Saturday, December 22, 2007

Dine Away

If you are already dreading the end of your Holiday Break, make sure you have something to look forward to in January.

DC Restaurant Week participating restaurants have been posted on Open Table (full list here). I have had great experiences with the Restaurant Week menus at Tosca, Hook, La Chaumiere, Ten Pehn, Zola, Corduroy and Bobby Van's Grill. Indebleu, which I have liked on other ocassions, had a very limited menu during previous Restaurant Weeks. Oya has wonderful food and a wide menu, but the decor detracts heavily from the meal.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Holiday Cocktails

Hope you are in festive spirits this holiday season. Passing along a few recipes for fun and celebratory cocktails. Enjoy.


Christmas Jones
5 fresh strawberries
1 part vodka
2 teaspoons superfine sugar
5 ounces of pineapple juice
Lime-flavored soda
Mint sprigs for garnish
In a blender, whiz the vodka, strawberries, sugar and pineapple juice together. Pour the mix equally into two champagne flutes. Top with 7-Up, and garnish with a sprig of mint.

Grinch
3 ounces of Midori
1/2 ounce lemon juice
1 teaspoon simple syrup (equal parts of water and sugar simmered together)
1 maraschino cherry for garnish
Pour the ingredients into a cocktail shaker with ice and shake well. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with a maraschino cherry.

Mistletoe Martini
3 ounces of vodka
2 ounces of orange juice
3 ounces of cranberry tea, chilled
3/4 ounce of lemon juice3 teaspoons of sugar
Pour the ingredients into a cocktail shaker with ice and shake well. Strain into two chilled cocktail glasses.
Candy Cane
1 ounce of berry-flavored vodka
3/4 ounce of Peppermint Schnapps
3/4 ounce of white Crème de Cacao
1/4 ounce of grenadine
Half and half
Soda water
Pour the vodka, Peppermint Schnapps, white Creme de Cacao and grenadine into a cocktail shaker with ice and shake well. Pour into a cocktail glass rimmed with crushed peppermint candy (but don't let the ice get into the glasses). Fill with half and half and top with soda water.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Tasty Holiday Recipes for a Cozy Evening In

Hope you are enjoying the splendor of the holiday season, and have the time to step back and take a breath when you need it too. Wanted to pass along recipes for a few tasty treats that are all easy to prepare and quite tasty - enjoy.


Fig, Gorgonzola and Rosemary Bites
8 to 12 dried figs
3 to 4 ounces of Gorgonzola cheese, in crumbles
2 teaspoons of extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon of fresh rosemary leaves, chopped
Sea salt and black pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Trim the stems of the figs and make a slit in the side of each fig. Push a piece of Gorgonzola into each fig. Place in a bowl and toss gently with olive oil, rosemary, salt and pepper. Heat in a 350 degree oven for 5 to 8 minutes, or until cheese melts, and enjoy. Fabulous paired with a nice Pinot Noir.

Brussel Sprouts with Bacon
2 pounds small-medium Brussel sprouts
6 slices bacon
1 teaspoon butter
Kosher or sea salt and pepper
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Rinse Brussel sprouts in a large colander and drain. Trim off the small stem on the bottom of each sprout and cut into halves. Cook bacon in medium frying pan until fat is rendered and the bacon is browned but not quite crispy. Drain on a paper towel lined plate. Once the bacon has cooled a bit, cut the bacon into bite-sized pieces. Pour off all but 2 teaspoons of the bacon fat. Return pan to medium high heat and add butter to the bacon fat. Add the halved Brussel sprouts to the frying pan and toss to coat in the oil. Add the bacon to the Brussel sprouts and season with salt and pepper to taste. Continue to toss and cook on the stove for another 2-3 minutes until the sprouts start taking on a bit of a golden brown color. Transfer into a 400 degree oven for about 12-15 minutes or until sprouts are golden brown and slightly soft. Delicious with an unoaked Chardonnay or a lighter-body red wine.

Pork Tenderloin with Apples and Cinnamon and Cardamom
1 to 1 1/2 pounds pork tenderloin
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cardamom spice
2 tablespoons brown sugar, packed
2 cooking apples (such as Granny Smith), peeled, cored and sliced
2 tablespoons dried cranberries or raisins
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Place the pork tenderloin in a roasting pan or casserole dish. Combine the remaining ingredients in a bowl and stir. Spoon the apple mixture around the pork tenderloin. Cover and bake for 30 minutes. Remove the lid and spoon the apple mixture over the tenderloin. Return to the oven and bake without a cover for 15 to 20 minutes longer, or until pork tenderloin is browned and cooked through.

Grilled Peaches
4 peaches
4 tablespoons of lemon juice
1/4 cup of white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon of brown sugar
Peel and halve peaches, and place in a plastic bag with one tablespoon of lemon juice and set aside. Boil remaining lemon juice with vinegar and sugar on medium high, until reduced by about half. Place peaches cut side down on a grill pan or rack which is lightly coated with cooking oil spray. Cook for about 2 minutes, then turn over and baste with lemon mixture. Cook 3 minutes on second side and serve. Great with ice cream or frozen yogurt.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

You are where you eat


The problem with holiday meals - if you can call it a problem - is that the food takes a backseat to the company. Unless every single one of your friends is equally enthusiastic about ingredients and menus, convenience prevails. This is especially true when you have to juggle offices all over the Metropolitan area, parking, kids, significant others, and an ever-changing table composition. You're lucky if you can squeeze your party of 12 to a centrally-located casual-dining outpost.

This weekend I was pleasantly surprised to get a table for 6 with minimum hassle at the very reasonable hour of 8 PM at Tosca. I've eaten lunch there several times - since they do full menu, it's one of my Restaurant Week staples - and thought it's been around for more than 5 years, Massimo Fabbri comes up with gorgeous seasonal menus.

Tosca features Northern Italian cuisine that is on this side of hip. The menu is pretty straightforward yet it encourages adventurous ordering: on the one hand, every pasta dish is available as an appetizer or side order and on the other, anything on the tasting menus is available a la carte.

I started my meal with the Radicchio Salad. I had it the first time I went to the restaurant and I've happily eaten it since. The salad has radicchio and Bartlett pears, with a Gorgonzola cheese terrine and toasted walnuts. Each component is separate on the plate, and I especially like forming separate types of bites on my fork. B and S had the chestnut soup, a thick heavy concoction with Porcini mushrooms and ricotta cheese topped with Pancetta. The waitress suggested that the soup be stirred to incorporate all the ingredients. F and J had appetizer portions of the linguini with seafood.

Though S was dissapointed at the lack of Osso Bucco, there are plenty of protein options on the Tosca winter menu, including a perfectly cooked and somewhat intimidating Braised lamb shank with Barolo wine and vegetable ragu on a bed of polenta, Grilled pork tenderloin in a rosemary and Porcini mushroom crust, and a lovely rack of veal in a rosemary sauce. For a main course I ordered one of the pasta dishes from the Grande Degustazione Menu - Carrot pappardelle with a very well-seasoned rabbit ragu in a white wine sauce. Also from the same menu, B had a black truffle and pork sausage Risotto. The bite I managed to sneak was creamy and balanced - I could taste and smell everything on the dish. Our famished 6th - straight from DCA - had the roasted veal and proscioutto ravioli.

I love clementines and was happy to see a Clementine Panna Cotta on the dessert menu. It was a refreshing end to my meal and I had it while sipping espresso, combining two very good things (I feel the same way of the gorgonzola cheese ice cream on the menu).

Finally, a meal to match the company.

Ristorante Tosca
1112 F Street NW
Washington, DC 20004
www.toscadc.com
Ristorante Tosca on Urbanspoon

Friday, December 7, 2007

Tasty Recipes for a Cold Day

Even in lovely San Francisco the weather is certainly cooling off just a bit.
http://www.slowfoodtastelife.blogspot.com/
I know it's cold in DC, so I thought I would pass along a couple of really simply but totally delicious recipes. Cozy up inside your kitchen, perhaps open a nice bottle of a rich red wine and enjoy.

Rosemary Steak with Mushrooms
4 boneless beef loins or New York Strip Steaks, sliced into 1-inch thick strips
2 tablespoons fresh rosemary leaves, minced
3 cloves garlic, minced
8 ounces of white button or cremini mushrooms, sliced
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon grated lemon peel
Kosher or sea salt
Coursly ground black pepper Fresh rosemary sprigs Mix the fresh rosemary, garlic, 1 tablespoon of oil, lemon peel, 1 teaspoon of salt and black pepper in a small bowl. Sliced the steaks. Rub the mixture onto the surface of the steaks. Cover and refrigerate for at least an hour. Bring a large griddle or cast-iron skillet to high heat, add the steaks and cook for about 8 minutes per side, (or to desired doneness). Remove the steaks and let cool. Keep the pan on the heat and add the other tablespoon of oil to the remaining steak juices. Season with salt and pepper to taste and sautee until mushrooms are softened a bit and slightly browned. Serve the steaks topped with the mushroom mixture on a platter garnished with fresh rosemary sprigs and enjoy.

