GRAZING TUSCAN-STYLE AT 'CESCO' IN BETHESDA, NEAR WASHINGTON DC.
Long-term WFEDders may recall an early 'Grazing' report on 'Ristorante i Ricchi':
That establishment is still doing well in Washington DC under management by Christianne Ricchi but in this 'Grazing' review, I would like to take you just outside the northern outskirts - to Bethesda.
There, in a quiet suburb is an Italian trattoria run by the founder and original chef Francesco Ricchi, who still has financial interests in the family Ricchi restaurants.
Francesco and Christianne divorced and now he only cooks in Bethesda as Patron and Executive Chef.
Dear Reader, I give you -
'Cesco' at 4871 Cordell Avenue, Bethesda (Metro Red Line: Bethesda)
R: Francesco Ricchi, Patron & Executive Chef
L: Danny Pena
Danny is from South America and I had to go through most of the countries before hitting on the right one - Bolivia. Viva Simon Bolivar!
I chose to eat at the bar as I was alone. From here, I could survey all the clientele and chat with Danny.
Rolex Daytona in YG/pink mother-of-pearl dial and brown reptile leather strap
One of the more interesting bar patrons was a Persian entrepreneur, wearing a nice watch. I struck up a conversation and took a photo.
A little prosecco before dinner.
Bar snack amuse bouche - frittata
Warm home-made bread
Virgin olive oil was very spicy.
Amarone della Valpolicella Classico 1997, Allegrini
From one of the two best years of the last decade (the other being 1995), the 1997 vintage is just ready for drinking now. This had all the Amarone characteristics from one of the best producers.
The characteristic bitter-sweet taste came through wonderfully. Uniquely, the grapes are shrivelled on mats for months after harvesting, and some may be affected by 'noble rot' for concentrated juice.
Grape Varieties - 75% Corvina Veronese; 20% Rondinella; 5% Molinara
Colour: Deep port-like red
Bouquet: Cherries, vanilla, herbs and caramel.
Taste: Dry, full bodied structure. Cherries and vanilla initially that tapers into caramel and tannin.
I was initially disappointed to see only the 1998 vintage on the wine-list. Danny Pena confided that there were only 3 more bottles in stock but not listed. He checked with the boss, who agreed that the 1997 Amarone was far better than my 2nd choice Brunello di Montalcino. Even better, I was charged the same price as the 1998 - hurrah!
As usual, I did not even look at the menu; preferring instead to let Danny select my meal based on the wine choice.
Pasta: Spinach Tagliatelli and Duck Ragout Sauce - starter portion.
Perhaps a little softer than the ideal 'al dente' consistency, the pasta had flavour of its own before the rich duck sauce was added. This dish could have been served as a main course and I would have been satisfied but I had a 'Grazing Report' to do!
Salad: Beetroot and Goat's Cheese.
I was persuaded to have a small taster sized salad and I was glad that I did. Regular WFEDders know of my normal aversion to 'whiffy' cheese but this concoction was delicious. Francesco uses a little chopped pecans, coarse-ground pepper & salt, good wine vinegar and extra-virgin olive oil. The beets were simply boiled for hours and had natural sweetness.
Wild Boar Ragout with Mashed Potato and Green Beans.
This was another rustic Tuscan dish that was not on the menu. It turned out that Francesco was making a sauce for the pasta course of a party he was catering for the next day. I got to try the base stew before its final finishing the next day. The meat was surprisingly tender but it had been stewed for hours.
Most of the flavours from the meat, red wine and herbs had come through well but there was still something missing. To his credit, Francesco admitted that it was not 'finished' yet. I am sure that after he had cooked the 'lifting' finish of more pureed tomato, caramelised onions, garlic, spices and ground meat and added it the next day, the pasta sauce would be excellent. Even as a base stew, it was already great. The mash potato and green beans were just 'right' for a stew.
The pairing of one of the best Amarone wines lifted the meal to another plane, thus adding to my thesis that the food alone is not enough. A great chef needs a good cellar and sommelier to be "the foil to his sabre".
Danny and I ran an impromptu after-dinner wine tasting just because we could.
Muscat Beaulieu, Beaulieu Vineyard, California
This was really an experiment as neither of us had ever had it before. At 18% alcohol, it packed quite a subtle kick after the initial sweet and acid muscat fragrance. I suggested some buffalo milk cheese as a counterpoint.
Mozzarella: The 'umami' taste of sweet creamy cheese and extra virgin olive oil was just right for the muscat wine, if no sweet dessert was available.
Now, we were starting into the unknown; this home-made infusion of citron-flavoured alcohol and syrup was heady and extorted a mean price the next morning with a throbbing head! Most delicious and you have to ask for it.
Almond cake, vanilla icecream, strawberries and zabaglione sauce (a.k.a. zabaione or zabajon)
I am not sweet dessert grazer but we just had to have this dish with all the sweet wines flowing.
Digestivo Cedrina 2004, Francesco Ricchi
Francesco's own production - hic.
A final view of 'Cesco' as I walked home
The downtown 'Ristorante i Ricchi', in which Francesco still has a financial interest, is a popular 'power player' in the capital's dining firmament.
'Cesco' has an altogether different feel to it. While 'i Ricchi' tries hard and manages to maintain its rustic Tuscan atmosphere, near downtown Dupont Circle, this trattoria in Bethesda does not have to try at all. It is a warm rustic place with great food and drink.
"No suits, No games; Just good." A WFED 2-thumbs up!
Love is like a fairy tale; it just takes a kiss to make it happen.
Non so!... non so!
Dipende dal grado
Amore o grillo, dir
Certo costei m'ha
coll'ingenue arti in vescato.
Lieve qual tenue vetro
soffiato alla statura,
al portamento sembra
figura da paravento.
ma dal suo lucido fondo
di lacca come con subito
mo to si stacca, qual
farfalletta svolazza e posa
con tal grazietta silenziosa
che di rincorrerla furor
m'assale se pure in
frangerne dovessi l'ale.
I don't know!...maybe!
It depends on what you
Whether it's love or a whim,
I cannot say.
Certainly her innocent
charms have bewitched me.
As light as the finest
spun glass Dainty in stature,
she seems like a figure that has
stepped down from a delicate screen.
But then from it's shiny lacquered
surface, then suddenly, like a
Butterfly she flutters and gently
comes to rest, with so much silent
grace, I am seized by passion and
wish to give chase, even though
in the quest her delicate wings
might be crushed.
- Madame Butterfly by Giacomo Puccini, 1904.
Unless acknowledged otherwise, Photos & Text Copyright Melvyn Teillol-Foo, 2005