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February 2008

January 2008

Super Bowl XLII!

Once again, Super Bowl Sunday is upon us. As improbable as it may have seemed a few months back, the New York Giants will be taking on the New England Patriots this Sunday in Phoenix, Arizona for the NFL Championship title. Thanksgiving notwithstanding, this Sunday is the biggest drinking day of the year, and whether you watch for a great game, a rout, or just for the ads, chances are you'll be doing it at a party with a cold drink in your hand. With all the chips on the table in the biggest sporting event of the year, shouldn't your choice of beverage reflect your loyalties? Let your friends and family know just where you stand by picking the perfect brew to support your team.

Cowboys Fans:
Ah, it could've been you out there! Should have been: 13-3 sure is a great record! Well, you guys have a Tito right to be put out, so why not revel in that by drinking a great English Bitter? These beers have just the right amount of hops to leave a pleasant bitter aftertaste, but not so much as to make you choke like Tony Romo when Jessica's in town. Coniston's Bluebird Bitter is my personal favorite; with just a hint of malty sweetness balanced by clean wheat notes its the perfect "session" beer, and a relatively low alcohol content lets you drink all night without saying something that will give you even more to regret! If you are one of those particularly invested fans who is drinking to forget, pick up a bottle of Tito's Handmade Vodka. This five-times distilled, heavily filtered spirit from deep in the heart of Texas is as smooth and drinkable as a vodka of twice the price. At about $18 a bottle you can drink all night until you're crying like Terell Owens at a press conference.

Redskins Fans:
We've had a rough time this year guys, Lord knows. Despite the injury of our quarterback and the tragic death of our star safety Sean Taylor we made the playoffs-- this, in and of itself, is reason to celebrate. For cocktail lovers out there, raise your glass at kickoff in honor Miami native Taylor with an ice cold Miami:

1/2 oz White Creme de Menthe
1 1/2 oz Light Rum
Dash of Lemon Juice

Shake ingredients with ice and strain into martini glass.

If you happen to score big money on the game, do further honor to #21 and donate some of your winnings to the Sean Taylor Memorial Fund, a trust established by the team to benefit Sean's infant daughter, Jackie.

Patriots Fans:
Well damn, Pats fans, way to go! With a perfect season behind you and a record winning streak in the works, you've got a lot to feel good about. The obvious advice to celebrate your good fortune would be Alagash to have a Sam Adams. Yes, the Boston Beer Company makes many a fine beer, but I cannot say in good conscience that this is "always a good decision." In fact, the football fan from down east has any number of fine if less familiar beers with which to celebrate his good fortunes on the gridiron. Smuttynose Brewing Company of Portsmouth, NH offers a full line of well made craft beers that will appeal to any taste. The Old Brown Dog Ale is a particularly appetizing take on the classic British brown ale, offering a great malty-chocolate nose offset with a healthy dose of hops on the finish. Widely available at about $8 a six-pack, this makes an interesting departure from the same old ‘Boston Ale.’ If the weightier Belgian-Style brews are more your style, Allagash Brewery out of Portland, ME may be just your speed. This relatively young brewery (est. 1995) has quickly cemented itself as one of the finest makers of Belgian style beers in the Western Hemisphere. Though they produce a full line including a Dubbel, a Tripel, and several barrel-aged offerings, Allagash is probably best known for their White-- a crisp, spicy, refreshing take on the classic Belgian wheat beer. As a counterpoint, see if you can get your hands on their new Black, a wonderful Belgian-style stout. Unlike its more American-styled counterparts, the Black is possessed of a lovely roasted coffee/yeasty nose, a silky (but not creamy!) texture, and a finish as dry and dark as Bill Belichick's soul.

Giants Fans:
Segueing a wild card berth into an NFC Championship is no mean feat, and New York fans should be proud-- but let's not kid ourselves here: come Sunday night you will likely find yourselves crying in yourBrookl_2  cups. Fortunately, few states in our great union produce the breadth of native inebriants that New York has to offer, so there'll be plenty to help you forget all about that pretty boy quarterback, Tom Whatshisass. For you ex-pat city folk, seek out one of the many beers from the fabulous Brooklyn Brewery. Brewmaster Garrett Oliver has taken this producer to new heights, introducing amongst other things the brewery's first bottle-conditioned ale, the Local 1. Utilizing a special form of secondary fermentation, the Local 1 is an American beer of unique complexity, exhibiting notes of bread, citrus, wheat and spice, hung on a body both firm and crisp. For those that prefer their beer more quaffable, try the classic Brooklyn Lager, whose "dry-hopped" heritage shows in a floral nose unusual in an American Amber.


If you don't dig the suds but want to share in the NYC vibe, pick up a six pack of Original Sin Hard Cider. Founded by a couple of city boys sick of the prissy, sickly-sweet ciders that were once all to be had, this cidery produces nothing but real, dry, European-style ciders made from less sweet varieties and containing no artificial flavors or sweeteners. Their cider is a bargain at about $9 a six, and in true Super Bowl spirit, their ads are... eye-catching and memorable.


