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April 2006

South Street Steaks

Dsc00223 Hallelujah! Finally, there's a real Philly cheesesteak in the DC area. I can't believe this day has finally come!

Once I read the article in the Washington Post a few weeks ago, I knew I had to go. I've never been so glad that I work out in Largo, just a mere 15 minutes from South Street Steaks in College Park. I was anxious during my drive over. Would it be like the real thing, or would I be disappointed like I've been oh so many times before? I couldn't wait to find out.

When I walked into the joint, I could tell from the smell of the air that they had something good going there. The air reeked of grease, onions, and peppers -- exactly what you would expect from a cheesesteak joint. (I call it a joint and not a restaurant because I consider a restaurant to be a place where it's possible to eat the contents of your meal without dripping the grease on you pants.)

Dsc00225 "I'll have a steak wit whiz and onions please," I said with a smile. It's been a long time since I've said that.

I watched carefully as they prepared the cheesesteak. On the left of the grill, there was the mound of sliced sirloin and on the right, the mounds of onions and peppers. When they cooked a steak, they would cut off a mound of steak from the pile and put it on the hot section of the grill, spraying some water as well to get that steamed-yet-fried effect.

The griller then chops at the meat with two metal spatulas, and once it's coarsely chopped, they add the onions and let them sizzle in the meat a little longer. After that, he grabs an Amoroso roll (the true roll of the Philly cheesesteak which South Street Steaks has shipped in special from Philly), scoops a ladle of cheese whiz out of the big metal canister, spreads it on the roll, and covers the meat on the grill with the roll.

Finally, the griller takes one spatula and slides it under the meat and quickly flips it over to put it on a plate.

Dsc00224 "Ok. Sounds good so far Jason, but how did it TASTE??"

Like the real thing...or at least pretty damn close. I reminded me of the cheesesteak I had in my last trip to Philly at Jim's Steaks. It's been a while since I've been back to Philly for a cheesesteak though, so my memory might be a bit fuzzy. This was a true cheesesteak -- the meat tender, thinly sliced, and well flavored with the creamy cheese whiz on a fresh roll all juicy, drippy and completely unhealthy.

The junk food for the truly discerning foodie.

My only complaint was that I thought the onions could have onions cooked a little longer and lightly browned. They were translucent and but not browned or caramelized at all.

If you eat two cheesesteaks in one sitting, you get your picture on the wall -- kind of like a wall of fame. There's one person who's eaten ten. My hero.

South Street Steaks
7313 Baltimore Avenue
College Park, MD 20740
(301) 209-7007

Mon - Wed: 11am - 10pm
Thu: 11am - 2am
Fri : 11am - 3am
Sat: 12pm - 3am
Sun: 12pm - 10pm


Food and Wine Events

Food and wine events for the week of Friday, April 21st through Thursday, April 27th.

Geez! is it already the end of April?

Fri April 21
Friends of the National Zoo
Grapes With the Apes
National Zoo
6–9 p.m.
$35 FONZ YP members, $50 nonmembers
Proceeds from this event will benefit the Asian Elephant Conservation Fund.

Charlie Palmer Steakhouse

5-Course Spring Pinot Noir Dinner
7:oo PM
$125 including tax and gratuity

The Wine Specialist
Spring Wine Tasting
2115 M St. NW, Washington, DC 20037
5:30 PM - 8:00 PM

Sat April 22
St. Michaels FRESHFARM Market
Chef David Stein (Bistro St. Michaels) will be preparing a recipe using local, seasonal ingredients
Location: Muskrat Park on the St. Michaels Harbor, at Willow and Green Streets, one block from Talbot Street

Mon April 24
Roberto Donna Cooking Class
Grilling Class
Galileo Restaurant
6:30 PM

Evening Star Cafe
5-Course Wild Grape South African Wine Dinner
2000 Mt. Vernon Avenue, Del Ray
7:15 pm

Smithsonian Resident Associates
Austrian dinner
Leopold’s Kafe & Konditorei
6:30 PM
$136; Smithsonian Resident Associate members $90

