Monday, August 24, 2009

Don't Forget: DC Restaurant Week

Washington, DC Summer Restaurant Week
is August 24-30, 2009.

Nearly 180 of metropolitan Washington, DC's finest restaurants offer awe-inspiring, multi-course meals prepared especially for this gourmet event.

Destination DC and the Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington are proud to present the 15th Washington, DC Restaurant Week from August 24-30,2009.

Lunch: $20.09 for a three-course fixed-price meal
Dinner: $35.09 for a three-course fixed-price meal

Beverages, gratuity and tax are not included.

Check out participating restaurants here.

We'll be heading over to Taberna del Alaberdero one night this week. Maybe we'll see you there!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Chicago Weekend: Part 2, Vomit Avec Blackbird

Sister restaurants, Avec and Blackbird are located next door to each other.

Chicago is only an hour and a half plane ride, yet worlds away when it comes to dining. I love DC, but Chi-town is a real city with its skyscrapers and distinctive food culture. They have hot dogs and pizza styled after their town...and they love their tater tots. (Do we have DC-style food?) But it's the fine dining that is really promising (or is it?). Don't get me wrong, DC is starting to really come into its own, and has some incredible spots. But we still have a ways to go.

Anyway, we tried to skip the popular, stalwart treats to savor the other half of Chicago's food scene. We did everything from Le Colonial for French-Vietnamese, to Alinea for a real gastronomic experience (think micro bacon on hangers and lavender pillow chargers that deflate while you eat) to Blackbird.

After my "frenchy" snack in the hotel, we washed up and went out to the West Loop Gate area of town to try Avec, a fabulous, amazingly well-priced, and creative wine bar*.

They don't take reservations at the tiny, wood-paneled mod spot, (which attracts the young hipster, boho set) so we waited outside in their little courtyard. Next door, at their less interesting (but more refined; read: they take reservations) sister restaurant, Blackbird, there was no line. But the menu was a lot more expensive, and a lot less interesting. It goes to show that creativity and quality doesn't need to mean pricey.

We would have waited indefinitely for Avec. However, at one point a petite asian lady made her way to the front of the restaurant to get some air. I remarked to G that she didn't look well. A few seconds later she lost her dinner in front of us. The smell was horrific. We promptly left to go next door.

A little disappointed, we settled in for dinner at Blackbird. They had a pretty good wine list.We had the Ayres Pinot.

They started us with an ever-so-popular-it's-tired-now amuse bouche. It was a bit of shrimp with micro cilantro and basil crumbs. The combination was most definitely Southeast Asian. Nice.

We shared a "cheese salad" of Fayette Creamery "Avondale Truckle" cheese with bibb lettuce, cherries, artichokes and sunflower sprouts. It was mainly some blue, a semi-firm cow's milk cheese, and some bits of wild mushroom chips on a bed of bib lettuce. Decent. Funny how these things happen, but I was interested in it because of the sunflower sprouts. I don't recall seeing them or anything very interesting. In fact, I didn't taste the cherries or artichokes either. Oh well.

For the main, I had "schnizel" -- yes, there are a lot of quotes, here, to indicate an interpretation of the real thing. The ersatz german treat was actually abalone (a sea snail or mollusk) and mushroom with brown butter yogurt, snow peas, apricots, crispy maitakes and oregano. It was nice, but after several bites, it took on the aroma of wet dog. So I couldn't finish it.

From top: cheese salad, abalone schnitzel, Wagyu steak

G had the wagyu beef. It was grilled flatiron steak with smoked quinoa, baby swiss chard, goat's milk caramel and lemon balm. Though not a great cut, it should have been a bit more tender. The smokey rub on the meat was a bit overwhelming and had an artificiality, maybe like liquid smoke. The quinoa and chard mixture was a bit flavorless, but the caramel lent a nice sweetness that cut through all the strong, musky, char flavor.

Overall, it wasn't a terrible meal, but it wasn't great. The menu read like a who's who in popular niche ingredients, and I think it was more appealing in print than in product. However, the service was really pretty good. White tablecloth and all.

After our late dinner, we went back to our hotel room and had the macarons to cleanse our palates of the oddly semi-good dinner. But the next day and night we fared much MUCH better at Le Colonial and Alinea (see part 3).

*G went back to Avec this week and said it was absolutely fantastic.

My Weekend In Chicago: Part 1, "French" Snacks

G has been in Chicago for business. I flew there for a little visit Friday night. En route in the cab, I called him to tell him about the traffic and the fact that I had a minor headache with a touch of hunger.

