Heard around the DC Foodies blogosphere this week...Soon after the Washington City Paper reported on the departure/firing of Chef Robert Bechtold at Tackle Box, news spread around foodie blogs and chat boards alike about more shake-ups in the Pure Hospitality empire.
Chef Barton Seaver announced his departure from Hook, the popular sustainable seafood restaurant in Georgetown. According to owner Jonathan Umbel, Seaver will be retained as a consultant for the remaining 3+ years of his contract. Seaver reported that he is "committed to seeing Hook and Tackle Box succeed."
News spread quickly about the impending closing of Colorado Kitchen, owned by Chef Gillian Clark and her partner, Robin Smith. The duo are working hard to bring their new restaurant, the General Store and Post Office Tavern, to fruition by October. The old building in Silver Spring is named after what it used to be and keeping its historic feel is important to Clark. Bringing the building up to code has been a challenge for Clark and Smith, who are ready to move on from their beloved Brightwood eatery, considered one of Washington's best.
According to Don Rockwell, Colorado Kitchen's last service will be brunch on June 29th.
Also departing the DC restaurant scene is Restaurant K, with Chef Alison Swopes. Metrocurean reports that according to parent company McCormick & Schmick, the closing is related to the economic slow down. Restaurant K was open for less than a year.
This week, Where In DC gives readers a review of M Street Bar & Grill in Dupont. While the food wasn't stellar, WIDC finds that this place is a great deal for Happy Hour drinks. Pitchers of mojitos or margaritas go for &19, and they also have beer and wine specials. Thursdays are live Jazz from 6-9. Thanks WIDC-it's always good to know where we can unwind after work.
Chefs on Bikes brings together hospitality professionals to raise money for Share Our Strength. Counter Intelligence interviewed Hook pastry chef, Heather Chittum about her excitement over taking part in this year's event. You can read more about the adventures of the 80+ chefs who ventured from Bistro Bis to the Virginia countryside here, at Sauce on the Side.
There are a lot of things we Americans do well, and we know it. From luxury trucks to action flicks to ostentatious Celebutantes, we're number one, baby! Though it may be confidently said that we will never be outpaced in the department of debaucherous, spoiled rich girls, in terms of quality spirits, imports still dominate the market. But with Independence Day hoving into view, our patriotic souls demand that we shun the spirits of our enemies (the enemies of Democracy!) and embrace our fine — nay, superior! — homegrown alternatives!
While traditionally vodka has been associated with Russia, there is no evidence to suggest that we can't make the stuff as well as Emperor Putin and his Neo-Bolshevik Pinko-Commie Comrades. Though they may have beat us to the punch on hyperinflation, we have kept pace with the Ruskies in the production of high end vodkas. For fans of that purest of spirits, Hangar One, from outside Oakland, CA (America's Most Scenic City) is a fantastic buy. Made from a combination of neutral grain spirits and vodka obtained from Viognier wine, Hangar One Straight Vodka (About $30) is extraordinarily smooth and crisp, with a slightly fruity nose and less bite than even the much touted Grey Goose. For fans of fruit flavored vodka, their Kaffir Lime is exquisite, and being infused rather than tainted with flavoring agents like some cheaper vodkas, Hangar's is a full 40% alcohol, completely dry, and subtlety aromatic. In addition, Hangar One offers a Mandarin Orange and several other flavored bottlings, all of which will impress even the most stubborn vodka purist. Whatever your flavor, feel free to mix yourself a Hangar and Ice next Friday, queue up that VHS of the 1980 Olympic Hockey Finals, and revel in the fact that we won the hell out of the Cold War.
In the arena of international politics, no one nation has proven a more frequent nit in our democratic fur than Communist Cuba. They may have prevailed in that whole Bay of Pigs debacle (that's what we get for electing a President in the employ of the Pope), but I'll be damned if any enemy of America may claim the title of Best Rums in the World uncontested! In fact, America and it's protectorates are capable of producing some fine distillates of the cane, all the sweeter for their breeding in a land of freedom and liberty.
