Wednesday, March 25, 2009


If I've said it once, I've said it a million times; I do not celebrate Valentine's day. That being said, I am not one to pass up a potential deal just because it falls in and around a corporately-marketed, artificial, pressure-laden, supposedly-romantic-but-in-reality-disappointing holiday. At $105 a person, we were able to enjoy the 2941 "Valentines" tasting menu on a random Thursday night rather than at the holiday weekend price ($130), and at a bargain compared to the normal tasting menu ($90), which only includes four courses. We've taken to having random fancy dinners on weeknights, usually Thursdays, to avoid the rush and cost so often associated with weekend dining, instead staying in on Fridays to enjoy late meals prepared with a little relaxation and TLC. Frankly, the schedule has worked out quite conveniently, and cost-effectively, for us.

2941 was not the easiest place to find, tucked in an otherwise non-descript office building near the intersection of 495 and 66. Further, the interior decor suffers from an identity crisis with modern glass and architectural elements, a classic painting, what I would term a "nature scene" with fireplace, and random pieces of twentieth century sculpture dotting the room. On this particular occasion, an enormous chocolate sculpture also graced the counter behind my head. I kept thinking that the smell of chocolate melting from the kitchen was suprisingly strong in the dining room. That is, until rose petals started falling and we realized that the melting chocolate was indeed a lot closer than the galley. Truly, I was sympathetic for the pastry chef as he hurriedly attempted to carry away and salvage what started as a magnificent culinary creation. One final note regarding the ambiance before I move on to the food. Can I just say that the trend of naming the restaurant after the street number has to stop? Chefs, we are not setting ourselves apart with this trend. While it does help with directions, I think we need to give it up.

As I've mentioned in previous posts, I am quick to overlook complaints with decor, and even service, if the food is up to snuff. While nothing to turn my nose at, I'm not sure the cuisine here was of the caliber to overcome my initial pessimism. Things started out well, with a trio of amuse bouche, a Japanese oyster (don't ask me to remember the name), hamachi sashimi, and a chestnut velute...the entire course was very rich. For me, the richness was cut with a pleasing first course, a seafood salad with shrimp, avocado, and a suprising pineapple. On the other side of table, my husband enjoyed another rich course, a tuna tartar spiced with black truffles. The seafood salad was preferable to my palate. We then both moved on to ricotta ravioli, also garnished with black truffles, and a touch of parmesan and chives, the course was light yet flavorable. For the seafood course, my husband then enjoyed 2941's version of butter-poached lobster, served as a deconstructed New England Chowder. I chose the halibut accompanied by a vegetable fricasee in a sorrel (herb) sauce. While the chowder received lots of acclaim, the halibut was somewhat underwhelming. For main dishes, the parsley rack of lamb was much more flavorful than a "beef duo" which really was a simple filet with pureed potatoes and mushroom wine sauce. Truly, a little too simple for a restaurant worthy of the acclaim 2941 has garnered.

A small palate cleanser of orange and vanilla sorbets in jus of tangerine was better than the desserts for me, like a fresher fruitier version of a creamsicle. On the other hand, the chocolate moelleux (let's just call it mousse) was a bit dull. The cremeux (let's just call it cream) of passion fruit and other tropical fruits was better. Among the petit fours, with the predictable shortbread and candied fruit, I did finally find a bliss-in-a-bite moment with the fabulous dense and deeply fried doughnut holes. Even if there were low notes, I at least left with a delicious last impression.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Nothing Short of Zen: CityZen

