The Only 10 Things You Need for a Successful Dîner En Blanc

A little photo booth fun at Baltimore’s first Dîner en Blanc

A few weekends ago, I kicked off Dîner en Blanc season by attending Charm City’s very first event, which was held at the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore. It had been a while, since New York City three years ago actually, that I’d attended a dîner as a guest rather than a volunteer. Just showing up with my chairs, table, food, plates and flowers seemed so easy, but that’s because a) I’ve attended quite a few diners by now b) I’m usually responsible for getting 250 people from their meeting location to the diner venue and making sure they set up properly once on site 😉 Just showing up and having people tell me where to go was a nice change of pace! I do totally get that, for newbies, getting ready for the event can seem overwhelming though. Especially since participants no longer have the option of going through an official renting company for certain items. So I thought I’d break down all the items that you actually need to attend Dîner en Blanc, as give as give you a couple of tips if you want to take it up a notch or two.

1. A table – this is a strict BYOT(able) affair! But not just any table will do…. it should measure between 26-32″ and since you have to carry everything yourself, sometimes on the metro, I definitely recommend a roll up table. The table will be covered by a tablecloth so it’s actually one of the few items that does not need to be white. I recommend this one. 

2. Two folding chairs – the lighter the better! These are fine and these will work too. If you already own folding chairs but they’re not white, don’t sweat it but do cover them with an extra table cloth or white bed sheets. 

3. A white tablecloth & two napkins – I suggest you opt for a 72×72 tablecloth like this one since you’ll be using the space underneath your table to store everything that doesn’t need to be on top of it. A 54×54 is fine as well just make sure it’s white! As for the napkins, they’re really important. You’ll be waving them in the air at the beginning of the dinner so paper won’t do. Cloth napkins can be hard to find in twos so you might have to buy a pack of twelve and share with other friends attending. 

4. Two white plates, glasses and a set of cutlery – the plates have to be white (here’s a good one) but your silverware doesn’t (here’s a set). For the glasses, think of what you’ll be drinking (Champagne? Wine? Water? All of the above!) and get what you’ll need. Tumblers or stem glasses are fine, and you probably can get away with GoVino glasses too… If you’re planning on purchasing a bottle of Jacquard champagne for the diner, you can also pick up a set of flutes and a champagne bucket in the Dîner en Blanc store. 

5. A centerpiece for your table – you can go all out on this one (see my friend’s Jade fancy sail from last year) but you can also just keep it simple. This 15″ Eiffel Tower with some lights or a simple bouquet of white flower will do the trick just fine. For Dîner en Blanc in Baltimore I actually had small bouquets of fake flowers to make it easier on myself. The key is to remember that you do have to carry everything and that you can take a few shortcuts. Flowers are nice but the above mentioned champagne bucket from Jacquart can totally double up as a centerpiece too! Ditto for a cake stand like this one. And since you have to bring lights too a fancy candelabra like this one can totally serve dual purposes!

My friend Jade put a lot of work into her centerpiece last year!

6. Lights – While the dinner kicks off around 6:30PM, eventually it will get dark and you will want to have a little extra lighting. You can use a candelabra, votives (paired with flameless tealight candles) or LED string lights(they look great in a vase!) , just remember to keep it on the fake side (yep, no fire!!)

7. Water – You can purchase some  “summer water” through the Dîner en Blanc online store, but you’ll definitely want some real water too! It’s HOT in DC at the end of August. Some ice wouldn’t hurt either. All alcohol purchases (and there are some great options this year!) must be done through the online store due to city regulations.

8. Food – You have the option of purchasing one of Mike Isabella’s six unique picnic baskets (I’ve got my eyes on the one from Kapnos myself!) but you can also bring your own food of course. 

9. Trash bags – Dîner en Blanc aims to leave the site of the event as pristine as it found it and that means guests are responsible for not leaving anything behind, and that includes trash. For this reason, pack a white trash bag or two.

10. A white bag/basket – All this stuff needs to go into something. I’ve seen people lug those white picnic baskets around (very elegant!), a large tote or basket works as well. Some participants go the suitcase or the grocery cart route. I’ve never been a fan because you have to store everything under your table and it gets crowded down there really quickly. A folding cart can definitely help with the chairs, but isn’t required.

