Tuesday, January 30, 2007

New Spot in the Neighborhood

I went to Whole Foods after work last night and walked most of the way home from there, but it was just too cold to finish the trip, so I stopped in for a second time at Axis Bar and Grill. It's a delightful new spot on U Street between 13th and 14th. It feels homey and neighborhoody and it seems to promote taking a load off and just hanging out. Axis is in a large renovated row house and the decor is simple and refined. When you walk in the long bar is in front of you and there is seating to your right, beyond the bar and on a second level. Lighting is dim and hues are of silver and dark wood. There are two flat-panel tv's above the bar which are perfect for watching newsy shows after work on a weekday, or sports on the weekends. I came in really just for a quick glass of wine, and opted to go with the house pinot noir. It was velvety, smooth and well-balanced. The wine list is well-thought out and not expensive. I noticed a Heron Syrah, which is a nice bottle, as well as an offering from Joel Gott, which is one of my favorite wineries. Rob, the bartender, is really friendly and sweet, and if you ask him for his opinion on the wine offerings he is happy to share. Axis also boats about 10 beers on tap. I wasn't interested in food last night, but thanks to new friend Gamal I got to try the calamari with lemon and olive strips which comes garnished with flat-leaf parsley. The calamari were firm and tender but not chewy, and the breading was really light so you actually got a nice taste of the squid. Gamal and his friend also shared a beef wrap which is beef, tomato, mushrooms and white sauce rolled in flatbread, and reviews were good. The roll is served with a small mixed green salad. The calamari and beef roll are on Axis' bar menu which is about seven items mostly priced around $5. The larger menu has a nice selection of salads, fish, and meats, including ribs and a nice selection of steaks. I promised to try food next time I stop in, and am looking forward to doing so and to having Axis in the neighborhood.

Axis Bar and Grill
1340 U Street in NW DC

Sunday, January 28, 2007

The Best Hummus Ever

While spending time with an Aunt and Uncle (such a lovely couple) at my Dad's house yesterday, we enjoyed a pre-dinner snack of amazing hummus with grilled whole wheat pita and chopped peppers, carrots and celery. As Rachael Ray would say, yummo! If you know me, I have more than a bit of a penchant for hummus, and this recipe yields a hummus with a thick and rich consistency as well as a lot of delicious flavor. The lemon juice really makes the flavors pop, and the touch of salt helps everything come together. Give it a whirl, it really is a quick and tasty recipe worth making and enjoying at home.

16 ounce can chick peas, drained, reserve some of the liquid
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil
6 tablespoons of tahini
5 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 to 2 cloves garlic, mashed
1/2 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
1 bunch of fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley, chopped
Dash of dried paprika
Combine chick peas, 1/2 cup olive oil, tahini, lemon juice, garlic and salt in a food processor or blender until smooth. Add a small amount of the reserved juice from the chick peas if mixture is too dry. Transfer to a serving dish and drizzle with remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil and parsley. Add a dash of paprika for color and enjoy. Great with grilled pita and chopped veggies, and a nice red wine too.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Easy Home Cooking

If this chilly weather is making you long for a cozy, warm evening at home, with an easy yet delicious dinner, try these recipes. Even though the main is a chicken dish, with the bread it makes it semi-hearty. Add a nice fire and a tasty bottle of wine and all is right with the world.

Chicken with Roasted Lemons and Rosemary
5 large lemons
Kosher or sea salt
8 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 baguette (preferably whole wheat but sourdough is fine too)
Freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary leaves
2 cups of low-sodium (if you can find it) chicken broth, reduced by half over medium heat
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley
Preheat the broiler. Cut the very end of each lemon off and then cut in half crosswise. Arrange the lemons, flesh side up, in an oven-safe, preferably glass baking dish, and season with salt. Broil 6 inches or more from the heat until browned and soft, about 10 minutes. Cool slightly. Squeeze the lemon halves over a sieve or catch any seeds with your hands while you juice the lemons. Discard the lemon peels.
Reduce oven temperature to 425 degrees. Season chicken with salt and pepper. Heat the olive oil in a large ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat until hot. Add the chicken, lower the heat to medium, and cook, turning once, until brown on both sides, about 5 minutes. Remove chicken to a plate or baking sheet. Slice the baguette into 1/2 inch slices and arrange in on lightly greased (you can use butter, extra virgin olive oil or cooking spray) baking dish. Season the bread with a few pinches each of salt and pepper. Arrange the chicken breasts on top of the baguette slices and place in the oven until the chicken is cooked through, about 10 to 15 minutes. Let sit for a few minutes once removed from the oven, and toss a bit so the pan juices are absorbed into the bread slices.
In a non-stick skillet on medium-high heat, add the garlic and rosemary, and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add 1 cup of chicken broth and reserved lemon juice. Stir and scrape up all the browned bits that cling to the bottom and sides of the pan, and then add the remaining 1 cup broth. Bring to a simmer, stir in parsley and season to taste with salt and pepper. Pour the sauce over the chicken and baguette slices and serve immediately, garnished with rosemary sprigs.
Sauteed Brussel Sprouts with Maple Bacon
1 pound of brussel sprouts
3 strips of maple-flavored bacon, roughly chopped
Kosher or sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Arrange the brussel sprouts in a microwave safe dish and microwave on high heat for 5 minutes. Heat a large skillet to medium high heat and add the chopped bacon. Reduce heat to medium and cook until the bacon is lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Add the microwaved brussel sprouts and turn with the bacon to mix evenly. Add a generous pinch of both salt and pepper. Cook together for 3 to 5 minutes. Serve with a nice Argentinian Malbec which can pick up the earthy elements in the chicken dish as well as the sweetness from the bacon in this one, and enjoy.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Tapas and Wine on Monday Night

