Ripple: Cru Beaujolais Dinner

Ripple

Have you tried wine from all ten Beaujolais appellations? How about trying them all in one night? Oh, and by the way that night is a Monday. This Monday funday wine safari, called a Cru Beaujolais Dinner, was held at Cleveland Park’s Ripple. Executive Chef Marjorie Meek-Bradley and her team joined forces with Best Thing on the Menu’s favorite wine shop, Weygandt Wines, which also calls Cleveland Park home. The two were a perfect pairing from the start.

Wines from Saint Amour, Juliénas, and Chénas started the night, paired with farm fresh beets, red onion and orange salad; broccoli raab, tomatoes and chili; and a mini charcuterie platter. All dishes were served family style at this intimate gathering of 40 Ripple and Weygandt Wines loyalists.

Ripple Cru Beaujolais Dinner

Chef Meek-Bradley put together an earth-driven dinner to match the earthy wine. In an interview with Best Thing on the Menu, she shared her inspiration for cooking. “I believe that my biggest inspiration is the farmers and people that I work with,” she said.  “Being from California, I was raised to believe that food is something to be shared with people and nurturing. Also that you should cook seasonally and locally. I try to follow these rules when writing our menu,” she continued.

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After savoring the first course, we moved on to Cote de Brouilly, Brouilly and Régnié, which boldly accompanied the chef’s scallop served with Andouille sausage, sweet corn and uni. The chef took a different approach to the class scallop and bacon combination by going with smoky, spicy sausage instead. And, who doesn’t love a little dollop of uni now and again.

The main course of Berkshire pork shoulder, farro risotto, mushrooms, crispy kale and braised swiss chard was served with the Morgon, Moulin à Vent and Fleurie.

Ripple

Dessert was vanilla bean-ginger panna cotta, which received a pour of the last remaining “cru,” Chiroubles. We no longer trust folks who say you can’t drink red wine with dessert. The pairing was magical.

There you have it, all ten crus were consumed before the check came. But what do we mean exactly? Beaujolais generally refers to the powerhouse wine region of southern Burgundy. There are ten small villages (aka “crus”) that comprise the upper echelon of the area. Experts say that each one has a unique terroir that is imparted during the wine making process. The goal of the dinner was to taste, appreciate and differentiate between the ten different terroirs of neighboring villages. An even playing field was created because all of the wines (except one) were from the same vintage. The grape you ask? It’s gamay.

The food and the wine both impressed, so we will surely return to Ripple to dine off of Chef Meek-Bradley’s menu. The Chef recommends her Carrot Cavatelli with Lobster. “People seem to love the combination and say the dish is rich, yet light at the same time,” she said.

Now that we’ve taken Ripple special events for a test drive, we happily recommend their upcoming Farm Dinner Benefitting the American Cancer Society on September 4th. Learn more here.  Before dinner, be sure to check out Weygandt Wines across the street. Tim O’Rourke and his team are always pouring samples over a great map of France and will enthusiastically educate you on what you’re drinking.

Been to Ripple? Share your favorite dishes in the comments section.

Sei: Fish and Chips

Sei Fish and Chips

Some say there’s a sixth sense. This is debatable.  What’s not debatable is that we have a fifth taste: sweet, salty, spicy, bitter and umami. Searching for umami can sometimes feel like a quest to find big foot or the abominable snowman. However, at chef-driven Sei in Penn Quarter, you don’t need to look any further than the dish in front of you. Almost every menu item has an earthy, delicious twinge to it, which can only be described as umami. For more information on this whimsical flavor, visit the Umami Information Center (we’re serious, this exists).

