Capital Chefs, Food and Drink, The Features

Capital Chefs: Julien Shapiro of Eat the Rich

Julien Shapiro of Eat the Rich

Julien Shapiro of Eat the Rich

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.

When Julien Shapiro created the opening menu for Eat the Rich, he consulted the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to get some idea of which fish he should use and which to avoid.

The NOAA scientists could not tell him what to do, of course, but they could provide him with data and help him interpret it.

“If you look at the fishing reports, it says the numbers are such, and then you make a conclusion based on what you think is good,” Shapiro told me. “They will say whether it is overfished or underfished or if there is no data.”

To round out his view of the fish available in the mid-Atlantic, Shapiro makes an effort to visit each mid-Atlantic state and check with its Department of Natural Resources to discover local numbers on fish and confirm what is available.

These habits serve Shapiro and Eat the Rich well, as the chef and owners focus on local, sustainable seafood, derived heavily from the Chesapeake Bay.

“We are trying to focus exclusively on Chesapeake seafood. That’s our calling card,” Shapiro said.

Cocktail mogul Derek Brown and oysterman Travis Coxton opened Eat the Rich last year, naming it after a Motorhead song. Coxton is also behind Rappahannock River Oysters, which has expanded locally into Union Market in 2012. Eat the Rich serves those same oysters. Coxton is concerned about being a good steward of the local oyster population, Shapiro said, and the chef applies the same outlook to the rest of the seafood served at Eat the Rich.

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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

Special Events, We Love Drinks, We Love Music

DC Toasts the Black Mixology Club

At this point you know how we feel about Dale DeGroff, Derek Brown, Garrett Peck, and the Museum of the American Cocktail.  You also know how we like fancy parties with good drinks. So I’ll be brief: all those people (and more) are organizing DC Toasts the Black Mixology Club, a benefit for the Museum, May 10 at the Howard Theatre. The Chuck Brown Band will perform.

The discount for early ticket sales has been extended through tonight. Regular tickets at the early access price are $65; VIP tickets with early admission are $90. For more information, check out the Washingtonian’s Best Bites Blog, this Kojo Nnamdi interview with some of the organizers, or the event’s about us page.

That is all.

Food and Drink, The District, We Love Drinks

We Love Drinks: Hogo Preview

The info sheet handed out at Hogo’s media preview reads, “Hogo is part of a project called Temporary Works that hopes to bring new late-night dining options to Washington, D.C. by giving talented chefs a platform to cook bar food with their own twists. Located inside Hogo, Temporary Works has a dine-in kitchen that will be helmed by a cast of rotating chefs from Washington, D.C. and other nearby cities.” If you read recent City Paper coverage you might be asking, “would they really open a bar knowing that it would have to close in a year?” Your answer is thus completely out in the open, proudly announcing itself with the name Temporary Works. Hell, that’s even the name that appeared on the ABRA notice.

This cannot in any way be an impartial report. Regular readers of this site — especially the weekend posts — might by now have the idea that the Social Chair and I spend a lot of time at the Passenger, two doors north of Hogo. It should thus come as little surprise that we’ve come to be friends with brothers Tom and Derek Brown (and in the interest of the fullest disclosure possible, we have known their landlords and partners the Rupperts for even longer than we have known the Browns). We first met Tom in the company of the Rupperts after a “garage sale” at the Warehouse Theater, in the Passenger’s early days. Presented with the horrible beach cocktail book we’d bought at the sale, he admitted that what he really wanted to open was a rum bar with tiki drinks. Several years and uncounted Tiki Tuesdays later, he has realized that dream with Hogo. Not only have we known the new bar was coming, though, we helped paint the place and move the furniture.

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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

Dupont Circle, Entertainment, Food and Drink, Special Events, The Daily Feed

Liquid Lessons: Hotel Cocktails

Photo courtesy of
‘Glasses Half Full’
courtesy of ‘Jenn Larsen’

There’s something about the combination of historic grand hotels and cocktail culture that absolutely enchants me. Judging from the crowd waiting to get into the seminar on great hotel cocktails last night at Tabard Inn, I’m not alone. Hosted by Philip Greene of the Museum of the American Cocktail, Better Drinking‘s Derek Brown, and Tabard’s own Chantal Tseng, it was a fascinating evening both informative and funny on the phenomenon of the American hotel cocktail.

