Sometimes you just want to get away and as the fall colors begin to adorn the trees, nothing could be more welcome than a day trip to Washington, Va., home of the famed Inn at Little Washington.
Just 67 miles from its larger namesake in Rappahannock County, Little Washington is little more than a country crossroads that has managed to become a mecca for fine dining since chef Patrick O’Connell settled there in 1978. Since then, O’Connell’s inn and restaurant have racked up awards from the James Beard Foundation, Zagat, Wine Spectator, Mobile Travel Guide and AAA, with rooms starting around $800 a night and dinner ringing in at about $200 per person (a price that used to seem other-worldly but is now becoming de rigueur in D.C. among even the youngest chefs).
But if these flights of fancy are a bit out of reach, consider instead simply spending a sunny Sunday at the Inn’s Village Market, where you can taste treats from O’Connell’s kitchen while shopping for local goods. Meandering among the tents and tables set up in the shady Parsonage Garden, just across the street from the Inn, you’ll find tiny fresh quail eggs, goat milk ice cream and both sweet and savory gluten-free baked goods. It runs Sundays from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. through Oct. 30. Details here.
For O’Connell (the Blade interviewed him here in 2015) the market provides an opportunity to showcase the local farmers and vendors who supply the Inn with much of the food that ends up in its dining room, but, perhaps even more importantly, to introduce city folks to his corner of Virginia, saying, “What could be more pleasant than spending a day in the country?”
When you get to the Village Market, head first to the Inn’s own table, because the biscuits piled with cured pork made by Tom Calhoun of nearby Culpeper, whom O’Connell has referred to as a “ham artist,” will go quickly, along with freshly baked croissants and pastries, sometimes selling out before noon. Once you’ve had a nosh and grabbed a hot- or cold-brewed coffee from Before & After’s table, you can seriously peruse the offerings and begin to load up on purchases to take back to “civilization.” Pro tip: stash a cooler in the trunk so you don’t have to rush the return journey.
A few items to be on the lookout for at the Village Market:
Dried herbs from Full Moon Farm. Forget the stuff you bought at the supermarket, because farmer Michael Frank — also an expert glassmaker — can prove in one sniff why it pays to buy freshly dried herbs. The organically grown herbs, such as marjoram, dill and tarragon, are cured and packaged quickly, retaining a fresh-from-the-garden scent and flavor that packs a big punch in home cooking. The Herbes de Provence at $7.95 is a winner.
If you’re lucky, Purcellville butcher Lothar Erbe will be decked out in his traditional lederhosen when you stop by the Lothar’s Sausages table. Some of his signature creations include Whyskey Bacon, pork belly cured with Himalayan salt and local Catoctin Creek rye whiskey; Smoked Yucatan Gaucho Brats, made with beef, pork, spices, herbs, jalapeños, queso and tequila; and authentic Hessen Style Potato Sausages.
Amp up your cocktails with botanical syrups from Wild Roots Apothecary. Actually brewed in D.C.’s Union Kitchen, these bottled syrups feature creative blends of flowers, herbs and fruit that work in both cocktails and mocktails. The Nettle Orange syrup has bright notes of fennel and citrus, pairing well with gin or rye, while the Rosehip Hibiscus syrup, with hints of star anise and coriander, mixes perfectly into a margarita. Pair the Elderberry Lavender — a personal favorite — with chilled green tea, vodka and a fresh lemon garnish.
Great Greens offers a wide array of unexpected flavors with its microgreens and lettuces, from purslane and red sorrel to mini kale and salt wort. Some folks are hesitant to purchase fresh greens, microgreens especially, because of concern that they will deteriorate quickly, but they will generally stay fresh for up to seven days if stored properly in the crisper drawer of the refrigerator. Sample the different varieties, which change frequently — the micro nasturtium was a recent favorite: its snappy horseradish bite is perfect for topping deli sandwiches.
While you’re wandering the market, keep an eye out for the tall, rangy figure of Chef O’Connell (who’s openly gay), who loves to extoll the virtues of his adopted home and point out his favorite treats. And be prepared to unplug while you’re there — cell phone service is sketchy at best, so take a break from social media to live, and eat, in the moment.
Kristen Hartke is a D.C.-based food writer and editor. Follow her kitchen adventures on @khartke.
