Monday, April 30, 2007

Birthday Dinner at Brasserie Beck

Family and friends and I celebrated my birthday last Friday and had quite a grand 'ole time. We met for happy hour at Poste, which has $4 beer, house wines and truffled frites during their happy hour. It was a really nice group and it was so nice to see folks I have been meaning to catch up with. We enjoyed more than a few glasses of wine (the red was a nice Pinot Noir and the white a Sauvignon Blanc), and a couple of orders of frites (which taste like they may be done in a bit of duck fat - yum), and a few hours later it came time for our reservation at the newly-opened Brasserie Beck. I actually didn't realize it just opened last Wednesday, but thank goodness I am on the email list for Marcel's, Robert Wiedmaier's other place in Foggy Bottom, and so last week I received an email indicating Beck was accepting reservations. Marcel and Beck are the names of Robert's children. We arrived to pretty much a madhouse - the host stand was crowded and the bar and table areas were more than packed. I actually know one of the bartenders as he used to work at a local place in my neighborhood, so lucky for my group we were able to be served quickly. We waited 45 minutes even with a reservation, but no matter really - we were having a great time and were enjoying checking out the venue. You enter and to your left and in front of you are seating areas and to the right is a nice and well-stocked bar. The space is minimalist with hues of dark wood, granite, stainless steal, clean lines, sturdy tablestops and bars tops and very high ceilings (probably 30 or so feet). What is really neat as well as there are numerous tv's around the bar and restaurant which display the orders coming out of the kitchen, a really nice touch. The restaurant was perhaps not expecting such a large crowd as we ended up being seated in one of the private areas toward the rear of the restaurant. It actually worked out perfectly as it was much quieter in that space and there was only one other table in the room, so we have a bit of our own party so to speak. Plus, I sat at one of the heads of the table and had a perfect view of a tv showing all of the orders coming out of the kitchen. The private room is enclosed by beveled glass panels and one entire wall is glass and showcases the restaurant's wine collection housed behind it.

Brasserie Beck is essentially a modern Belgian Bistro - it has the typical fare Belgian in origin (great mussels, steak and frites etc.), but also quite a few other offerings not necessarily Belgian but still items you would imagine can be found at a good bistro. We browsed through the wine list, which actually is really comprehensive and there are quite a few bottles under $30. We started with a bottle of Carignan-Grenache-Syrah Corbieres Domaine Sainte Eugenie from Languedoc, and at $18 it was a real deal. It was fruity and well-balanced and I thought it would pair perfectly with many of the items on the somewhat wide-ranging menu. We ended up getting several bottles of this selection. We started with two of the three preparations of mussels - Curry & Apple and Fennel & Chorizo Sausage. Each comes with a large bowl of piping hot frites and is a really nice portion. The mussels were quite large and cooked well, and I especially enjoyed the Curry variety. Jamie and Stephen wanted extra frites so they also ordered a separate order of Belgian Frites with Mayonnaise Trio. We also ordered a dozen fresh oysters which on Friday were from the West Coast and large in size but still very briny. They come with an Apple & Shallot Mignonette. I usually prefer small oysters over the large, but these were nice. Louise and I shared a bottle of Cremant de Loire "Brut Rose," Yves Lambert, France, with the lovely bivalves and it was a lovely pairing. Lucky for us no one else was really interested in enjoying the oysters with us. Amy got the cheese plate to start as well and it came with 5 ample pieces and sliced baguette. She said it was rich and delightful - there was not any left to share so I imagine it is indeed lovely. I decided to stay somewhat light after all of the appetizers, so I ordered a Spinach Salad with Caramelized Shallots, Blue Tag Cheese and a Mustart Vinaigrette. I also ordered a side of Brussel Sprouts. Lisa ordered the same two items. Stephen, Jamie, John and the rest of the group opted for more hearty selections, including Roasted Pork Tenderloin with Confit of Cabbage and Mustard Sauce, Roasted Monkfish with Peppers and Olives, and Choucroute "en Croute." My salad was delicious and fresh and I enjoyed the pairing of the rich and creamy blue cheese with the tangy mustard vinaigrette and the sweet caramelized shallots. I love brussel sprouts in any preparation, or even just steamed or raw, and these were quite nice although a bit too rich for me thanks to a creamy cheese sauce and also a bit of melted cheese over the top of the sprouts. Very tasty though. I had a bite of the Choucroute which was amazing, and the portion is quite large so most of the table got to take a sample of that dish. Everyone was too full for dessert, but Beck does have a few tempting options including Pear Tarte Tatin, Cinnamon Honey Ice Cream with Gateau of Chocolate, Belgian Bread Pudding and Caramel Cheesecake. We did, however, enjoy a large slice of the obligatory birthday cake. It was creamy and chocolately and had large flecks of dark chocolate as an accent. I am not much of a sweets person so I finished my wine and looked forward to the next venue. I really can't wait to return to Beck and probably will do so the first chance I get. A few items I look forward to trying next time include starters of Napoleon of Vine Ripe Tomato with Pipe Dream Goast Cheese and a Scallion Balsamic Dressing, Lamb Sausage with Lentils and Frisee, Toasted Garlic Baguette with Poached Eggs & Fricassee of Mushrooms, and Steak Tartare, a side of Gratin of Cauliflower, and mains of Roasted Rabbit Loin in Kriek Beer, Coq au Vin and Crispy Skate Wine a la Jacqueline with Garlic Spinach. I also look forward to enjoying more from Beck's well-priced wine list. For beer fans they also offer a separate Belgian Beer list. Such a great addition to the city, and one I would highly recommend checking out.

