Saturday, December 20, 2008

Dine in the New Year

Several restaurants in DC are having special New Year's Eve menu, but if you are looking for some great new food to welcome 2009, Mio is offering a four-course dinner with seatings before and after the ball drops (5:30, 6 and 6:30 for $70 and 8:30, 9 and 9:30 for $85). A champagne toast will be served at midnight and the evening will continue at Mio's spacious bar. A tasting menu from chef Nicholas Stefanelli will also be available all night.

1110 Vermont Avenue, NW
Washington DC, 20005

Mio on Urbanspoon

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Holiday Pre-Sale for Taste of the Nation

Share Our Strength, an organization dedicated to fighting childhood hunger, has announced a special sale for 2009's Taste of the Nation. The event will showcase 40 restaurants and 20 wineries and will be held at the Andrew Mellon Auditorium (directly across from the National Mall) on March 30th. Discounted tickets are available for a limited time during the month of December. From December 12th – 31st, General Admission tickets will be $75 and VIP tickets will be $120. Enjoy fine restaurants, great wines, signature cocktails, and help out a great cause. Purchase your tickets here.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

In the city of blinding lights

I spend many of my work days in the outer edge of Old Town Alexandria, and one of the things I enjoy the most about the location is the view of the Potomac river. From this vantage point I get to see a lot - mostly jets about to land into National Airport, and many sailboats enjoying summer breezes. The development of National Harbor, across from the Wilson Bridge in Maryland, entertained me to no end - barges were carrying whole walls and heavy machinery down the river at one point. As a dedicated flâneur, the Gaylord Resort always gave me something to peer at while I jetted down the river bank on my way to Old Town proper, a giant jewelry box, all steel and light, the kind of structure that is so storied in size that you cannot help but wonder about the people in it. Last week I finally got the chance to find out. After a 20 minute ride on the water taxi from the Torpedo Factory ($7 USD each way, with boats every hour starting at 11 AM during the winter) I found myself in the midst of the lights at the other side of the river and all they had to offer - the atrium is 240 ft wide and 230 feet tall at its highest point. Their 60 foot synthetic glass tree, part of their Christmas display, is not the kind of thing one sees in the Mid-Atlantic (as a reference, Gaylord owns Opryland in Nashville, as well as Orlando and Dallas). The property has fantastic views of the Potomac, and though its size suggest a theme park of sorts, one is very clearly in DC/MD/VA.

If you are coming in as a local and not a visitor, the best bet would be to make a day out of it, or at least break up your meal into several parts, which is what our group did. We started out at Moon Bay Coastal Cuisine, a re-imagined fish market. After some cocktails and a very warm welcome from Chef Duane Keller, fresh oysters were brought out, perfectly chilled and briny. The dining area has an open kitchen and the bar is flanked by a wall of wine. The sushi rolls were very good, though the pieces were a bit bigger than one could daintily handle in mixed company.

We went upstairs to Old Hickory Steakhouse to continue our meal. Chef Wolfgang Birk presides over the black-and white space, a modern take on a Georgetown townhouse. Though the kitchen is tucked away, there is plenty to look at - a cheese cave and a humidor that boasts Cuban cigars from 1959 - pre-embargo. As an entree we had tasting portions of three of the Chef's signature dishes, including almond-crusted jumbo lump crabcake - the almonds gave the crab a nice earthiness. The beef was well-cooked and the sauces added to the plate without overwhelming the beef. My favorite thing on the table was the colt salt stone that came with the butter - a great way to control the level of salt and a beautiful presentation.

Old Hickory has something rarer than Cuban cigars on stock - a Maitre de Fromage. Carolyn Stromberg is a veritable sherpa on all things cheese, food that seldom gets in due for sheer complexity. Carolyn presents the cheese table-side, and one cannot help but share in her enthusiasm for these very well-traveled, hand crafted, cheeses that cannot be found elsewhere. She'll have you at "sheep's milk cheese wrapped in walnut leaves." You won't even mind that most of them are not pasteurized.

After a quick dessert with Remy Martin composed by Old Hickory's bartender, we headed over to the 18th floor, the highest level at the hotel. The atmosphere and music selection will take you back to those bars on cruise ships right over the pools, the ones with the pop and the panoramic views. Though you won't see far enough to see the Earth's curvature, you will find a variety of infusions - rum and vodka based - to keep you amused, everything from citrus to mocha and everything in between. It is definitively a place to keep in mind for controlled debauchery, including bachelorette parties.

Go to see the look of light on things, stay for the food, go back for the incredibly attentive service.

Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center
National Harbor, MD
Old Hickory Steakhouse on Urbanspoon

Moon Bay Coastal Cuisine on Urbanspoon

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Twelve Cocktails of Christmas

I generally associate the holidays with mulled wine, but few things are as celebratory as martini glasses. Considering it was the 75th anniversary of the repeal of Prohibition a few days ago and that FDR marked the occasion with martinis at the White House and that many of these libations are made with premium vodkas, one can't help but fall to their seasonal charms.

Helix Lounge is running The 12 Days of Helix, now through the end of winter. The menu features a cocktail for each verse in the popular song. The Partridge in a Pear Tree (Grey Goose La Poire, Sence Rose Nectar, splash of Triple) is the most interesting mix, but Six Geese A-Layin (Grey Goose dirty martini with bleu cheese stuffed olives) wins the word play award.

Domaso at the Hotel Palomar - Arlington will host a gingerbread extravaganza (complete with class) this Sunday, December 14th. In Alexandria, Jackson 20 and the Grille at Morrison have special Christmas eve menus. Urbana in Dupont Circle is having a "Stocking Stuffer" lunch special for $11.95 throughout December. Poste, my favorite of the Kimpton Restaurants, will host its annual Gingerbread House Contest. You can enjoy eggnog, Swedish hot wine (glogg) and hot chocolate while you ogle at the masterpieces.

Take a break from the same-old office party libations and enjoy!

Monday, December 8, 2008

Where would you go?

The folks at Thummit, a free social recommendation service, are giving away a $200 certificate to the restaurant of your choice in the DC Metro area.

To enter, vote on their Last Night on Earth poll - the easy part is fantasizing about a great meal, the hard part is confronting your own mortality, and the most difficult one is picking just one restaurant.

Cast your vote by December 31st here. The invite code is DCeats.

My vote is for Central, or the Grill at Morrison House, or Citronelle, or...

Abue's Christmas Punch

Posada season begins this Friday, the Day of the Virgin of Guadalupe. To celebrate the twelve days of Christmas, one can imbibe in several ways. Rompope is the Mexican eggnog, a mix of eggs, vanilla and milk spiked with rum or bourbon. It is a great cream punch and one of the hallmarks of Poblano cuisine. But at my grandmother's house in Monterrey, one of the few places in Mexico that occasionally sees a White Christmas, it has always meant hot fruit punch. The Korean supermarkets in MD and VA, Shoppers and the bodegas in Mount Pleasant have the best selection of hispanic products, including sugar cane.

1. Put 25 cups of water in a large stock pot.

2. Cut, peel and dice the following:

25 tecojotes (hawthorns/rowanberries)
15 guavas
1 cup raisins
2 cups dried prunes
10 ounces unprocessed tamarind
4 apples (Golden Delicious work best)

3. Add the fruit and bring the water to a boil.

4. For flavor, once the mixture boils add:

6 pieces of sugar cane
6 cinammon sticks
Pilloncillo(Solid brown sugar) to taste

Serve the hot punch in mugs with a ladle, placing a generous helping of fruit on the bottom, garnish with a sliver of sugar cane. For a hard version, favored by our mothers, add 1 shot (1.5 ounces) of rum or brandy (the brandy will give it a more sirupy feel).

