Thursday, August 20, 2009

Poste - Market to Market

During our time in DC, we’ve been excited to find several restaurants that offer unique “special event” dining experiences. Whether it was the sushi and margarita making class at Zengo or MiniBar’s parade of culinary wonders, we’ve been lucky to partake in these tasty and interactive events. We continued our series of adventures at Poste, a restaurant in the Hotel Monaco in Penn Quarter, which offers its own dining event on Thursday evenings called “Market to Market.”

Poste’s chef, Robert Weland, is very focused on using local ingredients wherever possible. As evidence of this commitment, one needs to look no further than the garden planted on the restaurant’s patio. To encourage diners to get to know their local farmer’s market, Chef Weland developed the Market to Market dinner. Each Thursday, the chef takes a group of lucky eaters to the Penn Quarter Farmer’s Market and shows them how to shop locally. After the market tour, the diners are treated to a multi-course meal at a special table located in the middle of Poste’s garden.

After having it on our must-do list for almost three years (yes, before our permanent move to DC), we finally booked a reservation for a recent Thursday night. We convinced two good friends to come along and enjoy the ride. When we arrived at Poste we were led to the lovely private table in the garden. We expected others to arrive to share the 12-person table with us, but soon learned that the four of us would have the event to ourselves. Our waiter arrived to take wine orders (we opted to skip the $40 per person “biodynamic wine pairing” and ordered two bottles off the menu). A few minutes later, Chef Weland appeared and after a brief introduction, we were off to the market.

As we walked to the Penn Quarter Farmer's Market, he asked whether there was anything in particular we hoped to learn during our tour. I explained that I’m often overwhelmed and intimidated when I shop at farmer’s markets since I just don’t know what to get, much less, where to start. He encouraged me to get to know the farmers by simply talking to them, and to not be afraid to ask for tips and recipe recommendations.

He also pointed out different vendors and explained how he uses each to supply Poste with food and flowers. Clearly the chef is a regular because when we passed a particular fruit stand, the owner rushed out to greet us and insisted we try samples of her peaches. After sampling these juicy appetizers and answering a few more of our questions, Chef Weland led us back to our table in the garden and headed to the kitchen to prepare/supervise our meal.

Because the courses consisted of a variety of different items, and because the menu changes all the time depending on what’s in season, I’ll refrain from reciting each dish and will let the photos do the talking. I present six lovely courses (plus two amuse bouches) of fresh-from-the-garden ingredients prepared by an imaginative chef and served by a bubbly and informative waiter:

Oyster, pate, rabbit terrine, beef tartare slider

Tomato gazpacho with horseradish sorbet

Heirloom tomato salad with basil sorbet, creme fraiche, tomato "caviar"

Poached egg with frisee salad and pork belly

Halibut with olive tapenade crust and basil oil, served atop a tomato tartare

Citrus mint granita

House-made pasta with rabbit, pork belly, and fennel 4 ways

Almond ice cream, blueberry sorbet, black cherry shooter, creme brulee

As you can see from the vibrant colors, the ingredients were fresh and not buried beneath heavy sauces. Our waiter pointed out the areas in the garden that the tomatoes and other ingredients came from, and was quick to answer any questions that we had. However, while we very much enjoyed each dish, the menu was a bit-tomato heavy for our taste. Several hours after we arrived, the experience ended with a parting gift of house-made jam and a packet of herb garden seeds. It was a thoughtful finishing touch.

Did the evening live up to all those years of anticipation? Yes and no. We loved getting to chat with the chef and the food was fantastic. The one drawback was that the event felt a bit disjointed. Going in, I expected there to be a seamless connection between the farmer’s market tour and the meal. I thought perhaps the chef would purchase ingredients during the market tour and bring them back to the restaurant to use in cooking our meal. Instead, after the tour ended we didn’t see Chef Weland again and since we didn’t receive a printed version of the menu, it was hard to tell what farmer’s market items were used. While it wasn’t exactly what I expected, I would recommend Market to Market to those looking for a unique night out. We were fortunate to share the evening with friends who love to eat and love going to farmer’s markets, and their company put the exclamation point on a great night.

Second Thoughts from B

Personal time with the chef. Farmer's market tour and tips. Best table in the house all to ourselves. Excellent meal. All you need to add is the word "priceless" and you've got yourself a MasterCard commercial...

Poste is another one of those restaurants that helped shape my earliest impressions of the DC food scene. I first went there with my dad before J joined me in DC, and had some memorably good hamachi (I can still picture the dish in my head). While I can't say I remember every bite from each of my previous visits, I do remember that each dish has natural, and almost earthy, overtones. The entire menu is built around those terms that seem to be all the rage now - local, organic, farm fresh, sustainable - but this isn't another chef jumping on the bandwagon. I remember them pushing these same principles when I first sat down in their beautiful space three years ago. So while their concept isn't as unique as it once was, I've yet to go to a place where it is so engrained in the culture. All of the tomatoes and herbs are literally picked 20 feet from the kitchen and much of the waste is composted. The thing is, there isn't much waste generated because if you're anything like me, you're licking your plate clean.

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Anonymous said...

If you don't mind...I'm curious as to what something like this might cost? I know the $40 wine pairing was mentioned but that would be on top of what? That might be helpful to include in your detailed reviews.

B said...

Thanks for reading and thanks for the feedback. The market to market dinner at Poste was $75 per person. That is already a pretty good price* for a tasting menu in DC, but the added benefit of the best table in the "house" and the chat/tour with the chef made it a bargain (if a $75 meal can ever be called a bargain).

*compared to other tasting menus we've enjoyed at Minibar, CityZen, Komi, and Sushi Taro