Whoa. August is almost over? Summer is ending? How did this happen so fast?
There's only one thing to do: Run, do not walk, to your favorite restaurant and enjoy the last of summer's bounty. Local tomatoes, soft-shell crabs, peach cobbler, cold soups . . . they're all coming off the menu soon, say a sampling of area chefs.
Of course, fall's bounty is looking pretty good, too. As the days start to cool at the end of September, the chefs say their fall menu plans include lots of bison, ostrich and game birds such as squab, woodcock and pheasant. Braising, slow-roasting, even slow-poaching in olive oil for meaty fish such as salmon and halibut, also should be showing up on menus soon.
In the meantime, enjoy summer's final balmy days as chefs talk about their favorite dishes of the season (and some of them dish about the season's funniest customer stories):
Buck's Fishing & Camping, Upper Northwest
Best thing she ate this summer: "At Les Pyrenees hotel in the Basque region of France, I had an amazing seared foie gras with a caramelized sauce made with butter, sugar and strong vinegar with raspberries and peaches with the pits. Cooking the sauce with the pits gives it a completely different taste."
Coming off the summer menu: Grilled shrimp with grits, deviled eggs, ice cream sundaes.
Coming on the menu for fall: A St. Mary's shrimp stew made with fennel, leeks and white wine.
Sleeper hit of the summer: Rabbit. "It used to be that only the more sophisticated or adventurous customers ordered it. Now it's much more popular."
Customer story of the summer: On a very busy night, a couple orders steak and a lobster dish. Before the food arrives, they have a terrible fight. The woman, in tears, runs out the door. Moments later the entrees arrive, he pays the check and follows her out the door. As the waiters watch, a woman at a nearby table reaches over and stabs the steak with her fork and brings it over to her plate. She eats the entire steak, but not before complaining to a waiter that it's too salty.
Best thing he ate this summer: "Down at my parents' house on the lower [Chesapeake] Bay, very fresh and unbelievable sugar toads -- the local blowfish -- lightly floured and seasoned with my bay spice, parsley, butter and lemon."
Coming off the summer menu: Chilled melon soup with crab and caviar.
Coming on the fall menu: Black-eyed peas, local beans, late-summer stone fruit, lots of chanterelle mushrooms.
Sleeper hit of the summer: "Foie gras was out of control in the dead of summer when it's not usually a mover. A blue cheese course outsold both goat and pecorino. I never expected that."
Customer story of the summer: "A group of local clergy, back in the private dining room, had been drinking pretty heavily all night. They got up on the chairs and started singing hymns. The other customers thought it was a riot."
Marcel's, West End
Best thing he ate this summer: Soft-shell crabs at La Chaumiere in Georgetown, simply sauteed with butter and parsley.
Coming off the summer menu: Carpaccio of heirloom tomatoes. Soft-shell crabs.
Coming on the fall menu: Game birds -- squab, pheasant and woodcock.
Sleeper hit of the summer: "I'm amazed how much skate I sell. Other chefs say they can't give it away. I've done it for years with a lemon-caper butter sauce."
Customer story of the summer: "People still call on busy nights when the restaurant is full, asking for a table, saying they are personal friends of Marcel. That's when we tell them that Marcel [Wiedmaier's son] is 5 years old."
Majestic Cafe, Alexandria
Best thing she's eaten this summer: A BLT sandwich made with tomatoes from the Arlington Farmers Market and Neuske's thick, applewood-smoked bacon.
Coming off the summer menu: At dinner, soft-shell crabs East Indian-style with turmeric potato salad and cole slaw made with fresh coconut, peanuts, black mustard seeds and poblano vinaigrette. At lunch, a soft-shell crab sandwich with grilled corn mayonnaise.
Coming on the fall menu: Goat cheese-and-quince cheesecake with a hazelnut crust. "This was a sleeper last year. It didn't sell much for a long time, but now people are already asking for it."
Customer story of the summer: A family with a 3-year-old came to the restaurant and asked for a kids' menu. Lindeborg told them there was no kids' menu, but she was happy to serve anything on the menu in kid-sized portions. The dad insisted the child would only eat chicken nuggets, but the family decided to stay anyway. Dad ordered a roast duck salad for himself. He gave his child a piece of duck to eat. Then another piece. And another. Five minutes later he ordered another salad just for the kid.
