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June 2005

The Perfect Pita

While I was walking around downtown last Friday, I saw the most beautiful sight I've ever seen. The Perfect Pita now has a location at 1015 20th Street -- I'm so happy to see that they're expanding from their two Alexandria locations. When I worked in Alexandria, I was located across the street from one of these heavenly eateries and frequented them almost every other day. Their pita sandwiches are reasonably priced and make me drool just thinking about them. The pita bread is baked fresh on location and the sandwiches can have ground beef, lamb or chicken in them if I remember correctly. You can top them with various Mediterranean style toppings like hummus, cucumber, and yogurt sauce. I would usually just order the beef pita as is, which came with ground beef, cucumber, onion and yogurt sauce. Ah the good old days! Someone has to go and let me know if they're still as good as I remember.

The Perfect Pita
1015 20th St NW
Washington, DC 20036

1640 King St
Alexandria, VA 22314

951 N Fairfax St
Alexandria, VA 22314

Galileo Grill

Just an FYI for those of you that aren't on the mailing list. Galileo Grill is open today and tomorrow Friday for lunch. I actually made it when it was open last Friday, and man was it packed. Most people were saying it had never been that crowded, and I attribute the crowd to the fact that it was Friday, but the line stretched all through the Laboratorio to the patio out back. Lucky and unlucky for me, I ordered my food ahead of time, which allowed me to skip the line, but also didn't let me order in line and chat with Roberto Donna who was preparing the food. The other bad thing was that they got my order wrong: the pork shoulder sandwich had peppers and onions in it, Amy's homemade hot dog had relish and mustard on it (and she hates mustard) and they forgot to give me the extra bread I ordered. I actually enjoyed the pork shoulder sandwich a lot, but there was an intense garlic flavor in the sandwich that stayed with me for the rest of the day and I'm sure I killed a couple vampires just by walking past them. If I were to go back, I'd probably get there exactly at 11:45 AM to beat the crowd, and wait in line instead of ordering ahead -- you'll be able to order it in person, make sure they get it right, and see Roberto Donna.

In case you're wondering, the menu this week is the same as in my last post about Galileo Grill and everything still works the same.

Weekend Food Events

In case you missed everyone talking about it...the Smithsonian Folklife Festival is going on right now. The full schedule of events can be found here.

9th Annual Old Dominion Beer Festival in Ashburn, VA will be occurring all weekend featuring more than 50 of the finest breweries in the country, as well as local restaurants, vendors and craftspeople. $12 entry fee includes festival glass. Beers are $1.00 per 6oz. serving. Full details here.

National Capital Barbecue Battle is going on Saturday and Sunday on Pennsylvania Ave between 9th and 14th streets. Tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for children. 

Thursday Review Rundown

I would have posted this last night, but I was too busy eating my birthday dinner at Citronelle. I'm sure you want to hear all about it, and I'm currently in progress of writing my review, so stay tuned.

Todd Kliman cracks me up with his review of Hollywood East in Wheaton.

"I like good; I’m a fan of good."

Me too, Todd. Me too. It sounds like the dim sum is worth going for, but otherwise, you might want to skip it.

That's all I have this week. It's sad I know, but everyone was either writing reviews of places in Annapolis or the middle of bumblef*ck Maryland. Nope, no coverage for that here. This blog is called DCfoodies...well, and maybe its immediate suburbs.

Sonoma Restaurant and Wine Bar - First Impressions

I figured with all the hype that's behind Sonoma, I'd might was well try it out and let everyone know what I thought about it. I was debating all week about whether or not I'd try Sonoma or if I'd go to one of my usual hangouts, but I decided after receiving a few emails from readers asking about it, that I'd give it a try.

I've read mixed things about it. On, people said the staff was inexperienced, but the food was yummy depending on what you ordered. I have to admit, looking at their menu online, I was fairly intrigued. The appetizers reminded me of the wine bar at 2Amys, with the cheese and meat, but with a better selection. For cheeses, you have many choices of blue, cow, goat, and sheep's cheeses. Your meat selections, or charcuterie, are typical for a sliced meat menu with speck, prosciutto, and capicola and chicken liver pate. I could eat an entire meal at Sonoma and only order off the charcuterie and cheese menus -- and of course I'd order a bottle of wine as well.

