Sunday, December 13, 2009

Hearthy

E. and I were leaving a cocktail party to go have "a dinner". For as long as I have known E., she preambles meals with an "a," which, at least in my mind, makes it more of an event. We turned on N, heading to the Tabard Inn, one of our usual haunts. The Tabard Inn has a well-deserved reputation, but after such a long week I wanted to have a relaxing time as opposed to a 45 minute wait. Out of the corner of my eye I spied some flickering votives on bar tables, and this act of seasonal defiance made me cross the street.

A sign outside proclaimed that one could sit outside in the summer and around the table in the winter. We walked past the outdoor bar with its coy votives and found a dormant garden, patiently awaiting the spring. The light coming from a door drew us in, and we were welcomed by a kind man who promptly had us come in from the cold. The dinning room, a converted carriage house, is all dark wood and shades of crimson. I don't know if the lit stars are there year-round, but they were just enough of a holiday decoration. E. and I were sat by the fireplace, kept alive by a diligent busboy.

Along with the menus came the bread basket, crunchy baguettes baked in-house, with a side of hummus. Upon inspecting the menu I realized that many of the dishes were Middle Eastern, and that's when I noticed the lamps hanging from the ceiling, juxtaposed with the more traditional plates on the wall. Once we ordered an appetizer, we got word that G. would join us. The waitress put our entrees on hold and, after waiting a few minutes, we were moved to a larger table right in front of the fire. Though the dinning room was packed by 8 PM, it was mostly smaller tables - Iron Gate is a great place to go on a date, and the servers seemed used to this. A young man next to us tried to impress his date with his non-existent knowledge of Pinot Noir, and her adoring face and their server's amusement kept our snarky comments away.

The portions at Iron Gate Inn are quite large, and this includes the grape leaves, which are as big as a spring roll. They were at just the right temperature, and came with some very well-seasoned tomatoes. Unlike many grape leaves, these where not overwhelmingly vinegary and went well with our light-bodied Grenache, one of several affordable options on their wine list. G. finally joined us, and was as appreciative of the fireplace as we were. He ordered the outlier on the menu, a Cuban-Style pork served with rice and fried platains. The pork was briny and lightened by the presence of lime juice. E. and I shared two entrees, the lamb shank and the salmon. The lamb shank is their signature dish and it falls right of the bone. I found it lacking a bit of salt but that was easy to remedy - either by adding it myself or by eating it with the feta-topped orzo next to it. The salmon was delicious, fully cooked but not overdone, and with a distinct taste of both lemon and butter, with a side of green beans that somehow managed to still crunch.

There are several desserts but as we had made our way through two full bread baskets, we opted to share the Almond Flan. I am a flan snob, and found that this one passed muster in both color and consistency. The almond note was there, as discrete as the light caramel on top and to the side. Oddly for a Middle-Eastern restaurant, they only had drip coffee available.

We left at 11 PM, a long meal even by my standards. The evening had been the perfect combination of atmosphere, company, and food. We'll have to go back to try that beautiful garden.

Iron Gate Inn on Urbanspoon
Irongate Inn
1734 N St NW
Washington, DC 20036

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Celebrating the Twenty-First Amendment


Urbana, one of my favorites in the extended neighborhood, is throwing a classic cocktail party this Saturday, December 5 - featuring a bathtub in the bar area to whip up their own version of moonshine, the Urbana Gin Fizz. If you get into the spirit of things and dress in 1920’s period attire (and hush about Repeal actually coming about in the 1930s) you will receive your first classic cocktail or gin fizz for the vintage price of 25 cents.

Specials for the rest of the evening (which gets going at 5.30) include a selection of cocktails for $8 and a $33 prix fixe dinner. Come out, enjoy music from the roaring 20s

Any more repeal day shindings? Email us!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Downtown Surprises

A few days before Thanksgiving, Lindsey and I were invited to check out BlackFinn, which bills itself as an American Saloon and opened its DC outpost a few months ago. Though I am normally weary of chains, their 16th street location was very convenient, and I am always on the lookout for good happy hour spots.

BlackFinn holds true to Saloon traditions - it serves drinks over a counter, and is laid out as a series of rooms. Most of the space is dedicated to the dining room, with booths, flat-screen TVs, and smaller wooden tables. The flair is kept at minimum, and though the bar was packed and there was a large holiday gathering in the back room, we could engage each other in conversation without having to shout (have you ever tried doing that at Old Ebbitt?). The menu is also American fare, with some unexpected twists.

We started our meal with the Seared Ahi Tuna and the Pork Shanks. The Tuna was the first surprise of the evening: sushi grade fish with a garlic and black pepper crust. The cut was thicker than sashimi style, but the it melted in your mouth, with a seaweed salad to contrast in both color and texture. We also tried the Pork Shanks, tender and juicy, which Lindsey proclaimed to be a great midpoint between mini Turkey legs and big chicken wings, tastier than either and as easy to maneuver and eat. I'd be surprised if more restaurants don't start adding them to their menus.

For our second courses we had Black Finn's signature dish - Prime Rib of Beef. We had a 10 oz (boneless), and could definitively appreciate the work behind the rock salt and roasted garlic taste: a full day marinade, topped with grated horseradish. The meat is probably kept away from a direct flame, so what you get is the salt, not the smoke. This may also be why the dish is colder than one would normally expect. Meat doesn't have to sizzle, and it is certainly an enjoyable preparation, with its side of jus and mashed potatoes. We also tried the night's special, which featured a lump crabcake. The kitchen has been tinkering with its crabcake recipe and we both hope they stick to this one. The large crabcake came out sitting on a bed of leeks and mashed potatoes (and perhaps celeriac), a wonderful and balanced combination of butter, salt, and the slight crunch of the perfectly-cooked leeks. I eat crabcakes every chance I get and this has to be amongst the best in the city - no easy feat for a new comer. Blackfinn has several wines by the glass. I had a glass of California Claret, a fruity and light red wine that paired well with both entrees.

As a third couset, we had their two best-selling desserts: a hot brownie Sundae and the Apple Crisp. The Sundae is pretty straightforward: diagonal cuts of house-made brownies, served warm, with a scoop of vanilla ice-cream in the center. It is homey and non-fuzzy, but pales in comparison to the Apple crisp (granted, maybe we were just in the mood for Apples, this being autumn). This dessert feels and tastes seasonal, with large apple wedges and that elusive crunchy crust.

Pleasant surprises, just around the corner from the White House. We'll have to go back for the ice cream sliders. And more crabcakes.

Blackfinn on Urbanspoon
BlackFinn American Saloon
1620 I Street NW
Washington, D.C. 20006
202.429.4350
www.blackfinndc.com

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Super Betty does Thanksgiving

With Thanksgiving fast approaching, I had a pipe dream involving post-holiday Turkey Enchiladas and lo and behold, this came to our inbox this morning. Must be fate.

Green Chile Turkey Enchiladas

(Recipe courtesy of Dedric McGhee, Thyme on the Creek @ the Millennium Harvest House Hotel in Boulder, CO)

Ingredients:

1 tbsp butter
1 medium onion, peeled and diced
1 tsp minced garlic
2 tbsp flour
1 cup chicken broth
2-4 ounce cans of chopped green chiles
¼ tsp cumin
1/3 tsp oregano
1/3 tsp coriander powder
1 ½ cups shredded turkey
2 cups cheddar and Monterey Jack cheeses
1 pack corn tortillas
1 pint sour cream
2 green onions, chopped
Salsa

Directions:

1. Add the butter to a warm sauté pan. 
2. Add onions and sauté until translucent. 
3. Add garlic and cook until it becomes aromatic. 
4. Add flour and cook for 1 minute. 
5. Pour both cans of green chiles into pan.
6. Add cumin, oregano, coriander, chicken broth and a little salt and pepper. 
7. Simmer for 5 minutes at low heat.
8. Place turkey in a mixing bowl. Add 1/3 cup of the green chile mix, 1/3 cup of sour cream, 1/3 of the cheese mixture and salt and pepper. Mix well.
9. Grease a 13x9 baking dish. 
10. Place 1 to 2 tablespoons of filling in each tortilla and roll up. Place the rolled tortillas in the baking dish seam-side down. Continue to add rolled tortillas until the top layer is filled.
11. Pour the rest of the green chile on top of the enchiladas and sprinkle with remaining cheese. 
12. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 to 30 minutes or until hot and bubbly.
Serve with cream, green onions and salsa.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

In seed time learn, in harvest teach, in winter enjoy

The good folks at the Magic Hat Brewing Company sent us some samples of their new offerings, out just in time for keeping us from bringing yet another bottle of moderately-priced but still festive red wine to a friend's house for holiday feasting.

