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Feb 13, 2012

Cooking with Truffles: Valentine’s Vegetarian Menu

Washington-20120203-00746For any foodie on a mission to maximize his or her eating pleasure, Valentine’s Day presents a special challenge. The perennial question is, How do you hit a new high and top last year’s memory?

Truffles are often overlooked as the star attraction of a home-cooked meal because of their price tag. Back in the day, Brillat-Saverin described them as "the luxury of grands seigneurs and kept women" (also, perhaps, hinting at their aphrodisiac qualities). In all honesty, those qualities have yet to be scientifically confirmed, but I don't think anybody would deny the sensuousness of any truffle-specked dish…

The truth is, like many of you, I had never cooked with fresh truffles before. Truffle salt, yes. Truffle oil, yes. But not with fresh truffles. I decided to explore the possibilities and find a reasonably cost-effective way for me and my husband to indulge. I did a bit of research, and found out that this time of the year, we are primarily talking about winter black truffles of European origin (French or Italian). In the DC area, you can find them at Arrowine in Arlington (perhaps somewhere else as well), and online.

The cheapest source I found is Urbani truffles which also offers a wide variety of other truffle products (truffle paste, truffle oil, truffle butter, etc.) The smallest amount one can purchase is 1oz ($75), which happens to be enough to pull off a truffle dinner. I supplemented fresh truffles with white truffle oil, black truffle salt, and black truffle butter (which I made myself with the leftover truffle shavings). A nice local source of truffle salt is the Spice & Tea Exchange in Georgetown.

Given the fact that most Valentine's Day restaurant prix-fixe options run $60-90 per person, I felt like putting together the coveted truffle dinner was really no more extravagant than eating out (besides, my husband is vegetarian, which makes the choices rather limited). Another myth I wanted to debunk is that that cooking with truffles has to be complicated and time-consuming (stuffed pigeon breast with chanterelles and truffles, homemade puff pastry with braised sweetbreads and truffles all sound fantastic, but there are other delicious, easy and fast options). You don’t really want to spend the entire Valentine’s night in front of the stove, do you?

Washington-20120203-00760The theme I chose is "casual minimalist with a twist." No 10 or 20-step recipes, very few ingredients per dish, and simple preparation to showcase the truffles and keep the flavors subtle.

My truffles arrived via Fedex about 24 hours after I placed the order online. They arrived in a cooler, in kind of a matryoshka doll setup: the truffles are in a napkin inside a plastic sleeve inside a paper sack inside a styrofoam cooler inside a cardboard box. As for my truffle tools, I did buy a mandoline, but after reading rather graphic reviews I was too terrified to use it without a No-Slice rubber body suit. Luckily, I found a small sharp paring knife (I have small hands!) to be the perfect tool for dealing with the truffles (both for cutting and shaving).

Finally, onto the Menu:

Truffle salad with frisee, haricots verts, tarragon, endives, fennel (seasoned with truffle sea salt, Meyer lemon juice, and white truffle oil). Blanch haricots verts for no more than 2 minutes.

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Truffle sandwiches on sourdough (I love using the 69 cent sourdough rolls from WholeFoods) with a nice layer of European-style butter and truffle sea salt. You can stick the bread slices in the toaster oven for 30 seconds, if you like the sensation of eating warm bread.

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Fresh WholeFoods-brand asparagus & fontina ravioli served with truffles, truffle butter, and truffle sea salt.

Washington-20120203-00774Seared scallops with truffles and truffle butter on a bed of celeriac & potato puree (made with truffle butter, a touch of cream, and truffle sea salt) -– perfect for a pesceterian or meat eater! I prefer a 50/50 celeriac to potato ratio, in order to keep the mashed vegetable flavors subtle. Make a slit in the middle of the scallop, and insert a truffle slice prior to cooking (1-2 min on each side on high, depending on the size of the scallops).

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Cheese course: Sottocenere (truffled cow’s milk cheese with an ash rind), or/and Cacio al Tartufo (sheep's milk cheese with truffle sprinkles)

And for dessert - you guessed it – truffles, in my case, purchased from Cocova (formerly known as Biagio Fine Chocolates). There is a very wide variety of exquisite individual truffles for $2 each. Have them box it up for you, get on one knee, and present Her with a little cute box…

P.S. In case you did not use up all of your truffles, in the morning you can share a soft-poached egg with truffles, and a fresh ricotta and truffle honey toast with your coffee.

Categories: Black Truffles, DC, Do It Yourself, Food and Drink, Foodie Gifts, Valentine's Day
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Feb 01, 2012

Magic Moments 101

As a follow-up to the prior "theoretical" part, I want to give you four simple ideas for a food and wine tasting that demonstrate acidity in action. We are going for similarity (Tart + Tart = Pavlovian response), or opposition (as in “opposites attract” -- like buttery luxurious cheese and intense, vervy and highly acidic Champagne).

Besides being perfect tools for "wine ed", these yummy appetizers are great for entertaining. So if you are not a wine guy/gal, you can still enjoy the canapes!

Sauvignon Blanc and goat cheese

RamekinSimple but brilliant! The quickest "party trick" for this pairing involves stuffing golden pappadews straight out of the jar with fresh goat cheese.

PeppadewsYou also can use goat cheese in a tart or frittata, and I especially like using individual-size ramekins for an intimate get-together. All you need to do is mix together the cheese, green pepper, chives, a couple of eggs, a little cream, pop the ramekin in the oven, and you are done. Or try the pure, unadulterated chevre on a bed of greens with a simple vinaigrette dressing (if you can, make it with Meyer lemon juice and good quality olive oil). Try these little treats with a Sauvignon Blanc from Loire Valley, France (a Sancerre or Quincy). Another crisp Sauvignon Blanc (e.g., from New Zealand, South Africa, etc.) will also work nicely.

Note: if you choose to play with a Sancerre AND a New Zealand Sauvignon blanc (there's a thought!), you will undoubtedly observe the stylistic differences between the two Worlds (subtle, lean and minerally vs. in-your-face and fruit-forward).

