Wednesday, May 30, 2007

What-Washington-Eats Wednesdays: Paul Wolfowitz and the Neocon Style

Today, the White House named current Goldman Sachs executive and former trade representative, Robert Zoellick, to replace Paul Wolfowitz at the helm of the World Bank group. Poor Wolfie...Is Saha worth it? Is it true that he couldn't manage himself out of a paper bag? What about what some of his detractors (at Salon) might say:

"The simple fact is that Wolfowitz has throughout his entire career demonstrated a penchant for cronyism and for smearing and marginalizing perceived rivals as tactics for getting his way. He has been arrogant and highhanded in dismissing the views of wiser and more informed experts, exhibiting a narcissism that is also apparent in his personal life. Indeed, these tactics are typical of what might be called the 'neoconservative style.'"

So where does a neocon go for grub in this town? Some might guess somewhere expensive and 1789:

Situated in a Federal period house in residential Georgetown, 1789 Restaurant is known around Washington DC for fine dining and elegant ambience. Decorated with American antiques, period equestrian and historical prints and Limoges china, its five dining rooms offer comfortable surroundings.

One of the few Washington, D.C. restaurants with a dress code, 1789 requires that men wear a jacket. In addition, jeans and athletic wear are not permitted.

Nothing says "for us only Americana" as equestrian historical prints and a dress code. Perfect!

Despite all that, [former]** executive chef, Ris Lacoste (who is actually friendly, warm, and engaging) has won dozens of awards and accolades for her creations and has helped to make 1789 a real stand out. Frommer's had to say this about her work:

Lacoste varies her menus daily, but two dishes for which she's especially known are the oyster and champagne stew with Smithfield ham and walnuts and the roast rack of Colorado lamb with creamy feta potatoes au gratin in red-pepper-purée-infused Merlot sauce. Also look for appetizers of lobster tart on puffed pastry with mushrooms, leeks, and tarragon, or grilled quail with barley and mushrooms, and entrees that range from osso buco with risotto Milanese, to ginger glazed sea scallops with pea shoots, mango, and curried pistachio rice. A hot fudge sundae is one of several decadent dessert options.

*This Wednesday series is dedicated to what (in)famous Washingtonians eat.
**see totally awesome comment about new Chef Beauchamp by an earnest reader with a malfunctioning irony meter

Friday, May 25, 2007

"They'd love you in Asia because you have big eyes"

What? Yeah, someone actually said that to me last night. First, I don't have big eyes. Second (and perhaps related), they ignore me in Asia.

This is what happens when you have one too many Japanese beers on a beautiful evening on the rooftop deck at Perry's: There's a stretch for connections to all things Asian. Like the menu...there's a Japanese touch, although most of it is nouvelle American. They have pretty decent sushi and the crowd is always lovely. This evening there was a group of Norwegians. They're really beautiful people. Seriously. (I digress.) It's a great place to go even if you just want drinks. They have an extensive beer and wine menu and the service is very friendly.

But if it's food you want, check out my "review" of their mussels here. Also, here's what says about Perry's very talented sushi chef, Noriaki Yasutake:

Noriaki Yasutake, the inventive sushi chef at Perry’s, was inspired to follow a culinary path by his father, a sushi chef who owned and operated the family restaurant in Fukuoka City, Japan. At 18, Yasutake came to the US to pursue his training and continue honing his craft as a sushi chef by working for his uncle at Matsuba in Bethesda, Maryland. From there Yasutake went on to work in New York with mentor sushi chefs Haruo Ohbu at Inagiku Restaurant and Hiroshi Nakahara at Bond Street Sushi. Yasutake took home second place in the World Sushi Olympics in London this October with his Fish and Chips Roll, a dish that expresses his evolving style. The Roll is built from a crispy tempura batter intensely flavored with dashi, rolled in fragrant shiso and nori and topped with a quenelle of fluke tartare. The roll is garnished with a wasabi tartar sauce, sweetened with pickled ginger rather than the traditional chopped cornichons. For an extra crunch Yasutake garnishes the roll with two impossibly thin and crisp potato fries.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

What-Washington-Eats Wednesdays: Monica Goodling

Washington's latest 'Monica', the former Justice liaison to the White House, testified before the House Judiciary Committee today after being granted full immunity. She denied playing a major role in the firings of U.S. Attorneys last year, and basically fingered DAG, Paul McNulty, for misleading Congress.

