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Year in review: A taste of Washington

Sampling many of the new restaurants in D.C. this year kept one food fan busy

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Grassroots Gourmet, dining, gay news, Washington Blade
Grassroots Gourmet, dining, gay news, Washington Blade

A sampling of the array of baked goodies available at Grassroots Gourmet (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

New restaurants, new chefs, new menus and new food all kept a food lover and restaurant column writer busy this year in D.C.

Every day a new place was opening, some I was able to review, others are still on my list. When all was said and done however, I had the opportunity to dine in some of the best restaurants in town and enjoy some of the finest food offerings available. And in the process I got to expand my own horizons.

Since taking on this project, friends and family have asked how such a picky eater has taken on the task of reviewing restaurants. The answer is always the same: “I fell into it, but why does being picky disqualify me from writing about restaurants?”

Then, in August, I realized that I may be in a bit over my head, so I brought two knowledgeable foodies to Izakaya Seki, the first restaurant I was concerned about not being knowledgeable enough to cover fairly.

Izakaya Seki opened in August by father and daughter Hiroshi and Cizuka Seki; this new establishment features traditional Japanese dishes and delicacies. Delicacies such as cuttlefish; at that point I had no idea how it was even supposed to taste. Other items like the fresh scallop Carpaccio were delightful and set the tone for three hours of delicious food. Izakaya Seki still remains one of my most challenging and rewarding columns to date.

While Japanese cuisine was outside my comfort zone, there were many other restaurants this year I felt well prepared to write about. Ristorante Posto, in Logan Circle, was serving a new spring selections when I first set foot into this unsuspecting location, and a new pastry chef was dishing out delicious deserts. The pastry chef has since left, but Posto remains a favorite spot for delicious Italian food and brick oven pizzas. In May, at a Taste of Pride featured special, I discovered Jack Rose Dining Saloon. The food was excellent and in an environment where whiskey bottles reached toward the ceiling, I discovered I enjoy scotch.

Mike Isabella, gay chef Jamie Leeds, and Taylor Gourmet all opened new locations this year. Isabella’s Bandolero in Georgetown serves up his take on traditional Mexican dishes and strong margaritas. Standouts included the course we dubbed “Mexican Sushi,” like the blue crab taquito with coconut and red chili. The suckling pig tacos and the nachos with crispy goat and goat cheese also pleased all the diners at the table.

For Leeds, and her new Hank’s on the Hill she teamed up with “mixtress” Gina Chersevani, whose Eddy Bar is a key component of the new space. This new 40-seat location serves up Leed’s classics like the lobster roll and the Meat and Two option, as well as Chersevani’s exquisite “storytelling” cocktails. Longtime friends Casey Patton and David Mazza opened up a third Taylor Gourmet on 14th Street this year. These traditional Philadelphia-inspired sandwiches battled against sandwich shop Sun-de-Vich — Taylor won for best cold cut-based sandwiches and Sun-de-Vich won for its creative and worldly offerings. Sandwich lovers are in for a treat at either location.

Carnivores also have plenty of new options.

Gay business partners David Winer, Josh Hahn and Antonio Oquendo opened their fifth restaurant in D.C. called The Pig, a pork-centric restaurant that focuses on snout-to-tail dishes from locally sourced ingredients. The braised pork cheek was a favorite and if you’re up for the challenge, try the Sundae Bloody Sundae that includes pasteurized pig’s blood. Another meat-lovers paradise is Kangaroo Boxing Club in Columbia Heights. If you love barbeque, then there’s a dish on the menu for you here.

This year 14th Street began its transformation into a prime dining location. Pearl Dive Oyster Palace opened just over a year ago, the new Matchbox has opened, Ted’s Bulletin and many others are scheduled to open in the near future. Part of this transformation includes the new Masa 14 rooftop, which opened at the start of the summer. Masa 14 also welcomed new executive chef Adam Goldman to the mix at this Latin-Asian fusion restaurant. Another newcomer to the street called The Drafting Table has become the new local gastro pub in the former ACKC space.

