WASHINGTON, March 20, 2018. – This month The Willard InterContinental celebrates spring and the city’s annual Cherry Blossom Festival and the reimagining of its comfortable cuisine restaurant, Café du Parc. The festivities around the Cherry Blossoms celebrate the relationship between the U.S. and Japan. The Willard was host to the Japanese delegation in May of 1860 that led to the planting of the first saplings in 1912.
As beautiful and fragile as the blossoms are, the late winter storms should not harm the blossoms, according to the National Park Service. They have yet bloomed and the buds can sustain temperatures as low as 27 degrees. There may be some damage to the branches of the trees, as this last storm has dropped extremely moist and heavy snow.
However, that melting snow will also provide good, clean fresh water for the awakening trees.
The Willard InterContinental is offering a series of events to celebrate the iconic Cherry Blossoms. Match your hanami, Japanese for the custom of enjoying the transient beauty of flowers, particularly cherry and plum tree blossoms, with a series of nightly programming to include traditional Japanese music and cultural introductions.
Guests can, before or after visiting the Tidal Basin, enjoy gourmet treats during their Cherry Blossom Afternoon TThursdaysays to Sundays through April 22nd. The Willard’s Round Robin Bar and Café du Parc will feature special Cherry Blossom inspired cocktails.’
Starting this weekend, Pam Sunday, March 25, the Sawai Koto Academy’s Keiko and Masahiro Nishiham will perform traditional music using on the traditional 13-stringed-Koto and Shakuhachi, a Japanese Flute.
Other upcoming events at The Willard, including classical dance, music, and choral performances include;
March 31: Ryukyu Sokyoku Hozon Kai- Sarina Sokyoku Kenkyusho – Enjoy performances of Ryukyuan Okinawan classical music and dance.
April 7: Washington Japanese Language School – A springtime choir performance from the students of the Washington Japanese Language School.
April 8: Capitol City Strings – Classical violin performances by Capitol City Strings of selections by Bach, Dvorak, Seitz, Schumann and Elgar, among others.
April 14: Okinawa Cultural Performance by Momo Onno and Nestor Folta – An evening showcasing Okinawan / Ryukyu classical court dancing and Karata Kata by renowned performers Momo Onno and Nestor Folta.
April 15: Japanese Choral Society of Washington – Traditional and contemporary Japanese choral music performed by the Japanese Choral Society of Washington.
Reimagined Café du Parc
The Willard has updated the Café du Parc, the hotel’s Parisian brasserie to include some previously unavailable to the public spaces perfect for private social and business events. The windows provide stunning views of The Willards beautiful lobby, which will soon be filled with Cherry Blossoms.
Executive Chef Peter Laufer’s joy at unveiling a new menu, including a prix fixe option, is obvious. General Manager Markus Platzer was on hand to welcome diners to the historic hotel that is celebrating spring this month.
“Working at the Willard and in the world’s most powerful city has been the experience of a lifetime. The hotel’s history, colleagues and ownership are golden – a hotelier’s dream,” Platzer says
The Café du Parc menu is a combination of French standards and new imaginings. Fans of the traditional cuisine will be able to find items like French onion soup with rich caramelized onions and beef bourguignon made with root vegetables found in the fields of France.
Suprême de canard, or pan-roasted duck, with braised in Champagne white cabbage and a cassis (blackcurrant) reduction is new and tempting. There is the rich, herb-crusted lamb with poached lobster and potato croquettes and croque-monsieur.
The classic French bistro grilled jambon (ham) and cheese sandwich with béchamel sauce oozing out the sides is not on the menu. However, the gossip is that you can ask for this treat, and you should.
Café du Parc
The prix-fixe, or Chef’s Choice Tasting Menu ($111 per person with wine pairing, $65 without) will change with the seasons and the availability of the freshest items.
When asked how he creates his plates, Chef Peter Laufer holds up his hand and says: “Every dish has no more than five ingredients.”
Café du Parc Prix-Fixe Dinner
The appetizer course brings the meat and succulent head of a crawfish in a light sabayon sauce made with egg yolks and wine. The sauce has the lightest aroma of lemon, highlighted by slim strands of lemongrass.
Chef’s fluke with caviar and saffron sauce is a remarkable surprise — the standout dish on this menu.
Fluke often is confused with flounder, another bottom-dwelling flatfish, and there is not too much of a culinary difference between the two. However, Chef Laufer’ fluke is extraordinarily light, crisp on the outside with a moist, savory interior.
Dressed in a saffron and butter sauce, the dish’s aroma reaches the diner before being placed on the table. Served with a Bordeaux Clarendelle that features the Semillon and Sauvignon blanc grape. The Clarendelle is very balanced and does not overpower the delicate saffron and fish, but it is far from underwhelming.
