Eat a Bluecat, Save the Bay!
Maybe it is human nature to do something in the moment that seems like a grand idea and not be aware of the implications down the road. How a decision or action can alter the future and create unforeseen issues…
The blue catfish or “bluecat” as it is known by was introduced to the Virginia and Chesapeake Bay tributaries during the 1970s as game fish. Who knew the fish would actually compete? Now present in every Chesapeake Bay tributary these fish can grow up to 100 pounds and live up to 20 years. Native to the Missouri, Mississippi and Ohio river basins they were a healthy part of the ecosystem; however, this is not the case in the Chesapeake Bay region.
The bluecat is like the Zena the Warrior Princess of the Chesapeake Bay slaying everything in its path but in the case of the fish and unlike Zena, eating everything in its path too. These ferocious invasive predators dine on nearly any fish, frogs, yes adorable frogs, as well as crayfish. The catfish were the last non-native species introduced to the tributaries till scientists learned the negative effects.
The most positive aspect is that these catfish are delicious! Over the past couple years Whole Foods and Wegmans have begun selling these local fish. They can also be found on some menus throughout the Metropolitan area. This is a trend I hope continues since there is a shocking amount of 90 million bluecat throughout the Bay!
Chef Mackenzie Kitburi of the Metropolitan area started Capital Taste Food Group in 2014 with a sustainable food practice angle. Curating dinners like the incredible one I attended. The Bay dinner featured a 7-course seafood meal and guest speakers on the Chesapeake Bay.
“As chefs we can make a difference,” Chef Mackenzie said during his welcome remarks.
Director of the Chesapeake Bay Program, Nick DiPasquale, and his wife first asked to join me at my table. I was delighted to know he was one of the speakers and was lucky enough to hear a briefing of his talk before he addressed the audience. Soon after Wendy Stuart with the Wide Net Project joined our table too. Wendy, along with Sharon Feuer, started the Wide Net Project, which has built a market for these catfish by providing free fish to hunger relief organizations.
“The restoration of the watershed is pushing the bubble of the ecosystem,” Nick said about the importance of restoring the Bay and how every day is an experiment to learn new and better ways of protecting the tributaries. He said how when they notice grasses beginning to grow back in areas that they worked it means the ecosystem is beginning to grow back and be strong again.
Chef Mackenzie, Chef Daniel Perron of Whaley’s and Chef James Martin Ball of Oyamel created the dynamic seafood dishes. Flying Dog Brewery based in Frederick, MD supplied their craft brews and other both mocktails and cocktails were served throughout the evening to keep us hydrated.
The evening kicked off with Chef Mackenzie’s raw Chesapeake Bay Oyster topped with pickled shallot and Old Bay. I was first introduced to oysters when I moved to the East Cost in 2001. This California Girl has always had an adventurous palate, I am up for…almost anything. The second I had my first raw oyster, I was hooked (No pun intended, then again, oysters aren’t hooked, are they?;).
The Chesapeake Oyster was like taking a bite of the Bay. I love how after you swallow an oyster it finishes with a taste of the water source they are from. Some are saltier where others have a subtle creamy sweetness. The pickled shallot added a vinegar tartness that balanced well with the classic seasoning.
Old Bay: For more than 75 years this savory spice has been a signature of Maryland. Seafood is not the same without it in this region. Did you know its original name was “Delicious Brand Shrimp and Crab Seasoning?” It takes less time to catch crabs and boil them with Old Bay than to say its old name!
The second and third course were two different Spanish Mackerel dishes. The first created by Chef James creatively incorporated strawberry consommé along with crisp jicama and tomatillo. Consommé is a type of clear soup made from stock or bouillon that has been clarified and he did this using strawberries to add a subtle sweetness to the dish. Incredible balance of heat, spice and sweetness. Loved. Every. Bite.
The second Spanish Mackerel dish was by Chef Daniel; made with peanut, beans mint, radish and chile. The textures and spices were well-balanced. The peanut flavor came effortlessly through. Creaminess paired well with this type of fish and the mint added a brightness on your palate.
The second speaker was Vice President of Congressional Seafood, Nick Sughrue. He discussed how Congressional Seafood has been affiliated with the Chesapeake Bay and the restaurants and stores that sell this delicious fish to the public.