The three witty hosts mixed up drinks and dispensed history, from the Prohibition days of revolving bars and secret staircases, to the fabled round table of the Algonquin, to Hawaii’s pink palaces on the sea. We even got to shake up our own Ramos Gin Fizzes (the two minutes of vigorous shaking resulting in the beautiful meringue top of this delicate drink? well worth the effort) while hearing about shady Huey Long bringing that glorious New Orleans cocktail to New York City as a PR stunt. It worked. Continue reading

Food and Drink, The Daily Feed, We Love Drinks

Gin and Tonic Throwdown?

Here is another of my gin y tonic..... on Twitpic
“Here is another of my gin y tonic”
via @chefjoseandres

Who doesn’t love a little smack talk?

After Adam Bernbach’s recipe got a little love from the Post (and, for what it’s worth, from Katie Nelson in these pages) Chef José Andrés Took matters into his own hands, or at least his own twitter account, posting “thats a great drink, agree! and i love estadio but aint a gin and tonic! let me post my gin&tonic(love controversy)”.

Now Derek Brown has offered to host such a showdown at the Columbia Room. I said it to him on twitter, and now I’ll say it here: Jenn and I will be happy to assist with any judging. Just make sure that Todd Thrasher is included too, since Adam said his gin and tonic was the inspiration.

Food and Drink, The Features, We Love Drinks

We Love Drinks: Columbia Room

The Columbia Room. Photo credit: Max Cook.

Imagine a little room removed from the crazy world outside – an oasis of peace entered through a busy bar. Jars of spices line the walls, while chunks of the most pristine ice you’ve ever seen are gently melting in a wooden hangiri bowl, waiting to be carved up. Bottles stand neatly at the ready, watched over by a dapper gentleman sporting a perfect bowtie. This is the Columbia Room, and for a few blissful hours prepare to be transported to drinks nirvana, as Derek Brown brings you a “cocktail club” nestled inside The Passenger. It’s like a spa for spirit lovers, evoking a true intimacy almost lost to us in these hectic times.

I’ve been eager to try out the Columbia Room since I first heard whispers of its concept, unintentionally eavesdropping on co-owners and brothers Tom and Derek Brown before The Passenger ever opened, and it’s no secret that later The Passenger quickly became one of my favorite bars. So it was with much anticipation that I finally entered this gentle yet meticulous environment on two occasions last week – once for a class and once for service – and I can’t think why I wouldn’t be back again and again.

As with The Passenger, there’s no attitude here. All you need to get in is to find a open slot on the online reservation system and hold it with a card. You’ll be called ahead of time to confirm and review any preferences. There’s a four person maximum to each reservation, and the prixe fixe menu of $49 (tax and tip inclusive) includes a welcoming glass of champagne, the nightly cocktail paired with a small plate, and a customized cocktail. There are also weekly classes by Derek Brown and Kat Bangs for $65 covering all aspects of crafting cocktails. I had a wonderful time at Kat’s recent champagne cocktail class, learning how to make my own blackberry liqueur and sugar cubes. Both service and class are well worth it.

So, let’s decompress into cocktail transcendence…

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Food and Drink, Interviews, People, The Features, We Love Drinks

We Love Drinks: Joe Riley

Photo courtesy of
‘Joe Riley, Ace Beverage’
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.

So far in our profile series we’ve focused on the people bringing your drinks to you – from bartenders crafting cocktails to sommeliers creating a wine list. But who brings the drinks to them? Those ingredients don’t just magically appear, do they? One name kept coming up over and over again – Joe Riley, fine spirits manager at Ace Beverage. I ventured up to leafy Wesley Heights (near AU) to meet him at the small but packed shop in Foxhall Square. We talked about his experiences as a fine spirits manager, and I also canvassed DC craft bartenders Owen Thompson and Derek Brown, along with cocktail enthusiast Marshall Fawley, to find out what it is about Joe that has loyal customers so buzzed.

Joe’s reputation is that he can find anyone anything. Within a few minutes of talking to him, I’d mentioned my nostalgic love for a rose liqueur I tasted one evening in Paris, topping a glass of champagne (the waiter exploded the bottle over me, but that’s another drinks story). “Not rose water, rose liqueur,” I sighed, “but no one has ever been able to – ” Joe’s head had cocked to one side during my reverie, eyes sparkling, and I trailed off as I realized he was about to make magic. “Crispin’s Rose Liqueur, Greenway Distillers. Hand distilled from apples, infused with rose petals. Crispin Cain’s been perfecting the recipe for years. We should be able to get that soon.”

