Unpredictable Presentations

June 14, 2012

Elisir chef Enzo Fargione serves smoked branzino carpaccio in cigar boxes.

Plates are passé and bowls, boring.

That’s why chefs and mixologists are turning to unorthodox vessels that are as memorable and stunning as the foods they contain. Here are a few standout serving pieces now appearing at tables near you.

Branzino in a Cigar Box

Elisir chef-owner Enzo Fargione puts a personal spin on his dishware. Since he likes to unwind after a long day in the kitchen by smoking a stogie, Fargione decided to playfully reuse his cigar boxes as serving vessels for smoked branzino carpaccio ($17). Finely filleted fish sauced with a lemon-lime-orange dressing, roasted garlic chips, microgreens and a scattering of seasonal mushrooms are placed in the box, along with a few smoldering applewood chips. When the box is opened at the table minutes later, a puff of smoke emerges.

“It always surprises guests, even if they’ve had it before,” says Fargione. “It adds a sense of glamour to the meal.” Not only does the dish possess the slightly sweet, hazy flavor of the embers, but the smoke itself ends up picking up hints of citrus and fungi.

Elisir, 427 11th St. NW; 202-546-0088.

Mexican Coke Bottle Glasses

Sometimes, unexpected presentations are inspired by philosophical choices rather than a desire to be whimsical. Bar Pilar keeps its carbon footprint small by recycling, composting and buying solar energy. General manager and beverage director Jonathan Fain is going one step further by handcrafting glasses out of used Mexican Coke bottles he saves from the bar.

To turn a bottle into a glass, Fain scores it with a cutter, then alternately plunges the bottle into icy cold and hot water until the top pops off. After sanding the edges, he uses the homemade tumblers to serve his rum and coke float, which contains vanilla bean gelato from Dolcezza, brandied cherries spiced with cinnamon and anise, and frothy absinthe-flavored whipped cream ($11). “Whenever someone orders it,” Fain says, “everyone at the table gets out their cameras.”

Bar Pilar, 1833 14th St. NW; 202-265-1751.

Truffle frites are served inside terra-cotta flower pots at Poste.

Frites in a Flower Pot

Poste executive chef Dennis Marron adds flair to his truffle frites ($9) by serving them in a terra-cotta flower pot. The idea came about after he discovered a cache of the unused clay containers in the restaurant’s kitchen. He wasn’t worried about how people would react to the appetizer’s presentation. “When people want french fries, they don’t care how they come,” he says.

Though this style of service wasn’t inspired by the garden Marron maintains on the restaurant’s patio, there is still a synchronicity between the setting and the food. When his herbs are in season, Marron uses freshly harvested chervil, tarragon and parsley to flavor the spuds.

Poste, 555 8th St. NW; 202-783-6060.

Croquetas de pollo arrive inside a resin sculpture of a Camper shoe at Jaleo's Penn Quarter location.

Fritters Inside Footwear

When you sit down to eat at the recently revamped Jaleo in Penn Quarter, there’s a lot to feast your eyes on. Colorful heaps of fresh fruit sit in bowls on the bar, foosball tables are cleverly repurposed for eating upon and fire-hued tiles are scattered across the ceiling and walls. But one appetizer might leave an even bigger footprint in your memory: fried chicken fritters served inside a resin Camper shoe ($8). “[Owner] José Andrés is full of surprises,” says D.C. chef Ramon Martinez. “Just when you think you’ve seen everything, he does something new.”

If you think that’s wild, consider the fact that when the croquetas de pollo were originally served at the Las Vegas location of Jaleo last year, they arrived in an actual shoe. “Obviously, the shoes were completely safe,” Martinez says. “They passed inspection by the health department.” Not with District officials, however … That’s OK, though, because we’ve got this artful stand-in, which was created by designer Sami Hayek, otherwise known as Salma Hayek’s brother.

 Jaleo (Penn Quarter), 480 7th St. NW; 202-628-7949.
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