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Le Bailliage du Greater Washington, DC Chapter

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Clear Mastery at "Clarity"

January 22, 2018

By Michael McHenry, Vice Conseiller Gastronomique, Bailliage of Greater Washington, D.C.

Members of the Bailliage of Greater Washington gathered the evening of January 22, 2018 at Chef Jon Krinn's "Clarity" restaurant in Vienna, Virginia, for an updated tasting of Chef Krinn's skills. Chef Krinn, who previously cooked for the Chaîne at 2941, the restaurant that he opened in Falls Church, Virginia, in 2001, opened Clarity in 2015 to critical acclaim. The dinner that lucky attendees enjoyed on the Chaîne's first visit to Clarity demonstrated the breadth and depth of his mastery of technique and his ability to take the finest ingredients to new levels. Flavors, textures, and presentations were all, quite simply, spectacular.

One of the unique elements of this dinner is that Chef Krinn cooked or finished most of the dishes himself, and attendees were able to watch him work as he put the final touches on the plates before they were served. The dinner was held in a recently opened expansion of Clarity, and Chef Krinn's attention to culinary detail was matched by the subtle touches in the design and architecture of the new space.

As is customary in the Bailliage, the evening began with a Champagne reception as members and guests arrived. Hors d'oeuvres included a spoonful of bright red and perfectly fresh tuna tartare and tuna crudo and a skewer of smoked shrimp and eggplant. Chef Krinn also served slices of a foie gras torchon on crostini, garnished with a pickled cherry, which cut the richness of the beautifully flavored foie gras. The final hors d'oeuvre was a small glass of a rich chestnut soup. In his description and discussion of the hors d'ouvres, Chef Krinn explained that even though the soup looked creamy and had a light texture, the key to its preparation was to cook the chestnuts and then to puree them in a high-speed blender to incorporate as much air as possible into the puree. The result was a light, smooth soup with pure chestnut flavor. The hors d'oeuvres were served with glasses of Gonay-Medeville Brut Champagne, NV, full-bodied, rich, and crisp Champagne from vineyards near Epernay in the Champagne region of France.

Once the group was seated in an intimate private dining space lined with floor-to-ceiling wine racks, Chef Krinn moved on the first course—New England diver scallops that had been lightly smoked in-house before being perfectly seared and served on a bed of apple-miso marmalade and garnished with Osetra caviar. This was a complex combination of flavors and textures—the scallops were perfectly cooked but with a soft texture, the marmalade provided a touch of sweetness that complemented the flavors from the smoking and searing of the scallops, and the caviar gave a touch of saltiness and contrast with the color of the seared scallops. Accompanying this course was a Didier Dagueneau Pouilly-Fume "Pur Sang" 2014, a sauvignon blanc from a small vineyard in the Loire, with strong fruit and herb accents that went beautifully with the scallops.

The second course was a crispy-skinned Mediterranean branzino braised in a consommé flavored with forest mushrooms and Napa cabbage. The fish was served on a bed of citrus spaghetti squash with a touch of a red pepper relish. The dish was subtly flavored—the flavors of the fish absorbed flavors from the consommé, and the spaghetti squash added texture. In discussing this course, Chef Krinn said that he placed special priority on the role of vegetables in creating a dish, providing flavors and presentation. This course, with the spaghetti squash and the mushroom and cabbage consommé, clearly reflected this approach. The wine served with this course was a Hubert Lamy Chassagne-Montrachet "Le Concis du Champs" 2013, a Chardonnay from the Côte du Beaune in Burgundy. This wine had floral and herbal accents as well as some mineral flavor from the vineyard's limestone soil. There was just a touch of oakiness from about a year of barrel aging before bottling.