While most will agree that native rum conglomerate Bacardi is known less for quality than for global saturation, Puerto Rico does produce some great rums — its only that up until recently, they just didn't see fit to send them our way. Ask any Puerto Rican the best base for Rum and Coke or a Mojito, and he will likely say "Don Q." This product of Serralles distillery has been a mainstay in Puerto Rico for over one hundred years, though it is only within the last couple that we have seen it on domestic shelves. Utilizing neutral white oak barrels during its maturation, Don Q is uncharacteristically mellow and round, lacking the sharp bite and cloyingly sweet aroma of its contemporaries, and at about $12 a bottle, it is just as affordable as its more well known cousin. If and when Barak Obama places our economy squarely in Cuban hands, as his opponents attest he will, I am confident that Don Q will win out over its Marxist counterparts in the free and open market.
Of all the enemies of America's vision of Democracy, we are most readily negligent of our first and most insidious — Britain. Oh sure, we had a friend in Tony Blair (I don't like the sound of this Brown fellow at ALL), but are we so soon to forget from whom we declared our anointed and glorious independence? Drinking a Tanqueray & Tonic so close to the day of our nation's birth is tantamount to treason, in my book! Fortunately, just as we took Cricket and created the vastly superior sport of Baseball, so too have we improved upon England's native tipple.
For pure indulgently ironic enjoyment, their is no better beverage with which to toast our independence than Bluecoat Gin: Named after our nation's first freedom fighters and made in Philadelphia, our first capital, Bluecoat American Dry Gin is the ultimate "two finger salute" to our erstwhile colonial oppressors. That aside, it also rocks. Made in hand-hammered copper stills in small batches and infused with organic juniper and citrus peels, this gin has an elegantly fruity/peppery nose, backed up by a surprising amalgam of spices on the palate and a full, but not syrupy mouthfeel. This is one of those rare gins which is appropriate for Martinis, G and T's, or just sipping on the rocks, and at about $25 a bottle, is proof that buying American still has value beyond blind patriotism.
Have you seen what I've seen lately? Fruit! Fruit other than apples are back in my farmers market. Now in Dupont there are cherries; at Eastern Market you can get North Carolina peaches; and all over the place are ruby-green stalks of rhubarb and ruby-red boxes of strawberries. I've never made a fruit pie from scratch -- I've never made pie crust from scratch -- so I figured, on what better stage to try out a difficult and finicky dessert than the great and very public Internets? And so here I am, and the results, while not necessarily pretty, are darn tasty.
Can we spend a second talking about my kitchen, Bob? Bob, as I've tried to show you, is tiny. Beyond tiny. Barely bigger than a kitchenette. The counter space is maybe 2 feet; almost all of that is basically blocked by the fridge. And the small part that's exposed is mostly taken up with my dish rack. There was no way I could roll out pie dough on 6 thin inches of counter. So I did the only thing I could do: I made it on the floor.
Now, before you think I'm some filthy beast, I covered the floor with trashbags that I masking-taped to the carpet (a surprisingly effective method). I also vacuumed thoroughly before that. And all food prep took place well on the plastic, and on cutting boards and in bowls as well. The only thing that touched the plastic directly was the pie dough, and I wiped it down before that. So this is a thoroughly sanitary pie, okay?
That doesn't change the fact I did this on the floor. I know. I know.
The recipe for pie dough is simple, as all recipes for pie dough are simple on their face. Flour, salt, shortening and butter, worked in with the fingers just 'till the dough comes together. The second it does, wrap in plastic and chill. Basic. Simple, yet unbelievably difficult to pull off.
My dough came together rather quickly, I think because my shortening wasn't chilled enough. When I went to roll it out after 20 minutes or so of fridge time, it cracked apart; I had to add water, put it back in the fridge, and wait a little longer, and it was still a little dry. In the end it was surprisingly tender, but not that ideal flaky -- it disintegrated in your mouth, more than flaked. Not dense at all, I'm proud to report. It's not ideal, but I think it's a solid first effort. And it's darn tasty crust -- I used butter flavor shortening (not specified, but I was curious), and the result is fabulously rich next to the sweet tanginess of the filling.
