The Curtain Call at Opera Ultra Lounge combines sorghum, bourbon, Thatcher's apple spice ginger liqueur and muddled fresh cherries.
New England has a long-standing love affair with maple syrup, but below the Mason-Dixon Line, it’s all about sorghum syrup. Made by boiling down the juice from sorghum cane stalks, the golden liquid has a sweet, earthy flavor that’s been described as molasses without the bite. Chefs and mixologists are fans because sorghum can sweeten the savory, add depth to desserts or bring a twist to a cocktail. No matter how it’s used, sorghum puts a spotlight on Dixieland cuisine. “The South is shining right now,” says Sou’Wester chef de cuisine Eddie Moran. “It has really great food made with these amazing ingredients that you can’t get anywhere else.”
Before Moran was a Washingtonian, he did a culinary tour of duty through the Southern states. During a sojourn in Little Rock, Ark., he was introduced to sorghum when somebody poured it onto a bowl of hot grits. “It reminded me of growing up in California,” he says, “except we used maple syrup on cereal instead.” When Moran moved to D.C., he decided to play around with the amber liquid to see how he could put a spin on it. The result is a duck breast glazed with a gastrique of sorghum, cabernet vinegar, star anise, clove and peach pieces. The dish, above, is topped with a small salad of fresh local peaches, making it an ode to both the season and the South. Mandarin Oriental, 1330 Maryland Ave. SW; 202-787-6140. (Smithsonian)
The history of rock ‘n’ roll is paved with classic partnerships: Lennon and McCartney, Jagger and Richards, Bono and the Edge. So, when record-exec-turned-restaurant- manager John Warner decided to open his own establishment, he knew he’d need a top-notch collaborator to create a culinary smash hit. He didn’t have to look very far: David Ashwell was the chef de cuisine at Brasserie Beck, where Warner was managing at the time. The two formed a partnership and penned a love song to French cuisine: Cleveland Park’s Bistrot Le Zinc, which opened in mid-July.
Vision: “I’ve always been an amateur Francophile,” Warner says. “Paris is the greatest city in the world.” Most of the dishes here taste like they were imported directly from the City of Light, thanks to Ashwell’s well-executed sauces, including a winning beurre rouge (red butter) that accompanies the roast chicken breast and a cabernet reduction that comes with the steak frites.
There’s a sizzle in the air these days. Steakhouses are stealing the spotlight with fired-up earnings reports, expansions and hot new menu items that are stoking consumer appetites. They’re even taking over reality television as chefs compete on the current season of Gordon Ramsay’s “Hell’s Kitchen” to win the head chef position at BLT Steak.
This is welcome news, because over the last three years steakhouses were getting burned. In 2008 and 2009, beef sales as a whole were down in both restaurants and grocery stores. Despite this dip, the average American still ate almost 60 pounds of beef in 2008, according to the industry newsletter Cattle-Fax, while statistics tabulated by Technomic show that commercial restaurant operators still bought 5.4 billion pounds of beef that year. “People have been loyal to their protein purchases,” says Russell Woodward, senior manager for product marketing at the Texas Beef Council. Though beef took a hit overall, it remained the top selling protein in restaurants, according to a study by Technomic.
Chef Richard Sandoval is an empire builder. The Mexican maestro already owns Masa 14, Zengo and La Sandia here in the D.C. area — as well as numerous Latin-themed eateries around the world — but apparently that’s not enough. He wants mas. Expanding his culinary kingdom even further, Sandoval opened El Centro D.F. in May with a focus on simple “south of the border” street food.
Vision: This taqueria and tequileria aspires to occupy the middle ground between mass-produced Mexican like Chipotle and higher-end ventures like Oyamel. “It’s not about innovation,” admits chef Antonio Burrell, who oversees the kitchen. “It’s about making food that’s near and dear to Richard’s heart — the dishes he grew up on.”
Will Morris, the executive sous chef at Bourbon Steak, got his first tattoo when he was 16 — “a stupid little dragon on my thigh” — and he’s gone on to get around 60 percent of his body tattooed. Some are souvenirs from his travels. The three stars are mementos from staging at a Michelin one star (Nobu), a two star (Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons) and a three star (The Oak Room, under Marco Pierre White). “The best year of my life; the loneliest year of my life; the scariest year of my life,” says Morris. “But something that I will always treasure.”