Another Mardi Gras has gone by but not without making a post Mardi Gras mention about several events happening recently.
First, with tribute to a Southern cuisine-mix and Mardi Gras, about which I’ve just hosted 2 fun dinners for friends. The first being for my Book Group two Tuesdays ago after my birthday weekend. To “prepare” 😉 Peter and I experienced the new Honeysuckle restaurant by Chef Hamilton Johnson because he features the unusual pairing of Nordic and Southern cuisine, and does it exceptionally well.
The restaurant is in the former location of Vidalia a long-time DC classic. It’s chef was Chef Johnson’s mentor, so stands to reason he would follow suit, but in his own way. You still have to go downstairs to get to the restaurant but from the outside, you’re not sure it’s the restaurant or so upscale with graffiti-style murals of skulls and bones by Rick Bach on a bold red backdrop. The simple Honeysuckle name is on the outside black canopy entrance. The name doesn’t seem to jive with the theme. However, if you think about it, honeysuckle is one of the sweetest-smelling and hardiest flowering-vines in the South — one of my favorites. Honeysuckle also grows in Finland and is the main ingredient of one of their famous teas. In this case, the complexity of the sweet and flowery balances the hard-edge juxtaposition with the food and décor, maybe also just like the chef with his many tattoos. Chef Johnson is a master of combining complete opposites with creative, cooking artistry.
The restaurant interior is a mix of more murals on the ceiling, a vermilion colored back-lit bar with rotating images of Finland on a large TV screen. Dining areas and rooms are separated by themed rock stars with their large-scale portraits commanding a presence as some of Chef Johnson’s favorite performers. We ate in the Freddie Mercury elevated area. It was a gorgeous setting with shimmery white-capiz wallcovering that I recognized from Maya Romanoff. Mercury was wearing a bunch of bananas as a headdress, which seemed to downplay the elegance in a self-deprecating and appreciative way.
I had mentioned to our waiter that it was my birthday and part of the reason for attending was to experience the unusual Nordic / Southern pairing. Being from New Orleans and that I’ll be going on a Scandinavian cruise to visit my Danish heritage, experiencing the combination was something I could appreciate. I’m not sure if this is how we received a complementary order of sweet breads from the chef. It’s not something I would have ordered but was the most delicious thing!
The winter vegetable salad of pistachio, prune, meyer lemon, buttermilk, tarragon, buckwheat on butter lettuce served on top of the Icelandic dressing was something I semi-replicated for my book group dinner, with the addition of Southern grapefruit, mandarin orange segments, walnuts and cranberried goat cheese crumbles. It was delicious and I’ll do it again and again. (Good tip: put the dressing on the bottom to prepare in advance without wilting the lettuce)
Peter had the fois gras to start and the slow roasted Icelandic cod, rutabaga, chicken crackling, smoked roe, malted veloute. The seared sea scallops, pig tail tortellini, squash fondue, coffee-bacon jam, parmesan was initially calling my name but the waiter talked me into their pork special, which I am not sure is currently the same on their menu as the dulse rubbed pork tenderloin, cipollini, melted parsnip, roasted apple, kale, as mine had Icelandic dried seaweed. I won out with mine, which was rich and abundant. We finished by sharing the butterscotch panna cotta, oats, skyr creme fraiche, rum raisin, toffee meringue dessert, which was soft, light and divine! This is one restaurant where we will be returning, especially as the menu changes and our waiter informed us intends on being even more daring with the Nordic-Southern pairings.
Then second Mardi Gras mention was a combination of this Southern theme with Nordic style to pay tribute to the book we read, God’s Daughter, Vikings of the New World Saga Book 1 by Heather Day Gilbert. Since I didn’t take pictures during my book group dinner, I replicated afterwards (see some above as well as below). I will be making some of the same dishes on Mardi Gras evening to celebrate our good friend, Steve’s birthday. Most years his birthday falls on Ash Wednesday or during Lent and he can never fully celebrate while giving up all drinking and sweets during this time. We thought the timing worth acknowledging with a dinner for the many times we’ve been treated.
Instead of the Nordic theme, this second dinner was full on New Orleans. However, unlike the typical seafood gumbo, like I did for the ladies, or with chicken and andouille sausage, this gumbo was made with scallops (Steve’s favorite and happens to be mine as well) from Peter’s New York Times recipes. Scallops are more New England than they are southern but this was a nice twist on a classic New Orleans recipe. Mark Bittman does a great job of simply making this recipe work. I also replicated the Southern beet salad.
We had our 4th King Cake of the season from Best Buns. It is scrumptious with an almond base, traditional frosting and colored sprinkles and unlike others, not dry at all. Getting one from Calludah’s, which is where I would have ordered would have cost over 4 times as much, so not worth it when this is local and extremely good.
I was going to make a six layer doberge cake but realizing the work, we had scouted a local one at Del Frisco’s for my birthday and it was well worth the venture. However, we found a small chocolate one for Steve instead. Although 3 layers, it is just the right size from Wegman’s, which is where we’ve started doing most of our shopping with savings.
Now that we’re starting the Lenten season, it’s nice to reflect back on the Mardi Gras abundance this year with many reasons to celebrate — with our own creative takes on ways to enjoy.
I’ll end with a pretty perfect pairing of Mardi Gras transitioning to the reflective time of Lent, sacrifice and service for others. Cleland Powell III, who is the vice president of Iberia Bank in New Orleans, was chosen as the artist for the annual 2017 Rex Proclamation (King of Carnival poster, which calls for all to participate in Mardi Gras). He is a self-taught painter and was selected for his talent. Normally, the artist would be paid 10 percent of poster sales for such an honor. According to The New Orleans Advocate, Powell is donating his profits to the Pro Bono Publico Foundation, the Rex foundation that benefits the city, especially its public schools. The article also mentions, his work is in good company. Previous proclamation artists include Dawn DeDeaux, Mignon Faget, Randolph Tucker Fitz-Hugh, Tony Green, George Schmidt, Jean Seidenberg and Tim Trapolin.
I still wear my Mignon Faget giraffe necklace from when I was in high school and Tony Green happened to have his studio across from my parents’ condo before they sold it to new owners who then sold it to “Brangelina.”