Tuesday, July 31, 2007

D.C.’s suburbs

July 30

La Caravelle was one of the last bastions of French fine dining in New York before its owners, Rita and André Jammet, one of the nicest couples in the city’s restaurant world, decided to close it with dignity a couple of years ago.
Jonathan Ray and Markus Müller are college friends of mine who live in the Washington, D.C., area. Wise, fun to hang out with and loyal in a low-maintenance sort of way, they’re the type of friends who contribute to the pleasant background noise in my psyche that makes the world seem less lonely. It would be nice to see them more often.
So when Rita sent me an e-mail invitation to the opening of sweetgreen, her son's grab-and-go salad-and-frozen-yogurt shop in Georgetown, it seemed like the perfect opportunity for a road trip.
Nicolas Jammet is partners with three of his fellow 2007 Georgetown grads, who saw a need in the neighborhood for high-quality salads with as many organic ingredients as possible. They thought offering tart, Pinkberry-style frozen yogurt and organic beverages — many from the company where Nicolas's twin brother Patrick works — was a good idea too.
I arrived in Georgetown with time to spare, so I stopped by Hook, two blocks away from the party, for a local ale. Since the crudo was priced below my resistance level, at three for $8, I sampled some of them, too (trout roe, barracuda and black bass).
sweetgreen’s landlord also owns an event space a couple of doors down from the restaurant, and she lent it to the kids for their party.
“We wanted to invite as many people as possible,” Nicolas told me, and a lot of people came, because Jammet and company understand how to work their connections. They got me there after all, didn’t they?
Bill Yosses, the White House’s pastry chef, was there, too. So was the Swiss ambassador and no-doubt other important people I didn’t recognize. sweetgreen’s owners also managed to secure a liquor license for the event, and Nicolas picked such unusual wines for the party that I thought maybe André had helped him. André denies it, and I believe him, because I don’t think he liked the smokey Shiraz that was being poured. I didn’t ask him about the French vin mousseux or the Chardonnay.
I munched on crudités and sample salads while chatting with Bill and some of his co-workers, including a freelance pastry chef who had just quit her job as an English professor, possibly to pursue a life in professional kitchens. She had worked at the White House during the holidays to help make the 40,000 Christmas cookies that were baked there during the season.
So it was a good party, and I stayed longer than I’d planned and didn't arrive at my dinner destination until after 9.
I was eating at Restaurant Eve in Alexandria, a place its publicist, Bronwyn Jacoby, had been after me to check out ever since it opened. I'd just been on a panel in New Orleans with its sommelier, Todd Thrasher, so the timing seemed right.
Restaurant Eve has three sections — a bar, a bistro and a tasting room. Bronwyn and I sat in the tasting room and left ourselves in the hands of Todd Thrasher and chef Cathal (pronounced kuh-HALL — it’s an Irish thing) Armstrong and spoke of many things. So it was after midnight when we finally arrived at PX, Todd’s speakeasy-style cocktail lounge. It’s the only cocktail lounge I've been to that actually seemed like a speakeasy, which effectively made me feel cool and elite.
So I was somewhat woozy when I woke up the next morning, but I managed to take the metro, D.C.’s mass-transit system, to Silver Spring, Md., where Jonathan picked me up. We bought sandwiches and pasta at Whole Foods and drove to his home at the other end of Silver Spring, where we had lunch with Jonathan's wife, Michelle, and their precocious, good-natured daughters Joanna (five-and-a-half) and Sage (two-and-a-half, but already quite articulate). I played with the kids, half-watched part of a Mets game with Jonathan (he’s from Mt. Kisco, N.Y., and will always be a Mets fan — he is not to be spoken to when a game is on), and napped until it was time to head back to Alexandria for dinner with Markus.
I described sweetgreen to Jonathan and Michelle. It’s of interest to them because Jonathan’s a history professor at Georgetown and could use a good salad for lunch.
I had never been to a Pinkberry, but Michelle, a native of Los Angeles, said she didn’t understand what the fuss was about, nor did she see the novelty in it. She said that in its early days, frozen yogurt — a product of southern California — was always a tart affair. It was only later that it was sweetened and flavored. Pinkberry, it seems, had simply revived an old custom, much as Cold Stone Creamery is simply a new-generation version of Steve’s, which was mixing stuff into ice cream on marble slabs in the 1980s (but not in California, where frozen yogurt had already taken root and premium ice cream didn't manage to gain a foothold).
Michelle stayed at home with the girls and Jonathan and I met Markus at Farrah Olivia, the restaurant of Ivorian chef Morou Ouattara, whom you may recall took me on a dine around of West African restaurants in D.C. last year.
Markus does something very impressive with regard to international development, particularly in the Middle East these days, although I've never managed to ascertain what exactly.
He did advise me on what to do about the messy state of my cubicle, which causes quite serious consternation among upper management (and human resources) at Nation’s Restaurant News.
If I threw away every single thing on my desk, he asked, what was the chance that I would miss any of it?
Indeed, I admitted, the chance was slim.

Some of the things we ate at Farrah Olivia (as you will notice, Morou is playing with the molecular gastronomy):

diver scallop with bacon powder and melon seed milk
Sweet plantain fitters with refried coconut and peanut butter powder
shocked escolar with wasabi pearls (made with gelatin, not alginate) and pickled watermelon rind
stuffed quail with garden vegetable brûlée and chorizo oil

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