Speaking of which, the filling was way easier. Strawberries, rhubarb, sugar: mix and pour into pie crust. I let mine sit for about 10 minutes beforehand and ended up with a very juicy pie. I think, for best results, I would mix the filling mere seconds before filling the crust. It's worth noting that the original recipe in the Joy of Cooking mentions nothing about letting it sit; I don't think it's intended to.
This is a closed pie, and as you can see my pie had several smaller pieces of pie dough (that cracking was a problem, I tell ya) cobbled together; in an ideal world, one would make a single sheet and lay it gently across the top of the pie, pinching it artfully closed around the edges instead. Baking time is 40 minutes, 20 at 400 degrees and 20 at 350. Be careful when you take it out, it's a juicy pie and I spilled some juice on my hand and got lucky I didn't get seriously burned. And you have to let it cool. If you don't, the second you cut into it, you get a nice strawberry-rhubarb soup.
I made a Franken-pie. But what does it matter what my pie looks like? Because it's been less than 24 hours since I made it and it's already almost gone.
Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie adapted from The Joy of Cooking (c. 1975)
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
2/3 cup vegetable shortening, chilled (or lard, if you're hardcore)
2 tbsp butter, chilled
Sift together flour and salt. Mix butter and shortening. Take half of the shortening mixture and work gently into the flour (either with the tips of your fingers or with a pastry cutter) until it has the consistency of cornmeal. Add the second half of the shortening mix and work into the flour until it has the consistency of peas. Sprinkle four teaspoons of water into the dough until it comes together into a ball that pulls away from the sides of the bowl. Immediately stop handling the dough; wrap it in plastic and refrigerate until time to use.
2 cups sliced strawberries
2 cups diced unpeeled rhubarb
1 ¼- 2 cups of sugar
Put rhubarb and strawberries in a bowl. Add the sugar slowly, sprinkling and mixing until it's to your taste. Rhubarb is quite tart, so you may want to sweeten slightly beyond what you're aiming for in the finished pie because the rhubarb juices are as tart as the flesh and will balance it out a little bit. Prepare the filling after you've rolled out your dough for the best result.
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Roll two sheets of dough to about ¼ inch thick (I used a sheet of plastic wrap on top of it and found that it really helped -- especially if your dough is a little dry like mine). Gently place one of them in/over the pan and press into the crevices. Use a knife to trim the excess. Scoop the filling into the pie crust, then cover with the other sheet. Trim the excess again, pinch the edges closed. Bake for 20 minutes at 400 degrees; then turn your oven down to 350 for the final 20 minutes. Let cool completely on a rack. Then enjoy. I sure am.
Saturday I bought a ton of strawberries at Westmoreland Berry Farm at the Arlington Farmer's Market at $15 for 3 quarts. We're coming to the end of strawberry season now (in fact, this was the last week that Westmoreland Berry Farm will have strawberries, but other vendors will still have them) and the fruit are developing that characteristic sweetness that brings back fond memories of making strawberry shortcake with my mom after a day of picking our own strawberries. One of these weekends, I need to get out to pick my own.
The first thing I did was look up my moms old recipe. There was something off about the strawberry sauce. Looking at the recipe, I thought it had too much sugar. "Aren't the strawberries are sweet enough on their own?" I thought to myself, "Seriously, she used to put in half a cup of sugar per pint of strawberries?!" I reduced the sugar to 4 tablespoons. While comparing my mom's recipe with some recipes on Epicurious, I also got the idea to add some Gran Marnier to the strawberries, because what good is dessert without some alcoholic aperitif mixed in it?
Only make enough biscuits for what you plan to eat that day or maybe the next morning because the biscuits will get dry quickly and are best when they're warm and fresh. Put the remaining dough in the fridge or the freezer until you plan to bake the rest of the dough.
