Playing with Fire: Backstage at Smokin’ South American Steakhouse Del Campo with Chef Victor Albisu

Washington, D.C., chef Victor Albisu has accumulated many accolades since opening the doors to Del Campo in 2013, including having his eatery named a Best New Restaurant 2013 by  Esquire, besting Bobby Flay on the Food Network’s Beat Bobby Flay, and being named Chef of the Year at the 2015 RAMMYS. Go behind the scenes with dining scribe Nevin Martell and photographer Laura Hayes for a delicious look at one of the capital’s hottest — in more ways than one — restaurants. 

Blog DSC_9930 copy

Victor Albisu has always loved fire.

Growing up outside the nation’s capitol in Falls Church, Virginia, he and his Cuban grandfather, Paco, would grill in the dead of winter on a small Weber in the family’s backyard. They kept a cutting board and a knife next to their modest setup so they could slice off pieces of meat as it sizzled over the flames. If they were feeling particularly inspired during warmer months when the ground thawed, they would dig a pit to cook whole pigs or the deer his grandfather hunted.

Albisu got his first taste of kitchen life as a teenager by working at his Peruvian mother’s Latin market and butcher shop. “That’s when I started to fall for char,” he says.

Lemons DSC_9631 copy

His passion for cooking kindled, he attended Le Cordon Bleu Paris, followed by a stint at the acclaimed L’Arpege. Returning stateside, he began ascending through the Washington, D.C. dining scene with increasingly statured positions at the Tabard Inn, DC Coast, Ceiba, Marcel’s, Ardeo + Bardeo, before he was appointed the executive chef of BLT Steak. There he began to earn attention, awards, and acclaim. Not only did the First Couple dine at the restaurant, but Michelle Obama became a regular.

During his tenure at the steakhouse, Albisu found himself being continually drawn back to his family’s food and its wider roots. “It’s like I didn’t have a choice,” he says. “The dishes just started coming out of me.”

Blog Sliced Steak DSC_9976 copy

His specials began showcasing Latin elements, even as he explored Spanish culinary traditions during his travels. A meal at Asador Etxebarri in Basque country opened his palate to the possibilities presented by cooking with fire in its many forms – grilling, charbroiling, smoking, charring, and torching. He combined those techniques with the idea of a South American grill to create the concept for Del Campo, which he opened in D.C.’s Penn Quarter in the spring of 2013.

In the kitchen, Albisu is a calculated pyro, adding just the right amount of burning, blackening, smoking, and searing to his creations. On a recent March afternoon, he fired up five favorites showcasing his red-hot culinary style. Mackerel ceviche begins with halved lemons face down on the stovetop so they’re seared black. “When you squeeze them, the juice falls through this charred ‘membrane,’” explains Albisu. “It sweetens it, smokes it, and adds this over-caramelized flavor.”

Ceviche DSC_9729 copy

He smokes oysters by igniting a bed of thyme, rosemary, and oregano, and then combines their juices with lemon juice and crème frâiche to create the dressing that is spooned over slender cut slices of fish. Grilled avocado slices, gold-skinned bits of dry sautéed mackerel, and flash seared pickled Calabrian chilies finish the dish.

Oysters Blog Del Campo DSC_9672 copyContinue Reading

Smoked, Baked + Fried: Stoner Munchies in Pot-Friendly DC, Denver + Seattle for #420Day

April 20th is practically a national holiday for herb enthusiasts. The date – 4/20 – is a reference to 4:20 in the afternoon, the time of day when smokers traditionally spark up. As several states and the District of Columbia move to legalize marijuana, stoners can now puff-puff-pass to their heart’s desire. As anyone who has ever indulged before knows, the practice often awakens the appetite, leading to blissful binges of epic proportions. To give tokers better options than Cheetos, Ho Hos, and DiGiorno, we’ve rounded up the best smoked, baked, and fried stoner munchies in the pot-friendly cities of Washington, D.C., Denver, and Colorado. [Ed. note: One need not partake to appreciate the deliciousness of these dishes.]

Denver

Smoked

Stoner Munchies

Ribs at Russell’s Smokehouse
Funnily enough, the Smokehouse was the nickname for our off-campus duplex during college. But we digress. These generously portioned dry rubbed ribs – your choice of beef, pork, baby back, or a combo – come with three sauces on the side, including a spicy varietal that’s a longtime customer favorite. Don’t forget to ask for plenty of napkins. Make a reservation at Russell’s Smokehouse.

Baked

Stoner Munchies

The Georgio at Pizza Republica
Honestly, if we were only allowed to eat pizza for every meal of the day, we wouldn’t complain. We love ‘za that much. The Georgia is a god amongst men, decked out with rounds of fennel sausage, char-kissed pearl onions, fried garlic, and fresh mozzarella. Just what we crave after a long night of partying – or the morning after. Make a reservation at Pizza Republica.