Champagne and popcorn/sea salt potato chips/triple cream brie

Don't worry if buying caviar is out of your reach; there are plenty of other fantastic and inexpensive ways to enjoy a sparkler. Pair French Champagne or another sparkler (Spanish cava, Italian prosecco, Alsatian Cremant d'Alsace, etc. ) with popcorn, sea salt potato chips, and a decadent triple-cream brie (such as Brillat-Saverin or Pierre Robert from Fromagerie Rouzaire, Rouge et Noir from Marin in California, or perhaps a Canadian Goat Triple Cream from Woolwich Dairy). Goat BrieYou can typically find those at a Whole Foods store; or better yet, look for them at a nice specialty cheese shop such as Cheesetique in Old Town Alexandria, or Arrowine in Arlington (I highly recommend either one).

Italian Barbera with oven roasted tomatoes

Vertical tartletSlice cherry tomatoes in half, and roast in the oven for 10 minutes (line a baking dish with foil, pre-heat the oven to 400F, season with olive oil, salt and pepper). They are perfect for making super fast canapes by piling the tomatoes into phyllo cups (I prefer Athens Mini Fillo Shells), with a little bit of good quality feta (French, Bulgarian,Greek, etc.), and popping them into a toaster oven for a couple of minutes, right before you are ready to serve.

The bright acidity in Barbera -- the quintessential red grape of northern Italy -- is just one of the things that I love about it. Its natural acidity, combined with its ripe red and berry fruit flavors, gives it a wonderful versatility, and makes it a great match for the bright, tangy flavors in our appetizer.

Pinot Noir with mushrooms

I love mushrooms as much as I love Pinot Noir-- it's an earthy match made in heaven!

Here is a great opportunity to put those phyllo cups to work once again. This time, we will fill them with mushrooms sauteed in butter, with a touch of thyme and sour cream. I really like the deluxe "exotic" mushroom packs that you can buy at Whole Foods (crimini mushrooms, or baby bellas, would work just fine). Grate a bit of Pecorino sheep's milk cheese on top (I prefer "genuine" Sini Fulvi DOP Pecorino Romano, from Italy's Lazio region). It is salty, intense, and pleasantly briny, and just like phyllo cups, it's a staple in my kitchen. A couple of minutes in the toaster oven, and they are ready to be served. The pairing works, first of all, because of their shared earthiness, as it always translates directly into food and wine pairing affinity. On top of that, the acidity in the Pinot Noir cuts the richness of sour cream like a knife, and is complimented nicely by the saltiness in the Pecorino.

Buon appetito!

 

Categories: Advice, Cheese, Do It Yourself, Food and Drink, Foodie Experiences, Wine
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Jan 20, 2012

Hello! My Name Is Pinot Noir

If your New Year’s Resolution is to be a little bit less afraid of wine, this post is for you. You should also keep reading if you are stuck in a rut, afraid of leaving your cozy oenophilic comfort zone. Do you always find yourself asking for a glass of California Cab (or Zinfandel, or Pinot Grigio - insert your default choice here)? There is an amazing world out there waiting to be explored!

A big part of the fun is getting to know the grape personalities. Spicy, brooding, animalistic Syrah; juicy, fun Grenache; flowery, sensual Viognier… I am personally very fond of Pinot Noir, - the fickle, elegant grape with fantastic food affinity and beguiling aromatics, which comes to the pinnacle of its expression in Burgundy, France.

Old vinesJust like with learning a new language, there are some basics that you need to get out of the way first, such as the framework for explaining what you like or do not like about a certain wine. Even more importantly for foodies, you will need it to understand and describe the relationship between food and wine. Let’s take a look at a couple of those concepts.

Acidity

Washington-20120116-00676I think of acidity as a flavor sparkplug. Ever thought about why you put lime and lemon juice on your food and even in your beer? It is the so-called “strategic” use of acidity: it makes food taste better, more focused. That is precisely why restauranteurs love crisp, clean, acidic wines. Acidity in wine helps to stimulate your appetite by setting your digestion into motion and it also helps to break down the fattiness in the food you eat (the same way we use the acidity in vinegar or citrus to marinate different foods). It creates a magic chain reaction of wanting a little more food, then a little more wine, then a little more food… you get the idea. It is useful to remember that higher acidity is typically found in wines that come from a cooler climate, as grapes do not get physiologically mature as quickly and do not get as ripe as in the warmer parts of the world.

New World vs. Old World

The term "New World" wine is used, quite literally, to describe wines from New World wine producing countries, such as the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Chile, South Africa, etc. If we look at the statistics of what people are drinking in this country, we will see that sales of reds are dominated by bigger, fruit-forward wines that taste of sweet oak and ripe fruit. Whites include plush Chardonnays and other wines that tend to have a touch of sweetness to them. In general, the New World is dominated by international varietals (Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, etc.).

Old-World wine-making has a different philosophy: it is about subtle, earthy, mineral flavors that make one focus more on the place where the wine was made, and less on the grape. Terroir is a word that gets thrown around a lot (and also happens to be the name of my favorite wine bar in NYC :-)); it is used to describe the unmistakable sense of “placeness”, unique soil composition, climate, etc. of the wine’s birthplace.

There are definitely proponents of both styles out there as demonstrated by global wine sales. Neither one is necessarily more valid than the other; it is a matter of individual taste. I personally have a preference for European wines for several reasons. First, because I like my wines “lean and mean” (as opposed to the “friendly”, easy-to-quaff wines of the New World). Second, because I find a great deal more values in the $12-20 price range among European wines (which is what I typically spend on a bottle of wine, and I always look for more flavor bang for my buck). And last but not least, because oaky, alcoholic, and fruity New World wines are on average less food-friendly and versatile; it is hard for them to stand up to the more zingy, complex flavors I enjoy so much. On the other hand, I find that earthy, highly acidic Old-World wines set me up for a high pleasure payoff with a wider variety of foods.