S., a recent Mexico by way of Austin transplant, sampled the beers with me. We had bottles of Howl, a black winter lager, and American Sour Ale, the '09 Odd Notion. Howl is pitch-black, with a light head that does not last long in the glass (which I prefer, but those comparing it with Guinness, a stout, will miss the foam) but provides plenty of bubbles, making this already fragrant beer even more enjoyable. The flavors are roasted, but our favorite part of Howl is the fact that it does not leave an after-taste: it is a full bodied and flavorful beer that will not take your mouth hostage for the rest of the evening.

We then moved on to the American Sour Ale, which S. loved and proclaimed worthy of the Alamo Drafthouse in Austin, extremely high praise. This beers looks lovely in the glass - it pours Amber with a slight cloud. It is a sweet beer with smells of vanilla, but the best part is the tart flavor, which we both related to green apples. It is a great beer to pair with cheese and would provide a great counterpoint to heavier, creamy dishes.

Now that pastries and beer are all the rage in DC and to enjoy the flavor profiles of Howl in a different way, I am looking forward to making my own:

Howlingly Good Ginger Bread

Ingredients:
1 stick unsalted butter
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon baking soda

1 (12 ounce) bottle Magic Hat Howl
1 cup molasses
1 orange for zest
For serving: Lemon Curd or Sweetened Whipped Cream

(May be substituted for 1 box gingerbread mix)

Recipe:
Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 F. Generously butter an 8 by 8 inch cake pan and set aside. Using an electric mixer or a wooden spoon, cream together the butter, sugar, eggs and vanilla. In a separate large bowl, combine the flour, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, baking soda and salt. In a saucepan, heat the Howl until bubbles form around the edges. Stir in the molasses. Alternately add the flour mixture and the Howl mixture to the creamed butter mixture, stirring well between additions. When all is incorporated, stir in the orange zest. Pour into the prepared pan and bake for 50 minutes, or until a tester inserted in the middle comes out clean. Serve warm or at room temperature, from the pan, with a dollop of lemon curd or whipped cream.

Recipe courtesy of Magic Hat Brewing Company. For more recipes, visit their website here.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Let's Get it On

M&A, newlyweds, were in town last week for a conference and wanted to meet for dinner. This presented a unique challenge: the last time I had seen them was at their wedding (a six course affair, not including the buffet service for appetizers and desserts), they are both excellent cooks, and you’d be hard pressed to dine with a better-traveled pair. M. used to live in DC and comes at least once a year, while it was A’s first time in the District. I had to find a place that was relatively new but still tried and true, representative of DC without falling into places mobbed by tourists, and a menu that was relatable but still managed to introduce them to something new.
Marvin, with its nods to Belgian and Southern cooking, met all my criteria, with a plus for being outside of M’s well-known DC neighborhoods and a minus for being a touch too loud for catching up with people you haven’t seen in months.

We arrived a few minutes apart and as I made my way from the back I caught M’s eye – our amused glances had the flash of recognition in them – Marvin’s bar, dark wood, brass, long mirror, and the hyper-articulate laying the groundwork for several levels of stupor, could have easily been our grad school watering hole. A, who hails from Rome, commented on the place’s European feel – that is, until we were sat smack in front of a huge oil on canvas depicting Marvin Gaye. In a place that celebrates otherness with such gusto, three expats had to feel at home.

Our server, a gentleman on the far side of thirty, realized that we were there to talk – gossip about our recently held (and missed) reunion, the behind the scenes scoop on their wedding, the challenges and opportunities of being away from home and country – and he let us order and look at the menu at our own pace. This was no small feat, as the place was packed. During our very long meal, he never pressured us to vacate the table, and only brought the check when we asked. We started our meal with the house sparkling wine – a great deal at $8 a glass. It is a brut, dry but not as mineral as prosecco, and it hit the spot perfectly.

For an appetizer, we shared moules frites – the mussels (my first batch since re-reading Kitchen Confidential a few months back) were plump and fragrant , with a fennel and chorizo sauce. The chorizo added smoke to the plate and I am not ashamed to admit I scooped up as many slices as I could – a few minutes floating in the broth did them wonders. As for the frites, they came piping hot and with three dipping sauces, but were missing a bit of salt.

As a second course, I had the coq au vin. While the taste and texture was definitively that of a young chicken (the traditional preparation calls for rooster), Marvin’s version does incorporate many of the traditional elements – mushrooms, a wine-based sauce, applewood bacon (in lieu of lardons, salted pork) and pearl onions. The sauce did not appear to be thickened and the overall effect was a deep sweetness folded into an earthy saltiness. A. went for what, in my mind, is Marvin’s signature dish – fried chicken on a waffle. A. has been living in southern Florida for a few months now, and had yet to taste fried chicken. He marveled at the technique, and the perfectly golden, crisp and not oily chicken is a sight to behold, gold upon gold with a side of collard greens and gravy, a reminder of the bridging qualities of food across cultures. I suspect this is the first of many pieces of fried chicken for A., and it was a superb introduction. M. had a seasonal dish, the pumpkin ravioli. The colors were wonderful, and it is always good to see a vegetarian option that looks so hearty.

After such a meal, we did not need dessert. But when the kitchen pleases you twice, you are always tempted to keep the streak going. For the sake of novelty, we ordered a hazelnut crepe cake (and three spoons). I expected to see little sachets filled with hazelnut crème but was pleasantly surprised to find a stack of crepes, cut into a thick slice – an overeager mille feuille, with an acidity to the crepes that was tempered by a scoop of creamy ice cream. I could not place it in either Belgium or the Southern US , but Marvin looked down from his canvas, approvingly.

Marvin on Urbanspoon
Marvin
2007 14th St NW
Washington, DC 20009
www.marvindc.com

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Salmon Showdown

Photo Courtesy of Equinox / Chef Todd Gray

You may remember from DC Gastronome’s post earlier this month that October was Wild Alaskan Salmon month and members from Trout Unlimited was going to host several salmon events in DC. As part of the festivities, Lorena asked me to cover a salmon tasting event while she was away circling the globe. You don’t have to ask me twice to attend any food event. I’m in! She left me instructions to take note of the taste, color, and texture, and the type of things that foodies pay attention to. Okay, so I am coming clean here and letting you know up front that this was my first assignment and I didn’t want to disappoint.

Hosted by Equinox Restaurant, I knew ahead of time that head Chef Todd Gray, a long time advocate for sustainable seafood, was going was to prepare a salmon showdown: Wild Alaskan Salmon vs. Farm Raised. After identifying that I was there for the tasting event, I was guided to the private dining room at Equinox. It was an intimate setting. Okay, let’s pause here for a second. I know I am a rookie at this, but I honestly thought I was going to attend a crowded happy hour where I would bump into other tasters while chasing down the salmon filled platters. Then I would reminisce with fellow tasters about the Coke vs. Pepsi taste tests that were so popular during our childhoods. Instead it was an elegant family style table setting for 9 and there were only 5 tasters! The rest were members from Trout Unlimited (3 from Alaska). I quickly caught on that I wasn’t going to just stand around and hum and haw over the color, taste and texture of salmon.