Obelisk, Dupont Circle,and
2 Amys, Cleveland Park
Best thing he ate this summer: "In Rome, in June, I had a really expensive fish, the most beautiful gildhead bream, so fresh and lovely, simply roasted with tender potatoes."
What's coming off the summer menu: Morel mushrooms.
What's coming on the menu for fall: Porcini mushrooms.
Sleeper hit of the summer: Salt cod carpaccio. "It's really delicious, but I didn't expect that it would appeal to everyone."
Customer story of the summer: "At the wine bar, at 2 Amys, this big, scary guy sticks his pizza in my face and says, 'I ordered pancetta. This is bacon.' I told him that we make our own pancetta, that pancetta is bacon, and that he could come downstairs and see for himself. But all he said was, 'Just take it away.' "
Best thing he ate this summer: A sandwich of grilled ciabatta bread, rubbed with fresh garlic, topped with anchovy paste, tomatoes from Potomac Vegetable Farms, coarse gray salt, MacEvoy olive oil and fresh arugula leaves.
Coming off the summer menu: Tomatoes. "We have five tomato-based lunch dishes right now, but then we'll banish tomatoes from our restaurant for eight months. I refuse to serve tomatoes that aren't local and as good as nature intends them to be."
Coming on the menu for fall: A panino with Oak Grove Farms fresh organic cheeses on walnut-raisin bread. A hot dog of the day, including merguez (North African lamb sausage) with Tunisian salad, corn dog, Chicago hot dog and chili dog. And pizza kits (par-baked pizzas to take home and bake in a few minutes).
Sleeper hit of the summer: Soft-shell crab sandwich. "We get our crabs from Baxter's on the Eastern Shore. When prices went up this summer, our price went up, too, and I thought our customers would fade. We sold 72 of them on Thursday and Friday."
Customer story of the summer: "Nothing I do with customers is considered funny by rational people."
Chef Geoff's, Wesley Heights and Penn Quarter
Best thing he ate this summer: Steamed lobsters and steamer clams at Abbott's Lobster in Noank, Conn. "You're right there, overlooking the Connecticut shore, drinking a beer. You can't go wrong."
Coming off the summer menu: Swordfish with plums. Peach cobbler.
Coming on the menu for fall: Fried green tomatoes and pureed hard-squash soups.
Sleeper hit of the summer: A linguine with mascarpone cream, roasted corn and baby tear-drop tomatoes. "It was nice and light and summery, but with everyone on Atkins you would think we'd sell four a night, not 40."
The Crossing at Casey Jones, La Plata, Md.
Best thing he ate this summer: "In Manhattan at Ginger, a sushi bar, I had a banana crunch -- a spicy tuna-banana roll. I've added it to the menu on sushi nights, Wednesday and Saturday."
Coming off the summer menu: Everything.
Coming on the menu for fall: Ostrich. Housemade pastas. A lot of duck and lamb.
Sleeper hit of the summer: A 16-ounce, apricot-glazed pork chop with hummus-mashed potatoes and Brussels sprout slaw.
2941, Falls Church
Best thing he ate this summer: "Here, at the restaurant, a fabulous green tomato gazpacho. It's less acidic and different."
Coming off the summer menu: Foie gras with cape gooseberries.
Coming on the fall menu: Foie gras with a pineapple mango chutney. Poached abalone with a ginger-lemongrass cream.
Sleeper hit of the summer: Grilled ostrich tenderloin with porcini spaetzle was "off the charts." Also, bison loin with red cabbage. "We turned a lot of people on to ostrich and bison."
Kaz Sushi Bistro, Downtown
Best thing he ate this summer: "That's easy. Really good tomatoes from the farmers market. I peel them, slice and add salt. That's it."
Coming off the summer menu: Sashimi gazpacho and salmon with tomato confit.
Coming on the fall menu: Wild mushrooms -- hedgehogs and chanterelles -- for soups and sauces.