Expecting an emotional and tearful testimony, House staff strategically placed a box of tissues nearby. She let them down. She didn't cry. In fact, she stood her ground. Yet, she was not exactly the image of the strong, sharp, Ivy League-pedigreed Washington lawyer one would expect. Instead, she came across a bit provincial, a tad pedestrian.

I venture to guess Ms. Goodling's favorite eats may include chicken and biscuits at Cheesecake Factory or, when she's feeling really crazy, the lo mein combo at PF Chang's--both conveniently located next to malls everywhere.

*This Wednesday series is dedicated to what (in)famous Washingtonians eat.

Monday, May 21, 2007

I Made This! Sauteed Calamari and Linguine with Tomato Basil Raw Sauce

(I know, this doesn't look amazing, but it tasted pretty fantastic!)

After months of eating out almost every night, I've decided to get back to cooking. I love cooking as much as I love eating. However cliche or maudlin this may sound, there's something spiritual and nourishing about preparing a meal. I stopped by the grocery store on my walk home from work and picked up some fresh squid, parmigiano, linguine, and a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc.

I wanted to make a light Italian meal with simple little courses. In this case, I could only muster up two. And I'm not sure they're entirely Italian or in the proper order. Here's what I did:

Primo (the first course): Sauteed fresh whole calamari with garlic and a side of asparagus.

Trimmed the asparagus and sauteed them in garlic and olive oil. Removed them from the pan. I then dusted the raw squid with a little flour and seasoned lightly with salt and pepper. Sauteed it in the same olive oil until slightly brown.

Secondo (the second course): linguine dressed with basil, garlic and tomato raw sauce

I coarsely chopped and squeezed the tomatoes into a bowl and added to them chopped fresh garlic, a bunch of torn fresh basil, a generous grating of parmigiano reggiano, and about two tablespoons of olive oil. Then added the warm pasta to the ingredients. The heat from the cooked pasta wilted the basil slightly and softened the tomatoes, which readily yielded their juices. Added some red pepper flakes and more parmigiano before serving.

What a simple and gratifying Monday night meal. You should try it. Email me if you need the exact recipe...but I do everything by sight and taste, so I would only be guessing...

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Short Cuts at Cafe La Ruche

Decided to try Cafe La Ruche the other night. Many times we walked by the quaint little yellow-facade building off of M Street in Georgetown. The restaurant has more curb appeal than anything else...

La ruche is French for beehive. Cute...but not so much on the inside. In fact, it's a little gross. I don't know what was worse, the service or the food. "Jean-Pierre", our server, was a large sweaty man in an old t-shirt and apron (he reminded me a little bit of either a Super Mario Brother or Khalid Sheik Mohammad). At any rate, if he represented the best foot forward in the "front of the house"...I was afraid to imagine the kitchen. [Shudder.] (Actually, I imagine the kitchen to be a scene out of National Lampoon's European vacation, where they heat up frozen dinners in the micro.) I know many restaurants use shortcuts in their food preparation, but it was really apparent at La Ruche.

I had a watery "potage pariesienne"--translation some leeks and a few potatoes floating in salt water. We also tried the crab soup. It tasted remarkably similar to Campbell's tomato soup with a bit of Old Bay. The canard d'orange was an amazing feat of grease and dryness. The skin was appropriately crispy, but the over-generous dousing of jarred Chinese duck sauce turned parts of it into a candied, gooey mess. It was served with a lifeless combination of yellow and green squash and some diner-like seasoned potatoes. Then there were the mussels. A let down. They sat atop a bit of tomato sauce that might have been soup at one point. Not strong enough to flavor the mussels. And not enough of it to keep the little shelled creatures moist. Matt had the flank steak that was covered in a brown "reduction". It was A-1. Heated.

