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Updated: 2018-03-05T12:43:15.715-05:00

 



Alex's Pick

2011-04-21T23:11:20.096-04:00

(image) Alex, who relocated to Boston a few months ago, was in DC for the weekend, and she chose to hold court at American Ice Co., a stone's throw away from the 9:30 Club. The weekend had been a soggy mess, but we were lucky to get one of those glorious early Spring Sundays and take advantage of the bigger-than-it-seems patio. The restaurant itself (given the beer to food ratio, it s probably better to call it a bar that happens to have amazing barbeque) has the industrial feel and grit one would expect from a repurposed building: cement, brick, dark woods.

I took a seat at one of the patio picnic tables and perused the menu - an ample beer list, divided into glass (drafts) and steel (cans). The super friendly staff will bring them out to you in mason jars (with little ones for shots). I had a Czechvar (which I first encounted, many years ago, as Budvar, the original Budweiser) followed by a wheat beer. The lunch menu features a limited selection of sandwiches, and I ordered a turkey club mostly to keep myself from ordering the pastrami. I was pleasantly surprised by the sandwich - the turkey was carved, not sliced, and the bacon had a wonderful spice rub. It is easily the best turkey sandwich I've had in a restaurant in DC.

As our group of revelers grew, we took over more tables (the revolving group also meant that our very patient waitress adjusted the tab whenever people wanted to cash out). As I nursed my second beer, I could hear the telltale sounds of cleaver against pork. On the far side of the table, someone ordered Swachos - Swine and nachos, because pork rinds and queso are meant to go together, especially when it's sunny but you still need a sweater.

The dinner menu appeared and Alex ordered the combo platter. I wasn t particularly hungry after my enormous sandwich of a few hours before, but I simply had to try it - pulled pork and brisket. After all, she had already had the brilliant idea of asking for a Margarita (she can't get those up in Beantown), and I had happily followed suit. The plates brimmed with warm, smokey, flavorful without being fatty barbeque, and the vinegar sauce on our table gave it an extra kick. The greens were fresh, but the sides did not hold a candle to the brisket.

Go for the food, stay for the beer, and bring a gaggle of friends with you.

(image)
American Ice Co.
917 V St NW
(between N Vermont Ave & N 10th St)
Washington, DC 20001



Support Counter Culture!

2011-04-13T01:24:35.176-04:00

(image) Lifting Voices, a local nonprofit, is working with a roster of chefs, including Jose Andres, Robert Egger and Spike Mendelsohn to put together Counter Culture, a coffee-table book on 10 of their under-served kids' food histories in words and pictures.

In order to publish the book, Lifting Voices needs to raise $5,000 by April 29 and you can watch a video on the project and send your tax-deductible contribution through Kickstarter. If you donate $25 you get a free burger at Good Stuff Eatery, and $50 gets you a copy of the book. This is a kitchen-table project that also serves a great cause.



Amazing Avocados from Mexico to DC

2011-04-07T14:25:52.909-04:00

Last week we dropped by the Avocados from Mexico: Taste the WOW Spring 2011 Tour at the DC Armory. DC was the fourth of six stops, which began in NYC and will end in Atlanta, GA. As an avocado fan and a Mexican I was very excited to attend this event.The WOW team offered up tastings of two delicious recipes prepared fresh on-site by famous Mexican Chef Roberto Santibanez, author of the recent cookbook Truly Mexican, and his WOW compadre, New York-based Chef Pablo J. Sanchez. I first tried Pablo's Avocado Gazpacho Shooters garnished with a swirl of sour cream and a cilantro leaf. Chef Sanchez is the mastermind behind this delicious dish--you can taste each ingredient for a balanced smooth, tasty, creamy, fresh experience with a little kick of jalapeno. It is quick and easy to prepare, so it is just amazing--great for serving this coming spring and summer or anytime tat you have an avocado craving.Next, Chef Santibanez prepared a Pineapple and Cucumber Guacamole right there in front of our eyes. It took him about five minutes to surprise and pamper us with his exquisite variation of the traditional guacamole that everyone knows and loves. This delicacy also had the perfect balance of flavors--sweet and sour, refreshing and tasty. Once again, you can taste each ingredient and enjoy the balance of the flavors and how they combine on your palate. The acid of the pineapple in this guacamole gives the dish its punch and ensures it will not discolor as fast as traditional guacamoles. It will be great for warm evenings with drinks and friends.Pablo's Avocado Gazpacho ShootersIngredients2 ripe Avocados from Mexico1/2 seedless cucumber peeled1 jalapeno diced small2 tbsp. sour cream1 tbsp. hot sauce1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil1 liter cold waterJuice from 2 fresh limes1/2 cup fresh cilantroSalt/white pepper to tasteInstructionsCombine all ingredients in a blender, puree to a smooth creamy consistency (if to thick add more cold water), salt and pepper to taste, refrigerate, pour into shot glasses, garnish with a swirl of sour cream and a cilantro leaf.Roberto Santibanez Pineapple and Cucumber GuacamoleIngredients2 large or 3 small ripe Mexican Hass avocados, halved and pitted1/4 cup finely diced red onion2 fresh serrano or jalapeno chiles minced including seeds for more taste and spiciness2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice, or more to taste3/4 teaspoon fine salt, or 1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt1 (10 to 12 oz.) cucumber, peeled, seeded and diced (1/2 inch)1/4 pineapple peeled, cored, and diced (1/4 inch)1/4 cup chopped cilantroInstructionsStir together the cucumber, onion, chiles, lime juice and salt in a large bowl. Score the flesh of the avocado halves in a crosshatched pattern (not cutting through the skin) with a knife and then scoop it out with a spoon into the bowl and gently stir together (do not mash). Stir in the pineapple last so the fresh acidity is a distinct counterpoint to the avocado. Season to taste with additional chile, lime juice and salt. Transfer the guacamole to a wide dish and sprinkle the cilantro on top. Store in the refrigerator for up to 2 hours with a pice of plastic pressed against the surface. Let it come to room temperature before you serve it.****In addition to feeding the hungry crowd, the chefs and their crew shared important tips ans facts about this fantastic fruit that is not only delicious but nutritious. The avocado is a Native Mexican fruit that is popular worldwide and is not only tasty but healthy, with nearly 20 vitamins, minerals and beneficial plant compounds that can improve the quality of your diet and your overall health. Avocados provide mono and polyunsaturated "good" fats that are recommended as part of a healthy diet; contain only 50 calories in each 1 oz. serving (about 1/5 of an avocado), 3 grams monounsaturated fat, and 1 gram of dietary fiber, all with zero cholesterol. My wife M and I like to eat them by themselves with a little bit of salt or in a tortilla and in salads, but the WOW tour has reminded us that avocado [...]



