Reconnecting with a Favorite Chef at the George Town Club
by Bill Babash, Vice Chargé de Presse
After more than a decade, the Bailliage of Greater Washington, D.C, returned to the George Town Club on June 25th for a spectacular dinner at one of Washington’s most elegant and historic dining clubs. The occasion for the last event at the George Town Club, in March 2008, was the Mid-Atlantic/Northeast regional young sommelier competition. In addition to wine seminars and the competition itself, that weekend featured an induction dinner at which our Bailli, Judy Mazza, became a Dame de la Chaîne and a member of the Société Mondiale du Vin.
The Club, which opened in 1966, is in the heart of historic Georgetown in one of the few remaining 18th century frame buildings in the city’s original port district. The building, constructed in 1783, is believed to have been John Suter’s Tavern, where President George Washington and Architect of the Capitol Pierre L’Enfant met to plan the federal city. Since the opening of the club, two adjacent brick townhouses have been incorporated and restored with the same care as the original structure, creating a welcoming retreat for Washingtonians.
The bailliage was eager to return to the George Town Club when it learned that Paul Stearman was its new Executive Chef. Stearman became one of the bailliage’s favorites during his 18 years at Robert Wiedmaier’s Marcel’s, where he was Chef de Cuisine. Long-time members still laugh when remembering how the chef detailed the aphrodisiacal properties of the ingredients of a dinner celebrating Valentine’s Day 2012 and still admire his superb cuisine at the holiday gala later that year.
A native of the Washington area, Chef Stearman began working in restaurants at the age of 15 and graduated from l’Academie de Cuisine in Bethesda. In addition to his tenure at Marcel’s, his more than 25 years’ experience includes time in some of Washington’s finest kitchens including Vidalia, the Hay-Adams Hotel, Kinkead’s, the Watergate Hotel, and Lyon Hall. In 2003, he received the Jean-Louis Palladin Foundation Award, which included a trip to Bordeaux to study under acclaimed chef Jean-Pierre Xiradakis of La Tupina, which became Stearman’s favorite restaurant. The experience deepened his appreciation for classic French technique and the relationship between food and wine. In August 2018, he became the executive chef at the George Town Club, quickly putting the club back on the map of fine dining in Washington.
As is fitting for a Washington institution, Chef Stearman’s cuisine is rooted in tradition yet infused with unbounded creativity and executed to the highest standards with the finest local and global ingredients. The bailliage was eager to experience the chef’s cuisine once again, and the evening proved to be spectacular.
Members and guests gathered in the Club’s airy garden room for hors d’oeuvres and a glass of Pol Roger Vintage Brut 2006. This creamy, voluptuous, and well-balanced wine is from one of the most respected houses in Champagne. Founded in 1849 and today run by the 5th generation of the Roger family, Pol Roger Champagnes were a favorite of Winston Churchill and were served at the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex. Chef Stearman’s passed hors d’oeuvres were a worthy complement to the prestigious bubbly: the smoked salmon napoleon was a bite-size melding of blini, smoked salmon, and crème fraîche completed with ossetra caviar. Escargot vol au vent topped with parsley buttercream was an indulgent fusion of classic French flavors and textures. Warm-from-the-oven parmesan cheese straws were crisp, light, and simply addictive.
The gathering then settled into the Club’s elegantly traditional wood-paneled main dining room for a sumptuous five-course dinner. An amuse-bouche of luxurious yet light foie gras mousse served on a thin slice of toasted brioche accented with a brunoise and coulis of white peach and garnished with basil whetted diners’ appetites.
Next was a modern reinterpretation of vitello tonnato, the traditional Piedmontese dish of sliced veal covered with a creamy tuna sauce and capers. Chef Stearman’s version included paper-thin slices of milky veal carpaccio and cubes of “Hawai’ianized” Ahi tuna, which had been marinated for three hours in brown sugar, soy, and chili. The chef had quickly fried lilliput capers (the smallest and a rare variety), giving the classic garnish a great crunch, while garlic aioli completed the dish. Loimer Riesling 2012 from the Kamptal region of Austria was intriguing with hints of astringent Granny Smith apple and distinct minerality. Paired with food, it revealed its full complexity and impressive depth.