Though firmly in the shadow of its western counterparts, New York State is actually one of the largest producers of wine in the United States, releasing some of the finest Rieslings and Gewurztraminers this side of the Atlantic. If the fruit of the vine is more to your liking, toast Tom Coughlin and the Boys in Blue with a glass from Dr. Konstantin Frank Winery in Hammondsport, NY. Founded by the Russian scientist who made cold climate grape cultivation possible,  DKF produces a wide range of crisp, acidic, dry and semi-dry whites and reds on its sizable estate on Keuka Lake, not far from Coughlin's home town of Waterloo. Their Salmon Run line makes for a wonderful value party wine ($10-$16), offering a superb dry Riesling and a surprisingly good Meritage red-- and rest assured, both go great with nachos and wings.

Here's wishing you and yours a safe and happy Super Bowl Sunday. May all your passes be completions, your celebrations be excessive, and your beers be cold ones. And yea, should things not go well for your team, remember this: there's always next year. the refs were totally out to get them.

The Kielbasa Factory

With the hope of finding a market to rival those of my hometown Philadelphia,  I recently visited The Kielbasa Factory in search of Polish comfort food. Opened in November 2007 by Krakow native Krystina Ahrens, the Kielbasa Factory brings traditional Eastern European fare to the Washington D.C. area.

Located on the second story of a small strip mall on Rockville Pike, The Kielbasa Factory still has a large Grand Opening sign hanging at its' small storefront. Once inside, I realized that at the other end of the long narrow store, there is a back entrance with parking.

The Kielbasa Factory offers a wide range of products with nearly every label and sign in Polish. Polish was spoken by all of the employees and most of the customers when I visited. Despite my difficulty in pronouncing the different types of food, the staff was very helpful and understanding. Just knowing the basics will get you what you want here.

The basics are Polish sausage called kielbasa, meat and rice stuffed cabbage called golabki (pronounced ga-WOOM-key), dark breads,jarred herring, pastries, and sweet and savory stuffed dough called pierogies.

Kielbasa is a traditional Polish sausage which is usually smoked. There are about a dozen types of kielbasa at The Kielbasa Factory, all imported at this time. Kabanosa, or skinny kielbasa, is the Polish Slim Jim. Generally more smoky and intense in flavor, it makes for a terrific snack just eaten in hand. Fresh kielbasa is also available-it's paler in comparison to the smoked kielbasa and needs to be cooked before serving. Fresh kielbasa is generally served cool, along with with horseradish as hot as you like it.

Kishka, Polish blood sausage, also looked fresh. Next to the kishka was a pan of golabki without (tomato) sauce. I also noted several types of hot dog-like sausage links and cold cuts.

A large freezer stocks several types of pierogies which come in two sizes; small and really small. There are  meat, potato and cheese, cheese, sauerkraut and sauerkraut and mushroom pierogies from a company in New York City. Also from NYC are breads which tend to be darker varieties, like rye and pumpernickel.


Finally, The Kielbasa Factory has no shortage of sweets. Traditional poppy seed rolls were tempting. Cruschiki, confectioner sugar-coated fried Polish angel wing cookies, were available in traditional white windowed boxes.  At the check out counter, there were boxes of Polish filled donuts called paczki (pronounced POONCH-key) also imported from NYC, and a very rare sight. I suspect Ahrens will be selling paczki by the dozens in the next week or so, as they are traditionally eaten before the beginning of Lent, on Paczki Day-better known as Fat Tuesday or Fastnacht Day.

On my visit, I purchased fresh kielbasa and a smoked kielbasa called wiejska (pronouced vee-YAY-ska) which had a good smoke punctuated by garlic. The fresh kielbasa was prepared by simmering it for about 30  minutes and letting it cool overnight in the refrigerator. Fresh kielbasa should be assertive with garlic and unfortunately; this was not. Paczki were filled with raspberry jam and confectioners sugar which dotted my sweater with each bite, however, the dough was dry. Getting paczki at their best is like swerving your car into the Krispy Kreme store when the "hot donuts" sign turns on. You just have to get them fresh. Last, the potato cheese pierogie were fried up in butter and onions, served with a dollop of sour cream and satisfied in a way that Mrs.T's satisfies. Not bad, just not out of my Babci's' hands.

Overall, The Kielbasa Factory has a nice selection of Polish meats and sausage, breads, sweets and imported dry goods. The pierogi selection is numerous and I'm looking forward to trying different varieties, such as the meat pierogies in my freezer. The staff is friendly and helpful and hopefully one day,they will be making kiebasa themselves!