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Le cose che vivi

To commemorate S.'s newly-minted graduate degree, we decided to have a dinner party at Domaso, just over the Key Bridge in Rosslyn, inside the Hotel Palomar - Arlington. I've been to their wine tastings (sign up for the mailing list here), but had yet to eat a full meal. I had sneaked a peek at the dining room - a gorgeous space with an open kitchen, vaulted ceilings, views of Georgetown, and castle-like light fixtures - the place is celebratory by design. Bo Choe, the Private Dining Coordinator and the waitstaff took great care of us - the best laid plans of mice and men are certainly improved by information, a great table, amusements from the bar and kitchen, and early set up.

Domaso bills itself a modern trattoria, and its menu centers on Northern Italian cuisine. With a new winter menu and a focus on seasonal and local products, patrons will find that the dishes at Domaso aren't too "Italian", or rather, deviate from the culinary cliches that we have come to associate with Italian food - the familiar palette of tomato and basil. But reinvention is the essence of modernity, and great food can, and must, defy expectations.

After an amuse-bouche of crab and lobster (and a shot of squash soup for S., who is very allergic to crabs), we ordered a round of appetizers. S. had the braised pork belly, perfectly seared on top of sweet potatoes and broccoli rabe, glazed with star anise. The star anise was reminiscent of Chinese Five Spice, as was the use of the rabe/rapini, but it was a very well balanced dish. The rest of us had tasting portions of pasta (all available as entrees) except for A., who went for a mixed green salad. I had the squash gnocci - perfectly sculpted, with just a dab of fontina (called a fondue instead of a sauce), thyme, and a pesto made with pumpkin seeds. The ratio of filling to pasta was just right, and the pumpkin seed pesto gave it a very interesting texture. B. and F. had saffron scented pasta - pappardelle for B. and spaghettini for F., with a wild mushroom ragu, creamed fennel and parmesan cheese.

For our entrees, I decided to carry on with my comparative study of short ribs in the DC Metro Area, and these have Darlington House beat by a mile. I was happy to see a de-boned short rib, which makes eating them a much simpler task. These came with mashed potatoes, porcini mushrooms and a wonderfully deep and sweet marsala demi glace. S. and B. had the pork osso bucco, a great take on the traditional beef dish from Milan: a simmered pork shank served over polenta, sauteed greens, roasted tomatoes and orange gremolata for a touch of acid. F. and A. had the cedar-roasted artic char, a small trout of northern waters that has been catching on in other over-fishing conscious restaurants, such as Hook. The smoky trout was served on top of lemon risotto, salsify (a small root vegetable, similar to a turnip) and caper butter sauce. The taste was delicate, layered and balanced. We all had a full-bodied red wine from Italy, picked by F. from Domaso's extensive wine list. Our waiter gave us some great recommendations to guide us through the new menu, and was a magician of sorts - he produced two of my favorite things, chocolate-covered coffee beans and a pisco-based cocktails as soon as we were done with our entrees.

By special request, the kitchen prepared S.'s favorite dessert - bread pudding. They must have known that it was our last dinner together before the holidays as well, as they added some lovely golden raisins, effectively giving us a version of panatone, Italian Christmas cake. We all cleaned our plates, donned party hats, and even threatened to sing along to Laura Pausini and Eros Ramazotti, both featured in the music selections at Domaso. A fantastic meal, and a great start to the Christmas season.

Domaso Trattoria Moderna @ Hotel Palomar - Arlington
1121 North 19th Street
Arlington, VA 22209
Domaso Trattoria Moderna on Urbanspoon

Sunday, November 30, 2008

You are what you bake

I come from a family of fantastic cooks (some self-taught and others classically trained) and while I have them to thank for my well-tempered palette, I am lucky that there are no pre-requisites (in talent or craft) to enjoy food. I enjoy cooking, but I have to eat out a lot (for work and fun) and mostly cook simple meals, a flan here and there, and the occasional elaborate omelet from my Farmer's Market finds. The HomeMade Pizza Company, a Chicago-based company that makes and delivers fresh, unbaked pizzas and cookies with all-natural ingredients recently opened their first DC outpost. I couldn't resist the opportunity to entertain in the middle of the week, have my pie and eat it too.

I invited some friends over. Three medium pies and two salads had been delivered a few hours before (smack in the middle of their two-hour delivery window, as agreed). Though everything had to be refrigerated, the packaging was minimal and did not overwhelm my refrigerator. Each pie was individually wrapped, and came with clear instructions, pre-cut parchment paper, and a cardboard base that doubled as a tray for transport (this is by far the best feature of the packaging, spades above your standard supermarket brand).

Each pie was baked for 15 minutes on the parchement provided. It needed to be placed on the middle rack of my small stove, so I baked them one at a time.

In the meantime, we worked on the salads: Pear and Blue Cheese with a Balsamic dressing and a Cobb with Creamy Gorgonzola. The pear was crisp, with a distinct acidic note that went very well with the creaminess of the crumble blue cheese and the spiced walnuts, on top of mixed greens. The Cobb was standard issue (avocado, bacon, tomatoes, hard-boiled egg, blue cheese on top of romaine), with the kick of chives and the lushness that you cannot find in a salad bar or bagged greens, even premium ones.

We sampled three pizzas, which was more than enough for the 5 of us. All the pizzas had the same thin crust (a good balance between thick enough to hold the ingredients and thin enough not to overwhelm with starch) and sauce, all fresh tomato and none of the chemical aftertaste of chain-delivery places. They were also remarkably easy to cut, considering I did not have a pizza cutter handy - my standard chef's knife did the trick, and I cut them on top of the cardboard disc. The Miesian, pictured, was my favorite: Roma Tomato, roasted garlic and fresh basil. You could actually see the garlic, and it provided the pizza with a great kick. The BLT will make you reconsider bacon on pizzas - getting premium bacon fresh out of the oven gives you the sizzle without the copious amounts of grease. We all enjoyed the Georgia (chicken sausage, poblano peppers and ricotta cheese), but I've always been weary of ricotta on pizza, even if it is as good cheese as this. The overall taste was milder than something with poblanos ought to be, but it would be perfect for people who enjoy softer seasonings.

Fresh made for you by others: just like home.

HomeMade Pizza Company
4857 Massachusetts Ave. NW

HomeMade Pizza Company on Urbanspoon

Thursday, November 20, 2008

A for Effort

I taught high school history for several years, and came out of the experience with a particular appreciation for the giddiness and pitfalls inherent to youthful efforts. This is the only explanation I have for enjoying my dinner with O. at Darlington House as much as I did.

The restaurant, in the densely-packed restaurant strip north of Dupont Circle is owned by Fabio and Patricia Beggiato, who also own and operate Sesto Senso (a club with a very good kitchen, or a restaurant with a very good DJ). The kitchen is helmed by Chef Alexander Schulte and Pastry Chef Monica Padua, both in their early twenties. The space and service bear all the hallmarks of experience - welcoming decoration that is not too-homey (a la Restaurant Nora) while avoiding the excesses of a design-school project (Oya), and a very pleasant hostess at the front. The restaurant does look like a house, down to the beautifully up-holstered chairs, the kind your much cooler friends live in, with all the flea-market garage sales finds. The service was friendly and diligent without being pushy. We sat facing a beautiful wooden bar with an interesting feature: a full window right by the service hallway, where more than one person stopped to chat. It gave the bar a lot more whimsy than you would expect from dark wood panelling.

