Home Plate January/February 2013

How to order dim sum like a pro. Plus, a new tea house and Arlington's coolest underground supper club.

Photo by Amy MooreTea Time

Love a cup of tea on a chilly day? House of Steep is betting that your feet may love one, too. In addition to its menu of loose-leaf teas and small plates, the Cherrydale establishment offers tea-infused foot baths to customers seeking respite from the cold. “I’ve tried to create a space where people can step away from their daily lives and relax,” says owner Lyndsey Clutteur DePalma, who opened her tea house spa in late September.

The 1,000-square-foot space is divided into a modern six-table tea lounge with a dark granite service bar, and a more private “foot sanctuary” with six upholstered chairs, tucked away behind curtains. There’s also a retail display of restorative bath products made by local artisans.

At any one time, 15 tea varietals and 10 blends are on the menu, which also includes soups, sandwiches and Asian-inspired small plates, such as vegetable dumplings and shrimp summer rolls.

Reservations are advised for the 20-minute foot soaks ($19 to $24), which, in addition to tea, include salts, herbs and essential oils. DePalma recommends the service for stress relief, aid in circulation, muscle tension and detoxification. “After a foot bath, I feel at peace. All is right with the world,” she says.

House of Steep, 3800-D Lee Highway, Arlington, 703-334-2632, www.houseofsteep.com

Photo by Amy MooreA La Cart

We adore dim sum (Cantonese for “heart’s delight”)—the multitude of steamed, baked, fried or roasted little nibbles that are served midday, from roving carts, at area Chinese restaurants.

And we’re not the only ones. On weekends, only the fortunate are likely to snag a table between noon and 1 p.m. for the traditional Chinese practice of yum cha (drink tea). Waits can be particularly daunting on the Chinese Lunar New Year, which this season falls on Sunday, Feb. 10, signaling the arrival of the Year of the Snake.

Want to order dim sum like a pro? Over the years, this food writer has learned that true dim sum aficionados request a table near the kitchen door for access to the freshest dumplings and crepes. For a varied experience, select small plates from as many as six carts, progressing from lighter steamed dumplings and meat-filled buns to heavier pan-fried and deep-fried dishes. Timing is everything. If an appealing dish passes on a cart during the noon rush, claim it. It might not come your way again. Try these locations:

China Garden, 1100 Wilson Blvd. (Twin Towers, mall level), Rosslyn, 703-525-5317, www.chinagardenva.com. Dim sum served: Saturday and Sunday, 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Fortune Chinese Seafood Restaurant, 6249 Arlington Blvd. (Seven Corners Center), 703-538-3333. Dim sum served: Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Mark’s Duck House, 6184-A Arlington Blvd. (Willston Center), Falls Church, 703-532-2125, www.marksduckhouse.com. Dim sum served: Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Photo by Amy MooreVegan Vino

Cautious vegans John Kerr and Gina Trippi like to enjoy a nice glass of wine when the workday is done. But not just any wine. Even a vintage that earns a near-perfect 99-point score from Wine Spectator may not match their standards.

“Most people aren’t aware that wines may be processed with animal products, even bovine tissue,” says Trippi, who, with her husband, runs Vegan Sommelier, an Arlington-based Internet distributor of animal-free varietals.

Vintners, she explains, sometimes use animal-derived products—such as gelatin, egg whites, fish bladders or milk protein—to remove bitterness, clarify, or stabilize some or all of their wines. This information typically is not included on the label.

Kerr and Trippi work with Virginia distributors to find small, family-owned wineries (both foreign and domestic) that process wine without animal ingredients. At any given time, six to 12 wines are available by mail, most in the $14 to $19 range.

For New Year’s Eve, Valentine’s Day or a winter wedding, they recommend the “crisp and invigorating” vegan French sparkling wine Domaine du Pas Saint Martin Saumur Brut ($19). 

Vegan Sommelier, 202-436-6743, www.vegansommelier.com

Tom Madrecki of Chez Le CommisPhotos by Amy Moore (2)Pssst: Pass It On

Every other weekend, Clarendon resident Tom Madrecki converts the living room of his small, one-bedroom apartment into a one-seating supper club for 12. Someday the enterprising 24-year-old hopes to open a legitimate restaurant. But for now the makeshift operation is his test kitchen.

Inspired by the paladares of Havana, Madrecki’s Chez Le Commis is an underground restaurant that flies, for the most part, below the radar of zoning laws and health regulations by accepting only “donations” for food and drink. (At Commis, that would be $50 per head.) As in New York and London, which have dozens of such alternative dining spots, news of upcoming dinners is spread via word of mouth and social media.

“It’s really no different than when friends get together for taco night and everyone chips in for the beef,” says Madrecki, a Chicago native and University of Virginia graduate who maintains a full-time job as a press manager for an urban planning coalition.

Except that this culinary perfectionist’s six-course dinners (each with three wine pairings) are clearly a cut above Old El Paso. At a private tasting, we enjoyed terrific seared scallops with a saffron-infused squash and a smear of black olive purée, as well as pan-roasted pork loin with maple yogurt and Indian spices.

“It’s my chance to bring something out there and get feedback,” he says.

Madrecki may work outside of the kitchen by day, but he’s no amateur. His culinary training includes volunteer stints in the kitchens of José Andrés’ Zaytinya in downtown D.C., top-rated bistro Le Chateaubriand in Paris, and Noma in Copenhagen (which is currently heralded by the food media as the best and most innovative restaurant in the world).

Most of the adventurous foodies who have patronized Chez Le Commis thus far are in their 20s to 40s, and many come from D.C. To keep the conversation flowing, Madrecki plays “a strange mix of music” that includes everything from ’90s rap to Rat Pack crooners. “It’s all over the place,” he says. “Everyone seems to enjoy it. It’s fun and good.”

www.chezlecommis.com

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