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