I actually tried a French goat cheese, which kind of kicked my ass. I made the mistake of eating a large chunk of it at once, and it was a little more than I could handle because the cheese had a strong, smoky flavor, almost like that of a blue or feta cheese, and it was fairly "stinky". This combination had me drinking large amounts of water to calm down the powerful flavor. My recommendation: if you order the French goat cheese, spread it thinly on the bread they give you. We also had a Spanish sheep's cheese which was fairly mild and pleasant -- a welcome change after the French goat. I also had some of the chicken liver pate which I enjoyed, but the bread that came with the cheese and pate was almost too complex and flavorful. Seriously, all I need is half of a French baguette to enjoy some pate -- not some fancy thick whole-wheat pita bread with rosemary (EDIT: Thanks to Richard for pointing out to me that the "fancy thick whole-wheat pita" is actually Italian flat bread with rosemary). I ended up tasting the bread too much instead of the cheese or pate.

Moving past the cheese and meat courses, you have salads, with an arugula and fennel salad topped with shaved Parmesan, lemon and olive oil, leading the way. I like how simple this salad sounds, and I'll be ordering it when I return, but I skipped it for the pasta courses I'll describe later. Amy ordered one of the other salads, with wood-grilled apples, watercress, pistachio, Gorgonzola and red wine vinaigrette, which I very quickly found out sounded better than it actually tasted. I think the texture of the apples was what did it for me because the grilling left the apples a little less than crisp (perhaps they were overcooked a bit this time). I think if I go back, I might try the venison carpaccio or grilled cuttlefish apps.

I saw many people around me ordering pizza, and they seemed to be enjoying it. There aren't any "prebuilt" pizzas and the toppings are all a la carte ranging from $3 to $5 each. You start with your crust and red tomato-based, green pesto or white olive-oil-based sauces. On top of that, you have your choice of cheeses and then your toppings. The cheapest combination if toppings is a plain cheese pizza for $8. You can easily build a pretty expensive pizza by choosing a couple $5 toppings like morel mushrooms, bottarga (tuna roe), or Vermont buffalo mozzarella. Seeing other people order the pizzas, I wasn't overly impressed with the way they looked, but I'll reserve judgment until I can actually try one.

For my entree, I ordered a double portion of the bucatini with the house-made wild boar sausage, summer squash and pesto. If you're unfamiliar with what bucatini is, it's a thick, hollow spaghetti and it's probably one of my favorite kinds of pasta. I used to order this bucatini dish with sausage and a creme sauce that blew my mind at Il Pizzico and Spezie. Unfortunately, Sonoma's bucatini wasn't nearly as good -- plain and simple. Not that it was bad, but seriously, not even in the same ball park. The bucatini was cooked perfectly al dente, but the homemade wild boar sausage was dry and crumbly which was not a good combination with the pesto sauce, and the summer squash didn't add much flavor. Perhaps when I return, I'll skip the pasta dishes and go straight for the Wagyu beef burger, which is very obviously on the menu to compete with Palena's $10 cheeseburger (a welcome addition since you know I'm not all that crazy about Palena's cheeseburger). Sonoma's version comes with some potatoes on the side and you have the option of adding some toppings like fontina cheese, pancetta or speck.

The high point of the meal for us was definitely dessert. That evening, Sonoma was featuring a smooth, creamy yet fluffy chocolate pudding, and my wife, being the pregnant pudding fiend that she is lately, could not resist. I have to admit that I'm not usually a pudding-type-of-person, but I did fall in love with this after my first taste. It had a very rich bitter chocolate flavor and it wasn't overly sweet like puddings tend to be. I hope it's on the menu again when we return.

In summary, I'd say that (at least right now) Sonoma is a great place to hang out, have some wine, cheese and salads after work. I could spend all night eating a flight of cheese and sampling different wines, then top it off with that chocolate pudding and you can call it a night. I'll reserve my final judgement on the rest of the menu, though, until I can return again and try some of their entrees.

