A La Carte

A Culinary Journey With Chef Enzo

January 27, 2010

What does it take to turn cuisine into fine art? The clues take the shape of cones, clouds and arabesques at Enzo Fargione's Chef's Table at Teatro Goldoni.

It will be two years in March since Fargione arrived at Teatro Goldoni armed with the passion for cooking he acquired as a young boy (rather than play soccer, Enzo preferred helping his mother make gnocchi), and the talent to transform a fine Italian restaurant into high culinary art.

After finishing at the top of his class at The Culinary Institute of Turin, Enzo at 17 was recruited by two American restaurateurs to open an authentic Italian Restaurant in San Diego.  From there, he came to Washington as Sous Chef at Roberto Donna’s Galileo, and later joined his friend in a business venture that would recreate the idea of a Spaghetteria and Pizzeria and named it Il Radicchio. They opened in five locations in the area. Chef Enzo brought Barolo to Capitol Hill with his fine Northern Italian cuisine, and recently opened Atrium in Jupiter, Florida, where his innovative tapas-style Italian cuisine was awarded "Best New Restaurant" in Florida by the Palm Beach Post.

Since returning home to Washington, Enzo was named “one of four chefs to watch in USA in 2009” by Esquire Magazine and won three stars from Washingtonian Magazine’s 100 Best Restaurants -- making him the best Italian chef, and Teatro the best Italian restaurant. In addition to revamping Teatro’s Chef’s Table, Enzo teaches young chefs, supports charity events, and appears regularly in the kitchen of James Beard House in New York.

With no predetermined menu and no shortcuts (everything is fresh and hand made) each dining experience at the Chef’s Table is unique. Up to 18 different amuse bouche-sized courses are presented on a luxurious table of fine linens, Limoges china, hand-blown glassware, and paired with select wines from Italy, California and France.

What better way to embark on a world-class culinary journey than with a world-class journalist and longtime Washington social observer? I had the great honor of dining with Donna Shor last night.  As most of you know, Donna writes the "Around Town" column for Washington Life, is a contributor to the Encyclopedia of Wines & Spirits, published articles on food and wine, and was a featured Washington hostess in Bon Appetit, Gourmet and House Beautiful. Her career as a journalist began during a 20-year stay in Europe, when she wrote feature stories for the Paris-based International Herald Tribune. Donna’s writings on travel, personalities and lifestyles have appeared in a variety of publications, including the National Geographic and Esquire.

Cin cin!  We began with my favorite drink, the dirty vodka Martini. Only this one, deconstructed with martini gel and Sicilian green olive foam, came with a spoon. Note to self: add molecular gastronomy to Enzo’s many talents. With a little Ferrari sparkling wine, Donna and I were on our way.

The cornets (lightly sugared cones) arrived next with vinegar cured salmon belly, crispy fennel and California Osetra caviar.

Spinach foam, Manila clams, candied cherry tomato, caper berry and clam’s broth poured from a tiny glass vessel was our next course. Then came the marinated wild Sockeye salmon filet with smoked spinach, crispy fennel, Sicilian green olives, pink grapefruit and licorice froth.

Gavi wine (from the Piedmont region’s Cortese grape) was served with the porcini-dusted seared venison carpaccio with sherry vinegar dressing, wild (yes, sliced!) blueberries, chanterelles mushrooms, black truffles and parmesan shavings.

Before the Italian sushi roll with pickled carrot ginger is a good time to remind you to check out Enzo’s Trompe l’oeil creations in the photo gallery before you leave.

White corn and parmesan cheese custard with red wine caramel was served next, followed by a snifter of roasted artichoke puree corn flake-like artichoke hearts in a black olive froth.

The finale arrived in 24 KARAT GOLD. Yes, really! Milk chocolate-coated virgin olive oil mousse lollipops were dipped in foccacia crumbs and gold shavings.

Each scrumptious “Appetite Opener” morsel with its seemingly contradictory ingredients was in perfect balance, leaving us with clean palates and ready for the next surprise.

Unbuckle your belt, we’re about to start dinner!

Smoked Branzino carpaccio was presented in a cigar box, ready to be opened for us by Aziz, our wonderful server for the evening! Slices of goose liver, crispy brioche, balsamic vinegar gelato and hazelnut tuile came arranged single file on a long white plate. Butternut squash soup, spinach chestnuts, filled raviolioni, duck sausage, roasted pancetta, black truffles and Reggiano foam.

A lovely Barbera D’Alba joined us for the Maine lobster risotto and cherry tomato confit in a caviar tin.

Bread flake-crusted Coco salmon filet, acqua pazza arrucola pesto baby vegetable medley. (Of course I had to consult the written version of Enzo’s special menu to be sure I don’t leave anything out.)  A glass vase contained braised veal cheeks in Port wine, crunchy corn, pancetta and mascarpone sauce, in a huckleberry broth.