My friend Steph and I had been meaning to catch up and ended up doing so yesterday evening at Jaleo in Penn Quarter. Always a favorite of mine, it was somewhat slow last night, and it was nice to have plenty or room to dine and chit chat at the bar. Service is almost always friendly and well-timed, and was no different last night. I started the evening with a glass of Higueruela, which was a really nice blend made mostly of granacha. The nose was of underripe cherries, or fruity but not too fruity, and the finish was velvety and delicious. An easy-drinking wine, this would go with most items on Jaleo's extensive menu. Steph got a glass of red sangria which comes with a nice amount of fruit but avoids being too sweet or syrupy. We started off with Tortilla con Calabacines y Queso, or a traditional Spanish omelet with squash, caramelized onions and cheese. The omelet was moist and the caramelized onions and creamy cheese gave it a really rich taste. The squash was zucchini which was finely slivered and gave the dish a bit of pretty green color throughout. For my main, I had Pollo al Ajillo con Salsa Verde, or grilled chicken with green sauce. The chicken was served in nice size chunks of breast meat, and was moist and well-seasoned. The green sauce was somewhat like a pesto but tasted like it had a bit of sherry or balsamic vinegar added to it. It went perfectly with the chicken. Steph had Vieiras con Romesco, or scallops with Romesco sauce. The scallops were tender and lightly browned on each side, and not at all chewy or overdone. Romesco sauce is usually made with made with tomatoes, chile, almonds and/or hazelnuts, and olive oil, and last night's version was slightly sweet and had a tanginess that matched nicely with the richness of the scallops. There were a couple of specials that I wanted to try as well, such as Melon con Jamon Y Vinegreta de Jerez, which is Serrano ham with cantaloupe and sherry vinegar, which makes sense if you read my blog regularly as I have a bit of a penchant for pairing wrappable meats such as prosciutto and ham with fruits and veggies. But, after sharing the omelet and enjoying our mains, we just finished up our drinks and called it an evening. A nice way to start the week for sure.

Jaleo (Penn Quarter location)
480 7th Street in NW DC

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Hearty and Warm Stew for a Chilly Winter Day

It's just a tiny bit cold outside today. Why not take some time to relax and make a hot, comforting soup? This Italian Vegetable and Beef Stew is simple to make, and will warm you through and through. Enjoy.

Italian Vegetable and Beef Stew
1 pound lean ground beef
1 large clove garlic, crushed
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
28 ounces (usually 2 cans) beef broth
14 ounces (usually 1 can) Italian-style stewed tomatoes, undrained, with tomatoes broken up with your hands
1 cup sliced carrots
16 ounces (1 can) cannellini (white kidney) or Great Northern beans, rinsed, drained
1 medium zucchini, cut lengthwise in half and crosswise into 1/4-inch thick slices
2 cups torn spinach leaves
1 bunch of Italian flat-leaf parsley, chopped
Generous handful of grated Parmesan
Heat large saucepan over medium heat until hot. Add ground beef and garlic; brown 4 to 5 minutes, breaking beef up into medium-size crumbles. Pour off drippings. Season beef with pepper and salt. Stir broth, tomatoes and carrots into beef. Bring to a boil; reduce heat to low. Simmer, uncovered, 10 minutes. Stir in beans and zucchini, and continue to cook for about 5 minutes or until zucchini is crisp-tender. Remove from heat; stir in spinach. Garnish with chopped parsley and Parmesan cheese.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Divine and Delicious Dinner at Dino

