Friday, March 26, 2010

Contrasts

I was all set to climb back on the soapbox with a post about contrasts, whining about all kinds of issues. But truly, it has been a week full of polarities, the personal and emotional kind as well. Couple that with a neck injury that has forced too much takeout and not enough workouts this week, and frankly, I just don't have the energy for a good ranting political post. Instead, some lighter fare.

Rapini, fail. My experiment with broccoli rabe (sauteed in soy and oyster sauce) this week did not result in deliciousness. Next time, I'll make sure to follow a recipe.

Could Walmart really be the future of local sustainable groceries?

My friend who lives near my old stomping grounds was just telling me about the newest addition to the Cleveland Park strip mall. I'll be interested to see if the Cereal Bowl catches on; maybe it will be popular amongst the students. I just cannot envision folks heading there for a meal after a hard day's work.

Boccato Gelato is now serving up a Guinness Chocolate flavor. U got2 try it - it's fabulous!!!

All the fancy schmancy award nominations were issued this week. A little dismayed to see that J&G gets no love. Of course, I'm no expert in how these things work. Though, it does appear to be helpful to have a Top Chef connection.

Free Dunkin Donuts coffee. Knock yourselves out.

Finally, I cannot believe that I'm sharing about Domino's, but the latest ad campaign is effective marketing. We tried their new pie, and it's actually pretty good. The hand-tossed with buttery garlic crust is yummy fattening goodness, but if you are looking for a healthier option, the thin crust with robust tomato sauce, light cheese, spinach, and mushrooms kind of rocks too. Plus, this nifty online ordering thingy with real-time updates is pretty cool...Warren is topping your pizza....Jerome is putting your pizza in the oven...Your pizza is out for delivery with Jackie.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Holy Cupcake, Batman

Yes, I know that cupcakes have been done and done. That does not mean, however, that the cupcake craze is going anywhere. Nope, it appears that at $3 per bite, with a quantifiable amount of associated guilt, these capitalistic endeavors are here to stay. For your reference, therefore, are my personal preferences in the local cupcake market.



Rankings
1. Georgetown Cupcake - In the midwest, with our modest natures, our moms all snickered when they had the nerve to serve something affectionately known as better than sex cake. The strawberry variety at Georgetown Cupcake (and I've only been able to find it on the menu once) is the closest thing I've ever had to meeting that description. But pretty much everything here is good - I've never had a bad cupcake from Georgetown. Gaining notoriety for a Today Show appearance during the inauguration, this little shop enjoys its reputation for a reason - theirs are the best. The only unfortunate part is that I'm not able to get to Georgetown regularly to enjoy the facebook free flavor of the day.

2. Cupcakes Actually - By far, these little goodies are the most competitive to Georgetown Cupcake. Though Fairfax Square is a long way out there, the dipped varieties (and a drop in a Wegmans) are worth the drive. I also like the selection here; lots of original flavors.

3. Buzz  - They made me a special order of Guinness chocolate cupcakes with Harp icing (previously on the EatBar menu)...Need I say more?

4. Red Velvet - These babies are consistently good, even if not the best. Plus, in the heart of Chinatown, Red Velvet gets points for accessible location. I'm a fan of both the peanut butter and morning call (mocha).

5. Lavender Moon - Just off King St. in Alexandria, I was much impressed by the Mexican Chocolate Pudding Buttermilk cupcake. Now that I've uttered the name, I find myself salivating.
6. Something Sweet - Being directly across the street from 2Amys does not help this cupcakery; you don't want to be compared with a local business that truly is best at its craft. Something Sweet just about says it. These cupcakes are pretty, but lack flavor. Basically, they just cream and cake, and the chocolate is particularly dry.

7. Mother's Macaroons - This version was not memorable, and was definitely not satisfaction for my sweettooth on the day that I tried.
8. Cakelove - At lunch the other day, my friend randomly said to me, you know which cupcakes suck? And in my head, I was going Cakelove, Cakelove, Cakelove. Indeed, she agrees that these are far too sugary, and the frosting lacks the right texture. Not for me, but it seems that these meet some folks' standards. It seems Cakelove has a location in every shopping district in the area.
Still to try

Baked and Wired - It's getting so nice, we're sure to find ourselves at the Georgetown waterfront soon, so I will have to stop in. Lots of folks swear these are absolutely the best.

Hello Cupcake - Sadly, I'm so old, I have not found myself in Dupont in over a year (well, at least with time to kill). So, I have not yet had a chance to try out Hello Cupcake.

Bakeshop - How did I not know about this place in Clarendon? Not until it made the finals in Washingtonian's bracket challenge did I realize that there existed Ballston-Rosslyn corridor cupcake goodness. So excited to try; though I'm not excited about the previous alliance with Murky Coffee.