For the actual anniversary dinner, we went with CityZen. We were not disappointed in our choice. With a beautiful and lively setting, and a celeb sighting (Oscar-winners Jamie Foxx and Paul Haggis, director of "Crash", discussing perhaps a DC-based project), the mood was set for enjoyable evening. When I say I had a bad day on this particular day, I mean I had a bad day. CityZen turned things around. While the atmosphere was nice, I must stress that it really was the cuisine that truly brought me back to life.
A duo of amuse bouches whetted our palates, a hazelnut soup and sweetbread terrine. Hazelnut soup does not sound like something I would like, but I was pleasantly surprised by the texture and flavor. It really was a perfect first bite, or slurp, as it were. While I'm not one for the texture of brains, my husband tells me the sweetbreads were also delectable.
We then treated ourselves to the tasting menu of seven courses, starting with a fantastic sashimi of yellowfin and toro. Served with dates and an orange-cardamom vinaigrette, the fishes were balanced, as was the complimentary citrus and spice flavoring the sauce. A pasta course was next, sweet potato gnocchi in brown butter that left me wanting more and my husband wondering why he normally passes up the potato pasta. For the seafood course, a simple butter-poached lobster in broth embraced the oil/butter-poaching trend with perfect execution.
I shouldn't get carried away before moving on what I would consider the main course, a rib eye of beef. I'll be honest, I almost passed up the tasting menu because I really do not like to order steak at fine restaurants. Generally, I find that the beef is not given the proper care and is lost in the shuffle of other courses, or is too filling to work properly on a tasting menu. Such was not the case for Eric Ziebold's creation. Instead, a conservative portion of tender and lean (if there is such a thing?!) ribeye was accompanied by fried marrow and fennel hash that wowed me more than any other course on the menu. In fact, I'd even consider ordering this off the dinner menu, but only if accompanied by the homey minibuns (bite-sized popovers served in a cedar chest).
As the meal decrescendoed, the cheese cart rolled around. Not being one to ever shun dairy goodness, I tried a sheep and goat's milk variety, a gouda, and some sort of dry Italian fromage I cannot remember, so probably not noteworthy. The offerings were arranged by region, flavor, and texture, and the staff was full of information regarding each selection. My lactose-intolerant husband enjoyed a simple poached pear that made him quite happy. Winding down, we anticipated that, as is often true with tasting menus, the dessert would be pleasant but lackluster. The chocolate tea cake, however, was instead yet another surprising and scrumptious course. Moist, rich with chocolate flavor, and served slightly warm, it filled my belly with a comforting sensation that made waned me to sleep on the way home.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Anniversary in Three Parts

This week, I'll be posting a little differently, a series on our anniversary dinners. Yes, I say dinners plural, but let me clarify and not sound too overindulgent; we went to all three on-deck locations for separate special occasions, the first of which was our actual wedding anniversary. Check in this week for posts on CityZen, 2941, and Komi, in that order. Friday, I'll let you know which we liked best and why.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Braised Short Rib

I brined, I braised, I glazed, and the end result was well worth the time and effort. In these lean economic times, my coffee and coke glazed short rib with onion marmalade conception served as a perfectly delectable substitute to a more pricey evening out...If the legal market continues with recent trends, these labor-intensive yet altogether satisfying nights at home may become all the more frequent.

Friday, March 13, 2009

The Strip

We used our extra leave over the inauguration to escape the madness and head out to Vegas for the weekend. Now, I'm finally getting around to writing about it.

Upon arrival, we started walking the Strip to locate some of our old favorites, particularly regional spots that have Vegas outposts. We were disappointed to find that Pink's Hot Dogs of Hollywood and Commander's Palace of New Orleans have departed what was the Aladdin to make room for Planet Hollywood Hotel upgrades. Really, are these upgrades worth losing both spots?

Reasonably-priced meals are not easy to find in Vegas, but we did enjoy natural, nutricious, and somehow tasty fare, including housemade sodas and juices, at the Canyon Ranch Grill. We had hoped to hit up the top-ranked Wynn Buffet for Sunday brunch, but with a two-hour wait, we had to look elsewhere. Alternatives ranged from vomit-inducing (Sugar & Ice cafe in the Wynn) to not-too-shabby (Noodles dim sum and noodle bar in the Bellagio).