“I think we are going to win. I’m hopeful,” Nick said in regards to fighting the war with the overpopulated bluecat.
The third course was Bluefish made by Chef Mackenzie with squash, tomato and garlic scapes. Garlic scapes are the flower bud of the garlic plant and have the same taste as the garlic itself. Not only is garlic known to strengthen your immune system but adds a depth of flavor to dishes the way onions and lemon can add that depth.
Sugar Toads. No, we did not dine on real toads. This is the name they gave a species of blowfish to market it better to the public. Personally, I think it would confuse the public more than sell them on ordering it at a restaurant or buying these cute little guys from a seafood market. The first bite I took was full of bones until told the trick was to hold the tail like a shrimp and slowly drag the meat off the bone with your front teeth. The fish meat itself had a delicious dense texture and well-seasoned with carrot kimchi, sweet soy glaze and benne seeds. Chef Daniel did a brilliant job with this unique fish.
The fifth course was the bluecat created by Chef Mackenzie. He topped the fish with a tangy black garlic sauce and the smoothest spiced beet sauce. Beets are one of my food weaknesses especially when turned into a sauce. Bluecat truly is a delectable fish; balance of flakiness and dense meat and the sauces showcased his true talent as a chef.
Lucky number seven was the whole grilled perch by Chef Mackenzie. The fish rested on pesto and topped with fresh herbs. I grew up eating ribs so I value having to work for your food and getting a little messy. Bones or not this was an epic way to end this magical dinner.
Chef Mackenzie is sitting on a food group gold mine by combining sustainable food practices with the culinary arts. Beyond impressed with his dinner and excited to see the impact this has on not only informing the public but inspiring people to take action.
The newest True Food Kitchen restaurant, started by Dr. Andrew Weil, officially opens today Wednesday, June 14th in Bethesda, MD. I had the pleasure of not only interviewing Dr. Weil but being among the first few to try many dishes prior to the grand opening.
Dr. Andrew Weil has been at the forefront of integrative health and medicine throughout his career. As an educator and author, he continues to educate others on his passion to practice natural and preventative medicine to support overall health. His teaching also includes eating a clean diet rich in natural foods.
In order to maintain good health, your diet must be consistently clean. Dr. Weil has always loved to cook so it was a natural progression to transition in the restaurateur direction. In 2008, he and restaurateur Sam Fox of Fox Restaurant Concepts began to discuss Dr. Weil’s dream for a healthy restaurant chain.
Dr. Weil said the biggest challenge in the beginning when he and Sam were in discussion of True Food Kitchen concept was their vastly different diet. Sam loves burgers and thought Dr. Weil only ate hippie food, so there was some initial conflict. Dr. Weil originally didn’t want to have meat on the menu but Sam said they should offer meat as an option to appeal to everyone.
“Sam thought health food would not sell. I think he thought I meant tofu and sprouts. So I cooked for his wife and the wheels began to turn in his head. A space opened in Phoenix, but he was very skeptical about the concept. We opened the first True Food Kitchen about nine years ago just as the economy tanked. Everyone thought we were crazy but from the moment the first restaurant opened its door is was wildly successful,” Dr. Weil said.
After Interviewing Dr. Weil, I was more excited to try the food knowing how much heart he put into creating a healthy menu. I personally do not drink soda and prefer water, smoothies or veggie drinks. Instead of sodas and juices, True Food Kitchen offers Refreshers & Teas. I started with their Kale Aid made with kale, ginger, apple, celery and cucumber. One of my favorite combinations I make at home. The drink was well-balanced and truly refreshing. I later ordered the Hangover Rx with pineapple, orange, honey and coconut water.
For my appetizer, I was immediately drawn to the Torched Avocado salad. The avocado was delicately placed atop zucchini noodles with mushrooms, snap peas, watermelon radishes, sesame then drizzled with a savory yuzu ponzu sauce. Each bite tantalized my palate leaving me wanting more.
During my interview with Dr. Weil I learned that many of the dishes on the menu are his own personal recipes. The menu appeals to everyone from meat eaters, vegetarians to vegans and includes gluten-free options.
