Thursday, August 1, 2013

Riesling and Couscous at Chef Driss Zahidi’s Le Mediterranean Bistro in Fairfax, Virginia USA

Picture: Christian G.E. Schiller and Chef Driss Zahidi at Le Mediterranean Bistro in Fairfax

We celebrated German Riesling and Couscous at Le Mediterranean Bistro, a new French/Mediterranean restaurant that Chef Driss Zahidi opened a few weeks ago in the Washington DC area (Fairfax). Annette and I were joined by 6 friends. We started with German Rieslings and then moved to Spanish and Virginian (Linden Vineyards) red wines. I think the German Riesling went very well with the starters and the Seafood Couscous.

Earlier this summer, we celebrated the kick-off of the Summer of Riesling 2013 at  Le Mediterranean Bistro, see:

Kick-off of the “Summer of Riesling 2013” with Chef Driss Zahidi, a (German) Dr. Loosen, an (Austrian) Tegernseehof and an (Alsatian) Trimbach Riesling at Le Mediterranean Bistro in Virginia, USA


Couscous is a traditional North African dish. It has a shape that is similar to rice but is basically a type of pasta. Like macaroni and spaghetti, couscous is made from semolina flour, but rather than mixing the semolina with a prescribed amount of water and/or egg into a dough, couscous is made by rubbing the semolina between moistened hands until the flour combines with just enough water to form hundreds of tiny grains. It is traditionally served with a meat or vegetable stew spooned over it. Couscous doesn't have a lot of flavor on its own, but it works well as a base for vegetable or meat dishes.

Dry and Sweet Rieslings


Worldwide, there are about 34.000 hectares planted with Riesling. Germany – with 22.400 hectares – accounts for 2/3 of the total. The second largest Riesling producer is Australia, with 4500 hectares. But this is only about 1/10 of the total. Alsace follows with 3500 hectares.

Pictures: Couscous and Riesling at Le Mediterranean Bistro in Fairfax

Austria, the US with Washington State and New York State as well as New Zealand make up the remainder. But overall, Riesling is really a niche wine, accounting for only less than 1 percent of total wine production in the world - but a very special niche wine.

Dry and Sweet

Many wine drinkers, in particular outside of Europe, when they see a Riesling in the shelves, have the association of a sweet-style wine. This is however misguided. Rieslings as a rule are dry wines. Of course, there are the famous sugar sweet Beerenauslese, Trockenbeerenauslese, Eiswein and Schilfwein wines from Austria and Germany, the Sélection de Grains Nobles from France, the icewines from Canada and other Rieslings, made from botrytized, dried or frozen grapes.

The grapes that go into these wines have such a high sugar content that there is nothing you can do to make dry wines out of these grapes. They inevitably produce nobly sweet wines. But apart from these specialty wine, which account for only a tiny share of total production, Riesling grapes in Germany, Austria, Alsace, the US and Australia have normal sugar content at the time of fermentation and tend to produce dry wines, when fully fermented.

Picture: Christian G.E. Schiller and Riesling at Le Mediterranean Bistro in Fairfax

However, modern cellar methods allow winemakers in Germany (and elsewhere) to produce wines with a bit of residual sugar with these grapes. These are exceptional wines, essentially made by not letting the fermentation going its full course so that natural sugar remains in the wine. Alternatively, German winemakers are allowed to add sweet-reserve (sterilized grape juice) to increase the sweetness level in the wine, but today, this is mostly done, if at all, for fine tuning the residual sweetness. These fruity-sweet wines are the wines that are so popular among the fans of German wine in the world. These sweet-style wines have lost popularity in Germany, although there appears to be a comeback, but in any case remain very popular outside of Germany, for example in the US.

Anyway, at the 4th Riesling Rendezvous in Seattle earlier this year, Steffen Christmann, VDP President (Germany’s elite winemakers) and owner of Weingut A. Christmann estimated that “if you exclude the wines that cost less than Euro 15, I would say 95% of German wine is dry today.”

