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Alexandria Restaurants Rule the Rammys

Jordan Wright
By Jordan Wright
Posted on Jun 08,2009
Filed Under Restaurants , Local Tastes,
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Photo by John Arundel/Local Kicks <br />Chef Robert Wiedmarier celebrates onstage his Chef of the Year Award with his wife Polly. Wiedmaier opened Brabo by Robert Wiedmaier inside The new Lorien Hotel & Spa in Old Town two months ago.
Photo by John Arundel/Local Kicks
Chef Robert Wiedmarier celebrates onstage his Chef of
the Year Award with his wife Polly. Wiedmaier opened
Brabo by Robert Wiedmaier inside The new Lorien
Hotel & Spa in Old Town two months ago.

Three Alexandria chefs walked away with the top awards at the Rammys Sunday night, with Cathal Armstrong's Restaurant Eve, BRABO by Robert Weidmaier and Tony Chittum of Vermilion picking up Fine Dining Restaurant of the Year, Chef of the Year and Rising Culinary Star of the Year, respectively.

Once not too long ago a backwater on the DC-area dining scene, Sunday night's glittery 2009 Restaurants Awards by the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington further solidified the seat taken at the head of the culinary table by now-renowned Alexandria chefs in recent years.

Aglow with over 1,200 industry guests, the evening sparkled with luminaries from the Washington restaurant scene.  Rep. Jim Moran, the ever-gorgeous award-winning journalist, J. C. Hayward and Bon Appetit’s Editor–in-Chief, Barbara Fairchild were on board as presenters. John Arundel, the editor and publisher of Local Kicks, was an awards presenter, remarking on the impressive showing by the city's chefs in recent years at the Rammys.

It was the third time Restaurant Eve had been nominated for the Fine Dining Award, but the first time the restaurant's taken the award for top fine dining in the DC area. "Only a handful of spots — Restaurant Eve and The Inn at Little Washington tie for best — can compete with New York’s finest," gushed celebrated New York Times food critic Marian Burros.

Indeed, Eve has become a stomping ground of sorts for serious New York foodies with the means to jump on the shuttle to celebrate with clients an investment banking deal or special anniversary at an Armstrong-inspired Tasting Room dinner in Alexandria -- not DC, Manhattan or Washington, VA. -- reported an insider.

Photo by John Arundel/Local Kicks  <br />Cathal Armstrong accepts the award from his culinary peers for best Fine Dining Restaurant in the DC area, with wife Michelle Armstrong.
Photo by John Arundel/Local Kicks
Cathal Armstrong accepts the award from his culinary peers
for best Fine Dining Restaurant in the DC area, with wife
Michelle Armstrong.

“I was born in Ireland but made in the USA," said Cathal Armstrong, a Dublin native who speaks four languages, if you include Irish. Armstrong was flanked on stage by his wife and business partner Mishelle and Sommelier Todd Thrasher, also a partner. "I'm just so blessed to have such a top-notch staff and a loving and supportive wife behind me," Armstrong said.

The husband and wife team created Eve six years ago with passion based on their experience and a name lent by their first child. The historic warehouse building at 110 S. Pitt Street in Old Town, once home to a Mexican tapas restaurant, has been converted into a quaint yet sophisticated 100-seat restaurant offering two unique dining experiences in separate rooms, “The Chef’s Tasting Room” and “The Bistro.”
The 34-seat Tasting Room is Armstrong’s culinary showcase of "Modern American Cooking with Classical French Influences" where he features 5- and 9-course prix fixe tasting menus, which he said highlight the freshest of seasonal ingredients and local Virginia produce.

Armstrong is known for a strong commitment to sourcing the best ingredients that local farmers can provide, and often on Sundays can be seen loading up vans full of schoolbuses to take to their farm in the Virginia countryside. The upscale bistro appeals to the neighborhood and boasts both flavor and selection with choices such as Bouillabaisse, Braised Shortribs and Salt Baked Prawns.

Thrasher's "Edenesque" cocktails, are pure innovation by Eve's sommelier, partner and general manager, Todd Thrasher, who hatched Food and Wine's Best New Wine List 2005. The bottles are housed in a temperature controlled wine room named Isabel 55.  “This beautiful, old, oak tree blew down in the hurricane near our building and we decided to use it in the construction of the room,” said Meshelle Armstrong, who designed the restaurant.  

Restaurant Eve has about a dozen investment partners, and in recent years has opened more casual eateries along King Street such as Eammon's Dublin Chipper. Plans for a new Armstrong-inspired restaurant in Del Ray were recently scuttled due to economic forces, according to sources.

Photo by John Arundel/Local Kicks <br />Newlyweds Daniel and Molly Fannon of Del Ray.
Photo by John Arundel/Local Kicks
Newlyweds Daniel and Molly Fannon of Del Ray.

Not to be outdone, Belgian-born culinary giant Robert Wiedmaier brought his "foodheart" and passion for classic French cooking to Old Town in April, opening BRABO by Robert Wiedmaier in the new ultra-luxe Lorien Hotel and Spa at 1600 King Street. It was a return to his Alexandria roots for Wiedmaier, who once worked at the Morrison House’s restaurant when it was Le Chardon d’Or in the early 80’s.

"I started working as a saucier here and commuted from my home in Chevy Chase," Wiedmaier recalled recently for Local Kicks. "I remember I took my breaks sleeping in my car behind the hotel. I’ve always liked Alexandria and I’m so charged up to be back here."