Other hits on our trip (seriously folks, Vegas is made for foodies, just foodies with deep pockets) included Joe's Stone Crab and BLT Burger. Joe's offers the opportunity to try fresh stone crab claws outside of Miami, the only location other than Chicago. The large portions can be shared, even with big eaters. Though a bread basket is not often worth mentioning, Joe's offers such a variety that I think it's worth the nod. I had high expectations for the key lime pie, but I honestly think the version at Ray's the Steaks is better. With BLT Steak a local destination here in town, we thought it only appropriate that we try BLT Burger, located in the Mirage. BLT is noteworthy for its classic, simple, respectable burger. While I don't consider it on par with a Hellburger (this Ray's comparison thing is becoming a theme) or Central, I would return for the great fries and shakes.

Truly though, the crowning glory of our weekend was B & B Ristorante, with Thomas Keller's Bouchon a trailing though secure second place. Both are located at the Venetian.

B & B is Mario Batali's mid-priced Vegas venture with partner Joseph Bastianich, a perfectly pleasing and stuffing choice. I would focus on pasta here; in fact, I ordered one for my appetizer and one for my main course. My particular favorite was the tagliatelle. The pork belly was quite fatty, though flavorful. Generally, the carniverous fare paled in comparison to the crowd-pleasing gnocchi and linguine. The struedel dessert was truly a culinary milestone.

At Bouchon, I must stress that you should focus your attentions on the entrees. Cod beignets were chewy and dry at the same time, with a tanic aftertaste that really was kinda yucky; The beet salad was edible (really, it's pretty hard to screw up roasted beets), though lackluster; and the very minute serving of chocolate mousse failed to leave any impression. Why then do I score Bouchon at a solid second? Two reasons. First, the steak frites were simply amazing. Served with a pat of herbed garlic butter, the flank steak was tender and juicy. The fries were crisp and plentiful, the perfect yin to the steak's yang. Second, the macarons are coma-inducing. I went with the chocolate variety, filled with ganache. Heaven ---- on ---- Earth. Seriously, good stuff folks. Just trust me here and pick up a couple at the Bakery just off the casino if you have a chance. Given the quality of the baked goods, I would also trust the Zagat rating for Bouchon as one of the best breakfasts in Vegas, though we were just too full to give it a shot on this trip.

In the end, both B&B and Bouchon thrive in their respective specialties. Both are definitely worth stop-ins on future trips.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

My Weekend with Patrice Olivon

My weekend with Patrice Olivon...

A couple weeks back, I spent an intensive, and lengthy, weekend learning French culinary techniques with my grandpa, chef Patrice (ok, he's not that old, but his personality is much more grandpa than dad, in that sometimes gruff, but mostly cute and cuddly kind of way). I got up really, really early on Saturday and Sunday mornings to drive to Gaithersburg, and finally headed back to Arlington at 8 pm or so on Sunday (beware, folks, the class is advertised as 9-4, but the course is more than meets the eye. The "advanced culinary weekend" course is a long and exhausting weekend.). Rather than recounting my weekend step-by-step, I'll let you enjoy a course at L'Academie de Cuisine yourself, and leave you with my top ten list, David Letterman style:

10. A Sauce is Worth a Million Words -

Sauces are much more labor intensive than you might think, but this is really the glue that can bring together a dish

9. Calories, Schmalories -

Seriously, this is French cooking. It's nothing if not fat-laden. The focus needs to be portion size rather than ingredients...small bites are quite enough when a dish is layered with flavor.

8. Clumsiness Can be a Blessing and a Curse -

Ok, so maybe you might back up into someone wielding a knife in the kitchen. On the other hand, you may throw in tarragon rather than tumeric and end up delighting in the consequence.

7. The Internet is Your Friend -

All sorts of things are available at specialty stores online, especially many of those sold-only-in-France ingredients. My personal favorite is Zingerman's.

6. It's Your Bread and Butter -

Serve homemade bread and high quality butter - 'nough said.

5. Know What You are Paying For -

Some things are worth it, others are not. Don't overlook Giant and Safeway for perfectly adequate and well-priced produce. Even Costco has a great meat selection.

