I was excited about visiting Et Voila in the Palisades, even more so after we walked in and the narrow, deep space reminded me of many great gastropubs in Philadelphia, where I developed an enthusiasm for brasserie food, particularly savory hanger steaks dripping with shallots.
Neil and I arrived sans reservations on a Friday at 7:30. They have a handful of seating at the small bar but the hostess offered us a table without hesitation even though the restaurant was mostly full. The menu is traditional Belgian, which is to say it is not especially remarkable – and that’s fine with me, as long as what they do with the food is remarkable.
The beer menu is solid but not overwhelming, which we considered a respite from the trend of offering more beer options than Congressional seats. The endive salad had a good ratio of ingredients but was ordinary. The butternut squash soup was smooth but bland; I would have preferred a sweeter, more caramelized and robust base. A side of pommes frites were cut bâtonnet-size and cooked perfectly (perhaps twice-fried?) but the only dipping options were ketchup or mayonnaise. (Disclosure: Call it a crime, but we did not order mussels. I'm just not a fan yet.)
My hanger steak was also prepared perfectly, sitting atop fingerlings and bathed in a rich Bordelaise sauce but with too-few shallots. I like onglet aux beaucoup échalotes...which aren't Alba truffles, so please don’t skimp. Neil ordered waterzooi (chicken in velouté sauce with julienned vegetables). Again, the meat was excellent – tender, plump and juicy – but the velouté was bland and the vegetables were a disappointing limp garnish. I found myself reaching for the salt shaker yet again.
For dessert, the vanilla and green tea crème brûlée arrived in two tiny cups. The vanilla was excellent, but I think we've officially reached the limit on what one can successfully accomplish with green tea. File this one under “good in theory/bad in practice”; the flavor does not translate well to custard.
They were at capacity the entire time we were there, and the service consequently suffered; our waiter was calm and knowledgeable but could not provide timely or adequate attention. Those who enjoy being amidst the din of a bustling restaurant would be comfortable at Et Voila; their space is tight, frenetic and quite loud when full. The decor has a warmly neutral West Elm vibe and the huge clock projected onto one wall is sweet.
Loved: The bread. Divine. A beautiful crisp, flaky crust encasing a heavenly web of supple dough. When I die, build my coffin out of Et Voila's bread and I will rest in eternal bliss.
Hated: First, the succession of consistently unremarkable dishes. Second, the check -- after realizing I spent over $100 of my educator's salary on a succession of consistently unremarkable dishes.
I found myself comparing Et Voila to Les Halles (rest in peace), even though I hold small, one-offs braving a tight market in much higher regard than celebrity-powered, chain restaurants. I wanted to love it, I really did. But -- and most dishes arrived with a "but" -- while Et Voila has certainly mastered technique, unfortunately their food is short on flavor...yet both are required for a meal to be truly worthwhile.
5120 MacArthur Blvd NW
Washington, DC 20016
After work on Thursday, I headed over to the Penn Quarter Farmers Market to pick up some items for a Thanksgiving side dish I had in mind. To say that it was cold was an understatement (even in mittens, my hands were freezing), but my friend James and I braved to cold nonetheless.
The Penn Quarter Farmers Market, part of the FreshFarm Market organization of farmers markets in the DC metro area, was established in 2003 and is a stone's throw from the National Mall. I have frequented the market several times before because of its close proximity to my office and its hours (3 pm to 7 pm), but usually only during the high growing season. At its busiest, the Penn Quarter Farmers Market has 18 food vendors, ranging from fruits and vegetables to meat and dairy. Visitors of this market tend to enjoy the convenience of its location to their offices and the hours (like myself), which means they can pick up something fresh from the farm for dinner that night. I use it as a market to supplement what I am scheduled to receive in my CSA box or to pick up a nice loaf of bread or a pastry from The Bread Ovens at Quail Creek Farm for that evening. This time, however, I had an express mission to find the remaining ingredients for my stuffing for a Thanksgiving potluck dinner.
I don't usually put mushrooms in stuffing and had no intentions of doing so until I stopped by the Mushroom Stand. Run by Ferial Welsh, the stand sells mushrooms grown in Chester County, Pennsylvania that are certified organic. The Mushroom Stand only sells mushrooms from Phillips Mushroom Farms and Mother Earth Organic Mushroom Farms which are not mass produced mushrooms from huge agribusiness conglomerations and their quality speaks for themselves. Even though it was biting cold, Ferial was kind enough to offer me suggestions for mushrooms that would compliment a savory stuffing. She handed me a sample of a maitake mushroom, telling me it had a mellow, woodsy flavor that would work well in a stuffing. I had never even heard of a maitake mushroom, let alone tasted one, so I was a bit skeptical. However, she was dead on in her recommendation. Not only did it have a refined, earthy taste to it, it wasn't overly chewy like some mushrooms can be - even when cooked. I tweaked the recipe I had in mind a little in my head and continued on in search of bread.
The busiest stand by far at the Penn Quarter Farmers Market is the Bread Ovens at Quail Creek Farm. Located on the Potomac River in West Virginia, The Bread Ovens at Quail Creek Farm use no preservatives or unnecessary additives in their breads, pastries, cookies and scones. If you are anything like me, this is a big selling point, as I am a label reader. If I can't pronounce it, it doesn't go in my body. I have spoken with various workers at the stand on several occasions about their baking process and their ingredients and have always received the same information. Their flours come from local millers and their yeast is fresh from breweries in their area (if only I could get in on some of those ingredients). When I asked which bread would work well as a stuffing, one of the guys pointed to a huge boule (and by huge, I mean it could also double as an ottoman) that I was almost convinced served as an anchor for the entire bread stand. This would definitely be more than enough bread to create a stuffing for a Thanksgiving meal (or a small army…which sometimes actually describes my family Thanksgiving dinners). Just as I was getting my change back, the crowd began to swell, so I high tailed it out with my ottoman sized bread.