Wed April 26
Washington Wine Academy
Appreciation Day: The Wine & Food Pairing Extravaganza
Ritz Carlton - Pentagon City
6:45 PM - 10 PM

April in Rhone
Embassy of France
Taste more than 100 wines from the Rhone Valley
4101 Reservoir Road NW
7 PM - 9:30 PM

Thu April 27

French Wine Society
Chateauneuf du Pape reception
Café Matisse
4934 Wisconsin Ave. NW

Ray's The Steaks - $20 Bistro Dinner

New at Ray's the Steaks:

$20 Bistro Dinner

Choice of:
Cup of Crab Bisque or Onion Soup/or Mixed Greens or Caesar Salad

Choice of:
Hangar Steak or Salmon (Diablo/Blackened/or Grilled)

Mashed Potatoes/Creamed Spinach

This offer is open to anyone, anytime (until further notice, but at least the next week)

Just when I had decided to go on a diet...

Word is that waits aren't too bad yet, but as soon as word gets out about this, you can be guarenteed that'll change.

Fava Beans - A How To?

Nothing says Spring to me like fava beans. Inspired by some of the dishes I've been having at my favorite restaurants, namely a fava bean, radish and red pepper pappardelle at Komi and the fava bean crostini at 2 Amys, did a little experimenting over the weekend with fava beans. I figured some of you might benefit from what I learned.

Just so you're aware of how clueless I actually was...for the longest time, I thought fava beans were the same thing as lima beans. I know. Silly me. Those chalky excuses for vegetables my mother force fed me growing up are nothing like fava beans -- at least as far as taste goes.

Once I finally figured out what they look like, I was able to identify them in the grocery store. Both the Balducci's and the Whole Foods by me have them, but I've found that the quality of the ones at Balducci's were a bit better - the beans were fuller and more mature where the beans from the
Whole Foods seemed like they were picked a bit early. I was more successful at picking out better beans when I felt the shell for fullness -- that seemed to mean that the beans inside were more mature.

Also when shopping, keep in mind that 3 lbs of beans in their shells will yield about a cup to a cup-and-a-half of shelled and de-skinned fava beans, so pack that bag at the grocery store full, because you're going to need a lot of pods. The beans ran about $2.50 a pound.

These were the fava beans that I bought at Balducci's after I shelled and cooked them for 4 minutes in boiling water.
After you've shelled them, you need to peel the tough skins off the fava beans. It took me a little while to figure out where the skin ended and the bean began. The skin is actually a couple layers -- I peeled the outside skin off a couple of beans before I figured out that I was performing a task much more difficult than it needed to be. I was being way to careful.

You can use a knife or your fingers, but all you have to do is slice into the skin and then it's easy to squeeze out the bean inside.
Fava_bean_shelling2 Fava_bean_shelling1_1
Amy and I spent about an hour or so peeling the beans. We had a good time with it, had some wine and cheese, and watched a few cooking shows looking for recipes to use them in. After all that, here's the finished product.
I know, not much huh?

But, that ended up being enough for about 35 raviolis that Amy and I made using this recipe (I know, I'm ambitious aren't I?), which said that "peeling the beans before cooking them prevents gases from being trapped between the bean and the skin that could cause discoloring." I didn't notice any difference in the color between when I peeled off the skins before or after I cooked them. Maybe I was just lucky.

Palena - Epiphanies can be Motherf**kers

Thursday night, I think I finally got Palena.

For the first time while dining at Palena's more casual bar, I was completely fullfilled and I think it had a lot to do with the fact that my friend and I ordered the chicken and dessert. In my prior trips to Palena I always left hungry and wanting more.

Our dinner started out fairly uneventful.

Some wine and beer.

(complaint #1 - no beers on tap. Don't they call this Palena Bar?)

Bread and butter.

