Secondhand smoke isn’t so bad when it’s delivered by your waiter. Experimental chefs and mixologists all over the District are infusing meals and cocktails with pleasing vapors that transport patrons beyond the dining room. “Smoke makes you feel like you’re outside,” says Bibiana’s executive chef, Nicholas Stefanelli. “It always reminds me of cooking on the grill.” Whether reminiscent of the great outdoors or not, these smoky creations are a breath of fresh air.
Once a month, this palace of pork hosts a bacon-centric brunch to showcase six to 10 homemade bacons, ($6 each, $14 for a flight of three, above), each made from a different pig. Chef Daniel Singhofen first rubs the hog bellies with a mixture of brown sugar, kosher salt, water and curing mix, and cold-smokes them with a combination of applewood and cherrywood for 12 hours. After taking them out and chilling them, he seals them in bags of lard before sous vide cooking them for another half day. “That’s how we achieve that melt-in-your-mouth texture,” Singhofen says. Finally, the bacon is sliced and fried to order.
Eola, 2020 P St. NW; 202-466-4441. (Dupont Circle)
Bartending brothers Ari and Micah Wilder start their warming Cigar cocktail ($15) by wrapping ice in a cheesecloth and putting it in a smoker for a few hours until it melts. “The water has a really nice nose and taste to it, because they smoke andouille sausage and ribs in the same machine,” says Ari Wilder. That hazy H2O is mixed with viscous peach nectar and refrozen into cubes. Next, the brothers strain mezcal, lemon juice, peach nectar and peach bitters over the ice before finishing it off with a “cigar” of tightly wound prosciutto.
Black Jack, 1612 14th St. NW; 202-986-5225. (U Street)
The Grille at Morrison House
You get a taste of magic when you order the Progression of Scallops ($31, right). Whisk off the dome top and a tea-infused cloud rises up like a rabbit popping out of a hat. “Diners are wowed by it,” says chef de cuisine Stephanie Geist. “It’s a stunning dish.” Once the haze clears, patrons discover a cold-smoked scallop topped with Meyer lemon gelée and a few crunchy crystals of black sea salt.
The Grille at Morrison House, 116 S. Alfred St., Alexandria; 703-838-8000. (King Street)
“It’s like eating a chicken nugget wrapped in bacon,” Stefanelli says of his hay-smoked veal sweetbreads, above ($14, above). He achieves this flavor combination by smoking the meat with handfuls of dried orchardgrass and alfalfa. “That gives the dish this big, bright floral note,” Stefanelli says. He builds on that taste by coating the sweetbreads with a candied orange zest and ground-up, burnt coriander seeds, then balancing them on a swipe of celery root puree.
Bibiana, 1100 New York Ave. NW; 202-216-9550. (Metro Center)
At chef Fabio Trabocchi’s former restaurant, Maestro, another chef set off the alarm system and forced the evacuation of the building by smoking foie gras underneath the fire detector. Luckily, no one has come close to burning down Fiola, where Trabocchi serves a hay-smoked risotto ($25). Enriched with plenty of butter and Taleggio cheese, the dish is topped with thin discs of pear, a drizzle of balsamic vinegar and a small cloud of Parmesan froth to lighten it up. “You have to balance the flavor between saltiness, pepperiness and sweetness,” says the chef.
Fiola, 601 Pennsylvania Ave. NW (entrance on Indiana Ave. NW); 202-628-2888. (Archives)
Smoke Signals: Letting it Burn at Home
You don’t need fancy equipment to bring a little haze to your home cooking. Follow these tips from our chefs to ensure you enjoy smoky cuisine — minus a visit from the fire department.
What To Smoke: While you can use any ingredient, pork chops are an easy dish to smoke, says Trabocchi, who recommends roasting the meat first and then finishing it off for eight minutes in smoke.
How To Smoke It: Trabocchi advises filling a Dutch oven with hay and a small rack and placing it over medium heat with the lid on. “Put in ingredients when there is a deep cloud of smoke,” he says. “But make sure the hay is not so hot that it starts to burn.”
Where To Do It: Culinary experiments involving conflagrations are best done in the backyard. “Don’t do it inside,” warns Singhofen. “Unless you like to smell like bacon and love the serenade of the smoke alarm.”