4. It Takes Time -

Stir-fry is for your average week night; French food is for when you have a couple of hours to devote some TLC to your cuisine.

3. Waste Not, Want Not -

From bones and other parts used for stock, to buying an entire tenderloin that can be broken down. Think before putting something in the trash bin, garbage disposal, or compost pile.

2. Not All Things can be Replicated -

I've been trying to make those pesky macaroons every weekend since I took the course (mind you, they turned out perfectly when I made them at school). I think it's time I give up and head to Pralines in Bethesda.

1. Put in a Little Heart-

Don't work from a recipe. If you make food your own, you'll enjoy it that much more.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Snacks in the Hood

For some occasions, fine dining is in order. For others, more simple options are appropriate. Once in a while, we just want an afternoon snack or late night bite. We recently tried two relatively new spots in the 22201 which offer less formal bites, both large and small.

Tom Sietsema was right on when he reviewed Spider Kelly''s all about chicken, chicken, chicken. Whether in the roasted or fried variety, or in a nice bowl of chicken noodle soup, it's all delicious. Portions are more than generous and can easily be shared. The fries are flavored more with salt than the promised rosemary and garlic, so not my pick. Though we did not get the chance to try them on this outing, the Kelly Black (a cocktail of blackberries, Maker's, and ginger ale) and the Po'Boy both sound intriguing. It does seem that the kitchen is still trying to figure out cooking temps on the burgers (Sietsema complained of his being "raw", while the man at the table next to us let the server know that his was somewhat overdone - and comped, by the way, if anyone is curious). I'm nevertheless curious regarding the version cooked in pork fat. One other note; while you can certainly come as you are in the early dining hours, I wouldn't as evening sets in; a group in the open seating area near us were decked out even though it was barely 6 pm on a Sunday evening.

Jackson's Roasting and Carving Company in Ballston offers an honest sandwich and a good cup of coffee. My dining companion, who grew up loving Kenny Roger's Roasters, got a little confused, thinking that the menu was more rotisserie chicken than carved sandwiches. Jackson's prime rib version is juicy, almost bloody, but very flavorful. The meatloaf, topped with a little housemade horseradish sauce and on whole grain, is a comfortable favorite. I like that you can get your sandwich on a variety of house-baked breads, kaiser roll, or croissant if you prefer. Jackson's is not quite Atrium deli in Southwest, but it's open on weekends and accessibly located. Without many good delis on this side of the river, fresh carved sandwiches are a welcome addition to Arlington.

Monday, March 2, 2009

All Things Legislative...

I felt it necessary to take down my earlier post with the attached corrections because of my misunderstanding regarding the actual terms. In Obama's own terms, this legislation was designed to affect families making $250,000 or more, with no mention of whether this was net or gross income. So, it appeared to me that our president was talking about including more rather than less folks in the highest tax bracket. Let me say this clearly now; I WAS WRONG. The brackets are actually a return to Clinton-era tax brackets. In my defense, I did try to complete my due diligence...I went to, and, and tried search terms such as "tax bracket" to uncover the promised transparency...When these attempts were unsuccessful, I was forced to rely on media accounts, including WSJ and other prominent source accounts, to make sense of the new plan. I relied on incorrect ifnormation, but my misunderstanding has now been corrected; see this WaPo article for an accurate breakdown. These brackets have criticisms of their own...My strongest criticism is that I believe that in selling his plan, Mr. Obama has misrepresented those who truly makes up the upper class, or upper crust, in this country. By returning to the Clinton era rates, those making around $250K in net taxable income (pardon my earlier confusion) rise from 33% to 36%, plus their charitable contribution and mortgage interest deductions are further limited. Those making more than $378K in taxable income go from 35% to 39.6%. Those are the brackets of taxpayers affected by the increases in the plan. However, in selling his plan, Mr. Obama compares the nation's 400 highest-earning taxpayers to the the United States' middle class. I agree, those 400 taxpayers should pay more, much more. If we are going to honestly criticize trickle-down economics, then we need to specifically target the rich in this country. If we assume that these 400 taxpayers are actually working for their money, as wage earners, we can assume that their respective jobs come with incentives much more desirable than money. Company founders, CEOs, celebrities, professional athletes; these people are not going to quit doing what they do because they may fall into a higher tax rate. These positions include natural incentives; power, fame, fun. If, on the other hand, we assume that these persons do not earn a substantial portion of their income on the job, but instead make money off their investments (largely those with inherited family legacies like the Kennedys and Bushes of this country), this new plan raises their capital gains rates from 15 to 20 this really doing any good for our country? Shouldn't we create a new bracket, even a cap gains bracket, for those top 400, or even top 4000 taxpayers. Shouldn't a taxpayer making $350K be taxed differently than one making $35 million? Why don't we change this? We don't because of the same reason that no politician before President Obama has; their pockets are filled (their campaigns funded) with the riches of these folks....Democrats and Republicans alike are guilty here. President Obama prides himself on his campaign funding, the fact that most donors gave less than $50. I think that is admirable...He just has to start practicing what he preaches.