The food, however, looses this sense of balance. We were there for the promotional fixe prix (part of Open Table's Appetite Stimulus Plan), which is a great way to try new restaurants and see how they find creative ways to showcase their menu while cutting down costs. The kitchen's youth is evident in how it rebels in certain things - the adventurous wine list and the wonderful desserts. I had a pumpkin cheesecake with a gingersnap crust topped with vanilla bean whipped cream. The texture was perfect and the play of the pungency of the vanilla with the earthiness of the pumpkin and the sweet bite of the ginger made for a memorable dessert. O. had a lovely bread pudding with a touch of chocolate sauce.

Unfortunately, the kitchen is also at a loss with what to do with certain things, giving the impression that it needs a seasoned hand. The appetizers were well made but nothing special - a polenta with wild mushrooms, three cheeses and truffle oil for me and an arugula and bartlett pear salad for O. The size of the salad made me think of the paltry portion of greens we would put on our plates as kids to show grandma that we were eating vegetables, if only to secure desert. The polenta was tasty, but the dish lacked sufficient contrast in textures, since the mushrooms weren't as easy to differentiate from the starch as they could be. I had read good things about the pasta at Darlington House, but ever since I read Bill Buford's wonderful book, Heat, I order short ribs every chance I get. My short rib was completely separated from the bone; parts of it were chewy and the fat hadn't activated at all. Basic seasonings were also lacking. I thought it was a fluke and I had a bad piece of meat until O. confirmed that hers wasn't much better. The side of potatoes au gratin were the best thing on the plate.

Youthful exuberance to make you believe in the comfort of food and friends. I'll give it a few months and visit them again.

Darlington House
1610 20th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20009
Darlington House on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Have your cocktail and drink it too

There might be less money to spend on merriment this year, but there are still ways to both indulge and help.

Kimpton Hotels has launched its annual Red Ribbon Campaign for HIV/AIDS. All of its DC-area locations (Bar Rouge, Domaso, Firefly, Helix Lounge, Jackson 20, Poste, The Grille at Morrison House, Topaz Bar, and Urbana) will feature “Cocktails for a Cure” a trio of themed cocktails available in November and December. Each drink is $12 and for every one purchased in November and December, Kimpton will donate $1 to the Whitman Walker Clinc.

Rouge on the Rocks
Milagro Blanco Tequila, Grand Marnier, raspberries and mint

Scarlet Night
Bacardi Rum, Campari and white peach puree

Ruby Sparkle
Grey Goose Vodka, Grand Marnier, pomegranate juice and sparkling wine

Rouge on the rocks is an interesting take on a winterized margarita and the Ruby Sparkle is everything a holiday cocktail ought to be - jewel-toned and sparkling.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

For one or many

I have been patronizing Buzz Bakery for over a year and had yet to review it, probably because more often than not I go there to get away from writing in the first place. Owned by the same restaurant group as Rustico (across the street), Vermillion and the Evening Star Cafe, Buzz is a watering hole, a sophisticated dessert case and a morning pastry shop rolled into one.

Pastry Chef Josh Short and his team (who work until the wee hours, with a 6 AM opening and a midnight closing 7 days a week) offers something for everyone. If you stop there for breakfast you'll find oatmeal, waffles, scones, breakfast sandwiches, an incredible cinnamon role that takes its cues from brioche. Lunch offerings include simple salads and pre-made sandwiches. Brownies, cookies and cupcakes are available all day long. The ginger snap is very well balanced, with a good amount of crunch and spice. Their signature cupcake, the bumble bee, has a chocolate filling, meringue frosting, and its namesake bumblebee hovering above. (I believe I have one of each color by now), Thought it is true that the cupcakes used to be bigger and the filling has gone from pudding to sauce, their cakes-for-one especially the seasonal ones (the current ones include caramel apple and carrot cake) are consistently well made, beautiful to look at, imaginative and even fun to carry in a a Chinese take-out inspired container. Friendships have been made and saved, and many a-colleague enticed, prodded and even bribed, with the contents of that pastry case.

Their tartes are what set Buzz apart from the cupcake shops of DC - the caramel and pine nut is an impressive use of smoke taste in an unexpected place, and the lemon creme tarte would make a classic pastry chef nod in enthusiastic approval. Full cakes and pies are also available to carry out. If you find yourself there late, as I often do, you'll find plenty of people nursing drinks other than Illy Coffee. Though their dessertinis are nothing you couldn't find at a regular bar, they have a well-rounded wine selection and beers that make it a worthy sibling of Rustico.

Not quite Old Town, but you'll be glad you made the trip.

Buzz Bakery
901 Slaters Lane
Alexandria VA 22314
Buzz Bakery, Coffee, and Dessert Lounge on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Courtesy of Wall Street

Restaurant Week in November!

Open Table's Appetite Stimulus Plan

Three-Course lunch and dinner for $24 and $35; November 17 - 21 2008.

I've booked Darlington House in Dupont Circle and have had great Restaurant Week experiences at La Bergerie and Indique, which are also on the list. Enjoy!

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Market Morning

I am not exactly a morning person (which explains, at least partially, my love for Brunch) but there are a few things that will get me out bed early on a Sunday - calls from several time zones away, half-price airfare, and beautiful produce.

With its convenient hours (9 AM to 1 PM), central location (between Massachusetts Avenue and Q Street, by the Dupont North Metro Station), creative petitioners (The WHO Farm was there today, upside down bus and all), interesting gimmicks (live music, giant paellaeras) marvelous people watching and a great and wide selection, the Dupont Circle Farmer's Market is my favorite one in DC-proper.

I enjoy dawdling in the market and never take a shopping list, but always find myself making the following required stops:

1. Bonaparte Breads - great baguettes, croissants and other French specialties. Their cherry lattices and almond croissants are not to be missed.

2. Blue Ridge Dairy - wonderful Greek style-yogurt. I especially like their honey one.

3. The nameless mushroom stand. Fantastic mushrooms and helpful suggestions on how to pair them. The $10 sampler is a great way to deviate from the regular button, portobello and crimini.

4. Clear Spring Creamery - their milk from grass-fed cows is great, but it is the ready-made smoothies (with seasonal offerings, including pumpkin spice) and their chocolate milk will make your inner child happy (it will also keep you from sharing it with actual children).

5. Gardener's Gourmet - a wide selection of heirloom varieties of vegetables and herbs. Their fresh basil looks as if it had been hand-picked.

Most of the vendors come from Pennsylvania, Maryland and Northern Virginia and there are many organic options for aroundthe same price you would pay at Whole Foods if not a bit cheaper. The lighting is also much better for food ogling (the peppers, above, were in the Market a few weeks ago). Enjoy the last bit of good weather, bring your reusable bags and make a morning out of it.

Dupont Circle Farmer's Market
500 block of 20th Street, NW

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Ask Away

DC's own Chef Jose Andres is being featured on PBS's Engage Blog:

Questions are currently being collected from visitors and will be selected and answered next week. Have a go!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Camacho's Wedding Feast

Tapas seem to be everywhere these days, and rightly so. Small servings meant to accompany beer of wine, these appetizers can make a meal in and of themselves and are a great way to explore tastes, textures and preparations without committing to a single entrée. Be it a simple tapa of cheese on bread or one featuring vegetables and grilled meats, the secret to great tapas -traditional or modern, purely Spanish or fusion- lies in the ingredients used. This commitment to traditional quality ingredients, even in the face of a skyrocketing Euro, truly sets certain restaurants apart. Judging by their consistently good tapas and hordes of enthusiastic patrons, (even during the middle of the week), Bodega is leading the pack in traditional offerings.

Bodega opened a few months ago on M street, taking over the space formerly occupied by Manhattan Grill. Completely redone in blacks and reds with just a hint of the Arabic influence of Southern Spain, you'll feel as if you walked into Taberna del Alabardero's younger, hipper sibling (though the skulls are a bit too Merc Bar for my taste). Bodega has a full-service bar and a terrace in the back, and the minimal lighting is reminiscent of both a lounge and the wine cellars that give it its name.