Resources

Depending on your personality, feel free to dive in and enjoy the wild ride, or build a solid wine foundation step by step:

  • You should consider taking a class at the Capital Wine School.Too few people know that they have the expertise of Master of Wine Jay Youmans right here in DC (Master Sommelier and Master of Wine are the two highest and most recognized certifications in the world. The "Wine Basics" and the "Essential Wine Tasting Skills" classes are perfect if you are looking for "the big picture" perspective. Jay's classes are fun, informal, and unpretentious.
  • Most quality restaurants understand that the dining experience is incomplete without wine, and work hard to create food & wine pairing “magic moments”. Part of that process is putting together an exciting but reasonably priced wine list and training the staff to be able to pass the excitement on to the consumer. Cork, Grapeseed, and Dino are just a few of my local favorites that boast nice by-the-glass programs (and offer other formats such as flights, 3oz pours, wine madness) that make it easy for anyone to try something new without taking out a second mortgage.
  • For “do-it-yourselfers”, I recommend two of my favorite wine books written by women who are incredibly passionate about wine and equally passionate about sharing their wine knowledge. “Wine Bible” by Karen McNeal is a collection of compelling stories about grapes, winemakers, and terroirs. “Great Tastes Made Simple” by Andrea Immer contains practical advice on how to get started with food & wine tastings at home. Both were extremely inspirational for me, as I was getting started in the wine world, and I had the privilege of meeting both of them in person at Saveur Magazine events. (Actually, one of the biggest inspirations was Andrea Immer’s son Lucas who asked his Mom for smoked duck for his 8th birthday :-)).

My last piece of advice to you: whatever mode of exploration you end up choosing, remember not to take wine too seriously. Cheers!

WineP.S. Be sure to check out Magic Moments 101 for some food & wine tasting ideas!

Categories: DC, Do It Yourself, Food and Drink, Foodie Gifts, Recipes, Shopping, Wine, Wine Bar
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Aug 23, 2011

Church! The Best Places To Watch Football

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At approximately 6 p.m. on Thursday, September 1, Casey Brockman will walk to the line. The Murray State quarterback will look across the field to find Louisville’s stud linebacker Dexter Heyman, hoping to God the Cardinals’ won’t blitz on first. The 6’2’’ junior will lean over center Brock Rydeck, ignore the jeers of the Cardinals’ crowd, and demand the ball.

In all likelihood, it will be a bad day for Casey, Brock and the Murray State Racers, but an excellent day for the rest of us. Because on that day, when Rydeck snaps that ball and Heyman drives Brockman into the field of Cardinal’s Stadium, football will once again be with us (this NFL preseason crap doesn't count).

It’s been said that this game of grace and violence is our national religion. If that’s the case, then the sports bar is our house of worship. Being a fan of far-away teams (South Florida, Buccaneers), it took me a while to find a few decent bars and restaurants in the D.C. area to watch football. The region may be inundated with sports bars, but few offer the trifecta of great beer, good food and the promise of your team on the screen (unless you’re a Skins fan, in which case any Chili’s will do).

Well, friends, I’m here to help. Below are my top five bars and restaurants in the DMV to watch the faux-pros on Saturday and Pro Bowlers on Sunday. 

1. The Black Squirrel: The Black Squirrel has three floors, 49 taps and 11 TVs (and if you call ahead, the third floor can be your private sports bar). Owner Amy Bowman keeps this Best Beer Bar stocked with a top tier line-up of craft beers, while the talented Gene Sohn runs the kitchen (order the burger). Is it a coincidence that on game days all the TVs are tuned in? Nope, The Black Squirrel was co-founded by former sports columnist Tom Knott. (Disclosure: I’m friends with Amy and Tom. Still, The Black Squirrel is a great place to watch football.) 

2. Iron Horse Taproom: If the Iron Horse Taproom opened at noon on weekends it would be the best place in D.C. to watch football. The multi-level bar is big, filled with TVs, has a great selection of craft beers, and features the best menu in town -- by not featuring a menu at all. The Penn Quarter tavern (pictured above) doesn’t have a kitchen, so it allows patrons to bring in food or have it delivered. Want to dig into some Texas barbecue while watching the Lone Star Showdown? No problemo. Grab a pound of brisket from Hill Country or better yet, a burrito from Capital Q and head to the Iron Horse. How about some lamb vindaloo while you watch the John Beck/Rex Grossman quarterback controversy unfold this season? Mehak is just down the street. Just make sure your game doesn’t start before 5 p.m. If it does, you’ll need to head elsewhere. 

3. Frisco Tap House: What’s more American than football? Excess. The Frisco Tap House has 50 taps, a beer engine, a table where you can pour your own draft beer, an extensive bottle and can list, great burritos and eight giant flat screen TVs (with more coming this fall). Sure, the Columbia, Md., bar is a hike if you live in Logan Circle. But if you live in Maryland, you have one hell of a place to watch football.

4. Capitol Lounge: This is where it started for me. When I moved from Tampa to D.C. in the late 90s, Cap Lounge was the only place in town I could reliably catch Bucs games. It helped that one of the bartenders was a Bucs fan and wanted to watch the games, too. The Capitol Hill bar continues to be a great spot to catch a game, with a mess of TVs tucked and hung throughout the two-floor restaurant, and a stellar selection of craft beers on draft and in bottles and cans.  

41380020 5. Rustico: These days, it’s tough to write a story about beer without mentioning ChurchKey and its downstairs sister, Birch & Barley. But before there was CKBB there was Rustico, owner Michael Babin’s first crack at a craft beer establishment. While ChurchKey is unabashedly a beer bar, a fine one at that, Babin makes sure his two Rustico restaurants remain casual neighborhood spots, which makes them ideal for watching the game. Greg Engert oversaw the beer program at the original Rustico in Alexandria before heading over to ChurchKey, and continues to curate the draft and bottle lists for his original restaurant and the newer Ballston location. Although neither will be mistaken for a sports bar, the Rusticos have just enough TVs to catch most of the marquee games. And if the beer list and full menu aren’t enough to attract you, they’re offering beer specials as well. Beginning September 10, both Rustico locations will offer $3.50 cans of craft beer, including G’Knight, Dale’s Pale Ale, Old Chub and Ten Fidy (they clearly have a thing for Oskar Blues’ beers), and $2.50 cans of college beer (because you or your buddy don’t know better) during games. 

