Trouble With Toast

Food fondness

May 21, 2008

As I enjoyed the company and the grub (fried oysters, grilled asparagus and corn, and blueberry pie, yum) at the Tackle Box last night, I realized how much DC has done to cultivate my love of all things culinary. Sure, I’ve always loved to eat, and I’ve been cooking at home since I was a teenager. But until I came to our nation’s capital, food was a necessity–though an enjoyable one–rather than a passion.

Here, I was faced with infinite dining possibilities, many of which presented quality and creativity beyond anything I had experienced previously. I was offered the freshest seasonal produce at area farmers’ markets, which made home cooking more exciting and varied. I was the closest I’d ever lived to New York City and other great food destinations, a geographic boon of which I should have taken greater advantage. Most importantly, though, DC introduced me to countless individuals whose love for food influenced and shaped my own.

Thanks to recommendations from other local diners, I feel like I’ve truly tasted all that DC has to give. I’ve eaten at amazing restaurants (and I have one more on my list–Komi, which I will enjoy before I leave), I’ve met some incredible chefs and restaurant owners, and I’ve really forged a bond with the city through its many delicious offerings and its welcoming and accessible culinary community.

When I move to Atlanta on Saturday, I will be sad to leave these individuals and businesses behind. However, I will bring with me everything that DC has taught me about food–that its beauty does not have to be complicated or pretentious, that it can make you laugh and cry in the same meal, that it is an important social and political issue, that it can forge lifelong friendships and intense arguments, and that, at the end of the day, it’s all about a connection between the people who create it and the people who enjoy it.

Thanks for the journey, DC–I’m a better cook, eater, and person because of it.

This picture sums up my weekend

May 19, 2008

Apparently, in my family, “graduation” translates to “eat and drink until your body is forced to shut down.”  My sister, her boyfriend, and my boyfriend all graduated from the Georgetown University Law Center on Sunday, so the weekend was filled with many tasty treats.

On Friday night, we celebrated at Proof, my favorite restaurant in the city.  What an amazing night of food and fun!  Appetizers included the always-impressive charcuterie board, the sauteed sweetbreads with dates and bacon (so popular that a second order was placed), the meatballs, the Wagyu sashimi, the asparagus soup (delicious), and the gnocchi with asparagus, ramps, peas, and mushrooms (as good as it’s ever been–pillowy yet rich, and the perfect expression of spring). Everything was wonderful, though the sweetbreads seemed to be the table favorite.  The entree winner was the miso-glazed sablefish (with mushrooms, bok choy, and potato puree), which I fell in love with on my last visit. It was just as wonderful as I remembered. The halibut (with sunchokes, among other things) was a close second–the folks in the kitchen really know how to cook fish. Black sesame-crusted salmon was very tasty, and the pea shoot spaetzle that accompanied it was a lovely touch. The pork loin and a beet salad also went over well, though the fish dishes definitely outshadowed them.  As for dessert, the goat’s cheesecake and sticky toffee pudding cake were terrific as usual, and chef also put together a refreshing strawberry shortcake.  I couldn’t possibly remember all of the wines and beers we drank, but I do recall that our server was wonderful about listening to our likes and dislikes and then making spot-on recommendations. The atmosphere was perfect for our celebration–it’s such an upbeat, energetic place, and that fit our celebratory mood to a tee.  I will miss dining at Proof once I move to Atlanta (at the end of this week, eek), but it will be at the top of my list on every return visit to DC.

Saturday was lunch at Matchbox, which is where Jason and I had many of our early dates.  Miniburgers?  Gooooood.  White pizza with shrimp, cilantro, red onions, and a balsamic reduction?  Gooooood.  We ended the day of packing with delivery from Great Wall Szechuan House on 14th Street.  Sadly, this is the only reasonably reliable (certainly not outstanding) Chinese food in the District, and I only discovered it over the past few months.  Here’s hopin’ that Atlanta has a little more quality in that genre.

Sunday found the family gathered for brunch at Mie N Yu in Georgetown.  Service was a little spotty, but the cocktails were fab (yes, we were drinkng at 11 AM, what’s it to ya?!) and the food was actually pretty good.  Calamari was average (though it came with a nice spicy dipping sauce), and bacon-wrapped dates were not as good as the version at Jaleo (in my opinion), but the crab cake sandwiches were enjoyed by all.  I got “Best Orderer” accolades for choosing the veal wraps–kinda like mu shu, with shredded veal and scallion pancakes.  Nom.  The tempura apples were awesome for dessert as well.

After all of that, there was still a barbeque at Barzelay’s house to attend, complete with homemade pulled pork sandwiches, creamed corn (drooooool–his version is so incredibly good), cucumber salad, cole slaw, fruit salad, and assorted fruit pies.  There’s no shame in going back for thirds, right?

Wow, I should forward this post to my supervisors.  Then they’d understand why I’m falling asleep at my desk today!  Ah, well–it was all in the name of graduation celebration!

Burger Joint

May 15, 2008
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On Tuesday night, we journeyed to Bethesda to celebrate the birthday of a dear friend from high school.  Normally I would balk at partying in Maryland, but my friend is awesome–AND the voyage gave me a chance to try the Burger Joint, the DC area’s newest shrine to cow on a bun.

