Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas Tigers

Another recycled post from my now-defunct personal blog, The Border Fence. This one is from 19 December 2006. A safe and happy holiday season to all.

It’s a quiet night in Maryland and I am enjoying one-upmanship on my behalf. Each person in the house is cooking a dish, and soon the kitchen table decked out in Marimekko is populated by different entrees: whole fish in sauce, pork and peanuts, scrambled eggs with tiny fish, perfectly cooked vegetables, and tofu stir fried with mushrooms and bacon. I make a mental note to discuss this last dish with all the vegetarians I know.

The project involving visiting Chinese lawyers will wrap soon. They will fly home on New Year’s Eve, and are thinking about things to do with their last few days in the US. They ask me to suggest some activities, a question that comes as second nature by now, considering I have been running their lives for the better part of 6 months. I have never spent the Holidays in DC, but I rattle down a list: the Messiah at the Kennedy Center, the huge Menorah at the Ellipse, the rather quaint trees at the Capitol, Union Station and behind the White House. I warn them that all museums close on the 25th and that maybe they can take the opportunity to sample some local cuisine. They shudder at the thought, but reveal that they have partaken in a thoroughly Anglo-Saxon tradition.

“We went caroling yesterday around the neighborhood with the church from down the street. Can you help us figure out some of the words?”

I smile at how new the age-old songs must seem to them. I am giving a thoroughly parsed booklet and go through the circled words:

“Bethlehem is the town where Jesus was born. Noel is another word for Christmas, and it comes from the French Noёl, a manger is where you keep animals. Gloria in Excelsis Deo is in Latin, not English, and it means Glory to God Above / in Heaven. Hark is a call to attention, I think. Ye is old English for The. Christ/Jesus/Christ the Lord is sort of used interchangeably […]”

“Will there be fireworks for Christmas?”

I am sorry to disappoint them, especially because they arrived in DC right after the Fourth of July. Maybe there are firework displays in the South, and in some locales for New Year’s, but not anywhere near them.

“Do you have fireworks in Mexico for Christmas?”

I set my tea down. I remember pointing empty Coke bottles at the sky, the perfect launching pad for whistling rockets, running around on the street in front of and behind spinning multicolor rosettes, covering my ears as black cats popped without much show. My grandfather’s gift of Bengal lights, his hand holding a Zippo steadily beneath a bumpy gray rod almost as tall as me, with ignition revealing millions of bright orange limbs that clawed into the night sky.

“Of course. Mexico is the land of Christmas tigers.”

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Pho in the Wall

Few things are satisfying in this bitter cold as a steaming bowl of Vietnamese beef noodle soup with all the fixings. While Pho 14, a tiny café a stone's throw away from Target in Columbia Heights is not Pho 75, it is easily the best bowl of Pho in the District Proper. My former boss is Vietnamese-American, and her rule of thumb was that a proper Pho place should serve only soups, and leave it at that. While I miss our office runs to the Eden Center, this small place is metro accessible, and has the added advantages of taking credit/debit cards as well as offering some other simple staples of Vietnamese cooking such as banh mi, Indochine in sandwich form. The Tiki bar is a bit cutesy, but it gives the staff somewhere to hang out when things are slow. My recent trip - a late, late lunch at 4 PM gave me restaurant all to myself, and the bright orange walls were a welcome contrast to the bleakness outside and the maddening crowds at Target. There's magic in those noodles, or perhaps its the restorative powers of the fresh basil, the brightness of strategically squirted lime, and all the sriracha and jalapeños I can handle. Comfort food at its finest.


Pho 14 on Urbanspoon
Pho 14
1436 Park Road NW
Washington, DC 20010
(202)986 23 26


Sunday, December 12, 2010

And so this is Christmas...

Today is the Feast of the Virgin of Guadalupe, the traditional start to Posadas, evening parties that run for the 12 days of Christmas in Mexico and where beloved traditions such as piñatas come from. The Mexican Professionals Network of Washington DC held its annual Posada at Lupe Cantina today, and the friendly bar staff made sure the margaritas were perfectly salty and chilled, the XX Lager flowed, and the shenanigans went by smoothly.


While we have enjoyed Lupe's kitchen in past events, posadas require a special menu, so we turned to our caterer extraordinaire, Connie Johnson. The evening featured champurrado (a chocolate-based atole, making it a hominy flour-based drink); chicken and pork tamales; pozole (a robust, medium spicy soup with pork and chicken, hominy, and traditional fixings of oregano, fresh radish, and greens); guacamole, and refried beans. The food was well prepared, and the combination was perfect to stave off the cold and the homesickness.

If you're sorry you missed out on a traditional Mexican menu in downtown DC, check out Mexican Jalapeño - this online store has everything you need to recreate the meal and even fill a piñata or two.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Latkes' Lament

A few years ago, before Facebook was available to the post-college crowd, I kept a personal blog on Wordpress, The Border Fence. I stopped updating it in 2008 after I took over as editor of DCGastronome. It still exists in some password-protected sense, and on occasion I would write about food (no surprise there). In honor of the fantastic sweet potato latkes and mulled Manischewitz I had on the 3rd night of Hanukkah courtesy of M., here's a recycled entry from December 2006. If you are craving latkes and your friends aren't as accommodating, Firefly in Dupont Circle has a latke special for the duration of the holiday.

Latke's Lament 16.12.2006
We were making our way up 18th street, and I couldn't shake the feeling that there was a better way to get to Adams Mill Road - one that didn't involve stopping every other corner to wait for a street light to change. Jaywalking in DC is not the best idea generally, and in the area surrounding Dupont Circle specifically, with all those cars with diplomatic plates driving around.

"I never do it, unless there's a woman with a stroller stepping into the street. Then I run alongside them."

My friend seems amused. I explain that no one would deliberately run over a woman with a baby. Acceptable variants include pregnant women, dads with babies in arms, and even toddlers. "What if they swerve to avoid the adult with the kid element and then they hit you?" I retort with the running alongside them, thus creating a human shield.

I hear chuckles behind us. Two guys, strolling along 18th street. They've been tailing along for a while, but our general direction is very common for a Friday night. They tell us that they are not stalking us and that they are going to a bar. I take a look at them. Undergrads, barely legal if they cannot name a specific bar in Adams Morgan yet. After a few quips they ask us where we are going.

"Latke Party! It's the first night of Hanukkah."

"What's a Latke?"

"It's a take on a hash brown. The best part of Hanukkah is all the fried foods."

One of them answers, "Oh see I am a recovering Catholic. We don't have any specific food."

My friend turns to me, her walking reference guide who goes to Sunday school on Tuesdays. I ponder.

"Fish for lent? I guess every country has its specific holiday fare."

Recovering Catholic's companion says, "Well, then I guess you can claim the cuisine of any predominantly Catholic country as yours, no?"

Mexican, French, Italian, Spanish… we miss out on all the Asian cuisines, but the thought of religious cultural imperialism is perverse enough to work.

"So if you are Catholic how come you know what latkes are?"

I could wax philosophical about the war on Christmas. I just smile and say I am thankful and blessed with good friends.

"So can we go to this party of yours? Latkes sound like something worth knowing!"

We look at each other. The Adams Mill Road locale is homey, but small. It's also sit down dinner. We say sorry, but we are guests and we were asked to bring plates, not random 20 year olds. We pleasantly part ways in Columbia Road.

We get to our friend's party as the first batch of Latkes is coming out. Potato and onion ransack our noses. The candles are lit and blessings are said.

Sour cream and apple sauce conspire to make the latkes fly off the table. A late guest shows up just in time to claim the remaining three.

"I am so glad there's latkes left. I was at this massive Hanukkah party and the hostess refused to make the latkes, and she had the shredded potato and everything! She had stage fright!"