A multi-compartment glass tea light holder was the chosen vessel for deconstructed sour apples with cinnamon fumes.

Ready for a little Vin Santo (Italian dessert wine) with ‘breakfast’?  Vanilla flavored pannacotta custard arrived sunny side up with virtual bacon and Enzo carrying an artist’s palette of sweet samplings.

This was the most luscious trip ever, but don’t take my word for it, see for yourself...

Buon Appetito!

Teatro Goldoni is at 1909 K Street NW. Tel. 202.955.9494. The Chef’s Table meal is $125. per person exclusive of alcohol, taxes and gratuity.

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Wake Up and Smell the Macchiato

January 23, 2010

“A little South Beach with a touch of Majorca, and a sprinkling of Marrakesh," Puro Cafe which opened Friday, is a chic oasis for coffee lovers.  So says, Roberto Sablayrolles, Puro Café’s concept partner, and friend of owner Rashid Hassouni. No American blends here, but you will find Caffe Panna (espresso with a dollop of Chantilly crème) along with other exotic varieties, and the only Nespresso bar (espresso made with coffee capsules in an innovative machine) in town!

There’s more here than meets the bean. Let executive chef Mike Kiss, and his Mediterranean-inspired menu guide you.  “Be flavorful” and try the prosciutto, fig and parmesan panini or “Be Sweet” and indulge in the Tentazioni made with Nutella, dulce de leche and banana slices. 

Have your morning java in the café lounge by the fireplace, and later sip a Puro Lemonade (made with ginger and mint leaves) on the bamboo-lined sunny outdoor patio.

Puro Café , open daily from 8 am to 8 pm is at 1529 Wisconsin Avenue NW. Tel. 202.787.1937

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Whites It All About

January 16, 2010

Feats of clay in winter white mark a luminous sculpture exhibition at Cross MacKenzie Gallery.  Artist and gallery owner Rebecca Cross welcomed the work of five exceptional ceramicists to Washington Friday night with “Snow White," her first opening reception of the year.

It’s the absence of color that unites the ceramics of Christa Assad, Charles Birnbaum, Jean-Marie Grenier, Jeff Irwin and Maren Kloppmann.  “Taking color away shows what light can do,” says Rebecca as she points to “Sam” and “Lucky,” two glazed earthenware faux wood pieces by Jeff Irwin. Resembling cut branches that coalesce into animals, these multi-layer forms amuse and inform.  More social essay than whimsy, Irwin invites viewers to examine ways we treat other species as we inspect missing body parts from pristine knotty creatures.

Charles Birnbaum takes a baroque approach with his porcelain orgy of sea creatures, corals and carnivorous plants. Imagine the specially designed form-fitting container that safely transported this albino marine life.

Jean-Marie Grenier, shown in the photo with his dance partner, “Twirling Helix." Yes, his description. You see, Jean-Marie was a classically trained dancer and circus performer in France and came to New York 30 years ago to continue his career. A friend told him that “good things can happen when you come to New York, but not dancing.”  With a smile, Jean-Marie explained that his friend was right. So he’s taught clay to move and stretch. And the white? Well, it’s about “form before the finishes,”

Ready for a nap?  There’s “Stacked Pillows IV,” Maren Kloppmann’s fluffy piece in oxidated porcelain.

Rebecca’s shows always include “functional ceramics in a range of prices that enhance your life.”  Christa Assad’s stoneware “Tower Vase” and “Pelican Teapot” will grace any table.

For an artist with a most colorful past (her work is filled with vibrant colors and pattern), Rebecca seems quite serene in her winter wonderland.  One of her favorite mediums, “clay is a soft material to work with, and one of the most fragile, yet it lasts the longest.” Rebecca explains. “All of our history has been informed by finding broken shards.”

Rebecca and her husband, architectural photographer Max MacKenzie, opened Cross MacKenzie Gallery in March 2006, and it remains Washington’s only ceramics gallery.

In addition to ceramics, Rebecca’s art includes painting, tile design as well as costume and set designs for The Kennedy Center and BalletRox, a Boston ballet company that uses the power of dance to break down racial barriers. Rebecca is excited to be designing new costumes for BalletRox’s 10th anniversary celebration of the “Urban Nutcracker” next year.  The most wearable of art, Rebecca’s costumes resemble a series of colorful ceramic platters she once designed for Barney’s.

“Snow White” runs from January 15th through March 5th and is located at 1054 31st Street in Canal Square.  202.333.7970 www.crossmackenzie.com. For more on the art of Rebecca Cross, visit: www.rebeccacross.com

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