“We let the ingredients really shine through. The food looks beautiful and it sells itself since it’s incredibly flavorful. The fact that it is healthy is there, and many say they feel good after they eat here,” Dr. Weil shared about his dishes.
I chose the Wild Caught Albacore Tataki dish for my second course made with albacore tuna, jalapeño, and toasted sesame seeds then drizzled with the yuzu ponzu sauce. One of my all-time favorite seafood dishes is seared tuna and I love trying different variations. The beautiful plating presentation was once more Michelin-worthy. The dollops of avocado cream sauce balanced the subtle heat from the thinly sliced jalapeños.
Because of the incredible variety of dishes on the menu made it more challenging to decide on each course. I settled on the Scottish Steelhead for my entrée. Steelhead is a unique trout species whose taste and texture is a cross between salmon and trout. They bare similarities to the Atlantic salmon variety. Fun fact, Steelhead do not die after first spawning and go on to spawn more than once in their lifetime.
My eyes widened yet again when my server set the steelhead dish in front of me at the sight of yet another artistically plated dish. The lightly grilled pinkish fish rested on smoked onion faro, arugula, orange roasted beets and a cilantro pumpkin seed pesto. For added texture those darling little pepitas were sprinkled on top. The beets were roasted to perfection with a texture that reminded me more of a fruit. The zesty cilantro pumpkin seed pesto complimented the dish as a whole.
If I were splitting the Key Lime Pie with a date I would ask for extra coconut whipped cream so he and I would not argue over who took the bigger spoonful. For health reasons, I normally say “Hold the whipped stuff!” Or simply scrap it off but this vegan whipped cream was a pleasant surprise. Lime zest and ground vanilla bean were also mixed in with the cream. At the end of my meal I was informed that I was their very first customer at this location.
The restaurant has been such a national success that Dr. Weil has been asked to open locations in Japan, China, Abu Dhabi and London as well as cities throughout the United States. There is no doubt that this restaurant chain will be appreciated globally. Allowing diners to experience the best in both good taste and good nutrition is a refreshing alternative to other styles of dining. Rest assured that ordering off the menu; your health and palate both are in good hands.
True food grows out of the soil and is cared for by the sun. It is raw like taking a bite of a juicy ruby red organic strawberry. It is not processed or manufactured in a man-made plant. True food is healing, nurturing and delicious. True Food Kitchen proves that healthy food can be both beautifully presented at a restaurant level and delightful on the palate.
The 9th Annual Embassy Chef Challenge was Bigger and Better than Ever!
Wednesday, May 24th marked the 9th annual Embassy Chef Challenge held at the Ronald Reagan International Trade Center. This dynamic event supports and encourages Culinary Diplomacy, a subset of public diplomacy, that promotes cross-cultural understanding through cuisine.
In the atrium, a variety of alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks from some of the countries were situated in a semi-circle. There was a huge traditional bar in the middle. Some cultural drinks were also beside their corresponding country inside the room next to the atrium where the chefs were stationed. I tasted a healthy carrot drink from Morocco and especially loved the wines from Moldova.
There were more musical performances and dancing acts than any year prior. One stage built along the wall between the food booths and the stage in the atrium was utilized for the larger acts. Once I heard the familiar Middle Eastern music, I ran out of the food area to see a Whirling Dervish dancing the tanoura. Last month, I was in Dubai and Sharjah for the first time where I learned of this spiritual mesmerizing dance. I caught the end of his show on film as he spun the top layer of his skirt that was lined with small lights above his head as he spun like an old fashioned human tin top.
Whirling Dervish dancing the tanoura.
Photo Credit: Ronald Reagan Building
Chef Juan Jose Gallardo of Ecuador featured an assortment of delicious Ecuadorian chocolates. I was pleasantly surprised by his choice since I expected a savory dish. The chocolates were like mini works of edible art. Someday I would love to travel all over Mexico and South America; back pack through small towns and taste the array of street food along the dusty roads. Spend my days talking with the locals and hiking along trails and up mountains with my backpack full of local goodies to snack as I take in the magnificent scenary.