Latke anxiety. Sounds like a Woody Allen movie.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Spirit of Mexico

The only country that drinks as much (and in some years, even more) tequila as Mexico is the United States. And yet the spirit that plays such a big role in Mexican culture gets a bad rap - I know plenty of adventurous eaters and drinkers who will not come near tequila, sheepishly confessing to underage binge drinking and hazy memories of Spring Break. If you count yourself amongst that bunch it is time to break free from the Girls Gone Wild associations and give it a second try - and I am not talking an overpriced margarita at Lauriol Plaza or ill-advised shots at Eighteen Street Lounge. The Mexican Professionals Network of Washington DC recently sponsored a tequila sip, and we all learned new things from the National Chamber of Tequila Makers that might make you come around.

Tequila is a highly controlled spirit, and at 35 to 40% alcohol by volume it shouldn't intoxicate you any more than vodka or whisky. It is produced in two categories, Tequila 100% Agave and Tequila (which contains other sugars, such as molasses, which are added before fermentation begins) in authorized regions in Mexico. Tequila does not come from a cactus - it is made from Agave Tequilana Weber blue variety, which is in the lily family and takes about 8 years to come to maturity and harvest. While mixing it with mezcal is a nascent trend, they are different spirits. There are more than 1,100 tequila trademarks bottled in Mexico. There are 5 kinds of tequila in each category: Silver (Blanco), Gold (Joven), Aged (Reposado), Extra Aged (Añejo) and Ultra Aged (Extra Añejo). Silver is bottled after distillation, the aged kinds are aged in oak barrels for 1, 3 or more than 3 years, and gold is a mix of Blanco and tequila that has been matured. The aged tequilas are far more aromatic, as they incorporate the notes from the wood into their profiles. The tequila region varies geographically, with the the more flowery tequilas being the product of agave grown next to orchards and the valley grown agave having a distinct mineral taste.

Which brings us to an important point - the best way to enjoy tequila is to sip it, not shoot it. The salt and lime chaser are the historical relics of the old process of producing tequila, and are now mostly optional. Lime will severely impair your ability to taste an aged tequila. As far as temperature goes, tequila freezes extremely well, but tastings will normally serve it at room temperature. A few years ago Austrian Glassware Maker Riedel created a tequila glass at the request of the National Chamber of Tequila Makers that looks very much like a champagne flute - holding the glass with the stem keeps the temperature of the tequila by keeping your hands away, and the flute shape puts some distance between your nose and the spirit, allowing you to smell it.

While I love a good margarita, a fine tequila should be enjoyed straight. Reposado is normally an aperitif and añejos are often digestives - because of their aromatics, blanco pairs well with cold cuts, salads, ceviche and guacamole, while reposado complements heavier entrées, tacos, and mole. The wooden notes in añejos make them ideal for dry fruits and yams - perfect for the holidays.

As Mexicans, we are proud of our national spirit, a mestizo blend of pre-Columbian herbology and European distillation techniques. So pay heed to our best ambassador and sip!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Where the Not-Pardoned Turkeys Are

On Thanksgiving Day, some of the Kimpton restaurants will be offering special menus. Chef Dennis Marron at Jackson 20 will serve a three-course Thanksgiving menu for $50 per person. Menu items are also available a la carte. A few blocks away, Dennis’ other kitchen at The Grille at Morrison House will serve a five-course Thanksgiving tasting menu for $85 per person, also offering a la carte options BRABO by Robert Wiedmaier offers a three-course Thanksgiving-themed dinner for $65 per person.

Menus are on their respective websites. The Apple Tarts at Morrison House are making me seriously doubt my Thanksgiving Plans.


For Thanksgiving Sunday, the DC Dining Society is hosting a Thanksgiving Banquet on Sunday, November 28, from 11:30 AM until at least 3:30 PM at Taberna del Alabardero. Beverages include Taittinger Champagne Brut La Francaise NV, Louis Jadot Beaujolais Village 2009, Catoctin Creek Organic Roundstone Rye Whisky, Catoctin Creek Pearousia and Vermont Spirits Vermont Gold Vodka. The meal will include traditional American fare as well as Northern Spanish Cuisine.

The price is $75.00 per person at the door or the advance price of $70.00 by cash or check that must be received at least 24 hours before the event and includes all food, wine and spirits as well as, tip and tax. Please contact Chef Marty for additional information and reservations at 202-265-0477 or chefmartydc@aol.com

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Cheers to the World!

Few things say holidays like cocktails (how better to be in the mood for comfort and joy?) and our friends at Beefeater have come up with a special for the holidays featuring their brand new Beefeater 24. Gin goes great with turkey!


The First Day by Jonathan Harris

1 3/4 oz Beefeater 24
3/4 oz Mathilde Pear Liqueur
1/2 oz Lemon Juice
2 dashes St. Elizabeth Allspice Dram
Garnished with a mint leaf

Sunday, November 14, 2010

A good meal no matter what

You know when you have one of those days when all you want is a good meal. You are looking for that meal where after an hour you are still saying to yourself, ' now THAT was good.' Since moving to MD, I have found just the place where I'm guaranteed a good meal, no matter what. B and I first went to Black Market Bistro for brunch a few weeks back and were seated on the front porch of this old post office turned restaurant. It looks more like a victorian style house and sits back in the Garrett, MD neighborhood. B had the buttermilk pancakes with freshly squeezed orange juice, but I clearly won with the eggs benedict served with smoked salmon on top of a homemade biscut. I'm from the south and know my biscuts, and they were by far the star of the show. Just to make sure we ended on a sweet note, we ordered the New Orleans style beignets, because we could. This weekend we decided to treat ourselves a good dinner and found ourselves back at Black Market. I had the grilled yellowfin tuna, but it was garbanzo bean cassoulet along with the preserved lemon & red grape compote that was really something special. B ate the cider cured pork tenderloin who said his favorite part was the well seared outside with juicy center. Again to end on a sweet note, we ended the night with the pumpkin cheesecake, which hit the holiday spot!

Black Market is one of Jeff and Barbara Black's four restaurants which also include: Addies in Rockville, MD, Blacks Bar and Kitchen in Bethesda, MD, and BlackSalt in the Palisades, DC.


Black Market Bistro on Urbanspoon



Black Market
4600 Waverly Ave.
Garrett Park, MD 20896
http://www.blackmarketrestaurant.com/

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Gathering to Ensure Nourishment 10.30.10

So DC was a little bit crowded last weekend and in between all that rallying and partying, we had to make sure we had food. Maria and I had friends and relatives in town for the weekend and, as we have learned from Halloweens past, downtown restaurants were going to get slammed. As much as we enjoy seeing our fair city hopping with activity, we knew we had to have a respite from the weekend hordes.

Enter Bertucci'is. The Dupont Circle location of the storied Massachusetts chain is a few blocks from our Gathering. We had already planned to make it a pizza party, and were going to order from Pete's New Haven, one of the few places in town that passes Maria's muster. But a few days prior we were invited to try Bertucci's new offerings, and while I most confess I pass it often, I am usually hurrying up Connecticut Avenue since its enticing smell is the siren call for my efforts at the gym down the street. Bertucci's was one of the first places in DC-proper to offer brick oven pizzas and their lovely char; the recently introduced menu items really let it shine. They roast their own vegetables, too, which sets it apart from pizzas you can make at home. My favorite at the preview was de Scallop di Mare, a scallop pizza with mozarella, roasted garlic, a lemon pepper cream sauce and roasted peppers. The chocolate crostata, the Bertucci's crust with an artisanal hazelnut spread, is a wonderful play of crunchy and silky.

As much as I loved the Scallop di Mare, not everyone is as pro seafood on pizza as I am. Given that the theme of the weekend was sanity, we picked items that would please everyone: The Sofia, a white pizza with mozarella, roasted artichoke spread, sausage and fresh thyme. The Stella, the star of our night with an amazing smokey sauce, roasted portobello mushrooms, roasted eggplants and peppers (both are new menu items); The Puccillo, Maria's favorite, with pepperoni, Italian Sausage and mushrooms, rouding it off with the Ultimate Bertucci for those who insist on lean protein in their pizza along with everything else.

