Sunday, December 30, 2007

Kafe Leopold's: Sweet, Simple, Impeccable

I love Kafe Leopold's in Cady's Alley, Georgetown. It's so modern Vienna, with its sleek and smart contemporary decor, impeccable quality and attention to detail. Everything is served a la carte, making it feel even more European. We went there for a light breakfast this morning. They're known for their excellent beautifully-prepared pastries, which include everything from mini fruit tarts to Sacher tortes. But this morning I wanted just a little something and first asked for a warmed ham and cheese scone. My companion wanted the pastry basket. Our honest and helpful server said she could include the scone in the pastry basket, so that gave me an opportunity to also try the special of the day: truffle and parmesan grits. Oh. My. Gawd. The scone was warm and flavorful with flecks of succulant ham and green onion with a bit of Gruyere. The grits were the best I've ever had (and I lived in the deep south for a few years--so I know grits!). The truffle flavor was unctuous, the consistency beautifully creamy, and they added a rich and glorious topping of shitake mushrooms and lightly fried onion straws. Absolutely magnificent. The pastries in our basket included various croissants and a classic little madeleine--all were meticulously prepared. Again, the attention to detail was exhibited in the quality of the food and in the delivery. Coffee was served on a small platter, with a glass of water--just like in Austria. Tea service included a small pot of hot water and a choice of a very wide selection of Meinl teas. Unlike other cafes and eateries around town, there is nothing contrived or ersatz about this place. Like the artwork Leopold's displays, the place feels honest and original.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The Office Christmas Potluck: A Study in Juxstaposition

There was a ton of food at the office potluck today: meatballs, veggies and dip, chips, cakes, cookies; even a brick of cream cheese topped with jelly and served with Ritz crackers no less, as well as different mysteriously mayonnaisey salads. So, I loaded up...on a plate full of home-made brioche and plum jam.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Thought of the Day: Food Associations

They say that the olfactory sense (of smell) is the most powerful conjurer of memory. For me, in a similar way, food evokes wonderfully poignant associations.

1. mushrooms = cool autumnal woods and morning dew on blades of grass
2. brioche = cherubic babies and mother’s milk
3. steamed crabs = warm summer days and flip flops
4. soft ripened cheese = provincial village-towns and lambs in green fields
5. chicken = white cars and Basics cigarettes
6. Kraft products = screaming children and coupons
7. cream cheese = theme parties and PBR
8. casseroles = your grandmother’s green shag carpet
9. iceberg lettuce = e-coli and drive-throughs
10. salmon = Ruby Tuesday’s and the new “town center” in your ex-urb.

What are your food associations?

Monday, November 26, 2007

East Meets West: Thanksgiving in Beijing

Do you know that United flies direct to Beijing from Washington DC? In about 13 hours, you can hop from one capital city to another. So, we did just that...and went to Beijing for about eight days over Thanksgiving. It made me be American. I really like China, but on cold, dry, bleak, winter days in this eastern capital city where there is nothing green or fresh in sight, when your shoes are gray from dust and spittle (yes, haucking a big one in public is commonplace), your lungs are full of pollution, and you've had your fair share of noodles and rice, you find yourself yearning for the comforts of turkey and gravy with all the trimmings. So when we got the last minute invitation for Thanksgiving dinner, it was welcome news.
Some expat friends from Washington state hosted a fabulous Thanksgiving dinner at their home in a towering and swank high rise in the center of the city. John and Kerri, along with their "ai-ee" (I'm spelling the Mandarin word for "auntie"--a euphamism for domestic helper--phonetically) made a meal that was all the more fabulous as many of the ingredients, like the turkey itself, sage, etc. are typically really difficult to come by. Though most things are pretty accessible, some specialty items have to be ordered or scavanged ahead of time when they are in stock, as the reliability and availability of many things are not guaranteed. For a dinner like this, Kerri had to make several trips to different stores. She only buys meat from the German butcher, as other sources are questionable in terms of their cleanliness. And when she saw the turkey available about a month ago, she jumped on it and bought the frozen bird, knowing that she might not get another chance at it. For vegetables, they have a woman who sells organic that comes to their building. And lately, a new crop of organic markets have popped up all over town. Anyway, it was a feat to get all of this together. So, if you're reading this, thank you John and Kerri very much for hosting a magnificent and unforgettable Thanksgiving! We ate and drank *very well*, met new friends, celebrated with old ones, and learned a great deal about what life is like for expats in China today, with its economic and cultural boom.

Friends enjoying some Champagne before dinner...

Delightful goat cheese stuffed the earthy sweet combination.

Bragiole (cured beef)-wrapped persimmon with arugula...a great take on the prosciutto and melon idea. Love the local interpretation using the persimmon!