Come Follow the Band

2011-03-28T00:33:09.310-04:00

(image) Writing this blog has resulted in many fun invites, but in all these years I had never received one as unique as visiting a full-fledged circus train for lunch. I had never devoted much thought to the way performers live and eat (Surely they could eat cotton candy and peanuts to their hearts content?), and having the chance to experience the Pie Car with performers and the Chef charged with feeding them and their 300 colleagues was certainly eye-opening.


(image) Chef Michael Vaughn has quite the feat before him: feed performers from 6 continents, all with different palates and dietary needs, while sourcing food from national distributors as well as local purveyors. For people who spend 11 months out of a year touring by train and whose day job is to tease death and delight audiences, Chef Vaughn's meals are little pieces of home, as well as the fuel they need to keep in top physical shape. The entree pictured, for example, is Brazilian Chicken Stroganoff, a healthier and lighter version of the traditional beef entree. Our tasting menu also featured dishes from Greece, Bulgaria, and the Gulf Coast of the United States, as well as bite-sized cheesecakes.

(image) The Pie Car itself is a feat of engineering - recently renovated, it sits 20 people, and its kitchen has a staff of 7 working a diminutive line that cranks out 3 meals a day for this rolling city without a zip code. The car is a study in space maximization that would put any Scandinavian hotel to shame. Besides answering our questions on food and circus life, the performers confirmed that running away with the circus is the stuff of urban legend. You need to be at the top of your game to be invited to join, and in certain cases, such as with the Opera-trained Ringmaster, Johnathan Iverson, the opportunity just presents itself.

While the circus is in our area, Georgetown Cupcake will offer a custom cupcake as part of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus 200th birthday celebrations of PT Barnum's birthday. All proceeds will benefit the Sunshine Kids Foundation. The red velvet cupcake will be topped with a blue fondant elephant (the circus logo should put Democrats at ease).

Barnum 200, shows in DC through March 27 at the Verizon Center and upcoming shows in Baltimore and Fairfax, VA.



A little bit of everything for Lent

2011-03-19T00:17:53.878-04:00

My friend JJ Garza-Onofre, the Burger Sherpa of Monterrey, sent me a picture of his favorite dessert, home-made Capirotada. I had to ask what it was - my grandmother is a formidable woman, but her claim to fame is her chicken and shells soup and her unflappable support for my coffee habit from a young age.

To honor Mexican grandmothers everywhere, we'd like to feature Capirotada, the most symbol-laden bread pudding you will ever eat. Served during Lent and with the Inquisition's seal of approval, tradition states that the bread represents the Body of Christ, the syrup his blood, the (whole) cinnamon sticks the wooden cross, and, in the furthest stretch of the imagination, the raisins are the nails and the cheese his shroud. This should also settle the great Catholic Food question of 2006. If you haven't given up sweets for Lent like Stephen Colbert a few years ago, give it a try.

I think this is the best one, courtesy of Discover San Miguel de Allende.

Now if only JJ Garza-Onofre could explain what the sprinkles in his grandmother's version represent...



Spring BBQ at Westend

2011-03-16T18:20:21.962-04:00

Ok, so my first instinct is to tell no one about this, because I am betting it will be fantastic, I live near it, and I hate lines--but my love for spreading the word on great food in DC is beating out my desire to keep these things a secret. Beginning April 8th and through the end of May, West End Bistro will be offering a Friday BBQ lunch on its patio.

Westend’s patio will be playing the part of pop-up BBQ stand featuring fresh pork, chicken, and beef offerings and serving up homemade side dishes including biscuits, coleslaw, chips, as well as drinks, and desserts. You can spot the West End Bistro staff on BBQ duty by their "Mr. Delicious” t-shirts. Delicious? we'll be there the 8th, taking them at their word.

Westend Bistro BBQ Stand

Hours of Operation

April & May 2011
Every Friday 11:30AM – 3PM
(Cash Only)

Menu / Pricing
Pork – Carolina Style (Mustard BBQ)
Beef – Texas Style (Red BBQ)
Chicken – NC Style (Vinegar BBQ)
Pulled pork, Chicken, or beef brisket BBQ Sandwiches - $6

Biscuits - $1
Coleslaw - $2
Chips - $2
Lemonade & Sweet Tea- $3
Pie - $3
Lemon pretzel bars - $2

“Picnic Basket”
Pork or Brisket, 1 biscuit, coleslaw, pie, lemonade or sweet tea $13



One's Country

2011-03-14T15:25:46.334-04:00

(image) While sipping cocktails at the preview for the Tequila & Mezcal festival, I realized that I have never done a full post on Oyamel, the Mexican bastion of Chef Jose Andres' restaurant collection. This struck me as odd - I go there often, and recommend it plenty. Their offerings for the 2011 festival are a delight - while tequila is Mexico's most emblematic spirit, mezcal is catching on (case in point: my father is aging it in his basement, one of many empty nest projects). The Tangelo (tequila with tangelo, fresno chiles, pineapple and lime) will take you through every sensation that will prime you for enjoying good tequila, and the Crusta Noble should be called a dessert: pineapple juice, vanilla syrup and cherries. If it wasn't for the alcohol it could pass as the fruitsicles of my childhood. The Chimayo brings all my favorites into a glass: tequila, piloncillo apple cider, cassis and lemon. I'll go back to try the Maximilian affair for the name alone. The festival also brings round some special bites, including a modern spin on ceviche a la Veracruzana: the traditional capers and olives are there, but they come with olive air. My favorite was the Huarache de Pato, a small masa cake topped with shredded duck confit.