(8 servings I make extra so we have enough for the next night)
3 cups unbleached white flour
3 tablespoons of sugar
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon find ground lemon or orange rind
3/4 to 1 cup of cold unsalted butter
1 cup of buttermilk (or 1 cup whole milk and 1 Tbsp vinegar)
1 pint of strawberries, stems removed and sliced to desired thickness
4 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
pinch of salt
splash of Gran Marnier
1/4 cup whipping cream per serving
1/4 to 1/2 tsp vanilla extract per serving
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
To make strawberries, mix all ingredients in a bowl and stir well. Don't mash up the strawberries as the sugar and salt will draw out the juices fairly well on its own. Let sit for as long as you want but for at least 30 minutes.
To make the biscuits, mix dry ingredients in a large bowl with a wisk or fork. Mix in lemon or orange rind and butter with hands. DO NOT MIX IN ELECTRIC APPLIANCE. THIS WILL RESULT IN DENSE BISCUITS. And, don't blend with hands too much because you want some clumps of butter in the dough. Add milk to bowl and continue mixing with wet hands. When done, dough should resemble a fluffy, drier, slightly crumbly version of pizza dough. If you have to, take dough out of bowl and kneed it a little until it stays together. If you let it stay too crumbly, it wont form into balls to bake.
Using a 1/4 cup measuring spoon, form the dough into domes and place a couple inches apart on a baking sheet topped with parchment paper. Bake for 12 minutes or until golden brown on top. Remove from oven and place on a cooling rack.
For whipping cream (do I seriously need to tell you how to make whipping cream?), put cream and vanilla extract in bowl and using an electric blender (or whisk for those of you trying to develop your arm muscles), mix until cream forms desired thickness. Add a few tablespoons of confectioners sugar if you like.
Place biscuit in the bottom of a serving bowl. Top with a good amount of strawberries and the juices with them. Top with a dollop of whipping cream and some fresh mint if you have it.
(Excuse the awful picture above. I took it with my camera phone at my friends place when we made this.)
The Venue: If Stoney’s were an entry in a thesaurus, words like lived-in, comfy, cozy and maybe even homely would pop up next to its name. Although a staple in our post-theater rotation, how would Stoney’s hold up to the “pre-theater mandate”: quick service, light fare, value and variety. DS and I decided to grab a quick bite before the 8 o’clock show at the Studio Theatre.
The Cast of Characters: Most will tell you that the star of Stoney’s is the Super Grilled Cheese – comfort food taken to a new level with the addition of tomatoes, bacon and onions. However, the (regular) Grilled Cheese is more to my liking – lots of cheese, melted, between slices of thick bread. Both are served with fries.
DS ordered the crab platter and got more than he bargained for: two crab cakes and two sides – mashed potatoes and salad. (The menu was a bit confusing: Crab cakes are listed as an Appetizer ($9.25), Sandwich ($10.25) served with fries and coleslaw, and Platter ($17.50). Although both the sandwich and platter come with sides, DS didn’t realize he had ordered the platter until the bill came.) Although the crab cakes looked a suspicious shade of gray – maybe it was the lighting – they were really quite good: just the right amount of filler, a light hand in the seasoning department. I’ve not developed my palate to be able to distinguish between mashed potatoes that come from a box and those that come from the ground, but with enough butter and salt it doesn’t really matter.
A creature of habit, I ordered the cheeseburger with fries. The cheeseburger was… well, just a cheeseburger. And, although I’ve eaten my share of burgers at Stoney’s, they’re nothing to write home about. I have learned, over time, that a rare Stoney’s burger often leaves the kitchen medium rare; medium rare is closer to well done. You do get your choice of toppings, ranging from Black & Bleu to Texas with BBQ sauce and coleslaw to the One-Eyed, a burger topped with a fried egg and Swiss cheese. All burgers are served with fries and range in price from $7.75 to $8.95.
DS and I both made the mistake of ordering as if this was just another evening out. We forgot we had tickets to the theater. The goal – eat light, drink less, stay awake – was totally forgotten. Although the portions are adequate our selections proved to be too much for a pre-theater meal. Stoney’s does offer salads and pizzas – and there are daily specials that include pastas and solid comfort food – and we could have easily chosen lighter fare.
