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Washington, D.C. is among the world’s most global cities. Steeped in rich history, the nation’s capital is home to all three branches of the government — but it’s not all politics and power suits.
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- I'm Aida Mollenkamp. I'm a chef and writer with a passion for exploration, and I'm in search of the best food a city has to offer. Whether it's locals-only favorites or a chef's secret special, join me as I go off-menu in Washington, D.C. D.C. is steeped in history, but the district has begun to make a name for itself outside of Capitol Hill. The food scene has taken the district by storm. From artisan markets to neighborhood hotspots, Washington, D.C. is one of the most culturally diverse cities in the country. I'm meeting up with Mary Kong-DeVito, the founder of D.C.'s popular food blog, Girl Meets Food. Mary has seen the dining scene here do a complete 180 in the last decade. The list of top restaurants and new openings has become too many to name. One such success story, Dolcezza, opened in 2004 in a tiny kitchen. Now with seven locations and growing, owner Robb Duncan and team make handmade gelato every morning at their factory in the Union Market neighborhood. - My name's Robb Duncan. I'm co-founder and owner of Dolcezza Gelato, along with my wife, Violeta, and this is our gelato factory, in the Coffee Lab, that's what we call it, where we make all the flavors throughout the year. And then, this is also where we have the tasting room so people can come in off the street and try the flavors that we're making, fresh off the line. This is the gateway to all other gelatos. This is the salted caramel, which, essentially, is the dulce de leche and sea salt. And the thing that makes this really special is this has not been tempered, so we spin this fresh from the machine, and we don't stick it in the freezer. - [Aida] Oh, you never do? - [Robb] No. - So, you serve it more like soft serve then. - Exactly, it's 20 degrees Fahrenheit. - This is really incredible. You have this creaminess, more so than you might expect from gelato, but you have a richness without it being too sweet, too salty. - Dolcezza makes 300 flavors a year. - Yeah. - And they're all really seasonal. - I guess what makes our stuff special and different is really the approach that we take with it, as far as working with the ingredient while it's in season in the local areas. We'll use cucumbers in cucumber season. We'll combine it with mint and vodka, or cucumber-tarragon gin, or when the hot peppers are in season, we'll do a hot pepper sorbet. So, now, we have a sorbet, which means no milk or cream, no dairy, and this is of the pomegranate, which is in season right now. - That is gorgeous-looking. - It's beautiful. - This is one of the most painful flavors that we make, meaning we get the pomegranate, we have to split the pomegranate, we beat it on the back to dislodge the seeds, and then kitchen looks like bloody murder with red splattered everywhere. So, it's an incredible process and very messy. - That is like a very sophisticated take on, like, a berry, you know? - You got the brightness-- - It's really bright. - You got the nuttiness. I mean there's four ingredients in there. There's water, and your sugar, there's fresh pomegranate juice, and there's a little hint of lime in it that you don't really pick up directly, but it's just to also brighten it up and kind of bring everything together. - You can really taste the labor of love in there. - The next flavor that we have is called crookneck pumpkin. Now, the crookneck pumpkin is the pumpkins that everybody, pre-50s, kind of, used to use to make pumpkin pie, and they're the ancestor of the butternut squash. What we do with the crookneck pumpkin is we cut it, we bathe it in spices, which are ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, and brown sugar-- - [Aida] That's, like, fall right there. - Yeah, the whole kitchen smells amazing. We do this and we roast them in the ovens around 450 degrees for about an hour to really caramelize the vegetable. And then we take it out, we puree it, and then mix it into the hot milk and cream. The big difference between this pumpkin, the crookneck pumpkin, is it's all about the pumpkin that's highlighted by the spices, as opposed to the inferior pumpkin being covered up by all the spices, which is kind of typically what you get in your grocery stores with the holiday flavors. All you taste is spice. - [Aida] Sure. - [Mary] Wow. - It's the quintessential fall flavor, here, especially. - That's fall in a bowl right here. - Yeah, it's amazing. -What's incredible about this is this is actually a very delicate flavor that you guys have here. Thank you for having us. Washington, D.C. is home to