Of course, you also need to be dressed in white from head to toe.

Typically you have a little leeway when it comes to footwear and accessories. But don’t go crazy… we’re talking gold or silver jewelry, nude shoes and the like. Check the weather forecast a few days ahead too…. if it looks like rain is likely, you’ll want to add a white (or clear) umbrella and/or rain poncho to your shopping list. Dîner en Blanc will happen rain or shine. And on that note, I’d love to add a bonus item to my list:

An open mind and positive attitude – Part of the fun of Dîner en Blanc is that we’re all in the same boat. Whether you’re an intern on the hill, a doctor, a teacher or a partner in a law firm, you still have to carry all of your stuff, in the DC-in-August heat, to the secret location. The metro may not cooperate (I mean, does it ever?) and it might rain (fingers crossed, it hasn’t happened so far) but that’s part of the experience and everyone has to through it. If you’re not willing to kind of go with the flow or are upset because you don’t get to sit next to your friends, you’re probably not going to have a great time at Dîner en Blanc. But if you bring a little extra food to share with your neighbours, you might make some new friends…. and you can still meet up with your old friends on the dancefloor! If you take everything in stride, like, if metro shuts down the escalators again, then you’ll definitely have a great time at this exceptional event. I can’t wait to see you all in your chic-est white outfits somewhere in the city on August 26!  If you’ve attended a Dîner en Blanc before, care to leave some tips in the comments?

ps: If you’re looking for a one stop shop option, this blog post from last year goes over all the items you can find at Ikea. I also have a nifty little public list on Amazon to help with the basic like table, chairs etc. Finally, if you’re trying to decide whether to BYOF(ood) or not, The Hungry Lobbyist has a great post recapping all of the options this year. They look delicious!

Le Beaujolais Nouveau is Arriving at These 6 French Spots

Beaujolais Nouveau 2016

Ten days after the U.S. elections and one week before Thanksgiving, it’s time to celebrate a French holiday for a change: the arrival of the first wine of the season, le Beaujolais Nouveau. As always, it happens on the third Thursday of November, so unless you were up until 2 a.m. celebrating at Bistrot du Coin today’s the day! Here are 10 French restaurants and wine bars marking the occasion around town.

Cafe du Parc at the Willard InterContinental will be offering free George Duboeuf Beaujolais Nouveau along with passed hors d’oeuvres at the bar on Thursday from 5-6pm. Beaujolais will also be available by the glass and as a pairing with a 4-course, prix-fixe dinner at the restaurant upstairs ($65 per person without the pairing, $85 with.)

Le Grenier on H Street will also be pouring complimentary Beaujolais at its bar from 6 to 9 pm on Thursday. 


Beaujolais Nouveau at La JambeBeaujolais is pretty cheap wine, and Chef Cedric Maupillier totally gets that.
 He’ll be offering glasses of the vin primeur for $10 a glass ($7 at the bar during happy hour) and $25 a bottle throughout his Shaw restaurant ConvivialAround the corner from Convivial, my new favourite wine bar, La Jambe is celebrating the 2016 harvest with $9 glasses of Beaujolais Nouveau ($16 for two until supplies last so make it a wine date!) which will pair perfectly with owner Anastasia Mori’s homemade charcuterie. Petworth Citizen will also be pouring some Jean Paul Brun, but they don’t have Anastasia’s rillettes though…. 

Le Beaujolais Nouveau will also arrive at Central Michel Richard, where Domaine Dupeuble – Beaujolais Nouveau will be poured (and paired with Coq au Vin!) from Thursday to Saturday. 

Coq au vin and Beaujolais at Central Michel Richard

Across the pond in Old Town, Virginia, Michelle and Christophe Poteaux have crafted a fabulous three or four course menu ($39 and $49 respectively) at Bastille, designed to pair with a Domaine Manoir du Carra Beaujolais, which will be offered for $9 a glass or $32 a bottle. (ps: Domaine Manoir du Carra has a Beaujolais rosé which you should absolutely try if you can get your hands on it!!) 

Last year’s Beaujolais Nouveau release happened just on the heels of the Paris attacks when gunmen and suicide bombers hit the bataclan concert hall, the Stade de France, restaurants and bars, almost simultaneously leaving 130 people dead and hundreds wounded. It was a little difficult mustering the usual enthusiasm that accompanies the celebration. So I’m really looking forward to it this year and you’ll find me, as usual, celebrating with dear friends at home parties rather than out and about. Will you be celebrating the release of the new 2016 harvest this year?

