Thursday, April 21, 2011

Alex's Pick

Alex, who relocated to Boston a few months ago, was in DC for the weekend, and she chose to hold court at American Ice Co., a stone's throw away from the 9:30 Club. The weekend had been a soggy mess, but we were lucky to get one of those glorious early Spring Sundays and take advantage of the bigger-than-it-seems patio. The restaurant itself (given the beer to food ratio, it s probably better to call it a bar that happens to have amazing barbeque) has the industrial feel and grit one would expect from a repurposed building: cement, brick, dark woods.

I took a seat at one of the patio picnic tables and perused the menu - an ample beer list, divided into glass (drafts) and steel (cans). The super friendly staff will bring them out to you in mason jars (with little ones for shots). I had a Czechvar (which I first encounted, many years ago, as Budvar, the original Budweiser) followed by a wheat beer. The lunch menu features a limited selection of sandwiches, and I ordered a turkey club mostly to keep myself from ordering the pastrami. I was pleasantly surprised by the sandwich - the turkey was carved, not sliced, and the bacon had a wonderful spice rub. It is easily the best turkey sandwich I've had in a restaurant in DC.

As our group of revelers grew, we took over more tables (the revolving group also meant that our very patient waitress adjusted the tab whenever people wanted to cash out). As I nursed my second beer, I could hear the telltale sounds of cleaver against pork. On the far side of the table, someone ordered Swachos - Swine and nachos, because pork rinds and queso are meant to go together, especially when it's sunny but you still need a sweater.

The dinner menu appeared and Alex ordered the combo platter. I wasn t particularly hungry after my enormous sandwich of a few hours before, but I simply had to try it - pulled pork and brisket. After all, she had already had the brilliant idea of asking for a Margarita (she can't get those up in Beantown), and I had happily followed suit. The plates brimmed with warm, smokey, flavorful without being fatty barbeque, and the vinegar sauce on our table gave it an extra kick. The greens were fresh, but the sides did not hold a candle to the brisket.

Go for the food, stay for the beer, and bring a gaggle of friends with you.

American Ice Co. on Urbanspoon
American Ice Co.
917 V St NW
(between N Vermont Ave & N 10th St)
Washington, DC 20001

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Support Counter Culture!

Lifting Voices, a local nonprofit, is working with a roster of chefs, including Jose Andres, Robert Egger and Spike Mendelsohn to put together Counter Culture, a coffee-table book on 10 of their under-served kids' food histories in words and pictures.

In order to publish the book, Lifting Voices needs to raise $5,000 by April 29 and you can watch a video on the project and send your tax-deductible contribution through Kickstarter. If you donate $25 you get a free burger at Good Stuff Eatery, and $50 gets you a copy of the book. This is a kitchen-table project that also serves a great cause.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Amazing Avocados from Mexico to DC

Last week we dropped by the Avocados from Mexico: Taste the WOW Spring 2011 Tour at the DC Armory. DC was the fourth of six stops, which began in NYC and will end in Atlanta, GA. As an avocado fan and a Mexican I was very excited to attend this event.

The WOW team offered up tastings of two delicious recipes prepared fresh on-site by famous Mexican Chef Roberto Santibanez, author of the recent cookbook Truly Mexican, and his WOW compadre, New York-based Chef Pablo J. Sanchez. I first tried Pablo's Avocado Gazpacho Shooters garnished with a swirl of sour cream and a cilantro leaf. Chef Sanchez is the mastermind behind this delicious dish--you can taste each ingredient for a balanced smooth, tasty, creamy, fresh experience with a little kick of jalapeno. It is quick and easy to prepare, so it is just amazing--great for serving this coming spring and summer or anytime tat you have an avocado craving.

Next, Chef Santibanez prepared a Pineapple and Cucumber Guacamole right there in front of our eyes. It took him about five minutes to surprise and pamper us with his exquisite variation of the traditional guacamole that everyone knows and loves. This delicacy also had the perfect balance of flavors--sweet and sour, refreshing and tasty. Once again, you can taste each ingredient and enjoy the balance of the flavors and how they combine on your palate. The acid of the pineapple in this guacamole gives the dish its punch and ensures it will not discolor as fast as traditional guacamoles. It will be great for warm evenings with drinks and friends.

