Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Washington DC Winter Restaurant Week Announced (January 11-17)

Restaurant week has been announced. 3 course fixed price meals for $20.10 for lunch or $35.10 for dinner. I still think that's a little steep for lunch on a workday...but it's worth the splurge if you're sick of freezing in line at the bulgogi kart on K St.

Some of the places I've experienced (in alphabetical order):

I would go here for the biscuits alone.
Acadiana Restaurant
901 New York Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20001
(202) 408-8848

May the pork belly be the only one stand you have this year. Just try not to feel guilty afterwards.
Againn DC
1099 New York Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20001
(202) 639-9830

This is on recommendation from a good friend. And I once shared a cigarette with the pastry chef. He seemed legit.
Black Salt Restaurant
4883 MacArthur Boulevard, NW
Washington, DC 20007
(202) 342-9101

My husband and I got the 27 course tasting menu here as a wedding present. We should get married more often.
Café Atlantico
405 8th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20004
(202) 393-0812

Get the Queso Fundido. Get it. Get it. And not sure if they still do this, but the margaritas are stiff and cheap on Fridays.
701 14th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20005
(202) 393-3983

Can someone please lead me to the sorcerer who conjured up this feijoada?
The Grill from Ipanema
1858 Columbia Rd., NW
Washington DC 20009
(202) 986-0757

Belly dancing and you get to eat with your hands. That might gross some out, but whatever, I had a good time. Some of the better Moroccan food I've had. DO NOT go to Casablanca in Old Town.
Marrakesh Palace
2147 P St., NW
Washington, DC 20036
(202) 775-1882

My friend Elizabeth works here. It must be good. I will be attending a private dinner party catered by one of the chefs this my opinion may change.
1475 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20004
(202) 783-1475

Nice seasonal menu
Vermilion - Alexandria
1120 King Street
Alexandria, VA 22314
(703) 684-9669

Please take me here so I can harass Brian Voltaggio.
228 North Market Street
Frederick, MD 21701
(301) 696-8658

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

RECIPE: Red Lentil and Bulgar Wheat Soup (Vegetarian)

Lentils are cheap, quick cooking and nutritious. Same goes for you, Bulgar. I learned how to make this in a Mediterranean cooking class. I wish I still had the recipe, but we all know what kind of student I am. I prefer this soup with chicken stock, but all you veg heads should try it with the veggie stock and let me know how that goes.

Red Lentil and Bulgar Wheat Soup

Serves about 4

1 cup of rinsed red lentils
1/2 cup of bulgar wheat
32 oz veggie or chicken stock
2 tablespoons of tomato paste
1 tablespoon of smoked paprika or if you have some achiote powder just lying around, throw that in too.
salt and pepper
1 small onion chopped
1 lemon
2 tablespoons fresh parsley
1 tablespoon fresh mint
1 tablespoon or so of olive oil

Building the base.

Heat the olive oil in a heavy dutch oven. I use a dutch oven because the cast iron heats up fast and even, while the enamel makes for easy clean up. And it cost an arm and a leg so I feel like I should be using it every chance I get...I'd eat cereal out of it if I could lift heavy things in the morning.

Anyway, add the chopped onions. Cook the onions until they are soft, then add the paprika. Cooking the paprika in the hot oil will allow the spice to "bloom", essentially maximizing the flavor of the spice. Be careful not to burn it. You only need to do this for about 30 seconds to a minute. Add the tomato paste.

Making the soup.

Add stock to the pot. I like to add warmed stock. Just keep it in a little pot warming up while you build the base of the soup. Incorporate the stock with the tomato paste. Add lentils and bulgar. Bring to a boil and simmer until lentils are done. This shouldn't take more than 10 or so minutes. If the soup is too thick, add some water or more stock. This recipe is not can adjust the measurements to whatever consistency you prefer. I like it rich and stew like, so I don't add as much water Add salt and pepper to taste.

Finishing touches.

When the lentils are done and the consistency is to your liking, add the fresh parsley, then zest half of the lemon into the soup. The lemon is key to the soup and I do not recommend skipping this ingredient. It really brightens up the whole dish. Ladle into bowls and garnish with fresh mint. If you have good quality olive oil on hand, you can drizzle a little over the top, but I usually skip it.

I promise to get better at my measurements, but for now I must stress this recipe is not exact. More lentils and bulgar and less stock will make for a thicker soup. More stock, less lentils and bulgar will make it thinner. Lamb is also a great addition to this soup. I will brown the lamb while building the base and add it back in later to finish cooking while the lentils are simmering. I would imagine ground lamb would also be tasty. I will sometimes experiment with difference spices such as cumin or achiote. You can also substitute the mint garnish with basil.

