The design process that Fetherston, Brown, and the Columbia Room team undertake before launching each subsequent menu is extensive, conceptual, and vital to crafting an experience that is worth the admission price. "We start by picking a core idea -- a narrative or theme -- appropriate for the time of year, then go down the rabbit hole with whatever’s in our heads," Fetherston says. He and Brown collect ideas from their staff, then begin testing ingredients and recipes. Brown provides creative direction and the team contributes ideas, but Fetherston plays the role of chief curator -- setting the theme and tone. For the Columbia Room’s spring menu, Fetherston chose to focus on Japan. "When we first talked about spring and what was synonymous with spring in DC, of course the first idea that popped up was cherry blossoms," he says.
Of course, cherry blossom-themed dishes and drinks are ubiquitous in DC in the spring, and Fetherston admits that they were by no means being the first people to think of incorporating the iconic flower into their spring lineup. However, he took the inspiration a step farther than most, and chose to "pull the thread on that connection with Japan and turn it into a full menu." Rather than going through "contortions to put cherry blossoms in everything," Fetherston used the cherry blossom as a springboard towards exploring Japanese cuisine. The menu included matcha, pickled cherry blossom tea, and shochu to create flavors through layers of subtlety and restraint that are the hallmark of Japanese cuisine. The climax of the spring menu involved a small zen garden of edible plum salt and mochi stones, a playful, visual, and interactive culmination of the season’s cocktails.