The meat course features homemade duck sausages with filet of veal. The sausage is mildly seasoned and well flavored. Chef’s plate includes filets of veal, perfectly crisp on the outside. Inside, the firm pink meat is moist and sweet. This plays well against the duck sausage.
Pastry Chef Jason Jimenez’s Tarte Normande Aux Pommes
A more or less traditional apple tart, Pastry Chef Jimenez’s creative reimagining of this dessert is surprising.
Presented as a single tart, it looks at first glance like a crisp green apple atop a tartlet. Spooning into the desert, one finds the apple is actually custard, formed and painted to look like an apple. A confit of spiced apple lies atop the custard, which rests on a tartlet filled with a not-too-rich caramel mousse.
Chef Jimenez’s subtle hand put the slightest essence of pumpkin into a crème brûlee served with a crunchy and delightful Southern pecan crisp with seasonal berries. The pecan crunch alone is not only fun to eat but delicious.
The Williard’s Café du Parc offers a great starting point to discover the history of the iconic building and the history of the Cherry Blossoms.
The Willard, circa 1860
Amid the 2018 National Cherry Blossom Festival from March 17 through April 15, The Willard pays homage to spring and first lady Helen Herron Taft as it celebrates Washington’s cherry blossom trees.
In May 1860, The Willard hosted the first ever delegation from Japan to the U.S. At that historic event, three samurai ambassadors led a group of 74 Japanese officials to Washington and The Willard. Their task was to ratify the Treaty of Friendship, Commerce and Navigation with President James Buchanan.
It was 52 years later that Tokyo Mayor Yukio Ozaki donated 3,000 Japanese cherry blossom trees to commemorate that 1860 event and the friendship between the countries.
First lady Helen Herron Taft oversaw the placement of the trees around the Jefferson Memorial Tidal Basin, planting the first two saplings with the wife of the Japanese ambassador during ceremonies on March 27, 1912.
On April 13, The Willard will host Ann McClellan, author of “Cherry Blossoms: The Official Book of the National Cherry Blossom Festival.” Ms. McClellan will discuss the initiative spearheaded by Mrs. Taft.
This historic event leading to one of Washington’s most iconic memorials that represent a symbol of peace and friendship between two nations.
Visiting the Tidal Basin
The viewing of spring flowering trees, plum and cherry blossom is so important to the people of Japan that the Japan Meteorological Agency monitors and forecasts the dates of the blossoming. It is a meditative time that helps to prepare for the spring and the grounds rebirth.
Along the slightly longer than two-mile loop of the Tidal Basin, there are many stops of historical significance.
Just before the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial (when walking counter-clockwise from the Jefferson Memorial), you will find the 10-foot, 350-year-old Japanese Lantern. Commemorating the opening of trade between Japan and the U.S., the stone lantern was a gift from the governor of Tokyo. It is lit only during the Cherry Blossom Festival.
A bit past the lantern, you will find the bronze plaque that commemorates the first cherry tree planting, by Mrs. Taft and the Viscountess Iwa Chinda, wife of the ambassador of Japan.
In 1957, the mayor of Yokohama gifted a pagoda (circa 1600) to Washington, D.C. Many boxes, sans instructions, arrived in the nation’s capital. Reassembling the pagoda kept the experts at the Smithsonian Institution busy, as they had only images of pagodas as their guide.
WHEN YOU GO
Visit The Willard’s event web page to learn about the various culinary and cultural events that occur during cherry blossom season. From fresh blossom-inspired culinary treats and cocktails to historical speakers, the iconic Willard InterContinental is a treat in and of itself.
The Willard is a short walk from the Metro Center subway station or offers valet parking. From The Willard you can walk across the National Mall, passing the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the Lincoln Memorial and Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, on your way to the Jefferson Memorial.
Or for about $11, you can take a cab from the Willard to the Tidal Basin.
If you want to avoid downtown DC altogether, pack a picnic basket and head to The National Arboretum a 446-acre park located in North East DC. The National Arboretum features beautiful collections of trees and bushes. For early spring visits, there are forty-two different trees to enjoy. A little later in the spring, the Azalea bushes and Dogwood trees are brilliant. They are predicting peak blossom viewing time is April 1 through the 4th.
The U.S. National Arboretum is at 3501 New York Ave. NE. There is an alternate entrance at 24th and R streets NE, off Bladensburg Road. On weekdays, take the B2 Metrobus from the Stadium-Armory Metro station to the Rand Street stop. Walk back to R Street, and continue two blocks to the Arboretum entrance.
The arboretum is open daily from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and there is no charge. Self-guided tours are from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. While there, visit the National Bonsai and Penjing Museum and the koi pond outside the Visitor Services building.