Dining – Washington Blade: Gay News, Politics, LGBT Rights http://www.washingtonblade.com America's Leading LGBT News Source Fri, 21 Sep 2018 19:46:03 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.8 Finnish chef savors bringing bold Nordic flavors to Dupont Circle http://www.washingtonblade.com/2018/08/02/dining-mikko-nordic-foods/ http://www.washingtonblade.com/2018/08/02/dining-mikko-nordic-foods/#respond Thu, 02 Aug 2018 12:00:03 +0000 http://www.washingtonblade.com/?p=45568491 Mikko Kosonen branches out after 15 years as a chef on embassy row

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Mikko Nordic Foods, gay news, Washington Blade

Chef Mikko Kosonen (left) with his boyfriend and business partner Rob Wing. (Photo by Evan Caplan)

Chef Mikko wants you to know: when it comes to Nordic cuisine, use sparingly and carry a big fish. 

Mikko Kosonen, the chef and owner behind his eponymous restaurant, Mikko Nordic Foods (1636 R St., N.W.), is something of an ambassador for Nordic foods, especially of his home country, Finland. Kosonen is well-versed in the vocabulary of diplomacy, having served the last 15 years as executive chef to the Ambassador of Finland, which he did with dexterity and a liberal helping of lingonberries, the Nordic answer to superfood. 

Earlier this month, Kosonen, along with business partner (and boyfriend of 20 years) Rob Wing, opened up their own shop on R Street, just off 17th. The building, which the duo managed to purchase to house their store, is unmistakable. It’s grandly swathed in the colors of the various Nordic flags, bold red and Baltic blue and a touch of white, to match the bold flavors that star inside (chefmikko.com).

Kosonen has a history of being in the kitchen. He was raised at his grandmother’s side in her farmhouse and spent summers working in a family restaurant. Later, he attended the Helsinki Culinary School, honing his craft. 

He eventually landed in Washington and has called it home for more than two decades, having watched the city prosper and grow. But after his time at the Embassy, while also running a catering company out of Union Kitchen that plated grand affairs within diplomatic circles, it was time for him to turn the world on to more fans. 

Nordic food, Kosonen says, is “unique in its simple, yet versatile, presentation.” 

While he may plead minimalism, evident in the smooth blonde-wood bar and low-slung tables recalling midcentury-modern design, his dishes are anything but unassuming.  

Proteins cured, smoked and pickled, take up most of the menu, adorned with salt-of-the-earth accoutrements like mushrooms, berries, whole grains and roots. 

The café, open all day, begins service in the morning with a foundation strong enough for a Valhalla army. Enter to an aromatic display of gooey cinnamon rolls and cardamom-laced sweet buns, as well as hearty seven-seed bread spread thick with jams of lingonberry, blackcurrant, gooseberry and cloudberry. The café also bakes its own breads, Nordic crisps and almond tarts. 

In the afternoons and evenings, lunch and dinner mean an array of Danish-inspired open-faced sandwiches. One of these is the Nordic version of a millennial favorite: the shrimp salad Skagen, also known as shrimp toast. Other options include triple-cheese on rustic-style bread, as well as a mild gravlax with egg, a touch of mustard, egg, a micro dill sprig on rye, a dish that would have no trouble making friends at a corner Jewish deli.

As for entrees, Mikko sears his trout over an open flame, and sets it beside seasonal vegetables. He also crafts saucy meatballs in a lingonberry demi-glace that put IKEA’s to shame, and roasts mini root vegetables (parsnips, carrots, yellow beets) straight from a rainbow fairytale garden.

Yet bringing this food to D.C., mixing American and Nordic, was a challenge. 

“Some of the specialties I was worried people would not understand or like,” he says, “but I had no reason for concern. American food is familiar with sandwiches, though the ingredients are slightly different.”

One item that turns American food on its head? The Swedish surf-and-turf hot dog, which, we are told, is all the rage in Stockholm today. This singular vista produces a boiled hot dog, halved, nestled unceremoniously in a potato bun, festooned with a crown of creamy shrimp salad. It sits lording over a side of greens that looks to be attempting to flee yet is crushed by the weight of its mashup-meal companion. 

Kosonen’s personal favorite takes the form of Baltic herring, served alongside wild mushrooms and berries. 

“I love my fish to be cooked on an open fire,” he says, with a touch of salt. All they need is a couple new potatoes, “maybe some fresh mushrooms and some wild berries from a forest of Finland.”

As for opening up in Dupont, “It feels great to offer my food to the general public and as I live here in Dupont it feels even better to open a business here and cook for my community and neighbors.” 

And now that Café Mikko has received its liquor license (just last week) it will start serving select craft aquavit-based cocktails. It’ll surely pair well with shrimp and sausage.

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New alliances, products expand options at local farmers markets http://www.washingtonblade.com/2018/07/20/new-alliances-products-expand-options-at-local-farmers-markets/ Fri, 20 Jul 2018 16:37:00 +0000 http://www.washingtonblade.com/?p=45014717 Sri Lankan breakfast fare, locally distilled spirits and more widely available

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Farmers Markets, gay news, Washington Blade

A bounty of fresh, locally grown produce available at D.C.’s best farmers markets. (Photos by Molly Scalise, courtesy Fresh Farm)

There’s no better way to get to know D.C. in the summertime than by visiting its bounty of farmers markets, and summer is when they are truly in full bloom. 