As You Are Bar offers a place to belong
Bar-coffeeshop-danceboutique to open brick-and-mortar soon
Vodka soda, pinot grigio, light beer, ginger ale, or all of the above: whatever your tribe, As You Are Bar recognizes your flavor.
Currently virtual and soon physical, As You Are (AYA) Bar is the new joint venture from bar industry veterans Jo McDaniel and Rachel Pike, partners and both queer women.
Launched earlier this year, AYA is “a virtual queer space with a priority of safety and inclusion,” says McDaniel.
McDaniel, who has been recognized by the Washington Blade in the past for her cocktail crafting skills, began her career at now-closed gay bar Apex, and later as a bartender at Phase 1, Phase 1 Dupont, Freddie’s Beach Bar, and Cobalt.
McDaniel went on to open and then manage A League of Her Own (ALOHO), located aside Pitcher’s in Adams Morgan. For her part, Pike started in the industry in security at Nellie’s, and was also on hand to open ALOHO. She moved up to lead security and bartender at ALOHO.
At ALOHO, the duo teamed up to make it “as safe a space as possible,” says McDaniel. But, as for the entire industry, the pandemic threw a wrench in their in-person abilities to do so.
When the pandemic hit, “we realized it was time to do more,” she says. “Humans are made to connect, and we couldn’t support them well at a brick-and-mortar-space. Thus, AYA bar was born.”
Having left ALOHO to expand their dream bar model, AYA allowed them to entirely rethink the bar space. At times, they admit, “the 21-35 crowd can dominate nightlife. The goal is to pull away from that,” McDaniel says. In addition, Pike notes that “pandemic, and the time off, opened many people’s eyes to so many injustices, inequities and racism in our world.” They want to address those concerns at AYA by accepting every part of the queer rainbow.
Right now, AYA is creating that welcoming space virtually. One popular event on the AYA website is Click in with Coach, a Zoom-based happy hour hangout. It’s a place to have bar talk without the physical bar. McDaniel hosts Hey Jo, an Instagram live interview show where McDaniel speaks with a guest from the community to discuss queer spaces, ways to support community causes, and lessons over the years and from this time in a pandemic. Other events include a YouTube virtual dance party hosted by DJ MIM (a popular queer DJ) and Our Side of the Bar, at which McDaniel and Rach take the hot seat and dish what life is like on the other side of the bar.
Regardless of location, McDaniel stresses that the team wants “to expand our reach and center marginalized communities within this larger community: Black, brown, and indigenous people of color (BBIPoC), queer youth, and queer elders.”
The two are actively searching for a physical location, and hope to have more news on its opening by the summer.
Their goal is to make AYA a daytime-to-nighttime café-cum-danceboutique. In the morning and afternoons, it will serve as a coffeeshop for families and youth, and welcome after-schoolers. In the evening, a part of the space will dim the lights and turn up the tunes, allowing the bar to transform into an accessible, everyone-welcome bar. They hope to include the 18+ crowd on certain nights, too. The café section will likely stay open for those looking for a quieter nook at night.
“Because we identify under the queer umbrella,” says McDaniel, “our passion to provide safety to this community courses through us in everything we do. Because we’re white, we believe we have a responsibility to BBIPoC to center the needs and voices of marginalized people. We were both also young queer people at one point looking for a place to belong, come as we were, and feel safe. Everyone deserves a space that is theirs. A space they can be who they are and know they will be respected, protected, and nurtured. As You Are is for anyone that couldn’t find that place elsewhere.”
Gin & Tonic Festival to benefit restaurants, workers
ThinkFoodGroup celebrates Spain’s favorite cocktail
José Andrés’ ThinkFoodGroup celebrates Spain’s favorite cocktail with its annual Gin & Tonic Festival April 9-29 at all Jaleo restaurant locations in the D.C. area.
The Botanist Gin will donate $5 of every Botanist Gin and Tonic sold during the festival to the Independent Restaurant Coalition. Donations will be doubled to $10 on International Gin and Tonic Day on April 9.
The Independent Restaurant Coalition is a grassroots movement formed by chefs and independent restaurant owners across the country to protect the independent restaurants and their workers impacted by the ongoing pandemic.
For more information, visit ThinkFoodGroup on Facebook.
