My treasured dining companion Lacy and I arrived at the Corson Building via way of Vessel. There, seasoned bartender Zane Harris served up a Captain Handsome and a Cucumber Lime Swizzle, perfectly paired to match the palette of our dresses. In his silk finery and vestigial vest, Zane looked the part and played it well. I was glad to have decided on the pale purple Captain. It underscored the floral print on my summery dress, while Lacy's lime-colored drink quite complemented her turqoise and gold ensemble. Within my pretty glass, the gin, creme de violette, limoncello and lime juice settled into a surprisingly cohesive cocktail. The wash of absinthe might just be for fun, but the carbonation-infused drink fizzled my head and tickled my lips in more ways than one.
Next time I visit, I'll be eager to try the Obama Nation with Calvados, vanilla liquer and burnt figs, or the Vessel 75. It's the maple foam that gets me. I'll have to find a really good excuse to go back so I can try both. I know it's hard to get out when we're all limiting ourselves and counting coins, but we need to stretch our legs and twirl our skirts once in a while. The Corson adventure was certainly a big night out.
Since the bus schedule would only allow us to arrive 45 minutes early or 15 minutes late, and neither one was acceptable, we hailed a cab. After the usual neighborhood circling we ran across traffic on Georgetown's Airport Way and found the gate into the Corson property, another world entirely. While other couples milled about the garden and used the sunlit brick building for photo op's, we marched right inside, confident a glass of bubbly awaited us. The Chateau Gaillard Cuvee Charlotte was delightful enough to sip and enjoy while roaming the garden, but not one of the evening's standouts.
We sat down to a do-si-do of introductions with our dining companions, and were relieved to receive an amuse bouche, Vancouver Kushi oysters grown in suspension to develop deep pockets of shells and ample meat. An Alsacian Reisling, 2005 Meyer-Fonne Kaefferkopf, was served with a stinging nettle salsa verde, radishes and Lebneh from Vashon Island. The Reisling smelled faintly of petroleum, while the palate hinted at honeysuckle and pineapple.
About the time we were passing around the head cheese, Matthew Dillon emerged from the kitchen to introduce himself and his food, mainly his food. I was so amped up during his elocution of the menu, feverishly jotting ingredients and numbering the coming courses, I wanted to hoot and holler when he was finished. I swear I almost stood up and cheered like a goal had been scored at a Sounders game and I had just downed an $8 beer. And I loved the head cheese, served with pickled red onion and wood sorrel, though it was my first experience with "pork jell-o."
The raw King Salmon with Miner's lettuce, dill and chive flowers was spectacular. Everyone at our table loved it. The salmon was so fresh and firmly textured, not at all fishy, but the portions were so generous that we all ate our fill and still left some on the communal platter. The fifth (yes! already) course of fried soft-shell crabs and aoili was presented with a mutli-colored grapefruit salad. We were allotted half a small crab per person. Next came cold mussels and clams with fennel, dill and shallots. I ate up my whole plate, and then ate Lacy's mussels since she liked the clams better.
Next we ate a very interesting dish: blanched asparagus with marinated sheep's milk feta and a hazelnut-coriander crunch. I complained that the asparagus was terribly bland, but then the pretty lady across the table told me I had to have everything in one bite. The coriander transformed the feta and the feta transformed the asparagus. This kind of transmogrification doesn't happen so easily at home, though. The quality of each ingredient heightened the bite to a pallatable perfection. While the ingredients in the dish were so well paired to each other, the wine, sadly, was not. The 2005 Domaine Piron et Lafont Chenas Quartz, a Beaujolais, smelled of black cherries and tasted fine on it's own, but did not settle well with the salty feta or the upcoming pickled dishes.
Unfortunately, the cheesy asparagus was followed by the flop of the night: cold sand dab with creme fraiche, parsley, and pickled carrots. Now, the carrots were amazing, not even cooked but pickled to be easily edible, with a little snap and a lot of tang. I confess that I butchered my sand dab trying to remove it from the bone. Yes, they were served on the bone, and we had to fillet it with our fork and large spoon as we passed the platter hungrily around the table. After several botched attempts, the gentleman who worked at Maximilien deftly removed an entire little fish body from it's skeleton, barely any pressure applied, just the right tilt and he had an intact fillet with not a single bone. Alas, he was the only one who knew how to do it right. I could barely eat the smily flatfish; the texture was terrible and the flavor forgettable.
Out of the kitchem emerged another winner, just in time. The only plated dish of the evening was spotted prawns served atop black rice and garnished with green onion. Oh, the lovely, sticky, sweet black rice was so aromatic, with floral and lemongrass notes. Again, the rice and prawns played a duet, enticing each other to reveal their flavors.
By this time we'd moved on to my favorite wine of the evening, a Slovenian blend of Ribola, Pinot Girgio and Sauvignon Blanc. The 2001 Movia Veliko Bianco smelled surprisingly of brown sugar and sherry. The gentleman from Maximilien and I bonded over our instant attraction to this odd little wine. Though I said it was my favorite wine, my favorite food and wine pairing was still to come: Pinot Noir with veal braised in whey.
The platter brimmed with veal, piled high in mounds and surrounded by potatoes and morel mushrooms. I've had morels at three different restaurants recently and these were definitely the best. The meat was meltingly rich, the fat mellowing the 2005 Tasman Thorn Ridge Vinyard Pinot Noir from Sonoma Coast and its 14% alcohol content. So fruit forward and fabulous, it developed a subtle smokiness and spiciness as it opened up. As I took my second helping of fattened baby animal I think the heavens opened up a little, just above our table. Though the veal may have been the climax of the evening, another dish arrived to take its place. The local, hand-eviscerated chickens were delectably juicy, and quite enjoyable with a second pour of that Pinot.
All through the night, the sommelier, Mark (who really deserves a last name!), poured generously and answered my questions graciously, even if they were already printed on the tasting notes I was too excited to read. Last but not least, he slipped a stream of Chenin Blanc into my glass.
The 2005 Domaine des Forges Coteaux du Layon-Chaume tasted delicious with my rose petal-garnished Meyer lemon cake. A pretty, perky cap on a very big dinner. The whole thing was quite the event, lasting more than four hours and thoroughly discussed and enjoyed around the table. Thank you, Matthew Dillon.
Lacy and I were almost the last to leave when a cab pulled up to take us back to Capitol Hill. With dinner done and a Saturday night spread out before us, we had the cabbie drop us off at Sun Liquor for some Scarlet Ladies. We sat in the corner and giggled about inappropriate things, as if it were junior year French all over again. Bellies sated and minds sedated, we walked back to my apartment for a sleep over.