Broccoli Almondine
1 1/2 pounds broccoli, stems peeled, then head cut into 2-inch-wide spears
4 tablespoons of good olive oil
1/2 cup sliced almonds
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Microwave the broccoli for 3 to 4 minutes on high heat. Cool broccoli 5 minutes. Meanwhile, heat olive oil in pot over medium heat, add the almonds, and stir until oil and nuts are golden and have a nutty aroma, about 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in lemon juice and 1/2 teaspoon of kosher or sea salt. Add broccoli and toss.

Cheesy Sweet Potato Crisps
1 pound sweet potatoes, peeled
1 1/2 cups finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Pecorino Romano cheese
2 egg whites
2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary
1/3 teaspoon sage
1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
3/4 teaspoon cracked black pepper
Parchment paper (or a Silpat liner)
Heat oven to 425 degrees. Finely grate sweet potatoes into a bowl. Squeeze grated sweet potatoes in batches to release as much moisture as possible and place in another bowl, and fluff with a fork. Stir in cheese, egg whites, rosemary, sage and pepper. Line a large cookie sheet with parchment paper. Spoon 1 rounded tablespoon batter onto cookie sheet and flatten into a thin, 2- to 2 1/2-inch round. Repeat with remaining batter, leaving 1 inch between rounds. Bake until edges and underside are crisp and browned, 13 to 15 minutes. Remove from oven, sprinkle with salt, let cool slightly and remove from parchment. If it suits you, serve with a small bowl of sour cream topped with a few teaspoons of balsamic vinegar and a sprig of rosemary.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Smile

I love Thai food and I especially crave it when it gets this cold. Though I enjoy going to Rice, Thaitanic, Bua and Busara, I've been in a rut. When D. suggested we go to her mom's favorite Thai place in Arlington, I couldn't get out of the office fast enough.

Sawatdee is a very short walk from the Courthouse metro station. Decorated in muted golds, lacquered blacks, and Thai fine crafts, we were seated right away by courteous staff. Though the place had a lot of patrons, it wasn't overly loud or crowded.

I've had a Paulaner with lunch, so I skipped an evening cocktail. We split an appetizer of calamari with a sweet chili sauce, flash fried. For entrees, we ordered Drunken Noodles with Beef and Pad-Peth-Pa, chicken sauteed with Thai eggplant, bamboo shoots, green beans and fresh basil leaves in chili sauce. The dish is wonderfully hot (noses run, lips tingle) and had a crunch and a freshness that is missing from the famous curries, and I was surprised to taste every ingredient (plus rice) in every bite. The Drunken Noodles were outstanding: they were firm, not mushy or unnecesarily greasy. To mirror the appetizer, we split a fried banana doused with simple syrup. Our bill, including tax and tip, came to 40 USD.

Even the staunchest DC-proper dinner should pay a visit to Sawatdee. I am looking forwad to trying other things on the menu. In this weather, I probably won't have too long a wait.

Sawatdee Thai Restaurant
Court House Plaza
2250 Clarendon Boulevard
Arlington, VA
www.sawatdee.net
Sawatdee on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Home is where the heart (and the plate) is

Mexico is a place of great culinary diversity, and many apparently simple dishes have complex recepies and require ingredients that even the best Whole Foods or Korean Market will rarely have in stock.

For those of you who want to try something close to the real thing (restaurant with pupusas - lovely, but Salvadorean - not included), the following are Mexican restaurants frequented by the expat Mexican community in DC.

1. Rosa Mexicano (Penn Quarter)
Known for: Margaritas, fresh Guacamole, packed bar, pink interior
Must try: Ice cream selection, queso fundido, mole

www.rosamexicano.com

2. Taqueria Distrito Federal (Columbia Heights)
Known for: Tacos de Chicharron en Salsa Verde, Tacos Al Pastor, Shrine to las Aguilas del America Soccer Team
Must try: Tostadas de Pollo

Corner of 14th street and Oak Street, NW, Cash only.

3. Guajillo (Rosslyn)
Known for: Cowhide chairs, selection of Mexican beers, fresh salsa
Must Try: Antojitos

1772 Wilson Boulevard, Arlington, VA

4. Casa Oaxaca (Adams Morgan)
Known for: Moles, owned by the same people as Guajillo
Must Try: Tres Moles, Tacos de Vegetales

www.oaxacaindc.com

5. Oyamel (Penn Quarter)
Known for: Ceviche, Aguas Frescas, Expensive Tacos, Butterfly mobile
Must Try: Mole Chocolate Cake, Tacos de Cochinita Pibil

www.oyamel.com

6. Taqueria Nacionale (Capitol Hill)
Known for: Being owned by Ann Cashion, Importing Mexican Coke (flavored with real sugar), Misspelling "Nacional"
Must Try: Breakfast tacos, fish tacos

400 N Capitol St. NW, Washington, DC

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Prix Fixe at 701

The Saturday before Thanksgiving, my usual dinner invitation fell through. In a panic and expecting a friend from Mexico who was looking forward to a traditional meal with dressing and Turkey, I kept clicking around Open Table looking for a reasonably priced menu that included the proper poultry.

I was happy to start our day at 701 - owned and operated by the same people that own Rasika, Aredo, and Bombay Club, I felt comfortable experimenting for the Holiday. Centrally located and easy to get to on the Metro, 701 has a full bar, a vodka bar, and live music every evening - with a 3 piece Jazz Band Fridays and Saturdays. We had a table facing the fountains and the layout of the dining room allows you to enjoy the music as well as the conversation. The servers are knowledgeable and courteous, and happily recommend selections from their wine list by the glass. I had an excellent Cote du Rhone which I sipped throughout my meal.

The Thanksgiving menu - a variation on their pre and post theater prix fixe included hot and cold appetizers (marinated mushrooms for my guest, and a lovely mushroom and walnut soup with pancetta and quail egg for me), entrees for every protein whim (we both had the turkey, which was moist and not overwhelmed by fixings, daintily arranged on the sides) and dessert (a perfect creme brulee for her, pumpkin cheesecake for me). The portions were generous without going overboard and featured the balance and freshness of modern American cooking.

This meal put me on good stead for other visits to 701, and for the other 2 invites we received after I had made my reservation. I happily had lacquered duck and braised chicken, all cooked separately.

701 Pennsylvania Restaurant
Navy Memorial
701 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC
www.701restaurant.com
701 Pennsylvania Avenue on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Happy in the Bar

I had a friend visiting from Montreal and I wanted to treat her to an impecable American by-way-of- Europe meal. I tried to book a table at Central but, as on most weekends, it was fully booked. I don't mind eating late, but I thought the 10.00 PM reservation suggested was not something my friend could handle.

"Perhaps you can join us for dessert," the hostess said.

I got us a table at Brasserie Beck and we had a lovely meal of fresh oysters, a stater made of a garlic baguette, poached egg and fricasse of mushrooms (reminiscent of Austrian cooking, except for the poached egg), and duck and steak entrees. The beer somelier gave us some refreshing suggestions from the beer menu. After such a heavy meal (and an early start), we opted for skipping dessert.

We walked around downtown with no particular destination in mind when we found ourselves in front of Central. The place was packed, but I figured it was worth asking if we could get a table for dessert and drinks in the lounge area. In a few minutes we had a table facing the entrance, where I spent the next hour admiring the reflection of the beautiful food pictures projected next to the bar.

The wine list has several selections by the glass (the other places, other grapes is particularly interesting), but as we were in a celebratory mood, we had cocktails. The seasonal offerings feature an apple cocktail (the color of apple pie, not neon green) and a cosmopolitan that takes an overdone drink and breathes in new life. For dessert, we split a Kit Kat: hazelnut creme sandwiched between flaky layers encassed by chocolate. The citrus notes in the cocktails balanced the richness of the dessert. The portion is perfect for sharing, but I won't judge anyone who goes for the whole thing.


Central - Michel Richard
1001 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20004
http://www.centralmichelrichard.com/drink/

Thursday, November 8, 2007

My Kingdom for a Cup

Patisserie Poupon is a wonderful place to stop for a traditional French breakfast: Croissants or Pain Au Chocolat, Fresh Orange Juice (the oranges are cut and squeezed right there in the coffee bar) and a Café Crème - an espresso coffee mixed with an equal amount of warmed, not steamed, milk.

The best parts of a quick breakfast at Patisserie Poupon (order a warm quiche of the day if you want to feel like you are having brunch) are the coffee cups themselves. I've always disliked plastic lids on paper cups - even if they are convenient, they leave an aftertaste and also prevent the coffee drinker from enjoying the full aroma. If you decide to stay at one of their tables (patio seating is also avaliable), the coffee bar will put your drinks in the most lovely limoges breakfast coffee cups in Georgetown. Aesthetics aside, they also allow the Café Crème to keep its minimal froth while you taste both the milk and coffee.