The Kielbasa Factory

1073 Rockville Pike
Rockville, MD 20852

Mon-Fri: 11am-7pm
Sat: 11am-6pm
Sun: 11:30am-3:30pm

Upcoming Cheese Tastings - Don't Just Take MY Word For It

Img_3804_2 There's no shortage of quotes and sayings about the subjective nature of taste - pick your favorite.  Just because a reviewer prefers mozzarella di bufala to cow's-milk mozzarella doesn't make the one inherently better than the other.  And one person's appreciation of goat cheese has no bearing on whether or not anyone else is going to enjoy Firefly Farms' Allegheny Chevre.

I write about cheeses I've enjoyed and the shops where I find them because they represent my individual frame of reference.  Really good cheeses present a wonderful variety of flavors and textures, and there are plenty of bland or unpalatable cheeses out there that offer clear comparisons.  But it's just like tasting wines - no matter what experts may tell you about the sample in front of you, it comes down to personal experience.

Img_3611 Thankfully, D.C. Foodies have no shortage of opportunities for experiences of their own when it comes to cheese.  With so many restaurants highlighting farmsteads and small producers on their cheese plates, almost every meal can offer a chance to sample a new cheese or three.  Even better, there are an impressive variety of cheese tastings and classes on offer throughout the area at any given time.  More than merely allowing you to taste a given cheese, these formal tasting opportunities can offer pairing advice, recommendations of similar cheeses and details that the average restaurant server may not know.

Rather than give you my thoughts this week, I wanted to provide you with a couple of upcoming opportunities to do some tasting of your own.  This list is by no means exhaustive - and I would welcome anyone who knows of other upcoming events to share them so I can add them to the list.  And if you happen to attend any of these events, please let me know - I'm always eager to hear someone else's impressions of classes, tastings and (of course) the cheeses themselves.

Cheese Classes

Wednesday, February 6th - 7-9:30 PM
Introduction to Cheese with Cheese Expert Michael Kiss
This class, run by, will feature a presentation on cheese making, purchasing, storage and pairings by Michael Kiss, who sources cheeses for Whole Foods here in Washington.  For $65 per person, the class will offer a tasting of 9 artisanal cheeses, wine tastings and a light dinner.  For more information, or to sign up for the class, visit's website.

Wednesday, March 5th - 7-9:30 PM
Introduction to the Cheeses of France with Cheese Expert Michael Kiss
Like the general introduction to cheeses offered by in February, this $65 class will offer a tasting of 9 cheeses, wine pairings and a light dinner.  But the focus of this class will be some of the 400 unique varieties of cheese produced throughout France.  It will include a discussion of regional variations in French cheese-making and will likely touch on the difference between the raw-milk cheeses produced and consumed in France and their American counterparts.  For more information, or to sign up for the class, visit's website.

Thursday, March 27th - 10-12 AM
Cheese Counter - Cooking with Cheese
This class, offered by L'Academie de Cuisine in Bethesda, is less about tasting cheeses themselves than it is about cooking with cheese.  This is a demonstration class that will feature recipes for: cheese and ham strudel; raj rabbit; Boursin with focaccia crisps; Gorgonzola gougere; and honey blintzes.  The cost is $65 per student.  Contact L'Academie de Cuisine for more information.

Img_2757Additionally, both Cowgirl Creamery and Cheesetique offer frequent cheese classes, though neither one has any classes currently scheduled.  Cowgirl tends to offer classes that focus on specific regions, production methods, or styles of cheese.  Unfortunately, their classes are generally offered only once or twice each, so you need to be sure to sign up right away if something catches your eye.  Cheesetique, which will soon be moving into a larger space a few doors down from their current location, offers the same class five or six times per month, and their themes are often a bit broader in scope than those of Cowgirl.  Keep an eye on both of their websites for announcements of upcoming cheese classes.

Cheese Events

Monday, February 11th - 5-6:30 PM
Cowgirl Creamery Welcomes Paula Lambert
After returning from a trip to Italy, Paula Lambert started the Mozzarella Company in Dallas, Texas, in 1982.  She has been making fresh mozzarella and other products ever since, and she is the author of "The Cheese Lover's Cookbook" as well as her new book, "Cheese, Glorious Cheese," which she will be discussing at this event.  Tickets are $35 per person and space is very limited, so call Cowgirl Creamery soon (202-393-6880) if you want to attend.

Thursday, February 21st - 6:30-9 PM
3rd Annual International Cheese and Wine Festival is billing this as the "must attend" event for DC cheese lovers - over 40 cheeses with an emphasis on smaller, artisanal producers; 25 wines selected for their ability to pair with various styles of cheeses; handmade pastries from Patisserie Poupon; and a full buffet-style dinner.  Tickets are $65 in advance or $80 at the door.  This sort of event is a great way to try a lot of new cheeses at once, though it's often hard to keep track of exactly which ones you liked and which you didn't unless you take good notes.  Once again, details and signup can be found at's website.

