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Vive La France! Vive La Chaîne! and Vive the Inn at Little Washington!July 14, 2014
By Vice Chargée de Presse Christine Owens, Bailliage of Greater Washington, D.C.
What a day and what a way to the Bailliage of Greater Washington found to celebrate Bastille Day 2014. The occasion was marked with congratulations to our Bailli Paul Haar for his elevation as a National Chaîne officer as Jurisconsulte. Paul Haar has served with distinction and flare as Mid-Atlantic Chambellan/Bailli for the past six years, and as Bailli Judy Mazza noted in her opening remarks, “it is with pride and gratitude that we honor someone who exemplifies the finest of La Chaîne.” As Paul steps down, it was only appropriate to recognize his many contributions. Bailli Judy Mazza presented Paul with a special gift from his fellow board members, a beautiful rosewood commemorative plaque from the Bailliage of Greater Washington; and a personal letter from the French Ambassador applauding his contributions both nationally and internationally to the fellowship of La Chaîne members everywhere, which was also mounted on a beautiful plaque.
We enjoyed Bastille Day hors d’oeuvres prepared by Bailli, Judy Mazza, Vice Chargée de Missions Louise Harkavy, and Vice Chargée de Presse, Christine Owens, as we departed on a luxury bus for our trip to the Cathedral of Food – the Inn at Little Washington. Our treats were arranged in boxes on napkins representing the French flag, and featured cauliflower panna cotta topped with salmon roe, a mango shrimp spear, wild mushroom hazelnut pate atop a cucumber round, and a Roquefort Grape. Thank you to Leslie Binns, Phil Reiman and Rebecca Burka for serving the champagne and mimosas with grace and “balance” as the bus sped toward our destination.
As always the Inn‘s staff was outside to greet us featuring the traditional red carpet, welcoming smiles and sincere handshakes. The impressive tour of the kitchen followed with glasses in hand and personal greetings from Chef Patrick O’Connell. To our delight he provided many Chaîne members with a photo op! Of course, we also sampled amuse bouches before being seated in the main dining room: the best in the world gougeres, a cigarette of Virginia ham – Patrick’s riff on chip and dip, compressed watermelon with sea salt and goat cheese, and pork belly with blackberry jam.
As the 16th century French essayist, Michel Eyquem de Montaigne noted, “the art of dining well is no slight art, the pleasure no slight pleasure.” and indeed the culinary traditions and legacies of France continue as was exemplified by the specially prepared Bastille Day meal we enjoyed together at the Inn that day.
While sipping and finishing their champagne and waiting for lunch to be served everyone received their own box of truffled popcorn. The first course was a mélange of garden beets presented on scented borscht syrup with beet sorbet and osetra caviar. The Strub Riesling Spatlese Niersteiner Paternberg, Rheinhessen (2012) was a bold and well-appreciated pairing. There was no wasted flavor.
Next we enjoyed chilled Wagyu beef tongue with pickled root vegetables, and caraway and horseradish ice cream. The Francois Pinon Vouvray Tres Argiles (2011) from the Loire Valley was an unusual pairing but certainly dry and acidic enough to stand up to the beef. The honeysuckle and orange blossom notes provided a delicate sweetness to the spiciness of the horseradish ice cream.
The oven roasted Maine Lobster on Carolina Golden Grits were a Table 15 favorite. Chef O’Connell makes Maine proud by cooking the lobster perfectly, selecting an heirloom variety of grits and using a scallion butter to finish. A confit of garden vegetables grown at the Inn completed the presentation. The smokiness and classic rich minerality of the Jean-Claude Bachelet Premier Cru Saint-Aubin Burgundy (2009) was greatly appreciated with this dish. It was both cleansing and refreshing, leading a confrere to exclaim, “This is it!”
Pan seared duck breast was featured with local cherries and sweet corn. The duck also was perfectly cooked. Cadre Pinot Noir The Architects (2009) from the Central Coast of California was a delicate pairing that most considered “yummy” because of its touch of fruit forwardness with notes of pomegranate and dusty black cherries. However, two of my “impeachable sources” thought it a bit too fruity. The Architects is a tribute to those who had the foresight to plant Pinot Noir on the central coast blending fruit from four vineyards. Tres bien!
Two desserts were featured: a chocolate caramel and hazelnut tartlet with olive oil ice cream was presented to half of the confreres, and a lemon-meringue tartlet with toasted pistachios, Meyer lemon comfit and blackberry citrus frozen yogurt presented to the others. A Ferreira 20-year old Tawny Port Portugal (NV) accompanied the chocolate tart and a Steindorfer Eiswein Cuvee Klaus Burgenland Austria (2009) was paired with the lemon-meringue tartlet. What else is there to say but what a grand finale!
Everything about this Bastille Day was memorable; the food, the company and the respect and honor given to our Bailli Honoraire, Jurisconsulte Paul Haar. In fact, the room was so full of love and good wishes, that when Chef Patrick O’Connell addressed us at the end of the meal, he invited us to come back next year and have a “pajama party.” We can’t wait!
Please extend a heartfelt welcome to the new Bailli of the Bailliage of Greater Washington, Dr. Judith Mazza, the next time you see her.