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A celebration dinner in D.C., and an unexpected Hoosier connection

Mothers Day marked the date our family attended my son’s graduation from American University with an Executive Masters in International Service. (He was on a plane the next day to Senegal for a USAID site visit.)

So, there was much to celebrate that evening at The Red Hen, 18 blocks north of the U.S. Capitol. Reservations open 30 days out and fill rapidly at this popular, cozy dining venue.

The Italian influenced restaurant was awarded “New Restaurant of the Year” by the Washingtonian in 2014. That same year co-owner/head chef Michael Friedman was honored with a RAMMY as the “Rising Culinary Star of the Year”.

Of particular interest to me, the wine list had a definite “foodie” emphasis. In other words, selections were not focused on varietal or brand recognition but rather on food pairing suitability. Our waiter, Jonathan, was knowledgeable but readily deferred to the manager on wine questions he couldn’t answer.

While France, Slovenia and Spain were well represented, Italian wines dominated the list. I recognized several Slovenian wines from producer Movia, having discovered them at Lush in Chicago several years ago. Albania, Hungary, Germany, U.S. and Austria also had a limited presence.

We began with the 2013 Cordero Arneis from the Piedmont region of Italy. Subtle apricot/peach fruit flavors with zippy acidity made it a great pairing with the house baked focaccia and olive tapenade.

A 2012 Il Censo “Praruar” Catarrato rose was ordered next to enjoy with appetizers that included a grilled octopus with shelling beans ‘alla Romesco.’ There was initial distinct of grape tannins that gave a minty taste to this rich, medium bodied wine which slowly opened over time to pleasingly dry, strawberry/quince flavors. The wine was more to our liking after allowing it to breathe in the glasses.

For our main courses we had a white and a red wine poured, side by side. The 2010 Michele Satta Viognier from Tuscany was the star of the night. It had both a delicate floral bouquet and body but delivered crisp tropical fruit with a hint of oak and a long finish. My daughter preferred her wood grilled chicken “Fra Diavolo” with the Viognier.

The red wine was a Sicilian 2013 Vigna Di Eli Mascalese Blend. The wine had a bright ruby color with layers of red fruit and notes of herbs and minerals. I was most impressed with the silky mouth feel. The Mascalese paired best with the rigatoni with fennel sausage ragu and Pecorino Romano.

The entree I ordered, ricotta cavatelli with Doug’s pastrami, caraway and braised sauerkraut was wonderful with both wines. In my opinion, the Mascalese paired slightly better with my dish.

To our surprise, the chef came to our table and introduced herself. She had heard from Jonathan that we were from Indiana. She smiled when I told her I live in Goshen.

It turned out that Krystal Cripe is a 2004 graduate of Concord High School. She trained at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park (CIA) and, subsequently, accepted a chef de cuisine position at Elcona Country Club, working under executive chef Casey Hochstetler.

Two years ago, she was called by a former Culinary Institute classmate with an opportunity to work at a new venture in D.C. Krystal made the move and appears to have no regrets.

An esoteric wine list, a farm to table seasonal menu and the Midwestern connection all contributed to our enjoyment of the evening. I can affirm that there is more than corn grown in Indiana; and more than politicians working in Washington D.C.

For more wine appreciation pointers from Frank Piaskowy, subscribe to the Hoosier Wineaux email newsletter.

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