The Problem with Pinot

About four years ago a certain movie came out that made a big splash on the indie movie scene. While this movie may have received huge amounts of critical acclaim, including the Oscar for Best Screenplay and the Golden Globe for Best Picture, its influence on the world of wine would prove to be more dramatic than its effect on international cinema. I am speaking of course of Paul Anderson's immortal Alien vs. Predator.

Oops -- actually, I think that one was up for a Razzie; of course I mean Alexander Payne's Sideways. This buddy flick about two misanthropes schmoozing and boozing around wine country is only peripherally about wine, but its effect on the industry was dramatic. For the uninitiated, the film's main character is a manic-depressive failed writer named Miles (played with superb asininity by Paul Giamati), a stereotypical wine bore of the highest caliber, who is treated by his soon-to-be-hitched buddy Jack to a whirlwind tour of Santa Barbara wine country. Throughout, the pair get into a number of scrapes and sample copious amounts of Miles' favorite wine, Pinot Noir, about which he waxes poetic and, in the end, proves a metaphor for his thoughts on relationships and love.


Now if you are going to pick a grape as a metaphor for relationships, Pinot Noir is apt: it is very difficult to cultivate, heavily influenced by its environs, can break your heart and ruin you in a bad year, is subtle and nuanced, takes awhile to grow accustomed to, and for many, ignites a sort of passion that other grapes just can't illicit. Oh, and it's also great with pork!

Though meant simply as a character-developing metaphor, Miles' impassioned speech inspired many a novice wine drinker to pursue a love affair with the fickle grape, and the results were shocking. One study by Nielsen showed an increase in Pinot Noir sales by volume of over 15% in the four months following the release of the film. Having been working in a wine store at the time I can corroborate this: we couldn't keep the stuff on the shelves! And of course, come next vintage, prices of Pinot -- the good, the bad, and the ugly-- were through the roof. Now, I don't have any particular problem with market forces in general, so I understand the increased demand producing a higher price. The problem is that supply by no means remained constant, with a) producers who had no business making Pinot Noir getting into the game, and b) producers of sub-standard product starting to cut corners to crank out more of the stuff even as they raised prices in keeping with the trend. The result was that soon the great stuff was priced out of the average consumer's hands, the good stuff was not nearly the value it once was, the vast majority of juice on the market was giving the rest a bad name.

Ambroise1 Pinot Noir is a difficult grape to grow, and it does not take well to being churned out in mass quantities-- thus, the vast majority of what is out there is but a ghost of the real thing, hinting in only the vaguest sense at those sublime sensations exalted by the film's protagonist. And though four years down the line the initial burst of interest may have subsided a bit, Pinot's popularity remains ranked amongst the top of the reds. Though prices remain inordinately high there are a few really great ones out there for the money that are readily available and may give you some insight into Miles' grandiose rhetoric.

Despite the weakness of our dollar, I still feel that looking abroad for your Pinot fix is the safest bet -- though there are some fine domestic ones out there, the best are just too well-known and too pricey for everyday use. From the northwest of Italy (not a country known for great Pinot Noir) the Monte Degli Angeli Monferrato Pinot Noir 2005 is a pleasant surprise. Blended with a small portion of the native Italian Nebbiolo, this light red has a pleasing fresh raspberry nose which gives way to a lightly tannined, crisp, mineralic finish -- and all this for about $8! The similarly-priced Les Jamelles Pinot Noir 2005 from the Languedoc region of France offers a bit more fruit and a slightly rounder texture than the Monte Degli, but is still a great and easy-to-find inexpensive Pinot that lacks the cloyingly fruity or unpleasantly green flavors common of most of its inexpensive brothers.

From New Zealand, consider the oddly named but well made Saint Clair 'Vicar's Choice' Pinot NoirBosca1 2006. Like most Kiwi Pinots this one is much lighter than its domestic or South American counterparts, and bright acidity is the name of the game, making this an easy $16 pick to accompany a wide range of foods. If you are a fan of more esoteric wines, the Maison Ambroise Bourgogne Rouge 2005 may be  more your speed. This wine hails from Pinot Noir's homeland of Burgundy, France, and brings with it a blackberry and horse manure nose, leading to roasted meat and raspberry on a solid tannic backbone. I know that may not sound appealing, but it makes an amazing pair with lamb or game, retails for under $20, and is brought in by local importer Robert Kacher, so it should be relatively easy to find. Finally, if you prefer your wine on the fuller and fruiter side, try the Luigi Bosca Pinot Noir Reserve 2006. This wine represents the rare Pinot Noir from Argentina, a country more often associated with blockbuster Malbecs. Bright and fresh cherry dominates the nose, giving way to darker fruit, chocolate, and flowers on a firm, medium-bodied structure -- like the Ambroise this wine is locally imported, commonly available, and often had for less than $20.

