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

Jackson 20 on Urbanspoon

Sunday, May 17, 2009

No kid hungry

1 out of 6 children in the United States do not know when their next meal will come - that's 12 million kids going hungry every day. Share Our Strength's Great American Bake Sale is a national effort that encourages Americans to host bake sales in their communities to help end childhood hunger, with funds going back to the community that raised them.

Buy a cookbook, buy baked goods or host a bake sale of your own. For more information, click here.

(Any takers for WDC? Send us an e-mail!)

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Somewhere very "us"

S. came back to DC before embarking on her summer stint at the WHO, and I wanted to treat her to lunch to celebrate the end of her first year in graduate school. I gave her free reign over the location and cuisine - surviving Glennon is no small feat. People that have found their way back to DC often request Ethiopian food. After weeks away, I hanker for Thai. There's something very interesting about food nostalgia, the twin aspects of the meals that you miss, coupled with the places and people that made them special. S. said she wanted to go "somewhere very us."

Before Buzz, my regular post-office watering hole was Leopold's. Tucked away from the bustle on M street on Cady's Alley, their terrace is open for most of the year, and I've always found it a pleasant place to stop by for dessert or a light meal. While the décor is nothing like you would expect from an Austrian coffehouse (for that, go to Neue Galerie in NYC), the bright and airy space is decked out in orange, the signature color of the Leopold Museum in Vienna, has plush flowers for barstools, and it is the only place in DC to get a cup of Julius Meinl coffee on a silver tray next to a glass of water. Over Inaugural weekend, Dr., Viennese to the core, gave it her thumbs up.

On this particular outing, we sat in the terrace enjoying the sunshine and the babble of the courtyard's fountain. We started out with cocktails: a Strawberry Kir for me and a Summer Lemonade for S. The Kir was sparkly and refreshing, with the fresh strawberries giving a bit of acidity to the Chambord, which took the place of the creme de cassis. S. declared hers to be a fun spin on SoCo and lime.

S. ordered the Heurigenplatte, a charcuterie plate that features prosciutto, ham, green olives and some very fresh cornichons. The plate is big enough to share as an appetizer and the presentation is thoughtful and balanced. I had the Tunfischsalat Nicoise, their towering interpretation of the French classic, minus the egg. The presentation puts the roasted tomatoes at the base, giving the impression of a tuna tatare. Upon closer inspection, I found the cooked tuna nestled under the string beans. It is always interesting to see a salad that won't let the greens define it. The herb tapenade dressing plays very well with the smokey taste of the roasted tomato.

The crown jewel of Leopold's is, of course, the pastry case. S. and I went to inspect the contents - macarons, petit fours, tartes, chocolate and hazelnut in every which way - we set aside old favorites (including the Papillote) for the Malaga, a raspberry mouse topped with very light vanilla cake, enrobed in white chocolate. Fresh and tart, it is s a perfect summer dessert. It is hard to go wrong with that pastry case (which can look a bit bare on Sunday nights) and my only disappointment in 4 years has been their Sachertorte, which I found dry and too dense. We raised our double espressos to the friends that used to come with us to Cady's Alley, gone but never forgotten: the defining taste of food nostalgia is always bittersweet.

Leopold's Kafe view menu
3318 M St NW
Washington, DC 20007
(202) 965-6005
Leopold's Kafe + Konditorei on Urbanspoon

Sunday, May 3, 2009

SAWIP Wine Sip!

On Thursday, May 14th, the South African Embassy will be hosting a Wine Tasting Event in support of South Africa - Washington Internship Program, a leadership program for university students. SAWIP seeks to empower and develop a new generation of leaders committed to building upon South Africa’s progress and growing a stronger and robust civic society.

The event will start at 6.30 PM at the Former South Africa Official Residence (3101 Massachusetts Avenue, NW) and feature South African cuisine and wine, with selections from KWV Cathedral Cellar, Nederburg, Neethlingshof, Savanha and Spier.

The cost is $100 for guests, or $1,000 for the benefactor level. For more information, please click here.