Fare Minded

Treats With a Cherry on Top

By Eve Zibart
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 30, 2007

It wouldn't be a festival without food, and every year, more Washington restaurants join in the hoopla of the National Cherry Blossom Festival. (If you are among those who missed out on tickets to the sushi and sake tasting, you can still join the party: About 30 Japanese and Asian chefs will be patting down sushi at the Sakura Matsuri street festival April 14, and there will be vendors of Japanese snacks, a sake tasting test and two Kirin beer gardens.) There are plenty of ways to get into the spirit(s) of the festival, starting with pink sparklers and cherry cocktails, continuing through cherry-soaked entrees and going straight through to desserts -- all this even though the sort of cherry trees that flower do not provide edible fruit.

Several restaurants even offer full festival tasting menus beginning Saturday through April 15. Several, including the six-course menu at Perrys, reflect the kaiseki tradition of Japanese cuisine. Kaiseki has long been associated with the tea ceremony and with tenets of Zen Buddhism, and, as such, it emphasizes seasonal ingredients and refers to nature in its presentation, using real flowers or foliage as well as edible "fakes" (carved vegetables). The Perrys dinner ($60 includes sake pairings; 1811 Columbia Rd. NW; 202-234-6218) was created by chef Noriaki Yasutake, two-time winner of the National Sushi Society's creative sushi competition (and second-prize winner at the international contest in London, for which he invented his popular "fish and chips roll"). It begins with an amuse bouche of sweet pea tofu and vegetable caviar, then moves to lobster, salmon and suzuki (sea bass) sashimi; a marinated clam salad; madai (snapper) tempura with cherry blossom vinaigrette; a palate cleanser of sake sorbet; then tandoori lamb chop; and a dessert sampler featuring cherry blossom tapioca and cherry sorbet.

The Asian fusion, romantic-decadent-look Mie N Yu (3125 M St. NW; 202-333-6122) has an equally pretty six-course tasting menu for $55, available through May, which is part of chef Tim Elliott's year-long focus on dishes from the regions of the Silk Road. It features gingery Kobe beef tataki (i.e., rare, seared beef) with yuzu dipping sauce; "firecracker tuna tartar" with habanero-spiked masago, chilies, lemongrass and sesame won tons; cold green tea soba noodles (cha soba); rockfish crusted with blue crab and miso paste and served in shallow shiitake broth; and a duck presentation of yuzu- and coffee-marinated breast, gyoza dumplings stuffed with duck and sour cherries, and a cherry cola barbecue sauce. Dessert is Okinawan sweet potato cheesecake with coconut milk frosting and ginger snaps. For an additional $40, the dinner comes with wine or sake pairings.

At PS 7's, Peter Smith's five-course dinner starts with sour cherry veloute with seared foie gras and cherry-blossom-honey candy, followed by braised lotus root with salted cherries and enoki tempura; sauteed opah with udon, razor clams, pickled ginger and cherry broth; cherrywood-smoked quail with litchis and pine nuts; and white chocolate and star anise mousse with cherry-plum wine sorbet and vanilla rice crisps ($70; 777 I St. NW; 202-742-8550).

TenPenh (1001 Pennsylvania Ave. NW; 202-393-4500) has a four-course menu of Kumamoto oysters with pickled-ginger granita; unagi roll; Wagyu skirt steak with head-on shrimp; and a Japanese-style parfait ($45, $55 with sake pairings). Bangkok Joe's (3000 K St. NW; 202-333-4422) has a three-course dinner of Asian chips and spicy cherry salsa; roasted quail with foie gras, tamarind-cherry compote, trio of grains and asparagus; and a cherry napoleon with sour cherry and cherry coulis. Dinner is $35, or you can order a la carte. At IndeBleu, the three-course dinner offers duck confit and foie gras balls with cherry-tamarind chutney; pan-seared Alaskan wild salmon with Cherry Heering jus; and saffron-cardamom creme brulee with vanilla-braised cherries ($45; 707 G St. NW; 202-333-2538).

