What’s Cooking, Neighbor?
JOHN CRITCHLEY, BOURBON STEAK
There are few slow days at the critically acclaimed Michael Mina-branded Bourbon Steak, the contemporary American carnivore destination in the Four Seasons hotel. For a diverse clientele of international travelers, Washington’s business community and Georgetown neighbors, the lively bar pours some of the best cocktails in town. In the 110-seat dining room, serving 200 to 300 guests per night, diners come for the terrific butter-poached and all-oak grilled 50-day dry-aged steaks, house-made charcuterie and hand-packed caviars.
The chic eatery’s popularity means 14-hour days for executive chef John Critchley, who came on board nearly a year ago. A Boston-area native, he started his restaurant career at age 14 as a dishwasher and prep cook in coastal Massachusetts eateries. At 19 he graduated from the Culinary Institute of America. As opening chef of Miami’s Area 31 seafood restaurant, Critchley was recognized by “Esquire” magazine in its “Best New Restaurants” of 2009. Prior to joining Bourbon Steak, he called the kitchen of Urbanna near Dupont Circle his home away from home.
Relaxing for a few minutes on soft leather chairs in the lounge beside a wall of windows looking out on to the popular outdoor terrace, we talked about his menu and more. “Our essence is the highest quality steaks but we are not really a steakhouse,” says Critchley, who has added more shellfish options, sometimes pairing select surf with turf. “Our focus is local, sustainable, humanely-raised ingredients with constant attention to detail.” Two of his top-selling entrees are the tagine of Virginia rockfish and lobster pot pie.
A committed locavore, this spring he plans to plant three types of chili peppers and a variety of herbs and edible flowers in tubs on three outdoor terraces. A bed of day lilies will provide the kitchen with plenty of green flower buds, which are pickled and served with raw oysters.
A big fan of naturally-raised grass-fed lamb, Critchley was the 2012 national champion of the American Lamb Jam, an annual promotion of the American Lamb Board trade group. His winning recipe was inspired by a love WINEof combining distinctive spices, such as “rich and savory” Vietnamese cinnamon and sumac berry with an “earthy overtone and a raspberry note.” In the Bourbon Steak kitchen, he makes his own Ras el hanout Moroccan spice mix with saffron, turmeric, rose hips, clove, coriander seed, cinnamon, allspice, dried flowers and a variety of peppercorns. “In lamb dishes, the combination brings out the mineral flavor of the meat and adds a mild heat.”
To make Critchley’s Morroccan Lamb Loin dish at home you can buy Ras el hanout Moroccan spice blend, sumac berry and Vietnamese cinnamon at Tea & Spice Exchange of Georgetown, 1069 Wisconsin Ave. N.W., 202-333-4540, spiceandtea.com. Order the lamb loin from your local butcher in advance. Chef Critchley sources “consistent, amazing quality lamb with a unique grassy flavor” from Border Springs Farm in Patrick Springs, VA. You can too at: borderspringsfarm.com.
MOROCCAN LAMB LOIN WITH BABY SPINACH AND GOLDEN RAISIN SALAD Ingredients: 2 pounds lamb loin 1 tablespoon Vietnamese cinnamon 1 tablespoon ras el hanout, ground1 tablespoon sumac berry 2 tablespoons olive oil Salt and pepper, to taste Season the lamb loin with the ras el hanout, sumac and cinnamon. Heat the olive oil in a heavy skillet. Add the lamb and sear on both sides. Reduce the heat to medium and cook, turning regularly, for 12 minutes or until medium rare. Remove to a cutting board to rest. For the salad: 1 pound baby spinach 1 cup golden raisins 2 tablespoons preserved lemons, chopped 1 teaspoon Vietnamese cinnamon 2 tablespoons olive oil 2 tablespoons lemon juice Directions: In a mixing bowl, combine the spinach, cinnamon, raisins, preserved lemon, olive oil and lemon juice. To serve: Slice the lamb and arrange on a platter. Serve the salad alongside. Bourbon Steak, Four Seasons Hotel, 2800 Pennsylvania Ave. N.W., 202-944-2026, bourbonsteakdc.com
What’s Cooking, Neighbor? visits with wine, food and entertaining professionals who work in the Georgetown area. Georgetowner dining columnist Walter Nicholls is the food critic for Arlington Magazine and a former staff writer for The Washington Post Food section.