It’s been a tough winter for the cherry blossom trees, getting a variety of mixed signals from Mother Nature as to when they should pop. Luckily for the rest of us, the bars and restaurants of D.C. are filling their menus with cherry blossom-inspired goodies.
Ironically, this means that often food and drinks are flavored with cherries, despite the fact that cherries aren’t actually in season for a few more months, although a few restauranteurs are bucking that trend. But, hey, who’s quibbling? Think spring, no matter what the weather may bring.
Start with the Cherry Blossom Pub (1843 and 1841 Seventh St., N.W.), a new seasonal pop-up by mixology maestro Derek Brown that overtakes his two Shaw bars, Mockingbird Hill and Southern Efficiency. You’ll find a more esoteric take on the cherry blossom theme here, with a primary focus on Japanese-inspired drinks and food, including a cocktail that feels like an updated take on those Melonball drinks that were all the rage back in the ‘80s, blending unfiltered sake with Midori and Green Chartreuse liqueurs and cucumber melon, and a pork cutlet served on white bread with wasabi mustard.
Chef Michael Schlow’s various properties will be highlighting cherries across their menus. At Casolare (2505 Wisconsin Ave., N.W.) in Glover Park, look for a housemade gelato sundae topped with the luscious Amarena cherries from Italy, while, over at Altra Strada (475 K St., N.W.) in D.C. and also 2911 District Ave. in Fairfax, Va.), newly installed executive pastry chef Alex Levin, lately of Osteria Morini, has created an almond-crusted tartlet filled with seasonal fruit and accompanied by vanilla bean gelato and more Amarena cherries.
For a sparkling and herbaceous cocktail that is more spring-forward than cherry-focused, head to Georgetown’s 1789 Restaurant (1226 36th St., N.W.) for the Sparkling Sumire (“violet” in Japanese), which concentrates on floral combinations in the celebration of the arrival of spring. Look for jasmine tea-infused Dolin Blanc vermouth and Creme de Violette liqueur topped off with prosecco and citrus. For something that actually tastes of the season, head to Tredici Enoteca at the St. Gregory Hotel (2033 M St., N.W.) for the Evolution, combining cherry blossom-infused botanical gin with brut Champagne, fresh citrus, agave nectar and hibiscus dust, garnished, of course, with a cherry blossom.
Highlighting a Lenten season culinary custom, chef David Guas offers Sour Cherry Hot Cross Buns at Bayou Bakery, Coffee Bar & Eatery (901 Pennsylvania Ave., S.E.), packed with cherries and spice and dripping in sugary glaze. Have it with one of their signature Bloody Marys — not because it has anything to do with cherry blossoms, just because they’re spicy and delicious.
The focus at Bourbon Steak at Four Seasons Hotel (2800 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W.) is far more Japanese, and, unsurprisingly, places the emphasis on meat, with a side of sake. Chef Joe Palma is highlighting a Duo of Japanese Wagyu steaks, with each cut representing a different prefecture, Miyazaki and Kagoshima. Presented in a traditional Bento box crafted from the Sakura wood of cherry blossom trees, the beef is accompanied by two special sakes: Junmai Daigingo Hattannishiki, a food-friendly sake with notes of banana, melon and star anise, and Evoluzione “Crazy Milk” Nigori, a creamy sake brewed at the foot of Mount Katsuragi, with a flavor reminiscent of coconut and lychee, with a touch of vanilla.
Ever the showman, chef Robert Wiedmaier takes cherry blossom culinary creations to new heights with the “Torchon of Foie Gras with Cherry Cotton Candy” at Marcel’s (2401 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W.). This celebration of food masquerading as art, or the other way around, features foie gras smoked with cherry wood under an opaque cloche, which, when lifted, reveals wispy blush-colored cotton candy enrobing the delicacy in a vertical presentation that recalls a topiary tree.
You won’t go thirsty this cherry blossom season, that’s for sure. Bar Dupont (1500 New Hampshire Ave., N.W.) has several seasonal cocktails, including the Rickey-San, a tribute to D.C.’s own Gin Rickey made with matcha green tea soda, gin, yuzu and lime, and a drink made with sweet potato shochu, a Japanese distilled spirit, which is paired with freshly-juiced grapefruit, sherry, and green tea. Look for the mini martini flight offered with the special Cherry Blossom menu at 14K at the Hamilton Hotel (1001 14th St., N.W.), which includes four cherry-infused versions, from the 14K, made with bourbon and Bing cherries, topped with edible gold flakes, and the Cherry Blossom with vodka, black cherry purée and pineapple juice. Meanwhile, the Balkan Cherry at Ambar (523 8th St., S.E. in D.C. and 2901 Wilson Blvd. in Arlington) incorporates chamomile-infused rakia, cherry liqueur, green tea and shish-infused water and lime juice.