Spring’s bounty brings with it the morel mushroom, which DC chefs are showcasing in scrumptious ways.
The Inn at Little Washington’s mushroom agnolotti
Call of the Wild
“When the phone rings and the first morel has been found, it’s a buzz,” says Patrick O’Connell, chef and proprietor of the Inn at little Washington (Middle and Main Sts., Washington, VA, 540-675-3800). “It’s like Elvis has come to town.” Depending on the weather—morels require cool, damp mornings and a blast of sunshine in the afternoon—the call usually comes near the end of April. O’Connell showcases the highly prized ’shrooms, foraged from the surrounding countryside, in a deconstructed lasagna. A wide noodle swaddles sautéed morels in cream sauce, blanched asparagus, and a paper-thin sheet of country ham ($178 and up for the tasting menu; not available à la carte).
Tarting It Up
“Foraged mushrooms have a more true and honest flavor,” says Dwayne Motley, executive chef at Nage (1600 Rhode Island Ave. NW, 202-448-8005). Using morels from the forests of Maryland and Virginia, he creates a savory tart ($15). The celebrated fungi are pan-cooked with garlic scapes and ramp bottoms, then shoehorned into a puff pastry round. A zigzag of acidic ramp oil, vincotto, and a sunny-side-up quail’s egg complete the springtime special.
Osteria Morini’s raviolo.
Pocketful of Gold
You’ve never had pasta like this. Matt Adler, executive chef at Osteria Morini (301 Water St. SE, Ste. 109, 202-484-0660), pockets a single raw yolk inside one giant raviolo ($25). “If you’ve cooked it perfectly, the egg runs out when you cut into it,” he says. The yellow tide mixes with slightly caramelized morels, crispy sweetbreads, and rich veal sauce. “The mushrooms add a deep, earthy richness,” says Adler. “They taste like spring.”
Birch & Barley’s potato gnocchi.
The Scent of Spring
One afternoon last spring, Kyle Bailey, the executive chef at Birch & Barley (1337 14th St. NW, 202-567-2576), was working in the kitchen when the restaurant’s handyman, John Stark, walked in. Turns out the jack-of-all-trades had a secret skill: foraging. He’d brought with him six pounds of wild morel mushrooms from the backwoods of West Virginia. “Every season has a smell,” says Bailey. “When morels show up, you know it’s springtime.” To highlight this seasonal bounty, the local-centric chef sautés the mushrooms with oniony ramps, before adding rabbit sausage and gnocchi ($60 for the five-course tasting menu; not available à la carte).