RECIPE: Bacon Wrapped Sea Scallops on Butternut Squash Puree

The inspiration for this dish comes from a happy hour I went to at Granville Moores on H street NE. This is a liberal interpretation of this fall menu favorite as I was three ales deep by the time we decided to get food. Enjoy.

Bacon Wrapped Sea Sea Scallops on Butternut Squash Puree

Serves 4 (2 scallops each)

For the sea scallops:

8 large sea scallops (ask for dry if they have them.  If not, be prepared to spend a significant time drying the scallops.  Make sure they are not treated. )  Muscles removed
8 strips of bacon
8 long, sturdy toothpicks
Kosher salt
Fresh ground pepper
Olive oil

For the butternut squash puree:

1 butternut squash
2-3 cups of vegetable stock
Small pad of butter
Few sage leaves
Pinch of cumin
Pinch of nutmeg
Pinch of cinnamon
Pinch of Chinese Five Spice
Pinch of white pepper
Salt to taste
Splash of milk

The Bacon.

Parboil bacon (partially cook it so it will finish cooking with the scallops). I do this is a 350 degree oven on a bacon sheet and pull them out when some of the fat has rendered and they are not quite cooked through. This is so you are not wrapping raw bacon strips around raw scallops and everything can be evenly cooked. I’ve thought about doing this in a pan and reserving about a table spoon of the bacon fat to sear the scallops in. I haven’t tried that method yet, if you do, let me know how that goes. Set aside bacon to drain. Keep oven on.

The Squash.

Cut the squash crosswise. With the flat end on the cutting board, cut the skin by starting at the top, and cutting the rind down going towards the cutting board. A really sharp knife comes in handy here. Other traditional ways of doing this is microwaving or parboiling the squash to loosen the skin. This is the only way I’ve tried. Scoop out and discard the guts. Cube the squash into chunks. Add to a large pot. Cover with 2-3 cups of veggie stock. If the veggie stock doesn’t cover the squash, you can add a little water. Toss in your spices and sage. Boil until the squash is fork tender. Drain squash, reserving about a cup of the cooking liquid. Puree squash with a splash of milk in a blender, food processor or immersion blender adding the cooking liquid if it gets too dry. I do not recommend using a masher. I tried putting the squash through a potato ricer and it just wasn’t right. Stir in about a table spoon of butter…just for fun. No big deal if you don’t want the added fat. But you’re wrapping scallops in bacon. Go for it.

The Sea Scallops.

Make sure your scallops are dry. This is very important for getting a good sear on the scallop in the pan. Otherwise, the moisture from the scallop will “steam” up the pan and keep it from getting that crusty brown sear. So, don’t be lazy, pat the suckers nice and dry with a paper towels. Sprinkle with salt and fresh ground pepper.

The Assembly.

Wrap a strip of parboiled bacon around the circumference of the scallop and secure with a toothpick going through the center. Repeat 7 more times. With 7 more scallops. Heat about 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large, oven proof skillet. I like to start low and work the temperature up on the stove. Preheating a pan slowly allows a more even distribution of heat throughout the pan. Place scallops on the pan. You should hear a nice sizzle. If you hear crackles and pops, turn the heat down. After about a minute or two, turn the scallops over. If it does not easily turn, don’t mess with it. When the scallop has properly seared, the heat will naturally release it from the pan. Relax. After another minute, place the pan in the oven to finish cooking the scallops. Scallops are done when they are no longer translucent and are firm. They shouldn’t have to be in the oven longer than 6-7 minutes. While the scallops are in the oven, plate the squash puree on 4 plates. Place 2 scallops on top of puree on each plate.

I like to serve this as a plated first course. The one time I’ve made this I followed it with a seasonal salad and a venison roast with a basic red wine sauce. Roasted green beans and red potatoes on the side.

One Man's Quest for Grease, Greece, and Gris

An email I received from the only person I've ever done a cafeteria food quick fire challenge with (has been edited for content):

Dear Virginia,

My weekend really did deserve a worthy write-up. I hope you enjoy!

When Aeneas left the Trojan War, he was headed back to Greece. It took him many years and many events before he finely hit land, and when he did, it was Italy. That kind of sums up my experience this past weekend. The joy and the sorrow of simultaneously reaching your goal and realizing there is something terribly wrong.

On Saturday morning, I took the 7:30am Bolt Bus to New York. As always the bus was comfortable, the internet worked, I accomplished many important tasks, and most importantly, it was on time. I had planned to arrive at 11:45am to beat the weekend rush to Shake Shack. Like Aeneas, I had been here and vowed to return. Last time that I went, Boyle and I saw a wait for an hour and a half and we were quickly turned off. This time, as I pulled into the city under cloudy skies, I was kind of hoping for rain to deter the crowds. I got off the bus at 33rd and 7th and high-tailed it to Madison Square Park where the modern steel "shack" resides among the auburn oaks of fall.