The editorial line for this blog is simple: we enjoy sharing experiences we enjoyed, and don't bother with those we didn't. Mexican gastronomy in DC is not widely represented in DC (Lauriol Plaza and Rosa Mexicano are better bars than restaurants, Alero is at best mediocre, if you have pupusas on the Menu you are Salvadorean, and District Taco should come around to the District Proper). I've had many good meals at Oyamel, the service has always been courteous, and the atmosphere energetic. It is the sort of place we love to write about.

Perhaps the reason is because Oyamel affects me in a way most restaurants do not - a sensation that Mexican columnist Denisse Dresser once described, "Those who have lived abroad for years know how it feels to walk around with a tight chest. What it is to walk along the steps of small nostalgias and big memories. What it is to miss the smell and the taste and the noise and the light."The dining space, decked out in commissioned folk art, features an imposing Monarch butterfly mobile (Oyamel firs give the Monarchs their home on the long trek between Canada, the US and Mexico) and the bar is festooned with a canopy of cempazutchil flowers. But what always gets me is what the kitchen does - they interpret a long and storied culinary tradition and make it their own with the outmost care and respect for the food and the way it is meant to be eaten. And while no menu can ever be perfect, the kitchen always finds a way to shine a light and have me come back often, hungry for more.

(image)
Oyamel Cocina Mexicana
401 7th Street Northwest
Washington D.C., DC 20004
(202) 628-1005
www.oyamel.com



Dining out for Life next week!

2011-03-03T10:10:29.224-05:00

One of our favorite local charities, Food and Friends is having its wonderful fund raiser, Dining Out for Life next Thursday, March 10. Over 140 restaurants are participating. You can see the list and reserve your seats here.

Dining out for Life is in it's fifteenth year and your lunch, dinner or both will hep put thousands of meals on the tables of your neighbors in need. Happy Dining!



Comfort

2011-02-22T22:28:02.434-05:00

(image) A. now lives in Mount Pleasant, but she left her heart in Bloomingdale, a leafy neighborhood near Howard University. Though the weather was not cooperating, I wanted to check out my friend's haunt, Big Bear Cafe, which is also lauded for its amazing lattes.

The cafe, on the corner of R and 1st street, NW, is the quintessential neighborhood coffee shop, complete with dancing-by-the-counter regulars, artwork on every available wall, staff that remembers your usual, and people deep in conversation nursing counter culture coffee or, thanks to a recently acquired license, a selection of funky beers. It takes a confident kitchen to have a single dinner option - Big Bear does sandwiches until 5 PM, but it's 8 PM closing time calls for a minimal dinner menu.

I got there a bit past 5.30 to find A. there, hard at work. Though the tables run small, there were plenty of people there with laptops. In the spirit of a true coffeehouse, the dim light and ambient music creates an atmosphere that lends itself more to chatting and people watching through its tall windows than anything else. A. had lured me there with the offer of chili and organic beer - two things that hit the spot on a frigid winter evening.

The chili - $8, including extra corn bread, is a lovely example of the possibilities of vegetarian food. Beans floating in soupy mix of spice (Chipotle) and acid (vinegar, and hints of lime), topped with a bit of sharp cheese and some cilantro. The corn bread is delicious, and I crumbled mine on the bowl for some extra texture. A. chose the porter and I had the Framboise, a Belgian raspberry beer that is refreshing and so aromatic it gave the chili a run for its money. At $9 it is the second most expensive on the menu, but the bottle is bigger than the $5 options. The chili was delicious but the size of the portion does not make for a hearty dinner.

While this is a coffeehouse that is very much embedded into its neighborhood, the quality of ingredients and the friendly service make it well worth the visit. For us interlopers, Big Bear Cafe is very easy to get to on the G2 bus, and on Sunday they are the anchor for the Bloomingdale Farmer's Market.

(image)
Big Bear Cafe
1700 1st St NW
Washington, DC 20001
www.bigbearcafe-dc.com



Back to Life

2011-02-22T21:51:12.981-05:00

(image) Monterrey, my hometown, is the capital of a landlocked state in Northeastern Mexico. And yet, whenever I make it back for work or play, I eat seafood almost every day.

Not really a ceviche, Vuelve a La Vida (Back to Life) is the sophisticated older sister of the shrimp cocktail. Topped with slivers of fresh avocado, this seafood cocktail is one of my favorite ways to beat the heat. There's nothing in DC quite like it, but my mission is to successfully replicate it before summer.

Recipe from Big Oven.Another good one, also in English And a third
Remember, cocktail sauce is a must!

Oh, and if you ever find yourself in this neck of the woods, try Chef Alfredo Villanueva's valentine to regional Cuisine, San Luisito, Costa Nueva and El Muelle de Al Lado for Pacific seafood, and La Catarina for a contemporary spin on amazing Mexican food. And if you are looking for a Burger Sherpa in the city, check out my friend JJ Garza-Onofre's fantastic blog.



Celebrate February 5th--National Pisco Day!