Don't you love when you have a really tasty dinner as well as a lovely evening, and it doesn't even end up being spendy? Such was the case last night when friends and I dined at Dino, self-described as a rustic Italian restaurant and enoteca featuring simply prepared dishes from local ingredients along with reasonably priced and really good wines. An apt description for sure. Warm lighting and romantic hues of brown and orange greet you upon entering the restaurant, which appears quite small but actually has an upstairs level which can seat around 100 or so. When you are seated, a large rustic style bowl filled with fleur de sel, or sea salt, as well as salt and pepper which come in large and pretty silver and copper dispensers respectively, greet you at the table. Dino offers diners two wine lists, one which reads like a book and includes all of the offerings, and another less-intimidating list which breaks down most of the selections by body style. I initially ordered a bottle of Sant’Antonio Valpolicella 2005, which they were out of, so I opted instead for a delicious sounding Cusumano (Nero) d’Avola Sicilia 2005, which also was in the food-friendly category described as "Delightful: Rich, Straightforward, Friendly, Gulpable." If you know me, the gulpable quality is a perfect match. The wine was well-balanced and fruit-forward but still slightly earthy. Others opted for more expensive selections, such as an Argiano Montetalcino, which was described a "delicious" and "superb." Currently, you can order off Dino's regular menu, or go with a three course extended Restaurant Week menu, which, if you eat all three courses, is a great deal as Dino is quite liberal with what is on offering for each course. I don't really eat dessert, and after the expensive Mie N Yu experience, I decided to order off of the regular menu. I started with Funghi e Gorgonzola, which is wild mushrooms sauteed to perfection with slightly melted and deliciously gooey Gorgonzola cheese. The mushrooms were lightly coated in oil and still fairly firm, and absolutely heavenly. Their earthy quality brought out the same note in the wine and was a lovely match. Amy had a cheese course, which comes with candied walnuts, a fruit paste and and raisin bread and which she raved about, and others had various salads, all of which looked delicious. The Timbale di Farro, a composed grain salad of farro with sliced veggies, artichoke and lemon olio herb dressing, had special eye appeal and was crisp and tasty. For my entree, I had Acciuga, a salad which features long and crisp leaves of romaine lettuce with black pepper and anchovy dressing and also comes with grilled Tuscan bread. The lettuce was super fresh, the dressing peppery, tangy and only slightly creamy. The chicken was moist and had an herb rub which included parsley and oregano and was delicious. A nice amount of Parmesan cheese sprinkled over the dish added a creamy and salty note. For $10, the salad is a deal, and perfect for dinner when paired with an appetizer or dessert. Several friends enjoyed Pappardelle ai Cinghiale, wild boar pasta with a traditional Tuscan sauce of boar, onions, herbs and Pecorino cheese. I had a small taste and the dish was meaty and had a nice kick. I especially enjoy wide, flat noodles such as pappardelle and with this dish in particular they worked well with the hearty and rich sauce. For dessert, I enjoyed my vino, and Amy, similarly inclined, sampled one of Dino's dessert wines, while several others had a cheese course. Two folks opted for Dolce Firenze, which is bread pudding with pumpkin spice and topped with crema and cranberry maple sauce, and which looked beautiful and as though the pudding was cooked in a very large muffin pan. Another friend had Tiramisu, which looked creamy and delicious. My neighbor had Crostata, a rustic fruit tart with a crumbly butter crust and served with gelato. Dino really is divine and delicious, and a perfect choice for a group or a romantic, cozy dinner for two. I hope you try it for yourself, be it for the first or nth time.

3435 Connecticut Avenue in NW DC

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Wine Lover's Pantry

If you are like me, you try to enjoy your meals with a nice glass (or two) of wine. Certain ingredients bring out the various flavors in wine, such as notes of butter, cinnamon, clove, earth, and spice. These ingredients are handy to have on-hand at home for both quick, weeknight meals as well as for more elaborate occasions. Simple dishes, such as Whole Wheat Linguini with Cauliflower Sauce, and Caramelized Shallots (recipes follow), that incorporate these ingredients, work perfectly with a range of wines. Enjoy.

Always Have On Hand
Kosher salt
Dijon mustard
Freshly ground black pepper
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Fresh lemons
Balsamic vinegar
Particularly Good with Red Wines
Dried thyme
Dried oregano
Dried rosemary
Magical Matches with Wine
Caramelized onions with chopped, fresh sage
Manchego cheese
Pine nuts
Corn (fresh, frozen - any variety)
Dates or figs wrapped in prosciutto

Whole Wheat Linguini with Cauliflower Sauce
1 pound whole-wheat linguini
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 red onion, finely chopped
1 head cauliflower, stem removed and chopped
3 cups chicken stock
4 sprigs fresh rosemary, leaves stripped and finely chopped
1 pinch of dried thyme
1 cup grated Romano
8 ounces of Manchego
Kosher salt
Black pepper
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add 3 generous pinches of salt and pasta and cook to al dente. Drain. For the sauce, add the olive oil to a large, deep skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and cook 3 minutes, then remove (otherwise garlic may burn). Add onions and cook 5 minutes, and then add cauliflower, 1 cup of chicken stock and the rosemary and thyme. Cover the pan and cook 15 minutes. Uncover the sauce, add 1 to 2 cups of remaining chicken stock and mash the cauliflower with the back of a wooden spoon or potato masher. Add the pasta and Romano cheese to the cauliflower and toss to combine. Season the dish with salt and pepper, grate the Manchego over the dish and serve.

