Wednesday, December 31, 2008

RIP

As it appears that I am recently deceased, I figured that I now have plenty of time on my hands to devote to blogging. Thus, even though my blogs have been few and far between as of late, in memoriam to me, look forward to regular posts in the future (I'll at least keep the resolution through this week, I promise).

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Thanksgiving Plans?


Hey readers, I'd love to hear your culinary plans for this year's holiday. Any variations on traditional favorites? Anybody not like turkey in your household (I know someone who enjoyed kangaroo last year, after spending time in Australia)? Any family traditions that perhaps only involve your family?

Our gatherings involve some of the traditional fixings...these include turkey, green beans, and sweet potato casserole, though my sweet potatoes involve more of a souffle and I'm looking to lighten up the green bean casserole this year. Plus, given the Asian heritage of my husband's family, we also enjoy Chinese-style vegetable wrappers, something like a make-your-own spring roll.

So, let's hear about your holidays...what are your wacky traditions? Fun customs? I'm all ears.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

A Tree Grows in the West End: Founding Farmers



As I sit watching our election results pour in, in this the most patriotic of times, I'm thrilled to write to you about a restaurant brought to us by our Founding Farmers. With its locally-grown initiative, coop ownership, and LEED certification, those that bring us, as they term it, "true" food and drink", also bring us creativity, social responsibility, and economic independence for our original small businessmen. Most importantly, though, Founding Farmers brings Washingtonians delicious offerings from small and local farmers and ranchers.

The enormous menu at FF reminds me of something one might find at the Cheesecake Factory, not one of the most sought after scenes in town. Comfort food favorites, classically-twisted appetizers, salads, sandwiches, and steaks all stare back at me. When Hudson opened, I was promised an upscale diner experience. When I showed up in Uggs one Friday evening, I was both disappointed and a bit embarrassed about my severely underdressed status. The promise Hudson failed to meet, Founding Farmers fulfills. While I still would not recommend venturing out to FF in Uggs, the comfort level is pronounced. The decor, service, and that overstuffed menu all made me feel right at home.

With plenty of classics and unique cocktails, as well as an impressive wine list, the bar menu at FF is comprehensive. I enjoyed the Organic Cucumber Delight, made with organic Ketel One vodka, cucumber, and cantalope. This refreshing beverage served as a nice thirst quencher and palate cleanser. Also on the menu are a variety of hand-crafted virgin beverages, including a tart lemonade enjoyed by my dining companion.

Next, we turned our eyes to trying to choose to first courses. With tempting salads, charcuterie, flatbreads, cheese plates, and other small plates, we found it too difficult to pick. Our table shared the deviled eggs platter, speckled with the original delicacy, as well as lobster, crab, and smoked salmon versions. To compliment the house-cured bacon lollis, we ordered a small salad to split as well. The lollis were meaty, sweet, and altogether decadent. The salad, while not earth-shattering, was tossed with two of my favorites, a light sherry vinagrette and candied walnuts.

As if we weren't already stuffed, we then both found it hard to pass up the salt-rubbed prime rib; one rare, and one medium-rare. Served with mac and cheese, and a squash casserole, this meal was served on a classic diner platter, large enough for a pot roast. Not a lot of lightening up during this course, the accompanying horseradish sauce was the perfect strength and consistency, while the au jus was gravy-like goodness. I was too stuffed to even consider dessert after this hearty main plate (though I should confess that my alternative choices were the chicken & waffles or the steak & enchilada plate, neither exactly a waste-watching choice).

While I passed up dessert on this occasion, that doesn't mean I gave up on it altogether. Come on folks, I'm never that desperate. I carried home a generous slice of carrot cake served with a thick and creamy frosting, as well as caramel drizzle. So decadent, so delicious. Across the table, my dining companion took on the apple galette, a puff-pastry-wrapped confection. Sampling a taste, I would migrate towards the cake offerings, including the carrot referenced above, as well as devil's food and red velvet, all topped with classic cream cheese frosting. In the end, I finished my meal with the Intelligentsia coffee, which served as the perfect compliment to the perfect meal.

I left FF overstuffed, and overhappy. A comfort food dining destination in the heart of the business district. My next visit will probably be at lunch, where I hope to enjoy a sandwich, soup, or entree salad. FF offers enough choices that I'll have to visit a least a few more times before I can offer a comprehensive review. At first glance though, things are sprouting up well.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

I Can Eat Anything I Want Today

That's what I have been telling myself ever since I started training for a half-marathon, back in early July. Twice a week I would put in reasonable distances, 5 miles or so. Never were those distances so grueling that I couldn't stay within the Weight Watchers points system. But, on Saturdays, at an ungodly early hour, my team and I would head out for a minimum of 7 miles, often more than 10. And each time, I would come home in need of coffee and lots of protein. Then, as the day wore on, I would eat both lunch and dinner with a laissez-faire attitude of "These calories don't count...I just ran X miles."

On the day of my half-marathon, my immediate post-race meal was a Philips' crabcake sandwich. Mmmm....yummy Baltimore goodness. Goodness that lasted about 5 seconds as I scarfed it down. Later that night, I enjoyed appetizers, salad, entrees, AND dessert with coffee at Big Bowl, part of the "Lettuce Entertain You" chain that is synonymous with large portions.

See, the problem comes in with the fact that these finely-tuned machines we call our bodies need fuel to run. When we operate at full capacity, we need more fuel, meaning we are hungrier, thirstier, need more electrolytes, you name it. When we take in the additional fuel to keep operating, this builds muscle. It take a whole lot of running to solely tone and not build muscle. In fact, for the first 8 weeks of my training or so, I actually continued to gain weight because I was building so much muscle (not to mention the fact that my butt may have stuck out further - yikes!). Now, that's not to say that my body is not in a lot better shape than when I started. It is. But, I guess that I never considered that getting to this point would mean I wouldn't lose massive amounts of weight. I mean, come on, I've put in hundreds of miles of training. Seriously, at least 5 pounds? No?

