Hot Plate: Shop Locally, Eat Wisely

Poste Takes Diners From Market to Table

Posted June 17, 2009 at 4:08pm

Once a week, Poste Moderne Brasserie’s executive chef Robert Weland takes a group of diners to the Penn Quarter farmers market. He wants them to see where their meal is coming from.

[IMGCAP(1)]On a warm day earlier this spring, Weland has a small group in tow. He weaves through the crowd, occasionally waving to a vendor, while telling his guests about the benefits of buying locally grown food.

This market tour is a part of Poste’s weekly “market to market— dinner. The visit to the market is paired with a five-course meal at the stunning, marble-topped chef’s table set in the massive courtyard that Poste

shares with the Hotel Monaco. For $70 per person and an additional $35 for wine pairings, diners can learn about the market and Poste’s own garden while eating a meal that is peppered with locally grown ingredients.

Poste’s goal is to encourage people to shop at the market, Weland says.

At the start of the meal, the chef leads the group to the market, where he passes stalls selling herb-infused soap, flowers and fresh cheese. He stops to remind his guests that the farmers are in town every week from April through December. He advises them to ditch the grocery store and buy locally grown food, adding that the major benefit is knowing where your ingredients are coming from.

“You should do this. It’s here and you have access,— he says of the market. “Even if it’s raining, bring an umbrella and shop. Shop for more than one day. Shop for three days. The stuff will stay fresh in your refrigerator.—

Weland, who is the force behind Poste’s large vegetable and herb garden, says his love of fresh produce and the Penn Quarter market stems from his childhood.

“My grandfather had a huge garden, and that’s something you never forget,— he says.

[IMGCAP(2)]Each week the chef and his staff consult with the vendors at the market to see what vegetables are in season and what meats they will have on hand. Weland then plans Poste’s menu to include these things, as well as the items that he and his staff grow.

“We base the menu around the seasons,— he says. “We change it pretty frequently.—

At the end of the season, the staff at Poste (555 Eighth St. NW) invites the market vendors to a feast at the French brasserie as a way of thanking them for their hard work.

“They’re my inspiration,— Weland says of the farmers. “Some of them drive over 100 miles— to be here.

After a quick tour of the market, Weland leads the diners back to the restaurant, where he shows them the garden that he has been growing for the last five seasons. With glasses of sparkling wine in hand, the diners examine a corner of the courtyard that is decorated with large pots brimming with green leaves.

The chef and his team grow raspberries, 12 varieties of heirloom tomatoes and various herbs like dill and fennel — all of which are used in the Poste kitchen. In addition to the garden, the restaurant also keeps a compost pile in an effort to better the environment. The efforts have not gone unnoticed. In April, D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty presented the restaurant with the first-ever Mayor’s Environmental Excellence Award.

“Everybody gets involved,— Weland says of the garden. “It’s a fun project, and it helps everybody understand what’s going on.—

Each week those who attend the market-to-market dinner are treated to a five-course tasting menu made from vegetables grown at the restaurant and bought at the Penn Quarter market. A server delivers each course with a lengthy description, including where the vegetable came from. The meal changes weekly, and on a recent visit it included salmon tartar, baby goat and a dessert of blueberry sorbet.

In the end, Weland hopes the dinner provides more than just a great meal, but also a sense of community and pride in local farmers.

“I make the introductions and hope that they develop the relationship— with the farmers, he says, adding, “I believe in the market.—