Sonoma Restaurant and Wine Bar
223 Pennsylvania Ave. SE
Washington, DC
(202) 544-8088

lunch: 11am - 3pm (Monday - Friday)
dinner: 4:30pm - 10pm (Monday - Saturday)
brunch: 10:30am - 2pm (Saturday/Sunday only)
late night menu is available Thursday-Saturday nights 10pm - midnight
Sunday supper 5:30-10:00pm

Dress Code: Casual to dress casual. Sonoma's web site says that they are upscale casual, but when we went, there were people in shorts there.
Parking: I've no clue what the parking situation is at Capitol Hill. We took a cab.
Reservations: Taken and recommended. It should be easier to get a seat once they finish remodeling the upstairs.
Smoking: I didn't ask if smoking was allowed. Damn.
Nearest Metro: Capitol Hill Metro South.
Amy's Bathroom Report: The bathrooms were kept clean, but they had yet to remodel them like the last place. Everything was pretty old.

Weekend Food Events

Saturday June 18th
The 15th annual Reston Taste of Town is from 12 to 10:30 PM. Tastes will cost $1 to $5 and there will be live music and givaways as well. Look here for the full event information.

TasteDC hosts the "Hot New Chef's Series" of cooking classes with Executive Chef Christophe Poteaux of Aquarelle Restaurant from 11:30AM to 2:30 PM. Tickets are $70. Get the full details here.

Sunday June 19th

TasteDC hosts the Introduction to Indian Cooking at Heritage India. Tickets are $65 and a four-dish tasting lunch with wine pairing is included. You'll learn to cook Subz Shahi Korma  (A mild mixed fresh vegetable curry), Dum Ka Murgh (cubes of chicken marinated in sesame and poppy seeds delicately stewed in its own juices), Yakhani Gosht (cubes of lamb simmered in yogurt and saffron),
and Gulab Jamoon (Soft milk dumplings soaked in rose flavored sugar syrup). Buy tickets and learn more here.

McCormick and Shmicks will be donating a portion of the days sales to cancer research at The Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center at Georgetown University Medical Center. The restaurants will donate a portion of sales from a specially created health menu. A list of participating restaurants and full details is here.

Thursday Review Rundown

Tom S invades Petworth's Domku.

A pink slab of smooth pate, ringed in gently sweet aspic, would look at home on an elegant buffet; a couple of plump browned sausages on carrot-laced sauerkraut prove homey and strapping. Of the sandwiches, I'm most drawn to crawfish, fennel and bell peppers bound in lemony mayonnaise and tucked inside a baguette.

DC Food Blog gets snarky

DCFud enjoys La Tasca

Todd Kliman praises Leopolds, but I wonder just how good the food is that it makes it worth some of the service problems he mentions.

The Austrian dishes, for all their innate heartiness, are no less finely wrought. The veal schnitzel, a winter dish if ever there was one, comes across as the very embodiment of spring, lightly breaded and quickly fried and bedded atop lemony field greens. There’s no sense in trying to lighten up a crock of spaetzle, and the kitchen doesn’t try; but it does create more than the usual cheesy, gooey interest by caramelizing the thick, nubby noodles, scenting the dish with a generous pinch of nutmeg, and applying a finishing crunch of crispy fried shallots. And the oxtail soup is constructed from a clear broth that somehow sacrifices none of the richness of the Old World original.

I wish I could write sentences like that.

Smithsonian Folklife Festival - Update

I just wanted to give everyone an update on the Smithsonian Folklife Festival and Food Culture USA...

I told you all I'd post again when I knew what events would be happening after the festival and here you have it. Go here for all of the information you need. There is even a full calendar of the festival and what chefs will be "performing" and where. Events include:

June 13 - July 4
A rice tasting at Bankok Joe's

June 23
Honey dinner tasting manu at Zola. Executive Chef Frank Morales of the award-winning Zola welcomes guests to come experience a special tasting menu featuring five courses, each with a different honey from Beeraw honey. $120 per person.

