Eat Indigenous

Posted September 22, 2004 at 3:45pm

D.C. just added a few more ethnic foods to its diverse roster of dining options: the indigenous cuisine of the Americas.

With Tuesday’s grand opening of the National Museum of the American Indian, Restaurant Associates unveiled the Mitsitam Native Foods Café, located on the museum’s ground level just a short walk from the Capitol. [IMGCAP(1)]

“After 18 months of menu planning, we are ready to open a truly one-of-a-kind restaurant that allows guests to experience the fascinating cuisine of indigenous peoples,” said Richard Hetzler, the café’s executive chef.

Mitsitam takes more than just menu influence from native cultures. Its name means “let’s eat” in the native language of the Delaware and Piscataway peoples.

The café’s menu takes diners on a culinary tour of the indigenous cuisine in five regions: the Northern Woodlands, South America, the Great Plains, Mesoamerica and the Northwest Coast.

On the Northwest Coast menu, visitors will find cedar-planked juniper salmon, celery root salad and honey-baked golden beets. South America is represented by corn pupusas with chile slaw, black bean soup, and chicken and black bean tamales. And the Northern Woodlands, which encompass the Atlantic Coast from southern Canada to the Mississippi and Chesapeake Bay, offer quahog clam chowder, ash-roasted corn on the cob and lobster roll sandwiches.

The menu will change seasonally to reflect the availability of ingredients in the different geographic regions.

A far cry from the standard museum cafeteria, the state-of-the-art café offers

more than just food. Visitors have the opportunity to learn about the history of the café’s dishes at “did you know” tables.

The café is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. The museum is located on the National Mall between the Air and Space Museum and the Capitol.

CityZen Opens. The highly anticipated signature restaurant at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, CityZen, opened last week, marking the return of chef Eric Ziebold to Washington.

Ziebold, former chef de cuisine at the renowned French Laundry in Napa Valley, began his professional culinary career at Vidalia in D.C. 10 years ago.

Now he’s at the helm of one of the city’s most talked about new restaurants, where he is introducing new adaptations of traditional American cuisine. For example, his rendition of meat and potatoes is presented as grilled calotte and poached ribeye of prime beef with chanterelle mushrooms and fingerling potato confit.

Local ingredients also feature prominently on the menu. Pan-roasted Chesapeake Bay rockfish is served with a ragout of Eastern Shore white corn, lobster and lobster coral oil, and Maryland softshell crabs are served as an appetizer with cucumber, sweet peppers and a cucumber-wasabi vinaigrette.

The 70-seat restaurant offers a three-course menu starting at $70 and a five-course chef’s tasting menu starting at $90.

For a more casual dining experience, CityZen’s bar offers a selection of dishes for less than $15 — beef tartare, Atlantic salmon toro and porcini mushroom soup, to name a few — and more upscale choices such as wild Virginia striped bass carpaccio with Iranian caviar for $36.

CityZen is located at 1330 Maryland Ave. SW and is open Tuesday through Saturday from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. (the bar stays open later). Reservations are required. Call (202) 787-6868 for more information.

A Sweet Career. Hired by first lady Rosalynn Carter in 1979, Roland Mesnier served as the White House pastry chef for 25 years until retiring at the end of July.

On Monday at 7 p.m., Mesnier will discuss his five golden rules of pastry at the Madison Hotel as part of a Smithsonian Resident Associates event. Desserts from his new cookbook, “Dessert University,” will be available for tasting along with coffee, tea and wine.

The program costs $65 for Resident Associate members and $81 for nonmembers. For more information, visit www.residentassociates.org. The Madison is located at 15th and M streets Northwest.