Throughout the evening, I enjoyed running into old friends I had not seen in years. One of my old friends highly-recommended the dish from Iraq. Chef Djamel Amroune made crusted lamb chops that were cooked to perfection and well-seasoned with crispy crust. This was one of my favorite dishes of the night. The beautiful plating only added to the savory experience.
Chef Cynthia Verna of the Embassy of Haiti’s wonderful energy drew me over and loved their colorful display. You could tell she was enjoying the moment. Her shrimp ceviche dish was garnished with banana chips and I loved scooping up flavor exploding bites with the chips. This also was another favorite. They had a rum drink to pair with their dish that was refreshing and not too sweet. She would later go on to win the People’s Choice award.
Chef Moha Fedal and Chef Faical Zahraoui of Morocco took the Judge’s Choice award with his lamb shoulder seasoned with traditional Moroccan spices and a vegetable side that had been sealed in a tanjia – a Moroccan clay jar that takes food 4-6 hours to cook. I was in awe of how chef plated his dish with the lamb and vegetable resting atop a vibrant purple sauce.
The first Embassy Chef Challenge competition I attended was in 2014 and again the following year. I was delighted to see how much it had grown in a short period of time. I loved knowing there was either a live music or a dancing act in either room. If you missed the event this year, be sure to put it on your calendar for next year.
Annual Embassy Chef Challenge on Wednesday, May 24th
What: The 9th Annual Embassy Chef Challenge
When: Wednesday, May 24th
Where: The Ronald Reagan International Trade Center
Why: To Celebrate Culinary Diplomacy
How (much): General Admission $75; VIP $125
The Embassy Chef Challenge is the only culinary competition where you can try over 30 international dishes from all over the world in the same evening. Sip on foreign beer, wine, liquors along with cocktails from all over the globe and leave feeling like you spent a night being teleported across multiple continents. From the foreign to the familiar, you will be able to explore dishes you most likely had never heard of till the event.
Craving salmon ceviche? Never tried or heard of “kottu roti” from Sri Lanka? You will have pleasure of tasting them as well as exploring dozens of other delicious cuisines.
Events DC is sponsoring the 9th annual Embassy Chef Challenge on Wednesday, May 24th at 6:30 p.m. at the Ronald Reagan International Trade Center where more than 20 international chefs will compete for the judges’ choice and the people’s choice awards.
Chef Red Garcia of the Philippines returns this year to defend his title. Chef Garcia will prepare a traditional dish that uses a wrapping method called “binalot” – which is derived from the word “ballot” or “to wrap.” He will use banana leaves to wrap rice, meat, fish, eggs or pickled veggies. Chef Anuradha Wijesingne of Sri Lanka will prepare a dish called “kottu roti,” made with godhamba roti, veggies, egg or meat and spices.
Did you know Azerbaijan makes wine? The Eastern European country of Azerbaijan has a winemaking history that dates back 3,500 years. The mountainous terrain and geographic location near the Caspian Sea create ideal conditions to grow grapes. They have more than 400 grape varieties. You will have the opportunity to sip a few of Azerbaijan’s wines while learning more about their winemaking history.
The Embassy Chef Challenge both celebrates and encourages Culinary Diplomacy. Enjoy live music and art while drinking and dining in style. New York City based band City of the Sun will headline the evening with their instrumental post-rock tunes.
Food, like a smile or laughter, is a universal language that brings people together. Experience Culinary Diplomacy at its finest in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday, May 24th!
8th Annual Cherry Blast Event on Friday, April 14th
By Lisa M. Comento
Spring in Washington, D.C. is a magical time when the countless Japanese Cherry Blossoms turn the city into a watercolor painting. Soft pinks and dark magenta blossoms dot side streets and along the National Mall as tourists from all over the world make the trek each year to the Tidal Basin.
On April 14th from 7:00 p.m. – 11:00 p.m. the 8th annual Events DC Cherry Blast! event will be held on Dock 5 at Union Market. The grand finale of the cherry blossom celebrations; the dock will be transformed into a Tokyo night market with Japanese dishes prepared by six of Washington, D.C.’s acclaimed chefs from well-loved Asian restaurants. Chef Erik Bruner-Yang of Spoken English, Maketto and Paper Horse will be curating the cuisines.