So, my love of food has placed my in a quandry. While I've always been able to enjoy everything I like and keep, adding the element of serious exercise (beyond just the recreational) seems to throw off the formula. A veritable foodies' dilemma has faced and continues to face me (still in training, just no longer for a half-marathon) - enjoyment or fuel. Can't a girl have both?

Monday, October 13, 2008

It's Our Anniversary


So, my husband and I are celebrating four blissful years this winter. I'm planning ahead and looking to pick a great spot. We've had some near-perfect dining experiences over our past years, including the tasting room at Restaurant Eve and the Inn at Little Washington, four star winners on Tom Seitsema's annual dining guide (out this weekend). Given that things have worked so far, I'm looking to apply the same formula....this year's options include CityZen, 2941, and Komi. Each has attributes. CityZen's menu looks fantastic and chef Eric Zielbold has gained lots of critical acclaim. 2941 is French and looks to be fantastically romantic. Johnny Monis' Komi is a popular special occasion dining destination. Hmmm, which to choose...I'm making tentative reservations (well in advance, mind you; I'll certainly cancel in a timely manner) and seeking any and all advice in the meantime. Let me know your thoughts and preferences.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Word on the Street

Living in the metro area,it so often happens that we yuppies rarely venture off course to explore areas not immediately accessible by Metro or via a cheap taxi fare. (With ratings such as this, one might wonder why we ever would). When we do venture outside of our "zone", however, we are often rewarded. Just a short drive from the Ballston-Rosslyn corridor, Lee Highway (Route 29) offers a plethora of reliable and distinctive dining options. In fact, this family friendly area provides a nice escape option for my husband and I on regular occasions.

Italian Store, Metro 29 Diner (in fact, I just enjoyed half of last night's heaping open-faced sandwich for lunch today), Artisan Confections, as well as Sushi Zen, Taqueria el Poblano, and Pie Tanza, all in the Lee-Harrison Shopping Center are all great options. Feel free to name others, I may have missed one...Cowboy Cafe is also good, though more of a bar than a restaurant. Still on my list are Portabello and Thirsty Bernie's (though I have to question this Washingtonian piece citing its location as Clarendon)...cannot wait to add more favorites.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Jackson, Welcome to My Inner Circle

Ok, this is no longer breaking news, but I think it's worth mentioning that Jackson has now opened in the ever-expanding Reston Town Center. I'm quite happy to welcome the newest member of the Great American Restaurant chain that so consistently serves up quality fare. Perhaps not every dining experience is innovative, but these locales rate amongst my inner circle faves. Now, let's just hope that Jackson doesn't lose focus with this seafood/comfort food/sushi concept. I'll be sure to add on post on my thoughts as soon as I take a trip to the burbs.

Friday, October 3, 2008

ho-hum

I don't know if it's just me, but trying new restaurants in the area has been less than fulfilling for me recently. My reaction has been a general sense of "ehhh". In the last month or so, I have tried DC Coast, Acadiana, Majestic (ok, that was not just ehhh, it was bad), Art & Soul, even the Atlantic City location of Gallagher's Steakhouse, the venerable New York institution. Granted, none of these places charge the type of prices for which customers can expect absolute excellence, but these are restaurants that enjoy certain reputations. Truly, however, they do not seem to measure up. Over and over, the sense I continue to feel is that I am failing to be wowed.
(Oh, and as for Atlantic city, my first and quite possibly only visit to the Jersey shore...not returning to that boardwalk any time soon; saltwater taffy is sooooo no worth it.)
Instead, I yurn for my inner circle of familiar favorites, and yes, at times, even chain dining. For me, the comfort invoked in knowing what to expect can be just as inspiring as the perceived innovation of a particular chef. I find that I want to return to places like Metro 29 Diner, Nam-Viet, Coastal Flats and Sweetwater Tavern of the Great American Restaurant Chain, Five Guys, Cosi, El Pollo Rico, yes I even went to Applebee's recently to order off of the Weight Watchers menu ....is this nostalgia, it is apathy? Who knows? What I do know is, that for the immediate future, I am just not up for more culinary adventures that turn into disappointments. Look for me at one of my regular spots.

Friday, September 26, 2008

A Win for the Nats

As the National eclipse the 100 loss barrier, we struggle to find a positive for our lovable losers (beyond the smiling face of Manny Acta, mind you). We look for a silver-lining on the season, and some positive press, ok, any press for the Nats. I posit that perhaps we can take some comfort in knowing that among DC foodies, the Nationals take the prize.
Among the offerings at our local sports venues, Nationals Park offers a tempting array of culinary treats. First off, I must clear the air and admit that of my three visits to Nationals Park, two have been to see the Cubs. Don't judge too quickly, however. I have praise to heap. Not only is the selection at Nationals park incredibly variant, with all of the major junk food categories covered (as well as minor, with kosher knishes and multi-grain pretzels available as well). Fans also have to applaud the effort to include local favorites such as Ben's Chili Bowl, Red Hot & Blue, Cantina Marina, even the ice cream. Plus, if you can't find something inside the park, you can carry in. You could dine on something new and delicious if you attended a game for several nights in a row (last time I checked, no one, even the beat writers, had done so). Even the sports bar, with great game views, multiple televisions to check out other sports action, and a respectable selection on tap, gets points.
Not that the other local sports venues put up much of a fight. In comparison, Verizon, FedEx, and RFK aren't even in the ballpark (ok, that pun was just too obvious to not be intended). Verizon has burgers and chicken fingers, and comparably short lines, but that's all that's worth mentioning...Now that RFK is limited to DC United games, it is difficult to get more than a hot dog...And FedEx, quite possibly worst of the three, let's just discuss Daniel-Snyder-ten-dollar-Johnny-Rocket-burger (pretend drunken men with Cajun accents are repeating this over and over; the effect is much funnier).
Nationals Park also stacks up well when compared with its MLB counterparts, quite well in fact. Take the Cubs for instance, where the malt cup and lemon ice, the Wrigley staples from my childhood, still play prominent roles. At least some things you can count on, because evidently the Cubs sucking it up is not one of them anymore (two division championships in a row, what is this?!). We still have the playoffs though, so don't fret too much. I'm sure a Bartman, or Buckner, or a pesky goat will come by to knock us down a notch or two. Ok, before I turn this into an entirely different post....