(complaint #2 - Is it so hard to leave butter out for a little bit before bringing it to the table? Major pet peeve of mine)

(end complaints)

Our first course consisted of the Palena fries and nettle gnocchi. As usual the gnocchi, on a bed of butter and cheese and mixed with fava beans, had its pillowy-soft texture which I crave daily and use as a basis for comparison whenever I eat gnocchi anywhere. The Palena fries were, well...fries. The fried lemon slices were especially good in the spicy "mayonnaise" that came with them on the side. When we were done, my friend and I were like, "Yeah, that was pretty good. Next course."

After a little wait, our entrees came out. My brined organic chicken looked like it had been tossed in a fire for 30 seconds and taken out. It had this charred (but not burnt) look to it and was fairly crispy on the outside. I smelled aromas that reminded me of the tandoori chicken that you'd find at an Indian restaurant -- but didn't look anything like it. However, it was 50x better than any chicken I'd ever tasted. Perhaps the tandoori chicken thought popped into my head because my friend and I were talking about Indian food just before the food was brought over to the table, but there are definitely Indian spices in this chicken -- cardamon, curry, etc. The moans coming from my mouth were enough to convince my vegetarian friend to try it himself.

I had just a little taste of my friend's pappardelle primavera (sans pancetta) to tell me that I should continue eating my chicken. While it was good, it didn't hold a candle to my chicken and I felt bad for my dining companion -- which brings me to my next point. Palena's menu (at least this version of the bar menu) isn't terribly vegetarian friendly. While I'm not one to usually sympathize with the plight of the dining vegetarian, I felt kind of bad for dragging my vegetarian friend to Palena. Perhaps this is an issue everywhere though.

(OK, maybe that's half a complaint as well)

Our meal still hadn't peaked. When it came time to order dessert, I knew we had to get some due to the pastry chef being Ann Amernick. One look at the menu and my friend and I knew we had to order the goat cheesecake. "Goat cheesecake??" I asked. I also ordered the espresso ice cream sandwiches.

They put the goat cheesecake down in front of my friend. Lucky bastard. The ice cream sandwiches were good and probably better than most desserts I've had, but the goat cheesecake was heavenly. It was topped with creamy lemon meringue which added a sweet yet tart flavor and complimented the goat cheese. The texture was perfect - not dry, lumpy, or too soft, but still smooth, creamy with just the right amount of cakiness. This was SOOO GOOD! And the meal reached it climax...wait for

Our server was very professional and courteous the entire time and despite the warning of the 45-minute wait for the chicken, I really didn't notice that our entrees took long to come out. My wine glass was kept full the entire time - every time our server came by, if my glass was empty, he'd notice and ask me if I wanted a refill.

Three glasses of white burgundy, two beers, gnocchi, fries, chicken, pappardelle, cheesecake, ice cream sandwiches and coffee cost us about $95 before tip. A seriously good value for the quality of food we ate. Sigh. I need to go back.

Two hours later, I returned home to Amy. The first thing she asked when I came in the door: "Where's my gnocchi?"

Whoops. I forgot! To the dog house with me.

On a related topic, there's an entire thread at on how to duplicate the top secret recipe of The Palena Chicken. I might need to join in myself.

I don't know what to write about so I'll just post a picture of my son

We were in PA this weekend visiting with our families and also doing some baby clothes shopping to take advantage of the no sales tax on clothing. We're at the baby store and I turned my back for 5 minutes to go grab some formula and other essentials and when I returned, Amy and my mother were in the photo booth and Noah was posing for pictures. BWAH?! That was quick.

I think the photographer on duty saw us as a perfect target - young couple, cute kid who happens to be in a good mood, and GRANDPARENTS (who are probably complaining about a lack of pictures.) So it turns out that he told them that he was "new" and "would you mind letting me take some practice pictures, because I need practice," and did I mention I was new? Could you be so nice?? He also offered a free 8x10 photo while in the mean time we end up buying $100 worth of pictures. Suckers!

Anyway, here was one of the resulting photos. Look out DC Chefs! Competition is on its way.

Top 5 Restaurants

Wow! I haven't updated my Top 5 in a long time and it's about time I updated this since there are a couple places I haven't been to in a while. Here are my top 5 restaurants for April 2006.

