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Food Porn: DC Lamb Crawl @ Various Locations
March 26, 2013 | 11:30AM

All words: Jeb Gavin

The American Lamb Board would like you to eat more lamb. That’s the takeaway I got this Sunday when Craig Rogers and a perky blonde lady (c’mon, it was a Sunday morning) took us on a lamb crawl eating lamb and drinking through four of DC’s finest and most forgiving establishments. Excepting the fine and saintly work done by the fellas over at Burger Days, I’d never been on a crawl where the focus was food, or at least, food in addition to beverages. Lamb seemed a better reason than most to be up and at Union Market at the crack of noon.

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We started with a giant plate of cured lamb parts, a “hamb,” an apt portmanteau of lamb and ham, some lamb prosciutto, and a summer sausage which tasted like a sweet, unfunky Lebanon bologna. There may have been a point I gave up on being polite and started shoveling half rounds of the sausage in my face like a three year old first introduced to deli meats. Gina from Buffalo & Bergen provided bloody Mary’s, a unique recipe of yuzu, hoisin, Sriracha, and tomato juice which gives my usual Old Bay and blinding amounts of horseradish a run for its money. The drinks were garnished with what they called a “lambtastix,” basically a lamb Slim Jim, marinated in spicy tomato juice. The folks at Border Springs farm offered up a biscuit topped with their heavy but delicious lamb gravy, and a side of potatoes and lamb bacon from Benton’s. If you’re a meat lover and are unfamiliar with Benton’s, go look it up, we’ll wait for you. Yeah, now you see. I got the feeling someone was waiting to crack out the line, “lamb is the new bacon.” Thankfully we all kept it holstered.

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Our next stop was Zaytinya. I was hoping for more lamb lettuce wraps, because they’re delicious and I’d rather eat them than breathe. Instead we got a far more complex Greek dish, a lamb kleftiko. The same spit roasted lamb as the lettuce wraps was chopped, mixed with feta, and sealed inside fresh made phyllo dough, then baked and served over a yogurt and feta sauce. It might’ve been the best lamb based Hot Pocket ever devised, and paired beautifully with the 961, a Lebanese pale ale. Of course Zaytinya is the only place to find the beer in the area.

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As this was a progression through breakfast, lunch, and dinner all in four hours, the kindly lamb gods decided we should also enjoy happy hour at Ripple up in Cleveland Park. Brand new chef Marjorie Meek-Bradley was the only chef willing to throw lamb hearts at us, for which I applaud her. Her dish was a tartare of leg of lamb, topped with stewed mustard seeds, fried amaranth, and diced radish. On either side of the plate were smears of labne full of juniper and a smoked egg yolk, the latter being my new favorite condiment. Pretty sure I now hate every egg salad sandwich, real or imagined, which doesn’t contain that smoked egg yolk. The whole thing was garnished with anchovy-like slivers of seared lamb heart carpaccio, which I’d been waiting for all day. My notes on the matter actually include drool stains. Sommelier Matthew Fisk provided the accompanying drink, a bourbon cocktail with green chartreuse, bonal (a wildflower-fortified wine usually served as an aperitif,) and a Meyer lemon and mint shrub, which I found out is what happens when you let a maceration spoil properly. The drink was good, but the tartare was perfect. Seeing as our visit didn’t involve their adjacent market, they passed out fresh baked chocolate chip cookies on the way out. Nothing to do with lamb, but a nice touch all the same.

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Finally- and I say finally with some pomp, we found ourselves at Bourbon Steak at the Four Seasons in Georgetown. Brand new head chef John Critchley, formerly of Urbana, brought it home in style with medallions of lamb leg rolled in a muted ras el hanout, which had been modified by the addition of guajillo and ancho chilies, with jus drizzled around the edges. The lamb rested on a baby carrot puree shot through with pork fatback. While there was some discussion over the use of pork fat over lamb fat, I still found myself trying to scrape every molecule off that plate using the lamb itself, the duck fat fries, even my own fingers (hopefully no one noticed.) We drank a Washington syrah, Rasa’s QED, Latin for quod erat demonstrandum, used at the end of scientific and formal proofs meaning, “thus it has been proven.”

Not sure who came up with the idea of a food crawl, but it’s an idea which needs to be explored further. As for the subject matter, we tried lamb a half dozen different ways, all of which were wonderful. It’s not a meat I’ve ever shied away from but it’s never been the first on my plate, simply because few people bother to cook it properly or put any thought into the possibilities contained therein. After this little tour, find myself hoping lamb is the new pork. Maybe I’m just hoping for more lamb hearts. It’s muscle, you grill it and it’s delicious. Plus, how else are you supposed to gain an animal’s tasty, tasty courage?

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