Post Mardi Gras Mention

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” šŸ˜‰ 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.

Honeysuckle-logo-food_AIE

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 dĆ©cor, maybe also just like the chef with his many tattoos. Chef Johnson is a master of combining complete opposites with creative, cooking artistry.

Chef Hamilton Johnson profile_AIE

This photo greets you at the bottom of the stairs

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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. Freddie Mercury Room Honeysuckle_AIE

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!

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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)

Book Group Dinner version of Scandinavian_Southern style_AIE

My Book Group Dinner version of Scandinavian + Southern style – Mardi Gras colored flowers with Fleur-de-lis Iris & dragonflies connected to Norse goddes Freya

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Winter Beet Salad version

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.

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Icelandic Cod

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Luscious panna cotta for dessert

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.

Scandinavian Style_Creole Seafood Gumbo_AIE

Scandinavian Style + Creole Seafood Gumbo

2 Types of King Cake - traditional & Danish_AIE

2 Types of King Cake – traditional & Danish

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.

Scallop Gumbo_Art Is Everywhere

Scallop Gumbo. This was delicious and maybe even better than the previous.

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.

Del Friscos Lemon Doberge_AIE

Del Friscos Lemon Doberge Cake

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Personal Chocolate Cake

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Making Birthday Wishes

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.

Picture perfect birthday day_AIE

Picture perfect birthday day

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.

Rex Proclamation via The New Orleans Advocate_AIE

Rex Proclamation via The New Orleans Advocate

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.”

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Painted Cakes & CityZen

I wish I was a food writer so I could describe the most incredibly delectable meal my husband and I experienced at CityZen at the Mandarin Hotel. It was pure food-as-art perfection, even with the sea urchin, which I can happily say I’ve braved that but won’t be having again. What Chef Eric Ziebold did with it was extraordinary, serving it with a garlic flavored flan that was divine, but even though it looked cooked, the texture was so slimy that I thought I had eaten something on the Survivor challenge and passed. When discussing this with our waitress, it was confirmed that we should have chopped it up and mixed it in with the flan. Well, now I know but no next time. Despite this, the entire dining experience was exceptional from ambiance, to delicious food and wine pairings, to outstanding wait staff and service to even the music. I couldn’t believe they were playing Raidohead, a band Peter and I find so personal we just looked at each other and toasted. Someone in the kitchen really knows their food and music and had a great iPod playlist for us all to enjoy.

We had taken our son, Piers, to Sou’Wester, Ziebold’s other restaurant to celebrate his 21st birthday. It was kind of surreal that he could order a cocktail with us. The food was good there too but being from New Orleans, I’m a pretty big critic regarding “Southern” food and it didn’t quite past muster with me. Granted they were only a week old at the time and Ziebold’s Midwestern roots may have explained a lot. We could see CityZen through the glass doorway, since the two restaurants shared the same restroom facilities. We had been longing to go there for a while.

We finally dined there this past Friday. When we arrived a signed birthday card from the chef and all the staff was waiting for me at the table, which happened to be the best seat in the house — around the corner from the main dining room, in the wine alcove. There were only a few other parties so it was pretty private. The birthday card was a nice touch because it wasn’t over the top or embarrassing. We had a choice of the Tasting Menu or the A la Carte Dinner Menu. It was a hard choice and honestly that sea urchin for the first course almost made me choose the other side, but I’m so glad we went with the Tasting Menu and the Wine Pairing — a pretty penny — almost as much as Citronelle where we celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary and we figured we were spending about $100 an hour! Ouch, but both of these are so worth it. If you have an opportunity to celebrate a special occasion, please consider CityZen, for it will be one of those meals you will always remember. No wonder, CityZen never fails to have the highest rating on the annual restaurant guide and is considered one of the best dining experiences in the entire DC area. I wholeheartedly agree.

cityzen-restaurant -- our table in the corner

When we left, they had the Tasting Menu and Wine Pairing lists packaged for me in an envelope so I can always remember. They must have known I treasure these things for the memories they bring.

This has been a three day unexpected blitz of a birthday. My drinking buddy girlfriends took me out Thursday at Cheestique. A fun neighborhood place we like, with it’s hip bar area in the back, beyond the deli style cheese case and the gourmet shop in front. Luckily, my friend Patsie got confused and thought my birthday was on the 18th (hey, this happens when you get older, we just toasted to it), and Peter and I went out Friday with good friends before having a fabulous meal, and then out again for lower-key, comfort food with more friends on Saturday. I view these get-togethers as bountiful presents, enhancing my extended celebration. Honestly, if I didn’t have such great friends and a loving husband and family, I probably would have forgotten my birthday but I guess it’s worth celebrating the big ones every five years.

Birthday Flowers & Cards. Art Is Everywhere blog

Coincidentally, as I was going through mounds of papers to throw away, before my business group descended upon my house last Thursday, I came across this beautiful painted cake by Kendall. I looked at the name again, and realized I had been saving this clipping for over a year and Kendall is my good friend, Liza’s cousin. I’ll have to try one of her cakes, although this one looks too good to eat, like ruining a Chagall masterpiece.

Cakes by Kendall. Photo by Renee Comet for the Washington Post

I should mention a bit of icing that topped off my birthday. Since I’m going backwards in my description, the day started with a blog posting by Jennifer Sergent in DC by Design about my business group meeting and Casart coverings. Many thanks, Jennifer, that was a great post! I’ll be writing about this on Wednesday.