Alexandria has survived its share of invasions- cicadas, motorcyclists, decades worth of tourists, armies and, on parade days, bagpipers. Each group that surges past our borders leaves its own impression, and when the last few notes of Danny Boy have faded away, we are often as glad to see the gentle marauders go home as we were excited to see them massing at intersections or in trees. Recently the culinary landscape of Old Town has incurred an invasion of another sort. Armed with toques and technique, chefs from DCs restaurant elite have broached our defenses, winning recognition and endearing themselves to the local population. Armed with steak knives and credit cards, we battle to keep this invading force among us.
When Bastille opened in North Old Town, chefs Christopher Poteaux and Michelle Garbee knew how important an invading force could be in shaping the tastes and the future of a community. Named for the legendary Parisian prison, Bastille embodies, according to a published interview with Poteaux and Garbee, change and evolution, not just revolution. Having crossed the Potomac to settle in a small, almost obscure location, Bastilles chefs left behind positions as executive chef and executive pastry chef at the Watergate Hotels Aquarelle. Leaving DC behind opened a portal in Old Town to modern French cuisine. From Duck and lamb to savory beignets and foie-gras, a classy, uncluttered approach to French unfolded as the two chefs, each recognized for their talent and skill, insinuated themselves into the fabric of Old Town. Garbee is nominated for a 2008 Rammy award as the Washington areas best pastry chef.
While Poteaux and Garbee take Alexandria by a subtle storm not unlike a soft rain on a Parisian afternoon with their lovely wine list and a very good apple tatin, Chef Morou moved across the Potomac with a gale of personality and a transformative vision, redefining the space that was Blue Point with his modern American restaurant, Farrah Olivia. Leaving Signatures restaurant with a reputation for creating food that fed the big men in blue suits who make the wheels of DC go round, Morou established himself at the south end of Old Town and proceeded to invade our living rooms via the Food Channels Iron Chef competitions. Morou has a soft glamour, made-for-TV looks and creates dynamic and gorgeous food.
What Frank Morales has to conquer as executive chef at Rustico Restaurant is a whole different barrel of beer. While others come to Alexandria to forge new kitchens, to be chef and owner of a unique establishment that is entirely their own, Morales left the wildly popular Zola for the already up-and-running Rustico, which is tucked away on Slaters Lane. Rusticos dedication to beer gave it instant cache; Morales role was to reinvigorate the dining, pairing great food with great beer. The result is a duck confit and cracklins pizza that moved me and the creation of a series of beer pairing dinners that educate and enlighten. Morales seems to enjoy his work and shares his celebrity with the beer that draws Rusticos obsessed patrons.
Like all good invaders, the DC chefs that marched into Alexandria have kept their outposts at the edges; the locations of Bastille, Farrah Olivia, Hanks and Rustico are all a little off the beaten path. This is how they win, these chefs with big names and talent to spare they draw us to them. We may have been invaded, but I give up. The woman waving her napkin in the corner at Rustico, thats me giving in, flying the white flag of surrender and, simultaneously, begging for more.