Poste (inside the Hotel Monaco)
555 8th Street in NW DC

Brasserie Beck
1101 K Street in NW DC

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Easy Entertaining

Wanted to pass along a few recipes for an easy meal that is great for entertaining. The meal is generally appealing and quite simple to prepare and pairs fabulously with a light red wine.

First, although somewhat unusual, at least as far as prep goes we start with dessert as it need at least 4 hours to set in the fridge. Peel 2 large bananas and roll each in a large, shallow dish filled with Nutella or another variety of chocolate, hazelnut spread or even any thick and rich chocolate sauce. Once well coated, roll each banana in finely chopped nuts of your choice or dried coconut pieces. Place on a plate and let set in the fridge for at least 4 hours or ideally overnight.

For the appetizer we take a bit of a twist on a Caprese Salad. Start with 4 large Beefsteak or Heirloom tomatoes. Cut slices from the top of each tomato but only go 3/4 of the way down into the tomato, thus leaving the base intact. Put thin slices of fresh Mozzerella cheese in the cuts in each tomato, season liberally with salt and pepper, and place leaves of fresh Basil in with the cheese. Serve the fanned tomatoes with goodness on a bed of thinly sliced shallots or red onions with a drizzle of olive oil and salt and pepper and toasted baguette or whole weat pita wedges.

For the main, a simple roast pork tenderloin.
1 pound pork tenderloin
1 medium Granny Smith apple, diced
2 tablespoons almonds, chopped
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon butter
Sear the pork tenderloin in a skillet on medium high heat on all sides until nicely browned, and bake or grill tenderloin to desired degree (keep in mind once seared "low and slow" is best for cooking pork). Set aside.
In a small non-stick saucepan, add diced apples, butter, almonds and maple syrup. Cook on medium-high heat for 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from heat.
Slice tenderloin on the bias, arrange on a platter, pour apple mixture on top and serve on a bed of fresh spinach with sprigs of fresh rosemary.

Serve the pork with caramelized brussel sprouts.
10 cups small fresh brussel sprouts (almost 3 pounds)
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup butter
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
3/4 cup water
1 teaspoon koshersalt
Prepare the brussel sprouts by peeling off 2 to 3 of the dark outer leaves; trim stem ends.
In a large skillet heat the sugar over medium high heat until sugar begins to melt, shaking pan to heat sugar evenly. Once sugar starts to melt, reduce heat and cook until sugar begins to turn brown. Add butter; stir until melted. Add the vinegars. Cook and stir for 1 minute.
Add the water and salt. Bring to a boil and add the sprouts. Return to boiling and reduce heat. Simmer, covered, for 6 minutes. Uncover; cook about 15 minutes longer or until most of the liquid has been absorbed and the sprouts are coated with a golden glaze, stirring occasionally.

