Tasting D.C.

Indulge me for a moment as I reminisce.

Ages ago, when I first traveled to London, my family was determined to avoid traditional English fare at all costs. (This was, of course, before the rebirth of English cuisine.) One rainy night, we ducked into a restaurant that the manager of our B&B had recommended on Praed Street: The Ganges. It was my first taste of Indian food, and the experience was on par with a spiritual awakening. I was too young to remember much of the rest of that trip (except for the theatre, but that’s a different story), but I still remember the first taste of lamb saagwala I ever had. It began my lifelong love of Indian cuisine, and remains one of my fondest memories of my first visit to Europe.  

Point of story: Food can be a vital part of a trip, and you never know where you’ll find the meal that makes a vacation complete. This was the theme of the recent “Taste of DC” event I attended last week, which featured food, drink and complete meals from a disparate group of chefs, vintners and mixologists from the Washington, D.C. area.

After snacking on some delightful tapas from cookbook author Monica Bhide (the peanut tikkis were to die for, and the lemon corn pops were a delightful surprise), the chef addressed the crowd. “What is the color of this piece of paper?” she asked everyone. “White!” we shouted. “Very good. And what does a cow drink?” she asked. “Milk!” we yelled back—before realizing how we’d been tricked. Bhide had made her point: Just as we’d automatically jumped to the conclusion that cows drank milk, we might assume that Indian food is all curries and masalas. The hors d'œuvre proved otherwise.

Joe Raffa, head chef of Oyamel, offered a first course of grilled artichoke-marinated quail stuffed with cactus and a sauce of toasted pumpkin seeds, cilantro, tomato and habanero chile. Bryan Moscatello, executive chef of the Star Restaurant Group, provided the entrée of a boneless lamb rack, hazelnut- and sheep’s-milk-stuffed ricotta ravioli and a sweet shallot puree.

Throughout the evening, wine from several D.C.-area wineries proved the destination’s strength as a local pick for oenophiles. Particularly memorable were the Cabernet Franc from Notaviva Vineyards, the Locksley Reserve from Chrysalis Vineyards and the Hope’s Legacy Raspberry Wine from Doukénie Winery (terrific with dessert).

While we ate, representatives from various hotels and notable spots throughout the city spoke about why Washington is a prime destination for travel this year. 2009 will mark Abraham Lincoln’s 200th birthday, and there will be exhibits and celebrations from February onward (Ford’s Theater has recently undergone a major renovation for the occasion, and is an ideal spot for both a history lesson and a performance). When spring finally arrives, the cherry blossoms will attract families and romantics alike, and people from all around the world are eager to experience America’s capital during the new president’s first 100 days.

But whatever you send your clients to Washington, D.C. for, whether business or leisure, be certain to check out some of the new culinary options throughout the city. The restaurants just may be what they remember best.

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