The menu is ordered into tablas (platters, mostly cheese and cold cuts, including Serrano Ham), cold tapas, hot tapas, soups, salads, paellas, and for those with less culinary commitment issues, entrées. I have stayed squarely in the tapas section during my initial visits but have given more than sweeping glances at tables that were enjoying paella. Aside from wines by the bottle and the glass, Bodega has red and white sangria (made with Cava, Spanish sparkling white wine). Since tapas are first and foremost bar food, it's a good idea to pair them with wine or beer.

As a rule of thumb, I order 5 or 6 tapas for 2 people, and mix cold and hot tapas. This allows the kitchen to prepare your hot tapas while the cold ones satiate your hunger. The tables at Bodega are small, and the server kept bringing our plates two at a time (at one point we did have to colonize the next table over, as we did not want to relinquish the extra bread). It is also a good idea to leave room for dessert.

My favorite cold tapas are the Boquerones, (cured white anchovies in olive oil and lemon that melt in your mouth); Pan con Tomate y Queso Manchego (a Catalunean staple consisting of bread with a touch of tomato and a slice of Manchego, an aged semi-firm sheep's milk cheese); and the house olives, a blend of colossal, manzanilla and black olives. For hot tapas, I stick to classics: Croquetas de Pollo (golden chicken croquettes filled with chicken and white sauce); Spanish Tortilla (an egg and potato omelet); Calamares Fritos (fried Calamari with Alioli, a garlic and oil sauce); and the Butifarra Catalana (a Catalonian Sausage with Sautees Kidney Beans). The latter almost provoked an incident when Tapas etiquette was breached and T. scooped all the remaining beans. As with everything else in life, beware whom you share your plates with, or at least make sure you're more skilled in fork to fork combat. I've had two outstanding desserts at Bodega: the Crema Catalana (a Catalunean custard, similar but not identical to creme bruleé) and the Bodega ice cream. A truly adult ice cream sundae, where vanilla ice cream is topped by mission figs, port and sherry.

If you get there without your party, avoid the hostess - it should be the food, not the subtle rudeness, that transports you to Iberian Peninsula - and sit yourself at the bar while you wait, the bartender will take care of you.

Bodega Spanish Tapas & Lounge
3116 M St. NW, Washington, DC, 20007
(202) 333-4733
Bodega Spanish Tapas & Lounge on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Welcome to the Neighborhood

I love Georgetown - there are many varieties of charm alive and well there, architectural, natural and personal. But aside from some staples and consistently good take out places, interesting dinning options are fewer than the fabled location would suggest. Rather than wait for a Penn Quarter-like Restaurant Renaissance and because I am closer to Embassy Row than I am to M street, I've adopted the stretch of P street west of Dupont Circle, and consider the establishments there my quasi-neighborhood restaurants.

Palomar, a Klimpton Hotel, continues the group's practice of housing sophisticated and unique restaurants helmed by talented and distinctive chefs (such as Poste at the Hotel Monaco) - restaurants in hotels, rather than hotel restaurants. Last week, we checked out Urbana's revamped menu and new chef. Under the direction of Alex Bollinger (formerly at Charlie Palmer Steak), the restaurant and wine bar encourages patrons to take a swirl and possibly give it a place amongst local favorites. The first challenge, of course, is to find it. It's difficult to walk past the Palomar without noticing the friendly doormen and their hats, but Urbana is below street-level at the edge of the property. Plans to incorporate outdoor seating should fix this, but in the meantime, look out for the green sign and go down the steps - it'll be worth it.

Urbana has an open but fractured floor plan - once you enter there's a lounge behind the hostess stand, with the dining room to the left and a wood-burning oven in the back. The dark woods and the dramatic silver plates compliment the bottle green throughout the design. The lighting scheme - direct spots to tables and dim lights everywhere else makes sure you look at your food, and possibly your date. When it gets cold enough, the stove will provide an interesting fire element to the decor.

Chef Bollinger is known for his mussels, so we decided to share them as an appetizer. The Prince Edward Island mussels are offered with a choice of sauce. We went for the chorizo, roasted peppers and cream. An interesting departure from the traditional white wine (and a better compliment to the Bourgogne Pinot Noir we had ordered off the extensive wine list), the mussels had plenty of sauce and the cream did not overpower the roasted peppers. The chorizo wasn't very strong (as a fan of Spanish cooking, I love chorizo that is pungent and spicy) but this allowed the taste of the mussels to survive the onslaught of the sauce.

T. had the roasted berkshire pork loin chop, served with sauteed peaches, red onions and topped with upland cress. The pork was well seasoned and perfectly cooked. The sauteed peaches were less successful - frying them quickly in a little fat, probably the pork's, does not caramelize them or bring out a different flavor. They did, however, add color and texture to the dish. I had the Puttanesca braised lamb shank with a red pepper and basil salad with gremolata. The shank was a testament to a chef who enjoys working with meats - the portion was ample and though I was given a steak knife, it was tender enough to eat with just the fork. The salad topped the meat and the puttanesca sauce - piquant, but not hot - was under the shank, surrounded by a pool of olive oil and lemon zest, which gave the dish a deconstructed quality and a delicacy one would not expect from such a dramatic cut of meat.

For dessert, T. went for the profiteroles filled with house vanilla gelato and a raspberry ganache topped with a drizzle of valrhona chocolate. It's a simple dessert that lets you enjoy the melding qualities of vanilla. I had the peach tart tatin with blueberry coulis and vanilla custard. Peaches and blueberries go very well together, and their seasons overlap enough that you can get them both fresh on the plate. The portion isn't too big, especially compared to the profiteroles, but after entrees it just hit the spot. People who want just dessert might be better off ordering something else, as it is impossible to share (though that did not deter T.) There is a good selection of dessert cocktails, wines and sparkling wine, but we were happy to finish off our 2005 French Pinot Noir.

A lovely meal and a great addition to my almost-neighborhood.

Urbana Restaurant and Wine Bar at Hotel Palomar Dupont Circle
2121 P St NW
Washington, DC 20037
(202) 956-6650
Urbana on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Craft of Cheese

Bradley Parker of Pipe Dreams fame will partner with Christianna Sargent at Domasoteca to host a special cheese-making class this Saturday, October 18th 1:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m. at Domaso Restaurant at the Hotel Palomar in Arlington, just over Key Bridge.

Food lovers can learn from local cheesemaker and guest host, Bradley Parker, how to create their own chèvre from a starter rennet with special molds, and will leave with their own samples of cheese made during the class.

Samples of the chèvre, already prepared by Parker and Sargent, will be used in a chef’s demo of three easy to prepare dishes incorporating chèvre in each recipe. At the end of the demonstration, guests will have the opportunity to taste four samples of Pipe Dreams cheeses and the three chef-prepared dishes, all with specially selected wines.

The cheese making class, chef’s tasting and wine pairing is $50 plus tax per person. Space is limited and credit card reservations are required. For reservations and for more information call 703-894-5104 or email at

Domasoteca, 1121 N. 19th Street, Arlington, VA 22209

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Pumpkin Pancakes

In advance of Halloween, though I would pass along a tasty and fun recipe for pumpkin pancakes. Hope you enjoy.
2 cups all-purpose unbleached flour
2 tablespoons sugar
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon salt
1-1/2 cups milk
1 cup canned pumpkin
4 eggs, separated
1/4 cup melted butter
Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon and salt in a mixing bowl. Mix together the milk, pumpkin, egg yolks and butter in another bowl. Using a hand-held electric mixer or a wooden spoon, beat the mixture until well-blended. Add the milk-pumpkin mixture to the flour-sugar mixture and, using a wooden spoon, mix just enough to moisten all ingredients. (Overmixing at this point will create pancakes with a rubbery texture.) Using clean beaters and bowl, beat the egg whites until they are stiff but not dry, then fold them into the batter. Spoon the batter onto a buttered or oiled hot griddle. Fry the pancakes until the tops look dry and small bubbles appear on the surface. Turn the pancakes and fry until second side is golden-brown. Serve with hot maple syrup. Yields approx. 30 four-inch pancakes.