The roux for the gravy, made with flour, butter, and drippings. Kerri then added home-made stock that she had simmered for hours the day before with the turkey meticulous!

Kerri roasting the fresh green beans and almonds. She later added lemon zest. green bean casserole, hands down!

An international summit on Turkey of sorts: John is American, Chris is British, and they're both trying to carve this bird in China!

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Anthony Bourdain: An Assh*le of the Best Variety

Went to see the (argh) celeb chef last night at Lisnor auditorium. The guy is even more snarky and blunt and arrogant in person than he is on television. He. Is. My. Hero. He has that "I can care less" attitude on just about everything...and reems pretention and affluence in the fussy arse. This is a guy who has eaten everything from squizzle to bull testicles to many types of Asian-it'll-make-you-strong-concoctions of bile/reptile urine and jet fuel. He likes it in-your-face style, and not the vapid and loud Anna Nicole Smith brand, but the more cunning and languid Angelina Jolie kind. He scoffs at molecular cuisine and experimental ideas like an edible menu and, say, bacon served off a clothes line with 47 artisenal ingredients that take 23 minutes to describe. He doesn't want microgreens and foam on his food. He likes to keep things really real. He sees true culinary artistry not as making already good things (like filet mignon or lobster) good, but rather taking something bad (say scraps, organ meat, or whatever is leftover) and making it taste great. It is the enterprising creativity bourne of necessity that he believes is the mark of a great cook. He asserts that a truly exceptional chef is one who is free of the shackles of affluence. He thinks truffle oil is stupid. Indeed, Tony has two feet planted firmly on the ground and turns his nose up at the contrived and self-important and fat and obnoxious. For these reasons, he apparently despises The Food Network, Vegetarian(ism), and Rachel Ray. I agree on all accounts.

That's enough for now. I'll be referring to some of Bourdain's "wisdoms" from time to time. There's too much to digest in one sitting.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

What Washington Eats Wednesdays: Noi Chudnoff

On Saturday, I went to buy a moleskin (a writer's notebook) to jot down my "food" thoughts. We stopped in a Logan Circle kitsch store called Go Mama Go. I've lived in the neighborhood for two years but never visited the place because, well, I don't like kitsch. But this day I did and was pleasantly surprised by the very cool and fun items that weren't necessarily all crap--not the cheap stuff you find in the Chinese "everything for sale" stores in Gallery Place. This was purposeful and stylized tchotchke's. I bought a beautiful black notebook with a magnetic flap and a peacock feather pattern. "I need to come back when my boyfriend isn't in such a hurry to go" I told myself. I spoke briefly with the girl behind the counter, asking her about the store. She gave me the owner's card. On a plain orange piece of light stock paper, a homemade label read "Noi Chudnoff" and on the other side another sticker displayed the hours.

Odd name. Noi Chudnoff. So I looked it up and found a nice piece on the 60-something year old Thai native. . Her story is a great one: she left Thailand at a young age to find her independence, estranging herself from her very traditional parents who discouraged her ambitions for careers in medicine and law--careers for men, they said. In the States she made a good life for herself, attending graduate school and working creative jobs. She eventually opened Go Mama Go later in her life after raising her son. She craved her independence so greatly that in 2000 she decided to move into an apartment above an adjoining store, Home Rule, to attend to Go Mama Go while her husband maintained the homestead in Maryland. Her store reflects this independence, vibrance, and whimsy. It's full of colorful, fun things from kimonos to sushi plates, to body lotion and paper goods. Everything is quite tastefully funky. I was hoping at some point to meet the woman behind all the charming finds.

Unfortunately, Noi died suddenly yesterday morning. While being prepped for colon cancer surgery, she fell and hit her head, sustaining a brain hemorrhage.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

In The Office Kitchen Today...

an explanation of why 80% of my coworkers have a BMI of greater than or equal to 30. Note the requisite half-eaten "I'm saving my calories" doughnut left by *that* girl. You know her...the one who does egregious amounts of cardio and cries herself to sleep at night? That one. Also note that my colleagues favor the chocolate-covered variety of these law-enforcement friendly pastries (as evidenced by the brown gooey stains left in the box).

I, on the other hand, chose the healthier option of Danactive and Doritos for breakfast. Yum.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Chilly Outside, Chili Inside

No snarky commentary tonight. I'm lazy and it's raining (get the spurious correlation?). I'm digging back into my backlog of content to give you chili. This is a health(ier) interpretation of the good old stand-by: Turkey chili with avocado, green onion, cheddar and sour cream over mac noodles (kind of a take on Cincinnati style chili, which is served over spaghetti). Yum.

(I'll write about the disaster that was our weekend dining experience at BLT Steak later this week.) For now, enjoy this:

Goes great with this '99 Simi Cabernet:

Saturday, November 03, 2007

What I did this Summer: Part 3, Peach Picking in Virginia

I swear, this is the last in my "what I did this summer series." I you care.

