Thursday, January 24, 2008

You may go down to the garden...

My favorite meal for this Restaurant Week was dinner at Poste in Penn Quarter. Though I've been to their bar many times, I had yet to have a full meal. Poste is a good bar to go to in Penn Quarter, particularly in late spring and early summer - they have fantastic open space in Hotel Monaco's back courtyard right by Chef Weland's herb garden, which inspires many of their unique drinks (try the Lavender Margarita - it stays closer to the spirit of the Mexican cocktail of choice more than any of those frozen mango concoctions). Patrons can pick from a well-rounded bar menu (truffle frites are always a hit) and be well served even as they opt out of the sit-down experience. I'll look at the table section with some longing next time I go to the bar.

The Restaurant Week menu featured selections from the dinner menu and the specials for that night were a lamb dish (with a $7 additional charge) and a scallop and pork belly dish (no extra charge, but the portion was smaller). Instead of wine we opted for cocktails, since it seemed to be the thing to do for a late Friday night dinner. Si. and So. had the aforementioned lavender margaritas and I had a lemon basiltini. I love aromatics in cocktails, but the champagne was more fizzy than sparkly and the overall result was not as sophisticated a cocktail as I've come to expect from Poste. The fresh basil on top of my glass, however, was the promise of things to come.

For first course, Si. had the Arugula and pomegranate salad, which she declared to be well presented and dressed but nothing too special. So. had the foie gras on toasted brioche, it was smoky and creamy but also firm. I had the celeriac soup, presented on a highball glass (I spooned the foam and sipped the rest). The soup was outstanding, with shrimp, smoked bacon and truffles. It will be difficult not to order it every single time I go there.

For second course, Si. ordered Chef Weland's famous chicken. I was tempted to order it, especially after reading the piece the Washington Post ran about him, but I figured she would let me sneak a bite. The organic free range chicken comes with farro, sweet corn, chanterelles and celery root, and I can safely say it has ruined all other chickens for me. So. ordered the stripped bass with guanciale and corn and clam chowder. It was an interesting combination and the fish was perfectly cooked. I had the smaller portion of the seared scallops with pork belly, parsley root and dandelion. The pork belly was spectacular - crispy but juicy, and a perfect counterpoint to the scallop.

Our waiter - polite, but with too many tables to handle at once - told us that the bad news was that the kitchen had run out of the Pot de Creme So. and I had ordered. The other option on the Restaurant Week Menu was a Gingerbread Cake with pears and hazelnut ice-cream, but we were told that we could order anything on the dessert menu. After careful consideration, we wound up picking the same thing, a Chocolate Macaron Sundae. Macarons from Dalloyau are one of my favorite things, and pistachio is one of the most traditional fillings. Seeing a giant half-macaron (for French standards anyway) served with braised pineapple and pistachio ice cream was a wonderful merging of American proportions and textures with a French classic.

Great food and a wonderful value for Restaurant Week. I can't wait for someone to come visit to have an excuse to go for dinner again.

Poste Moderne Brasserie
555–8th Street, NW
Washington DC 20004
Poste on Urbanspoon

Sunday, January 20, 2008

The masque of Italy

As soon as I walked into Teatro Goldoni last Thursday, my suspicions were confirmed: this is the quintessential K Street power lunch venue. Having their target audience down pat, they do not need to put in extra effort to reap the benefits of Restaurant Week - introducing more people to your menu and aesthetic. After mushing through the snow to make my reservation, I met my party at Teatro with a minute to spare. Though there was hardly a crowd, the hostess seemed quite frazzled; checking my coat took several comings and goings. Again, not a place that is used to many late dinners.

I walk by Teatro Goldoni often on my way home. I've always been curious about it, but had skipped it on previous Restaurant Weeks because of their very limited offerings. I had heard a lot about its decor and though I love an exposed kitchen (a great innovation back in 1999), Central and Brasserie Beck have this kitchen beat by a mile. From where I was seating I could see the service corridor more than anything that was happening in the line itself. The lighting scheme and carnevale maks are quite theatric, but the overall impression is of a dialed-down Las Vegas. The music featured jazz vocalists, which works very well.

B. had the roasted carrot soup for a first course, while the rest of us had Prosciutto di Parma. It could have been a run of the mill Italian appetizer, but the ingredients were superb - fresh with just the right amount of fat, and paired with oven roasted tomato, bell peppers and aged balsamic vinegar reduction. I've never had bell peppers and prosciutto in the same bite without bread, but it was a wonderful surprise.