This season was sad for the Nats. Not only was the performance rather pathetic, but attendance was as well. The Nats can do better, and we expect them to. They are going to need some fan support, though. So, a challenge; go for the food, and stay for the game. While dining on the tasty goodness, cheer on the Nats a bit as well. Perhaps we'll have something to look forward to beyond our happy bellies.

Monday, September 8, 2008

It's a Dog-Eat-Dog World




My dog is currently getting away with murder - she's in the "teenage stage" of puppyhood and chewing up what she sees. Yesterday's victim was our coax cable. You'd think the girl didn't eat. For goodness sakes, she gets an all organic diet. Her snacks include freeze dried liver; isn't that basically foie gras?! But, nooooo, she needs to supplement with the occasional rug here and there. I, on the other hand, need to start treating my stomach with the same love as my dog's. Yesterday's pizza supplemented with upside-down cake has me feeling a little nasty today.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Where have you gone Joe DiMagg...I mean, John McCain?

Oh dear, I'm quite afraid this post may go on and on. You see, I've pent up all of my feelings and not yet blogged about this tiny little issue facing America - just the small chore of electing our next Commander in Chief. You see, we all know that it will be ok. Even if we seriously f@#$! up, it can't get any worse. It just has to get better, right?

Why then, do I address this election with such consternation? Why then, do I feel that we are at the most important crossroads of our lifetimes, maybe those of our parents as well? Why am I totally stressing out this decision after over a year of campaigning and before a single debate?

You see, to begin, I need to go back about 8 years, when I was in college - hopeful, idealistic, stubborn - ok maybe I'm not as jaded as I think - maybe I'm still hopeful, idealistic, stubborn. Anyway, back then, I informally volunteered for McCain's first presidential campaign. I admired, respected, really adored him during that time, back before the social conservatism that defines the right was so gripping, back before Karl Rove decided who Republicans should vote for, back when things kind of made sense. That's when we needed to elect John McCain. Now the choice is whether we should.

Over the last two weeks, I've seen a lot of interesting displays. I've come to find that Joe Biden, while fake, pushy, and well, too much of a union lover for my taste, is not really as bad as I thought. I've learned a lot about the families and backgrounds of Obama and McCain. I've learned that Cindy McCain has had a lot of work done (she really used to be a pretty lady). I've discovered that I don't think I can take two more months of listening to Sarah Palin's annoying voice. I've felt for young Bristol Palin, being used as a token symbol, as news cameramen were barely able to point their lenses away from she and her boyfriend during her mom's speech.

After these two weeks, I'm more torn than ever as to how I should vote this time around. I've believed in John McCain for a long time. I think he's a good man, with good ideas, and the brashness to think independently. Suddenly, however, McCain's ideas and independence have disappeared, replaced with the party lines of Karl Rove. In the last year, suddenly McCain is pro-life? His realistic immigration plan (the only one to be found among any presidential candidates this go round) isn't being mentioned at all? Our climate crisis seems to not concern him anymore? Is McCain willing to do this to get elected? And worse, is this what it takes to get elected in this country?

Truly, I thought both candidates' nomination acceptance speeches were emotional and inspiring. Both men were in their element. This WAS John McCain, the real one. But, when the REAL John McCain stood up at his own party's convention, he found no support for being himself. Who were these backwoods idiots filling Xcel Energy Center? OMG, any non-partisan idea was met with limp-handed applause. Anything that might move our country forward was just a segue for the next potential social issue for the old, white, ignorant, hate-filled lynch mob (I won't go into appearances, it would just be too much) - it's like they were waiting on baited breath for him to mention a Constitutional ban on gay marriage. Frankly, they seemed quite upset that abortion's not at the top of McCain's agenda. Rudy Guiliani - don't get me started; that was just disgusting. AND, lest I forget, did you hear about the vulgar threats hurled at Tom Brokaw and Brian Williams, the liberal media, according to that crowd?! Tom Brokaw - Grandpa??!!

This new Republican Party is not the one I signed up for - and I mean signed up, as in registered. I am tried and true a fiscal conservative. I believe in small government. Allegedly, my party does too. Though, you wouldn't know it these days. Do any of these narrow-minded imbeciles understand what pro-choice means? Do they understand that it means the government doesn't invade every facet of your life? Do they understand that as much as a woman has the choice to not keep her child, she has the equal choice to have that child, even if disabled or potentially fatal to the mother? Quite simply, the answer is no. (Personally, I think we have Bill Clinton to blame for this - if he'd been able to keep it in his pants, W wouldn't have prevailed on a pure family-values platform. We wouldn't have been in this mess because McCain would have been our nominee. Bill's the one to blame. That, and the fact that Al Gore is just annoying.)

Then, these Rovites (ew, new one, I might use this again) try to streamline social and fiscal conservatism into one neat little pre-wrapped package available at your local Wal-Mart. Puh-lease. Can you imagine how much the pointless litigation to overturn Roe v. Wade costs our judicial system in any given year? How expensive would it be to enforce a ban on abortions? How many resources would it take to keep up with the millions of additional humans in this country if abortions were illegal? Let's not pretend that your social agendas can possibly lead to low taxes.

Sometimes it takes a defeat to actually re-orient and get back in touch with America. It may be what Republicans need. Sadly for McCain, that time is probably now. If he wins, however, the right will just say "look, we can just keep trotting this stuff out every four years and win again" and they would be right.

