Swamp Things

D.C. restaurants offer a taste of the wetlands to daring diners

June 20, 2013
B. Too’s frog legs are prepared two ways on one plate.

B. Too’s frog legs are prepared two ways on one plate.

Despite the subtropical humidity D.C. experiences every summer, the widely circulated tidbit that the city was built on a swamp is a myth. (While our proximity to the Potomac and Anacostia rivers certainly makes matters muggy, only a negligible fraction of the District could be considered technically a swamp.) This falsehood didn’t stop us from digging into the various damp-dwelling creatures served at local restaurants (nor did the disgusted looks we got after telling friends we wanted to try grasshopper fondue). Following are the surprisingly satisfying, though often slimy, results.

Frog: The frog legs at B. Too are prepared two ways: The upper part of the leg is breaded, deep-fried and served on the bone like a chicken wing, while the calf muscle — which resembles a clove of garlic — is pan-seared in butter (1324 14th St. NW; 202-627-2800). The appetizer is served with a tarragon dipping sauce and a tangy puree of tomatoes, cream, anise and garlic. “Frog is not fish. It’s not meat. It’s really a product on its own,” says chef de cuisine Thijs Clinckemaillie. “If I had to compare it to something, I would say it tastes like frog meat.”

Grasshopper: There’s something strange about having something with a lot of legs in your mouth on purpose. Strange, yet tasty: Insects, like chicken, tend to absorb the flavors of whatever they’re prepared in. Such is true for the grasshopper fondue at Casa Oaxaca (2106 18th St. NW; 202- 387-2272). The hoppers are sauteed in lime, salt and spices before they’re added to a melty mix of Oaxaca cheese and yellow mole. “It doesn’t look very appealing,” says Casa Oaxaca’s manager, Joanna Hernandez. “But the flavor is earthy, and it adds a crunch to the dish.”

Alligator: Alligator meat is often coated with batter and deep-fried to a golden-brown finish. Redline’s Swiss-trained chef, Fabrice Reymond, takes a more innovative route with the reptilian meat (707 G St. NW; 202-347-8683). His is pan-seared and coated in house-made sauces: spicy chili, smoked barbecue and Dijon mustard. Another unconventional preparation is Fat Shorty’s alligator andouille ($8.50), made with pork, pepper, aromatics and direct-from-Louisiana gator meat (3035 Clarendon Blvd., Arlington; 703-243-5660).

Turtle: Turtle soup is a Gulf state specialty, so naturally it’s served at Acadiana, the Louisiana fish house in Mount Vernon Square (901 New York Ave. NW; 202-408-8848). Executive chef Brant Tesky serves the classic in a traditional manner, with bits of briny snapping turtle floating in a tomato-based broth. It comes with a buttermilk biscuit and a shot of dry sherry, which you’re encouraged to pour into the soup right before eating. “Sherry has a delicate, oaky flavor,” Tesky says. “If you add it while cooking the soup, it cooks away and you lose that flavor.”

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