“I was able to curate the chefs and also the dishes that my restaurants are going to bring to the guests next Friday. For example, Maketto will be doing some amazing yakitori like patron pepper with house-made togarashi spice, grilled chicken yakitori marinated in my house-made Honeycomb miso. Paper Horse will be showcasing our classic pork ramen,” Chef Erik Bruner-Yang said about curating the event.
The chefs and dishes that will be featured:
Chef Erik Bruner-Yang Yakitori (skewered chicken) & ramen noodles
Chef Katsuya Fukushima of Bantam King, Daikaya, and Haikan is making Karage (fried chicken)
Chef Tim Ma of Kyirisan will make Doroyaki (red bean pancake)
Chef Seng Luangrath of Thip Khao, Bangkok Golden is making Kushikatsu (deep fried meat & vegetables)
Chef Hiro Mitsui of Conbini Café is making Okonomiyaki (savory pancake)
Chef Huy Nguyen of Pho Wheelz, Balo Kitchen is making Curry Rice
Sip Japanese spirits like Hibiki Japanese Whisky, Suntory Whisky Toki, Kirin beer or sake as you wander from each table sampling a red bean pancake or deep fried meats and vegetables. Groove to the sounds of Austin’s DJ Mel along with other entertainers performing throughout the night. DJ Mel will headline and is most known as “Obama’s DJ” after playing at the Presidential Inauguration of 2012.
“I’m looking forward to sharing my culture with the people of the DMV area. It makes me happy that so many people are interested in celebrating my culture through food,” said Chef Hiro Mitsui. “I chose to make Okonomiyaki, which is my signature dish that I make at Conbini by UZU.” He went on to say how much it means to him to be able to cook Okonomiyaki in the states since it’s a great way for him to share his roots.
There will be an exclusive VIP tea room with a private lounge that will feature a menu from Chef Erik Bruner-Yang. Cocktails will be made by local mixologist, Gina Chersevani. VIP ticket is required for this area.
In a playful mood? You can watch a Sumo wrestling demonstration or play one of the 10 Nintendo or Sony video game stations. DC Fray will be there with an Origami station. The husband and wife team of Soul & Ink, Frankie and Sherry Meneses, will have a station for guests to create live shirt screen printing designs.
Events DC Cherry Blast! is one of many spring events in DC that makes this city so unique! I am personally excited to experience a Tokyo night market while supporting our local chefs. Hope to see you all there too!
For those who use Twitter and Instagram, these are the handles and hashtags:
Cookbook Review: The Gourmet Kitchen by Jennifer Farley
By Lisa M. Comento
The creative culinary mind behind the blog Savory Simple, Jennifer Farley, came out with her first cookbook fall of 2016 titled, “The Gourmet Kitchen.” Jennifer’s concept is to inspire fellow home cooks to create gourmet dishes in the comforts of their own home. She accomplishes this effortlessly throughout the cookbook along with her stunning photography skills.
In preparation to write this review, I had trouble deciding which dishes to make first. I loved the variety of options and how the dishes are separated by type. Whether you are in the mood for a salad, pork or seafood you can fulfill your craving.
I love to find recipes with ingredients that are easy to bring to work. I made Jennifer’s Citrus-Marinated Beet Salad with Goat Cheese and Pistachios over lunch and it was delicious. The hint of citrus from the orange and lemon used for marinating the beets is refreshing on the palate.
For those who know Jennifer, she has a sharp wit. She shares a background story or tips for each recipe. Her great humor is woven throughout each story.
If there was ever such thing as a “spirit fruit,” mine would be squash! Squash are considered fruits even though most of us associate them with vegetables.
Jennifer’s side dishes double as ideal small dinners or turn them into a tapas meal. The Baked Acorn Squash with Garlic-Yogurt sauce is easy enough for any cooking level. Garlic is known for its ability to strengthen the immune system to help fight off colds. I add a little extra since I also love how it enhances a dish.
Avocados are also packed with healthy benefits and are staples in my fridge. The Sweet Potato, Apple and Avocado Salad combine three healthy ingredients that work well together. I prefer making my own salad dressings and enjoyed the tartness of the fresh squeezed lime juice and olive oil over the sweet apples and sweet potatoes.
