Restaurants revered for their excellent and award-winning food? I'm all over it. Chefs who are considered celebrities in the culinary world? Absolutely. Cocktails with names such as Mulberry Street and the reefer? Yes, please. And the best part: It's all under the same roof.
What is this I speak of? A biannual gala held by Star Chefs, honoring its selection of chef royalty. This year Richmond has its name right in the mix with Jason Alley of Comfort as one of the 20 honorees. This is no slouchy honor or marketing ploy. Individuals such as Wylie Dufresne and Bobby Flay have been honored similarly. The event is small and boutiquelike. The food definitely is not.
Arriving at Charlie Palmer Steak in Washington I have no clue what to expect. Ushered to the penthouse and surrounded by breathtaking views of the Capitol and the Washington Monument, I'm overwhelmed by the exceptional quality of the small plates, the spectacular presentations and the use of uncommon techniques and ingredients such as ash for cooking lamb by John Shields of Town House and smoked salmon prepared sous vide by Bryan Voltaggio.
Ruben Garcia of Minibar spins his own cotton candy to wrap lightly broiled eel. The effect is sea dessert, the spun sugar giving the eel a crackly outer texture. Serving local, stone-ground grits on a ginger beer braising sauce, Comfort's Alley is a stand-out. Juniper notes waft from his cooking area. A bite of fork-tender shredded beef cheek and I'm instantly reminded why he receives these accolades.
Bertrand Chemel of the restaurant 2941 dishes compressed watermelon, laughing-bird shrimp and local cubed beets. Tender duck confit is intertwined with carrots, duck skin cracklings and airy, barely there ricotta gnocchi. This is from Dean Maupin (formerly of the Clifton Inn, now with Keswick Hall) and stands out as a favorite for its simplicity and creamy, light gnocchi.
Trummer's on Main presents a massive poached New Zealand mussel atop red quinoa. I feel as though I've taken a bite into the sea with sand and followed it up with granola. This dish is the single one of the night that misses translation from restaurant to rooftop. Though this pairing isn't among my top choices, the dessert created by Trummer's pastry chef certainly is. Thick pieces of dense devil's food cake swimming in a chocolate soup with malted ice cream and a cinnamon marshmallow makes me go back for seconds.
A chocolate peanut butter tart by Birch & Barley is reminiscent of a mature peanut butter cup except warm and better. The whiskey vanilla shake served alongside it adds more adult stature and the tiniest zing.
Pairings are next to every dish, including beer, wine and Scotch. Each drink is selected to enhance the flavor of the chef's creations: a sancerre to balance a heart of palm salad, a nice dark beer to pick up flavor from juniper and beef, Scotch to sooth the palate. The reefer, by the Trummer's mixologist, sports a fabulous nose. Lighted absinthe poured over a bouquet garni of rosemary, thyme and sage into a glass of rum, mint and honey is not only a spectacle to watch but also superb to sip on, grassy and organic.
Executed like the best-expedited kitchen, the entire evening is swoon-worthy. Starchefs.com asks us to vote for our favorite dish of the evening. We leave before the winner is announced. I already know who I'm pulling for.
Information at www.starchefs.com.