‘Nibbles and Sips’: Freak Show Without a Tent, Dino’s Grotto Opens, Erin Dickins Spices Up Her Repertoire, Mio Brings Puerto Rico to DC

Freak Show Without a Tent, Dino’s Grotto Opens, Erin Dickins Spices Up Her Repertoire, Mio Brings Puerto Rico to DC 

On DC-Based Food Writer Nevin Martell’s Latest Book

Partiality Alert Based on Consuming Alcoholic Beverages at Martell’s in the 1960’s: I wasn’t two pages into chapter one, when author Nevin revealed that his father was proprietor of Martell’s, a preppy watering hole on 83rd and Third Avenue where I gleefully lost a few brain cells during a misspent youth. It was a glorious time when fake IDs were a cottage industry and school holidays were spent drinking G&Ts on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. As I delved further into the book, my salad days redux, I discovered that Nevin and I had both followed a rather parallel offbeat path on which his father had led his family so many years before. I, too, had enjoyed unorthodox adventures in the South Pacific, South America and Europe during the heady days of the 60’s, a time when exotic locales were relatively unspoiled (and often perilous) and encounters with the natives and their consciousness raising practices didn’t require a tour guide. 

Nevin Martell's book - Freak Show Without a Tent

Freak Show Without a Tent – Swimming with Piranhas, Getting Stoned in Fiji & Other Family Adventures (Possibilities Publishing 2014) is Nevin Martell’s pentimento of travels with his family of four – – snarky sister Josephine, prim and proper mother Alison, and balls-to-the-wall father Ralph, whose spur-of-the-drunken-moment decisions to seek authentic experiences, placed the hapless family in cahoots with the Gods of Danger. Though Nevin reveled in these offbeat escapades with true teenage aplomb, it appears Alison went along if only to assure her children weren’t eaten by cannibals or crocodiles. His sibling, however, was hell-bent on exposing her older brother’s awkwardness.

Martell, a DC-based food, travel and lifestyle writer for the Washington Post, Wine Enthusiast and NPR’s blog “The Salt”, has had great success with his earlier books, The Founding Farmers Cookbook: 100 Recipes for True Food & Drink (2013) (selected by Whisk and Quill in December 2013 for “Best Books of the Year” – and the small-press smash Looking for Calvin and Hobbes: The Unconventional Story of Bill Watterson and his Revolutionary Comic Strip (2009).

Nevin Martell - author's photo courtesy Possibilities Publishing

Drawing upon his childhood travel diaries Martell gives us a hilarious Hunter S. Thompsonesque view of his unflappable father and delightfully dysfunctional family from the eyes of a pubescent lad whose fantasies were evenly divided between James Bond, Robert Louis Stevenson and assorted comic book super heroes. Occasionally those dreams would turn treacherous under his father’s autocratic rule, and the mishaps and mysteries in the nether regions of Tonga, Fiji, New Zealand and The Azores would frighten the young explorer.

At times I felt like I was reading Tom Wolfe’s chronicles of Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters or watching Wes Anderson’s The Royal Tenenbaums. Of a kava drinking and dancing ceremony among Fiji natives, Martell writes, “The scene shifted after our fellow partygoers hit their fourth cups of kava. Suddenly, someone hit “play” on a small boombox and what I assumed was Fijian dancehall music filled the small space. Half the crowd rose to their feet with the herky-jerky grace of undead puppets; the others remained seated, demonstrating the kind of full-body lethargy that’s usually reserved for heroin addicts.”

A highly engaging and fiercely colorful read by one of our very own. Find him at www.NevinMartell.com.

Dino’s Finds a New Home in Shaw Neighborhood 

Dino’s Grotto is Chef Dean Gold’s latest enterprise with Kay Zimmerman, his wife of 25 years. Landing in the emergently hip Shaw neighborhood after five years in Cleveland Park, the new joint is as relaxed as its Hawaiian-shirted owner. Don’t expect the latest in sleek, chic, throw-in-a-touch-of-orange décor popular in the city’s newest eateries. The place is more akin to your Aunt Lydia’s dining parlor with its soft yellow walls, randomly hung art and chairs that look like they were lifted from a 1980’s roadhouse. The food is another story. Gold and Chef de Cuisine, Lenins Salinas are turning out delicious eats with premium farm-sourced ingredients.

Gold loves pickling and dives into it like heron after a minnow. We began with the Vegetable Antipasti. Sour-and-spicy pickled ramps and asparagus and a bowl of house-cured olives and lupini. I mistook a whole clove of garlic for one of the shiny golden beans, which was indelibly startling. I determined to inspect subsequent bites more closely. Because Gold’s cooking is more akin to a rustic Italian style of dining, it should be expected. Italian cooks of that stripe do not over-combine their dish’s elements, preferring different tastes in each mouthful.

Vegetable Anitpasti at Dino's Grotto

A marinated mixed seafood salad of octopus, shrimp and scallops followed house made Paté Cinghiale, wild boar studded with pistachios; and Testa, a pork head terrine. Salty and spicy are Gold’s signature combinations and we found it echoed once more in the devilled eggs with red caviar crowns served with sriracha aioli.

