ONE THING about the dining game: They don't call it for heat or rain or snow or sleet (well, occasionally). But a scorecard doesn't hurt as far as keeping the players straight. Here are a few fun things to know/eat/attend/attempt while waiting for the thermometer to get its mercury back together, plus a few fun symbols to cut out and paste on your wine refrigerator:
* STARTING with the, uh, stars: Former Washington super-chef Jean-Louis Palladin, now of Las Vegas and New York, will be back as the honoree of an Aug. 21 gala dinner that, considering the invited parties, promises to be a cross between a chefs' summit meeting and summer camp. The centerpiece of the Ritz-Carlton Tysons Corner's annual "Fine Art of Cuisine" weekend, the dinner will be prepared by Eric Ripart of New York's Le Bernadin, Roberto Donna of Galileo, Michel Richard of Citronelle, Bruno Fortin of Bistrot Lepic in Glover Park, Jimmy Sneed of Richmond's the Frog and the Redneck and Larbi Dahroush of Taquet in Wayne, Pa., along with the hotel's executive chef, Eric Chopin. Ripart, Sneed and Dahroush are all former Jean-Louis collaborators with great stories to tell (in fact, if it weren't a culinary occasion, Palladin would surely be referred to as the "roastee"); and Richard, who gleefully describes himself as "the world's grrreatest chef" in an accent that begs for Peter Sellers, can easily match the theatrical Palladin hyperbole for hyperbole. Sneak in a tape recorder.
Even better, the silent auction of getaways, chefs' tables, wine specials, etc., that goes on before and throughout dinner benefits Share Our Strength, the highly successful food bank and food charities organization, which might make the $150 per head dinner tab more palatable.
The weekend starts off Aug. 20 when chef-owner Todd English of Olives in Boston, who is opening a second Olives in downtown DC later this year, hosts a cigar smoker/Mondavi wine dinner. (No, not everyone considers that an oxymoron.) Saturday is a whirlwind of wine, champagne, port, single malt and ale tastings -- if you've ever been to one of these food and wine weekends, you'll know that eventually something is apt to start whirling -- plus cooking demos, ice carving, book signings and a pair of "boutique" seminars, one on Charles Heidsieck champagne and caviar and the other pairing Opus One and chocolate (which is being touted, delightfully, as a "heart-smart marriage"). Those all lead up to the Palladin dinner; and then Sunday's Veuve Clicquot brunch benefits the Fairfax County Arts Council.
Tickets to various events, including the 50-plus winery Grand Tasting Saturday ($35), brunch ($55, children $25), the boutique seminars ($40 each) and dinner, can be bought separately; combination packages with overnight accommodations are available. For more information and reservations call 703/917-5498.
* JULY is (well, was) National Bison Month (that's our unofficial, one-time-only, heart-healthy intro symbol there, which we'd have given the Opus One seminar if we weren't afraid we'd get into trouble), and among the 10 American chefs asked to create signature recipes was Marou Ouattaro of Red Sage (14th and F streets NW; 202/638-4444), who prefers to go by his first name. Marou's dish, spice-rubbed and bacon-wrapped bison filet served with mashed plantains and eggplant-Parmesan timbale and dressed with a smoked-merlot-spice tomato jus, will stay on the menu at least through the summer.
As we've mentioned before, bison is a very low-fat, low-calorie meat, lower even than chicken and averaging a mere 2 percent fat (only 1 percent saturated) but rich in iron, and with a mild, clean rather than greasy flavor; so you may want to indulge in it more than once. It's been a staple at Greggory Hill's Gabriel near Dupont Circle (in the Barcelo Hotel at 2121 P St. NW; 202/956-6690) for a couple of years now; the current dish tops grilled bison tenderloin with a sauce of ancho chilies and dry sherry, hojasanta grapes and creamy poblano potatoes.
And at the always iconoclastic New Heights in Woodley Park (2317 Calvert St. NW; 202/234-4110), John Wabeck offers a sort of Franco-Indo-Korean version, marinating a buffalo hanger steak (also known as onglet, remember? lean, toned and delicious?) in the classic soy, sesame, garlic and ginger and grilling it, serving it over a sort of nouveau-Nicoise salad of romaine, sliced potatoes, cherry tomatoes, enoki and pickled shiitake mushrooms with a lemongrass vinaigrette and then studding it with a green chili sambal, the Indonesian chili sauce.
At Lafayette in the Hay-Adams Hotel (16th and H streets NW; 202/638-2570), chef Frederic Lange takes almost the opposite tack, though with a less muscular cut. Using the tenderloin and trying not to overwhelm its delicate flavor, he marinates the entire strip in a little olive oil, fresh thyme and bay, a few shallots ("I don't use garlic because I think its flavor is too strong for this meat") and cracked black pepper. The strip isn't sliced until an order comes into the kitchen, and then a 10- to 12-ounce New York style steak is cut off, grilled and served with a simple cabernet-shiitake sauce, potato gaufrettes, two or three asparagus and baby carrots. Lange buys his bison fresh from Georgetown Farm in Madison, Va., and says he much prefers it to more celebrated meats such as New Zealand venison. (He also confesses that his favorite personal treat, especially for Sunday supper, is the bison tongue.)
If you are invited to a banquet at the Hay-Adams, incidentally, you may see Lange's other version, a somewhat more assertive Asian-spiced bison crusted with crushed Szechuan peppercorns and seared to keep the juices in.
* CHECK this out! You know how we feel about okra -- it's the victim of really bad PR, probably from those same people who want you to eat broccoli all the time -- and chef Neal Langermann of Georgia Brown's (on the west side of 15th Street in McPherson Square; 202/393-4499) is one good ally to have. Langermann has put together an entire dinner's worth of okra recipes that will serve as specials throughout August, and in fact will lay them all out at once during a demo tasting, drinks to dessert, after the regular lunch hour on Tuesday.
The 2:30 tasting -- which is free, but requires reservations, so call ahead -- kicks off with a pickled okra and cherry pepper martini (optional, of course) and such appetizers as fried okra blossoms stuffed with shrimp, peppers and goat cheese with roasted tomato sauce; fried okra with cherry pepper marmalade and blue cheese; or stewed baby okra with saffron rice and sweet potato "hay." He's created two salads, one a "pickled okra carpaccio" and the other a house-cured salmon with warm okra relleno, both over greens.
Entrees include pepper-seared diver scallops with potato-okra gratin and a Southern Comfort-marinated tenderloin with a fried okra tower, sweet corn relish and portobello chips. And finally, there's the dessert: okra-bing cherry-rhubarb cobbler with vanilla bean ice cream and a chocolate okra "leaf."
* FINALLY, one more wine special: Through Labor Day, Spike & Charlie's Restaurant and Wine Bar in Baltimore (1225 Cathedral St.; 410/752-8144) is offering a dozen or so of its fine wines at $1 over cost, more than halving the price in some cases (so to speak); plus a handful of wines to try at $1 a glass. So what's the symbol for this item? Bottoms up, of course!