Anyway, indulge me in Pollyanna for a bit. Nothing says summer more than fresh peaches. Oh the fragrant almost floral scent of the fruit makes me all happy and warm inside. One Saturday, we drove an hour outside of the city, ostensibly to go to Linden winery. However, along the windy roads out near Delaplane, Virginia, we spotted a hand-written sign that read "fresh peaches." We expected a farm stand, but what we found was much more exciting. A whole orchard bustling with people and about fifteen varieties of peach trees that ranged from golf ball-sized little tart surprises to medium-sized white, honey-like varieties to giant golden in-your-face balls of joy. I don't know their names, I was just amazed by all the peaches--each clinging to its branch, waiting to be discovered and picked. It made me feel like a kid again, finding Easter eggs in hidden spots along flower beds or Christmas gifts under the tree. Such a great experience.

In case you want to do this yourself, try Hollin Farms , a very interesting sort of operation. Started by successful Fairfax county developer, Robert Davenport, in the 1950's focusing on testing bulls and raising cattle, it still remains in the family with an added agricultural operation with orchards and, recently, vineyards. Managing the operation now is Davenport's grandson, Matt, along with his father, Tom. These gentlemen farmers (Matt studied engineering at Cornell and Tom and his wife are filmmakers and are active in the arts) have created a wonderfully idyllic life for themselves raising award-winning cattle and garnering the "Young Farmer Achievement Award" in 2005. When at the farm, you may pay to pick based on the size of the bag. I think a mid-sized one holding upwards of 30 or so peaches costs around $15. You'll have to check and see for yourself, because my memory is short (this was several months ago that we went). Anyway, it's tons of fun!

So we brought a bunch of these peaches home and couldn't help but eat several before we made our peach cobbler. They were incredibly sweet and perfume-y. So we used a very simple cobbler recipe, trying not to cook them or doctor them up too much, preserving their natural goodness.
Here's the recipe:

1 stick (4 ounces) butter, melted
1 cup plus 3 tablespoons granulated sugar, divided
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 to 4 ripe peaches, peeled, pitted, thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
Heat oven to 375°.
Pour melted butter into a 2-quart baking dish or iron skillet. In a mixing bowl, combine 1 cup of the sugar, the flour, baking powder, and salt; stir to blend. Stir in the milk and vanilla until blended. Pour the batter over the melted butter. Toss the peaches with the remaining 3 tablespoons of sugar and 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon. Arrange the peach slices over the batter. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean. The top will be browned and the cake will begin to pull away from the sides of the pan. Serve warm with a little heavy cream, whipped topping, or a scoop of vanilla ice cream.Serves 6.
So this is the last of the notable things of the summer. I did actually post in real-time my St. Michael's getaway which was also a summer highlight back in August. Read about it here.

Monday, October 22, 2007

What I did this Summer: Part 2, Bahamas

View of Paradise Island from the 19th floor at the Cove

I'd like to start off by saying that as far as Carribean islands are concerned, I think the Bahamas (specifically Paradise Island) is something that I will not return for--not because it's awful, just because it wasn't interesting despite the "decandence". We searched in vain for great local cuisine...and for good food in general. There were moments of clarity, but mostly it was overpriced schlock (what my companion called culinary rip-off)...even Jean-Georges' Dune Restaurant was a bit disappointing.

Anyhoo, we avoided the frightening masses of the primary Atlantis hotel (think the same craptastic guilded guido glam as the Venetian but with a water theme) by staying at the much more sedate (and tasteful) Cove on the same resort property. I was happy and given a lot of hope with my first bite after getting off my flight Thursday night at the Seaglass, the sleek, stylish, and quiet bar. (If you want throbbing, colorful and inappropriately-cladded, go to Aura in the casino at, of course, the Atlantis.) I had a wonderful snack of a very fully-packed crab cake with mint pesto, some sort of micro greens and a Ferrari Carrano Fume Blanc. Very tasty. Good experience despite our very talkative bartender. (Note: The service on the island, generally is very friendly, but slow, leisurely and a bit forgetful. And everyone will hit you up for an extra tip even though it's automatically calculated in the bill.)
The more sedate Cove Hotel on Paradise Island

