Gorging on Pumpkin

Sunday, October 23, 2005

As the air turns a little colder and the days get a bit shorter, many of us turn to cozy sweaters, blazing fireplaces and rich, hearty foods for comfort. Luckily for us foodies, chefs, bartenders and bakers are rolling out their fall menus, and pumpkins -- not those idolized by trick-or-treaters, but the smaller, sweeter cooking varieties -- are becoming the main event.

"I like to cook with pumpkin because it's one of the great harbingers of this season," says Ris Lacoste, executive chef at 1789. "It's such an earthy, robust symbol of fall, whether it's served sweet or savory."

Here are some spots to try the great gourd -- in pasta, as a martini or as a sweet treat.

-- Holly Thomas


Dessert-lovers, this is your season -- pumpkin cheesecake has taken over menus around the city. CakeLove 'slight, creamy take tastes better with every bite. "We make our version of the cheesecake from scratch from the best quality ingredients we can find," says Mary Meyers, the baking manager at CakeLove (1506 U St. NW, 202-588-7100). "We scrape the paddles and bowls over and over to make sure there are no lumps in the batter, so that the cheesecake is as smooth as possible." Even those who pass on Mom's pumpkin pie will be tempted to devour this sweet treat -- it's just that good. LoveCafe , CakeLove's eatery across the street (1501 U St. NW, 202-265-9800), offers individual slices for $7.70 when in stock. Or order a whole cake from CakeLove, with advance notice, for $55.

California Pizza Kitchen also offers a rich, subtly sweet version of the dessert ($5.99, ). And the Cheesecake Factory ( has a traditional pumpkin cheesecake for $6.50 a slice, as well as a pumpkin-pecan alternative for $6.75. If you're hungry for more, you can take home a 7-inch pumpkin cheesecake for $22.95 or a 10-inch for $42.95 (or order online; the smaller one is $1 more).


That Custard Place in Del Ray (2310 Mount Vernon Ave., Alexandria, 703-683-7767) has taken its luscious pumpkin gelato and added a DIY twist. You can pick up a box of four pumpkin gelato fritters, which are rolled in cornflakes, brown sugar, pecans and pumpkin seeds ($11.95). Cook them individually for 15 seconds in 3 inches of hot oil, or use the deep fryer after you've fried your Thanksgiving bird. The result is creamy, crunchy, melt-in-your-mouth goodness. The shop (formerly known as the Del Ray Dreamery) also offers pumpkin gelato ($2.48 for small), pumpkin gelato sandwiches with ginger cookies ($3) and pumpkin moon pies with homemade marshmallow ($1.50).


Seasonal sippers can opt for the $9 organic pumpkin martini created by bartender Gina Chersevani at Poste Moderne Brasserie (555 Eighth St. NW, 202-783-6060). Chersevani juices heirloom pumpkin squash, then strains and simmers the liquid before mixing it with house-made vanilla sugar, cardamom, cinnamon and Captain Morgan's Original Spiced Rum. A dollop of creme fraiche is added to the rim for a touch of savory to complement the sweet drink.

You can sample other variations on the pumpkin martini theme at Maggiano's Little Italy ($7.95, 5333 Wisconsin Ave. NW, 202-966-5500; $8.50, 2001 International Dr., McLean, 703-356-9000) and Cafe Atlantico ($9, 405 Eighth St., NW; 202-393-0812). The Four Seasons Hotel 's Garden Terrace Lounge tweaks its version with Stoli Vanil vodka ($16, 2800 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, 202-342-0444).


The humble pumpkin gets star treatment at 1789 (1226 36th St. NW, 202-965-1789) under chef Ris Lacoste. She fills ravioli pockets ($13) with two types of locally bought pumpkin as well as fresh and salted ricotta cheese, and serves them with a rich wild mushroom sauce studded with cranberries and walnuts. Deep-fried strips of pumpkin add a finishing touch. Bartender Sal Deluca recommends the 2004 Albario ($10 a glass), which balances the earthy, rustic aspect of the pasta. (A bonus: The restaurant's soft, diffused lighting makes everyone look their best -- even if they happen to drip sauce on their chins.)

If you can't get enough of the pasta-and-pumpkin duo, opt for the pumpkin gnocchi at Ristorante Tosca ($20; 1112 F St. NW; 202-367-1990). Chef Cesare Lanfranconi and his staff roast kabocha squash (a winter cousin to the traditional pumpkin), then puree it and mix in amaretto cookies and candied fruit. The pasta rests in bechamel sauce with white truffle oil and fontina and Parmesan cheeses.

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