Monthly Archives: January 2020

Sotheby’s Auction Results: That Mario Buatta Chinoiserie Wallpaper Screen

I mentioned in an earlier post how much I lusted after one specific item from Sotheby’s auction of Mario Buatta’s personal possessions, the  “Louis XV Five-Fold Blue and White Chinoiserie Wallpaper Screen, the Wallpaper 18th Century”. I promised to post the sale price after the auction.

The auction is over now, and it was a huge success, bringing in $7.6 million, about 2½ times the official Sotheby’s high estimate.

And the screen? The pre-sale estimate was that it would go for $4,000 to $6,000.

It went for $15,000.

Convivial — Lunch on 21 January 2020

Convivial

Convivial

Convivial has consistently found a place on The Washingtonian’s annual “Washington, DC’s 100 Very Best Restaurants” list since the year it opened, but I’d somehow never got around to visiting.  TripAdvisor lists 2,750 dining options in Washington, and with my limited daily food consumption—just the usual four meals a day, plus snacks, and an extra dessert now and then—it’s impossible to keep up.

So I was off on another trip to Shaw, to find out what I’d been missing. Turns out, I’d been missing quite a bit.

Onion Soup Gratinée

Onion Soup Gratinée

A week earlier, I’d had a stupendously bad lunch in a restaurant that had never been less than perfect in the past. (Let’s call it Restaurant X.  I may write about the experience in a later post.) My starter at Restaurant X was French Onion Soup, but the cheese, instead of being melted and stringy, was a big solid blob with the consistency of chewed and solidified bubble gum. Ever have to cut your soup with a knife?

The Onion Soup Gratinée at Convivial was the very model of what French Onion Soup should be. I relaxed; it was an excellent start.

Trout Amandine

Trout Amandine

Trout Amandine, my main course, was also a stunner. It was served with roasted almonds, haricots verts, lemon brown butter, and capers. I took a lot of time with this dish, savouring the taste and thinking about Julia Child and that famous Trout a la Meunière that changed her life.

Key Lime Pie

Key Lime Pie

The only problem with my Key Lime Pie was that there wasn’t enough of it. I could have eagerly devoured three or four pieces.

Service was both friendly and efficient. Delightful place!

Designed by the Mario Buatta of Bizarro World

From the exterior, this house looks fine. Inside, it looks like it was thrown together by a troop of monkeys who had somehow highjacked a shipment of Heisenberg’s finest blue meth.

I posted recently about Sotheby’s Auction of the Mario Buatta Estate, and about Buatta’s mastery of English country house style. If on some distant Bizarro World, there’s a Bizarro Mario Buatta, this is what his interiors would look like.

The "Grand" Staircase

The “Grand” Staircase

Imagine the entrance you could make walking down these stairs, dressed head-to-toe in Cruella de Vil’s Dalmatian-skin coat, flicking the ashes from your cigarette holder as you go.

The Dining Room/Armory

The Dining Room/Armory

Because it’s always a good idea to have a lot of guns close at hand, in the (very) unlikely event that someone might try to steal your precious possessions.

The Sitting Room

The Sitting Room

Furnishings and accessories from the Dollar Store’s “Kalifornia Kool Kollection”.

The Billiard Room

The Billiard Room

The Billiard Room, where Professor Plum killed Mr. Boddy with the candlestick. Plum claimed he’d been driven crazy by the decor, and was acquited by reason of insanity.


The house is owned by someone identified as “Dr. Phil”, who is apparently a TV “personality”. He’s never lived there, though—Why not?—and it’s currently being used by his son.

The house is on the market for $5.75 million. According to the listing, the one-of-a-kind finishes can be kept.

Rasika West — Lunch on 19 January 2020

Rasika West

Rasika West

Rasika is not only the best Indian restaurant in Washington, but, according to many food writers, the best Indian restaurant in the United States. Rasika’s Vikram Sunderam is a winner of the James Beard award for best chef in the Mid-Atlantic region.

A few years ago, Rasika’s owner, Ashok Bajaj, opened a second site in DC’s West End, serving many of the same dishes, and many new ones as well. I have fond memories of any number of great meals at the original Rasika, but somehow hadn’t tried its offspring until now. I finally made it to Rasika West.

President Obama celebrated his birthday at Rasika twice, and the Clintons celebrated their 37th wedding anniversary at Rasika West. Other repeat customers include Bill Gates, Mick Jagger, and Julia Roberts.

Palak Chaat

Palak Chaat

This is it.

Palak Chaat is the star of the show, the dish that made Rasika famous.

The main ingredient is fried spinach, but that’s just the beginning.  Here’s a brief description, taken from an NPR article, of what comes next:

“He also makes a beautiful yellow-orange batter with gram flour, turmeric and chili powder. He pours this over the spinach, almost like a salad dressing, and lightly tosses it. Once the spinach is perfectly crispy, it gets a cascade of toppings, including roasted cumin powder, chili powder and black salt; drizzles of yogurt and tamarind chutney; and sprinkles of chopped red onion and tomatoes. The restaurant makes about 200 bowls of this a day — every other table orders it.”

The combination of ingredients makes every bite unique. This dish is a stunner, and should rank high on anyone’s try-it-before-you-die list.