We laid out by the very, very cool infinity pool most of the next day and had a light lunch of conch salad (a great medly of peppers, onions, garlic and lime juice--kind of like a spicy calamari ceviche) and a very fishy seafood roll. A little hit or miss.
That evening we went to Chez Willie's back on New Providence Island (across the bridge towards the rest of Nassau). It was, how do I say this, sheer awful. It was trying, struggling, floundering (no pun intended) towards high-end French. They served us a bready crab cake with boxed mashed potatoes, a relatively decent conch chowder (yes, more conch) that was ruined by the skin that developed for sitting under the heat lamp too long, and they even had a palette cleanser lime sorbet...which we were unfortunate to have found it accompanied by one curly hair and sticky spoons. The best part was the surf and turf...and when I say best, I mean the best display of culinary incompetence that I have seen in, well, ever. The "steak" was a thin sliver of what looked like breakfast beef. They had the audacity to ask how we wanted them cooked (medium rare is my preference). I laugh now, because it must have taken some effort to grill these slivers without cooking them through. The lobster tail was a shriveled, too salty, previously frozen piece of sadness. In fact, I was sad sitting in the moldy, old, place. I'll stop there. Don't go to Chez Willie, you appreciate the grand and inappropriate gestures (including letting the Jacobs Creek "breathe"), but it's all very awkward and sad and depressing.

The next evening, no matter what, we knew that we couldn't do as bad at Dune, one of the two Jean-Georges Vongerichten restaurants on the island. The place is beautiful, set in a Carribean colonial style house with dark stained wood floors, and Asian touches made the ambience alluring and romantic. The menu, similarly, had somewhat of the same flare. We had the sweet ginger sauced tuna tartare, with lucious strips of the tender raw fish resting in a nice pool of the sauce. I had a sweet pea soup. Nice, not spectacular, but definitely not bad. I had the duck as my main. It was okay...I guess the wilted greens were the best part, sauteed in rich butter and lightly seasoned, it was simple and nice. The duck was tender and prepared medium rare. Unfortunately, it was uncreative with the asian plum sauce. Dessert was a nice bread pudding with complimentary molten cake and chocolate covered strawberries. Cute. Like our experience in Vegas, it's a lot of good show, but the food itself was very average.

Dune Restaurant at The One and Only Hotel

Our last day there, we went into town and I wanted to try something local (but ultimately, it was just for tourists): conch fritters at Conch Fritters restaurant. The fried dough balls were pretty greasy and salty with bits of the chewy seafood. B truth be known, I love anything deep fried. So it was fine with me. We also tried the grilled grouper sandwich--"eh" at best.

Conch fritter at Conch Fritters

Sunday, October 21, 2007

What I did this summer: Part 1, Vegas

View of the Vegas strip from the balcony of the lounge at Mix, Mandalay Bay

Yeah, it's late in the game, but with the heavy rains and chilly weather (finally), I'm realizing that summer is finally over. My mind now wanders to warmer climes, to lazy sunny days and me in flip flops and sundresses. This is my ode d'ete and the first part of a n-part series (I know you're all holding your collective breaths).

Our mod pod table at Mix, at the top of The Hotel

Though I'm not a fan of Vegas, I do appreciate it coming into its own in recent years as a culinary destination. Several celebrity chefs including Alain Ducasse, Thomas Keller, and Todd English have outposts in the city, providing well-heeled alternatives to the ubiquitous (and banal) buffet extravaganzas. Went to Ducasse's, Mix, at the top of The Hotel, where we enjoyed ourselves in an atmospheric, thematic, heaven-hell restaurant. We got a table at a tricked out mod pod and had some (as expected) superb service. The food was good, not great, and definitely not as great as you'd expect for the price and the hype. But the overall experience was nice. I had a forgettable starter, and an average duck breast main. Though medium rare, it had little flavor, but was very tender and lean. Fun place, especially walking through the dark and deliciously dangerous "hell" lounge into the light and ethereal "heaven" dining room with bubble glass chandeliers and soaring ceiling. Oh, yeah, did I mention the amazing views of the city? A must go.

Soaring ceilings with crystal ball "cloud" chandeliers at Mix, at the top of The Hotel

Wine Tower at Aureole
Another night we went to Charlie Palmer's, Aureole. The main draw there is the 40-foot wine tower--complete with a pulley system that lifts "wine angels" to the upper reaches to fetch wine--that houses over 9,000 bottles of wine. A dream for any connoisseur of the grapes. Along with this dramatic wine cellar is the electronic pallet that is the wine list. Amazing. A few drop down menus, a tap of the stylus, and voila, you zip through the thousands long list. We had an awful, pretentious, and forgetful waiter--but mind you, the service at each table includes the main server, the bread guy, the water guy, the sommelier, and for us, the GM...since we had to complain about the negligent service. The food, again, was okay, but be prepared not to be wowed as you should be with a restaurant of this caliber (and price). But alas, it was the atmosphere that made up for it all. I had a boring goat cheese and mushroom tartine (i.e. crostini). Then had the roast rack of Colorado tender lamb stuffed Campari tomato, braised flageolet beans,Nicoise olives and Rosemary Jus. Actually quite tasty. I forget what I had for dessert. Because after the white wine with the appetizers, and bottle of red with our mains, I was done.

