Friday, December 19, 2008

Au revoir, Les Halles, you were a great lunch spot for the downtown office crowd.

Now where will we go? This is old news, but Les Halles (the DC location) closed up shop mid November. The reason? High rent. After fifteen years, the increasing commercialization of Penn Quarter that has driven up prices, almost doubling LH's rent, has caused them to fold. Sadness.

The spot was great for hanger steak frites and waiters who smell and speak French. You may also know the restaurant for the exploits of its famous (and my favorite celeb) chef, Tony Bourdain.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

What Washington Eats Wednesdays: Dinner Impossible at the DC Improv

Have you ever turned on the tv and seen a surprise, out of nowhere? I did. Last Wednesday night. This is remarkable for two reasons, okay really three. First, I rarely ever watch television. Second, it was a friend whom I'd never, ever imagined seeing on television, let alone NATIONAL television. Third, it was the Food Network, and this friend, Joe (head closest to the pot in the picture to the left there), is no gourmand. In fact, I'm pretty certain he subsists on a diet of beer and cereal. So I was shocked to not only see Joe on tv, but national tv, and most importantly on FOOD TV!  I, of course, had to watch. It was apparently an episode of Dinner Impossible that was filmed back in February with Robert Irvine at the DC Improv (before Irvine was replaced for lying on his resume). Joe, aside from coordinating focus groups for a political pundit, is a talented comedian. And he, along with some other improv students, got to help Irvine prepare a meal for 200 people using weird ingredients like Hot Pockets, Ramen Noodles, and Ketchup! (Ironically, or coincidentally, I think Joe is a connoisseur of these food items.) Here's what they created:

First Course: Salad with avocado and pomegranate dressing and tempura HOT POCKET!

Second Course: (They forgot to buy Tilapia so they had to make
 due) Bratwurst and RAMEN!

Third Course: Butterfly chicken stuffed with crawfish and cheese and tomato salsa. Pork with KETCHUP onion sauce. Tomato with corn and brussell sprout sauce 

Fourth Course: Coconut milk
flan with kiwi

Apparently, it wasn't bad at all! Very creative! I love improvisational cooking, and do it all the time. That's probably why I'm better at creating meals than baking. No planning, no worries!

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

I love ratatouille (the movie and the dish)

First off, Ratatouille is perhaps the best animated movie ever. Second, Tony Bourdain loves it. And anything Tony loves, I love.Ratatouille the dish is basically a country vegetable stew from Provence/Occitane, France, typically made with zucchini in the summer months. But with the stewed tomatoes and the fact that we can get all kinds of vegez year round, why not make it on cold evenings? 

 I made a shortcut using squash along with the classic zucchini (but held the eggplant). Basically, cube and sautee the vegetables along with onions and garlic, some thyme and basil. Add tomato sauce (I prefer the Cento because it's light and has no sugar or additives). Not so secret tip: add a little chicken bouillion and wine to give it a long simmered taste. All it requires is about 20 minutes until the vegez are soft after bringing it to a boil. 

Typically, the dish is served as a side or with rice. I just topped some whole wheat pasta with it. Done!

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Going Posto

The long awaited Posto restaurant opened its doors in the old Veridian space at 14th and Corchoran Friday night!! We decided to try it last night (its second night), and I was pleasantly NOT surprised that it was VERY GOOD. You wouldn't know, save for the unfinished electrical work behind the host stand, that they're still ironing out the kinks. First off, the service is attentive and friendly. Our water glasses never got more than half empty. When a person in our party dropped a knife, a bus boy hurried over to replace it before she sat back up after picking it up. Secondly, the prices are very good for the quality of food. Following the popular trend of more accessibility vis a vis cheaper sister restaurants to upscale venues--a la Citronelle and Central; Marcel's and Brasserie Beck--the owners of up-market Tosca created this more democratic eatery. The menu consists of simple Northern Italian fare, using fresh, locally grown ingredients...and they even have a wood-fire oven for pizzas. The structure of the menu is, of course, italian with the first two courses appetizer-like. The first course (primi) is mainly a choice of salads and/or bits of protein, second (secondi) is mainly pasta or hearty soup, and the main course is the usual larger portion. I opted for a very lovely GRILLED OCTOPUS SALAD with frisee and other greens in a lemony fresh vinaigrette. Others in the party had the green salad with arugula and large thin slices of pepper parmeggiano. By the way, CORKAGE IS ONLY $20. So reasonable. We brought two bottles that they opened and minded for us. Again, the service is attentive for such a casual place. Actually the food reminds me of Sette, but the service and atmosphere ARE SO MUCH BETTER THAN SETTE. Instead of a main I got the secondi of a lightly fried, CREAMY POLENTA with a americiano sauce, which is basically a light red sauce sauteed with bacon. The balance of the tangy sauce worked well with the richness of the polenta. Jules had a delicious, and small, secondi of hand-made ravioli stuffed with walnuts and spinach in a light olive oil sauce. DELICIOUS. Our two guys got a main of BRAISED VEAL CHEEKS that were so melt-in-your-mouth savory, it tingled. The desserts were lovely. We had a fabulous SQUASH AND PINENUT SEMIFREDDO that was just the right amount of sweet with a bit of smokey carmelized popcorn and a yummy cinammon gelato. All very well balanced flavors! But if its chocolate and more chocolate that's your passion, there's the MARSCAPONE MOUSSE with a chocolate shot that our friends shared! Yummmm. And the best part? The prices. Low 20's or high teens for the mains eight to ten bucks for the primi and secondi's. They even treated us to a little Muscato, sweet sparkling wine after dinner! Given that the ingredients, service, and preparation were so good, we all agreed we'd come back. Unlike Veridian, where we made half-hearted attempts at returning to give them (many) second chances, POSTO made a great first impression and we whole-heartedly look forward to coming back for more!

