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D.C. Dining
RSVP now for free tastings
(Published May 1, 2006)

By MARTY PEARL

A month back, I shared the stage on one of my TV shows with Chef Ocean Joseph from Cafe Renaissance at 163 Glyndon St. in Vienna, Va., and he invited us to dinner. I had never been to his restaurant before, but our trip there was like a visit to a favorite uncle’s home, with all of the best that I remember from younger and simpler days. This wasn’t a time shift to the past, but a modern friendly venue that gave proper respect to many of the finer touches that we used to expect from our regular stops at our neighborhood’s best restaurants.The food is a very good example of what we used to call "continental": excellent French and Italian dishes with a nod to the Mediterranean. Chef started us out by going off menu with a trio of seafood appetizers -- a salmon/red peppercorn pate, diver scallops and mini crab cakes that were all delightful. We then had some of the best calves liver I’ve had in ages in a very rich wine-butter sauce and a wonderful linguini with white clam sauce. Our entrees were a combined tasting of salmon stuffed with crabmeat and veal medallions topped with lobster and champagne/cream sauce and a nice plating of potato and veggie touches. We sampled several wines by the glass from a well-balanced and very moderately priced wine list. Dessert was a pastry trio of pure decadence, and Saeed, the owner, made a point of refilling our glasses of port about four times after we finished our coffee.Service was very professional, and there was plenty of table-side flambee going on around the dining room. Chef’s colorful food can only be described as "pretty" after "delicious" is used for the taste, and I encourage you to check out their Web site at www.caferenaissance.com to see the food -- as well as to encounter both today’s good dining and the charms of memory, which was completed in our visit by a strolling violinist. I suggest you plan a trip there to experience what we enjoyed. Prices are surprisingly fair for what they offer.

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This year’s Easter banquet of the D.C. Dining Society brought us mixed emotions, as we held it at Aquarelle in the Watergate Hotel. The food from the lavish buffet was simply incredible, and wines from Billington Imports and California’s new Tandem Winery were superb. So why the tears? For those of you who haven’t heard, the hotel is going to be turned into tenant-owned apartments and the restaurant’s contract expires in a few months. I’ve written before that this location is one of Washington’s real gems and Chef Christophe Poteaux’s food is some of the best in town, but never got the acclaim it deserved. Chef will host one final event for the society on May 5, a master class in French cooking followed by a wine class and banquet. There are still a few seats available for new members -- call me fast! Good luck to Chef Poteaux, wherever he goes.

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This week’s featured trade show was an overview of Rhone wines at the French Embassy. About three dozen producers and importers represented a couple hundred labels, like rich luxurious Chateauneuf-de-Pape and powerful Cote Rotie along with some lighter-drinking Cotes de Rhone and fruity Hermitages and Gigondas. The wines were well accompanied by tastings by 10 of our town’s top French chefs, with many of their offerings heavily sauced red meat dishes to match the bigger wines. Cheeses and charcuteries were also in abundance and the evening ended quite well with some of my favorite dessert wines: Muscat de Beaumes de Venice, a fairly sweet but crisp clean light golden nectar.Also on the trade show agenda from last week was an interesting tasting at Nora, America’s number one natural/organic restaurant. Bacchus Imports did a real corker (wine pun, I couldn’t help myself...) of a small show with all of their imported wines that rated over 90 points on the Parker/Wine Enthusiast lists. There were around 100 or so in their catalog that qualified, and while some prices got a bit steep, I saw that some highly rated labels were available at closer to table wine costs. I have said often that as we are starting to see more and more fine wine produced -- not only in the traditionally expensive estates, but also in some newer growing regions and even developing nations -- that the incredible inflation in wine prices might be affected. No, we are not going to see the great chateau wines from the best vintages back under $100 -- there is still the result of supply and demand on the limited historically great ones, but we are beginning to see some new producers putting out some really fine quality at competitive prices. Stay tuned as these trends begin to play out within shorter time frames.

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This week’s featured charity eats event was Albert Uster Imports: "Sweet Charity" at the Marriott Wardman Park to help disadvantaged youngsters and promote literacy. Uster is one of the largest distributors of the raw materials that pastry chefs use, and the event uses chocolate as a metaphor for the sweetness and potential in every child.A few chefs did savory dishes, like the host hotel’s osso bucco, and the Indian Museum’s lobster rolls, of which I only ate about six, but most stations were manned and womaned by great pastry chefs from around the region and the calorie count was enormous. In addition, the artful displays of cake decorating around the hall and the live spun sugar demonstrations kept everybody’s mouth watering. The highlight of the evening was the fashion show with the models’ attire festooned with various chocolate and candy decorations. It was beautiful, but not quite as exciting as last year when several of the designs were made entirely of chocolate which had a tendency to melt under the television lights. Oh well, I guess that nothing which was that perfect has to be repeated every year.

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Most of you know that I run the D.C. Dining Society – it’s hard to miss the ad next to my column -- and that I also do some TV and other media around town. One of the joys of my work is finding new taste treats and sharing the ideas I have about them with readers and viewers, but the big gap there, at least until Scotty can beam down a new kind of sandwich or we have taste-o-vision, is that you can’t quite always get the flavor profile from the words and pictures. Well, now we are about to change all that. We are going to co-sponsor a series of tasting events around town in some of the restaurants I write about and some new places as well, where the folks who make the goodies that I like are going to invite you to have a snack or a meal on them. No small print or hidden clauses. The restaurants hope that when you are there for the event you will buy a drink or two and look around and be impressed enough to return as a customer and tell your friends. The food and wine companies figure that if you try their stuff once you will like it and buy some. I’ll be there to share a small beverage with you and talk about food and TV show stuff and restaurant writing, and give you cooking tips or answer questions about food or whatever and make some new friends. Want to get on the tasting circuit with us? Just send me an e-mail with your name and electronic return address, with "count me in" in the subject line, and I’ll send you a schedule of the events. The stuff we offer will be free, but reservations are required.

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Reader Kathleen from Kalorama writes in with the following problem: "I have a huge, copper-clad stainless steel soup pot that I’ve come to love over the years. I haven’t used it that much because of its size, but somehow somewhere along the line, it developed a tiny leak (or two). I’d hate to toss it, but I’m at a loss as to where to go to get it repaired. In the old days, tradesmen who did such work were called ‘tinkers,’ and they traveled city streets with their carts, soliciting business. Not so these days. And there’s no listing for ‘tinker’ or ‘pot repair’ in the Yellow Pages. I’m not certain a welder would do such work. Where do I take my beloved pot for a chance at a second life?"

I have no answer for her on this. Perhaps one of you can help her? To assuage her sadness at her potential pot loss, Kathleen wins this week’s wine dinner for two at Smith Point Restaurant, courtesy of Executive Chef Nate Bearfield. Do you want to win our next issue’s free dinner? Just e-mail me at chefmartydc@aol.com with your question or comment on the D.C. dining scene, and the communication that I deem to be most interesting gets the prize.

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Marty Pearl is founder and chef of the D.C. Dining Society. Contact him at ChefMartyDC@aol.com or in care of The Common Denominator at 3609 Georgia Ave. NW, Suite 100, Washington, D.C. 20010. Call him at (202) 265-0477.

Copyright 2006 The Common Denominator