The restaurant is in a FANTASTIC location, facing Veterans Park (which means lots of great outdoor seating). We got there at about ten to six, and we were the only customers in line (but not for long). I ordered the bacon cheeseburger, medium rare, with pepper jack cheese and fries. Boyfriend got the Cuban burger (which came with Serrano ham AND roasted pork) with onion rings. We both got sodas, as I couldn’t convince him to split a shake with me. Boo! Everyone behind the counter was very upbeat and friendly.

We ordered at 5:57 and were given #2148. As the minutes ticked by, we heard numbers 2149, 50, 51, 52, etc. At 6:17, when I heard #2153 being called, I approached the counter and inquired as to the status of our order. Apparently, our ticket had been lost–I worked in “the biz” for many years, and that kind of stuff happens quite frequently, so when the grill cook apologized very sincerely and said he’d have our food to us as quickly as possible, I returned to my seat and awaited the deliciousness.  Again, to be clear, no one noticed that we’d been waiting for a while–I went up to the counter after 20 minutes and inquired about our food, and then one of the cooks yelled for the manager to come over and comp our meal (which I’m glad he didn’t do). They responded to my complaint, but it certainly wasn’t as proactive as it should have been. 

Well, not long after I sat back down, the manager came over to our table. I was expecting a reiteration of the apology and nothing more. Instead, he said, “So, what’s the deal here?” and asked us what we had ordered. The manager walked away while I was in the middle of a sentence, came back with our food, and slammed two brownies on the table, indicating that they were on him. No one approached our table again for the remainder of our time there.  I definitely believe that a personal visit and some free brownies are both nice gestures. But I was simply expecting a sincere comment, such as an apology for the mistake or a “we hope you come back and see us” sort of thing, and instead we got an annoyed “So, what’s the deal here?” (which seemed strange because he had JUST spoken to his staff and had been apprised of the problem) and a “These are on me” as he threw two brownies on the table. It was like he couldn’t get away fast enough.

The food was EXCELLENT–our burgers were perfectly cooked, and I really enjoyed the amount of char taste that was present. The bacon was whole (not chopped, of which I’d heard rumors) and quite flavorful, and the bun was substantial enough to handle the meat and toppings without being overly dense. The lettuce, tomato, and onion all tasted fresh, and I really enjoyed the “mojo” sauce. Boyfriend loved his burger as well, and his first comment was, “Wow, I can really taste the quality of the ingredients.” The onion rings were good but not great (a little greasy for my taste, but definitely hot and fresh), but the fries were outstanding–the double-frying makes it so that they can be thicker cut AND crispy, and the soaking of the potatoes really enhances the taste. All around, I found that the quality and quantity of the food were very much in line with the prices.

So why did I leave with a bad taste in my mouth (so to speak)? I just couldn’t shake the annoyance that came with the manager’s handling of the situation. I didn’t want anything to be comped (after all, we ate a lot of food, and it was gooooooood), I didn’t want brownies, and I certainly didn’t want my rear end to be kissed all evening–I just wanted a sincere apology for the mix-up and some indication that my repeat business would be appreciated. To be honest, it probably would have been better if the manager hadn’t approached our table at all.

Again, the food was wonderful–but customer service is an important aspect of the dining experience, especially as the price point increases. I get that the manager was trying to do right, but the delivery just missed the mark with me, and it affected my experience enough for me to mention it. I really did love the food, and I would recommend Burger Joint to others–I just hope that Burger Joint works hard to keep the quality of its staff in line with the quality of its product.

Oh yes it’s ladies night, and the feeling’s right…

May 14, 2008

Last week, I headed out on the town with two fabulous females.  First stop: The Source.  Only Lemmonex had been there previously, but she had lauded the sliders and tuna tartare, so EJ and I were excited to get on board.

The sliders (made of “American style” Kobe), of which there were four, were $16 and were pretty darn tasty–the meat was juicy and well-seasoned, and the bun and accompaniments were fitting.  My one gripe is that we didn’t have a choice as to temperature; I like my burgers medium rare, and these were medium well to well done.  Minor complaint, but at the price point, I should get to choose my doneness factor.

The tuna tartare ($15) was served in three sesame miso cones.  It was a lovely presentation, and the tartare was good, but the cone was quite delicate and fell apart with my first bite (leaving a tuna-y mess in my hand).  For me, this dish was a prime example of form over function.

The fries cost eight dollars and were great, and the portion was very large compared to the other dishes.  The potatoes were well-salted and non-greasy, and the dish came with homemade bearnaise sauce and ketchup.  There’s not much else to say besides yum!

My favorite appetizer of the evening was the plate of pork belly dumplings ($12) with a black vinegar dipping sauce.  I love me some dumplings, and these were fine specimens–tender, flavorful, and full of piggy sweetness.  I was happy to have given Lemmonex the fourth slider in exchange for the last dumpling on the platter.

I was drinking white wine, and it hovered around $12-$16 per glass.  I’m not sure how much the cocktails were, but after the aforementioned food and three rounds, the tab was $65 per person.  For simply starters and drinks, I think that’s a bit steep–and I suspect that a large part of our check was going to pay for the “Wolfgang Puck” name attached to the entrance sign.  C’est la vie.