Saffron Dreams

In celebration of DC Paella Week and a good friend's birthday, 5 of us set out to make one big enough for 30 people. I'll post a step by step how-to soon. In the meantime, here's a vanity shot:

Most of the ingredients and tools, including the Paella dish, the Cebolla rice, the saffron, chorizos and seafood came from A&H Market in Bethesda, a short walk from Bethesda Row. Aside from a wide selection of seafood, they carry a wide assortment of Spanish and Portuguese ingredients.

A&H Gourmet and Seafood Market
4960 Bethesda Avenue
Bethesda, MD 20814
(301) 986 9692

Wednesday, October 8, 2008


CJ & JC, Peruvians Extraordinaire, had their housewarming this weekend. In a Pan-Latin American gathering, Pisco Sours are always a hit. This is the recipe we've perfected over the years for party-sized batches:

3 parts Pisco
I prefer Peruvian, and Quebranta grape is best for mixing. Santiago Queirolo and Gran Cruz are good brands

2 parts sugar
White - may also be substituted for Splenda for Baking

1 part lime juice
Fresh squeezed is best, but a lime mixer will also work. Rose's is a bit too sweet, but many liquor stores carry more than one brand

2 egg whites
Pasteurized egg whites are best to ease fears and qualms about raw eggs

Ice for Blending
Cinnamon for garnish

In a blender, grind the ice and add the pisco. Bring the blender down to whip and add the lime juice. If your blender allows it, keep it going while you add the sugar from the top. Once everything is mixed, add the egg whites to froth. Pour immediately into highball or tall, narrow glasses. Sprinkle cinnamon on top.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008


It took a while for the craze to finally hit DC with full force (NYC has moved on to Macaroons already), but the Washington Post is doing a fine job unbunduling the issue:

Cupcake Wars by Joe Yonan

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Shana Tova Umetukah!

An experiment for tomorrow, from My Most Favorite Dessert Company Cookbook by HarperCollins

Honik Lekaj

3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 extra-large eggs
1 cup honey
3/4 cup brewed coffee, cooled
2 large McIntosh apples, peeled, cored, and finely chopped

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease the bottom and sides of a 10-inch angel food cake pan. Cut a piece of parchment paper to fit the bottom and line the pan with it. Do not grease the paper.
2. Onto a large sheet of wax paper, sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, salt, and nutmeg.
3. In the bowl of a standing electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the sugar, vegetable oil, and eggs. Beat on medium speed until combined.
4. Turn the machine off and add the honey. Beat on low speed until blended. Increase the speed to medium and beat for 30 seconds.
5. Turn off the machine again and add the dry ingredients, alternating with the coffee, until the batter is combined. (The batter will be loose.)
6. With a wooden spoon, stir in the chopped apples.
7. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake for 1 hour 20 minutes, or until the cake is deep golden on top and a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove the pan from the oven to a wire rack and let it stand for 5 minutes. Remove the sides of the pan and carefully remove the cake from the bottom. Let the cake stand right side up on a wire rack to cool. Store the cake, covered in plastic wrap, in the refrigerator for 1 week.
To Freeze: Make the cake as directed in the recipe, let it cool completely, then wrap it well in plastic wrap and place it in a large freezer bag. Freeze for up to several weeks.
To Defrost: Remove all the wrappings and let it stand at room temperature until ready to serve.

Makes one 10-inch tube cake, or 10 to 12 servings.

A good and sweet year to all!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Wine About

Just like its sister property in Dupont Circle, the Hotel Palomar in Arlington has committed its public spaces to arts and wine, bringing warmth and life to what could otherwise have been just another hotel lobby overlooking the high rises on the Virginia side of Key Bridge. Last Monday, Australian wine makers took over the spacious lounge, and patrons could sample reds and whites. Though the phrase "wine and cheese" is often maligned, particularly for those of us who still have fresh memories of grad school entertaining, the fresh figs, grapes, prosciutto, peppered ham, salami, gorgonzola, goat cheese (kept wonderfully replenished by Domaso staff, who took the time to unfurl practically every piece), would make anyone reconsider. The muted tones of the lounge furniture were a great contrast to the vibrant colors of their art pieces (permanent as well as special exhibit for the evening) and light fixtures, and the couches are roomy enough to fit a gaggle of friends.

I sampled every wine at the event, and my favorite was West Cape Howe Two Steps Shiraz Viognier, from their Southern Range. Shiraz has long been the grape of choice for Australian wines and this mix features viognier, a white grape originally from the Rhone region in France. A peppery wine, with a subtle oak aroma, with berry flavors that make the palate soft and juicy. A wonderful wine at a great price (20.99 USD)

I bought my bottle at Domasoteca, a specialty store located at ground level, stacks the bottles upon a glass and steel cellar - a veritable library that, more than sell bottles, invites patrons to find new and different ways to experience all the possibilities grapes have to offer, without breaking the bank. Since you're already dare to meditate on the life and times of wine bottles that came from all over to find you in Virginia, you might want to partake on the chocolates and cheese. Domasoteca's kind and speedy staff will cheerfully ring you up, making sure you leave with a quip or two about the bottle you are taking with you.

Domasoteca at Hotel Palomar - Arlington
1121 North 19th Street
Arlington, VA 22209
Tel: 703.351.1211

West Cape Howe Wines

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Happy Birthday

Downtown has many places to do a power lunch, but few venues that can walk the line between an ordinary evening out and occasion dining. We had a birthday to celebrate and another to anticipate, so we decided to have dinner at Café Atlantico.

I like Zaytinya, Oyamel and Jaleo very much, but Café Atlantico is my favorite outpost of Chef José Andrés' empire. House in a three-story building a block away from the Navy Memorial, the restaurant features a full bar in the ground floor, an open kitchen in the second floor, ample seating throughout. The service is always attentive and friendly and the decor incorporates Caribbean elements (in lovely washes of red, orange and turquoise in fabrics) without going into sensory overload or full-blown kitsch. The first level of the third story, where we sat, has a view of the famed MiniBar, the limited-seating restaurant within a restaurant.

The restaurant's signature cocktails are well worth their own trip. The mojitos are made with fresh ingredients (you can always taste the preservatives in a mix, no matter how good or expensive it is) and proper garnishes, the passion fruit martini is a great seasonal drink, and the air Margarita is the best use of a foam I've seen in a drink: the lime zest and salt literally float on top of the lime juice and tequila, giving it the consistency of a frothy cappuccino.

Like Oyamel, its sister restaurant, Café Atlantico offers guacamole, which can be prepared table-side (a traditional preparation with fresh chili, diced onions and tomatoes that can give the famed one at Rosa Mexicano a run for its money) or prepared in the kitchen with Cotija, un-aged cheese. The latter is an interesting take on a classic, but we opted for the table-side last night. Prepared in a traditional molcajete (a mortar made of volcanic rock, typical of Mexico) and served with tortilla chips.

