Instead of doing my usual thing —picking through every rack at Calvert Woodley, wasting an hour looking for my bottle — I decided to buttonhole a floor clerk to help me find Domaines Ott’s 2007 vintage of Côtes de Provence rosé. Citronelle sommelier Kathryn Morgan introduced me to this wine during a recent press dinner; I told Pepi Almodovar, the personable wine guru at Calvert, that it was the best rosé I’ve ever had.
He harrumphed a dismissive harrumph.
Almodovar then directed me to a 2007 bottle of Château d’Esclans rosé, which he pronounced the best in the world. At $39.99 a bottle, I thought, it better at least breathe the same air as the best rosé in the world.
Then Almodovar told me that Calvert was the only wine store in the country to carry Château d’Esclans rosé, which pretty much meant I had to buy it now. I mean, the combination of exclusivity, expensive price, and excessive praise presses more of my buttons than Rachael Ray on Iron Chef.
Whether I loved it or hated it, I knew I had a good story to tell.
It’s almost a shame that I loved the bottle as much as I did. I popped the cork on this rosé, a combination of grenache and
rolle, on Saturday night at a friend’s dinner party. In the glass, the wine practically refracted light like a diamond. Its color was pale pink, almost quartzlike in its understated intensity.
The rosé was dry but not too dry. Its light strawberry sweetness didn’t overwhelm the palate. Not that the fruit stood a chance against the wine’s other characteristics, such as its slight chalkiness and mineral flavors, not to mention its somewhat spicy finish. This was a rosé you could drink all night—and never stop discovering something new on your tongue. My bottle of d’Esclans was so vibrant, in fact, that it stood up to the stuffed brisket that my friend served for dinner. Have you ever heard of such a thing?
I have to give it to Pepi. This rosé is superior to Domaines Ott’s. But is it the best in the world? You got me. I still have a few more to try.
For the Bun of It
The smoked duck that I recently ordered at Sichuan Pavilion was apparently impressive enough—or at least aromatic enough—to entice the buzz-cut-sporting gentleman from the next booth over to investigate the dish. He apologized for barging into our meal, took a quick glance at the platter full of duck meat, and pronounced without even sampling it that he would order the beast the next time. He seemed a little disappointed to have to wait.
He should be.
The menu description—“Smoked Duck (Deep Fried and Breaded) $12.95”—does not do justice to the dish. The duck meat, steamed and then deep-fried, rests on some shredded lettuces and is sprinkled with individual leaves of bright-green cilantro. Miniature croissant-shaped pieces of sweet rice-dough bread are placed on all sides of the meat; you take the duck and
greens and stuff them into the tiny bread pillows, which you then drizzle with hoisin sauce. It’s like making your own dim-sum steam buns right at the table, which strikes me as more Cantonese or Hong Kong-style than Szechwan.
No matter. Whatever the origin, the flavors and textures of this handheld bite are terrific—sweet, savory, soft, and crunchy. In other words, that “smoked duck” quickly becomes one of the best little sandwiches in the entire D.C. area.
Sichuan Pavilion is located at 410
Hungerford Drive (240-403-7351), in the former Taste of Saigon space near Rockville Town Square.
For reasons that I can’t fully explain, I ordered the muffaletta at Nicaro, which recently reopened under chef Luis Martinez, who has tons of experience opening and running restaurants of all sizes, from Cubano’s in Silver Spring to Cheesecake Factories here and in California.
I think I was feeling nostalgic for New Orleans after reading Martinez’s menu, which dabbles in some Crescent City favorites, including this iconic sandwich, which I’ve enjoyed at one of the finest places to ever stake its name on this righteous sammie with the Italian origins: Napoleon House in the French Quarter.
Rule No. 1 about eating muffalettas: never compare the one in front of you to the heated muffaletta served at Napoleon House unless you enjoy wallowing in disappointment. (I know, I know, some of you will argue that a muffaletta should never be served hot, but this is an argument for another day, all right?)
Let me say this from the start: Nicaro’s sandwich wasn’t bad, at least after the first few bites, which is what I told the bartender when he asked me about it. It just wasn’t a muffaletta. A genuine muffaletta has certain elements that cannot be shortchanged, the bread for starters. It needs to be a big round of seeded Sicilian bread, not a toasty baguette like Martinez uses at Nicaro. The olive salad is just as important; no matter what ingredients a chef decides to include in his particular salad, it must be slathered on thick, not applied as if you’re a French country peasant trying to make butter last through the winter.
Martinez even futzed with the lineup of meats and cheeses. His version included salami and capicola (good start), house-cured ham (very nice), smoked turkey (wtf?), and a Danish Havarti cheese (all right, it’s time to turn in your card).
Provolone, my man. You need provolone!
All that said, Martinez’s sandwich was satisfying enough—until the collective sodium content from all the cured meats caught up with me after about the fourth bite. That’s when this “muffaletta” turned into one giant salty meat bomb.
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