Pablo's Avocado Gazpacho Shooters

  • 2 ripe Avocados from Mexico
  • 1/2 seedless cucumber peeled
  • 1 jalapeno diced small
  • 2 tbsp. sour cream
  • 1 tbsp. hot sauce
  • 1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 liter cold water
  • Juice from 2 fresh limes
  • 1/2 cup fresh cilantro
  • Salt/white pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients in a blender, puree to a smooth creamy consistency (if to thick add more cold water), salt and pepper to taste, refrigerate, pour into shot glasses, garnish with a swirl of sour cream and a cilantro leaf.

Roberto Santibanez Pineapple and Cucumber Guacamole

  • 2 large or 3 small ripe Mexican Hass avocados, halved and pitted
  • 1/4 cup finely diced red onion
  • 2 fresh serrano or jalapeno chiles minced including seeds for more taste and spiciness
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice, or more to taste
  • 3/4 teaspoon fine salt, or 1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt
  • 1 (10 to 12 oz.) cucumber, peeled, seeded and diced (1/2 inch)
  • 1/4 pineapple peeled, cored, and diced (1/4 inch)
  • 1/4 cup chopped cilantro

Stir together the cucumber, onion, chiles, lime juice and salt in a large bowl. Score the flesh of the avocado halves in a crosshatched pattern (not cutting through the skin) with a knife and then scoop it out with a spoon into the bowl and gently stir together (do not mash). Stir in the pineapple last so the fresh acidity is a distinct counterpoint to the avocado. Season to taste with additional chile, lime juice and salt. Transfer the guacamole to a wide dish and sprinkle the cilantro on top. Store in the refrigerator for up to 2 hours with a pice of plastic pressed against the surface. Let it come to room temperature before you serve it.


In addition to feeding the hungry crowd, the chefs and their crew shared important tips ans facts about this fantastic fruit that is not only delicious but nutritious. The avocado is a Native Mexican fruit that is popular worldwide and is not only tasty but healthy, with nearly 20 vitamins, minerals and beneficial plant compounds that can improve the quality of your diet and your overall health. Avocados provide mono and polyunsaturated "good" fats that are recommended as part of a healthy diet; contain only 50 calories in each 1 oz. serving (about 1/5 of an avocado), 3 grams monounsaturated fat, and 1 gram of dietary fiber, all with zero cholesterol. My wife M and I like to eat them by themselves with a little bit of salt or in a tortilla and in salads, but the WOW tour has reminded us that avocado can also be the backbone of a dish and isn't just for garnishes or dips.

You can find more recipes, avocado advice, and additional tour dates on the Amazing Avocado website and via their Avocados from Mexico app, available through iTunes.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Come Follow the Band

Writing this blog has resulted in many fun invites, but in all these years I had never received one as unique as visiting a full-fledged circus train for lunch. I had never devoted much thought to the way performers live and eat (Surely they could eat cotton candy and peanuts to their hearts content?), and having the chance to experience the Pie Car with performers and the Chef charged with feeding them and their 300 colleagues was certainly eye-opening.

Chef Michael Vaughn has quite the feat before him: feed performers from 6 continents, all with different palates and dietary needs, while sourcing food from national distributors as well as local purveyors. For people who spend 11 months out of a year touring by train and whose day job is to tease death and delight audiences, Chef Vaughn's meals are little pieces of home, as well as the fuel they need to keep in top physical shape. The entree pictured, for example, is Brazilian Chicken Stroganoff, a healthier and lighter version of the traditional beef entree. Our tasting menu also featured dishes from Greece, Bulgaria, and the Gulf Coast of the United States, as well as bite-sized cheesecakes.

The Pie Car itself is a feat of engineering - recently renovated, it sits 20 people, and its kitchen has a staff of 7 working a diminutive line that cranks out 3 meals a day for this rolling city without a zip code. The car is a study in space maximization that would put any Scandinavian hotel to shame. Besides answering our questions on food and circus life, the performers confirmed that running away with the circus is the stuff of urban legend. You need to be at the top of your game to be invited to join, and in certain cases, such as with the Opera-trained Ringmaster, Johnathan Iverson, the opportunity just presents itself.