Fresh salads are available, as well as pre-made sandwiches. Many of their cakes are also available downhill at Dean & Deluca, but they are better as take-aways since they are kept cold. The Marzipan animals make good hostess gifts and can also save homemade baked goods from a total lack of decorating prowess.

Patisserie Poupon
1645 Wisconsin Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20007
(202) 342-3248
Patisserie Poupon on Urbanspoon

Monday, November 5, 2007

The Original

When most people think about Peruvian food in DC, their mind goes to the wonderful pollerias that populate the area. While Super Pollo and El Pollo Rico are great places to sample authentic roasted chicken and yuca, their offerings are but a sliver of Peruvian cuisine. Recent openings in Adams Morgan and Dupont Circle have menus that offer the staples of fine Peruvian cooking: Causa, Lomo Saltado, Aji de Gallina, and Ceviche.

If you want to make the leap from roasted chicken, El Chalan on Eye Street is the standard-bearer. This is an unpretentious restaurant located below street level - their new sign should help those of us who kept walking past it. Though usually packed for lunch (OAS and World Bank Staff patronize it), securing a table for dinner is never a problem.

Start your meal with pisco sours. Pisco is a liquor distilled from grapes and the cocktail (a mixture of lime, sugar and sour mix or an egg white, dusted with cinnamon) packs a punch, but the flavors and scents in the glass will put you in good stead. The ceviche is not cheap, but the portion is quite generous. Another appetizer that must not be missed is the causa limenia, a seasoned mashed potato terrine stuffed with tuna, egg, or avocado. A lot of dishes mix seafood and potatoes quite successfully and though aji has some heat, the food is, for the most part, not spicy.

Lomo Saltado (much better than anything you've had at Lauriol Plaza under the same name) is a dish comprised of strips of beef, sauteed potatoes, tomatoes and onions. The potatoes manage to remain light on the palate. Aji de Gallina is a chicken stew in a spicy, nutty cheese sauce that showcases the flavors and textures of Peruvian cuisine like nothing else on the menu.

The dessert menu at El Chalan is quite limited - flan and alfajores on most nights. Treat yourself to a second pisco sour instead.


El Chalan
1924 Eye Street, NW Washington, DC
www.elchalanrestaurant.com
El Chalan on Urbanspoon

Monday, October 29, 2007

Oh the weather outside is frightful

Since hot chocolate season is finally upon us, I thought I'd share some of my favorite places to enjoy some:

1. Kingsbury Chocolates (Old Town Alexandria) http://www.kingsburychocolates.com

Though the store offers no seating, you won't mind standing one bit as you take in the offerings in the display cases. This boutique offers ready-made hot chocolate to go, as well as a take home kit. The chocolate (2 dollars for a small) is thick but not overly heavy, with notes of pepper and cinnamon.

2. Rosa Mexicano (Penn Quarter)
http://www.rosamexicano.com

Rosa Mexicano has an excellent brunch menu, but it rarely draws a crowd. Skip the Margarita and order one of their seasonal hot chocolate creations. Served as a companion drink, the chocolate cocktails (available with and without alcohol) blend citrus notes with the very light chocolate, making it an ideal second-thing-in-the-morning drink.

3. Godiva Boutique (M street, Union Station, Connecticut Avenue)
http://www.godiva.com

Chocolixir is as thick as hot chocolate should get. 72% Dark Chocolate pieces are melted into steaming hot milk and served in a small cup, about the size of an espresso. (4.50 and up) This is a strictly take with-you drink as the boutiques offer no seating, and are as distinctive as Starbucks.

4. Le Pain Quotidien (Georgetown)
http://www.lepainquotidien.com

For the do-it-yourself set, LPQ offers a steaming saucer of milk and a 2 ounce pitcher of pure Belgian chocolate (3.50 for a large). Mix to your heart's content. Goes great with their sugar waffle.

5. Baked & Wired (Georgetown)
http://www.bakedandwired.com

If you can't drink milk and can't stand soy, Baked and Wired on Thomas Jefferson Street has a wonderful chocolate tisane (around 2.00 for a medium) that always hits the spot.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Each one she passes goes "a-a-ah!"

Last Friday we checked out the Grill from Ipanema, the Brazilian restaurant in Adams Morgan. The Washingtonian said reservations were essential, but the torrential downpour and the friendly staff ensured that our party of 3 had a table fairly quickly.

The decor at the restaurant, which incorporates palm trees and twinkle lights, conspires with the sights and smells of authentic Brazilian cuisine. A first round of caipirinhas is a must. As most of the menu is on the heavy side, the acidity and brightness of the cocktails (cachaça, made from fresh sugarcane juice that's fermented and distilled, mixed with sugar and crushed limes) will cleanse your palate - they will also make the palm trees sway.

We had the advantage of having a Brazilian-in-exile in our party, so all the credit for choosing our fantastic meal goes to her. To depart from the Churrasquerias we already know, she ordered the linguica encebollada (grilled sausages with onions), a fantastic cheese croquette (more solid and less gooey than its Spanish counterpart), and dried beef, still on the bone. The entrees are on the expensive side - averaging at over 20 dollars, but they are meant to be shared. 2 entrees were more than enough to satisfy our party of three. We had a bahia stew with shrimp (served with rice and yuca powder on the side) and feijoada, the national dish of Brazil, a stew made with beans, dried beef, and pork products and comes with rice, chopped refried collard greens (couve mineira), lighly roasted coarse cassava flour (farofa), and a peeled and sliced orange. The combination works and the layering of flavors, intensely salty to the citrusy, and textures, solid beans to slippery pork loins, is like no other I have tasted.

We had absolutely no room for dessert, but I did finish my meal with some Brazilian coffee. I look forward to going back again soon.

The Grill from Ipanema
1858 Columbia Rd. NW, Washington, DC 20009
www.thegrillfromipanema.com
Grill From Ipanema on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Naan for Thought

My first experience with Naan was at Indian Restaurants, and I have a hard time thinking of it as anything but Indian. But the more I go to the Afghan Restaurant (the no frills name matches the prices) the more I want to rethink my approach. The Naan, made on a clay oven on-site, has to be the best in the area. The yogurt sauce is the perfect combination of tart and texture - I need to keep myself from putting it on everything. I am fully content before the meal starts. The wait staff is very patient (and non-judgemental: on one ocassion, we ordered every appetizer on the menu) and are happy to help the non-initiated, as well as the patrons who take the wrong entrance and crash the wedding in adjacent banquet hall. My favorite appetizers are the Aushak and mantu, or Afghan pastas. The mantu is reminiscent of perogi and should not be missed, while the Boolawnee is a baked naan stuffed with potatoes and leeks.

The jumbo kebab is ideal for splitting between three people who've had a first round of appetizers. It features 2 lamb kebab, 2 beef kebab and 2 chicken kebab served on top of naan. I usually order a side order of rice, garnished with julienne carrots and raisins. The chicken kebab will put any tandoori to shame. The wait staff will also look the other way while you and your friends bicker over the soggy central portion of the naan.

The restaurant isn't near a metro stop, but it is a straight shot down Route 1, even with less than inspired surroundings, well worth the trip.

The Afghan Restaurant
2700 Jefferson Davis Highway
Alexandria, VA 22301-1026
Afghan on Urbanspoon

Monday, October 15, 2007

All Is Well

Hope everyone is enjoying the lovely fall weather as of late. I have settled back into life in the Bay Area splendidly thus far, albeit I only have been here 2 days as yet. Definitely going to be my home for good I think. I have tapped the talent of at least one friend to keep me up to date with DC goings on and such, and certainly hope to stay abreast of foodie items from afar and to revisit everything when I am back in the area. Please feel free to check out my new blog too - http://www.slowfoodtastelife.blogspot.com/ It really is a global world, both foodie-wise and otherwise. Cheers.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Veritas Wine Bar in Dupont

I had the pleasure of stopping by Veritas, a new wine bar in Dupont, this week. The location is on the corner of Connecticut and Florida Streets, just around the corner from The Russia House. It's almost like entering a bit of a hideaway as the space is right at street level and just a little hidden. When you walk in you feel like you are transported a bit, with the very dim lighting, prevalence of candlelight on each table and swirling wine glasses all about. The decor is minimalist, and there are virtually no wall adornments which yields a very noisy sound level, despite the small size of the space. The bar seats about 8 and there are around 10 tables, which each seat 4. The wine list is nice, albeit somewhat expensive with the least-expensive by-the-glass offering coming in at $9. There is also a cheese and charcuterie menu to compliment the libations. We ordered a bottle of José Pariente Verdejo from Rueda, Spain, 2006. The nose was of citrus and the wine was refreshing and very clean on the palate. We also did the 3 cheeses for $11, and chose a Gouda, Humboldt Fog Bleu and a Manchego. The Gouda was especially creamy and nutty, and each actually worked with the wine as the acidity cut the richness of the cheese quite nicely. Others had the Melville Estate Syrah from Santa Rita Hills, California, 2005. The wine was slightly tannic yet still smooth on the finish and rich and fruity in flavor. A really nice selection. Veritas is great for exploring regions and grape varities and offers several flight options and a decent by-the-glass selections. The vibe is hip and fun. Just have to work on that noise level. Pop by when you can though - it's a great way to start or end an evening for sure.