The best part? Our order (placed the night before) was delivered promptly, to the delight of our hungry and about to start drinking for hours on end friends. The pizzas also came with disposable plates and plastic ware and rolls at no extra charge. At least one thing in DC was working last weekend.

Bertucci's on Urbanspoon
Bertucci's Pizzeria
Dupont Circle
1218 Connecticut Ave NW
Washington, DC 20036
www.bertuccis.com

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Most Sincere Pumpkin Patch in DC

I would like to think that an adult Linus Van Pelt would trade his blanket for his namesake cocktail, created by Poste's resident mixologist, Rico Wisner. A seasonal offering, the Linus is both evocative of childhood and a sophisticated pairing of tastes we don't normally associate with autumn. If you've had a cocktail at Poste over the past few years you've probably noticed his attention to detail and playful combinations, but like his favorite Peanuts character, this cocktail is unusually smart and a worthy offering to the Great Pumpkin. A seasonal cocktail, the Linus is a must for lovers of all things pumpkin, and it will teach you a thing or two about the possibilities of rum.

What gives the Linus its body and texture is coconut milk, mixed with pumpkin purée. It's kick comes from the combination of two rums: Bacardi Coco, a run of the mill flavored rum, and Flor de Caña, a wonderful rum from Nicaragua and one of the few that I will sip. (And props to Poste for introducing it to a wider audience). The cocktail is on the sweet side, but not excessively so, and pairs very well with the fabled truffle fries. Some tweaks from last year's version have eliminated the dusting of nutmeg (though some all spice and nutmeg is still in the mix). C., who joined me in this particular excursion to Penn Quarter, nailed it: the Linus is a piña colada for autumn.

Rico has tought of everything, down to the glassware. The shape is meant to be a play on the shape of the gourd-like squash, which also allows you to smell the distinct components: you get the aroma of the coconut well before the pumpkin hits your palate. The garnish is delicious: a pumpkin cocada, it will make anyone who still finds Thanksgiving dishes exotic positively giddy. The coconut and pumpkin mix is rolled into a ball, ideal for dipping.

You'd have to be a blockhead not to try it.

Poste on Urbanspoon
The Bar @ Poste
555 8th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20004
www.postebrasserie.com

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Turnover

I don't normally write places up after a single visit, but I don't normally make excited calls within minutes of leaving a restaurant, either. So this is an apology of sorts to Panas, for having walked past it every day for months and just having tried it. Where did my resistance to Panas come from? I consider that stretch of P street to be part of my neighborhood. Maybe it was the memory of some dry ones at the Dupont Circle Farmers' Market. Perhaps its because I am more of a street food snob than I would care to admit, and "gourmet empanadas" seem a bit of an oxymoron. I clearly forgot the lessons of Ramen in New York.

Panas is tucked away on P street rowhouse, next to TangySweet and below Pizzeria Paradiso's old location. The décor, in lovely shades of orange and grey, skews heavily towards the modern. Ordering is efficient, the wares are all there for you to see and smell, and there are plenty of combos. I ordered Combo #1, 3 empanadas and a soft drink, which came with dipping sauces and platain chips (the friendly managers/owners are Argentinean and Puerto Rican, respectively, which explains the chips). I certainly liked the look of the empanadas, and appreciated the many salad selections and vegetarian options. The smell of the dessert empanadas, coupled with the back and forth in Spanish, made me homesick.

I sat down with my meal, fully prepared to be underwhelmed. Years of being exposed to the stylings of the Argentinean community in Mexico, coupled with a few trips to Buenos Aires that still have me sending people over to the same street vendors in San Telmo and that one place near Santa Fe have spoiled me rotten. Julia's, that DC institution, fits squarely into my category of food that tastes better when drunk (the bread itself is too stiff and sweet). I love Breadline but their empanadas are the one thing I will never order again.

I ordered what I thought would be a good sampler: Carne (beef, green olives, Spanish peppers, hard boiled eggs, onions, and parsley); Chipotle Steak (Shredded sirloin steak and onions in a spicy chipotle sauce); and Tamal (Corn, onions, farmer cheese, scallions, and roasted jalapenos). Carne is the traditional Argentinean empanada, and I figured it would be a good way to benchmark the place. For dipping sauces I asked for the standard chimichurri, the Argentinean contribution to the world of condiments (a mix of garlic, oregano, parsley and spices), and Aji (yellow hot chili pepper with mayo). Nice to see a nod to Peruvian gastronomy in the mix.

The Tamal empanada (a brilliant concept akin to the pie in cupcake) had me at first bite. It tastes better than anything vegetarian has a right to. The sweetness of the corn contrasts with the salty crust, and the Aji lent it the spicy note that it needed to be truly great, at least to my Mexican palate. Carne had enough olive (something I always miss in the Julia's version) and was served at the perfect temperature thanks to hot plates (other places serve them cold or kill them under a heating lamp). The churri tasted very fresh, and while it was strong, it did not overpower the olives and peppers in the empanada itself. Chipotle Steak was good, but nowhere near as Spicy as I would have wanted it. There are far more adventuresome sounding meat empanadas so next time I'd let the freak flag fly where it may. I might even do a second vegetarian empanada, as the BrieArt, a combination of Brie, mushrooms and artichoke hearts, is savory turnover after my own heart.

The chips are very well done - thin and not overly oily. I left half (well, actually, I kept them in the bag and had them as a mid-afternoon snack). Next time, I'll pick the combo with a salad for a more balanced meal - if they only made choosing the two empanadas easier...

Panas on Urbanspoon
Panas Gourmet Empanadas
2029 P Street, NW
Washington DC 20036
(202) 223-2964
www.panasgourmet.com

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Up and coming

Our inbox runneth over, which is always a good problem to have. Here are the highlights:

Firefly has launched a Beat the Clock Happy Hour every weekday from 3 to 7 PM, with prices changing by the hour (3 to 4, all drink specials are $1, 4 to 5, $2 and so forth). On Mondays, the clock will stop at 7 and drink specials will be available for $4 until last call at 11.30 PM. The Seven Salty Snacks menu will be available for $5. You can't beat the location, and I have never met a grilled octopus or a truffle frite I didn't like. Firefly has always been one of my favorite brunch spots but this will certainly get me there during the weekday.

On October 23rd from 1 to 3 PM the National Museum of African Art is presenting a cooking demonstration by Sallie Ann Robinson, also known as the Gullah Diva, featuring West African-influenced Gullah cuisine. The tasting menu includes Ol’ Fuskie crab fried rice, homemade pear preserves over biscuits, and pecan crunch cookies, followed by a cookbook signing. Tickets are available for $10 at the door and includes food. Ms. Robinson has published two cookbooks: Cooking the Gullah Way, Morning, Noon, & Night (2007), reflecting the rhythm of a day in the kitchen and Gullah Home Cooking the Daufuskie Way (2003), offering one hundred home-styles dishes using fresh and local ingredients. The event will be held at the Ripley Center in the National Mall (1100 Jefferson Drive, SW. Metro: Smithsonian).

Apparently our usual haunts aren't hip enough to have the Runcible Spoon in print, but luckily you can download their Issue III right here.

The Linus, my favorite autumn cocktail ever (Roasted local pumpkin, Flor de Cana 7 year old rum, Bacardi coco, touch of milk, dusted with nutmeg), is back at Poste.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

An Education

I am sorry for my hometown brewery but, in my mind, the Most Interesting Man in the World would not be drinking beer. Angus Winchester, Global Brand Ambassador for Tanqueray Gin, is a better fit. Part Ryan Bingham, part Mr. Palmer, Angus is not a figment of a advertising executive’simagination but a flesh and blood globe-trotting bartender with an encyclopedic knowledge of spirits.