A dish of head-on shrimp perched atop local asparagus became the forerunner to bowls of tender Italian meatballs served family style. Scrumptious deep-fried baby artichokes are sourced from the Santa Monica Farmers Market, a favorite dish of mine from my travels throughout California’s artichoke farmland. Don’t expect fancy plating skills here. Diners expecting to be dazzled by drizzles or dots from a squeeze bottle, will be disappointed. Food is served plainly – on a plate – in front of you.

Veterans of the old Dino’s should not fear, customer favorites like Wild Boar “Cinghiale” smothered in cream, tomato, onion, hazelnuts, rosemary, cocoa and pecorino over pappardelle, one of the best dishes in town, is still on the menu as is the linguini with white wine and garlic clam sauce.

Wild Boar Cinghiale at Dino's Grotto

Gold’s experience at Whole Foods developing their wine, cheese and specialty foods program from the ground floor into the multi-million dollar industry it has become today, shows in the quality of the wines and cheeses served.

From ten options we chose Castelmagno, a sharp raw milk cow and sheep combination, Blu di Bufala, a mild and creamy blue, and Capra Cremosa Tartufato, a fresh goat cheese with black truffle.

Gianduja "Nico" - Dean Gold's Venetian confection

In this predominantly Ethiopian restaurant neighborhood, Gold has already created a popular bar scene on the lower level. Called Grotto Bar at 1914, a special “Hangover Brunch” has been instituted.

Start recuperating with “Hair of the Dog” made with Hayman’s Old Tom Gin, a raw egg, Worcestershire sauce, simple syrup, sriracha, blackstrap bitters and lemon juice. If you can get that down, you’re halfway there. Choose another from the list of boozy brunch cocktails for your second before selecting a main course or two starters.  A sweet deal at $25.00.

Songstress Erin Dickins Spices Up Her Repertoire 

Jazz vocalist Erin Dickins has a new shtick. The former Manhattan Transfer co-founder, who performs her sophisticated cabaret act throughout Europe and the U.S., has developed a line of herbal sea salts she calls,Sizzle & Swing, which pretty much describes everything about her.

Erin lives in nearby Easton, MD and we’ve stayed in touch over the years. So right before she launched her line, she sent me some of the mixes to try out. With all the gourmet food shows and food festivals I’ve attended over the years, I have sampled dozens of herbal spice mixes. For the most part they taste oddly similar, as though they’ve just been packaged under different labels. But Erin’s unique and imaginative combinations and the use of top quality herbs, (heavy on the herbs and light on the salt.) place these miles ahead of the run-of-the-mill blends. Don’t even get me started on the rubbish at the food festivals.

Erin has always been cookin’ with gas, as they say, honing her culinary skills at the New York Restaurant School and teaching herself Escoffier techniques. She even owned a Manhattan restaurant in New York with 20 world-class recording pals called “Possible 20” that soon became a hangout for the recording and theatre scenes.

As a companion to the gourmet herb and sea salt blends, the sassy songstress has also written a cookbook, “Jazz for Foodies”. Packaged along with her latest 12-track CD “Java Jive”, it pairs songs with recipes using the blends. The seasonings come in four flavor combinations and are beautifully packaged in 4 oz. tins.

Chili, Lime & Cilantro Sea Salt – I loved this on popcorn and in guacamole. She uses it in her recipe for the Vietnamese chicken soup, Pho Ga.

Tuscan Sea Salt – A taste of the Mediterranean. Its versatility is harmonious with all meats. I liked it with chicken. Erin adds it to a maître d’ hotel butter to use on steak.

Lemon Basil Seasoning Salt – Summer in a tiny tin. Erin pairs it with her song “Long Ago and Far Away” and adds it to Lobster Mac n’ Cheese.

Dill Tangerine Seasoning Salt – For delicious devilled eggs! Erin uses it in her delicious rendition of Spinach Pie as the backdrop to “Can’t We Be Friends”.

Companion track: “Long Ago and Far Away”
Serves 6

  • 8 ounces elbow macaroni (we used “designer” noodles)
  • 16 ounces of Half and Half
  • 6 ounces shredded sharp cheddar cheese
  • 3 ounces cream cheese
  • 4 ounces fresh grated Parmesan cheese
  • 3 ounces shredded Gruyere cheese
  • 1 lb lobster meat, chopped – about two tails
  • 1/2 cup breadcrumbs
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 1 tbsp dried tarragon
  • 2 tsp Sizzle & SwingLemon Basil Seasoning Salt
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Bring water to boil in medium pot and cook noodles per label instructions. In a double boiler, combine cheddar cheese, 3 oz. parmesan cheese, cream cheese and Gruyere cheese. Heat until blended. Gradually add cream, stirring until smooth.

In a large pan, heat olive oil, add shallots, tarragon, Sizzle & Swing™ Lemon Basil Seasoning Salt and garlic. Add lobster meat and sauté until opaque.