No dinner is complete without a little sweetness at the end. I can never review a restaurant without at least a sampling of the desserts. One of my favorite meals this year took place at gay-helmed Art and Soul. We all had delicious entrees and to finish up the party, we tasted most of the items on the dessert menu. And to end my reviews for the year, I sampled all the delicious sweets available at Bloomingdale bakery Grassroots Gourmet. Every item at this gay-owned and -operated bakery was divine. A sweet ending to a year filled with delicious food and reviews.

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Movies

Civil rights film fest celebrates transmasculine activist

March on Washington Film Festival runs Sept. 30-Oct. 4

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AFI Docs, gay news, Washington Blade
Pauli Murray (Photo courtesy of Amazon Studios)

“I chose as my senior paper, ‘Should Plessy vs. Ferguson be Overruled?’ My little argument went to the Supreme Court,” said influential queer civil rights activist Rev. Dr. Pauli Murray in a powerful documentary featured in the 2021 March on Washington Film Festival.

The annual D.C. film festival runs Sept. 30 to Oct. 4 and features both in-person and virtual events, including a commemoration of Murray, a transmasculine activist often overlooked in history textbooks.

“Our mission is to tell the mistold and untold stories of the people who motivated and moved the civil rights movement,” said Artistic Director Isisara Bey, a longtime LGBTQ ally who has been with the film festival for eight of its nine years.

Murray was a poet, activist and legal scholar whose writings were the underpinnings of decisions by late Supreme Court Justices Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Thurgood Marshall.

“A film festival like this is extremely important because none of us leads lives outside of a historical, cultural, political and spiritual framework,” Bey said, noting Murray was the first African-American woman ordained as an Episcopal priest.

The film festival, founded in 2013 in Washington, D.C., to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, uses film screenings and panel discussions to educate audiences about civil rights pioneers and raise awareness on pressing current issues, such as environmental justice.

This year’s festival commemorates Murray’s legacy at an in-person event at the Eaton Hotel (1201 K St., N.W.) on Oct. 4 at 7 p.m., which includes presentations and a dramatic reading of Murray’s speech to the National Council of Negro Women on Nov. 13, 1963.

Virtually, more than 20 films will be available on demand beginning Sept. 24, including “Flint: The Poisoning of an American City” about the city’s water crisis; “End of the Line: The Women of Standing Rock” documenting the indigenous women who fought against construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline; and “To the Plate,” a short film about a lesbian restauranteur and her girlfriend who struggle to keep their business open in the face of anti-Asian hate.

Robert Raben, the festival’s gay co-founder, told the Washington Blade the LGBTQ community should come out and support the festival because the civil rights and gay liberation movements were “intertwined.”

“The gay civil rights movement relied enormously on the methods of the African-American civil rights movement,” he said. “You can’t have a gay liberation movement without a civil rights movement. And the number of gay people involved in the civil rights movement was pretty high.”

Raben told the Blade this “lost” history, including that of Murray, is empowering to learn, particularly for LGBTQ youth of color.

“Stories of gay people need to be focused on history because it inspires our young to make change in an intersectional way.”

Raben called the festival, which also includes panel discussions, music, art and dance, an “uncensored” platform for sharing an “honest picture” of historical events.

“Textbooks have never told the truth with regard to Asian Americans, Native Americans, Latinos and African Americans,” he said. “Attacks on ‘critical race theory’ is just a latest effort to restrict what we learn about history. The strength of the festival is we’re giving people stories that they suspected were out there.”

Ticket prices include an all-access pass for $149, a virtual film pass for $79, a discounted pass for students and educators at $19, and an option to pay what you can to attend virtual festival events.  

Attendees for in-person events must present proof of vaccination at check-in, wear masks during events and utilize socially distant seating.

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Photos

PHOTOS: DC Frontrunners 40th anniversary

Awards ceremony and party held at Jack Rose Dining Saloon

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(Blade photo by Michael Key)

The LGBTQ+ and allies running, walking, and social club DC Frontrunners held its 40th anniversary celebration and awards ceremony at Jack Rose Dining Saloon on Saturday.