Dozens of markets pepper the region, from small and cozy neighborhood spots to sprawling spaces with more vendors than you can throw a locally grown squash blossom at. To distill the options in the district, we’ve done the dirty work for you, with five fabulous finds. 

When the Wall Street Journal and The Financial Times of London give a market kudos, there’s certainly a reason to check it out. One of the oldest and most famous farmers markets in the city, the Dupont Circle Farmers Market is also one of the largest, with more than 50 stands during the busy season (summertime; it operates all year long). Founded in the food-desert year of 1997, the market sits at 20th Street N.W. and Massachusetts Avenue, just by the north end of the Dupont Circle Metro stop. On sale? Both conventional and certified organic fruits, vegetables, meat, eggs, cheese, as well as other fresh items. But like any good farmers market today, there’s also an enormous array of other prepared and packaged goods, from bread to jams to handmade dumplings. And liquor. And of course, this being Dupont Circle, there is plenty of eye candy in addition to the other food on sale. 

In June, three major coalitions of farmers market organizations, including FRESHFARM, Arcadia Center for Sustainable Food & Agriculture and Community Foodworks, launched Fresh Match, a dollar-for-dollar matching program for shoppers using federal nutrition benefits. Shoppers can now use any covered benefits. “The launch of the Fresh Match program significantly advances food access for vulnerable neighbors in our communities,” said FRESHFARM Executive Director Julia Feder.

Farmers markets tend to operate in the mornings (though there are a few notable exceptions weekday afternoons), so finding sustenance while shopping is critical. And as much as we love breakfast burritos, morning Mexican has been on the menu for a long time. Ready to take up the mantle? Breakfast rotis. Enter Short Eats, run by first-generation Sri Lankan children of a cook, who love to share their family’s food with the community. Focusing on street food, this shop’s most famous for the breakfast rotis. Stuffed with pork sausage, turkey or veggies, along with eggs and veggies, the good stuff is then wrapped in fluffy, hearty roti (a South Asian flatbread, usually not leavened) and grilled hot. They’re available only at the Columbia Heights and Petworth Community farmers markets.

Farmers markets aren’t only abuzz with good food, they’re also a place to get a buzz. Just as the region has uncorked small-batch alcohol production in the past few years, now they’re showing up at markets. What’s great about these local businesses as well is that they also source their ingredients from area farms. At several D.C. farmers markets, you can pick up beer from Right Proper Brewing and cider from Supreme Core CiderOn a larger scale, spirits are offered from One Eight Distilling, New Columbia Distillers, Don Ciccio & Figli, Republic Restoratives, Tenth Ward Distilling, and Twin Valley Distillers.

Farmers markets are like organic onions — layers upon layers. Farmers markets act as community centers, a space where consumer can create and develop direct relationships with farmers and producers, and can learn exactly where their food comes from. These markets bring in vendors and chefs for demos and educational sessions. Musicians enliven markets to make them multi-sensory experiences, bike shops give lessons in bicycle care, and, as noted above, markets are becoming increasingly more accessible and inclusive. Farmers markets have become more than a stand to buy heirloom tomatoes — these are spaces to celebrate, support and take part in a thriving local food system. 

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District Coolers, Hank’s Oyster Bar and more offer tasty fare at Nats Stadium http://www.washingtonblade.com/2018/07/13/district-coolers-hanks-oyster-bar-and-more-offer-tasty-fare-at-nats-stadium/ Fri, 13 Jul 2018 10:36:42 +0000 http://www.washingtonblade.com/?p=44682594 Food options abound far beyond traditional fare for MLB All-Star Week

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Nationals Stadium, gay news, Washington Blade

Slow smoked beef brisket, one of many yummy options available this summer at Nationals Stadium. (Photo courtesy Nationals Stadium)

The Washington Blade has announced that it will serve as a sponsor of the 2018 MLB All-Star Week, which will be hosted at Nationals Stadium. The Blade will be the first LGBT news organization to partner with MLB on the event.

This partnership has created an exciting opportunity for people across the spectrum of fandom. Baseball games can be warm, sweaty and tiring affairs, and watching men in tight uniforms takes plenty of energy. To get that sustenance, the ballpark has an array of toothsome options, from high-end spots to your classic salty peanuts, as well as several bars. To make it easy on you, we’ve created a handy LGBT-appropriate guide to dining at the park, whether during All-Star Week or any time during the long, hot season.

Before the game starts: Start with something refreshing and adorable to get you in the mood for the big game. Head to Section 108 for newcomer vendor District Coolers and its handy throwback bags of nostalgia. District Coolers is selling juice boxes for adults, filled with mixed drinks. Options include the likes of raspberry gin rickey and blueberry mojito, poured from a tap into your pouch. The heat just got a bit more bearable.

Top of the Inning: When those balls come flying, you want to be quick on your feet, so you may want to keep it light when beginning your day at the park. At Field of Greens (Section 136), the all-vegetarian menu can feed a crowd or those looking for a superfood start to a game. Check out the veggie cheese steak, mushroom sandwich or the Maryland-proud vegan crab cake. There’s also a gluten-free grill station in Center Field Plaza. For something a more substantive, visit Grace’s Kitchen, a hot new stand featuring fare from female chefs and restaurateurs: try subs from the likes of Pizzeria Paradiso’s Ruth Gresser or shrimp po’boys from Hank’s Oyster Bar.