The menu is a tour of Latinamerican culinary traditions and ingredients and the Dim Sum brunch, served on Sundays, has great examples of Nuevo Latino and Avant-Garde cooking. Patrons used to the prices at Jaleo and Zaytinia may find Café Atlantico to be far more expensive, but keep in mind that these are full dinner portions, not tapas or mezze. Since we had guacamole and wanted to leave room for dessert, we went straight to entrees. O. had the Duck Confit, a cured duck leg poached in its own fat, Pedro Ximenez sherry, accompanied with Brussel sprouts, apples and raisins, garnished with pine nuts, a fantastic dish to mark the beginning of Autumn. Jd. had the flank steak, grilled and accompanied by malanga (a root vegetable closely related to the Taro Root, found in the Caribbean)two ways, as a puree and as chips, providing three very distinct textures in one plate. Jl. opted for a scallop appetizer that could be doubled for an entree, scallops with coconut rice, crispy rice, ginger, squid and squid ink oil. The oil provided the aromatics without coloring the delicate rice black, and the crispy rice kept the dish from being too creamy. I went full-on Caribbean and had the Jerk Chicken, wonderfully spiced (with clear and present notes of anise, clove and cinnamon) and accompanied with a take on Puerto Rican Mofongo, a plantain puree seasoned with garlic, olive oil and pork crackings, garnished with bacon bits, roasted garlic and pearl onions that seeped the jerk seasonings.

Though we were fully satisfied after the first two courses, birthday etiquette mandated that desserts be had. We ordered the sorbet of the day, passion fruit (to keep with the theme) and the Bizcocho, a warm chocolate cake with a Venezuelan chocolate flan (that was too runny to be an actual flan, more like a creme anglaise, but it still tasted wonderful), banana foam, and a banana slices squirted with lime juice, a staple of Latin fruit plates. The plate was small but layered textures masterfully, from firm to gooey to airy.

A great place to celebrate, be it friends or food.

Cafe Atlantico
405 8th Street NW
Washington, DC 20004
(202) 393-0812 view menu
Café Atlántico on Urbanspoon

Friday, September 12, 2008

Hankering for Ceviche

Ceviche, a citrus-marinated seafood salad, can be found in several Latin American cuisines, including Peru, Ecuador and Mexico. The recipes for the different ceviches are simple enough, but the prep work (dicing fish an other seafood) can take hours. This is where I like to go for a quick fix:

1. Peruvian

Barnone, the best Peruvian ceviche in DC-proper. The appetizer menu features both Fish Ceviche and Ceviche mixto (fish, conch, squid and shrimp) garnished with red onion, corn, and sweet potato. There is some chili in there, but the overall heat effect is minimum.

El Chalan
1924 Eye Street, NW Washington, DC

2. Tour

Ceiba has a fantastic ceviche sampler that will allow you to try Equadorean, Peruvian and Mexican takes on the dish, all prepared with different fish (or shrimp, in the case of Mexico) ordered by degree of hotness.

701 14th Street, NW Washington DC

3. Mexican and Peruvian

A very cool take on a neighborhood restaurant, taking over the space of the long-ailing Austin Grill. A great place to linger.

Ceviche - Glover Park
2404 Wisconsin Ave. NW, Washington, DC

Australian Art & Wine Tasting at Domaso

A great opportunity to check out Domaso and Domasoteca at the Hotel Palomar in Arlington, just over Key Bridge.

Domasoteca, Domaso and the Hotel Palomar Arlington in conjunction with the Country Vintner, Gallery Sydney-East, and The Workhouse Arts Center present an 'Australian Walkabout,' where guests can indulge and taste 18 different Australian wines, have a rare opportunity to meet Australian winemakers and view a stunning collection of prized Aboriginal art.

For one night only, guests will enjoy an exclusive exhibition of contemporary Australian Aboriginal artwork displayed by Gallery Sydney-East and the Workhouse Arts Center. A total of 15 pieces will be exhibited, including featured works from famed Aboriginal artists Joey Helicopter Tjungurrayi, Eunice Napangardi, Napanangka Yukenbarri, Marika Patrick and Billy Duncan. Come and see what legendary art critic, Robert Hughes has called "the world's last great art movement."

The 'Australian Walkabout' includes a tasting of 18 wines, charcuterie and cheeses, and an exhibit of 15 featured art pieces, with an exclusive opportunity to purchase the art before unveiling at the Workhouse Arts Center**. Admission is $20 per person and reservations are recommended.

All guests will receive 20% off of mix and match case purchases of featured Australian wines from Domasoteca.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Celebrate Architecture Week at Proof

On September 16, the American Institute of Architects, DC Chapter will host 'Dinner With the Architect' at Proof, featuring owner Mark Kuller and Architect Griz Dwight for a behind the scenes look at this restaurant and wine bar.

The event will begin at 5 PM and end at 7 PM. The cost is $80 per person including the special dinner menu and selected wine parings.

RSVPs are required (ask for 'Architect Dinner' reservation).

775 G Street, NW
Washington, D.C. 20001

Friday, August 22, 2008


What is it about Summer Restaurant Week that makes it so different from its winter counterpart? Is it the fact that the city is mostly empty as summer ebbs? Fresher ingredients? People in less of a hurry to warm up? I pondered these and other questions as I made my way up King Street (on the first truly hot day after a stint of glorious weather) to have dinner at Vermilion. I'd heard good things about it, and I go to Buzz, part of the same restaurant group, at least once a week.

As a space, Vermilion takes advantage of its location, a few blocks up from the King Street metro station. The converted house (all red hues, by decor and design) has a beautiful bar that looks like an updated saloon, and the upstairs has a wine wall that has probably tempted more than one patron. Window seating is sparse but readily available. If this bar were smoke-free, I'd make it a staple for Happy Hour.

The Restaurant Week menu also included wine specials. Though I often crave white wine during the summer, I find red to be a better choice for a heavy meal. We ordered a bottle red Côtes du Rhône, probably a Syrah/Granache mix (I have noticed that the French are now labeling by grape and not by terroir, but this was one of the old time bottles). The wine was lovely - bright, but with a bite.

As a first course, I had the chilled roasted pepper soup, which came in a very dramatic bowl that made the best use of the fiery orange on white contrast. The soup was garnished with pine nuts and a dollop of cream, and the texture was grainy - a way to preserve the consistency of the peppers. T. had the Eastern shore scallops - a dish I love but that I've had to stop ordering, as I always wound up eating the same thing. They looked perfectly cooked and considering the speed at which they were eaten, were probably quite good. I had read great things about the kitchen's handmade pasta, but we both chose the bistro fillet. Potatoes would have put this steak on another seasonal menu, so the garnish was blue cheese (maytag, as a crisp) and enough cherry tomatoes (red and yellow) to be a salad on its own, cut into halves and sprinkled with salt.

After an ill-advised staring contest, we took on dessert. The pasty chef had a chance to show off, showcasing the ingredients in two and three ways. The Peppermint Pattie featured two types of chocolate (as a cake and as a liquid) and three types of mint (sprig, cream, and the best mint ice cream I've ever had). The goat's milk cheesecake, a fluffy concoction hovering over strawberries mixed with wine, was a refreshing bite.

I look forward to trying their bar menu, smoke and all.

Vermilion Restaurant
1120 King Street
Alexandria, VA 22314
703 684 9669
Vermilion on Urbanspoon

Friday, August 15, 2008

Boys Don't Cry

The best part about going to Restaurant Week with E. is that I know I will try twice as many dishes - ever since Y. got us started a few years ago, demanding that we approach this celebration of eating out with the discipline of samurais, we have an unspoken rule of exchanging plates midway. I've been sorry to part with my dish on several occasions, but this way I don't have to wonder what I am missing. E. is also getting a degree in Decorative Arts, so my random musings on the color of walls or the choice of lightning are vastly improved by her keen eye and eloquence.

