9 Signature Dishes: Edible Icons You Must Not Miss

On rare occasions, a dish transcends the tides of time, the trifles of trends, and sometimes even its inventor to become icons in their own right. Each of these nine signature dishes is a must-order if you’re lucky enough to dine at the restaurant where it was created.

Apple Pie, Blue Duck Tavern, Washington, D.C.
The recipe for this all-American dessert has remained unchanged since chef Brian McBride debuted it in 2006 even though he ultimately left the restaurant. Granny Smith apples sweetened with plenty of brown sugar and cinnamon spiced are enclosed in a butter-rich crust. The big-enough-for-two puck-shaped pie is baked in the wood-burning oven, giving its exterior a golden glow. The flavors evoke autumn, but the spot-on finale is good at any time of year. Make a reservation at Blue Duck Tavern.

Signature Dishes

Chicken for Two, The NoMad, New York, New York
James Beard Award-winning chef Daniel Humm always found roasting chickens a conundrum because white meat and dark meat cook at different rates. To get the dark meat of the legs to the right level of doneness, you have to overcook the white breast meat. So he came up with a clever solution. After guests are presented with the whole roast bird – a bouquet of herbs nestled next to its legs and a beyond decadent foie gras and black truffle brioche stuffing piped under its crackly golden skin – it’s taken back into the kitchen. There the legs are sautéed separately with mushrooms and shallots for just a couple minutes more to ensure they’re done correctly. All the attention to detail adds up to a perfectly cooked dish. Make a reservation at The NoMad.

Signature Dishes

Lamb Carpaccio, The Inn at Little Washington, Washington, Virginia
There are a number of dishes on chef Patrick O’Connell’s menu that could be considered classics at this award-winning gourmand’s redoubt in the Virginia countryside – from the Tin of Sin starter to his clever re-imagination of a butter pecan ice cream sandwich. However, his carpaccio of herb-crusted baby lamb loin served with half scoops of Caesar salad ice cream and brioche croutons may be his most quintessential. Sweet, savory, earthy, and elegant, it’s absolutely unforgettable. Make a reservation at The Inn at Little Washington.

Signature Dishes

Unicorn, Pao by Paul Qui, Miami Beach, Florida
Paul Qui’s cuisine takes its cues from the Philippines, Japan, Spain and beyond at his luxe Miami gastro destination, which debuted earlier this year. However, the Top Chef winner’s standout dish, which has already garnered enough raves to make it an icon, takes an equal amount of inspiration from the $6 million gold-leafed unicorn sculpture by Damien Hirst on display in the dining room. The cleverly conceived Unicorn features tongues of uni on grilled sweet corn pudding (get the name now?) along with touches of sake aioli and arbol chile. Its showstopping presentation in an upside down spiny sea urchin makes it infinitely Instagrammable – if you can stop yourself from immediately taking a bite. Make a reservation at Pao by Paul Qui.

Signature Dishes

Roasted Pig Face, Girl & the Goat, Chicago, Illinois
This well-loved dish from the Stefanie Izard – winner of a James Beard Award and Top Chef – is exactly what it says it is, and yet its flavors are much more complex than the name implies. A pig head is cut up, its meat seasoned with cilantro, lime zest, coriander, salt, and pepper. Rolled up into a log, it’s braised until nearly gelatinous. Two rounds baked to order in the wood fired oven are used to sandwich a thicket of crispy potato sticks. A sunny-side up egg goes on top and there are crisscrossing drizzles of sweet maple gastrique, perky cilantro oil, and tangy tamarind vinaigrette to deepen the flavors. Make a reservation at Girl & the Goat.

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Research + Development: Top Chef Star Mike Isabella Eats NYC

Mike Isabella

It’s just after noon on a sunny, mid-Eighties summer day. The weather is as perfect as it gets in New York City during the summertime. Mike Isabella is in the back of a black SUV headed down Seventh Avenue. Sunglasses firmly in place, he’s wearing jeans and a graphite t-shirt that exposes the tattoos crisscrossing his forearms. Though it’s lunchtime, he’s on his way to visit a couple of coffee shops and an ice cream parlor. It’s not your usual eating agenda, but that’s because Isabella is here to for business rather than pure pleasure.

The chef-restaurateur, who earned widespread acclaim with breakout appearances on Top Chef and Top Chef: All-Stars and recently took home the RAMMY Award for “Restaurateur of the Year” from the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington, is in town for a whirlwind day of epicurean exploration. He has already been to Morocco, Spain, Portugal, Chicago, California, Philadelphia, Dallas, and Los Angeles as a part of his culinary canvassing. There are further trips planned to Cuba, Argentina, and London.

All the trips are research for his ambitious mega food hall Isabella Eatery, which is set open in the Tysons Galleria mall in McLean, Virginia in late summer 2017. The 41,000 square foot, multi-concept endeavor aims to be the crowning – and potentially defining – centerpiece of his growing restaurant empire in the D.C. area, which includes his Italian-American small plates and pizza joint Graffiato, (which also has a location in Richmond, Virginia), forward-thinking Greek eatery Kapnos, lead by fellow Top Chef alum George Pagonis, Medi-minded Requin, helmed by another Top Chef-er, Jennifer Carroll, Yona noodle bar, breezy Mexican cantina Pepita Cantina, and others.