He was so sweet to have fries and Champagne when I arrived. Fried potatoes and bubbly is the best treatment for a headache.

And in the room, the hotel supplied apples and MACARONS! More macarons! How funny and sad. They were nowhere nearly as good as the Laduree I was just gifted the day before (and had to put in the freezer before my trip). Sigh. But they were a very pleasant surprise and enjoyed nonethless.

A great start to the weekend. We then went on to dinner at (ostensibly) Avec ...(see Part 2)

(BTW, I dropped my camera again. The lense is acting up. So it was difficult to manage good photos. I need a new one. Preferably an SLR. Any suggestions?)

*Image source for skyline photo here (post processed by moi).

Thursday, August 13, 2009

We have the best friends--friends who will smuggle things for us!

As you know, my obsession with macarons, Laduree macarons, is deep, shameless and abiding. So it is no trivial matter when someone presents to me said macarons. First of all, they cannot be shipped to the US because of their extreme perishability. Second, and relatedly, it's hard to get them into the country because they're considered a fresh food item, and thereby are not allowed through customs.

Well, our friends, who shall remain nameless (but who are French and recently got engaged) just got back from a trip home to visit their families (to officially announce their engagement) and brought back LADUREE macarons--in tact and uneaten!!!!
They are so delicious. I've never had their summer flavors--which include lemongrass, Moroccan mint, coconut. They are just as good as their permanent flavors of violet blackcurrant, orange blossom, and salted caramel! All in this beautiful boite! Absolute heaven and a real treat!
Thank you C & A!

Eat Good, Do Good for DC Restaurant Week: Harry's Tap Room and DC Central Kitchen

Harry’s Tap Room to donate $5 to DC Central Kitchen for every $35.09 dinner purchased during DC’s Summer Restaurant Week, August 24-30, 2009.

"Restaurant Week is such a great celebration of the tremendous restaurants in our region and we get so busy that week, we decided we should do something to celebrate our patrons this year. As thanks for choosing Harry’s, we will provide our guests with the opportunity to do good while dining well. For every Restaurant Week menu sold, Harry’s will contribute $5 to DC Central Kitchen,” commented Michael Sternberg, co-founder, Harry’s Tap Room.

“DC Central Kitchen was selected by Harry’s Tap Room not only for their contribution to feeding the homeless of DC and training men and women for careers in foodservice, but also for DCCK’s initiatives to provide fresh, healthy meals to those in need,” said Michael Kaufman, co-founder, Harry’s Tap Room & chairman of the National Restaurant Association.

“ DC Central Kitchen has always relied on strong partnerships, especially with our friends in the restaurant industry who have helped us become what we are today. Through creative programs like this, we are able not only to provide healthy nutritious meals but to train men and women who are looking for a second chance and to live a life of self-sufficiency. Our programs, especially the work we are doing with local growers and farms, very closely mirrors the sustainability work that Harry’s has been doing for many years, long before sustainability was hip. We see this program as just another opportunity for businesses, nonprofits and the community to work together in a very simple way to create tremendous change” commented Michael F. Curtin, Chief Executive Officer. DC Central Kitchen & The Campus Kitchens Project.

As Restaurant Week approaches, the DC Restaurant Week Menu selections for both the Clarendon and Pentagon City locations will be posted on Harry’s Tap Room’s Web site.

About Harry’s Tap Room –, 703-778-7788
Harry’s Tap Room buys organic or naturally-raised products, drawing seasonally from the local farms of the rich countryside of Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania – including Tuscarora Organic Growers, Old Meadow Farm, Help From Above Farm, Hares Valley Growers, Jubilee Organic Farm, New Morning Farm, Shoestring Acres, Lil’ Pond Farm and Next Step Farms. Produce is free of pesticides and other chemicals. Beef is naturally-raised and hormone-free. Chicken is free-range (and naturally-raised hormone-free). Their organic eggs and hand-churned butter come from Trickling Springs Creamery in Pennsylvania .

Harry’s has two locations in Arlington , VA -- The Fashion Centre at Pentagon City Mall and The Market Commons in Clarendon -- and two locations at Dulles Airport – Main & B Terminal.

About DC Central Kitchen -, 202-234-0707

DC Central Kitchen began its first phase of operations on January 20, 1989, redistributing the excess food from the Presidential inauguration. The Kitchen is founded on the premise that when fighting poverty, one must fight to win by using every resource available. Be it food, money, or people, we at the Kitchen hate to see wasted potential. Since its inception, DC Central Kitchen has used the kitchen as a central location to recover unused food, prepare and deliver meals to partner social service agencies, train and employ homeless men and women for the food service industry, and intellectually engage volunteers.