The Pistachio-Crusted Pork Tenderloin with Cherry Rhubarb Compote was as delicious as it sounds. I loved how the savory flavor and aroma of the fresh thyme turned out after roasting on the pork tenderloin. The crunchiness of the pistachios then dipping a bit of compote onto each bite was heavenly. Since cherries were not available when I shopped for the ingredients, I used strawberries instead. I would have preferred the cherries and plan to make it again with her exact compote recipe.
“The Gourmet Kitchen” is packed with innovative recipes will become favorites that you’ll enjoy preparing and serving time and time again. Now go buy a copy for yourself and for a fellow food-loving friend
Book Review: “Karma and the Art of Butter Chicken” by Monica Bhide
Monday, November 14th
By Lisa M. Comento
You know those novels that take you away from your daily life as the turning of each page whisks you further into another world or even country with different customs? Maybe the characters pray to different Gods or eat different foods? The countryside is described with such intricate detail you can smell the morning dew on the roses that line the side of the house. The stories that tug at your heartstrings as you find yourself relating to aspects of the main character.
“Karma and the Art of Butter Chicken” by Monica Bhide was that type of book for me. There were nights my eye lids fought to stay open as the hour reached midnight each night. Released late summer 2016, this novel is destined to become a bestseller.
Award-winning writer, poet, storyteller, and educator, Monica Bhide, has the ability to tell stories with effortless beauty. The way in which she weaves each character’s personality and their interactions with one another. The depth of soul when telling about their childhood or the struggles they endured. Her words are like watching a movie before your eyes that create each scene; the colors, smells and tastes. She is the female version of Paulo Coelho who seamlessly intertwines dynamic characters with an inspiring message.
The story takes place at an old teaching monastery called Karma Norba Ling located outside New Delhi. Eshaan Veer Singh is a natural chef in the kitchen with a heart of pure gold. He will stop at nothing to make his dream of building a kitchen for the homeless a reality. The death of his mother still haunts him yet pushes him to fulfill his dream of ensuring that no one suffers from starvation. Having grown up in a monastery where the monks in a sense adopted him after his mother’s tragic death, he learned early-on the value of service.
Radio Rani’s positive frequency supports Eshaan on a daily basis. Her calm demeanor easing his inner demons along with her ability to garden both help to feed his dream. The feisty Loveleen lives near the monastery and is like the older sister Eshaan never had. Together they create a foundation along with other extraordinary characters who cheer him on to follow his dream.
Eshaan finds solace in writing poetry as much as cooking in his kitchen. Being a poet myself, I loved how Monica incorporated his poems throughout the story. His deep words help you understand Eshaan’s inner thoughts allowing you to feel a more human connection.
The hopeless romantic in me reveled in the love story between Eshaan and Kitt. I loved the surprises and humor sprinkled throughout the book including the stories behind what inspired Monica Bhide to write “Karma and the Art of Butter Chicken” in the first place.
One of many favorite excerpts of mine, “She [Kitt] had longed for him in the dark nights, in the bright days, in crowds, and when she was alone. She slept with his name on her lips, his face in her dreams. She woke to his smell, that haunting scent of his itar that seemed to have taken a root in her spirit. And yet, here she was, getting ready to marry another man.”
Opportunity knocks when Eshaan has the chance to be a contestant on a local cooking show. Eshaan is more than a chef or the ideal best friend; he epitomizes perseverance through adversity. Life will always throw us lemons but it is what we do with those lemons that defines our strength of character. To not let the sourness of our struggles along the way hold us down but to catch each lemon and turn them into sweet new dish.
Monica does a brilliant job of allowing the reader to imagine what each character looks like without describing their features in detail. She brings together old traditions with today’s modern advances from technology to human equality. I loved the text exchanges between the characters that relate to millions these days.
Does Romeo get his Juliet or does life have other plans for each of them? Does Eshaan win the cooking show?
I not only recommend you buy “Karma and the Art of Butter Chicken” to read yourself but I suggest you give it as a gift. This story needs to be read, shared and hopefully a vehicle to help inspire others to never give up on their dream.
