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!