The World of Riesling in Seattle - Fourth Riesling Rendezvous in Washington State, USA


We had the following starters.

Picture: Merguez: lamb sausage with Harissa tomato-olives relish. I ate Merguez and they are always excellent, when Chef Driss makes them.

Picture: Beet Salad: golden and red beer salad with cara cara oranges and goat cheese

Picture: Crevettes: jumbo shrimp with scallion, shallots, garlic and cayenne butter. AnnetteSchiller: "They were absolutely delicious”

Picture: Crepe: Jumbo all lump crab meat stuffed spinach crepe.


Pictures: Southern Moroccan-style Seafood Couscous: with halibut, scallops, shrimp, calamari

Picture: Moroccan style braised Lamb Shank Couscous: with tagine spices, served with baby carrots and turnips and rich lamb jus

Le Mediterranean Bistro

Le Mediterranean Bistro is located right in the center of old Town Fairfax, in the larger Washington DC area. Opening the door to the restaurant, I immediately was enveloped by a very positive vibe; a cosy, intimate French Bistro, which brought back good memories from the days when I lived in Paris in the 7th arrondissement. You could mistake Le Mediterranean Bistro for a bistro in Paris.

The Setting

Le Mediterranean Bistro has 55 seats. It does not have a bar, where you can hang around for happy hour or eat when you are by yourself. There is a big chalkboard of specials on the wall, similar to the one of Chef Driss’ previous gig, Bistro Vivant in McLean.

Pictures: Le Mediterranean Bistro in Fairfax

The bistro’s small crew includes Driss’ brother, Hicham, who used to work at Evo Bistro and also at Bistro Vivant with Driss.

The Wines

The wine list is mostly French, but also includes other areas, starting from around $30 up to $300 per bottle. It is an excellent selection. Some of the wines can be ordered by the glass. Our focus that evening was on the Rieslings that we brought along, but we later shifted to a Chablis, a Gigondas, both for around $60, and a Linden Claret for $58 (from Virginia).

The Food

The food is classic French bistro food, with Mediterranean and Moroccan flair. Chef Patron Driss Zahidi: “I am aiming for an elegant and unsurpassed modern French cuisine by using the very finest seasonal ingredients and employing both classic and modern techniques. I work with local farmers to get the best and freshest ingredients.” Fuad Issa: "I have known Driss for ten years, I continue to be amazed by his creativity and his ability to balance different subtle flavors." Annette Schiller: “I loved the flavors, the combination of spices - the menu leaves my mouth watering for more.”

3 Dry Rieslings from Germany

We started the evening with 3 Rieslings:

Picture: 2011 Doennhoff Riesling Trocken, 2011 Balthasar Ress, Riesling “Von Unserm” Trocken, 2011 Dr. Loosen, Riesling Dry, Red Slate

These were all excellent entry-level wines, in the 11% to 12,5% alcohol range and all close to 9 grams per liter remaining sugar, I guess. The Ress and Doennhoff Rieslings were earthy, mineral, while the Dr. Loosen was fruity, with delicious notes of apricot, pineapple and banana. All great wines for less than US$ 20 in the US.

For the 3 wines, see:

Weingut Dr. Loosen
Riesling, Pinot Noir and Indian Cuisine: A tête-à-tête Dinner with Winemaker Ernst Loosen, Weingut Dr. Loosen, at Rasika in Washington DC, USA

Weingut Balthasar Ress
Hanging out with Rheingau Winemakers: Dirk Wuertz, Desiree Eser, Alexander Jakob Jung, Hansi Bausch and Christian Ress in Hattenheim, Rheingau, Germany

Weingut Doennhoff
Top 10 Riesling Producers in the World – Snooth 2012

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Riesling, Pinot Noir and Indian Cuisine: A tête-à-tête Dinner with Winemaker Ernst Loosen, Weingut Dr. Loosen, at Rasika in Washington DC, USA

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