 

Week-end Highlights: Pinxtos, Vegan Wedding Cake & a Mini College Reunion

I’ve been pretty lucky. So far this summer, all of the weddings that I have been to have been local. Even better, since my college friend Sandra got married here at 2941 Restaurant not only did I not need to travel but a bunch of my college friends actually traveled to see me! Well, attend the wedding, but also see me!! 

ALL THE PINXTOS AT ANXO

My friend Elena, who came down from Connecticut for the occasion, is pretty obsessed with all things Spanish culture. To be fair, she’s a Spanish teacher and has traveled extensively throughout Spain. She wanted to check out Anxo and I was more than happy to oblige since I had not yet been to DC’s first cidery and pinxto bar in Truxton Circle. The weather was beautiful, and we were able to eat all the Basque small plates (and drink all the cider) outside which was such a treat. My favourite is always the Pintxo Gilda, with Basque peppers, olives and anchovy! 

Gilda pinxto at Anxo in DC

POPSICLE BRUNCH & PLAYING TOURIST ON THE MALL

Since the wedding was at 4PM, I squeezed in a little brunch catching up with some other college friends. They were staying at the Melrose Hotel between Foggy Bottom and Georgetown, I suggested we try RIS’ popsicle mimosa brunch. The popsicles come in two flavours: pomegranate spice and ginger orange pineapple. Since my friends weren’t drinking, I only had one of the ginger orange pineapple mimosa but under different circumstances, I certainly would have jumped on the $20 bottomless option.

RIS' ginger orange pineapple popsicle mimosaAfter brunch, we took a quick stroll on the mall. Could the weather have been more perfect to play tourists!?

Playing tourists on the mall

The wedding was beautiful, and one of the highlights was the vegan cake by chef Caitlin Dysart. Yep, vegan cake (the bride is vegan). Isn’t it just gorgeous?

Vegan wedding cake by Chef Caitlin Dysart The end of the weekend is a bit of a blur… literally 😉 I probably should have drank a little less wine. How was your weekend?

U.S. Supreme Court? CHECK!

FINALLY!! After 6 years on my DC-to-do-list, I can cross off visiting the U.S. Supreme Court! Well, actually, the item on my list was a little more ambitious than just visiting the U.S. Supreme Court. I wanted to sit through an oral argument. And that’s not exactly what I did this week, but close enough. 

US Supreme Court

Thanks to a former colleague, I sat through a lecture on property rights in the progressive era, organized by the U.S. Supreme Court Historical Society and hosted by Justice Samuel Alito. The lecture itself was waaaay over my head, I have no legal background whatsoever, but the reception afterwards, in one of the court’s stunning conference rooms, was right up my alley! I mean, of course I would find a way to drink wine at the U.S. supreme Court right? 

Reception at the US Supreme Court

So now I actually do want to just take a tour of the building and get to learn more about it but I am still crossing the U.S. Supreme Court off my DC-to-do-list!! So far, I’m doing pretty good and I think I might be able to cross everything off… let’s recap:

  1. U.S. Supreme Court — check 
  2. Sipping cocktails at the Columbia Room.
  3. Catching a movie at the Arlington Cinema & Drafthouse.
  4. Dinner at Bad Saint — check (read about it here)
  5. Visit the Society of Cincinnati and Lars Anderson House.
  6. Watch the planes take off and land at Reagan National Airport from Gravely Point — check
  7. Catch the Caps practice at the Kettler Iceplex — check
  8. Meander through the lush grounds at Hillwood Estate, Museum and Garden — check (and during Cherry Blossoms season which was absolutely gorgeous!)
  9. Go on a hike in Rock Creek Park — check (though I’d like to crush it from top to bottom like this Washingtonian article recommends.)
  10. Have drinks at The Tombs in Georgetown.

So 6 down, 4 to go with 7 weeks left in 2016! I think I can do it!! 

Drink all the French Bubbles at DC’s First Champagne Week

DC Champagne WeekIf you missed Champagne Day on October 21, don’t worry! Champagne shouldn’t be celebrated in a day anyway, it clearly deserves its own week! At least that’s what my friends Jess and Alison thought. These two wine pros are throwing DC’s first ever Champagne Week, from Sunday November 6 to Thursday November 12.

