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Jul 19, 2010

Must Haves: A Well Dressed Burrito

DSCN5441
Must Haves focuses on some of D.C's best dishes.

It's a burrito joint, so the penguin is confusing. The location -- down an alley by Rumors -- isn't great, either.

Fortunately none of that matters because the burrito that you came for is what you came for. The Well Dressed Burrito's marinated burrito is one of the best you'll find in the District.

You either know this or you should.

It's not hard to find a burrito in D.C. There are the fast food options, like Chipotle, Taco Bell and Qdoba, but they're not that good. Despite the lines that wind their way through Chipotle, the weighty burritos are bloated bundles of rice. Taco Bell always seems like a great idea on road trips (when choices are few), but when you have options the allure of the Burrito Supreme fades fast. And Qdoba and the rest of the fast food options are cranking out crap for the hurried masses.

So you hop the Metro to Dupont and wander down an alley for what you know will be right. Between 11:30 and 1 p.m., the cramped space is as crowded as an Orange Line train. There are specials, like salmon quesadias and Mexican bread pudding, but you're there for the real specialty. You're there for a marinated burrito.

DSCN5443 Beef or chicken (there's a vegetarian option, but who cares) marinated in a "seasoned Mexican sauce," swaddled in a four tortilla and surrounded by black or refried beans, lettuce, Mexican rice, shredded cheese, sour cream and tomatoes. You ask for the hot salsa, thick with bits of peppers and spices.

You could get a fajita-style grilled burrito instead. For a moment you're tempted. You think that it'll be like a marinated burrito, but better because it's grilled. Then you remember the last time you ordered one and realized the meat isn't marinated, so the magic was missing.

No, you stick with the marinated burrito. Order beef or chicken, it doesn't matter because both a fantastic. You ask for it with black beans, because you know if you say nothing it will come with refried beans. Glancing at the beverage cooler, you wish there was a cold bottle of Hatuey waiting for you, but you settle for a Snapple.

Three minutes later, someone behind the cramped counter that keeps the crowd at bay calls your number. It's time to make a choice: do you shoulder your way back through the interns and office workers for one of the few seats among the filing cabinets, or do you tuck that fat baby under your arm and head to the circle for lunch on the lawn?

Doesn't matter, because it's the burrito that matters now. It's big, but unlike the popular Chipotle burrito, this well-dressed one has flavor. The mingling of marinated meat, beans and cheese may not be the most authentic burrito (you can head up to Columbia Heights for that), but it's the best thing you've eaten all week. It takes three bites to go left to right, but the deep, savory flavors and pinch of heat from the salsa help you make short work of the hefty lunch.

Sure you should've had a salad instead. You're pretty sure the dapper penguin's salads are good, but you've never had one. Come to think of it, you've never had anything else one the Well Dressed menu.

Why would you have? You're there for the marinated burrito.

Categories: DC, Dupont Circle, Mexican, Must Haves, Tex-Mex, Washington, DC
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Sep 03, 2009

Pizzeria Paradiso: The New Dupont Location is Open for Business!

Paradiso1 Way back in 1991, a small restaurant called Pizzeria Paradiso opened up on P St in the Dupont Circle neighborhood, and quickly made a name for itself. Featuring wood-fire baked, Neapolitan style pizzas of unusual quality, the pizzeria soon outgrew its meager floorspace, and so was born Paradiso 2 in upper Georgetown. With continued acclaim, and the addition of one of the city's finest beer programs, business kept rolling in, and soon little Paradiso 1 just couldn't handle the crunch. So, after a year's construction and the usual cadre of setbacks, please welcome the new Paradiso, which opened up last Saturday in a custom-built space right up the road from the original. I wandered over around 8:00 that night to meet some friends and scope things out.

Paradiso5 Those familiar with the Georgetown Pizzeria Paradiso will feel instantly at home in the new space. Clearly designed with a similar mindset, the new space is all exposed brick, cream-colored walls with wood accents,and big windows -- even those cute, rustic pizza-pie sculptures aligning it's sister's basement feature here along the bar partition. The space appears to seat about 75+, and will accommodate another 24 once the large, seasonally-heated patio is opened later this month. The bar is a good deal larger than either of it's predecessors, and will seat a 15 or so in relative comfort.

Paradiso3 Opening night was packed: over the course of my two hours there, I saw many a party turned away at the door, which is both encouraging and not surprising given Paradiso's cache. As I had other things to attend to (binge drinking is "other things;" don't judge), I did not sample the food that night -- that said, rest assured that if you love Paradiso's formula of thin, chewy crust, fresh mozzarella cheese and myriad meat and veggie toppings, it does not appear that you will be disappointed. If my nose and eyes are any judge, the food at the new Paradiso is exactly what you might find at the other locations. If you are at all concerned, grab a table in back, and watch your pizza being flipped, topped and baked in the restaurant's open kitchen.

