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

Monday, April 7, 2008


Low-grade, entirely superfluous instances of unfairness are a particularly grating brand of the annoying. Not content with having two of my favorite restaurants (El Chalan and Kaz Sushi Bistro) around the corner from my gym, I had to try Primi Piatti tonight to add to the culinary minefield that seeks to undo my half-hearted efforts to work out. Mr. Savino Recine's fine Italian establishment has been there for over 20 years. Until tonight, I had persistently walked past it several times a week. I had heard good things about the food and the outside seating always seemed pleasant, but nothing particularly exciting. I chose this place for its location and because I needed some jet-lag appropriate food.

My out of town dinner companions wanted beer but the selections (Moretti, Bud Light, Heineken and Corona) was not to their liking - no Sam Adams or Peroni. We had a surprisingly good Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. I did not order it, so I'll have to go back and figure out what winery it came from. For a first course we ordered a crostini with ricotta cheese that came with slices of pepperoni at room temperature. The cheese had a wonderful texture - firm but creamy. I seldom have ricotta as a stand alone, but it was a perfect counterpoint to the crunch of the bread and the slight fire of the meat. For a hot appetizer we had Mozarella In Carroza, a lightly fried mozzarella cheese with whole wheat bread and flavored with anchovy-caper sauce. Though there was no meat, the consistency reminded me of a croque monsieur. The sauce gave it a good amount of seasoning without competing with the cheese.

Though Primi Piatti is famous for its pizzas, we opted for pastas and a Veal Scaloppini. The veal came with a light sauce of marsala wine, oyster mushrooms and thyme, with a side of sauteed spinach. The fettuccini came with mixed wild mushrooms and was perfectly cooked. I had the Tonnarelli, a Roman specialty consisting of thick fettuccini with sea scallops flavored with spicy tomato sauce. I will order pretty much any dish with scallops, but this was a pleasant surprise. The sauce was acidic enough to complement the taste of the scallops and the pasta cooked to the point were the textures could be differentiated while eating. I don't think I've seen this on any other menu in DC, and I really enjoyed it.

The portions are quite generous, so we skipped dessert. If the pictures on the wall are any indication, I'll have to go back for the sweets and the magic shows.

Primi Piatti
2013 I St NW
Washington, DC 20006
(202) 223-3600
Primi Piatti on Urbanspoon

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Tasty Spring Dishes

Spring is such a lovely time of year, ahhh. Certainly for many reasons, not the least of which is the bounty of food items that come into season. Hope you take time out to enjoy these simple and tasty dishes that for me are perfect this time of year.

Scrambled Eggs with Mushrooms, Chives and Fleur de Sel

1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/3 cup finely chopped mushrooms
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh chives
4 eggs, lightly beaten
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Fleur de sel or other finishing salt (kosher salt is fine), to taste
Melt butter in a medium skillet. Sauté the mushrooms for 3 minutes, then add the chives and cook for another minute, until fragrant. Add eggs and black pepper. Cook the eggs over very low heat, stirring constantly, until cooked to the desired doneness. Add fleur de sel and scramble for just a few more seconds. Serve hot.

Olive oil
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Prepare a big bowl of fresh tasty vegetables, cut into strips or chunks. Good choices are peppers, cauliflower, artichokes, celery, carrots, etc. Put olive oil in a small bowl and add salt and pepper to taste. Dip the vegetables into the oil and enjoy. Y ou can also have other condiment options available - various types of mustards work well and balsamic vinegar is a nice touch. Pairs wonderfully with a crisp, dry white wine.

Chicken Breasts with Zucchini
4 chicken breasts, weighing a pound in total
10 ounces zucchini, sliced into very thin rounds
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 tablespoons butter1 sage leaf
1/4 cup olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
Pinch of thyme
Small bunch of Italian flat-leaf parsley, minced
Kosher salt
White pepper
An ounce of shredded Swiss or Fontina cheese
Heat the oil in a pot, and sauté the garlic and parsley for a minute or two. Before the garlic begins to brown add the zucchini. Cook for a few minutes more, then sprinkle a half cup of cool water over the pot, add a pinch of thyme, and salt to taste. Turn down the heat to as low as possible, cover, and cook the zucchini until they are done and the water has evaporated. In the meantime, preheat your oven to 400 degrees. While it is warming up, lightly pound the chicken breasts and flour them, giving them a good shake to remove excess flour. Pick a pot large enough for the chicken breasts to lie flat that can go both on the stove and into the oven, and melt the butter with the leaf of sage. As soon as it begins to crackle add the chicken breasts and cook them until they begin to brown, turning them once or twice. Sprinkle them with the white wine, crumble the salt over them, and season them with pepper. When the liquid is reduced by two thirds, remove the pot from the fire. Scoop the zucchini over the chicken breasts, dust everything with the cheese, cover the pot, and slip it into the oven for about 10 minutes. Transfer the chicken breasts to a heated serving dish, spoon the pan drippings over them, and serve.