All words: Marie Formica
All photos: Stephanie Breijo
Cashion’s Eat Place, which has been roasting whole goat (among other things) in a quiet corner of Adams Morgan for almost twenty years, is finally letting the public in on their secrets.
“Farm-to-table” is probably something that’s top 10 in your common foodie conversation phrases, a saying that instantly rolls out of your brain when phrasing praise for a new restaurant in the city. It may seem like a new trend. Not Cashion’s Head Chef John Manolatos- he’s always worked to get local food without fanfare. He works with about twenty different farmers over the course of the year to get the freshest fish, goats, lambs, rams and produce. It was a way of managing the restaurant’s costs and food quality instilled in Chef John early on in his first days at the restaurant. He’s even stepped up his efforts to use the local supply chain a few notches since then. Availability is a challenge, he told me, and menus are fresh-printed daily, dishes changing depending on what’s available. He makes every effort to waste no part of an animal, which, as was anecdotally related at the dinner table, made one strict vegetarian waitress appreciate the respect and care put into preparing carnivorous dishes at Cashion’s.
Ordinarily, Cashion’s is focused on making the dishes they know best that patrons keep returning to taste, but they’ve introduced snacks and sharing dishes. First up were salty, east-coast, sustainable Beaver Tail oysters (from Rhode Island), served without lemon or cocktail sauce to get in the way of that all-oyster taste. The way Chef John likes to eat oysters- just the right amount of liquid and very chilled- is the way he servest them. It was the perfect way to introduce the simple good cooking for which Cashion’s is famous.
For Chef John, it’s not enough just to make the classics in appetizers and sides. In a painstaking 48 hour process, Cashion’s uses the skins of pigs they cook to make crunchy, paprika-and-rosemary-dusted pork rinds, and they age and season leftover lamb skins to create a meaty appetizer. Their spicy szechuan peppercorn peanuts pack a bigger punch than any bar nut I’ve tasted. Alongside really crunchy boneless fried sardines were the Cashion’s version of “french fries.” Individually pan-smashed and salt roasted, these wide, whole fingerling potatoes served with an amazing saffron aioli were worth every steamy bite.
It was a comfortable evening, with rustic dishes and wines intelligently paired by general manager and Italy-educated Justin Abad. He also manages and owns AM Wine Shoppe around the corner, and he’s been with Chef John since the beginning of his career. I learned the generally recognized favorite among the Cashion’s crowd is the spit roasted, deconstructed goat, accompanied by a heavy garlic (the standard is to test if one can feel this in the back of the throat) tzatziki sauce, cilantro, grilled bread rounds and sliced serrano chiles, if one was so inclined to make a mini open-faced goat sandwich.
But the star of the night, among small plates, were the lamb ribs. Chef John uses no lamb over 35 pounds. He said the meat on these had less of a grassy flavor than commercial lamb, ordinarily overstuffed in its lifetime. The small ribs were pull-off-the-bone, tender and shelacked with a sweet, honeyed sauce. The recipe came from the mother of a friend of Chef John, a mother who always instructed they should have a slight chewy quality to them- and the Cashion’s reproduction is right on the money as far as full flavor and texture.
The simple, rustic style of the traditional menu items and new sharing plates left little room for dessert, but dinner ended with dessert anyway, and it was well worth it: a spiced walnut cake and dulce de leche crepes, delightfully more cheese flavored than sweet.
We stopped by Cashion’s to catch Chef John cooking a whole fish in our Spring Summer Food Guide, get his secrets there.