Wine Dinner at Charlie Palmer Steak House. The event will be a multi-course wine dinner featuring Chef Charlie Palmer's private label, personally blended wines - International Sommelier Conspiracy. Artisanal cheeses from around the country will also be featured. Call 202-547-8100 for pricing and reservations.

June 24
Chef Janos Wilder will join Chef Brian Kenny as guest chef for the evening at Red Sage. Chef Janos Wilder was the James Beard Award winner for Best Chef Southwest. Price for the dinner will be $120 all-inclusive.

June 26th
Fresh from the Family Farm - A Family Picnic to Benefit Farm Aid at Equinox. A family picnic dinner will feature farm-fresh dishes prepared by celebrated DC chefs including Gray, Cathal Armstrong of Restaurant Eve, Cesare Lanfranconi of Tosca, Fabio Trabocchi of Maestro, Roberto Donna of Galileo and more. Adults $75. Children $25.

June 27th
Fresh! Local! Sustainable! Dinner at Poste Moderne Brasserie. The dinner will be a five-course menu paired with wines featuring locally grown, raised, and harvested ingredients. $70 per person.

Dinner with José & Friends: Guest Chef Dinner. Executive Chef José Andrés and Chef de Cuisine Katsuya Fukushima will be joined by guest chefs include Douglas Rodriguez from Ola in Miami and Guillermo Pernot from ¡Pasion! in Philadelphia. $150 per person includes tax, tip and wine.

June 30
Slow Food at the Smithsonian Dinner at Restaurant Nora. $75 a person, tax, tip, and three course dinner included. $65 a person for Slow Food members.

July 2
Suvir Saran of Devi and Ashok Bajaj of the Bombay Club. Suvir Saran, from the critically-acclaimed 75-seat Dévi restaurant in New York City, will join the Bombay Club’s chefs to prepare a tasting menu showcasing his regional Indian cooking. Guests will meet Saran and be treated to an autographed copy of his cookbook, Indian Home Cooking: A Fresh Introduction to Indian Food, with More Than 150 Recipes. $90 per person including paired wines and his cookbook (gratuity and tax not included).

Go to the web site for full event details.

Bistrot Lepic

On Thursday night, after returning home from work, I came to the ghastly conclusion that there was absolutely nothing in our kitchen to cook for dinner. Rather than go down the street to the Usual Suspects (2 Amys, Cafe Ole, Cafe Deluxe, etc.), Amy and I decided that we needed a change of pace. The plan was to go down to Glover Park (or North Georgetown if you like) and go to either the wine bar at Bistrot Lepic or Cafe Divan for a quick dinner and then hit the grocery store afterward.

Upon arriving in Glover Park and parking easily on the wide-open 34th Street behind Cafe Divan, we decided to go with French food rather than Turkish. Besides, we had just been to Cafe Divan a couple weekends ago, when my parents had visited, and it's been forever since we've had French food. Rather than dine downstairs like our last trip to Bistrot Lepic, we went up the stairs to the wine bar and where there are a bunch of cozy, short little tables. When you reach the top of the stairs, you're standing facing the small bar at the one end of the room and to your left is the small dining area. There were a few couples sitting already with a group of four people in the corner. Overall, I'd say that the entire room can seat about 25 people maximum.

One thing to keep in mind is that smoking is allowed in the wine bar, so if you are really sensitive to smoke, this place is probably not for you. However, they do have ceiling fans blowing the air around and we barely noticed that the people two tables over from us were smoking. There was only a single waitress covering the entire room and she was scurrying around trying to get people their food and drinks. There was also a runner that was bringing dishes up from the kitchen downstairs.

