Farm Fresh: Charlie Palmer Steak

Charlie Palmer

WeLoveDC authors Donna (greenie) and Katie (foodie) have paired up to bring you a double-hitting feature about local area restaurants that take on the challenge of being green. Donna will explain the logic behind the environmentally friendly trends and Katie will tell you if the food tastes any good. It’s a rough life, but someone has to do it, right?

Katie: Charlie Palmer Steak is situated on the bottom floor of the Carpenter’s Union building, facing the Capitol Reflecting Pool on the Senate side. I’d almost be tempted to call it DC stuffy, if I didn’t love it so much. And love it I do, Charlie Palmer Steak gets top marks in my foodie book. Not only is it gorgeous, the food is fantastic, and the service matches. The entire front of the restaurant is glass, and in the winter I’m sure it has a supurb view of the Capitol Building. An impressive walk-in wine cellar sits above a fountain and water pool full of stones. The servers are inconspicuously attentive. Candles flicker on the table. It is a quiet sort of posh, the perfect place for a business meeting, or a very impressive date. Honestly, it’s the type of place that you wouldn’t quite expect to do locovore meals. It’s a bit too conservative, too buttoned-up. But for all the month of August, through September 12, you can stop by Charlie Palmer to do an incredibly affordable “In the Loop” dinner – all food from within 150 miles of DC for $39 per person, excluding tax and gratuity.

Donna: When I asked Sous Chef Jeff Russell why they were doing a local dinner, his honesty was refreshing. August is slow, and local eating is big now, he said.

Environmentalists or locavores who are purists may not appreciate the motive, but I think it’s proof that greenies’ voices are being heard. It also reaffirms the message given by Food, Inc. and FRESH, two current movies on where our food comes from, that individual consumer choices do indeed move the market.

And of course there’s another reason — that food tastes better when it hasn’t made a cross-country road trip first, arriving on your plate hot, tired, and wilted. Did you know the average piece of produce travels 1,500 miles before it gets to you?

Dining out at Charlie Palmer

Katie: We started out with a super tasty creamy corn soup with crab. I absolutely loved this dish. I was expecting chunks of white and yellow corn, but instead it was a delicious satiny soup, a lovely soft texture and wonderful creamy flavor. Cold soups (well, really any soups) can be done in so many different ways, mostly a tomato with bread base. This one was unexpected to me, and I love it these days when I’m surprised by a food. The crab was perfect in it for a bit of protein.

The other possible dish to choose was a goat cheese and heriloom tomato salad with frisee. The tomatoes were nice, and the vinegar was good. I wound up finding that for every course, I raved about one of the two dish choices, and felt just fine about the other. For me, the best pick here was by far the soup.

Creamy Corn n Crab Soup

Donna: All ingredients for the In the Loop dinners at Charlie Palmer Steak come from within 150 miles of DC. Our chicken just made the cut, being brought from an Amish farm in Pennsylvania that was 147 miles away. And thank goodness, because it was not your average chicken; it was plump and tender and one of the highlights of the meal.

Katie: After devouring our soup and tomato salad, we were given the chicken Donna just mentioned. I loved that chicken. It came with a great gnocchi, and the brown butter sauce was nice. The chicken was done precisely right, and came with a bit of crispy skin. The other dish was a lamb that both Donna and I found a bit chewy. But goodness, that chicken! Plus the Sommilier was able to choose a supurb pinot noir that paired well with both the lamb and the chicken. Charlie Palmer’s wine list is fantastic.

Best Cheese Ever

Donna: One star of the meal wasn’t on the menu — it was a special small dish that included a wedge of Everona Piedmont sheep’s cheese. (Go to Charlie Palmer’s this week, and you can try it as part of the Fried Green Tomato Salad appetizer.) While I would have starved as a child were it not for grilled cheese sandwiches, I rarely get super excited about a plain chunk of cheese. This one was fabulous, thick and somewhat dry and very tasty. The cheesemakers describe it as having a nutty or flowery flavor and an earthy aftertaste. Yes; they put into words what I couldn’t.

And then, lo and behold, last Sunday I found the Everona Dairy at the Columbia Pike Farmer’s Market. Oh, happy day!

Katie: Like Donna, I really enjoyed this cheese. It was nutty, certainly, but the texture was this great in-between hard and soft. You could cut it with the side of your fork, but it wasn’t spreadable. They served it with a bit of frisee, and some good raisin nut bread. Donna is right, it truly was more than just a hunk of cheese.

Nom Nom Dessert

Donna: Local food may cost a bit more, but you can taste the difference in quality, Chef Russell said. He’s so right. Eat his cobbler, made from plums so soft and tangy and wonderful they could have inspired the dance of the sugar plum fairy, and you’ll notice the difference immediately.

Katie: Again, the plum cobbler far outshined the pound cake, which I was more excited to eat. The tart plumbs paired with a not-too-sweet biscuit topping was honest dessert perfection. I have nothing but good things to gush about the tart with. The pound cake with chocolate ice cream paled in comparison, the pound cake small and slightly dry, and the ice cream your basic chocolate. I may have liked it more had it not been right next to THE BEST DESSERT EVER.

Donna: Luckily, you can experience local food at Charlie Palmer even if you miss this special menu, which ends Sept. 12. The chef sources some food from within our area year-round, through cooperatives of small local farms.

One is Tuscarora Organic Growers, a cooperative of 20 certified organic family farms with bucolic names such as Dancing Creek Farm and Sunny Ridge Farm. All are located in the hills and dales of south central Pennsylvania. The other, The Fresh Link, provides produce, herbs, honey and meats from 17 small farms in Virginia, some of which use organic and biodynamic farming methods.

Why does this matter? Food that’s been grown organically and biodynamically hasn’t been sprayed with pesticides, ever. Even small farms that use conventional farming techniques, I am told, often are more sparing with pesticides than large factory farms. Small farmers are more likely to treat their animals humanely and allow them to roam outside. Small farms grow your food more or less by hand, and supporting them also means supporting local business, another reason Charlie Palmer’s chef gave for creating a local menu.

View from the Roof

Katie: At the end of the meal, we were able to go up to the roof, which the Carpenter’s Union rents out regularly for events. Charlie Palmer is the exclusive caterer for the rooftop, and it was one of the most stunning views of DC I’ve seen since living here. Looking out over the Capitol, the Capitol Reflecting Pool, the Washington Monument and Pennsylvania Ave, it was breathtaking. Had I $20,000+ (the price to rent the roof, plus the catering) to drop on a night, I’d be first in line to throw a massive party up there. It was the perfect ending to a fantastic local meal.

Donna: Since beef production contributes to global warming more so than other types of food, I was a bit skeptical about a green meal at a steakhouse. But this locally sourced dinner seems true to the local foods concept, and was a treat for the tastebuds as well. Bon appetit!

Katie moved to DC in 2007, and has since embarked upon a love affair with the city. She’s an education reform advocate and communications professional during the day; at night and on the weekends, she’s an owner here at We Love DC. Katie has high goals to eat herself through the entire city, with only her running shoes to save her from herself. For up-to-the-minute news and reviews (among other musings), follow her on Twitter!