For the dessert, cut the bananas into sushi like slices and serve on a platter along or with edible flowers for accent.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Wine and Cheese at Bar Pilar

I met a friend last night at Bar Pilar, a cozy spot just off 14th Street in the U Street neighborhood. The ambiance is somewhat relaxed when it isn't crazy crowded, and the bar is long and made of dark wood and there is a kitschy, nautical theme throughout the venue. Owned by the folks who own Cafe Saint Ex down the street, the menu features a variety of small plates featuring fresh, local ingredients and not too much in the way of sauces and spreads. Examples include Sauteed Arugula with anchovy, lemon, red onion, Beet Carpaccio with goat cheese, mint, pine nuts, Fava Beans with pecorino and mint, Seared King Salmon with basil puree and Smoked Pouisson Breast with fennel and orange zest. I enjoy the Tempranillo they offer and started with a glass of that. We decided to share a cheese plate which comes on a wooden board with the cheese and crostini as well as a very sweet and smooth apple sauce and a thick slice of quince. You can choose 3 or 5 cheeses. We did 5 - a blue, a goat (which was super creamy), a Porter cheddar, a goat/sheep/cow's milk combo and a creamy cow's milk cheese with a grape leaf running through it. My favorite was the creamy goat, which tasted lovely with a dab of the apple sauce on the thin, toasted crostini. My friend enjoyed all of the cheeses but favored the blue. At $17 I thought the amount of cheese could have been a little more, but it was a really nice selection and went very well with the Spanish Tempranillo on offering. I think next time I go back I will pair it with the Sauteed Mushrooms or perhaps one of the grilled fish options and make a meal out of it.

Bar Pilar
1833 14th Street in NW DC

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Central Michel Richard

My Dad is great and wanted to take me out to a fun dinner for my birthday, so after a Rice alumni reception at the Hotel Monaco we did a late dinner at Michel Richard's new place, Central. The restaurant is very attractive, with stainless steel fixtures and hardware along with light hues of wood, earthen-colored marble counters and tapletops and clean white lines throughout. Lighting is somewhat dim and the bar area is actually fairly large - next time I go back I think I will try to score a couple of seats at the bar and make an evening of it.

We were seated in a perfect spot just adjacent to the open kitchen. I just love to watch cooking in action. My Dad got me a glass of a nice Pinot Noir from California to start with. We then decided on a bottle of French Grenache to pair with our meal. The wine was fruity and light and had a gorgeous and rich purple color. Perfect for the somewhat wide-ranging cuisine at Central. The menu offers both Hot and Cold Appetizers, 10 or so of each. The Cold Appetizers include Frisee Salad with Duck Eggs, Tomato and Burrata Salad, a Prosciutto Plate and a Goat Cheese Caesar Salad. The Hot offerings include Cheesy Popovers which looked gorgeous coming out of the kitchen. There are also about 8 sides available for $7 each and which include Brussel Sprouts, Asparagus, French Fries and Creamed Spinach.
We decided to share the Caesar Salad as a starter. They split the salad into two plates for us and it was still more than an ample portion for each of us. Wedges of crisp romaine lettuce were prettily arranged in square white bowls and were drizzled with salt, pepper, finely chopped tomato and probably the best Caesar dressing I have ever tasted. It was light but also creamy and rich and really just superb. The color was off-white and the salad really was a beautiful dish. For our mains, I had Grilled Tiger Prawns with Snow Peas. The prawns came head and shell on and were quite large in size. The snow peas were well-cooked and not too soft and the sauce was slightly sweet yet also buttery and had just enough soy to cut the richness a bit. My Dad had the Fried Chicken which was cooked absolutely perfectly - the meat was moist and juicy and the skin was crispy and tasty. The chicken came with the creamy and smooth mashed potatoes ever and a mustard sauce that resembled Hollandaise and which was totally decadent and lovely. We also shared Brussel Sprouts which were nicely seasoned with salt and pepper and which came with diced Pancetta which added a nice, rich essence to the dish. Other mains on the menu include Mussels with White Wine and Garlic, a couple of steak options, a delicious burger, and everything we saw coming out the kitchen looked more than appetizing. We enjoyed the lovely ambiance and certainly the food and the company. I would recommend Central for a special occasion dinner or even as a spot to hang out at the bar and have a nice glass of wine and perhaps a salad and a side dish.

