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Kite’s ham with pimento cheese and piquillo croquette, biscuit crumble and buttermilk curd

Sweet Summer Deux

by David Hagedorn | Photography by Greg Powers | DC magazine | June 5, 2014

Part of being a successful chef and restaurateur is realizing when you get it wrong and doing something about it. This is precisely what chef-owner Frederik de Pue did soon after he opened seafood-themed Azur in Penn Quarter last April. The space, in the building where José Andrés’ Cafe Atlantico and Minibar used to be, has built-in challenges. Chief among them is that the restaurant is spread over four floors, which makes service cumbersome. Another issue is that the multilevel space rarely looks full—and that’s the kiss of death.

Enter Menu MBK, de Pue’s reformulated concept that includes a first-floor market (the M), a third- and fourth-floor bistro and bar (the B) and a second-floor kitchen (the K), where an exclusive, interactive, five-course tasting menu is offered at a counter that seats six people.

De Pue is a busy guy. He owns Table in the Shaw neighborhood, as well as a catering company in Rockville. He recognizes the importance of letting someone else run the culinary details at Kitchen as chef de cuisine. That person is 29-year-old Keith Cabot, a Charlottesville native. Cabot’s cooking pedigree includes studies at Johnson & Wales culinary school in Charlotte, then stints at two of famed chef Thomas Keller’s restos: Ad Hoc in Napa Valley and Blackberry Farm in Tennessee. In Washington, he worked at Suna before becoming de Pue’s sous-chef at Table.

The menu at Kitchen has a monthly theme that highlights specific seasonal ingredients. (There are no choices, but they accommodate vegetarians.) When Kitchen debuted its menu in March, Belgium—de Pue’s home country—held sway. During my visit, de Pue shaves slices of frozen foie gras torchon over celery-root threads spruced up with walnuts and coffee-cacao dressing. Other dishes include sage-infused rabbit with spinach and braised leeks, delicately sauteed flounder with mushroom puree, and beef—cooked Flemish-style in Lambic beer—paired with braised endive.

It is usually Cabot, though, who performs for the six-person audience seated in bright-orange velour chairs at a sleek wooden counter. He explains the provenance of each dish and the creative process behind it, talking cheerily while adding finishing touches and handing plates (or slate tiles acting as plates) over to diners. Bearded and affable in a bright gingham button-down shirt, instead of a chef’s coat, Cabot’s mien is entertaining and enthusiastic rather than pedantic, as these tasting-menu demonstrations can often be.

The menu I sample at Kitchen in April is a tour de force and an ode to Virginia. It highlights Rappahannock oysters, country ham, peanuts, veal and molasses. By all means, sign on for Bar Manager Robert Yealu’s beverage pairings, each one well chosen to complement rather than outshine.

A tulip of crisp, clean Thibaut-Janison Virginia Fizz serves as an aperitif and accompaniment to a first course of shucked oysters—one a briny Olde Salt, the other a sweeter, lightly smoked Stingray—nestled next to a creamy puree of Rappahannock River oysters. A riff on mignonette—a granita made with elderflower vinegar from Virginia’s Lindera Farms—and strips of crispy barbecued chicharrones complete the dish, a dance of sweet, smoke, acid, salt, cream and crunch.

The second course is a play on ham and biscuits. Atop a slice of James’ Happy Ham (from Kite’s Hams in Wolftown) rests a croquette of pimento cheese wrapped in roasted piquillo pepper and breaded with biscuit crumble. The result: oozing, gooey cheese goodness that mingles with dollops of custardy buttermilk curd. Clever. The pairing is a berry-noted pinot noir rose from Elk Creek in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. This could easily become my summer rosé.

Next comes a brainchild amalgam of two dishes: beer-can chicken and peanut soup, which turns into roasted, crispy-skinned chicken thigh alongside smoked peanuts and beer cooked into a risotto-like sidekick. Rhubarb puree and pickled Virginia ramps provide acid balance. Delectable rosy veal from Randall Lineback cattle—brought back from extinction by Joe Henderson of Chapel Hill Farm in Berryville—is the centerpiece of the final savory course. A bone-marrow beurre blanc brings out the musty notes of the medium-rare slices of Henderson’s veal. Batons of sauteed kohlrabi stand upright on a pea emulsion strewn with pea-shoots—a winning homage to spring. Pronounced coffee notes of the Barista Pinotage from South Africa hold up nicely to the veal’s boldness.

For dessert, Pastry Chef Jason Gehring sings the praises of molasses in a deconstruction of shoofly pie. Gentle vanilla-scented whipped-cream panna cotta, apple-cider molasses sorbet, ginger-raisin puree and pleasantly crunchy bits of pie-dough crumble meld in blissful harmony; the more it melts together, the better it gets. Haymaker’s punch, a summer cocktail similar to ginger beer, serves as a refreshing digestif.

To honor the World Cup, Kitchen’s menu theme for June is Brazil. No doubt Cabot will chalk up a win while exhibiting the same playful complexity and thrilling juxtaposition of flavors that he has in previous months. In Cabot, MBK has found an MVP.

Menu MBK
405 Eighth St. NW, 202.347.7491

Kitchen’s five-course food-and-beverage experience is $110 per person, tax and gratuity not included.

Seatings, Tue. through Sat. at 6PM and 8:30PM

Impulse Buys
Don’t forget to stock up on goodies at de Pue’s smartly curated first-floor market. Homemade seeded granola and a few croissants make up the beginnings of a gratifying breakfast. Excellent charcuterie and cheeses, prepared soups, pastas and main courses and some of Jason Gehring’s tantalizing pastries will serve as marvelous foundations for summer dinners at home.

Bistro Imbibing
Before dinner at Menu Kitchen, head to the third-floor bar, where lounge groupings of groovy pod chairs and settees are nicely conducive to conversation. My choice would be a Hemingway’s Last Call of grapefruit peel-infused rum, lychee and vanilla, or the Violetta cocktail fashioned from vodka, lemon juice, Cocchi Americano, creme de violette and honey syrup.