Performance: We were, however, able to enjoy a leisurely meal. The food came from the kitchen at a reasonable pace. Yet, water or wine refills are another story: don’t expect much attention from the wait staff. They are quite content to leave you on your own. Past experience told us it’s easier to glance at the chalkboard, rather than ask the wait staff, for the daily specials.
Set Design: Stoney’s is divided into two distinct areas: a bar and a dining area. Beer tap handles – at the top of the back bar, extending around both sides – provide sporadic bursts of color among the dark wood and an interesting distraction while waiting for food.
Stoney’s does attract, as well as reflect, the diversity of the neighborhood. On any given night you might find: sixty-somethings celebrating a birthday in the dining area; twenty-somethings discussing the World Cup qualifiers as they watch on one of the two big screen TVs; neighborhood folks chatting up newcomers and regulars alike; or, actors gathering to unwind, critique or congratulate.
The Mark: Our expectations weren’t high. After all, we had eaten at Stoney’s many times after the show; however, this was one of the few times we had visited before the show. Stoney’s is a tavern, in the true sense of the word: a place to gather, socialize, drink and eat. The crowd is eclectic and the food is reasonably priced, dependable and, unlike other neighborhood restaurants, available for both the late-night and pre-theater diner.
Stoney’s Bar and Grill
1433 P Street, N.W.
(One block west of Studio Theatre)
(Stoney's is so unpretentious that it doesn't even have a web site.)
Heard around the DC Foodies blogosphere this week...Just in time for the official beginning of summer, Rustico's brew pops are back, according to Counter Intelligence. Thanks to an amended Virginia ABC law, you can enjoy seven flavors, including Framboise and Banana.
Also for summer, it's the One Local Summer challenge, in which Foodie Tot's is participating. From June through August, one meal a week is prepared using only local ingredients (except pantry staples) in an effort to reduce our food's carbon footprint. You can follow FT's delicious meals made from her market excursions here.
DC Foodies welcomes three new blogs. First is Adventures in Shaw, a blogger who loves food and DC, and writes about them both. This week, Adventures in Shaw gives us Orange Walnut Tea Bread and Morel Mushroom Ravioli. Go for the recipes, or just for the food porn. Second, is Mango & Tomato. M&T is a blogger from Arlington, VA who loves ethnic food. Check out the site for spicy goodness, including this week's Chicken in Indian Marinade. Finally, there is a new blog that is really a blog about a local cooking show called Capital Cooking. Lauren DeSantis is a DC lawyer, food lover, cooking instructor, blogger and now host of her new show. Capital Cooking has taped about 11 episodes thus far, and can be viewed on local cable. You can check out her blog, along with show information here.
Don Rockwell has been buzzing about Chef Jamie Stachowski's Thirsty Bernie Sports Bar & Grill in Arlington, VA. Many of the menu items so loved from Restaurant Kolumbia are back, including the pastrami sandwich, kielbasa and pierogies. The word is, cured meats are on the way. Be patient.
Finally, Todd Kliman's Best Bites Blog gives us an early look at Locolat in Adams Morgan. Locolat is a Belgium chocolate house which also serves, not surprisingly, Belgium waffles. Sandwiches are also available, including ham and cheese on a croissant and Chimay cheese on a ciabatta roll. In a few months, Locolat will add itself to the roster of outdoor dining venues in DC.
Well, saints be praised, the weather has broken: while it lasts, consider barbecue season well in swing! You beer drinkers out there will certainly have an easy time of it, as there is no shortage of great beers that translate well from grill to table; for the adamant wine drinker/grilling enthusiast, times are more tough. The first impulse for any person manning the flame is to go for the lightest drink on hand (a hearty glass of Bordeaux being the furthest thing from the mind of anyone leaning over 300 degrees of smoldering carbon), and though both white and pink wines may make perfectly reasonable grill-side companions, their performance with the forthcoming meal is far less certain.
While I take great umbrage with that limiting adage "White Wine with Fish, Red Wine with Meat," there are some situations where this advice is actually best adhered. As refreshing as a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc may be in the face of burning briquettes, its tropical fruit flavors and light-as-air body are not likely to mesh well with your average T-bone. Likewise, though I am one of the more vocal advocates of pink wine that you are likely to meet (just ask my coworkers), there are some places where it is just too light in the saddle to corral the herd. No, for some meals, nothing but a red will due. Fortunately, the desires of neither the backyard chef nor the diner need be neglected, as there are several dry red wines that are meant to be served refreshingly chilled!
