If you’ve strolled down 14th street in the last year or so, you may have come across the sight of a tall, handsome man plucking leaves from trees and nibbling on them. No cause for concern, folks, it’s just Chef Enrique Limardo from Seven Reasons tasting the neighborhood.
“It’s one of my creative processes,” Limardo shrugs and smiles. “I have to taste everything. Sometimes, I get poisoned because I’m too crazy. I walk on the street and start looking for things that can inspire me.”
Everything is an inspiration to an artist like Limardo. But, if you call him an artist, he will deny it, opting instead for the descriptor “restless creative.” With his background in architecture and industrial design, he has an eye for shapes and colors. A simple leaf of a tree may beckon to him. A week later, diners might find that one of their cocktails or dishes includes an infusion of that very leaf.
“It’s not just local,” he says in all seriousness, eyes shining with vivid enthusiasm. “It’s the neighborhood!”
It might have struck me as strange to have a casual conversation about sampling potentially poisonous leaves at one o’clock in the morning but, after the dinner I indulged in, nothing seems out of the ordinary.
The collaborative dinner with Chef Limardo and Winemaker Sebastian Zuccardi (Mendoza, Argentina) is unassumingly described as an 11-course dinner pairing flavors and wines. What the guests experience is a catapult shot far from a standard wine pairing dinner.
Each plate is set with a hardcover book. Flipping through stunning photography of vineyards, artistic plates and wines, I kick myself for not knowing the dinner was based on a book launch between Limardo and Zuccardi, that is until I realize there is no book and no launch. I am simply perusing the evening’s menu.
Frozen roses dangle in front of us as we are invited to clap our hands over them, showering our foie gras dolce de leche with shards of petals. An expertly executed chicken breast adorned with cheddar sauce makes me wish it was appropriate to lick plates in public. Nitro-surprises drive us to giggle like toddlers as our nostrils spew minty smoke and our palates are cleansed. And family photos, passed around by way of a recently-published recipe book, transport me from the construction-ridden streets of DC to the Zuccardi household at the foot of the Andes mountains.
“These are my grandmother’s recipes,” Sebastian Zuccardi explains as he proudly shows us the published book that he compiled along with his siblings. Simple recipes like “lasagna” and “onion tarte” stand in strong juxtaposition with what is being served in front of us – duck confit ravioli, grapes, parmesan cloud. And yet, the two co-exist comfortably, mingling with the heat from the kitchen, the lusty caress of the wines, and the dimly lit room filled with laughter and language. It is transportive – like fine dining in a nonna’s kitchen.
Throughout the evening, Zuccardi paints a picture of a large family strongly rooted in their Italian heritage, while planting new generations of family and vines in Argentina.
But the star storytellers are the wines. Even the most inexperienced of palates can discern the harmony of weather, water and soil in every sip. Before Zuccardi explains it, our taste buds can instinctively feel that the 2017 Zuccardi Fosil, Chardonnay, came from a high altitude, cool weather environment where the soil was almost oceanic; it was that crisp and clear. Each wine is terroir-driven; a perfect expression of place and time.
While everyone sighs and gesticulates over the impressively plated dishes, I find myself being critical. Visually stunning, each element was delicious but, together, there is a sense of imbalance… until the wine pairing. Every sip brings synergy.
“We spent five hours tasting the wines,” Limardo tells me. “We [identified] every single element you can find in the wine and then we tried to pair every single flavor.”
When it comes to pairing wines, the thought is usually about what wine would best elevate the dish for the guest. In this case, the concept of pairing was overturned; wine became the primary ingredient both in and with the dishes.
“If you taste the dish by itself, probably you can feel it’s unbalanced but when you try the wine it’s going to be the missing part of the plate,” Limardo admits. I AHA-ed in triumph. “That’s the idea!” he points at me with glee.
Despite the lateness of the hour, Limardo’s energy radiates. It’s not hard to imagine that this is the chef who changed his entire opening menu – on opening night – out of sheer boredom.
“Now the staff trusts me a lot,” he chuckles. “They understand my process of changing the dishes…it’s gonna be better.”
Co-owner and managing partner Ezequiel Vazquez-Ger is equally fast-paced. When I ask, “Why do so many new things when you’ve barely been open for six months?” his response is, “Why not?”
Limardo, who recorded a rock album amidst his architecture and graphic design and culinary studies, likens his process to that of famous musicians.
“It’s like the Rolling Stones,” he explains. “They know they’re always going to have to perform their greatest hits. But they’re always having new releases.”
For more events at Seven Reasons, visit here.
Seven Reasons: 2208 14th St NW, DC; 202-417-8563; www.sevenreasonsdc.com