Terrain Café in Bethesda is the fifth location for this gorgeous, farm-to-table restaurant highlighting local ingredients. Recently, the team decided to launch events collaborating with local chefs to produce unique culinary experiences with their first event featuring DC’s own Chef Edward Lee. Terrain’s Chef Kevin Ettenson created a stunning four-course meal inspired by Chef Lee’s 2019 James Beard Award Finalist cookbook, Buttermilk Graffiti.
The event commenced with welcome cocktails – a bourbon based drink infused with citrus, peach, and lemongrass. The window-lined dining room features green walls adorned with exotic tropical plants, and copper overhead lighting shines down on the wood tables. Signed copies of Chef Lee’s book lay on each seat, and guests began to get acquainted with their neighbors. Soon thereafter, Chef Ettenson introduced Chef Lee, who gave a brief description of his vision and inspiration for Buttermilk Graffiti.
The food was served promptly, and arrived piping-hot (not always common with a large guest list). The first course stood out as the star among the rest – amok trey with local blue catfish and gochujang pickles. This traditional Cambodian dish featuring catfish steamed in a banana leaf with coconut curry sauce, rice, and pickles was incredible. Cooked immaculately, the catfish flaked apart effortlessly in the rich sauce. The perfect amount of rice was ready for sopping up the sauce, and Chef Lee’s classic pickles cooled the palate with a crunch.
The next course featured Mango fries with jalapeño and mint aioli. The jalapeno and mint aioli was what tipped this dish over the edge. Having never had mango fries before, I expected them to be sweeter. However, the mango had an almost yucca-like quality to them.
Chicken “vaca frita” with coconut rice and mojo sauce was served next. Being a coconut rice connoisseur, I can confidently say this coconut rice wins for best in show. The fluffy, sweet rice was stacked high and topped with shredded chicken, instead of the traditional beef. I found myself, however, wishing there was more flavor to the chicken; desiring more of the kick represented in a classic mojo sauce, amplifying garlic and citrus.
Dessert concluded this exquisite meal, introducing green tea beignets with poached pears and toasted almonds. The green tea flavor was clearly present, and paired well with the pears and almonds as expected. The beignets, unfortunately, did not have the light and buttery consistency you would expect in a classic Café du Monde beignet. They were more on the tough side, which made it hard to eat sans knife and fork.
The event concluded with both chefs making their way around the wildflower-lined tables and chatting with attendees. Chef Lee personalized book signings, and Chef Ettenson acknowledged his staff and spoke of his experience cooking from Chef Lee’s culinary chef-d’oeuvre, Buttermilk Graffiti. Terrain Café certainly knows how to throw a magnificent, yet personal event, and I look forward to their next culinary experience at this beautiful, innovative space.