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


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

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. ( 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.

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

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Tasty Sides Fit For A Fun Fourth

Hope you are enjoying this gorgeous summer weather and are looking forward to the holiday. Wanted to pass along a couple of recipes for easy-to-prepare, colorful and most certainly tasty side dishes perfect for a Fourth of July celebration. Enjoy.

Berry And Gorgonzola Salad
Use seasonal berries for this refreshing salad, matching tangy and rich Gorgonzola cheese with sweet berries, roasted red onions, almonds and tomatoes.
1 medium red onion, halved and thinly sliced
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 pound spring lettuce mix
1/4 cup almonds, roughly chopped
1/2 cup yellow grape tomatoes, halved
1 cup mixed seasonal berries, such as strawberries, blackberries, raspberries and blueberries
5 ounces Gorgonzola cheese, crumbled
For the vinaigrette
1/4 cup sherry vinegar
1/4 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
Kosher or sea salt
Black pepper
1/2 cup canola oil
To roast the red onion, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Toss the onion with the canola oil and a pinch of salt and pepper, then place on a rimmed baking sheet. Roast until soft and lightly browned, 15 to 20 minutes. Set aside to cool.
Make the vinaigrette by whisking together the raspberry vinegar, lemon juice, sugar, salt and pepper. Drizzle in the oil while continuing to whisk, until vinaigrette slightly thickens. Taste and adjust seasoning.
Toss spring mix, almonds, tomatoes, berries, Gorgonzola cheese and roasted onions with the vinaigrette.

Cherry Salsa
Cherry salsa makes a sweet and savory condiment for all sorts of meats and fishes. Tastes good on it's own too.
2 cups sweet cherries
1 jalapeño, minced (for less heat remove the seeds and the ribs before chopping or don't use at all)
2 medium shallots, minced
1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
Kosher or sea salt, to taste
Black pepper, to taste
Pit and chop cherries and combine with jalapeño, shallot, basil and vinegar. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Refrigerate for at least an hour before serving.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Dinner at Sette Bello

Sette Bello is a lovely, fairly relaxed Italian restaurant right in the heart of Clarendon near the metro stop. Owned by the same folks who do Cafe Milano in Georgetown and Sette Osteria in Dupont, Sette Bello is a great go-to place when in Arlington and in the mood for Italian fare. The ambiance of warm yet modern - earthen brown tiled floors, warm lighting and simple yet quite attractive decor of authentic Italian prints, large wine bottles and various types of plants lend to a really appealing atmosphere for dining. The menu is quite similar to that of Sette Osteria, but has also has a Tapas or small plates menu, which is perfect for sharing a couple of items to start a meal. We decided to go with Calamari Panarea and Spiedino Caprese to start. The calamari was perfectly cooked and was beautifully cut into thin but still substantial ringlets. The squid was served in a tasty and thick tomato sauce flavored with capers, black olives, oregano and a good hint of garlic. The sauce reminded me of a thicker version of that which would come with steamed mussels done in an Italian style. The capers added a briny essence to the sauce and really enabled the juice of the olives to pop in your mouth. The Spiedino Caprese is brochettes of mozzarella and cherry tomatoes served with a nice bed of arugula which was very lightly dressed in olive oil, and the dish was sprinkled with a chiffonade of basil which was a really nice accent. The dish worked well as a small starter to whet the appetite a bit. For my main course, I ordered my usual Campagnola Salad with grilled chicken. The salad consists of arugula and shaved fennel with thick slices of shaved Pecorino and lemon vinaigrette. The fennel really makes the salad. The paper-thin shavings add the perfect anise-like flavor which cuts the fruitiness of the lemony dressing and also works nicely with the arugula. I love the kitchen at the Settes prepares meat - generally the cuts are pounded quite thin which makes for even-cooking and a moist and tender quality. I think that if you aren't doing a salad or a meat dish as a main course, the the way to go at the Settes is pizza, but Mezzeluna Alla Contadina on the pasta menu looked especially interesting so I recommended trying it out. The dish is pumpkin and amaretti filled pasta with butter and sage sauce. I think the amaretti adds a bit too much sweetness to the dish, and thought it could have used a sauce more heavy on the sage and brown butter instead of pumpkin, but it was still quite enjoyable. A bottle of Lagaria Pinot Grigio was the perfect thing to drink with the meal, and its crisp and refreshing quality worked with all of the dishes we had. I am already looking forward to a return visit to Sette Bello for another enjoyable, tasty and relaxing meal.

Sette Bello
3101 Wilson Boulevard in Arlington, VA