Wednesday, January 27, 2010


After spending a few days at a conference in Maryland, I seized the opportunity to spend some time with Elder Daughter in Washington, D.C.

She keeps herself pretty busy these days, Elder Daughter does. Juggles lots of projects, both at work and extracurricular. Somehow, she manages to keep all those figurative balls in the air.

Monday night, we had dinner at Nora, a lovely little place in the neighborhood of DuPont Circle. I had first heard of it in a post by the Bakerina several years ago; since then, we had seen it several times while walking in Elder Daughter’s neighborhood but had never set foot within.

Restaurant Nora.

Sometimes the things we wait for with a sense of happy, eager anticipation turn out to be disappointments. Dinner at Nora was not one of those things... which is a backhanded way of saying that it was excellent.

Nora claims to be America’s first certified organic restaurant. That’s not what attracted me to the place, although there is certainly nothing wrong with eating foods that are produced without pesticides, grown sustainably, and sourced locally. What attracted me was the menu, crammed with offerings among which it was almost impossible to choose. The temptation of simply saying, “Just bring us everything on the fucking menu” had to be resisted, though: Not only would our appetites not bear it, but the check would then be somewhere north of the GNP of several sub-Saharan countries.

We were seated in the cozy upstairs dining room, the very place where President Obama had thrown a surprise birthday party for First Lady Michelle a mere nine days before. The restaurant staff were still starry-eyed about it.

To get us started, I ordered an extremely dry Hendrick’s gin martini, straight up; Elder Daughter ordered hers with Grey Goose vodka (the Presidential vodka, we were told afterwards). And then we settled in to the serious task of stuffing our faces.

We ordered a couple of salads for starters: a local red and yellow beet salad with oranges, grapefruit, feta cheese, micro greens, beet tuile, and pomegranate vinaigrette; and a baby arugula and radicchio salad with roasted local pears, French Brie, toasted almonds, with port wine vinaigrette. The beet salad was almost jewel-like, the arugula and radicchio more substantial, the pears contrasting nicely with the Brie’s smooth creaminess.

By way of a main course, I selected a grilled Ayrshire Farm ribeye with roasted marrow bone, parsnip purée, carrots, garlicky chard, and a red wine jus. It was perfectly done, and the marrow bone - complete with slender silver marrow-spoon - was an elegant, yet earthy, touch. Elder Daughter, meanwhile, zeroed in on the pan-seared steelhead salmon with spaghetti squash, Brussels sprouts, roasted turnips, ovendried tomato, and black walnut vinaigrette. The fish was done to an exquisite medium-rare: superb.

We could have stopped there, but it would have been wrong. For there was the small matter of dessert.

We ordered a pear frangipane tart (sweet) and a platter of artisanal cheeses (savory) with homemade quince membrillo and nuts. Eaten at a leisurely pace, it was the perfect end to a delightful meal.

Earlier, as we had sipped our Martinis and waited for our meals to arrive, we had reminisced about other fine feeds, focusing on the meals we had enjoyed during our sojourn in Japan almost two years ago. What was the best? Japanese tapas at an izakaya within hours of our arrival? Udon and eel in a little noodle shop in the Ginza? The fourteen-course kaiseki dinner at the Hiiragiya ryokan in Kyoto? Unagi-no-donburi at the Takashimaya department store? Our sushi breakfast at the Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo? Each one was special in its own way; each one memorable. As this night’s dinner would be.

What memorable dinners have you had? And what was the best thing about them?

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