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

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