2011-02-05T16:55:15.652-05:00

Need a reason to venture out in the cold and rain and sleet? Looking for a February holiday unspoiled by Hallmark or memories of your ex? Head out tonight, February 5 (or really, any cold winter's evening), to celebrate and warm up with an array of signature cocktails showcasing Pisco--Peru's national spirit--created by a dozen to DC's top mixologists. Most famously found in the foamy, potent, Pisco Sour; diverse, creative Pisco cocktails will be highlighted this weekend--and at several locations throughout the month of February. All around town, competitors will be highlighting a plethora of creative Pisco concoctions all created for Macchu Picchu Pisco's “100th Anniversary of the Encounter of Machu Picchu with Western World” Pisco competition, as judged by Peruvian Ambassador Luis Valdivieso and a panel of both Peruvian and local cocktail professionals. Try overall winner Jason of Rasika's “Chicho Morado” (featuring Peruvian purple chicho liquor and a crunchy Quinoa topper) or one of our our personal favorites--Jordan of our U Street favorite Policy’s bacon-infused “Bacon and Eggs;” Clinton from Old Town Restaurant Eve’s dual chile-spiked “Tusan;” and Dean of new Midtown-hotspot Dirty Martini’s Pisco-Coca liquor fusion “Picchu Chasqui.” (We are big Agwa de Bolivia fans, here at DC Gastronome).Also delicious and a fabulous deal—Ceiba’s Alex unveiled his dangerously tasty “Pisco Morado” which will be featured at five dollar Pisco happy hours every Wednesday. And, we’ll definitely be hitting Blue Duck Tavern for the brunch-ready, foamy basil-passion fruit Park Pisco and Mio for a pomegranate Pisco Sour Rojo to wash down one of their Friday night lechon feasts. The rundown: try Pisco for the first time, or get to know it in a whole new way at: • Chef Geoff’s; yerba mate-infused Gaucho Pisco; created by Elli Benchimol• Majestic Café (Presentation Winner); South Asian fusion Punjabi Sour; created by Michael Saccone• Rasika (Overall Winner); Chicho Morado; created by Jason Strich• Mio; pomegranate delight Pisco Sour Rojo; created by Sarah Stafford• Dirty Martini; coca-herbal-citrusy Picchu Chasqui; created by Dean Feddaoui• Ceiba; chicho-chile-sour cherry Pisco Morado; created by Alex Batista• Restaurant Eve (Relevance Winner) (Old Town Alexandria); Meyer lemon-agave-chile infused Tusan; created by Clinton Terry• Blue Duck Tavern; basil-passion fruit infused Park Pisco; created by Robert-Rex Wallen• Imperio Inca (Taste Winner) (Norfolk, VA); a sweet potato infused Imperio Sour we will definitely be stopping in for on our next trip South; created by Carlos Espinoza• Woody’s Rum Bar (Baltimore, MD); basil-orange-agave Macchu Bingham; created by Bill Irvin• Policy; brunch-in-a-glass bacon washed Macchu Pisco, maple syrup, cayenne Bacon and Eggs; created by Jordan Davidowitz• Founding Farmers; grapefruit, chipotle, agave Inspiracion; created by Josh Tugjnyam No matter where you choose to get your Pisco fix, we can guarantee you'll go home comfortably toasty, no matter the weather. [...]



You say "I ordered you a pancake"

2011-01-24T18:38:25.660-05:00

(image) Perusing our recent entries, you'd think that we only go out for brunch. While we need to play catch up (Bibiana and Blue Duck for Restaurant Week, an early January culinary scavenger hunt through the city, an an organic delivery service in Bethesda, to name a few) brunch will always have a special place in my heart - the one meal where food and relaxation can trump any other consideration.

Contributor extraordinaire Maria got married over the weekend and, with the help of a very understanding catering manager, we managed to throw an after-nuptials family brunch during Restaurant Week. The private dining room at Urbana fits 12, and during the peak of the brunch service we were grateful for the sliding doors that separate it from the main dining room (extra tables for Restaurant Week, ceramic tiles and Bottomless Bellinis generate an atmosphere that, while usually appreciated, were grating my sleep-deprived, slightly hungover self on this particular outing).

Our reservation was for 1 PM, so our group fell on both sides of the brunch divide - hamburgers and Chicken Caesar Salad for some, breakfast items for the rest of us, and coffee all around. The Bottomless Bellini (with refills all through Brunch until 3 PM) is still a steal at $16: a selection of fresh juices (favorites include passion fruit and strawberry, while the Pear is not for the faint of palate) topped with sparkling wine (an Italian Prosecco, Montelliana, with a mineral content that makes it ideal for mixing). Through years of practice (our extended neighborhood and all) Maria is particularly adept at creating creative concoctions. Tables of 4 or more get to keep the bottle table-side.

For their first brunch as a married couple, the newlyweds had classic menu items - a three egg omelette with everything minus the chorizo for the groom, and the Challah French Toast with a side of bacon for the bride who, despite her best efforts, always orders the same thing. The stomach, like the heart, wants what it wants, and Sunday was no exception. There's something about the crunch from the griddle and the acidity of the strawberry compote paired with the maple syrup that conspires to make this a great dish. As for me - I skipped the Bellinis (Botomless Cup of Coffee did the trick for me that day) and had the blueberry pancakes with bananas and a side of eggs. The eggs can come in any style but I chose scrambled, slightly runny, and doused with the hot sauce I requested. The pancakes are fantastic - fluffy, and with just a touch of blueberry. The banana slices are placed on top, and the dish could easily do without them. But at least you can use them to tell yourself you re having two servings of fruit, and conveniently forget to account for the warm maple syrup. Our server, Dana, heroically handled the sliding door and our floating head count to make this a very happy close to the festivities.