One morning I had brunch at Thomas Keller's Bouchon, a more accessible (than his venerable French Laundry) brasserie. Had a very fine Bloody Mary with my Croque Madame. Yum.

Dining room at Bouchon Restaurant, top of Venezia Tower, Venetian Hotel

So Vegas is great for food on a superficial level. You'll get spectacular atmosphere and ambience, and a good show of service at certain places (and you'll pay for it). But due to the mass production sort of quality of the town, truly personal service and attention to detail only come at a higher than average price. Fun times, though. And one other thing, it was hotter than hell this August.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

What-Washington-Eats-Wednesdays: Hillary Clinton

The place to see and be seen!! Hillary loves Cafe Milano and with good reason...she's amongst her peers (see below). And by peers I mean crooks, bald, middle-aged married men looking for side dishes (and I don't mean tomato basil gnocchi), members of the Persian mafia, and some "working girls". Here's what one reviewer had to say about this fine DC institution:

"[The] atmosphere mixed with the fashionable BP [that's beautiful people, to you and me] crowd of DC is Cafe Milano! Its an awesome place to go to see (Madonna, Al Gore, Michael Jordan,etc...) [she left out Hillary] and be seen.. It is always crowded [because that's what you want when dining] but a fun place to drink cosmo's good wine and most of the time great food. The wait staff is extremely busy on the weekends so bring lots of fun friends !!!"

Translation: If you're desperate to be seen, love rubbing elbows with posers and prefer to swill only the best "high end" and "klassy" fruity, sweetened, libations and are used to bad service and marginal Italian because you frequent the Big Slice in Adams, then go to Cafe Milano (cause it's about the art of the drink)!

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Nip Night: Soba Noodle Salad and Sesame Grilled Salmon

I don't like Japanese food, save for sushi and tempura. Otherewise, it can be a scary combo of bland and vomitous. But tonight, I decided to try a milquetoast version of a Japanese-inspired menu, including soba (buckwheat) noodle salad and sesame grilled terryaki salmon. First of all, as you may know, I think salmon is JV and I kind of have a like-hate relationship with it. But for a Tuesday night dinner, doctored up, it can be pretty fine. What made this dinner special was the layering of fresh ingredients. Instead of using store-bought, thick, gooey, corn-syrup terryaki, I combined a little brown sugar, ginger, garlic, and light soy. For the Soba noodles, similarly, I used light soy, sesame oil, garlic, and lime zest with ribbons of fresh herbs including (not so Japanese, but fragrant) basil , cilantro, and mint. There was a lot of chopping, including julienn-ing sweet red bell pepper and shredding of other vegetables. But the point is, despite all this chopping and assembling, the meal was quite simply fish and noodles. It came off well due in large part to the dressing and marinade. If you want an interesting flight of foreign fancy without (unlike the title of this entry) offending your mate/partner/spouse/dinner companion, try this--a far cry from fish sticks and Kraft mac and cheese:

Soba Noodle Salad (you can half this recipe, it serves 6):

4 ounces soba noodles, or whole-wheat spaghetti
1 large shallot, very thinly sliced
1 1/2 cups shredded carrot 1 red pepper, julienne
1/3 cup shredded fresh basil leaves
1/3 cup shredded fresh mint leaves
1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro leaves
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon walnut oil (or canola oil)
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon finely minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon chili flakes
1/2 teaspoon lime zest
1 teaspoon lime juice
1/2 teaspoon fish sauce, or 1 teaspoon low-sodium soy sauce
6 large Bibb lettuce leaves
Boil noodles according to package directions. Drain and cool. In a medium to large bowl, combine noodles, shallot, carrot, pepper, basil, mint, and cilantro. Combine all dressing ingredients, season with salt to taste, add to noodle mixture, and toss lightly.
Snap off Bibb lettuce leaves and wash and dry. To serve, scoop spoonfuls of noodle salad into the lettuce leaves.

Sesame Terryaki Salmon:
1/4 cup low-sodium soy sauce
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons dry sherry
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 garlic cloves, crushed with a garlic press or minced
1 teaspoon finely grated fresh ginger
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 4-oz Salmon filet
2 teaspoons sesame seeds
Combine the soy sauce, sugar, sherry, vinegar, garlic, ginger and red pepper flakes and stir until the sugar dissolves. Transfer to a resealable plastic bag and add the salmon. Seal the bag and marinate the salmon in the refrigerator, turning once, for 1 hour. The salmon can be marinated for up to 4 hours.
Heat the broiler to high. Arrange the salmon on a broiler pan skin side down and broil until brown and crispy, 4 to 6 minutes. Flip the salmon and broil until almost cooked through, about 4 minutes longer. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and cook until the seeds turn golden brown or another minute longer.