The Alaskans first started talking about salmon specifically from Bristol Bay Alaska, where salmon not only sustains commercial and sport fishing industries, it also supports the way of life there. Now with books from Michael Pollen and movies like Food Inc. there is a push to know where your food is coming from. People are now telling stories through food and food production. Trout Unlimited was in DC to lobby and educate the Hill about Wild Alaskan Salmon specifically from Bristol Bay and to spread the story about salmon to interested folks like you. Why should you care? Bristol Bay is the home of the largest sockeye salmon fishery and one of the largest king salmon runs; however it is under serious threat from a proposed copper and gold mine. The story can best be told from through the documentary, Red Gold, where it’s the people from the Bristol Bay community who convince you of Wild Alaskan salmon’s importance. Following this educational discussion, it was back to my original assignment - the taste, color and texture. As prepared by Chef Gray, both farm raised and wild salmon were pan seared with salt and pepper so as to really showcase the salmon flavor. Side by side I immediately noticed that the brilliant deep red of the wild salmon made the farm raised pink salmon look plain and gray. The wild salmon was hearty, meaty and almost a bit sweet tasting. As I ate the farm raised, I could tell how the segments were separating as I pulled it with my fork and the segments oddly shined and shimmered a bit, but the taste was fishy and dull.

The consensus was, as you can imagine, that the wild Alaskan salmon was far superior to the farm raised. Salmon should taste like salmon right? Why mask it? No wonder places overload farmed raised with teriyaki or soy sauce. So, as Trout Unlimited says, vote with your fork. It’s about basic supply and demand and giving people the option to choose for themselves. Ask where your salmon is coming from the next time you go to a restaurant or buy it in the market. Turns out you can get Bristol Bay salmon from Whole Foods at the Georgetown and DuPont locations and at Giant Food Supermarkets under the Ahold private label. For more information you can go to the Save Bristol Bay website, and to the Trout Unlimited website.

There will also be another small viewing of the film Red Gold coming up. If you would like to know more please email me

Thursday, October 15, 2009

It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown

I will be out of town for Halloween this year, and it seems like I will miss a lot more than the usual Georgetown debauchery this time around. Enjoy!

Dia de Muertos

José Andrés and the team at Oyamel Cocina Mexicana led by Head Chef Joe Raffa will be hosting a Day of the Dead celebration, one of the most important holidays in Mexican culture. For one week, October 27th through November 2nd, Oyamel will provide a special menu featuring tasty tamales, specialty handcrafted cocktails and a tamal cart on the Oyamel’s patio. Highlights from the menu include Sopa de Calabaza con carnitas, a butternut squash soup flavored with Mexican cinnamon, annatto and habañero chile finished with crispy fried pork and marigolds and Ensalada de Agucate, a salad of avocado, purple tomatillo, red onion and crispy pork rinds topped with a Mexican oregano dressing.

Ghost Roast
On Halloween starting at 6 PM, Poste will celebrate fall and Halloween with a special Poste ‘Ghost Roast.’ With a menu featuring wood roasted baby goat and The Linus, Roasted local pumpkin, Flor de Cana 7 year old rum, Bacardi coco, touch of milk, dusted with nutmeg. All guests are encouraged, but not required to wear a Halloween costume. A five-course chef’s tasting for two will be awarded to the guest with the best costume of the evening. Cost for the roast with pairings is $45 exclusive of tax and gratuity. Space is limited (30 seats total) and reservations are required. In the event of inclement weather, the Poste Ghost Roast will be moved indoors to the Poste Atrium. For reservations and for more information contact Stacy Nemeth at (202) 449-7062

Trick or Tea
Over at Morrison House, their traditional Story Time tea will have a Halloween spin with a special reading of ‘The Berenstain Bears Trick or Treat’ by Stan and Jan Berenstain. Chef Dennis Marron will prepare a fall and Halloween themed spread for the event, including house-made mini pumpkin pies, Halloween candy and treats, organic teas, freshly baked scones and biscuits and a selection of gourmet sandwiches. Kids $28 Adults $38. For reservations please call 703-838-8000 or email storytime@morrisonhouse.com

Other Events

Doggie Happy Howloween Costume Contest: Two-and-four-legged guests are encouraged to don their best Halloween getups in front of a judge panel at this event benefiting the Animal Welfare League of Alexandria. Prizes will be awarded to the best owner/dog couple, the most glamorous canine, and the overall “top dog.” (Hotel Monaco Alexandria/Jackson 20, 5-8 p.m., Oct. 29)

Pumpkin Carving Contest: Five years running, the annual Pumpkin Carving Contest has proven to be a sure-fire “gourd” time. With the Helix Lounge providing pre-scooped pumpkins, carving tools and great prizes, all patrons will need to bring are creative ideas and a steady hand. (Helix Lounge, 6-8 p.m., Oct. 27)

Yelloween Bash: Topaz Bar invites Washingtonians to add a little color to their Halloween celebration, by attending the “Yelloween Bash,” sponsored by Veuve Clicquot’s Yellow Label. At the event, guests can enjoy tarot card readings, a costume contest and complimentary Veuve Clicquot champagne with hors d’oeuvres. (Topaz Bar, 5-10 p.m., Oct. 31)

Vampire Ball Costume Party: It’s official - the nation has been bit by the vampire craze, and this Halloween, Washingtonians can celebrate their other-worldly fascination in style at Helix Lounge’s Vampire Ball. Patrons can don their favorite vampire-inspired costume for prizes, and enjoy hors d’oeuvres and specialty cocktails. (Helix Lounge, 6 p.m. – 2 a.m., Oct. 31)

Let them eat pie

Food & Friends is having its third annual Slice of Life Pie Sale - the target is to sell 6,000 pies to provide 3,500 Thanksgiving meals for children and adults facing HIV/AIDS, cancer, and other life-changing illnesses.

To kick off the event, celebrity pie servers will be giving out free pieces of pie from 11.30 AM to 1.30 PM in front of the JW Marriott (1331 Pennsylvania Avenue NW) and in front of the Marriott at Metro Center (755 12th Street NW) next Tuesday, October 20. You can purchase whole Thanksgiving pies for yourself or a Food & Friends client.

Featured pies include Picture Perfect Pumpkin, Oh So Sweet Potato, and Harvest Apple Crumb Pie for $25, and Southern Pecan Pie and Creamy Chocolate Cheesecake for $35.

The pie sale lasts until Thursday, November 19th at 5 p.m. and the pies are available for pick up on Tuesday, November 24, 10 a.m.-8 p.m. at Food & Friends or one of 14 CVS locations in DC, Maryland or Virginia. For more information, please click here.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Always an event

I had a long and difficult week, so I decided to treat myself to a late lunch at Woo Chon, one of my favorite Korean places in Manhattan. The meal was lovely - Bibimbab and all the kimchi I could eat. After mastering the art of smartphone and chopsticks, I headed down W 36th on my way to Penn Station when a sign with a very French looking O caught my eye. Koreatown had morphed into the Fashion District, and there, amongst papier mache creatures from dreams, stood a pastry case with fresh made macarons.

My love for macarons has been discussed. The shop is tiny, decked out in pastels, but still finds a way to have a full sandwich menu. The macarons are $1.95 each, and are also sold in boxes. There are a few places to sit, but I decided to just get some to go.

As I pored over the contents of the case, the women behind the counter gave one of their regulars an impromptu French lesson. I chose a poppy seed macaron (bright red, of course, and decorated with actual poppy seeds) and an orange blossom macaron (light yellow on one side, orange on the other). As I was about to pay, I noticed one of the servers was taking the time to curl the ribbon she had diligently placed on top of my small cellophane bag. While I fished for my wallet, I asked her not to bother - they would surely be gone way before I made it down 8th Avenue. "I am going to eat them!" "Well, yes, madame, that is what everyone does." "I mean they are for me, not pour ouffrir" (ah, my rustier by the day French!) She put the finishing touches on her bow and as she hands them to me says, "Here Madame, enjoy. A gift for yourself."

But of course. I should know better than to tell a French woman food is not an event. Had I not seen the "Macarons are Glutten Free" sign by the door, I would have felt very much removed from New York.

The macarons were fresh, fragrant, and as delicious as they were pretty. The poppy seed one, as much as I relate the poppy seed to Eastern European cooking, struck me as quintessentially American - direct and playful. Once DC gets over its cupcake craze, we can get started on these.

Macaron Café
161 West 36th Street
New York, NY 10018
T/F (212) 564-3525
www.macaroncafe.com

My favorite things

I love coffee and my cameras in almost equal measure, so I was delighted to get an e-mail this morning from the Renaissance M Street hotel announcing their “Where Does Your illy Take You” contest.

