix those metaphors. That’s the beauty of the evening.

To lovers of Broadway musicals, the plot will be familiar. It’s Hello, Dolly! without Barbra Streisand, I mean, without the matchmaker. Stoppard based his play on the Viennese comedy that Thornton Wilder used to write the play Jerry Hermann used to write the musical – deep breath – it’s this kind of whirligig origin that director Nick Olcott calls “an analgram of stunning originality and blatant theft.” It’s no surprise this production is set on a revolving stage. The usual brilliant Stoppard wordplay is itself a swirling waltz, with malapropisms building on themselves in an excess of tomfoolery.

You could just sum it up as a play about two guys trying to pick up girls by pretending to be high rollers. Somehow, in a town gone mad for tartan, with the help of a wooden horse named Lightning, they become made men. Continue reading

Food and Drink, The Features

First Look: Mandu

Photo courtesy of
‘Ducks, Mandu’
courtesy of ‘Jenn Larsen’

It’s fascinating to me how one place can unite a diverse selection of people. Mandu, the unassuming, lively Korean restaurant in Dupont Circle, does just that for many friends of mine who don’t even know each other. Crowding into the tiny front bar enjoying one of the best happy hour deals in town, I’m guaranteed to bump into any number of people from all areas of my life.

The Lee family have opened a second location of their much-beloved Mandu, with a larger, sexier space in the CityVista complex. I’m sure it will become just as popular as the original location. I recently checked it out and was thrilled to see bar manager Christian Diep, one of the most gregarious and fun-loving bartenders in town. Sitting at the end of the floating wooden bar (hooks underneath? check), I tucked into several of my favorite Mandu dishes and got a tour of the modern space. It was just as welcoming as it always is at the Dupont location – somehow they make everyone feel like they’re home.

And with a late night menu where you can nosh on shredded pork tacos or quesadillas filled with kimchi, chicken and cheese… well, you may not ever have to leave. Continue reading

Food and Drink, The Features, We Love Drinks

We Love Drinks: Chinatown Coffee Company

Photo courtesy of
‘Mocha, Chinatown Coffee Company’
courtesy of ‘Jenn Larsen’

I have a confession. I can’t make a cup of coffee to save my life. In fact, I make really horrible coffee, sludge coffee, gritty coffee. I make worse espresso. Crema? Ha! You’d be lucky.

That must be why I love baristas so much. I watch them like some people watch priests turning water into wine. Hushed, respectful, full of wonder. And I love a hot tattoo. Plus an extra shot of sass with my caffeine always helps.

Which brings us to Chinatown Coffee Company

“I’ll have a mocha, I think,” I blearily requested one Monday morning.

“I would never have guessed,” the barista coldly replied. I looked up, blinking in surprise. He held his deadpan for what seemed like an eternity and then cracked a wide smile.

“It’s Mocha Mondays, girl!” he laughed, pointing at the blackboard where the notice danced in happy pastel chalk.

Just like that, I fell in love.

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Entertainment, People, Special Events, The Features, We Love Arts

We Love Arts: Let Me Down Easy

Anna Deavere Smith in Second Stage's production of Let Me Down Easy, directed by Leonard Foglia. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Twenty voices culled from three hundred interviews over three continents, all brought to life by one woman.

Baltimore native, MacArthur Award recipient, and something of a brilliant medium – Anna Deavere Smith has launched the national tour of Second Stage’s production Let Me Down Easy. Playing now through February 13 at Arena Stage, it’s a powerful exploration of the difficulties American culture has with death and disease, how we define strength, and the current inequality of our healthcare system. Its power doesn’t come from a slap, however. As a friend who came with me to press night aptly commented, “sometimes a gentle nudge to wake you up is more appreciated than a harsh shake.”

That doesn’t mean the piece doesn’t pack a punch. Embodying twenty individuals whose words are directly taken from their interviews, Smith weaves both the sadness and the hilarity of the human condition into a tone poem on what it means to face the end of life. From Eve Ensler’s uproarious theory of “who’s in their vagina?” to Joel Siegel’s dropping his clown mask as he faces cancer, it’s an experience of fascinating observations and appalling truths. Smith doesn’t hit the audience over the head with strident political activism or calls to action – it’s simply the stories that weave the message, and it’s for you to hear and be affected as you will. I find that to be very brave, and left with a feeling of being both uplifted and released at the same time.

Let me down easy? Yes. That’s how I’d like to go. Continue reading

Food and Drink, The Daily Feed

Bar Pilar Gets an Upstairs

Photo courtesy of
courtesy of ‘furcafe’

Bar Pilar has been my beloved neighborhood bar for years (even before it was one of my very first We Love Drinks). I wouldn’t have survived Snowpocalypse without it, that’s for sure, trudging the few blocks through the snow to beat cabin fever. Countless evenings hanging out for impromptu gab sessions, long brunch afternoons that turn into dinner, I could almost call it my third space if it weren’t for the other countless times I’ve walked in and walked right out again. Sweatily packed to over-capacity on peak nights, Pilar’s popularity has grown past its 49 seats. Recently I’ve even sworn off evenings there because of some rude pushing incidents. That’s the price you pay when your neighborhood bar becomes a hot spot.

Pilar isn’t just a bar, however, it’s a small-plates mecca (one of the first to have adopted that now ubiquitous model) under talented chef Justin Bittner. I’m addicted to the food there, from the meaty grilled octopus to the salty anchovies on toast which always remind me of Sicily – they even have fried pig ears! So even though the subject of restaurant expansion sometimes rightly gives pause (as Ashley notes earlier) the news that Pilar is expanding to include an upstairs dining room was met with optimism by me.

Let’s look at some renderings (keep an open mind though, computer models are notoriously cold looking). Continue reading

Food and Drink, Night Life, The Daily Feed

American Ice Co. Opening

 Photo courtesy of
‘American Ice Co. signpost’
courtesy of ‘Jenn Larsen’

Last night I braved the serious chill and stomped my frozen legs over to American Ice Co. to warm up at their soft opening. It only took a few minutes to defrost with a perfect Vieux Carre cocktail at the marble bar, courtesy of one of my favorite bartenders, Patrick Owens. This lowkey spot has been hotly anticipated (as it’s co-owned by Joe Reza with Eric and Ian Hilton, giving it Midas touch credentials). The official opening is this Thursday, December 16, after which American Ice Co. will be open at 5pm seven days at week. If last night was any indication, it will fast become my go-to neighborhood bar. Here’s a quick peek at what to expect! Continue reading