Our dinner at Sei was one of those meals where we felt pulled in different directions in selecting our top dish. Raw or cooked? Land or sea? Traditional or adventurous? After much debate, we arrived at the Best Thing on the Menu: Fish and Chips – Flounder, Malt Vinegar, Potato Crisps and Wasabi Tartar. This is already a critically-acclaimed roll, and we’d like to purchase two tickets aboard the fish and chips bandwagon! The Washingtonian, for one, calls this dish by world renowned Japanese Chef Noriake a must-try and CBS included it on their list of top fish and chips in DC. The freshest rare flounder we’ve ever encountered sits atop a roll of perfectly seasoned rice, complimented by all the traditional toppings you would find at a British pub.

Other notables included the S.O.S. roll, which featured the winning combination of salmon and strawberry; the miso caramelized kabocha, which tasted like Asian-inspired Thanksgiving; and the seared fatty tuna nigiri known as toro aburi. Although we didn’t have it on this Sei adventure, we’ve tried their sashimi pizza in the past and recommend it as a fun way to get the evening started.

Land and Sea Sushi at Sei

Land and Sea Sushi

Maple Miso Kabocha at Sei

Maple Miso Kabocha

Everything was plated beautifully, making it clear that they had a true artisan in the kitchen. However, the food wasn’t the only thing  that was visually stunning. The white and gold decor felt regal, elegant and cool (and maybe even a little Miami).  We’ll be back in just a few short weeks to try their new menu, and you should too.

Fish and Chips not your BTM? Post your favorites in the comments section.

Top 5 Surprise Picks for Vegetarians

Vegetarians

Chances are, if you’re a vegetarian in the District, you’ve already “steaked” out your go-to restaurants that reliably offer vegetarian fare. However, with more and more inside-the-beltway diners celebrating fresh produce done right, vegetarian stunners are springing up on menus in unexpected places. In an effort to expand your options, we share with you Top Five Surprise Picks for Vegetarians:

Mandu

Potato

While Korean BBQ and vegetarians don’t necessarily sound synonymous, Mandu (now with two locations) is a vegetarian mecca. Almost every dish can be made vegetarian (if it’s not born that way to begin with). Choose from sizzling bibim bap, egg-dipped zucchini and eggplant, glazed veggies and tofu off the grill or chap-chae sweet potato noodles, just to name a few. This is a chance for vegetarians to get in on Korean cuisine that’s surpassing sushi as the frontrunner Asian food in pop culture. See the menu here.

Kapnos

Eggplant

Kapnos, which BTM visited earlier this month, captured our veggie-loving hearts. They have 20 items on their menu that are vegetarian, and many of them contended for our top pick. From smoky hen of the woods mushrooms to potato garlic phyllo pies, you really can’t go wrong. Not that you have to, but you could easily make a meal out of their delicious bread and flavorful dips (four of which are vegetarian). See Mike Isabella’s menu here.

Firefly

Cabbage

Also ringing in with around 20 vegetarian options is Firefly. It’s no surprise that this forest-canopied restaurant treats its veggies with tender loving care. We can personally attest to the Goat Cheese Gnocchi, which we selected as the Best Thing on the Menu. Also delicious:  Farro Salad, Fried Green Tomatoes and 3 Bean Risotto. See the menu here.

Volt

Raddish

Why should fancy tasting menu adventures be for meat eaters only? We imagine that’s what star chef Bryan Voltaggio asked himself when he designed the “Tasting of Fruits and Vegetables” menu at Volt. Six mouthwatering courses showcase earth’s natural candy in ways we’ve never thought of. See for yourself, here. We’re headed there in two weeks and will report back.

Taylor Gourmet

Bok Choy

Moving now from gourmet tasting menus to Taylor Gourmet. Why shouldn’t you be able to enjoy a hoagie just because you don’t eat hog? Taylor Gourmet, with its multiple locations, has five great hoagies (subs, grinders, heroes, sandwiches …) just for you. We’re particularly intrigued by “Christian Street,” containing portobella mushrooms, arugula, roasted red peppers and goat cheese. In case you have room after hoagie heaven, don’t forget Taylor Gourmet’s risotto balls. We’ve already requested these in lieu of a birthday cake this year. Here’s hoping the candle stays put. See the menu here.

