The Hot Plate: Latin Flavor

Posted September 3, 2003 at 3:16pm

Editor’s note: The Hot Plate, a look at dining and food events in and around the Capitol Hill area, will run every other Thursday in Around the Hill.

After trekking through kitchens, markets and restaurants in the Yucatan and Brazil, the creators of TenPenh and DC Coast will introduce Ceiba in mid-September. Jeff Tunks, Gus DiMillo and David Wizenberg’s latest venture, located at 14th and G streets Northwest, will reflect the cuisine and décor of Latin America, the Caribbean and Brazil.

The trio, along with chef de cuisine Chris Clime, traveled to Brazil and the Yucatan seeking inspiration for their new restaurant. They found numerous menu ideas, furniture and a name.

“We wanted a name that represented the whole area,” DiMillo said. The group learned of the ceiba tree, which the ancient Maya believed connected the heavens to Earth, and the name was a perfect fit, DiMillo said. The umbrella-shaped tree will also appear in handmade murals in the restaurant.

The menu will focus on Latin- influenced contemporary cuisine. Expect authentic dishes like red snapper Veracruz, grilled Caribbean lobster and mariscos (seafood cocktails with avocado and pico de gallo). Parilla, cast iron pans that sit atop wooden bases, will be used to serve grilled meats tableside.

And pastry chef David Guas is preparing an authentic selection of sweets, including traditional Cuban desserts and churros, Mexican-style doughnuts filled

with chocolate, condensed milk or cajeta (made from caramelized sugar and goat’s milk).

The bar, armed with professional juicers and a sugar cane press, will specialize in mojitos, caipirinhas, margaritas and pisco sours. Tequila “flights” will allow diners to sample several different ages and styles of tequila.

In Mexico, the group visited rock quarries to handpick the mosaic tiles that will cover Ceiba’s floor, and in Sao Paulo, Brazil, they bought the restaurant’s tables, chairs and light fixtures.

Ceiba, located at 701 14th St. NW, will be open Monday through Friday for lunch and Monday through Saturday for dinner.

Star Treatment. On Sept. 16, some of Washington’s hottest chefs will descend on the Hotel Monaco to show off their culinary prowess. At the StarChefs Rising Stars Revue, guests will have the opportunity to sample the chefs’ signature dishes including caramelized Maine lobster, red Thai curry shrimp and Turkish coffee chocolate, along with wine pairings, champagne and live music.

The star-studded roster features Fabio Trabocchi (Maestro), Morou (Signatures), John Wabeck (Firefly), Koji Terano (Sushi-Ko), Jamie Leeds (15 ria), Cliff Wharton (TenPenh), pastry chef Steve Klc (Zaytinya, Jaleo and Café Atlantico) and host chef Jay Comfort (Poste). The chefs were designated rising stars by StarChefs, an online culinary magazine.

The event will last from 7 to 9 p.m. Tickets are $60 per person and can be purchased at www.starchefs.com/risingstars.

At the Market. There’s an old saying that corn should be “knee high by the Fourth of July.” That benchmark probably had farmers shaking their heads this season.

“Because of rain and a cold spring, you’re getting an unusual harvest,” said Dan Donahue, an Eastern Market vendor for nearly 11 years. He explained that the corn crops that were planted earlier this year are just now beginning to release — at the same time as later plantings, creating an abundance of corn.

Some of that abundance was spilling out of a baby pool at Donahue’s Eastern Market stand last weekend. He sells sweet corn and white corn grown by Amish farmers in Pennsylvania, along with other produce. Donahue and even more corn will be back at the market this weekend.