So, I'm left with a candidate I used to love who is pandering and surrounded by this crowd of people who disgust me. The alternative is an inspirational figure who could symbolize an enormous change for this country, but whose policies I fear would mean economic disaster. The problem is that change may have to cost us. Oh dear, what's a voter to do? Hopefully, the debates will give me some direction.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

If it ain't broke...

As I've noted previously, DC has become quite the trend-loving town. I fully embraced the boutique burger influx, but now, I'm faced with the decision of which DC trend to explore next.

I mean, we've got the Fro-Yo craze, with TangySweet and Mr. Yogato following on the heels of SweetGreen, and a long-rumored Pinkberry. Also, a la Arlington's EatBar, gastropubs have popped up in the Columbias - Heights and Maryland. And most indicative of DC's need to embrace trends, bitches watch out, because cupcakeries are the new black. I mean, Holy Cupcake Batman, if not our everyday citizens, our local media and bloggers are game to prove that Washingtonians sure can embrace a trend.

In addition to following in the footsteps of other city's trends, it seems we're also perfectly happy to welcome their chain casual-dining destinations as well. Not that I'm complaining, mind you. I think it's all great - I'll just use this opportunity to shout out that the 22201 is willing to welcome new culinary commerce as well.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

On the Road Again...

So, as you may have noticed, my blogs have been less than frequent as of late. Traveling will do that for you. It will also provide lots of material about which to blog. So, a summary of my recent tour of five Eastern locales....

Lake Michigan's Eastern Shore

Ok, you're right, this is not so much a city, but rather a region. Indeed, it is the region of my roots. One of my favorite treats when returning home, apart from the plethora of breakfast-only diners that dot mine and other small towns in the area, is fresh water fish. Whether grilled, broiled, or fried, such varieties as bass, walleye, pollack, and bluegill are always scrumptious. None, however, compare to perch. After enjoying a plateful at the local Elk's Lodge for less than $10, this tasteful memory of my travels is the most vivid. If you ever find yourself in the Great Lakes region, this is a must.

Now, a short bonus lesson for you city-dwellers. In case perch ever adorns a menu around these parts (which sadly, it never seems to), remember this simple rule. Lake perch is one of the most mouth-watering delicacies you may ever enjoy; ocean perch is a overly salty, mushy excuse for fish. The distinction often seems lost in this area, but the difference cannot be stressed enough. THEY ARE NOT THE SAME - I'm talking to you, fish monger at the Maine Avenue fish market - you need to know the difference between perch from the Atlantic, Lake Michigan, and whatever you pointed out that had found it's nasty way out of the Potomac. Not all perch are created equal, but if you choose carefully, you will be rewarded.

On to the Windy City....

Chicago

There are two foods I always associate with Chicago - deep dish pizza and Polish sausage. Given that I was in town for a day and a half, I judged that my stomach lining could not handle both in close proximity, so I was forced to choose. I went with the deep dish. One could debate one deep dish joint over the next for years. Don't worry, Chicagoans will continue to carry that flame on our behalf ... Personally, I usually choose Lou Malnati's. There are several reasons for this - their sausage is served in large chunks, you can call ahead to order for purposes of reducing your wait time before that first bite, and finally, with so many locations, you're likely close to at least one outpost.

Really, deep dish is pretty simple. I mean, when we are talking about this many calories, it's bound to taste good, right?! What makes a Chicago-style crust different, in addition to the obvious increased depth, are cornmeal and lots of butter. Not too much sauce, not too much cheese. Keep those pointers in mind, and you are bound to find pure joy. Just one other thing to remember.... don't pretend to order spinach thin-crust and then place your grubby paws on my sausage pie. It will not end well for you!!

Philadelphia

With my whirlwind visit, I did not have a lot of dining opportunities. While I'd hoped to visit Morimoto, the timing just didn't work out. I did walk by, and the oddly-shaped nature of the exterior was not particularly inviting. In the end, I wasn't all that disappointed. Instead, I was treated to a catered hoagie lunch. This is the perfect opportunity to bring up a nagging question that has continued to bother me - Practically speaking, what is the difference between a hoagie, grinder, hero, submarine, deli sandwich??? Any insight would be appreciated.

Atlanta

A work-related trip took me to the ATL, land of strip clubs and CNN. While I wasn't generally impressed with the prices or offerings of Atlanta, at least in the city itself, we were able to locate a couple of finds. Our per diem for the week was spent at Richard Blaise's Home. On par with local destinations such as 1789 and L'Auberge Chez Francois, Home is Atlanta destination dining. Rather than going through a course by course analysis, I'd rather talk about our experience as a whole. It can be summed up in two words - Southern Charm. The ambiance in the wine cellar for our group of 15 was intimate and warm. The service was friendly, polite, and knowledgeable. We were even treated to a short visit with the chef, whose main concern genuinely seemed to be our pleasure with his food. Order heavy southern treats here, and you'll leave with a smile.

My only other stop worth noting was one of the least expecting. While out running, past several strip clubs mind you (notice the recurring theme?!), I was intrigued when I passed by Gladys Knight's and Ron Winan's Chicken and Waffles, and immediately decided to return. Reasonably-priced, this was a great treat. The name says enough - the fried chicken and waffles are the stars of this celebrity-owned show. And you can enjoy the offerings as well - there's a location in Largo.

Washington, DC

Finally, after altogether too much travel, including a 9 hour delay at O'Hare, I was thrilled to return home. Though I was out of town for most of restaurant week, we were able to fit in one reservation. I'd had Acadiana on my list for quite some time, so restaurant week seemed a perfect opportunity to try it out. All in all, I'd give it a C. If you've ever been to N'awlins, then you would likely agree that is far from authentic Cajun. The gumbo is not the Brennan family recipe, but that doesn't mean I left any on my plate. The turtle soup approximated what I had come to expect of the dish. The desserts were sweet and satisfying, but not memorable. What can I say? I have high standards for creole cuisine. That being said, this is the closest you're going to get in DC.

