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Le Bailliage du Greater Washington, DC Chapter

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Celebration at 2941, The Epitome of Spring

April 5, 2016

By Michael McHenry, Bailliage of Greater Washington, D.C.

Members of the Washington bailliage gathered on April 5, 2016, to celebrate spring at 2941 in Falls Church, Virginia, in the “Waterfall Room,” looking out onto three beautifully landscaped waterfalls that provided a background for the evening.

Chef Bertrand Chemel’s menu was spectacular, blending fresh seasonal and regional ingredients with bright presentations and a mix of textures. Chef Chemel masterfully integrated classic and modern culinary techniques as well as modern versions of traditional dishes to produce a masterpiece of menu design, technique, and execution. In addition to extensive use of spring ingredients, Chef Chemel’s combinations of colors, flavors, and textures in his dishes and presentations was outstanding, both within individual courses and across the menu as a whole.

As guests arrived for a welcoming glass of champagne, Chef Chemel presented four appetizers as a hint of what was to come—a tuna tartar served in a delicate sesame tuile cone, an angelic corn “cupcake” topped with whipped goat cheese, a beef short-rib “pastrami” slider on a brioche bun, and an asparagus roll of pencil-thin asparagus with mint, basil, lemon, and bocconcini in an Asian wrapper—Chef Chemel’s variation on a Vietnamese spring roll.

The first course was a wild striped bass crudo, served with a garnish of shaved radish, pea shoots, and a black bean hummus with its color deepened by the addition of a touch of squid ink. This was served with a Bodega Ulacia Blanco (2013), Getarako Txakolina, Spain, which added a crisp, mineral flavor that enhanced the flavor of the striped bass.

Second course was an egg cassoulette—a poached egg on a bed of rosemary and spinach cream, asparagus, fiddlehead ferns, and morels. The dish had a rich, “woodsy” aroma and flavor from the fiddleheads and morels. Pairing wines with asparagus is difficult, but the accompanying wine, a Pradio Friuli Grave Friulano Giulia (2008), Italy, worked well—a full body, and enough fruit to play against and complement the strong flavors of the asparagus, fiddleheads, and morels.

After the richness of the second course, the third course, a steamed black sea bass served with heirloom potatoes, a spring onion fondue, lobster sauce, and a lemon thyme garnish, was a fragrant and light counterpoint. Chef Chemel added pattypan squash as another springtime touch. A Sauvignon, Cantina Terlan Quartz, Terlano, Italy (2010), matched the dish well and was another lighter touch.

The fourth course—a lamb navarin with fennel ravioli and ramps, was complex and masterful, bringing together the evening’s themes. Traditionally a dish prepared with winter vegetables, Chef Chemel transformed it into a spring dish by serving it with a lighter sauce, garnished with baby carrots and charred ramps. The fennel ravioli were a great counterpoint, with a fennel fondue filling that had a complex and subtle flavor. Chef Chemel used two different preparations for the lamb, slowly braising the lower shoulder, which also formed the basis for the sauce, while curing, rolling, and thinly slicing the lightly cooked top shoulder to garnish the rich brown flavors of the navarin. The navarin was paired with a Shiraz/Cabernet Sauvignon blend, Two Hands The Bull and the Bear, (2003) Barossa Valley, Australia, which had the full flavor of a cabernet with a lighter body that matched the lighter body of Chef Chemel’s spring navarin.

Dessert, designed by pastry chef Caitlin Dysart, was a strawberry vacherin with coconut ice cream and strawberry sorbet, topped with a chiffonade of Thai basil, garnished with small dots of meringue. This beautiful and flavorful dessert was served with a 2015 Giacomo Bologna Braida Brachetto d’Acqui DOCG, Piedmont, Italy, that was slightly “pettillant” and fruity with strawberry undertones. This unusual wine was a surprising pairing that worked well to complement the strawberry flavors in the vacherin.

Chef Chemel’s menu was a real celebration of spring ingredients and a masterful combination of modern and classical dishes and techniques. Chef Dysart contributed not only to the dessert course but to complex preparations (like the sesame tuiles and the corn cupcakes) for the appetizers and throughout the meal. The menu, which included items with a multi-day preparation schedule, also showed dedication of time and resources by Chef Chemel and his entire team for the preparation for this dinner. Attendees at this intimate dinner included confreres from as far away as Calgary, Canada.

Those of us who had the pleasure of enjoying this dinner are deeply appreciative—well done!

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