Quest ended. Just like that. I then spent about an hour in the shop listening to him weave tales of liquor lore. Not only can he find anyone anything, he seems to know about everything – a fine spirits encyclopedia, a libation historian, filled with tales of Prohibition and the Washington of old. Continue reading

Food and Drink, Special Events, The Daily Feed

Cocktail Class at The Columbia Room

Photo courtesy of
’20090120L1000010_640′
courtesy of ‘furcafe’

Now that The Passenger is well embarked with Tom Brown at the helm, brother Derek Brown’s internal cocktail laboratory – the bar-within-the-bar called the Columbia Room – is set to start classes in February. Seminars will be held every other Wednesday at 7pm for $65 each. The current line up through March sounds fascinating. It’s an ambitious program that will be helpful not only for you libation geeks already making your own bitters and eager to learn more, but also for those just delving into the world of craft cocktails.

“A Primer on Orange Liqueur” kicks off February 17, covering the difference between major top-shelf makers and showing participants how to make your own version of triple sec. Derek will demonstrate proper Margarita, Sidecar and Fancy Gin cocktails and help elevate this sometimes over-abused ingredient. Continue reading

Food and Drink, Night Life, People, The Features, We Love Drinks

Drinks Preview: The Passenger

Photo courtesy of
‘The Passenger 7′
courtesy of ‘maxedaperture’

Let’s say you love hand-crafted cocktails, but your friend is all about Miller High Life. Up until this point, I’d be hard-pressed to recommend a place where you both would feel comfortable. Thankfully, brothers Derek and Tom Brown have created a bar where the two of you can happily cosy up in a booth together.

Last night, The Passenger opened its doors to the public. The night before, I was lucky to attend a preview of the new bar and sample the atmosphere. It’s still a work in progress, the rough-and-ready quality mimicking the surrounding neighborhood. If you were familiar with the Warehouse, the space revamps the front bar and the back area near the theater. It’s got a black diamond quality, with exposed brick, hardwood floors and a long photographic mural that’s meant to remind you of the view from a train’s windows. Booths line the walls and by this weekend the back section will be finished to resemble a mirrored dining car.

If you’re expecting an upscale exclusive club atmosphere with pinkies raised over clinkety-clink glasses, well, you’ll be disappointed. What we have here is a funky, eclectic neighborhood bar that’s set to evolve organically. And I’m not kidding, in addition to those famous made-to-taste cocktails you can also get Miller High Life and a chili half-smoke.

This is a bar where both mods and rockers are easily at home. Continue reading

Food and Drink, The Daily Feed

The Passenger Embarks

Photo courtesy of
‘Peychaud Rinse’
courtesy of ‘Samer Farha’

The long-awaited new venture of the brothers Brown is set to open this Thursday. Yes, The Passenger is ready for embarkation on 7th Street, in the old bar space of the Warehouse Theater complex. It sounds rather rock-n-roll to me, with Tom Brown (formerly of Cork) slinging up made-to-taste cocktails, including seasonal pitchers, along with what will no doubt be a phenom wine list and beer – canned or draft.

Derek Brown’s internal combustion engine, the Columbia Room, won’t open til early 2010 – this is a smaller bar-inside-a-bar modeled after tiny Japanese bars with high personal interaction between bartender and guest.

Back over the summer, purely by chance, I ended up sitting next to their concept meeting outside at Room 11 and really struggled with writing about anything I’d heard that evening. I could’ve started a whole slew of rumors about what Tom and Derek were planning, but honestly, they don’t need the buzz, already being cocktail legends with a loyal following in the city.

Bottom line? I think it’s fantastic the two brothers are finally getting to work together, highlighting their different styles in one place.  You can expect a funky interior that still stays true to the surrounding historic architecture, complete with a “dining car” in the back, but nothing incredibly high-end or elaborate – there’s a dedication to building a low-key neighborhood bar feel as well. Will it become a total scene because everyone and their mother wants a hand-crafted cocktail from these guys now? Will this finally revitalize that rather raggedy stretch of street? We’ll find out.