Between innings: Yep. Time for a drink. Whether you lean more toward the pitcher, the catcher or like them both equally, all teams are in favor of grabbing a cocktail. Take your ID with you to District of Cocktails (Sections 112 and 135), where you can not only get a buzz while watching balls and strikes, you can also support local. The stand is pouring from a rotating menu of drinks using spirits made right here in D.C. The sourced distilleries include District Distilling, Republic Restoratives (co-founded by two lesbian women), New Columbia Distillers and One Eight Distilling.

Seventh inning stretch: To soak up the drinks and rev up for the final innings, there are two new vendors that are laser-focused on what fans are gunning for when they need true nourishment: meat. Visit Italian Outpost in Section 301, which plates enormous, Coliseum-size sandwiches, including the sure-to-be-famous Italian hot beef dip. Otherwise, we can also suggest a trip to Old Hickory BBQ in the same section. It also serves meaty sandwiches, like a juicy brisket, but the star here is the enormous nachos, a plate of chips drowned in warm, gooey cheese and smothered in hot pulled pork. Chili cheese fries from Ben’s Chili Bowl is also a good option.

Extra Innings: When everyone on the field has scored, but you’re looking for something more, there’s a full-on party at The Yards and the Capitol Riverfront in the blocks surrounding the stadium in celebration of All-Star Week. For a nightcap, take your palate to District Winery (385 Water St., S.E.), which will offer a wine flight featuring four 2017 District Winery-made wines; on the rooftop terrace there will also be an “upscale tailgate.” And to round out the day with something sweet, check out Ice Cream Jubilee (301 Water St., S.E.) and its specialty Baseball Sundae: two scoops of any flavor of ice cream, topped with sprinkles, whipped cream, and yes, a cherry.

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New restaurant/bar Orchid offers ‘20s charm, modern gay flair http://www.washingtonblade.com/2018/07/06/new-restaurant-bar-orchid-offers-20s-charm-modern-gay-flair/ Fri, 06 Jul 2018 16:33:52 +0000 http://www.washingtonblade.com/?p=44286013 Eschewing typical bar food, new spot has chef, low-carb sides and champagne

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Orchid DC restaurant, gay news, Washington Blade

Lamb chop ‘lollipops’ at Orchid. (Photo by Diego Gonzalez-Zuniga)

In what was once a classic Capitol Hill oyster hall, the new gay bar Orchid (520 8th St., S.E.) has opened its doors, a glamorous homage to ‘20s glitz  — with a wink, nod and sashay to contemporary gay culture.

“I wanted to whip out the magic wand just for the needs of the LGBTQ community,” says Timur Tugberk, who opened the bar last month with business partner Diego Gonzalez-Zuniga (both are gay).

Tugberk and his team managed to pull no punches when it came to crafting each aspect of the bar with its audience squarely in mind. Every detail — seating style, menu names, bathroom doorknobs — has both flair and practicality. For the millennials attached to their phones, there’s a charging station. The patio out front is not a beer garden, but a Champagne garden. Rosé is splashed all over the drink menu. The gazpacho is green from millennial-friendly avocado, but arrives sans toast.

Orchid has designs on distinguishing itself from other gay bars, as a complement to the scene that already exists. The mood lighting, soft but not too dark, still allows for well-composed Instagram shots. The 60-foot-long marble bar offers tantalizing views of patrons ordering craft cocktails (changing seasonally, of course) from muscle-bound bartenders. The warm walnut interior is brightened by vintage pink and purple glass lamps in floral patterns as an ode the name of the bar.

“We want Orchid to be a place when people can go before, during and after a date or to meet a future date,” Tugberk says. It’s a place for people to both order a personal mini-bottle of bubbly, drink through a straw or sit down to share a meal.

“Our most distinguishing features are that we wanted to be more of a dining destination versus nightclub or standard gay bar,” Tugberk says. 

The menu showcases this as a food-forward destination, created by Executive Chef Brian Guy, who also oversees the other kitchens of Hill Restaurant Group’s establishments. Guy, in coordination with Tugberk and Gonzalez-Zuniga, positioned the menu to be more upscale, to reflect the décor, culture and atmosphere, but to also to get away from the typical bar food that saturates the neighborhood and other bars.

The dishes fit well into a cocktail bar setting. The small plates are made for sharing and casual eating. Dishes will change per the season and are “engineered to be health-positive, natively sourced and uniquely flavored,” Tugberk says.

The menu offers a fairly straightforward, yet higher-end set of dishes. Starters include a fine French cheese platter and avocado and quinoa salad, veggie options like a gorgeously plated purple-and-orange beet carpaccio, and a jumbo shrimp cocktail that feels more 1980s than 1920s, but is just as fun. The menu here is not dissimilar to other cocktail bars in D.C. that have full kitchens, but it strays from carb-heavy and fried dishes, unlike even other gay destinations that sling burgers and mac ‘n’ cheese. Here, cocktails served up are best paired with a fennel and frisee salad (touched up with champagne vinaigrette, of course), not French fries.