1) Komi - Come on, did you really expect anything else?!
2) Corduroy - Foie gras and whole crispy fried fish, and probably the best steaks in town. Plus their web site is really kick ass.
3) Ray's the Steaks - Excellent fresh steaks and the best crab bisque in DC. Who could ask for more?
4) 2 Amys - This is the best pizza in DC, plain and simple, but the secret is to order off the bar menu once you go every week, twice a week and are bored with the pizza.
5) Circle Bistro - If you're seeing a show at The Kennedy Center, there's no other choice for dinner.

Honorable Mentions:
Dino -  This is slowly becoming my favorite place to eat Italian food in the district. Try the lasagnette or cinghiale. Also the wine, cheese and cured meats can't be beat.

Food and Wine Events

I know I'm really late with this post this week, but it's better late than never. It's a pretty slow week event-wise.

Food and Wine Events for Friday April 7th through Thursday April 13th.

Friday April 7
Pros. In The City
South American Wine Tasting
Hilton Embassy Row
7:30 PM to 10:30 PM

The Wine Specialist
Argentinian and French Wine Tasting
5:30 PM - 8:30 PM

Sunday April 9
Passing On Culinary Traditions - A Panel Discussion with Vera Oye' Yaa-Anna, Elizabeth Nosek Catherine Pressler, and Pat Reber
Bethesda/Chevy Chase Regional Services Center
Meeting Room A
4805 Edgemoor Lane, Bethesda, MD
2:30 PM - 4:30 PM
Contact Claudia Kousoulas @ 301-320-6979  or [email protected]

Tuesday April 11
Taste Of The Nation
Marriott Wardman Park
7PM to 10PM
$75; VIP admission $200; VIP table $2,500.

Washington Wine Academy
Passport to the World
Ritz Carlton - Pentagon City
7PM - 9PM

Introduction to the Wines of Italy
TasteDC Headquarters
7PM to 9:30PM

Thursday April 13
Pros In the City
Venetian Bar Tasting Series
Mei n Yu
5:30 PM

Want your event listed here? Email [email protected].

Notti Bianche

I first visited Notti Bianche on the first floor of the GWU Inn very soon after they opened. That one visit left me with fond memories of their crispy roast chicken and questions about their nontraditional (at times) pasta dishes, but of course that was only one visit and it was close to their opening.

Obviously, Notti Bianche (translates to White Nights in Italian) has come into their own since then, because recently (or maybe since they opened, I'm a little oblivious at times) people have been talking about Notti Bianche quite a lot. I wondered, "Was I missing something?" So I made a couple return trips to reassess my original opinions.

I'll start with what I found good...Executive Chef Anthony Chittum makes a nice hearty minestrone made with lardo. I'm almost depressed that spring is here, which means that the wonderfully hearty soups of winter will start disappearing from menus.

If you're unfamiliar with what lardo is, it's, not basically -- it is 100% unadulterated pork fat, cured and smoked. The minestone soup was one of my favorite things on Notti Bianche's menu and quickly reminded me how mediocre the minestrone that I've been making at home is. I think I need to find some lardo rather than the ham hock that I've been using to flavor my stock. What is it with chefs that come from Equinox and their soups?!

If you are brave enough to eat sweetbreads (come on, grow a pair people!) the crispy veal sweetbreads should be ordered by your group. Now they're not the best I've ever had (that honor goes to Galileo), but they're crispy, juicy and served with seasonal ingredients. The current menu has them with squash caponata, pine nuts and aged balsamic now, which are mostly just distractions from the big enchilada, but add subtle flavor to the dish.

For a salad course, you should try Notti Bianchi's tender baby octopus salad with firm cannelini beans and lemon. The octopus isn't rubbery and the charring gives it a wonderfully smokey flavor. I've had some octopus elsewhere that had more the consistency of overcooked chicken reheated in a microwave -- which doesn't make for a very good salad.