The idea for DC Champagne Week started off small. Jess runs Young Winos of DC, a group that connects people in the District with wine tastings and events. She reached out to Alison, who runs her own wine consulting business Bon Vivant DC, to partner up on a champagne focused event. Jess jokes that Alison took a small idea and blew it up, but Alison retorts that Jess never would’ve reached out to her if she wanted something low key 😉 Before long, Alison was in Champagne attending le Printemps des Champagnes, the weeklong industry festival (you can read more about her trip to Paris and Champagne here). While there, she was able to meet producers, other champagne event producers and came back with a better understanding of what a champagne week might look like in DC. Right away, Alison had a vision of a grand tasting like the ones she just experienced at the Printemps des Champagnes and everything grew from there…

Champagne Week DCSo what can you expect from DC Champagne Week? Here’s a run-down of the events:

The event will feature an elite lineup of champagne houses including Pol Roger, Gosset, Pierre Paillard, Charles Heidsieck, A.R. Lenoble, Canard-Duchêne, J de Telmont, Heucq Pere & Fils, and selections from the Terry Theise champagne portfolio. Select cuvées will be available for purchase throughout DC Champagne Week at Calvert Woodley, a fabulous wine shop and the event retail partner. You can find out more about DC Champagne Week right here and I definitely hope I’ll be seeing you at some of the events!!

Santé!! 

Crossing Off Bad Saint From My DC-To-Do-List

When I added Bad Saint to my 2016 DC-To-Do list in early January the tiny Filipino eatery in Columbia Heights was already quite the popular destination for local foodies. Grabbing a seat at the tiny 25-seats restaurant required a some advance planning (or luck!) since it has a strict no reservations policy. Then came national recognition. In September, Bon Appétit magazine gave Bad Saint the # 2 spot on its Hot 10 list of best new restaurants in America. Michelin inspectors took notice as well and a few weeks ago included Bad Saint in its Bib Gourmand list of worthy yet affordable restaurants in DC’s very first edition of the guide (you can see a full list here). Not the greatest timing to decide to cross it off my list 😉

By 5:30PM the line for dinner at Bad Saint went down the block

By 5:30PM the line for dinner at Bad Saint went down the block

But you know what, I’ve made some questionable choices about my time lately, including waiting 3 hours in line for Hello Kitty themed macarons, so I figured, what’s one more line, especially if there’s fabulous Filipino food at the end of it right? And so I headed to Columbia Heights yesterday, armed with a good book and some mosquito spray. I got there around 3:50PM, which was a bit later than I had meant, and almost didn’t get a table for the first seating at 5:30PM. Luckily, around 5:45PM, my dining companion and I were shown to two uncomfortable stools at a narrow counter facing a mirror and near the exit. Not the greatest seats in the house though the dim space filled with photographs and knick-knacks is otherwise fairly cosy. A bit crammed, but cosy. Co-owner Genevieve Villamora waited on us for part of the evening, providing attentive service and many welcomed explanations about the menu. 

The menu is separated in three sections: gulay (vegetables and salads), isda at iba pa (fish and more) and carne (meat.) Within each of these sections, dishes are organized by size and Genevieve recommended we order one to two dishes per person, depending on their size and how hungry we were. So we did. Here’s what we ordered, mostly from the vegetarian section. 

Kinilaw na pugita (octopus, fingerling potatoes, queen olives)

Kinilaw na pugita (octopus, fingerling potatoes, queen olives)

Ginisang ampalaya (bitter melon, farm egg, preserved black beans)

Ginisang ampalaya (bitter melon, farm egg, preserved black beans)

Like many of the diners that head to Bad Saint, I don’t have much experience with Filipino cooking. It’s not a cuisine I’m that familiar with, but I am familiar with good food, and good food I ate!! The ampalaya (the bitter melon salad with a farm egg and fermented black beans) was probably the only dish that didn’t wow me, though I found its unconventional flavours interesting. I loved the octopus and fingerling potato ceviche, though I would have loved a bit more olives in there. My grandmother is from Morocco, the land of olives, and I pretty much always want more olives. The Adobong Dilaw was like autumn in a clay pot and I can’t wait to have some of the leftovers tonight!
Ginisang tokwat (fried tofu, yu choi, sate oil)