Central Michel Richard
1001 Pennsylvania Avenue in NW DC

Monday, April 23, 2007

Sunday in Virginia Wine Country

Ahh, what a perfect day out for wine country. Yesterday the wine club visited Breaux Vineyards, a 404 acre estate with over 85 acres planted in 16 different grape varieties. Nestled between the hills in Purcelville, VA, the vineyard plantings extend up the Short Hill Mountain. Long vistas of the Blue Ridge Mountains can be enjoyed from the tasting room, Patio Madeleine and our landscaped terraces. On a warm and sunny day, it really was picturesque. The group was about 20 or so folks and with the hot sun we were lucky to score a gazebo in front of the winery. Allan and I did the tasting which is $5 and you get 12 wines. I actually wasn't a huge fan of any of the wines, but did enjoy the Lafayette which is 85 percent Cabernet Franc and 15 percent Merlot, as well as the Breaux Jolie Blond which is a blend made mostly of Seyval. The Lafayette was a little on the peppery side for my palate, but Allan and several others really enjoyed it. Luckily one of the club members joined the Breaux Cellar Club which enables you to purchase some of the wines that are part of the Library Collection, and we were thus all able to sample the Meritage which actually was really nice. We relaxed and enjoyed the wine and the surroundings along with fruits, cheeses and meats and all had a really nice time. Long story but I got to check out the Rio Grande in Reston at the end of the night - fun spot for sure.

Breaux Vineyards
36888 Breaux Vineyards Lane in Purcelville, VA

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Tasty Salad

Love this recipe, and am planning on doing it as a light breakfast before heading out to Virginia wine country. Can't wait - should be perfect weather for a day in the vineyards. More on that later. Pair this salad with a crisp Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc, or even a sweet Riesling and enjoy.

Peach, Prosciutto and Gorgonzola Salad
3 Tbs olive oil
1 cup crumbled Gorgonzola cheese
2 Tbs balsamic vinegar
4 slices prosciutto
4 cups arugula
4 small peaches, halved, pits removed, cut into wedges
1/2 cup walnuts, toasted
Kosher or sea salt
Freshly-ground black pepper
In a small bowl, place 2 tablespoons of a nice olive oil and combine with the balsamic vinegar. Season with salt and pepper, set aside.
Brush the prosciutto with a little of the remaining olive oil, and sautee over high heat until crisp. Break the crispy prosciutto into shards, then toss in a large bowl with the arugula and peaches. Place in serving bowls and drizzle with the dressing. Crumble over the Gorgonzola and top with the toasted walnuts.

Friday, April 20, 2007


Earlier this week the wine club met at EatBar in Tallula Restaurant for a wine and cheese tasting. Every Tuesday EatBar offers a tasting for $10, and it is a real deal. You get a flight of three ample wine samples and three cheeses which arrive on a carving board with sliced baguette and marinated currants. The cheeses were gorgeous - the first one was a Garrotxa and it was semi-hard but smooth and delicious. Next was a delicious and creamy Mahon which almost looked like a thick slice of Muenster. We finished with a Manchego. All of the wines were tasty and paired well with the cheese. EatBar has a stellar menu which offers lots of small plates and sides as well as larger dishes, and all for very reasonable prices. Mer and I split a bottle of a Spanish red which was really delicious and at not much more than $20 a bottle a super deal as well. I started with the Mushroom Ragout, which is wild mushrooms sauteed in some sort of tasty fat (bacon perhaps?) - they were so good everyone ended up sharing the dish. I also tried the County Ham, Tangerine & Pea Shoot Salad which was very lightly dressed and really a nice match of the savory ham and sweet tangerines. I tried one of the mini burgers as a comparison to those at Matchbox. EatBar's mini burger is really tasty, and the meat is tender and well-seasoned, but I think I prefer those at Matchbox as they come along with yummy onion fries and sides of condiments. Mer and David and Cathy and I also shared Mussels with Chorizo. The mussels were actually a bit small, but the broth was nice and the chorizo was delicious. Nice big chunks were scattered around the mussels. We all had a great time, and I can't wait to go back and try some more of the wines on offer as well as Bacon-Wrapped Figs with Mascarpone Cheese.