Categories: Adams Morgan, Alexandria, Arlington, Bar/Club, Beer, Capitol Hill, Chinatown/MCI Center/Verizon Center, DC, Food and Drink, Gallery Place, Games, Maryland, MCI Center, Penn Quarter, Sports, Television, Top 5, Virginia, Washington, DC
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Jul 12, 2011

IPAs And Indian Food: Like Peas And Carrots (In Mumbai)

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Fact: Indian food is incredibly flavorful and can be quite spicy.
Fact: India pale ales are incredibly flavorful and can be quite bitter.
Fact: It's difficult to pair beer with Indian food.
Fact: It's difficult to pair food with IPAs.
Fact: Indian food and IPAs were made for each other, literally.

That last fact should be self-evident, but if it was Indian restaurants (at least the ones around here) would stick a few Loose Cannons, maybe an Avery IPA on the menu. But that's not the case. Instead, your beer options are limited to a redundant list of light lagers whose labels might invoke thoughts of India - Kingfisher, Taj - but are otherwise indistinguishable from the light lagers made in St. Louis and Golden, Colo.

To be fair, lagers have been the beer of choice in India for more than a century. In fact, lagers are the beer of choice in most parts of the world. There was a time, though, when bitter, hop-forward ales from England were all the rage on the subcontinent (and then the Indians booted out their British overlords and switched to the German stuff).

Travel to England today and you'll be hard pressed to find a pub that doesn't have curry on the menu. For a people known for fried fish and sausages, they have fully embraced an Indian staple as their own (thanks to their old Asian holdings). But travel to India, and the culinary cultural exchange doesn't stand up, at least where beer is concerned. 

That's a shame because there may be no better beverage to pair with a spicy curry than a hoppy India pale ale.

As craft beer has become more popular over the past decade, so too has the idea that beer can be paired with more than burgers and pizza. Thomas Keller commissioned Russian River Brewing and Brooklyn Brewery to make special beers for his restaurants The French Laundry and Per Se. Here in D.C., Chef Eric Ziebold's tasting menu at CityZen has included a beer course, and Michel Richard imports the Belgian pilsner Blusser for his restaurant Central. And then there's Birch & Barley, which offers a beer pairing with each course of Chef Kyle Bailey's tasting menu.

Once the domain of wine, beer is being recognized as an ideal accompaniment to food. Garrett Oliver, brewmaster at Brooklyn Brewing and author of The Brewmaster's Table, has gone even further to say that beer offers a wider range of flavors and styles, making it the ideal accompaniment to food. (The Brewmaster's Table, as it happens, is a book about pairing food with beer.)

That may be true, but when it came to Indian cuisine, I never gave it much thought. As oafish at it may sound, I viewed curries and kormas as ethnic food made by people from foreign lands. So if the people running the restaurant wanted to offer a few light lagers with their dishes, so be it. Their food, their beer. After all, you go to Indique for the food not the drink. Well, a cold Fisherking may be common in Mumbai's curry houses, but it's not the ideal beer for the food. The ideal one might just be a California pale ale. (I know it's not an IPA. I'll get to that.)

Book I got thinking about this particular food and beer pairing after reading Pete Brown's latest book, Hops and Glory. In it, the British beer writer explores the development of the IPA and England's colonization of India, and chronicles his journey from Burton-Upon-Trent (the birthplace of IPAs) to Calcutta with a keg of IPA in tow. It's a good book, and in it Brown makes the point that IPAs not only go well with Indian cuisine, they taste like they were made for it.

"[The IPA he brought from England] really was dangerously drinkable, and when the tandoori canapés came round it went beautifully, cutting through the heat and harmonizing with the spices so perfectly it was as if the beer had been designed specially to go with the cuisine, and perhaps it had."

That sparked my interest. While Oliver and other beer writers have made the point that IPAs can go well with very flavorful dishes and spicy foods, Brown's 450 page treatise on the matter convinced me to try the pairing myself.

Because Indian restaurants don't offer India pale ales, I conducted my tasting at the next logical location: the Iron Horse bar in Penn Quarter.

I like the Iron Horse, a lot. Not only does it offer a great selection of craft beers and is home to bartender extraordinaire Scott Stone, but it has a tavern license. What that tavern license means is that they don't serve food, so you can bring in food from anywhere. As long as you're drinking, that's no problemo. You can even have food delivered and never leave your barstool. That's turned the Iron Horse into my go-to bar for watching college football (Pattison Avenue and pints, people) and in this case, my go-to spot for lamb vindaloo and IPAs.

DSC_0030 The vindaloo, which I picked up from nearby Mehak, was great. Chunks of lamb and potato swam in a pool of fiery red curry. It was delicious, and completely overwhelmed my pallet. The onion kulcha, a doughy flat bread filled with onions, was good, but no match for the vindaloo.

For the pairing, I ordered Flying Dog's Double Dog imperial IPA, which clocks in at 11.5% A.B.V.; Flying Dog's Snake Dog IPA, which comes in at a more modest 7.1% A.B.V.; Sierra Nevada Pale Ale (on the theory that English IPAs aren't nearly as high in alcohol as our IPAs), which runs 5.6% A.B.V.; and Sierra Nevada's new Juniper Black Ale, a hoppy 8% A.B.V. black IPA.

Of the four beers, the two with the lowest alcohol levels paired the best with the spicy Indian dish. The Double Dog (a personal favorite) was much too sweet for the dish and the heat of the vindaloo overwhelmed whatever hop characteristics the Juniper Black Ale had, making it taste like an ordinary stout. On the other hand, the IPA and pale ale were spot on.

Although the IPAs didn't compliment the curry in the same way the dark stouts compliment chocolate and coffee flavors, the Snake Dog IPA and Sierra Nevada Pale Ale stood their ground with the vindaloo. A dish with the much flavor and heat would turn a Taj to water, but the IPAs remained bright, hoppy and citrusy deep into the bowl.

Between the two beers, I favored the pale ale. Both went well, but the bitter bite from the Snake Dog and the spicy of the vindaloo were a bit much for me. The Sierra Nevada, though, was refreshing, and the subtler hop bitterness helped restore my taste buds between bites.

These results shouldn't have been surprising, even if they were. This food and this style of beer should be easier to find together, even if it's not. But the fact is, IPAs pair well with Indian food, even if you have to bring the food to the beer.

