North America Dispatch #10: NOVA Wine-Geek Meet-Up (Plus: Eartha "Goes HAL")
Lancaster County, Pennsylvania
I scored a great slice of whole-wheat shoofly pie at an organic roadside farmstand on my way south from Pennsylvania Dutch Country. Maple Arch Farm is along Route 10 between Parkesburg and Cochranville, Pennsylvania; (610) 593-7105. They’re open May through October (except Sundays).
Thus fortified, I headed down to Our Nation’s Capital. But on the way, I had a terrifying problem with Eartha, my GPS navigation assistant. Hear my podcast: MP3 file. If you doubt the story, go to Google Maps and plug in “Thankless Lane, Rising Sun, MD,” and you’ll see that this is indeed where the scenic route (Route 273, marked “scenic” in maps and atlases) starts diverging from Route 95 as one leaves Lancaster county headed toward DC.
Wine Geek Meet-up
Having extricated myself from my high-tech nightmare, I made it to DC just in time to throw on a sport jacket and have a blow-out dinner with a couple of friends (who’d never met each other). Robert Mitchell is a former Navy SEAL (he currently “works for the Army mumble mumble mumble project management mumble mumble”) and food/wine aesthete, and Dave Sit is a television executive, playwright, ping-pong champion, crack chef (both French, having studied with Paul Bocuse, and Chinese, having been born in Canton), and food/wine aesthete (his palate and encyclopedic mental database are renowned among collectors). You’ve probably noticed the point where we all intersect.
What I like about both is that while they have somewhat intimidating credentials in their real-life occupations, and have intimidating knowledge and experience in food and wine, there’s not an iota of snobbery between the two of them. They just love and appreciate great stuff, and live to share/analyze/discuss it with kindred spirits.
The photos will give you the idea:
Rob (seeking absolution from a morsel of tender short rib).
We hit a newish wine bar/restaurant called Tallula (2761 Washington Boulevard, Arlington, Virginia; 703-778-5051), and it was terrific. It is a wine store, wine bar, and restaurant, and while the store isn’t bargain-priced, the café and restaurant hardly mark up the wines (those last five words are heady music to the ears of any wine geek). Dave and I met for a drink before, and we ordered a slew of Amuse Yourselfs, micro-tapas that are lots of fun to rip through along with wines by the glass. We tried these:
Risotto fritter (roasted corn and scallion, romesco sauce)
Crispy and soulful.
Duck spring roll (confit leg, chipotle chili, orange gastrique)
Well fried, and a wonderful unique flavor mélange, not at all fussy.
Steak tartare (Dijon mustard, capers, Parmesan cheese tuile)
Terrific; worth a visit just for this.
Lobster roll (tarragon aioli, brioche roll)
Good, but a bit blah.
Wild mushroom strudel
Clever and delicious.
Heirloom tomato salad
Fine but unmemorable.
Beer-battered corn dog (chorizo sausage, whole-grain mustard)
Contrived and disastrous; dry and weird.
For entrées, Dave and I ordered short ribs (with creamy cheddar grits and tomato salsa) (left) and house-smoked beef tenderloin (with duck-fat fried potatoes, black truffle, glazed carrots, Zinfandel reduction) (middle); then Robert asked for grilled saddle of venison (with chanterelle mushrooms, napa cabbage, cornbread, and ancho-Syrah reduction) (right). Dave and I were a bit startled. Three red-meat dishes … an ordering faux pas? No. Robert had nailed it; these were exactly the right things to get, and the carnivorous riches went beautifully with wine.
The wine list is excellent, atmosphere is high-end but convivial and laid back, prices are fine for the value, and service is good (one problem: Our waiter only somewhat grudgingly took away a patently bad bottle, which left us miffed, plus left the restaurant out the cost of the bottle, a lose-lose outcome). I’d recommend this place quite strongly. But I need to single out the short ribs, which were fantastic and interesting. The grits were quite firm and polenta-like, ribboned with soulful tomato sauce and dosed up with lots of cumin, evocative of Texas tamales—a beautiful and ingenious backdrop for the exquisitely tender short ribs. Unforgettable!
Join us for the meal via some audio snippets (notice the increasingly slurred speech … and buzzy background crowd—as the meal proceeds):
MP3 file #3
|App talk … plus the bittersweet phenomenon of “letting go.”
MP3 file #4
|Left brain wine geek/right brain wine geek.
MP3 file #8
|Dave’s Childhood in Canton … and the Butter Story.
MP3 file #9
|Heirloom tomatoes are overrated (also: the Dave Matthews fruit).
MP3 file #10
|Chateau Palmer is like baseball player Dave Kingman … and why is Jim recording our meal?
MP3 file #11
|Rob’s Zinfandel rant and Dave’s bizarre winemaker footware anecdote.
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