Saturday, December 06, 2008

For breakfast this morning, I had cheese toast and a(n) honeymoon announcement

So as I was drinking decaf and eating toast this morning, I realized the toast needed something. When Mr. R axed me what I was doing, as I grated Grana Pedano on my toast, I said, Adding umami.
Somehow relatedly, he then told me he booked our honeymoon to Italy. We're going to Italy? Yeah, free first class tix, and we can figure it out from there. I knew it would come down to Zurich/Venice or Shanghai/Tokyo. I guess Mr. R decided on the former, which is fine with me! FOOD-WINE-ART-FUN, are

coincidentally my four favorite things. Lake Como? Venice? Florence? Now he's making me look through Travel & Leisure and Wine Spectator for ideas. Oh the decisions. For now, all I know is that grating a hard, nutty cheese on my butter wheat toast was one of the best breakfast choices of my life.

p.s. you've probably been wondering why I've been so prolific lately. It's because my camera works again! Recall that I dropped it in a bowl of clam juice this summer. For months I've been using Mr. R's POS, and to be honest, it was totally bringing me down.

Pork and Leftover Sides

I just realized something: We eat a lot of pork. And leftovers. I'm sure you recognize the turnip mash and broccolini. They've seen better days. I had the unoriginal idea of marinating and grilling pork chops. The marinade is different each time I do it. This time it was mustard, Worcesteshire, dried basil and olive oil. Quick, boring, conservative, but pretty good.

Note: Mr. R gets credit for grilling the porkchops outside in 30-some degree weather. Because he's principled like that (and thinks men who complain about grilling in the cold are pushies).

Friday, December 05, 2008

A good idea

Recently, I had the following email exchange with Hi-Po about an entry I was working on about Dinner Confidential, the Food Network show:

Roganista: yeah, i saw my friend joe on dinner confidential when i was flipping channels the other night...i should write something in the blog about that...

Hi-Po: You should sign up for that show.

Roganista: should! and make turkey burgers.

Hi-Po: How do I sing up for that?

Roganista: sing up for that? how about sing a ballad about turkey burgers.

Hi-Po: I can do that! I(t) will go something like this.. Burgers are the best in town and no one is ever going to bring them down….Turkey is the best in town and no one is ever going to bring them down….Turkey Burgers are at the best in town and no is ever going to bring them down… Then repeat….Thrice times

Roganista: that's nice. how about we take some polaroids of you singing that into a tape recorder while wearing a diaper in the stall of a tastee freez bathroom?

Hi-Po: ...Also before I am on the show – I will need to prepare a bunch of platitudes (like its all in a days work) and (you get what you pay for) maybe something about (too many cooks in a kitchen) to say on the show. I should also come prepared to talk about my wife and how she has a lot of clothes.

Roganista: yes.

Hi-Po: This is really going to work….

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Trout and Turnips

We had trout the night before last. Breaded. Pan-fried in butter. Trout. I boiled the one remaining turnip--that I peeled for Sunday's stew but didn't use--along with some potatoes in chix stock and made a mash. Yes, turnip mash. Micro'd some leftover broccoli rabe from the other night's mussels fun. And Done!