(image)
Urbana Restaurant and Wine Bar at Hotel Palomar Dupont Circle
2121 P St NW
Washington, DC 20037
(202) 956-6650
www.urbanadc.com



Sashay shante

2011-01-09T17:07:42.477-05:00

(image) As far as gastronomy-related performances go, Perry's Sunday Brunch is hard to beat. Brunch, my favorite meal, promises a little bit of this, a little bit of that, and exaggerates certain characteristics with a flourish - breakfast in drag, and at a much more convenient hour. While Perry's is a destination for groups of revelers, T. and I decided to give it the Any Given Sunday treatment and just showed up at their recommended hour of 11.45 AM. Perry's does not take reservation, and your arrival time is noted by the hostess. You are welcome to wait at the very crowded bar (where we were treated to a dancing father-daughter duo, as well as patrons that were sporting handle bar mustaches and bleached and permed hair). Most of the tables turn when the performers take breaks, and our wait was about 45 minutes. The servers play a huge part in keeping everybody happy and imbibed - Perry's serves the strongest Mimosa I've ever had in DC, with just a splash of OJ to go with your bubbles.

If you have anything important to discuss with your brunch companions, this is not the place to do it. The Queens command attention, and the disco/Lady Gaga/Beyonce mix blares on top of the ding of a crowded dining room. It is also a more interactive experience than the Gospel Brunch at the Corcoran (where, I suspect, none of the performers will ask you if you want or need a BBC in your life). On Sundays Perry's goes from a la carte to a buffet (around $25 per person, cocktails are about $6 each). I am not a huge fan of brunch buffets, and the long line that forms in between shows makes repeated visits difficult (the solution is giving you an enormous plate, which may not be everyone's favorite strategy). However, the kitchen tops off the selections regularly, and everything is well prepared - everything from eggs, salads, waffles, noodles, sushi, cold cuts, lasagna, orzo salad, and grilled chicken and pork. The corn muffins are very tasty and the dolmas, though they had no reason to be there, were chilled and tangy. The sushi is nothing special on its own, but its sheer presence next to scrambled eggs makes the roles noteworthy.

The most boisterous brunch in the city, and a wonderful way to beat the winter blues.

(image)
Perry's Restaurant
1811 Columbia Rd NW
Washington, DC 20009
www.perrysadamsmorgan.com



Christmas Tigers

2010-12-25T01:18:36.957-05:00

Another recycled post from my now-defunct personal blog, The Border Fence. This one is from 19 December 2006. A safe and happy holiday season to all.

It’s a quiet night in Maryland and I am enjoying one-upmanship on my behalf. Each person in the house is cooking a dish, and soon the kitchen table decked out in Marimekko is populated by different entrees: whole fish in sauce, pork and peanuts, scrambled eggs with tiny fish, perfectly cooked vegetables, and tofu stir fried with mushrooms and bacon. I make a mental note to discuss this last dish with all the vegetarians I know.

The project involving visiting Chinese lawyers will wrap soon. They will fly home on New Year’s Eve, and are thinking about things to do with their last few days in the US. They ask me to suggest some activities, a question that comes as second nature by now, considering I have been running their lives for the better part of 6 months. I have never spent the Holidays in DC, but I rattle down a list: the Messiah at the Kennedy Center, the huge Menorah at the Ellipse, the rather quaint trees at the Capitol, Union Station and behind the White House. I warn them that all museums close on the 25th and that maybe they can take the opportunity to sample some local cuisine. They shudder at the thought, but reveal that they have partaken in a thoroughly Anglo-Saxon tradition.

“We went caroling yesterday around the neighborhood with the church from down the street. Can you help us figure out some of the words?”

I smile at how new the age-old songs must seem to them. I am giving a thoroughly parsed booklet and go through the circled words:

“Bethlehem is the town where Jesus was born. Noel is another word for Christmas, and it comes from the French Noёl, a manger is where you keep animals. Gloria in Excelsis Deo is in Latin, not English, and it means Glory to God Above / in Heaven. Hark is a call to attention, I think. Ye is old English for The. Christ/Jesus/Christ the Lord is sort of used interchangeably […]”

“Will there be fireworks for Christmas?”

I am sorry to disappoint them, especially because they arrived in DC right after the Fourth of July. Maybe there are firework displays in the South, and in some locales for New Year’s, but not anywhere near them.

“Do you have fireworks in Mexico for Christmas?”

I set my tea down. I remember pointing empty Coke bottles at the sky, the perfect launching pad for whistling rockets, running around on the street in front of and behind spinning multicolor rosettes, covering my ears as black cats popped without much show. My grandfather’s gift of Bengal lights, his hand holding a Zippo steadily beneath a bumpy gray rod almost as tall as me, with ignition revealing millions of bright orange limbs that clawed into the night sky.

“Of course. Mexico is the land of Christmas tigers.”



Pho in the Wall

2010-12-24T14:32:40.339-05:00

(image) Few things are satisfying in this bitter cold as a steaming bowl of Vietnamese beef noodle soup with all the fixings. While Pho 14, a tiny café a stone's throw away from Target in Columbia Heights is not Pho 75, it is easily the best bowl of Pho in the District Proper. My former boss is Vietnamese-American, and her rule of thumb was that a proper Pho place should serve only soups, and leave it at that. While I miss our office runs to the Eden Center, this small place is metro accessible, and has the added advantages of taking credit/debit cards as well as offering some other simple staples of Vietnamese cooking such as banh mi, Indochine in sandwich form. The Tiki bar is a bit cutesy, but it gives the staff somewhere to hang out when things are slow. My recent trip - a late, late lunch at 4 PM gave me restaurant all to myself, and the bright orange walls were a welcome contrast to the bleakness outside and the maddening crowds at Target. There's magic in those noodles, or perhaps its the restorative powers of the fresh basil, the brightness of strategically squirted lime, and all the sriracha and jalapeños I can handle. Comfort food at its finest.

Pho 14
1436 Park Road NW
Washington, DC 20010
(202)986 23 26





And so this is Christmas...