There’s also (of course) a brunch party, but it’s a step up. Titled “Post Brunch,” it runs from 1-7 p.m., styled as a sort of afternoon disco party with champagne and oysters.

As for the rest of the drinks, they’re the definition of a craft cocktail menu. Each has a distinct name and flavor profile, with subtle nods to the LGBT community and the Great Gatsby. The signature is the just-sweet-enough Blue Orchid, with whiskey and blueberry syrup; others include a drink straight from 2016 called the Daisy Buchanan that has both rosé and sparkling rosé, in case just one kind wasn’t enough, and an option with a touch of millennial nostalgia called the Samantha (vodka, Cointreau, cranberry juice, sour).

Tugberk and Gonzalez-Zuniga found upscale-yet-attainable concepts in other cities and wanted to replicate that here, ensuring that they created a space that spoke directly to the LGBT spectrum — otherwise known as “a unicorn rainbow version of a bar,” Tugberk says with a smile.

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New Logan bakery Milk Bar offers wacky concoctions http://www.washingtonblade.com/2018/06/23/milk-bar-review/ Sat, 23 Jun 2018 19:00:22 +0000 http://www.washingtonblade.com/?p=43595514 Compost Cookie, B’day truffles among off-the-beaten-path options

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Milk Bar review, gay news, Washington Blade

Milk is a new ice cream shop on 15th St. Part of a chain, it’s considered one of the ‘flagship’ shops. (Washington Blade photo by Evan Caplan)

Washington’s newest dessert bar is so close to Vida and Number Nine, you could throw a chocolate malt cake truffle at it. Taking over a former auto repair shop, Milk Bar (1525 15th St., N.W.) opened its doors June 2, just in time for Capital Pride.

Chef, founder and CEO Christina Tosi is a Virginia native, but began her Milk Bar empire in New York in 2008 and has now opened 14 Milk Bar locations. This includes two other spots in Washington — at CityCenterDC, connected to the Momofuku restaurant; and at the Wharf, which also opened earlier this year. This Milk Bar, however, is standalone building, billed as a “flagship” that’s complete with desserts exclusive to the location, a classroom, an events space and outdoor communal picnic tables to show off colorful desserts to passers-by.

“I have tremendous respect for all of the creativity going on within the D.C. culinary scene right now, especially the rise of innovative neighborhood spots,” Tosi says. “In that spirit, we want Milk Bar Logan Circle to be a gathering space for neighbors, a destination for families and a place to learn and be inspired by others.”

And a destination heavy on the sugar.

For Tosi and her team of dessert scientists, almost nothing is too wacky or out of the box. Like her other locations, this flashy flagship starts with a menu of the famed Milk Bar classics: the Compost Cookie (pretzels, potato chips, coffee, oats, graham cracker, chocolate chips), B’day truffles (vanilla-infused milk rainbow cake, coated with white chocolate and rolled in rainbow cake crumb), cereal milk, soft serve, and yes, the controversially named crack pie (mostly butter, sugar and eggs but true to its name, is as addictive as pie could be).

Yet Tosi is truly showing off her baked-good chops at the Logan Circle shop, where she’s going to play with the offerings, with new items constantly popping out of the oven. One way she’s doing that is combining two breakfast faves: the subtly named Coffee+Donut, a “curated and crafted cone concoction.” It starts with a homemade cinnamon sugar-donut waffle cone layered with hot, thick chocolate fudge. It’s filled with soft serve and generously topped with donut crumbs, chocolate dough bites and a jump from something called coffee “sand.”

The fudge, while warm and gooey, is almost imperceptible under the soft serve but holds the whole thing together. The cone is drippy, messy and decadent — something plenty of people will want to stick their tongues in.

Customers in search of something with a measurement of protein may look to the savory breakfast items, called bombs. Exclusive to this Logan spot is the sausage, egg, and cheese bomb, along with others like the spinach-artichoke bombs, possibly one of the only items with something nominally green involved. The bombs tend to be heavy on the dough, but are otherwise interesting takes on breakfast items. Other offerings available only at this shop includes catering, ready-made carryout cakes and soft-serve toppings.

The team of crazy baked ball crafters here also hosts the Milk Bar Lab with a rotating R&D menu “where no ingredient combination is too wacky,” according to the shop. At these sessions, guests can play lab rats to taste test the team’s toothsome options. The new items will come out weekly on Wednesdays and will be displayed in glass cases in the front of the store. On a recent visit, the flavor of the week included a kimchi and blue cheese breakfast bomb — not something you’d eat every week, but that’s also part of the fun.

Milk Bar is also set to host an event series, called the Clubhouse, which will feature panels and interactive activities hosted by various speakers in the D.C. community, all had over desserts, snacks and other treats.

And through June 24, Milk Bar is celebrating Pride month with a special on the Iced Birthday Cake Latte. Proceeds from sales benefit the Blade Foundation. On June 15, Milk Bar hosted a sold-out Bake the Book Pride B’Day Cake class in partnership with the Blade and Absolut to benefit the Blade Foundation.

One of just a few commercial spaces on 15th Street, Milk Bar has the market cornered for your legal, comestible uppers, whether the coffee, the sundaes or the truffles. Pre- or post-workout, before or after the bars, there may be nothing better than heading over for that crack pie — or an extra squeeze of the crack pie caramel sauce.