A third course of cavatelli was served with a lamb ragu seasoned with aged balsamic vinegar and garnished with grated two-year-aged Parmesano Reggiano. Chef Krinn explained that the lamb was from Elysian Farms in Wayneburg, Pennsylvania (near Pittsburg), which consulted with three-Michelin-star Chef Thomas Keller to develop a program to produce premium farm-raised, grass-fed lamb. For this dish, Chef Krinn used ground lamb shoulder to produce a light sauce that still contained the flavors of the lamb; this was tossed with house-made cavatelli (similar to gnocchi, but using wheat flour instead of potato). The result was flavorful but light, with a hint of spice from the seasoning. With this course, the wine served was Domaine Duroché Gevrey Chambertin 2015, a Cote de Nuits from Burgundy. This wine was produced from pinot noir grapes, giving it deep color, flavor, and aroma and a hint of mineral flavor from the limestone soil where it was produced.

Finally, Chef Krinn produced a fourth course of Canadian elk roasted with a spice crust, with a red wine sauce that had been subtly seasoned with a touch of bittersweet chocolate. The elk was beautifully cooked to a light medium-rare and was melt-in-your-mouth tender; the sauce was dark and rich, and the chocolate was more of a seasoning that helped to give the sauce some additional bitterness, some sweetness, and a touch of "umami." The elk was served on a bed of red cabbage braised with balsamic vinegar, giving a little more sweetness and a little more acid to balance the hint of sweetness from the chocolate in the sauce. In his comments on this course, Chef Krinn spoke about his focus on premium ingredients—he has been able to establish contacts with producers all over the country (and sometimes beyond) and he said that he gets so many premium ingredients shipped to Clarity that sometimes the kitchen "looks like a FedEx store." The search for quality showed—the elk was flavorful, tender, and delicious. The wine with this course was an excellent pairing—a Domaine Francoise Mayard Chateauneuf du Pape "Cuvée Alex" 2015, from a vineyard in the heart of Chateauneuf du Pape in the southern Rhone Valley. This wine was a blend of grenache (65%), syrah (15%), mourvèdre (15%), and cinsault (5%) grapes, with each grape contributing a different element—the grenache providing fruitiness and body, the syrah providing savory and spice flavors, and the mourvèdre giving floral notes, more body, and tannins. The result was an excellent wine that went exceptionally well with the elk and its sauce. The overall combination of the elk dish and the wine partnered with it was one of the highlights of the evening.

Finally, dessert! Pastry Chef Liese Armstrong prepared an apple apricot caramel sabayon, with candied pistachios and ginger cookies, served with a bourbon-caramel sauce. As with all of the savory courses, Clarity produced surprises—an apple ring cooked sous-vide that emphasized its flavor and texture, soft ginger cookies, and pistachios candied after tossing them with sugar and vodka. The sabayon was light, the fresh apple and a piece of dried apricot provided sweetness, the pistachios provided "crunch," and the ginger cookies added spice. A Domaine des Baumard Quarts de Chaume 2005 "Vendage Tardive" from the heart of the Anjou (Loire) region accompanied, produced from chenin blanc grapes allowed to ripen and remain on the vine so that sugars concentrate and develop botrytis, which will further add to the sweetness and flavors to produce excellent dessert wines.

One important element of the evening was "off the menu"—as part of the evening's socializing, during the dinner Bailli Judy Mazza had designated attendees to shift between courses to a new seat and new set of dining partners. This increased opportunities to meet and welcome new members and guests, and it increased the number of conversation partners and topics.

Also, the group saluted the birthday of our Vice Conseiller Culinaire François Dionot, who was accompanied to the dinner by his wife, Patrice; his daughter Clarice; and her husband Ryan Gutman.

Chef Jon Krinn opened Clarity as a restaurant that would use premium ingredients, incorporate modern technology into a solid base of French technique, and be a fine-dining establishment that also had the feel of a neighborhood restaurant, and he has succeeded. Our dinner was intimate, with spectacular dishes and presentations, great wine pairings, and a lot of fun—Chef Krinn and his team deserve the accolades that they have received since Clarity opened, and we were fortunate to have been able to enjoy the results of his expertise and work.

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