"In the Spring a young man's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love" - Alfred Lord Tennyson
"In the Spring a young woman's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of truffled mac and cheese" -Ruthie Darling
Each spring, the cherry blossoms lining Washington DC’s Tidal Basin burst into bloom. The day after Easter this year, I found myself walking along the Basin on an absolutely perfect Spring day. The peak bloom period lasts only a few days, and precisely when it happens varies each year so I suppose it was just good fortune on my part.
I do so miss England in the Springtime, romantic thoughts of England's "green and pleasant land" swim in my head. I know, I know, it is, of course, mainly fantasy as, having just spoken to my Mother, she informed me that it's "absolutely bloody pouring here!" I guess it's easy to forget the overcast drizzle of England when one is so far away. For those of you who don't know (I'm guessing my English friends may not know this), the cherry blossom tress were gifted to the city of Washington in 1912 by Mayor Ozaki of Tokyo City. Nice gift, I'd have just brought wine.
After a touristy spring day hitting up the many monuments and somehow inexplicably getting sunburnt in March (damn this anglo-saxon skin of mine), we headed to Shirlington Village, VA for a cosy dinner at Copperwood Tavern, a farm to table joint, that is all about local and seasonal offerings.
Upon being seated, our softly spoken waiter brought us some dainty corn bread muffins to nibble on. To the Brits who aren't familiar with this, it's basically being served cake before your meal, but your Mum can't say anything to you because cake is fine in America at ANY time. Oh and it's served with butter, naturally.
A few bites in and we were handed some menus and given time to peruse. The selection had me salivating half way into the appetizers (starters). We were so overwhelmed by the many delicious sounding choices, that we decided to break it down and tackle only our appetizer selection first. Divide and conquer, my friends. We went for the steak tartare, which promised to come topped with a quail's egg and the fried goat's cheese with Virginia ham.
When the steak tartare appeared I was surprised to see that the quails egg was fried and not served raw, Ah well, one less raw ingredient for my belly to navigate. The steak itself was delicate and well seasoned. It was served with crispy toast which was the perfect accompaniment not to mention an excellent delivery method. The fried goat's cheese was a real treat. The crispy shell and smooth cheese within was complimented by the salty ham and sweet honeycomb that it was served alongside. The whole presentation of this dish reminded me of a ploughman's lunch, but when I remarked this to the waiter he had no idea what I was talking about. Will I ever be able to make myself understood in this country???
After the appetizers were whisked away, we had to decide upon the main event. The portion sizes seemed to be on the large side (for a Brit), so I decided to have a couple of sides and Mr S went for filet mignon (men and steaks eh?) I chose the truffled mac and cheese and the brussels sprouts with crispy shallots, bacon and maple-mustard vinaigrette. Yeah you'd better believe it sprout lovers! The filet's side dish Mr S chose was the smoked gouda-mashed potatoes. I have never been more proud of him. We ordered the steak medium rare (we're not monsters) and sat patiently in the cosy corner watching the restaurant begin to fill up and buzz, despite it being a Monday.
When my sides arrived and I saw the level of cheesiness of the mac, I think I broke into a mini applause. It was also a pale yellow colour, not the day-glo orange so favoured in this fine country. The sprouts were sizzling in the pork fat and were sprinkled with the deep fried shallots. The steak appeared with mashed potatoes that were so smooth they could have chatted me up and had me in a cab by the end of the night.
Cutting into the steak, we found it pink and juicy. I did manage to scrounge one sliver from Mr S and it was tasty, but that was about it. He assured me it more than met his expectations. However, the Oscar had to go to the stand-out performance of the night, the brussels sprouts. These babies are a Copperwood bestseller for a reason. The sprouts were cooked until al dente then tossed with strips of bacon and pan juices. The flavour was incredible. A little on the greasy side, but let me say this on the record: I did not care one bit. Salty, smoky, bacony sprouts with crunchy shallots sprinkled liberally on top? YES, a thousand times, yes. The mac and cheese came a very close second though. It contained actually truffle slices and not just the ubiquitous truffle oil that chefs across the world seem to drizzle on everything as if it's the answer to something. Cheesy, gooey and luscious. The pasta used wasn't macaroni however, it was cavatappi, but hey, who's counting? The mashed potatoes were also fantastic, the smoked gouda taste was strong, but in no way overpowering. Moreover, it took a classic and somewhat tired side dish, and really made you made you see it anew.
The dessert menu was as rich and hearty as the rest of the offerings; brownies, apple dumplings and a cast-iron 'smores dip that allowed you to indulge in this camp fire treat without having to venture into nature - winner! However, after what felt like a rather large dinner (we had leftover's of almost everything) we opted for the seasonal sorbet which turned out to be blueberry ginger. It arrived huddled in a small terracotta dish and as we dug in we found the flavour to be perfectly fine, but the texture slightly odd. It seemed to me to be more of a sauce that had been frozen than a light sorbet. I really can't think of anything to compare it too, perhaps a very dense smoothie?
The meal done and dusted, our waiter returned a final time to help us wrap up our food (so that I could take it with me on my trip back to NYC the next morning). He seemed very insistent that we use separate boxes for each item to which I protested that he should just throw it all in together. He seemed vexed. Am I an animal? Did I lose my gentile British up-bringing? Didn't I have enough to carry what with an overnight bag and that ridiculous easter bonnet? Nevertheless, we left Copperwood very happy, with very full bellies. My kind of place - farm to table, flavorful, earthy food. Liberal amounts of meat and cheese and sprouts from the gods.
Getting on the bus the next day with the spouts in my take-away box, I sat down and was about to dig in to my leftovers when the smell that emanated from opening the box just a tiny amount was incredible. The sulfurous pong of the sprouts that surrounded me made one woman look at me like I had walked into her house on Thanksgiving and pissed on her turkey and another eye me with pity, like I'd either lost control of my sphincter or simply didn't care. I waited all the way until the Holland Tunnel to eat them. I'd planned to wait until we were off the bus, but when we hit bad traffic I couldn't wait any longer. The sprouts and mac and cheese were just as good, if not better the next day, though my fellow travelers may have begged to differ.
A huge Thank You to CopperWood Tavern for hosting us. We'll be back again for sure!
Ruthie Darling xoxo