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New Rehoboth restaurant finds its chef http://www.washingtonblade.com/2018/06/23/dane-wilfong-pines-rehoboth/ Sat, 23 Jun 2018 17:57:34 +0000 http://www.washingtonblade.com/?p=43691293 Dane Wilfong promises ‘from scratch fresh take on tavern cuisine’ at The Pines

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Dane Wilfong, gay news, Washington Blade

Dane Wilfong was recently hired as executive chef of The Pines.

REHOBOTH BEACH, Del. — Residents and visitors alike here have watched with anticipation the gradual transformation of the old Hobo’s on Baltimore Avenue into the new two-story restaurant and lounge, The Pines.

Dane Wilfong was recently hired as executive chef of The Pines, which is slated to open later this summer. Wilfong has more than a decade of experience working in restaurants and catering.

Wilfong began his career near his hometown of Baltimore at a young age. He became passionate for the restaurant industry and was inspired to study Hospitality and Tourism at Anne Arundel Community College. He has also received accreditations from the American Culinary Federation and certifications as a Sommelier and Serve Safe Practitioner. Prior to taking on the role of executive chef of The Pines, Wilfong served as executive chef of Whitehouse Caterers at Overhills Mansion.

As executive chef, Wilfong will work alongside The Pines co-owner, Tyler Townsend, to choose local food partners, organize menus and assist in the oversight of culinary operations and kitchen staff.

“I tend to use a lot of hyper local ingredients,” Wilfong said. “You go to Delaware because we have a little bit of everything right out our back door.”

Townsend, who was on a path to becoming Major League Baseball’s first openly gay player, had to leave baseball behind due to a recurring hamstring injury. In an interview with the Washington Blade in 2015, Townsend discussed his journey of coming out as gay and what it was like hiding his sexual orientation from teammates and coaches. Townsend returned to Florida International University to complete his studies in hospitality management after his baseball career ended. He was accepted to Florida International on a scholarship and played for the university for three years before he left his senior year to play for the minor league system.

“It was a transition for sure. I did not really know what I wanted to do after baseball,” Townsend said about switching from baseball to becoming a restaurateur. “My family had restaurants growing up, so I was somewhat familiar with them,” he said. “I started to get into wine and loved going out to a great meal with friends and family, so when I went back to get my degree, I chose hospitality management.”

For Townsend, the biggest challenge he sees to finding success with The Pines is just carrying out his vision. He has no doubt that the restaurant will be successful. Townsend’s dream for The Pines is to create the best place for diners to have a good time and make happy memories.

“I’ve worked hard to get where I am today, and I saw that in Dane,” said Townsend. Townsend said he and Wilfong felt like a good match, and he is looking forward to seeing what Wilfong comes up with.

“We have a very thoughtful and unique vision for The Pines.” Wilfong said. “The town of Rehoboth is currently filled with great food and lots of love, but I feel we can set ourselves apart with an upscale city approach to our tavern concept, while still being able to realize what makes Rehoboth so great to so many. We hope to utilize our local resources from farms, orchards, growers and captains for our entirely from scratch fresh take on tavern cuisine.”

Along with Townsend, the restaurant is owned by Bob Suppies. As stated on its website, the restaurant will offer “a winning combination of sensational interior design, a lively atmosphere, creative American cuisine, crafty cocktails and first-class customer service.” The restaurant plans on mixing old and new, combining classic Rehoboth dishes with Wilfong’s twist creating a modern style.

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Freddie’s Beach Bar owner returns to roots with Cafe Italia takeover http://www.washingtonblade.com/2018/06/07/cafe-italia-reopening/ Thu, 07 Jun 2018 19:37:18 +0000 http://www.washingtonblade.com/?p=42714444 Award-winning restaurateur says bistro was long-time gay-friendly Va. spot

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cafe italia reopening, gay news, Washington Blade

Vintage photo of Freddie Lutz at Cafe Italia. (Photo courtesy Lutz)

When Cafe Italia, a Crystal City Italian restaurant, closed its doors in April, ending decades of plating overstuffed lobster ravioli, tri-color tortellini and bruschetta on homemade bread, Freddie Lutz, owner of Freddie’s Beach Bar, knew exactly what to do. He would reopen the homey restaurant’s doors, refresh its look and make sure the reincarnation would be a place friendly to all kinds of family.

Breathing new life into the restaurant was no pie-in-the sky idea. Lutz was, in fact, very familiar with Cafe Italia’s history. A Northern Virginia native, Lutz returned to the area after graduating from the Rhode Island School of Design, in Providence. Looking for a place to earn some cash while searching for jobs, he began working in restaurants, soon finding himself at Cafe Italia. He ended up staying there 25 years, as a waiter first, then as maitre d.’

Opened in 1976, Cafe Italia had been a mainstay in the area, as many other restaurants have come and gone. For Lutz, it was a place where he grew up and where he felt at home. Lutz declined to comment on the previous owners. Arlington Now reports eviction notices signed by the Arlington County deputy sherriff were placed on the door in April.