In celebration of DC’s upcoming FotoWeek, Caffé at the Renaissance M Street Hotel is holding a photography contest calling for creative snapshots of where people have been with their cup of illy coffee. The contset is open from October 1 – 22, 2009. One grand prize winner will receive the “Picture Perfect Weekend at Renaissance M Street Hotel" to be used the weekend of November 7, 2009, when DC’s official FotoWeek starts. The weekend include 365 days of complimentary illy coffee at Caffé, where the winning photo and honorable mentions will be framed and displayed.

To submit an entry, visit www.RenMStreetphotocontest.com. Photos will be judged by a panel on creativity, uniqueness, artistic expression, and creative use of the illy coffee cup. Winners will be announced on October 26, 2009.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

You oughta know

Photo courtesy of Equinox / Chef Todd Gray

The great state of Alaska has given DC more to talk about than Sarah Palin. October Marks Alaska Wild Salmon Month in DC, and chefs and restaurants are helping Trout Unlimited promote and protect Alaska's Bristol Bay, in an effort to spotlight the Bay's wild salmon and the risks they face from the proposed Pebble mine, the world’s largest open-pit gold and copper mine. The proposed Pebble mine threatens to pollute the pristine habitat of this iconic watershed which produces the world’s largest sockeye salmon run.

As part of Alaska Wild Salmon Month, a number of prominent D.C.-area restaurants will feature Bristol Bay salmon on their menus throughout October. Wild sockeye salmon from Bristol Bay, Alaska, are one of the tastiest, most plentiful and yet threatened fish on the planet. Tens of millions of ruby-red sockeye salmon return from the Pacific Ocean to their natal rivers in the wilds of Southwest Alaska each summer, to the same place where mining companies are planning to build one of the world’s largest open-pit gold and copper mines.

During the week of Oct. 19-23, Trout Unlimited will host several Bristol Bay wild salmon events in Washington, D.C. to celebrate Alaska Wild Salmon Month, including the Red Gold Screening and Panel Discussion on October, 22, 2009, from 7:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the National Geographic Society (1145 17th Street NW, Washington, D.C., 20036).

Participating restaurants include:

Blue Ridge Restaurant
Bon Appetit Management Co. cafes & restaurants
Coppi's Organic Restaurant
Equinox Restaurant
Granville Moore's
Harry's Tap Room
Hook Restaurant
Kaz Sushi Bistro
Poste Moderne Brasserie
Provence Cafe and Market (Bridgeport, WV)
Redwood Restaurant and Bar
Rock Creek Mazza
Singapore Bistro
Sonoma Restaurant

Monday, October 5, 2009

J and M’s Creamed Corn

J., one of the usual suspects for Restaurant Week blew us away this weekend with her twist on Michael Chiarello’s Sage Creamed Corn. The corn came from the White House Farmers’ Market, and she served it with Blue Corn Chips from Trader Joe’s. A perfect seasonal recipe with just a touch of heat.

Sage and Poblano Creamed Corn

Ingredients

4 ears corn, kernels removed from cob

1 tbsp sweet butter

6 sage leaves

2 cloves garlic, sliced

1 medium poblano pepper
1 sweet red pepper
Salt and pepper

1/2 cup heavy cream


Directions

Lightly brown butter in saute pan over med high heat, add sliced garlic. Cook until garlic is light brown. Add sage and peppers, and saute until aromatic and tender. Add corn and saute for one minute. Add salt and pepper. Add cream and simmer until cream is reduced in half, about 4 to 5 minutes. Let cool.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Gourmands rejoice!

The Express said it best last week: we live in the greatest city in the world for total nerds. Foodies are quickly catching up.

Save the Deli!

Until I moved to the Northeastern United States, I never gave sandwiches much respect - they were something that I took to school to stave off hunger until I got home. But even those of us raised on tacos tip our hats to the wonder that is the Jewish Delicatessen.

On October 21st, the 6th and I Historic Synagogue will host David Sax, author and life-long deli obsessive, who will be interviewed by Todd Kliman, the Food and Wine Editor and Restaurant Critic for The Washingtonian as they figure if delis can survive in the age of health food. Tickets for "Save the Deli: In Search of Perfect Pastrami, Crusty Rye, and the Heart of Jewish Delicatessen" are $6 each, or you can get two tickets with the purchase of Sax's book. (Click here to purchase)

Samples of classic deli fare will be available.


Sixth & I 
600 I Street, NW
Washington, DC 20001

www.sixthandi.org
For a behind the scenes look visit their YouTube channel here.

Made in Maryland

The Sugarloaf Craft Festivals feature the works of Maryland artistans and musicians. Their October edition will also have gourmet food exhibitors, including Rising Sun Farms, Rohini's Chutneys, and Loraina's Italian Specialties.

The Sugarloaf Crafts Festival will be held Friday, October 9 and Saturday, October 10 from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.; Sunday, October 11 from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. at the Montgomery County Fairgrounds (16 Chestnut Street, in Gaithersburg, Maryland). This fall, the Sugarloaf Crafts Festival will be partnering with the Manna Food Center to raise funds and attract canned food donations that will be used to help feed the hungry in Montgomery County. Visitors to the Sugarloaf Crafts Festival may bring a donation of canned food to the show to receive a $2.00 off discount on admission.

Regular admission to the Sugarloaf Crafts Festival is $7 for adults when purchased online, $8 for adults at the door, and free for children under 12. Admission is good for all three days, and free parking is available.

For more information, click here.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Neighborhood Institutions

Georgetown is proudly insular, a town within a city enveloped by a city that concedes only the slightest hint of continuity with the rest of the District through its street names. I would never call my beloved neighborhood trendy - it's charm is opposite: a storied place. And though this has an effect on walking-distance dining choices, 1789, a grand Dame of dining (power or otherwise) has earned its place as the other Georgetown institution. The flipside to t his fame, however, is that my demographic (a couple of years out of school) pigeon-holes these types of establishments as special-occasion only (also known as parental visit-appropriate). The team at 1789, headed by Executive Chef Dan Giusti, is now offering new ways to experience 1789: a Seasonal Tasting Menu (three courses for $40) that will change monthly (October features Apples) and a monthly cooking class ($75 per person) on the last Saturday of each month (starts at 10 AM on Saturday, October 24, reservations required) where participants will learn how to cook said menu alongside Chef Giusti and finish with a three-course lunch paired with wines.

A few weeks ago 1789 invited us for dinner, which included a tasting portion of the October menu - Apple Cider Lacquered Pork Shank. The apple cider gave the shank a light sweetness, while the Yukon gold potato puree, roasted apples and radishes was a great play on textures and flavors, with the bright colors off-setting the pork. I would love to learn how to roast apples without sending them over the edge which is what I always do when I try to use apples in a savory dish.

As for the rest of the meal, I started with a Grey Goose martini. 1789 requires men to wear jackets for dinner, and cell phones must be turned off. These small but important nods to civilized dining had to be celebrated with a timeless cocktail. For my first course I had the Hearts of Palm Salad - something I love to make but that takes on a whole new dimension when the Heart of Palm are fresh. As this is an autumn dish it comes with baby beets (yellow and red, things of beauty), Bronte pistachios (from Sicily, often favored), a touch of horseradish and creme fraiche that both cooled and complemented the spicy greens. For such a long list of ingredients, the salad remained very well-balanced.

I had never tried veal Sweetbreads, and I figured 1789 was the best place to try them. Their veal sweetbreads are crispy, with a consistency similar to foie gras. To cut through the heaviness, the kitchen adds lemon, radish and, importantly, sweetbread jus, which keeps the flavor consistent. Roasted scallions add a touch of smoke. American cuisine does lamb very well, and I need to make myself order other things, in spite of how much I love lamb. This time around I tried the Spiced Caroline Red Snapper - a creative cut of filets that allows the kitchen to keep as much of the fish as possible, without serving it whole. Though the rub needs more spice (I have to disclose a bias in favor of the very spice), the green apple and glazed ginger provided a much needed crunch as well as a distinct aroma. The Jerusalem artichoke and baby fennel also paired well, and again, a long list of ingredients that somehow harmonized on the plate. I paired it with a lovely Riesling that was mildly effervescent without being too minerally.