Paradiso2 Of course, no offense to the pizza, but to me, Paradiso is all about the beer. As previously stated, Paradiso has one of best beer programs in town, featuring an eclectic, well-document collection of brews from every style available. In addition to an extensive bottle list, the new Paradiso has 11 draughts, one of which, like the flagship bar, is dedicated to cask-conditioned "real ales." Though lacking your macros like Miller and Bud, a Paradiso list is never wanting for diversity, so lovers of any style are bound to leave satisfied. That night, I had the good fortune to sample (amongst others) the Brouwerij Bockor Cuvee Des Paradiso4 Jacobins Rouge ($8), a Belgian Flanders red ale whose acquaintance I had not yet made. My friend Tim described it as "SOOO Good," so I chanced it, and he was right. The Jacobin is a full-bodied, heavily cherry accented beer, with a complicated nose of sour cherry, wheat, and spices, and a pleasantly dry finish; thank God for it's reasonable 5.5% abv, as I drank two in absolutely no time. In recognition of the bar's opening, beer-guru Greg Jasgar has created a couple of unique, beer-centric cocktails. I tried the Cosmoplambic ($10), a unique blend of vodka, lime juice, Grand Marnier, and raspberry lambic that really hit the spot, and pretty much put a bullet in any of my plans to drive home.

Paradiso7 For burgeoning beer lovers and snobs alike, the GT Paradiso has one of the best happy hours in town, featuring half-priced draughts from 5-7 PM on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. The best news in all of this is that the new Paradiso will offer the same deal, albeit with a different selection, and a lot more standing room. If frantic crowds of sweaty beer nerds have kept you away in the past, make a point of checking out the new Paradiso's happy hour before they catch on! Alternatively, to you regulars out there, check out the new space for an airier, more Metro-accessible dose of what you've come to love and crave.

Pizzeria Paradiso
2003 P St. NW
Washington, DC
202.223.1245
eatyourpizza.com

Categories: Bar/Club, Beer, Dupont Circle, Pizza, Restaurant Reviews
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Mar 11, 2009

Swiss Chard, Roasted Baby Beet and Caramelized Onion Tart

Finished Tart Right before Snowmageddon 2009 on Sunday, I headed out to the Dupont Circle Farmers Market for my weekly provisions.  Mind you, snow was already falling and it was quite chilly out, but food doesn’t buy itself and come right to your door (well, at least not quality, locally grown and raised food).  Unlike most market days where I let the market offerings decide my menu for the week, I had a mission in mind this Sunday:  a vegetable tart using a pate brisee dough.  I wasn’t sure which vegetables I wanted to use, but I had a general idea that I wanted something green included in this dish. 

Perhaps naively, I thought the snow would keep some market goers away.  So imagine my surprise when there were just as many shoppers milling about the market.  My first stop was Everona Dairy for one of their cheeses to top my tart.  As usual, Pat Elliott (who happens to be a doctor with a thriving practice on top of her cheese making) was handing out samples of their sheep’s milk cheeses.  I have truly come to enjoy my chats with Pat because she herself is quite the cook and she always has great recipe suggestions.  She was giving out samples of a Rapidan spread made with the their signature Piedmont cheese.  She was giving out the samples on a thin yet hearty cracker that (it turns out) she made herself.  She offered to send me the recipe if I emailed her during the week.  As I was plowing my way through trying a few samples, Pat told me this was Everona’s last time at the market until the end of April.  I stopped mid chew and looked at her as if she’d told me she was Mrs. Claus.  Sure April is right around the corner, but I’ve grown to love the cheeses from Everona.  They work well in a variety of dishes, from sweet to savory and melt remarkably well.  She assured me they would be back in late April as I scurried to buy up as much cheese as I could afford.  It’s entirely possible she reiterated their return date because I was stocking up as if they would never return.  With my market bag loaded with cheese, I thanked Pat and headed off to find my vegetables.

Rainbow Chard  Walking along the market, my eyes caught sight of a beautiful bunch of baby beets stacked on a table at the Farm at Sunnyside stand, one of my favorite vegetable vendors.  The baby beets were a stark contrast to the white turnips propped up beside it.  Their green leaves were also a welcome sight amidst the cold and drab Winter day.  I picked up a bunch, thinking they would work wonderfully on the tart roasted and sliced.  I briefly toyed with the idea of using the beet greens on the tart as well, but that went away the minute I stumbled upon a lovely bunch of Swiss chard at Next Step Produce.  The contrast of the deep red of the beets against the shocking green of the chard would make a beautiful tart, or at least it did in my head.  As I was looking through the other bins at Next Step, I came across some beautiful red onions and decided to add them to the tart as well.  With all of my vegetables in hand, I headed home to throw together what I hoped would make for a great lunch for the week.

Swiss Chard, Roasted Baby Beet and Caramelized Onion Tart

For the Pate Brisee Dough:

2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
2 sticks unsalted butter, cold and cubed
¼ to ½ cup cold water

Combine the flour, salt and sugar in a food processor.  Add the cubes of cold butter and pulse until the mixture is coarse in texture.  Slowly add the cold water through the food processor tube while the machine is running.  Add only enough water to make the dough come together without being too sticky.  Divide the dough into two balls and flatten each one into a disc.  Wrap the discs in plastic and chill in the refrigerator for at least an hour.  You will only need one of the discs for this tart, so the other disc can be frozen for use later.

For the Vegetable Tart:

2 medium red onions, sliced
3 tablespoons butter
1 large bunch of baby beets, stems removed and peeled
4 tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper
1 bunch Swiss chard, coarsely chopped
4 to 6 ounces shredded cheese (any good melting cheese will work)

1 egg whisked together with a tablespoon of water for an egg wash

Grease a 14 by 4 inch rectangular tart pan (preferably with a removable bottom).

While the dough is chilling, get started on the toppings.  Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Line a square baking dish with foil and place the peeled beets in the dish.  Toss with two tablespoons of the olive oil, salt and pepper and roast for 35 to 40 minutes or until the beets are tender.  Set the beets aside and allow to cool.  Once the beets are cooled, cut the beets into circular slices.  Reduce the oven temperature to 375 degrees.

