Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Cocktails with a side of crisis

Dawns, even metaphorical ones, have their share of bleak. In the midst of the post-inaugural hangover, winter mix, and lots of work paired with an utter lack of job security, Washingtonians find themselves rather stressed.

Misery loves company, but so does merriment. Take yourself out and invite a friend who'd really appreciate it. If you are watching your money, make it a drink. Churchill, who knew a thing or two about crisis (and fine drinking and dining), said it best: all great things are simple.

These are some of my favorite happy hour places, in no particular order:
1. Ceiba (Metro Center): A cocktail special every day, chatty bartenders, and complimentary appetizers.

2. The Cantina at Darlington House (Dupont Circle): The restaurant upstairs needs work, but the street-level pub is perfect. Wine specials and a $12 sampler of seasonal bar food great for sharing.

3. Piola (Rosslyn): Great pizza, half price beer, and an international chain that you ought to know.

4. Uni, a sushi place (Dupont Circle): $1 Sushi and special prizes for Japanese Beer.

5. Urbana (Dupont Circle): Aperitif Hour, with cocktail and wine specials. Great ambiance, nice wine selection and wonderful service.

6. News Cafe (Georgetown): consistently good and affordable martinis, well-traveled bartenders and overall friendly service.

7. Matchbox (Chinatown): Yes, it will be crowded but yes, you will enjoy it. Affordable martinis, beer specials, and discounted pizza.

8. Utopia (U Street): Plenty to look at, and half price on all cocktails.

9. Union Street Public House (Old Town): They've finally gone smoke free, have a long list of domestic drafts and a consistently good, if not very imaginative, bar menu.

10. Vidalia (Farragut North): Great bar bites and an extensive selection of wines by the half-glass.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Not seeking new landscapes but having new eyes

S. came down from Boston for Inauguration, so we decided to celebrate her birthday at The Grille in Old Town.

Morrison House looks like a private residence, and its formal dinning room is lovely and very old-school, the way one might remember those rooms one was normally not allowed to go into as a child. But if you go straight down the hall, following the happy chatter and the live music (thus far I've heard a piano player, acoustic guitarists and even a regular or two taking to the stage) you will find an upbeat and cozy bar area, clad in red leather and wooden floors. You will also see Chef Denis Marron checking in on his patrons and happily discussing his culinary creations. The ambiance there is relaxed and jovial, even though you are in the same restaurant and dining on the same menu. The Grille is less grand dame and more fun cousin - and a place that must be visited on whim and occasion alike.

S. and I started with hot cider cocktails that were well balanced - sweet, but with a kick. We both went for the Chef's tasting menus (3, 4 or 6 courses for 45, 65 or 75 USD) and I was happily surprised by some classics as well as new creations. We were busy catching up and marveling at the fact that the day had come when we were not having graduate student fare, so I didn't prepare myself for the Apple-Parsnip Bisque, a heavy soup poured table-side over duck confit, apple chips and cinnamon espuma. Though the description on the menu perfectly indicated the fact that this would be a sweet soup, my first spoonful was bewildering - the only thing I can compare the overall note to is fresh-baked cinnamon bread. Stirring all the ingredients, especially the salt in the duck confit made all the flavors pair together for a very pleasant effect. As we waited four our entrees, our server told us that the chef would be sending out another course. A few days prior I had been very enthusiastic about the new scallop appetizer at Domaso and, not one to shy from chefs wanting to one-up each other for me, we tried a wonderful flight of scallops - a crudo, a cold smoked scallop with a lemon gelee, a seared scallop with bacon espuma and coquilles st. jaques, a baked preparation. Not only is the dish a wonderful demonstration of new techniques (my favorite, the cold smoke, was presented still encased in a smoke-filled shot glass) but a great way to show the versatility of a great ingredient at its peak. I've been torn over both dishes for a week and must pronounce The Grille the winner for its variety and its playful but sophisticated approach to getting diners to venture out of the traditional seared scallop.

For our main courses, S. had the veal, a braised veal breast presented over glazed root vegetables with black truffle jus and crispy sweetbreads. The compact presentation makes the most of the tender meat and the vegetables give it an interesting play on textures. I had the monkfish, braised in red wine with brussel sprouts and brown butter spaetzle. The mokfish tail was fantastic - a firm meat, much like lobster but less fragrant. The brussel sprouts had just the right crunch in them. The spaetzle, a staple of Austrian cooking, was a bit dry but its flavor complimented the fish.

Intrepid diners that we are (or making up for the days when we would save up and go to Finale's in lieu of actually eating dinner) S. and I had desserts. S. got the Coconut, which had coconut four ways: Coconut Cream Pie, Coconut Macaroon,
Pina Colada Foam, Saffron & Coconut Marshmallow. Learning from my previous mistakes, S. tackled the foam first and went on to enjoy every bit of tropic that the ingredient afforded her. I had a Red Velvet cake that has ruined all red velvet cakes for me (yes, even the Magnolia Bakery cupcakes in New York). The cake is heavy but not dense, toped with a chocolate ganache and the traditional cheese icing between layers. The batter has beets in it, further amplifying the refreshing taste of the beet gelato. The plate also had a dusting of beet powder, which I had never tasted. It's texture paired well with the overall smoothness of the ganache and the gelato, giving it an extra dimension: grit.

A wonderful meal spent in great company in a rediscovered space - what better way to kick off Inaugural weekend?

The Grille at Morrison House Hotel
116 South Alfred Street
Alexandria, VA 22314
Grille at Morrison House on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Turn up the heat!

The Ovarian Cancer National Alliance will be having its annual benefit at the Ritz-Carlton, West End next Tuesday, February 3rd. This celebration of women chef's will feature Chef Sara Moulton.

