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Le Bailliage du Greater Washington, DC Chapter

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A Timeless Washington Holiday at the Willard Hotel

December 7, 2017

By Bill Babash, Vice Chargé de Presse, Bailliage of Greater Washington, D.C.

The Bailliage of Greater Washington celebrated the holidays in classic Washington style at a black-tie gala at the Willard Intercontinental Hotel on December 7, hosted by Maître Hotelier Markus Platzer, General Manager of the Willard.

Just two blocks from the White House, The Willard has been a Washington landmark since 1818, when a hotel first opened in six small houses on Pennsylvania Avenue. It became "The Willard" in 1847 and the current building opened in 1901. Renovations in the mid-1980s restored it to its turn-of-the-century grandeur. The grand lobby is an architecturally stunningly space in any season, but was positively resplendent with traditional holiday decorations. A magnificent Christmas tree, complete with festively wrapped packages underneath, was the focal point, while matching garlands bedecked the upper arches. A silver and blue Hanukiah awaited the Festival of Lights, the nine branches of this traditional candelabrum ready for a candle for each of the eight days of Chanukkah (plus the shamash candle used to light the others). As members and guests arrived, the Vienna-Falls Chorus sang traditional Christmas carols in a lobby alcove, their beautiful voices and perfect harmony filling the air with old-fashioned holiday cheer.

Transported to a bygone era by the Willard's ambiance and fully in the spirit of the season, 64 members and guests gathered in the opulent Crystal Room, where they were welcomed with a glass of Bollinger La Grande Année 2005. This blend of 70% pinot noir and 30% chardonnay grapes is a notable vintage. Particularly warm conditions and September rains that year concentrated the flavor of the grapes, yielding complex fruit elements. Barrel aging adds toasted notes to round out this exquisite Champagne. The passed hors d'oeuvres rose to the occasion: the foie gras truffle was indulgent, wrapped in 62% dark chocolate with a touch of milk chocolate to contrast with the richness of the foie, a surprising and innovative flavor and texture combination that worked exceptionally and unexpectedly well. A crimson lentil and goat cheese bite was crispy and luxurious. The Provençal tomato stuffed with perfectly seasoned Kobe lamb tartare was simply phenomenal.

With appetites whetted, guests were eager for the five-course diner prepared by The Willard's Executive Chef, Maître Rôtisseur Peter Laufer. The opening course was sweet corn chowder with clams and scallops with candied bacon. The seafood was the star of this dish – a beautifully seared jumbo scallop and tender clam rested upon the creamy and light chowder with a strip of sweet and salty candied bacon. Each component was delicious on its own, but as the chef suggested, when tasted together, the dish was transcendent. The beautiful color and fruity palate of Billecart-Salmon Brut Rose, NV Champagne – a favorite of the bailliage – paired beautifully. This blend of chardonnay, pinot meunier, and pinot noir is produced in the village of Mareuil-sur-Aÿ by the sixth generation of the Billecart family.

The second course – Patagonian salmon cured with brown sugar and maple syrup accompanied by cucumber mouse topped with salmon caviar – was a study in balanced flavors. The cure of the salmon offered a hint of sweetness, the cucumber provided acid, and the caviar added saltiness. A bit of habanero pepper in the mousse lent a subtle "zing." The composition was perfect. Alphonse Mellot Sancerre La Moussiere 2016, a was a graceful match for this sophisticated course. The sauvignon blanc grapes for this wine come from four- to 40-year-old vines on southwest facing vineyards in the Sancerre region, overlooking the Loire River, where the Mellot family has been making wine since 1513.

Citrus Riesling sorbet made with just the wine plus lemon and lime zest was refreshing intermezzo. It was elegantly presented on Riesling gelée and garnished with frozen Riesling infused grapes and micro mint. The sauvignon blanc from the previous course nicely accompanied this palate cleanser.