I go to a lot of cocktail parties for both work and play. As the lone gin drinker in the office, I always get a lot of flack. The story of the DC origins of the Rickey is often told. My older colleagues go for Scotch while the young ones stick to vodka cranberry. Don’t even get me started on ‘Tinis. Tanqueray and Tonic is my standard drink order and I find the familiar green bottle to be a hallmark of quality when I find myself in far-flung bars.

A few weeks ago, I was invited to lunch at Bourbon Steak with fellow food writers to attend a session by the cheeky moniker, “the Ginstitute.” As a fan of spirits and the off-the-beaten path educational opportunities that our fair city has to offer, I couldn’t say no, even it if it was a Thursday. There are better ways to enjoy cocktails than standing by a bar, 4 people-deep and on an empty stomach. As our wonderful lunch highlighted, cocktails are a great compliment to full meals, bar snacks or hors d'oeuvres.

That distinctive bottle? A proprietary design from the early 20th century, modeled after a cocktail shaker. That mesmerizing green shade? The company’s way of showcasing the spirit’s purity. The citrusy aroma of dry gin? The result of the interplay between juniper berries and coriander seeds. Only Tanqueray Ten has actual fresh citrus, which makes it ideal for martinis. Tonic Water? Developed by the British army as a remedy to malaria in India. The great American contribution to cocktails? Ice! How Angus fills his days when he isn’t preaching the gospel of fine gin? Trying out Tanqueray and Tonics across the land. (The house T&T at Bourbon Steak is the Garden Elixir, and it's delicious). My wonderful surprise? Gin pairs marvelously with chocolate. Our responsibility as consumers? Appreciating the craft behind making good cocktails, and expecting more from bartenders than the simple dispensing of alcohol.

Eat, drink, and be discerning!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Tea and Sympathy (Beefeater 24) @ The Gibson



All summer as the Dupont Circle bank thermometer broke three digits (105 at 7pm calls for cocktails, no?), we’ve been right there with our G&Ts. But how to stay safe from malaria (DC, swamp, humidity, etc)—and remarkably cheerful no matter what the weather—year-round? London gin granddaddy Beefeater and U-Street’s favorite speakeasy, The Gibson, are breaking out a brand new premium gin, Beefeater 24, and some fabulous signature cocktails that will be keeping us warm this winter and beyond.

Our Favorite? The Tomorrow Yesterday, dreamed up by The Gibson’s cocktail master Jonathan Harris:

Tomorrow Yesterday
2 Parts Beefeater 24™
½ Part Tremontis Mirto Myrtleberry liqueur
½ Part Sirop de Citron Vervein (Lemon Verbena Syrup)
Bitters

Though it may look like a frilly circa-SATC Cosmo, the punch it packs immediately lets you know this drink is serious—showcasing the botanical and tea notes of the Beefeater 24 in a balanced presentation with the citrus and bitters (house made, and the friendly mad hatters behind the bar will tell you how). The grapefruit, bitter almond, orris root, Seville orange peel, Japanese Sencha tea, and Chinese Green tea flavors also lend a fresh, herbal complexity to the always classic G&T and martini—because for the true original, it has to be gin, despite the current trend for a default to vodka.

You’ll also want to stick around for The Gibson’s engaging, friendly bartenders, and convivial air. No-sign aura-of-mystery aside, they take their cocktails seriously but not themselves, and the pub-meets-low-key-lounge space offers plenty of cozy nooks for a night of serious drinking with like-minded friends, or snogging with one special one.

If advance reservations aren’t your strong suit, we suggest grabbing your Yesterday Tomorrow and other craft cocktails on a weekday when the pace is a little slower, or arriving early on weekends—the townhouse fills up with devoted followers PDQ.

Beefeater 24
Gibson on Urbanspoon
The Gibson
2009 14th St. NW
Washington, DC 20009
(202) 232-2156

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Updates, Updates

We got some fun (and gin-soaked) posts coming up but in the meantime, we are very excited about Food and Friend's Slice of Life.

This year, we are joining Dining in DC's Food Blogger team. Since she did such a great job explaining the pie selling and the pie buying, here's a link to her post. Food and Friends is a fantastic local charity and Thanksgiving is the pie holiday par excellence!

If you are making Dia de los Muertos plans (or just want another excuse to eat and help), Centro de los Derechos del Migrante is putting together it's 5th Anniversary shinding, complete with a party at the Cultural Institute of Mexico on October 27th. For more info, click here.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Les poisson, les poissons...

For the consultant, more often than not, lunch is a perfunctory meal. Brown bags, working lunches, telephone calls all conspire to keep lunchtime short, and sometimes boring. While the food trucks are a lot of fun, sometimes you need a table. I love Mixt Greens and Breadline has solid offerings (their peanut soup is my favorite), but I've mostly relegated downtown lunches to the merely functional.

Last week I was meeting Y. and L. near Farragut Square, so we decided to try Kellari Taverna on K street. I had been there for happy hour before, and had heard about their business lunch - three courses for $25. Kellari's a great spot for people watching, indoors and out - picture windows on one side, and a bright and warm dining area that stretches into three rooms. Servers putter about at a rapid place, but manage to not look frazzled.

The first course options are a good cross-section of Kellari's offerings - soup, salads, calamari, and savory pastries. For a first course I had the soup of the day - a delicious potato leek with lobster. The soup was well-balanced, retaining its body without having to be pureed into oblivion. The lobster was arranged at the center of the plate, and presented in a striking square plate. Y. had the Kellari Salad - a mix of greens dressed with raspberry vinaigrette. The portion was quite generous, and the vinaigrette tasted fresh. L. had the Prasini - a take on the Wedge (minus the bacon): romaine hearts, cut, with scallions, dill, and a feta dressing.

Kellari's specialty is seafood, and the fresh catch is displayed, on ice, at the end of the bar. L. and I ordered the Grilled Sea Bass - a lovely, solid fish, resting on top of an eggplant ratatouille. While the taste was delicious and the the skin wonderfully crispy, I had the rare case of entree envy: Y. ordered the Salmon (that L. and I discounted because salmon is pervasive in our institutional offerings). Kellari's Solomos is the most beautiful plate of grilled salmon I have ever seen. The coral in the fire roasted fish is offset by the Alfonson olives, liquified into a briny, shallow, shiny pool. Roasted tomatoes and grilled fennel complete the dish, adding brightness as well as contrast to the plate. I kept sneaking tastes of the olive sauce with bread, and would have happily made a meal out of that.

The dessert portions will let you indulge without being completely useless for the rest of the afternoon. Two baklavas, all walnuts and honey, set daintily on a plate. The yogurt cheesecake with baklava crust is a wonderful play of tart on sweet. Here too, we were surprised. The Dark Chocolate Mousse Almond Torte, which seemed an afterthought, was the star. The blood orange sorbet contrasted with the deep brown, while some crushed baklavas gave it an unexpected crunch.

Suddenly weekday lunch is fun again!

Kellari Taverna on Urbanspoon
Kellari Taverna
1700 K Street NW, Washington DC 20006
202-535-5274

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Sip and Celebrate

Truth be told, as much as we get a kick out of these National food and beverage days, we have no idea who actually endorses or otherwise proclaims them. But when National Coffee Day shows up in the inbox, we stop and pay attention. Tomorrow, September 29, whether you grind, press, percolate or drip your own or get it from a chain or a tiny shop, take a moment to think about its remarkable journey. As much as caffeine is my daily crutch, I truly enjoy the taste and aroma of a good cup of coffee.

Giorgio Milos (whose job I want) spends his days teaching people about coffee history and preparation. Here's a cheat sheet for tomorrow:

· In which country was coffee discovered?
o Ethiopia

· Ounce per ounce, espresso contains more caffeine than brewed coffee. True or False?
o False! Brewed coffee contains more caffeine.