For dessert (I tried to resist but the dessert menu, it called to me) I tried the Milk Chocolate & Poire William Mousse, which features one of my favorite combination: bartlett pear and chocolate. I find that milk chocolate works best as it does not overpower the delicate pear flavor. What makes this very French combination oh so American is the bittersweet caramel and cocoa espresso crunch.

Check their website for updated seasonal offerings and treat yourself to a night of great food and no cell phone.

1789 on Urbanspoon
1789 Restaurant
1226 36th St NW
Washington, DC 20007
www.1789restaurant.com/main/index.shtml

Saturday, September 26, 2009

On this Rainy Day

Upset that the fall snuck up on us? Here are some fun things to do, sign up, and prepare for:

America's Best Recipe

This is an open casting call from a major cable network and Parade Magazine project, searching for unique, home grown recipes. Signing up and submitting is free, so click here.

1st Annual Mediterranean Wines Festival and Classes

Who says you can't have a wine festival in the middle of the week? And metro-accessible, no less? Giramondo Wine Adventures is hosting an event celebrating the largest wine region in the world, with 30 wines from 11 different countries including Israel, Morocco, and Lebanon. Ticket price includes tasting, mezze, as well as one class.

September 30, 2009
6.30 to 9.00 PM
1526 New Hampshire Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C. 20036

To sign up, click here.

A different kind of Washington Debate

The Golden Local over at NBC Washington wants to know who the purveyor of the best cupcake in Georgetown is: Baked and Wired or Georgetown Cupcake. I must admit it's a matter that has yet to be settled even amongst ourselves. Throw in your two cents here.


(In the interest of fairness, the cupcakes pictured are from Red Velvet)

Monday, September 21, 2009

All the Tea in Georgetown

I always have to chuckle when people refer to the lovely tea house smack in the middle of Georgetown "a secret gem." In my mind, that is a description more fitting of Leopold's. If Ching Ching Cha appears hidden, this is due to a highly cluttered plain sight. Though it is located in a highly transited stretch of Wisconsin Avenue, it is nestled between 2 very different Georgetown institutions: Filomena's (with its over the top decorations and Clinton patronage) and the Pleasure Place (26 years and counting).

As easy as it may or may not be to find, patrons, even regulars, will always find its calm and austere atmosphere surprising. My favorite feature has always been the skylights, flooding the room with natural light for most of the tea times. Two traditional tea tables (the kind you sit cross-legged at) are at the far edge of the room, while the rest of the space has two and four-tops in laquered rosewood. Metal canisters adorn the walls as well as contain loose tea, which is available for purchase. Ching Ching Cha also strives to educate: the menu has ample descriptions of the teas, their notes and classifications, and the waitress will always present the tea along with some helpful instructions on how to sip it. L. and I both had green tea, and our cups had no handles or infusers. By the second cup (a tea kettle wit its own heat source is on the table so patrons may refresh and infuse as they deem fit) we had gotten the hang of it. Most importantly, Ching Ching Cha does not provide cream, milk, sugar, or sugar substitute. I have always taken the opportunity to experience tea straightforwardly, but I must admit this is not for everyone - Teaism also has an ample selection of teas and does not pontificate over sweeteners.

I chose the Dragon Silver Tips for no better reason than I liked the name. The menu said it was complex, sweet and somewhat floral, making it less astringent than other green teas. The leaves resembled tiny sprigs, and kept their strength for several cups. To start, I had the Chicken Dumplings - L. went for the vegetarian version. The casing was firm but delicate, with a filling of chicken, mushrooms and a hint of cabbage. The 4 dumplings came doused in soy sauce and vinegar, giving them a pleasant smokey overtone.

Since we had a full kettle, an ample appetite and plenty to talk about, L. and I decided to share several sweets. The almond cookies should appease those missing sugar in their tea: they have the crunch of a ginger snap but a more delicate smell, and the absence of any noticeable butter keeps them from overpowering the tea. The coconut tart reminded me of pound cake in texture, but with a lighter feel. The coconut is more noticeable as an essence, and it reminded me of the pineapple buns that dim sum carts often have. The standout was the lotus seed paste wrapped in puff pastry. Reminiscent of roti dough, the lotus paste had a nutty flavor, and the puff pastry had a hint of salt in it that allowed for contrast. Though the menu is not extensive, everything that we had drew our attention back to the tea - which may be the whole point.

Come in, enjoy the lack of wi fi and the absence of the alt-rock soundtrack. Enjoy the taste of tea in actual china. And if you feel that strongly about it, take a bag of Yunnan Gold home and sweeten it to your heart's content.


Ching Ching Cha on Urbanspoon
Ching Ching Cha Tea House
1063 Wisconsin Avenue, NW
Washington DC, 20007
(202)333-8288
www.chingchingcha.com

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Important vs. The Urgent

Lots of work and travel, hence the lack of updates. Though we always have time to eat, writing is another matter. Be back soon, and in the meantime, check out La Maison Francaise's Event this Friday:

Euronight 2009


Today's Mexican Independence Day, so check out some of the local Mexican eateries!

Monday, August 31, 2009

Goodness Gracious

I love fine dining and holes in the wall in almost equal measure. Born and raised in cattle country, I often crave hamburgers: Central and Matchbox are among my favorites in DC, Five Guys is great for a quick fix (the fries, however, are overrated) and alas, I have yet to try Ray's Hell burger in Arlington (I keep meaning to go, B. has yet to take me). Good Stuff Eatery probably owed it's initial buzz to Top Chef Fetishists (a chance to try a contestant's food!) but after a year, it's still going strong in a stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue that's packed with restaurants.

The shakes are sufficiently thick, the fries crunchy and seasoned and the atmosphere jovial and quick without feeling rushed. The burger I keep going back to is the Prez Obama: applewood bacon, red onion marmalade, horseradish mayo, and roquefort cheese. The overtone is distinctly horseradish, paired with the smoke notes of all the other ingredients. The burger is warm enough to have the cheese be somewhat melted. With such a play of strong favors, I've never felt like I had to add condiments (though there's a mayo bar for the fries). The burger fits comfortably in my rather small hands - it leaves you full, but not overwhelmed.

The salad options look interesting, but the line at Good Stuff is where all diet resolutions should go to die. Walk it off with a power walk around Capitol Hill if you must.

Good Stuff Eatery on Urbanspoon

Good Stuff Eatery view menu
303 Pennsylvania Ave SE
Washington, DC 20003
(202) 543-8222
www.goodstuffeatery.com

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Eat, Drink and be Merry

August is a particularly hard month at work, the one time of year where I don't observe the sanctity of the lunch break and eat at my desk (thankfully, Pret makes this better than it ought to be). But half the fun of going to a restaurant is the company, and in these impossible weeks I always make it a point to meet the near and dear for brunch.

Firefly, just south of Dupont Circle has become one of my favorites. It's signature indoor tree (complete with lanterns) isn't as striking by the light of day, but the dinning room (a fine study in maximization of space) is just as welcoming: stone, brass, and wood. You'll feel like you're visiting someone's impeccably designed cabin. The service is some of the most attentive I've had in DC - our French press coffee was promptly refilled, and our server pointed us in the direction of the $1 mimosas, answered questions about the menu items and, most importantly, weighed in on the important issue of protein v. carbs that all brunch patrons must face.

Chef Daniel Bortnick's menu is focused but abundant in choices (divided into cold things and hot things), with local farmers and purveyors listed at the bottom of the page. I tend to order brunch items with a marked tendency towards breakfast foods (though I've had the seared yellowfin tuna BLT for lunch). I chose the Snake Eyes, 2 soft-cooked eggs baked in a bread basket (growing up, my mom did a fried version of this and called it Eggs in a Frame). The baking makes all the difference - the bread basket had a distinctively different texture from the eggs without being too crispy. The eggs were set upon potatoes, with a side of country sausage and red-eye gravy (normally made with the dripping of pan-fried country ham but in this case it was probably sausage, mixed with black coffee), which added to the Southern flair of the dish. This is a layered and sophisticated egg dish that plays on both textures and temperatures, and a great alternative to staples such as eggs benedict.