Veritas
2031 Florida Avenue in NW DC

Monday, September 24, 2007

Our Daily Bread


The Belgian chain recently opened its DC outpost on M street in Georgetown, across the street from the Four Seasons Hotel, taking over the space of the long-suffering Au Pied Bistro. There are plenty of items on the menu, including omelets made with real butter, muffins and yogurt parfaits for breakfast and salads, quiche and soups for lunch and dinner, with cakes and pastries for after (or instead of). This is what La Madeleine wishes it could be. There are two floors that have the famous communal tables with waiter service, as well as a counter with polite and courteous staff that can tell the baked goods apart, and even make some recommendations. The restaurant also features a garden court which makes it pretty perfect for breakfast in this weather.

I'd advise newcomers to order the Bakers' Basket, which has slices of the signature breads, both sweet and savory. Every table has spreads, pralines and jams. To make it a more complete breakfast, order a side of prosciutto or smoked salmon - easily split between two people. Once you figure out your favorite bread (the one featuring sunflower seeds and an oatmeal crust is mine), branch out to the other menu items. An interesting (albeit a bit too precious) detail is that coffee is served in saucers. Spreads can be bought in the pantry section of the restaurant.

I was there this morning for a pit stop before my commute and conducted my croissant test - it passed muster with flying colors (with high marks for crust, flakiness, smell and color) for pennies more than La Madeleine. A great addition to M street.


Le Pain Quotidien - Bakery and Communal Table

2815 M Street, NW Washington DC 20007
http://www.lepainquotidien.com/

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Belga Cafe in Eastern Market

I recently popped by Belga Cafe in Eastern Market for drinks and snacks before a Nats game. If you haven't been, it's a really cozy spot with a cute little patio out front, really friendly servers and bartenders, a nice albeit rich menu, and a great Belgian beer list. The weather was just perfect, a little dim for not-so-late in the evening, but that beautiful cool and crisp that is the beginning of fall. The lighting is dim and the general ambiance quite pleasing and comfortable, much like a good, authentic European bistro. We sat at the bar for ease of service, and because with such an extensive beer and drink menu it's a joy to watch what others order and explore with your own choices a bit. I stuck to my typical, at least as of late, Pinot Grigio. My friend, however, tried several selections on the beer menu, including an Orval Trappist ale and a De Koninck. Both were fairly rich and full of flavor, and really tasty. We split Lauwe Asperge Salade, or baked asparagus with frisee salad, slices of salmon “mi cuit” with coriander-butter. Wow, what a gorgeous combination, with the crisp greens and asparagus with the rich and melt-in-your-mouth salmon and the strong essence of butter throughout. Yummo. I also had the Vegetarian Plate which features pan seared salsify with nutmeg roasted market vegetables with balsamic and herbs’ oil caramelized belgian endives sprinkled with sherry-vinegar grilled asparagus. I don't generally each potatoes or starches of most kinds, and without those items I thought the plate was a bit small, but it was tasty nonetheless. The vegetables were roasted nicely until still slightly firm but infused with the oil and vinegar flavors quite nicely. My friend had Hoeve Kippetje Uit Brabant, or breast of chicken with braised Belgian endives and roasted fingerling potatoes. The chicken was crispy yet still moist on the inside, especially the dark piece of meat, and the endives tasted as though they had soaked overnight in butter. Certainly not light fare, but quite tasty and a great match for beer and wine for sure. A great spot for a pre- or post-game drink and snack for sure.


Belga Cafe
514 8th Street in SE DC

Tapas with a Twist

I've come to realize that the only reasons I ever go up to Tenleytown are going to Café Olé, the Container Store, or a fortunate combination of both.

Café Olé is not a big place, but it doesn't feel cramped. It offers outdoor seating (though you need to make sure the weather is worth it, otherwise all that it has to offer is a panoramic view of the traffic on Wisconsin Avenue and some interesting light fixtures). The staff is corteous and accomodating and the servers are always quick with suggestions that feel more like actual favorites than a way to push the pricier items on the menu. The full wine list is available by the glass and the Sangria by the pitcher tastes homemade - tang that doesn't sacrifice the body and texture that doesn't overwhelm.

The one mezze I always order is the Shepherd's Pie Ole - a beef stew topped with mashed potatoes and cheddar cheese that has a taste of clove/cinammon/apples that I have yet to figure out. I was there last week with friends who had never been, so I ordered the cold and hot samplers and asked for seconds of what they liked best: the Tagine of Lamb (presented warm and over a bed of Israeli Couscous and Risotto, and rounded the order off with some Tel Aviv Nachos (with Hummus and Smoked Salmon in lieu of chesse-product).

I have yet to try the entrées (quite a feat considering I've been going to this restaurant for almost 2 years), perhaps because the kabobs remind me of food you can get elsewhere. The desert offerings - a lone pastry case perched in front of the kitchen has yet to tempt me. We opted for skipping dessert and taking the birthday girl to Love Café instead - portion wise, cupcakes are mezze for the pastry set.

Café Olé
4000 Wisconsin Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20016
http://www.cafeoledc.com/
Cafe Ole on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Happy Hour at Vapiano

Just a heads up that Vapiano tweaked its happy hour menu slightly, and house wines (Pinot Grigio and Merlot) are now $3.50 a glass. Still a deal for sure, but not quite as sweet as $2.50 a pop. The food menu remains unchanged. A great evening can be made of the free tasting at Vidalia, which runs on weekdays from 5 to 7pm, and then wine and snacks at nearby Vapiano in Dupont. As an fyi, Vapiano Ballston is also open, and they expect to open a location in Dulles, VA in November and in the Chinatown neighborhood in DC in March 2008.


Vapiano Dupont
1800 M Street in NW DC

Friday, September 7, 2007

Breakfast at Breadline

Lunch breaks are meant to be precisely that - interruptions, respites, thirty minutes alone with your senses, good company, and hopefully some sunshine. This is precisely why I avoid Breadline for lunch - the sandwich shop of choice for the World Bank and a myriad of office buildings, has a rush that closely resembles a mob. I'd confront the crowds and quick-draw for a table only on Spicy Peanut soup day. The bread - especially the challah and olive loaf - was certainly worth the trip, but I would buy it during off-hours and make a quick getaway.

At a friend's suggestion, I stopped over for breakfast yesterday to find it completely transformed. The back room was dim, there was ample seating outside, the army of sandwich makers were slicing and dicing in unison - even the woman at the register smiled broadly. Though the beautifully thick French toast beckoned, I ordered a croissant and a mini Cherry pastry along with some Colombian drip coffee (a full coffee bar is available) and went outside.

As one would expect of the place with the best baguettes in DC, the croissant was perfect: salty, flaky, fresh made. The cherry pastry had a good balance of dough to filling, and withstood several bites without falling apart. The view of the World Bank and people-watching on Pennsylvania will entertain you even in the absence of a morning newspaper. Beat the rush and stay a while.

Breadline
1751 Pennsylvania Ave. NW,
Washington, DC 20006
Breadline on Urbanspoon

Saturday, September 1, 2007

New Spot in Dupont - Plum Blossom

Earlier this week my friend and I had finished up happy hour in Dupont and were headed out for dinner. We didn't want to do the wait at Lauriol Plaza and so were headed further up 18th Street. We noticed a new spot, Plum Blossom, which bills itself as a sushi restaurant, wine bar and cafe. There were only a few people at the small bar in rear of the small space when we walked in, and as it turns out it was the owner and the bar and wait staff. The venue is narrow with high ceilings and warm, taupe colored walls with few adornments. The light fixtures and furnishings are minimalist and sparse. They didn't seem to have done any marketing about the opening at the beginning of this week which seemed strange, but I imagine there are items in the works. We ordered a few glasses of Sauvignon Blanc from South Africa, as the wine list hasn't been put together and formalized as of yet. The menu is actually really nice - Asian-style appetizers and mains and a small sushi and sashimi selection as well. We decided to just snack and went for Tahini Chicken, which is shredded chicken seasoned with tahini, garlic and fresh herbs and served in lettuce cups. It was quite tasty and very rich as well. Other options that looked appealing include Vietnamese BBQ Beef, or seasoned, sliced sirloin with Fuji apple salad an orange-ginger dipping sauce; Calamari Ceviche, which is grilled calamari with red onions, sweet peppers and lemon basil vinaigrette served atop mixed greens; the Duet sushi roll which is sweet salmon, scallion threads, lemon mayo and cream cheese; Pomegranate Chicken, or Beijing style roasted chicken marinated in pomegranate juice, sake and honey and served with wasabi mashed potatoes and sesame spinach; and Miso Honey Lamb Chops which are marinated in miso, honey and fresh herbs and served with wasabi mashed potatoes, stir fried vegetables and sake butter sauce. I think Plum Blossom probably needs a little time to get folks properly trained and to figure out the wine list, but I think the potential for this place to be a great go-to spot when in the neighborhood is quite promising.