While these may not take one to the level of existential bliss hinted at by Sideways' hapless protagonist, they represent a fine first foray into the pleasures offered by Pinot Noir, that most variable and vexing of vines. If your aim is to embark on a similar love affair, my advice is to start out simple; maybe buy a bottle and have a glass or two while watching a movie. I know a good one you might consider -- I tell you, nothing accompanies fine wine better than the epic struggle between Aliens and Predators.

Bethesda Restaurant Week Menus - January 2008

As we do every Bethesda Restaurant Week, here's all the information about the menus of the participating restaurants. If we don't have any information from the restaurant or it's not posted on their web site, we've instead included a link to their current menus (which is NOT necessarily what they'll have during restaurant week) or their phone number to call to get the full details. We'll continue to update this page as we get more information from the restaurants. Remember, Bethesda Restaurant Week is January 28th through February 3rd.

Bethesda is doing something a little different this year for Restaurant Week. Instead of a three course lunch for $20, you can get a two course lunch for $12, which honestly, makes a lot more sense because who wants three whole courses for lunch?!

Click the following link for guidelines on how to choose restaurants during Bethesda Restaurant Week.

Bethesda Restaurant Week Menus for Winter 2008

Famoso's Bethesda Restaurant Week Menu

Gaffney’s Restaurant
Lunch & Dinner
Gaffney's lunch and dinner menus for Bethesda Restaurant Week.


Grapeseed is offering their full menu and the scallops and filet will have a small supplement. If you want, you can choose two appetizers and skip dessert.

La Miche
Lunch & Dinner
Lunch Menu
-- Salad Maison, Caesar Salad, Soup du Jour.
-- Broiled Mahi Mahi with Cucumber Salad, Jumbo Lump Crabcake, Beef Bourguignon, Coq au Vin.
Dessert (may be added for $5)
-- Profiterolles, Homemade Sorbet, Mousse au Chocolat.
Dinner Menu
-- Salad Maison, Caesar Salad, Soup du Jour, Escargot.
-- Duck Confit, Broiled Salmon with Mussels Supreme Sauce, Grilled Pork Loin, Beef Bourguignon.
-- Chocolate Croquant, White Chocolate Casis Cake, Lemon Mango Cake, Souffle w/Grand Marnier, Chocolate.

La Ferme
La Ferme's Restaurant Week menu will be posted on their web site.

Lunch & Dinner
Lia's DC Restaurant Week lunch and dinner menus which are likely to be the same (or very similar) for Bethesda Restaurant Week, but we'll update them when we get the exact menus.

Mon Ami Gabi
Lunch & Dinner
Mon Ami Gabi's Lunch and Dinner menus for Bethesda Restaurant Week.

New Orleans Bistro
Lunch & Dinner
New Orleans Cafe's Dinner Bethesda Restaurant Week menu. The lunch menu is TBD. They are also extending their offering an additional week.

Old Angler’s Inn
Lunch & Dinner

Offering a set menu with a choice between two items in each course category.  A vegetarian option is also always available by request.  Their plan is to extend Bethesda Restaurant Week pricing through the entire month of February, with the exception of Valentines Day which has its own set menu. Call for details. The current menu is here.

Ristorante Tragara
Lunch & Dinner
Tragara's Bethesda Restaurant Week menu is on their web site.

Rock Creek - Bethesda
Rock Creek has their dinner menu for Bethesda Restaurant Week on their web site.

Visions Restaurant
Lunch & Dinner

Apps (Choice of)
-- Cup of Any of 3 Soup of the Day
-- Lunch Fried Calamari
-- Single Crawfish Roll
-- Mesclun Greens, Marinated Roma Tomato Salad, Red Onion & Balsamic Vinaigrette      

Entrees (Choice of)
-- Thin Sliced Ham, Swiss, Arugula and Honey Mustard Panini
-- Roasted Chicken Pasta with Pine Nuts, Mushrooms, Parmesan Cream and Spinach
-- Club Salad with Roasted Chicken, Ham, Bacon, Cheddar. Creamy Basil Ranch
-- Teriyaki Beef Ribs with French Fries and Jiicama Slaw
-- Veggie Panini with Basil Mayo, Grilled Eggplant, Zucchini and Tomato
-- Cilantro & Garlic Marinated Yellowfin Tuna Satay over Rice & Stir Fry Vegetables

App (Choice of)
-- Steamed Black Mussels with Bacon, Black Beans and Leeks
-- Crispy Fried Calamari with Sweet Peppers and Lemon Basil Aioli
-- Teriyaki Beef Cross Cut Short Ribs with Asian BBQ

Entrees (choice of)
-- "Mac & Cheese" Roasted Chicken, Pennsylvania Cheddar and Breadcrumb
-- Cajun Catfish Grilled with Fresh Thyme Risotto & Lobster Cream Sauce
-- Dad's Pasta with Crab Tomato Sauce and Roasted Garlic
-- Atlantic Salmon "Cuban Style" with Plantains, White Rice and Black Beans
-- Filet Mignon Satay with Sticky Rice and Vegetable of the Day