EatBar in Tallula Restaurant
2761 Washington Boulevard in Arlington

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Easy and Light Springtime Meal

Yeah, signs of spring have returned. So nice to enjoy a crisp and sunny morning on a spring's day. In that light, wanted to pass along a couple of light and easy side dishes that can easily pair with a range of mains. I first enjoyed them with Linguini with Pecorino, Butter, Pepper and Arugula, which works beautifully. Add in a light and somewhat fruity white wine and enjoy this simple and colorful meal.

Proscuitto and Peas
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 shallots, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
Kosher or sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1-pound bag frozen peas, thawed
4 ounces prosciutto, diced
1/4 cup chopped fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley
Heat the oil in a heavy large skillet over medium-low heat. Add the shallots, garlic, salt, and pepper, and saute until tender, about 1 minute. Add the peas and saute until heated through, about 5 minutes. Stir in the prosciutto and cook for 1 to 2 minutes. Add the parsley and remove from the heat. Season, to taste, with salt and pepper, and serve.

Mushroom Parmesan
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for greasing the grill pan
1/2 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 cup marinara sauce (store bought or homemade is fine)
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
Place a grill pan over medium-high heat or preheat a gas or charcoal grill. Drizzle 3 tablespoons of olive oil over both sides of the mushrooms. Sprinkle the mushrooms with salt and pepper. Drizzle olive oil on the grill to prevent the mushrooms from sticking. Grill until the mushrooms are heated through and tender, about 5 minutes per side.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Spread 1/2 cup of the marinara sauce on the bottom of a 9 by 13-inch baking dish. Place the grilled mushrooms on top of the marinara sauce and top with the remaining marinara sauce. Sprinkle with the cheeses and bake until the cheese melts and the top is golden, about 15 minutes.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Yummy Sandwiches

I know the weather isn't quite springlike right now, but wanted to pass along a couple of recipes for tasty sandwiches which are perfect for a picnic or even a quick bite while out and about exploring the city or lunch at work.

Taleggio and Pear on Pumpernickel
4 slices of Pumpernickel bread
2 Tablespoons of olive oil
4 ounces Taleggio cheese, sliced
2 large pears, apples or peaches, cored and cut into inch wedges
1 Tablespoon of honey
Pinch of kosher or sea salt
Pinch of freshly ground black pepper
Large handful of arugula or spinach
Preheat two non-stick skillets over medium heat. Brush the bread on both sides with olive oil and place the bottom-half of the bread slices in the skillet in a single layer. Heat until golden, about 3 to 4 minutes. Continue with the remaining top slices of bread.
While the top slices of the bread are in the skillet, begin forming the sandwiches. Divide the cheese among the warm bread. Cover the cheese with slices of fruit. Drizzle the fruit with honey. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Top with a handful of arugula. Place the warmed top half of the bread over the arugula and return the competed sandwich to the skillet and top with the bottom of the other skillet for 1 to 2 minutes more to finish melting the cheese. Remove from the skillet and cut the sandwiches in half and serve immediately.