Plum Blossom
1915 18th Street in NW DC

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Back to Brasserie Beck

On Friday I was lucky enough to get a few folks together to check out Brasserie Beck, for me as a second time. I was there on its third day of operation in April for a birthday dinner and had a wonderful experience, and was very pleased to be back. The bar was quite crowded, particularly for an evening in late August, but the crowd was bubbly and fun and the vibe was very positive. I ordered a glass of Melon Muscadet "Sur Lie" Domaine la Quilla, Sevre & Maine Loire. The taste was just slightly sweet but overall fresh and crisp. Perfect for a steamy night in late August. My Dad loves Belgian beers and was more than excited when he took a peek at Beck's really quite phenomenal beer list. He made a plan to sample several varieties over the course of the evening and to start with a lighter Saison. I had a taste and it was light and delicious and reminded me of a Hefeweizen with a bit of spice. I got a bit or coriander and orange peel on the nose. Really a nice choice. Others arrived and we were seated at a table toward the back of the space. I was a little disappointed we were not in view of one of the flat-screen tv's throughout the restaurant that showcase the food going out to the restaurant, but no worries. We started off with a bottle of the Muscadet and my Dad went on to order one fo the three Rocheforts on the menu. This was darker and much more full-bodied. Very delicious though. We ordered a dozen oysters and this evening got four each of Miyagi, Gold Creek and Kumamoto. The Gold Creeks were quite large and creamy - nice but I prefer small, briny oysters generally speaking. The Miyagis and Kumamotos were more to my liking and fresh and delicious. I ordered the Spinach Salad with Caramelized Shallots, Blue Tag Cheese and Mustard Vinaigrette. The salad is quite large and also has a nice amount of egg and bacon bits and the vinaigrette it is served with is beautifully light and mustardy. I also had some of the Curry and Apple Mussels which were delicious. Others ordered the Napoleon of Vine Ripe Tomato with Pipe Dream Goat Cheese and Scallion Balsamic Dressing. It looked beautiful, and note for vegetarians the salad comes with a slice of dried meat as a garnish. The Frissee Salad with Lardons, Poached Egg and Sherry Vinaigrette also got a good review. All in all great food and drink and a really nice newish venue I'd recommend popping by when you can for sure.


Brasserie Beck
1101 K Street in NW DC

Friday, August 24, 2007

Dinner at Proof

Earlier this week I had the pleasure of returning to Proof, this time not just for wine but for dinner. It being late August, the place was fairly crowded but not nearly as cramped as it was when I was there about a month ago. We were seated at a cozy table near the back of the space and next to a window looking out onto G Street. Defintely a little distracting but a nice spot in the venue for sure. The menu is quite seasonal and prices are certainly not cheap but not super pricey either. Appetizers average $8 a piece, entrees comes in around $24 for the most part and sides are around $7. I do, however, think that the wine list is a bit pricey. There are no options by the glass under $9.50, and I just don't think you need to spend almost $10 to get a good glass of wine. It was a rare somewhat cool evening in August, so I broke the white wine trend I have been on and ordered a Cote du Rhone which was a nice red blend and fairly light as well which I always enjoy in the beginning of a meal. My friend had a Syrah which was quite a bit bigger than what I was having, but very tasty indeed. To start, at Proof diners receive toasted flatbread with a side of very creamy goat cheese with chopped cilantro and olive oil. The combination may sound a bit different but it actually works well. The goat cheese is very smooth and the consistency is more like a tartar sauce than a soft cheese. The flavors are all savory and a bit tart, which certainly gets the taste buds primed for the meal as well. I apparently needed to fill up on veg as I was most tempted by a starter of french green beans, tomatoes and Parmesan cheese, and also was in the mood for a side of bok choy. The green bean salad was really delicious - the green beans were tender but firm, the tomatoes gorgeous in their flavor and almost purple in color, and the Parmesan cheese was a nice nutty and rich flavor to end each bite with. The seasoning was good and the olive oil used was quite fruity and delicious. The bok choy was well-cooked and served with olive oil, salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes. A very simple preparation but one that works beautifully. My friend had roasted pork tenderloin served with a corn vegetable medley. The pork was cooked very well - a bit pink in the center and very tender - and the corn medley was actually quite sweet, which worked well with the flavor of the meat. I think there was a bit of sweet cream cooked in with the corn and red peppers. The presentation was nice as well - the pork was thickly sliced and arranged in a wheel sort of fashion atop a nice pile of the vegetable medley and the dish was garnished with chopped parsley. We finished with a cheese plate featuring a goat cheese, a blue and a Comte. The plate comes with thinly sliced and toasted raisin bread and golden raisins. A great way to end the meal for sure, and also a perfect pairing with more wine if you so desire. As to other food options, the menu offers several other salads to start as well as several different types of flatbread served with a variety of vegetables, fruits, cheeses and sauces. There is a sablefish entree which features a nice Asian preparation and miso sauce which looked very nice, and also a roast chicken which was appealing. I think we both enjoyed the dinner very much, but I do wish Proof would add a few inexpensive by the glass and bottle offerings to its wine list.


Proof
775 G Street in NW DC

Monday, August 20, 2007

Fabbioli Cellars

Just a quick plug for a winery I visited over the weekend. It's much smaller than any most of you probably have been to, but the wine is delicious and the setting quaint and really lovely. We tasted the Sunset Hills Vineyard 2006 Chardonnay, which unlike most Chardonnays is fermented in stainless steel and not oak, so the flavor is balanced with hints of floral, apple, pear and citrus. Really nice and refreshing. We also had the Fabbioli 2006 Chambourcin, Fabbioli 2006 Cabernet Franc, Fabbioli 2005 Tre Sorelle, and Fabbioli Raspberry Merlot. The Chambourcin was my favorite - really light and just fruity and yummy. Perfect for the cooler weather we had this past weekend. The Cabernet Franc was peppery but not overly so and was a bit hit among the Franc lovers. The Tre Sorelle is Fabbioli's signature offering, and was a bigger wine than the previous two reds, but still fruity on the nose and the palate and had a nice structure as well. The Raspberry Merlot is really a feat - it smells like ripe raspberries and is sweet but not overpoweringly so. Doug Fabbioli, the owner of the vineyard, serves this up with chocolate and it's a great match. If you have a group of 15 to 20, the porch on Doug's house is a perfect place for a celebratory gathering. Just be sure to call in advance. Currently the tasting room is open Fridays and Saturdays. Enjoy.


Fabbioli Cellars
15669 Limestone School Road in Leesburg, VA

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

No Corkage Fee at Dino, Revisited

The wine club went to Dino again for one of their no corkage fee nights, which until the end of the month is every Monday through Wednesday. A heads up that starting after Labor Day, the no corkage fee nights will be Tuesday and Thursday. Everyone brought a really great bottle, nice job folks. The bottles ranged from a 1990 red from Alsace to a gorgeous Ridge Zinfandel, several Syrahs and a couple of dry whites. We were seated in the back room in the upstairs area which makes for a cozy evening and is a great little mini-ambiance for a group of size. I ordered the usual fare for me. I split with two others the Tris di Crostini, which is crisp breads topped with one of heirloom tomato, ragusano cheese and pesto, or white bean and mushrooms. The flavors were nice, but there wasn't enough of each topping to really enjoy them. Not sure why they aren't doing the topping of bleu cheese and caramelized onions anymore either, but it was a nice way to start the meal nonetheless. Numerous other of the group ordered several appetizers and made it dinner. Favorites were Burrata, or Bufala Cheese air-freighted from Campania every Sunday & Thursday, and fresh ricotta stuffed fresh mozzarella, with olive & red pepper tapenades, oven tomatoes, olio, and basil; Antiapasti della Casa, or a meat and cheese plate featuring an assortment of marinated and grilled or roasted vegtgies, cured meats, and cheeses; Fiori di Zucca, or fried squash blossoms stuffed with smoked mozzarella, panko, spicy tomato coulis, and pesto; Polenta all’Estate, or summer polenta made with milk and grana with your choice of: grilled sausage in rich pomodoro or: pancetta or: roasted wild mushrooms (the sausage option seemed to be the favorite); and Crespelle con Pollo e Carciofi, or Dino's modern take on a traditional Tuscan crepe showcasing chicken, artichoke, roasted tomato, smoked mozzarella, pesto and tomato sauce. For my main I had Insalata di Fagioli e Farro 9Traditional Tuscan Grain & Bean Salad, with fava, borlotti and cannelini beans, peas, farro, roasted veggies and artichoke, lemon olio herb dressing and I topped it with grilled chicken. A fairly healthy and definitely satisfying option every time. I have never been on one of these outings when the group actually finishes the wine everyone brought, but then again I always tend to leave earlier than many folks. This night was no different, but I think a good time was had by all. Thanks again to Dino for another great evening.

