What’s Cooking, Neighbor?
Phillip Blane, Unum
Two years ago this week, a Georgetown couple followed their dream, opening Unum, a 50-seat boutique eatery in the former Mendocino Grille & Wine Bar space on M Street. New York native Phillip Blane, formerly a sous-chef at Equinox restaurant downtown, and his wife and business partner Laura Shiller, chief of staff for Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), created an inviting neighborhood retreat. The name, from the Latin motto “E pluribus unum” (Out of many, one), was inspired by the chef’s globally influenced interpretations of contemporary American cuisine.
“Every cook’s path can be different,” Blane tells me when we get together at the restaurant’s foyer bar. Wood beams and accents of stone give the room a rustic, cozy c h a r m . “ T h e m o r e y o u work and create, that path is your own.” His concise menu of small plates and entrees is “reflective of my travels and the food and people who have inspired me.”
A braised Indian spiced l a m b shank w i t h mint chutney pays tribute to his kitchen internship in Memphis at noted Raji (now shuttered). A year devoted to “eating around the world,” with trips through Europe and Japan, has brought forth Mediterraneanstyle grilled branzino with celery root puree and fennel salad, as well as sesamecrusted scallops atop a wasabi-accented risotto with house-pickled vegetables. Closer to home, his love of New O r l e a n s c o m e s to the t a b l e in a N e w Yo r k s t r i p s t e a k paired with an étouffée over a cake of smoked crawfish and potato, haricots verts and crisp onion rings.
“This is not fusion,” he says with determination and passion. “It’s familiar things with a little twist.”
On a chilly winter night, Unum is an intimate spot for a generous pour of Old and New World wines by the glass. From the cocktail program come handcrafted drinks such as “The Deer Hunter,” composed of Cazadores Blanco tequila, fresh lemongrass, white peppercorn and tonic. Spring, will usher in a “Kyoto Cherry Blossom,” a refreshing blend of morello cherry puree, Belvedere vodka, delicate elderflower syrup and sparkling prosecco.
Customers often ask Blane for the recipe for his chimichurri, a condiment of Argentine origin, typically served with grilled meat or fish. He presents the flavorful mix as part of the bread service, alongside an herbed butter.
“What’s fun about this recipe is that it can be altered according to taste. More or less garlic, more or less jalapeno,” he says. Experiment, if you like. “Substitute other herbs, like basil, too.”
CHIMICHURRI Ingredients: 2 large bunches cilantro, stems removed and cleaned 2 large bunches flat-leaf parsley, stems removed and cleaned 9 garlic cloves, peeled 6 shallots, peeled 1 jalapeno pepper, seeded 3 limes, juice only 2 cups blended oil (canola and olive oil work best) Salt and pepper to taste
Directions: Roughly chop the first five ingredients and place in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until well chopped (not pureed), scraping down the sides from time to time. Add the oil with the motor running. (Do not overprocess or the oil will develop a bitter taste.) Add the lime juice and season with salt and pepper.
Unum, 2917 M St., NW 202-621-6959 unumdc.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.