Other suggestions for surprise vegetarian-friendly spots? Share with us in the comments section.

Chez Billy: Saucisse Merguez

Chez Billy Saucisse Merguez

Stop what you’re doing and skip the 14th Street small plates scene and hop on Bus 52 or 54 instead. Get off in Petworth (home of our favorite prince) and visit Chez Billy for an impressive meal full of small miracles:

  • The portions were the right size.
  • The cocktails were inventive and worth their value.
  • The mackerel was fresh, not fishy.
  • The harissa wasn’t too spicy.
  • The beef bourguignon wasn’t too wintery.
  • The dessert wasn’t too sweet.
  • The service was so friendly we could have stayed all night.

We came away enjoying every last bite and will be back to try more dishes. Heck, we’ll even dry more dishes if they feed us in blueberry panna cotta.

The Best Thing on the Menu: Saucisse Merguez – Grilled Spicy Lamb sausages, White beans, Charred Scallions and Harissa was a standout. Why anyone makes sausage with meat other than lamb, we’ll never know after trying these rich, gamey links. The scallions were a special treat, reminding us of our very first post from Estadio and the warm heat of the harissa brought everything together.

Other notables included the boudin noir (warm blood sausage terrine), chilled corn soup with pickled cantaloupe, the confit de canard (confit duck) and the special of the day, short rib beef bourguignon. The Chef had just returned from honeymooning in France, and boy were we the beneficiaries. While this was a BTM contender, we try to stay away from recommending specials in case they do a disappearing act before you get to the restaurant.

Chez Billy Boudin Noir

Boudin Noir

Chez Billy Chilled Corn Soup

Chilled Corn Soup

The atmosphere is charming, which should come as no surprise since the building is included on the National Register of Historic Places. Its rich African American history, having originally housed Billy Simpson’s House of Seafood and Steaks, saw the likes of Ella Fitzgerald and Martin Luther King Jr.

So, in sum, step away from the small plates and step into Chez Billy for some modern French fare that is sure to impress (and at prices, that again, are a small miracle).

Saucisse Merguez not your BTM? Post your favorites in the comments section. 

If you liked this, you may also like Le Diplomate, Le Pain Quotidien or Poste.

Solutions to Your Dining Dilemmas

BTMegan's That Moment When ...

Best Thing on the Menu answers your Washington, DC dining dilemmas every Thursday on Twitter.  Find yourself in a comida conundrum? Want some ideas on where to dine? Look no further than some of our top tweets below. Don’t forget to follow @BTMenu. Enjoy!

#Thatmomentwhen … Evening plans call for sushi but you don’t touch the raw stuff. http://ow.ly/nK1d8

#Thatmomentwhen … You want 2 convert your man into a Brussels sprouts eater so you can cook them more at home. http://ow.ly/nK13g

#Thatmomentwhen … You have a mixed bag of vegetarian & meat-eating friends and want 2 try something trendy. http://bit.ly/14gcokX

#Thatmomentwhen … You just want to wear shorts and have a casual evening without sacrificing flavor. http://ow.ly/nK0IQ

#Thatmomentwhen … It’s 2:00 a.m. You’ve been on U Street since 7:00 p.m. You wanna be bad and eat something naughty. http://ow.ly/nxjO4

#Thatmomentwhen … You haven’t had a really good date in a long time. http://ow.ly/nxjsc

#Thatmomentwhen … You need really cool gifts for bridal/baby shower guests or a rehearsal dinner. http://bit.ly/10TwqKQ

#Thatmomentwhen … You visit Union Market for the first time and you’re overwhelmed with choices. http://ow.ly/nxiO8 

#Thatmomentwhen … You realize its the last full month of summer and you want some burger ideas for your next BBQ. http://ow.ly/nxiry

#Thatmomentwhen … You’re craving smoke and spice and everything nice. Even the cocktails are smokey. http://bit.ly/1aVnJbC

