Update (Feb. 5, 2017): DC Eats is back for a second exciting season! This time around dinners will be held at Beth Sholom, with chefs joining from Centrolina (Feb. 28), Equinox (March 20), Cava Mezze (April 26), Grapeseed (May 22) and Ciao Bella (June 19). Registration for the membership plan is now open. Spots are limited, so sign up here before they’re all taken!
It’s no secret that despite its large and vibrant Jewish life and flourishing restaurant and food scene, Washington, DC, has not done so well when it comes to marrying the two. DC’s kosher restaurant scene has long been very, very limited. And if you keep kosher, don’t even think about ever getting a chance to enjoy any of the Washingtonian’s annually ranked Top 100 restaurants.
The Yeshiva of Greater Washington–Tiferes Gedaliah (YGW) in partnership with Moti’s Grill and five area restaurants, and with support from the Washington Vaad and the Jewish Food Experience, is giving local diners the opportunity to taste signature DC dishes in a completely certified-kosher setting for the first time.
The experience is part of a kosher dining club called DC Eats. Between now and July, five dinner club events, with two seatings each, will be held at Moti’s Grill in Rockville, MD. Each dinner will feature a different chef from an iconic local restaurant: Brasserie Beck, Lincoln, Thai Taste by Kob, Blue Duck Tavern and The Red Hen.
Diners can attend by purchasing a membership, either the “Basic Plan,” which costs $180 and grants two diners seatings at each of the five dinners, or the “Family Plan,” which costs $360 and accommodates up to six people at each dinner. The membership fee supports the Yeshiva of Greater Washington’s educational programming and does not include the price of dinner, wine, tax and gratuity. Diners can expect to pay between $20 and $35 per person per meal, excluding wine.
The idea behind DC Eats has been simmering for a while. Rabbi Binyamin Sanders of YGW noticed that food was making waves across the nation and in the capital, but that it was inaccessible for kashrut-abiding locals. At first he envisioned a series of pop-up restaurants or dinners at local restaurants, but it would have been a serious burden to kasher (make kosher) existing DC restaurants.
After going back to the drawing board, a decision was made to host all the restaurants at a single, already certified-kosher establishment. With Moti’s Grill on the ticket for all prep and service, the next step was to secure local chefs, which Sanders accomplished simply by walking into local restaurants and asking the chefs if they would be interested in participating.
Many chefs and restaurants expressed interest, so for this round, Sanders and YGW picked on a somewhat “first come, first served” basis, but given the tremendous excitement on the part of both diners and chefs, they hope to engage the remaining restaurants in future series.
“We’re not looking for top DC chefs to prepare a ‘kosher meal,’” says Sanders. “We’re looking for them to prepare a meal from their regular menu, made kosher.” Indeed, the menu for the first dinner, on April 23, features items that appear on Brasserie Beck’s regular menu, including steak tartare, beef carbonade (beer-braised beef stew) and bisque en croûte, but with mushrooms instead of lobster.
This is slightly more challenging for the Thai dinner, given that most Thai dishes contain nam pla, a fish sauce that often contains shrimp. Even though chef Phak “Kob” Duangchandr does not speak English, Sanders was thrilled that together they managed to come up with a kosher, yet authentic, menu for the DC Eats’ third dinner.
What do the chefs get out of it? After all, most DC Eats members won’t be able to patronize their restaurants the rest of the year.
Brasserie Beck’s Brian McBride, executive chef of the Robert Weidermaier Group, remarked, “‘DC Eats’ gives us the opportunity to share our cuisine with a community that until now hasn’t been able to join us. It’s a way of coming together. Anytime that we can do something both innovative and enjoyable and at the same time benefit kids and education, that’s something we can get behind.”