Chaîne on the Edge - A Dinner at "Restaurant G by Mike Isabella"June 6, 2017
By Bill Babash, Chevalier, Bailliage of Greater Washington, D.C.
The Washington Bailliage welcomed summer on June 6th with a spectacular dinner at G by Mike Isabella in the vibrant 14th Street neighborhood of Washington, D.C.
The June event was organized with the help of a committee of volunteers from the Bailliage membership – Chevalier Nate Guggenheim, Chevalier Bill Babash, and Dame de la Chaîne Helen Onufrak. Guided by Gastronomique Honoraire Louise Harkavy, the group met over lunch at Chez Billy Sud in Georgetown in early February to brainstorm ideas for the June dinner. All agreed that they were eager to try a new restaurant with adventurous cuisine. While great food is always a prerequisite, formality wasn't necessary to kick off summer. Nate offered to leverage his professional contacts with area chefs, and Adam Howard, Corporate Chef for Mike Isabella Concepts, quickly expressed his eagerness to prepare and host his first dinner for the Chaîne.
Originally from Alabama, Chef Howard is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. In Washington, he was previously chef de cuisine at Aggio and Range (which hosted the National Chaîne's young chefs award dinner in May), and was executive sous chef at Jaleo. His experience also includes restaurants and catering in New York and owning a food truck in South Carolina.
Popular as "sandwich shop by day, tasting menu at night," G transformed itself again specifically for the Bailliage's sell-out gathering. A last-minute air conditioning glitch required another transformation as the dinner was relocated to the private dining room at Kapnos, G's adjoining sister restaurant. The fortuitous switch worked well – the room's Moroccan décor nicely reflected the evening's culinary inspirations, and the view into the kitchen gave diners a glimpse into how such a complex meal comes to fruition.
Chef Howard tapped his deep experience and unbounded creativity to compose a menu that elevated the best of early summer flavors, textures, and colors. North African, Greek, and other Mediterranean themes were evident throughout. The Bailliage's Vice Echanson Ellen Kirsh, expertly selected wines from the Bailliage's cellar to complement each course, and Chevalier Bill Babash presented information about each of the chosen wines to the delight of those assembled.
Members and guests were welcomed with a Champagne reception. A Gonet-Médeville Premier Cru Brut Blac de Noirs, NV, from Bissueil, France, was a bold and rich match for a diversity of passed hors d'oeuvres: A crispy phyllo pie stuffed with succulent roasted duck, watercress, and cherries served with pistachio yogurt; a perfectly cooked seared scallop wrapped in crispy guanciale with sultan chutney; and a crunchy and light zucchini fritter with refreshing feta and mint yogurt. And it wouldn't be summer without lobster – a touch of seasoning and a bit of asparagus let lobster salad shine on a taro chip.
The opening salad course brought an entire early summer garden to each diner. Local Mennonite farmers, with whom Chef Howard has worked for years, provided all the vegetables in the salad, including ramps, sugar snap peas, and the tiniest of carrots. "They are the best at highlighting the season," the chef explained. Chef Howard accented this harvest with a goat cheese mousse and ginger carrot puree. The plated garden included "coffee-cardamom soil" – a blend of coffee, cardamom, almond flour, and brown sugar – that added wonderful earthy flavors and texture to the composition. The terroir of a 2012 Didier Dagueneau Pouilly-Fumé Pur Sang from the Upper Loire Valley, France, paired perfectly with the terroir of the plates.
The second course featured tastes, textures, and plating that wowed the Bailliage. Tuna tartare, accented with harissa, kohlrabi, and confit shallots, was a perfect disc of freshness from the sea. The chef cured foie gras Sauternes before being transforming it into a dense, luxurious mousse presented as a sinuous ribbon. Small circles of sweet and tangy membrillo mustard complimented both and completed the geometry of the plating. The tuna and foie gras were a study in contrasts that worked beautifully. But any one wine would have been a compromise, so diners were treated to two: The Dagueneau Pouilly-Fumé from the previous course paired nicely with the tuna, while the off-dry flavors and slaty minerality of a 2015 Selback-Oster Riesling Kabinett from the Mosel Valley of Germany complemented the slight sweetness of the foie gras. Diners enjoyed comparing how each wine worked with the elements of this phenomenal course.
Sweetbreads came next. A classic flour and cornmeal breading and quick deep fry gave them a perfectly crisp exterior while retaining their tender texture. A drizzle of burnt honey glaze added a bit of sweetness and hint of bitterness to accentuate the delicate flavor of each bite. A quenelle of delicious charred ramp skordalia – a variation on the traditional Greek purée -- was an inspired accompaniment. White Burgundies are a classic pairing with sweetbreads and a 2011 Jacob-Frèrebeau Pernand-Vergeless chardonnay from the Côte de Beaune was spectacular with this course.
The culinary journey into summer continued with a North African-inspired merguez stuffed lamb rib presented with a roasted kale and chickpea salad. The merguez was precisely seasoned and the rib cooked to melt-in-your-mouth perfection. A ribbon of bahārāt yogurt provided a tangy contrast to the richness of the lamb, adding a summery brightness to the dish for both the palate and the eyes. The dark fruit, subtle oak, and toasted notes of the 2012 Rockpile Cemetery Vineyard Zinfandel from the Dry Creek Valley region of Sonoma County was perfect with the dish.
Dinner concluded with a delicious Babas au Rhum, served with the freshest summer berries and a velvety vanilla ice cream drizzled with salted caramel. The lighter style and restrained sweetness of a 2011 Château Les Justices Sauternes made it an integral part of this classic dessert.
Throughout the evening, the staff of G and Kapnos provided diners with warm hospitality and impeccable service that thoroughly enhanced the convivial affair. Bailli Judy Mazza concluded the event by presenting Chef Howard with a commemorative Chaîne des Rôtisseurs plate to thank him, sous chef Jarrad Silver, and the rest of the G/Kapnos team for sharing their talent and inspired, exquisitely executed cuisine with the Bailliage.
The Bailliage now looks forward to its annual pilgrimage in July to The Inn at Little Washington. All are eager to experience Chef Patrick O'Connell's Michelin two-star magic.