2010-12-13T00:36:10.057-05:00

(image) Today is the Feast of the Virgin of Guadalupe, the traditional start to Posadas, evening parties that run for the 12 days of Christmas in Mexico and where beloved traditions such as piñatas come from. The Mexican Professionals Network of Washington DC held its annual Posada at Lupe Cantina today, and the friendly bar staff made sure the margaritas were perfectly salty and chilled, the XX Lager flowed, and the shenanigans went by smoothly.

While we have enjoyed Lupe's kitchen in past events, posadas require a special menu, so we turned to our caterer extraordinaire, Connie Johnson. The evening featured champurrado (a chocolate-based atole, making it a hominy flour-based drink); chicken and pork tamales; pozole (a robust, medium spicy soup with pork and chicken, hominy, and traditional fixings of oregano, fresh radish, and greens); guacamole, and refried beans. The food was well prepared, and the combination was perfect to stave off the cold and the homesickness.

If you're sorry you missed out on a traditional Mexican menu in downtown DC, check out Mexican Jalapeño - this online store has everything you need to recreate the meal and even fill a piñata or two.



Latkes' Lament

2010-12-05T02:11:45.739-05:00

A few years ago, before Facebook was available to the post-college crowd, I kept a personal blog on Wordpress, The Border Fence. I stopped updating it in 2008 after I took over as editor of DCGastronome. It still exists in some password-protected sense, and on occasion I would write about food (no surprise there). In honor of the fantastic sweet potato latkes and mulled Manischewitz I had on the 3rd night of Hanukkah courtesy of M., here's a recycled entry from December 2006. If you are craving latkes and your friends aren't as accommodating, Firefly in Dupont Circle has a latke special for the duration of the holiday. Latke's Lament 16.12.2006We were making our way up 18th street, and I couldn't shake the feeling that there was a better way to get to Adams Mill Road - one that didn't involve stopping every other corner to wait for a street light to change. Jaywalking in DC is not the best idea generally, and in the area surrounding Dupont Circle specifically, with all those cars with diplomatic plates driving around."I never do it, unless there's a woman with a stroller stepping into the street. Then I run alongside them."My friend seems amused. I explain that no one would deliberately run over a woman with a baby. Acceptable variants include pregnant women, dads with babies in arms, and even toddlers. "What if they swerve to avoid the adult with the kid element and then they hit you?" I retort with the running alongside them, thus creating a human shield.I hear chuckles behind us. Two guys, strolling along 18th street. They've been tailing along for a while, but our general direction is very common for a Friday night. They tell us that they are not stalking us and that they are going to a bar. I take a look at them. Undergrads, barely legal if they cannot name a specific bar in Adams Morgan yet. After a few quips they ask us where we are going."Latke Party! It's the first night of Hanukkah.""What's a Latke?""It's a take on a hash brown. The best part of Hanukkah is all the fried foods."One of them answers, "Oh see I am a recovering Catholic. We don't have any specific food."My friend turns to me, her walking reference guide who goes to Sunday school on Tuesdays. I ponder."Fish for lent? I guess every country has its specific holiday fare."Recovering Catholic's companion says, "Well, then I guess you can claim the cuisine of any predominantly Catholic country as yours, no?"Mexican, French, Italian, Spanish… we miss out on all the Asian cuisines, but the thought of religious cultural imperialism is perverse enough to work."So if you are Catholic how come you know what latkes are?"I could wax philosophical about the war on Christmas. I just smile and say I am thankful and blessed with good friends."So can we go to this party of yours? Latkes sound like something worth knowing!"We look at each other. The Adams Mill Road locale is homey, but small. It's also sit down dinner. We say sorry, but we are guests and we were asked to bring plates, not random 20 year olds. We pleasantly part ways in Columbia Road.We get to our friend's party as the first batch of Latkes is coming out. Potato and onion ransack our noses. The candles are lit and blessings are said.Sour cream and apple sauce conspire to make the latkes fly off the table. A late guest shows up just in time to claim the remaining three."I am so glad there's latkes left. I was at this massive Hanukkah party and the hostess refused to make the latkes, and she had the shredded potato and everything! She had stage fright!"Latke anxiety. Sounds like a Woody Allen movie.[...]



The Spirit of Mexico

2010-12-01T11:25:12.483-05:00

The only country that drinks as much (and in some years, even more) tequila as Mexico is the United States. And yet the spirit that plays such a big role in Mexican culture gets a bad rap - I know plenty of adventurous eaters and drinkers who will not come near tequila, sheepishly confessing to underage binge drinking and hazy memories of Spring Break. If you count yourself amongst that bunch it is time to break free from the Girls Gone Wild associations and give it a second try - and I am not talking an overpriced margarita at Lauriol Plaza or ill-advised shots at Eighteen Street Lounge. The Mexican Professionals Network of Washington DC recently sponsored a tequila sip, and we all learned new things from the National Chamber of Tequila Makers that might make you come around. Tequila is a highly controlled spirit, and at 35 to 40% alcohol by volume it shouldn't intoxicate you any more than vodka or whisky. It is produced in two categories, Tequila 100% Agave and Tequila (which contains other sugars, such as molasses, which are added before fermentation begins) in authorized regions in Mexico. Tequila does not come from a cactus - it is made from Agave Tequilana Weber blue variety, which is in the lily family and takes about 8 years to come to maturity and harvest. While mixing it with mezcal is a nascent trend, they are different spirits. There are more than 1,100 tequila trademarks bottled in Mexico. There are 5 kinds of tequila in each category: Silver (Blanco), Gold (Joven), Aged (Reposado), Extra Aged (Añejo) and Ultra Aged (Extra Añejo). Silver is bottled after distillation, the aged kinds are aged in oak barrels for 1, 3 or more than 3 years, and gold is a mix of Blanco and tequila that has been matured. The aged tequilas are far more aromatic, as they incorporate the notes from the wood into their profiles. The tequila region varies geographically, with the the more flowery tequilas being the product of agave grown next to orchards and the valley grown agave having a distinct mineral taste. Which brings us to an important point - the best way to enjoy tequila is to sip it, not shoot it. The salt and lime chaser are the historical relics of the old process of producing tequila, and are now mostly optional. Lime will severely impair your ability to taste an aged tequila. As far as temperature goes, tequila freezes extremely well, but tastings will normally serve it at room temperature. A few years ago Austrian Glassware Maker Riedel created a tequila glass at the request of the National Chamber of Tequila Makers that looks very much like a champagne flute - holding the glass with the stem keeps the temperature of the tequila by keeping your hands away, and the flute shape puts some distance between your nose and the spirit, allowing you to smell it. While I love a good margarita, a fine tequila should be enjoyed straight. Reposado is normally an aperitif and añejos are often digestives - because of their aromatics, blanco pairs well with cold cuts, salads, ceviche and guacamole, while reposado complements heavier entrées, tacos, and mole. The wooden notes in añejos make them ideal for dry fruits and yams - perfect for the holidays. As Mexicans, we are proud of our national spirit, a mestizo blend of pre-Columbian herbology and European distillation techniques. So pay heed to our best ambassador and sip![...]