Heat the remaining olive oil in a skillet and sauté the Swiss chard for only 2-3 minutes.  Remove the Swiss chard from the skillet and add the butter to the pan.  Add the red onion slices and stir.  Continue to consistently stir the onions, cooking until caramelized, about 15 to 25 minutes.  Allow both the chard and the onions to cool completely.

Remove the dough from the refrigerator and roll it out to a rectangular shape that will fit into the bottom of the tart pan.  Place the dough into the tart pan, removing any excessive that may come up the sides of the pan.  You only want the dough to cover the bottom of the pan.  Chill it for another 30 minutes in the refrigerator.  Once chilled, prick the dough with a fork, brush it with the egg wash and bake for about 20 minutes (or until golden brown).  Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly before topping.  Top with the shredded cheese first, then the carmelized onions, the Swiss chard and finally the beet slices.  Return to the oven, baking for another 15 minutes.  Allow to cool completely before slicing up the tart and serving.

Categories: Dupont Circle, Recipes
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Feb 16, 2009

Dupont Circle Farmers Market

Market Sign In my pursuit of Winter time farmers markets, I've shied away from the behemoth that is the Dupont Circle Farmers Market for several reasons.  One of the biggest reasons is because the market is always so crowded, it's hard to get your bearings straight.  When I go to a farmers market, I like to take my time and survey the offerings carefully before deciding on what to buy.  No matter what time you go to the Dupont Circle Farmers Market, there are a lot of people trying to navigate around a small patch of land.  This also makes it harder to have conversations with the vendors about their products, as they are running around trying to attend to the hordes of Sunday morning market goers.  Another reason I have spent most of the Winter steering clear of the Dupont Circle Farmers Market is because it's so well known, it really doesn't need any more publicity (as evident by the above mentioned crowds).  A number of the markets I've visited since November have been ones I had never known about before I started writing for DCFoodies.  I have enjoyed discovering the many markets around the DC area and highlighting them for others to discover.  Writing about the Dupont Circle Farmers Market just seemed a bit redundant and I was more inclined to explore other markets instead.  But last Sunday, I decided to head out again to my old and familiar market stomping grounds in search of lesser known vendors.

I arrived around 11 in the morning to be greeted by a glut of people spilling out onto the street.  The crowd was waiting in line for their turn at Bonaparte Breads, a local bakery with a Parisian feel.  Known for their French breads, pastries and desserts, Bonaparte Breads has become a wildly popular vendor at Dupont Circle.  Their baguettes have been a favorite of mine to use for stuffed chicken salad sandwiches, a hit at picnics and various other romantic attempts to eat outdoors.  Their Opera Torte, an almond sponge cake with layers of ganache and buttercream, is the quintessential French pastry and one of their best sellers at their Savage Mill cafe location.  Unfortunately, by the time I got to the market, they had already sold out of their baguettes...and most of their other offerings.  That was when I was quickly reminded you have to get to Dupont Circle early if you want the best selection.

I traveled on in search of lunch ideas for the week and hit upon Twin Springs Fruit Farm.  Like a lot of Winter Squashfarms in the area, Twin Springs Fruit Farm is not a certified organic farm.  I spoke briefly with one of the employees and learned they use a minimal amount of pesticides and only when absolutely necessary.  The pesticides they do use are organic in nature, thus reducing the use of harsh chemicals for their crops. For more stubborn pests, Twin Springs turns to mother nature for assistance by doing a controlled release of "predator bugs".  These predator bugs help to control the population of harmful pests without chemicals.  I asked what then becomes of the predator bugs and was told they either move on or die off and do not harm or effect the crop in any manner.  There was a bounty of Winter squash (some of the last of the season) amongst their tables, so I decided to pick up a red kuri squash to roast for later.  I also picked up a few red and yellow onions with the intent to caramelize them for something (in my world caramelized onions solve all the world's ills).

As I continued along, I stumbled upon a meat vendor I hadn't really noticed before, Cedarbrook Farm.  Located in West Virginia, Cedarbrook Farm is a certified organic farm that specializes in both raising free range animals and growing a wide variety of vegetables.  Their motto, "no hormones, no preservatives and no fillers" pretty much says it all.  Offering almost every pork product imaginable, Cedarbrook Farm also offers eggs from free range hens.  As was the case with a lot of the vendors, I wasn't able to speak with the person manning their stand because of the glut of people clamoring for everything from shoulder roasts to lard.  While trying to decide if I wanted to buy anything from them, I briefly spoke with a lady in the line.  I asked her if she'd bought anything from them before and she smiled, nodding profusely.  "I just adore their ribs.  When the weather gets warm, I love to throw them on the grill with a hoison sauce marinade."  I tucked that idea away for the upcoming Summer but opted not to buy anything from them this go round.  

Everona Dairy Cheeses While I will freely admit I stopped at my old familiar favorites, Blue Ridge Dairy and Atwater Bakery, I also happened upon another vendor I hadn't really noticed before: Everona Dairy.  Unlike some of the other stands, I was able to freely chat with the lady handing out cheese samples at the stand.  I asked for recommendations for a cheese that would work well with a ravioli.  Almost instantly, she reached for their Cracked Pepper Piedmont, an aged sheep's milk cheese.  Everona Dairy, located in the Piedmont region of Virginia, has won awards for its Piedmont cheese, including the 2005 American Cheese Society's best Farmhouse sheep's milk cheese.  The cracked pepper cheese had a nutty undertone to it, reminiscent of a finely aged parmesan.  The cracked pepper added a kick to the softer tasting cheese, making it perfect for a pasta dish.  I picked up a pound of the cheese with the intent of making a ravioli with the roasted red kuri squash.  However, after making a pizza the previous week, I decided to try my hand at a calzone using a homemade olive oil dough from one of my favorite cookbooks, Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day.