My final stop was Cibola Farms, a vendor I know quite well from my visits to Dupont Circle Farmers Market. Cibola Farms is a meat purveyor that sells bison, poultry, pork products and goats (yes, I said goats). On my first visit to Cibola at Dupont Circle, I spoke with one of the workers for about 20 minutes about their farm processes and slaughter methods. Their animals are not caged but are instead allowed to roam and graze on actual grass. Rather than using chemicals or overworking the land with heavy machinery, Cibola Farms uses their hogs and goats to maintain the grass for grazing. After that very informative discussion (I will spare you the details of their slaughter methods, but trust me when I say they are humane), I have been a regular customer. I have tried everything from their bison (a slightly sweeter meat than beef but with its own strong flavors) to their pork sausages. And it was their sage pork sausage that I had in mind for the stuffing. I picked up a package and called it a day.
On Saturday morning, I gathered the onions, apples, fresh sage and celeriac from my CSA box, along with the bread, sausage and mushrooms from the market and decided to make a small test batch of the stuffing. My family takes their stuffing very seriously (an entire Thanksgiving meal was ruined once because a family friend had the audacity to show up with dressing, not stuffing…big mistake), something that has been ingrained in me. Although I won't be able to make it to Georgia for a family Thanksgiving, I will not show up to a potluck dinner with mediocre stuffing. And since this was a recipe I was making on the fly, I had to be sure all the ingredients worked well together. I was amazed at how well the celeriac, the root of celery, worked along with the mushrooms and apples, giving a sweetly subtle depth to the heartier flavors in the stuffing. A perfect addition to any Thanksgiving dinner.
2 loaves of quality white bread, torn into bite sized pieces
1 large onion (or 2 medium sized onions), diced
1 celeriac (the root of the celery), peeled and diced
2 apples (whichever apples are in season in your area), diced
32 ounces vegetable or chicken stock (preferably homemade), warmed up slightly
1 container maitake (or shiitake) mushrooms
2 tablespoons fresh sage
1 pound sage pork sausage
Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees
Grease a large casserole dish and set it aside. Spread the bread pieces out on cookie sheets and bake them in the oven 5-10 minutes or until slightly golden. In a large skillet, brown the sausage and then place it in a very large bowl (the bowl must be big enough to combine all of the ingredients). Add the onions, celeriac, mushrooms and apples to the same skillet, season with the salt and pepper and cook until softened. Add the onion mixture to the sausage and then slowly start adding the bread cubes. Thoroughly incorporate the bread cubes into the other ingredients before adding another handful.
Once all of the bread has been added, toss in the sage and give the mixture another good stir. Pour in a portion of the stock and then stir it into the bread mixture. Continue this process until the bread mixture is moist but not a soggy mess. Pour the stuffing into the casserole dish, cover it with aluminum foil and bake it for 30 minutes. Remove the foil from the stuffing and continue baking it for another 10-15 minutes or until it is golden brown (but not burnt).
On the surface, your traditional Thanksgiving spread looks like a nightmare for wine pairing. Turkey, that's a white food, and cranberry sauce is definitely red; green beans go with Sauvignon Blanc, but this is a casserole; and what the hell goes with mashed potatoes? In reality, Thanksgiving is a really forgiving meal in both substance and spirit. The experience of drinking wine is highly subjective — If you taste a wine when in a crappy mood, you are bound to be critical; taste that same wine along with good friends and an awesome dinner, and you might just find it great. At the Thanksgiving table, people want to enjoy themselves, so chill out! What critical thoughts people do have in their heads are going to be subconsciously suppressed, or redirected at Uncle Ted (can you believe he's drunk already?). Whatever misgivings are left will be quickly put to bed by tryptophan.
Of course, you should still keep a few rules in mind. A simple tactic for Thanksgiving, or really any meal of numerous constituent parts, is to play towards the middle: keep the reds light and the whites big. Assuming you are not serving mutton or steak, your middle of the road wines are not likely to overpower any of the the dishes, but will certainly have the weight to hold their own.
I am not the first to make this claim — far from it, in fact, so there are numerous "traditional" pairings for the classic turkey-centric American meal. Below are some of those classic pairings, and some good value examples for each.
Alsace Pinot Gris
Though Pinot Gris/Grigio is most well known as the source of the typically banal Italian incarnation, in the Alsace region of eastern France, the grape takes on a very different character. Where the former is typically light and bland, Alsace Pinot Gris is quite full, almost oily, with exotic flavors of green apples, straw, and even acetone (trust me, this isn't always a bad thing). One of my favorite examples is the 2006 Mader Pinot Gris (about $18), which has a full body contrasted with an almost effervescent tingle, and finishes very dry.
Alsace and German Riesling
Riesling is one of those wines that has the unfortunate stigma of being considered "sweet." The inundation of the US market in the 70's with cheap German wines like Liebfraumilch and Zeller Schwartz Katz have left all Rieslings with a reputation for cloying sweetness and... not much else. In reality, Riesling is a highly versatile grape, which, depending on where and how it is grown, carries a range of sweetness from bone dry to liquid sugar. Most Rieslings from Alsace are quite dry, and bear a certain resemblance to Alsace Pinot Gris, though often with a floral component and some honey notes. Mader also makes a fine example of this wine, which has great melon fruit flavors and a long finish.
If your taste does lend itself towards sweet wines, the right German Riesling would also work quite well. For most foods that aren't particularly spicy, you are not going to want to go too sweet — a good rule of thumb is to look for a wine with an alcohol content around 11 to 11.5%. The Weingut Johannishof Charta Rheingau Riesling 2006 (about $25) has been a favorite of mine for some time. This full wine has just a hint of sweetness, which accentuates a core of spice and mineral flavors, balanced out by just the right amount of acidity.
Though rather uncommon in the US, Grenache is one of the most widely planted grapes in the world, and is the dominate varietal in several parts of France, Italy and Spain. Regardless of where it is grown, Grenache is typically light to medium bodied, high in alcohol, and full of red fruit and spice. Cotes du Rhone is Grenache's most well known appellation, where it is often blended with the fuller bodied Syrah. Higher end CDRs like Chateauneuf-du-Pape can get quite pricey, but some lesser known areas represent excellent values. This year, try the Domaine Catherine Le Goeuil Cuvee Lea Felsch Cairanne 2005 (about $18) — though the name is awkward, the wine is superbly smooth, with great raspberry and apple skin flavors and a long, long finish.
