A Bookalokal bunch gathered at DC’s historic German restaurant, Cafe Mozart, this week to ring in Oktoberfest. The authentic meal came with live accordion, lots of beer and German folk and beer drinking songs! Book your own Oktoberfest celebration here.
We don’t often choose Italian when we eat out. Partly because my wife likes to make Italian food at home. Partly because we go to Italy fairly frequently and get our fill of fresh local specialities over there. But this weekend we had the opportunity to attend a bookalokal event featuring Sicilian cuisine. Sicily is one of the parts of Italy I still haven’t visited, so I was keen to try it out.
We arrived at Emanuela‘s house in the Ixelles quarter of Brussels and were welcomed into her living room for an aperitif. Her two daughters were bustling around in the kitchen and after a few minutes came through with a plate of mozzarella pastries they’d made themselves.
We were then joined by several other guests, who were a varied and interesting group: an Italian tenor, a German-born European Commission translator, a Flemish-Catalan singer and a doctor from Ghent who specialises in allergies. Plus Emanuela, who has professional experience in the catering industry, and her lawyer husband Giorgio.
The first dish was caponata, which is a Sicilian aubergine salad with peppers, capers and sweetened vinegar. On the right, more aubergines with mozzarella and mushrooms. As Emanuela explained caponata is one of those dishes which everyone does a little differently, but I was more than happy with her version: the vinegar adds a little sharpness but without making it too sour. Nicely balanced. We all had two portions.
The pasta is another Sicilian recipe: pasta alla norma. Aubergine, tomato, ricotta and basil. Another winner.
And finally for dessert: biancomangiare. This is a far cry from the “blancmange” we were served in the school canteen back in England, and the almond milk, cinnamon and pistachio flavours made it a very satisfying and light dessert.
Our hosts were warm and enthusiastic and we chatted for quite a while with the other guests about favourite restaurants and recipes. It was a very enjoyable evening and one we’re keen to repeat soon.
by Khoi Tran
A good meal can and generally does begin with good food. But a great meal is one that ends with people coming together.
As a foodie, I am a big proponent of eating local, organic foods whenever possible. This is how I came to attend the Arcadia Fall Harvest Dinner which I later learned was actually Arcadia’s second farm-to-table meal (the first meal was held earlier in the Spring). Besides the promise of great food, the dinner was also a platform to launch of the Veteran Farmer Program, a venture set up to address the problem of high unemployment that plagues our nation’s veterans by providing them with farming training and business-skills development. Veterans in the DMV would be provided meaningful employment while given the chance to contribute to the nation’s growing demand for more local and healthy foods. As an active-duty member of the Air Force, I absolutely wanted to support this program. I knew I had to come.
Arcadia held the dinner on Sunday, September 7th, at three o’clock in the afternoon at Woodlawn Mansion. The historical property once belonged to George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate. The first president gave the house to his nephew, Lawrence Lewis, and Lawrence’s new bride, Nelly, after the couple married. The mansion today acts as a historic house museum.
The weather that day, 80 degrees and partly cloudy, was perfect for a meal meant to be enjoyed outdoors. Upon arrival, guests were treated to sparkling wine cocktails and four different canapés of mini black bean tacos, citrus-cured salmon sitting atop zucchini latkes, manchego cheese and quince, and seared Ahi tuna wontons. While enjoying delicious drinks and hors d’oeuvres, everyone was invited to wander through each of the restored rooms of Woodlawn Mansion as well as the garden full of flowers and vegetables, see the chicken coop, and visit the beehive.
A little after 4 PM, Pamela Hess, Arcadia’s executive director, gathered the guests together and thanked them for coming. She discussed Arcadia’s mission of creating an equitable and sustainable local food system in the DC area, talked about the importance of the Veteran Farm Program, and recognized each and every one of the veterans in attendance. We then took our seats in anticipation of the meal to come.
We began our ten-course meal with an excellent smoked pork belly on top of apple butter and a terrific ceviche made with monkfish, shrimp, and smoked mussels. I ate two servings of the pork belly and stopped after reminding myself to save room for the remaining food yet to come. Next came a grilled eggplant salad topped with fresh poached shrimp and a roasted cauliflower dish mixed with garlic, tahini, lemon, and mint. I’ve never been a huge fan of cauliflower, but this cauliflower dish was divine. It was a particular favorite with the guests at my section of the table.
All the guests tried to pace themselves, but new dishes were brought in rapid succession. The servers brought out arugula salads and a roast pork dish with spiced peach chutney as a condiment. The roast pork was very good, cooked through but, thankfully, not dry and with just the perfect amount of seasoning. I ate little of the arugula salad only because it’s not a favorite plant of mine. I was tempted to eat more of the roast pork until I saw platters of bulgogi, bowls of steamed rice, and plates of Romaine lettuce arriving. I scooped equal portions of meat and rice into the lettuce “cups”, slathered on the provided Ssamjang paste, and munched away happily. The bulgogi was delicious! I almost couldn’t stop eating it even when the fried chicken came. Chef Jonah Kim stopped by to tell us how he had prepared it. He had brined the chicken for 24 hours before frying each piece twice. The first frying was done at low heat to cook the meat. The second frying wasdone at high heat to burn away the fat under the skin, creating the perfect crispy exterior so characteristic of Korean fried chicken. The chicken dish was served with a refreshing watermelon and papaya salad sprinkled lightly with salt.
At this point, happy faces as a result of full stomachs were in abundance. We really could not eat more. Luckily, there was time to stand up and visit with each other while waiting for dessert to be served. When the blueberry pies and sweet corn ice-cream came alongside toppings of granola and sweet white cream, they did not disappoint. Full or not, I saw everyone digging into pie and ice-cream with gusto. In all, we had been served a truly wonderful meal prepared by five distinguished restaurant chefs of various pedigrees from fine establishments such as Café Saint-Ex, Estadio, Proof, Doi Moi, Mandu, Vermilion, and Buttercream Bakeshop.
I’ve always believed that food alone, no matter how good, does not make a meal by itself. It’s the people that do. A good meal can and generally does begin with good food. But a great meal is one that ends with people coming together. That was the intent of the Arcadia Fall Harvest Dinner, to bring like-minded people to support local food and the Veteran Farmer Program. I would say the dinner was a complete success. I, for one, cannot wait to dine with Arcadia again in the spring.
Petra invited guests into her Amsterdam flat last weekend, served them an incredible dinner and showed them her art. Each course was paired with a handpicked glass of wine. Petra has another event this Saturday, book here.