Thursday, February 21, 2008

International Wine & Food Festival 2008

I won't be in town, but if you are, check out this year's (new! improved! hopefully less crowded) International Wine & Food Festival at the Ronald Reagan Building:

Monday, February 25

* Café Trope-Chef Howsoon Cham
o Four Vines Winery
* OYA-Sommelier Andrew Stover
o Amity Vineyards

Tuesday, February 26

* Bangkok Joe's-Chef Aulie Bunyarataphan
o Moet Hennessy USA, Rodney Strong Vineyards and others
* PS 7s-Chef Peter Smith

Wednesday, February 27

* Butterfield 9-Chef Michael Harr

Thursday, February 28

* Equinox- Chef Todd Gray
o Adelsheim Vineyard
* Rustico Restaurant-Chef Frank Morales and Beer Director Greg Engert
o Blue Moon Brewery and Dogfish Head Craft Brewery

For tickets, call 1-800-343-1174 or visit

Friday, February 15, 2008

A House Divided

Conventional wisdom dictates that one should hold off trying new restaurants immediately after they open. Kinks will invariably have to be ironed out and the staffs needs time to get used to the flow of the kitchen and with each other. Café Tropé is on my way home, and since it opened in late December I figured it was time to check it out.

I made reservations through Open Table and requested an accessible table. We were a party of 4, and when I got there I was informed that I was the first to check in and was directed to the Bar. I am not a fan of the policy of only seating complete parties (which makes no sense if you have a reservation, as opposed to being a walk-in. If restaurants do have said policy, they should let patrons know in advance. Miscommunication ensued, and I wound up waiting without need - the rest of my party was there, hidden in the back room. That being said, when we needed the back door the manager was very helpful, apologized for the wait and the misunderstanding, and sent over a bottle of Cava. Our waiter was friendly but brand-new. The service is not bad, just extremely frazzled. I hope they hit their stride soon, because the food is wonderful. The menu is French Caribbean, but it is more fusion than straight from the islands.

Tapas originated as bar food, and as such are not meant to be full meals. As with mezze, they are meant to be shared on a communal table, and a good reference are the portions served at Jaleo in Penn Quarter and Bethesda. The portions at Café Tropé are bigger than conventional tapas, and are served in very dramatic flatware. The problem with this is that it does not allow for easy sharing, and are more conducive to eating one small plate per person per course. Not dissuaded by the lack of table space, we tried a cross section of the menu, and I encourage anyone going there for the first time to do the same. I did not even look at the wine list, but the mojitos were flavorful if not remarkable.

We stared with a spicy pork salad, which came with greens (spinach and lamb lettuce), carrots and jicama, dressed with a lime infused vinaigrette. The pork portion was not big, but it was perfectly cooked and had a dollop of salsa for heat. From the vegetarian section, we chose the butternut squash with cinnamon cream. It had a wonderful color and texture, and I suspect the soup offering will become broth-based by summer. From the poultry section, we went with the Jamaican jerk chicken lollipops. The chicken was well cooked and seasoned, and was easy to split amongst all of us. The hash - vidalia onions and cabbage potatoes - elevated the dish by providing contrasting textures.

For a second round we ordered the rack of lamb with onion mint pistou, the adobo spiced duck, the crab cake and stuffed Bengal-style stuffed lobster tail. The meats were all well cooked and beautifully presented. The crab cake paired wonderfully with diced avocado and roasted corn salsa. The lobster was either a very small Maine lobster or a rather large Caribbean one, but it held its own with the spices and the chayote, a cousin to squash and cucumbers that is not often seen here but is a staple in Mexican and Central American cooking.

I wanted to try the sweet potato creme brulée for dessert, but they had run out of it for the evening. We had a lava cake with some fresh ice cream, which was pleasant but not particularly original.

I will give it a few months and try again.

Café Tropé
2121 P Street, NW
Washington DC 20037

Thursday, February 7, 2008

And the winner is...

I left my heart in Paris 7 years ago and I've been trying to get it back ever since. I can't pack up and move to France (yet) so in the meantime I reconstruct it: flowers, CDs, DVDs, books, pink cocktails, wonderful cheap wine, and of course, food. My quest for the perfect croissant to eat Stateside is more than a whim, it is happiness, comfort and resolve on a plate. With such high expectations, I've been disappointed more than once.