About DC Restaurant Week -

Nearly 180 of metropolitan Washington , DC 's finest restaurants offer awe-inspiring, multi-course meals prepared especially for this gourmet event. Destination DC and the Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington are proud to present the 15th Washington , DC Restaurant Week from August 24-30, 2009.

Lunch: $20.09 for a three-course fixed-price meal. Dinner: $35.09 for a three-course fixed-price meal
Beverages, gratuity and tax are not included.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Old School Clambake at the Army-Navy Country Club

A couple Fridays ago, we met G's parents at the Army Navy Country Club for one of their themed dinner nights. It's old school. Not luxurious or swanky. But definitely sweet. It's actually one of the best kept DC secrets. Located in Arlington, near Pentagon City, it has great views of downtown DC and the monuments...

On this night the theme was an island-style clambake. We got cute little "beggars purses" filled with clams, mussels, polish sausage, and vegetables. Though not the best quality stuff, it was fun to eat.

There were funny little details including a fire pit for s'mores and a steel drum band!

The dessert bar was nice. It had all the staples of summer, including watermelon, cookies, brownies, and make-your-own sundaes. Again, very basic.
But the best part was the s'mores that we made by roasting marshmallows over the fire pit. I hart campy. Literally, like camp.

Good view, okay eats. Not too bad. And if you squint a little, you'd almost convince yourself you're on a beach somewhere.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Eventide: Even Good!

My friends teased me with, What's wrong with you? When I said I'd gone to Arlington for dinner. (Mainly because we live downtown near so many great restaurants.) However, Tuesday night, I ventured out to Clarendon to meet up with a friend at Eventide.

To be honest, I wasn't excited.

But that quickly changed when I waited for my friend at the downstairs bar and had an Argentinian sparkling Chardonnay, Alma Negra. It was not bad...but the pour was huge! On top of that, the place was not crammed full of people. Given, it was a Tuesday night, but still, they make it a policy not to let it get too crowded. I REALLY like this. Anyway, the generosity of the glass and the attentive bar tender were signs of good things to come.

When my friend arrived, we went upstairs to the dining room, which was a dimly-lit, high-ceilinged, velvet curtain extravaganza. It was quiet despite being cavernous, and really beautifully outfitted in what can only be described as lounge chic. Our server told us that everything from the rugs to the curtains, and even the textured place mats were purposefully chosen to reduce noise. Smart.

We started with a nice gazpacho shooter with a bit of curried pine nuts (I think). It was very lightly seasoned, but had a nice subtle flavor. Then we moved on to our starter of a jumbo lump crab salad with pickled watermelon rind! I went to college in the south, and am no stranger to pickled melon rinds - so delicious. We were surprised by, again, the generosity of the portion. The crab, in particular. I expected a bit of lump crab on a large bed of greens, but it was quite the opposite. The plate was covered in crab and there were touches of fresh water melon balls and strips of the salty and tangy pickled rinds. Fantastic.
Speaking of Southern, the biscuits were truly authentic, and delicious. Dense but fluffy all at once, with a bit of butter glaze on top. Very good!

I had the La Quercia Pork Chop, which was wrapped in Prosciutto and accompanied with lemon braised Swiss chard, summer peach & bourbon compote, heirloom peppers. I had a decent Pinot with it, but I forget the name. It was a nice twist on, again, Southern flavors (e.g. pork chops and greens).

My friend, Abby, had her favorite - salmon. It looked pretty with an accompaniment of fresh pea ragout and cornmeal gnocchi. But, seriously, why order salmon when you have so many more interesting things to savor? I almost got the squash "linguini" with battered...SQUASH BLOSSOMS! But I was hungry and wanted something more substantial.

Overall, it was a lovely experience. The service was attentive and friendly without being too imposing (you know, like at chain restaurants where the waiter wants to be your buddy and asks you if you're "still working on that" - there's none of that). Give Eventide a try - you won't regret it!

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Easy Summer Cold Sauce

No, not a sauce for your summer cold. A cold sauce of stuff from the garden. Yep, more tomatoes and basil. What can I say, that's what's growing. And free from the garden. Good for the lazy and recession-minded.

