Sunday, July 18, 2004


Power Lunch Monday: Ceiba

Chef Trunks Does It Again

Elephant is a huge fan of Chef Jeff Trunks who operates, in my humble opinion, one of the best power lunch spots in DC, Ten Penh. In fact, I'm such a huge fan of Ten Penh that I just got around to checking out Chef Trunks latest venture, Ceiba. I was not disappointed.

Ceiba, like its sister restaurant Ten Penh, combines traditional American cuisine with a particular ethnic flavors. Ten Penh's food is infused with Asian influences and Cieba has focused on Latin America for its inspiration. Inspired indeed! Last Thursday, I met a senior senate staffer for lunch and although the topic was supposed to be the agenda in the waning days of the 108th Congress, much of our discussion centered around the food.

We started off with a course of soup. As it was your typical hot and steamy day in DC, we both opted for the gazpacho. I was a bit confused when it arrived in a dish that resembled a long canoe filled with fresh vegetables and some bits of crab. Before I had a chance to ask the waiter what this was, out came a small urn. Before you could say "Gaucho" the waiter had filled my little canoe full of cold, yellow tomato soup.

Ordering gazpacho is always a gamble. In most cases, I'd swear that the sous chef merely pours a can of V-8 into a bowl and viola- gazpacho. That's not the case a Ceiba. First, as mentioned, the base of the soup was yellow tomatoes, bursting with an eathy freshness. The fresh cut vegetables that garnished the soup added color and bursts of contrasting flavor of carrot and spring onion. Much to my surprise, an additional garnish of red tomato sorbet helped to keep things cool.

When the entrees arrived, I knew I had made the wrong choice. I had ordered the Grilled Yellowfin Tuna served on a base of
sweet corn polenta and garnished with charred wild onions, costa rican pico de gallo and habanero chilis. The tuna was great and the sweet moistness of the polenta got a kick from the habanero chilis. On a scale of 1 to 10 it was definitely a 10. But alas, Tuna is today's skirt stake and, despite the fine presentation at Ceiba, I was left drooling like Homer Simpson over my dining companion's choice.

My lunch partner ordered on of Ceiba's trademark dishes, pumpkin seed crusted tilapia served with sweet plaintain mash and a Caribbean Creole sauce. (aaaahhhhh, pumpkin seeds.......). She must have seen the glint of envy in my eye as she offered me a bite. The tender tilapia was moist and substantial, but the roasted pumpkin seed coating pushed it into culinary nirvana. The accompanying plaintain mash, although looking like some freaked out Gerber product, was actually a delicious blend of sweet banana salty corn. Yummmm....

Much to our dismay, our delicious luncheon had eaten into our schedules and we had to skip desert to hustle off to some meeting on some issue I don't remember. In Ceiba, Chef Trunks has definitely created an equal for his glorious Ten Penh. Let the Senator's and Congressman go to the tired old steak houses, their Staff and I can be found at Ceiba.

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