Roasted Winter Squash, Carmelized Onion and Mozzarella Calzone
1 lb pizza dough (homemade or store bought)
1 medium sized red kuri squash, roasted
1 ball fresh mozzarella, sliced
2 large onions, sliced
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Cut the red kuri squash in quarters and remove the seeds from each section.  Lightly salt and pepper Finished Calzone each section and place in a roasting pan.  Roast for approximately 45 minutes or until the flesh is soft.  Remove from the oven and allow to cool.  If you have a pizza stone, place it in the oven immediately after the squash has finished roasting.Once cooled, scoop the flesh out of the skin and place in a bowl.  Whip together the flesh until it's a smooth texture.  

Heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium high heat.  Add the onions and let them sit for 45 seconds.  After that, continuously stir the onions as they slowly start to brown and caramelize.  Continue to cook them, stirring constantly, until the onions are fully caramelized, about 20 minutes.  Remove the pan from the heat and allow the onions to cool.

On a floured surface, roll out half of the dough into an oval shape.  Place the dough on a baker's peel lightly dusted with cornmeal.  Smear one half of the dough with half the roasted squash and then top with half of the cooled onions.  Place a few slices of the fresh mozzarella on top and fold the other side of the dough over the filling.  Pinch the edges to make sure the filling doesn't ooze out during the baking.  Shimmy the calzone off of the peel and onto the stone.  Bake the calzone for 20 to 25 minutes or until it's golden brown.  Repeat this process with the second half of the dough. 

The Dupont Circle Farmers Market is held every Sunday from 10 am to 1 pm (during the Winter), but make sure to come early for the best selection.  Its located on the circle between Massachusetts Avenue and Q Street in the heart of Dupont Circle.

Categories: Dupont Circle, Farmers Markets, Recipes
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Sep 17, 2008

Highfield Dairy at FreshFarm Markets - Eggs, Yogurt and Oh, Those Goat Cheese Pierogies!

HighfieldIf you've overlooked Highfield Dairy in your trips through the Dupont Circle FreshFarm Market, you're not alone.  Highfield doesn't set up a tent, and they don't have a banner to advertise their presence to the crowds.  Week after week, Dan Adams or one of his associates pulls into the market in an old blue pickup truck and sets up a few tables with large coolers full of eggs, yogurt and an array of products made with Highfield's fresh goat cheese.  Hand-lettered signs announce what's for sale and how much it costs.  It doesn't get much more farm-to-table than this.

Fresh_goat_cheeseThe star of the Highfield show is undoubtedly that fresh goat cheese.  With a herd of roughly 100 mixed-breed Nubian goats, John Marshall makes a goat cheese that is incredibly mild and creamy.  There is almost no trace of the usual tang (or the less pleasant earthy aftertaste) that tend to be the hallmarks of goat cheese.  Sold in 8-ounce and one-pound tubs ($6.50 or $12, respectively), the fresh chevre could easily be mistaken from cream cheese - even after the first taste!

But Highfield does us all a HUGE favor by taking their cheese to the next level and integrating it into a couple of addictive treats: goat cheese tarts and pierogies.  The tarts are a savory blend of eggs, peppers, tomatoes, herbs and goat cheese in a small pie crust.  They make a terrific breakfast on their own, though they can be paired with Cedarbrook Farm's pasture pure pork bacon or sausage for a really satisfying meal on a weekend morning.  The pierogies are a revelation.  Growing up in a Russian family, I've had my share of the traditional dough pockets filled with everything from mashed potatoes to prunes to sauerkraut...and I'm kind of a fan of the pork and chive filled dumplings from City Lights of China, as well.  Believe me when I tell you that Highfield's goat cheese-stuffed offerings (which are the size of an ice cream scoop, I might add) blow them all away.  They can be frozen, but be sure to thaw them completely before sauteeing in a little hot oil.  The cheese practically liquefies inside the dumplings and the dough crisps up to a beautiful texture.

Goat_cheese_and_raspberries As good as the pierogies are, I'm a sucker for fresh goat cheese by itself...especially when spread on a cracked pepper cracker.  There's something about the interplay between the creamy tang and the sharp bite of the pepper that works so well.  But I found myself trying something new with this cheese because of its exceptionally mild profile.  Instead of enjoying the cheese on its own, I topped it off with a few fresh raspberries from another market vendor.  The sweetness of the berries took it to a whole new level - it was great!  So simple to put together, but still something that I'd be willing to serve to guests as an easy appetizer.  I'm definitely filing this one away for future reference.

Highfield Dairy can be found at the Dupont Circle market on Sundays - look for them in the PNC Bank parking lot next to the mushroom stand.  Alternatively, you can find them at the H Street NE FreshFarm Market on Saturday mornings between 9 AM and noon.  This smaller market provides a far more relaxed shopping experience where you can still find products from Cedarbrook Farm, Keswick Creamery, Atwater's Bakery and a number of fresh and/or organic produce growers.  In either location, it's worth seeking out Dan for a taste of his creamy and delicious goat cheese.