the world's largest enclave of Ethiopians living outside their country, giving rise to some great restaurants. Mary's taking me to Zenebech, originally a bakery, that supplied neighboring restaurants with injera, the spongy, sour flatbread that is the base for nearly all Ethiopian dishes. Oh, it's beautiful. - Wow. - [Aida] Thank you. - [Mary] That looks amazing! - That looks seriously good. - [Mary] So, goden tibs, tibs usually means it's some kind of sauteed meat, and shiro wot, wots are usually stews. That's doro wot, which is a chicken stew. That's kitfo, it's kind of like steak tartare. - [Aida] Yup. - [Mary] Collard greens, there's cabbage, potatoes and carrots, and then, that's like a cold tomato salad. - Do you have a favorite of all of her preparations on here? - I tend to like the tibs. It's marinated for a long time, it's soft, it's grilled, it's kind of crispy too. - The tibs is really excellent. It's got that great char to it, and it's a little bit sweet, and anything that has chilies in it, I'm a fan of. I think what's really unexpected is people will come to D.C., see the monuments, and they're not thinking Ethiopian food. - Mm-hmm. Away from all the monuments and all the memorials, there's neighborhoods and pockets of great places that, I guess, maybe only the locals know. - Those greens are fabulous. They're cooked just a little bit, and I appreciate that there's that bright cleanness there. - Mm-hmm, a little different from American collard greens. It's firmer, and there's almost a little sweetness to it. - Mm-hmm. - So, I like the tomato salad because it's almost like a palate cleanser. It's raw and it's tangy, a little acidic from the vinegar, and it's got a little bit of jalapeno pepper, so it's a good mix. - Mm-hmm. How did you come to decide that Zenebech is your favorite? There's just so much to choose from. - It's been my personal mission to try all of the Ethiopian restaurants in D.C. - Have you done so? - Yeah, I think I have. - Wow-- - And this is my favorite. - That's quite a claim! - [Mary] Yeah, yeah. - [Aida] Why Zenebech? - So, I think it's really authentic, it's very flavorful. And also, they make all their injera in-house, daily, so it's very fresh. - Okay. - And I start to suffer from withdrawal if I'm not here regularly. - No matter the weather, the day, the time, Ethiopian food probably has something for you. Situated on the banks of the Potomac River, the National Mall is two miles of pathways, monuments, and memorials. It's the perfect place to take in some history, enjoy the park, or visit any one of the Smithsonian museums, and go for a stroll before a next great meal. Derek Brown, also known as D.C.'s king of cocktails, recently opened Mockingbird Hill, coffee bar by day, sherry bar by night. It was nominated one of the best new cocktail bars of 2014. Inspired by the tiny bars of Southern Spain, Mockingbird Hill serves local and imported hams, and other small plate delicacies, next to an incredible list of sherries. - My name's Derek Brown, and we're at Mockingbird Hill in the Shaw neighborhood of Washington, D.C. When it comes to sherry bars, we're the only one. Well, I mean, there's other great programs out there, and bartenders and sommeliers, who really do a great job of creating amazing sherry lists, but when it comes to one that just focuses entirely on sherry, that's us, Mockingbird Hill. So, I think that, you know, we look forward to more competition. - This might be the most exciting moment of the day for me. We've got jamon, sherry, and this place is a coffee bar during the day? - Mm-hmm, yup, and there's cocktails on top too, so. - Hey, Mary, how are you? - [Mary] Hey, Derek, how are ya? - Good to see you, yeah. - [Mary] Good to see you, this is Aida. - [Aida] Hi. - Hey, how are you? Derek Brown. - Great, nice to meet you. - [Derek] Yeah. - Thanks for having us. - Oh, my pleasure! - So, some of my favorite travel memories are late night, Madrid, you know where I'm going. - That's right, we were actually very much influenced by these bars from Southern Spain, especially south of Madrid, but in Madrid too, where we'd go to places like La Venencia-- - Yup. - And you'd go, and you just get, like, a glass of sherry and some olives and ham. So, we really wanted to reproduce that here, in Washington, D.C., but in our own way. - Yeah. - We knew that we weren't gonna open a Spanish bar. We were gonna open a bar that's really our own. Would you like to try some sherry? - [Aida] Of course. - [Mary] Absolutely. - Most people don't know what sherry is, and I think that most people have a perception of it, which is quite limited, you know? It's something sweet, it's something their grandmother drank. - Or, say, something that they see in a recipe that they're cooking with. - Exactly, it's something you put she-crab