At Notti Bianche, the entrees aren't overshadowed by the appetizers and second courses which means your meal doesn't peak early. The roast chicken from when I first visited is gone and has been replaced with a crispy-skinned poussin (or spring chicken or cornish game hen), served with polenta cake, foie gras and grapes. All combine to make hearty, meaty and sensuous flavors.

While there are many Italian wines on Notti Bianche's wine list, there are also wines from other  countries like Greece, Argentina, and Australia. Danny Boylen, restaurant and bar manager, does a hell of a job managing the service and wine. One of the key indicators of this? Most of the staff actually seems happy to be working at the restaurant. All too often you hear staff bitching to each other while the boss isn't around -- not at Notti Bianche. Oh, and the wine list is pretty kickass as well.

From the Notti Bianche web site, "at Notti Bianche, we are committed to a comprehensive wine program which reflects our passion for wine and our pursuit of excellence. Our list focuses on 'boutique' wines from very small vineyards where the winemakers are involved in the entirety of the process. We believe that we have crafted a list that harmonizes with our food and enhances your dining experience." You'll find many bottles of wine in the $30 to $40 price range, and the wines are interesting and different than you find everywhere else.  I always like to see wines other than the typical Mezza Corona Pinot Grigio.

Now before you continue reading, you need to know that for me, Italian food is all about the pasta. Maybe that's a little short-sighted, but that's just what I like. I can go to an Italian restaurant and order a pasta course for my main course and if it's good, I'll be very content.

Ok now for the not so good...(and it's just my opinion, and many others have said they love the pastas here) but I just don't care for the pasta dishes at Notti Bianche. I think I just always find something wrong with them. For instance, the ricotta gnocchi has completely wrong texture for gnocchi. The large lumps of gnocchi combined with the meaty trumpet mushrooms have a heavy texture that I just can't get over. There's just something about a light, melt-in-your-mouth potato gnocchi that this dish is missing.  When the server asked how I liked the gnocchi, I was honest, "I didn't care much for it." They were surprised I didn't like it, stating that it was their most popular pasta dish. Perhaps it's just me?

I'm also torn on how I feel about the risotto. The last time I was there, the featured risotto was a saffron risotto with pork belly. While I thought the flavor of the risotto with saffron and pork belly were a fun combination, the risotto also seemed overly al dente.

As you'll see from their online menu, prices range from $6 to $27, which makes Notti Bianche pretty reasonably priced, and below average for restaurants of this caliber. My checks have come in at about $100 to $150, depending on how expensive a bottle of wine and the number of courses I've ordered.

Notti Bianche
824 New Hampshire Ave, NW
Washington, DC
(202) 298-8085

Hours of Operation:
Mon-Fri 7AM to 10AM, Sat-Sun 8AM to 10AM
Mon-Fri 11:30AM-2:30PM
Sun-Thu: 5PM-10PM, Fri-Sat 5PM-11PM

Dress Code: Business Casual.
Parking: Valet ($6) and street if you can find it.
Allowed at the bar.
Closest Metro:
Foggy Bottom.
Reservations: Taken.
Baby-Friendly Rating: 2 out of 4 diapers. Dining room isn't huge, and the atmosphere is a little too quiet to warrant bringing a baby to. However, if you can time it right and go while your child is sleeping, you're probably golden.

Food And Wine Best New Chefs 2006

UPDATE: OK. Tom Sietsema announced the chef on his chat today and looks like it's not Jose Andreas, but Cathal Armstrong from Restaurant Eve.. There I was thinking I was clever... Oh well.

So since no one else has bothered to post anything about this that I know of, I figured I would. Tom Sietsema hinted on is chat last week that there would be an announcement last Thursday about a DC chef being on the cover of Food And Wine magazine. So I did some searching, and it was actually really hard to find any information about it.

And then I came across this...

Looks like someone might have slipped the beans last Feb? According to the auther, it's probably Jose Andres who gets the honor in DC this year, which is who many people thought it would be. Too bad I still haven't been to any of his restaurants besides Jaleo.