For a different kind of Grenache, try the Argiolas Costera 2006 (about $17). Made in Sardinia from 100% Cannanou (a native type of Grenache), this wine has lots of strawberry fruit, along with a earthy element and lots of acidity — a great pick if you happen to be doing pasta next Thursday.
Pinot Noir and Gamay
Wherever they happen to be grown, the two native red grapes of Burgundy are as good as it gets when it comes to turkey. Pinot Noir, with its elegance, subtle aromatics, and lets face it, name recognition, is a great wine to pick when you are trying to impress. This year, one of my surprise favorites has been the Sebastiani Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir 2006 (about $16). This wine has a great profile of black cherry and pepper, and unlike a lot of Pinot Noirs from California, vibrant acidity and little oak influence.
If a lush texture and fresh, jammy fruits are more your speed, try serving a Gamay. Most commonly associated with Beaujolais Nouveau (which hits the shelves today, fyi), Gamay is also the grape of the numerous cru Beaulolais, which run stylistically from bubblegum fruity to dark and brooding. The Louis Claude Desvignes Morgon Javernieres 2006 (about $26) is of the latter type; full textured, with dark purple fruit and granite flavors on a medium body with supple tannins.
Though more often thought of as a stand alone celebration sipper, sparkling wine can actually make a fantastic match with shellfish, chocolate, and yes, turkey. Like still wine, sparklers have lots of taste improving acid and aromatic compounds, but bring along the added bonus of bubbles, further heighten flavor sensations on the palate. Though I love Champagne, I can hardly suggest that its price is justified — for a good value, one has to look abroad, which can often be a dicey proposition. Recently, I picked up a bottle of an Aussie sparkler called Taltarni Brut Tache for $20, and I was wowed. Made from the classic grapes of Champagne, this wine has a full mouth feel and notes of toast, peach and apple flavors, and a crisp, dry finish. The word "tache" refers to the slight pink tinge achieved by adding a tiny bit of red wine to each bottle. This festive wine is one of the best I have had under $40, and would be great before, during, or after the main event.
Regardless, we love burgers. Whether it's just beef on bread or something more elaborate (foie gras burgers?), the sandwich speaks to us. But we eat burgers all the time. So regardless of how good a burger may be, most end up forgotten. A blur of a meal enjoyed in the moment and forgotten soon after.
Every now and then, though, a burger stands out. Something about it -- the beef, the bun, the toppings, the surroundings -- makes the ubiquitous unique.
A couple years ago, I was stuck at a conference in Pittsburgh. Now I've attended a lot of conferences and one thing I learned early on was when things wrap up for the day, I should get as far away from the rest of the attendees as possible. The only thing worse than being at a conference you don't want to attend is to surround yourself with several thousand conference attendees who don't want to be there either.
In short, we're a drag.
After spending a few days trying out restaurants as far away from the convention center as possible, I broke down and slipped into a small restaurant across the street from the hall. It was the last day of the conference and all I wanted to do was eat, pack, sleep and leave.
That's when I found the burger. The restaurant (who's name I can't remember or find) wasn't Asian, but the bar had Ninja Warrior on ESPN and a Samurai Burger on the menu.
When it comes to burgers, the more bacon, cheese and mayo you can stick on it, the happier I am (Unless, of course, you have an avocado handy. A couple slices would be nice, thank you.) The Samurai Burger had none of it. Beef, bun, ginger mayo and seaweed salad, that's it.
Nevertheless, I ordered it and loved it.
The beef patty was well seasoned and the ginger mayonnaise was creamy with a terrific ginger bite. But what made the dish was the seaweed salad. It was crunchy, tart and a little salty. Absolutely perfect on top of the burger.
I've had dozens and dozens of burgers since then, but only a few have stood out as much as that Samurai Burger. And while I don't know the name of the restaurant or remember what it put into the burger, I figured I'd take a crack at replicating dish. I figured that as long as I top the whole thing off with seaweed salad, I'd get pretty close.
I did. It's good.
I paired the burger with a couple Hitachino Nest’s beers, the Red Rice Ale and the Real Ginger Brew. The Japanese red ale is slightly tart, crisp and slightly fruity. The ginger beer is a surprisingly refreshing reddish ale with a slight ginger finish. Both beers are far and away better than the clone-like Asahi, Kirin and Sapporo.
Samurai Burgers with Green Onion and Ginger Mayo
(Makes four servings)
1.25 lbs. of ground beef (85%-15% lean to fat)
2 small containers of seaweed salad (available at Whole Foods and other local grocery stores)
2 ginger roots (about 3 inches each), peeled and grated
1 green onion, diced
2 tbs. mayonnaise
2 tbs. hoisin sauce
1 tbs. soy sauce
1 tbs. sesame seeds
1 tbs. of canola oil
2 tsp. of sesame oil
1 tsp. of sesame chili oil
1 tbs. cracked black pepper
Make everything about an hour before you're ready to grill. This will allow the flavors and ingredients to come together before you start cooking.
For the ginger mayo, combine the mayonnaise, 2 tsp. of cracked black pepper, the green onion and one of the grated ginger roots (about 2 tbs.) in a bowl and mix. Cover and place in the refrigerator for at least an hour.
To make the samurai burgers, combine the ground beef, remaining ginger root, soy sauce, sesame chili oil, sesame oil and remaining 2 tsp. of cracked black pepper in a bowl and mix thoroughly with your hands. Once the ingredients are combined, form four burgers. If you are planning to grill them immediately, do not refrigerate the burgers. Otherwise, cover the burgers with plastic wrap and stick them in the fridge.
If you're using a gas grill, give the burgers at least 30 minutes out of the refrigerator before you get started. If you're using a charcoal grill, make sure you pull the burgers out of the fridge before you light the grill.
When the grill is ready, place the burgers over the hottest part of the grill and cook for 4 minutes. Flip the burgers, brush the hoisin sauce on and sprinkle the sesame seeds over top. Cook for another 3 minutes. Brush the sesame seed buns with canola oil.
After 3 minutes, move the burgers to cooler spot on the grill. (If you like your burgers cooked to medium, leave them on for 5 minutes.) Place the sesame seed buns over the heat to toast for about a minute or so (watch them closely).