· How many coffee beans does it take to make an espresso?
o 50

· What color are coffee beans before roasting?
o Green

· Which country produces a third of all the coffee in the world?
o Brazil

· Is espresso a bean or a roast?
o Neither: it is a coffee preparation method

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Happy 200th birthday, Mexico!

We got the party started last night (Maria in Mexico City and Lindsey and I in DC), but today's Independence Day, so drink accordingly.

These ideas were sent to us by the folks at Maestro Dobel and 1800 Silver, which is what we used for most of our World Cup margaritas.

Maestro Banderita
Red: Bloody Mary without horseradish
White: Maestro DOBEL Tequila
Green: Diluted lime juice
Glass: Shot

A La Vida Margarita
1.5 oz. 1800 Silver Tequila
¼ oz. pear puree
¼ oz. fresh lime juice
½ oz. triple sec

Preparation:
Combine ingredients and blend with ice, or shake ingredients with ice and serve on the rocks.


Mexican Revolution
2 oz. 1800 Silver Tequila
2 oz. orange juice
Splash grenadine
Combine tequila and OJ with ice and stir
Add grenadine for the “sunrise” effect

Friday, September 10, 2010

Round Up

Seems like fall snuck up on us. A few things we are pondering for the days ahead, courtesy of our Twitter Timeline.

1. We really wanna check out Yards Park.

2. Saturday brunch is the perfect time to try out the Bacon Dishes recommended by Lauren at City Search DC that we haven't had the pleasure to eat.

3. Even though we prefer our produce seasonally segregated, few things beat a morning at the Dupont Circle Farmers' Market.

4. Maria bleeds HOYA Blue. We were featured in The Guide.

5. Next Wednesday we are going to party like we are 200. Cinco de Mayo will have nothing on Mexican Independence Day, the drinking holiday of the food-obsessed.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Follow Your Lunch

Orale! Usually found in Rosslyn, we love District Taco’s lunch specials from carne asada to cochinita pibil (a Yucatecan specialty that reflects the owner’s roots). Served up with fresh salsas and your choice of tortillas and toppings, you can find the day’s location and lunch specials by following them on Twitter (@districttaco). They serve breakfast tacos (eggs plus whatever you like) each morning beginning at 8am. District Taco is also in the running for Food Network's Great Food Truck Race. You can vote for them and get more details at www.districttaco.com

For more Twitter-stalking action, get your lobster fix from the just-launched, wildly popular roving Red Hook Lobster Truck (@lobstertruckdc). Serving up the “Maine” (cold knuckles and claws with a touch of mayo), the “Connecticut” (warm lobstah tossed in butter and scallions, and a shrimp roll, all on an amazing butter-infused, grilled, proper New England style roll. Round out your meal with Cape Coe potato chips and Maine-brewed craft soda (try the Mexi-Vanilla), and a homemade whoopee pie for dessert—almost as good as a road trip up the coast! Get there, early or look for one of their dinner runs—we were able to walk right up to the window at Dupont Circle with now waiting last Friday night. We also hear that plans for suburban and an additional DC lobster truck are in the works.

Happy as they make us, these two are merely the leading edge of DC’s emerging food truck renaissance (listen up, DCRA!). Next on our personal try list: Takorean—rolling out West Coast style Asian-Latin Fusion tacos, Fry Daddy—roving french fries and milkshakes, and empanadas of both the traditional and fusion persuasion from DC Empanadas--all hitting the streets in the next few days. Twitter feed getting crazy? You can track them and a number of other tasty entrants (pizza, sweets, food truck grandaddy Sauca) at www.foodtruckfiesta.com

Monday, August 30, 2010

Sit down next to me

I approach Restaurant Week with the discipline of a seasoned general and make reservations well in advance. I pour over menus and engage in rudimentary cost/benefit analysis. It's been an eventful couple of months but I figured the Dining Deities would cut me a break and let me enjoy Summer Restaurant Week with relative ease. But alas, the best laid schemes of mice, men and food enthusiasts go oft awry. I had to cancel all of my reservations and was out of town most of the week. After a so-so experience at the Caucus Room (wonderful service, but the food was nothing special) I was prepared to write Summer 2010 off. Luckily, Maria saved the day with a reservation for Zentan at the Donovan House Hotel.

Donovan House is in an area of town I rarely find myself on a weekend, and I had yet to try it. I'd heard good things about it, but its claim to fame was Susur Lee, a finalist in Top Chef Masters. I am sure plenty of people tried Art & Soul for that very reason, and his hometown of Toronto is no stranger to fine Asian food. Chef Lee's portrait is prominently featured at the entrance, and reservations at Zentan, especially late ones, will allow you to bypass the line to get into their rooftop bar (which is nowhere near as ridiculous as the line at the W, but it's a line nonetheless).

Sakuras are incorporated throughout Donovan House in dramatic pieces in the lobby and the pool, and the dining rooms at Zentan are no exception. The two main dining areas are connected by a small lounge with walls of printed, photograph-grade impressions of cherry blossoms - for a few seconds you'll feel as if you are walking around East Potomac Park at peak bloom. We were seated in the first room, where the sushi bar is, a harmonious mix of dark wood and colorful tiles. Maria and I sat at the end of a communal table, which is not to everyone's taste but that I've always liked. There are regular tables along the walls and while this might seem off putting at first, it gave me a great perch to check out the fast pace of the sushi chefs.

The Restaurant Week menu did not include sushi entrées. While there may be several reasons behind this, it was a good way to get first time patrons such as ourselves to try Chef Lee's forte, which is fusion food. After a quick inspection of the wine list we both decided to get the suggested pairings of sake, wine and port, an excellent value for $15.

For a first course, Maria ordered the Salt and Pepper Calamari with chili smoked mayo and I had the Escolar. We both love calamari, and had read good things about this dish. While the spices in the breading were balanced and paired very well with our sake, there was too much breading. I always like it when kitchens leave the feet - an hommage to the squid, of sorts. While this was fine calamari, it was comparable to many others. Maria is not a fan of mayonnaise and I could not make a strong case for its fire and temperature, which complimented the piping hot calamari. My first course was a small and lovely portion of escolar, a white fish. The pieces were delicately arranged and topped with pickled jalapeño and jicama but the standout was the dressing - the kitchen made the most of this tropical fish by dressing with with a shallot-sesame-soy concoction that was sweet without being overpowering. The escolar was a fine ambassador of the sushi bar, and made me want to try its offerings even more.


For a second course, I couldn't keep myself from ordering the Chicken Curry (intelligently labeled as a Top Chef dish); it immediately peaked my interest. Curry and polenta were interesting in their own right, but I've always like fusion food when it manages to take you on a journey. The corners of the dish had tomato jam and pineapples, topped with almonds. I started out building dainty bites but quickly figured that, as is usually the case with polenta, mixing the ingredients was key. The chicken was moist and a touch smokey. Maria tried the Cantonese Skirt Steak and quickly decided that it made up for the calamari's lack of imagination. The kitchen raised that most humble of cuts, the skirt steak, with an eye-popping presentation. The European touches of hazelnuts and the bed of mashed potatoes gave the dish texture and crunch, while the Japanese elements gave the beef brightness and heat. The citrus in the ponzu successfully re-imagined hazelnuts for me. Our wine pairing was a refreshing Spanish white.

For our last course, we both had the port, which was lovely - dense, but not overly syrupy. Maria had the warm chocolate cake, a standard dessert made more interesting by cocoa crumble and house-made ice cream. I like fruit desserts with fortified wines so I asked for the Asian Spiced Peach Tarte Tatin. This is the perfect dessert for the season. The peaches are at their peak, the one in my small tarte was perfectly caramelized, and the vanilla creme fraiche kept me guessing, as it was presented in two ways - what looked liked a dollop of creme had the temperature and consistency of ice cream, while the ice cream scoop was closer to whipped cream.