Crumbs - Evidently, the NY shop is looking to expand into a DC presence. With a rumored location in Clarendon, I'll have to try to of course declare that the local versions are better.

Probably not likely to try
Curbside - The truck locator on the website does not work (and I don't have facebook or twitter access at work), and when I need a cupcake, I will likely just walk to Red Velvet instead of searching for a truck.

Arlington Bakeries - Heidelberg and Pastries by Randolph have so many other tasty offerings (great for bringing to a party/holiday or serving to guests), I'm unlikely to be ordering a cupcake at these destinations.

I hope these ranking will be useful in your own cupcake search. If not, try this WaPo online reference. Nicely organized and informative, I do love a spreadsheet.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Randomness

I overindulged a bit this week (will have to cut back this weekend), and it seemed randomness was rampant. Thus, a totally comprehensive, yet scatterbrained post.


One of the most valuable lessons learned from my Taiwanese mother in law -- stir-fry is consistently fast, easy, cheap, and healthy. This week's selection, tofu with sugar snap peas, was a particular success. I recommend adding a generous portion of white pepper and ginger to the typical soy sauce and corn starch base for a rather tasty concoction.


Picked up my first Polyface Farms buying club order this week. I have big plans for a chile verde pork roast this weekend from my Boston Butt, so I'll let you know how it turns out.

Tom Sietsema reviewed Madhatter this week - seriously? Even if the burger is good - and the new Connecticut Ave. space more successfully evokes the Alice in Wonderland theme - I'm not sure the place where I may have vomited in the wrong gender's restroom in my early twenties and been asked to leave (baby boy, please don't read this when you are older) is worthy of a Tom Sietsema review. This is the locale that was previously located downstairs from Camelot folks.

Successfully made a T21 reservation at Volt, for September. When the time finally comes, I'll be sure to post.

Back in December, had a last-minute anniversary dinner at Eventide that was seriously delicious. Brunch this past Sunday, not so much. Perhaps it was the fussy infant that I was bouncing on my knee while trying to scarf a few bites. Not sure. At least the Lexington percolated coffee was consistent. Speaking of Eventide, weren't the owners supposed to be opening a bakery in the old Murky Coffee space? Anyone know what's up with that?


This year's Girl Scout Cookie campaign has been satisfying everyone's respective sweettooths (what is the plural of that, sweetteeth?) for a couple of weeks now. During cookie season, Edy's has for a few years offered ice cream variations on the Samoas, Tagalongs, and of course, Thin Mint themes. This year, however, I discovered that there are light versions. At 120 calories (down from 160). Yes, everything still in moderation, but yippee!!


Is Jeopardy much easier than it used to be, or is it just me? Perhaps it is false confidence instilled by the glass of Tabor Hill Cherry Wine I drank while watching. On second thought, maybe it was just the first round that seemed easier.


Finally, discovered a new and delicious sandwich ("sauca") this week from a truck parked outside my office. My flatbread croque monsieur was scrumptious - even slightly burnt, I devoured the thing. As the driver/chief tweeter/manager informs me that said truck will be back outside my office every Wednesday, look forward to a more complete sauca post in the future (as soon as I can manage the calories).

Thursday, March 18, 2010

By Georges, Annotated: J&G Steakhouse

For C's birthday at J&G Steakhouse, we allowed ourselves to relinquish a little control and let ourselves be guided us through the experience. We were rewarded.

The first such exercise occurred when we were seated, on the same side of a table, with no choice in the matter. Violating my cardinal rule of dining (whether at McDonald's or Le Cirque) did not come easy for me. I hate hate hate when couples sit on the same side of the table. However, our little alcove of a booth actually allowed for an intimate and rather comfortable seat, with a nice view of the elegant dining room....and if we leaned a little the right, we had a glorious view of the Washington Monument that we could enjoy together.

The bar at J&G is supposed to be good, so I ordered a cocktail, something I rarely do - generally, I stick to wine. My Dark & Stormy was a refreshing standard. The West Wing, something along the lines of a lemon mojito, also caught my eye. The focus at J&G should not be on the drinks though, it should be on the cuisine.

The menu is a collection of favorite dishes of chef Jean-Georges from his other restaurants. Frankly, I'm in love with this idea and wouldn't mind if another chef or two wanted to try this concept in DC as well. Our waiter steered us towards his own favorites amongst the dishes - actually, he "asked" us if we would like his recommendations, but I'm not sure that he would have let us refuse him the opportunity (all of this was very charming, mind you).