Before Freddie’s Beach Bar — undoubtedly the best-known gay bar in the Maryland/Virginia suburbs that’s won many Washington Blade Best of Gay D.C. readers’ poll awards — Cafe Italia “was the closest thing to a gay bar in the area,” Lutz says. The restaurant held drag shows at Halloween, flew a gay flag in the entryway, had a number of gay employees and advertised in the Blade.

“It developed into a true place for the gay community,” he says.

Lutz says working at Cafe Italia paved the way for Freddie’s, opened in 2001, success. He says the neighborhood, police and ABC board, welcomed it.

At Cafe Italia, Lutz worked hard to make it a place to call home. With his art background, he coordinated the interior design, marrying warm, old-school Italian with just the right amount of kitsch, such as a long and handsome mahogany bar sporting knick knacks and instruments hung on the walls. Lutz crafted many fond memories over the years and is forever grateful for the influence his time there had over his career. However, over the past few years, the atmosphere has changed.

Lutz is now aiming to turn that around.

“I want to bring it back to its former glory,” Lutz says. “I’ve never felt so confident about a vision for something in my life before.”

From his standpoint, “Café Italia was always gay friendly and Freddie’s was always straight-friendly.” They’ll now be perfect complements.

The backbone of the restaurant is there, so Lutz hope there won’t be too much work and that he’ll be able to open the restaurant again soon. Having just finalized the lease (along with business partners Adolfo and Bertillio Urrutia) in late May, he’s thrilled at the opportunity to bring the restaurant back to its mom-and-pop, down-home coziness as soon as possible, along with a new name, most likely, “Freddie’s Italian Cafe.” He plans to work with other former employees to ensure the new spot reflects its old values and atmosphere as much as possible.

In true romantic Italian fashion, Lutz said that though he loves his work now, he “left his heart at Cafe Italia.”

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New Momofuku chef Tae Strain given wide creative leeway http://www.washingtonblade.com/2018/04/27/new-momofuku-chef-tae-strain-given-wide-creative-leeway/ Fri, 27 Apr 2018 19:39:34 +0000 http://www.washingtonblade.com/?p=40776956 Cooking legend David Chang said D.C. patrons could handle more daring dining

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Momofuku, gay news, Washington Blade

Clam Toast at Momofuku CCDC. (Photo by Giselle, courtesy BrandLinkDC)

What if a punk rocker shows up at the Kennedy Center and wasn’t invited? And he wasn’t only not invited, but is conducting an opera in primetime, permanently? It’s happened in the food world: the punk rocker is Chef David Chang, and the operatic opus is his restaurant Momofuku CCDC.

David Chang, the avant garde, lavished celebrity chef with a cookbook, TV show and line of sauces, opened the first D.C. outpost of his famous Momofuku restaurants in what is likely the glitziest section of town, CityCenter. A former Megabus stop and now one of the most expensive acres of real estate downtown, CityCenter now plays home to the playful chef who coined Ugly Delicious: a hashtag to glorify down-home dishes not crafted for Insta stories.

When Momofuku CCDC opened in 2015, alongside its sweet sister, Milk Bar (known for the crack pie calorie bomb), it was an immediate hit. Though he grew up in Vienna, Va.,, David Chang waited more than a decade after starting the Momofuku empire before opening here. Each Momofuku property is slightly different, but they all serve dishes that are flashy and innovative, with varying hints of Asian influence. As a concept, Momofuku also aims to support “local, sustainable and responsible farmers and food purveyors.”

Back in 2015, Chang was anxious about the D.C. spot. In a tweet, he said, “Against my better judgement @momofuku ccdc opens today at 5pm. Good to be back home Washington DC.”

The original menu featured Momofuku classics, as much as they can be called that. It was a selection of the buns that made him obscenely famous (Chinese-style, with pork, scallion and cucumber, awash in hoisin), snacks that nodded to both Korea and the Mid-Atlantic (Old Bay-dusted pork rinds), and the other dish that Momofuku is best known for, ramen.

A couple years later, Chang’s decided to blow the lid off the original concept. He hired a new executive chef and has taken a step back.

This chef is another local, Tae Strain, who’s setting out to develop a menu that combines his extensive experience with his local sensibilities.

“After six years of working in restaurants around the country, I’m excited to come home and bring my experiences together with Momofuku’s point of view,” Strain says. “This region has incredible produce and ingredients that I’m looking forward to cooking with again, from black bass from Virginia to Chesapeake oysters to kohlrabi and sunchokes from local farmers. I’m humbled and thrilled to be given the opportunity to put my stamp on Momofuku CCDC here in my home city, using ingredients that reflect my point of view.”

Chang has given Strain a long leash.

In an interview with the Washingtonian, Chang was quoted as having said, “I was like, ‘Tae, I want you to fuck it up. I want you to find what you can do. D.C. is more sophisticated in its palate, more worldly in its cuisine than the rest of the nation understands, and they deserve a world-class chef.”

While Strain began in the fall, his new menu just debuted. He’s gone profoundly New American, while maintaining many Asian influences.

Those buns and ramen have been wiped away. In its place are small plates like a clam toast (no avocado here)​, with dill mayo and Sichuan sausage; soupy dumplings and enormous shareable plates like the showstopping rotisserie chicken​, ​a buttermilk-brined chicken made with green curry butter and served with chicken-fat rice and dipping sauces.