While the circus is in our area, Georgetown Cupcake will offer a custom cupcake as part of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus 200th birthday celebrations of PT Barnum's birthday. All proceeds will benefit the Sunshine Kids Foundation. The red velvet cupcake will be topped with a blue fondant elephant (the circus logo should put Democrats at ease).

Barnum 200, shows in DC through March 27 at the Verizon Center and upcoming shows in Baltimore and Fairfax, VA.

Friday, March 18, 2011

A little bit of everything for Lent

My friend JJ Garza-Onofre, the Burger Sherpa of Monterrey, sent me a picture of his favorite dessert, home-made Capirotada. I had to ask what it was - my grandmother is a formidable woman, but her claim to fame is her chicken and shells soup and her unflappable support for my coffee habit from a young age.

To honor Mexican grandmothers everywhere, we'd like to feature Capirotada, the most symbol-laden bread pudding you will ever eat. Served during Lent and with the Inquisition's seal of approval, tradition states that the bread represents the Body of Christ, the syrup his blood, the (whole) cinnamon sticks the wooden cross, and, in the furthest stretch of the imagination, the raisins are the nails and the cheese his shroud. This should also settle the great Catholic Food question of 2006. If you haven't given up sweets for Lent like Stephen Colbert a few years ago, give it a try.

I think this is the best one, courtesy of Discover San Miguel de Allende.

Now if only JJ Garza-Onofre could explain what the sprinkles in his grandmother's version represent...

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Spring BBQ at Westend

Ok, so my first instinct is to tell no one about this, because I am betting it will be fantastic, I live near it, and I hate lines--but my love for spreading the word on great food in DC is beating out my desire to keep these things a secret. Beginning April 8th and through the end of May, West End Bistro will be offering a Friday BBQ lunch on its patio.

Westend’s patio will be playing the part of pop-up BBQ stand featuring fresh pork, chicken, and beef offerings and serving up homemade side dishes including biscuits, coleslaw, chips, as well as drinks, and desserts. You can spot the West End Bistro staff on BBQ duty by their "Mr. Delicious” t-shirts. Delicious? we'll be there the 8th, taking them at their word.

Westend Bistro BBQ Stand

Hours of Operation

April & May 2011
Every Friday 11:30AM – 3PM
(Cash Only)

Menu / Pricing
Pork – Carolina Style (Mustard BBQ)
Beef – Texas Style (Red BBQ)
Chicken – NC Style (Vinegar BBQ)
Pulled pork, Chicken, or beef brisket BBQ Sandwiches - $6

Biscuits - $1
Coleslaw - $2
Chips - $2
Lemonade & Sweet Tea- $3
Pie - $3
Lemon pretzel bars - $2

“Picnic Basket”
Pork or Brisket, 1 biscuit, coleslaw, pie, lemonade or sweet tea $13

Monday, March 14, 2011

One's Country

While sipping cocktails at the preview for the Tequila & Mezcal festival, I realized that I have never done a full post on Oyamel, the Mexican bastion of Chef Jose Andres' restaurant collection. This struck me as odd - I go there often, and recommend it plenty. Their offerings for the 2011 festival are a delight - while tequila is Mexico's most emblematic spirit, mezcal is catching on (case in point: my father is aging it in his basement, one of many empty nest projects). The Tangelo (tequila with tangelo, fresno chiles, pineapple and lime) will take you through every sensation that will prime you for enjoying good tequila, and the Crusta Noble should be called a dessert: pineapple juice, vanilla syrup and cherries. If it wasn't for the alcohol it could pass as the fruitsicles of my childhood. The Chimayo brings all my favorites into a glass: tequila, piloncillo apple cider, cassis and lemon. I'll go back to try the Maximilian affair for the name alone. The festival also brings round some special bites, including a modern spin on ceviche a la Veracruzana: the traditional capers and olives are there, but they come with olive air. My favorite was the Huarache de Pato, a small masa cake topped with shredded duck confit.

