From plant-based alternatives to salty, savory enhancements, here’s what’s hot and trending in D.C.’s dining scene this month.
Mushrooms, as a vegetable and protein substitute, are quickly becoming a go-to for health-conscious diners. Predicted to be the most popular produce this year according to the National Restaurant Association’s annual What’s Hot Culinary Forecast, they feature prominently at gluten-free and sustainability-focused restaurant The Little Beet Table. Zach Bondy, chef de cuisine of the Chevy Chase-based restaurant, thinks its appeal is largely due to its flexibility as an ingredient.
“[Mushrooms have] versatility and texture,” Bondy says. “The flavor profile they bring is totally unique to any sort of a root vegetable, legume or fungus.”
The mushroom’s umami flavor is yet another reason the fungus has become a mainstay on the restaurant’s menu. You’ll find it in a myriad of dishes, ranging from more traditional presentations like a mushroom black bean burger to the creatively prepared: as a Bolognese in cavatelli, incorporated into a crispy spirulina rice dish and as mushroom “bacon” on Korean rice cakes. For Bondy, the mushroom bacon is “one of the things that definitely makes us unique.” To achieve the crunchy, bacon-like texture, he uses maitake.
“That mushroom is really unique because the edges of it are very dry. We shred it with our hands and then toss it into a blend of tamari and seasoning. Then we bake it at zero humidity, and it comes out like that glossy, beautiful bacon that crunches.”
Bondy notes that mushrooms are so prevalent on the menu because they are “giving something somebody’s familiar [with], but challenging them to experience something new” by presenting a recognizable ingredient in ways diners have never seen before.
The Little Beet Table: 5471 Wisconsin Ave. Chevy Chase, MD; www.thelittlebeettable.com/chevychase
The use of smoked flavor profiles is rising, from tea and cocktails to butter and more. The depth and complexity of tastes derived from this cooking technique can be found in a variety of cocktails and dishes. Vegetable-forward restaurant Fancy Radish on H Street has become known for incorporating smoked ingredients into its menu.
“Smoking is one of our key flavors,” co-chef and co-owner Rich Landau says. “We’re not just trying to put out hippy-dippy vegetarian food. We’re really doing some deep-flavored cooking.”
From tofu to beets to tamari, Landau works with a number of different textures and wood combinations to achieve a delicate balance of flavor. The restaurant’s eponymous dish, Fancy Radishes, incorporates braised green meat radishes, yuzu avocado, shiso and smoked tamari with the vision to “change the whole flavor profile of a dish to make it something more than that go-to reference you think of when you eat it.” With this dish, Landau not only creates a vegetable sushi but transforms the concept of it.
“We tried smoking the tamari in our cold box, and it changed everything. It didn’t just give you smoked soy sauce. It changed the flavor, even the mouthfeel, of it [and] just became something so much more incredible.”
The addition of smoke doesn’t stop at the dinner menu. Kate Jacoby, Landau’s co-chef, co-owner and wife, also makes sure to incorporate it thoughtfully into the cocktail program and dessert menu.
“Smoky flavors are a big part of what Rich has done. It made sense to bring them into the bar and dessert in ways that are tasteful.”
Fancy Radish: 600 H St. NE, DC; www.fancyradishdc.com
Roe is All The Rage
From decadent dishes paired with uni to an unexpected dessert garnish – the intense, savory flavors of caviar and roe are being featured in less conventional ways across many D.C. restaurants. A staple in Southern Italian and Sardinian cuisine, bottarga is blended into a number of dishes at Capitol Riverfront newcomer Maialino Mare. Executive Chef Rose Noel uses the salted, cured roe as an enhancement to the Roman trattoria’s range of coastal-inspired plates.
“We use it as a way to highlight other flavors, especially in dishes such as pasta, which can be so carte blanche,” she says. “Bottarga adds a good flavor to the pasta and shows that flavor really well. It’s very accessible.”
In addition to dinner plates, bottarga finds a place on the breakfast and brunch menus via Noel’s uova con bottarga: soft scrambled eggs and pecorino topped with cured mullet roe. Sometimes it’s whipped in with butter and added into pastas.
“Bottarga is great to work with. It has a slightly fishy flavor with a texture like butter. It melts into whatever you put it on.”
So what’s the reception been like from diners so far?
“For those guests who already know what bottarga is, it’s been amazing, and they are more than happy to have it whatever way they can,” Noel says excitedly. “For the guests who are trying it for the first time, it has been very eye-opening. Now they want bottarga on everything, too!”
Maialino Mare: 221 Tingey St. SE, DC; www.maialinomare.com