Sleeper hit of the summer: "People really liked our different types of seviche, like tuna with grilled vegetables, because it was so summery and a little spicy."
Customer story of the summer: "Two couples sat down at the sushi bar and asked, 'Can we do the sake bomb?' I said sure. Most people do the sake bomb by dropping a cup of sake into a glass of beer. But these people . . put their chopsticks on top of the beer glass and the sake cup balanced on top. Then they pounded their fists on the sushi bar very loud, over and over, until the sake cup falls over into the beer. Really strange."
Melrose, West End
Best thing he ate this summer: The tomatoes from Tuscarora Organic Growers Cooperative in Pennsylvania. "My personal favorite is the big Purple Cherokee tomatoes."
Going off the summer menu: Sauteed soft-shell crabs stuffed with basil and nuts, served with cold cucumber vinaigrette and spicy pickled tomatoes.
Coming on the fall menu: Braised duck with pickled summer cherries.
Sleeper hit of the summer: Kobe beef with portobello mushroom gratin, shallot marmalade and mustard seed sauce. "I was surprised this sold so well because it was so darn expensive. It's a seven-ounce steak for $48, but people love the Kobe beef."
Poste, Penn Quarter
Best thing he ate this summer: Wild strawberries growing in the backyard of his house on Capitol Hill.
Coming off the summer menu: Wild local striped bass with red wine-poached egg and champ potatoes (an Irish dish of Yukon Gold potatoes, butter, capers and parsley).
Coming on the fall menu: Game meats. By October, smoked squab with a potato and onion tart. Bison with Yorkshire pudding.
Sleeper hit of the summer: Soft-shell crab and tuna tartare duo. "It's a hot and cold dish. The cold tuna tartare is served in a timbale with watermelon and yellow tomato ice, and the soft-shells are served hot and crispy on a bed of cucumber noodles. I wasn't sure people would like it, but it's really taken off."
Firefly, Dupont Circle
Best thing he ate this summer: The $24 lobster burger at Citronelle. "A bunch of friends and I ordered the tuna burger and the lobster burger. We drank a '93 Pommard. There was nothing not to love."
Coming off the summer menu: Cold pea soup. "It's water-based with onions, garlic, yogurt, curry oil and baby peas, all pureed. It's been selling so well, I'm reluctant to take it off."
Coming on the fall menu: Slow-cooked lamb stew. Portobello mushroom cacciatore for vegetarians. Vegetable and herb combinations for dessert, like tomato tart.
Sleeper hit of the summer: Truffle fries for $9.50. They're tossed with truffle oil, Parmesan and chives, and served with Thousand Island dressing made from scratch. "Never in my life did I think that one day I'd be selling $10 fries with Thousand Island dressing."
Customer story of the summer: "Our back room only fits 16, but this guy wanted to bring in a party of 30. So he made reservations under three different names and then, when the whole group wouldn't fit, he went around trying to get other customers to move."
Andale, Penn Quarter
Best thing she ate this summer: Turtle fudge from Rehoboth Beach, Del.
Coming on the fall menu: Salsa made from heirloom tomatoes and served with grilled fish.
Surprise hit of the summer: Carnitas. Boneless pork shoulder is slow-cooked until it's crispy and served with charro beans seasoned with bacon, tomatoes and garlic. "It's a big pile of meat. It's not a light, summer dish, but it just flies out of here."
Customer story of the summer: "During Restaurant Week, customers would come into the restaurant and expect burritos and chimichangas, which we don't make. We'd send them up the street to Austin Grill."
Nectar, Foggy Bottom
Best thing he ate this summer: The Ped Ka Pow (crispy duck in red basil sauce) from Basil Thai in Georgetown. "I have to have it every Monday when I'm off work. It's my reward for the week."
Coming off the summer menu: Chilled cucumber soup. "It's bright green, icy cold, with baby beets, yogurt and a touch of dill."
Coming on the fall menu: A return of last year's popular pumpkin soup with crispy sweetbreads and yogurt.
Surprise hit of the summer: Chunks of chilled crab tossed with ginger aioli, pickled ginger, fresh grapefruit and a little mustard oil. "It's like a refreshing, chilled salad. I can't keep enough of it on hand."