Chef Stearman’s version of a local tradition followed. He presented a tempura soft‑shell crab plated vertically, held in position by ribbon of cucumber surrounding avocado mousse and accompanied by an heirloom tomato and strawberry salsa. The crab was crisp, tender, and sweet, while the salsa brought together the sweetness and tartness of the two red fruits, amplified with a bit of red pepper. Habanero mango coulis finished this feast for the eyes and palette. A white Burgundy, Domaine Hubert Lamy Puligny-Montrachet “Les Tremblots” 2016, featured complex flavor and a buttery texture that paired well with this sophisticated course. The Lamy family has been working in vineyards since 1640. In 1995, Olivier Lamy took over as winemaker, bringing his own style of winemaking, which emphasizes the fresh mineral facets of the wines, to the domaine.
The chef then delighted diners with braised rabbit tortellini served with seared rabbit loin, yellow carrot purée, and summer truffle brown butter. The pasta was cooked just al dente and the rabbit was mild, tender, and flavorful. Generous slices of white summer truffle from Italy were a decadent touch. Revealing his artistic side, the chef chose to forgo a colorful garnish, instead keeping the plating monochromatic and ensuring the emphasis remained on the outstanding flavors and textures of the composition, The Feudo Maccari Mahâris 2007 was truly spectacular, generating much enthusiastic conversation among members and guests. This Sicilian wine features one-third Nero d’Avola grapes, which are indigenous to Sicily, balanced by cabernet sauvignon and syrah, which also thrive in the region’s hot climate. Plenty of fruit with notes of pepper, smoke, and saddle leather gave this wine an intensity that beautifully elevated the pasta and rabbit. The wine gets its name from Al Mahres, Arabic for the watch towers along the seacoast built by the Arab inhabitants of Sicily who conquered the island in the 9th century.
The final savory course was a magret duck breast from La Belle Farm in New York. The chef again displayed his talent for taking classic preparations in new directions, pairing the medium-rare duck with a potato and fig pavé. “Pavé” in French translates as “cobblestone” and in a culinary context typically refers to a layered rectangular dessert. The chef reimagined this as a layering of potato and fig, deliciously melding sweet and savory accompaniments to the duck. Sweet onion soubise, roasted figs, and cognac duck jus completed the plate. The Château la Tour de Mons “Marquis de Mons” Margaux 2009 was a medium-bodied, vibrant wine with plenty of fruit and notes of thyme that nicely complemented the duck. From the Margaux appellation in the Bordeaux region, this wine is a blend of merlot (56%), cabernet sauvignon (38%) and petit Verdot (6%) from vines averaging 30 years old.
White chocolate passion fruit semifreddo served with mango yuzu crémeux and coconut lime foam and toasted coconut cake croutons was a fitting culmination to the stellar dinner. The light, tropical flavors were delightful on a warm summer night. Domaine de Durban Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise 2012 completed the dessert. Muscat wine has been made in the southern Rhône Valley for nearly 2,000 years using a distinctive technique. The must (juice) is fermented for 15 days and then undergoes mutage, the addition of enough 95% proof alcohol to kill the yeast, halting fermentation and achieving the desired sweetness and 13 to 15% alcohol content. The notes of tropical fruit in this muscat made it integral to the experience of the dessert.
As the evening concluded, Bailli Judy Mazza congratulated Chef Stearman on an outstanding meal, noting that it had been well worth the wait to return to the George Town Club. Vice Conseiller Culinaire François Dionot complemented the chef on an outstanding meal that thoroughly demonstrated his innovation and exceptional technique while paying homage to tradition. To commemorate the event, Judy and François presented a Chaîne plate to the chef and Chaîne pins to the kitchen brigade and service staff. Chef Stearman then proudly showed the gathering the pewter Chaîne plate he had received at Marcel’s in December 2012. All agreed it great to once again enjoy Chef Stearman’s superb and memorable cuisine.