When a Chef Turns our Fancy to the Glories of SpringMarch 30, 2011
By Judith Mazza, Chargée de Presse, Bailliage of Greater Washington, D.C.
When considering where to celebrate the transition from the harsh days of winter to the nascent blossoming of Spring, the Bailliage of Greater Washington, D.C. decided to go to a restaurant where the chef is known for creating both great seasonal cuisine as well as bringing the joy of the season to patrons and staff. Voted as “the best chef to work for,” Ris Lacoste is indeed one of the most beloved chefs in the Washington area, and the restaurant, RIS bears her name. When Chamballan/Bailli Paul Haar contacted her and proposed a Chaîne dinner at the end of March, she enthusiastically accepted. We knew at once that we were in for a dining experience that would be delightful, loving and unpretentious; attributes which reflect the personality of Chef LaCoste.
A small group consisting of Chamballan/Bailli Paul Haar, Gastronomique Steven Lustig, Argentier David Burka, and Vice Conseiller Culinaire Chef Francois Dionot gathered at RIS to make final adjustments to the menu and pair the wine. Their reaction to the menu was most positive and heightened our anticipation.
We began with a champagne reception with passed hors d’oeuvres consisting of a molasses cured salmon on a crisp with honey mustard, a foie gras torchon on brioche with fig jam, a pork rillette with Dijon mustard, and a pickled red onion scallop ceviche with cilantro, lime, sour cream and chilies. One was more delicious than the next. The conversation bubbled and was joyous as connections and introductions were made. Our Bailliage has been growing and there was much to do to make sure that new members met long-standing members, including several prospective members who completed their applications during the reception itself. The vitality in the room mirrored the renewed vigor of the spring season.
We were soon seated in a private room and began the meal with ginger glazed scallops and lobster with lime and grapefruit brulée accompanied by Domaine de la Becassonne, Côtes du Rhône Blanc, 2009. It was light and delicate and opened our palates for the next course. The pan roasted Chesapeake Rockfish was served with a salad of baby greens, olives, cured lemon, Parmesan cream and pine nuts, which was paired with the Catena Alta Chardonnay, Mendoza, 2008. The fish was perfectly prepared with a crisp skin and moist and succulent flesh.
As we awaited our next course, Chamballan/Bailli Paul Haar arose and had members introduce their guests. The introductions led to moments of frivolity and laughter, the camaraderie was unmistakable with the feeling that springtime and love was in the room. We didn’t have to wait very long, however, before our next course of grilled quail with bourbon cherry sauce and wild rice, almonds and foie gras made its appearance. For this course, we had two different Bordeaux wines to compare. Talk at many tables included a discussion as to which was the preferred pairing, La Chapelle de la Mission Haut-Brion, Pessac-Leognan, 2000 or the Chateau Malescot St. Exupery, Margaux, 1996. The quail was superb as were both Bordeaux with it. Our final savory course consisting of braised beef short ribs with blue cheese barley, buttered cabbage and mushrooms followed, accompanied by Caldwell Vineyard Proprietary Red, Napa Valley, 1998.
Chamballan/Bailli Paul Haar arose again, but this time with a surprise. He was about to bequeath the Bronze Star of Excellence on Vice Echanson Ellen Kirsh for her outstanding efforts in re-stocking the wine cellar, seeing that the inventory was computerized and contributing to wine education of our members. Ellen’s husband, Tony Clifford, spoke about Ellen’s journey as she retired from her career as a successful attorney to become a wine educator, having received her diploma from the Wine Spirits Education trust in London and also thus far having progressed to the second year of the Master of Wine program. Vice Echanson Ellen Kirsh was totally surprised but pleased as she accepted the award.
We were seated once again as the dessert course was presented, a rhubarb white chocolate bread pudding with strawberry butter sauce. This was accompanied by Giacomo Bologna, Braida, Brachetto d’Acqui, Piemonte, 2009.
Chef Ris appeared to grateful applause for an outstanding meal. Gastronomique Steven Lustig commented that one doesn’t necessarily expect that a dinner prepared for 36 guests would exceed the tasting dinner prepared for four, but in this case, Chef Ris and her staff had done so; while continuing to service the rest of the guests in the restaurant. It was agreed that this was one of the most satisfying and delicious dinners we had. Just as wine enhances a meal and can elevate it to greatness, Chef Ris and her staff with their generosity and warmth catapulted the Washington Bailliage out of the doldrums of a long and cold winter ready to bask in the glories of spring.