*A light-bodied red, such as a pinot noir goes well with this meal. Try Abiouness from Carneros.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Loud but Proud Hook: Barton Seaver's Sustainable Fish Fantasy

Had dinner one bustling Saturday evening the other weekend at the months-old Hook in Georgetown. The one stand out was the noise level. With the arched ceiling and hard surfaces, it was a bit unnerving. But the food and service were great. The wine list is wonderful and pretty extensive. But we brought our own wine for a mere $20 a bottle corkage--the sommelier helped us decant and seemed very, very knowledgeable. Our waiter was a bit noviced, not bothering to explain the concept of sustainability of the fish on the menu, and was a little rude when we asked to switch tables after being elbowed a few times, yelling "Go ahead and move!" as he walked away. Again, the food made up for all that.

Had the crudo (raw, bite sized fish starter) of Wahoo with a bit of lemon and dill. Very fresh and almost effervescently light. The appetizer of baby beets was smart and married well with lightly charred greens, blue cheese, mint and orange. My dinner companion had the risotto cakes which were delicious, tender and chewy on the outside and moist and flavorful on the inside with a bit of garlic and onion. My main dish of mahi and tomato risotto was somewhat disappointing, as it was overly seasoned. (Someone likes the salt shaker in the back.) The tomato risotto was nice, but nothing to write home about. However, my companion's Wahu with bacon braised chicory and beans had the luscious flavors reminiscent of an old southern recipe, but there was something modern and complex about it. I like this restaurant. I like Barton Seaver's cooking (I love Saint Ex and Bar Pilar--even before he left and before I knew it was Seaver).

And with the relatively reasonable price point (most entrees in the twenties), it's a good way to savor sexy-chic without blowing your budget. Having, said that, you'll get a lot of the younger groups, especially on the weekends. So if you want a quiet dinner sans high fives and fist bumps, perhaps try it on a weeknight.

I'll go back. Hopefully next time they'll lay off the salt and get some rugs to keep the noise at bay.

P.S. For all you ladies, the open kitchen offers a generous view of the very high mise en place standard...along with Mr. Seaver's, eh hem, Sevens jeans.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Floriana: No Fork For You! And a Rude Ass Beyouch of a Bartender

So the restaurants along 17th Street, Dupont aren't destinations, and especially not Floriana. They failed on so many fronts, and for the higher than usual price point for that part of the neighborhood, double thumbs down. But the most egregious of the offenses, which I will serve up first, was the b*tch-face bartender. Is it cause we're breeders, guy, that you ignored us when no one, NO ONE, was in the gross cellar bar, save for some fat, obnoxious slob whose jowls were hovered over his slop--looking up only to shout "shut the door" at us? Even when I approached the bar, sir mix-a-not was too busy watching the television and shaking up some green apple martinis.
So, that was the beginning of the sub-par experience. So we get seated, and were hopeful, as the menu looked pretty decent. In fact, we were walking by and stopped only because the menu looked so promising. We got a seat outside that beautiful evening after waiting for a bit in the dungeon of dolts. We wered greeted, thankfully, quite warmly by a young woman who seemed fairly knowledgeable and enthusiastic. But that was the only good about the experience. First came my starter, a salad of orange and fennel...what should have been a great combinationwas ruined by an overly-creamy dressing and listless fennel that had no taste and was more like biting into thinly sliced potatoes than the unctuous and liquorish bulb that I'm used to. So, after finishing (and when I say finish, I mean after four bites I put my fork and knife down), the table was cleared. BUT THEN, our server apologized and asked us to keep our utensils, handing me back my fork, as they ran out and couldn't replace them. No (new) fork for me. Grrr. I'm not that persnickety, but c'mon! The final straw was the sausage tortellini: too heavy, too bland, too chewy.
Oh, but I forgot the one minor bit of joy: a diner who sat behind us, brought along his two very large German shepherds, both with equally large personalities. Cute! (That is one good thing about this neighborhood, you can walk around with your dog and grab a bight to eat outside--but keep walking pass this place.)

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Petty Thought of the Day: Foodie

People who call themselves "foodies" bother me. Maybe it's the irony of self-pronouncement--like describing yourself as "attractive" or "classy"...kinda makes you neither. Or maybe it's the sound of the word itself that I find so irksome, like "moist" or "sniff" or "squirt". Let me stop.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

What-Washington-Eats-Wednesdays: Larry Craig

They're baaaaack. Yes, after a long hiatus, "Wednesdays" are back. Cut me some slack. I've been lazy this summer, and traveling, and did I mention lazy? That's what hot weather does to a girl. Anyhoo, so here we are...

Okay, this one sort of wrote itself. But for the uninitiated, a brief lesson in "cottaging." Cottaging is a gay slang term referring to anonymous male/male sex in a public bathroom (a cottage), or to the practice of cruising for sexual partners in public lavatories with the intention of having sex elsewhere.