Paraiso Taqueria is a riotous rainbow of a restaurant
‘A vibrant atmosphere where all your senses get stimulated’
Green tortillas, pink mole, and blood-orange margaritas: the new Paraiso Taqueria in Capitol Hill is a riotous rainbow of a restaurant.
Launched last December, Paraiso Taqueria is just coming into its stride, as the city government relaxes dining restrictions, chef Geovany Beltran expands the menu, and the restaurant debuts a funky coffeeshop.
Beltran, a native of Mexico, has seized the opportunity in his first starring chef role at a restaurant, having previously worked at Jinya Ramen Bar, among other area eateries.
“Growing up in a mezcalero family in Guerrero, Mexico and being a D.C. local for many years, my dream has been to share those recipes and memories here in Capitol Hill,” he says.
Unlike other recent taqueria openings, this one takes inspiration from both street food and home kitchens, as well as international influences. But Mexico is front and center. According to the restaurant’s Brand Director Tahmina Ghaffer, “we source our heirloom masa [corn flour] from Oaxaca, Mexico. This flour used for tortillas has been nixtamalized, or treated with slaked lime to remove the hulls, soften it, and improve the digestibility of its nutrients,” she says.
About those tortillas: Beltran livens up the Insta factor by mixing batches of masa with beet or cilantro, resulting in brilliant pink or green colors, in addition to the traditional yellow. Siting on those tortillas are a bevy of taco options, from traditional al pastor (with braised pork, pineapple, and cilantro) to a creative salmon crudo (with chamoy honey sauce, pickled onions, and mango). There is also an eggplant taco with tomatillo jam for vegetarians. All salsas that accompany the tacos are made in-house.
For bigger plates, look to the adobo lamb, served aside red and green salsas, escabeche, and tricolor tortillas, as a kind of DIY table side taco party. Another creative dish is an elegant cauliflower burrito, painted with a pink mole fragrant with beets, thyme, pine nuts, almonds, and pink peppercorns, and then elegantly drizzled with in a white chocolate sauce.
Beltran also takes cues from the sea, serving ceviche and coconut-curried mussels that would be right at home in an Indian restaurant.
On the sweet side, pastry chef Blenda Navarette crafts desserts like a tres leches topped by mango gelee and a chocolate flan; a pan dulce is in the works.
The drink list, Ghaffer notes, is heavily focused on an extensive collection of mezcal and tequila. Bar manager Jose Diaz aims to “tell the myths, legends, and stories of Mexico through drinks.”
The Oaxacan Old Fashioned is inspired by the classic cocktail, but Diaz uses mezcal and agave. The El Chamongo marries tequila with mango, lime, chamoy, and the popular Tajin spice mix for a spicy-salty kick.
Paraiso takes over the space formerly occupied by Emilie’s, where star chef Kevin Tien helmed the kitchen. When Tien left, owners Sam Shoja and Johann Moonesinghe revamped the space and handed the reins to Beltran (Shoja also owns several Jinya Ramen franchises). Beltran and his chef team are also partners in this operation.
“This team have been the true heroes of the restaurant industry and we want to give them a space where they can be celebrated and have ownership,” says Ghaffer.
The industrial-chic design with a 360-degree open kitchen (seats at the kitchen bar are not being used during pandemic restrictions) is brightened by prints from a family favorite Mexican illustrator, Ana Leovy. “She celebrates diversity through her work, weaving stories through shapes and colors, inspired by feelings, dreams and everyday life,” says Ghaffer. Neon lights and lots of greenery round out the space.
Paraiso’s aim is to create “a vibrant atmosphere where all your senses get stimulated,” she says.
An immigrant herself, Ghaffer (who hails from Afghanistan) notes that “being a minority has shaped our work, and we are here to set an example. As immigrants and people of color, we had to break barriers and now we want to help others do that. We want to let people know that anyone who puts in the hard work will achieve their dreams.”
Moving forward, Paraiso will soon house an all-day café-bookshop, decorated with photography from Mexican women, selling fresh coffee, packaged treats, goodies, and bottled drinks. The restaurant also has plans to set up a “mezcaleria” bar area, expand its outdoor patio, launch a monthly wine club series, and host specials for Cinco de Mayo.
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