The Best of Washington Party 2011: A Tasty Sampling of the Best in DC Nibbles and Nightlife

The LivingSocial Best of Washington Party, hosted by The Washingtonian magazine, is an annual event featuring dozens of the best restaurants in and around Washington D.C. Held at the National Building Museum, an eager crowd of about 1,500 patrons was able to sample signature dishes and libations from the reader-picked winners of Washingtonian‘s annual poll.

It wasn’t all about fun and over the top indulgence, however. A portion of all ticket sales, as well as proceeds from a diverse silent auction lineup, went towards the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

Auction items were far ranging in taste and budget. There were unique outings such as the “Rockstar for an Evening” package, which allowed 10 friends to enjoy a limousine ride on their way to District Nightclub in Adams Morgan, where three personal security guards, a private table and a bottle of vodka awaited, as well as big ticket items such as two round-trip Qatar Airline tickets valued at $16,000. Accessible bidding opportunities were also available, including numerous dining and hotel excursions in and around the metro D.C. area.

Part of what makes Washington D.C. so great, at its best, is the ethnic diversity. But the district also showcases diversity amongst groups with different passions, purposes and outside interests. Fittingly, the Best of Washington Party was a convergence of the many various and diverse crowds who represent the nation’s capital.

The foodies were out in force to taste all of the delightful bites. The see-and-be-seen socialites were dressed in their finest cocktail party attire. Chefs mingled with other chefs. Restaurateurs, companies and individuals were promoting products, all the while spreading the gospel of local food and produce.

Everyone celebrated and there was fun for all, from visiting the open bar, playing mini golf or bocce ball, sharing a photo booth moment, posing for a caricature drawing, or simply continuing to make laps around the place, sampling until there were no more samples to be had. And, all the while, supporting a more than worthy charity.

The list of restaurants at the LivingSocial Best of Washington Party 2011 was daunting and establishments all kinds were represented. From renowned entrants like Cintronelle, Bistro Bis and 1789, to trendy, relatively new players in the D.C. dining and snacking scene, including Co Co Sala, Ping Pong Dim Sum and Georgetown Cupcake.

Where do you start tasting? What should be tried first and what should be saved for last? What’s worth the line and which items are likely to run out? What can you spare the stomach space on? These important questions needed to be pondered by every guest, and while overindulgence may not have been the sole mission of everyone in attendance, it was still the top priority.

Guests could traverse a gastronomic globe, from the Ethiopian fare at Etete to the Indian flavors at Indique, Rasika and Passage to India. But more familiar and tried-and-true flavors were in plentiful supply as well. Taylor Gourmet provided tasty Italian sandwiches, and the biggest lines in the place belonged to the lobster roll bites doled out by Red Hook Lobster Pound.

Meanwhile, the loudest and most excited buzz may have been coming from the bacon on a stick provided by Restaurant 3. Chef Brian Robinson basted fried bacon with his “magic juice”, consisting of maple syrup, barbecue sauce, cider vinegar and butter, a treat that assistant GM Ria Freydberg described as “irresistible-awesome”. A random passerby shouted in delight that “it tastes like grownup candy!” while this writer made repeated visits to try the crazy-delicious-goodness, feigning ignorance on each pass.

On the other end of the palate-spectrum was perhaps the most adventurous dish of the evening, the bison tartare from Annapolis restaurant Level. Executive chef Alfredo Malinis Jr. prefers to “mix it up a little and use things that aren’t as common” while “sourcing as much as we can locally.” The bison the restaurant uses is served just 36 hours after being slaughtered, which is why Malinis was not at all “afraid to serve it in front of a thousand people,” trusting in simple preparation and high quality local product.

Another standout dish was the Vidalia onion vichyssoise served by Jeffrey Buben, the Chef/Owner of Vidalia and Bistro Bis. Buben said that the dish represents both restaurants, combining the classic French influence you would find at Bistro Bis with the signature onion-inspired flavors at Vidalia.

The vichyssoise was prepared traditionally, but with a special touch, thanks to juiced-onion ice cubes which kept the soup chilled without diluting it. The refreshing, creamy soup was a surprise winner on a hot summer evening.

Buben enjoyed being at the Best Of Washington Party while trying to seek out a whole new generation of customers who used to only say that, “I think my parents went there once!” Attracting young clientele was easy at the event, but he also wanted to remind people “hey, we’ve been there for 19 years.”

All the chefs, cooks and vendors took something from the experience for themselves, adding to the friendly and entrancing cocktail-carnival surroundings.

Rory Kraus, pastry sous chef at Ris, was having a blast taking in the scene, mingling with customers and simply enjoying his profession. He took a circuitous route to becoming a chef, graduating from George Washington University with a degree in neurological psychology before ending up, years later, essentially across the street at Ris.

Kraus says that, “I waved to my parents on stage [at graduation] then went to cook food,” and couldn’t be happier for it. “I wake up with a smile on my face and not many people can say that.” He returns those smiles to his guests, every one of which left the table raving about the Key lime cheesecake with blueberries he offered up.

Bill and Karen Butcher, who in January opened up the Port City Brewing Company in Alexandria, were also having a great time at Best of Washington. Mr. Butcher said it was a great honor that their Essential Pale Ale was voted the city’s best after being open for such a short time. Port City Brewing beers can already be found in hundreds of local restaurants and shops.

As Lorenzo Williams manned some of the food prepping stations at the Co Co Sala table, he delighted in seeing how people appreciated the food they tried. In the kitchen, he doesn’t get that immediate feedback or involvement, so he was able to enjoy “seeing people’s reactions to what they taste as they taste it.” The chocolate-themed restaurant served up rosemary caramel and peanut butter and jelly chocolates, as well as dark chocolate and blueberry shortcake parfait, and a cheesy fritter served with a chipotle, tomato and chocolate sauce.

The different people, the different flavors and the different experiences made the night what it was. The Best of Washington Party was more than just the best food and drink in the district. It was the best of the people who reside there.

It was a welcome weeknight diversion from two-hour backups on the beltway and political bickering. It was an excuse for everyone, as different as they are, to kick back and soak up the best of everything, familiar and foreign, nostalgic and inventive, that the city has to offer.

This story was first published by Jake Emen on Yahoo News on July 14, 2011

Author: Jake Emen

I’m Jake, and I’m your host on this journey. I'm the man doing the eating and the talking around here. I’m a writer based outside of Washington, D.C., and I'm also talking whiskey, local events, travel, and other assorted misadventures. Follow me on the Tweet Machine - @ManTalkFood, or send an email to jake [at] mantalkfood.com.

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