And if Indian isn't your thing or you want a few more pairing options, you could try Thai (which Scott suggested) or fried chicken (which my wife suggested). I think they're both right. If it's spicy enough or fried enough, it can be matched up with an IPA. Brooklyn's Oliver has suggested pairing IPAs with fried fish, Mexican and calamari. Point being, IPAs go well with spicy and greasy food. When it comes to pairing Indian food with beer, though, I don't think there's a better option than an IPA (or pale ale).

Iron Horse Taproom
507 7th St. N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20004
(202) 347-7665

Mehak
817 7th St. N.W.
Washington D.C., DC 20001
(202) 408-9292

Categories: Bar/Club, Beer, Book Reviews, British, Chinatown/MCI Center/Verizon Center, DC, Food and Drink, Indian, Lamb, Penn Quarter, Washington, DC
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May 09, 2011

Savor: The Beer And Food Gala Is Still Trying To Get The Food Right

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Savor, the Brewers Association’s dolled-up craft beer gala, is a fantastic event. 

Entering its fourth year, Savor is every bit the premiere craft beer showcase the BA intended it to be. For a city making a name for itself in the craft beer world, it’s also exactly what D.C. needs. Once a year, the craft beer community turns its attention to the District as some of the best brewers in the country bring us a few beers to enjoy. And enjoy, we do.

Thing is, though, Savor is a beer and food event, and so far, the food hasn’t lived up to the equal billing.

Ok, that’s not completely true. The Artisan Cheese Table and the Oyster Bar have been bright spots, exceptions to the rule. As for the rest of the food, it hasn’t always been worth the price of admission ($110 this year). Importantly, this is the food that’s paired with the beer. This is the food that the brewers are expected to talk up along with their beers.

At best, the food has been mediocre. At worst, it’s been quite bad. The food for the past three Savors has looked bad, tasted bad, hasn’t kept well, and hasn’t always paired well. I'm not alone in my opinion of the food, either. I've talked to past attendees and brewers and heard the same: the food has been a disappointment.

16 The sweet and chewy shrimp corn dogs, the gray meat sliders, the bland and cold quesadillas, and the grainy espresso sambuca parfaits are just a few examples of a food program that has been the biggest flaw of an otherwise excellent event. This wouldn’t bother me quite so much if Savor was merely a beer event. But it’s a beer and food “experience,” therefore the food must be as good as the beer. It’s not, at least not yet.

You have to hand it to folks at the BA, though, they are willing to tinker with their event. Every year for the past four years, they’ve changed something about Savor, and more often than not it’s been for the better. The first year Savor was held at the Mellon Auditorium. It’s a pretty venue, but it was too small, so they moved to the equally nice, but considerably larger Building Museum.

During that first year, the speaker salons were free. That was nice, but the sessions filled up quickly and led people to crowd around the salon room doors for a chance to grab one of the few seats. To bring some order to the salons, the BA started selling tickets. Sure, $30 is a steep price to listen to brewers talk about beer, but you don’t have to buy a salon ticket to get into the main event.

Recognizing the popularity of the event, the BA made this year’s Savor a two-night event, as it was the first year. A lot of people didn’t get tickets this year (thanks, in part, to the BA’s Website crashing when the tickets went on sale), but more people will be able to attend than last year.

And in this same spirit, the BA continues to work on the food.

Last year, the BA hired chef Bruce Paton to “enhance” the food experience, which for the first two Savors was pretty poor. Patton has experience with large beer events, having worked with the BA on the Great American Beer Festival, the biggest craft beer event in the country. Unfortunately, the food was as it as always was. 

This year, the BA brought in two chefs, Adam Dulye from The Monk’s Kettle in San Francisco, and our own Teddy Folkman, executive chef and co-owner of Dr. Granville Moore’s. However, Dulye and Folkman were hired to be consultants, not chefs. For all their culinary acumen, Dulye and Folkman did not contribute a single recipe or cook a single dish. They were contracted to conceptualize the food pairings, but the recipes and cooking was left to Federal City Caterers, which has catered all the Savor events.

09270011 Folkman said he has faith in the catering company and its staff, but was wary - and surprised - about not having a greater role in the dishes’ development or execution. For this article, Folkman put together a few of the dishes he was working on for Savor; however, the Cuban slider, stout meatballs and deviled egg that you see in the photos are not necessarily the same dishes you’ll see at Savor. You’ll see and taste Federal City Caterers’ dishes.

During a recent tasting led by Nancy Johnson, event director for the BA, Folkman got a chance to taste many of the dishes Federal City Caterers developed based on his and Dulye’s recommendations. While some dishes were just as Folkman envisioned, others needed minor revising, and some were altogether different - not always for the better, he said.

Deborah Allen, co-owner of Federal City Caterers, said she and her staff have to take many things into consideration when developing hors d’oeuvres for Savor. When necessary, she’ll change an ingredient or eliminate ingredient to make sure the dish works with the beer pairing and can be executed a thousand times over for the event.

In addition to making sure the dishes pair with all 144 beers, the food has to be easy to handle for attendees holding tasting glasses, capable of being transported to the event site and then served as is or with minimum heating (the Building Museum doesn’t have a kitchen). The food must be able to remain fresh for some time in case it’s not eaten immediately, and it has to meet the approval of the BA, the brewers, the consulting chefs and a couple thousand attendees.


09270021 Listening to Allen describe the preparation and execution of Savor’s food program you begin to understand the scope of Federal City’s task. The catering company will prepare more than 80,000 items for Savor. She began work on this year’s event two weeks after last year’s event ended. She’ll have 160 people serving attendees, refreshing ice trays and water pitchers, refreshing the food, dumping food that needs to be dumped, working the nonalcoholic stand, and cooking special dishes for the 12 sponsor tables.It is quite an undertaking. But at the end of the day, I can’t help but return to the fact that the quality of the food has never lived up to the quality of the beer.

And then when I see that this year’s menu includes grilled steak and sausages, crispy tuna rolls, braised sliders, pork belly and shrimp wrapped in a grit cake - all dishes that could be great when fresh and hot, but miserable if left to cool and congeal - I think I’ll be glad that I once again ate beforehand.

Johnson, who led the committee that came up with Savor, is understandably positive about her food program. Although the BA has continues to revise the food program - from how the food was paired with the beer to how much say brewers get in their pairings – Johnson said the BA started in a good place and is simply looking to improve.