Pull the burgers and the buns off the grill, slather the ginger mayo in the toasted bread and top the burger with the seaweed salad.
As a proponent of eating local, seasonal food, I have become more active in researching various means of connecting with local farmers and vendors. One of the most direct routes to a local farm is a concept known as Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). CSAs are a partnership between the public and area farms that can take one of two forms: physical or monetary contributions. With a physical contribution, a member pledges to work a certain number of hours on the farm and receives a share of the harvest each week during the growing season. Usually the member picks up their share directly from the farm after they have worked their allotted hours. With a monetary contribution, an individual pays an agreed upon price, usually at the beginning of the growing season, and receives a share of the harvest weekly. The fee to join a CSA is used to cover the costs of farm production and can help smaller farms subsist throughout the growing season and beyond.
Share sizes vary, but usually the produce from one week's share can feed an entire family. For those of us who are single or don't have children, some CSAs offer half shares that can feed one or two adults. Depending on the CSA, members either pick up their share from the farm or a centralized drop off location. Some CSAs even offer delivery direct to your home or office for a fee.
There are benefits and risks to joining a CSA. The most obvious benefit is knowing how your food is being grown and who is growing it. For those who work the farm, the satisfaction of getting your hands dirty is a huge reward (not so much for this city girl, but apparently such satisfaction exists in others). Because you receive whatever is harvested for that week, you often discover new varieties of fruits and vegetables (adventurous cooking, anyone?). However, CSA members also bear the risks of a poor harvest or devastating natural phenomenon that can potentially ruin crops. Also, some people find not having control over what they receive in their share to be a negative.
CSAs have grown in popularity over the last decade as more and more people take a stronger interest in knowing the source of their food. The concept behind CSAs can be traced back over forty years ago to Japan. Born out of concern for the increased use of pesticides in food production and the disappearance of small farms, the idea was first brought to the United States in the mid 80s. Originally thought of as a hippie ideal, CSAs are becoming more and more common in metropolitan areas and are spreading to smaller cities in the United States.
There are several CSA options in the DC metro area that provide a wide range of fruits, vegetables, meats, dairy items and even flowers. Also, not all CSA farms use certified organic farming practices, often because of the costs associated with certifying a farm as organic. However, almost all CSA farms use little to no pesticides and have no qualms discussing their farming methods with interested individuals. Because of the differences in CSA methods and crop lists (what crops the farm grows and during what time of year they are available), some research should be done to find the one that suits you best. To shed some light on the variety of CSAs in the DC area, I've highlighted three with unique principles or approaches to the CSA concept.
Clagett Farms operates a very popular CSA that serves the Washington, DC area and only requires a monetary contribution. The Clagett farm growing season runs from May to November and has two share pick up options: either at the farm in Upper Marlboro, Maryland or the parking lot of the First Baptist Church in Dupont Circle. To show their commitment to sharing their bounty with others, Clagett Farms also uses their farm to help those in need. According to the Clagett Farm site on localharvest.org, “We are committed stewards of our environment, ad distribute 40% of our produce to low-income individuals in D.C.” To learn more about the Clagett Farm CSA, including share pricing and how to join, contact Carrie Vaughn at 301-627-4662 or visit their site on LocalHarvest.
Don't want to schlep out to a farm or designated drop off location to pick up your share? Karl's Farm may be the answer to your CSA prayers. For an additional fee on top of the CSA share cost, the Wiegand family will deliver your share to your home straight from their farm in Pisgah, Maryland. The delivery area, however, is limited to Bethesda, Chevy Chase, College Park, Silver Spring, Takoma Park or Washington, DC. Their growing season goes from May to December and they offer eggs as well as vegetables and herbs. Karl's Farm, like most all CSA's in the DC area, uses no pesticides in their farming methods and their eggs come from free range chickens. For more information on their CSA program, visit the Karl's Farm website.
Last but not least is the Star Hollow Farm CSA, a uniquely year round CSA. This one is near to my heart because I have been a very happy member for almost a year. Star Hollow is a small farm located in Three Springs, Pennsylvania and is a Pennsylvania Certified Organic farm. Star Hollow has taken the CSA concept and made it much more user friendly for its members. Once you become a member, you pay $300, which is put in a bank account of sorts. From Wednesday at 7 am to Thursday at 7 am each week, members go to the Star Hollow Farm website and order either a small or large CSA box. Randy and Chris Treichler post an expected list of the contents for the small and large box on the storefront page so members can anticipate what they will receive on Saturday (pick up locations are in Adams Morgan, Tenleytown and McConnellsburg). If you don't like what's being offered in the CSA boxes, you can order from the online market, which includes a laundry list of vegetables, dairy products, fruits, mushrooms and eggs (even honey and preserves). The cost of your order is then deducted from the $300. Chris sends out a reminder when your account balance gets low. At any time you can cancel your membership, something not common to most CSAs. A more detailed description of the Star Hollow Farm CSA, as well as information on how to join, can be found at their website.
CSAs are not for everyone and require a bit of a commitment (either monetarily or physically) up front. With the increased interest in CSAs has come an increased demand. Many CSAs now have waiting lists for people interested in joining and are bombarded when they open up their membership for the next growing season. To become a CSA member, it's important to research options in your area and contact the farm before their open enrollment period to express interest. However, from personal experience, I can tell you the rewards are delicious (nothing beats a fresh from the ground beet in my book). To find other CSAs in the DC area and beyond, visit localharvest.org, NewFarm's farm locator or the Eat Well Guide.
With Thanksgiving less than two weeks away, some of you have probably already selected the bird for your holiday feast. Who am I kidding? Some of you more dedicated foodies probably picked your bird soon after it was hatched and tracked its growth all season long!
For those of you who are still searching for that ideal turkey, however, we're happy to provide you with a pretty extensive list of options. Last year, Ramona walked you through the essentials of selecting a bird for your Thanksgiving feast. If you didn't read it then, take a few minutes and check it out. Once you've got a better handle on what you're looking for, check out the list below to find the purveyor that works best for you.
We found that prices can actually vary significantly from farm to farm and even between the farm and retailers for the same turkeys, so you may want to take convenience into consideration as you make your choice. Is it worth a twenty-minute (or more) trip to save a dollar or two per pound?