After a slight confusion with our tables - we wound up waiting for each other for over 25 minutes, on opposite sides of the partition wall - we settled down for a lovely meal (to make up for the wait, our waitress got us extra onion and dill rolls - not to be missed, even if you are in for a three course lunch).For appetizers we ordered Tuna Sliders (spicy tuna tartare on mini rolls with a cucumber salad) and a salad called "The Wedge," a crafty presentation of iceberg hearts, smoked bacon, tomato confitures and buttermilk blue aioli. The sliders looked delightful, arranged as happy mushrooms, and the salad had a great balance of textures. Aioli is seldom prepared the way it ought to be - with raw egg - due to health regulations, but the creaminess of the buttermilk was a great contrast to the acidity of the pepper vinaigrette. For main courses, we had the beef shortribs and the braised pork. Both dishes were pulled - no bones on the plate, which gave them the appearance of a very high-end barbecue (the pork even came with coleslaw). The shortribs were very well cooked and perfectly seasoned, over a bed of frites. The polenta cake that came with the pork was fluffy, even with the onslaught of braising jus and slaw dressing. The pickle chips were mostly an afterthought - they added nothing to the dish and though they looked pretty, the taste was too briny to be harmoniously incorporated into the dish.

When dessert came (a souffle cake with solidified creme anglaise for me and beignets for E.) we both came to the same realization - the navy blue/brown/white décor, menu and even the Spartan presentation of the desserts gave off a decisively "Gentlemen Who Lunch" vibe, which makes perfect sense in a restaurant in the middle of so many offices. Though PS 7's is not trying to be the Caucus Room or The Palm, you would hardly expect a gaggle of women to come in through the door on any given day. Luckily, the balanced menu, fresh ingredients and cordial service makes this a great place to visit, even for a powerless-lunch.

For those of you who want to pace yourselves with Restaurant Week - rejoice. PS 7's has extended it for the entire month of August. Details here.

PS 7's Restaurant
777 I Street, NW
Washington, DC 20001

Thursday, July 24, 2008

It's that special time of year

Restaurant Week for the DC area is scheduled for August 11 -18. Many of the restaurants announce their Restaurant Week menu, and only a few feature their full menu. The price for the three course menu is 20.08 for lunch and 30.08 for dinner, plus beverages, tax and tip.

For the full list, click here. If Open Table says they're full, try giving them a call. They usually keep a few spare tables.

In the spirit of Restaurant week, I've only picked restaurants I've never tried: Vermillion, PS7 and Ruth's Chris Steakhouse.

I've had great meals during Restaurant Week at Ceiba, Zola, Cafe Atlantico, Hook, Mendocino, Poste and Vidalia.

Happy Dining!

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

The Neon's Blue Glare

Our plans for a 4th of July picnic got rained out, but we still wanted to eat somewhere Mall-adjacent in time to go down and see the fireworks. We wandered 7th street looking for a place that wasn't packed. After three failed attempts, D. suggested we get away from the main drag and explore the options behind the Verizon Center. We found ourselves in Kanlaya, a thai place (with the neon sign to prove it). In a hurry and very hungry, we sat down in the lacquered, but somewhat generic, dining room.

Our meal came as the best kind of surprise - the one paired with zero expectations. We decided to share all our dishes and stuck to thai ice tea, coke, and hot tea. We had no vegetarians in our party, but Kanlaya has an extensive selection of vegetarian dishes and is a good option for those so inclined. We started out with Papaya Green salad, one of the best I've had in DC - julienned papaya is dressed in lime and topped with roasted peanuts, string beans and tomato, and comes with a side of grilled shrimp. We also ordered Larb Gai, a dish made up of minced chicken in spicy lime juice. The dish lacks crunch but the mince chicken goes very well with the brightness of the lime. The Siam Dumplings were average (steamed and stuffed with a mix of pork, shrimp, crabmeat and mushroom) but the Thai soy sauce gave them an interesting spin. For entrees we stuck to classics - Pad Thai, Chicken Green Curry and a seafood dish billed "Southern Seafood" a mix of crab, squid, shrimp in a stir fry served with a spicy tamarind sauce. Everything was well prepared and brought out fast. We had no time for dessert - the menu had the usual, mango sticky rice and assorted custards.

Not really destination dining, but Kanlaya is a great option for a quick lunch or post-movie dinner in Chinatown.

Kanlaya Thai Cuisine
740 6th Street NW
Washington, DC 20050
(202) 393-0088
Kanlaya on Urbanspoon

Monday, July 7, 2008

Mom's Flan

Preheat oven to 300 F

5 whole eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 can of condensed milk (nestle la lechera, if available)
1 can evaporated milk (carnation, if available)

For caramel:
Half a cup of sugar

Combine all ingredients for flan using a blender or a whisk (I always use the blender).

In a cast-iron skillet, caramelize sugar, stirring with a wooden spoon
(shortcut: break some brittle into pieces (pecan works great) and stick it in the mold) pour caramel into the bottom of the flan mold (if using a single one) or ramekins.

Put the mold or ramekins in a metal mold or pirex half-filled with water and bake for aprox. 1 hour.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Shelter from the Storm

The skies opened as I was on my way to Penn Quarter to make my 9.15 reservation last Saturday. I've had enough of the rain by now, but at least the downpour could pass as a monsoon, which went very well with our restaurant selection, Rasika.

Tucked away on D street by the Woolly Mammoth Theater, Rasika puts a trendy spin on Indian fare without putting it through the full-on fusion treatment. The space is dominated by clean lines and light wood. Nothing is guild and the centerpiece is a large white and red crystal beaded curtain that separates the bar from the dining room. Our server was polite (she even provided extra napkins as we came in, wet just from stepping out of the cab), checked on us regularly, and was happy to recommend cocktails and wine pairings. M. had a glass pinot grigio, L. went for Indian beer, and I had a cocktail made from sparkling pinot noir juice and vodka. The cocktail came with an orchid as garnish, which I put aside. L. had just been to Peru and she insisted that the orchid was edible, and that restaurants in Lima serve them with a butter sauce, as you would with steamed artichokes. My skepticism faded when she took a petal and ate it herself. It was L.'s first time trying Indian food and we wanted to set a good example. The flavor was nothing special but the texture was similar to fresh Bibb lettuce.

For an appetizer we tried the Palak Chaat. This was my second time at Rasika and understand why people rave about this flash-fried spinach, which I've only seen on this menu in DC. Combined with yogurt, date chutney and tamarind, it is a combination of earthy flavors, enhanced by the way in which the spinach literally melts in your mouth. I have not tried their other appetizers and probably will not until the sad day when they take the Palak Chaat off the menu.

For second course, we ordered a bread basket with their most popular breads - onion and sage, classic naan, and garlic naan. M., who doesn't have many Indian options back home, stuck to a classic Chicken Masala, a green version with mint, corianded and ground spices. The chicken was well prepared and the sauce good enough to eat on its own. L. and I both ordered the Lamb Pista Korma, stewed lamb in a sauce made from pistachios, cashew nuts, mace and cardamom. Cardamom is one of my favorite spices and I love how it pairs well with both the sweet and the savory. While the pistachio certainly dominated the dish, it was not overpowering. The lamb was lean and easy to cut into with just a fork.

We were pretty full by the time dessert menus appeared, but we decided to split the Chocolate Somosa. This is more crafty marketing than an actual somosa, but the flaky pastry encasing thick chocolate did have the familiar triangular shape. I'd be interested to try some of their other desserts, but to in order to do that I might have to make a meal out of several Chaat an bypass the entrées. Though the restaurant had a lot of patrons, even in the summer storm, we were not rushed and allowed to enjoy the food and the company. Rasika is a marvelous place to wander and wonder.