The secret to a great croissant is butter - it gives the bread it's golden hue and helps make the bread fluffy and crispy. I've had good croissants at Firehook, Patisserie Poupon and Breadline in DC. Le Pain Quotidien passes muster but they have better breads. La Madeleine has awful croissants. Starbucks - a crescent shape does not a croissant make. The French were on to something when they decided to score, rank, and publish the rankings of Parisian bakeries.

I went to Bouchon Bakery at a friend's suggestion. The nearest one to DC is in Manhattan, but it is conveniently located by Columbus Circle and Lincoln Center. The brainchild of Thomas Keller, it was originally created to provide his restaurants with baked goods. Luckily for those of us who cannot afford Per Se or French Laundry, the bakery has a wide selection of tarts, croissants, macaroons (one of my favorite things) as well as a sit-down cafe with views of Central Park. I had a croissant and one of the seasonal macaroons (pictured, the croissant was long gone) a perfectly made set of meringue cookies encassing a cassis filling. Well worth the detour, and cheaper than a trip to the Left Bank.

Bouchon Bakery & Cafe
Ten Columbus Circle, Third Floor
New York, NY 10019
Phone: 212.823.9366

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Things to Eat on an Idle Monday

It's easy to walk right past Cafe Divan while running errands in Georgetown. Located across the street from Safeway, it is usually packed at dinner time and mostly empty for lunch. Too far away from M street to cater to the lunch crowd (their carry out counter delivers ) and with decor showcasing the long, backless benches that give the cafe its name, the place does not scream adventurous or ethnic. Regardless, Cafe Divan is a lovely space with courteous staff, cooks who know their way around the grill, a well-intentioned but mostly lackluster wine list, and very good Turkish coffee.

The Mezze list reads like anything at other Mediterranean restaurant - dolma, hummus, tabbouleh and adds kofte (a lentil dish) and borek (feta cheese with parsley covered in homemade pastry and deep fried). Though a lot of them are fried, they do not feel overwhelmingly oily.

For a rare lunch visit yesterday, I had a Sucuk Pide - stuffed bread baked in a wood-burning oven filled with Turkish sausage, tomatoes, black olives and kasshar cheese. It was a lot of bread, but I couldn't stop eating it. I've had better dishes at Cafe Divan - I love lamb, and their grill consistently puts out marvelous lamb entrees, but I had just come back from eating my way through Manhattan and wanted something simpler. The Rotisserie Lamb they serve on Thursdays is well worth the hike up Wisconsin Avenue. T had the Yogurtlu Kofte, which pretty much sums up the components of the menu: lamb, tomato, yogurt, and parsley. The meat for the skewers is ground, salted, spiced and grilled, served over fresh tomato sauce and yogurt. I am not sure how much bread the actual recipe requires, but this had some crouton-sized pita cut outs that soaked enough of the sauce to make it a nice counterpoint to the lamb's texture.

We skipped dessert to go downhill to Patisserie Poupon only to find it closed on Mondays. Luckily Dolcezza is down the street and yesterday's early thaw made it just warm enough for ice cream - at least for those of us hankering for dessert. Dolcezza is open year-round and also offers churros and alfajores, a traditional Argentinean dessert consisting of two merengue cookies encasing dulce de leche. If you cannot have ice cream during winter, they also have a good selection of teas and coffee. You may try as many flavors as you like before taking the agonizing decision of choosing just two (or three or four if you want the bigger sizes). The large influx of Italian immigrants to Argentina have given the country the best ice cream tradition in all of South America. Dolcezza is a proud steward of that tradition - my dark chocolate and tangerine combination yesterday had to be the best gelato I've ever had. Dulce de Leche consistently sells out and the sorbets are seasonal. As for the price, it will set you back slightly more than Haagen Dazs or Ben and Jerry's, with the additional benefit of having to trek uphill to get it.

Cafe Divan
1834 Wisconsin Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20007

Dolcezza Argentine Gelato
1560 Wisconsin Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20007