Once you've made up your mind, do yourself a favor and call to confirm the details - you may even be able to place your order over the phone right then and there. That way, you'll maximize your chances to get a turkey that is roughly the size you want.
If you've got any questions about what we've found, feel free to leave a comment and we'll do our best to resolve them for you.
Enjoy...and save a drumstick for us!
Washington-Area Sources for Fresh Thanksgiving Turkeys:
Capitol Hill Poultry
Eastern Market's new East Hall
7th Street between Pennsylvania and North Carolina Avenues, SE
Washington, DC 20003
Cost: $2.79 per pound with a $10 or $20 deposit
One of the two poultry vendors at Eastern Market, Capitol Hill Poultry can be found at the far end of the temporary East Hall. They'll be bringing in fresh Maple Lawn turkeys in sizes from 10 to 30 pounds for pickup on the Tuesday and Wednesday before Thanksgiving. They require a deposit or $10 or $20 depending on the size of the turkey you order, and your best bet is to stop in to fill out the request form in person. Alternatively, you can call in your order at the number listed above. At roughly a dollar more per pound than Maple Lawn is charging for on-site pickup, this is a pretty minimal markup to get your bird right on Capitol Hill.
Let's Meat on the Avenue
2403 Mt Vernon Ave
Alexandria, VA 22336
Cost: Local = $3.25 per pound; Eberly organic turkeys = $5.45 per pound
Boutique butcher Stephen Gatward's Del Ray shop will be selling both local and organic turkeys and will be taking orders until Thursday. He expects most of the birds he brings in will be between 10 and 14 pounds, but the earlier you order the better your chances of getting the size you desire. His local turkeys are free-range, raised without steroids and hormones. The Eberly birds come from Pennsylvania, and they are the same organic turkeys that Balducci's is selling.
Eastern Market's new East Hall
7th Street between Pennsylvania and North Carolina Avenues, SE
Washington, DC 20003
Cost: $1.99 per pound
The second vendor at Eastern Market, Mel Inman and son are selling local turkeys from Hillside Farm and Eastern Shore for $1.99 per pound in weights ranging from 8 to 28 pounds. They'll be taking orders through next Sunday. If you've always wanted a fried turkey but worry about your fire insurance, they will also be selling fried turkeys up to 14 pounds for $1.99 per pound plus a $30 frying charge. To order a fried turkey, stop in and pay the $30 as a deposit and place your order before next Saturday.
Organic Butcher of McLean
6712 Old Dominion Drive
McLean, VA 22101
Cost: Natural = $3.49 per pound; Organic = $4.49 per pound; Local = $6.99 per pound
Offering two size ranges (8-13 pounds and 13-18 pounds), the Organic Butcher of McLean will be bringing in three different types of turkeys for every taste. If you want a local turkey, you'll need to get your order in by the 24th. For an organic bird, you should be able to walk in purchase one right up to Wednesday, the 26th. Very convenient for anyone whose Thanksgiving plans end up coming together at the very last minute!
Balducci's will be offering all-natural turkeys from New York's Plainville Farms for $2.59 per pound and organic turkeys from Pennsylvania's Eberly Farms for $3.99 per pound. They also have several oven-ready and pre-cooked options available.
Marvelous Market has one option for your holiday turkey: a maple-thyme roasted turkey breast for $69.99.
Trader Joe's will be offering brined all-natural turkeys for $1.79 per pound and Glatt kosher all-natural turkeys for $2.29 per pound. Both will be delivered fresh (not frozen) to their stores, who are keeping sign-up sheets. Stop in to pre-order.
Whole Foods has natural free-range turkeys for $2.49 per pound and organic turkeys for $3.49 per pound. Check out their "Holiday Table" section for a wide range of oven-ready options and ask in your local store if you want to know the provenance of their turkeys.
c/o The Home Farm Store
1 East Washington Street
Cost: 10-12 pounds = $135; 14-16 pounds = $165; 18-20 pounds = $180
By far the most expensive option out there, Ayrshire Farm's turkeys are "Free-Range, Certified Organic and Certified Humanely-Raised and Handled Heritage Breed." They are "produced without hormones, antibiotics, pesticides, insecticides, herbicides or artificial fertilizers. Our birds are free-ranging with full access to the outdoors and are fed 100% certified organic feeds without animal by-products." If you live in Hunt Country and Middleburg isn't too far a drive for you, this is certainly a top-quality option. You can order by phone or online (email firstname.lastname@example.org) and pick up in store from 10 AM to 5 PM Monday through Wednesday the week of Thanksgiving. They require a non-refundable $50 deposit to hold your turkey.
3397 Stony Fork Road
Moneta, VA 24121
Cost: $3.85 per pound<
Eco-Friendly will be bringing their locally and humanely-raised turkeys to the Courthouse and Dupont Circle farmers' markets next Saturday and Sunday, respectively, but you need to pre-order to pick one up. You can pre-order online by emailing email@example.com with your name, phone number, email address and the approximate weight range you'd like. You'll also need to pre-pay a $40 deposit, payable via Paypal.
Fields of Athenry
38082 Snickersville Turnpike
Purcellville, VA 20132
Cost: $7.25 per pound
"Truly all-natural, free range, broad-breasted birds" are offered by Fields of Athenry, in weights from 15 to 35 pounds. You can order via email by filling out this form and sending it to MElaineBoland@aol.com. Be sure to include a credit card number for the $40 deposit. You can pick up your bird onsite on Monday 4-7 PM, Tuesday or Wednesday from 9 AM to 7 PM. A word to the wise - the Organic Butcher of McLean has indicated that some of their local turkeys, which will be selling for $6.99 per pound, may be coming from here.
7033 Ed Sears Road
Dickerson, MD 20842
Cost: $3.79 per pound
Jehovah-Jireh will be offering pastured turkeys in weights ranging from 10 to 18 pounds for pickup onsite the week of Thanksgiving. You can arrange to pick up your bird on Monday or Tuesday from 1 to 7 PM or Wednesday from 9 to 5 PM. They can't guarantee a specific sized turkey, so you may want to show up as early as possible to improve the odds of getting just what you want.