A. went for Pop Pop's French toast - thick slices of challah bread dipped in orange and vanilla. The citrus does a great job of cutting the eggy smell present in most French toast, and the apple-raisin compote brings traditional flavors in a different form. The maple syrup was just warm enough.

Firefly had plenty of patrons that morning but our server made sure we took our time and enjoyed the best part of brunch - lingering and catching up over your remaining coffee (and a second round of mimosas).

Firefly @ Hotel Madera view menu
1310 New Hampshire Ave NW
Washington, DC 20036
(202) 861-1310
www.firefly-dc.com
Firefly - DC on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Ladies who Lunch

Tucked away behind the Four Seasons Hotel, facing one of the less picturesque sections of the C&O Canal, Executive Chef David Varley and his staff keep an extensive herb garden. This fragrant landscaping, scheduled to be moved up to the roof in a few months, serves as a reminder that one of the many pleasures in Georgetown is slowing down to smell the flowers, or in this case, varietals. If you are persuaded to stay, the steps will lead you to the Four Season's renovated patio - complete with bar menu, ample shade, and fire pits.

The charms of the patio could not negate that it was, in fact, high noon in August. Bourbon Steak, Michael Mina's outpost in the District, is at the end of the hotel's lobby, it's dining room flowing into the bar and the aforementioned patio. A group of us were there to sample offerings from the Lunch menu. We started with a house cocktail - peach schnapps, house made peach syrup, bourbon, and a touch of basil. I am not much of a bourbon drinker (or whisky, for that matter) and was pleasantly surprised with its ability to be mixed into a refreshing summer drink other than a mint julep. As we waited for our orders to be taken, a trio of duck fat fries (from the Lounge menu) were brought out, with ketchup, barbeque sauce and horseradish sauce as condiments. A few cast iron skillets dotted the table, holding savory rolls with truffle butter that were piping hot and very fragrant.

I started with the chilled white gazpacho, served table side. This is an almond soup, thicker and creamier than a traditional gazpacho, that couples grapes with cucumbers, offsetting the distinct but delicate tastes of almonds and garlic. Toasted almonds and basil gave it some depth. For my main course, I had seared yellow tuna in a deconstructed version of a Nicoise Salad. The tuna, sliced into two portions over green olive tapenade, dominated the plate (if you prefer a lot of green on your plate, go for the Shrimp salad), and the kitchen's attention to detail was evident right down to the placement of a boiled quayle egg and two fresh anchovies. For wine, we had a Dry Moscatel from Malaga, a citrusy white, and an excellent shiraz.

I am always weary of ordering dessert at steak restaurants, but the beautiful tropical panna cotta (topped with a whirl of avocado) was a thing of beauty. The coconut candy bar, pictured, is the kitchen's take on an Almond Joy (a fresh made Almond Joy, that is), topped with milk chocolate a smoky and salty praline caramel. It would give Central's Kit Kat Bar a run for its money in the "Homage to Candy from our Childhood" Category.

A wonderful meal in a beautiful space.

Bourbon Steak on Urbanspoon
Bourbon Steak @ The Four Seasons Hotel view menu
2800 Pennsylvania Ave NW
Washington, DC 20007
www.michaelmina.net/mm_bourbonsteak_dc/

Friday, July 31, 2009

How does your Garden Grow?

Fans of all things local that we are, apartment dwelling has not allowed us to go one step further and plant our own produce. For those of you who do garden, or partake in the bounty of your friends with green thumbs, the Capital Area Food Bank has put together this great program:

Grow A Row is a way for gardeners to grow and donate produce to local community organizations that serve people in need. Fresh produce is an essential component of a healthy diet, but is not frequently donated to soup kitchens or food pantries due to its perishable nature. Grow A Row is an excellent opportunity to bridge community, build relationships, and provide people of low income with access to fresh, local produce.

All contributions are welcome - be it growing an extra row, digging up your entire yard, or organizing a collective donation from your community garden. The Capital Area Food Bank works with a network of over 700 charitable organizations in the Washington, D.C. Metropolitan Area, including food pantries, soup kitchens, youth programs, and emergency shelters.

For more information or to participate, contact Anika Roth or Jody Tick at growarow@cfoodbank.org /(202) 526-5344 at the at the Harvest for Health Deparment.

www.capitalareafoodbank.org

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Pleasant Surprise

E. and I were making our way back to the Brookland Metro after a concert at the Franciscan Monastery when we both realized how very hungry we were. Unfamiliar with the area, we peeked into eatery windows, looking for a quick bite to tide us over until we got home.

E. pointed the sign out to me - Wine Tasting, 2.30 PM. Figuring we could get food regardless, we went in - the place was packed, the dining area with industrial-inspired furniture anchored by a bar. Our quick bite (a veggie burger with a touch of spice for me on a delicious vegan roll and a chicken-topped salad for E.) turned into a prolonged visit. The tasting featured white wines and sparkling wines, with unlimited tastings (and an option to have a full glass, once you've had enough). I was completely unprepared to do a proper write up on the wines, so E. and I just relaxed and enjoyed our detour, with D'Maz, the very enthusiastic and well-informed barman/Master of Ceremonies at the helm. Since Saturday afternoons are all about wine at Brookland Cafe, it was a fitting introduction.

The Brookland Cafe
3740 12th Street, NE
Washington, DC 20017
(202) 635 6307
www.thebrooklandcafe.com

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

"I feel like a pig, but a happy pig"

In a city with so many dining choices, I am often weary of places with a long line and an overflowing (or simply non-existent) waiting area. Perplexed as I am by the hordes outside of Lauriol Plaza or Café Bonaparte on any given weekend (hardly worth the aggravation or the wait), I've come to accept the line outside of Georgetown Cupcake as part of its charm/business model.

With my penchant for reservations (and the honoring thereof)it is no wonder I hardly ever make it up to 2 Amys. But M. is back in town for a few weeks, and she had a hankering. More importantly, we had a car, and it was almost 9 PM. As is true of most things in life, the secret to 2 Amys is timing. The five us got there 30 minutes before the pizza oven was shut for the evening and were promptly seated in a smaller room, accessible through the back of the main dining room. Since the restaurant is great for families, this gave us some extra insulation from the hustle and bustle, if slightly slower service.

M. and I went for white wine, while the rest of the group had dark beer on tap and tea. My glass of Botromagno was chilled and fruity, extremely aromatic with hints of lemon and lime - a hint of the Amalfi coast in my glass, to further bolster 2 Amy's Neapolitan credentials (certificates on the wall and all).

M. announced her intentions of having half for dinner and half for lunch the next day. It is safe to say we all intended to follow suit, but the warm, thin crust, alone or dipped with the excellent olive oil provided, was too much to resist. B. and I had the Vongole, a white pizza with garlic, capers, parsley, hot pepper, cockels and grana, a hard, mature cheese. The cockels were left on the shell, infusing the entire pizza with a distinct saltiness. J., M. and O. went for the classic Margherita (tomato, mozzarella di bufala, basil), though M. had hers topped with house-made sausage and J. followed suit with prosciutto,fresh slices laid horizontally across the entire plate. These are dishes made with care, and ingredients are there to complement each other. I kept sprinkling my portions with their dry crushed pepper mix. The pizzas are slightly smaller than a dinner plate, and though 2 Amys has an extensive list of appetizers and some very good desserts, we were as full as one should be at 10.30 PM.

Just another reminder of how some things are worth the wait - and enhanced by luck.

2 Amys view menu
3715 Macomb St NW
Washington, DC 20016
(202) 885-5700
www.2amyspizza.com
2 Amys on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Celebrations

Urbana, one of our regular spots for wine in Dupont, is turning 3 next week and will be celebrating accordingly. There will be a party on Monday, July 20th (with a DJ starting at 6.30 PM) and $3 wine specials, including prosecco. If partying on a Monday is not for you, there will be $3 happy hours from 4-7 and 10-11 Monday to Thursday featuring $3 Peroni, Estrella Galicia, Prosecco and house red and white wine along with $3 half-portion pizzas. Chef Alex Bollinger will offer $3 small plate items at the bar. On the dinner side, Chef will have a $30 3-course tasting menu available between 5 and 7, including a glass of prosecco and a cupcake.