I think this place is more for desserts and coffee than dinner. A cafe, indeed is supposed to be simple dishes like quiche and baguette sandwiches. They did have a good selection of "french toast-wiches" like Croque Monsieur and Madame. We should have gone with those.

I don't think I'll go again...

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

What-Washington-Eats Wednesdays: Fred Thompson

Republicans are red-meat eaters and Fred Thompson is apparently no exception...kinda. When asked about his favorite food to cook, his response: “Democrat’s head.” I guess that would make him a blue-meat eater. At any rate, Freddy may have very well frequented Capital Grille when he was the Senator from Tennessee. CG is a serious meat place. Paneled walls, club-like (as in cigars and high-armed leather chairs--not glow sticks and white pants) atmosphere, incredibly rich dry-aged beef, and an impressive selection of over 400 wine offerings make this a big daddy sort of establishment. And Mr. Thompson is quintessentially big-daddy. As an actor he always played authoritative figures: a White House chief of staff, a director of the Central Intelligence Agency, a highly placed F.B.I. agent, a rear admiral, even a senator.

Here's what CityGuide has to say about the "bastion of beef":

Capitol Hill types flock to this bastion of beef, even those who prefer seafood or veggies. So do locals celebrating big events and tourists in the know. Slabs of beef satisfy the biggest carnivore, as do lamb and veal chops. But succulent salmon and luscious lobster fill a seafood need. Vegetarians in tow can dine nicely on massive baked potatoes, salads and sides. Martini seekers love the "create your own" bar, and the wine list -- more than 300 strong with many by the glass -- pleases the fussiest wine critic. Service is warm without being gushy.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Hank's: Like a Day at the Cape

The rule of thumb for raw oysters is to eat them in months that end in ‘r’—the cooler months when the chance of bacterial contamination is lower. Well, you can get them year-round at Hank’s Oyster Bar in Dupont Circle. Hank’s is New England beach food at its best: simple, fun, and unpretentious. This time of year they get oysters shipped/flown in from the Pacific Northwest. Recently, we had the absolute best time eating some beauties from Washington State and also tried some from British Columbia. I prefer the briny and crisp taste of east coast oysters, but some of these west coasters surprised me by their strong and salty flavor (they're usually creamier and softer on the palette). Perfect with lemon and hot sauce. Skip the cocktail or mignonette. Tobasco is the only way to go. Add a wheat beer, side of garlic steamed broccolini and Old Bay fries and it’s like you’re on the your flip flops...and patchwork madras pedal pushers. You get the image.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Modern Dance and Martin's Tavern

We went to see my dance instructor, Maurice Johnson, perform with El Teatro de Danza Contemporanea (a modern dance company) at the Gonda Theater on the Georgetown University campus last night. Though I'm a dancer, I'm not a dance critic, so I won't give up any judgments. But it was great watching him and the other talent run, spin, pose, and girate in all their powerful athleticism.

Before the show, we had a drink at Paolo's. I'm not a big fan of the food there. It's typically uninspiring. So we held off and had dinner after the show at the great Washington landmark, Martin's Tavern. I say "great" not for the food, but for the tradition and legacy of the place. It's a Georgetown institution. Since 1933, the tavern has served every President from Truman to GWB. Parents and children come to celebrate their alma mater and the spirit of olde G-town. The menu has remained consistent through many culinary trends and fads. People continue to return to the classic American fare of great steaks, chops, seafood, fresh pasta and the good old-fashioned comfort food that is the hallmark of the Tavern.