Maple Lawn Farm
11788 Scaggsville Road (Route 216)
Fulton, MD 20759
Cost: Hens (smaller) = $1.95 per pound; Toms (larger) = $1.75 per pound; Smoked = $4.50 per pound
Maple Lawn Farm provides free-range turkeys to a number of local retailers, but you can't beat the price if you're willing to pick them up on site. Even with the $3 per bird 'drawing charge' - the charge to clean and prepare your bird for cooking - you're still saving a dollar or more per pound relative to what you'll pay if you buy from a retailer in Washington. Pickup is available Monday through Wednesday from 7 AM to 5 PM, and you can email your request to firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out their site for ordering information.
16701 Yeoho Road
Sparks, MD 21152
Cost: Natural broad-breasted white = $2.75 per pound; Pastured broad-breasted white = $4.00 per pound; Pastured heritage or broad-breasted bronze = $5.75 per pound
Springfield Farm raises several breeds of turkeys, including a few of the more prized heritage breeds. If you're looking to try a taste of classic Americana, these turkeys promise deeper, richer flavors than your average roaster. To order in advance, you can call or email - just be ready to drive north of Baltimore to pick up your turkey next Saturday and Sunday. Added bonus: the world headquarters of spice giant McCormick is located in Sparks! No word on whether they offer tours or free samples, but it's something else to do while you're up there.
Want to see if there are other sellers that might be more convenient to you? The Maryland Department of Agriculture offers a more comprehensive list of Maryland farms selling turkeys directly to consumers at http://www.mda.state.md.us/md_products/md_turkey_farms.php.
The lure of raw, roasted, fried and stewed oysters drew me, my wife and a friend down to Urbanna, Va. The tiny town along the Virginia coast is home of the annual Urbanna Oyster Festival.
It was a hike down there, but we weren't the only ones making the trip. Urbanna was overrun with tourists and bivalves. At one point, I overheard a girl say, "This is town has 600 people and there are more than that along this street." She was right, the place was packed.
And why not? There was fried, roasted and raw oysters for sale up and down the main drag. The main event -- the oyster shucking competition -- was crowded despite a downpour. Those of us willing to brave the rain to watch the shucking were rewarded with trays of free oysters passed out by local kids.
The free oysters were great, but the crowd was there to see Deborah Pratt (wearing purple) and her sister Clementine Macon (wearing red) go to work. The pair have dominated the women's competition for years. They were even featured on Food Network's Glutton for Punishment teaching Bob Blumer how to open oysters at a competition pace.
The amateurs who opened the competition had six minutes to shuck 12 oysters. Most of them needed most of the time. The pros had six minutes to shuck 24 oysters. Deborah and Clementine needed about four minutes. And although Clementine was faster, Deborah was cleaner, which proved to be the difference in her latest win.
If you haven't shucked oysters before, trust me, 24 oysters in four minutes is damn impressive. I taught myself how to shuck oysters last year when I got to bright idea to serve them as an appetizer for Thanksgiving. I'm an idiot. It is a lot harder than it looks. All the time I've spent sitting at oyster bars watching professionals do it convinced me that I could do it, too. I can, but I'm really slow and I swear a lot more than Deborah and Clementine.
Once the rain let up, we made our way to the food vendors and ate our way through the festival. There was the enormous seafood fritter sandwich (scallops, oysters, shrimp and crab), two dozen raw oysters, one dozen roasted oysters, a dozen fried oysters, half a bottle of White Fences wine, a basket of clam strips, and a couple ham and biscuits (it was a dinner roll, actually. Disappointing).
There was also barbecue. God, I love barbecue. Honestly, the Carolina pork barbecue needed sugar, but it was pretty damn good. The farther away from Carolina I get, the harder it is to find true Carolina barbecue. Beach Bully's barbecue wasn't perfect, but it wasn't bad.
Our day (not the festival) wrapped up watching the Oyster Festival Parade, replete with high school marching bands and an army of Shriners. If you've ever lived in or grew up in a small town, these parades are great. Old men in strange hats and tiny cars, celebrities you've never heard of and badly made floats ridden by local beauty queens. Urbanna also had an oyster mascot waving to the crowd (it worked, somehow).
It was a long drive for cheap oysters, fast shucking and Americana, but it was worth every mile.
I don't think I am out of line when I say that Washington is a town of workaholics. With their crippling workloads and often far-off families, for a lot of locals, the chances of enjoying grandma's green bean casserole this Thanksgiving are slim. Fortunately for them, the DC restaurant scene is equally hardcore -- dozens of area restaurants will remain open on the 27th, their staffs shunning friends and kin to serve you, the dining public. Below are my picks for Thanksgiving 2008 -- bear in mind, the OpenTable reservation status is based on availability at the time of the publishing of this article. Although, if OpenTable says that the restaurant is booked, you may want to try calling, because restaurants sometimes hold back tables.
For those looking for classic American fare in one of the classiest joints in town, Chef Daniel Giusti will be offering a full turkey dinner with all the trimmings for $54 per person. Considering the meals I have enjoyed here in the past, I am sure that the meat will be spectacular, and the desserts sublime... just don't forget your sports coat, as jackets are required.
Though I haven't had the pleasure, 2941 has a magnificent reputation for innovative cuisine, and has an undeniably great wine list, as recently confirmed by the Wine Spectator. The six course tasting menu looks particularly patriotic, featuring all the bounties of the east coast, including Maine lobster, Hudson Valley fois gras, and Maryland turkey. Damn!
In addition to its normal menu, M St's premier cute little French bistro will be offering a three course turkey meal for both lunch and dinner, for $19 and $26 respectively. I love the chicken frites here, so I imagine they can do wonders with a turkey.
Blue Duck Tavern
This relatively new addition to DC's thriving "American Cuisine" market has made its reputation on the merits of its fowl, fish, and duck fat fries. Expect copious amounts of decadent food at Blue Duck's holiday buffet (10 am to 4 pm), with the normal menu served thereafter, along with the chef's take on a turkey blue plate special.