So the good Senator from Idaho, Larry Craig, was arrested at the Minneapolis airport on suspicion of lewd conduct, the nature of which included such cottaging. According to the police report, a police officer sat in a bathroom stall as part of an undercover operation investigating complaints of sexual activity in the restroom. His incident report read as follows:

"At 1216 hours, Craig tapped his right foot. I recognized this as a signal used by persons wishing to engage in lewd conduct. Craig tapped his toes several times and moves his foot closer to my foot. ... The presence of others did not seem to deter Craig as he moved his right foot so that it touched the side of my left foot which was within my stall area. Craig then proceeded to swipe his left hand under the stall divider several times, with the palm of his hand facing upward."

Craig had explanations for the behaviors, and suggested that he has a "wide stance" when using the bathroom. Awesome. He ultimately plead guilty to misdemeanor disorderly conduct charges and then announced his resignation. However, today his lawyers tried to convince a judge in Minnesota to let the Idaho Republican withdraw the guilty plea. He was to leave office effective September 30th. However, if the judge approves the request, Craig will likely stay in office until the end of the trial.

I know a place where the good Senator doesn't have to defend his wide stance. In fact, the lavatories are one-sies, meaning they're just for one person, and they're pretty big, so he can stand as wide as he wants. And he can be as openly gay as he wants. I'm talking about Logan Tavern, a great restaurant and bar in my gayborhood. And next door is a pretty hoppin' gay-centric club, Halo. Anyhoo, the menu at Logan Tavern is comforting and terrific. Might I recommend the very sexy and tender and fleshy Seared Tuna, Baby Arugula, Spicy Chili Slaw as a starter, and then move to the melt in your mouth
Wasabi Crusted Meatloaf w. Caramelized Onion Gravy & Mashed Potatoes. It's great for that Midwestern boy who likes a little bit of a different take on his meat (and of course no Idahoan can be without his oh so creamy mashed studs--I mean, spuds, right? ).

Okay, enough with the bad innuendo.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

17th Street Cafe: Decidedly Limited (But Good)

A few months ago, a new neighborhood eatery opened its doors on the 17th street corridor of Dupont. We stopped by for dinner the other weeknight, not looking for a great culinary experience, but something simple to satisfy our hunger. And we came to the right place. Seventeeth Street Cafe is decidedly limited in its menu of salads, soups and sandwiches, but focused and thoughtful.

The menu has all the trite basics from hummus, to quesadillas to burgers. But somehow they make it worth coming back. Perhaps it's for the level of care put into the simple food and the reasonable prices. I guess I'd describe it as earnest and, like Avis, they try hard(er). They're trying. I'm not sure if they're there yet, but I like the effort. The service is very friendly, while the decor fumbles towards hip and spare (unfortunately, the industrial/office building blue carpet on the second (lounge) floor betrays this aim).

Anyhoo, I had the very yummy grilled cheese! (They have grilled cheese!) And it was done very well and very honestly. The Swiss on sourdough was lovely dipped in a perfect tomato bisque. I think the soup was made with chicken stock (?) along with a bit of cream which made it very satisfying and substantial. My dinner companion had the walnut and cranberry salad which was equally well done and was only "$6 1/2"--cutely written on the menu. The hummus and flatbread appetizer didn't taste the least bit like the packaged stuff that you tend get at other places (say, around the corner).

Seventeenth Street Cafe is like that nerd we knew (or were) in highschool: a little awkward, yearning for cool, kinda smart, and most likely will be very popular at the fifth year reunion.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

I love fruitcake

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Hangover Helper: Chicken Soup With Rice

Hoogrrl hosted a great night of art discussion, wine, and conversation Saturday. Unfortunately, I forgot to eat, and had more wine and conversation than alcohol-absorbing nutriment. On Sunday I found myself sitting extra still on my couch, blinds drawn, sunglasses on. I should I say it...awful. My head was pounding and my stomach felt like it had been assaulted, like someone had reached down into it, turned it inside out and then punched it a couple times to ensure the emptying of its entire contents (sorry for the graphic imagery). And I knew my mother (whom I visit on Sundays) would want to try to feed me shovels-full of food, the thought of which made me feel even worse.

Long story short, I got to her house. Couldn't swallow anything. So she made me chicken soup with rice--some sort of old wives tale home remedy that actually works. There's something medicinal about the hydrating broth, strength-replenishing protein, and stomach-soothing rice. Read here about how scientists confirm that chicken soup is indeed medicine. It has something to do with the power of the soup to stop the movement of neutrophils (white bloodcells that are released in great numbers when you're ill), and its quieting anti-inflammatory qualities.