Categories: Cheese, Dupont Circle, Farmers Markets
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Sep 01, 2008

Komi Restaurant

At this point, Amy and I pretty much have a standing reservation at Komi for our Anniversary. After several attempts on special occasions to "try something new", and being fairly disappointed, we given up for a little while. This time, it was our ten-year anniversary, and I wanted it to be a dinner we would remember.

I called to make a reservation about 2 weeks ahead and they had a few openings left. If I'd waited much longer, I probably would've been shit out of luck. Komi isn't quite popular enough to necessitate a thirty-day-in-advance reservation like Minibar or Citronelle, but I have this feeling it will be soon, so don't put off making that call too long.

Our reservation was at 8:30, which is probably as late as you want to go considering it's about a 3 hour meal. The meal truly is an experience from start to finish and I tend to starve myself the day of the meal, eating a very light lunch at the most, because otherwise I'll regret it later that day. If you're unfamiliar with how the menu works at Komi, there are two options: "Dinner" and "Degustazione". "Dinner" is $84 and includes the selection of mezzathakia (small tastes) at the start of the meal, a choice of pasta course, and a choice if dinner course.

Degustazione includes more mezzathakia, palate cleansers between major courses, and desert. The catch is that you don't have your choice of pasta course and entree, although I've regularly specified that I didn't want a specific pasta or entree dish because I've already had it before. Last Friday, we ordered the full Degustazione and we had a total of 14 courses, few with multiple tastes in each. The courses don't come out one after an other in rapid succession and this is a very good thing. (When eating this much food, you need to take it slow.)   

(Normally when writing up a meal at Komi, I would write about each dish in detail and how if tasted and made me feel, but this time, I think I'll spare you all and write up the highlights.)

The small tastes started with what ended up being our favorite -- a small mountain of crab on top of Greek yogurt and all lightly topped with crab roe, or what our server referred to as a warm crab salad.  The flavor of the Greek yogurt complimented the flavor of the crab surprisingly well and after all the crab was gone, there was this pool of Greek yogurt and roe left over that I really would've liked a couple pieces of bread to soak it up. This was a perfect blend of Mediterranean style cooking with local ingredients.

A new mezzethakia to the menu since our last visit to Komi was a diver scallop duo of carpaccio, with a mustard and dill sauce, and tartar, served on a little spoon with pine nuts and beets. The scallops were amazingly fresh and melted in your mouth like butter. Some of the best dishes Johnny Monis creates are simple with fresh ingredients and different flavor combinations than you normally see, and this was a perfect example of this.

Crossing the lines of dessert and appetizer, the faux gras profiterole with candied ginger and shallots, and on the same plate as a smore with a goat cheese marshmallow, mixed savory with sweet. And of course, we also had the roasted Medjool dates stuffed with mascarpone cheese and greek yogurt. No description needed.

Someday, I hope that Johnny Monis will branch out and start a restaurant where all he serves is his amazing homemade pasta. A new pasta was on the menu this time, a bluefish-filled, homemade ravioli with a summer vegetable succotash. I think that bluefish is a really under-appreciated fish and I was happy to see it on the menu. The distinctly salty, oily flavor of the fish was complimented by the sweetness of the vegetables. I spied some sliced sweet sun-gold tomatoes, a tiny orange variety of cherry tomatoes, that I've been getting at the farmers markets lately and really made the dish.

For an entree, I was happy to see the return of the roasted suckling pig. They bring the full leg out and show it to you after it's been cooked and then they slice it up and serve it on the dish with various accompaniments like a savory oregano salt, sweet blueberry mostarda, tarte pickled cabbage, eggplant puree, and habanero pepper sauce. My favorite combination was some pickled cabbage and pepper sauce. When serving the pig, the kitchen peels the crispy skin off and puts slices of it on the plate. You literally can use the skin as chips to scoop the accompaniments it's so crisp, and has a flavor better than any piece of pork you'll ever eat.

If there's any job in the world I wouldn't want to have, its the one that has to finish a long meal at Komi with dessert. Perhaps that's why I've never been very satisfied by the desserts at Komi (other than the donuts of course). At the end of a long meal like that, I'd prefer a light sorbet or pastry with filo dough rather than a chocolate cake with heavy ganache sauce like we were served.

I can't remember a time when I've ever had even the slightest issue with service at Komi. The staff at Komi really go out of their way to make the entire experience a memorable one, yet service isn't overbearing. Dishes are described in detail when they're brought out and the servers are always able to speak to the food and are very enthusiastic about the food that is coming out of the kitchen. The entire night, Derek Brown did a fantastic job with the wine pairings. The most notable I thought was a Sparkling Gruner Veltliner which I promised myself I would track down at a local wine store if I could.

One final note, since I told them it was our anniversary, we were brought a little mango lassi and fortune cookies at the very end. I quickly gobbled mine up while Amy delicately broke hers open revealing the piece of paper that said "Happy Anniversary" inside. "Jase, did you just eat your fortune?" She asked me.

"Uhm...I guess so."

Komi
1509 17th St NW
Washington, DC 20036
(202) 332-9200
Map

www.komirestaurant.com

Hours:
Closed Sunday and Monday.

Dress Code: Business Casual
Parking: It's very difficult to find parking in this area. There is a pay parking lot around the corner in an office building that's open until 12.
Smoking: Not Allowed.
Closest Metro: Dupont Circle
Reservations: Taken and recommended.
Baby-Child friendly rating: 1 diaper. I wish I could give it more but the atmosphere just isn't appropriate for a child.