Ginisang tokwat (fried tofu, yu choi, sate oil)

Adobong Dilaw (cauliflower, kabocha squash, tumeric)

Adobong Dilaw (cauliflower, kabocha squash, tumeric)

Since the menu changes frequently, you may not see these items when you visit, though I think the bitter melon salad and a version of the Adobong Dilaw are typically found (there was also a chicken version of the dish on the menu too.) I know Bad Saint doesn’t accept parties larger than 4 but I found myself wishing that I had come with more people. It’s not that my friend J.C. was bad company, it’s that there’s only so much we could eat and I would have loved to be able to order more dishes and explore even more of chef Tom Cunanan’s creative Filipino menu! 

 

Have you been to Bad Saint yet? Does its presence in the Michelin Guide make you more likely to go? I wanted to check it out well before Michelin and Bon Appétit took notice, but the release of the red guide definitely gave me that extra push to go and do the waiting in line thing. There’s a lot of other Michelin-starred or Bib Gourmand restaurants I want to try. Sadly, Minibar, Pineapple and Pearls and Kinship are not quite dining options for my budget right now, so I’m tackling the list from the bottom up, at least price wise, and starting with the Bib Gourmand I haven’t been to yet. So, Bad Saint: check. Bonus for crossing it off my 2016 DC-To-Do-List too. And Ottoman Taverna… you’re next! 

Celebrating DC’s First Michelin Guide at the French Ambassador’s Residence

Bibendum at the release party for DC's first Michelin Guide

Being invited to the French Ambassador’s Residence is always a treat… I’ve only been there a few times in my 13 years in Washington and I’m always elated when I have the chance to attend an event there. Last night was no exception, if anything it was more special than ever as Washington’s top toques gathered to celebrate the release of the District’s very first Michelin Guide. So. Many. Chefs. 

In addition to the 11 chefs who were awarded coveted stars in the red guide, representatives from the restaurants who were awarded Bib Gourmand last week as well as from those who were listed in the book were present. Who was left in DC’s kitchens last night? A lot of sous-chefs in charge 😉

DC's Michelin Starred Chefs

There are 107 restaurants listed in the Michelin Guide, including 19 Bib Gourmand, 9 one-star restaurants and 3 two-stars restaurants. The big winners from this first edition are Jose Andres and Aaron Silverman. At 34, the chef who made D.C. fall in love with a litchi and pork sausage dish is one of very people in the world to have both a one star (Rose’s Luxury) and a two stars (Pineapple & Pearl) restaurant. And he’s just getting started! Jose Andres also had a very good week, receiving two stars for his Minibar and a Bib Gourmand for pretty much all of his other establishments (Oyamel, China Chilcano, Zaytinya and Jaleo).

My favourite moment from last night’s event, other than sipping champagne among the who’s who of the Washington culinary scene — and getting my picture taken with Bibendum — was when Patrick O’Connor, the chef and proprietor of the two-star Inn at Little Washington said a few words as he accepted his recognition. At 71, he is twice Aaron Silverman’s age and had long lobbied Michelin’s to cover the city. “I am living proof” he said “that if you wait long enough your prayers will be answered.” Despite their insistence that they would only include restaurants from DC proper in the guide, I am so glad that the Michelin inspecteurs ventured out to Washington, VA. I’m hoping to make a trip out there soon, but until then, I’ll be combing through the guide (which shouldn’t take long, the D.C. edition is a mere 96 pages long, of which maybe 15 are ads for Michelin and maps) and picking out some new spots to try!

DC Michelin Guide

The first on my lists are all around where I live, and I can’t believe I eaten there yet: Ottoman Taverna (Bib Gourmand), Kinship (one star) and Chercher, a Bib Gourmand Ethiopian restaurant I hadn’t even heard of until the guide came out. Do you think the release of the guide will influence where you’re going to eat in the near future?

