A who’s who of D.C.’s food and beverage scene took Nationals Park by storm Wednesday night for the annual Taste of the Nation fundraiser organized by Share Our Strength/No Kid Hungry.
Thousands of bites were devoured and cocktails flowed like water. More importantly, the weather played ball.
“It was starting to rain earlier, and I was like, ‘Noooo,’” Top Chef star and event chair George Pagonis (Kapnos, Kapnos Taverna, Kapnos Kouzina) told Eater. “I did my best to try to recruit everybody that I know.”
With over 90 D.C. chefs and mixologists — the most the fundraiser has ever seen — the programming felt like a reality cooking show, with each participating hospitality professional showing off one signature dish or drink apiece. A small sampling of local talent included ANXO Cidery & Pintxos Bar, Clarity, RPM Italian, Succotash and Whaley’s. There were also “Baltimore Row” and “VA is for Food Lovers” sections.
Each participant was ordered to prep 1,000 dishes or drinks, which created some transportation issues; Plume, for instance, served its dish in egg shells. Team Matchbox, while packing up its booth and crossing the street, couldn’t handle the unwieldy pile of pots and pans, and sent some crashing to the pavement (“30-second rule,” one chef shouted).
Nationals Park played host to the event for the first time, switching things up from previous appearances at the National Building Museum.
“Overall I think this was a successful event and was really cool to have it out here in Nats Park, a different venue than we were used to and more of a fun and relaxed environment,” Pagonis said.
The after party was at the nearby Osteria Morini, giving chef di cucina Ben Pflaumer a much needed break from making tortellini brodo all night at the event.
Here were some highlights from the night:
All for an Awesome Cause: Nearly one in five kids in the U.S. struggles with hunger, including more than 29,000 children in D.C. Since its launch, No Kid Hungry and its partners have provided at-risk kids with 500 million meals. All proceeds from the event flowed through to the organization.
Sleeper Hit: Don Churro’s chicken quinoa and avocado mousse looked like a dessert but was actually a savory success.
Back-Up Plan: The grey skies held out for the whole event, but had the rain come out to play, there was a Plan B: move vendors under stadium seating.
Legal Updates: Cork Wine Bar sued Donald Trump last month, and reps told us the president was served about a week and a half ago. We’re told more restaurants were interested in joining in on the suit, but their partners and investors didn’t want in.
Baller Status: Tickets ranged from $100 for general admission to $5,000 for executive suites (think: bottle service in private neon-lit tents).
Get Lit with Citi: The sponsor had its own exclusive booth with sleek white furniture. Citi badges were needed to enter, and lucky guests could have their photos printed and laid atop a sugary martini. Gave new meaning to getting “shit-faced”:
Drinking on the Job: The Glenlivet pop-up booth was a maze of wood, which made for some secretive spots to down some quick drinks. Some chefs-in-training sporting L’ Academie de Cuisine garb were seen doing just that (count it as prep work for future kitchens).
Choolah Indian BBQ: Serving its popular mango lassi in mini shooters, a rep told Eater the Mosaic District spot has been “crazy busy” since opening in January. Next up on the expansion track: Sterling, Va., in a few weeks, then two other spots in Pennsylvania. The third in the D.C. area will be in Maryland (likely Bethesda).
The Sellout News: Casa Noble was handing out margaritas like they were going out of style out of its Union Market airstream. They sold out before 8 p.m., so reps resorted to handing out shots instead. Gravitas, coming to Ivy City, also ran out of its crispy sunchoke with miso and apples. Meanwhile, Firefly’s smoked lamb chops also got gobbled up.
Orange You Drunk Yet: Nationals Park took a break from fans in red and saw orange all night, as an ode to No Kid Hungry’s branded color. Service Bar’s bartender took the color seriously — sporting a tangerine blazer as she poured Beauty & The Bull cocktails with Red Bull Orange Edition. And chefs wore orange sunglasses at night; Belga Cafe chef/owner Bart Vandaele even rolled to the after party with them on.
Previewing Popped Collars: Radiator, the rooftop bar at Mason & Rook, was promoting its upcoming theme for May: a preppy oasis. Operation and Jenga were also on the table, showing it’s all fun and games at the Kimpton Hotel.
The Disco Tech: Citi had two mirrored mini photo booths — dubbed a “Photo Beautifier” — to stage photos of food and drink. The clever campaign had a serious cause behind it: tag #citigiving and #nokidhungry on Instagram, and the bank donates 75 meals for each post. By Thursday morning, Eater counted 50 eligible posts — or roughly 3,750 meals.
Blame it on the al-al-al-alch: The bartender from Baltimore’s Pen & Quill, who admitted she was a few margaritas deep, was spotted twerking and breakdancing like crazy to some Justin Timberlake (The Orioles can have her back now).
Rhubarb For Days: Chefs went crazy with the plant that’s finally in season; Centrolina’s olive oil budino had rhubarb and shredded phyllo (below), while Wit & Wisdom served savory rhubarb, bacon and marmalade crostinis.
Most Precious Cargo Award: The Jefferson’s Plume naturally went with a bird-themed dish: hen egg with guinea fowl in a tarragon and lemon sauce. The fragile bites were transported to Navy Yard via egg crates. Eater found the Citi plates were also a perfect fit:
Burger Mania: Shake Shack, a ballpark vendor, promoted its new Navy Yard location big time. Some 1,700 burgers and chicken sandwiches — not bite-sized; full-sized — were made and paraded around the stadium.
One Hot Band: The alternative (and not bad-looking) Nashville group Judah & The Lion sang their hit song “Take It All Back” (attendees who thought they were just covering the song finally realized they were the actual group when they performed it a second time). FYI, bandwagon fans: They will be back in D.C. this fall for a show at the 9:30 Club.
Cool Dad Award: One Eight Distilling co-founder Alex Laufer grabbed some of his liquor company’s stickers and ran over to Judah & The Lion after their set ended. His plan: offer some company swag in exchange for a selfie to show his kid, who’s a huge fan (unclear if he chickened out).
The “Best Thing I Had” Award: Compass Rose founder Rose Previte was giving out curry laksa with ramen noodles, and attendees were overhead saying it was the best bite of the show.
After the Party is the After Party: Osteria Morini’s kitchen put out the works, including its famous risotto balls, meatballs, and a piled-high meat and cheese station (as if people needed more calories after sampling 100 vendors). Meanwhile, Osteria’s general manager was freely pouring Villa Zappi Rose past 11 p.m.
Big Names: Along with Pagonis, the event had a strong lineup of local supporters: Dessert chair Tiffany MacIsaac (Buttercream Bakeshop), Mixology chair Derek Brown (The Columbia Room, Mockingbird Hill, Southern Efficiency, Eat the Rich), and Sommelier chair Nadine Brown (Charlie Palmer Steak).