The editorial line for this blog is simple: we enjoy sharing experiences we enjoyed, and don't bother with those we didn't. Mexican gastronomy in DC is not widely represented in DC (Lauriol Plaza and Rosa Mexicano are better bars than restaurants, Alero is at best mediocre, if you have pupusas on the Menu you are Salvadorean, and District Taco should come around to the District Proper). I've had many good meals at Oyamel, the service has always been courteous, and the atmosphere energetic. It is the sort of place we love to write about.

Perhaps the reason is because Oyamel affects me in a way most restaurants do not - a sensation that Mexican columnist Denisse Dresser once described, "Those who have lived abroad for years know how it feels to walk around with a tight chest. What it is to walk along the steps of small nostalgias and big memories. What it is to miss the smell and the taste and the noise and the light."The dining space, decked out in commissioned folk art, features an imposing Monarch butterfly mobile (Oyamel firs give the Monarchs their home on the long trek between Canada, the US and Mexico) and the bar is festooned with a canopy of cempazutchil flowers. But what always gets me is what the kitchen does - they interpret a long and storied culinary tradition and make it their own with the outmost care and respect for the food and the way it is meant to be eaten. And while no menu can ever be perfect, the kitchen always finds a way to shine a light and have me come back often, hungry for more.

Oyamel on Urbanspoon
Oyamel Cocina Mexicana
401 7th Street Northwest
Washington D.C., DC 20004
(202) 628-1005

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Dining out for Life next week!

One of our favorite local charities, Food and Friends is having its wonderful fund raiser, Dining Out for Life next Thursday, March 10. Over 140 restaurants are participating. You can see the list and reserve your seats here.

Dining out for Life is in it's fifteenth year and your lunch, dinner or both will hep put thousands of meals on the tables of your neighbors in need. Happy Dining!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011


A. now lives in Mount Pleasant, but she left her heart in Bloomingdale, a leafy neighborhood near Howard University. Though the weather was not cooperating, I wanted to check out my friend's haunt, Big Bear Cafe, which is also lauded for its amazing lattes.

The cafe, on the corner of R and 1st street, NW, is the quintessential neighborhood coffee shop, complete with dancing-by-the-counter regulars, artwork on every available wall, staff that remembers your usual, and people deep in conversation nursing counter culture coffee or, thanks to a recently acquired license, a selection of funky beers. It takes a confident kitchen to have a single dinner option - Big Bear does sandwiches until 5 PM, but it's 8 PM closing time calls for a minimal dinner menu.

I got there a bit past 5.30 to find A. there, hard at work. Though the tables run small, there were plenty of people there with laptops. In the spirit of a true coffeehouse, the dim light and ambient music creates an atmosphere that lends itself more to chatting and people watching through its tall windows than anything else. A. had lured me there with the offer of chili and organic beer - two things that hit the spot on a frigid winter evening.

The chili - $8, including extra corn bread, is a lovely example of the possibilities of vegetarian food. Beans floating in soupy mix of spice (Chipotle) and acid (vinegar, and hints of lime), topped with a bit of sharp cheese and some cilantro. The corn bread is delicious, and I crumbled mine on the bowl for some extra texture. A. chose the porter and I had the Framboise, a Belgian raspberry beer that is refreshing and so aromatic it gave the chili a run for its money. At $9 it is the second most expensive on the menu, but the bottle is bigger than the $5 options. The chili was delicious but the size of the portion does not make for a hearty dinner.

While this is a coffeehouse that is very much embedded into its neighborhood, the quality of ingredients and the friendly service make it well worth the visit. For us interlopers, Big Bear Cafe is very easy to get to on the G2 bus, and on Sunday they are the anchor for the Bloomingdale Farmer's Market.

Big Bear Cafe on Urbanspoon
Big Bear Cafe
1700 1st St NW
Washington, DC 20001

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Back to Life

Monterrey, my hometown, is the capital of a landlocked state in Northeastern Mexico. And yet, whenever I make it back for work or play, I eat seafood almost every day.

Not really a ceviche, Vuelve a La Vida (Back to Life) is the sophisticated older sister of the shrimp cocktail. Topped with slivers of fresh avocado, this seafood cocktail is one of my favorite ways to beat the heat. There's nothing in DC quite like it, but my mission is to successfully replicate it before summer.

