All words: Ashley Wright
All photos: Stephanie Breijo
Chef de Cuisine Amy Brandwein wants her guests to have a complete experience, which is why she’s been putting together a unique, unreleased series of menus along with her own cocktail pairings for six courses at her weekly chef bar tastings at Alba Osteria. Every Thursday at 7:00PM, 10 fortunate souls have the opportunity to dine at the Chef Bar in the beautifully appointed Italian restaurant, which is tucked away on the 400 block of Eye Street NW. You should probably call ahead because spots fill up quickly, and for good reason.
There are several factors that make this experience one I’d love to have again in a hurry: The first, of course, is the food. Not only are the flavors of Chef Brandwein’s spring dishes well-balanced and oh so light, but her flair for presentation is unmatchable. Golden brown fried anchovy spines served in a traditional white tin with the lid pulled back; the contrast between thin, pale pink slices of octopus, dark bites of fried pork belly, and the bright whole lemon in which they were nestled; the tofu burrata ramp pillow, so gorgeously fluffy and golden and swimming in garlic–these were only a few of the stand-outs from last night’s Chef Bar menu.
The second reason is the pairings. I loved everything – the tequila, saffron syrup, and chile “Eso! Blanco” that went with the anchovies; the pork belly-infused Jim Beam whisky with Campari, Aperol, and orange bitters “For Al” that accompanied the octopus dish; and especially the orange vodka, creme de cacao, and Frangelico “Felicita” that complemented the Baked Alaska we had for dessert. The lovely chocolate-y scent wafting from that glass was heaven.
The third element, and why I’m definitely returning, is the element of mystery. I’m all for not knowing what I’m eating and not knowing what I’ll get next time. Why complicate the experience when you could just be present in the moment, enjoying what’s in front of you without worrying about whether you’ve liked it in the past? After we were handed the menus at the conclusion of the tasting I found out that I had thoroughly enjoyed the mushrooms in a deliciously creamy, fresh parpadelle and pea pasta dish and hadn’t even realized what variety they were.
This is an experience you should have if you’re someone who likes a little mystery, a lot of seasonal flavor, and the company of a crowd of enthusiastic (and progressively more boisterous – these cocktails are not kidding around) strangers in a beautifully appointed, modern setting. Chef Brandwein plans to change up the decor around the Chef Bar on a regular basis: She wants to switch out light fixtures and colors, bring in seasonal plant life, and generally trying to ensure that your experience at her table is unique every time you come.