Dessert (choice of)
-- Chocolate Crème Brulee
-- Tira Misu

Althenian Plaka

Bacchus of Lebanon
Lunch & Dinner

Blackfinn Restaurant

Current Menu

Brasserie Monte Carlo
Lunch & Dinner
Current Menu

Centro Italian Grill
Lunch & Dinner
Current Menu

Clyde’s of Chevy Chase

Lunch & Dinner
Current Menu

David Craig Bethesda
Lunch & Dinner
Current Menu

Divino Lounge & Restaurant
Lunch & Dinner
Current Menu

Faryab Restaurant

Geppetto Restaurant
Lunch & Dinner

Guardado’s Restaurant
Lunch & Dinner
Current Menu

Javan Fine Persian Cuisine
Lunch & Dinner
Current Menu

Jean-Michel Restaurant

Lunch & Dinner
Current Menu

M Cafe
Current Menus

Oakville Grille & Wine Bar
Lunch & Dinner

Passage To India
Current Menus

Persimmon Restaurant
Lunch & Dinner
Current Menu

Pizza Zero
Current Menu

RAKU - Bethesda

Rarely Legal Grille
Lunch & Dinner
Current Menu

Lunch & Dinner
Current Menus

Trattoria Sorrento

Bolivian Salteñas

A mention of Pike’s Pizza in Friday’s Washington Post Weekend section brought to mind a food I recently discovered -- the salteña. Over last season’s farmers market in the Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria, Marcela’s Bakery, which is located just up the road on Mt. Vernon Ave., set up a table where beef and chicken salteñas were sold. After my first one, (actually two because I had to test out the beef after having the chicken salteña) I grew fond of the dough filled parcels. It became my breakfast each Saturday I visited the market. Fresh out of the oven, the hot chicken and beef salteñas were beautiful with their egg-washed golden crust topped with a braid which secured the soupy mix inside.

The Bolivian salteña is a staple food in its native country and is served often for breakfast and as a mid-day snack at roadside stands. This labor-intensive savory pastry takes days to make from the sweet pastry to the gelatin thickened broth inside. Once the outer pastry and filling are made, the dough is wrapped around the filling and secured with a telltale braid on top. I liken the salteña to a hand held pot pie. Sweet crust encapsulates a juicy filling of chicken or beef (sometimes both) with hard boiled egg, diced potatoes, peas, olives and raisins.

Brought to Northern Virginia by Bolivian immigrants to what is known as the Salteña Circuit (which centers around Columbia Pike stretching from Falls Church to Arlington), the salteña and Bolivian fare in general have, in the D.C. area, flown under the radar, so to speak. Although Arlington (called Arlibamba by some due to fact that most Bolivians immigrated to Virginia from Cochabamba) is home to the largest population of Bolivian immigrants in North America, many local residents are not familiar with Bolivian cuisine and the many restaurants that are nearby serving primarily Bolivian customers. More widely known among foodies and Northern Virginia residents is our plethora of Vietnamese and Korean food. In Washington, Ethiopian restaurants have been enormously popular. But Bolivian cuisine has quietly crept into our food scene, often disguised as a pizza joint or Tex-Mex restaurant. Tutto Bene in Arlington mainly serves Italian cuisine- but there is a separate Bolivian menu available and during the weekend, the restaurant teems with Bolivian-Americans enjoying the cuisine of their homeland. Tutto Bene serves thousands of salteñas per week.

Pike Pizza, as recommended by Tom Sietsema in Tom’s Picks in fact doesn’t serve pizza anymore. It does however crank salteñas out of it’s pizza oven tray after tray.

Approaching the salteña, one must have a strategy. Unlike an empanada, the filling is quite juicy and eating it in hand takes skill. My approach is to eat the salteña on a plate or in its container with a knife and fork. First I cut into the top, then I scoop the filling out and tear away the crust a little at a time, sopping up the juices as I go. The true way to eat a salteña is to hold it in on hand, bite off an end and tip the juices into the mouth. Then eat the rest- no plate needed. No doubt, I would wind up wearing it if I tried that.

On my salteña quest, I ventured past my tried and true Marcela’s Bakery and headed to Arlington where I purchased chicken and beef salteñas from Tutto Bene on N. Randolph St., a warm and friendly place which was starting to fill with Latino customers exchanging Spanish greetings with the owner.

Next, I went to Pike Grill (not Pike Pizza) on Wilson Blvd. This restaurant was a more bare bones casual- Mom and Pop where mixed beef and chicken salteñas were cooking in the oven as I arrived. Through a window, I could see a woman cooking in the kitchen toiling over dough and cutting potatoes. Having to wait a bit for my salteñas, I was offered chicha morada, a drink they make themselves. Chicha morada is a bright red sweet drink make from boiling red corn and adding cinnamon, lemon and sugar...and lots of sugar.

