• 09Jul

    It’s sweltering outside. And at the Columbia Room, the exclusive speakeasy tucked away in the back of the popular bar the Passenger, created by brothers Derek and Tom Brown, it’s sweltering as well.

    Patrons entering brother Derek’s lair for an evening of his Chef Series, are greeted by Brown’s welcoming, and slightly apologetic, manner—as he explains that the HVAC guy has been out several times to no avail.  So fans emanate a bit of cool air, and Brown offers a block of ice at one point to help cool us off. 

    But the heat is only a momentary distraction from the focus of the night.  Tonight’s guest chef is Nicholas Stefanelli of Bibiana, who was recently awarded the Rising Culinary Star of the Year honors at the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington awards.  The combination of Brown and Stefanelli creates its own heat.  Among tonight’s diners are Washington Post Food Section editor Joe Yonan, as well as food bloggers Amanda McClements of Metrocurean, and Carol Blymire.

    Brown, as always, creates an ambiance replete with both calm, relaxed enjoyment and anticipatory excitement.  The pace is leisurely, although the staff of two in addition to Brown, and Chef Stefanelli, are clearly working busily throughout the night.

    Tonight is the second in the chef series that Brown has created – inviting several local chefs (including RJ Cooper, recently departed from Vidalia, and announcing plans to open his own place, Pigtails) to create meals for which Brown will create cocktail pairings.  In an amusing twist, for the final of the three courses, Brown prepares the food, while the chef du jour will create the drink.

    Pics by LMB

    Despite the lack of an oven, Chef Stefanelli creates outstanding, although modestly portioned, food.  The first course, cobia tartare with squid ink sorbet and nepitella (an herb from Rome described as something between oregano and mint) is flavorful and refreshing, with a slight bite of green chile.

    Brown pairs this course with his Corpse Reviver Number 2 creation: a gin based drink with Cocchi Americano, cointreau, lemon juice, a bit of absinthe and finished with a brandied cherry on a metallic toothpick that causes some admiration among the patrons.

    The next course, a “tasting of pork,” is a plate of porcine delicacies accompanied by foccaccia studded with pancetta and taleggio. The plate includes testa (the Italian word for head) with mustard and dill—a pate like creation that Stefanelli made with pork jowl, as well as a few other delicious pork cuts: culatello, speck, lardo, pork crackling, and a pickled cippolini onion.

    Brown pairs his Bourbon Lancer with this dish: Bourbon, champagne, sirop de gomme (a simple syrup to which gum arabic has been added), aromatic bitters, lemon peel, and another brandied cherry.

    We move from the banquette to the bar for our final course—the one where each master enters the others’ domain.  Brown creates a pistachio flavored whipped cream, accompanied by honeyed yogurt with pistachios, and white peach slices.  Stefanelli presents a tall green creation comprised of pistachio milk, fennel liqueur and green chartreuse.  Each offers a nod to his own craft—Brown’s cream has an alcoholic tinge, while Stefanelli’s drink is thick and sweet and creamy—definitely a dessert in a glass.

    Before we leave, Chef Stefanelli pours us a shot of blueberry infused grappa—smooth, sweet, and distinctively blueberry in flavor.   And on the way out, we leave the sophisticated elegance of this room and enter an entirely different world as we stop for a beer and a half-smoke at the main bar, and learn of LeBron’s choice.  By the end of the night, we have had two entirely different experiences.  All without having to find another parking space.


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