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Dining trends for 2016

Poke, acai bowls among year’s hot items



dining trends, gay news, Washington Blade

Poké, a raw fish dish made with tuna, is one of the hot food trends for 2016. (Photo courtesy Wikimedia)

Just as you were getting used to fresh-pressed juice and sriracha mayonnaise, a host of new food trends predicted by the National Restaurant Association and other industry experts is poised to take flight for 2016, from banana ketchup to cricket flour. Sorry, kale, your days may be numbered.

If you’re longing to stay ahead of the hip foodistas who live next door, here’s a quick primer for some of the hottest culinary trends on the horizon; add a man bun and you’ll be just as cool as that scruffy chef on the new season of “Top Chef.”

No, please — forget the man bun. Let’s keep the trends on the table.


Hallelujah, bread is back. After years of being told that bread is the devil, we’re seeing a resurgence in its yeasty goodness, especially as some restaurants begin milling their own flour in-house, resulting in a finely ground blend with a fresh, slightly floral essence. Here in D.C., you can check out Etto (1541 14th St., N.W.), where flour milled on premise forms the basis for pizzas, pastries and loaves, or head up Connecticut Avenue to Bread Furst (4434 Connecticut Ave. N.W.), where master baker Mark Furstenburg crafts perfectly Instagrammable baguettes and levain, as well as his signature Palladin, a ciabatta-style loaf created in honor of legendary D.C. chef and restaurateur Jean-Louis Palladin. If you own a KitchenAid stand mixer, you can take it one step further by investing in an attachment that allows you to grind wheat berries, spelt, oats and other grains — or protein-laden dried crickets, if you must — right in the comfort of your own kitchen.


Like everything else, you can blame the sudden interest in all things Hawaiian on President Obama. It started with tiki drinks, has reportedly spiked sales of Spam — an inexplicable delicacy in Hawaii — and now is bringing poké to the mainland. Pronounced “poh-kay” with the emphasis on the first syllable, it’s a raw fish dish usually made with tuna, but its most important characteristic is in the shape, which should be in thick cubes: a true poké needs to have a bit of chunk to it, something that you can truly bite into, not a delicate carpaccio. While poké, often mixed with soy sauce, mayonnaise and chili peppers, tends to be a casual roadside dish in Hawaii, where you’re most likely to eat it out of a disposable carton while checking the surf conditions, it has evolved into more elevated fare since landing stateside. Locally, try the Creamy Tuna Poké at Daikaya Izakaya (705 6th St., N.W.), where the chunks of raw tuna are presented with seaweed, macadamia nuts and sesame oil with real Hawaiian flair.


Move over, ramen, there’s a new Asian food in town. There are nearly 4 million Filipino Americans in the United States — the second largest Asian-American group after those of Chinese ancestry — but, like Hawaiian cuisine, the food of the Philippines is just beginning to spread into the mainstream. You’ll find familiar flavors — soy sauce, vinegar and chilies — along with distinctively sour lemon notes in traditional dishes like the pork-based sinigang. Trundle over to Mount Pleasant to Purple Patch (3155 Mount Pleasant St., N.W.), a Filipino outpost frequented by homesick embassy staffers, where you can gorge on lumpia, a spring roll filled with shredded meat and carrots that should be dunked into banana ketchup, a popular condiment made of bananas that came to life during World War II when tomatoes were scarce. Pay attention to ube while you’re exploring Filipino food — this bright purple yam, a common Filipino ingredient, is starting to be seen in sweet treats from doughnuts to ice cream.

“Jew-ish” food

Trend watchers are paying attention to the growth of “Jew-ish” cuisine, that is, dishes that are inspired by classic culturally Jewish recipes, but with a twist. Often called “heritage cuisine,” you’ll find it expressed by chefs on playful plates of spicy shakshuka and root vegetable latkes, but be warned that it might not always be Kosher. You’ll want to brave the lines at Bullfrog Bagels (1341 H St., N.E.), where they amp up authentic house-made bialys with smoky jalapeño cream cheese and pastrami-crusted smoked salmon. If you really want to dive in, try your hand at the recipes of D.C. chef Todd Gray and his wife Ellen Kassoff Gray, owners of Equinox Restaurant, chronicled in their cookbook “The New Jewish Table” (St. Martin’s Press, 2013). A love letter to the cuisine that resulted from the union of a mid-Atlantic fine dining chef and a nice Jewish girl, dinner party-worthy recipes include Fig and Port Wine Blintzes and Matzoh-Stuffed Cornish Game Hens.