Ok, now I'm exhausted yet again. There's still more travel on the agenda (though Hurricane Gustav may put a kink in those plans), so look forward to more travel posts soon.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Weekend in Review: Monterey Bay Fish Grotto
















For some time now, I've been excited to try Monterey Bay Fish Grotto, open since March, when the Lerners opened this outpost of the Pittsburgh chain. Washingtonian's recent review, of course, raised some concerns, but I'm a seafood fanatic, so I remained steadfast in my quest to try it. Last weekend provided an opportunity, and I'm quite pleased that we took that opportunity.

"The Grotto" captures the essence of Tyson's. Most tables enjoy views of the office buildings and areas cleared for potential development, several high-end sports cars are parked in the valet area, and most of my fellow diners were typical shoppers (you know the type) from the nearby Galleria at Tyson's, all indicative of quintessential Tyson's Corner. I was comfortable, nevertheless, in the appropriate space adorned with hanging wicker fish and glass waterfall murals. A section of the restaurant is free standing, and is reminiscent of the fish houses lining Monterey Bay in central California (the structure, not the atmosphere in the dining room).

The menu is extensive, and heavy for that matter, with twenty-three varieties of fresh fish available on this occasion. According to our waiter (who, while informative, was at times overly self-wise), all of the fish, including the Hawaiian-caught, is flown in within 24 hours. Diners are given recommendations in terms of preparation, though as we are told, fish can be done "any way you want it". Also on the menu for the evening was an $85 tasting menu, complete with five courses. While it sounded tempting, especially Black Squid Linguini, for which I'm always game, the options were limited. In the end, we wanted more choice than decadence, and chose to order a la carte. I was disappointed, however, to find that the linguine could not be ordered separate and apart from the tasting menu.

Among the guests at our table, the Artisan breads were a hit, including a pretzel roll, which I must say was FAB-U-LOUS. For appetizers, the Ahi Sashimi Quartet was heaven, including tuna-wrapped lump crab, and three seperate tartare presentations. I will recite this once, and only once - order a Hawaiian fish here. Yes, there are 23 varieties of other fish, and all sorts of other distractions, but save yourself the time, and do as I say. The Walu Escolar, Ono, and Opaka-Paka are all delicious, as are the Caribbean and Forbidden preparations. Dessert was also a treat, particularly the luscious Orange Creamsicle Cheesecake.

Really, I don't have many complaints. The shrimp cocktail, served with a presentation of dry ice, lacked a flavorful cocktail sauce. The Hot Chocolate Latte, though tasty, was a bit heavy to accompany fish. But, really, when these are your complaints, there isn't much to complain about. Evidently, other locals agree.

I would note is that if you don't eat fish, don't bother coming here. It would be a waste to order anything else (including the fried seafood offerings). We actually saw a large family march in, with six or seven kids ordering hot dogs and spaghetti - it seemed such a waste of the cuisine, and the occasion. Speaking of occasions, this is a great spot to celebrate. The prices are steep, so this destination is perfect for a celebratory treat (perhaps on mom and dad?!). The apparent Japanese and Hawaiian influences make this a unique dining experience from the sea - a must on my list.

Monday, August 11, 2008

I Heart My Mango Slicer


I bought my OXO-brand mango slicer about a month ago, much to the dismay of my husband, who thinks it's inefficient to have a kitchen tool for one single solitary purpose. Well, I don't see why one has to purchase new versions of NBA Live and Madden every year - Can't the games just get an update for the new players ever year?! But, I bite my lip, and I'll continue to so. But, that does not mean I'll do without my mango slicer.

I used it for the first time today, and I must say, I love my mango slicer. It is awesome. I did not have to cut the pit, or eat around it, or generally make nearly the mess I usually. And at the end, the sweet satisfying taste of creamy ripe luscious mango. Yum - I'm a happy girl.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

THE LIST

Been out of town for a few days, so no new posts lately. Meant to add this before I left, but alas all things that one is supposed to do before one leaves are left by the wayside for the things that one has to do before one leaves. Anyhow, below, in no particular order, I've included THE LIST, the restaurants I want to try and keep in my little black book to visit some time soon. I'd love to hear what everyone thinks.....

Cowboy Cafe
Eli's Delicatessan
Zorba's
Plum Blossom
Kemble Park Tavern
Blue Duck Tavern
Marvin
Morrison Clark Inn
Bangkok Joe's
DC Coast
La Strada
Cassatt's
Flavors Soul Food
Buck's Camping and Fishing
Comet Ping Pong
Woodmont Grill
Cynthia's
Bistrot du Coin
2941
Redwood
Citronelle
Domaso
Bastille
CityZen
Obelisk
Soo Woon Gabi

Some in the city, others not. Let me know what you like. What's worth the trip? What's all hype? So, while I play catch up for a few days from my out of town trip (look for posts soon on my Midwestern favorites), comment amongst yourselves.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Cartoons come to life


If you are like me, you loved Ratatouille the movie. Even though it was animated, my mouth was watering with each scene. I was intrigued to find this recipe for Remy's Ratatouille, and thrilled when I tried it.

It worked like a charm. As I do with almost every recipe, I improvised a bit and substituted sliced tomatoes for eggplant (some residents of this household are not fans). Not only is this dish delicious and simple to prepare, it is also a beautiful presentation.

A Pleasant Surprise: Liberty Tavern

Friday night, with no dinner plans as of 7:30, I found myself searching Open Table for a last minute opening. Hungry and not wanting to travel far, the availability of an 8:00 slot for two at Liberty Tavern in Clarendon caught my attention.