Service at Zentan is very attentive and we were able to take our time with dinner. As soon as we were getting ready to leave, the Maitre D' suggested we try the rooftop bar, and walked us over to the elevator so we wouldn't have to wait in line. While the offerings at the roof bar are rather limited in terms of cocktails, the atmosphere is lively and the views sweeping. The deck planks were murder on my heels, but one can't have everything.

I am looking forward to many late suppers at Zentan.

Zentan on Urbanspoon
Zentan at the Donovan House Hotel
(202) 379-7066
1155 14th St NW
Washington, DC 20005
www.zentanrestaurant.com

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Bewitched

A friend who is vacationing in Maine sent me a picture of his lunch: a lobster club sandwich. I was so enthralled by my phone screen that I neglected my actual lunch.

Since I am not going to Bal Harbor any time soon and it feels wrong to be lusting after another man's sandwich, I've rounded up several recipes and plan to have my hand at it next weekend. In the meantime I'll keep lunching on food for mortals (unless I go to Bibiana for their extended Restaurant Week).

1. A take on the Neiman Marcus sandwich by YumSugar

2. This has a vanilla bean mayo. Vanilla-lobster is one of my favorite combos, though I've never tried it in mayonnaise.

3. Since this one is from the Maine Lobster Council, I take it they know what they're talking about.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Rolling Thunder

Here's the thing: I hail from cow country. I love steak, refuse to think about barbeque as "seasonal food," and commiserate with Anthony Bourdain when he expresses his disdain for the vegetarian lifestyle. Comeuppance can take many forms, and for me, it has appeared in the form of gallstones. Too young to part with any of my internal organs just yet, I've had to adjust my diet and cut out fats whenever possible. In this new fat and spicy food offset modality of eating, I have to look for alternatives that will not deprive my dining companions of the good eats they so rightly deserve.

As burger places are giving cupcake shops a run for their money in our fair city, I've decided to try the leanest thing on the menu at several places, including vegetarian patties (the one I'll happily eat again: the house-made patties available as any of the Band of Burgers at DC9). But alas, something was always missing. The lean burger (be it turkey or veggie) was an afterthought, underwhelming and barely seasoned.

Last week, A., B. and I wen to check out Thunder Burger and Bar, sister restaurant to Bodega, at the site of the well-intentioned but often unfocused News Cafe on M street. Anyone familiar with Bodega will see the same designer's hand at work: bold colors, dramatic lighting, dark wood and, to drive the biker motif home, graffiti. Except for the narrow door, you'd be hard-pressed to remember what News Cafe looked like (as DC-Wrapped Dates nailed it, Ed Hardy-esque). The design, flatware and sheer size put it in the realm of restaurant, (though its burgers are at a similar price point to BGR, except for the tip). Service is attentive, but not overly fussy. Condiments are served with the burgers or brought out on request.

Thunder has an extensive beer list with the usual suspects and some brewers I had never seen in DC. As it was a hot summer day we all ordered draft beers on the lighter side of the spectrum.

For starters, we ordered Buffalo Wings and some breaded oysters (which seem to go on and off the menu). The oysters were fine, but nothing special. The real standout were the wings, which are both grilled and fried. We ordered them medium (again, in deference to my gall bladder) and the grilling gives them a hint of smoke, coupled with a wonderful crunch from the lightly fried skin. The blue cheese is on the less pungent side and serve its purpose of cooling off the wing. I would happily go back to Thunder just for these.

For our main course, A. and B. dutifully joined me on my quest for lean options. Aside from 4 different types of salads, Thunder offers venison and buffalo burgers as well as salmon and crab cake alternatives. For the sake of methodology (it pained me to ignore the Love Me Tender, a kobe beef burger), we ordered Expecting to Fly, a turkey burger, and the Portobello Road. The Portobello was wonderful-in a nod to tradition it is served with roasted red peppers and swiss cheese, but the zucchini and walnut pesto makes this a true original. To my delight, the lettuce (Boston Bibb) and tomato were fresh and flavorful. The turkey burger was missing some salt, but made up for this shortcoming with its toppings: avocado, paired with the acidity and crunch of endives and apples. Burgers come with a side of fries (which came close to imperiling the good efforts on my behalf to cut fats but the ones I did have were lovely and piping hot).

Desserts are American classics, but what drew our attention was the Banana Split. Caramelized bananas, with three scoops of chocolate, vanilla and strawberry ice cream. The best one by far was the chocolate, which had the consistency of frozen pudding. The strawberry was remarkably fresh, and it was topped by chocolate croutons and shave almonds that gave the plate some crunch. An ideal and very fun dessert to share, and one that could well warrant its own trip to Thunder.

A burger bar with a well-rounded menu within walking distance from my house makes gallstones seem less like a cosmic joke.

Thunder Burger and Bar on Urbanspoon
Thunder Burger and Bar
(202) 333-2888
3056 M St NW
Washington, DC 20007
http://www.thunderburger.com/

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Meringue Dreamin'

Maybe it's the humidity, but I cannot stop thinking about meringue-based desserts. A roundup of my favorites:

1. Absolute food lust: Strawberry and Hazelnut Meringue cake.

2. Remembering Sym's Sydney wedding with Nigella's take on Pavlova.

3. Sachertorte, one of my favorite cakes.

4. Team Pie forever!

5. Argentina's take: Imperial Ruso.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Happy Birthday Happy Hour at Urbana

Oh Urbana, it seems like only yesterday we were checking out your subterranean wine wall and Peugeot Salt and Pepper grinders for the first time--and cribbing your lobster, chorizo, peas pasta (gone but not forgotten) to impress the folks at dinner parties. Now I can scarcely remember a time when we didn't toddle down P St on Sundays after the farmers' market for an unlimited champagne-cocktail brunch and ensuing hijinks.

To celebrate four years, Urbana is rolling out a lovely new happy hour menu featuring a collection of small plates to be available for 5$ from 5-8pm. Even better, the price of these tasty bites is just 4$ through Sunday.

Our favorites? Crispy seafood rolls are a fresh take on the fusion spring roll, with just the right kick from their green curry aioli. Duck meatballs are moist, meaty, and perfect for sharing with a friend whose who has snagged the falafel with pickled red onions and tahini.

Happy hour also features 1$ oysters, and--for 4$ through Sunday and 5$ for the rest of the summer--beer, sparkling, red, and white wines as wells as a daily rotating selection of punch-style cocktails, including rose sangria, ginger punch, bourbonade, and a peach spritzer. Lorena and I made short work of the bourbonade--one of those delicious, deadly concoctions that goes down so refreshing that if you fail to be mindful of the punch it packs, you can turn the walk home into a stumble (not that that is always a bad thing). We'll also be back for the Spice-tini (mango, chile, vodka) and the sweet dessert-y Kentucky Picnic (more bourbon, peaches, cream, and corn, of all things (!)). These specials (and the 5$ small plates) will be available during Urbana's extended happy hour (5-8pm) for the rest of the summer.

Ready for a full meal? Through Sunday, Chef Bollinger will be offer a 4-course menu which includes a glass of Prosecco and a glass of house wine. The menu will be available for $40 between 5:30 and 8:00 p.m. and will feature selections from Bollinger’s newly launched summer menu--plus an Urbana birthday cupcake (with a candle of course).

The 5$ small plates and cocktail, beer and wine specials will continue to be available from 5-8pm for the rest of the summer, under Urbana's extended summer happy hours.

Happy Birthday Urbana! Many happy returns--hugs, your well-fed neighbors.


Urbana on Urbanspoon
Urbana Restaurant and Wine Bar at Hotel Palomar Dupont Circle
2121 P St NW
Washington, DC 20037
(202) 956-6650
www.urbanadc.com

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

July 24th is Tequila Day

We are huge fans of tequila Over here at DCGastronome, so we take Tequila Day very seriously. The folks at Riazul are doing some interesting things with pulque, and now that the World Cup is over we need to find other excuses to indulge in tequila-based cocktails.