Acai bowls

Just when you finally learned how to pronounce “acai” (ah-sah-ee), these antioxidant-rich berries are transitioning from blenders to bowls. Essentially, the acai bowl consists of an almost puddling-like blend of the bright purple berry purée with bananas, strawberries and even beets with a touch of soy, almond or coconut milk, which is then topped with toasted oats or coconut, fresh fruit or even chocolate cashew butter. It’s akin to having a sundae for breakfast and, honestly, could there be anything bad about that? D.C.’s own South Block Juice Co. (various locations) builds acai bowls to order, blending acai with everything from pitaya (dragonfruit) and mango to peanut butter and cashew milk and a wide variety of toppings, including cacao nibs, goji berries and hemp hearts. The bowls seem so decadent, you’ll fool yourself into thinking they aren’t healthy.


Kristen Hartke is a D.C.-based food and beverage writer; follow her kitchen adventures on Twitter, @khartke.



Union Market’s Last Call Bar a welcoming oasis for all

Mixologist Britt Weaver expresses her pride and identity every day



Britt Weaver is head mixologist at Last Call Bar.

Amid the development of the fast-growing Union Market district, spanning dozens of eateries (including a duo of Michelin stars), embracing and inclusive spaces are tough to come by. Last Call Bar is one of those — and head mixologist and proud member of the LGBTQ community Britt Weaver is making sure this divey spot stays that way.

While buzzy restaurants take the spotlight, Weaver and Last Call are embracing the different.

“I’ve made it a personal mission to ensure that the bar continues to be a place where everyone feels welcomed and accepted,” she says. “Being behind the bar, I see a lot of people — I try to make sure every guest feels safe, seen, and cared for when they visit.”

Last Call exudes a laid-back spirit, aiming to fill that neighborhood-style gap that might be missing among prix-fixe tasting menus and shiny boutiques. Eccentric décor that includes painted lockers, old posters hung from the ceiling, artfully peeling paint, and arcade games feeds into the homey spirit. Patrons are welcome to bring in stickers and slap them on the bar, adding even more personality to the space.

Launched in 2019 serving sub-$10 drinks and having survived the pandemic, Last Call still maintains an unconventional vibe that extends to the menu. It’s one of the few bars that serves flavor-changing Jello shots, with the option to add nostalgia-inducing pop rocks; as well as an hour-long “teeny tiny ‘tini hour” for those who want a taste but not an entire glassful of liquor. Keeping things cool: koozies are also for sale. The food menu’s grown since opening, with sandwiches in addition to bags of chips and shareable dips.

Last Call welcomed Weaver in 2023. While working as a bartender during grad school, Weaver was drawn to the excitement of the bar scene. After COVID, she says, she leaned into her career in the hospitality industry.

In the freewheeling, demanding bartending industry, Weaver has fought to be seen.

“Previous jobs and ownership teams have urged me to conceal my identity, but that is something I refuse to do. It is so incredibly important for me to be able to express my pride and identity every day,” she says.

Last Call has a pedigree from its ally owner Gina Chersevani, who also runs decade-old Buffalo and Bergen stall inside Union Market and a sister Buffalo and Bergen on Capitol Hill. Chersevani is deeply rooted in the D.C. hospitality industry, which Weaver says has a culture that celebrates creativity and expression.

Chersevani ensures that “I’ve been celebrated and encouraged to express my identity,” says Weaver. “She has given me the freedom to cultivate a space that is welcoming of the LGBTQ+ community while also still remaining true to the Last Call spirit.” This year, during Pride month, Chersevani launched a Pride punch card, in which patrons who visited all of her spots won free drinks.

Weaver further notes that being proud of her identity and committing to it behind the bar and in the fast-paced service industry “opens more space for other LGBTQ+ industry members to feel safe to express their own identities. Visibility is so critical in making safe spaces for the queer community.”