Probably the most well known example of red served cold is Beaujolais. This light wine from southern Burgundy, with its round texture, red fruit nose and stony finish, is great with a chill, which brings out its darker characteristics. I outlined a few of my favorites here; one and all, they have the depth of flavor and tannic structure to stand up to such grilling classics as pork chops, ribs, and even steak.
More interesting for their obscurity are the light reds of northern Italy, which are fast becoming some of my favorite wines. In Piedmont — ironically, the home of Italy's darkest reds — small vineyards of a grape called Grignolino are harvested by some of the region's more traditionally minded producers. This unique grape is named for its abundance of seeds ('grignole'), which lend the resulting wine ample tannins. Though there are not many to be found, local importer Michael Downey Selections brings in a fantastic example in the Crivelli Grignolino D'Asti 2006 (about $15). This wine has a beautiful nose of berries, wet earth and spice, which gives way to a plummy flavor and a lengthy, chewy finish — a wholly unique wine that simultaneously puts one in mind of a great Pinot Noir and an easy drinking white. Though refreshing for its lightness, its tannin and staying power make this a great match with game or lamb, and ideal with any dish sporting a tart berry-based sauce or marinade.
Even rarer than Grignolino is northeast Italy's Tai Rosso grape. Formerly known as Tocai Rosso (new EU regulations denote that only Hungary's wines may use the once common prefix "Tocai"), this grape is actually an offshoot of the more well known Grenache, and is not common outside its home in a small area just east of Verona. Once again, M. Downey provides the only example of this fascinating varietal that I have found in the Dal Maso Colli Berici Tai Rosso 2007 (about $13). This wine is just barely a red, showing a translucent ruby color even lighter than the Crivelli Grignolino. A friend of mine described this wine as "Kool-Aid for adults," and I find this highly appropriate — like Kool-Aid this stuff is highly addictive to the target demographics' palate, providing bright strawberry and cinnamon on the nose, plenty of ripe fruit flavors, but with a crisp, decidedly mature, dry finish. Though light for a red, this wine is most assuredly not a pink, and has plenty enough heft to stand up to poultry and pork. Try it with salmon, bratwurst, or any spicy preparation of chicken, and I am sure you will be delighted.
Incidentally, all these wines also translate well to the kitchen, and make great pairs with paella, jambalaya, curry, or any meal which calls for depth of flavor, but coolness to tame the spice — so whether Friday's summer kickoff finds you indoors or out, a glass of cold red would not be amiss.
When I heard that someone was opening a "mozzarella bar" in Bethesda last month, I was definitely intrigued. Can a restaurant in an area with as many options as Bethesda hope to succeed with such a specialized concept?
As it turns out, Assaggi won't have to find out. While they do plan to offer a full-service mozzarella bar complete with a cheese and charcuterie specialist who will be slicing and serving their various offerings, Assaggi is actually a very accessible Italian restaurant that features a variety of salads, pastas and meat dishes in addition to their signature mozzarrella tastings. Taking over where Centro left off (and using a few similar design elements while incorporating a distinctly new feel), Assaggi provides a different taste of the Mediterranean. In fact, the name of the restaurant means "taste" or "sample."
And taste we did. We began with the Assagi di Mozzarella, which allowed us to sample three of the five mozzarella varieties on offer with a choice of four accompaniments. The cheese options on the menu: burrata (a buffalo's milk mozzarella with a liquid curd center), ricotta di bufala (not a mozzarella, so we passed), authentic mozzarella di bufala from Italy, Bubalu Bubalis (a Southern California buffalo's milk cheese) and cow's milk mozzarella from local favorite Blue Ridge Dairy* (though they're referred to as "Blue Ridge Farms" on the menu). The sides offered some unique flavors - a green tomato marmalade that was surprisingly chutney-like in its sweetness, a basil-marinated zucchini, and a roasted organic eggplant were all tasty and basic. And although the 'fresh, seasonal tomato' was a bit underwhelming, it still managed to convey far more bite and flavor than many of the tomatoes currently available at local markets.