For dessert and more drinks (we’re not lushes, I promise), we scooted a few blocks over to Central, where Lemmonex had never dined.  We split the “Kit-Kat Bar”–a delicious and decadent take on the classic candy, served with homemade hazelnut ice cream.  Drool.  With the dessert and two final rounds, we shelled out $22 a piece.  A much better number!  Of course, we ordered less than we did at The Source–but still, prices at Central are reasonable for what you’re getting, whereas at Puck’s place, you’re partly paying for the packaging.

So there you have it–if you have some cash to burn, The Source is a chic lounge with some compelling food and drink.  However, Central can deliver some pleasant surprises on your plate, in your glass, and in your wallet.

The Tackle Box

May 8, 2008

A few Sundays ago, the boyfriend and I were strolling through Georgetown, stimulating the economy (you’re welcome), when we noticed a new storefront next to Hook–The Tackle Box.  Much to our pleasant surprise, it was the grand opening of this affordable, casual seafood restaurant (which is styled to resemble a New England “lobster shack” in both appearance and culinary offerings). We were there around 4 or 4:30, and there was plenty of staff on hand–including Chef Barton Seaver.

For $13, you can get a “Maine Meal” that includes a fish, two sides, and a sauce. I opted for fried clams, mac ‘n cheese, and grilled asparagus, and I decided to try the lemon garlic aioli (even though I don’t usually put a lot of sauce on my seafood). The clams were huge and tasty, and the breading added great flavor without being heavy or overwhelming. The mac ‘n cheese was just average and could have used a little more cheese and seasoning. The grilled asparagus were awesome–they had a wonderful char, and they were crisp but tender. The aioli was nice, but, true to form, I didn’t use much of it. Boyfriend had the fried oysters, braised greens, and french fries, and he went with the tartar sauce. The oysters were big and juicy and bursting with flavor (I actually preferred them to my clams), and the greens were salty and delicious. The fries were seasoned well, though I would have preferred them to be a bit crisper. I didn’t try the tartar, but it was gone by the end of the meal, so it must have been good.

The place is really casual, with big communal picnic tables and paper/plastic plates and forks. The quality of ingredients was apparent, and I thought the quantity of food was pretty good for the money (for example, I think boyfriend got about 8-10 oysters with his meal, and I got 5 really nice stalks of asparagus with mine). We asked about their hours, and it looks like they’ll be open till 2 AM on the weekends–freakin’ smart, considering the lack of GOOD late-night dining in this city.  They don’t have a liquor license yet, but I believe the paperwork has been filed, so to speak.

We’ll definitely try to go back before the big move–there’s plenty of variety on the menu, so there were many things I didn’t get to try that I would like to (the clam chowder being number one on that list). I think this place is going to be crazy busy once the word gets out!

Morel Alfredo

May 6, 2008

After splurging on some delicious morels at the Dupont farmers’ market, I decided to improvise with them instead of following a predetermined recipe.  After much thought, I settled on a homemade morel alfredo sauce (which I served over store-bought whole wheat rigatoni).

I rinsed the morels and then sliced them, and then I set them aside while I minced some shallots and sauteed them in olive oil.  Once the shallots were browned, I melted in a stick of butter and then added the morels.  The smell was incredible–earthy, almost fishy, and very rich.  I added a cup of heavy cream and some freshly grated parmesan cheese (I’d say at least a cup), and then I simmered the sauce until it was thick and creamy.  I tossed in the cooked rigatoni, and voila!  Savory mushroomy goodness.

At $12-$15 per pint, morels are certainly a special occasion treat for me.  But, I really enjoyed this dish, and I will look forward to the next time I can make it with these rare and delicious fungi.

Recipe: Shrimp and Grits Casserole

May 5, 2008
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Shrimp and grits is a southern classic, so when I saw this casserole recipe (from Cooking Light magazine, with some adaptations for personal taste and texture preferences), I had to give it a go. This was an easy, cheesy version of the dish, and I really enjoyed it the night I cooked it for dinner. However, it made a LOT of food, and the leftovers just weren’t up to snuff (the shrimp were rubbery, and the grits were dry). So, if you’re only cooking for one or two people, I’d suggest halving the recipe–or inviting some folks over for supper!

  • 2 cups skim milk
    3/4 cup chicken broth
    1 cup uncooked quick-cooking grits
    1/4 teaspoon salt
    1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
    2 tablespoons butter
    1 3-ounce package reduced fat cream cheese
    3 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
    1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives
    1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
    2 large egg whites
    1 pound peeled and deveined medium shrimp
    Cooking spray

Preheat oven to 375. Combine milk and broth in a medium heavy saucepan; bring to a boil. Gradually add grits and salt to pan, stirring constantly with a whisk. Cook 5 minutes or until thick, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Stir in Parmesan, butter, and cream cheese. Stir in parsley and next 4 ingredients (through shrimp). Spoon mixture into an 11 x 7–inch baking dish coated with cooking spray. Bake at 375 for 25 minutes or until set.