Mervis Diamonds will be improving a good thing with yet another good thing (extra points for making it seasonal) with their diamonds and chocolate event at their K street location on July 22nd.

For those of you who love farmers' markets, Freshfarm markets is hosting a cooking demo at their H Street NE market on July 25th (9 to 12) and a Book Signing in Dupont Circle on July 26th (9 to 1) by Dr. Preston Maring, author of the “EatingWell in Season, the Farmers’ Market Cookbook.”

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Ciao, Italia!

I was in Rome for a dear friend's wedding (that was a six course meal, not counting the cocktail hour appetizers or the dessert table). Once I recovered, I was able to find some lovely spots.

1. Aperitivo

Though this is a Milanese tradition, Rome has caught on. At Obika near the Spanish Steps, 10 Euro will buy you a cocktail (my favorite is Negroni, a mix of 1 part gin, 1 part sweet vermouth, and 1 part Campari) and unlimited visits to the buffet, which runs from 7 to 9.30. This is a happy hour done right. I was happy to find one in Milan (across from the Duomo on the top floor of La Rinascente) and overjoyed to find out that they have an outpost in New York. 6 types of Mozarella di Bufa, to start...

Obika Mozarella Bar
Piazza di Firenze - corner Via dei Prefetti
00186 - Roma
www.obika.it/english/index.html

2. Paninis
At the fabled De Santis (autographed pictures of Sophia Loren, Pavarotti, and several football jerseys grace the walls), I had an amazing panini with prosciutto crudo (the kind you seldom find in the US, except for the citterio fresco at Trader Joe's). The space is tiny, the menu only in Italiano, but the staff is friendly, the ingredients very fresh, and the bar fully stocked. A great pre-Cenacolo meal.

De Santis
Corso Magenta, 9
Milano

3. Coffee every which way
Even a caffeine junkie like me can appreciate the fact that Naples is a city that takes its coffee seriously. Since it's a faux pas to have Capuccinos after 10.30 AM, I had a caffe con pana (so sweet, hot and thick that it is no wonder Starbucks has yet to overrun the country, as it has done Paris). Gambrinus is the stuff of legend - across from the Palazzo Reale, former watering hole of Oscar Wilde. Terrible service and steep prices, but what a view, and I am not talking about this lovely cup, either.

Caffee Gambrinus
Piazza Trieste e Trento, Via Chiaia 1-2, Chiaia, 80132
www.caffegambrinus.it

Sunday, June 28, 2009

On the Road!

Pissaladiere a Provencal appetizer with caramelized onions, roasted tomatoes,olives and anchovies.

Friendliest service ever. Modern decor featuring hens, roosters, and a funky wine list. A wonderful spot to enjoy good company, great food, and nurse jetlag.

Les Fous de L'Ile
33, Rue Deux Ponts
75004 Paris

Mushroom Quiche, Spinach and Salmon Quiche, Green Salad with fresh herbs mustard dressing Ice Tea with Lemon, Orange, Honey and Spearmint



This place reminded me of Milk and Honey in Chicago. Similar vibe (but formal aprons) in a great location half a block from the Luxembourg Garden. The tea is a great way to beat the relentless heat in this city that hates A.C.

Bread and Roses
7, Rue de Fleurus
75006 Paris
www.breadandroses.fr

Friday, June 19, 2009

Shelter from the Storm

I'll admit to having eaten spoonfuls of Illy espresso straight out of the can on more than one occasion, but even a die-hard fan like me is impressed by the care put into every cup at the fabled Italian roaster's outpost (ceramic for those of us who choose to duck in from the summer rain and stay awhile, additional seating in the hotel lobby). When I inadvertently tilted my cup, the barista insisted on wiping the rim of my Viennese (espresso, foamed milk a touch of whip cream, and a light dusting of cocoa). S. still remembers the lemon poppyseed muffin, all the way from Rio.

Illy Caffe @ Renaissance M Street Hotel
1143 New Hampshire Ave NW
Washington, DC 20037
(202) 775-0800
Illy  Coffee House  (at the Marriott) on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Our inbox runneth over

Some standouts from our dedicated e-mail account:

Cookie + Gourmet Kids’ Restaurant Week is coming to Washington, D.C. June 13 – 21. There will be a KRW kick-off event at Eastern Market on Saturday June 13th, where Chef Danny Bortnick and his 4-year old son Jonah will lead a banana bread cooking demo. At Firefly in Dupont Circle, Kids 11 and under will pay their age, with $29 three-course offerings for the over 12 set. Zola in Penn Quarter is also participating, and their starter of “Fried Rice” (creamy sausage risotto rolled in bread crumbs with tarragon dip) makes me want to introduce my two-year old goddaughter to fine dining. For a full list of participating restaurants, please kick here.

To celebrate the new grill at the Poste Garden, the kitchen is launching ‘Poste Roasts,’ served at the new outdoor Chef’s table. The dinner is available for a minimum of six people and maximum of 12, and is priced at $27 per person (excluding beverages, dessert, tax and gratuity). Call a week ahead to choose your protein - whole suckling pig, baby goat, beef brisket, peking duck, baby lamb, or smoked squab. An upscale barbeque in the middle of DC.

On Friday, June 19th, Zola Wine and Kitchen is hosting a dinner with Silver Spring's very own Wine Guru Guru Terry Theise. The menu, created by Executive Chef Bryan Moscatello, is priced at $115 per person, exclusive of tax and gratuity, and will consist of creative trio preparations of scallops, rabbit and veal each paired the Austrian and Champagne estate selections including Minges Gleisweiler Holle Riesling, Spatlese 2005, Schrock Furmint 2007, Pierre Gimonnet Champagne, NV Blanc de Blancs Cuis, NV and the Hexamer Riesling, “Quartzit” 2006. Seating's at 6.30 PM and required reservations are taken at (202) 654-2855.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Come Again

Last week a post-conference dinner for 4 quickly turned into an 8 people affair, and I had no time to call for reservations. Since everyone else had been travelling all day, a 40-minute wait was not an option. I shepherded the group down New Jersey Avenue, hoping the views of the Capitol would stave their hunger. The host at Bistro Bis was gracefulness personified – he welcomed everyone (the nametags were a dead giveaway) and had a round table set at the far end of the wood, steel and glass dining room, which allowed me to split my attention between musings on legal anthropology and the vintage food posters in French.

Bistro Bis, a sister restaurant to Vidalia, is a few blocks away from Union Station at the George Hotel. Split into three areas that flow into each other, the rooms are tied together by the use of natural cherry wood and soft lighting. Though its location says power lunch, the feel is cozy, and there were plenty of dates going on around us.
As a quick starter for the table (aside from the bread basket, devoured in record time) I ordered mussels in curry cream for the table. The mussels have a wonderful kick from the piquillo peppers, and where it not for the consistency of the curry cream I would have thought I was at Brasserie Beck.

Since everybody was having different entrees, a bottle was impossible. I had a glass of Gamay, a fresh and floral wine that hails from the Beaujoulais region and is also served slightly chilled. The fruit notes were cherry, with the acidity of strawberry. For an entrée I had the Duck au Rhubarb, two of my favorite tastes. The duck breast was crusted with pink peppercorns, which added color and flavor to the meat while keeping it from drying out. The rhubarb was present as a compote as well as a gastrique. I’ve had duck with cherries on several occasions so the rhubarb is an interesting twist, highlighted by the fact that using breast instead of leg and thigh keeps the fat and its smoke away. A second cut sat on top of thinly sliced slightly fried potatoes and a touch of salad.

I ordered the Petit Fours for the table – a selection of confections, cookies and chocolates that on this particular night featured macarons, peanut butter and dark chocolate triangles, and lattice cookies. My favorite on the menu, though, is the spiced carrot cake topped with buttermilk panna cotta, a wonderful combination of acid, warmth, degrees of firmness, and a refreshing side of mandarin orange sorbet.

We poured into E street happy, well fed, and fully recovered from the first day of the conference.