For last year’s Savor, the participating breweries were sent a menu of “popular pub items” to choose from. Although there were more than 45 dishes on the menu, Folkman said many breweries ended up picking the same items, which led to a lot of redundancy (Savor: a beer and quesadilla experience).

This year, the BA abandoned the democratic approach and turned the pairings over to Folkman and Dulye. Folkman said he and Dulye took the list of beers the breweries plan to bring and divided it into style categories: IPAs, stouts, ambers, lagers. The chefs then came up with dishes to compliment the styles rather than specific beers. So there will be a dish for the pale ales and a dish for saisons, etc. 


09270020 Despite this broad approach, Folkman said he wants the beer and food pairings to make sense, to tell a story. So saisons and Belgian-style ales will be paired with the classic French croque monsieur, while the bolder-flavored India pale ales are matched with spicy crawfish fritters. And just in case the pairing isn’t completely obvious, every station will include a card explaining the match.

Like last year, though, the brewers won’t have a chance to taste the pairings until the day of the event.

For the 12 sponsors, Folkman has something completely different in mind: a cook for every sponsor. Folkman said Federal City Caterers will station a cook at each sponsor’s table. The sponsors’ offerings will be hot, cooked fresh and either prepared with the sponsor’s beer or for a beer the sponsor brings. The highlight of the sponsors’ dishes may be the lobster roll paired with Sam Adams Boston Lager. (Anticipating that the lobster roll will be a popular item, Allen said her staff will make extra to accommodate the interest.)

The BA is also adding a sushi stand and considering a panini station to accompany the cheese and oyster tables.Folkman, who led one of the educational salons last year, said he didn’t try any of the pairings last year, but agreed that the food could be better.“It’s progressively gotten better every year,” he said.

“Hopefully (this year), it will meet the expectations of the guests.”

Everyone I interviewed for this article was very positive about this year’s food program. Sure, Johnson and Allen said some things haven’t worked in the past, but that’s all part of the evolution of Savor. While Folkman was surprised that he wasn’t more directly involved with the food, he had nothing but good things to say about Federal City Caterers and expects this year’s food program to be better.

36 So then who’s to blame for the miserable dishes of Savors past? And who will be responsible if the quality of the food falls short again? Is it Federal City Caterers, who’s charged with feeding thousands of half-cocked beer enthusiasts while keeping the brewers, the hired-gun chefs and the BA happy? Is it the latest pair of chefs who have big ideas, but no involvement in the actual cooking and catering? Or is it the Brewers Association, which approves all the dishes, hires the famous chefs, hires the caterer, sponsors the event and insists that Savor is a beer and food experience? 

As the saying goes, the buck stops with the BA. With ticket prices for this beer and food experience climbing above the $100 mark, attendees deserve an event that gets it right on both counts. If it doesn’t, the BA should seriously consider either dropping the food (and the ticket prices) or turn the food program over to someone else to run.

Savor is an excellent beer experience. It’s time for it to be an excellent food experience, too.

Categories: Beer, DC, Events, Food and Drink, Foodie Experiences, Washington, DC
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Mar 30, 2011

The Queen Vic: A New Restaurant On H, An Actual Gastropub For D.C.

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Ryan Gordon knows what a gastropub is.

"It's a place you go to have a drink, first."

That's absolutely right. But if you want to eat, there's a menu that combines traditional pub fare with plates typically scene in white tablecloth dining rooms.

Ryan knows this, too. He should, he's opening a gastropub next week.

89500003 On April 4, Ryan and his wife Roneeka will open The Queen Vic, the newest addition to the H Street dining corridor. On paper it looks good: 20 beers on draught and 20 bottles, soccer and rugby on the flat-screen TVs hanging behind the two bars, and a menu that hits the U.K.'s greatest hits while managing to work in enough culinary flourishes to put the gastro in gastropub.

The restaurant's name is even a nod to the long-running BBC soap, EastEnders.

But just because a restaurant calls itself a gastropub doesn't mean it is. Frankly, most of the gastropubs in D.C. aren't gastropubs, and some of the ones that were eventually dropped the concept.

CommonWealth opened as a gastropub in 2008. Offering cured pork belly, oyster pie and house-made head cheeses along side fish and chips helped establish the Columbia Heights restaurant as a solid example of a British gastropub. In time, however, the menu became more "continental Europe" and less creative. CommonWealth closed in February.

This begs the question: can The Queen Vic succeed where CommonWealth failed? Does D.C. know what a gastropub is and is it a concept people are interested in?

We're going to find out.

89500004 The Gordons, and silent partner Kevin Bombardier, brought in Adam Stein as their executive chef (on the right next to sous chef Blake Aredas). Stein -- who worked under chef Matt Jennings at La Laiterie in Providence, R.I., before returning to the area -- is a farm-to-table adherent. He plans to butcher in-house. He plans to source locally and cook seasonally. Even the British staples will be sustainable. So while the fish and chips may be standard fare, the fish Stein will use will change based on its availability and sustainability.

For inspiration, Stein cited April Bloomfield and Fergus Henderson. Henderson might not have invented nose-to-tail cooking, but he picked up a Michelin star revolutionizing it in his London restaurant, St. John. Bloomfield's New York restaurant, The Spotted Pig, is widely considered the best gastopub in the country. So when you say that your restaurant's cuisine will tack closely to Bloomfield's and Henderson's, the world knows what to expect ... and where you fall short.

Signs of Bloomfield's and Henderson's influence are tucked into The Queen Vic's inaugural menu. There are the fried oysters on the half shell - a trio of fried oysters served with foie gras, duck confit and cornichons. There are the rich, roasted marrow bones, an appetizer Stein said he is lifting directly off St. John's menu.

The chefs' influence will also be seen in the daily specials, which will showcase the benefits of butchering on-site, such as house-made head cheeses, braised beef cheeks and sweetbreads. Stein said the specials menu is where he will react most quickly to changes in seasons and ingredients.

While Stein clearly wants The Queen Vic's menu to be thoughtful and progressive, it's some of the traditional items that stand out. Certainly, you can't open a British restaurant without fried fish and french fries, but the traditional English breakfast (beans and all), pork scratchings and curries show an attention to detail that most of the British (and Irish) themed eateries miss.