Categories: Dupont Circle, Foodie Experiences, Mediterranean, Restaurant Reviews
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Jun 05, 2008

From Circa to Cork

With the weather this past Sunday only threatening rain instead of actually pouring as predicted, Eliza and I trekked into the city to run a few errands, and maybe grab some food and drink. After a long due stop at Second Story Books (who are having a 20% off Summer Sale, FYI), where we failed to come back with fewer books than we had brought, we swung by Circa to check out the brunch selection.

Established in April 2007, Circa is a relative newcomer to the already crowded category of "Dupont Circle Upscale Cafes." Apparently they have carved themselves a niche, as the shiny, aluminum accented dining room was at capacity; unexpectedly, we were able to snag the last two top on the makeshift sidewalk patio.

If nothing else, Circa is a great spot for people watching — over the course of our meal, we saw dogs and babies of every size, several death-defying feats of cycling, and were regaled with a fascinating, hour long argument from a neighboring table over a very special chair, and why Diner #1 felt it was wrong of Diner #2 to get hammered and ruin it. (To our dismay, the two gentlemen departed before reaching consensus).

The food was decidedly less thrilling. Eliza's Caesar's Salad, which on the menu promised "roasted red peppers, boiled eggs, [and] Spanish anchovies," actually contained about a square inch of pepper, one-half-of-one egg, and not a single tiny fish; I don't know where they get off pluralizing! My hamburger Sliders were equally disappointing, as the onions were not remotely carmelized, and each burger was presented on a bun that was limp and quite clearly store bought. Our meals as served weren't bad for the price ($7 and $9.75, respectively), but neither was actually what we ordered —  a bit more attention to detail and truth in advertising might well be in order.

Cork1_2 After a detour to U Street for some Margaritas at Alero (who knew half a pitcher was so big!), we happily made our way down 14th Street to our next port of call, Cork Wine Bar. Situated in the evolving Logan Circle neighborhood, Cork and its neighbors are an eclectic bunch whose numbers include a furniture store, a bodega, a dog sitter's, a plant shop, an independent comic book shop, and other small businesses not common to the city.

Cork reflects its diverse environment with one of the most interesting wine lists I have ever seen. It is an unfortunate fact that most restaurants in this area, even those which purport a wine focus, are lazy when it comes to their by-the-glass programs, limiting their selections to the banal offerings of the larger distributors (which are all to willing to "help out" in putting them together). Even those that put the effort forth all too often will take the safe route, sticking to well-known, workaday producers and varietals. Not so at Cork, whose 40+ long list is dominated by relatively obscure French and Italian wines like Verdicchio, Irouleguy, and Marcillac; if these words are meaningless to you, fear not, as each wine is accompanied by a pithy, well-worded description. Our server was very attentive and helpful, and over the course of the afternoon we were visited by several staff members, each friendly and informative. Prices range from $6 to $14 a glass, and I promise there is not a boring wine among them. For those interested in training their palates, Cork offers several well priced flights which are changed on a monthly basis.

Cork2 As wine is always best enjoyed with food, Cork serves a selection of small plates intended for sharing and sampling with the bar's many wines. The menu is comprehensive given its size, offering cuisine appropriate for nearly any glass. On Sunday, we enjoyed a dish of sauteed wild mushrooms in madeira and marjoram, an asparagus special, and several items off the charcuterie and cheese list; everything was well prepared and well priced (the mushrooms were particularly tasty, and I hope someday we can replicate them at home).

Where Circa seemed careless in its execution, the people behind Cork quite obviously have a vision, and everything seems very well in focus. Though I have only been once and, therefore, am loath to make any conclusive judgments, I can say that I will most certainly be visiting Cork again. If you have any interest in exploring the wider world of wine, at first blush Cork seems a great place to begin.

Circa
1601 Connecticut Ave, NW
(202) 667-1601
Map
Hours

Cork Wine Bar
1720 14th Street, NW
(202) 265-CORK
Map
Hours and Reservations

Pictures of Cork courtesy of Sarah Mattingly

Categories: Brunch, Dupont Circle, Logan Circle, Wine Bar
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May 28, 2008

Everona Dairy - Sheep's Milk Cheese from Virginia's Piedmont

Too_much_meat_012For more than a dozen years now, Dr. Pat Elliott has been crafting a range of quality, artisanal sheep's milk cheeses just a few hours' drive from Washington in Rapidan, Virginia.  Until recently, these delicious cheeses from Everona Dairy have been hard to find for most D.C. Foodies, as they were sold primarily on-site and at Farmers' Markets in Charlottesville.  Those who were able to chase down a wedge of Stony Man or Piedmont at Arrowine or another local shop were rewarded with cheeses that offer deep, nutty flavors; rich, buttery color and a texture that progresses from firm to pliant as it warms.

Thankfully, this month has seen a welcome addition to the lineups at the Thursday afternoon Penn Quarter market and the Sunday morning Dupont Circle market.  Dr. Elliott and her staff have added these two FreshFarm Markets to their weekly rounds, giving us the chance to try their full range of cheeses direct from the source.