Worry not that the carbs are gone, though. Momofuku CCDC has introduced bing, a Chinese-inspired flatbread that Chang is said to have coined himself. The fluffy, tearable, pita-like bread is constantly evolving (currently, made with whole-wheat flour), and is meant to be used utensil-like with seasonal dips that are nearly meals unto themselves. Such dips include the umami bomb of roasted Chesapeake oysters, swimming in cream and spinach and baked under breadcrumbs; and dill-flecked labneh topped with screaming-orange trout roe.

So, can a foul-mouthed superstar chef still be a rebel in one of the most lavish and slick slices of the city? While scooping fluffy brown bread through creamy dips may not be the most elegant, and while messy bits of kimchi may fall on your napkin out of the beef lettuce wraps, the luxe digs are not lost on anyone. These dishes indeed are delicious, but let us not be fooled — nothing here would be confused for ugly.

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Cleveland Park restaurants Bindaas and Sababa go bold on cocktails http://www.washingtonblade.com/2018/04/13/cleveland-park-restaurants-bindaas-sababa-go-bold-cocktails/ Fri, 13 Apr 2018 17:02:35 +0000 http://www.washingtonblade.com/?p=40086960 Drinks designed to be vibrant, exotic without going too extreme

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Bindaas, gay news, Washington Blade

One of the exotic, but not too outre, cocktails at Sababa. (Photo courtesy Knightsbridge Restaurant Group)

The bespoke cocktail bar is no longer an entirely new idea in D.C. To step up the cocktail game, two new restaurants are pouring exciting, wildly original drinks made to match the vibrant, exotic flavors of the dishes.

On a busy stretch of Connecticut Avenue in Cleveland Park, adjoining restaurants Bindaas (3309 Connecticut Ave., N.W.) and Sababa (3311 Connecticut Ave., N.W.), serving casual Indian and Israeli food, respectively, are shaking up a small revolution in cocktails. They are run by Ashok Bajaj, the veteran D.C. restaurateur of the white-tablecloth variety, including the Oval Room and Rasika.

Bindaas is the older of the two restaurants, opened in August 2016. In place of the tablecloths are lots of napkins — the street-food concept can get messy. The menu is a set of snacks (chaats), plus heartier dishes like kathi rolls, kebabs, and yes, plenty of naan.

Next door is Sababa, where Bajaj has taken another exciting leap. Just  opened in March, Sababa offers a menu of fresh hummus and salads, kebabs, shakshuka and more, using recipes from the diverse ethnic mix that is Israel — flavors and ingredients that span the Middle East, the Mediterranean and Eastern Europe.

Besides sharing space and the same brash, modern style, the twin eateries also share names. Both Bindaas and Sababa mean “cool” in Hindi and Hebrew slang (and Arabic as well). And what’s cooler than cocktails that represent two flavorful cuisines? This being Bajaj, the dishes are street food, but elevated, and therefore require equally thoughtful drinks.

To create the menus, Bajaj enlisted Max Hill, a veteran behind the bar in D.C. The drinks are designed to reflect the cuisines of their respective countries. Hill has done his homework, researching history, herbs and spices to come up with the concept.

There are ingredients both uncommon and familiar, “like borage flowers, which tastes like cucumber,” Hill says, that he then pairs with gin and lemon. Some ingredients are more obscure, like rosehip, sumac and fenugreek.

Still, he notes, “None of them are so obtuse or so arcane as to be unenjoyable.”

Hill calls his approach to drinks “culinary.” When he devises the drinks, he works to “do what great chefs do: highlight certain flavors, using spices to accent rather than dominate.”

The drinks have cheeky names that echo culture and geography. At Sababa, quaffers find options like Halva World Away, referring to halva, a sesame candy. The flavors mirror those in halva, but turned way up. In the glass, there are elements of pistachio, cardamom and rosewater; the garnish an apricot rehydrated with brandy and then blasted by a blowtorch. It’s a mingling of sweet and bitter, perfect to prepare the palate for a range of flavors.

During the meal, a drink like Cradle of Civilization brings together everything on the plate: various ancient grains sneak into a drink built like an old fashioned. The liquor base is Scotch (with barley) and a Virginia bourbon (corn, wheat, rye), macerated with toasted rye to kick up the spice factor. Sorghum molasses is added for sweetness, along with house-infused caraway-sesame bitters. To round it out, it’s served with a caraway-sesame butter cookie. They both would pair well with fierce harissa-spiced meats.

Over at Bindaas, naan finds company in drinks like Instant Dharma. This one’s a bright palate-cleanser to stand up to heavier meats and wraps. It begins with sour tamarind and an herbaceous blanco tequila, topped with refreshing sparkling wine. To better wed the flavors, there are also touches of fennel, dried ginger and cloves.

The drink called Fool’s Gold is also nothing to laugh at. It’s a colorful drink crafted from a soda that Hill has been tinkering with for years, including citrus, cardamom, coriander, fennel, mace, and the showstopper, saffron. He works with D.C.’s own Cotton & Reed rum for its distillation from fresh sugarcane. The drink ends up tart and fresh, earthy and sweet.

Hill looks to local purveyors when possible, so the menu includes One Eight Vodka, Green Hat Gin, Filibuster Whiskey and others. But, true to the food menu, it also features native spirits. At Bindaas, there’s Amrut whisky and dark rum form India; at Sababa, the bar carries Israeli Arak (similar to ouzo).