Michelin Awards Bib Gourmand Honours to 19 DC Restaurants

 

Bib Gourmand

The lines at Bad Saint are about to get even longer 😉 As is customary, Michelin announced today the list of “affordable” restaurants that have earned the designation of Bib Gourmand. These restaurants will not be receiving stars next week (the DC edition of the Michelin Guide will be released on October 13th) but do offer “exceptional good food at moderate price.” Bib, in this case, doesn’t refer to the piece of cloth you place around your neck to keep your clothes from spills while eating. It’s short for Bibendum (aka, the Michelin Man!) and I’d encourage you to read this article for a little background on one of France’s most beloved brand mascot.

Without further ado though, here are the 19 restaurants that have earned this recognition: 

  • Bad Saint 
  • Bidwell
  • Boqueria
  • Chercher
  • China Chicano
  • Das
  • Doi moi
  • Jaleo
  • Kyirisan
  • Lapis
  • Maketto
  • Ottoman Empire
  • Oyamel
  • Pearl Dive
  • Red Hen
  • Royal
  • Thip Khao
  • 2Amys
  • Zaytinya 

I personally love that the Michelin inspectors, like myself, are DC-suburbs adverse. I hate reading these lists of Washington cheap-eats only to see that none of them are in the city 😉 The Michelin Guide will only include restaurants in D.C., which rules out the Inn at Little Washington for a three stars. Could Jose Andres’ MiniBar get that honour? It’s very possible… 4 of his restaurants are already on the Bib Gourmand list…. but I guess we’ll have to wait until next week to find out. Stay tuned! 

Getting my Coffee Fix at Qualia Luke’s Diner

Luke's Diner pop up at Qualia

Where you a fan of Gilmore Girls? I watched it religiously when I was in college and I can’t wait until Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life, the four-episode revival of the series, comes out on Netflix November 25! To celebrate the 16th gilmoreversary of the series’ original pilot air date (this is making me feel old!!) and of course promote the new season, Netflix had the brilliant idea of bringing a little bit of Stars Hollow to life by turning some 200 coffee shops across the U.S. and Canada into Luke’s Diner pop-ups. And to serve free coffee, which we know Rory and Lorelai would have totally be fans of!!  

Luke's diner pop up

There were five coffee shops that got the Luke’s Diner treatment in the D.C. area: Bump ‘n Grind in Silver Spring; Grounded Coffee Shop in Alexandria; Flying Fish Coffee & Tea in Mt Pleasant; Three Fifty Bakery and Coffee Bar on 17th Street and Qualia Coffee on Georgia Avenue which is where I headed for my coffee fix this morning. Of course, the lines were pretty long at all of these, but it was definitely worth it! Loved seeing the staff all dressed up like Luke, wearing flannel shirts and (Netflix-branded) baseball caps turned backwards.

Qualia turned into Luke's Diner for the day

Cell phones were only in their infancy back when the show first aired and we all remember that Luke Danes was not a fan, with a NO CELL PHONES sign prominently placed in his diner. Well, that was there today of course….

Luke's Diner no cell phone sign

Some pop-up Luke’s Diner around the country even got a life size Luke’s cutout displaying the updated no cell phone rule… looks like 2016 Luke is still as grumpy as ever 😉 The new sign reads: “No texting while ordering. No MAN BUNS! No taking pictures of food. No headphones. If I can hear your music through your headphones, WHY ARE YOU WEARING HEADPHONES?”

New no cell phone rules at Luke's diner

No taking pictures of my food!?! Why doesn’t he just write no millennials allowed in 😉 Can’t wait to see play out in the show’s revival!! 

 

New Mural at 801 N Street NW

It’s been pretty gloomy in Washington, DC lately so I was pretty excited to stumble upon a new pop of colour in Shaw. Kuddos to Jessie and Katey, an artistic duo from Baltimore, for working in the rain to turn a dull wall above a parking lot into a vibrant public mural.

Jessie and Katey mural at 801 N Street NW in Washington, DC

The mural is part of the District Wall project sponsored by Blind Whino and the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities. Between September 19th and September 30th, abstract muralists like Jason Woodside (1380 H st NE), Remi Rough (649 Kenyon St NW), Tavar Zawacki (1012 7th St SE) or Waone Interesni Kazki (829 Rock Creek Church Rd. NW) have been painting new pieces of street art around the city. I’m always eager to see more graffiti cover the city’s empty walls. And even though the project was supposed to end September 30, some of the murals are still works in progress. James Reka (Rekaone) just got started on his for example, so there’s still more to come… yeah!