Where the Not-Pardoned Turkeys Are

2010-11-22T22:57:10.759-05:00

(image) On Thanksgiving Day, some of the Kimpton restaurants will be offering special menus. Chef Dennis Marron at Jackson 20 will serve a three-course Thanksgiving menu for $50 per person. Menu items are also available a la carte. A few blocks away, Dennis’ other kitchen at The Grille at Morrison House will serve a five-course Thanksgiving tasting menu for $85 per person, also offering a la carte options BRABO by Robert Wiedmaier offers a three-course Thanksgiving-themed dinner for $65 per person.

Menus are on their respective websites. The Apple Tarts at Morrison House are making me seriously doubt my Thanksgiving Plans.


For Thanksgiving Sunday, the DC Dining Society is hosting a Thanksgiving Banquet on Sunday, November 28, from 11:30 AM until at least 3:30 PM at Taberna del Alabardero. Beverages include Taittinger Champagne Brut La Francaise NV, Louis Jadot Beaujolais Village 2009, Catoctin Creek Organic Roundstone Rye Whisky, Catoctin Creek Pearousia and Vermont Spirits Vermont Gold Vodka. The meal will include traditional American fare as well as Northern Spanish Cuisine.

The price is $75.00 per person at the door or the advance price of $70.00 by cash or check that must be received at least 24 hours before the event and includes all food, wine and spirits as well as, tip and tax. Please contact Chef Marty for additional information and reservations at 202-265-0477 or chefmartydc@aol.com



Cheers to the World!

2010-11-21T23:51:43.400-05:00

(image) Few things say holidays like cocktails (how better to be in the mood for comfort and joy?) and our friends at Beefeater have come up with a special for the holidays featuring their brand new Beefeater 24. Gin goes great with turkey!


The First Day by Jonathan Harris

1 3/4 oz Beefeater 24
3/4 oz Mathilde Pear Liqueur
1/2 oz Lemon Juice
2 dashes St. Elizabeth Allspice Dram
Garnished with a mint leaf






A good meal no matter what

2010-11-22T15:54:44.354-05:00

You know when you have one of those days when all you want is a good meal. You are looking for that meal where after an hour you are still saying to yourself, ' now THAT was good.' Since moving to MD, I have found just the place where I'm guaranteed a good meal, no matter what. B and I first went to Black Market Bistro for brunch a few weeks back and were seated on the front porch of this old post office turned restaurant. It looks more like a victorian style house and sits back in the Garrett, MD neighborhood. B had the buttermilk pancakes with freshly squeezed orange juice, but I clearly won with the eggs benedict served with smoked salmon on top of a homemade biscut. I'm from the south and know my biscuts, and they were by far the star of the show. Just to make sure we ended on a sweet note, we ordered the New Orleans style beignets, because we could. This weekend we decided to treat ourselves a good dinner and found ourselves back at Black Market. I had the grilled yellowfin tuna, but it was garbanzo bean cassoulet along with the preserved lemon & red grape compote that was really something special. B ate the cider cured pork tenderloin who said his favorite part was the well seared outside with juicy center. Again to end on a sweet note, we ended the night with the pumpkin cheesecake, which hit the holiday spot! Black Market is one of Jeff and Barbara Black's four restaurants which also include: Addies in Rockville, MD, Blacks Bar and Kitchen in Bethesda, MD, and BlackSalt in the Palisades, DC. Black Market4600 Waverly Ave.Garrett Park, MD 20896http://www.blackmarketrestaurant.com/[...]



Gathering to Ensure Nourishment 10.30.10

2010-11-04T12:36:08.533-04:00

(image) So DC was a little bit crowded last weekend and in between all that rallying and partying, we had to make sure we had food. Maria and I had friends and relatives in town for the weekend and, as we have learned from Halloweens past, downtown restaurants were going to get slammed. As much as we enjoy seeing our fair city hopping with activity, we knew we had to have a respite from the weekend hordes.

Enter Bertucci'is. The Dupont Circle location of the storied Massachusetts chain is a few blocks from our Gathering. We had already planned to make it a pizza party, and were going to order from Pete's New Haven, one of the few places in town that passes Maria's muster. But a few days prior we were invited to try Bertucci's new offerings, and while I most confess I pass it often, I am usually hurrying up Connecticut Avenue since its enticing smell is the siren call for my efforts at the gym down the street. Bertucci's was one of the first places in DC-proper to offer brick oven pizzas and their lovely char; the recently introduced menu items really let it shine. They roast their own vegetables, too, which sets it apart from pizzas you can make at home. My favorite at the preview was de Scallop di Mare, a scallop pizza with mozarella, roasted garlic, a lemon pepper cream sauce and roasted peppers. The chocolate crostata, the Bertucci's crust with an artisanal hazelnut spread, is a wonderful play of crunchy and silky.