Old Engine 12 Fires Up Spring Menu
Monday, April 18, 2016
In 1895 the fire house was constructed by architect, Snowden Ashford, and recognized for its artistic architectural design. By 1897 it would be home to Engine Company 12 and many generations of firemen for close to a century serving the Bloomingdale and Eckington neighborhoods.
The grand historic fire house was transformed into Old Engine 12 in 2013. A multi-level contemporary American restaurant with the capability to host large events. The main restaurant is the bottom level whereas the second level serves as their event/banquet area that can house 200 people. The top level is reminiscent of a speak easy with black leather couches and can be reserved for private parties.
Located minutes from the NoMa Gallaudet University Metro Station on the redline, Old Engine 12 is on the corner of North Capital Street and Quincy Place in the Bloomingdale neighborhood. The restaurant architect did a brilliant job of preserving the character of the fire house by transforming the two garages into huge windows that can be opened during warm weather seasons. The front door is situated between the windows, and pair of fireman’s boots can be seen resting on a window pane.
Entering Old Engine 12 you feel as though you stepped back in time with the original high brick walls. While they left the iconic brass pole that extends to the upper level that once served as living space for the firemen, it is not open to guests. You can, however, lean on it around the bar. This is the type of restaurant you can bring your family to for a memorable dinner or meet your friends for drinks after a long day at work.
Our table was situated inside one of the window coves that was once one of the two garage doors. One of my favorite New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs Matua was served alongside a Los Vascos Cabernet Sauvignon. Knowing what was on the menu I felt the Matua would pair best since it would not overpower the flavors in the dishes.
Executive Chef Peter Prime welcomed us to Old Engine 12 as the first dish was being placed on our table. Freshly chopped tomato was generously topped on a huge piece of artisan bread. One bite into the lightly grilled bread and you can taste the subtle smokiness. The crust was not hard like I find at most restaurants and loved the olive oil used on this bruschetta.
Kale, considered one of the world’s healthiest foods, received a surge in popularity a few years ago. The veggie once thought to be a novelty ingredient continues to be found in a variety of dishes at restaurants around the country. Chef Prime’s Kalalloo soup with kale, okra and coconut milk dazzled my palate with his use of habanero peppers and creaminess from the coconut. One crispy roasted kale leaf rests on top. I loved the earthiness the kale brings to the soup.
Kalalloo, a play on words since the soup is made with kale, is traditionally spelled “Callaloo.” The national soup of Trinidad and Tobago where Chef Prime originates from can be made with different ingredients. Kalalloo can be a warm or cold soup or even be a sauce to accompany meat or vegetables. No matter how this tantalizing soup is prepared it will leave your palate wanting another bowl. I feel more of a connection with a restaurant when a chef incorporates dishes they grew up with in their native country.
Spring Pea Risotto with peashoots, English peas and parmesan was a wonderful adaptation to the classic Italian dish. The peas were cooked to perfection and the risotto is made in-house. Next was grilled asparagus in a lemonade vinaigrette with pieces of sesame brittle. Smokiness paired unbelievably well with the sweet vinaigrette while the brittle added texture to round out the dish. I could eat this brittle as a daily snack.
Ahi Tuna, to me, is a bit magical the way the fish melts in your mouth with each bite. Chef Prime’s Seared Ahi Tuna Salad over mesclun greens, shaved vegetables, sesame crumble topped with a grilled scallion vinaigrette and dash of avocado mousse beyond met my expectations.
The spring menu took an amazing turn with his Dijon mustard and molasses marinated lamp ribs over polenta, grilled divers scallops and brussel sprouts deliciously coated with chorizo sausage. The lamb fell of the rib which is a sure sign it was grilled properly. The savory mustard and sweet rich molasses marinade matched up to lambs’ distinctive texture and flavor.
To further the smoky flavor theme throughout his menu we sampled their Bloody Mary with smoke infused vodka. I recommend pairing this savory drink with his chicken and waffles.