#Thatmomentwhen … You can’t look at another turkey sandwich & want something that will BLOW YOUR MIND. http://ow.ly/njxRc 

#Thatmomentwhen … Try as you might, you just can’t get a reservation at Estadio but crave high-quality tapas. http://ow.ly/njxvM

#Thatmomentwhen … You need a post-yoga lunch and don’t want to undo your sun salutation calories. http://ow.ly/njwVN 

#Thatmomentwhen … You have the urge to have an Anthony Bourdain-inspired evening without leaving the District. http://ow.ly/njwyi  

#ThatMomentWhen … You want that thing that everyone’s talking about and can’t believe you haven’t tried.  http://bit.ly/12Uob4M

#ThatMomentWhen … You want to expand your Japanese food vocabulary past sushi & dive into pub-style snacks. http://bit.ly/13cUPPf

#ThatMomentWhen … You forgot Bubbe and Zayde were coming to visit and have yet to make a reservation. http://ow.ly/n4dRL

#ThatMomentWhen … You are headed to Le Diplomate for dinner and as a pescatarian, can’t get the steak frites. http://ow.ly/n4dzQ

#ThatMomentWhen … Your sweet tooth outranks all of your other teeth and you need. dessert. right. now. http://ow.ly/n4dpt

#ThatMomentWhen … You’re in need of providing guests with a patriotic DC meal, yet want something new. http://bit.ly/125rbs9

#ThatMomentWhen … You just want something greasy to soak up your sorrow/hangover/happiness. http://bit.ly/1ajsf0H

#ThatMomentWhen … Tears run down your cheeks because it’s summer and you don’t have a grill in your condo. http://bit.ly/1aVnJbC 

Bourbon Steak: Big Eye Tuna with Slow Cooked Pork

Bourbon Steak's Surf and Turf

Surf and turf has been a staple on steakhouse menus from London to Paris, Miami to LA ever since the 1960s when it first became a popular combo platter in the then fab “continental cuisine” style.

One of DC’s sexiest steakhouses, Bourbon Steak, has its own take on surf and turf that bends the traditional steak and shrimp or steak and lobster definition into something a lot more fun: seared ahi tuna and the ever-popular pork belly.

The Best Thing on the Menu: Big Eye Tuna with Slow Cooked Pork, Mango Ravioli, Young Coconut and Hijiki may come as a surprise to those expecting sirloin or one of Bourbon Steak’s specialties, beautifully marbled A5 Miyazaki Japanese Wagyu beef, to star as the BTM.

The top dish is a tropical storm to be reckoned with, laden with notes of coconut, lemongrass and mango. A foamy sea of white clouds cover the pork and tuna treasures hiding below. Surrounding the surf and turf proteins are perfect parcels of must-try mango ravioli.

Everything we tried was top notch. However, healthy eaters beware, you may intend to survive dinner at Bourbon Steak without destroying your diet, but out comes an amuse-bouche of three different kinds of fries with accompanying sinful sauces, followed by a skillet of adorable, swirly-knotted black truffle butter rolls. Sins were committed. Rules were broken.

Since we oddly opted for fish dishes (we also savored the rockfish) we’ll have to come back for some steaks, or at least the lobster pot pie.  As one final quick tip, Bourbon Steak is a great pre-theatre pick for those headed to the Kennedy Center to see Book of Mormon or other shows. If you’re going to have the “Spooky Mormon Hell Dream” song stuck in your head all night, you might as well have it with a belly full of free fries.

Big Eye Tuna with Slow Cooked Pork not your BTM? Post your favorites in the comments section.

Ghibellina: Gnocchetti con Pesto di Cavolo

Ghibellina Gnocchi with Kale Pesto

It’s no secret that Americans have been sustaining a healthy obsession with kale since the super food became a super trend in 2012. Chances are, you’ve had a friend, neighbor or yoga instructor climb onto a leafy-green soapbox to tell you why you should be eating kale … every day.