Years ago, when I was watching Jamie Oliver, I got a quick lesson in an "easy peasy" summer sauce. It requires no cooking, and is so full of flavor, you'd step on an old lady for it (to quote my dear friend, Mike). The fresh herbs are strong as is the garlic, but they make a good foil for the sweet, ripe tomatoes and slick olive oil. I make it almost every week during the summer. All you need is fresh tomatoes, basil, thyme (or any green herb), garlic, olive oil, and paremsan.

Cut up the first four ingredients. Toss them in a bowl with about a 1/2 cup of olive oil. Press down on some of the tomatoes to expel their juice.

Add hot pasta on top along with the grated parmesan and a pat of butter. Season to taste.

Serve with something grilled or go to town on it alone.

We had this nice 2004 Hall Cabernet with the meal. Though not light, it worked with the strong flavors of the beef and the herbs and garlic from the pasta.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

You can't get fresher than squash blossoms.

Garden-fresh is so nice. Whatever my mother has growing in her lovely kitchen garden, I'll turn into something. I picked these lovely little squash blossoms the other weekend.

Squash blossoms (the flowering part of a zucchini or squash vine) are a treat generally unavailable to all but home gardeners and habitu├ęs of farmers markets. They’re so extraordinarily perishable that few supermarkets bother trying to keep them in stock.

Here's what I did with them, along with the acorn squash they were growing with.

Washed and dried the blossoms. Sliced the squash into thick fries......made a batter of 1 cup flour, 1/2 cup cornstarch, and 1/2 cup beer. ...then fried everything in a half an inch of very hot vegetable oil. Get the full recipe here.

I also made a Caprese salad out of the tomatoes I picked (also from Mom's garden) and the basil (the mint you see was for a cold sauce for the lamb) from my deck. Added some bufala mozzarella from the Italian Store...

Grilled up a couple racks of lamb we had in the freezer (thawed and marinated hours earlier).

And the garden fresh summer dinner was done. Try squash blossoms whenever you can. They're tender and delicate and a nice little treat.

*UPDATE: Reader "Gay Andy" used this batter to fry tilapia in peanut oil. He said it turned out amazingly.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Happy Birthday, Mr. Presidentttt!! Free Stimulus Cake!

Today, August 4, is President Barack Obama’s birthday, and Dominos is encouraging anyone that shares the President’s birthday or any August birthday, to go into their local Washington, DC Dominos and get a *free* Chocolate Lava Crunch Cake, their newest dessert! You know you love free. Click here for participating restaurants.

Source: Associated Press

Domino’s will be celebrating August birthdays all month long. From August 3 – August 31, consumers with an August birthday can stop by their local Domino’s to receive one FREE Lava Crunch Cake on their birthday. Proof of date required, identification can include drivers license or birth certificate. Minors without driver’s license need to be accompanied by an adult.

**To make this more fun, we’re giving away a $15 Dominos gift card to the first person who can name the restaurant where we celebrated our engagement.** Email me at

Monday, August 03, 2009

Polo And Pot Roast

We visited with our friends, Travis and Suzi (the ones who hosted a dinner in our honor before the wedding), at Twilight Polo Saturday evening. During the summer, arena polo is played every Saturday in Great Meadow. Travis and Suzi raise polo ponies and are involved in the community. There grandson, Wyatt, plays and is apparently very good given he's only 13.

This particular evening, Suzi made Wyatt's favorite meal, pot roast, for the picnic! She laid out a lovely spread that included pot roast, boiled and buttery potatoes, roasted carrots, and Cesar salad......and her friend from the garden club, brought these garden fresh tomotatoes. They are so qualitatively different from store-bought tomoatoes. Look how red and smooth they are on the inside....
There are many interesting characters in the polo community. The woman who brought those tomatoes has a farm with her husband. They supply hay to many of the horse people (apparently really good hay) as well as produce to many local chefs. Even the referees have interesting stories. Here is PJ Leaky-Chan(?), one of the refs. Involved with the horse community, he moved to the Virginia countryside almost two decades ago from Jamaica. His family owns the famous Pickapeppa hot sauce company. ...and of course, Suzi had a bottle on hand for the pot roast. It has a mild, sweet, tangy flavor. According to their website, Pickapeppa is created using a unique blend of tomatoes, onions, sugar, cane vinegar, mangoes, raisins, tamarinds, peppers and spices and aged in oak barrels for up to a year.

Also on hand was some wine. They set up a smart little bar. G and I brought over some rose Cremant (a French sparkling) and the locally grown, Linden Avenius Sauvignon blanc (good old standby - we have cases of this stuff).

A lovely night. Great for families with kids. Even good for a date. Check out Twilight Polo for more information.
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