For some residents, prices at Washington restaurants have gotten out of control.
The much-anticipated Shaw Bijou has been the talk of the city because its 13-course tasting menu will clock in at over $900 per couple once wine pairings, tax and gratuity are factored in.
But Equinox (818 Connecticut Ave. N.W.) aims to change that with a series of themed Sunday evening menus that will, by comparison, set you back just $45 per person, plus an additional $20 if you go for the wine pairings, not including tax and gratuity. Even so, it’s a price point that could easily come in under $100 each.
“We wanted to create a tasting menu that was accessible in price and exciting in its inspiration,” says Equinox chef and owner Todd Gray of the Great Explorations Culinary Adventure dinner series. “Travel is impassioning to most food lovers because of the opportunities to learn about another culture through its food — something we’ve always advocated.”
The Sunday Supper series is focusing this fall on the regional foods of Italy. It began in September with Tuscan cuisine before moving on to Umbria in October, to be followed by Piedmont in November and Rome in December. Chef de Cuisine Colin McClimans was recently married in Italy, which helped inspire the series, and both Chef Gray and his wife and Equinox co-owner Ellen Kassoff have traveled extensively across Italy as well, including in 2015 at the Expo Milano, where they cooked at the Refettorio Ambrosiano, a soup kitchen established by the acclaimed Italian chef Massimo Bottura.
This particular culinary adventure encompasses a four-course tasting menu of antipasti, pasta, main and dolce (and if you caught the recent 12-course tasting menu episode of “Below Deck” on Bravo, it should take a lot less time), highlighting the ingredients and techniques specific to each featured region. Two dishes are available in each course, designed to accommodate omnivores, vegetarians and vegans, and diners can feel free to mix and match.
In October’s Umbrian menu, you’ll find porcini, chestnuts, pork and rabbit well-represented, typical ingredients found in landlocked Umbria. Lepre all cacciatora, a regional dish of hare braised in red wine gets an Equinox twist as rabbit bolognese with red wine and Parmigiano Reggiano served with whole wheat fettuccine, and a “creamy” plantbased version of chestnut and porcini soup.
Stuffed vegetables, insalata di carne cruda, and agnolotti can be found in various iterations on the November menu honoring the Piedmont region of northern Italy, which relies less on tomato-based sauces and more on rich, slow-cooked dishes.
“We’re taking these celebrated, classic dishes,” Gray says, “and giving them our American interpretation.”
Look for eggy thin noodles called tagliolini with white truffle butter, an autumnal blend of green lentils and vegetables, porcini mushrooms and cashew cheese, and a rich traditional dessert, Torte Noiciolla, a hazelnut cake with a custardy wine-based zabaglione.
Mediterranean flair anchors the December menu centered on the colorful cuisine of Rome, from saffron risotto to sticky struffoli studded with candied orange and pistachio. Crispy tempura sardines or artichokes start off the meal, followed by the salt-forward pasta dishes found on southern Italian tables, such as fat bucatini noodles served with lashings of black pepper and Parmesan and rigatoni with black olives, capers and tomatoes. Top it off with a classic Torte al Pinoli, a pine nut tart accompanied by a red wine poached pear sorbet.
“We wanted to share our excitement for regional cuisine, which goes hand-in-hand with everything we’ve been doing for the past 17 years,” Gray says, “and the joy that comes from tasting the best ingredients and dishes the world has to offer.” Upcoming regional cuisines that will be explored in the new year include France, Spain, and Latin America.
Kristen Hartke is a D.C.-based food writer and editor; follow her kitchen adventures @khartke.