In Perfect Balance at the Autumnal EquinoxSeptember 21, 2011
By Judith Mazza, Chargée de Presse, Bailliage of Greater Washington, D.C.
As the summer ends and the seasons change, there is a sense that something different is coming. The air becomes crisp, and the markets are bursting with the bounty of the harvest. The autumnal equinox is when day and night are in perfect balance. It was with these thoughts in mind that the Washington Bailliage decided to open its 2011 – 2012 season at the flagship restaurant of the chef who not only won the coveted Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington (RAMMY) award as best chef of the year 2011, but who is one of the most beloved. Equinox, located in downtown Washington, D.C., is known for its seasonal and locally sourced food. Chef Todd Gray’s cuisine has been seasonable, local, organic and sustainable before those four words became a contemporary mantra in foodie circles
The tasting committee consisting of Bailli/Mid-Atlantic Chambellan Provincial Paul Haar, Xiangnan Haar, Argentier David Burka, Vice Echanson Ellen Kirsh and Vice Chargée de Presse Judith Mazza, met a few weeks before the dinner so the proper wine could be selected. Vice Echanson Ellen Kirsh had a draft menu from Chef Gray and was able to bring a selection of wine for pairing. Our expectations were high, and Chef Gray did not disappoint. Both our tasting and the Chaîne dinners were to be held in the Atrium. This is a lovely private room with soft lighting and widows to the street.
The Autumnal Equinox dinner began with four passed canapés. The confit of heirloom tomato with extra virgin olive oil was beautifully presented in a spoon, the crispy squid and artichoke timbal proved to be a “bite to delight,” the quail egg in brioche topped by caviar was unctuous and luxurious, and the truffled risotto fritters could not be more satisfying with their crunchy exterior and creamy interior. We sipped the Larmarca Procsecco DOC NV, selected in lieu of champagne because it paired beautifully with the complex flavors in the hors d’oeuvres.
Our first course of crudo of outer banks black sea bass was accompanied by a petite glass of yellow tomato vichyssoise and a golden pineapple and avocado salad. The Falanghina Dei Feudi di San Gregorio 2009 is an ancient white Italian grape varietal indigenous to the region of Campania. It was light and refreshing and perfect with this course.
The second course of agnolotti of roasted corn and potato served with Maine lobster and chanterelles with a sweet corn coulis was perfectly prepared. The agnolotti was delicate yet al dente and the sweet corn coulis brought out the sweet flavor of the lobster. The Domaine Christophe Camu Chablis Premier 1er Cru 2008 was acidic with citrus overtones and created a fabulous contrast with the sweet tones of the dish.
As we awaited our third course, Bailli/Mid-Atlantic Chambellan Provincial Paul Haar arose to introduce guests and members. Among the guests introduced were Jean Marc and Christine Leger, brought by Chevalier Daniel Silva and his wife, Magdalah. Jean Marc’s great grandfather was a member of the Chaîne in the 1950’s. It was also a pleasure to meet Alexander and Mary Barth, guests of Xiangnan and Bailli/Mid-Atlantic Chambellan Provincial Paul Haar, and Christine Owens, a guest of Dame de la Chaîne Louise Harkavy and her husband, Jon. New members attending included Chevalier Patrick Carroll and his wife, Dame de la Chaîne Julie Carroll, as well as Chef Rôtisseur Mariano Ramos and his sister, Aurora Ramos. As our introductions ended, the conversation at the tables continued filling the room with vibrancy and warmth.
The third course was an herb roasted breast and stuffed leg of Sonoma Guinea hen served with parsnip mousseline, warm brioche and shaved foie gras. The Domaine Thibault Liger-Belair Moulin-a-Vent La Roche, Beaujolais, France 2009 was soft, a little fruity and gentle, with rounded tones and not much tannin. It complemented the richness of the Guinea hen. Our final savory course was a slow cooked loin of grass fed Potomac veal served with heirloom beans, a mascarpone grit cake and ground cherry jus. To accompany this dish, we needed a wine that was more complex and substantial. We chose the Pierre André au Château de Corton André Bourgogne 2005 which was absolutely perfect.
In the pause while we awaited our dessert, Chef Gray came out to a round of applause. Bailli/Mid-Atlantic Chambellan Provincial Paul Haar presented him with a beautiful ceramic Chaîne plate as an acknowledgement of the astoundingly delicious meal he and his staff had prepared for us. As Chef Gray answered our questions, the final course of Goldhill Farm blueberries, vanilla “genoise,” and lemon verbena ice cream was served. This was accompanied by Rare Wine Company’s Malmsey Madeira, the sweetest of the Madeira wines. This was a fitting and sweet way to end a meal that reflected the turning of the seasons, all in perfect balance.