Round up of events for October 2010

Cheese platter with honeycomb at Taberna Del Alaberdero
Jordan Wright
Cheese platter with honeycomb at Taberna Del Alaberdero

Tapas Menu Introduced at Taberna

Taberna del Alaberdero is shedding its stuffy image as an Old World Spanish restaurant and appealing to a younger crowd with the addition of an extensive tapas menu and a Sunday brunch that features a different region of Spain each month. November explores the foods of the Northern sea coast of Cantabria, a region known for its seafood.

New chef Javier Romero comes to Washington by way of several Michelin-starred restaurants and brings with him his success as the top chef in Madrid in 2005, topped only by securing fourth place in 2006 for all of Spain. He employs his classical training to create tapas, infusing bold flavors in tiny bites.

I particularly liked his Arroz Cremoso de Rabo de Toro y Judiones (braised oxtail and fava beans) with its slow-cooked meat and creamy beans served over rice and Brick de Morcilla con Manzana y Parmesano, which is anything but brick-like and features blood sausage cradled in a pastry crisp and served with apple slices and parmesan cheese. Typical tapas like Gambas al Ajillo (shrimp with garlic) and the traditional potato and egg omelet are well executed, and there are over a dozen other tasty morsels to nibble on before polishing it all off with Spanish cheeses served with an aromatic honey still in its comb.

Though summer has past, make sure to try either the white or red sangria. It is never out of season for sneaking luscious fresh fruit into your meal even if it is saturated with wine. These are the best sangrias in town.

The Jockey Club Gets a New Chef - Again

Speaking of new chefs in town, The Jockey Club at The Fairfax at Embassy Row has snagged Ralf Hofmann, with his classic American style and light approach to fish and vegetables. His signature dishes like Lobster “Bratwurst” and Root Vegetable Gnocchi continue to draw the posh and political as evidenced by the appearance of Hilary Clinton on the evening I dined there. I am told she ordered her favorite, Dover Sole Lemon Meuniére. I went for the Steak Tartare, as I often do, and this version was spot on.

The hotel will host the 2011 Capital Wine Festival on January 20th with a very affordable weekly dinner series limited to only 60 guests. It will pair Chef Hofmann’s cuisine with wines from around the world.

Rivers at the Watergate Gives Foggy Bottom a New Power Dining Spot

The darling of the legendary Prime Rib, Billy Carter, has moved on to open Rivers at the Watergate, where he is the proprietor. I don’t usually follow the vicissitudes of restaurant managers. However, so many of us know and love Billy from his 34 years at the Prime Rib that it was a stunner when he announced his move to open this new venture featuring Contemporary American Cuisine with a twist, with Asian and Southern thrown in for good measure.

“I was surprised at the changing and sophisticated palates of our clientele,” Carter told me. “Dishes we put on the menu, like Whole Rockfish with ginger black bean sauce and rice vermicelli stir-fry, and Ginger Steamed Cod with sesame rice balls, were things that Mike and I liked and that have really taken off.” Mike is Mike Smithson, former chef at The Prime Rib in Philadelphia, who also did stints at Morton’s and Ruth’s Chris. Yes, he knows beef, and yes, they have fabulous steaks and zinfandel-braised short ribs too.

It’s not the same K Street crowd that Carter has welcomed in the past, though many of the swank regulars have caught on to the new location. Now you might find the cast of “Hair” popping in after the show from nearby Kennedy Center, along with prima ballerina Suzanne Farrell. Composer Marvin Hamlisch, soon to perform with the National Symphony Orchestra, was taking lunch between rehearsals as we spoke. Note to Marvin: There is a piano at the bar just itching for a little ragtime. Text me!

The restaurant’s name celebrates the rivers of the world and plans are to feature one river each season to reflect that cuisine. Italy looks to be the first.

Arena Stage Hits the Heights

On Saturday we witnessed the opening of the new glittering, glimmering, glass-walled Arena Stage where three main stages will seat 1400 audience members.

Former Artistic Director, Doug Wager, who came to the struggling theatre in 1974 recounted founder Zelda Fichandler’s words, “Maybe you can’t pass the torch,” she once told him. “Maybe you just pass the fire.”

“We’ve raised the roof, and what a home it is!” heralded current Artistic Director Molly Smith, who noted the “Zen-like aura about the place.”

Performers and playwrights from the theatre’s upcoming calendar were showcased throughout the venue. We saw alumni artist, E. Faye Butler, who is appearing in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Oklahoma” till December 26th, and former Tony award-nominee Brad Oscar. The Manzari Brothers, who I interviewed earlier in the year when they were blowing audiences out of their seats with their tapping talents in “Sophisticated Ladies,” and the Voices of Now, Arena Stage’s creative DC youth group, were only a few of the full day’s indoor and outdoor performances.

There is so much to look forward to in this shining new venue: a vivid contribution to the revitalization of its Southwest neighborhood, world-class theatre, and José Andrés brilliant cuisine where many of the dishes are influenced by the season’s productions. Look for an inspired and eclectic menu served in a sleek café that makes it a pre-theatre dinner destination. Sipping champagne on the outdoor terrace overlooking the Potomac is optional but highly recommended.

Cuba Libre Opens DC Outpost

At long last, and after many false starts, Cuba Libre opened its doors in Penn Quarter, and I found both good and bad to report. First the expected: It is a fun, super-lively, noisy hot spot. Second: the management team has gotten it right with informed servers, gracious door host and fast and efficient service. The freshly made mojitos are crazy fabulous, especially the pineapple, but not forgetting the beet and basil rendition. Dear Lord, there are 15 to choose from!

Over 75 premium and flavored rums from Brazil, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Tortola will keep you experimenting for a good long while. The restaurant itself has six of their own branded rums, anejos aged up to 21 years, and made in Guayana.

Ceviches are memorable, especially the scallop with blackened tomatillo-truffle sauce and goat cheese confetti. I opted for the flight of five, great for sharing.

Now for the disappointing part: The Nuevo Cubano cuisine didn’t always match the mouth-watering dishes described on the menu. Arepas are better eaten off local street trucks. Ditto for the tostones. Somewhere along the line the baby octopus had the life taken out of it by overcooking, and “whole roasted fillet of Australian sea bass” was a meager half inch by four inch slice and way overcooked. My charming server steered us away from the Gaucho platter, which I was eager to try, and put us on to the pork, which was dull and tough. Still I’ll go back to see if they make a good Cuban sandwich and to sample the four varieties of empanadas.

Stick to the bebidas and piqueos. Calle Ocho and South Beach still beckon.

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