Reaching New Heights
by Vice Chargé de Presse Bill Babash
The Bailliage of Greater Washington, DC, enjoyed a wonderful dinner with great food, wine, and, of course, Chaîne camaraderie, at New Heights restaurant on May 14, 2023. New Heights has been a favorite in Washington’s Woodley Park neighborhood since it opened in 1986. Its new owners – Mark Namdar, Olena Fedorenko, and Executive Chef Jose Molina – reopened the restaurant in January 2022. Mark is a native of Iran, Olena is Ukrainian-born, and Jose is from Bolivia. The international trio were colleagues at the Graham Hotel in Georgetown, and they bring their extensive experience in the hospitality industry to every aspect of New Heights. Olena noted that the service staff at the restaurant are 80% from Ukraine, having been displaced by the war in their homeland.
While Jose was busy in the kitchen, Olena and Mark greeted arriving members and guests with a glass of Billecart-Salmon Brut Rosé 2010. The 2010 is the domaine’s first single-year vintage rosé. This elegant Champagne – 55% chardonnay and 45% pinot noir – is noted for its burnished coppery tint, subtle fruit flavors, and chalk character that reflects its terroir. Servers offered a delectable assortment of hors d’oeuvres: wild mushroom tarts, a crisp pastry shell filled with a creamy and earthy mushroom ragu; pork belly buns with tender and flavorful pork accented with blood orange hoisin, pickled onion, and watermelon radish; and charred octopus, its smokiness highlighted by citrus rub, chorizo, and salsa verde.
Once seated, members and guests were treated to an amuse bouche of Ukrainian red borscht made with beets, tomatoes, and cabbage following Olena’s grandmother’s recipe. A shot of black pepper infused vodka was a traditional (and bold!) complement to the hearty soup.
With appetites whetted, dinner began with cheesy onion fondue. Fontina cheese topped with caramelized onions arrived in cast iron skillets and was flambéed tableside. A squeeze of lemon added a bright counterpoint to the luscious cheese. Servers presented the still-bubbling cheese to the table along with toasted garlic ciabatta. Tuna poke tacos followed. Cubes of superbly fresh tuna were accompanied by avocado mash and sesame oil in crispy wonton taco shells. Delicious!
Elk Cove Pinot Gris 2022 was a great pairing with both opening dishes. Founded in 1974 by Pat and Joe Campbell, Elk Cove was one of the first vineries in Oregon and its award-winning wines were instrumental in putting the state on the wine map. The founders’ son, Adam, grew up on the estate and in 1999 became its winemaker. The grapes, from the estate’s hillside vineyards in the northern Willamette Valley, are whole-cluster pressed and fermented at cool temperatures in stainless steel tanks – techniques that reveal the full richness and complexity of the grape. The wine’s ample acidity gave it great range – excellent with both the fontina and the tuna.
A delightful intermezzo of garden greens was next. Artisanal greens with roasted corn, tomatoes, and dried cherries were finished with Champagne vinaigrette, refreshing palates for the main course.
The evening’s entrée was pan seared Mediterranean branzino finished with lemon and parsley infused oil and presented with Israeli couscous and baby bok choi. The beautifully cooked whole fish paired wonderfully with Domaine la Rocalière Tavel Le Classique 2017. The wine blends grenache (for richness and fruitiness), cinsault (for finesse and length), and syrah and mourvèdre (for color and red fruit aromas). The varieties are vinified separately at low temperatures, enabling each to maximize its distinct contribution. Since 2009, sisters Sèverine Lemoine and Mélanie Borrelly have managed the winery founded by their father and grandfather in the Rhône River valley.
Dessert was an indulgent pistachio ricotta torte. A generous layer of creamy pistachio ricotta layered with moist cake and was an eye-catching and mouth-watering finale to the spring-time dinner. Albino Armani Recioto della Valpolicella DOCG 2017 paired nicely. The corvina, corvinone, and rondinella grapes that comprise this northern Italian recioto are slowly dried, concentrating the grapes sugars and flavors. In the first months of the year following the harvest, the grapes are gently pressed and a slow fermentation in contact with the skins takes place. Fermentation is stopped by lowering the temperature once the right sugar content is reached and the wine is then aged in small oak barrels.
As the evening concluded, Bailli Judy Mazza presented a Chaîne plate to thank Chef Molina, Mark, Olena and the entire staff of New Heights, for a great dinner and memorable evening.