After our mozzarella sampling (which confirmed our love of burrata and the distinct difference in texture and taste between cow's milk mozzarella and buffalo's milk varieties), we tried some options from the rest of the menu. My wife enjoyed the soup of the day, a gazpacho whose vegetables were so finely pureed and silky-smooth as to make us think that she was being served something with a cream base. She also had a simple salad of butter lettuce, gorgonzola dolce and a lemon-oil dressing that allowed each of its components to show through to the best of their ability. I opted for a pasta dish, choosing the orecchiette with ground sausage, air-dried ricotta and broccoli rabe. The dish was sauced with a combination of a broccoli rabe pesto and a creamy 'deconstruction' of the sausage that gave it a wonderfully smoky and complex flavor without the usually oily texture that accompanies this kind of dish. It was a really impressive presentation that reminded me of some very traditional favorite dishes but that took things in a more elegant direction. Though the dessert menu seemed to offer a number of Italian restaurant staples, it also highlighted a few more "assaggi" choices - tastings of chocolate, sorbet, gelati, and biscotti. We didn't take advantage of any of these, choosing to save them for future visits.
Throughout our meal, service was attentive and knowledgeable. Questions were answered with confidence by Stephan, our waiter, and he seemed genuinely interested in hearing our thoughts on the food we had eaten. When a discrepancy between the menu price of our mozzarella tasting and the price that appeared on our bill was pointed out, he remedied it without argument and thanked us for bringing it to his attention.
Our biggest disappointment came from the fact that the vaunted mozzarella bar is not yet functional. Its two marble countertops stand at the ready, with glass cubicles that will provide temperature and humidity controlled storage for the signature cheeses as well as a high-end slicer that will prepare imported Italian prosciutto to order. But the Big Cheese himself, the man who will oversee the cheese program for the restaurant, has not yet taken his position behind the counters. For now, the cheeses are stored and prepared behind the scenes, in the kitchen.
I look forward to a second visit to Assaggi in the near future, both to experience the mozzarella bar in action and to see how the rest of the menu continues to develop. As a first look, however, this experience was definitely a good start.
4838 Bethesda Ave.
Bethesda, MD 20814
* - It seems that there was some confusion about the provenance of the local mozzarella being served at Assaggi during the first few weeks of service. When I asked my server and then called a few days later to ask about the mozzarella that had been served to me, I was told both times that the cow's milk cheese came from "Blue Ridge Farms...Blue Ridge Creamery," that they take deliveries every few days and that Blue Ridge sells their mozzarella at local farmers' markets as well. But I spoke to Paul Stephan of Blue Ridge at the Dupont Farmers' Market that weekend, and he assured me that he had not sold any mozzarella to Assaggi in at least three weeks.
When I spoke to chef/owner Domenico Cornacchia this week, he confirmed to me that they had not been stocking the Blue Ridge mozzarella for a few weeks while they waited for the mozzarella bar to come on line. But he assured me (and Paul Stephan confirmed) that they are now bringing Blue Ridge products - including ricotta and smoked mozarella - on a regular basis. Because the menus had been pre-printed, they continued to list the Blue Ridge product during its absence, but Cornacchia told me that staff had been informed that it was unavailable and that they were offering an Italian cow's milk cheese in its place. My experience suggests that the message wasn't uniformly received.
Is this inherently problematic? Only if you're truly passionate about cheese and eager to know what you're eating and where it comes from. The mozzarella they served was definitely delicious, but it was not the local product I thought I was getting.
There are many things I remember from four years at a southern college – many things not worthy (or appropriate) for a food blog, but a few of the local favorites are worth writing about. There was the sweet tea and pecan pie served fresh in the dining hall, the hush puppies and pulled pork at the local barbecue stop, and the hand cut, hot from the fryer potato chips served at one of my favorite haunts, Ham’s. No matter what else I ordered – sandwich, wings or even beer, Ham’s potato chips warranted special attention. Golden brown, crispy potatoes, served fresh with homemade ranch dip. The freshman fifteen was so worth it.