(I can't overstate the significance of a good Cornish pasty. They're like a large empanada without the egg. Absolutely simple, absolutely fantastic. However, most of the ones I've had here in the states are sorry. More often than not, they're like doughy wontons straight from the frozen food isle. Stein promises the real thing. If he delivers, I'll trust anything he puts on his menu.)

89500018 As for the bar, the opening draft selection isn't all it could be. The taps are dominated by familiar names: Guinness, Harp, Kronenbourg 1664 and Smithwicks (none of which are British). However, there are a few bright spots, including Fullers ESB, Wells Bombardier, Harviestoun's Old Engine Oil and Old Speckled Hen.

Ryan admitted the beer lineup was the best he could do in a short amount of time. By the end of April, he expects to replace many of the beers with more interesting offerings.

89510006 In the mean time, thirsty punters can check out the Vic's bottle list, which includes Young's Double Chocolate Stout, St. Peter's Organic English Ale, Manchester Star and Skull Splitter scotch ale.

Although the gastropub doesn't have a beer engine behind the bar (a real shame, especially as so many beer bars around town now have one or five), there are four nitrogen taps behind the upstairs and downstairs bars. So there may not be the hand-pulled beers so typical of British pubs, but there will be eight taps pouring plenty of smooth, creamy pints.

It's not hard to understand where the level of detail that's gone into The Queen Vic came from: Roneeka was born in Britain and raised in Wales. Her parents own and operate a hotel and restaurant in Bridgend, Wales. Before she was a teenager, Roneeka was already working in her family's restaurant. The Queen Vic isn't so much a concept as an extension of the cuisine that she grew up with. At least it should be.

Just to make sure Stein is clear on the concept, Ryan and Roneeka sent their chef on an eight-day tour of Britain and Wales. The tour began at her parent's restaurant, the Bokhara Brasserie. It was there that Stein learned how to make murgh makhani, a butter chicken dish Roneeka grew up with. From there, Stein headed to a butcher shop in northern Wales and spent time in London, dining at The Bull & Last and St. John.

If the gastropub concept doesn't fly, it won't be for lack of effort.

89500007 Like the menu, the restaurant looks the part of a traditional British pub. The red and black exterior opens to a cozy bar and dining room. The layout is repeated on the second floor, which leads out to an outdoor deck on the back of the restaurant.

Ryan said The Queen Vic will accommodate a little less than 100 people, a couple dozen more if you count the deck.

While the gastropub may be small, it took a sizable effort to get it ready for its debut. The building burned down, twice. Before work could begin to turn the building into a restaurant, it needed to be gutted and rebuilt. The façade was out of alignment and had to be screwed back into place, and much of the roof was replaced. The deck was a new addition.

89500022 To give the rehabbed restaurant an older feel, they used as much recycled and refurbished materials as possible. Doors came from old schools, the phone booth is, well, an old phone booth. The roof may be new, but the exposed beams, stained a dark mahogany, help add a rustic, old(er) pub feel.

The Queen Vic will be located along the ever-more popular and ever-more crowded H Street corridor. Ryan, who's an investor in the neighborhood bar The Pug, says the gastropub should fit right in. Although H Street has an increasing number of bars and restaurants, it's an eclectic mix. So rather than being lost in the myriad of options, The Queen Vic do well situated between the sushi and tater tots joint and the Philly style sandwich shop.

Besides, Ryan said, the cadre of new bars and restaurants that have sprung up on H Street over the past few years tend to support one another (Teddy Folkman, executive chef at Dr. Granville Moore's, introduced Stein to the Gordons). It's the rising tide lifts all boats theory: the more traffic and positive attention one bar or restaurant can attract, the better off all the neighborhood bars and restaurants will be.

89500021 But positive press and big name inspirations will only help so much. The British gastropub is a great concept that most people misinterpret or simply don't understand. If The Queen Vic is a success, it'll be because Ryan, Roneeka and Chef Stein find a way to give D.C. a true gastropub, one that will hopefully stick around a while.

The Queen Vic
1206 H St., N.E.
Washington, D.C. 20002
(202) 396-2001 

Categories: Beer, British, DC, Food and Drink, Gastropub, H Street, Restaurant Openings, Washington, DC
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Jan 31, 2011

Oven Roasted Bone Marrow: Decadence On The Cheap

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Whole Foods isn't a place where I expect to find anything cheap. It's understood that you go to the high-end grocery store to find organic artichokes and expensive cheese (honestly, I'm usually there for the solid beer selection).

57100023 So I was surprised the other day when I came across a $9 package of beef marrow bones in the freezer section. Sure, you can find marrow bones cheaper, but paying $9 for a dish that will take you 20 minutes to make and bring you the kind of joy that only fatty marrow can really ain't too bad.

Traditionally, bone marrow is used to thicken stews and stocks, but in the past few years restaurants from St. John in London to Blue Duck Tavern in the West End have roasted bones and served the marrow as an appetizer. It makes sense. Slathering marrow across warm toast is about as decadent as it gets. And for the restaurant, it's a cheap and easy ingredient.

I really can't stress too much how easy bone marrow is to roast. Stick a few bones in a 450 degree oven for 20 minutes. That's it. If you want toast, make toast. If you want to suck the marrow out with a straw, have at.

57100012 To pair with the marrow, I picked up a bottle of Sierra Nevada's new imperial India pale ale, Hoptimum. At 10.4 percent A.B.V. and 100 I.B.U.s, it's a very big, very hoppy beer. It's absolutely fantastic and, frankly, difficult to pair with food. Although the folks at Sierra Nevada did a nice job balancing the bitterness with a malty backbone, it's tough to find a food that won't be overwhelmed by the flavors of an IPA.

Rich, fatty bone marrow works, though.

The bitterness of the beer cuts right through the richness of the marrow, yet marrow has more than enough flavor to stand up to an IPA, even one as big as Hoptimum. It's a hell of a pairing, whether you dine in or dine out.