Recipe from Big Oven.Another good one, also in English And a third
Remember, cocktail sauce is a must!

Oh, and if you ever find yourself in this neck of the woods, try Chef Alfredo Villanueva's valentine to regional Cuisine, San Luisito, Costa Nueva and El Muelle de Al Lado for Pacific seafood, and La Catarina for a contemporary spin on amazing Mexican food. And if you are looking for a Burger Sherpa in the city, check out my friend JJ Garza-Onofre's fantastic blog.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Celebrate February 5th--National Pisco Day!

Need a reason to venture out in the cold and rain and sleet? Looking for a February holiday unspoiled by Hallmark or memories of your ex?

Head out tonight, February 5 (or really, any cold winter's evening), to celebrate and warm up with an array of signature cocktails showcasing Pisco--Peru's national spirit--created by a dozen to DC's top mixologists. Most famously found in the foamy, potent, Pisco Sour; diverse, creative Pisco cocktails will be highlighted this weekend--and at several locations throughout the month of February. All around town, competitors will be highlighting a plethora of creative Pisco concoctions all created for Macchu Picchu Pisco's “100th Anniversary of the Encounter of Machu Picchu with Western World” Pisco competition, as judged by Peruvian Ambassador Luis Valdivieso and a panel of both Peruvian and local cocktail professionals.

Try overall winner Jason of Rasika's “Chicho Morado” (featuring Peruvian purple chicho liquor and a crunchy Quinoa topper) or one of our our personal favorites--Jordan of our U Street favorite Policy’s bacon-infused “Bacon and Eggs;” Clinton from Old Town Restaurant Eve’s dual chile-spiked “Tusan;” and Dean of new Midtown-hotspot Dirty Martini’s Pisco-Coca liquor fusion “Picchu Chasqui.” (We are big Agwa de Bolivia fans, here at DC Gastronome).

Also delicious and a fabulous deal—Ceiba’s Alex unveiled his dangerously tasty “Pisco Morado” which will be featured at five dollar Pisco happy hours every Wednesday. And, we’ll definitely be hitting Blue Duck Tavern for the brunch-ready, foamy basil-passion fruit Park Pisco and Mio for a pomegranate Pisco Sour Rojo to wash down one of their Friday night lechon feasts.

The rundown: try Pisco for the first time, or get to know it in a whole new way at:

Chef Geoff’s; yerba mate-infused Gaucho Pisco; created by Elli Benchimol
Majestic Café (Presentation Winner); South Asian fusion Punjabi Sour; created by Michael Saccone
Rasika (Overall Winner); Chicho Morado; created by Jason Strich
Mio; pomegranate delight Pisco Sour Rojo; created by Sarah Stafford
Dirty Martini; coca-herbal-citrusy Picchu Chasqui; created by Dean Feddaoui
Ceiba; chicho-chile-sour cherry Pisco Morado; created by Alex Batista
Restaurant Eve (Relevance Winner) (Old Town Alexandria); Meyer lemon-agave-chile infused Tusan; created by Clinton Terry
Blue Duck Tavern; basil-passion fruit infused Park Pisco; created by Robert-Rex Wallen
Imperio Inca (Taste Winner) (Norfolk, VA); a sweet potato infused Imperio Sour we will definitely be stopping in for on our next trip South; created by Carlos Espinoza
Woody’s Rum Bar (Baltimore, MD); basil-orange-agave Macchu Bingham; created by Bill Irvin
Policy; brunch-in-a-glass bacon washed Macchu Pisco, maple syrup, cayenne Bacon and Eggs; created by Jordan Davidowitz
Founding Farmers; grapefruit, chipotle, agave Inspiracion; created by Josh Tugjnyam

No matter where you choose to get your Pisco fix, we can guarantee you'll go home comfortably toasty, no matter the weather.

Monday, January 24, 2011

You say "I ordered you a pancake"

Perusing our recent entries, you'd think that we only go out for brunch. While we need to play catch up (Bibiana and Blue Duck for Restaurant Week, an early January culinary scavenger hunt through the city, an an organic delivery service in Bethesda, to name a few) brunch will always have a special place in my heart - the one meal where food and relaxation can trump any other consideration.