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Moules Frites (Mussels and Sweet Potato Fries): Jetlag edition

As I mentioned in the last post, we went grocery shopping bright and early Sunday morning. We purchased a shizload of stuff with only a vague idea about what we'd do with the ingredients. I like vague. Vague=multiple degrees of freedom. So in the fridge I had mussels, the beer I mentioned last time, sweet potatoes and some herbs. I had shallots, but no garlic. No garlic? How could I forget garlic? I guess that's what happens when you find yourself shopping early Sunday morning jetlagged. Good thing my pantry is stocked with garlic powder (don't judge me).
Anyhoo, we had all the stuff of moules frites (and some broccoli rabe)!

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Turnip & Beef Stew

I was really jonesing for some comfort food when we returned from Bejing Saturday night. So Sunday morning, still on Beijing time, we rose early and went grocery shopping. Since it was entirely too cold, rainy, and ugly out, I came home and started a beef stew at around 9am. I had purchased some turnips and beef cubes, had some red potatoes (along with some other vegez) in the crisper, and some bottles of black lager left from a party we had months ago. I put it all together and made a stew that I cooked in the crock pot for about eight hours while I laid around recovering from the bit of jetlag.
Served it over brown rice and enjoyed with a nice Foris pinot from Oregon.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Another Beijing Thanksgiving!

It's Monday night. We got back from our week-long Thanksgiving holiday in Beijing on Saturday. Surprisingly, I'm not too jetlagged. This year, our expat American hosts (who threw a great T-giving last year) were not in town. They did, however, let us have free reign of their swanky digs! So we relaxed, ate at various friends' homes and even had stir fried lamb and potatoes on Thanksgiving! But we also made a point of eating out at a lot of western restaurants this trip. Beijing is surprisingly sophisticated in terms of its food culture. It's not the kung pao chicken and noodles town that you think it is. We visited several great places. One is a new restaurant of contemporary American cuisine and the other is an old Belgian bistro favorite. Though English is spoken sparingly, the service in Beijing, and dare I say Asia, is outstanding. People are very eager to please and grant your every wish. (But don't be one of those abusive douchebags if you go--mainly because you probably fly coach and/or went to a third tier state school. So. Be cool.) If you're ever in this bruised-eye alley cat of a town, be sure to try, at the very least, Salt and Morel's...
A new arrival is the fabulous and ultra contemporary spot called Salt. The chef is the EXTREMELY young and talented Venezuelan-American, Ana Esteves. We enjoyed a so-so sparkling wine from Washington state (wine is expensive there!) and a very nice lunch of perfectly al dente scallop risotto, some nice starters of a very substantial beef tartare with parmesan, garlic, and parsely, and a white fig salad. Dessert was also pretty fabulous: goat cheese panna cotta. YUM! The spare, clean, and stylish aesthetic of Salt is obvious in the plating as well as the decor. This place is great.


We had a moderately priced, very casual and fatty Belgian meal at Morel's. Starters included a shrimp stuffed tomato (basically seafood salad next to a seeded tomato); scallops with that orange vein thing attached, and a Chateaubriand for two with pomme frites, ratatouille, and peas and carrots for the main! And for dessert: a Belgian waffle with whipped cream and chocolate syrup. Yum. Also, we brought--all the way from the U.S. (again, wine is very, very pricey in China)--our own bottle of Bourdeaux. They are smart business people at Morel's--they understand the concept of corkage (100 yuan, which is approximately $15). The food was decent and the atmosphere almost Belgian/French with its cozy and relaxed faux painted walls, exposed wooden beams, and tiled floor. Here's what Frommer's had to say:

"ItalicMorel's reputation as the best Western restaurant in the city is a holdover from a less competitive era, but this is nevertheless a fine restaurant, with a rare, fanatic devotion to quality. Owned by Belgian Renaat Morel, one of China's most respected European chefs, and run with help from his wife, the restaurant has a casual and cozy feel, its yellow walls and green-and-white checked tablecloths reminiscent of someone's home. The food is simply presented, and side dishes are somewhat limp. However, main courses are supremely done, particularly the wonderful Flemish beef stew with tender chunks of meat, cooked over many hours in a mix of Rodenbach beer, bay leaf, onion, and thyme. Soups change daily and always sell out. The restaurant also has an astounding array of Belgian beers; they now have their own range of purpose-brewed ales. Best of all, however, is the signature Morel's dessert: a near-perfect waffle -- save room for it -- made in a real waffle iron hand-carried on a plane from Belgium."
I heart Beijing's food culture!
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