Riazul Octli (Nectar of Gods)
Ingredients:
• 1 1/2 oz Riazul Silver Tequila
• 1 1/2 oz Pulque
• ½ oz Agave Nectar
• 1 oz Lime Juice
• 1 oz Wild Hibiscus Flowers in Syrup

Shake tequila, pulque, agave nectar, lime juice and hibiscus syrup with ice. Strain into a cocktail glass and serve.

Enjoy!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Help for a Healthy Gulf at Hudson

Time to raise a glass to celebrate that the gusher in the Gulf appears to be capped (crossing fingers) and raise a little cash for a region and an ecosystem likely to be suffering for a long time to come.

During the week of July 19 - 25, 2010, Hudson Restaurant & Lounge will feature Gulf Coast and Louisiana inspired dishes and will re-create Classic New Orleans cocktails from our bar, to increase awareness to this area’s fishing communities. A percentage of all restaurant sales will be donated to help restore the region’s natural resources through the Gulf Restoration Network. Founded in 1994, the Gulf Restoration Network (HealthyGulf.org), has been committed to protecting and restoring the natural resources of the Gulf area.

The kickoff cocktail party on Monday, July 19 from 6 - 8pm will feature seafood pearls straight from the Gulf of Mexico along with three handcrafted cocktails including the Classic Ernest Borgnine Hurricane featuring Cruzan Rum, Bloody BP Oyster Shooter with the best bloody mary recipe in DC, and the Sazerac Cocktail.

We're assuming the seafood will be coming from the unaffected parts of the Gulf.

Tasty cocktails, fresh seafood, and a good cause? Sounds like a good reason for a happy hour to me.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Imagine Mie N Yu

Last week, O. and I were invited to sample the Blind Tiger Chef's Tasting Menu at Mie N Yu. I used to work (and still live) a few blocks away from Mie N Yu, and have always found myself appreciating the ambition of its concept rather than its actually culinary prowess. Much like Yo Yo Ma's Silk Road Ensemble, the attempt to represent so many traditions and approaches makes for an interesting combination.

At $25 per per person, Blind Tiger (named after Prohibition-Era speakeasies, as you need to know about it through various digital platforms, including various blogs) is a good way to sample the wide array of dishes available at Mie N Yu, many with ingredients that are locally sourced. The menu also offers 50% off listed prices on select bottles of wine, which include a few surprises (I was very much inclined toward the Idaho wine for sheer novelty). I've normally gone to the bar at Mie N Yu only, and was pleasantly surprised to see such an expansive wine list (with a helpful pairing guide). O. and I started the meal with some cocktails. O. went for Buddha's Blues, a mix of fresh juices with acai liquor and Absolut Berri Acai Vodka. I have no opinion on the Acai berry debate, but she did declare it a fun alternative to her usual cranberry/vodka. I had the Pied Piper, a champagne cocktail with Perrier-Jouet Brut, grapefuit, pineapple and peychaud's Bitters. While the bubbles were definitively there, the strong acidity overpowered the champagne, and the bitters kept it from the realm of the mimosa.

As anyone who's ever peeked through the window, the best part of this restaurant is it's décor. There is much to look at, but the multi-level approach keeps you from becoming overwhelmed. Blind Tiger is only offered Sunday through Thursday. Our server, who was attentive and relaxed, made sure that we took the time to enjoy our dishes - which is a nice departure from the mid-week grind. That being said, it is best to go when you have ample time to dine in order to make the best of the experience.

For a first course, I had the Zaatar Hummus with Ful. I've had these separately but never together (though this is a common combination in the Middle East). The olives were perfect - plump and briny. For such a big portion of hummus, I would have like more bread, as the only way to finish it all was with a fork. Though the level of spice was very good, my main issue with this dish was the temperature - it was ice cold. While the temperature did not affect the flavor, the texture was off. It also reminded me of eating hummus straight out of the container (something I do more often than I care to admit). However, given the chance to adjust to room temperature, I am sure the dish would work. O. had the Sumonomo Blue Crab Salad, which she enjoyed.

As a second course, I had the Beijing Style Lacquered Duck. Duck is one of my favorite proteins, and I order it more often than not. The duck's local (from PA), and the portion size was not overwhelming. The Hoisin sauce had a very pleasant tang, which complimented the glaze very well. O. had the Char Masala Lamb Kabobs, also locally sourced. As an arbiter of lamb entrées everywhere, she liked this one.

My favorite dish on the menu was the last course. I was completely surprised by the Pakistani Cinnamon and Ginger Stripped Bass. The yogurt casserole concentrated all the flavors and aromas wonderfully, a treat for nose and tongue alike. In line with its commitment to sustainable food, the sea bass is sustainably raised. I would have never expected such a wonderful fish dish at this restaurant, and it was a great way to finish the tasting menu.


Sit back, relax, and enjoy the journey.

Mie N Yu on Urbanspoon
Mie N Yu
3125 M St NW
Washington, DC 20007
www.mienyu.com

Monday, June 7, 2010

South Africa 2010


DC has to be one of the best places in the US to watch the FIFA World Cup (this is a very funny take). I come from a country where the GDP goes down during the World Cup, and until I moved here I never had to think long or hard about where to watch it.

Germany 2006 I watched from the office as well as various Georgetown bars. Most of the matches will be broadcast in the morning. The first game is Mexico-South Africa this Friday, so if you have an understanding boss, your priorities straight, or just a general disregard for the work day, here are a few places you should consider, all near office hubs:

1. Lucky Bar (Dupont-Farragut)
The year-round sentimental favorite of the OAS. The food isn't great but the ambiance is befitting of futbol.

2. MadHatter (Farragut North)
Though I mostly think "Kickball", their new location is decked out in soccer balls with non-sensical messages, including alternative spellings for Uruguay.

3. Public Bar
Across the street from Lucky Bar, making its first foray into World Cup broadcasting. I suspect once Latinamerican teams start playing each other, half the Lucky Bar crowd will flock over there.

4. Urbana (Dupont Circle)
The classier option, this wine bar will honor host country South Africa by serving its wines along with select items from the brunch, lunch and bar menus. When Italy, France, Spain or the U.S win a game, guests can mention “World Cup Wine Special” and receive 25% off bottles of wine from that country on the day of their win. If you can't leave the office, Urbana will show reruns during happy hour serving a special selection of $5 small plates (in addition to regular happy hour specials).

5. Jackson 20 (Old Town)
Chef Denis Marron will feature a special $20.10 menu during live games and a large flat screen out in its courtyard.

6. ESPN SportsZone (Metro Center)
You're going there for the many many TVs.

This is a purely self-serving list based on my current work stomping grounds. Send us your suggestions!

WRITE-INS!

7. AGAINN (Metro Center)
Is getting in on the fun with “Bangers vs. Burgers 2010”. At 2:30 PM on June 12, guests can watch the game on three flat-screen televisions in the 19-seat bar while selecting from the restaurant’s signature Bangers and Mash or Burgers and Chips along with a choice of six different beer shandies. Both featured dishes are available at a discounted price of $15 each for this day only. Bartenders will keep track of the sales for both dishes, and the team with the most sales at the end of the match wins bragging rights until the next FIFA tournament.

Each of the games will be televised leading up to the finals on July 11th.

8. J. Gilbert's (McLean)
J. Gilbert’s in McLean is throwing a World Cup wines event on the evening of June 15th from 5 to 7 pm: for $30 per person, you get to taste six gorgeous South African wines (the pours are big!) and munch on six passed appetizers inspired by the cuisine of South Africa. There will be a rep from Cape Classics on hand to share info about the wines. Reserve early as space is limited. 703-893-1034.