Dino
3435 Connecticut Avenue in NW DC
http://www.dino-dc.com/

Monday, August 13, 2007

A Couple of Local Events

Wanted to share details regarding a couple of local events that sound fun for the foodies out there. Enjoy.


5 Million Burritos Sold Celebration
California Tortilla is celebrating selling its 5 millionth burrito this Wednesday, August 15. Apparently rigorous calculations have led to the conclusion that the 5 millionth burrito will be sold this Wednesday. At each California Tortilla location, the first 100 customers to purchase an entree on Wednesday will receive a commemorative t-shirt as well as a coupon for a free entree.
For locations and more information, check out http://www.californiatortilla.com/

La Dolce Vita at CakeBar
Indulge your taste buds with a sampling of luscious, sweet wines - from a rich, honeyed Sauterne to a crisp, refreshing ice wine. Rich pastries, carefully chosen to bring out the best notes of the wines, will be flavored with oranges, caramel and spices. And to balance your palette with something savory, a selection of artisan cheeses.
This event's featured Cake Cocktail is Orange Cream - orange cake layers squeezed between orange marmalade and orange creme fraiche frosting, all saturated with Grand Marnier.
Event Information
Sunday, September 9, 2007
3:00PM-6:30PM
Reflections Studio631 Pennsylvania Avenue SEWashington, DC 20003
1/2 block from the Eastern Market metro
Tickets: $25
Purchase tickets in advance via http://www.thecakebarandlounge.com/events.html

Friday, August 10, 2007

Quick and Easy Recipes

In “SUMMER Express: 101 Simple Meals Ready in 10 Minutes or Less,” the Minimalist column of the New York Times which was published on July 18, numerous simple and tasty recipes were set forth. Earlier this week The Times listed a few simple and tasty recipes suggested by readers in response to the article. I tried several of them, and a few favorites of mine include:

The Greek fried egg: Heat olive oil gently in a skillet with fresh oregano; fry eggs in it. Pour into a bowl and top with crumbled feta cheese and a handful of olives. Serve with country bread.
Bean-and-tuna salad: Good, olive-oil packed tuna is a must here: Combine two cups of cannellini beans, drained, with a minced red onion, a can of tuna, olive oil and salt and pepper as needed. Chopped sage is great in this, as are rosemary and basil.

Check it out if you get a chance...

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Restaurant Week Dinner at Sette Bello

I think Restaurant Week is a really great thing in that it gets folks out to new spots, and encourages trying new cuisines and thinking and talking about food. Since I dine out fairly often anyhow and also don't generally eat dessert, it isn't really the best deal for me. But I usually do at least one outing during each Restaurant Week. Last night I dined at Sette Bello in Clarendon, the sister restaurant to Sette Osteria in Dupont and Cafe Milano in Georgetown. Sette Bello may be my favorite of the three - it's casual and airy space lends itself to the fairly simple menu and the vibe is always upbeat. The Restaurant Week menu is actually quite generous in that you get four courses, each of a healthy size as far as portion goes. You start with a choice of Fiori di Zucca Ripieni con Salsetta al Pomodoro, or stuffed zucchini blossom with tomato sauce and field greens, or Vitello tonnato con Capperi, which is roasted veal in a tonnato sauce and Pantelleria capers. The zucchini blossoms got rave reviews. Then there is an interlude featuring Tagliolini con le Vave Pancetta e Pecorino, or tagliolini pasta with fava beans, pancetta and pecorino cheese. The fava beans were deliciously fresh and really a beautiful burst of green in the dish. Each dish was generally reviewed positively. For the entree, the two choices are Incontro di Agnello al Forno, or roasted lamb two ways with potatoes and aglianico red wine sauce, or Rana Pescatrice in Guazzetto di Zucchine e Patate, or monk fish with a zucchini and potatoes guazzetto. The dessert is Torta di ricotta con Salsa alla Vaniglia, or Italian-style ricotta cheese cake with vanilla sauce. The thick and rich ricotta made for a really tasty and filling dessert, for the few who had any more room left for more. I opted for my standard Calamari Panarea, or sauteed calamari with capers, olives and tomato for a starter, and had the Campagnola Salad, which features arugula and shaved fennel with pecorino Campano and lemon vinaigrette, and topped it with grilled chicken. We all enjoyed a few bottles of crisp Pinot Grigio with the meal. The service wasn't quite stellar, but we really enjoyed the other elements of the evening. A great choice for Restaurant Week for sure.


Sette Bello
3101 Wilson Boulevard in Arlington, VA

Monday, August 6, 2007

New Menu Items at Zorba's

Last time I was at Zorba's I took the opportunity to try a couple of the new items on their menu - the Terokafteree, or "Fire Feta," which is a spicy feta cheese spread served with two large pitas, and Melitzanosalata, or "Baba Ganouz," which is Zorba's take on the eggplant dip with olive oil, garlic and lemon juice which is served with pitas. Both are gorgeous. The Fire Feta really is hot though, so keep the bites on the smaller side. The Baba is fresh and creamy and a great addition to the menu. My favorite items are still the Hummus, Aegean Salad with Grilled Souvlaki Skewers (chicken or pork tenderloin), the Pizza Santorini (which is topped with tomato sauce, mozzarella, yero meat, feta cheese, fresh sliced tomatoes, red onions and Kalamata olives) and the Mousaka (layers of freshly pan-fried eggplant, potatoes, ground beef with herbs all baked with a top layer of bechamel sauce). Zorba's is fun and the food is tasty and inexpensive. Their patio is the perfect place to enjoy it all on a not too crazy hot summer's evening.


Zorba's
1612 20th Street in NW DC
www.zorbascafe.com

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Les Moules at Bistro du Coin

Wanted to pass along an idea for dining during the August heat - step inside the spacious and airy Bistro du Coin ("corner bistro") and cool off with a crisp glass of Sancerre or Sauvignon Blanc or perhaps one of the cold Belgian beers on tap, and order one of the varieties of moules, or mussels. If you haven't been, Bistro du Coin is a great go-to spot in that the food is usually very good, the place is almost always crowded and has a very upbeat vibe. When the weather permits, the front glass windows are opened and you really feel like you are in a busy bistro in Europe. I usually pair the mussels with a salad, but there are also heartier meat options - think Steak Frites, Foie Gras, Smoked Duck, Beef or Lamb Stew, Boeuf Bourgignon, Tartines and the like - should you choose to do a bigger meal. I enjoyed the Salade verte au Roquefort, or green salad with Roquefort cheese and walnuts and a slightly creamy house dressing, and went for my favorite of the mussel preparations - Moules au Pistou, or steamed mussels with pesto, prosciutto and French ham. I also had a few of the Moules Mariniéres, or steamed mussels in white wine with onions, shallots, and parsley. They were delicious as well but I really enjoy the pungent pesto and the salty ham with the creamy and tasty bi-valves. You can order any of the mussels dishes in a small or large size. The large size doesn't afford you too many more mussels but you do get a sizeable bowl of deliciously crisp and golden frites. Hope you make time to enjoy the food and vibe at Bistro du Coin sometime soon.

Bistro du Coin
1738 Connecticut Avenue in NW DC

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Proof, A New Wine Bar and Restaurant In DC

Some members of the wine club went to the new wine bar Proof last night. Located in the heart of Gallery Place on G Street, the space isn't much from the outside, but when you enter you are greeted with a minimalist and modern vibe with clean lines, white walls with little decor, largely tiled flooring and hues of medium-toned wood throughout. The bar area is just to your left and it seats around 10 and there are a couple of booths to relax on as well. The dining room is somewhat cozy and probably seats no more than about 100. Above the bar are several flat screen televisions which showcase portraits of various figures, new (such as Hilary Clinton) and old (George Washington), which actually seems a bit strange given the modern ambiance and the fact that they hang just above the cooling apparatus for all of the wines offered by the glass. The wine list is fairly extensive and there are around 30 options by the glass available in three pours (two, six, and eight and a half ounces) and claims of a 4,000-bottle wine cellar and champagne trolley. I found the options to be appealing generally, and enjoyed the Spanish Rioja I opted for throughout the evening, but I didn't see anything under $9 a glass and even in this day and age that seems a bit pricey. The group generally enjoyed the place and several folks ordered the cheese plate to snack on. The portions are small but the cheeses are beautiful and are paired with flatbread and jellied currants. Other menu options include small and large plates with options like tuna tartare, risotto, and mussel chowder. The food agenda is to hook the going-out crowd with the promise of an eventual late-night menu (grilled cheese, scrambled eggs). I would recommend stopping by for a glass of wine to check the space out, but be ready to pay a bit for the experience.