Pita Rueben Sandwich
4 whole wheat pita bread halves
1 lb. corned beef
1 cup prepared Sauerkraut
4 Tbs. Spicy mustard
4 Tbs. low-fat Thousand Island Dressing
8 slices Swiss cheese
In each pita bread half, spread 1 Tbs. Mustard on bottom and 1 Tbs. Thousand Island dressing on top. Layer each half with corned beef, sauerkraut and 2 slices of Swiss cheese. Microwave on high for 45 seconds to 1 minute, or until cheese melts and sandwich is heated through.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Great Happy Hour

I was taking a break from work yesterday before having to finalize a couple of projects and popped into Viridian on my way home from Whole Foods. I had been to Viridian on other occasions, but they have changed their bar menu for the better in my opinion. They have happy hour all evening on Tuesdays, and offer a few beers by the glass as well as a Cava, white and red wine, all for $5 each. The red was a nice Merlot/Cabernet/Mourvedre blend - well-balanced and nice and fruity. There are four appetizers on offering, also for $5 each. These include a Beet and Goat Cheese Salad, a Petite Calzone, Roasted Chicken Drumettes and Mussels. I tried the mussels which were large in size and cooked perfectly. The light cream and curry sauce with garlic and sauteed onions was delicious. Definitely pop in if you are in the neighborhood.

1515 14th Street, NW

Friday, April 6, 2007


I have a favorite new happy hour spot - Piola in Rosslyn. Good thing it isn't a little closer to home or I probably would be there every other day. From 4 to 7pm they offer half-price house wine by the glass, and fabulous complimentary snacks. The house red is a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc - may sound like a bit of an odd mix but it really works. The wine is well-balanced and fruity and perfect for a house wine. The white is a mix of Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio and is refreshing and slightly crisp. The space is open with very high ceilings and somewhat industrial decor. It manages to feel really comfortable though. The front of the space is all glass, so you are able to enjoy a bit of people watching as well. During happy hour there is a three-tier display featuring chunks of Brie, balls of Gorgonzola and sliced Parmesan. Yum. The staff brings out trays of others snacks periodically, including grilled bread with tomato sauce, ham, Gorgonzola and Mozzerella, and various varieties of pasta salad and bruschetta. Again, snacks are all free. It's pretty nice really as you can have little bites along with your libations all for little money in a relaxed setting. Not a bad way to wind down after work eh? This past Wednesday my wine club enjoyed happy hour and then decided to stay afterwards for dinner. Most folks got one of the many varieties of pizza. I shared a mixed green salad and Carbonara pizza. The pizza crust is great thanks to the wood-fired oven, and the Carbonara was nice and actually not overly rich given that the toppings include bacon, eggs and a couple of cheeses. Most folks seemed to be really happy with the food and the evening in general.

1550 Wilson Boulevard in Arlington, VA (near Rosslyn metro)

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Tasty Lamb Recipe

Since it is the season of lovely spring, I thought I would pass along a tasty lamb recipe. Enjoy with cherry tomatoes with chopped flat-leaf parsley and bathed in a good balsamic vinegar, grilled flatbread, some slices veggies a couple of cheeses and voila - a lovely meal. Goes well with a light-bodied red as well, perhaps a Tempranillo or Malbec, or a Carmenere from Chile. You can substitute a nice, creamy hummus for the dipping sauce to make things more of a quick-fix.

Pan Seared Lamb Chops with Roasted Garlic and Shallot Yogurt Sauce
1 rack of lamb (8 lamb chops)
1 cup plain yogurt
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
1 tablespoon fresh cracked black pepper
1 teaspoon salt

Dipping Sauce:
1 cup plain yogurt
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 heads garlic
2 shallots
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon black pepper
Kosher or Sea salt to taste
Combine all of the ingredients, and allow the lamb to marinate for at least 2 hours before cooking. Wipe excess yogurt from lamb chops before cooking. Heat skillet to medium high, and oil with a small amount of olive oil. Sear lamb chops for about 3 minutes on each side depending on desired doneness, lamb chops may be finished in the oven by cooking at 375 degrees for no more than 3 to 4 minutes.
For the dipping sauce, preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Remove skin from outer layer of both the garlic and shallots and carefully cut off the tops of both. Drizzle with olive oil, and then place in the oven for approximately 30 minutes. Remove when the bulbs have turned golden brown and place in the refrigerator to cool. Once cooled, remove the individual roasted garlic cloves and place in a food processor with the shallots, yogurt, vinegar, and pepper. Purée until the ingredients are well combined, and season to taste. Serve in a small dish for dipping along side the lamb chops.