For more information and to register, please go here here.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Inaugural Eats

When the events that will come to pass in our fair city soon are retold in the history books, little mention will be made to the accompanying urban chaos. Dining companions J., O., and visiting dignitaries have decided to embrace the madness and resist the temptation to skip town and put up our humble abodes for rental (T. left the country promptly after the elections). I now have the enjoyable task of figuring out what to do with our extended bar hours, courtesy of the DC City Council.

To get things rolling, Fyve Restaurant Lounge at the Ritz-Carlton in Pentagon City is flying in Chef John Zaner from The Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua to honor the President-elect’s home state of Hawaii with a prix fixe menu for $38 from January 13th to the 20th. Taste of Aloha features pork, poke and pineapple.

In Penn Quarter, Minibar at Cafe Atlantico is hosting an Inaugural Fundraiser for DC Central Kitchen on January 18, 19 and 20. The special $444.44 menu (tax and gratuity included) will give a $222.22 donation (tax deductible!), special wine pairings and cookbooks.

In Capitol Hill, Spike Mendelsohn is hosting a Burger Ball at Good Stuff Eatery.

Several restaurants (including Adour at the Saint Regis) are featuring prix fixe menus in a themed-out Restaurant Week.

The folks at Campus Progress have put together a list of Obama Delicacies, featuring one of my favorites, ACKC.

The Klimpton restaurants always partake. With restaurants on both sides of the Potomac and with the menu at Morrison House also inspired on Lincoln's Second inaugural luncheon, they've covered everything. Most of the events will take place between January 17th and 20th:

Firefly (Dupont) will feature the “First Lady Marmalade,” a cocktail made with a house-made preserve of Meyer lemons and candied ginger, citrus vodka and sparkling wine and have menus that highlight American wine, beer and cheese.

Poste Moderne Brasserie (Gallery Place) will offer a celebratory champagne tasting menu s, serve donkey cookies and the bar will have hometown beer for both Obama and Biden. Their featured cocktail will be the "Americano = Change," made with Bluecoat Organic Gin, Campari and sweet vermouth foam and the bar will also offer cocktails honoring past presidents.

Urbana (Dupont)will offer the “Urbana 44 tasting menu” which is an indulgent tasting of 4 American sparkling wines from Schramsberg Vineyards paired with 4 dishes from Chef Alex Bollinger’s menu. A great way to try a wide range of their wines far, far away from the security perimiter.

Domaso and Domasoteca (Rosslyn)
Domasoteca will offer special edition Obama chocolates from Zoes Chocolate Co. A box of two signature line chocolates and truffles will be wrapped featuring either the words “Obama”, “Hope” or “Change,” and will be sold for $5 in the store (They will be a great hostess gift for that nice friend who is lending your her couch instead of renting it). Domasoteca will also offer a 20% discount on all items between January 18th and January 20th. Domasoteca will have cocktail specials and their happy hour will run until 8 PM, with several bottles going for $44 and fix prix lunch and dinner for $20 and $44.

Jackson 20 (Old Town)is named after President Andrew Jackson and accordingly it will go back to his inauguration in 1829. He is, after all, the man that came up with the public balls in the first place. To honor the ensuing debauchery, the bar will feature its own Presidential Punch, “Jackson Inaugural Mob,” made with Leblon Cachaca, Peach Schnapps, sparkling cider, house-made raspberry syrup, fresh apples, peaches, and pineapple.

The Grille at Morrison House (Old Town)
From January 17 – 21, Chef Marron’s ‘Ode to Lincoln’s Inauguration Dinner’ will feature a modernized interpretation of dishes served at Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural dinner in March 1865. Inadvertently they staged quite the culinary coup, as the Congressional Inaugural Committee has announced that the Inaugural luncheon was inspired by that meal. The menu will be available a la carte or as a four-course prix fixe option for $65 and a 7-course prix fixe for $95.

Any other interesting events or culinary happenings for next week? Send me an e-mail or add them to the comments section.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Rosca de Reyes

I have been out of town for the past few weeks, and being back home is one of those rare occasions when I do not want to eat out. Since I will be in Mexico for the Festival of the Epiphany (more commonly known as Kings' Day) I wanted to share this recipe.

In the interest of full disclosure, I've only seen it made and am normally pleased with store-bought. Unless those amazing Korean supermarkets in Wheaton are carrying them or Rosa Mexicano is offering it by the slice as they do with the Pan de Muerto, you might want to give it a try.


3 1/2 cups of flour
1 packet of yeast
3/4 cups of sugar
7 eggs
4.5 ounces of butter
1/4 cup lukewarm milk
Dash of salt
2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. anis
3.5 ounces of raisins
1 tsp. vanilla
2 ounces candied figs
2 ounces candied orange
2 ounces candied lime
2 ounces candied cherries
2 ounces candied lemon
1 beaten egg

1 plastic figurine (which is a choking hazard, but is also tradition!)

Dissolve the yeast in five tablespoons of lukewarm milk and set aside. Mix the flour, yeast, sugar, eggs, melted butter, milk, salt, cinnamon, aniseed, raisins, and vanilla. Knead into a ball; grease it with some butter and place near a warm stove until the dough doubles in size. (About 2 1/2 hours)

While it raises, cut the candied fruit into strips to be used for decorating the outside of the cake.

Preheat the oven to 360° F.

Knead, banging it down on the floured tabletop, to make it soft and pliable. Form the dough into a ring ("rosca"). Insert the baby figurine. Place the rosca on a greased backing tray. Decorate it with the strips of candied fruit. Leave the rosca once more to fluff up again. Brush the rosca with the beaten egg and sprinkle over granulated sugar.

Bake for 40 minutes.

Allow it to cool. Cut into slices and serve with hot chocolate. Whomever gets the Baby figurine will have to host a a dinner or merienda on February 2nd.