Half an hour later, upon being promptly seated, I ordered a glass of Sauvignon Blanc and the bread basket soon arrived. The wine was served almost warm, and the bread was not notable, so we were not off to a particularly stellar start. Our attitudes would soon shift, however, with the introduction of spectacular opening courses, a salad of octopus and grilled shrimp for myself, and braised short ribs for my dining companion. The ribs, served on silver dollar pancakes, melted in my mouth (yes, I got to try not one, but two bites that were spared, no pun intended), completely fused with flavor and leaving behind entirely the texture of the meat. The salad, lightly dressed with a citrus vinaigrette, red onion, mint and mandarin oranges, was refreshing and just generally palate-pleasing. The octopus surely was the star though, a unique grilled treat.
For our main courses, we enjoyed the smoked pork chop and pan-crisped mountain trout. The pork chop was heavy for a summer evening, but nevertheless tasty. The "milk and honey jus" tasted a lot more like a butter sauce, but provided a nice compliment to the juicy chop. The goat cheese souffle was nice, but not worthy of any particular acclaim. On the other side of the table, my dining companion thought that the lavender butter sauce overwhelmed the trout. Personally, I thought the flavors meshed well, especially with the house-cured bacon. Both dishes included perfect tender-yet-crisp snap peas, something I always enjoy as a seasonal side. In the end, we were both too stuffed for dessert.
All in all, the food was of an unexpected caliber. I'd been for the scrumptious brunch, but I was nevertheless skeptical of the evening fare that my fellow compatriot deems a favorite. Perhaps because Liberty Tavern's founders do not seem intent upon taking the culinary world by storm, but rather providing a neighborhood hangout. Or, maybe because the first floor is such a desirable destination for the bar crowd (tasty cocktails here indeed). In either regard, I underestimated how top notch the cuisine could be. In fact, LT has found a way to fuse two environments (bar and grill), with neither floor detracting from the other. I'll be returning again, for brunch and evening dining.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Two All Beef Patties (part two)

As promised, I've ventured out a few more times in the hot summer weather to try the various burger joints popping up around town. I'm sure glad that I did!! Both Ray's Hellburger and Good Stuff Eatery live up to the hype. Both offer a mouthwatering sandwich, though my vote (and I'm as surprised by this as anyone) goes to Spike Mendelsohn's Good Stuff.

I first tried Ray's...As an Arlington resident, I was excited about the prospect of walking to dinner to be fed by carnivore-pleasing chef Michael Landrum without a ridiculous reservations policy. I ordered the soul burger, which was delicious, but perhaps a bit over-topped. What left me smiling was the juicy, salty goodness of the generous 10 ounce patty. In the future, and there will be future visits, I'll likely go with simple toppings; lettuce, tomato, and a slice of cheese from the impressive selection offered. By the time I return, however, I do hope that Ray's is serving up a new bun...This seems to be a pervasive complaint. The sogginess, which led to a complete collapse of my burger, left the only tarnish on an otherwise enjoyable dining experience.

While I originally questioned the decision to not offer fries, the watermelon and buttered corn were perfect accompaniments. If not enough, there are numerous bottled soda and bagged chip offerings. The line was lengthy, but we were able to take home our meal within 15 minutes (finding a seat may have been more of a challenge). The crowd was varied, from extended families to the usual Arlingtonian yuppies picking up dinner after work. All in all, a nice place to either gather or take out.

In the end, I was left with newfound respect for Landrum's bovine prowess. Even with a burger, he serves up the same quality and consistency we've come to expect at Ray's the Steaks. Here, Landrum's meat is king!

...

Across town, a week later, a friend and I waited out the line at Good Stuff Eatery for a weekday lunch. Even at 1:30, it took about 25 minutes between standing in line and being served. Can you imagine the noontime rush? My first impression was wow, this place must be raking it in. I soon found out why people are willing to wait. I ordered Spike's 5 napkin burger, complete with maple bacon, cheddar cheese, a fried egg, brioche bun, and Good Stuff Sauce (which, as usual, is a "secret sauce" of thousand island dressing). Indeed, about 2 minutes in, I looked down and laughed because donning my lap were no less than five napkins. Five napkins soaked in deliciousness!

OMG, Yum....and as if the burger weren't enough, the toasted marshmallow shake, served up by Spike himself, was pure childhood delight. At $5, it's a bit pricey, but large enough to split. I really have no complaints, including the village fries, seasoned with rosemary, thyme, and ground pepper. Flavorful and crisp! My dining partner, a vegetarian, was busy raving about her portobello burger, stuffed with cheddar and muenster, or as she called it, a "volcano" of cheese. I tried a bite, and while scrumptious, I think that the mushroom was actually heavier than my burger!

Customers tended to be professionals, though some tourists had found their way over. We had to laugh, as they seemed a bit overwhelmed by the scene. The space is cozy, but with outdoor seating, there are ample chairs. Mendelsohn runs a tight ship, and the system works efficiently. And even though I wanted to hate this celebrity poser, I couldn't. He was friendly and working diligently, busy mixing shakes and sorting orders (even more so than Landrum who more holds court while forming burger patties). In fact, the entire staff managed to be friendly while processing all of the customers running through the line. The experience as a whole, plus the comparable strength of my brioche bun, wins the hamburger prize.

I have to say, this is a trend that may add to my waistline, but of which I'm a fan. The varied offerings, with the added bonus of less stomach pain that I usually experience from Five Guys, make me happy. Simply happy.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Majestic isn't exactly the word I would use

It may not be overstating it to say that I am in love with Cathal Armstrong…not in your traditional, romantic sense. No, instead I love Cathal more in the obsessive-compulsive sense, in that I am obsessed with and act compulsively regarding his offerings.

Given this declared love, I was therefore quite disappointed with my first dining experience at Majestic. After several nearly perfect nights at Restaurant Eve (FN1) and a night of take-home delight from Eamonn's (FN2), my expectations for the rustic mid-Atlantic cuisine offered by chef Shannon Overmiller (under Armstrong's ownership) were understandably high. Unfortunately, perhaps a bit too high. For such a small space, one would think that the kitchen would have no problem keeping up. Whether intentional or not, our 9:30 seating ran pathetically slow. For instance, with only a few tables left, dessert arrived a mere 20 minutes after we ordered it. As our waitress was ever present, it appeared that the stoppage resulted from the kitchen.