About a block from the park, it started to pour. Just as planned, I saw a herd of mothers and fathers with Bugaboo strollers fleeing the park. As I walked to the shack, I had no line. I quickly ordered the Shack Stack, fries, and Black and White Milkshake, as a part of three fumbled on the order they were giving to the impatient New York waitress to my right. My waitress looked relieved that I knew what I wanted. I then paid the somewhat heft $16.75 and was given a fancy pager that "works anywhere in the park." I am sure they could have used a more low-tech system to reduce the cost of the product.

When my food was ready, I lost all thoughts of coin. I could smell the grease at the pick-up window as the waitress slid a single bag across the counter top and said without smiling, "Enjoy." My thoughts did not even turn to food, but rather seating. The Shake Shack has taken a small part of the park and turned it into seating for the restaurant, but there are no umbrellas under which to sit. This became the flaw in my plan to receive a quick burger...where to eat it. After a few seconds, I finally decided to plop down on one of the soaked chairs and prop my umbrella over my shoulder. The plan was to keep the food and the company computer (neatly placed between my legs) dry through the meal.

As I peered into the bag my first reaction was confusion. I had ordered the Shack Stack that is a "mushroom burger" on top a beef burger. It looked like I had received a crab cake on top of a mushroom burger. In fact, the meat at Shake Shack is not finely ground and its gruff texture and brown coloring made the bottom burger look a little mushroomy. The top contraption was, in fact, the mushroom burger. It is slices of portabella mixed with Gruyere then breaded and deep-fried.

The first bite was heavenly as the cheese oozes from the mushroom burger and picks up a little beef grease on it way to your mouth. Despite containing two types of grease, the bun manages to hold-up through the entire meal. It even manages to hold a little lettuce and tomato that add nothing to the flavor. The burger supposedly contains Shack Sauce, but I don't think I tasted it until the end. The fries are crinkle cut and crispy. They are a worthy companion to an innovative burger and will assist in picking up the remnants of the mushroom burger that fall to your simple red and white checkered container.

The shake was heavenly. It was thick, but not frozen. The shake could be pulled through the straw, but if you intend to eat your burger quickly (as might be unavoidable); I highly recommend another drink with your meal. The shake is really too thick to satisfy any immediate needs. By this point, I stopped thinking about the computer and would gladly explain any fried motherboard. As I completed my meal, I threw the bag over my shoulder and took a wet ass out of the park down Broadway to my next stop.

Momofuku Bakery is easy to miss. The whole Momofuku chain has a little bit of the modern look to it (read: communist). It is plain and simple. The bakery and milk bar has a few tables, a simple counter and a small glass through which you can view the products. I went there knowing little about the joint except that it has a hippie feel to it and that the cookies have interesting ingredients (like corn flakes). As I waited in line, I felt I might be in the most inefficient location in the city. Unlike the hurried push of the Shake Shack, the Momofuku baker seemed unconcerned with time or turnover. He was slow and chatty. Not an annoying chatty about useless matters. He just seemed to want to walk each customer through their complete options.

As I made my way up to the counter, I ordered half a dozen cookies, which were $10. His first question to me was, "What kind?" I really just wanted a mix, but I was forced to pick each type of cookie. He then suggested that the "day old" cookies were really a better deal, as they were only $.85 a cookie and he noted, "If I want to spend $10, he could just give me more of the day old stuff." So I took him up on it and got 10 cookies for less than the half dozen. I was done with my order, had purchased the items and then he said, "Wanna try some custard?"

I thought it was an odd question given that our business was done and there was a line of five people behind me, but decided that was his problem. We reviewed the flavors including cereal milk and raspberry, and decided on the savory "Stuffing." It actually tasted like stuffing. It had a hint of poultry fat, a little taste of celery, and a touch of onion. I have never had anything like and I think it is possible I never will again.

I hopped a cab from the bakery headed for my cousin Sean's place in the financial district. He lives in a 50s style financial building that has been remodeled for "luxury living." If you thought that "luxury living" was an ambiguous term in the DC area, it is even worse in New York. I think it means that it is nice. We met at his place and hung out for a little before heading out to find a bar to watch the first leg of the now infamous Ireland-France match. We sauntered into a place along the famed Stone St., where the traders by day become drinkers by night, and made our way to Beckett's. My cousin called ahead to see if the game was playing and it was for $20 a head. However, The Dubliner had the game on free, but it was in French.