Proof
775 G Street in NW DC

Monday, July 30, 2007

Dinner at the District Chophouse and Brewery

Ahh, a rainy Friday evening - perfect for dinner at a steakhouse with a casual and fun vibe. If you haven't been, the District Chophouse and Brewery is a really great spot right in the heart of Gallery Place. The restaurant offers a fairly standard menu as far as steakhouses go, but I would think pretty much anyone could dine there and end up with a dish to their liking. The prices are a bit less than some of the other more "chi chi" steakhouses, and the somewhat casual ambiance goes along with this quite well. The Chophouse was crowded on Friday so we waited for a while at the long bar that spans the length of the restaurant on the left-hand side. The homemade beers on tap are actually generally very good, but most folks started with a cocktail or a glass of wine. We were seated at two nice tables toward the back of the venue, just by the stairs to the upper level which features a pool table and various other bar-type gaming options (which also is a great option for after a meal or just for passing time when in the neighborhood). Our table started with the ChopHouse Sampler, which arrives on three large tiers and features a selection of shrimp, fried calamari, onion rings, chicken tenderloins and grilled portobello mushrooms. Everything on the platter was quite tasty, and the various sauces that came with each item were delicious. The Asian-style apricot sauce with the calamari was gorgeous, and who doesn't like crispy fried chicken with creamy ranch. The onion rings were truly stellar, and absolutely huge. The outer layer of a couple of huge onions must be what is used to make them. The platter supposedly serves four, but if you are enjoying it pre-entree I think it can easily satisfy more like 6 to 8 folks. We enjoyed a crisp and refreshing Bollini Pinot Grigio fron Trentino with the appetizer platter. The acidity wasn't too strong but just enough to cut the greasy and delicious fried treats we paired with it. For my main I ordered the Chop Chop Salad Crisp which features greens tossed with smoked turkey, Gouda, roasted pumpkin seeds, sundried blueberries and avocado all tossed in an herb vinaigrette. The salad was quite large and satisfying and was perfect after the touch of fried food I started with. The addition of the pumpkin seeds and blueberries made for an interesting sweet yet also rich flavor and certainly added a nice dimension to the texture. I also had a small glass of a David Bruce Pinot Noir which was gorgeous - a great producer for sure and the Pinot is phenom. Most other folks ordered one of the varieties of steak, including Filet Mignon Oscar, or two grilled medallions served with asparagus, lump crab and Bearnaise sauce; Filet Mignon, or center cut beef tenderloin wrapped in bacon and served with a choice of Cabernetthyme jus or Wild Turkey® whiskey sauce; Pepper Crusted New York Strip, which is aged 16-ounce NY strip, crusted with cracked black peppercorns, sautéed and dressed in cognac cream sauce; and Tenderloin Tips and Mushrooms, or pan-seared tenderloin with mushrooms and balsamic Stout glaze. Everyone really seemed to enjoy the meal and the company as well as the wine and other drinks for sure. It really is a great spot for a rainy evening and will set you along the path to washing any blues away.


District Chophouse and Brewery
509 7th Street in NW DC

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Updated Happy Hour Menu at McCormick and Schmick's

McCormick and Schmick's is always a great happy hour spot, but on a recent visit I noted that the happy hour menu has expanded. The drink specials are still the same - $3 draft beer and $5 house wine and martinis. Instead of just $1.95 offerings for food, they now have some additional options for $3.95. No worries, the half-pound Cheeseburger or Cajun Burger with French Fries is still on the menu and for only $1.95, and you also can now have Spicy Black Bean Hummus with Pita Chips and Vegetables, Three Oyster Shooter, Blue Cheese Chips, or a Cheese Quesadillas. For an additional $2 you can enjoy tasty fare such as Steamed Mussels, Chicken Kebabs with an Maple Bourbon Glaze, Fish Tacos, Buffalo Wings or Southwest Fish Cakes with Sherry Mayo. Happy hour is available at the bar from 3:30 to 7pm on weekdays and after 9pm Tuesday through Thursday. Happy drinking and snacking...

McCormick and Schmick's
Various locations (my favorite is the one on 9th and F in NW DC)

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Vapiano

Folks from the wine group met last night at Vidalia for their complimentary wine tasting which is held each weekday from 5 to 7pm. Last night the tasting was held at the bar instead of at a communal table in the bar area. It made for a bit more cumbersome forays for the wine, but the tasting was great as usual. We had two Spanish wines - a dry Rioja and a delicious Monastrell (called Mourvedre in France). We also tasted a dry Rose from the Languedoc region in France, really nice and crisp. We were nearby the new Vapiano and had been curious to try it out, so it seemed like an appropriate next stop. Vapiano does happy hour 7 days a week until 8pm and offers various drink specials, including $2.50 house wine by the glass. The house white is a really refreshing and well-balanced Pinot Grigio, and the house red is a nice and fruity Merlot. The space is large and attractive with dim lighting, minimalist furniture, large tile flooring and an open kitchen on the dining side of the venue. You are given a Vapiano credit card for your stay and when you leave you just check out with the card and pay your tab. We ordered some wine and found a nice, large table just adjacent to where they make the salads. There are various spots along the kitchen for ordering various items such as salads and antipasti, pasta and pizza. If you order pizza you get an alarm of sorts that goes off when your pie is ready for you. I enjoyed the Insalata Mista, which comes in large and small sizes and offers extras such as turkey breast, filet of beef or scampi. The large size comes with vapiano leaf salad, cherry tomatoes, carrots, bell peppers, radishes, mushrooms, red and green onions (which I left off - almost never do onions), zucchini, cucumbers, rucola, mozzarella and Parmesan cheese. I added turkey as well and had the very creamy and tasty house dressing on the side. It was a really delicious and satisfying salad. Most folks did a pizza or a pasta. The Capricciosa Pizza was stellar - the crust is thin and crispy, the tomato sauce zesty and herbaceous, and it's topped with ham, mushrooms, artichokes, olives and lots of gooey mozzarella. For pasta, you pick the type of pasta or noodle you would like, and standout flavorings includes the Gorgonzola e Noci; or Gorgonzola and walnuts; Carbonara, or cream sauce, egg and bacon; the Tacchino Piccante, with turkey breast, orange-chili sauce, bok choi and bell peppers; and the Salsiccia Calabrese, with spicy Italian sausage, white beans and sun-dried tomatoes. Vapiano is a really fun and casual spot with inexpensive food and drinks, and it's a great place to relax with good company or even bring the paper and unwind a bit on your own. There also is a location in Ballston and there will be another in Chinatown which is set to open this winter.

Vapiano Dupont
1800 M Street in NW DC
www.vapiano.com

Monday, July 23, 2007

Key West Fest at Breaux Vineyards

This weekend Breaux Vineyards hosted their 2nd annual Key West Festival. The weather couldn't have been more gorgeous, and folks definitely took full advantage and enjoyed the food, wine and crowd while relaxing and playing outside. I am not always a huge fan of the wines at Breaux, but I enjoyed most of what I tasted on Saturday. Whites on offering were an '06 Jolie Blond, an '06 Viognier, an '05 Madelein's Chardonnay, and an '03 Barrel Select Chardonnay. They also had an '06 Syrah Rose, '02 Lafayette, '02 Meritage, '02 Cabernet Sauvignon, and two dessert wines - '06 Chere Marie and Sweet Evangeline. I really liked the crisp and refreshing quality of the Jolie Blond, and the Viognier was nice too - not much oak and more fruit on the palate. The Madeleine Chardonnay is one of the few I actually enjoy as it is aged in stainless steel as opposed to oak, and has a flavor akin to pears and an aroma of honeysuckle. I didn't do the reds, it was just more of a white wine weather day I suppose, but folks really enjoyed the Meritage. I also ran into Megan and her husband Matt from Wannabe Wino just after finishing up the tasting. (http://wannabewino.blogspot.com/). Food offerings ranged from steamed lobster to conch fritters, jerked chicken skewers, jambalaya, huge beef burgers with all of the fixings, pork porternouse with Caribbean salsa and kiddie plates featuring grilled hot dogs. Add a really fun and actually quite good Jimmy Buffett cover band fully decked out in Hawaiian shirts and other beach gear, and you have a great way to spend a Saturday for sure.


Breaux Vineyards
36888 Breaux Vineyards Lane
Purcelville, VA

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Great Wine Deals In The DC Area

Dining out is an enjoyable pasttime for most, but if you can do it more often and not overspend all the better. If you enjoy wine with your meals, that often can be the big ticket item on the bill. To that end, hopefully the list of wine deals in the area will be of use. Enjoy...