633 D St NW
Washington, DC 20004
(202) 637-1222
Rasika on Urbanspoon

Friday, June 20, 2008

Noodles and Sympathy

West End and Dupont Dwellers will have to forgive me for stating the obvious, but Larry La's Meiwah deserves the praise both for its food and its service.

Last night three women made their way up New Hampshire Avenue, after a much needed glass of chilled white wine. Determining who had the worst day would surely end in a draw. The time was 10.15, and while there are many wonderful late night purveyors in Dupont (Alberto's and Zorba's, to name a few), D. had her heart set on Meiwah, a quintessential neighborhood restaurant: not trendy or new but but with a varied menu of great dishes simply prepared to showcase the clean bright flavors of its ingredients. As we approached the restaurant I saw that it's cheerful neon was still on and there were still some patrons. As D. reached for the door I saw the schedule, which said that the restaurant closed at 10.30 PM. Having the habit of eating dinner very late, I've gotten used to the "Sorry, Kitchen Closed" routine. I usually keep myself from glaring at the hostess by remembering that the kitchen and wait staff has been at it since 2.00 PM and probably want to cash out and head home. D. and S. asked for a table and I tried to figure out an alternative on the fly.

I was very suprised when they gave us a table. I could see some of the prep cooks out of the corner of my eye, and to my mortification a steadily emptying dinning room. The hostess flipped the sign to closed. We ordered dumplings, an entrée and two vegetable dishes, sharing all of them. The dumplings came out first, their crackled pan-fried skins covering firm and savory meat. The bok choy was as firm as leeks and the mushrooms that topped them, superb in their oyster sauce. The spinach was not waterlogged and the fresh garlic gave it a great kick. Our entrée was Beef Chow Foon, a staple Cantonese dish made up of stir-fried beef, hefen (wide rice noodles) and bean sprouts.

As we ate, our waitress refilled our glasses several times and asked us if everything was alright and if we needed anything else. No one started cleaning up, turned the music off, or made us order everything at once, all (much deserved) punishments to late patrons. We were such a tired looking trio that the wait staff could probably tell that the meal could be the only good part of our soon to be over day, and they took great strides to make sure it was. Tasty as the oyster sauce was, it was their kindness that made the meal truly wonderful.

Meiwah Restaurant
1200 New Hampshire Ave. NW, Washington, D.C. 20036
Meiwah on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Food & Friends

Food & Friends is hosting their 18th Annual Chef's Best Dinner & Auction on Monday, June 16th. Featuring 60 of the region's brightest culinary stars, guests will enjoy innovative, one-of-a-kind tasting opportunities at the Hilton Washington and have the chance to bid on exciting live and silent auction items.

In celebration of Food & Friends' 20th Anniversary year, the organization is pleased to welcome comedienne Suzanne Westenhoefer, who has been featured on Bravo, VH1 and in notable stand-up venues across the country.

A Washington tradition for 18 years, Chef's Best raises critical funds for men, women and children facing HIV/AIDS, cancer and other life-challenging illnesses in the District of Columbia and 14 counties in Maryland and Virginia. The only agency in the region to provide these life-sustaining services, Food & Friends hopes that you'll join them for their signature event.

VIP Reception at 5:30pm. Doors Open at 6:30pm.

Contact for Media: Lisa Butenhoff Bandera,

Contact to Purchase Tickets: Dan Bushey,, 202.269.6826

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

An Evening with Oliver Friendly

Upon meeting Oliver Friendly, you get the sense that he could have been many things: a salesman, an actor, a lobbyist, a teacher, a PR executive; anything that would have allowed him to thrive as the center of attention. But this graduate of L’Academie de Cuisine loves food, and he enjoys taking care of people. Thus, a natural-born entertainer turned his attention to cooking.

On a rainy Sunday night a few weeks ago, J. hosted a private cooking lesson for 4 friends. Oliver brought all of the ingredients and cooking equipment and showed remarkable resourcefulness when he had to make do in a kitchen that is fairly well-stocked but hardly ever used. I had given him some preferences, but left the menu planning up to him. Our three-course dinner featured a salad with heirloom tomatoes and a living lettuce, heritage pork with fingerling potatoes and asparagus, and a simple chocolate mousse with strawberries. All of the ingredients come from the farmer’s markets in the Washington, D.C. area.

It sounds a bit cliché these days but there is a lot to be said for respecting the ingredients. Oliver’s demonstration (it could have been a class if we had been more gun-ho about participating, but it was a weekend and we were delighted to have somebody else do the work for a change) was all about the stories behind the ingredients that made up our meal. It is a truth universally acknowledged but seldom discussed that most food comes from living, breathing beings, and that the lives that they lead, however short or utilitarian, directly impact the food we eat, be it its taste, texture, price, or overall health.

The evening was well-paced and we were asked to pinch, smell, blanche, and even taste. He told us what he was doing and why he was doing it at every moment. The techniques were simple – he wasn’t out to impress us, but rather to make sure that we deemed food that doesn’t come from a packet or comes from a professional kitchen accessible. I don’t see myself making a prep list anytime soon, but taking the time to cook and enjoy the fruits of your land, especially in the company of friends, is something to smile about.

Oliver Friendly
Personal Chef
Eat & Smile Foods
(202) 270 1018

Monday, April 21, 2008

Winging It

B. and I were walking down Wilson Boulevard trying to figure out where to have dinner. Since the weather was nice, we wanted to sit outside, which gave us several options around the Clarendon metro. We had talked about getting Chicken wings but Hard Times Cafe didn't get us too excited. B. pointed out Mexicali Blues and it seemed like there was much merriment, so we went inside. I perused the menu and verified that they had Pupusas on the menu (my rule of thumb for Mexican restaurants is that they should not call themselves that if they feature pupusas) - but the atmosphere was fun, the wait for a table reasonable, and the menu clearly listed pupusas as a Salvadorean specialty.

I went to get us a round of drinks and verified that the Pan-Latinamericanism of the place extended to the cocktail list, as it had several kinds of Mojitos (Cuban!). I decided to check my gastronomic geopolitics at the door and ordered a mojito for B. and a pomegranate margarita for myself. Pomegranate, more often identified with Persian food, is widely used in several Mexican dishes, including Chiles en Nogada. To my dismay the bartender spoke no Spanish, but I heard plenty of it coming from the kitchen. Though the mojito was nothing special - Rumba Cafe in Adams Morgan serves my favorite one - the Margarita was very good, refreshing but with a kick.

While we waited for our table perched on stools by a picture window I kept scoping dishes to figure out what would pass muster. Anything I saw with yellow cheese I dismissed. Mexicali is the capital of Baja California and Baja cooking is very bright, clean and tasty. B. and I decided to get fish tacos, Baja style (capeados, a form of battered flash frying for the fish, topped with pickled cabbage and a spicy guacamole served on a corn tortilla). For a starter, I was happy to see that the menu did have Chicken Wings, at least for the night, a special called Gloria's Smokey Alitas. The tacos were good, a bit on the greasier side for the fish, but with a great crunch thanks to the cabbage and in need of absolutely no seasoning. The chicken wings were spectacular - I am sorry not to see them on the regular menu. The wings were marinated in a tomatillo sauce (small green tomatoes mixed with green chiles and onions) and an ancho chile, which gave them an incredible smoke. They came with a jalapeno sour cream - I couldn't taste any jalapeno but was thrilled to see cilantro and onions, chopped and diced, mixed into the cream. This is the traditional fresh garnish of most street tacos and for me a surefire sign that it's namesake was either a Mexican woman or a rather inspired muse. I've never had wings like that - a depth of flavor and texture, cold upon almost scalding, smokey on fresh, a truly great and complex starter that hit the spot and even made me a bit homesick.

2933 Wilson Boulevard
Arlington, Virginia
Mexicali Blues on Urbanspoon