soup, whatever that is. So, what we try to do is dispel a little bit of those illusions. So, we start by, you know, pouring sherry just as it is. So, in this case, we're doing a flight that we serve here, called a ocean flight. This is three different expressions of sherry, all of which are dry, actually-- - Okay. - From Sanlucar de Barremeda. So, this is manzanilla sherry. That's the lightest, driest style. - [Aida] Right. - If it's not from Sanlucar de Barremeda, it's called fino. So, some people have heard of things like Tio Pepe-- - Yup. - And other fino sherries. Now, I'm gonna make this controversial statement, and I believe it to be true, is that sherry is the best pairing beverage in the world, right? So, sherry is a beautiful beverage on its own, but it really just comes alive with food, and food comes alive with sherry. One of the best pairings, and it happens to be a traditional pairing as well, is sherry and ham. So, what we've done here is we've picked a bunch of local hams. So, we have chorizo and lomo that's from Red Apron, which is a local butchery-- - [Aida] Right. - With fantastic stuff. We have Surryano ham, which is kind of a play on the word Serrano. So, it's from Surry, Virginia, it's by Edwards and Sons. And then we have a prosciutto Americano from La Quercia, which is very traditional, sort of, prosciutto style. So, you get a chance to try ham that's from around the area, which I think is very cool. Then, we have, you know, some of the more traditional ones, like this is a pan con tomate. It's a, you know, just a really simple-- - [Aida] Hello! - Pairing with a sherry. Tomato and fino are just, like, made in heaven. - [Aida] Okay. - This is one of our more unusual pairings, which we think goes great. It's cabra La Mancha cheese from Firefly Farms. We put local honey on it with coffee grounds, and then just a couple little bites, some pickled garlic and castelvetrano olives that I like a lot. - So, if somebody's going to come here and they're just dipping their toe into this world, you would say start it off with fino and ham? - Yeah, and this is actually something in the south of Spain,that you'd get. - Ham, cheese, I'm happy. - I really wanna try the Surryano 'cause this is something I do not get access to on the West Coast. - Did he say that was from Virginia? - Surry, Virginia, but if you blindfolded me and told me it was from Serrano, I would think it is. - Mm-hmm, fat is flavor. I like fat. I love how the dry sherry cuts the fattiness of the ham. It's a nice contrast, it's delicious. - A lot of times, if you pair food with wine, the wine's playing a supporting role, and I think, here, the sherry is really a co-star. - Absolutely, absolutely. Meats, cheeses, wine, what else do you need? - Speaking of cheeses, I need to try this. I love cooking with coffee grounds and honey, putting that on pork, and things like that. So, it seems like it's all in the same realm, a place I really like. - Yeah, this is a particularly good cheese. -How's the pan con tomate? - It's great, crisp, balanced, and just a little bit of green onions on it. - You have been spoiling us. This is all fabulous. - Well, it's not over yet. - [Aida] Okay. - So, we have one more thing. There's this tradition in bars of doing a pickleback. Have you heard that? - [Aida] Mm-hmm. - Where you do a shot of whiskey, a shot of pickle juice. We created a finoback. So what you're gonna do is you're gonna take a shot of this, and then we're going to follow it with garlic juice. Cheers. - [Aida] Cheers. - [Mary] Cheers! - Thank you, Derek. - [Derek] Thank you. - [Mary] That's tasty! - That's better than a pickleback. - Yeah. - Savory, garlicky, all the things that I like. - Right, and this pickled garlic you have is so mellow and has a little bit of sweetness that it just really works well with that fino sherry. - Have you ever done anything like that before? - No, I haven't! That is really something special. - Realistically, nobody ever orders it unless we talk to them about it because it's so unusual. Fino and garlic juice? That's just not something most people are gonna order, so we're really excited when we get a chance to, like, talk to people and bring them into this weird world of fino and garlic. - I think it helps when you're here with us, giving us, kind of, one-on-one consultation of what to order. If only everybody could have that, I think everybody would be ordering the sherryback. Well, thank you for giving us the royal treatment. - Cheers, thank you all so much for coming. - [Mary] Cheers. - [Aida] Thank you. That was an incredible day. When you think D.C., you think steak, and instead, I got gelato and Ethiopian food, and sherry and jamon. I mean, thank you. - [Mary] We ran the full gamut. It was so much fun today. Thank you so much for joining me. - [Aida] Yeah!