For appetizers, I went with the recommendation for the crabcake, and C asked about the salmon tartare and was satisfied with the affirmative response. Crabcakes are ubiquitous in DC, but this version stood out from the crowd. Made without old bay, but instead served with a chili lime vinaigrette, this dish was mouth-watering. I'm not sure whether the perfect browning or the brioche coating were the secrets to the delectable flavor, but it was fantastic. The salmon tartare, however, was even better. Served over a chili vinaigrette and fresh avocado - this was amazing, and I do not use that word lightly. I suspect the preparation of the salmon involved a ricer, but if this was the handiwork of a fine chop, bravo to the chef. The tender meat of the salmon was so fine that each bite was a textural and flavorful whirlwind. Given that the waiter's other recommendations turned out so well, I would also feel confident ordering the rice cracker-crusted tuna.

I ordered the Veal Milanese for my entree, which was again superb. The birthday boy, however, again won the ordering game with the Six Peppercorn New York Strip. The veal, breaded and fried, could have easily been too heavy, but the accompanying "warm sweet potato salad" of sweet potatoes, arugula, red cabbage, dried cranberries, and shallots (adding the perfect flavor accent) balanced the dish nicely. On the other side of the table, upon taking the first bite of his steak, C's immediate reaction was to rave that it was "phenomenal". By the time he finished his last bite, he was professing it was the best steak he had ever had (and my uber carnivore husband has had a lot of steak). Indeed, the bites I shared were outstanding, as the flavor transitioned from smoky to peppery to buttery and then melted to a blissful conclusion. Steak au poivre is not usually my cup of tea, but the flavor created by the array of peppercorns in J&G's version was uniquely satisfying. Nota benne: the lamp chop also received raves from our waiter, and looked and smelled delicious as it was whisked past our table.

The warm chocolate cake we shared for dessert was the one exception to our waiter's otherwise on-the-money recommendations. Not that it was bad, just underwhelming. Sadly, I could not say that this version can be distinguished from Domino's or Dr. Oetker's. Instead of dessert or visiting the strange W lobby bar (see footnote 1 below), I would recommend visiting the P.O.V. rooftop lounge. Though we did not have the time, it looks to be a very nice setting (just as it was during the Hotel Washington era).

All in all, a perfect night (better than my birthday - see footnote two), with near perfect cuisine.

footnote 1 - During our meal, whilst being doted on by a very attentive staff and dining on delicious cuisine, I exited the restaurant to find a restroom. First, I tried to go to the J&G bar, downstairs from the restaurant, which has such entirely different vibe (think Martin's Tavern in Georgetown) that one wonders how the two are connected. The bar seemed like a fun place, just not at all the same scene as the restaurant upstairs. Then, however, I wandered to find another restroom (the bar restroom was occupied), which meant I had to go through the W Hotel lobby. What a ridiculous scene - I glanced around...not less twenty feet from one another was a DJ spinning techno and desperately trying to get people to dance (in a lobby?!), and a large group of several families with children having libations tending towards Shirley Temples. Though J&G has no trouble with concept, I think the W is trying to more posh than it really is.

footnote 2 - During my blogging hiatus, we headed to Bourbon Steak. It was last July, so my memories are all a little fuzzy. Of note, though, is the fact that while I really don't remember the food, I have not forgotten strange goings-on. I was very excited about the menu at Michael Mina's local outpost, but instead, it seems that BS focuses on image. If that desired image is a rather coked-up crowd, well, they've succeeded. First, we were seated in a row of tables very close to one another. I spent most of the night trying to separate my then-pregnant self from the couple next to us. "Anna Nicole", as I like to call the twenty-something girlfriend of our eighty-odd year old table neighbor, decided it was appropriate to snuggle up to her boyfriend, on the same side of the tables, which were already close together, and FEED HIM. I'm not kidding you; I was seated within 18 inches of this action. The staff never offered us a new table, or apologized for the awkward situation; they just acted like it was not happening (something I did not have the luxury of doing with my prime seat). Further, when my mother-in-law attempted to use the restroom, she walked in on a couple, ahem, in the midst of extracurricular activities. Not exactly what we were expecting at such a nice restaurant. I would have to say that we did a lot better for C's birthday than for mine.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Too Much For One Title

Ok, first, nearly peeing myself with excitement at the prospect of Top Chef..., wait for it,....DC!!! Amanda from Metrocurean shared the news just a little over an hour ago, and I'm already plotting as to how I can score a restaurant wars reservation. If necessary, I will use my 3-month old as leverage; believe it! So, there's that. Sigh.

Also, tried afternoon tea at the Ritz-Carlton Tysons last Sunday - a nice afternoon with the girls. While the company was lovely, the tea service was mediocre as a whole. I had heard good things, but ehhh. Part of the problem was the value - if the prices range from "afternoon tea" at $39 to "royal tea" (booze and strawberries with cream) at $51, let's not tell a girl just how many tea sandwiches she can have, especially if that number is four. The other problem was the balance of savory to sweet  - after the limited sandwiches, there were far too many pastries. Plus, the goodies sort of tasted a day old. Service could have been a little friendlier too. The one positive was the selection, the Green Tea Passion and Pear Caramel were both tasty. Though my last visit was over five years ago, so I cannot speak from recent experience, I much prefer the comparably-priced tea service at the Willard (in Peacock Alley, which kind of adds its own charm).