I departed from Pike Grill having left a nice tip in appreciation of the welcoming hospitality and refreshment and drove to My Bakery and Café in Alexandria (there are two other branches: one in Falls Church and one in Manassas). Here I picked up a mixed beef and chicken salteña and headed home for a tasting.

All salteñas were accompanied by a fiery salsa verde called llajua. This condiment can range from mildly  spicy to hotter than Hades. It's best to dip a prong in first to gage the heat level. I got a bit overly confident with the llajua from My Bakery and Café and put about half a forkful into my mouth which resulted in the invocation of the Almighty’s name quite a few times in between grasping for milk or anything with fat, but mercifully, it didn’t last long. Decidedly, Pike Grill's llajua was the favorite between my husband Frank and I. It had a nice thick consistency and medium heat which did not blow out my taste buds.

All of the salteñas I bought ranged in price from $2 to $2.50. My favorite was from Pike Grill because I thought the sauce had a fuller, spicy taste with a little heat in the sauce. Egg was definitely present in both salteñas and I got a nice hunk of green olive. Frank liked Tutto Bene’s salteña the best. I have to say the raisins in their salteña are a nice counterpoint to the heat of the filling. Not that there were any losers here as they were all excellent and beautifully made.

If you haven’t treated yourself to a salteña or Bolivian food in general, I hope this inspires you to expand your foodie repertoire and try this delightful cuisine made by people who welcome you into their restaurant as if it were their home.

My Bakery and Cafe
3839 Mt. Vernon Ave
Alexandria VA 22305
Map It

Pike's Grill
3902 Wilson Blvd
Arlington, VA 22203
(703) 243-0279
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Tutto Bene
501 N. Randolph St
Arlington, VA 22203
(703) 522-1005
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Firefly Farms' Allegheny Chevre

Img_3969_3 D.C. Foodies are fortunate to have quite a few choices when it comes to locally-produced cheeses.  In fact, the Atlas of American Artisan Cheese includes more than two dozen dairy farms in Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, many of which sell their cheeses at farmers' markets and retail locations in and around Washington.  Of course there are cow's milk cheeses (like the Cave-Aged Cheddar from Chapel's Country Creamery), and there are even a few farms specializing in sheep's milk cheese (the well-known Everona Dairy, for example).  But to taste all of our local offerings, you cannot overlook goat's milk cheese, or chevre.

Goat cheese, with its sharp tang and lingering flavor, is not subtle.  As a result, it tends to elicit strong reactions - either you love it or you hate it.  And goat cheese doesn't exactly play well with others.  Sliced into rounds or crumbled atop a salad, chevre's bite dominates the milder flavors that accompany it.  A little goes a long way in recipes, too, where the tart flavor is frequently used to offset rich, sweet notes (think pumpkin soup).

Img_3957_2 As it turns out, however, there is a local goat cheese that offers an alternative.  Allegheny Chevre, made by Firefly Farms in nearby Bittinger, Maryland, is a fresh chevre, which means it has not been ripened or aged.  The result is a smooth, creamy cheese that has almost none of the expected tang.  After allowing the cheese to come to room temperature, we were struck by the texture - my wife hit the nail on the head when she said it looked like whipped cream cheese.  The flavor of the cheese reinforced the comparison, as it was silky and mild, more like creme fraiche or cream cheese than goat cheese.  It was a very different experience from the sharp, almost sour flavor of so many other goat cheeses that I've tasted.

The mild, creamy flavor and soft, spreadable texture practically cried out to for a baguette, and I was fortunate enough to grab one of the Breadline offerings with the cheese at Cowgirl Creamery.  With some sliced apples and a salty blue cheese, it made a great start to a light dinner.  The following day, I decided to put the Allegheny Chevre's Img_3968mild quality to another test, spreading it atop a split section of the baguette and topping that with some roasted peppers.  After 30 seconds in the microwave, the cheese had warmed nicely and absorbed some of the oil from the peppers, giving it a richer flavor and highlighting what little tang it held.

The best place to pick up Allegheny Chevre is at the Dupont Circle FreshFarm Market on Sundays - Firefly Farms is there every week, selling and offering samples of their entire range of goat cheeses.  Once you've worked your way up from the Allegheny Chevre, you can look forward to such treats as their Merry-Goat-Round (a goat's milk Brie), Buche Noire (an aged and ash-coated log), and their Mountain Top Bleu (take a guess).  Rumor has it that they will be sampling an as-yet-unnamed washed-rind variety this weekend, so do yourself a favor and get there early if you want a taste of something truly new!

If you just can't wait until the weekend, you can order through their website, though there is a markup for the cost of delivery.  Or you can find the same 9-ounce packages that sell for $7 at the FreshFarm Market for $7.50 at Cowgirl Creamery, not a bad markup for the convenience of daily availability.