Too_much_meat_013And what a range it is!  In addition to the mainstays (Piedmont and Stony Man), Everona Dairy produces a baby Swiss-style cheese, a wine-soaked cheese they call Pride of Bacchus and a wide range of what could be considered 'infusions' -- varieties of Piedmont featuring add-ins like chives and dill, vegetable ash (for the 'Marble' variety), cracked black pepper, and even sun-dried tomatoes.  In each case, the flavors of the additions are immediately noticeable, and most harmonize easily with the smooth flavor of the Piedmont.  The Tomato Torta caught me a bit off guard, but a second tasting helped me appreciate the surprisingly tasty combination.

Too_much_meat_020On my first visit, I decided to branch out a bit and I purchased a wedge of the Pride of Bacchus.  Unlike softer, washed-rind cheeses, this one lacks a pungent aroma and instead offers a vaguely wine-like nose...like smelling the inside of a retired barrel that had been used for aging.  The cheese itself is dense and snow-white, looking and tasting a lot like an aged Parmesan (but without the hard, crumbly texture).  Tasting the rind, I was surprised to find some flavorful notes mingled with the normal earthiness, yet you wouldn't be missing out if you passed on the rind altogether.  A subsequent visit resulted in the purchase of a section of the Marbled Piedmont, and the vegetable ash served to give the normally nutty Piedmont an earthier flavor.  Its appearance reminded me a lot of Morbier, the soft French cheese with its own layer of ash in the middle, but its taste was more like a Manchego.

Img_4646 So how does a rural doctor end up running a dairy that produces more than 4 tons of cheese a year?  She buys a dog, of course!  As the story goes, Dr. Elliott purchased a border collie pup on a whim back in 1992, and she soon found that she needed something for the energetic dog to do.  Since collies are working dogs, she decided to buy some sheep.  Sheep led to milk, milk led to cheese, and soon enough Everona Dairy was producing award-winning cheeses made from the milk produced by more than 100 Friesians and other sheep she raises on site.

Though none of her cheeses are inexpensive (wedges are priced by weight and tend to run in the $12 to $18 range for 1/4 to 1/3 of a pound), Dr. Elliott's passion and the story behind her entry into the world of cheesemaking stand out and make Everona Dairy a local producer I'm happy to support.

Categories: Cheese, Dupont Circle, Farmers Markets, Penn Quarter
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May 07, 2008

Clare's Camembert from Clear Spring Creamery

Img_4554With Mother's Day just around the corner, I found myself wondering how to honor the holiday in the course of a post about cheese.  Try it for yourself - not so easy, is it?  I thought about finding a recipe for something to make for Mom that features cheese prominently, but nothing really jumped out.  I considered reviewing a restaurant where you could spoil Mom and enjoy a good cheese plate, but I wasn't in love with the idea.  And I toyed with another post recommending cheese-related gifts, but I suspected that would have limited appeal in this case.

Fortunately, fate intervened in the form of a new vendor at the Dupont Circle Farmers' Market - Clear Spring Creamery.  As seen at the Market on Sundays, Clear Spring is a true family business - the whole Seibert clan, including two children and assorted relatives, shows up to sell their milk, yogurt and cheese.  Img_4555And Clare Seibert, who owns and operates Clear Spring with her husband, Mark, handles all of the day-to-day operations of the Creamery in the time between getting her children off to school and greeting them when they come home.  What better way to celebrate Mother's Day than to talk about the great things that Clare Seibert is making at Clear Spring - including her newest offering, Clare's Camembert?

The Seiberts' farm has been in the family for more than 100 years, but Mark and Clare have only been in the dairy business for about a year and a half.  At that point, they transitioned from a farm that raised replacement heifers for sale to others to a true dairy.  Their herd consists of Jerseys and Jersey-Holstein crossed heifers, and the milk is primarily from the Jerseys.  Because the cows are pasture-fed on a strict rotational grazing system, they get plenty of fresh grasses in their diet and their milk has a high butterfat content - more than 5%.  This makes for a rich, smooth milk that holds up well to pasteurization (they don't sell any unpasteurized milk, for those who might be looking for it).

Img_4556_2 All week long, Clare gets the children out the door and on their way to school, then she heads to their retrofitted creamery where she processes a portion of the milk from their herd five days a week.  They use small-scale machinery manufactured locally, allowing them to work on a manageable volume of milk for their purposes.  What isn't processed on site is sold to a co-op, and what they keep on site is made into pasteurized milk, chocolate milk, yogurt and cheese.  The processing is frequently an all-day affair; for example, yogurt is started in the morning, allowed to cool throughout the day and then bottled in the evening. 

In most cases, the process has some down-time built into it, which is when Clare manages to take care of household chores and necessary errands.  But the processing takes up a significant portion of her day and her output is limited by the time it takes to make each type of product.   This also impacts the variety of products Clear Spring Creamery can offer - Clare is considering adding one or more fresh cheeses to their product list and fans still ask about the mocha milk that has been available on a few occasions, but the time required for each forces her to think carefully about what products she will make in a given week.

The newest addition to the Clear Spring lineup is a soft-ripened cheese appropriately named Clare's Camembert.  Before they started making cheese, Clare and Mark made it a point to visit as many of the cheesemakers in the nearby area as they could find, learning Img_4699what they could about the process.  That research has been put to good use - their first effort at cheese making is delicious and it has been selling out for the past two weeks.

Despite the name, Clare's Camembert is most reminiscent of a young double-cream brie - it lacks the earthy, bloomy flavor that I always associate with camembert, but it has a silken, salty taste that is absolutely wonderful.  Even at room temperature, the cheese holds its texture fairly well, providing a spreadable but not liquefied cheese that cries out for crusty bread, apple slices, crackers - anything with a little bit of a crunch.  The rind is thin and unobtrusive, without any of the chalkiness or bitterness that turns people off.