For apps, our table ordered mussels, soft-shell crabs, and a green salad to share. The mussels were flavorful and tender, with the right balance between butter and broth. A hearty sourdough roll to sop up this broth would have been a nice supplement. As has been the trend this season, the crabs were over-battered and fried, not leaving enough crab flavor. The salad was fresh, but not particularly memorable (given that I have nothing more to say about it). Between the table (seafood lovers, if you hadn't noticed, given our appetizer choices), folks ordered the Whole Grilled Bronzini and the Seared Blue Prawns. Both were delectable. The bronzini was flaky, tender, and moist - exactly how you want it. The prawns were seared delicately and complimented well by the shrimp-reduction risotto. We figured that things were warming up, having mediocre appetizers, but delicious main courses. We found, however, that the entrees were the climax. Splitting a couple of desserts including the week's special, a strawberry mocha cake that virtually everyone in the restaurant ordered, we were left with a bland impression. A shoulder-shrugging mediocre.

It's the casual "older sister", as the owners and staff like to refer to Majestic, but it just cannot stand up to its younger sibling. Perhaps I'm expecting too much, with Armstrong not actually running the kitchen. Majestic to me connotes a memorable fantasy experience. My experience here was not spectacular - not bad, but not spectacular. The true fantasy is digging into and savoring Armstrong's fare. I'm not giving up on big sis just yet, with a Nana's Sunday Dinner on the itinerary (fried chicken, mac and cheese, and peach pie on August's menu), but for now, the older sister has some little shoes to fill.

(FN1) With the incredible wine selection, motivated service, and mouthwatering morsels, how could anyone not adore Restaurant Eve?

(FN2) Eamonn's offers quite respectable fish and chips. Everything is full of flavor, and does not come off as greasy. If not enough, the fried Milky Way, a delight I'd never before tried (not enough county fairs for me evidently), topped off the meal.

Makoto?!

Any thoughts on this one? I've never been....I just don't know what think about a Japanese restaurant tucked in the Canal Road enclave. Also, a restaurant in this day and age that does not have a website. Suddenly, it usurps the Inn at Little Washington in Zagat food ratings?! Wow! This just comes as a shock. I know that Patrick O'Connell and Reinhardt Lynch's partnership ended, but the Inn is the Inn.

I'd love to hear what people think about this one...please share your thoughts.

Curious

Did anyone notice that three out of the four municipalities currently operating the buses soon to be introduced by WMATA are in the metropolitan Los Angeles area? Isn't that from where John Catoe hailed, whilst being lauded for work on the Southland's bus system?! Coincidence, or shall we check his stock holdings? In all seriousness though, I am a fan of the new buses.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Quote of the Day (not that this is a regular segment)

From Mike Wise's column on Clinton Portis' (my favorite Redskin's) coming of age....

"Especially since Sheriff Gonna Getcha has a little deputy who needs Pampers."

Oh Come On

Jelly ballet flats....are you freaking kidding me? What...Jellies were not a good idea when we were children - you remember, circa 1990 (I had a lace pair myself). Jellies are certainly not a good idea as adults. AND NOW, thank you J Crew, they cost more than anything made of plastic should. They come in a variety of smog-like colors described, for instance, as "smokey clear". We, as a species, cannot give in to this concept. Just like everyone else, J Crew makes mistakes. Ballet flats, adorable as they are, make feet stink. Can you imagine when what the smell amounts to when you encase your feet in plastic? AND THEY ARE FUGLY!!!! Don't do it girls, I'm telling you, don't do it!

Life of the Informant

I love food, but it does not define me. I created this blog with the hope that it would become the next greatest thing among the many foodie pages in the Washingtonian blogosphere. I was suffering a bit in my job, and perhaps looking for alternative plans.

Now, a whole week and half later, I'm getting all philosophical and rethinking my plans. Don't get me wrong...I remain extremely passionate about my cuisine, but I'm more dynamic than that. I have other passions and pursuits. Why limit myself in the hopes that I become an authority?! I'm not. I'm a piss-ant lawyer for yet another administrative agency in this town. Basically, a dime a dozen. I do, however, have things to say. If no one wants to read them, I DON'T CARE. My opinion matters to me, and putting my thoughts on virtual paper means something to me. I want to write about sports, about politics, about being young, frustrated, and ambitious in this town, about metro and the necessary calamity that it is, about all sorts of things. I will write these things, while continuing to write about my culinary escapades.

In this vein, I do plan to keep my blog confidential. No need to turn into another blogger in hot water, though my exploits are slightly less controversial than most. I have the interest of protecting a job that I don't enjoy, at least at the moment. After all, maybe some day I will enjoy it again. So, in summary, I hope that you find this page. I hope that you read it and find it interesting and challenging. I hope that you add comments of your own. If not though, I'll be fine. I have a new soapbox for all of my passionate feelings on all sorts of "tings". Here's to revamping my platform...

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Fried Yellow Tomatoes

Summer fare often brings out the flavors of simple produce. While many choose unripened green tomatoes for frying, the salty and sweet flavor of plump yellow tomatoes is also perfect for a quick fry. Not for eating with your hands like the green ones, these treats melt in your mouth.

Ingredients:
2 large yellow tomatoes
3/4 cup canola oil
1/2 cup Wondra flour
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 eggs
1/4 cup milk

Directions:
Warm oil in skillet on medium heat. Slice tomatoes about 1/3 inch wide. Prepare simple batter line (one pan with eggs beaten with milk followed by one pan with Wondra with salt and pepper mixed in). Before preparing tomatoes for frying, make sure that oil is hot enough by dropping some batter in to make sure it fries immediately. Dip tomatoes in egg wash and follow by lightly coating each side with flour mixture. Place in oil immediately. Fry for 2-3 minutes on each side. Let tomatoes cool on paper towels to absorb extra oil. Enjoy while hot.