Charlie Palmer Steak
Though I am a bit wary of chain steakhouses regardless of price, Charlie Palmer looks like it is going to be putting out quite the spread. For $65 a head ($20 per child), CPs offers a diverse menu, featuring a selection of six firsts ranging from sashimi to fois gras, and a selection of hearty main courses, including pheasant, turkey, venison, and even a pan roasted sea bass for the odd vegetarian out.
Open 12 to 8
101 Constitution Ave.
NW Washington, DC 20001
Reservations: Good availability. Make Reservation
Chef Geoff's is an obvious weekend choice for its obscenely well priced bar food and beers; for the holiday, it might just be the perfect choice for a group of friends to enjoy a casual Thanksgiving in the absence of home and hearth. Both uptown and down, CG's will be offering an array of festive soups and starters, along with the usual assortment of gussied up meats and fishes. If you plan to head up New Mexico Ave, sausage-brioche stuffed turkey will be on the menu.
Open 2 to 8
3201 New Mexico Ave, NW
Washington, DC 20016
1301 Pennsylvania Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20004
Uptown: Make Reservation
Downtown: Looks booked. Make Reservation
While Michel Richard's cuisine is kind of the antithesis of mom down home cookin' (my mom never cooked with "g's"), he certainly has a pretty healthy spread out for the 27th. For $80 ($37 for children), Citronelle is offering a holiday buffet, including such classics as potato salad, lamb au jus, glazed ham, cranberry sauce, turkey, and the like. There are not a lot of places where I would spend $80 to try some guy's interpretation of baked beans and candied yams; Citronelle just happens to be one of them.
Open 2 to 7:30
3000 M St NW
Washington, DC 20007
Reservations: A few spots still open. Make Reservation
Clyde's will be open at all of its six area locations, offering a well priced traditional Thanksgiving meal at $23 a head. Given my experience with this DC area institution, expect authentic but unexciting food which will leave you plenty full, and a seat with an unobstructed view of Detroit and Dallas getting the crap kicked out of them.
Though one might imagine British food to be at odds with the spirit of our American holiday, I have little doubt that you carnivores out there would get over that juxtaposition real quick. Commonwealth will be featuring a prix-fixe roast beef and turkey dinner — featuring sweet potatoes, oyster-mushroom stuffing, and housemade pies — for only $25. Judging from previous experience, I expect the portions to be more than ample for the price, and the quality of the meats to be superb, though I suggest leave the vegans at home.
The first Thanksgiving in a new home can sometimes be a lonely experience -- not so for Tom Power at his new Shaw area digs, as Corduroy is already nearly completely booked for the holiday. Expect Power's usual commitment to freshness and innovation in his take on the classic turkey dinner, prix-fixe at $55 per person. Call now! Their menu is on their web site here.
The Manor House Restaurant
Okay, I've only eaten here once, but I can safely say that this little inn outside of Warrenton makes the best she-crab soup I have ever tasted. Period. The Thanksgiving menu looks outstanding, with several entrees featuring something-or-other confit, which as everyone knows is the best way to cook anything. The optional wine pairings actually look like a real deal, and feature some well thought out, esoteric wines, including a New York State Champagne, a Gigondas and a New Zealand Chardonnay. $72 Adults ($99 with pairings), and $25 for children.
Open 1 to 6
9245 Rogues Rd
Midland, VA 22728
Reservations: Good Availability. Make Reservation
Old Ebbitt Grill
DC's oldest bar and grill will be offering much the same menu as its brothers in the Clydes group, at the same low-low price of $23. Old Ebbitt stands out from its siblings in terms of ambiance and service. The OEG is easily one of the coolest restaurant spaces in Washington DC — being all cavernous and full of marble and dark wood — and I have always found that the level of service far surpasses the price. Incidentally, if you are planning a meal at home but are short on time, Old Ebbitt can hook you up with the sides.
Eschewing the prix-fixe route, chef Jeff Buben will instead feature a variation on his typical menu with an array of Thanksgiving themed dishes, including milk-poached Amish turkey breast, Southern-style cassoulet, and an assortment of pies and torts.
In the fratty and chain-driven neighborhood of Ballston in Arlington, Willow is a much loved oasis of good wine and quiet sophistication. On Thanksgiving, Willow will be offering a combination turkey dinner/ dessert and appetizer buffet for $75 a head (full menu here). For an additional $38, enjoy a selection of paired wines with each course -- I know the price sounds a little steep, but the bar and kitchen work phenomenally well together at Willow, so I'm sure the matches will be excellent.
For a (nearly) complete list of restaurants open on Thanksgiving, check out OpenTable's promo page here.
You know when you meet someone and they seem perfectly put together and totally balanced? And they never seem to sweat? That’s how I used to look at risotto – with envy, and a little bit of intimidation.
I got over my jealousy (resentment?) last winter when I realized that risotto really just takes time. And this fall, as the weather cools down and football games drag out over entire Sundays, I’ve got plenty.
There are many risotto recipes using a number of add-ins like asparagus, various cheeses and mushrooms, but none of them matter if you don’t start with a good base – which you get from basic ingredients and a lot of patient stirring. I like my risotto with a cheesy center and an earthy, salty finish.
To find the ingredients I include in this recipe, I encourage you to visit the Italian Store (3123 Lee Highway). It’s a one-stop shop for the white truffle oil, prosciutto and parmesan cheese you’ll need for this recipe. Whole Foods on P Street, NW should have these as well.
2 to 3 ounces sliced prosciutto
3 tablespoons butter
2 shallots, minced
2 cups Arborio rice
6 cups chicken stock (you may want to have 1 or 2 extra cups on hand, just in case)
½ cup grated parmesan cheese
White truffle oil
Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a skillet. Add small slices of prosciutto and cook until it begins to turn dark in color and slightly crispy. Remove from the skillet with a slotted spoon, and set aside on a paper towel-lined plate, to maintain the crispness of the prosciutto.
Heat 3 tablespoons of butter in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add minced shallots and cook until soft.
In a separate pot, simmer 6 cups of chicken stock over medium heat.
In the pot with the butter and shallots, stir in 2 cups of Arborio rice. Stir until the rice is coated completely in the butter. Allow the rice to simmer until it starts to turn golden in color, but be careful not to let the rice stick to the pot.