Fried

Stoner Munchies

Doughnut Sundae at Sugar Mill
Could there be anything greater than a doughnut sundae? Possibly, but who cares? When you’re in the zone digging into a doughnut sundae, nothing else matters. A sweet circle of glazed brioche comes with ice cream, caramel sauce, chocolate sauce, and candied nuts. Not included? A gym membership, which you’ll desperately need after you devour this dainty. Make a reservation at Sugar Mill.

Washington, D.C.

Smoked

Stoner Munchies

S’mores at Bourbon Steak
This haute s’more arrives hidden under a smoke-filled cloche, which the server pulls away to release a hazy cloud. You’re welcome to inhale, but, unfortunately, it has no mind-altering properties. Once the smoke clears, you’ll find marshmallow, toasted marshmallow ice cream, hazelnut graham streusel, and caramel and milk chocolate shards. Make a reservation at Bourbon Steak.

 

Baked

Stoner Munchies

Sticky Toffee Pudding at Convivial
Pastry chef Eva Kronenburg soaks dates in dark rum for a week for the base of this gloriously gluttonous sticky toffee pudding. The molasses sweetened mound is enhanced further with dark raisins and prunes. Served warm, the pudding sits in a pool of rum rich toffee sauce, while a scoop of maple ice cream on top slowly melts down the sides. A perfect meal ender for the stoner with a sweet tooth. Make a reservation at Convivial.

Fried

Stoner Munchies

French Fries at Blue Duck Tavern
It takes a full day to make these substantial sticks, which are definitely not your average French fries. Chef de cuisine Brad Deboy begins by steaming gold potatoes until tender and then mixing them until velveteen. The smooth spuds are set in a pan, cut into logs, dried overnight, and fried until golden brown for service. The Jenga tower of outsized frites comes with a spicy smoked pepper aioli. They sure beat the fries at the McDonald’s drive-through you normally scarf down after a smoke session. Make a reservation at Blue Duck Tavern.

Seattle

Smoked

Stoner Munchies

Catfish Deviled Eggs at Sazerac
There are deviled eggs and then there are smoked catfish deviled eggs. The fish is balanced on a peak of whipped yolks, garnished with pickled mustard seeds, and dusted with Spanish smoked paprika. Yes, it’s okay to eat these outrageous oeufs in a single bite. We won’t judge, dude. Make a reservation at Sazerac.

Continue Reading

Tax Day 2016 Dining Splurges: Where to Spend Your Refund

April showers bring May flowers or if you’re really lucky, the month itself brings a big fat tax refund. Since experiences bring more happiness than possessions, a big splurge dinner on the town seems like the perfect way to spend it. Here are some top picks Tax Day 2016 dining splurges to live and eat large if only for one night. please note that the most exclusive wines are available in extremely limited quantities, so it’s best to inquire ahead of time if you have your heart set on a particularly splurge-y selection.

Daniel, New York, New York
Daniel Boulud’s flagship restaurant on the Upper East Side just off of Central Park is the epitome of contemporary French extravagance. The seven-course tasting menu clocks in at $234 or $459 with wine pairings and includes signature dishes like velvety Minted Pea Soup with chicken mousse and Louisiana crayfish and garlic pennycress and can include courses of langoustines, beef, and quail with foie gras. The wine list has selections such as Chateau D’Yquem 1918 for $10,000 or Domaine de la Romanée-Conti 2009 for $15,000. Or if you’re celebrating with similarly flush-with-cash friends, how about a magnum? You can’t go wrong with the Domaine Henri Jayer Vosne-Romanée 1er Cru “Cros Parantoux”1995 for $20,000. Make a reservation at Daniel.

Tax Day 2016 Dining Splurges

Providence, Los Angeles, California
Chef Michael Cimarusti’s 2-Michelin star paean to fine dining in the heart of Los Angeles features the chef’s menu, a 12-course tasting menu with sustainable seafood from the U.S. and beyond, as well as other delicacies like prized A5 wagyu beef. Decadent touches include ossetra caviar and white truffle and black truffle fondue. It’s $220 or $325 with wine pairings. But if you’re really looking to splash out, begin your evening with a bottle of 1998 Krug Clos d’Ambonnay Champagne for $3,500 and then move on to a bottle of 2012 La Tâche Domaine de la Romanée-Conti for $4,000. Finish the evening with a bottle to remember in the way of a 1959 Staatsweingut Kloster Eberbach Riesling Auslese for $3,500. Make a reservation at Providence.

