Last night, foodies and Chefs gathered at the Historic Building Museum in downtown Washington, DC to taste the “best of” the DC areas top restaurants.
The sold-out event has featured more than 60 of Washingtonian’s 100 Very Best Restaurants and celebrated chefs, including Michel Richard of Citronelle and Central, Robert Wiedmaier of Marcels and Brasserie Beck, Tony Conte of the Oval Room, Scott Drewno of the Source by Wolfgang Puck, and Bryan Voltaggio of Volt Restaurant… and Top Chef fame.
The Best of Washington did not disappoint. Anticipating the long lines, which began forming at 5:35pm for the 6:00pm opening, the Washingtonian Magazine planned ahead. Working with one of their beverage sponsors Patron, there were ladies dressed in all white serving delicious adult Popsicles infused with tequila. My favorite was Raspberry Lime.
Once inside, the playfulness continued with a almost carnival-vintage-candy-shop theme. In the center of the historic space was a large bar which was disguised as a vintage candy and ice cream parlor with various plus sitting areas surrounding the restaurant stands. The packed crowd moved from display to display sampling some of the best bites from the DC areas top restaurants.
The food was all amazing, but some stood out a bit more than others. Nothing was bad, nothing. But some hit the mark and some fell just a tad short. Below are some of the “best” bites THL had at this not-to-be-missed summer DC event.
The “Best” from Washingtonian’s Best of Washington 2012
Proof & Estadio: Assorted Macarons
One of the benefits of being an adult if you can certainly start with dessert, and these delicate, cloud like macrons where absolutely some of the best I have ever tasted. The chefs from the 14th Street NW eateries Estadio and Proof offered two varieties: chocolate with vanilla buttercream and raspberry with bittersweet chocolate and Chambord. The slightly firm and perfectly crisp exterior gave way immediately once your teeth hit the top and revealed a cloud-like fluffy interior before reaching the perfectly balanced filling. The chocolate and vanilla macarons were smooth and comforting with a perfect balance between the two flavors. Whereas the other option provided a slightly bitter raspberry exterior with a velvety chocolate finish and sweet filling that left you wanting to inhale no less than ten. I managed to keep the intake to two each split into two separate trips.
Zentan, Donovan House Hotel
There may not be words to describe the cacophony of flavor that this bite from Zentan provided…but I shall try. This chicken and water chestnut wrap with red curry/coconut sauce was perfectly balanced and intensely flavorful. The chicken was moist and perfectly cooked and the bitterness from the baby arugula contrasted the sweet and tangy sauce in such a pleasing way. All packaged in a convenient and non-messy lettuce wrap made for a perfect serving platform for this crowded and very mobile event.
Ristorante Elisir by Enzo Fargione
Living up to his reputation as a renowned DC Italian restauranteur, Chef, and James Beard Foundation member, this oyster shooter was unlike anything I have ever had before. Not your typical oyster-vodka-hot sauce shooter, Elisir offered a ginger and pineapple marinated Blue Point oyster with Sicilian hot peppers, lemongrass, scallions and tuna bottarga (cured fish roe). The delicacy and saltiness of the oyster was matched perfectly with the strong flavors from the hot peppers and the tuna roe. One shot and you are hooked.
From the inventive Indian restaurant in Penn Quarter, Rasika, came this surprisingly flavor-packed bite in a unsuspecting package. Their Avocado Puri was a puffed cracker stuffed with spicy avocado and served with sweet yogurt, tamarind, and date chutney. And what a enjoyment it was. The spice was perfect. It hit you on your first bite and was cooled with the sweet yogurt, but then lingered until you were finished eating yet went away like properly seasoned spicy food should. The contrasting texture between the crispy exterior and creamy stuffing was enjoyable on the palate and again, packaged appropriately for this event.
To be perfectly honest, I almost passed up Chef Geoff’s. Their DC restaurants are solidly good and the downtown location draws a huge happy hour crowd, but for some reason I did not expect to see this beautiful bite at their table. One look and I had to try it – you really do eat with your eyes first. The ingredients, simple enough, consist of shrimp on top of a gouda grit cake with charred corn and sliced peppers and a sauce that I can’t quite put my finger on – slightly tangy but with a sweet finish. I inhaled this visually stunning bite and was extremely surprised that not only was the shrimp cooked perfectly, but the gouda grits were creamy and flavorful. Being from the South, I am very tough on folks who cook grits. Well done indeed Chef Geoff.
Blue Duck Tavern, Park Hyatt Hotel
Those who know me know that Blue Duck Tavern can do no wrong in my book and is consistently one of the best restaurants in DC. Thank God they did not disappoint. This beautifully plated chilled lamb terrine with tomato labne, and arugula, on pita chips was everything you want in a terrine: earthy, slightly minerally but not off-putting, salty, yet very delicate on the palate. Simplistic, gorgeous to look at, and flavorful.
Just look at these towers of delicousness. Even if they weren’t good, you’d never know it by looking at them. However, they were not good…they were incredible. Marcel’s offered smoked salmon and potato blini napoleons topped with caviar. The plating was perfect, the taste was decadent, providing layers of textural contrast and flavors, and the construction was flawless. The peppery baby greens provided the right amount of bitterness to an otherwise very rich dish. I’m just glad I was forced to share these with others.
I was slightly offended that the James Beard Award winning Citronelle was about to serve me orange pudding. Chef Michel Richard (who was not present) but is the force behind this and Central is a culinary genius, and his pastry chef is about to serve me pudding and/or some type of Jello in a plastic cup topped with cereal, was the initial thought going through my head. I could not have been more wrong…and I was so glad I was. This was such a refreshing delight to eat. This simply layered orange mouse with blood-orange jelly topped with rice crisps defines the phrase “it’s the simple things in life.” The mouse was so silky smooth with a delightfully bitter blood-orange jelly, brilliantly topped with something crispy to provide a textural contrast that was much needed and much appreciated.