Tradition With a Twist

Area chefs are giving Easter and Passover meals a personal touch

Tracing the theological and historical similarities between Easter and Passover might leave you more tangled than a ball of that clingy green plastic grass. There’s one surface thing the holidays have in common, though: They’re both reasons to eat.

The two holidays coincide this year and, in honor of the epicurean enthusiasm shared by the people celebrating them, select area restaurants are offering limited-run tasting menus and dishes (none of them kosher) that reflect their interpretation of Easter dinner and the Passover Seder.

Dean Gold, chef and owner of Dino, blends Italian flavors with Easter and, more surprisingly, Passover traditions. “There’s an incredible Italian Jewish tradition that many people don’t realize exists,” Gold says. For the restaurant’s Seder, he’s serving a five-course menu that includes chopped liver with capers and caramelized onions, as well as harosets (pastes made of fruit and nuts often spread on matzo) prepared three ways that blend the traditional condiment with Italian ingredients. As for the lamb that’s often the centerpiece of Easter and Seder tables, Dino has ordered five, whole, which it plans to butcher. “All the legs are saved for Easter Sunday,” Gold says. “All the stewing meat and other cuts are for Passover, and on the regular menu we’ll do the chops.”

You would think you could get traditional Seder components at DGS Delicatessen, and you’d be right — to a degree. Chef Barry Koslow has taken traditional Passover dishes and updated them to reflect a modern sensibility.
“We’re taking some liberties, but at the same time trying to pay homage” to traditional Jewish cuisine, Koslow says. One Seder ritual involves dipping parsley into salt water before eating them to symbolize the tears of the enslaved Jewish people. As part of DGS’s four-course Passover menu, Koslow offers a flash-fried halibut coated in parsley and served with asparagus and chrain, a horseradish-based relish. (Horseradish has a traditional place at the Seder.)

While Koslow’s dishes would be recognizable as parts of the Seder to many, the Passover dishes at Casa Oaxaca might raise an eyebrow. Chef Alfio Blangiardo, in a nod to Mexico’s Jewish community, is offering mixiote de Borrego, a lamb shank coated in spices and braised inside agave skins, which gives the traditional meat a Mexican spin. “It has Mexican flavors, but we honor the heritage of the Jewish community,” says general manager Joanna Hernandez. “In Mexico we always adapt everything to our own taste.”

Of course, the dominant religion in Mexico is Catholicism, and since many Catholics don’t eat meat for Lent (the 40 days leading up to Easter), Casa Oaxaca is offering meatless and seafood specials. As for Easter itself, it’s all about the mole negro, a sauce that includes more than 30 spices, which Casa Oaxaca serves over seared ahi tuna or cheese enchiladas. “Mole is a dish we have at any celebration,” Hernandez says. “Baptism, birthday, anniversary, holiday, you go and have a mole.”

Nelish Singhvi, chef at The Bombay Club, celebrates in his own way, even though Easter and Passover are not traditional Indian holidays. The restaurant’s Easter brunch includes his lamb palak with spinach, garam masala and ginger. Singhvi says he takes an ecumenical approach to dining: “I believe in good food,” he says. “Any food which is good and whatever religion it comes from doesn’t matter. The food matters.”

Kristen Page-Kirby covers film for The Washington Post Express.
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Kristen Page-Kirby · March 28, 2013