Caramelized Shallots
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1.5 pounds fresh shallots, peeled, with roots intact
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 bunch of fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley, chopped
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Melt the butter in a large, ovenproof saute pan, add the shallots and sugar, and toss. Cook over medium heat for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the shallots start to brown. Add the vinegar, salt, and pepper and toss to coat well. Place the saute pan in the oven and roast for 15 to 30 minutes, depending on the size of the shallots, until they are tender. Season with salt and pepper to taste, sprinkle with parsley, and serve.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Food and Dining on Public Television, and Neighborhood Eats

I recently saw three great documentaries on public television - "The Meaning of Food," "A Hot Dog Program" and "Hamburger America," which are about eating at various spots across the country and the related lore and history, as well as the way food plays a central role in our cultural, familial and everyday lives. If you are not able to find the shows on tv, you can rent the dvd's. I also recently came across a program regarding eating and drinking spots in the DC area, and it is quite well done. Check your local programming for air times, or you can view the entire program online via the link below. Venues include DC's Ben's Chili Bowl and Busboys and Poets, Rockville's Cuban Corner and Urban BBQ, Vienna's Sunflower Vegetarian, late night at Pizza Mart in Adams Morgan, Alexandria's The Evening Star Cafe, and Arlington's Lost Dog Cafe - it is really cute.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Restaurant Week Dinner at Mie N Yu

Ahh, another tasty and indulgent meal this week, thanks to Restaurant Week. Last night, friends and I went to Mie N Yu in Georgetown for dinner. The restaurant invites you to indulge your senses with the sights and sounds of “A Silk Road Celebration," offering contemporary American cuisine with flavors from Asia, the Middle East, North Africa, and the Mediterranean. You walk into the space through textured off-white curtains, and upon entering you really do feel transported to a more exotic locale than M Street. The bar offers great and interesting cocktails, albeit for a steep price, and usually is fairly full. Last night it was at capacity but actually imbued a level of energy which lent itself to pre-dinner drinks and to anticipating the tasty treats yet to come. After a couple of rounds of drinks, we were seated in the restaurant's upstairs area, which probably usually is reserved only for private events. After ordering a glass of Terrazas Malbec from the restaurant's fabulous yet expensive wine list, we studied the menu and placed our order. I started with the Grilled Romaine Caesar Salad. The salad was definitely not grilled, but the lettuce was super fresh and I enjoyed the nice amount of Parmesan cheese and the Miso Caesar dressing which was peppery, creamy and delicious. Amy ordered the Boston Bibb Salad, which came with walnuts, oranges, grapes and blue cheese, and looked pretty, but the portion was quite small. Others opted for the Barbecue Lamb Egg Rolls, which came with kimchee (a Korean pickled vegetable mix), and Smoked Salmon Bruschetta, both of which were tasty. For my entree I ordered Shanghai Shrimp with Snow Peas and Rice Noodles. The shrimp were delicious and cooked perfectly, but the sauce was a bit sweet and tangy for my taste. I don't really eat carbs (just think they are filler and don't offer much taste) and so for the most part ate the shrimp and picked out the snow peas, carrots and red peppers slices which were cut into nice, thin strips. Amy ordered the Braised Short Ribs, which were delicious. Think melt-in-your-mouth pot roast cooked all day with a sauce which had a fabulous essence thanks to the slow-roasted meat. Others went for the Jumbo Lump Crab Cakes, which actually consisted mostly of crab meat, instead of filler and such as often can be the case, and were fabulously flavored with a bit of mustard, mayo and herbs. The Miso Marinated Black Cod came with a sauce made primarily of coconut milk and was well-seasoned and was pretty to the eye, but the portion was tiny. I don't really eat dessert, so I gave my Tiramisu to the table to enjoy, but I did have a bite and the crust was deliciously firm and tasted of pure bittersweet chocolate, and the espresso flavor was strong but not overpowering. Amy and a couple others ordered the chocolate cake for a $5 upcharge, and it was amazing. It was presented with a slice most of the way through the circular creation which revealed a molten center, and the cake was topped with a rich fudge sauce. I had a tiny bite and it was delicious. All in all a very good meal, albeit a bit expensive thanks to the pricey wine list.

Mie N Yu
3125 M Street in NW DC

Friday, January 12, 2007

Slow Weekend Cooking

Hopefully everyone has Monday off as it is a Federal holiday, and is looking forward to the long weekend. I know I am :) If you will have some down time, why not take a long, leisurely trip to the market, and allow yourself to be inspired by what looks fresh, and create a fun meal to help you relax and unwind. Here are several recipe ideas inspired by recent trips to the market, and which would be perfect for a healthy and delicious meal during this long weekend.

Prosciutto-Wrapped Zucchini with Balsamic Vinegar
6 zucchini, each about 8 inches long
Kosher salt
Freshly ground pepper
24 thin slices prosciutto
1 1/2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
1 cup of aged balsamic vinegar, or regular balsamic reduced over medium heat by one-half
Trim the ends from the zucchini and cut into quarters lengthwise. Season with salt and pepper. Wrap each piece tightly in prosciutto. Heat the olive oil in a large saute pan over medium heat until hot. Add the zucchini and saute until the prosciutto is crispy but the zucchini is still almost raw, about 5 minutes. Arrange the spears on a large plate or platter and sprinkle with the balsamic and serve with a small bowl of the remaining vinegar in the middle of the zucchini.