Looking forward, Weaver remains steadfast in her commitment to learning and growing in the space and in D.C. She promises that Last Call Bar has plenty of events and programming, new cocktail menus, and a welcoming community spirit.

To celebrate the summer, Weaver offered a cocktail recipe to have at home with friends: Strawberry Piña Colada.


· 2 ounces silver rum

· 1 ounce strawberry purée

· 1 ounce fresh pineapple juice

· 1 ounce coconut milk

· .5 ounce lime juice

Combine all ingredients, then shake. Serve in a Collins glass, over crushed ice, and

garnish as desired.

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RAMMYs honors restaurant industry professionals

A busy summer for D.C.’s dining scene



D.C.’s Summer Restaurant Week runs from Monday, Aug. 12, through Sunday, Aug. 18.

Representing the ever-growing, increasingly recognized restaurant industry in Washington, D.C., the Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington (RAMW) held its first-ever RAMMYs Honors Event on June 18 in the lower level of the Watergate Hotel. Restaurant and hospitality industry professionals, leaders, and community members gathered to celebrate RAMMY special distinctions. 

The event took place as an extension of the traditional RAMMY Awards Gala, which honors “the exceptional ability and accomplishments” of the region’s restaurants and foodservice community. The 42nd Annual RAMMY Awards Gala will take place on Sunday, July 21, at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center.

The RAMMYs Honors event kicked off with a cocktail hour, and was hosted by author, seasoned democratic strategist, and co-host of MSNBC’s The Weekend, Symone Sanders Townsend.

While there were several awards presented, this inaugural event only held onto one announcement until the event itself: the RAMMYS Joan Hisaoka Allied Member of the Year Winner, presented to an associate member who best exemplifies commitment to and support of RAMW. This year, the Carlos Rosario International Public Charter School won, a school supporting adult immigrants that includes a culinary arts program.

Other honors that evening included the Duke Zeibert Capital Achievement Award Winner, which was given to Greater Washington Partnership CEO Kathy E. Hollinger “for her excellence and community leadership, increasing the profile and success of the metropolitan Washington foodservice community.” Prior to joining the Partnership, Hollinger was president and CEO of RAMW. Hollinger sat for a wide-ranging interview on stage with Sanders Townsend, who is married to Shawn Townsend current president and CEO of the RAMW. 

Finally, the 2024 Honorary Milestone RAMMY Award recipients were also honored, celebrating a significant number of years serving locals and visitors in Metropolitan Washington: The Dubliner (50 years), Black’s Bar & Kitchen (25 years), Equinox on 19th (25 years), KAZ Sushi Bistro (25 years), Marcel’s (25 years), and Passage to India (25 years).

As the restaurant industry grows in the city, for the first-time, the RAMMYS Honors event allowed for a unique opportunity to highlight a range of special distinctions determined by RAMW’s executive committee. Instead of being public-facing, the Honors were dedicated to industry professionals, to give extra attention and the spotlight to those that often get overlooked at the main RAMMYs Gala. These awards were chosen by RAMW’s executive committee whereas the other awards, given at The RAMMYS, are chosen by both the public and an anonymous panel of judges.

Summer, traditionally a slower time for the restaurant industry, means that RAMW is pulling out the stops for diners to try out new and favorite spots across the area.

First, finalists for Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington’s 2024 Wine Program of the Year will take part in promotions planned for the second week of July. From Monday, July 8, through Sunday, July 14, the region’s top wine programs will showcase their outstanding varietals and pours. The 2024 Wine Program of the Year Finalists include: Apero (Dupont Circle), Era (Mt. Ranier), Irregardless (H Street), Lulu’s Wine Garden (Shaw), and St. Anselm (Union Market). Each will have discounts, tasting parties, special blends, flights, and other ways to savor the area’s top wines.

Finally, the season also sees the return of Summer Restaurant Week, celebrating the region’s restaurant industry from Monday, Aug. 12, through Sunday, Aug. 18. Participating restaurants will offer multi-course brunch and lunch menus with updated tiered pricing for $25 or $35 per person, and multi-course dinner menus for $40, $55, or $65 per person for on-premises dining. Many restaurants will also offer cocktail, wine, and non-alcoholic pairings.

