Progressive Patchwork

Kelley McClain - June 2009

30 year old restaurant Nora remains an attractive reflection of its namesake champion of organic food and healthy living.


    30 year old restaurant Nora remains an attractive reflection of its namesake champion of organic food and healthy living.

    Austrian born Nora Pouillon began her journey in the world of the seasonal and organic in the late 1960s, when she arrived in the United States and was struck by the amount of processed and chemically treated foods consumed by Americans. In 1979 her quest manifested in the form of Nora, acclaimed for its healthful new American fare, that she operates with Steven and Thomas Damato in the heart of Washington, D.C. After 20 successful years of maintaining meticulous records of her purveyor network, Oregon Tilth rewarded Pouillon by declaring Nora the nation's first certified organic restaurant. In 2002, the restaurant was recertified according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's just established national standards. Today, Nora celebrates 30 years and Pouillon continues to be a standard-bearer for the organic movement.

    As her role in the organic movement has evolved, so has Pouillon. From 1996 to 2007, Asia Nora enjoyed a favorable run that showcased a fusion-inflected version of Pouillon's cuisine in the city's West End. With a radiant collection of museum quality antique Mennonite and Amish crib quilts burnishing the simple furnishings, restaurant Nora continues to thrive. There are five dining rooms--the main dining room, garden room, and wine library are shown here—making this dinner-only restaurant a versatile banqueting location. Pouillon, letting the grass grow anywhere but underfoot, has continuously kept her food and service apace with industry and customer tastes. In the earlier days, tables were draped with organic blends of silk and hemp, but, Pouillon explains, "we do our own laundry, and they needed more work, more soap, more water for prewashing, more labor to iron," obviously falling short of sustainability ideals. The switch was made to easy-care polyester blends for the tables and 100 percent cotton napkins.


    Pouillon made the shift to classic all-white china, including the logo plate by Woodmere and a range of shapes and sizes from Fortessa and Royal Doulton. Banqueting plates come from Steelite. "I want white china that is durable, cost effective, and versatile so that I can use the same plate for an appetizer or dessert, for example, because I don't have a lot of space to keep them," explains Pouillon. This collection is punctuated with accessories in glass and contemporary shapes, to present menu choices ranging from tuna tartare with avocado, nori chips, and black sesame seeds to pan-seared Alaska halibut with spring veggies, potato puree, and thyme jus. After closing Asia Nora, Pouillon brought in flat rectangular plates and bowls to accommodate the dishes that customers still wanted from that menu. A banana leaf plate from Bali is a fitting vessel for the curry mandated by the loyal clientele.


    tk Glassware from Cardinal is plain and simple, ideal for Nora's collections of American whiskeys, single malts, Ports, Madeiras, and brandies. Riedel stemware coddles fine wines. Coffee and tea service from Dudson accompanies such soul satisfying desserts as a layered coffee/chocolate/vanilla cheesecake with strawberries, the requisite molten chocolate cake with Grand Marnier cream, and tiramisù with chocolate curls.


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