Roasted New Potatoes with Bacon
2 pounds red new potatoes
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon dried oregano
4 strips of bacon - maple or sage flavor works nicely
1 bunch of fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley, chopped
Kosher salt and pepper, to taste
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Heat a medium non-stick skillet to medium/high heat, and add the bacon. Cook until browned. Remove the bacon and drain on several paper towels. Let cool for a few minutes, and chop the bacon into strips about 1/2 inch in diameter. Discard half of the fat from the bacon, and leave the rest in the skillet. In a large bowl, coat potatoes with oil; sprinkle with oregano, salt and pepper, and add back the bacon bits. Add the potatoes to the skillet and cook for 2 to 3 minutes on medium heat. Transfer to a baking dish and spread out and bake uncovered at 375 degrees for 30 to 40 minutes or until golden. Add the chopped parsley just before serving.

Baked Salmon with Corn and Dried Cranberries
4 fillets of salmon
4 cups of yellow corn (use fresh, or frozen is ok but let thaw or microwave until room temperature)
2 cups of dried cranberries
1 bunch of Italian flat-leaf parsley
5 tablespoons of your favorite barbecue sauce
1/2 cup of chicken or vegetable stock (low-sodium if you can find it)
1/2 cup chopped almonds
Kosher salt
Black pepper
Cooking spray
Aluminum foil
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. With the foil, make four packets large enough to easily enclose a fillet of salmon and corn while baking. Spray the inside of each packet with cooking spray. In each packet, add a cup of corn, a fillet of salmon, a generous sprinkle of both salt and pepper, 1 tablespoon of barbecue sauce and a quick pour (about 1 tablespoon) of stock. Enclose each foil packet so it is sealed and place in the oven for about 15 to 20 minutes, depending on your oven and how you prefer your salmon. Carefully open each foil packet and remove the salmon fillet. Plate the corn on a platter and add the cranberries and arrange the salmon fillets on top of this mixture. Sprinkle with the chopped parsley and almonds, and drizzle with the remaining barbecue sauce for eye appeal. Enjoy with a light-bodied red wine such as Pinot Noir.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Restaurant Week Dinner at Urbana

As you probably are aware, this week is the first restaurant week of the year (there also is one every August). Last night a group of friends and I enjoyed a lovely dinner at Urbana, which opened several months ago in the Hotel Palomar in Dupont. The ambiance is fantastic - dim lights, lots of candles, hues of dark greens and redwood, and multiple stations set up throughout the restaurant showcasing some of the offerings on the wine list. It's really perfect for either a cozy dinner for two or a larger group looking for a fun place to do dinner out.

When you walk in you first encounter the restaurant's bar, which is narrow and spans the length of the space. There are a few couches and chairs in the bar area, which are perfect for enjoying the recently introduced "Aperitif Hour" which is Urbana's version of happy hour and features select beers, house wines and snacks for about half-off. Last night we met for a drink in the bar and then sat down for dinner. You had a choice of ordering off the regular menu or doing the prixe fixe. I have had a few items from the regular menu, such as delicious wood-fired oven pizza topped with four cheeses or pears and gorgonzola cheese, as well as a superb heirloom tomato salad during the late-summer, but on this occasion I chose to go with the restaurant week menu. I chose a starter of a fried polenta cake topped with fresh mozzerella and served with a side of mesculun greens. The polenta cake was delicious, and was tender on the inside with a firm and crunchy crust. The crust was the color of dark wheat and was really just appealing to the eye. The mozzerella complemented the crunchiness of the cake beautifully, and the greens were a nice cut to the richness of the cheese and the strong corn flavor of the polenta. For an entree there was a choice of sablefish or spaghetti with lamb meatballs, and it being a cold evening, I was in the mood for something hearty and went with the pasta. The meatballs were seasoned perfectly, and had lingering notes of rosemary and oregano. The sauce was essentially the rich essence of the lamb and was just right. I think I would have preferred if the dish was served with wider, flatter noodles, such as tagliatelle, but the spaghetti worked well. For dessert I had creme brulee. I really don't have a sweet tooth at all and so just had a bite and offered the rest to my tablemates, but reviews were all glowing. The brulee was served in a fairly large, dark brown oval baking dish which made for a nice presentation as the color of the burnt top of the brulee looked beautiful in the rich brown dish. I paired a few glasses of Sangiovese with dinner and it worked well with each dish. I prefer red wine with most food and so don't usually go by the rule of thumb that you should have white wine when eating light-colored food, but the wine really was a nice complement to everything including the polenta. I think Urbana is a great everyday place to pop into for a glass of wine at the cozy bar, especially during Aperitif Hour, and also a perfect spot for a more special occasion.