(A quick word about Sierra Nevada. Hoptimum is the latest in a long line of great beers that Sierra Nevada has made. The brewery's pale ale is one of the best examples of an American pale ale you'll find. And then there's the Torpedo Extra IPA, Porter, Tumbler brown ale, and Kellerweis, all of which are outstanding examples of their styles. Even their organic, feel good Estate Ale is one of the best IPAs I've had lately. When a brewery is big enough to show up in corner stores and super markets it's easy to forget how good their beer is, but Sierra Nevada is one of the best craft breweries in the country. It just happens to be one of the biggest, too.) 

Oven Roasted Bone Marrow
(Makes 3 servings)

57100020 1 package of marrow bones (figure two to three bones per serving)
1 baguette, sliced and toasted
1 head of garlic, roasted (optional)
Kosher salt
Olive oil
1 sheet of aluminum foil (for optional garlic)

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Arrange the marrow bones on a baking sheet, making sure they're standing up, not laying on their sides. Carefully place the tray in the oven and roast the bones for 20 minutes. Remove the bones from the oven and allow to cool for about five minutes. Before you serve, drizzle them with a little olive oil and season with salt to taste.

(If you want to include roasted garlic -- and you do -- cook the garlic ahead of time. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Cut the top off the head of garlic and place in the middle of the sheet of aluminum foil. Drizzle with a couple teaspoons of olive oil and add a pinch of salt. Close the foil around the garlic, creating a tight pouch, and place the garlic in the oven for 45 minutes. Remove, open the pouch and allow to cool for a couple minutes. When the head of garlic is cool enough to touch, squeeze out the warm, soft garlic and spread on the toast with the marrow.)

Categories: Beer, DCFoodies Cooks, Do It Yourself, Food and Drink, Recipes
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Oct 28, 2010

Autumn Menu: Grilled Tenderloin and Fall Hash

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Whoever decided that Labor Day marks the end of the "grilling season" has never stood in front of a warm Weber on a crisp fall afternoon. Between the football and the drop in temperatures, fall is a fantastic time of year to cook outdoors.

The change in seasons also changes what I like to grill. The fish, shrimp and seafood that grill in the summer is replaced by lamb, pork and heartier cuts of meat. Roasted tomatoes and young garlic are replaced by sauteed brussel sprouts, and roasted turnips and potatoes. Despite the fact that my house has central heat, I plan meals like I have to stay warm in a yurt.

Much of this is due to the fact that vegetables like tomatoes are no longer in season, while brussel sprouts are just coming on. But I can get either product all year. No, the real reason is the trigger the weather flips. I no more want shepherd's pie in August as I want ceviche in February. 

That being said, pork tenderloin is my meat of all seasons. It's easy to cook, flavorful as hell and a relatively cheap cut of meat. A few years ago, when my wife and I lived in North Carolina, a lot of pork tenderloin moved through our little Chapel Hill apartment. She was going to grad school and I was working a couple jobs to help make that happen, so a four pound tenderloin that could feed us for several days was a household favorite.

DSCN5692 Now that we're into the fall, I like to pair the tenderloin with a seasonal hash of carrots, apples, onions and potatoes. You could even swap out the potatoes for squash or pumpkin, or just add it to the mix. I also add a bit of bacon to punch up the flavor and because I like bacon. A poached egg works real well, too.

To go with the dish, I like brown ales and dark beers. Honestly though, any fall seasonal would work. We've moved from the light, refreshing pilsners and pale lagers of summer to the darker, richer beers better suited for fall and winter.

In fact, I've been sitting on the bottle of Autumn Maple from The Bruery that I picked up in August. I bought it with this post in mind, but it was also just too damn hot at the time. Who wants a sweet, malty high alcohol (10.5%) beer when it's 96 degrees outside? Screw that and pass the hefeweizen.

To make this Belgian-style dark ale, the Placentia, Ca., brewery uses yams - lots of yams - molasses and spices, including cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice. The result is deeply rich, spicy ale that's just a bit sour and more than a bit sweet.

DSCN5717 If you can't find a bottle of Autumn Maple or just want to try something else, grab a six pack of Sierra Nevada's Tumbler brown ale. The craft brewing community has gone wild for big, hoppy India Pale Ales during the past few years, but Tumbler shows that the heavy weights of craft beer do other styles of beer just as well (that said, Sierra Nevada's Tornado Extra India Pale Ale is an outstanding hoppy beer).

So grab a coat and get outside, there's grilling to be done.

Grilled Pork Tenderloin and Fall Hash
(Makes six servings)

DSCN5681 1 4-5 pound pork tenderloin
1 apple, Granny Smith or similarly crisp apple, diced
4 carrots, pealed and diced
6 potatoes, diced
3 cloves of garlic, diced
2 red onions, pealed and diced
3 strips of bacon, fried and diced
1 lemon, halved
1 egg, poached (optional)
Salt and black pepper

Generously season the tenderloin with salt and pepper, and set aside while you prepare the grill. For this recipe, you'll need two zones - one hot, one cool - so you can sear the tenderloin before allowing it to cook slowly for 90 minutes.

When the grill is ready, sear all sides of the meat until brown and then place the tenderloin on the cool side of the grill with the fat cap up and close the lid.

As the pork cooks, prep the rest of the ingredients, making sure the apples, carrots, potatoes and onions are diced the same size so they cook at the same rate. The dice should also be small, so it cooks fairly quickly.

After the pork has been on for an hour, place a pan on the sideburner or on the grill and fry the bacon. Remove the bacon from the pan and add the diced carrots, potatoes, garlic and onions, and season with salt and pepper. Sautee for 20 minutes or until the potato browns and softens (as an alternative, you can sautee the vegetables for 10 minutes and then stick the pan on the grill for 10 minutes). Add the diced bacon and apple, and cook for another 10 minutes. Remove everything from the pan so the apples don't overcook.

DSCN5696 (If you want to add a poached or fried egg - and you do - now is the time to cook the egg.)

After an hour and 20 minutes, the pork should be about ready to come off the grill. Using a meat thermometer, the internal temperature should be 165 degrees. If it's fully cooked, allow the meat to rest for 10 minutes before slicing. Before serving, squeeze a little lemon on the pork.

And if you haven't already, pop open the beer and enjoy.

Categories: Apples, Beer, Belgian, DCFoodies Cooks, Food and Drink, Grilling, Pork, Recipes, Seasonal
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