Isabella Eatery will house 10 separate entities, including versions of Graffiato, Kapnos, Yona, Requin, and Pepita, as well as five brand-new concepts: Retro Creamery ice cream parlor, Trim steakhouse, Non-Fiction Coffee, Octagon Bar, and Arroz, a Spanish-Portuguese-Moroccan restaurant. Within the concepts there are variety of service options: full service, fast casual, and grab ‘n’ go. Isabella hopes the heightened service – not to mention the food – will vastly elevate it from your usual mall food courts with their bolted down chairs, plastic trays, and impersonality.

Mike Isabella

Today he’s particularly focused on ideas for the café, creamery, the ramen at Yona, and the bar program at Arroz. “Hopefully, I’ll see some cool presentations, design, uniforms, flavors, service steps, paper goods, and techniques,” says Isabella as we near the Roost coffee shop, our first stop in the East Village.

Inside the rusticated shop with white tile walls, marble countertops and a full bar in the back hiding behind a wooden bar door, we rendezvous with James Horn. The day’s unofficial tour guide previously worked as Isabella’s wine and service director and is now the director of operations of New York City’s Añejo Restaurant Group, which includes two locations of Añejo and Abajo. Everyone orders something different, so we can compare. The most compelling element for Isabella ends up being the double-walled glasses the latte is served in, so he takes a picture, and we Uber over to Big Gay Ice Cream.

Mike Isabella

Unabashedly borrowing its aesthetic vibe Eighties cartoons – think My Little Pony and The Care Bears on MDMA – the small shop is decked out with rainbows, unicorns, and vintage action figures. The truck-turned-brick-and-mortar specializes in soft serve cones and sundaes. We sample the Salty Pimp made with vanilla ice cream, dulce de leche, and sea salt, all covered in a chocolate shell. The treat attracts Mike’s attention, but not because of its flavors – there’s none of the aforementioned salt – but, rather, because of plastic holder it comes in. It has a rim around the edge, so ice cream doesn’t drip on your clothes while you’re eating it. This thoughtful touch is filed away for potential use at Retro Creamery.

Another coffee shop – Third Rail on Sullivan Street – is next up on the agenda after another quick Uber ride. We order several espresso drinks, which don’t so much as impress as amp up our jitters. “I’m jacked up on caffeine and the sugar from that ice cream,” says Isabella. “Let’s walk to the next spot.”Continue Reading

Parachute in Chicago: Beverly Kim + Johnny Clark on Bringing Modern Korean Fare to the Midwest

Parachute's Beverly Kim & Johnny Clark on Bringing Modern Korean Fare to the Midwest

Parachute in Chicago is a bit of an anomaly in the city’s dining scene. It’s located in a neighborhood not traditionally known for its restaurants, the food isn’t of the meat-heavy variety commonly found in the Midwest, and it’s not run by one of the marquee restaurateurs of the city (think Paul Kahan or Stephanie Izard). But that hasn’t prevented this modern Korean-American spot, run by Top Chef alum Beverly Kim and her husband John Clark, from becoming one of the most popular and exciting places to eat right now in Chicago. Within its first year of being open, Parachute received three stars in the Chicago Tribune and was named one of Bon Appétit‘s hottest new restaurants in America.

As Parachute enters its third year of existence with no sign of the crowds dying down, we spoke to Kim and Clark about the restaurant’s early successes, their love for Chicago, and what’s next for their tiny but mighty destination. Continue Reading

Magical Mystery Tour: Behind the Scenes at Minibar by José Andrés

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“This is the part of the day most people don’t ever get to see,” says head chef Josh Hermias, as he ushers me into Minibar by José Andrés, the what-you-see-isn’t-always-what-you-get wonderland of molecular gastronomy and avant-garde cooking. It’s the shining crown jewel of the Spanish-born, James Beard Award-winning chef’s restaurant empire, which includes D.C. standard setters Jaleo, Zaytinya, and Oyamel, China Poblano in Las Vegas, Miami’s Bazaar Mar, and others.

On this late August afternoon, Minibar’s open kitchen, the counter surrounding it where will guests will sit that evening, and the semi-private dining area off to the side – dubbed José’s Table – are all ablaze with activity. (Not much can happen in the incredibly compact, unexposed back area of the restaurant, as there’s only room enough for a small counter, two ovens, an impressively tiny walk-in freezer, and the washing station). Approximately a dozen staffers are getting ready for tonight’s epic epicurean experience when 24 diners will enjoy a 26 to 28-course tasting menu. Hermias estimates it takes in excess of 140 man-hours just to make the six-hour dinner service happen. A crew of half a dozen begins working at 7AM; the last team member doesn’t go home until 3AM the following morning.

Clad in black aprons over white shirts, the cooks are currently prepping an array of components. Wending our way through the kitchen, we see chicken skins frying, chocolate eggshells being poured, and the legs of langoustines being snipped off with a small pair of scissors. One staffer shaves mounds of black truffles. Meanwhile, the orchids that decorate the space during dinner service rest in the window to get some light.

As we’re walking around, a cook presents Hermias and me with slices of super juicy watermelon to approve for use. The rosy wedges will be infused with tequila and Grand Marnier, and then served on a salt block. “It’s like a margarita,” says Hermias, who gives them the thumbs up, “but instead of a salted rim, your plate is the salt.”

A dry erase board catalogs all the work that needs to be done today: 30 marinated rabbits, 26 blowfish, 105 cauliflower leaves; the list goes on. A nearby chalkboard bears a quote from recently departed chef Michel Richard, “People love to get something that looks like one thing and tastes like something totally different. That’s truly magical.”

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