Victor Albisu Grills Guac (Really!), Juggles Two Restaurants and Impresses His Mom (Sometimes)

Food and cooking have always been a central part of Victor Albisu’s life. He grew up outside Washington, D.C., the son of a restaurateur Cuban father and a Peruvian mother who owned a Latin market. After graduating from Le Cordon Bleu School in Paris, he scored a job at L’Arpege before returning home to work at a series of top-tier establishments, including Marcel’s and BLT Steak.

This spring he opened the fast-casual taqueria Taco Bamba and the white tablecloth South American steakhouse Del Campo, which Esquire recently named one of the year’s best new restaurants. While taking a break from tending the flames, Albisu told tell us how the heck he is able to grill guacamole, why he loves sausage, and who his favorite VIP diner has been.

Read the Q&A on Plate‘s website now (free registration required).

Photo courtesy of Greg Powers.

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Out of the Kitchen: Local Chefs Playing a Different Tune

There’s a natural music in the kitchen—the rhythm of knives, the hum of the meat slicer, the sizzle of the grill. Some chefs keep rocking out after their shifts. These four are just as comfortable playing music as they are wielding a boning knife.

Vikram Sunderam: Chef at Rasika and Rasika West End

Instrument: Tabla, an Indian-style pair of drums.

His learning process: “If I hear something often enough, I can play it.”

Tip for tabla mastery: “You play with your hands, so you have to have skillful fingers.”

Influences: Indian tabla maestros Zakir Hussain and Alla Rakha.

Where he plays now: “I have a tabla set and a drum kit at home, so I definitely keep the neighbors up.”

What he listens to in the kitchen: Pop, rock, Bollywood tunes, Hindi music.

Finish reading this story on Washingtonian‘s Best Bites blog now.

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Some Like It Hot – Newcomers to the Mexican cuisine scene deliver plenty of steam and taste

For years, it was difficult to find much in the way of seriously good Mexican food around here. Sure, there was José Andrés’ Oyamel for an upscale adventure and the family-run R&R Taquería in Elkridge, Md., for more casual fare, but that was it.

But for those who love south of the border cuisine, the last few months have seen that void ably filled.

One of the hottest newcomers is Arlington, Va.’s Fuego Cocina y Tequileria (2800 Clarendon Blvd., Arlington, Va.; 571/970-2180, fuegova.com), pictured left. The two-story corner restaurant features bold flavors and shareable presentations. Queso fundido arrives at the table bubbling in a skillet, the outer rim caramelized. Spoon its gooey strings into freshly made corn tortillas, making sure to get some of the bits of spicy crumbled chorizo into the mix.

Decadent duck flautas come in crackly flash-fried casings with a chocolaty mole negro dipping sauce on the side, while duos of tacos filled with tempting options such as roasted goat, beef brisket and crispy tilapia are served with two house-made salsas.

When it comes time for dessert, the velveteen coconut mousse cake (seen above) with a tart layer of lime curd and passion fruit caramel is a good bet. So is the tres leches cake with cream cheese frosting and sweet guava sauce.

Finish reading this story on the Washington Flyer website now.

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Chef-driven: Local toques have a taste for custom wheels

Pulling into a restaurant parking lot these days can feel like arriving at a vintage car show or a motorcycle rally. Front-and-center parking spaces often showcase eye-catching, customized rides. These wheeled wonders don’t belong to VIP diners though. They’re how the chefs got to work.

Mike Isabella drives a pimped-out purple-and-black Honda Ruckus with chrome rims, an ostrich leather seat, racing tires and Graffiato logos emblazoned on it. Former BLT Steak executive chef Victor Albisu roars around in a restored black 1971 Mercedes 280SL convertible, while Cork Market chef Kristin Hutter favors an apple-red 1970 Volkswagen Karmann Ghia. Husband-wife team Kyle Bailey and Tiffany MacIsaac of Birch & Barley/ChurchKey prefer modern conveyances, so they each drive a MINI Cooper.

Motorcycles are particularly popular with toques. Cliff Wharton, executive chef at Matchbox in Chinatown, has a 2006 Harley Davidson Night Train. He hits the road regularly with a group of culinary colleagues known as Chefs on Bikes, which has included Brasserie Beck’s chef-owner Robert WiedmaierBayou Bakery’s chef-owner David GuasRogue 24’s chef-owner R.J. CooperOld Ebbitt Grill’s executive chef Robert McGowan, Passion Food Hospitality partner David Wizenberg and “whoever else wants to ride,” according to Wharton.

Finish reading this story on the Washington Post‘s All You Can Eat blog now.

Photo of Victor Albisu courtesy of Victor Albisu.

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Raising The Steaks: Customers, new menu items and expansions are helping stoke a meaty rebound

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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.

Finish reading this article on the Restaurant Management website now.

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