9. Jaleo (Penn Quarter, Bethesda, and Crystal CIty)

All three Jaleo locations will be open at 9:30 AM and feature their “Jaleo Hour” specials during the games which includes a variety of Jaleo’s most popular tapas, priced at $4 each including Patatas bravas- 2009, fried fingerling potatoes topped with a spicy tomato sauce and alioli; Gambas al ajillo, shrimp sautéed with garlic and guindilla pepper and the tasty Croquetas de pollo, traditional chicken fritters. To quench one’s thirst, Jaleo’s famous white and red sangria, rail drinks and draft beer will be offered for $4 at the bar only.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

An Evening at Brabo

When describing Old Town, the guide book I bought shortly before moving to DC 5 years ago states, "It's a relief, after the expansive boulevards and monuments of DC, to walk around a town built on a more human scale." I spent the better part of two years commuting to Alexandria daily, and found myself falling for its less over-eagerly preserved charms. Old Town idiosyncrasies make it particularly taxing to make the trip: street parking is hard to find, traffic police is relentless, the Farmer's Market closes much too early, and the heavy tourist traffic complicates the separation of the wheat from the chaff, restaurant-wise. The boom in great new options in DC not withstanding, Old Town is still worth the trip, especially in the summer months.

We'd been to Brabo before. Aside from a very kind invitation to try out the new Spring menu, I have bought picnic baskets from Butcher's Block, their sister store, which I greatly enjoyed, and Brasserie Beck, another Robert Wiedmaier restaurant, is one of my favorites. The dining room at Brabo breaks up the space into various areas, all with directed lightning, which makes the space more intimate. Many of the tables are flanked by banquettes (which are a bit too low, or perhaps I am too short). The chairs are calculatedly mismatched. The bar, out by the front, is located by a large window, which makes the bar's copper treatment glisten. We started out the meal with a round of cocktails. I ordered a Cherry Pisco Sour, partly because I am always comparing iterations of the Peruvian cocktail to my own. Brabo's version, unfortunately, did not compare favorably. The maraschino overpowers the drink, making it too sweet and the color slightly off-putting. Other cocktails, such as the Side Car and the Aperitivo, looked more promising. I'll keep it in mind for my next visit.

We started the meal with a hamachi crudo (which is on the Bar menu), perfectly cut pieces of young yellowtail drizzled with sweet soy, yuzu, and ginger milk. The entire table was wondering what the sweet sauce was - the taste was of plums and figs, which paired marvelously with the fish. As this is a Robert Wiedmaier restaurant, mussels are prominently featured. I ordered the night's special, soft shell crab. The crab was lightly fried and rested on a bed of corn and bacon, giving the dish a distinctly local flair. The greens were lightly dressed, and the flavors complemented each other.

One of the highlights of the meal was our initial wine pairing, a Domaine des Malandes "Cuvee Tour du Roy" Vielles Vignes 2007 Chablis. I seldom see it in restaurants, and this is one of the only ways I will enjoy a wine made from Chardonnay grapes. Chablis is a dry white wine, with a pure, bright aroma and taste that makes it great for pairing with food. As a plus, the store and restaurant share a liquor license, and most of the wines are available for purchase.

The menu at Brabo is very eclectic, and has more American and Asian inspired dishes. It was a cold and rainy night, so after much consideration between the Lamb Nicoise Salad and the Roasted Breast of Pekin Duck. I chose the duck, which stood out from all the other entrees. The presentation is extremely original: the duck's leg is presented as a Spring Roll, which is a creative use of the fat, and the kitchen added the Asian flair by infusing the duck jus with a hint of chili. The duck was cooked just right, and was extremely juicy. We had several side dishes, including roasted artichokes (that could have done with less gruyere) and asparagus in a bacon vinaigrette, a fun way to add some smoke and crunch.Our entrees were paired with a David Noyes Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir that did the remarkable feat of pairing with fish, scallops, pork, and duck.

As no tasting exercise could be complete without trying dessert, we went with our server's suggestions -he knew the menu inside out, and was very enthusiastic about the kitchen's offerings. The night's special was strawberry shortcake, with the season's earliest local strawberries making their grand entrance. Hard as it was to resist the waffle, I ordered the Peanut Butter bar, a very light peanut butter mousse resting on top of flourless chocolate cake. The dessert is not overly sweet, and incorporates the peanut's saltiness to its best advantage.

End (or start) your King Street stroll there. You won't be disappointed.

Brabo by Robert Wiedmaier on Urbanspoon
Brabo
1600 King Street
Alexandria, VA 22314
www.braborestaurant.com

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Classic

How untrendy is Bua, you ask? If the 80s style neon doesn't tip you off, the older-than-a-decade framed reviews festooning the entrance will. But we must give Bua its due - it was one of DC's first contemporary Thai restaurants, and the food is consistently good if not fantastic. My favorite thing about this restaurant is its outdoor seating: while the street view to a parking lot isn't necessarily inspired, the second floor deck lacks in mood lightning, but usually has a pleasant breeze co-mingled with purple basis and grilled meats from the Middle Eastern place next door.

The dishes are Bua feel homey (or "classic" to use their copy). The flatware is as generic as it can be, and dishes come adorned with carrot rosettes which, old school as they are, look as they were put there with incredible care, and this always manages to charm me. Maria and I decided to beat the heat and unwind from a long day at our respective offices. We shared two appetizers: crispy Spring rolls and the Bua Crunch Baskets. The Spring rolls were standard fare, but they were served piping hot and came with a very good fish oil sauce with just the right balance of acid and heat. The crunchy baskets, pictured, were an interesting take on what probably were wonton noodles shaped and fried (I can't wait to copy them) filled with mixed stir-fried ground ship and chicken (with the consistency of larb gai, minus the lime). It's a smart appetizer, substantive without being overly filling.

For our main dishes, Maria went with drunken noodle - her staple entree when trying a new place out. When she asked for no green peppers and extra onions, the kitchen sent a question back, inquiring if she was sure about the onions as they do not put them in their drunken noodles (and according to Maria, it is one of the few places in DC that doesn't) and it really changes the flavor. The fact that they even bothered to ask speaks very well of the back of the house at Bua. Maria asked for her dish to be hot ("Normal hot, I am asking for heat as they would make it, not issuing a challenge!") As for me, I was craving both curry and noodles, and was fretting over the choice until, lo and behold, saw a dish named Kao Soi. I had never tried this dish before, but it is made up of egg noodles with chicken in red curry sauce. The sauce itself reminded me of Laksa, and it came topped with red onion and scallion, which gave it a fresher taste and balanced out the smoke. Though the description mentioned pickled cabbage, I did not see it, or taste it. Maybe it was replaced by the crispy wonton strips. Overall, it is a great dish, and one that I have not seen, or at least noticed, at other Thai places in DC.

While Bua does offer desserts, it is around the corner from Mr. Yogato. We finished the meal with chocolate hazelnut yogurt (as a swirl with tangy classic for me, and topped with oreos and strawberries for Maria) and deemed the evening a Tuesday success.

Bua on Urbanspoon
Bua Thai Restaurant
1635 P Street Northwest
Washington, DC 20036-1403
(202) 265-0828
www.buathai.com

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Fund Raiser for Farmers Market

Just around the corner DC's Columbia Heights neighborhood will have its own Farmers Market. It will begin on Saturday, June 5th, at 9am. Where you ask - in the plaza in front of Julia's Empanadas (Julia's - a place I like to call heaven) or specially, 14th Street and Park Road, NW, one block north of the Columbia Heights Metro station. The Columbia Heights Community Marketplace, the organizers of the Farmers Market, will host a Happy Hour fundraiser at the Wonderland Ballroom on Thursday, April 22nd from 5pm to 8pm! Mark it on your calendars now!! The Marketplace, is a non-profit operation working to get off the ground and start a Youth Market Program to educate and engage our young people to participate in all aspects of local, sustainable food and entertainment. Thanks for joining us to drink beers