Among the many a la carte creations around town are the cherry- and hazelnut-encrusted venison loin with cherry-blueberry compote at Taberna del Alabardero ($29; 18th and I streets NW; 202-429-2200); the roast Sonoma duck with preserved cherries and foie gras confit at Charlie Palmer Steak ($33; 101 Constitution Ave. NW; 202-547-8100); Bastille's charcuterie tasting with cherry mostarda ($8) and Moulard duck magret with seared foie gras and cherry reduction ($23; 1201 N. Royal St., Alexandria; 703-519-3776); grilled, marinated pork tenderloin with cherry balsamic glaze at Aria Trattoria ($20; 1300 Pennsylvania Ave. NW; 202-312-1250); and grilled lamb chops with cherry compote and cherry Yorkshire pudding at 15 Ria ($28; 1515 Rhode Island Ave. NW in the Doubletree Hotel; 202-742-0015).

Cherry butter tops crisp salmon and braised cabbage at Oceanaire ($28.95; 1201 F St. NW; 202-347-2277), while the dried-cherry duck pate at the Kennedy Center's Roof Terrace Restaurant comes with bourbon-cherry compote and toasted brioche ($13; 2700 F St. NW; 202-416-8555). Les Halles has a half-dozen dishes, among them sour cherry pate en croute, poached salmon in red cherry wine, braised short ribs in cherry marinade and house-made duck foie gras with sherry-cherry chutney ($9.50-$27; 1201 Pennsylvania Ave. NW; 202-347-6848). Juniper (2401 M St. NW in the Fairmont Hotel; 202-457-5000) has an appetizer of short ribs braised in spiced wild-cherry-port wine ($13) and a duck breast scaloppini with brandied cherry demiglace and cauliflower mash ($27).

Toasting the beauty of the cherry trees is almost as important as viewing them, and the bars are ready. Olives has a sour cherry bellini with Prosecco ($12; 1600 K St. NW; 202-452-1866). Oya (777 Ninth St. NW; 202-393-1400) has three rosés, from South Australia, France's Loire Valley and Virginia (Kluge Estate's Albemarle Rose); a "blossomtini" with Effen black cherry vodka and Paringa sparkling Shiraz; and a "Rose Bud" cosmopolitan with Shakers rose vodka, all $12. Equinox's Cirrus Blossom cocktail ($10; 818 Connecticut Ave. NW; 202-331-8118) combines Cirrus vodka, Cointreau, pomegranate juice and rose water.

How many ways can you mix a cherry martini? As many as there are bartenders, presumably. TenPenh's Mo'Cherry martini -- named for bartender Maurice "Mo" Cherry, the creator -- has Three Olives cherry vodka, Grenadine, ginger syrup, passion fruit puree and sour mix ($9.95). The Fairmont Lobby Lounge (24th and M streets NW; 202-457-5000) pours cherry vodka with soda and cranberry ($9) and two rosés, but more intriguingly, perhaps, the lounge has a sparkling nigori sake and two other special sakes for $7 each. Zengo (781 Seventh St. NW; 202-393-2929) has several options, such as the Kimono Kiss (Absolut Mandrin, Fuki sake, orange juice and ginger) and the Blushing Geisha (Absolut Kurant, sake and brandied cherries), both $11, and a cherry blossom "saketini" of nigori sake, litchis and sake-cherry syrup ($12).

Morton's six area locations are shaking up a Cherrypolitan with Three Olives cherry vodka, Grand Marnier and lime and cranberry juice, topped with passion fruit puree foamed with Grand Marnier ($12). The cocktail at the Park Hyatt Washington's Lounge bar comes in a martini glass, but it's a rum-based fiesta with cherry blossom syrup, Cointreau, grenadine, lemon and Pol Roger champagne for $12.

If you want to go whole hog, so to speak, the Smithsonian Associates offers "Beyond Sushi: Culinary Japan From Classical to Modern," featuring TV's "Iron Chef" Masaharu Morimoto, celeb chef Roy Yamaguchi and local fave Kaz Okochi, along with food writer Elizabeth Andoh and sake and tea experts. The May 12 program, at the downtown Ritz-Carlton Hotel, offers a breakfast buffet, guided tastings, lunch, a sake tasting and tea and pastries. Tickets are $245 for members and $280 for nonmembers; call 202-357-3030 or visit http://www.smithsonianassociates.org.

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