The full menu is available at Bistrot Lepic's wine bar as well as their "Appeteasers" menu, which has a bunch of interesting small plates that you can order when you just feel like a small salad or plate of paté with a glass of wine. The small plates all looked fairly appetizing, but the country paté sounded especially good to me. Paté and a glass of wine always makes for a good meal. (I chickened out, though. I had a perfect opportunity to try snails and conquer one of my food phobias, but I ordered the paté instead. Oh well, maybe next time I'll grow some balls.) Amy decided to get two of the small plates rather than order a whole entree -- one of the special salads which was mixed greens with goat cheese and roasted red peppers, followed by the onion tart with bacon in soft pastry. All of the appetizers sounded (and looked, from what we could see on other tables) intriguing. There was also a plethora of specials. I ended up ordering one myself -- the hangar steak with frites (pronounced freet not fright. Amy is constantly correcting me when I pronounce that word incorrectly). As far as prices go, appetizers and salads range from $7 to $14. Entrees are a bit more expensive, ranging from $17 to $27. Specials can run a little more.

The wine menu has an average number of wines available by the glass. Now that Amy isn't drinking, I'm forced to order off of the limited selection of wines available by the glass rather than order a whole bottle. Not to sound too much like an ignoramus, but ordering wine in a French restaurant can be quite intimidating, with all of those French names that I just know I'll mispronounce. I think I need to take a French language class.

We found that the wine bar seemed especially conducive to good conversation, and I'm not sure why. I don't know how long it was until the food came out -- it didn't seem like we waited very long, maybe it was because I was enjoying the atmosphere and good conversation with Amy. My paté came with a very fresh side salad with a light but tasty vinaigrette. The paté was a country paté with a prune and armagnac filling. I wouldn't say it was worlds better than other patés I've had, but overall I was pretty satisfied with the dish I'd chickened out with. At first Amy wasn't so happy with her mixed green salad, but as she ate it, she grew increasingly fond of it.

Our second course came out not too long after we were done with our first. My steak, which I had ordered medium-rare, was more on the very rare side, but I didn't mind -- I'd rather my steak was undercooked than overcooked. The hangar steak was very lean and tender. On the side was a  mixture of dijon mustard and very finely sliced onions that complimented the steak very well. Like the paté, the steak came with a salad on the side. It was a nice palate cleanser when I was done eating the steak and gave me a more satisfied feeling than if I'd eaten a side of mashed potatoes. I didn't get a chance to try Amy's onion tart, and quite honestly, I was really surprised that Amy ordered an onion tart. I mean, ever since she's been pregnant, she's hasn't been able to go near onions.

I wasn't especially hungry when we were done with our second course,but the desserts sounded so good that we couldn't help but order some.  Amy went with the almond tarte and I, like last time, went with the pear tarte. I'm such a sucker for pears. I think the one of the reasons I've started gaining so much weight since Amy's been pregnant is because she won't share a dessert with me. Oh well, I'll lose the weight when I have to chase around a little 2-year-old all day. I didn't get a chance to try Amy's almond tarte, because I was too enthralled in my pear tarte. Do you get that I thought it was scrumptious? Amy wasn't too happy with her almond tarte and she wished she had ordered the chocolate tarte.

I'm not sure why I was expecting something else, but the check came to close to $120 -- not your average mid-week night out. What was meant to be a quick dinner out before hitting the grocery store ended up being an expensive 2-hour dinner -- and we never got to the grocery store. Mission un-accomplished.

Bistrot Lepic
1736 Wisconsin Ave. NW
Washington, DC
(202) 333-0111

Tue-Sun 11:30 am-2:30 pm
Tue-Thu 5-10 pm
Fri-Sat 5-10:30 pm
Sun 5-9:30 pm
Closed Mondays.

Dress Code: Casual for the Wine Bar and business casual for the regular restaurant downstairs
Parking: none. Park at 34th and Wisconsin, there is usually parking down 34th St.
Reservations: Taken and recommended for the regular restaurant. Wine bar is first-come first-serve.
Smoking: Allowed in the wine bar
Nearest Metro: It's a very long walk from the nearest metro at Foggy Bottom. Take a cab or drive. The Pennsylvania Ave. bus line (bus numbers 30, 32, 34, 35, 36) will get you there too.
Amy's Bathroom Report: They are clean and kept respectable, plus you get to check out the wine cellar nearby.