For anyone who has tried this unlikely pair you understand the balance of sweet meets salty, soft meets crunchy that makes this dish intriguing. The dish received notoriety during the Harlem Renaissance between the 1920s-40s. During this era an explosion of creativity, music and art emerged and with that restaurants began to stay open late to accommodate party goers. The combination came about when a chef had leftover chicken and in an effort to reduce food waste the chicken and waffle dish was born.
Chef Prime takes this dish to a whole new culinary level. Sweet cornbread waffle with jalapeno, smoked cheddar and kampot pepper. A drizzling of honey truffle oil circles the dish (need I say more?). No question this was the best chicken and waffle dish I have ever tasted.
The smoky theme throughout his menu is a generous way to pay homage to the history of the fire house. Old Engine 12 left one mark in Washington, D.C.’s history and now Chef Peter Prime will leave his culinary mark.
Sushi Keiko: D.C.’s Oldest Sushi Restaurant
Saturday, October 3, 2015
Sushi Keiko, formerly Sushi-Ko, is Washington D.C.’s oldest sushi restaurant located in the heart of Glover Park just north of Georgetown. They first opened their doors in the 1970s. Manager, David Zhang, previously ran Sushi-Ko until it closed briefly only to reopen on June 18, 2014.
At the bar I was first served hot Gekkeikan sake in a traditional ceramic flask known as ‘tokkuri’ along with a small ceramic cup known as ‘choko.’ The quaint restaurant began to slowly fill up with people off from work and fulfilling their sushi craving. David said how much he loves seeing his regulars and knowing his customers by name.
Innovative and traditional Japanese dishes can be found in their menu. My adventurous palate never steers me wrong, nor did it when I started with the salmon ceviche. I watched Chef Wei Zhang expertly slice the sashimi-style salmon then drizzle a Japanese citrus sauce over the salmon. He finished the dish with a few caviar eggs, thinly sliced red onion, and a microgreen sprig. I loved the different textures and the way the subtle
sweetness of the sauce played with the saltiness of the caviar.
The next dish was from their kitchen and showcased their culinary diversity. The soft-shell crab tempura was lightly battered and incredibly tender inside. I relished each bite as I dipped it in the chili ponzu sauce. I was most impressed with the shell since I found the texture better and easier to chew than if it was steamed. This was the best way I have had soft-shell crab prepared. A seasonal dish that only lasts from the second week of April through the first week of October.
Chef Zhang next prepared a plate with an array of nigiri and David suggested pairing the dish with a glass of cold sake called Haiushika. The lineup began with fatty tuna, flounder with plum sauce, zuke, sea urchin, and shrimp.
The third called ‘zuke’ is a traditional Japanese method that dates back to before refrigerators were invented. Sushi chefs would immerse the raw fish in soy sauce for a few hours and by doing so the sodium prevented the sushi from spoiling too soon. Zuke is soy and sake marinated tuna with a texture different to any other sushi and worth trying if you are a sushi connoisseur. A cross between cooked and raw with a hint of soy sauce. While sea urchin is a not a favorite among most Americans, I enjoyed it more than expected—it’s like taking a bite of the ocean.
Seared lobster and scallops in a creamy ponzu sauce arrived next and I savored every single bite. The lobster was cooked to perfection and came out with my chopsticks. I loved the light texture of the creamy sauce, which paired well with seafood.
Chef Zhang surprised me with two pieces of Aburi Toro Salmon or seared fatty salmon with a light drizzling of sake sauce. They tested it out this past summer and it was a hit among their customers. Nigiri-style sweet scallops nigiri style followed, which is common in Japan.
I prefer to sit bar when at a sushi restaurant since I enjoy the friendly atmosphere. I met a couple that live in the neighborhood and told me how much they love this restaurant. The wife, Lisa Olson, said, “Sushi Keiko is consistently excellent. We love to sit at the bar and it’s one of our go-to restaurants.”
For dessert, David highly suggested I order the fried bananas with ginger ice cream and a drizzling of chocolate syrup—as if my meal could not get any better! The crispy texture of the bananas on the outside then warm inside was a phenomenal concept. The ginger ice cream clearly made in the kitchen, had real ginger in every bite.
Sushi Keiko is more than a neighborhood sushi restaurant with families and couples who return weekly; it stays true to Japanese traditions.