The main course featured one of the best lamb preparations that the bailliage has enjoyed recently. Chef Laufer roasted lamb loin for eight hours at 118°F before finishing it with a quick sear. This "low and slow" technique resulted in perfectly medium-rare lamb that retained all its natural flavor and tenderness. The lamb was served on velvety and earthy porcini silk and topped with crispy, flavorful truffled parsnip straws. A winter squash galette featured the freshness of thinly sliced green and yellow squashes on a thin, crispy pastry crust. The bold, structured style of Domaine de Bonserine "La Sarrasine" 2012 was perfect with this course. This Syrah is from the Côte Rôtie, the northernmost appellation of the Rhône Valley, known for its steep slopes with excellent exposure and some of the best terroir in the Côte du Rhône.

The chef then treated the gathering to a wonderful cheese course featuring examples of outstanding artisanal products from across the country: Grayson Cheddar from the Meadow Creek Dairy in the mountains of southwest Virginia was a classic washed rind style cows' milk cheese, with grassy and nutty notes. Cremont – named for the "Cream of Vermont" – is from a blend of cows' and goats' milk produced by the Vermont Creamery in Websterville, Vermont, in the heart of the Green Mountains. This creamy, nutty cheese is shaped by hand and aged for two weeks to develop its cream-colored rind and luxurious interior. The Blue Jay from Deer Creek Cheese in Sheboygan, Wisconsin is made using a quintuple crème recipe and is infused with crushed juniper berries. The result is a bold blue cheese with nuanced botanical elements. Diners enjoyed two wines with their cheese: The Syrah from the lamb course continued to work beautifully. In addition, the 2016 Jean-Luc Mader Gewürztraminer featured hints of honey and apricot with a bit of residual sugar, making it an outstanding complement to each of the cheeses. The Mader winery focuses on high-quality with small production in the heart of the France's Alsace region.

The Willard's Executive Pastry Chef Jason Jimenez prepared a spectacular holiday dessert. A golden raisin spice cake with burnt caramel mousse captured the warm flavors and smells of the season. Frangelico ice cream; milk chocolate melting powder; and spiced, marinated hazelnuts completed the composition. Domaine des Baumard Quarts de Chaume 2005 was an outstanding match. This wine is 100% chenin blanc, enhanced with the "noble rot" of the botrytis mold that gives these wines their characteristic sweetness. The winemaker harvests the grapes as late as the weather permits, aiming to maximize the botrytis. Domaine des Baumard is on the Layon river, a northwest-flowing tributary of the Loire, and features six different soil types in its 15 acres of vineyard.

Mignardises were a final treat with coffee. Chef Jimenez delighted diners with chocolate dipped almond morsels; mendiants, a chocolate disk with dried fruits and nuts; and chocolate pralines.

At the conclusion of dinner, Chef Laufer introduced his culinary team to the appreciative applause of the assembly. Bailli Judy Mazza presented the chef with a Chaîne ribbon bag to commemorate the event. Maître Hotelier Markus Platzer, the general manager of the Willard, thanked the bailliage for once again celebrating the holidays at this Washington institution.

Superb food and wine, gracious service, the elegance of the Willard at Christmas, and the Chaîne's camaraderie of the table were the perfect combination to fill everyone with festive holiday cheer.

The bailliage is looking forward to its inaugural event of 2018 at Maître Rôtisseur Chef Jon Krinn's Clarity restaurant in Vienna, Virginia on January 22. It's guaranteed to be a memorable evening of innovative, superbly executed cuisine at one of Northern Virginia's finest restaurants. That is quickly followed on February 3 by the first Société Mondiale du Vin event of the year at Maître Rôtisseur Chef Enrique Limardo's Chicken + Whiskey in Washington. Up front, this casual venue serves perhaps DC's best rotisserie chicken and Latin American sides, but the secret is in the back – a whiskey bar featuring over 100 varieties from around the world. Chef Limardo will create snacks just for us as we learn about the Whiskeys of Angel's Envy, a Louisville, Kentucky craft distiller. It promises to be an enlightening, fun, and delicious afternoon.

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