Because of their limited production capabilities, Clear Spring Creamery only produces a few rounds of Clare's Camembert at a time.  They sell out quickly, so try to stop by before noon to increase your chances of getting one.  The rounds were originally priced at $13 each, though they are now sold by weight for $13/pound.  Most of the individually wrapped cheeses weigh in right around a pound each.

Clear Spring Creamery's milk, cheese and yogurt are rich and full-flavored thanks to Clare Seibert's commitment to small-scale production methods and the quality of their grass-fed cows' milk.  Check them out next time you're at the Dupont Circle Farmers' Market, and wish Clare a Happy Mother's Day while you're there.

Categories: Cheese, Dupont Circle, Farmers Markets
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Mar 05, 2008

Feta cheeses from Keswick Creamery

Img_4225 Most of the local cheesemakers who sell their products at farmers' markets throughout the DC area consciously focus on one or two specialties (small-batch goat cheese, mozzarella from Jersey cow's milk, etc.), allowing them to fill small niches in the average shopper's basket.  Keswick Creamery*, on the other hand, seems to aspire to be all things to all shoppers.  The funny thing is, they seem to succeed. 

Despite its relative youth (Keswick was founded in 2001), the creamery has continued to expand its line of cheeses to include something for just about everyone.  Looking for a semi-firm cheese studded with an assortment of hot peppers?  Try the Dragon's Breath.  Looking for a blue cheese with a sense of humor?  Step up to the Blue Suede Moo.  Looking for a dry, aged cheddar?  The Carrock is likely to please.  Img_4219Looking for a moist yet crumbly feta cheese that blows the store-bought varieties away?  Not only does Keswick have it, they also have it flavored with tomato & basil, Italian herbs, and herbs de Provence!

No trip to the Dupont Circle FreshFarm Market is complete without a stop at Keswick Creamery's stand.  They are generous with their samples, allowing customers to try everything from quark (a yogurt-like spread that is hugely popular in Germany) and fresh yogurt to blue cheese dressing, marinated feta and most of their cheese offerings.  And they are competitive with their pricing - not just within the market, but compared to larger producers, as well.  That's nothing to sneeze at, as most folks who frequent the markets do so knowing that they will be paying a small premium for the fresh, local goods they can find there.  But Keswick's cheeses can hold their own against many of the national brands in terms of value almost as well as they do in terms of quality.

Img_4262On my most recent visit, I picked up Keswick Creamery's Feta Sampler.  Talk about value!  For $5, I received samples of three different flavors of their feta cheese - original, tomato & basil, and Italian herbs.  Each cheese came vacuum-sealed in its own package, allowing me to use them as I chose instead of forcing me to use them all at once.  The cheese crumbles easily, but it is moist and tastes fresh and tangy.  This is a far cry from the pre-packaged, pre-crumbled feta on offer in grocery stores, and I definitely appreciated the absence of that chalky residue that seems to accompany most of them.

Img_4275 To further compare Keswick's feta with its mass-produced counterpart, I reached for some of the store-bought stuff I conveniently had on hand and laid it out side-by-side with a few crumbles from the block of plain feta I purchased at the Farmers' Market.  You can see them in the photo to the right of this paragraph, though it's not quite as sharp as I would have liked.  The most obvious point of comparison you can see is the color - a rich, buttery tinge to the Keswick feta on the left compares quite favorably with the white and dried out look of the feta from Harris Teeter.  But there was another easily observed difference when viewed up close.  The textures were decidedly different, with the Keswick feta having a soft and natural look to its crumbles while the other's chunks seemed more rigid and less cohesive.

Img_4271Pleased to see that the locally produced option measured up quite favorably to the comparably priced, mass-produced alternative, I wasted no time in putting it to good use.  Although I normally prefer to plate my cheese selections and enjoy them as a pre-cursor to a meal, I figured the feta would work better as a component in a dinner made almost entirely from locally-grown ingredients. 

I started with a fresh chicken purchased from Capitol Hill Poultry at Eastern Market.  We brined the chicken and roasted it with some sweet potatoes purchased from Toigo Orchard's stand at the Dupont Circle Market.  I paired the feta with some diced yellow pepper (from Trader Joe's, the one non-local ingredient) and served it atop the Loudon Lettuce blend from Endless Summer Harvest, who also sell at Dupont Circle.  Img_4272 My wife and I were thrilled with the depth of the flavors that came from quality ingredients simply prepared.

Keswick's wide range of dairy products offers plenty of choices and lots of reasons to keep coming back for their samples week after week.  Though not everything they sell represents as great a value as their feta sampler, you can rest assured that quality and flavor are prevalent throughout their product line.  You can find Keswick's cheeses at several FreshFarm Markets in DC - look for them at Dupont Circle on Sunday mornings year-round, Foggy Bottom on Wednesday evenings from April to November, and H Street Northeast on Saturday mornings from May to October.

* = EDIT:  Turns out the folks at the FreshFarm Market site and in the Atlas of American Artisanal Cheeses had a bad web address for Keswick.  I have edited the first paragraph to include a link to their actual website, http://www.keswickcreamerycheese.com/.  Thanks to Sandy for bringing it to my attention!

Categories: Cheese, Dupont Circle, Farmers Markets
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