Contributor extraordinaire Maria got married over the weekend and, with the help of a very understanding catering manager, we managed to throw an after-nuptials family brunch during Restaurant Week. The private dining room at Urbana fits 12, and during the peak of the brunch service we were grateful for the sliding doors that separate it from the main dining room (extra tables for Restaurant Week, ceramic tiles and Bottomless Bellinis generate an atmosphere that, while usually appreciated, were grating my sleep-deprived, slightly hungover self on this particular outing).

Our reservation was for 1 PM, so our group fell on both sides of the brunch divide - hamburgers and Chicken Caesar Salad for some, breakfast items for the rest of us, and coffee all around. The Bottomless Bellini (with refills all through Brunch until 3 PM) is still a steal at $16: a selection of fresh juices (favorites include passion fruit and strawberry, while the Pear is not for the faint of palate) topped with sparkling wine (an Italian Prosecco, Montelliana, with a mineral content that makes it ideal for mixing). Through years of practice (our extended neighborhood and all) Maria is particularly adept at creating creative concoctions. Tables of 4 or more get to keep the bottle table-side.

For their first brunch as a married couple, the newlyweds had classic menu items - a three egg omelette with everything minus the chorizo for the groom, and the Challah French Toast with a side of bacon for the bride who, despite her best efforts, always orders the same thing. The stomach, like the heart, wants what it wants, and Sunday was no exception. There's something about the crunch from the griddle and the acidity of the strawberry compote paired with the maple syrup that conspires to make this a great dish. As for me - I skipped the Bellinis (Botomless Cup of Coffee did the trick for me that day) and had the blueberry pancakes with bananas and a side of eggs. The eggs can come in any style but I chose scrambled, slightly runny, and doused with the hot sauce I requested. The pancakes are fantastic - fluffy, and with just a touch of blueberry. The banana slices are placed on top, and the dish could easily do without them. But at least you can use them to tell yourself you re having two servings of fruit, and conveniently forget to account for the warm maple syrup. Our server, Dana, heroically handled the sliding door and our floating head count to make this a very happy close to the festivities.

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

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Sashay shante

As far as gastronomy-related performances go, Perry's Sunday Brunch is hard to beat. Brunch, my favorite meal, promises a little bit of this, a little bit of that, and exaggerates certain characteristics with a flourish - breakfast in drag, and at a much more convenient hour. While Perry's is a destination for groups of revelers, T. and I decided to give it the Any Given Sunday treatment and just showed up at their recommended hour of 11.45 AM. Perry's does not take reservation, and your arrival time is noted by the hostess. You are welcome to wait at the very crowded bar (where we were treated to a dancing father-daughter duo, as well as patrons that were sporting handle bar mustaches and bleached and permed hair). Most of the tables turn when the performers take breaks, and our wait was about 45 minutes. The servers play a huge part in keeping everybody happy and imbibed - Perry's serves the strongest Mimosa I've ever had in DC, with just a splash of OJ to go with your bubbles.

If you have anything important to discuss with your brunch companions, this is not the place to do it. The Queens command attention, and the disco/Lady Gaga/Beyonce mix blares on top of the ding of a crowded dining room. It is also a more interactive experience than the Gospel Brunch at the Corcoran (where, I suspect, none of the performers will ask you if you want or need a BBC in your life). On Sundays Perry's goes from a la carte to a buffet (around $25 per person, cocktails are about $6 each). I am not a huge fan of brunch buffets, and the long line that forms in between shows makes repeated visits difficult (the solution is giving you an enormous plate, which may not be everyone's favorite strategy). However, the kitchen tops off the selections regularly, and everything is well prepared - everything from eggs, salads, waffles, noodles, sushi, cold cuts, lasagna, orzo salad, and grilled chicken and pork. The corn muffins are very tasty and the dolmas, though they had no reason to be there, were chilled and tangy. The sushi is nothing special on its own, but its sheer presence next to scrambled eggs makes the roles noteworthy.

The most boisterous brunch in the city, and a wonderful way to beat the winter blues.

Perrys on Urbanspoon
Perry's Restaurant
1811 Columbia Rd NW
Washington, DC 20009