We’re revisiting our Capital Chefs feature with a series by music reporter Mickey McCarter. A lot has been happening recently in kitchens in D.C. restaurants, and Mickey takes a look into them from his usual seat at the bar in this series, which runs weekly on Thursdays.
Out of art school, Jesse Miller sized up his prospects and took a job at the Elkridge Furnace Inn in Elkridge, Md.
The restaurant has one of the best wine programs in Maryland, offering gourmet French food to hungry customers as well as hosting weddings and catering.
At first thankful for a job, Miller ended up staying there for seven years.
“I was lucky enough to get a job there and that’s how this started,” said Miller, now chef at Bar Pilar and its sister establishment Café Saint-Ex. “Otherwise, I would still be trying to paint and living in the street someplace.”
He learned a lot at the Elkridge Furnace Inn that he applies to Bar Pilar, where his friends and customers hail him as an innovative chef.
“I was taught that a chef should accommodate anything at any time for anyone,” Miller said. “If you don’t like our options, we can always do something.
I haven’t frequented Cafe Saint-Ex for very long, but to be fair I haven’t frequented anywhere in DC very long. But in the time that I’ve spent at Saint-Ex I’ve noticed their slow and steady change from a great neighborhood bar to one of the tops spots to get a drink in DC.
Let’s be real, we all know Saint-Ex. We’ve all been there for more than a few unforgettable nights and, of course, a few that we can’t remember. The 14 street staple opened in 2003 and since then the upstairs bar has been the go to spot for an afterwork drink, whether you’re 9 to 5 or stopping by for last call after a night behind the stick, and downstairs Gate 54 has taken on iconic status for its late night dance parties. While Saint-Ex may already be a DC standard, they prove with their new food and bar menu after all these years they’re still good enough to go round for round with the biggest names in the industry.
Driving the new bar menu is Ben Wiley, formerly of Jose Andres’ Think Food Group, and Noah Broaddus. One look at the menu and you can tell they took a serious, no frills approach to making good, simple drinks. Nothing too crazy, nothing too complicated, but all ridiculously good. Each drink is flavor-driven, with a focus on quality while still being approachable. As Noah puts it, “it’s all about bringing people into the fold.” Saint-Ex is and will always be the spot to drink a beer and get a shot on 14th, but now you can be sure to get a killer cocktail too. Continue reading →
A good pasta carbonara separates the strong from the weak, the great from the average. Master that dish and you can certainly wow some dinner guests. The carbonara from Café Saint-Ex’s executive chef, Billy Klein, uses udon noodles and fresh pea shoots for a slightly different spin. The result? A pasta dish that remains light and fresh, even with a creamy sauce.
I can’t make any guarantees that yours will turn out as good as it does at Café Saint-Ex, so if I were you I’d head there first to check out the original with what was the best pork belly I’ve ever had (not an exaggeration)—crisp on the outside and not a bit of grizzly fat on the inside. And while you’re there the rest of this month, check out some of Billy’s creations for National Grilled Cheese month (read: grilled cheese on “potato bread”–gooey cheddar cheese and bacon in between slices of potatoes or the brioche encrusted with Fruity Pebbles and melted brie inside).
The full recipe, broken down by parts (roll up your sleeves and get ready for a little challenge!), is after the jump.
There’s something refreshing about a direct answer to a question these days. A simple statement that gets to the root of what you’re asking, that needs no follow-up question, leaves no confusion or wiggle room for ambiguity. And when I asked Billy Klein why he became a chef, I got a succinct, straightforward answer: “I love food. I love people. I love being artistic.”
The executive chef of Café Saint-Ex elaborates: “With cooking, there are no limits, no boundaries.” Growing up, Klein says that family meals were “always a big deal” in his household. Years later, that thread now carries over into his job as a chef where he says he loves bringing people together and that he enjoys making food that’s not “too cerebral—so that people don’t forget who they’re with.” Klein reminds you that yes, a meal is about the food, but it’s also about the experience and the people you share it with.
So unsurprisingly, after chatting with Klein it’s easy to see that he’s the type of down-to-earth person you’d not only want cooking your food, but that you’d also want to share said food with. He’s level-headed—which is not to say that he’s some vanilla shade of boring—you’ll see the flashes of badassery in tattoos peeking out from his shirt sleeves or when he and a few kitchen crew members slam a shot of whiskey before wrapping up a Saturday night shift. But for example, Klein explains that achieving balance in life is important as a chef. “I love what I do and I work my ass off. But you need balance in your life,” he says. “Being a successful chef is a sacrifice. You have to put in the work, the time and the training.” Part of that life balance is knowing that a chef can’t be at a restaurant all the time, obsessing over every detail and watching their kitchen staff like a hawk. Klein emphasizes that part of a chef’s job is teaching and trusting staff to turn out dishes that are as close to the original version from the chef. Continue reading →
Bust out those antler headbands and that awesomely bad sweater you got in 1992. You know, that one with the misshapen Santa Claus and a nearly life-size Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer.
Café Saint-Ex is hosting an Ugly Christmas Sweater party this Wednesday, December 14th at 8 PM. Sip on $5 winter beers, egg nog and hot buttered rum while nibbling on Christmas cookies. Plus, DJ Soul Call Paul will be in charge of music for the evening. If you happen to be the lucky king or queen of the ugliest sweaters, you’ll win a $50 gift card to Saint-Ex.
A human being can only eat so many hot dogs and hamburgers around the grill with family and friends. So here’s a helpful roundup of some food events that will get you out the door and give you something to do other than wondering if the steaks are done with Uncle Barry manning the grill.
"Eros cocktail, Zaytinya" by Jenn Larsen on Flickr
Summer always puts me in mind to garden. I have a little herb garden with oregano, rosemary and lavender that always needs pruning, some roses that need constant watch from black spot, peonies dusty with blight – wait a minute. Gardening in DC is hard work, our weather vacillating between wet and humid to dry and droughty. Isn’t there an easier way to enjoy herbs and flowers?
Why yes. Drink them!
I love nothing better than to cook with fresh herbs and spices, and I’ve been known to throw some edible flowers into my salad, so I am loving the growing spread of these ingredients in cocktails. We’re both lucky and spoiled to be enjoying a cocktail renaissance here in DC. Time was a decent drink meant liquor + mixer, maybe with a garnish. Not anymore. Bartenders are approaching cocktails like, well, a chef would. The explosion of housemade syrups and infusions enable mixologists to make some potent magic.
But as with gardening, not everyone has a green thumb. It’s not enough to just toss some herbage in a martini glass and hey pesto! it’s a delicious cocktail. Just like that time I put too much adobe sauce in my sweet potato puree and set my guests throats on fire (um, sorry about that!). You have to know how flavors work together and how much power that pepper’s going to pop onto your tongue.
So here are my current favorites highlighting the trifecta of herbs, flowers and spice, with a few misses along the way.