Monday, July 21, 2008

A tale of two sisters

Amongst the office buildings of the high-rent Golden Triangle district, you'll find Vidalia in a basement space, with no windows and an equal amount of personality. While the French/Southern fusion works for some, this establishment just isn't quite able to pull it off. In trying to promote its compromise between the two cuisines, it lacks identity. This rings true in the d├ęcor, service, and most importantly and unimpressively, the cuisine. I could recite a course-by-course analysis of the forgettable and flavorless offerings from Vidalia, but I'd rather devote my words to another location that has truly captured my heart.

On the other side of town, however, in an inviting space in the uber-posh Hotel George lies Bistro Bis, the sometimes overshadowed (at least in the foodie world) sister restaurant of Vidalia. Just a glance at the restaurants' (singular) website reveals that Vidalia is Chef Jeffrey Buben's spotlight destination, while Bistro Bis caters to the political power crowd with French fare. While BB is touted for its elbow-rubbing capabilities (indeed, my last lunch included a little neighborly eavesdropping on a tete-a-tete between the respective chairs of the SEC and FTC), it is the French fare that brings me back. French classics are always mouth-watering here, including the reliable Onion Soup Les Halles, Steak Frites, and Beef Bourguignon. In the raw category, Steak Tartare and Salmon Cru are among my favorites. On a recent visit, I strayed to the Chicken Salade Gourmande, with the temptation of foie gras. While tasty, the confit and foie gras were oversalted and not palate-pleasing. Dessert, however, soon brought me back to a state of mid-day happiness. On this occasion, it was the Chocolate Toffee Bread Pudding that revived my senses. Other options include sorbets and "glaces", which are refreshing, and the crisp and sweet Tarte Normande.

While Buben does not serve as chef, Bistro Bis is where his Fully-Baked Restaurant Group impresses. This sister is the Cinderella in the mix.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Everything's Better in...High Def?!

Does the Food Network not look incredible in HD? I find myself salivating and totally engaged, even watching shows I don't enjoy, like Unwrapped. Not sure I need to see Alton Brown's, what do you call it? - facial scruff, in such detail, but it's nevertheless awesome. I do however, need to avoid watching late at night, I either get incredible cravings, or the overwhelming need to dirty every pot and pan in the house.

Two All Beef Patties...

What better way to start off the new food blog for America's city than with a post dedicated to America's meal, the hamburger.

The Post finally picked up on the emergence of establishments dedicated to the patriotic sandwich. In just the last week (to coincide with most patriotic of holidays, no doubt), we've seen the much anticipated Good Stuff Eatery and Ray's Hell-Burger open their respective doors. These two follow on the heels of several other recent additions to the emerging market, including Big Buns in Arlington, Z-Burger in Tenley Circle, BGR in Bethesda, Urban Burger in Rockville, and Elevation Burger in Falls Church. Wow, that's a mouthful, of beef.

So far, I've only tried Big Buns, and I'm hoping that is not an indicia of the entire genre. While the top-your-own concept creates a niche, the burger just isn't enough to trek it out to Ballston again. Other offerings in the vicinity, including Ted's Montana Grill, a chain, but a chain with really good buffalo burgers, are more tempting. The meat itself is the problem at Big Buns - it just has no flavor; the bun and fries are forgettable as well. And if I want pineapple, or an egg, or salsa on top of my burger, I can go to Red Robin and find a comparable alternative.

A visit to Good Stuff is planned for next week, after the throngs of women throwing themselves at cute little Fedora-wearing Spike settle down a bit. I'm hopeful, and pleased to see the toasted marshmallow shake on the menu. While I understand the burger purest perspective (obviously, the quality of the meat is important), ingenuity in a now saturated market is appreciated. Hopefully, Spike's ego doesn't get in the way of a hometown boy making good.

The Post, though late to the punch, does raise two interesting questions in it's piece; (1) whether these joints can surpass the now readily available Five Guys, and (2) whether this trend is correlative to the struggling economy.

The truth is - Five Guys started early, and then they started often, expanding rapidly. It's not an overstatement to say that Five Guys owns the take-out burger market in and around DC. Back when I was a recent DC transplant, and in desperate need of a burger, Five Guys was really the only option. I quickly found one of the five original Five Guys, enjoying my first taste at the Old Town location. Now, however, I don't have to walk much further than the nearest Starbucks to find the nearest Five Guys close by. I've never really been one for a fast food burger, and my occasional West Coast trysts with In-and-Out and Fatburger (rumored to be opening semi-locally soon) are not enough to unseat Five Guys from it's rightful place. There is a time and place for Five Guys - I don't see these new gourmet as competition, but entirely different dining experiences. Five Guys has its own market - it is the once and future
DC casual "burger king".

Now, as to whether the currently stagnant economy is the driving force behind the recent carnivorous trend, I'm going to take this proposition with a grain of salt. In the midst of summer, the temptation to grill out is ever-present and usually less expensive then eating out, even for a casual gourmet burger. I also had to wait well past my reservation at my last visit to Central, where the burger costs as much as three courses at more casual outposts. (In a piece devoted to the almighty burger, I should note that I do think Central's, though a bit snooty, is undoubtedly the best in town.)

I'm going to posit that the driving force behind this trend is just that, the culinary need to be trendy, a la the artisan pizza blossoming (Comet Ping Pong, Mia's Pizzas, American Flatbread Kitchen, Cafe Pizzaiolo, Red Rocks) of the last year and a half or so. As DC becomes a more refined and current culinary marketplace, it's only natural that trends will run their course.

Perhaps I'm getting a little carried away for my first post. So, I'll wrap this one up. One last note before I go - while trends are fun, don't forget the classics. Ollie's Trolley - a dive, and a tourist trap, but always good for a bite of DC burger heaven.