2121 P Street in NW DC

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

Pizza and Vino

Bread and butter, pita bread and hummus, beer and watching the game, chips and salsa - some things just go together right? Pizza and wine is one of my favorite combinations, and a nice red usually works fabulously. On a recent visit to Sette Osteria in Dupont, my friend Lisa and I enjoyed the Al Funghi pizza which features Sette's fabulous crust (born of the restaurant's wood-fired ovens) as well as tangy yet sweet tomato sauce with a nice balance of Italian herbs, mozzerella, and oven roasted seasonal wild mushrooms. The gooey cheese matches the woodiness of the mushrooms perfectly, and the sauce provides notes of oregano as well as a bit of acid to cut the luscious richness of the cheese. I enjoyed a couple of glasses of Sangiovese, which for me always works especially well with pizza. Having already been to happy hour and had a few drinks, my friend Lisa opted to just do a few sips of a Valpolicella, which I tried as well (and finished) and which also was a nice match with the pie.
Of note, I found out Sette Osteria does happy hour weekdays from 4 to 6pm. On offer are several options of house wine, including Sangiovese, Piedirossa, Negro Amaro, Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio, all for $4.50 a glass, as well as pizza for $7 and calamari for $6, can I say delicious deal? Yum!

Sette Osteria
1666 Connecticut Avenue at R Street in NW DC

Monday, January 8, 2007

Fun and Hearty Bites for Tonight's BCS Championship

If you will be watching tonight's game at home, why not make a couple of easy, filling appetizers and enjoy with a bottle of wine or two, perhaps in lieu of the usual beer, chips and other typical game fare. (If you are going out for the game, check out Cityguide's 2007 nominees for the area's best sports bar - http://cityguide.aol.com/washington/bestsportsbars/). The action starts after 8pm eastern time, so after a quick trip to the market, turn on the pre-game and relax at home with a glass of wine while you prepare the snacks.

Prosciutto-Wrapped Asparagus with Balsamic and Parmesan
8 ounces of prosciutto
12 ounces of asparagus spears
1/2 cup aged balsamic vinegar, or 1 cup of everyday balsamic vinegar reduced by one-half in a saucepan cooked on medium heat
Kosher or sea salt
Black pepper
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
Trim the ends of each asparagus spear by bending each stalk and letting it break naturally. Microwave the spears on high heat for approximately 4 to 5 minutes, or until the stalks are firm but tender on the inside. Dunk the spears in a bowl of ice water to arrest the cooking and let sit in the water for about 30 seconds. Dry the spears on a kitchen towel. Wrap each stalk of asparagus with a slice of prosciutto, starting on one end and working up to the opposite side. For thinner or shorter stalks, use half a slice of prosciutto. Arrange the wrapped strips in a wheel sort of fashion on a large plate or serving platter. Sprinkle with a pinch of salt and pepper. Drizzle the balsamic over the asparagus and srinkle with the Parmesan.

Parmesan Pita Crisps
6 to 8 mini whole wheat pita breads
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
2 teaspoons minced fresh parsley leaves
1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Pinch of kosher or sea salt
1 cup grated Parmesan
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cut each pita bread in half horizontally. In a small bowl, cream the butter with a rubber spatula or wooden spoon. Add the parsley, garlic, rosemary, oregano, nutmeg, cayenne and salt and mix well. Spread the mixture across each pita round. Sprinkle the top of each evenly with a heaping tablespoon of the cheese. Transfer to a large baking sheet and bake until golden brown, 5 to 7 minutes. (The strips will continue to crisp as they cool.) Serve with sliced carrots and celery and your favorite hummus, baba ghanouj or tzatziki dip. Delicious with a light- to medium-bodied red wine, such as a Pinot Noir or Malbec.

Marinara Chicken Wings
1 dozen chicken wings or 2 dozen drumettes
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 tablespoons garlic powder
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
1/2 teaspoon dred oregano
1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 cup of your favorite marinara sauce
1/2 teaspoon hot sauce (to taste)
3 or 4 large basil leaves, finely chopped, for garnish
1 bunch of fresh parsley, chopped, for garnish
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. If using whole wings, disjoint wings and remove tips so you have 24 drumettes. In a large bowl, toss the chicken with oil, 1 teaspoon garlic powder, salt and pepper. Arrange on a rack in a baking pan. Roast chicken until done, about 20 to 30 minutes. Meanwhile, in a mixing bowl combine the marinara sauce, hot sauce, Italian seasoning, oregano and remaining garlic powder. When wings are done, remove from the oven, and toss wings with half the sauce. Leave oven on. Return wings to oven for 10 minutes more. Sprinkle the wings with parsley and basil, and serve with the remaining sauce on the side to dip the wings into. A side of your favorite ranch dressing is a nice complement as well. Delicious with a hearty red wine such as a Cabernet or Syrah.

Sunday, January 7, 2007

Fabulous Foodie

In case you aren't familiar with Nigella Lawson, wanted to point out her show on the Food Network, "Nigella Feasts," which airs on Sundays at 1pm eastern time. I first started watching her years ago when she had a show on BBC. Her recipes are fabulous, and I find the pleasure she takes in cooking and eating infectious. She also has written a few great cookbooks, including "How To Be A Domestic Goddess," and she writes a column in The New York Times. She did a few healthy and absolutely gorgeous dishes on the show that aired today, including citrus yogurt, antioxidant fruit salad, Vietnamese shrimp and noodle salad, and baby spinach, avocado and pumpkin seed salad.
A link to more information and recipes is below.

