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Le Bailliage du Greater Washington, DC Chapter

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"June is Bustin' Out all Over" at Palena

June 6, 2011

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

When Frank Ruta, Executive Chef at Palena, was named “Best Chef of the Year”, the Washington, D.C. Chaîne couldn’t wait to schedule an event at his recently expanded dining room. As with many “hot” restaurants, obtaining a reservation must often be done weeks in advance.  However, we were fortunate that the restaurant was willing to reserve its high-end “Tasting Room” just for us.  Chef Ruta is widely respected as a “Chef’s Chef” who was using local, fresh and sustainable ingredients before it was chic to do so. A tasting committee consisting of Vice Echanson Ellen Kirsh, Vice Chargée des Missions Carol Assmann, Vice Echanson de Etats Unis Honoraire Tony Busalacchi and Dame de la Chaîne Allison Rosenberg met shortly before the event to make final adjustments to the menu and pair the wine. Their ecstatic comments heightened the anticipation, as we knew we would once again be enjoying an extraordinary experience.

We began our champagne reception with Bollinger Brut as Chef Ruta and his staff tickled our palates with a series of delicious small bites including spring pea and mint suppli, miniature artichoke and fontina cheese panini, hazelnut and rosemary gougeres, and shrimp with ruby red shrimp “en Saor” with pistachio. We enjoyed seeing long-standing members and new guests including the parents of our Vice Echanson Ellen Kirsh, whose father had just completed a book on the history of the United States. The reception passed all too quickly and we soon walked into the private dining room to continue our conversations and culinary explorations.
Continuing our exploration of spring ingredients, we enjoyed a spring terrine of foie gras, morels and pistachio served with quail breast and toasted brioche. The Domaine de Baumard Quarts de Chaume, 2005 was a lovely pairing. “June in a bowl” otherwise known as Risi é Bisi was a delightful risotto of Carnaroli rice with Path Valley Peas. This was an “interactive” dish, as the unctuous sauce was created when the soft coddled organic pheasant egg yolk was mixed into the rice along with the amarone jus, rather than adding more butter and cream. The shaved early summer truffles added a wonderful depth of flavor and the Didier Dagueneau Poully Fume, 2008 added the right touch.

As we awaited our next course, Bailli/Chambellan Paul Haar welcomed guests and new members with warmth and humor. Confreres rose and introduced family members and guests, adding to the camaraderie and connection among those in the room. Our next course of Quinault River sturgeon, roasted with lavender and lime with braised artichokes appeared just as introductions were concluded. This course was interestingly and perfectly paired with Domaines Ott Chateau de Selle Cotes de Provence Rose, 2010. The room became somewhat quiet as all enjoyed this course. The final savory course of Roseda Farms aged beef loin served with morel mushrooms, wilted onions and lettuce leaves in a chateaubriand sauce was tender and delicious. It was accented with the Chateau Le Bon Pasteur Pomerol, 2000. The conversation in the room quieted yet once again when the gateau au chocolate aux amandes was served. The first local cherries of the season were stunningly delicious and the almond milk ice cream and red wine sauce ended a fabulous meal on a very high note. We sipped our Fonseca Twenty Year Old Port, NV as we savored the last bites.

Although Chef Frank Ruta, noted for being somewhat reclusive, was not there at the end of the evening to accept the accolades of the Bailliage himself, Service Director Sean Alves and his staff were on hand to receive the Chaîne plate for Palena, presented by Bailli/Chambellan Paul Haar. The glow of a wonderful evening kept many of us there as the staff worked around us. This was yet another evening that no one wanted to end.

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