The average grocery store potato chip doesn’t quite stack up against my memories of hot, crispy chips, but they’ve managed to suffice in the wee hours of the night (when most of my potato chips are consumed). As a salt (as opposed to sweet) craving person, I’m looking for a DC substitute to Ham’s, and would most graciously accept some suggestions, loyal readers.
In the meantime, I’ve made my own. To start with, pick out your potatoes. I started with several medium-sized Yukon gold potatoes purchased at a local market. (It might be fun to try sweet potatoes or red potatoes as well.) Rinse the potatoes, then slice with a large knife. If you’re not hot on your knife skills or just enjoy gadgets, the chips can also be sliced with an automatic slicer, like this one. The thickness of your slices just depends on your preference, but the thinner slices cook faster and tend to be crispier when cooked.
After the potatoes are sliced, place them in a bowl, drizzle with your choice of oil (I used extra virgin olive oil) and any seasoning you prefer. I used sea salt and Old Bay, but next time will try garlic salt. If you’re nervous about over seasoning, go light, and when the chips are done baking, taste a few and add additional seasoning if needed. Make sure the chips are evenly coated with the oil and seasoning.
Place the chips on a cookie sheet. I found early in the process that some of my slices were sticking to my pan, so I sprayed a little olive oil on the pan’s surface, and put the slices on top. Cook in a 400 degree oven. My chips cooked an average of 13 minutes. You’ll know they’re done when they turn golden brown. Some of the edges may even begin to curl up.
Remove the chips from the cookie sheets and place on paper towels to remove the excess oil. I served my chips warm, you may want yours to cool completely before serving. But if I may make a suggestion- nothing beats warm, golden potato chips with a slightly softer middle.
I almost feel like a freshman again.
Heard around the DC Foodies blogosphere this week...We've got a lot of food for thought to soak in, so let's starts by demystifying marinades with an article from this week's WaPo Food section entitled "The Myth About Marinades". In it, we find that marinating meat is as easy as counting to 4. No more getting up early to prepare a tasty bath for your dinner to sit in while you go to work. You and your meat can enjoy a glass of wine just before your juicy steak gets cooked to perfection.
If you're more of a dry rub person, check out Chris Capell's Dizzy Pig dry rubs. Capell's Fairfax-based company, also covered by the WaPo this week, was inspired by his love for his smoker, a Big Green Egg, or BGE as they are affectionately referred to. To read more about the BGE, and welcome Capital Spice to the DC food blogging scene, read "Pulled Pork on the Big Green Egg: Piglorious!".
Also from Capital Spice this week (and also on DCFoodies.com); an interview with the chapeau'd chef himself-Spike Mendelsohn of Top Chef Chicago. Mendelsohn, who managed to garner a great deal of attention this season with his signature look and measured cookblock maneuvers, is opening a casual restaurant on Capital Hill, called Good Stuff Eatery.
Capital Spice also sat down this week with the owner, General Manager and Assistant General Manager of Enology in Cleveland Park, which is opening to the public today. Enology is first a wine bar, but Capital Spice points out that the selection of American beers, cheese, charcuterie and chocolate are impressive.
Blogging about the sweet thing in life is Pete Bakes. A DC resident who spends most of his income on "flour, sugar and butter" churns out mouth-watering photos and recipes that are approachable and fun to read (and look at). Check out his "10 rules for amateur bakers", then dive right into the brioche.
Finally, is Todd Kliman of the Washingtonian the average man's food critic? Kliman, always with insight into small mom and pop restaurants and quick to recommend a "whole-in-the-wall-joint" is emerging as the champion of value dining, giving names and voices to the owners and employees. "It's how those places are written about when they are covered", Kliman wrote in his chat this week, when asked to respond to a chatters allegation that Tom Sietsema of the WaPo covers mainly expense account restaurants, to the detriment of covering affordable, ethnic eateries.
Of these two talented food critics, whose voice resonates the most with you? Why?