Saturday, January 6, 2007

Circa - New Spot Due to Open in Dupont

Circa at Dupont is the new restaurant moving into the former WrapWorks space on Connecticut Avenue at Q Street, NW, as early as next March. The restaurant will be part coffee shop, part restaurant and part bar. A menu posted in windows of the new space showcases small and medium sized plates with a multitude of foreign influences as well as a wine list with over 50 bottles and a full bar. The mind behind the restaurant's offerings is Munehiro Mori, a chef whose resume includes stints at Asia Nora and Wolfgang Puck's Chinois restaurant in Vegas. In the mornings, the restaurant will act as a coffee shop with table service. Should be a great addition to the dining options in north Dupont.

Friday, January 5, 2007

$1 Oyster Happy Hour at Hank's Oyster Bar

Hank's Oyster Bar in Dupont recently introduced a $1 oyster happy hour from 5:30 to 6:30pm, Sunday through Friday. On a recent visit, there were 6 types of oysters on offer, and 3 were available at happy hour prices (the rest are the regular price of $2 each). Olde Salt (VA), Penn Cove (WA), and Blue Point (MD) were each $1 a piece, and available for $2 each were Island Creek (MA), Stellar Bay (BC), and Kumamoto (CA). I tried a selection of the happy hour oysters, all of which were fantastic and super fresh. The Olde Salts were of small to medium size, tasted purely briny and really yielded that fabulous essence of the sea flavor. The Penn Coves were of large size, deliciously briny and ended with a definite creamy note. The medium-sized Blue Points also were creamy and not as briny as the Penn Coves. I think oysters are best enjoyed with just lemon juice and perhaps a dab of hot sauce, and Hank's gives you both as well as garlic and shallot mignonette, cocktail sauce and oyster crackers, which you can pair with your lovely bivalves if you so desire. I enjoyed the oysters with a delicious pinot grigio which has both notes of acidity and smoothness which enable it to match well with the brininess of the oysters. Should you want to make your oyster snack more substantial, Hank's also has some great sides such as gouda mac and cheesy, Old Bay french fries, fennel and apple slaw, and sesame green beans, all for $4.

Hank's Oyster Bar
1624 Q Street at 17th in NW DC

Wednesday, January 3, 2007

Fun Tuesday Evening

If enjoying a great evening out while not breaking the bank is of interest, read on. Every Tuesday in Dupont, there is a great combination of a free wine happy hour at Vidalia, usually hosted by the restaurant's sommelier no less, and a late happy hour at David Greggory which is a couple of blocks away.

Vidalia's free tasting usually offers a selection of 3 or so wines, all according to a theme of some sort, such as grape variety or region, with complimentary little bites. David Greggory has happy hour until 10pm on Tuesdays and offers Smirnoff Vodka drinks and martinis for $5, micro brew drafts for $4.25, red sangria for $3.75, and selected wines by the glass for $4.75. The wine can be great too, I recently ordered the house red and it was Big Tattoo Red, a great blend from Chile. DG also offers a few tasty savory selections from the bar menu to pair with your drinks, such as smoked chicken empanadas, deviled eggs, or DG pizza (with applewood smoked bacon, mushrooms, onions, oven-dried tomatoes and spinach pesto), all for $5. Here's to Tuesdays.

1990 M Street at 19th in NW DC

David Greggory
2030 M Street at 21st in NW DC

Tuesday, January 2, 2007

Happy Hour at Home

For those of us who have resolved to save some money and cook at home a bit more in the new year, why not have a couple of friends over after work one day this week for a few bites and drinks, and stay in with a movie, or head out somewhere fun afterwards for a nightcap. All of these recipes can be prepared in less than a half an hour, so there is no need to fuss about having time to finish everything, even on a workday. Do the popcorn first so if folks arrive while you are finishing up the other dishes, they have a delicious snack that goes perfeclty with a glass of sparkling wine to start the evening off.

Herb and Parm Popcorn
1 package of plain microwave popcorn
Kosher or sea salt
Black pepper
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup of freshly-grated Parmesan cheese
1 bunch of Italian flat-leaf parsley, chopped finely
1/4 teaspoon of red pepper flakes

Pop the popcorn in the microwave. Put hot, popped popcorn in a large mixing bowl and add the olive oil, salt, pepper, Parmesan cheese, chopped parsley and red pepper flakes and stir with a wooden spoon or your hands to combine. Serve with a nice sparkling wine and enjoy.

Proscuitto-Wrapped Broccolini with a Drizzle of Balsamic and Parmesan
1 pound of fresh broccolini
8 ounces of prosciutto
Kosher salt
Black pepper
1/2 cup aged balsamic vinegar, or regular balsamic reduced over medium heat by one half
1/2 cup of Parmesan cheese

Cook the broccolini in the microwave on high heat for approximately 5 minutes, or until firm but tender on the inside. Take two to three pieces of broccolini at a time and wrap with a piece of prosciutto. Arrange in a wheel sort of fashion on a platter with the flower end of each broccolini bunch facing the outward edge of the platter. Sprinkle with a small pinch of salt and about one tablespoon of ground black pepper. Drizzle with balsamic vinegar, sprinkle with the Parmesan cheese and enjoy. Serve with a light-bodied Chianti Classico or another light red such as a nice Chamboursin from Virginia.