Lamb Mirchi Korma

Lamb Mirchi Korma

I knew I wanted lamb for the main, so I asked my server to explain the difference between Lamb Mirchi Korma and Lamb Bengali Curry, the lamb choices on the menu. He told me that Lamb Mirchi Korma was the hotter, spicier of the two.

I like to live dangerously.

My fork-tender Lamb Mirchi Korma featured caramelized onions, Kashmiri chili, and Sichuan pepper, and came with the customary rice and naan. Delightful.

Honey Fig Ice Cream

Honey Fig Ice Cream

The honey fig ice cream palate cleanser was like the calm after a storm.

Kaliwa — Lunch on 16 January 2020

Kaliwa

Kaliwa

Lunch du jour is at Kaliwa, another DC restaurant on the Michelin Bib Gourmand list.

As the Michelin Guide puts it,

“If you cannot make a trip to Thailand, or the Philippines just isn’t in this year’s budget, you’re in for a treat. A dinner at Kaliwa, tucked inside the District Wharf, is not just a consolation prize. It’s a true feast, about as delicious as can be imagined outside of a journey across the world. Chef Cathal Armstrong’s authentic and delicious Korean, Filipino or Thai cooking is blessed with serious flavor. ”

Kaliwa is one of a whole flock of first-rate restaurants on The Wharf, a sparkling mixed-use development that revitalized yet another formerly run-down area in DC.

Before my lunch at Supra a few days ago, I knew nothing of Georgian food. My ignorance was like a vast field covered with untrammeled snow. My familiarity with Filipino cuisine isn’t much greater, but it’s enough to have a general idea of what to expect, as if someone had plowed a path through that snowfield. (I will now abandon that silly and laboured metaphor, and try to forget I wrote it. I don’t know what I was thinking.)

Lumpiang Shanghai

Lumpiang Shanghai

This Lumpiang Shanghai was my starter. It was three crisp shrimp and pork fried rolls, each about the size of a cigar. Think Chinese spring rolls, but much tastier and more memorable.

Kai Yaang

Kai Yaang

Chicken for lunch again, but this time it was a wood-grilled half chicken, with a dipping sauce and pickled julienned vegetables. It was excellent, but it filled me up so much that I asked for my dessert to go.

Service was fine, and friendly. People seemed to enjoy working at Kaliwa. I certainly enjoyed dining there.

Sotheby’s Auction of the Mario Buatta Estate

Mario Buatta, affectionately known as “The Prince of Chintz”, died in October 2018 at the age of 82. On 23 January 2020, Sotheby’s will host an auction of his personal possessions, under the title Mario Buatta: Prince of Interiors.

Here’s a pdf of the full 236-page catalogue for the auction, suitable for downloading.

If I could pick just one item from that catalogue, it would be this:

The catalogue describes it as a “Louis XV Five-Fold Blue and White Chinoiserie Wallpaper Screen, the Wallpaper 18th Century” The estimate is between $4,000 and $6,000, but auction house estimates for this sort of thing are always absurdly low, so as not to frighten away potential buyers. I’ll post the real price after the auction.


Mario Buatta’s interiors were designed to be reminiscent of the rooms in an English country house. Here are some samples, found on the Web:


I’ve always thought of Buatta as the Ralph Lauren of interior design.

Ralph Lauren (né Lifshitz) was born in The Bronx in the 1930s, to first-generation Jewish immigrants from Belarus. Lauren has built his empire by styling clothes that reflect a classic old-money WASP sensibility, very different from the world of his youth.

Mario Buatta was born on Staten Island in 1930s, and grew up in a house where the living
room “was off-limits so that the vacuum tracks might not get disturbed.” Buatta became the master of a style that captured the look and feel of the English country house.

Supra — Lunch on 15 January 2020

Supra

Supra

This one was new to me.

Supra is a Georgian restaurant, and I knew nothing about Georgian cuisine. (For clarification, “Georgian” here refers to the country in the Caucasus region of Eurasia, not the state between South Carolina and Florida. Although I did have peach sorbet for dessert, so there’s that.)

It came highly recommended by a friend who knows restaurants, and it’s one of the 44 Washington restaurants on Michelin’s 2020 Bib Gourmand list for D.C. The Bib Gourmand list certifies that the restaurants it includes deliver a “high-quality dining experience at a reasonable price”, which means, in Michelin terms, that the restaurant must offer two courses and a glass of wine or dessert for $40 or less.

Eggplant Nigvzit

Eggplant Nigvzit

Good starter. It was called Eggplant Nigvzit, and consisted of eggplant (duh) stuffed with a blend of walnuts, cilantro, and pomegranate.

Chkmeruli

Chkmeruli

This was a knockout. Half of a roasted chicken was cut up and served in an amazing creamy garlic sauce. And the bread that came with it! It’s called shoti bread, and eating it dipped in that garlic sauce was a wonderful meal in itself.

Sorbet

Sorbet

As mentioned, Peach Sorbet.


Supra is located in Shaw, which is one of Washington’s rapidly gentrifying neighbourhoods. Ten years ago, the area was, well, dicey. Today it’s full of renovated houses, upscale condos, and very good restaurants. There are still a few reminders of the bad old days—I saw a small local market with a sign denying admission to anyone “wearing a mask or a hoodie”—but Shaw is a prime example of the DC renaissance that began around the turn of the century.