You’ve probably heard that it’s one of the most nutrient dense foods you can eat, can help reduce your risk of certain cancers, and packs in fiber without the calories. Kale me crazy, but what we’d like to throw in there is that it’s cheap, affordable and most importantly, versatile. Virgin kale consumers don’t have to dive into the deep-end by sticking a straw into a raw green smoothie. There are plenty of more palatable ways to sneak kale into your diet.

Enter Ghibellina, the 14th Street newcomer and the Best Thing on the Menu: Gnocchetti con Pesto di Cavolo. Gnocchi as light and fluffy as a Four Seasons down pillow come adorned with kale pesto, walnuts and taleggio. While it’s fun to cut pizza with scissors (one of the better gimmicks we’ve seen in a while),  we were more excited about the kale pesto as a fun take on an Italian classic. The BTM comes in two sizes, so you can enjoy it as an appetizer and still get the full experience of using sheers to slice your main-course pizza pie. We found a gnocchi with kale pesto recipe if you’d like to give it a whirl at home.

Ghibellina was in the same 14th Street draft class as Etto and Le Diplomate, and is faring extremely well. It fits that the Italian gastro pub serving up Tuscan cuisine has found a niche for itself doing happy hour, since the majority of the restaurant is bar seating, with only a few tables tucked away. Their fantastic happy hour is offered Tuesday-Sunday from 4:30-6:30 p.m. and specials include 1/2 price pizzas, Imperial Pints (20oz not 16oz) at $3.50-$4.00, $5 wines and $6 specialty cocktails.

We look forward to trying Ghibellina for brunch because we love the quirky nature of an Italian joint serving Challah French Toast.

Gnocchetti con Pesto di Cavolo not your BTM? Post your favorites in the comments section.

If you liked this, you might also like: Firefly and Urbana.

Garden District: Summer Feast for Two

Garden District

As we embark on the last real month of summer, we thought we’d share the perfect summer feast for two at Garden District, formerly known as Standard. Although there’s a fresh new name paying homage to the previous tenant, we’re pleased to see the menu remains unchanged.  The American South meets Bavaria at this community-driven Logan Circle smokehouse. There’s really something special about drinking German beers from steins that goes all too well with American BBQ.

The platter making up The Best Thing on the Menu consists of the pulled pork sandwich, barbecue brisket sandwich, hush puppies and Mexican style grilled corn. The biggest benefit of this platter is that it draws influence from different regions.  The chef, Tad Curtz, is not a monogamist when it comes to his ‘cue. He’s got vinegar-based North Carolina BBQ in one corner of the menu and sloppy, saucy Texas style in another.

The only sin we committed (besides gluttony) was not calling ahead to order a head.  For $25 bucks the chef will present you and your team of hungry hungry hippos with a full pig head so you can go after the jowls, tongue and beyond. While some might call this omission an epic fail, we’ve chosen to look at it as a reason to go back to Garden District, and soon. Before we know it, the Redskins will be under the lights, the leaves will be on the sidewalk and we’ll be asking where summer went.

The gates open at 5:00 p.m. Monday-Friday and noon on the weekends. We tell you this because thanks to top-quality beer and BBQ and an onslaught of great press, they’re due to be packed.  Just this month Garden District was named on Parade’s list of best BBQ. In an era of competitive reservations on 14th Street, it is somewhat refreshing that Garden District doesn’t reserve seats. Instead, you’re encouraged to grab some bench next to strangers and enjoy the camaraderie of consuming summer together.

Oh, and don’t forget the donuts! They’ll be available for just a dollar this weekend as a part of the neighborhood’s Mid City Dog Days (Aug. 3-4, 2013).

Our perfect platter for two not your BTM? Post your favorites in the comments section. Oh, and do rub it in (with salt) if you remembered to order the pig head.

If you like this, you might also like: Lincoln, Teddy and Ben’s Chili Bowl.