Each year we get a couple of visits to DC for the James Beard Foundation Celebrity Chef Tour, but Wednesday night's tour brought more chefs(15?) than ever to Del Campo where host Chef Victor Albisu put on a show worthy or foodie royalty.
We arrived to a superb apricot brandy and Afrohead rum and Pineapple vanilla drink called "Let Love Rule" which was not too sweet, but I switched to the yummy Etude "Grace Benoist Ranch" Pinot Noir 2014 from Carneros and it's been years since I have enjoyed this superb wine. There were craft beers as well.
Passed appetizers abounded and I desperately tried to refrain knowing full well what was in store in the five courses to come. Chefs Mike Isabella & George Pagonis, both Top Chef-testants, offered up Haloumi-filled Loukoumades with Truffle Honey and a mouth-watering Taramasalata on chickpea blini with caviar. Another Top Chef Alum who opened Requin recently in Fairfax, Chef Jennifer Carroll served Deviled Lamb Rillettes with macerated cherries (think chutney) and pickled mustard seed on a homemade potato gaufrette. Just in case we wanted to fill up there were awesome Wagyu Beef Empanadas with Salsa from Chef Victor Albisu.
We had a great table headed by Celebrity Chef Tour head honcho Jeff Black who always gathers some of the best foodies around for these events. The dinner as served family style for the most part, which was indeed a relief, so I did not feel ike I was wasting food, and hopefully what was left on the platters was used back in the kitchen by the staff (or I would have asked for a 5-gallon doggie bag).
First came DIM SUM in the form of Spicy Laab Shumai with ground pork, yellow curry paste, chilis and Northern Thai herbs from Chef Erik Bruner-Yang of Maketto (DC); Kimcheese Mandu with Berkshire Pork Shoulder, butter kimchi and sharp cheddar stuffed dumpling from Chef Danny Lee of Mandu (DC). Samuel would have been in heaven with these two dumpling options alone; but there was much more. Chef Tim Ma of the recently opened Kyirisan in DC plated huge XO Bone Marrow with Cilantro & Preserved Lemon over a Scallion Pancake which was perfect to absorb the slight amount of grease from the bone (photos are on FB as always). The winner of the Dim Sim offerings, however, was Chef Scott Drewno's (The Source By Wolfgang Puck) Hot & Sour Pumpkin Soup with Roasted Short Rib, Brisket & Bone Marrow Dumplings. The soup packed a punch and the dumpling was as good as they get. There was a declicious Las Perdices Pinot Grigio 2015 from Mendoza, Argentina, but it was the smooth and dry Gekkeikan "Suzaku" Junmai Ginjo-shu Sake from Kyoto, Japan that had me in heaven as it simply cleansed the aplate so brilliantly after each spicy mouthful.
Credit goes to our server Janelle and her team, not only for making sure glasses were full, but that everyone at our table of some 17 people got every dish. While the entire meal and cocktail hour lasted almost 5-1/2 hours, the pacing was superb and if it were any faster, we would have all burst.
Two chefs and longtime friends, Chef Tarver King (The Restaurant at Patowmack Farm in Lottesville, VA) and Chef Justin Severino (Cure & Morcilla in Pittsburgh, PA), offered up what they described as "seafood inspired charcuterie," where was indeed the most intriguing course of the meal as well as the most novel. With almost every place offered charcuterie plates these days, their innovation went to the next level. Chef Justin described it as "the culinary version of The Shining," which I may not get, but we could not figure out which part was which and had to get a personal detailed explanation, which I attempted to show on my FB photos. The least exciting dish was the Crab Croquelon (deep fried puff) simply because the heavy Salmon Nduja sauce(?) was too overpowering. If chicharones married shrimp toast you would have their Salt Cod Crackers with Saffrin Mustard and Swordfish Finnocchiona. The winner here, by far, was the Scallop Mortadella on Uni Bottarga Cookie that unfortunately begged us all to have seconds (and maybe thirds) to rave reviews. The Sohm & Kracher Gruner Veltliner 2011 from Neiderosterreich in Austria was a huge winner as well with intense green apple flavor that paired marvelously. I tried to find out if winemaker Gerard Kracher is related to the late Alois Kracher whose winery we know so well.
Two DC chefs, Haidar Karoum & Kyle Bailey (Engine) paired for the next course which was thankfully only one plate of spectacular Roasted Pork Belly & Charred Heart with Blake Rice Chao & Pickled Green Tomato. The belly was crisp and meaty and the heart sliced thin and just full of flavor. Beans and scallions topped the dish and the pairing was a Chateau Raspail Gigondas 2012 from the Rhone that was fine WITH the food, but a bit too young for me as I tasted it on its own. SO kudos to Sommelier Brett Stevenson for keeping me from sipping too much between courses, but pairing everything so well!
The Fourth Course (I called it 10th), was shared by Host Chef Victor Albisu, Chef Amy Brandwien of Centrolina and Chefs Gabrielle & Greg Denton of Ox & SuperBite who flew in from Portland Oregon for the event! The couple prepared the monstrous portions of Coal Roasted Ribeye with White Bean & Chanterelle Gratin which would have wowed any steak and potatoes lover on a level not known before. Chef Amy had the most delicate, yet tasty Salsiccia Siciliana (Sicilian sausage) that just made me want to head to Sicily right now rather than waiting for our upcoming visit next July! Chef Victor had lovely Grilled Lamb Sweetbreads that were so tender but here with a Calamari Escabeche and spectacular squid ink sauce.
I am not a beer person, but the paring offered Samuel Adams Oktoberfest which I skipped, but we loved the Le Dix de Los Vascos Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 from Colchaga Valley Chile.
Dessert was in three separate courses in reality:
Chef Amy Brandwein served a variation of a cheese course with Napoleon of Labne, Gaglioppo Poached Pears and Michel Richard's Pistachio Crocante in an homage to the recently deceased uber chef of DC. The dish was superb and paired with a divine slightly sweet Felsina, Vin Santo del Chianti Classico 2004 from Berardegna, Italy. Next came a small chocolate gourmandise with gold leaf that I think was meant to come at the very end and then the best dessert I have had in ages was Chef Amanda Cook-Pilkerton's (Centrolina) Apple Pie Baba with rum whipped cream, candied walnuts and Cranberry which had the most perfect baba cake ever that was so fresh, light and easily so enjoyable even after this marathon meal!
BRAVI to all the chefs and those of us that attended!