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Le Bailliage du Greater Washington, DC Chapter

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An Unforgettable Valentine's Day Celebration

February 16, 2011

By Judith Mazza, Chargée de Presse, Bailliage of Greater Washington, D.C.

The Bailliage of Greater Washington, D.C. wanted to be sure to "spread the love" to our members with a Valentine's week dinner that would not be soon forgotten. We turned to one of America's greatest masters of cuisine, Michel Richard, and his Executive Chef at Citronelle, David DeShaies. A tasting committee of five met a week before the event at Citronelle for a tasting dinner to pair the wines. Often there is some "tweaking" that is done to the menu at a tasting dinner, but here, the only request we made was to please add the outstanding oyster shooter to the reception menu, this was one hors d'oeuvres we wanted to be sure out members tasted. There were no further modifications, as Chef DeShaies had created something quite special and off-menu for us.

There are times that a written menu, in its elegant descriptions, tries to elevate the mundane to the spectacular. This menu was quite the opposite. What in writing appeared to be simple and pedestrian, was in fact elegant, unbelievably delicious, and brought to the highest level. We began with a reception with four amazing hors d'oeuvres; oyster shooters, smoked salmon cupcakes, eel carpaccio and escargot cromesquis. Each one was superb, and all were enjoyed with 2000 Charles Heidsieck champagne. There was a great spirit of camaraderie that began during the reception and continued throughout the rest of the evening.  Xiangnan and Bailli Paul Haar facilitated introductions, greeting friends old and new.

We made our way to the private dining room which was elegantly set, awaiting our arrival. No sooner were we seated than Michel Richard enthusiastically entered the room. As he greeted Bailli Paul Haar, the joy he has in his craft was infectious and evident to all.  Michel warmly welcomed us to his flagship restaurant and Bailli Paul Haar presented him with a beautiful ceramic Chaîne plate.  Michel knew many of those attending the dinner and made a point to warmly greet each. He was introduced to Chevalier Thomas Walsh and his wife, Kendall Houghton, who recently transferred to Washington from the Paris Bailliage. Bailli Paul Haar reminisced to the assembled group that, in his role as a Michel's U.S. immigration attorney, the USCIS officer at Michel's U.S. citizenship interview told Michel that she couldn't wait to meet him in person since, in the photograph taken when he applied for U.S. permanent residence many years ago "he looked like Jesus Christ".  Maître D' Jean Jacques Retourne, who has been with Chef Richard since the 1970's warmly recalled that Chef Richard was biblically handsome with flowing blond hair. It was clear that there was much affection in the room, perfect for a Valentine's week dinner.

We were seated and were soon enjoying the best split pea soup one could imagine, poured over a disk of sautéed leeks and thinly sliced Cotechino sausage. The soup-warmed and now unctuous sausage paired beautifully with the 2009 Chateau Doisy Daene Bordeaux Blanc Sec.

While awaiting the second course, we took the opportunity to introduce guests, including Maître Hôtelier Denny Pierce, who joined us from the Richmond Bailliage, and Dany Westerband who completed and submitted his application for Chaîne membership that very evening. Others had adult children joining them for the evening including Vice Echanson Ellen Kirsh, Vice Conseiller Gastronomique Steve Lustig and his lovely wife Jessie; and Chevalier Reginald Laurent and his lovely wife, Councilwoman Nancy Navarro.

The second course of butter poached Maine lobster in a chestnut sauce drew sighs of contentment as we enjoyed the 2003 Domaine Bzikot Puligny-Montrachet. While we awaited the third course, Bailli Paul Haar stood and asked Vice Conseiller Gastronomique Steve Lustig, Vice Conseiller Culinaire Chef Francois Dionot and Argentier David Burka to join him. He presented each with beautiful Chaîne cufflinks, as a small token of the appreciation for their diligent work and contributions to the Washington, D.C. Bailliage.

Perhaps the most interesting course of the evening was served next, the monk fish braised in oxtail carrot jus adorned by a crispy garnish of carrots. Once again a somewhat common ingredient was raised to new heights, and was magnificently paired with the 2005 Pierre Andre Aloxe-Corton. Our final savory course followed, which was the Venison a La Royal, paired with the 2000 La Chapelle de la Mission Haut-Brion. The venison was tender and perfectly prepared. Vice Echanson Ellen Kirsh was asked to speak, and discussed the selected wines and the rationale for the pairing each with the various courses. The fifth and final course, a Pear Vacherin was enjoyed with the 2007 Muscat de Beaumes de Venise, Domaine de Durban. The Vacherin was filled with diced poached pear, pear ice cream and sat on a pool of warm chocolate.

The service was impeccable throughout the evening. It was clear that the staff was pleased that we were there and did everything to accommodate us. Separate menus were printed for those with specialized dietary requests and put at their table setting. To our delight, we enjoyed one last surprise from the kitchen, grapes rolled in chocolate and dusted with cocoa powder.

Chef David DeShaies and his staff emerged from the kitchen to enthusiastic applause. Vice Conseiller Culinaire Francois Dionot stood and discussed the courses; praising their elegance, presentation and taste. The confreres lingered, not wanting the evening to end. We agreed that this dinner would be hard to "top" as it was one of the best we have ever experienced. We definitely "felt the love" the Washington, D.C. Bailliage's Valentine's Day dinner came to a close.

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