Saturday, November 21, 2015

If Dinner Parties Were A Competition - We Won. Again.

Dinner Party at Hotel Antolli
Undisclosed Location in Suburban Maryland, MoCo

Sorry for the self-aggrandizement and tooting of thine own horn you're going to be subject to here, but this one is too good not to tell you about.
I'm the co-founder of a charitable organization called Shooting with Chefs. We have an annual fundraiser for Make-A-Wish Mid-Atlantic and it's, for lack of a better word, unique.
Some of the area's best chefs help my organization create a day-long extravaganza of food, firearms, fun, fire, cigars, bourbon, and fundraising.
This year's event was the most successful to date. We raised over $54,000 in this one-day event that went directly to Make-A-Wish Mid-Atlantic.

We raise these funds through corporate sponsorships and donated auction items. The auction items range from hotel nights and chef's tasting dinners at exclusive restaurants to one-of-a-kind experiences created by world-renowned chefs at the winners' houses.  Last year I was lucky enough to be invited to a dinner where both Bryan Voltaggio and Mike Isabella provided dinner at a friends house. Here's a link to the post about that dinner: How to Win a Dinner Party.
A few smart friends of mine and I decided to pool our resources and bid on a private dinner at one of our houses prepared and served by Bryan Voltaggio, Graeme Ritchie and Dane Nakamura of Voltaggio Family of Restaurants this year and it was a rousing success. Read all about it.
Above is the first course we enjoyed: Turbot with cucumber, lemon, chanterelle mushrooms. 
For the dipping: Whipped lardo with crispy leeks and a chicken liver mousse if memory is serving me correctly. 
Here's another shot of the Turbot.
Corn soup with cotija, okra and guajillo. Smooth, cold, and buttery. 
Nothing like some perfectly seasoned and grilled octopus with fregola, almond, olive and Meyer lemon.
This dish bordered on flavor overload: Tonnarelli Nero, cooked in squid ink, with Maryland Blue Crab, jalapeno and sea urchin. 
Sometimes something is cooked so perfectly it's almost like a new food. Anson Mills Grits with coconut, calamari, shrimp, and the most exquisitely cooked scallop I've ever had.

For those of you who are not afraid of food with a face, here is one of the ultimates: Pig Face. There were two halves for the ten of us. I will not share the metode' with you as it was entrusted to me in confidence and I solemnly swore to only use the recipe for my own benefit moving forward.
Think of the best pork belly you've ever had. A thin layer of crispy skin with about two inches of fat-layered meat. Now think of that with more flavor and a crispiness that has none of the inedible portions that  you sometimes get with roasted pig. This was the bomb. It was served moo shu-style with lettuce wraps and various toppings/condiments. I know I'll never love this way again. (Yes, that's Whitney singing in the background.)
I had range officer duty the next day in Poolesville and Paul Antolli, host for the evening, was nice enough to bring me four slices of white bread and some of this for lunch. It was spectacular then as well.
This was adding insult to injury at this point, but when Graeme comes and drops a dessert in front of you you are compelled to eat it. Every last bit. Black Forest: Chocolate, dry cherry, sweet cream, and cocoa nib. Sounds simple. Looked spectacular and tasted better.
What's even better than some kick-ass cigars after a meal like that? Spending time shooting the breeze and smoking kick-ass cigars around the fire with some of your restaurant heroes who just made you and your friends one of the best meals of your life. We had a great time and the money went to a great cause. Brian is very generous to donate his time, money and effort to several charities including No Kid Hungry, Chefs for Equality, and others.  Bravo chef, and thank you.
And the parting shot! Left to right the lovely Mrs. Cheryl Bolen (AKA Mrs. Smelson), Dane Nakamura, Graeme Ritchie, yours truly, and Bryan Voltaggio.
If you're interested in something like this and want a crack at winning a dinner prepared in your home by Bryan, Mike Isabella, or some as-yet-to-be-named chefs (got a couple of special donors TBA at game time) at Shooting with Chefs IV to be held in June of '16 reach out to me at or
Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Pepita Cantina - Not Just Margaritas

Pepita Cantina
4000 Wilson Blvd.
Arlington, VA 22203
I'm a fan of small restaurants. I find that that when you aim small, you miss small, which means that you're more likely to place your shots in the ten-ring. Pepita exemplifies that philosophy. It's a small place, with a small menu, but it's a bulls-eye.
Start out with the guacamole. Smooth, yet chunky. Home-made thick chips that don't break when you scoop the guac, and plenty of flavor.
Tacos are the main lunch fare here. I tried three including the smoked carnitas, the cabra diabla, and the taco de lengua. The cabra and lengua were my favorites. The tongue (lengua) was super-tender and flavorful, while the cabra, which is goat, had a sophisticated heated finish. No quick burn here, just a smooth, enjoyable heat. The smoked carnitas was good as well, but the other two provided the unique flavors I've come to know, expect, and love from Mike Isabella Concepts.
Here's a shot of the chunky Tuna Ceviche.
The quesadilla was a thing of beauty as well. Great flavors with a lingering heat.
Behind me was the bar, though I was here for lunch so there was no boozing. You can tell Taha Ismail is at work here with his well-laid out tinctures and bitters. He's one of the best in the business and it always shows through. Be sure to grab one of the specialty cocktails if you stop in.

Overall impressions: It's a great place to grab lunch, but I'm sure it's an even better place to go with friends and get your tequila going. WaPo said come for the drinks. I say go for the food. It's good, and it's a good value. You won't be sorry.
If you go, tell them you read about it on Pleasures of the Table!
Thanks for reading.