Great Wine Deals In and Around DC
Cafe Deluxe - Half-price bottles on Monday nights.
Caucus Room - Free corkage on Friday and Saturday nights.
Chef Geoff's - Half-price bottles on Monday nights.
Boulevard Woodgrill - half price bottles on Monday nights with purchase of an entree.
Iota - Half-price bottles and glasses on Monday night till 10pm.
Lavandou - Free corkage Monday and Tuesday nights.
Little Fountain Cafe - Half-price bottles on Wednesday nights.
Melrose Bar - Free corkage on Sunday nights.
Olazzo - Half-price bottles on Monday nights.
Peacock Cafe - Half-price bottles of wine under $60 on Monday andTuesday nights.
Skewers on P Street in Dupont - Half-price bottles on Monday nights.
Cafe Luna (below Skewers) - Half-price bottles on Tuesday nights.
Teatro Goldoni - Half-price bottles on weekdays until 7:30pm.
Rosemary's Thyme - Half-price bottles every day from 5pm (4pm on weekends) until 7:30pm.
Meze in Adams Morgan - Half-price bottles on Tuesday nights.
La Tasca - Half-price bottles on Sunday nights.
The Reef - Half-price bottles on Wednesdays with purchase of an entree and not available at the bar or on the roofdeck.
Sorisso - Half-price merlot on Monday.
Top of the Hill - Half-price bottles on Saturday nights.
Whitlows on Wilson - Half-price bottles on Wednesdays until 9pm.
Dino - Currently no corkage fee Mondays through Wednesdays.
Cafe Saint-Ex - $4 wine by the glass from 4 to 7pm on weekdays.
Piola - $3 wine by the glass from 4 to 8pm on weekdays.
Viridian - $5 house wines from 5 to 7pm on weekdays and all night on Tuesdays.
David Greggory - $4.75 house wines from 4:30 to 9:30pm on weekdays (4:30 to 6:30 on their patio).
Vidalia - Complimentary wine tasting, usually hosted by their esteemed sommelier, from 5 to 7pm on weekdays.
Bistro L'Epic - Complimentary wine tasting Tuesday evenings in the upstairs bar until 7pm.
Jack's Bar and Grill in Dupont - Half-price wine by the bottle on Thursday nights.
Lebanese Taverna - Half-price wine by the bottle on Monday nights.
Vapiano - Happy hour 7 days a week until 8pm with specials including $2.50 house wine by the glass.

Monday, July 16, 2007

More Tasty Summer Salads

It's hard to believe how fast this summer is going. All the more reason to take a step back and make time for some tasty and simple salads that celebrate the local bounty that is currently in season. Add some good company and perhaps some vino and enjoy.


Tomato and Watermelon Salad with Gorgonzola, Pine Nuts and Mint
2 cups balsamic vinegar
2 large, ripe tomatoes
1/4 medium watermelon
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon sugar
1/2 cup toasted pine nuts
1/2 cup crumbled gorgonzola cheese
Finishing sea salt
1/4 cup shredded fresh mint
Heat the balsamic vinegar in a small saucepan over low heat until the volume is reduced by half, 20 to 30 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature.
Core tomatoes and cut each one into four thin slices. You need eight slices total. Cut thin slices of watermelon in accordance with the size of the tomato slices, being careful to get rid of the rind. Arrange the watermelon and tomato slices on a plate. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and sugar.
Sprinkle pine nuts and gorgonzola over the watermelon and tomato stacks. Drizzle with balsamic reduction, zigzagging back and forth across the plate. Sprinkle each stack with a pinch of finishing salt and fresh mint.

Napa Cabbage Coleslaw with Miso Dressing
Note: You can turn this dish into a main by adding tofu or a grilled meat.
1 tablespoon yellow miso
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon honey
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
3 tablespoons canola oil
2 teaspoons sesame oil
6 cups thinly sliced Napa cabbage (about 1 large head)
3 medium carrots, shredded
4 green onions, sliced
1/2 cup sliced almonds
Whisk together miso, mustard, honey and rice vinegar in a large bowl. Slowly whisk in canola oil and sesame oil until well blended and emulsified. Add the cabbage, carrots, green onions, and almonds and toss to combine. Note: to save time, purchase the carrots and cabbage already shredded.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

No Corkage Fee at Dino

Dino is always a fabulous place for a glass of wine and a great meal, but during the summer they are waiving their corkage fee entirely from Monday through Wednesday, so it's all the more reason to plan a visit. We dined there earlier this week and had a really lovely evening. Most folks brought a bottle of red, but it was hot and steamy out, so I opted for a nice white Argentinian table wine. We decided to start with that and it was a great entree for the meal. The crisp and refreshing and still somewhat fruity taste was perfect for awakening the palate and also for pairing with Dino's rustic and usually very fresh and flavorful food. I shared the Tris di Crostini, which I also shared last time I was at Dino. It was great again, although instead of baguette they are now using Ciabatta, which makes for a bit more messy eating, but it still works superbly. The crusty pieces of bread are topped with either white bean and mushrooms; caramelized balsamico cippolini and blue cheese; or goat cheese, pesto and oven-roasted tomato. The mushroom and pesto combination is dynamite, and I really enjoy the tomato version as well. Dino also changed up the salads on offering, and added a new section to the menu - "La Griglia Toscana: The Tuscan Steakhouse." No one ordered from that portion of the menu this time, but it all looked delicious, just a bit heavy for my taste, especially on a summer evening. Options include a strip steak, a porterhouse, a ribeye and a rack of lamb. For my main, I had Insalata di Fagioli, or traditional Tuscan grain and bean salad. The salad features fava and borlotti and cannelini beans, peas, farro, roasted veggies and artichoke, and a light lemon olio herb dressing. I topped the salad with rotisserie chicken, which for $3 is a real deal and really makes the dish satisfying. The flavors melded together beautifully, and still going with the white table wine, all together it was a really lovely combination. Others enjoyed various of the pasta varieties, the Linguini al Pesto which comes with lots of veggies, potatoes, and pesto, being a standout. One of the specials that evening was squash blossoms stuffed with mozzerella and coated with panko bread crumbs, fried and served with a tangy and delicious tomato sauce. A real winner of a dish for sure. I tried a bite with a sip of an Argentinian Malbec and it was gorgeous. We all had a really nice, and thanks to no corkage fee relatively inexpensive yet delectable meal. I would recommend taking a break from the heat and enjoying an evening at Dino for sure.


Dino
3435 Connecticut Avenue in NW DC

Monday, July 9, 2007

Dinner at Axis Bar and Grill on U Street

Axis Bar and Grill is a rare true neighborhoody spot in the heart of the U Street area. The space is narrow with high ceilings, brick walls, a large and sturdy wooden bar and minimalist design features and furniture. The space feels relaxed and homey thanks to a friendly staff and a relaxed vibe amongst the staff and the patrons. A group of us dined at Axis over the weekend and had a really great experience. I have been to Axis several times before, but never for a full meal, so this was a treat for sure. We were seated on the small upstairs level which is only in the back portion of the space and thus overlooks the action on the main level. We started off with various libations ranging from the classic Manhattan to the more modern and fruity variety of cocktails. I shared a bottle of a quite crisp and refreshing Sauvignon Blanc, which was perfect for the hot and humid evening outside. We perused the somewhat brief yet pleasingly simple and more than ample menu while we settled in. The menu offers various starters, mains and sides, and is generally all-American fare with twists on ingredients and an upscale touch here and there. I decided to go with the Chef Salad, which for $8.50 is an absolute bargain. The salad arrives on a large oval platter topped with heaps of fresh Romaine lettuce, sliced tomatoes and cucumber, shredded cheddar cheese, hard boiled eggs, thily sliced mozzerella, strips of smoky ham and lots of gorgeous grilled chicken. The dressing is a creamy and delicious ranch. Other stars were various varieties of steak, most of which come with a heap of creamy mashed potatoes and sauteed vegetables, Fried Calamari, Long Island Roast Duck, Penne with Smoked Chicken and Tomato Sauce, and my hands down favorite - Baby Back Ribs. I only had one rib, but it was enough to flavor my palate for the rest of the evening. The sweet and smoky barbecue sauce was a perfect match to the moist and rich meat, and delicious caramelized bits of goodness made for a gorgeous mouthfeel. It was a perfect little added decadence to my mostly healthy meal, and the meaty rib was gorgeous with my crisp wine. Axis also has a few dessert offerings, all of which were tempting, but we finished up with our drinks and lingered a bit to end the dinner portion of the evening. Axis also offers a bar menu with around six options, all around $5 to $8, and which includes various wraps and other tasty small plates, and does happy hour until 7pm on weekdays. It's a great spot with a simple but nice wine list, about 10 beers on tap, reliable food, and it's great to have it in the neighborhood.


Axis Bar and Grill
1340 U Street in NW DC