For second course, B. had the salmon (oh so pervasive on Restaurant Week menus for all the obvious reasons). The salmon came with giant beans stew, and roasted rapini, and was herb crusted. A pleasant dish. F. had the Parmesan Style chicken breast with crispy eggplant, fresh mozzarella and tomato sauce. Though the presentation was lovely and eggplant is always hard to get just right, F. declared it a dish he could replicate. He ordered a side of pasta from the open menu. J. and I had the
buckwheat fettuccini with Bolognese sauce. The sauce was perfectly made - meaty without being soupy. The pasta was freshly made, as anyone should expect at those prices. The parmesan did not get to me until halfway through my entree, but it was an excellent addition.

The dessert options were a Pandoro amerene cherries pudding with illy espresso sauce and mint ice cream and a bittersweet warm chocolate cake with gingered mango sauce. I don't associate mangos or ginger with Venice, so I had the cherries pudding which reminded me of a bread pudding made out of pannatone for a very interesting effect, and the mint ice cream was powerful without being overwhelming.

Overall, a perfectly pleasant meal, but not enough of a preview to convince me to go back and order from their open menu for dinner any time soon. I'll have to try their bar menu for lunch one of these days.

Teatro Goldoni
1909 K Street, NW
Washington DC
Teatro Goldoni on Urbanspoon

Thursday, January 17, 2008


The team behind Hook in Georgetown is committed to serving eco-friendly food. To the patron, this translates into a menu that changes daily to reflect whatever sustainable fish are in season and available and that incorporates locally grown produce as well as humane meat and dairy products. The philosophy also inspires the décor: stark white walls festooned with blow-up pictures of your entrees before they were seafood. It looks and feels like an aquarium, with the photographs themselves looking a bit worse for wear after a year.

I have had lunch at Hook twice for Restaurant Week and have enjoyed both meals. Sustainable fishing has many merits, but from the purely self-serving angle, it gives you the opportunity to eat fish not commonly found in restaurants (last August I had barracuda for an entrée). There were three of us yesterday, so we had the opportunity to taste about half of the Restaurant Week Menu for the day.

The first course consisted of a Tuna Crudo (Raw Tuna prepared three ways, this time featuring a distinct citrus note as well as some nuts), Pumpkin and Potato Soup with a Sea Urchin foam (the soup itself was wonderful but the foam seemed to be there for no other reason than to introduce a seafood element into it) and Grilled Calamari with Potato Salad and fresh Pesto. The calamari was grilled over charcoal and had a wonderful smoky taste; pairing it with potato salad (made with a mustard base) had never occurred to me but I look forward to replicating it.

For second course we ordered the Bluefish, Carbonara Pasta with Crab, and Rockfish. I’ve tasted the Bluefish during my past visit and it remains a solid dish, served French-style over a bed of pureed potatoes. The Carbonara was filling but not as heavy as we expected, and topping it with citrusy-onion rings was a great way to balance out the bacon. The Rockfish – as solid as a tuna steak – was served with a small fried cake that tasted (but was not) barley, reminiscent of falafel.

We could have done without desserts but this is, after all, Restaurant Week. We ordered the Poached Pear (with red wine and a sweet creamy cheese), a lovely Panna Cotta (with just the right amount of citrus and dusted with espresso) and something called Tic-Tac-Toe, which is a pastry chef’s take on home made Oreos and a shortbread cookie. Most people (myself included) probably ordered this out of sheer curiosity and it is always nice to see the kitchen not take itself too seriously.

Hook Restaurant
3241 M Street, NW
Washington DC
Hook on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Tasseomancy on a plate

There seems to be no consensus about Burma Restaurant in Chinatown, but I've had three very good experiences in this extremely-low key restaurant behind the Verizon Center. Granted, I have nothing to compare it to in DC-proper (I loved Village Mingala in New York) but it is reasonably-priced food that combines familiar ingredients and presents them in new ways. Our party of 9 had a table in the back room of the restaurant and we took the opportunity to taste a wide-cross section of dishes by having everything brought out family-style.

For appetizers, we ordered Gold Fingers (batter-dipped and deep-fried slices of squash), Spring Rolls, Golden Fried Prawns, and Spare Ribs. The prawns were light and crunch, and tasted as fresh as anything deep-fried could ever hope to. The Spare Ribs were a stand-out: covered in honey and basil with soya bean and ground peanut sauce. To round out the first course, we ordered two portions of the Green Tea Leaf Salad (prepared with garlic, sesame seeds and dried shrimp) and Mohingar, a fish soup that is a common breakfast dish. Though its New York counterpart was far superior, the Green Tea Leaf Salad is both reminiescent of tabouleh in terms of texture and unlike anything else I've ever had as far as taste goes.

