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WHISK AND QUILL/Kellari Taverna: A Seafood Lover Finds True Madagascarian Love

Jordan Wright
By Jordan Wright
Posted on Jan 26,2010
Filed Under Food And Wine , Local Tastes,
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Photo by Jordan Wright<br />Madagascar Shrimp at Kellari Taverna<br />
Photo by Jordan Wright
Madagascar Shrimp at Kellari Taverna

Washington, DC - Thoughts on dining: Is a plate more artful on which rests a lone perfect shrimp or must it be circumnavigated with drizzles and droplets of reduced sauces in contrasting colors?

Since we are traversing land and sea to source our foods and convene with our farmers, greengrocers and fishermen, shouldn’t we display our ingredients with pride?

Because we are barraged by noise and bright light during our workday oughtn’t we seek a calming atmosphere in which to take solace?

Photo by Jordan Wright <br /> <br />Fish and produce at Kellari Taverna
Photo by Jordan Wright
Fish and produce at Kellari Taverna

At Kellari recently I found all the elements of a perfect evening and since there is no real critique to speak of I will recount how and why I find this restaurant so very appealing.

Kellari is an elegant Euro-style enclave. Soft lighting flatters the guest (restaurant designers take note), with votives nested in pale aqua milk glass, wrought iron lanterns, silk-shaded table lamps and dimmed chandeliers creating an inviting glow. Something I always take note of is the placement and density of the tables. In this dining room they are lavishly enough apart for the guest to feel spoiled and coddled.

Of course the highlight here is the food. Oysters shucked and iced in neat rows share the bar with platters of house-made crusty bread, great hunks of Graviera cheese and voluminous bowls of olives, their provenance spanning the Greek isles.

Green cracked olives from Volos, Kalamatas from Peleponesus on the southern tip of Greece, Amfisas from Northern Greece and Koroneiki from Sparta. From the western side of Mount Taygetus comes the wild oregano that the chef combines with rosemary and thyme and couples with lemons and oranges infusing the olives with a unique and addictive taste.

The welcoming gesture is charming, all the better to enjoy an “Hermes” martini or the crystal blue “Aegean” martini, two of the house-crafted cocktails on the menu.

While we are on the subject of décor a dramatic wall of ice, easily twelve by eight feet, showcases a stunning array of seafood and glisteningly fresh produce.

Branzino and Dover sole, Portuguese sea bream and Senegalese barbounia, Maine lobsters and mussels, octopus and squid all appearing to surf the crest of a wave as several dozen varieties of fish and shellfish, including the spectacular nine-inch long Madagascar shrimp, vie for the diner’s decision.

For the “Aegean Feast” the chef selected “mezedes” of perfectly charred lamb riblets, grilled sushi-grade octopus, delicate herbed calamari and the aforementioned Madagascar shrimp. Aside from its gargantuan size…more akin to a lobster…the black sand vein that runs along the dorsal area, is filled with a rich heavenly coral roe.

Photo by Jordan Wright<br />Bar with Oysters Ready at Kellari Taverna<br />
Photo by Jordan Wright
Bar with Oysters Ready at Kellari Taverna

I sampled a fish called “fagri” from Greece, a tender and mild white snapper, prepared whole to capture the rich flavor of the bones and head, and deboned before presentation. It is served with a satiny lemon sauce and the typical Greek lemon potatoes, called “patates”, baked with a crisp golden edge, and plates of steamed “horta” a mélange of wild greens.

It’s no wonder you don’t hear much about their wines. The Greeks don’t want the word to get out and who can blame them. There is a lot more than retsina in their cellars. I tried two delicious examples, the spicy and perfumey Moschofilero, and the well-rounded and soft red, Megapanos, from the Nemea region.

Desserts are homey, like the thick yogurt with cherries (which were my favorite) or an almond baklava, a switch-up from the better-known type made with walnuts; or more sophisticated, like a crème brulee with an underlying hint of the unique spice masticha.
The traditional galatoboureko, without which no self-respecting Greek would think the meal had concluded, is a custard-filled phyllo. By now you see, you can speak Greek very well.

Before you leave Kellari there is a large white bowl beneath the archway filled with wonderful cookies, kourabiethes, a melt-in-your-mouth shortbread; koulourakia, shaped like a comma, a crisp coffee-dipper with sesame seeds; and melomakarona, dipped in honey and walnuts. The cookies are baked in-house and are not for sale. They are a generous gesture of thanks to their patrons.

The artistry at Kellari is in its simplicity and hospitality. It is a restaurant that bespeaks timelessness, as though it has been in this spot forever and will be for many years to come. The service is graceful and attentive…very Euro…and Chef Anthony Acinapura cooks with the love of his ingredients and his country. I am already looking forward to another visit.
Highly recommended.
www.kellaridc.com

Jordan Wright is a food writer and private chef; visit www.whiskandquill.com .



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