Tax Day 2016 Dining Splurges

Saison, San Francisco, California
Chef Joshua Skenes and sommelier Mark Bright have crafted one of the most unique high-end dining environments at Saison, with its open floor plan encompassing the dining room, bar, lounge, and kitchen — effectively removing all walls. The goal is to bring diners into the chef’s world, in this case, a minimalist redesign of the California Electric Light Company building. Dishes have vague and poetic names such as Fire in the Sky Beet, Bone Marrow Roasted over Coals and Sea Urchin, Liquid Toast. The prix-fixe Discovery menu is a luxe $398 for about 16 courses with an additional $298 for wine pairings. But if you want to really max out the credit cards (assuming you can pay it off with your return dough), you might consider ordering the Domaine Georges Roumier ‘Bonnes-Mares’ Grand Cru 2009 for $15,408 or ending the experience on a truly sweet note with Château D’Yquem Premiere Cru Supérieur, Sauternes 1942 for $6,888. Make a reservation at Saison.

Tax Day 2016 Dining Splurges

StripSteak by Michael Mina, Miami, Florida
Located in the historic Fontainebleau hotel on Collins Avenue in Miami, StripSteak is swank and clubby with its wood tones and rich browns. Start your meal with rare golden osetra caviar service for $295, and then indulge in a beefy entrée like the 50-ounce Australian tomahawk for $150 or the Japanese Miyazaki prefecture A5 striploin for $32 per ounce. Then gild the lily with add-on extras like half a Maine lobster tail or seared foie gras. The restaurant prides itself on having one of the largest pre-embargo Cuban cigar collections in Miami, all dating back to 1962 and earlier with prices generally in the $100-200 range but topping out at $395 for a 6-inch Montecristo. To accompany your stogie, choose a tableside Japanese whisky ceremony or perhaps a glass of 25-year Macallan for $370. Make a reservation at StripSteak by Michael Mina.

Tax Day 2016 Dining Splurges

Grace, Chicago, Illinois
This Michelin three-star restaurant is also one of the biggest splurges in Chicago. Elegant and understated, chef Curtis Duffy’s Windy City gem is upscale without being fussy. The menu offers an 8-12 course tasting menu format at $235. The dishes are described in classic minimalist style such as Alaskan King Crab, sudachi, cucumber, lemon mint or Pig Tail, endive, cauliflower, oxalis. Many dishes have Asian accents and the vegetarian “flora” menu is as captivating as the “fauna” menu, which showcases seafood and protein. The wine list features saves and splurges among 1,400 selections. Teetotalers can splurge on bespoke teas that cost upwards of $20 each. Make a reservation at Grace.

Tax Day 2016 Dining SplurgesContinue Reading

Bon Anniversaire! Iconic French Restaurant L’Auberge Chez François Celebrates 40 Years

L’Auberge Chez François Celebrates 40 Years

The restaurant business is a high turnover industry. Celebrating a 10-year anniversary is rare. Against all odds, L’Auberge Chez François in Great Falls, Virginia, is toasting 40 delicious years of serving memorable Alsatian accented gastronomy, which has thrilled everyone from American presidents and foreign dignitaries to couples commemorating a special anniversary and families marking major milestones.

Their stunning success story begins in Washington, D.C. For more than two decades, Chez François thrived just a short distance from the White House. For many diners, it was their first taste of French cuisine. “People didn’t even drink wine when he started,” says his son, Jacques Haeringer, who started working in the restaurant when he was 11 and took over as chef and co-owner when his father passed away in 2010. “Girls would drink Coke and the boys would have coffee.”

L’Auberge Chez François Celebrates 40 Years

When the building the restaurant was housed in was sold in 1975, chef-owner Franҫois Haeringer decided to uproot the concept and move it 45 minutes outside the city to the bucolic hamlet of Great Falls. His attorney and accountant thought the idea was bordering on lunacy. “They said it was too high risk,” remembers Haeringer. “They said Great Falls was too far away. ‘If you drive another mile, you’ll fall off the edge.’ My father went over, kicked the wall, and said, ‘I’m doing it anyway.’”

L’Auberge Chez François Celebrates 40 Years

The senior Haeringer poured the family’s savings into completely making over an old property and adding a full kitchen, wine cellar, and parking lot. Ultimately, it was transformed into a picturesque French country inn, which inspired the new name, L’Auberge Chez François (It debuted on April 20, 1976, with François leading the kitchen and Jacques as the chef de cuisine). “With Dad and I, it was old bull, young bull,” says Haeringer. “It was a strength of the business because we bounced things off each other.”

L’Auberge Chez François Celebrates 40 YearsContinue Reading