Remove from heat. Drain cooked pasta, add to lobster mix, then gently fold in the cheese sauce, salt and pepper and blend well.

Place in casserole dish or individual ramekins, sprinkle with remaining Parmesan cheese and top with breadcrumbs. Bake at 350°F for 6-8 minutes until breadcrumbs are golden brown. See your cardiologist in the morning!

To order the spices or the cookbook with CD visit www.sizzleandswing.net.

Mio Brings Puerto Rico to DC 

Wilo Benet brings his international fusion style to Mio Restaurant

Chef Wilo Benet hit town like a tropical storm last week, bringing his beautifully balanced and elegantly presented dishes from Puerto Rico to Mio Restaurant, where his good friend and Mio owner Manuel Iguina will feature Benet’s exquisite dishes on a special menu throughout the summer. Benet, the chef and owner of the award-winning Pikayo restaurant in Puerto Rico, describes his style as contemporary global cuisine, a concept that combines traditional Puerto Rican ingredients with Japanese, Chinese, Thai, Spanish, Italian, Classical French influences. This fusion of flavors, together with Wilo’s artistic emphasis on style, are simply divine.

Hawaiian Swordfish marinated in sofrito with a yuzu emulsion - Wilo Benet dish now at Mio Restaurant

Firmly ensconced in San Juan’s Condado Plaza Hilton, Pikayo celebrates its 24th anniversary this year.

Benet’s style goes beyond traditional Puerto Rican cuisine. A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, Benet worked in some of New York City’s most prestigious kitchens including Le BernardinThe Water Club andMaurice Restaurant before returning to Puerto Rico to serve as Chef de Cuisine at the Governor’s Mansion.

Kurobuta Pork Cheeks on coconut milk polenta with sherry sauce and julienned pata negra Iberico loin at Mio

Benet opened Pikayo within the Puerto Rico Museum of Art drawing kudos from The New York Times who hailed the restaurant as “maybe the best museum restaurant in the world.”  Recognized by Bon Appétit andConde Nast Traveler, he has published two cookbooks, Puerto Rico True Flavors and Puerto Rico Sabor Crillowhich are currently in their third printing.

Mango Terrine with almonds, fresh cherries and dulche de leche as part of Wilo Benet's summer menu at Mio's

Wilo Benet’s new TV Show dubbed SABORES DE ENSUEÑO con Wilo Benet” is currently on Utilísima Channel FOX Latino.  The show is based on recipes of Puerto Rico True Flavors.  With an audience of 11 million people from Mexico to Argentina, and including the United States, the show is accessed in Puerto Rico on Onelink (Channel 171), on Direct TV (Channel 234) and on Dish TV.

Benet has another show called “Sabor a Wilo,” now in its third season on Direct TV (Channel 161). He has also appeared on Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern, and as a guest chef on Bravo’s Top Chef.

To check out his guest stint at Mio’s, visit www.miorestaurant.com.

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Jordan Wright
Jordan Wright is an accomplished writer on food, spirits, travel, and theatre. Her clients include the tony Georgetowner and hip sister publication the Downtowner, the Washington Examiner and San Francisco Examiner, as well as LocalKicks.com, DC Metro Magazine, Washington Life Magazine, Washingtonian Magazine, MDTheatreGuide.com, The Alexandria Times, Hartkeisonline.com, and now DCMetroTheaterArts. Her articles feature restaurant openings, food and wine events, food-oriented film reviews, farmer’s markets, food trends, restaurant reviews, food memories, new food products, hotels, spas, resorts and interviews with the country’s leading chefs – from Jose Andres and Top Chef’s Carla Hall, to CakeLove’s Warren Brown and Top Chef’s Spike Mendelsohn. She has also interviewed famed chef and TV star, Anthony Bourdain, Eric Ripert, cookbook author Joan Nathan, and director Robert Kenner for an in-depth article about his film Food, Inc. Photographs by Wright accompany many of her articles and NBCNews.com has picked up and used several of her stories. Jordan Wright hails from three generations of show business. Her grandmother, Betty Morton, was a Ziegfield Follies girl; her step-grandmother Corinne Griffith, a noted author and silent screen star wrote Hail to the Redskins; her father, Georgie Price, an entertainer and founder of The Lamb’s Club in New York, as well as a CBS radio show host, songwriter and vaudevillian; her sister, Penny Larsen Vine, a theatre critic both on radio and in print for Variety, a former longtime member of the Outer Critics Circle, and a lead performer in countless national touring companies; one brother, Peter Price, appeared in leading roles in over 16 major motion pictures for MGM; while her other brother, Marshall Price performed at Carnegie Hall. Niece, Stephanie Vine, was the final Annie in the original production of Annie on Broadway, and niece, Liz Larsen, has received two Tony nominations and a Helen Hayes award for lead actress in Sunday in the Park with George. Wright sang with Columbia Records in New York and Barclay Records in France. In the sports world her grandfather was the original owner and founder of the Washington Redskins football team. Wright has traveled throughout four continents and currently resides in Old Town Alexandria.


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