Food & Drink
Critics’ choice: Dining where history is very much on the menu
Sweet Home Café
Washington, D.C. At the large cafeteria inside the new National Museum of African American History and Culture, the best dishes have “an agreeable homey quality,” said Tom Sietsema in The Washington Post. Aiming for that effect on a long list of classic African-American dishes makes cooking for a 400-seat room a challenge. But chef Jerome Grant has pulled off this kind of high-volume cultural homage before, so he deserves some time to correct scattered misfires. In the meantime, we diners can count on at least a few menu offerings to hold their own against the best someone’s grandma has ever made. The buttermilk fried chicken, “moist beneath its garlicand-paprika-spiked skin”—makes a fine first choice, though Northerners might prefer the made-to-order oyster pan roast, with tender oysters bathed in a creamy Tabascocolored wine sauce. Among the sandwiches, the standout, attributed to ranch cooks of the Western range, combines tender slices of buffalo brisket with a peach-jalapeño chutney. A perfect sweet potato pie, shot through with bourbon, seals the deal: History lessons can be delicious. 1400 Constitution Ave. NW, (202) 633-4751
The Beatrice InnNew York City Too often, said Pete Wells in The New York Times, a chophouse is “a place where cautious diners seek refuge from the unknown.” Chef Angie Mar promotes the opposite mindset. At a 1920s Greenwich Village speakeasy that Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter recently ran as a celebrity hangout, Mar now calls the shots, and she’s not peddling comfort food—“She’s mining history for neglected pleasures and forgotten indulgences.” When an animal can be cooked and served intact, that’s what Mar does: Whole rabbit is smoked over apple wood; duck is cured in salt, slow roasted, and then flambéed at the table. Ignore the 100-day bourbon-aged rib eye, which “tasted to me like a very expensive hangover.” But go all in for Mar’s stews, like her revival of champvallon de tête, which seductively combines braised veal, beef cheeks, and chanterelles under a thin layer of potato. Mar isn’t just cooking animals; “she cooks for the animals that we are.” 285 W. 12th St., (212) 675-2808
Boulder has needed a restaurant as ambitious as Arcana, said Scott Mowbray in Denver’s 5280 magazine. The 10-monthold operation is not yet a triumph, but after a “wobbly” start, it’s beginning to turn out “rootsy, often inventive” dishes that hint at what its husband-and-wife owners mean when they speak of raiding history to unearth an “unflinchingly American” cuisine. Kyle Mendenhall, a chef brought in this summer, is capable of greatness. His charred trout served with an “aspirin-bitter” dandelion cream is “one of the better fish dishes I’ve had in this state,” and a chicken salad sandwich on his lunch menu is “a minor masterpiece,” combining tender chicken confit and tart cherry preserves on a black-garlic bread that establishes Arcana’s house-made breads as a foundational strength. Another is the beverage program, offering a “bazillion” interesting wine or cider pairings for dishes like pheasant sausage or the “deftly cooked” lamb sirloin. “Gobs of money” were spent to create the handsomely appointed room where these pleasures can be enjoyed. Though I’m not certain Arcana will survive its early troubles, “I’m quite encouraged.” 909 Walnut St., (303) 444-3885
Languedoc: A forgotten giant The name is pronounced Lahng-DAWK, but don’t fret if your accent fails you, said Michael Austin in the Chicago Tribune. Even though sunbaked Languedoc-Roussillon produces more wine than any other French region, Languedocs attract few snobs, because snobs haven’t yet noticed how good the wines have gotten in the past 30 years.
2013 Gerard Bertrand Corbieres ($16). This “ripe and chewy” red blend tastes of plum and black fruit, accented by vanilla, nutmeg, cedar, and tobacco.
2015 HB Picpoul de Pinet ($10). Try this crisp white with oysters or sushi. Made from the picpoul grape, it’s “full of lime, spice, and acidity.”
2014 Saint-Hilaire Blanquette de Limoux ($14). Named for an abbey with a 500-year tradition of making bubbly, this frothy sparkling brut offers “pleasant yeast aromas” and “flavors of orange zest, lime, and toast.
Recipe of the week
A fall chutney can be a brilliant way to capture and savor the flavors of the season, said Gretchen McKay in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. In this versatile example, created by Brian Keyser of the acclaimed wine and cheese bar Casellula, the tangy crunch of apples combines with the “spicy warmth” of ginger and cinnamon. The jammy spread is great with pork chops, or on a cheese board alongside a blueveined cheddar. It’s also “absolutely delicious” on a grilled-cheese sandwich.
Sweet and spicy apple chutney
2 cups cider vinegar • 2 cups light brown sugar • 5 garlic cloves • 2 oz fresh ginger, peeled and sliced or coarsely chopped • 1½ tsp salt • 1 tsp red chile flakes • 2 lbs Granny Smith apples • 1½ cups golden raisins • 2 sticks cinnamon • 2 tbsp yellow mustard seeds
• Place vinegar, sugar, garlic, ginger, salt, and chile flakes in blender. Puree on medium-high until smooth, about 1 minute. Peel and core apples; discard cores. Dice apples into ¼-inch cubes (no need for precision).
• Combine apples, raisins, cinnamon, and mustard seeds in a large saucepan. Pour in vinegar blend. Simmer, stirring occasionally, over medium heat until almost all the liquid is reduced, about 25 minutes. Remove cinnamon sticks. Turn off heat and let cool. Makes 3 cups, which can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. Serve cold, warm, or at room temperature.