(Washington Blade photos by Michael Key)

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Theater

‘Doña Rosita’ marks reunion of three Spaniards at GALA

An excellent cast and dynamic staging elevate stellar production

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Ariel Texidó and Mabel del Pozo in Doña Rosita la soltera. (Photo by Daniel Martínez)

Doña Rosita la soltera
Through Oct. 3
GALA Hispanic Theatre
3333 14th Street, NW
$35-$48
galatheatre.org

In the 1930s, Federico García Lorca, 20th century Spain’s greatest poet and dramatist, was writing plays about a woman’s place in the world. In fact, Lorca, who was gay, was exploring women’s souls in an unprecedented way for Spain, or anywhere really. His insight is frequently credited, in part, to his sexuality.  

Now at GALA Hispanic Theatre, Lorca’s “Doña Rosita la soltera (Doña Rosita the Spinster)” tells the story of Rosita, an unmarried woman who subsists on definite hopes of marrying a long-distance fiancé. Whether it’s to keep the populace at bay or to feed a romantic fantasy, isn’t completely clear, but years — decades, in fact — pass, and very little changes. 

Set in the conservative world of middle-class Granada (Lorca’s native province), the 100-minute play, performed in Spanish with English surtitles, spans the 1880s through the early 1900s, constrictive years for women in Spain. When Lorca wrote “Doña Rosita” in 1935, on the eve of the Spanish Civil War, he appreciated the recent gains made surrounding women’s rights and foresaw further, imminent progress. Then, just a year later at age 38 and at the top of his game, Lorca was unlawfully arrested and murdered by Franco’s rightwing thugs. All was lost. 

Adapted by out writer Nando López, GALA’s offering strays from Lorca’s original in various ways: there are fewer characters, and the older Rosita serves more as a narrator, interacting with her younger self. Lorca’s glorious poetry remains mostly intact. 

Still, the title character’s tale is clear: Orphaned as a child, Rosita (Mabel del Pozo) goes to live with her devoted aunt (Luz Nicolás) and uncle (Ariel Texidó), an avid gardener. As a young woman, she falls in love with her first cousin (also played by Texidó), and they’re engaged. Despite the fiancé leaving Spain to join his aging parents on their sizeable farm in Tucumán, Argentina, the young lovers remain betrothed. 

Domestic life goes on. With the support of relations, and the family’s devoted but skeptical housekeeper (Laura Alemán), Rosita assembles a first-rate trousseau, and the affianced pair continue to exchange heartfelt letters. At one point, there’s talk of marriage by proxy – an idea scoffed at by some of the household and neighbors. 

The sameness of the unchanging household is offset by out director José Luis Arellano’s dynamic staging, an excellent cast, actors nimbly changing characters onstage with the help of a hat or cravat fished out of a chest of drawers, Jesús Díaz Cortés’ vibrant lighting, and incidental music from David Peralto and Alberto Granados. Alemán, so good as the shrewd housekeeper from the country (a place Lorca respected) also assays a spinster who comes to tea. And Catherine Nunez characterizes feminine youth, scornful of Rosita’s unattached status. Delbis Cardona is versatile as the worker and Don Martin, a teacher charged with educating the ungrateful offspring of Granada’s rich. 

After a rare outdoor excursion to the circus, Rosita wrongly claims to have seen her would-be groom working with the troupe, but the housekeeper is quick to point out that the well-built puppeteer is by no means her stoop-shouldered barefoot fiancé, adding that more and more Rosita is seeing her faraway love in the face of the men about Granada. Swiftly, the aunt reminds the housekeeper to know her place – she’s allowed to speak, but not bark.

Visually, the passage of time is indicated by the hemline and cut of Rosita’s dresses (designed by Silvia de Marta), and the mid-play dismantling of the set (also de Marta), opening the family’s rooms and garden to what lies beyond. 

After intermission, six more years have passed and the narrative is more straightforward and patently compelling. Rosita’s aunt, now a pissed-off, generally miserable widow in reduced circumstances, is packing up to move. It’s been hard running a house, she says. And it’s harder scrubbing the floors, replies the faithful housekeeper. 

And it’s here that del Pozo shines with Rosita’s revelatory monologue, a searingly true, passionately delivered speech worth the price of a ticket. 

“Doña Rosita” marks a collaborative reunion of three Spaniards – writer López, director Arellano, and actor del Pozo – who all worked on GALA’s 2015, multi-Helen Hayes Award-winning production of Lorca’s politically controversial “Yerma,” the story of another complicated Spanish woman. 

GALA Hispanic Theatre safety policy

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