Adding garlic, herbs, and other acoutriments will also help boost the medicinal threshold as well as elevate the stuff from bland nursery food to a more interesting and adult Asian soup (because you have to eat well even when you're sick, right?). See recipe below:


1 (2-lb) rotisserie chicken

2 cloves garlic

1 medium onion, quartered and left unpeeled

6 fresh cilantro sprigs

plus 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

1 small bunch green onion, chopped

10 cups rice

Remove meat from chicken, reserving skin and bones. Coarsely chop garlic and put in a 6- to 8-quart pot along with chicken bones and skin, onion, cilantro sprigs, and chicken broth. Simmer, partially covered, 1 hour.
While broth is simmering, shred about half of chicken meat into 1-inch-long pieces (about 1/4 inch thick) to yield 1 1/2 cups meat, reserving remaining meat for another use. Pour chicken broth through a fine-mesh sieve into a large bowl, pressing hard on solids with back of a ladle and then discarding them. Skim fat from surface of broth.
Return strained broth to pot, then add rice and simmer, partially covered, stirring occasionally, until rice is very soft, about 30 minutes. Stir in shredded chicken and chopped cilantro.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Rexing with Fresh Blueberries and Organic Yogurt

I haven't really gone out to any new places lately, so there's not that much to write about. I'm rexing save for some organic low fat vanilla yogurt and a handful of blueberries (because it's really too hot to eat anything else).

Fresh blueberries are so much better than the preserves that you get in blended yogurt. Toss them into plain or vanilla varieties of yogurt. Try Stoneyfield Farm brand--a little runny, but tastes yummy. And it's organic if that matters.

If I keep this up, maybe I'll end up looking like Jackie (I'm really not that obsessed with her):

Sunday, July 29, 2007

A Summer Escape: Crabs in St. Michael's, Maryland

The main street in the town of St. Michael's

Though DC has everything a person could want, sometimes, one just needs to get away. And lucky for us, there are several great destinations within a few hours drive of the city. This weekend it was St. Michael's on the Eastern Shore of Maryland that I visited. A quaint little town full of cute shops, cozy bed and breakfasts, and simple but elegant, eateries, it is a very peaceful place--perfect for a brief escape from the frenzy of the city. St. Michael's is described in the official tourist brochure as:

[A] diminutive well-preserved vintage port, whose origins date from the birth of the colonies, is nestled between the loping Miles River on the north and the vast vistas of Michener's Broad Creek to the south. a collage of handsome churches, manicured colonial, federal and Victorian homes, historic heritage, diverse artistic talents and pleasant southern culture. It is also the proud cradle and repository of the Chesapeake's maritime history.

The Chesapeake is also famous for its crabs. So, when I got the invite for an impromptu jaunt down to Gooseneck Farm (a friend's estate-like vacation property overlooking a cove off the bay), I jumped at the chance. The weekend was full of relaxed and lazy fun, complete with cute and affectionate water-bottle-stealing-labs, AMAZING Maryland crabs (see description below), midnight boating, and lounging by the pool. It was rough having to "slum" it in the pool house--really tough as you can tell.

The "slummy" pool house

So...the crabs. Yeah, nothing is more summertime than dumping a bushel of crabs on a newspaper-lined (or in this case, our host's Post-It easle board paper-lined) picnic table. And the fun casualness of going at it with some mallets and your fingers--with nothing more than fresh corn (from the property, I believe), a baguette, and the ripest, reddest tomatoes as accompaniment--was so relaxing and fun. No pretentions. No worries. Just fun.

Everything was just plucked. The crabs were heavily seasoned and steamed in Old Bay. We went to town and picked up the bushel from the funny little deli/market called Big Als (where you can get wine, crabs, and bait). We even made more seasoning of a mixture of white vinegar guessed it...more Old Bay. So good. The sliced tomatoes and boiled corn required absolutely nothing given the main focus of the crabs, which were really sweet and delicate beyond the spicyness. It was a perfect evening there by the pool under the full moon. There were a couple torchiers, a candle on the table and plenty of Chardonnay and crazy talk.

...with one of the crabs...ugly but delicious.

Afterwards, we went for a midnight cruise along the bay on the host's boat, dodging oyster lines and boueys in the dark. The labs came too. And so we idled somewhere out in the water for a time...laying back, staring at the moon and the stars. The dogs were at my feet, quietly nuzzling.

View of the cove from the main house

In the morning we lazed around the pool a while...reading our pseudo intellectual tripe including Freakonomics and Marcus Aureleaus. Special, huh? What's even more special was Casey, one of the labs, stealing my water bottle as I was "engrossed" in my book:

Casey, helping herself to some Propel water

This is the only way to spend summertime: quiet and lazy days full of nice people, a couple of cute pups, some crabs, and a boat...

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