The menu is extensive and is mainly comprised of pub and tavern mainstays such the Hot Brown and Welsh rarebit. We started with oyster stew (which was good, heavy with cream and large, fresh oysters) and the crab-stuffed mushrooms. I didn't love the mushrooms. They were bland. This time of year they offer soft shell crabs. So delicious. I had two, pan-sauteed and topped with a lemon caper sauce. The sauce was a little bit awful, but the crabs themselves were extremely fresh and of great quality. They were served simply with steamed spinach and white rice. I also had a half bottle of Elk Cove Pinot Noir '05 from Oregon. Not bad. I like that they have half bottles. The one highlight was the bread pudding we had for dessert. According to the menu it was voted the best DC dessert in 2005! I guess I'd say it's up there. A large cube of cinnamon and raisins packed goodness was drenched in their house-made bourbon and butterscotch sauce. Yummy. So, aside from this one dessert, the food is not terribly amazing, but the outdoor seating is great for people watching. And you have to go at least once to experience the history.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Lox Three Ways

I paid way too much for a package of salmon lox the other day. To my shock, half of my $30 grocery bill was the salmon. Most of you know that I think salmon is prolitereate for dinners out, but lox is a different story. (For the uninitiated, lox is smoked salmon fillet that has been cured and then often cold-smoked. The cold smoking does not cook the fish, resulting in its characteristic smooth texture, similar to the raw product.)

I think I really need to get my money's worth. So instead of just putting it in my sandwich (with a slathering of creamed horseradish sauce, bunch of sprouts, and handful of greens on cracked wheat sour dough), I will put the fish to use in real recipes. Here are three good ones:

Smoked Salmon and Potato Galette

Smoked Salmon Frittata

Smoked Salmon and Caviar "Pizza"

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

What-Washington-Eats Wednesdays: Jessica Cutler

As I mentioned, this (usually) weekly series on famous Washingtonians' eating habits covers both the famous and infamous alike. This week, we'll feature the latter. For those of you who don't know this young lady, read about her here and here.

Though Miss Cutler now resides in NYC, I suspect she would have really enjoyed the new M'Dawg Haute Dogs in Adams Morgan.

Related: Does anyone know the ingredients in butterface pie?

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Bar Pilar and The Question of Quality on a Monday

We dined at Bar Pilar last night. I wasn't astounded. Perhaps it's because it was a Monday night when the b-team gets to practice. Or maybe it's hit or miss with a menu that supposedly changes daily. Who knows. Overall, the small plates menu lacked variety this evening. We sampled the risotto (I love risotto). A light and simple rendition of the classic italian dish, this was accompanied by cubes of firm yellow squash and a grating of parmagianno. Unfortunately it lacked seasoning, as did the other dishes, including the calamari. I liked the presentation on the calamari, however. A whole squid, sauteed, rested on a plate of thick tomato ragu. It was a little tough and the sauce might have been from a jar. But the calamari was fresh, and I loved the idea of slicing into it whole. The strip steak was pretty good--I mean, how can you mess up steak, right? It was glazed with some sort of sweet mustard and served medium-rare (of course) with grilled spring onion. The star of the meal was the soft polenta. It was extra smooth and creamy and topped with a small variety of mushrooms including the funny little enoki variety. A delight.

Bar Pilar made me question eating out on a Monday because sometimes chefs may not try as hard. Is that the reason why many establishments are closed on Mondays? They like to recharge after busy weekends? Thoughts? At any rate, this place serves a purpose. It's a cozy neighborhood bar that offers reasonably priced small plates. There is an amazing variety of beer and a great selection of wine (that changes weekly and is often paired with the ever-changing menu). I like Bar Pilar. I have hope for it. I just won't go on a Monday night again.

Monday, May 07, 2007

I Want Mussel(s)

...not the kind Diana Ross sang about. I'm referring to the hard-shelled molluscs of the saltwater variety. I try them whenever they're on the menu. Any menu. From the classic french moules frites to nouvelle interpretations with curry and can't go wrong. Following are some recent savorings:

~In white sauce at Vermillion, Old Towne (basic, lots of garlic)

~Moules frites in chardonnay sauce, Bolero Brasserie, Bermuda (substantially-sized, chardonnay and garlic sauce, classic)

~Steamed in unctuous yet delicate yellow curry and fennel sauce, Perry's (amazing, the sauce was the star here--we had to fight the server to leave the remainder for our bread)

~In tomato sauce at Rosemary's Thyme (small, perhaps not so fresh, bland sauce)

~Again a basic, pureed and strained tomato sauce at Hank's Oyster bar (large, good quality mussles, sauce is simple, but good--better with a dash of Tobasco)

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