As much as I loved the Scallop di Mare, not everyone is as pro seafood on pizza as I am. Given that the theme of the weekend was sanity, we picked items that would please everyone: The Sofia, a white pizza with mozarella, roasted artichoke spread, sausage and fresh thyme. The Stella, the star of our night with an amazing smokey sauce, roasted portobello mushrooms, roasted eggplants and peppers (both are new menu items); The Puccillo, Maria's favorite, with pepperoni, Italian Sausage and mushrooms, rouding it off with the Ultimate Bertucci for those who insist on lean protein in their pizza along with everything else.

The best part? Our order (placed the night before) was delivered promptly, to the delight of our hungry and about to start drinking for hours on end friends. The pizzas also came with disposable plates and plastic ware and rolls at no extra charge. At least one thing in DC was working last weekend.

(image)
Bertucci's Pizzeria
Dupont Circle
1218 Connecticut Ave NW
Washington, DC 20036
www.bertuccis.com



The Most Sincere Pumpkin Patch in DC

2010-10-25T22:16:13.133-04:00

(image)
I would like to think that an adult Linus Van Pelt would trade his blanket for his namesake cocktail, created by Poste's resident mixologist, Rico Wisner. A seasonal offering, the Linus is both evocative of childhood and a sophisticated pairing of tastes we don't normally associate with autumn. If you've had a cocktail at Poste over the past few years you've probably noticed his attention to detail and playful combinations, but like his favorite Peanuts character, this cocktail is unusually smart and a worthy offering to the Great Pumpkin. A seasonal cocktail, the Linus is a must for lovers of all things pumpkin, and it will teach you a thing or two about the possibilities of rum.

What gives the Linus its body and texture is coconut milk, mixed with pumpkin purée. It's kick comes from the combination of two rums: Bacardi Coco, a run of the mill flavored rum, and Flor de Caña, a wonderful rum from Nicaragua and one of the few that I will sip. (And props to Poste for introducing it to a wider audience). The cocktail is on the sweet side, but not excessively so, and pairs very well with the fabled truffle fries. Some tweaks from last year's version have eliminated the dusting of nutmeg (though some all spice and nutmeg is still in the mix). C., who joined me in this particular excursion to Penn Quarter, nailed it: the Linus is a piña colada for autumn.

Rico has tought of everything, down to the glassware. The shape is meant to be a play on the shape of the gourd-like squash, which also allows you to smell the distinct components: you get the aroma of the coconut well before the pumpkin hits your palate. The garnish is delicious: a pumpkin cocada, it will make anyone who still finds Thanksgiving dishes exotic positively giddy. The coconut and pumpkin mix is rolled into a ball, ideal for dipping.

You'd have to be a blockhead not to try it.

The Bar @ Poste
555 8th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20004
www.postebrasserie.com




Turnover

2010-10-19T18:47:22.325-04:00

I don't normally write places up after a single visit, but I don't normally make excited calls within minutes of leaving a restaurant, either. So this is an apology of sorts to Panas, for having walked past it every day for months and just having tried it. Where did my resistance to Panas come from? I consider that stretch of P street to be part of my neighborhood. Maybe it was the memory of some dry ones at the Dupont Circle Farmers' Market. Perhaps its because I am more of a street food snob than I would care to admit, and "gourmet empanadas" seem a bit of an oxymoron. I clearly forgot the lessons of Ramen in New York.Panas is tucked away on P street rowhouse, next to TangySweet and below Pizzeria Paradiso's old location. The décor, in lovely shades of orange and grey, skews heavily towards the modern. Ordering is efficient, the wares are all there for you to see and smell, and there are plenty of combos. I ordered Combo #1, 3 empanadas and a soft drink, which came with dipping sauces and platain chips (the friendly managers/owners are Argentinean and Puerto Rican, respectively, which explains the chips). I certainly liked the look of the empanadas, and appreciated the many salad selections and vegetarian options. The smell of the dessert empanadas, coupled with the back and forth in Spanish, made me homesick.I sat down with my meal, fully prepared to be underwhelmed. Years of being exposed to the stylings of the Argentinean community in Mexico, coupled with a few trips to Buenos Aires that still have me sending people over to the same street vendors in San Telmo and that one place near Santa Fe have spoiled me rotten. Julia's, that DC institution, fits squarely into my category of food that tastes better when drunk (the bread itself is too stiff and sweet). I love Breadline but their empanadas are the one thing I will never order again.I ordered what I thought would be a good sampler: Carne (beef, green olives, Spanish peppers, hard boiled eggs, onions, and parsley); Chipotle Steak (Shredded sirloin steak and onions in a spicy chipotle sauce); and Tamal (Corn, onions, farmer cheese, scallions, and roasted jalapenos). Carne is the traditional Argentinean empanada, and I figured it would be a good way to benchmark the place. For dipping sauces I asked for the standard chimichurri, the Argentinean contribution to the world of condiments (a mix of garlic, oregano, parsley and spices), and Aji (yellow hot chili pepper with mayo). Nice to see a nod to Peruvian gastronomy in the mix.The Tamal empanada (a brilliant concept akin to the pie in cupcake) had me at first bite. It tastes better than anything vegetarian has a right to. The sweetness of the corn contrasts with the salty crust, and the Aji lent it the spicy note that it needed to be truly great, at least to my Mexican palate. Carne had enough olive (something I always miss in the Julia's version) and was served at the perfect temperature thanks to hot plates (other places serve them cold or kill them under a heating lamp). The churri tasted very fresh, and while it was strong, it did not overpower the olives and peppers in the empanada itself. Chipotle Steak was good, but nowhere near as Spicy as I would have wanted it. There are far more adventuresome sounding meat empanadas so next time I'd let the freak flag fly where it may. I might even do a second vegetarian empanada, as the BrieArt, a combination of Brie, mushrooms [...]