For second courses, we went for Mandalay Nanjee (large rice noodles and chicken with toasted bean, onions, lemon juice, garlic and spices), Chicken Curry with Potatoes (whole pieces of chicken, bones and all, and no coconut milk in the curry), Tamarind Fish (great sauce but the fish was probably salmon), and Black Bean Pork (marinated pork cooked in a pungent bean sauce - loved the sight of whole beans in an Asian dish). All entrees come with steamed rice.

There are 7 vegetarian options on the menu as well as a limited beer selection featuring Chinese and Thai beers. Service is quick, but not overly involved or attentive. The decor is National Geographic upon a Saffron background, but it works. I've never had dessert (on account of being absolutely full after being trigger-happy with the menu) but have heard good things about their coconut cake.

The birthday girl (the only opinion that mattered for the evening) enjoyed the meal, but especially liked "the apps and soup." I encourage the nay-sayers to give this place another chance, or wish really hard for a second Burmese restaurant in the District.

Burma Restaurant
740 6th St NW, 2nd Floor
Washington, DC 20001
(202) 638-1280
Burma on Urbanspoon

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Healthy and Hearty Black Bean Chili

If the chilly and gray weather has you in the mood for a warm bowl of delicious and healthy chili, this recipe is for you. It's simple and tasty and perfect for warming up body and soul. Enjoy.

Black Bean Chili
For the seasoning mix -
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon of red pepper flakes
1 1/2 tablespoons of oregano
1 1/2 tablespoons of cumin
For the chili -
1 pound lean ground turkey (lean ground beef is good too)
1 28 ounce can of crushed tomatoes with no salt added
1 28 ounce can of tomato sauce
2 medium yellow onions, chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, cored and seeded, finely minced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 16 ounce can of corn, drained
2 16 ounce cans of black beans, rinsed and drained
Fresh parsley for garnish
Mix seasonings together. In a large pot, spray a bit of cooking spray and add meat. Saute until browned. Add seasoning mix and all of the other ingredients except the corn and black beans. Simmer for 2 hours. Add beans and corn during last 20 minutes of cooking. To serve, garnish with fresh parsley and add shredded sharp cheddar or jack cheese if desired. Enjoy with a nice glass of red wine.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Poultry Slam '07

I was out of town for the past couple of weeks, so I had a lot of podcasts piled up.

Poultry Slam '07 has to be the best food-oriented program I've heard on This American Life and I fully recommend it to anyone who loves fowl, opera, late President Mitterand, and the word "nibblets."

You can listen to the full program here, courtesy of Chicago Public Radio.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Tasty and Hearty Frittata

Hope 2008 is off to a great start for you. I recently went to a friend's place for a little soiree she was hostessing, and I had a nice bottle of wine to share but also wanted to bring something that's fairly transportable and also generally appealing and great for snacking on. I decided to bring a delicious assortment of frittatas. This is a recipe for one of my favorites. Enjoy.

Prosciutto and Goat Cheese Frittata
6 large eggs
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 shallots, chopped
3 small potatoes, very thinly sliced
1/4 cup cauliflower, chopped
1/4 cup zucchini, sliced thinly
3/4 cup goat cheese, crumbled
6 slices of Prosciutto, roasted
Kosher or sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
3 fresh basil leaves, sliced in a chiffonade (pile the leaves on top of each other and roll up and slice)
Preheat your oven to 450 degrees. Roast the slices of prosciutto on a baking sheet for 3 to 4 minutes or until the edges crisp and brown a bit. Let cool and slice into strips about 3/4-inch wide.
In a medium bowl whisk the eggs with a small pinch of salt and pepper. Set aside. In an 8 1/2-inch ovenproof nonstick skillet over medium-high heat add the olive oil, shallot, and another pinch of salt. Saute, stirring constantly, until the onion starts to brown, 5 - 7 minutes. Add the potatoes, cauliflower, zucchini and prosciutto, cover, and cook for another 3 minutes or so. Slide everything out of the skillet onto a plate and set aside. Turn down the heat a bit. Using the same skillet, add the eggs and cook over medium-low heat for about 5 minutes or until the eggs are just set and there isn't a lot of liquid running around the pan. To the eggs add the potato onion mixture over the top. Place the skillet in the oven and bake for about 9 minutes, or until well set and puffy. Add a crumble of goat cheese and the basil across the top of the frittata in the final 2 minutes of baking. Remove from oven (be careful the handle is hot), cut into wedges and serve and enjoy. Great with a side salad and a glass of wine. Good for any meal as well.