Wiedmaier said his winning culinary approach is designed around winning over one’s food heart.  "When you enter people’s sensory memories by preparing a particular dish they love, I believe you will be in their “foodheart” forever," he told me. "For me it’s the sauces. I’m a saucier at heart. One of the reasons I gravitated towards becoming a saucier is because I love sauces...When I make a sauce I use the entire animal. When I create a veal stock we bring in the entire animal, the whole calf. We break them down, take the bones and caramelize them to get the “fond." The lamb, the ducks, the chickens, give us the depth of flavor that make the reductions to base my sauces on. So when you eat my food you are eating hours of love put into that sauce. That’s what I call the full circle."

Neighborhood Restaurant Group's Anthony Chittum of Vermillion took Rising Culinary Star honors at the Rammys. Vermilion itself has been nominated for “Fine Dining Restaurant of the Year,” a pretty neat trick for a little neighborhood bistro with a 32-year-old chef.

Chittum hasn’t strayed too far from the sparkling Chesapeake Bay coastal waters, where he was raised on local foods from boyhood, to carve out his niche in Old Town.

Photo by John Arundel/Local Kicks <br />The raw bar at the Rammys.
Photo by John Arundel/Local Kicks
The raw bar at the Rammys.

Over the past two years he has crafted a highly original menu, drawn from his years of study with the likes of Donald Link and Todd Gray. Over dinner last week at Vermillion, Chittum said he has been visiting farms and growers and discovering and sourcing local ingredients for Vermilion.

Chittum has listened, learned and interned under some of the top toques here and in San Francisco. His decision to focus his attention on this charming outpost, has drawn quite a following among locals and those seeking the farm gate to dinner plate experience.

Over dinner which featured Bruce Wood’s Dragon Creek oysters from Nomini Creek on the Eastern Shore; my favorite Virginia ham from Wallace Edwards and Sons in Surry, Va.; produce from Davon Crest Farms in Hurlock, Md.; poultry and meats from the Amish farmers of Path Valley in Pennsylvania and the finest beef from Roseda Farms, where every cow has a certified traceable ancestry.

Chittum’s interpretations are inspired. I particularly loved a chilled green pea soup that cradled nubbins of gulf shrimp and floated dill, toasted pine nuts, Greek yogurt and a drizzle of olive oil; and as an accompaniment to a Pocono sourced trout the agnolotti “al plin”, holding single lumps of succulent crab, disappeared all too quickly.

A brandade-crusted halibut was perfectly rendered and paired with cippolini onions and hand-smashed fingerling potatoes in a beurre rouge, but his version of a beef entrée, a petit filet of Roseda beef coupled with an in-house cured short rib “pastrami,” its aromatic juniper berries discernible, was crazy drop dead fabulous.

How my dinner partner and I craved the tender meat piled high on toasted marbled rye with a side of coleslaw and Russian dressing! It’s not on the regular menu so one might have to beg politely.

On June 20, Chef Chittum will prepare a Virginia Farmland Solstice Supper from ingredients grown in Loudoun County. Set in a peach orchard the multi-course dinner, with wine pairings from Horton Vineyards, will be accompanied by music, horseshoes and hayrides. You can find out more at www.vermilionrestaurant.com.

Sunday's Rammy gala was as about as star-studded as they come.  Star chef Jose Andres, excited about the four page spread on him and architect Philipe Starck, in the New York Times Sunday magazine section last week said, “I had no idea it was going to come out. It all took place last year at Philippe’s villa in Cap Ferrat, France.”

Photo by John Arundel/Local Kicks  <br />The raw bar at the 2009 Rammys.
Photo by John Arundel/Local Kicks
The raw bar at the 2009 Rammys.

Jose is no stranger to RAMMY awards, he has a few under his belt, and his new Los Angeles restaurant, the Bazaar, is hot, hot, hot.
John Arundel contributed to reporting.

To see more photos of the 2009 Rammys, click here: http://tinyurl.com/kswz4m

THE 2009 RAMMY AWARDS

This year's RAMMY Awards winners are as follows:

Chef of the Year - Robert Wiedmaier

Wiedmaier is the chef of Brabo and Brabo Tasting Room, both located in Old Town.

Fine Dining Restaurant - Restaurant Eve

The 100-seat, upscale American cuisine restaurant in Old Town won this award for the third time.

Upscale Casual

Rasika, Washington, DC

Rising Culinary Star

Chef Anthony Chittum of Vermillion, Old Town.

Best New Restaurant

Cork, Washington, DC

Power Spot of the Year

Central Michel Richard, Washington, DC

Neighborhood Gathering Spot

The Liberty Tavern, Washington, DC

Hottest Restaurant Bar Scene

Co Co Sala – Washington, DC

Pastry Chef of the Year

 Kate Jansen – Willow – Arlington, VA

Associate Member

Belair Produce Inc., Watermark Foods

Wine and Beverage Program

CityZen – Washington, DC

Restaurant Employee of the Year

Juan Francisco Lopez, Marcel’s Brasserie Beck, Washington, DC

Restaurant Manager of the Year

Ryland Johnson – Zola, Washington, DC

Your Favorite Restaurant

Teatro Goldoni, Washington, DC

Duke Zeibert Capitol Achievement Award

Dimitri Mallios

WHERE Magazine Visitors’ Choice Award

The Prime Rib, Washington, DC

2009 RAMMY Honorary Award


Martin’s Tavern, Washington, DC

2009 RAMMY Honorary Award

Frans Hagen



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