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Behind the bar with Moon Rabbit’s Thi Nguyen

Cocktails work in harmony with thoughtfully executed Vietnamese dishes



Moon Rabbit’s Thi Nguyen

Thi Nguyen’s hands move purposely behind the bar, her all-business, cobalt blue nails gleaming under the warm lighting of recently relocated – and highly celebrated – Moon Rabbit. A dash of simple syrup infused with pandan – a shrub native to Southeast Asia with vanilla-scented leaves – moves deftly in her hands to lightly spice a cocktail that will soon receive another kick from ginger bitters.

Nguyen, Moon Rabbit’s celebrated bar manager, cannot be accused of holding back flavors from her drinks. Nor can she hold back her identity and her journey. Her journey from Saigon to Maryland to California and finally to D.C., but also her journey as a proudly out lesbian, unafraid to bring her whole self to all her pours.

Boundaries, borders, conventions: these matter little to Nguyen, who left several homes to finally find herself where she’s most comfortable, and where she acts as a leader and mentor for others to do the same. Just as she doesn’t hide her identity, she also doesn’t hide that her cocktails complement Moon Rabbit’s vibrant, contemporary Vietnamese cuisine. Owner/chef Kevin Tien pays tribute to his heritage as a first-generation Asian American, using Moon Rabbit as a platform for expressing his love for Vietnamese culture and food through a determinedly modern lens.

Her cocktails, then, work in harmony with thoughtfully executed dishes like chewy rice cakes under a tofu crumble and cured egg, deconstructed crab Rangoon, and wagyu-stuffed perilla leaves brightened by fermented honey.

Sitting with the chefs and acclaimed owner Kevin Tien, “we begin by exploring cookbooks together,” in a collaborative process, “to find inspiration and potential flavor combinations. It involves a lot of research and development, trial and error, experimentation, and technique.”

“And while this sometimes leads to failures, it ultimately helps us discover the perfect pairings.”

Her menu arrives without flavor hesitations. Cocktail names are given in both English and Vietnamese (as are the dishes), a signal that she is asking diners and drinkers to join her and trust her as unapologetic about her Vietnamese craft. 

The Hết Nước Chấm (Out of Dipping Sauce) drink is composed of vodka, passionfruit liqueur, a squeeze of lemon, and a simple syrup based on nước chấm– also known as fish sauce. While nodding to the popularity of the savory martini, this cocktail also reflects the ubiquity of fish sauce on the Moon Rabbit menu and across Southeast Asia.

Other ingredients? Sesame oil, coconut milk, palm syrup, and chrysanthemum all show up in various drinks, alcoholic or otherwise. She also creates cocktails that highlight and celebrate gay icons, drawing inspiration not just from the menu and research but also LGBTQ history and culture.

This pride in her work is reflected in the pride in her identity.

“Being part of the LGBTQ community has taught me the importance of authenticity, resilience, and inclusivity. I am unapologetic about who I am and show up at work proud of my identity, which helps create a space where others feel comfortable and supported.”

Tien, Nguyen, and his staff are highly intentional in staffing. “This commitment to inclusivity is reflected in our hiring practices; we intentionally build a diverse bar team that includes members of the LGBTQ community,” she says.

Just like her physical journey, arriving in this place of leadership and comfort took a circuitous path. In the face of microaggressions and ignorance, comments and assumptions, lack of understanding and respect, she has been able to “strengthen my resolve to create an inclusive and supportive environment.” She ensures that she’s active in events that raise funds for LGBTQ non-profits around the DMV area, including SYMAL, CCI Health Services, and KhushDC.

 “I hope to encourage other LGBTQ individuals to pursue careers in hospitality and to advocate for greater inclusivity and acceptance in their own workplaces.”

Moon Rabbit, formerly located at the InterContinental Hotel on the Wharf, closed with a shock last year (its closure took place among a unionization drive by the hotel’s staff that the hotel had opposed). Debuting in its new location in Penn Quarter in January, Moon Rabbit quickly retook its place as a top dining destination: the restaurant was recently added to the Michelin guide. In June, Nguyen herself was named one of the best new bartenders in 2024 by Punch magazine. As Pride month closes out, Nguyen remains as dedicated to her craft – and her advocacy – as ever.

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