Whether Israeli or Indian, Sababa or Bindaas, all the cocktails are different, cool and exciting.

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D.C. women restaurant vets overcome sexism, homophobia http://www.washingtonblade.com/2018/03/29/d-c-women-restaurant-vets-overcome-sexism-homophobia/ Thu, 29 Mar 2018 21:21:36 +0000 http://www.washingtonblade.com/?p=39405581 Small gayborhood launches were key to early footing for Leeds, Gresser

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Jamie Leeds, left, and Ruth Gresser are longtime D.C. restaurant owners who say they’ve seen many changes over the decades. (Leeds photo by Ana Isabel Photography via JL Restaurant Group; Gresser photo courtesy Savor PR)

When dinner is more than just food, when acceptance and inclusion are on the menu and when dishes come with a side of equality, it’s possible Ruth Gresser and Jamie Leeds had a hand in your meal.

These women are experienced veterans in Washington’s restaurant scene. They are also out, loud and defining what it means to be queer women dominating their work.

Thirty years ago, there wasn’t much to write about when talking dining in D.C. Yet 30 years ago, Gresser and Leeds were both getting their start as out lesbians in the challenging, yet rewarding, culinary space.

It seemed that I was not the only lesbian with an interest in food,” Gresser says. “I immediately found a community of friends who supported each other in the mutual struggles of being gay in a hostile society and being a woman in a male-dominated field.”

Gresser never hid who she was.

“I’m sure I have faced discrimination because of it,” she says. “From not getting a loan years ago to not being recognized as the owner and operator of my own business.”

Leeds concurs.

“I never felt like had to hide it,” she says, even when working in upscale restaurants in New York. “I was never in an environment where had to not be who I was; I was always accepted.”

She attributes this to her work ethic and passion. One difficulty she did have was looking for mentors, especially in financial aspect of the business.

“Back in the ‘80s when I was starting, there were really not many famous women chefs,” Leeds says. “Raising money was a challenge.”

Today, there are many more options for support. When both women were starting, there was only one place to go in the city: Dupont Circle, the gayborhood of the time, just close enough to chic Georgetown and just close enough to edgy, scruffy 14th Street as a snug space where the LGBT community could thrive in a neighborhood atmosphere.

Gresser made it a point to settle in the area.

“This was the gay neighborhood and also the location of my first jobs in D.C., so I have always been connected to the local gay community,” Gresser says. “While Dupont Circle was known a the gay neighborhood, the neighborhood was often easier to locate than gay people. In the late ‘80s many gay people lived in the closet, only emerging at the bars and on Pride.”

When she decided to open her award-winning restaurant Pizzeria Paradiso in 1991, she refused to keep her identity hidden and set the restaurant on P Street.

“I was not going to be closeted. Paradiso was always out as a lesbian-owned restaurant,” she says. “During a gay Pride parade, we hung a gay flag in front of the restaurant.”

Leeds’ life took a similar trajectory. When she arrived in Washington, she also sought out Dupont. And when she opened Hank’s Oyster Bar, the flagship restaurant in her mini-empire of “urban beach food,” and all things shellfish, it was only logical to be in Dupont. She eventually settled on Q Street, right off 17th. The area was ripe for a casual, intimate, neighborhood-style restaurant.

“The fact that I am a lesbian, the gay community came to support me,” Leeds says. “It was very crucial in us becoming successful.”

That support allowed them to dominate and expand in time. There were still echoes of discrimination, however. One year, while watching the parade, Gresser heard a woman comment that she’d never frequent Paradiso after seeing it fly the gay flag. Gresser made sure to let this woman know that her business wasn’t needed — her restaurant was already a runaway success.

Today, both have gone on to open several other ventures, yet their identities as lesbians are central to whom they are. A strong work ethic, they agree, has been crucial to their success. In their early years, they had to prove themselves often.

“I have done what women have always done,” Gresser says. “Put my head down and do my job.”

Leeds agrees.

“This industry is very big mix of personalities and backgrounds, about creativity and what you produce. I’ve always worked very hard, being in trenches with everyone else. From that, I gained the respect of everyone around me.”

Contemporary D.C., though, is a far cry from 2005, let alone 1995.

“The changes in acceptance by the larger society have changed this dynamic, and it is much easier to be gay and out in restaurants and in the world,” Gresser says.

Leeds says fewer women in the field are choosing lives in the closet. It helps, she says, that more women in general are in the field.

To help create more safe spaces, Leeds founded  a ladies’ tea, held in spring and summer at Hank’s in Dupont each month. It has become a destination during the warmer seasons, a homey gathering place where women can be themselves.

Nevertheless, there’s work to be done. The recent #MeToo discussion has hit the service and hospitality industry hard. Sexual harassment is rife in bars and restaurants, and recognition of female chefs, restaurateurs, bartenders and other leaders is only just now taking shape.

Gresser says she’s felt confident to be out and loud, only perhaps because she’s a veteran and a successful, self-employed woman. But others are not always so lucky.

“I hope that the world will change and right now there is lip service towards that end,” Gresser says. “But the issue of women’s discrimination is so systemic in our society that I wonder if the lip service will result in real change.”

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