Whole Grain Quesadillas with Mushrooms and Gruyere Cheese
1 package (about 10) whole grain tortillas
About 14 to 16 large white button mushrooms, chopped into slices
Juice of half a fresh lemon
1 bunch Italian flat-leaf parsley, chopped
Kosher salt
Black pepper
1 clove of garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon of ground cumin
12 ounces of gruyere cheese
1/2 cup sour cream
Cooking spray

Heat a non-stick skillet to medium heat and add a few pumps of cooking spray. Add the mushrooms and garlic, and sautee for about 3 to 4 minutes or until the garlic starts to turn light brown (but don't let it burn at all or it will get bitter). Transfer to a mixing bowl, and combine the mushrooms and garlic with most of the chopped parsley, ground cumin, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Grate the gruyere cheese with a peeler or a grater. Place one tortilla in the skillet you sauteed the mushrooms and garlic in. Add a layer of the mushroom mixture to cover the tortilla but don't overfill. Place a handfull of cheese on top of the mixture, and cover with another tortilla. Press down, and cook on each side until the cheese is melted and the tortilla is a bit crisp, about a minute on each side. Remove from the skillet and let cool on a plate and slice into wedges. Repeat with the rest of the tortillas, mushroom mixture and cheese. Arrange the wedges on a serving plate and drizzle with the sour cream and remaining chopped parsley. Serve with fun cocktails or a nice glass of light- to medium-bodied red wine or a non-oaked Chardonnay.

Monday, January 1, 2007


It's somewhat inevitable that with the coming of a new landmark, such as a new year, we take at least a little step back and reflect on where we are and what direction we see ourselves moving in going forward. With respect to New Year's resolutions, I am not really sure I think they are a great idea, but I think anytime you resolve to do something good for yourself, and to stick with it, then that is definitely a good thing. As far as healthy eating goes, I am convinced it can be absolutely mouth-watering, and at the end of the day your body appreciates it, so I thought I would pass along a couple of my recent favorite healthy yet delicious recipes. Enjoy!

Quick Caesar Salad
1/4 cup pasteurized egg product or 1 egg
1 clove garlic, minced (about 1/2 teaspoon)
2 whole cloves of garlic
1 1/2 teaspoons anchovy paste (trust me, just go with it)
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/4 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons lemon juice
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan
Kosher or sea salt and pepper
8 cups coarsely chopped romaine lettuce
8 slices of crusty whole wheat bread

For the croutons, preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Lightly brush both sides of the bread with oil. Cut the garlic cloves in half and rub it on to both sides of the bread. Sprinkle with salt. Cut the bread into cubes and spread onto a baking sheet. Bake until bread is crispy and golden brown, stirring once or twice, about 10 minutes.
For the salad, in a small bowl, whisk together the egg, minced garlic, anchovy paste, mustard, Worcestershire sauce and lemon juice. Slowly add the olive oil in a steady stream, whisking the whole time. Stir in the Parmesan and season with salt and pepper.
In a large bowl, toss the dressing with the lettuce until well coated. Add the croutons and toss to combine. Enjoy with a glass of Chardonnay not aged in oak to complement the garlic and anchovy essense, and the acid will cut the pungency of the garlic a bit.

Sausage and Herb Frittata
2 large links or 8 ounces of turkey or chicken sausage (casings removed)
1 bunch chopped basil (to chop make a chiffonade by rolling up the leaves and chopping vertically into ribbon-like strips)
1 pinch of sugar
1 bunch of Italian flat-leaf parsley (just chop roughly by running your knife through it)
1 Roma tomato
1 generous handful of freshly grated Parmesan cheese
8 eggs (or equivalent amount of Egg Beaters or another egg substitute)
Kosher or sea salt
Black pepper
1 medium yellow onion

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Chop tomato and sprinkle with salt to pull the moisture out and let sit. Chop onion into finely sliced moons, and place the slices in a non-stick, oven-safe skillet on medium heat. Add a pinch each of sugar, salt and pepper. After about 10 minutes, add the sausage. Stir with a wooden spoon and let cook until the sausage is browned and the onions are caramelized - about 5 to 7 minutes more. In a mixing bowl, whisk the eggs with the diced tomato, chopped basil and parsley. Add a generous pinch of salt and pepper, and pour mixture into the skillet with the onions and sausage. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook until the frittata sets, about 3 to 4 minutes. Sprinkle the top with a generous handful of parmesan cheese and place in the oven on the top rack. Cook until the top is slightly brown and the frittata is cooked through, about 5 minutes. Let rest, and serve and enjoy. Especially delicious with a mimosa during brunch, or a glass of Pinot Noir with lunch or dinner.