Add the chicken stock, 1 cup at a time, and simmer and stir continuously until absorbed. The rice should become creamy, but not stiff.
Once the last of the stock has been added and the risotto is at a consistency you like, stir in 1/2 cup of grated parmesan cheese, and any salt and pepper to taste. To serve, sprinkle with the white truffle oil and prosciutto.
You’re bound to have leftovers when making risotto. Not to worry – here are a few ways to make it taste even better the next day:
Risotto balls – Heat some peanut oil to 350 degrees. Take a few tablespoons of cold, leftover risotto in your hands and roll it into a ball. Roll the ball in flour, then egg, then breadcrumbs, repeating with all of the risotto. Place the risotto balls into the oil and fry, turning onto each side, until they’re golden brown. Remove the balls and drain them on paper towels. Serve these with a side of marinara.
Risotto pancakes – Heat some butter in a pan. In a bowl, mix the leftover risotto with an egg, and take a few spoonfuls in your hand and shape into a patty. Fry the patties in the butter on both sides. Sprinkle with grated parmesan and serve.
One of the many benefits of living in the Washington, DC area is its proximity to many farming communities. Farms abound in Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania, giving the DC area an abundance of opportunities to shop for locally grown, largely organic, produce, meats and dairy products. Through farmers' markets, community supported agriculture (more about that concept later) and farm stands within driving distance of the District, it's easy to find healthy, quality food at a price that doesn't resemble our national debt. One such option is the local farmers' market and luckily, DC has many to choose from on almost any given day of the week.
On Sunday, I decided to trek over to the Bloomingdale Farmers' Market, on R and 1st Street NW, conveniently located next to the Big Bear Café. Although a relatively new market, Bloomingdale has grown exponentially over the last year, bringing in new vendors to meet the demands of the growing neighborhood. Robin Shuster, the Bloomingdale Farmers Market manager, has been working hard to add a variety of sellers to the market and her efforts have been successful. The market now has sellers of all meats (beef, lamb, pork, veal and even goat), cheeses, vegetables, fruits and breads and pastries!
A new vendor to the Bloomingdale Farmers' Market is Keswick Creamery, a dairy farm located in Newburg, Pennsylvania that is committed to raising their cows in a humane and organic fashion. Their cheeses are made using the freshest of ingredients and the result is in the amazingly sharp flavors of their cheeses. Their cheeses include cheddars, fetas (including my favorite – their Italian herb feta), bleu cheeses and a pepper jack they lovingly call Dragon's Breath. In addition to their hard cheeses, Keswick sells yogurt, Quark (a German style cream cheese), whole milk ricotta and a soft cheese of fresh herbs called Bovre.
As I walked along the market, my eyes were immediately drawn to a lovely display of shiitake mushrooms. Dennis from Greenstone Fields Farm had a nice little haul of these earthy beauties, along with a big silver tub full of fresh rosemary. The rosemary was so fragrant, I could smell it the second I came to the stand. Dennis said the log grown shiitakes were probably the last for the season, so I grabbed a big container, along with a bunch of the rosemary.
The mushrooms and rosemary would make great additions to an idea for a chuck roast that was forming in my head. And thanks to Robin's efforts, I could pick up said chuck roast right there at the market. Truck Patch Farms not only has a slew of vegetables (including brussel sprouts, a variety of greens, tomatoes, peppers and potatoes to name a few), they also sell beef. Huge chunks of beef might I add. The smallest roast I could find was over four pounds and FRESH! Truck Patch, like Keswick Creamery, treats their cows in a humane manner and provides a grass fed, natural diet for them.
I added the roast to my lovely pile of purchases and then decided it was time for some breakfast. With that in mind, I headed to the lovely ode to carbs that is Panorama Artisanal Bakery. I will freely admit my almost slavish devotion to breads, pastries and pretty much anything made with flour. But the sight of the croissants, danishes and beautifully dark loaves of pumpernickel stopped me. Sadly, I only stopped because I couldn't decide what I wanted to devour first. The variety of loaves and pastries that were available was impressive, especially for an outdoor market. Even better? Panorama had an assortment of sweet brioches…something I haven't seen in a bakery since my childhood in Germany. The cheese Danish I purchased was flaky without being delicate and had a subtly sweet filling. The perfect breakfast snack for such a lovely Fall day.
The lovely roast was the center of my attention when I got it home. I've played around with variations of pot roast for years and find mushrooms, rosemary and wine to make a lovely sauce compliment to any beef. The recipe I devised was simple, allowing for the freshness of the ingredients to take center stage. The result was a tender roast marinated in a rich, woodsy sauce.
Shiitake Mushroom Pot Roast
4 lb chuck roast, boneless
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 medium onions, sliced
1 container shiitake mushrooms, coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons of fresh rosemary, finely diced
32 ounces beef stock (preferably homemade)
1 cup dry red wine
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees
Heat the olive oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Pat the roast dry and sprinkle it liberally with salt and ground pepper. Place it in the Dutch oven and brown the roast on both sides for about three minutes each side. Remove the roast from the Dutch oven and allow it to rest on a plate. Add the garlic to the Dutch oven and sauté it for about two minutes before adding the onions. Sauté until browning and then toss in the mushrooms. Stir the mixture until the mushrooms have softened. Add the red wine and the beef stock and then place the roast back into the Dutch oven. Sprinkle in the rosemary and allow the broth to come to a boil. Once boiling, remove the Dutch oven from the stove and place it in the oven. Bake the roast for 2 ½ to 3 hours, depending on the level of doneness you desire. When the roast is cooked, remove it from the oven and take it out of the Dutch oven. Place the Dutch oven on the stove over medium high heat and add a tablespoon of cornstarch slowly into the broth. Stir consistently in order to reduce lumps. Allow the sauce to boil down to a thick gravy consistency. Serve the roast with the gravy, which should have lovely bits of mushrooms and onions, on top!
Although the Bloomingdale Farmers Market is still relatively small (especially compared to Dupont Circle and Eastern Market's offerings), it is a welcome addition to the LeDroit Park/Bloomingdale/Shaw area of DC. The market will remain open until the weekend on November 22, just in time for Thanksgiving. The market is open every Sunday, rain or shine from 10 am to 2 pm.