The best food is memorable. The flavor and texture linger on in memory long after the last bite has past one's lips. And that's why I've been reflecting on the ethereal taste of piña colada spun sugar, clouds of cotton candy melting in my mouth.
2941 is located in a business park, no where in particular, west of Washington D.C. in Falls Church. I'm told that by daylight it looks much less prepossessing than it does at night, a glow of windows through a tidy grove of office park trees, the wind whistling through the dark of suburban night. Dressed in wedding finery, we clung to our coats and scarfs as the chill gusts tugged at us, finding respite in the warm glow of a well-appointed, high-ceiling space. C. said my face brightened just seeing the ratio of waiters to diners.
Back in October, all of D.C.'s private dining rooms were already booked solid, so the ten of us ate in the main dining space, an atrium of broad windows, pale woods, and eclectic artwork encompassing pre-raphaelite naiads, Japanese warriors, and elegant floral arrangements the height of small trees. On one side of the table was a banquette, the one complication for an elegant meal - sitting five across required servers to regularly reach across us or ask us to help in taking our dishes. It's a very minor quibble in the scheme of things; that I mention it at all shows how good the rest of the restaurant was.
My sister had worked out a tasting menu for us in advance, a fixed menu with variants only for those unable to eat particular courses, necessary since she herself is a vegetarian. She also thoughtfully allowed for white wine alternatives for the accompanying reds on our menu. The menu was negotiated between what caught her eye in talking with the restaurant, and what they recommended.
We began with a warming nibble of an amuse bouche, fois gras on a toasted cinnamon brioche with a port reduction and topped with mascarpone. We tried hard not to blunt our appetite too much on the bread, especially the addictive pumpernickel/raisin/chocolate bread, with butter at the perfect temperature for spreading. There was also plenty of time to sip at our first wine while settling in to the warmth of temperature and companionship. Apprpriately enough, the wine was a champagne (Gosset - Brut "Excellence" Ay. France. NV), with which we toasted the bride and groom, and family come from the world's four corners. The champagne's floral sweetness, with tropical lychee notes and a solid, woodsy backbone, refreshingly cut through the intensity of our first course. I'm still thinking about the chestnut cappuccino* too, the dense, smooth chestnut soup rounded out by a few pieces of fois gras; really classy comfort food.
Next was a salad course, described on the menu as Local Goat's Cheese. Cucumber, pear, baby arugula and vanilla hazelnut vinaigrette, accompanied by a fresh, bright, peachy Sancerre, with a lingering mellow roundness. (Sancerre - Dom. Mellot "La Moussiere" Loire Valley, France. 2004) The tart arugula, softened by its sweeter accompaniaments, was refreshing after our intense first flavors. I asked after the goat's cheese - it was from somewhere in Maryland.
Every course, every food in the meal, was sweet. I suspect it's a hallmark of the kitchen. It didn't make the meal cloying by any meals - of course, I have a weakness for sweet - nor was it so heavy-handed that my fellow diners took particular note of it. But I noticed it eventually as we ate, and it will stand out particularly in my course descriptions. The next course is a good example of this. The menu reads "Roasted Sea Bass. Braised fennel and coriander nage." The sea bass was caramelized in its roasting, making it a good match for the fruit notes in the accompanying savennieres wine. The halved shrimp didn't add much to the dish, but the nage* - the thin, foam-topped sauce was an impressive exercise in balance between sweet and sour. The accompanying wine featured flowery golden tropical fruit notes (guava, pineapple), yet was still a fairly dry wine. It reminded me of a late harvest vintage. (Savennieres. Chateau de Varennes, Loire Valley, France. 2002)
The centrepiece of the meal was a requisite dish for a wedding feast: Black Truffle Love Letters, my sister's choice: a square of fresh pasta, folded in half, with a daub of mascarpone, a parmesan-truffle sauce, and topped with shavings of truffle. The rich dish, a fine showcase for the complexity of a truffle, was balanced by the light tartness of the wine. I drank a white burgundy, a meursault, a remarkably pleasing wine for a young oaked vintage. My scribbled tasting notes read "caramel and slate notes, melons, low-key intensity, light honey. Initial brief medium-fruity taste." I'm amazed my notes are as legible as they are, given they were scribbled on both sides of torn-out sheets of notebook paper. The full notebook wouldn't fit in my dress bag. (Meursault. Dom. du Chateau de Chorey "Les Pellans", France 2002; Everyone else drank Haut Cotes du Nuits. Domaine Mongeard Mugneret Burgundy, France, 2003)
The next wine was the highlight of the meal's alcohol for me. C. agreed and told me take note of it. It was a Riesling, Willi Haag Spatlese "Brauneberger Juffer", Mosel, Germany, 2003. The riesling accompanied a "Roasted Hudson Valley Duck Breast. Valencia orange gastrique and forbidden rice." The sweetness of the wine, with its late harvest range of apricot, cherry, and orange flavors was, as the sommelier told me, a classic wine to have with the duck. The sommelier had been hired away by 2941 a few months earlier from the restaurant where we'd eaten only the previous night. I noted a subtle, sensible, and classy touch, quite possibly the norm at many high-end restaurants, but one I'd not noticed before. Whenever wine was poured, the sommelier turned the label so as to be clearly visible to the person whose glass she was pouring. (Everyone else drank Sangiovese/Cabernet. Terra Bianca "Campaccio". Tuscany, Italy. 2001.)
Our last main course was a "Prime Beef Tenderloin. Braised baby vegetables, cantal whipped potatoes and red wine sauce." The wine sauce tasted even more of currants than wine, and the potatoes had a truffle-like richness to them. My notes for this part of the meal ebbed from prolonged food descriptions and tell me more about the wines instead. While good dishes, these weren't the dishes which blew me away at the time either, so that's likely related. Also, I know I'm weak at wine descriptions, and it was something I was conciously working on that night. Speaking of which, I drank the a pouilly fuissé with the beef. A tart beginning of slate and honey settled past oakiness and into a rich, fruity finish. (Pouilly Fuissé, Dom. Jacques Simonin "Les Ammonites" France, 2002; everyone else drank Zinfandel. Ridge, Geyserville, Napa Valley, California. 2002)
The hours drifted by with good food and good company, neither too much nor too little of either. We all still had enough appetite to demolish dessert when it arrived, an abstract-art inspired presentation of a "Chocolate Jewel Box. Coffee mousse, Bailey's foam, and milk chocolate crunch." It was a fun dish to eat, all the containers and strips of chocolate, however shaped, of the same very thin, fine, crunchy unity, and filled up with the melting softness of the mousse and foam. It was sculptured enough that I took photos, although the light wasn't great for them. Dessert was accompanied by madeira (Broadbent, "Fine, Rich and Sweet").
There was one final set of elements left to arrive in our meal, on beyond what was listed on the menu. After dessert, with the tea and coffee, arrived little plates of mignardises (mini lemon meringues were the best of the selection), along with three large basins towering high with pale yellow spun sugar, a moutain of delicate cotton candy. The sugary clouds melted into the taste of piña colada, mouth after mouthful, drifting away in tasty lightness, a final lovely flavor of warmth and sunshine to tide us through the windswept freezing air without.
* Both nages and cappuccini, when referring to food, are liquids topped with foams. A cappuccino is the soup version, a nage is the sauce versione.