You can count on seeing me repeat the words “Slow Food” with an almost religious frequency if you follow my blog for any length of time. It’s because Slow Food is just really awesome.
The long and short of it is that the organization, Slow Food, was started in Italy during a public protest of the first McDonald’s to move into Rome. Carlo Petrini was the man behind the plan, and the plan was and is good food, clean food, and fair food for everyone. Slow Food was founded on the basis that we need to preserve world food cultures before they are lost. It emphasizes the value of spending time with your ingredients, with your meals, and with the people you share them with. I’m just going to leave it at that for now, but that description really is only the tip of the iceberg. More info is here – Slow Food International, Slow Food USA.
The local Slow Food DC chapter hosts events in this area. This was the first event I’d ever attended, and, truth be told, my wife and I were a bit nervous. You know that feeling you get when you’re going to a party and you know you won’t know anyone there, but you still really want to impress the host? Yeah it was something like that.
Anyway, the executive chef, Daniel Giusti, at Georgetown’s 1789 restaurant was offering a prix fixe menu (at a very generous prix) featuring ingredients from the Slow Food Presidia. The Presidia is established to assist groups of artisan producers creating unique, traditional, and endangered food products. Slow Food highlights these products by collecting them into the Presidia, and creating a buzz around them. In most cases, these are foods only produced in one place in the world by one particular people in one particular way, and the current state of the industrial-based global food market threatens them into extinction.
Okay, so this place – 1789 – is pretty stuffy. Jacket required, and I think we may have been the only patrons there under the age of 45. I was definitely the only one wearing jeans. Now I can get into the fancy shmancy, trust me, but this was just uncomfortably….. nynyaahhh. I can’t complain about the free valet on a Friday night in Georgetown, though.
The meal totally made up for the atmosphere. And, amazingly, the stuffiness seemed to evaporate into thin air as the wine flowed and the acapella singers arrived in their track suits. No, I’m serious. More on this later. First – the food!
First course was a potato gnocchi, with Surryana ham, chard, and artisanal sheep’s milk cheese.
The sheep’s milk cheese was the Presidia ingredient in this appetizer. While the sheep’s milk cheese was really good, the star of this dish was the Surryana ham. Surryana ham is locally produced, from a farm in Surry, VA. It’s the American counterpart of European Serrano hams. Surryano is dry cured by hand, smoked for 7 days, and aged for 400 more. It was some of the best ham I’ve had in my life.
Second course was roasted duck, more chard, and Anishinaabeg Manoomin wild rice. As the second course was served, a chef came out to speak with us about Slow Food and about the different courses we were eating. I was too excited about the food to remember to take a picture before I had already eaten half the plate.
Everything on the plate here was amazing. The wild rice was the Presidia ingredient, and it was really impressive. This is not actually a rice but a tall aquatic grass that is grown entirely wild and harvested in canoes by the Anishinaabeg tribe in Michigan. This grain, the only native grain to North America, comes in dark colors and has a subtle smokey and mushroom-like earthy flavor. You can read more about it here, and you can order it online here.
Amanda is still struggling with the concept of Slow Food.
Our dessert was pistachio di Bronte cannoli with figs.
The pistachio was the Presidia ingredient here. This pistachio is harvested in Sicily – more info about it is here. The cannoli was awesome, but I don’t particularly like figs. I want to like figs, I’m just not there yet.
So, around the time we were finishing off our desserts (and our bottle of Cabernet), an older guy comes in to sit at the bar in a black and yellow track suit. I’m not one to judge, but walking into a stuffy restaurant with a dress code in a track suit is a good way to get noticed. The bartender clearly knows him. Slowly, a couple younger guys arrive and join him at the bar (everyone else was appropriately dressed). They then start harmonizing, or trying to anyway. At this point there’s only one other couple at the table next to us in the whole of the dining area, so we’re now outnumbered by the would-be singers. It doesn’t take long before 5 of them have broken out into full song, with multiple harmonies. It actually would have been pretty impressive if any of them had been able to hold a note. Our best guess is that they were Georgetown University students and had run into a professor. It felt like being in a feel good Ivy league movie like Good Will Hunting or something out of St. Elmo’s Fire. As the evening wound to a close, Amanda and our dining neighbors (who we now felt much closer to, going through this experience together) gave their best American Idol judge impressions. I marinated with my Macallan, thoroughly amused.