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

Tuesday, October 19, 2010


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

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)

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.