Bistro Bis @ the Hotel George
15 E St NW
Washington, DC 20001
www.bistrobis.com
Bistro Bis on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Brainfood Grill-Off 2009

DC-based nonprofit Brainfood uses food and cooking as tools to teach life skills and healthy living to teenagers in a safe and positive environment. For their annual Grill-Off, top chefs (including Central's Cedric Maupillier) team up with amateur cooks, including amateur aficionados and Brainfood program graduates to compete for top honors in a grilling competition.

The event will also include hors d’oeuvres, open bar and live auction. 100 percent of ticket sales ($75 per ticket and $3,000 per team entry) will support Brainfood after-school and summer programs, including hands-on instruction, educational field trips and guest chef demonstrations.

The Grill-Off will take place on Thursday, June 11, 2009 from 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. at the Decatur House on Lafayette Square (1610 H Street, NW Washington, DC 20006). For more information, please click here.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Amo Gelato!

One of the foundational myths in my family is that my maternal grandfather opened up the first (and for the longest time, only) soda shop in Cerralvo, Nuevo Leon. My grandmother would go in every day, and her love for ice cream became a +50 year marriage. At least that was the story we got when we would ask grandpa why he would go into the kitchen exclusively to make milkshakes and smoothies, and why grandma persistently ditched her own touring kin to make gelato-stops all over Rome. Is it any wonder why it is one of my favorite comfort foods?

Last week I was invited to to Pitango Gelato's new shop across the street from Whole Foods on P. S. and I sampled a flight of Gelato - from custard to nuts to sorbets - that was a welcome respite from an overwhelmingly humid Memorial Day. The Pitango space is decked out in green, it's signature color, dark wood, stainless steel and custom-made blown glass light fixtures. There is some seating in a bar with 8 stools that runs the lenght of the back wall (there are plans to add outdoor seating soon).

While many gelato shops in the area favor the mound presentation (one does eat with the eyes, after all), Pitango keeps its offerings under stainless steel drums. While you won't have your eyes to make up your mind, the staff behind the counter will be happy to offer you a sample, and the drums, which used to be an Industry standard before air became a primary mean of cooling, not only look sharp and clean, but also keep smells and flavors from mixing, while keeping ice chips from forming. I've never been so aware of the smell of gelato and sorbet, and how that aroma can bring the flavor to you while your palette concentrates on its temperature and texture.

S. and I were very lucky to have Founder and CEO Noah Dan guide us through our flight. His philosophy is simple: with a single ingredient, you can't cheat. Pitango sources its milk and eggs from an organic, family-owned Mennonite farm in Lancaster County. When possible, the fruit is local and in peak season, so the offering change several times a month. The coffee (an espresso for me and a capuccino for S.) is a custom-blend of Latin American coffees, roasted in Baltimore, a bright floral with just a touch of smoke.

We started out with Crema, an Italian custard. Eggs, milk, a hint of vanilla. A very delicate taste in a very rich texture. We moved on to Nocciola (hazelnut), one of the few imported ingredients from Italy. This is where the smell really hit me - I normally associate hazelnuts with Nutella, which is processed to no end. These hazelnuts are smokey, and made me think of the top note of Jabugo ham, made from hazelnut-fed pigs. Pistachio is one of my favorite gelato flavors, and the Pitango version did not dissapoint - instead of tasting the milk first, you can both see, taste and feel the roasted Pistachios di Bronte, flown in from Sicily. My favorite - and it was hard to pick - was the Creme Fraiche gelato because it combines the tang of yogurt with the texture of gelato - the best of both worlds and a perfect summer treat. In the interest of quasi-journalistic integrity, we moved on to Sorbets, where we found S.'s favorite - White Grapefruit, which we sampled along with tangerine. The sugar is organic, but the fruit is not sweetened to oblivion.

By the time we left, the after-dinner crowd was making a line well outside Pitango's shop. Having had gelato for dinner ourselves, we took our leave, but not before I noticed the take-away containers. I toyed with the idea of buying one to take home but opted against it in hommage to my family history - what would become of love stories put away in the freezer?

Pitango Gelato - Washington, DC
1451 P Street, NW
Washington, DC
(202) 332-8877
http://www.pitangogelato.com/

Monday, May 25, 2009

Bessie Knows Best

The Conventional Wisdom for those of us that frequent Old Town Alexandria is that, particularly on King Street, the further away from the water the better the restaurant. While this adage may ring true for less-than stellar destinations right on the river that mostly rely on tourist foot traffic, exceptions must be made: La Bergerie on Lee Street, and Jackson 20, half a block away from Market Square.

I've often found a perch at the Bar at Jackson 20 to enjoy the view and the cocktails, Located on the edge of a dark wood dinning room with a picture window on one side and an open plan kitchen on the other, it is a good place to unwind, watch some random sports on an available but never intrusive TV set, and chat with some of Old Town's friendliest bar tenders. Jackson 20 is a restaurant with a sense of humor - the centerpiece of the dining room is Bessie, an often-costumed pig. To find a bust of Mr. Jackson, he of 20 dollar bill fame, you will have to head for the back door. The courtyard, an ample space for beautiful nights away from the bustle of King Street, also hosts the storied Doggie Happy Hour, a tradition that Kimpton kept when they took over the property a few years ago.

On this particular outing I got to sit with a group of writers at the Chef's table, a large marble slab opposite the bar. We started with cocktails. While my favorite is the Honeysuckle (Absolut Ruby Red, grapefruit juice, honey syrup and muddled ginger), this time around I decided to try the Presidential Punch, concocted for Obama's inauguration - a delightful and unlikely combination of Cachaça, peach Schnapps, sparkling cider, house-made raspberry syrup, accompanied with fresh apples, peaches, and pineapple. The fruit at the bottom truly makes it a punch, and it puts one's stomach in good stead for the Southern-inspired food to come.

For an appetizer, I ordered the Scallop and Shrimp Brochette, a skewer wrapped in bacon with a side of grits and greens. I was looking forward to the dish, as I love scallops and what Chef Denis Marron does with them. While the grits were creamy and the greens peppery and fresh, the bacon overwhelmed the proteins. The kitchen also sent us shrimp fritters (fried just enough to keep them doughy and hot) and ham sliders, the perfect size for a bar bite - Country ham with fresh-made slaw on a biscuit with a great salty taste, but a bit dry.

In between courses I switched to a glass of Oregon Pinot Noir - Jackson 20 has an extensive selection of wines by the glass, as well as some funky wines for 20 dollars a bottle.
As a main dish, I decided to go for the full rack of ribs, after securing promises from around the table that I would get some help with them. At 20 dollars (10 for half), the dish is one of the best dinner deals in Old Town - a portion big enough to share (and a plate that had to be carried out by the Chef, insert Flinstones jokes here.) The pork ribs were cooked just right - the meat came right off as I went through the motions of using a fork, extra sauce was at hand: the smell was complex without being overly pungent, with a top note of all spice and hints of chocolate, topped with a dusting of chives. The smashed potatoes were well-seasoned, and I would have finished them were it not for the Virginia Cheddar Macaroni & Cheese Casserole that we ordered for the table - the bacon and ham hock gave it an added texture and smoke without making it too salty, and the top was crusty in all the right ways.

Once I secured a box for my ribs (even with all that help), I joined in the partaking of a cross-selection of desserts. My favorite was the Pecan-Chocolate Pie, a reminder that NoVa is, in fact, Virginia. A tall chocolate pie, it has the consistency of a very dense mousse (or a very fluffy pudding), a buttery crust, and a good quantity of pecans, topped with a dollop of Chantilly Cream. A close second was the Blueberry Cobbler with buttermilk ice cream, a well-rounded combination of hot/cold/tart/sweet. As opposed to many cobblers, the starch could have stood up on its own in terms of taste and texture. The Lime Meringue Tart and the Banana Pudding, both beautifully presented, would make many grandmothers proud.

Pay your respects to Bessie next time you're in Old Town. She'll even be a a good sport about the barbeque sauce-stained napkin you'll leave behind.

Jackson 20 @ Hotel Monaco, Old Town
480 King Street
Alexandria, VA 22314
www.jackson20.com

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