Now, as the first part of my post, I stand true...I'm posting it again below:

I am going to make an earnest effort here to fit all of my political complaining into one concise package. I'm well aware that not all of my readers and friends share my views. But, if a blog is not a forum to express one's self, than what is? So, on to my criticism of our plan for this nation's economic certainty and what it means for homeowners and taxpayers. First, the president institutes a "bailout" for all those homeowners who cannot meet their mortgage responsibilities because of ARMs that they cannot meet, ARMs that these folks entered into knowing full well that payments would escalate when interest rates increased. I call that a "windfall" for the negligent, but ok, for argument's sake, "bailout". I think my real criticism of this part of the package comes from my time spent in Orange County, ground zero for the collapse of the housing market. You see, out there in the OC, leveraging oneself for purposes of portraying a style of life well beyond one's means is commonplace. Anyhow, that tangent complete, I'll point out why I agree with CNBC's resident lunatic. The government, with tax dollars, is going to help keep homeowners in houses they cannot afford by lowering obligations to no more 37% of take home, paying off any deficit partially with credits to the bank, but more importantly, with taxpayer dollars. Here's what this package comes down to: bailing out, with taxpayer funds, greedy homeowners who bought homes they could not afford...this plan is not tailored for those who are now out of work, and is not tailored for those who've already been foreclosed upon. If your average homeowner, however, wants to take advantage of the favorable interest rates in this market, and lower his or monthly payments (on say, a responsible fixed rate mortgage), that homeowner will have to shell out 2-3% in closing costs, anywhere between $15-20K..which said homeower cannot afford, because his or her dollars are currently tied up in taxes paying off the mortgage down the street, you know, the one "bailed out" with the president's package.

That being said, I do believe that we need to take steps to fix the housing situation of so many that have no alternatives, whether renting or being foreclosed upon. This other WaPo article outlines the housing situation of those truly in need. With an involved administration, and HHS, I believe that there is a responsible plan to help those who are struggling....let's go back to the drawing board and think about this.
I also feel it's necessary to repost the final part of my original post...After all, I still believe in our president, but also in fiscal conservatism.

I don't regret voting for Obama. Our nation needed to take a step forward and to be inspired - Obama offered that hope and we as a nation accepted the challenge of becoming one again. That being said, I am a wee bit frustrated with our president, ringing in what I believe he thinks it the
New New Deal, but what I consider wasteful and irresponsible spending. Alas, my inspiration wears thin and I'm reminded, once again, why I'm a republican.

Now, on to DC voting rights....I kid, I kid....there's plenty of criticism for both parties here, and constitutional questions abound (anywhere from the right to bear arms to the power of self-governance), but I'll leave it to those who can summarize the situation much more eloquently than I. Ok, I'm stepping off my soapbox right this minute, and returning to the food...

Again, I'm stepping off the soapbox, but I felt it necessary to post one more time on this issue. I didn't want to stoke the fire of the media's mis-portrayal of this proposed budget package.