Far From The Cherry Tree: National Cherry Blossom Festival Inspires Seasonal Desserts

March 30, 2011

Cherry ice cream — not very radical. Cherry steak? Well, that might raise some eyebrows. But that’s exactly what’s on area menus, thanks to the National Cherry Blossom Festival, which runs through April 10. “Cherries have a sweet, tart, slightly aggressive flavor,” says Cafe Promenade executive chef William Downes. That’s why you’ll find them in far more than desserts this spring; they complement both savory and sweet. We break down some of the oft-underestimated fruit’s newest starring roles.

Meaty Cherries
Cherries’ complex flavor pairs best with robust-tasting game such as bison or boar, Downes says. Still, he envelopes filet mignon in a dried cherry-infused bread crust and encircles it in a brandied cherry reduction as part of a five-course prix fixe meal ($50). “It works because the cherry flavor is in the crust,” Downes says. “It doesn’t overpower the delicate flavor of the tenderloin.”

» Cafe Promenade, 1127 Connecticut Ave. NW; 202-347-2233.

Fusion Cherries
Accented with a sour cherry-hoisin mixture, the pulled pork-stuffed buns on Art and Soul’s three-course prix fixe menu ($55) take cherries on a transcontinental journey of tastes. “The sour cherry piques the taste buds…while the soy sauce, honey, vinegar, garlic powder and sesame oil in the hoisin hits a bit of the savory, salty and sweet,” says executive chef Wes Morton.

» Art and Soul, 415 New Jersey Ave. NW; 202-393-7777.

Latin Cherries
Tamarind, meet cherries. At Cuba Libre Restaurant and Rum Bar, executive chef Guillermo Pernot is introducing the two flavors (tamarind, a sweet-and-sour fruit, is fairly common in the Caribbean islands, where cherries don’t grow). The tamarind-barbecued duck ($22) is drenched in a chimichurri sauce (a mixture of parsley, red peppers, garlic, oil and vinegar) saturated with Bing cherries.

» Cuba Libre, 801 9th St. NW; 202-408-1600.

Greek Cherries
Greek food is not known for its sweetness. But Kellari Taverna is embracing the fruit of the hour with a pan-roasted fagri ($34), a moist fish belonging to the white snapper family. Kellari’s version puts a festive twist on that preparation by finishing it in a Bing cherry demi-glace sauce.

» Kellari Taverna, 1700 K St. NW; 202-535-5274.

15%
The portion of proceeds from sales of the Cherry Blossom cupcake Crumbs Bake Shop will donate to Japan relief efforts.

» 604 11th Street NW; 202-737-4001. (Metro Center)

» Union Station concourse. 40 Massachusetts Avenue NW. 202-408-1001. (Union Station)

And If Cherries Aren’t Your Cup of Tea
Here’s a different take on the cherry blossom craze: Just because the trees have bloomed doesn’t mean it’s necessary to overload on the tangy fruits, says PS 7′s chef and owner, Peter Smith. “First of all, cherries aren’t in season. And we can’t use the cherry blossoms to do anything, because it’s illegal,” he says. So, as a nod to the National Cherry Blossom Festival, he went with another Japanese staple instead: tea.

Using herbal tisane blends from Teaism (various locations), Smith created two seasonal appetizers. The first is a potato, arugula and truffle salad made with gel from buckwheat Soba Cha tea and black garlic ($14); the second is chai tea-cured Arctic char, above ($14). PS 7′s also offers a tea-infused entrée: scallop agnolotti ($28).

To make the ravioli-like agnolotti, Smith brines the scallops in jasmine tea and salt, then sears them in a sauce of jasmine, apricot and marigold tea. Finished with chanterelle mushrooms and roasted pearl onions, the dish has a sweet, tannic (sharp, astringent) and salty flavor, Smith says.

Smith plans to add more tea-based dishes while the menu is available, through May. And no worries about knocking these dishes back after 4 p.m. All the teas are caffeine-free.

» PS 7′s, 777 St. NW; 202-742-8550.

Written by Express contributor Stephanie Kanowitz
Photos courtesy Jason Hornick, Affinnia Hotels and Heather Freeman PR

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Marc Silver · March 30, 2011