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 Christianna.Sargent@domasoteca.com.

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