Compromising on the kind of moral judgments I might have made earlier in life, French was preferable to giving up any of my drinking money. The game was great and the Guinness was stout. Sean's friend Brian and his wife Ally joined us. We had a few and then went back to Sean's place so that Brian and Ally could get ready for the real reason we were all in town, the engagement party. While they primped, I took Sean's dog Charlie to the liquor store and bought a bottle of Jamison. We finished half while Sean's fiancée came in and also got ready. I wore my clothes up, which left plenty of time for drinking and football watching while everyone else got ready. As the time approached, I realized that we really did make a dent in the bottle and that we all might be drunk, which is a great way to start a party.

We went downstairs to grab cabs and put the guests of honor in the first cab we saw. It took us a while to find another cab, so I finally negotiated with a Town car for a flat fee of $20 to the restaurant. It was a nice ride. We arrived at Kellari Taverna right on time. It is an upscale Greek place that has a beautiful exposed modern beams and carries itself as truly Mediterranean, no just Greek. On the bar upon arrival were a wooden block with two cheeses and a variety of olives, along with a whiskey. The later made the former too salty and I switched to wine. We were led from the bar to a causal area with a few tables and a curtain to close off the family from the rest of the crowd. After all, the last thing you want is a rowdy Irish family in a Greek restaurant.

The food was "light," but served often. As the olives and more cheese joined us in our private setting, the waiters walked around with Spanikopita, Lamb and Chicken Skewers, filet mignon on toast, and these delightful fried-zucchini "burgers." The wine paired nicely. They offered a few Italian varieties including a robust Zinfandel. Nothing goes better with rich food than truly rich wine that could flavor every bite on its own. The meal finished with a sublime chocolate mousse cake that tricked the mind with firm but very light icing that was really just lightly flavored whipped cream. The party continued with my whole family around until 1:30am. Then it is safe to say, we were all done.

[ I have edited this part for length and content. In sum, there is a brief, yet impassioned encounter with NY's finest, them, and a dishonest cabbie. But no one goes to jail.]

I glanced at the clock to see it was 4am. I had a 7:30am bus. I woke at 6am very hungover and lord knows what else and just decided to leave. I actually caught a 7am bus with no one on it and slept. Just 24 hours after I left Washington, I managed to have one of the best burger contraptions ever, great cookies and pints, a classy engagement party, and an encounter with NYPD. While I may have been a weary traveler by my arrival in Alexandria on Sunday morning, I already knew that Aeneas' quote held true, "In the future, it will be pleasing to remember these things."

Monday, December 14, 2009

Everybody Loves a Blog

Because there aren't enough food blogs out there, I must add to them. Once a brilliant blog consisting of three posts total (only two published inspired by my corporate office job, I have shifted the focus to food. It only makes sense.

Thursday, January 15, 2009


I love critics.

From a 1996 publishing.

Emmet Swimming, a modern-rock quartet on Epic Records, makes its Nashville debut this coming Wednesday at 12th & Porter. According to Epic, Nashville has been marked as a breakout city for the band; in other words, the label hopes to use our city to establish a fan base at retail and radio. Those who enjoy listening to mean-spirited, spoiled college grads spew sardonic judgments and indulge in bad literary illusions won’t want to miss them. Sample lines like “Ivana’s a sculptor, but she’s tending bar, piercing her nipples in the name of art” might suggest misogynistic tendencies, but the band distributes its hatefulness equally. The focus, however, remains on the moneyed class, whose motto, according to the band, is “Be rich, dress’d we get so chic?” Emmet Swimming’s tone is relentlessly dour and spiteful, with guitar-driven arrangements that are just as detached and unmoving as the lyrics. Packed with diatribes and thinly masked self-loathing, the band’s new album, Arlington to Boston, is a Hotel California for East Coast preppies.

For the full article:

My Job in a Mix Tape

Let the following songs pay tribute to those who dwell in tiny cubicle feifdoms, nestled between Metro stops and condos:

"The Business" These United States
//I've got a glorified leather lunchbox

"Hey Julie" Fountains of Wayne
//Hours on the phone making pointless call/ I've got a desk full of papers that mean nothing at all/ Sometimes I catch myself staring into space/ Counting down the hours 'til I get to see you face

"Day Job" Sunshine State
//Where did the weekend go/ I say to Steve/ As the elevator opens/ On the 7th floor of Hell

"Spider in the Snow" Dismemberment Plan
//Same VCR/ Same cats/ Different people at the very same job/Similar alley/ Different rats

"Arlington" Emmet Swimming
//Be rich/ Dress poor/ How'd we get so chic?