Rock Creek Mazza: It’s Amazing What You Can Do Without Butter

I’ve have been trying to eat a bit healthier lately. I have to admit that it is not always fun, but it is certainly necessary. So Mrs. Wine with Dinner and I were intrigued when stumbled upon a name that we didn’t know, Rock Creek Mazza. Rock Creek calls itself “Mindful Dining for All Seasons.” Mindful is not an adjective you see every day in the restaurant world. They had our attention.

Rock Creek Mazza, which opened on July 25, 2007, is one of two Rock Creek Restaurant locations in the D.C. area. They are the creations of owners Judith Hammerschmidt and Tom S. Williams. Judith is an international lawyer and executive with a focus on nutrition. She envisioned an upscale restaurant that provided alternatives to high-fat, high-calorie meals. She convinced Tom, a consultant and venture capitalist, that the D.C. area was a great place to begin their experiment.

Rock Creek Mazza is conveniently located on the third floor of the Mazza Gallerie accross the street from the Friendship Heights Metro. (There is also validated parking under the Gallerie.) It is right next to the movie theater in case you need a meal before your film. Rock Creek Mazza is elegant and friendly, and it is certainly healthier than a big tub of popcorn.

Rock Creek Dining Room
It’s a Picnic Under a Tree . . . Sort Of

Executive Chef Ethan McKee is in charge of the health-conscious menu. Chef McKee graduated from L’Academie de Cuisinein Gaithersberg, MD in 1998. After a year with a local restaurant group, he left for Vail, Colorado to work as a line cook for Left Bank. Chef McKee returned to D.C. after two years and joined Chef Todd Gray at Equinox. He worked his way up from line cook to Chef de Cuisine, developing menu items and managing kitchen staff. After seven years at Equinox, Chef McKee accepted the challenge of healthy dining at Rock Creek Mazza.

When we sat down, the waiter informed us that all of the food was prepared with the health of the patrons in mind (no butter, for example), and that all of the portions were appropriately sized for calorie control. I was a bit concerned, being a junk food lover as well as someone who can stuff his face with the best of them. That said, the menu looked interesting and the wine list was well organized. I’ll try anything twice.

Our waiter was very helpful and ready with suggestions for wine pairings. Mrs. Wine with Dinner opted for the Northern Neck Nutternut Squash Soup w/Shaved Apple and the Roasted Cervena Venison with Hunter Sauce, while I selected the Yukon Gold Potato Gnocchi and the Muscovy Duck Breast with Cranberry Chutney. We took the house’s suggestions on all wines but the Australian sparkling shiraz that Mrs. Wine with Dinner had with her soup — we were both very curious about that one.

We were not disappointed with anything. A couple of bites into her soup and my wife came up with the title of this review, “It’s amazing what you can do without butter.” The soup was a lovely burnt orange color with a smooth texture and sweet flavor. The apple shavings with their tart acidity were a great compliment to the soup. The Paringa 2004 Individual Vineyard Sparkling Shiraz, 3 Stars3/4, appx. $11.99 per bottle, might have been a bit sweet for it, but it was still a pleasant match. It was dark and bubbly –maybe a touch cloying — but fun to drink. I envision enjoying it on its own while cooking as pretty much a perfect evening (hint to the Gourmet Girls).

I was also impressed with my Gnocchi. It was well prepared — firm with just a hint of crispness on the outside. The texture worked very well with the accompanying mushrooms (which is saying a lot as I am not a big fan of mushrooms) and caramelized onions, and some grated parmesan always makes the world seem a little brighter. If I had to come up with a criticism, I would have said that the ham, included to add a touch of saltiness, was maybe a bit too subtle in the mix. They paired well with Albert Seltz 2005 Alsace Riesling, 3 Stars3/4, appx. $11.98 per bottle, which had a touch of latex on the nose and was otherwise dominated by notes of stone fruits. Semi-sweet and a bit viscous, this is not a riesling for dry wine snobs.

Relatively healthy appetizers enjoyed, it was time to turn to the relatively healthy main courses. My fears of starving all evening subsided as our waiter approached with our plates. Apparently, low-calorie preparation methods allow for normal-sized portions. The duck and venison were both cooked very well. The duck in particular was complimented very well by spinach, rice, a red wine reduction, and, of course, the cranberry chutney. Though, I do have to admit, I would have loved a little butter on the side of mashed potatoes that we ordered. I guess you can only change the boy so much.

Our main dishes were made even more enjoyable by a couple of very nice pinot noirs. Mrs. Wine with Dinner enjoyed Stoller Vineyards2005 Dundee Vineyard JV Pinot Noir (Willamette Valley), 4 Stars1/4, appx. $27.99 per bottle. This was a nice, complex wine with notes of red fruit and pine the most apparent, but also a bit of dark fruit and possibly some red currant. It is not a heavy wine, but it is does have some oak influence and a bit of a creamy finish to accompany its moderate acidity. My duck went very well with a Tazmanian wine, Tamar Ridge’s 2007 Devil’s Corner Pinot Noir, 4 Stars, appx. $15.00 per bottle. This was a bit simpler than the Stoller, but still very enjoyable. It was young, light, and fresh, with raspberry, cherry, and watermelon rind notes and good acidity. Our waiter showed good knowledge of the wines by recommending the heavier pinot noir with the venison.

Rock Creek Bar
Comfy Bar Area Too

(One more note on the wines. We decided at the restaurant that we wanted to try different wines, so we did not look at the by-the-bottle list. Mistake. As I look on the website now, I see that Rock Creek Mazza offers Mt. Difficulty‘s 2006 “Roaring Meg” Pinot Noir from Marlborough, New Zealand. As loyal readers may recall, Mt. Difficulty had some of the best wines that we encountered on our New Zealand honeymoonlast year. We may have to return to Rock Creek to get a taste of the 2006 Pinot.)

One more tip — after a pretty healthy dinner, you are entitled to some dessert. Pastry Chef Roger Potter, another graduate of L’Academie de Cuisine who has worked at D.C. favorites Clyde’s of Gallery Place and 1789, helps you to control you caloric intake in two different ways. First, Rock Creek provides desserts made without sugar, heavy cream, or butter. Second, you can satisfy your sweet tooth with the Small Bites plate, in which you can sample 1-5 small portions of desserts that are made with butter. I recommend the Chocolate Peanut Butter Crunch and the Cheesecake, though there are some other fascinating desserts on the menu. The Fonseca 20-year Tawny Port was also lovely.

If you are looking for a well-prepared, tasty, and healthy meal, Rock Creek Mazza is the place to go. I am sure I’ll be back, and ordering something to go with that Roaring Meg Pinot.

Appx. $24.00 per entree.
4 Stars

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Published in: on January 24, 2008 at 10:04 am  Comments (1)  
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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. This place looks amazing – I LOVE the tree! I will have to put it on my list of things to do in ’08.


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