And finally, I'm thinking to introduce a new regular post from my lunches with C; brief posts in keeping with the lunch hour theme. Any suggestions for clever titles are appreciated - I've considered "lunch liaisons", but that sounds a lot more scandalous than these sans baby meals really are. Anyhow, for the first of our forays into dating at the noon hour, we tried Sei in Chinatown. Now, I'm not a fan of sister restaurant Oya, but Sei was awesome. We noshed on lots of goodies, because most of the menu was included on the $19 "Restaurants Unleashed" 3-course lunch menu. Dishes to be pointed out - the Wasabi Guacamole - a huge portion to be shared, and the Orange Miso bread pudding - heaven. We also tried the Fish and Chips roll - killer. The only problem - we were concerned that the prix fixe menu would mean small portions (which they weren't - instead, it was a ton of food), so we waddled back to our respective offices (particularly C, who had to finish more than one of my courses).

Ok, off to get beef stew in the slow-cooker so it's ready in time for dinner. Cheers.

Monday, March 8, 2010

The Ray's Empire Strikes Back Again, and Again, and Again....

I just read that Michael Landrum is planning to expand his burger repertoire with Ray's the Game, opening this month. Evidently, the Game will focus on burgers made of everything from ground elk to ground duck - hmmmmm.....

I've been a little out of the loop, so imagine my surprise in learning that shortly after Ray's the Game is slated to become part of the neighborhood rotation (in the original Hellburger space in the Courthouse strip mall that all of us Ray's lovers have come to know and love), Landrum will be taking on two additional projects. In April, Ray's the Glass will start offering tasting menus with wine pairings. (Again, hmmmmm, this does not seem like Michael Landrum.) From the map, the location appears to be near the ever-popular Italian take-out staple Listrani's, just north of Ray's the Steaks.

I was concerned that these two new projects meant that plans for Ray's the Catch had been scrapped. But, no, it seems that the seafood version of the meat genius's empire is scheduled to open in May (also in the original Courthouse strip mall).

Jane Black from WaPo's Going Out Guide shared all of Landrum's plans last month in a nicely-organized (kudos) summary. We'll have to explore these new options soon. In the meantime, I'll chuckle as I imagine the hefty Landrum hoofing to all ends of the Courthouse neighborhood as he tries to manage the additional outposts of his growing empire.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

blue duck tavern

Getting in the door at Blue Duck Tavern was, quite literally, the hard part. First, we were stymied by a less-than-direct route (note, GPS will take you thirty-odd blocks out of your way) that left us locating the small valet stand, with the aid of the hostess on the line, just in time for our reservation. Then, we came across the doors, oh the glorious doors….a pair of two-story black behemoths made for a medieval castle. After the rather silly doors, I anticipated an equally silly room not at all indicative of a “tavern”. Somehow, though, the main dining room with floor to ceiling glass walls of the same height as the doors evoked a cozy, inviting feel. Perhaps the open kitchen and the marble apple pie-making station (yes, you read that right) are part of the charm. 

The extensive wine list includes two attributes that are sure to always please me, one, a generous selection of vintages by the glass, and two, a selection of Pinots from the Willamette Valley. A tablemate noted, however, the significant upcharge on some of the bottles (even when compared with other restaurants). The menu served to balance out the wine prices though.  The prices were quite reasonable for the caliber of reputation enjoyed by BDT.  Service, both informative and friendly, is also a plus. 

For appetizers, our table split the bone marrow served with sea salt and toasted country bread, as well as a simple green salad. The bone marrow, described as an extremely rich butter, impressed me as a bit dull.  Even the sea salt failed to compensate for the lack of flavor. The main entrees were also generally symptomatic of the lack of flavor theme.  The pheasant, prepared in a salt dough, was tender and moist. But, even when topped with the red wine reduction, the bird was tasteless. Our tablemates reported that the duck trio (the typical breast, sausage, and confit) and venison were good, but the reviews were less than enthusiastic.

The sides, however, proved a spotlight for the kitchen. The meaty triple fries and pumpkin gratin were both scrumptious. The beets with goat cheese, while not the most innovative of dishes, were also tasty.  But don’t let me gloss over the gratin, topped with hazelnuts and fried sage, which should definitely be part of any meal at BDT.  Now, moving on to dessert, did you forget the aforementioned apple pie-making station? Yeah, neither did we. The apple pie(s) – two were the perfect size for our foursome – were perfection. Both the buttery bottom crust and melt-in-your-mouth apples were delicious, but the crumbly top crust was heaven. We left for the evening with perfectly full and happy bellies. Though there were both high and low notes through the meal, the apple pie meant that BDT left us with a joyful crescendo.