I had one of the most satisfying culinary experiences last night at Chef Tony's in Bethesda. I know I'm usually a bit... hyperbolic, to say the least, but beyond the delicious in-season generally local/organic food, numerous courses, excellent service, wine pairings, and pleasant atmosphere, the on-the-spot theme created for us by the sous chef really helped build the night's experience.
It started with a treasure hunt I set up for my date. For those who are interested in going to Chef Tony's and having their significant others go through a similar series of hoops to get there, I created a Google map describing the route, the clues, and ways I think the treasure hunt could have been improved. It was definitely fun to plan, but waiting for the treasure hunter to finish the route is a large test of patience--you don't know whether the clues have been left alone by passers-by, whether the clues are clear and your date is on his or her way or whether s/he ended up in another town because your clue was just that bad, or how long it'll take for the treasure hunter to finish the route.
But despite a little issue with me trying to be too clever with Clue 5, delaying the other half of my dinner party, the wait staff at Chef Tony's was very accommodating and friendly, chatting intermittently with me and explaining the five-course tasting that Chef Tony is offering (
only for another two days extended until 25 July, so get there if you can!).
While I was waiting for my date to arrive, I was brought a starter of Peruvian corn, roasted with hot pepper flakes, lime juice, and lime zest. It was nice and crunchy, but mostly what it made me think of is using my roasted chickpea recipe with the Bloody Butcher and Maryland Gourdseed corn that I'm growing! The deep red kernels would look awesome paired with the large pale yellow kernels!
Once my beau arrived, we both requested vegetarian tastings, although the restaurant has a heavy seafood focus. Chef Tony, when I had e-mailed him, said that his "very creative" sous chef "would love to do a vegetarian tasting." He definitely spoke truth--what the chef prepared for us were dishes with a rainbow theme (how did he know?!?).
I must take the chance to apologize here--I did not bring my camera. Each course was unique and amazing, and I am really kicking myself for being a bad food blogger. But I did get a picture of the dessert with the camera on my phone, poor quality though it is. Also, I likely missed a few ingredients or subtleties of the courses in trying to recall all of this. Some of it went down the hatch so fast, I'm not even sure that I chewed!
The first course was Purple. What first caught my eye was the blue fingerling potato across the plate from the purple fig. The blueberries and peas scattered around on top of the blueberry reduction were a delicious touch, and to top it off was grated purple cauliflower (I think). I feel that I'm missing something here, something that was the main part of the course... I didn't expect so many varied flavours and items to go together, but the peas and figs actually went spectacularly well together, and the sweetness of the blueberries and the figs helped tie the taste together with the rest of the course. I thought it was a very nice presentation, and I was superexcited about the colour theme (and purple is, by the way, one of my favourites!). The course was paired with a nice red wine. Not too tannin-y, not too sweet.
The second course was Red. I have this problem with melon--it kills me. That's less of a problem, I think, than the way in which I present that problem to servers. I hadn't thought of mentioning it prior to the meal, although, as anyone with a deadly food allergy knows, you should do so at any restaurant, especially when the meal has five courses and is prepared without the diners' knowledge of the meal's constituents. So, as I saw the plates coming, I said "Oh, no, I'm so sorry, I'm deathly allergic to watermelon. No, no, it's okay, I'll just remove it from the white asparagus and eat around where it was on the plate, as long as it was just scooped it on and didn't let it touch anything else?" The dish was really cool, despite my little issue of potential death--there were three pieces of seared white asparagus garnished with a scoop of watermelon and half of a juicy red tomato. Pomegranate seeds were scattered on the plate, and the swoosh of a mesquite hot sauce was well-complemented by the sliced strawberry. The sweet-hot combo worked wonders! I think this was the course paired with the rose-coloured bubbly lightly sweet wine, but I'm not certain. That could have been paired with Yellow.
Yellow was the third course. It was composed of a nice risotto with a bit of cheese, yellow cauliflower, pineapple, a yellow Early Girl tomato hybrid, jicama, and a dehydrated plantain chip, all atop a sweet parsnip puree. The flavour of the pineapple with the mellow risotto and sweet parsnip puree blew my buds. After a cooking class I took in Nova Scotia (good review to come, trust me!), I am now in love with risotto! It is so incredibly versatile, and the chef at Chef Tony's clearly knows how to make it well. I'm pretty sure there was a white wine paired with this course, but I'm not certain. I got a little mixed up--we ended up with several courses worth of wine glasses on the table concurrently during the night, because there was almost more wine than food on the plate! Up until this point, Yellow was my favourite course of the evening.
But then we were brought Brown. It might sound simple, but its taste was incredible. A bed of quinoa was topped with two portabello mushroom caps stuffed with a mushroom filling. Thai peanut sauce twirled its way around the plate, encircling the dish. I definitely did not get enough of this dish--it was, quite simply, amazing. The flavours of the mushroom and nutty quinoa were subtle and complex, a good combination with the deliciously mellow-with-a-kick Thai peanut sauce. The wine pairing was a smoky red, which complemented the subtle-yet-strong flavour combination of the dish well.
The final course was dessert. The colour theme was dropped for this, but I'm not complaining. Look at that! My camera phone does it no justice. I call this the "Um, Hells Yeah, Gimme That No-Flour Chocolate Cake!" I'm not sure what the chef calls it. I should trademark the name. It's so rich, so chocolatey, so thick, so... amazing. Also, gluten-free? But, almost what I liked best, was that the cake was in the shape of a heart (Awwwww! I'm a sucker for such things, can't deny it!). It had a raspberry (I think) puree drizzled around with raspberry (I think) whipped cream topped by a sliced strawberry. I think this right here was about half of the calories for the meal, but it was well worth it! Any chocolate lover who maybe has celiac disease should definitely go to Chef Tony's and get this chocolate cake. The dessert was paired with one of our server's (I forget his name, I feel bad about that...!) own special Key Lime Pie martini. And yes, it was sweet and tasted like a key lime pie! It was difficult to go from cake to martini, because one was so sweet and refreshing, the other so dense and delicious, but both were definitely worth the calories.
So. Worth. It. Chef Tony's recently changed names from Visions, if you knew it as that before. If you have not yet been, well, you have a couple of thumbs up from me if you're thinking about it! (Just to let you know, the menu changes daily on the basis of what's in season and available at the market, but prices are very reasonable for such a nice restaurant--main courses for dinner go for just $13 to $20. The five-course tasting was only $29 per person, but it's running only until
15 25 July--for the summer, at least. I am hoping Chef Tony will continue this in other seasons!)
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