Although I am a fan of goat cheese and its acidic bite, I know that it is not for everyone.  But for anyone looking to ease their way into the world of chevre, Firefly Farms' Allegheny Chevre is a great place to start.  Even if it doesn't completely win you over, you'll be glad you gave it a shot.

Farewell to Dr. Dremo's Taphouse

Dremo2_2 On the 27th of January the doors will close forever on what is certainly one of the most unique and intriguing bars in all of Arlington County-- Dr Dremo's Taphouse. Located on Clarendon Boulevard between Courthouse and Rosslyn, Dremo's unique location on top of a hill affords it one of the most unobstructed views of Washington DC in Arlington County-- I fondly remember its parking lot as one of the best ground level locations to watch the July 4th fireworks over the Mall. It is this great view I fear which sealed the bar's fate. After years of harassment from the Arlington County government and other local groups, the owners, the Stewart family, have finally had the land sold out from under them to real estate developers. This location will soon be home to 141 brand new luxury condos. To be fair, the closure may have been inevitable as the building is falling apart and has been doing so since the bar opened as Bardo Rodeo back in the early Nineties: but that's the real charm of the place! Dr Dremo's is one of the best examples of an endangered species in the DC area, the dive bar, and as such it will be greatly missed.

Dremo's occupies a sprawling space that had once been a Oldsmobile dealership, and it utilizes every square inch. The potential reveler is greeted in the main room to a sprawling beaten copper bar, high ceilings, concrete floors, and a massive mish-mash of eclectic kitsch the likes of which may only be seen in a liberal, long lived-institution like Dremo's. Second-hand furniture litters the darkened barroom, where patrons sit amongst old arcade machines surrounded by graffiti and Christmas light covered walls. Towards the back wall a retrofitted fermentation tank houses a private little eight-top set apart from the smoke and noise of the rest of the bar. Downstairs is another massive room featuring the area's cheapest pool, darts, and shuffleboard, and which is frequent host to the most raucous open mike comedy and music you are likely to find. In the warmer months customers could retreat out the back door and into the bar's massive open-air seating area and what I believe to be the metropolitan area's only 'sandbar.' Patronage ranges from the elderly local to the underaged college student and everyone in-between, and while the tattooed and pierced staff may intimidate some at first blush, I have never received rude service or attitude regardless of dress or company.

While I would never describe the food as haute cuisine, Dremo's offers a nicely priced and well prepared  selection of bar favorites such as burgers, Dremos1_3wings and nachos, and a few unexpected specialty items like vegetarian chili, hummus, wraps, and one of the best quesadillas in town for the price. The wine list is poor-to-nonexistent, and they haven't a license to serve hard alcohol so cocktails are right out-- but when it comes to beer, Dr Dremo's really shines. The bar's twenty seven taps host a frequently circulating selection of classics, micro-brews and imports. From PBR to Delirium Tremens (in proper glassware!), Dremo's taps run the gamut at prices ranging from $10 to $17.50 a pitcher. Also featured is a selection of house beers; once made on premise, these specials are now contract brewed using the owners' decade-old recipes at the Shenandoah Brewing Company out of Alexandria. Dremo's label is the only one I've ever tasted offering a self styled "Chocolate Donut Beer"-- it was absolutely undrinkable, but I had to appreciate the attempt. That beer notwithstanding, and in defiance of the dive bar atmosphere, the beer is almost always fresh and I've never tasted that unpleasant and worrisome "dirty line flavor" that haunts the bars of the apathetic and lazy.

Ownership plans to reopen and is currently searching for another location in the area, and here's wishing them the best of luck-- but either way, I can't help but feel a pang of sorrow for the departure of yet another independently owned and operated, successful business, especially one such as this. Dremo's embraced its status as a dive bar without wallowing in its trappings. While the bathrooms might have leaked and the air conditioning was practically nonexistent, commitment to quality was never left by the wayside. Despite the smoke and torn upholstery there was a certain cozy, homey atmosphere that is rarely found in the corporate chain-bars of today. Whether out of nostalgia or morbid curiosity, try to make some time this Restaurant Week to pay one more visit Dr. Dremo's, one of the last of the dinosaur dive bars. I can't imagine we'll see its like again.

Dr Dremo's
2001 Clarendon Blvd.
Arlington, VA 22201

Sunday through Wednesday
Thursday, Friday & Saturday
Doors Close Forever: Sunday, January 27th, 2 AM

Dress Code: Casual... Super-Casual.... Just don't forget your pants, okay?
Parking: Adjoining parking lot on Clarendon Blvd, plenty of street parking. (Don't park in the Hollywood Video lot-- you will be towed)
Closest Metro: Walking distance from both Courthouse and Rosslyn.
Children: Can get pretty smokey and the language is 'colorful,' so not advised after 8 PM.
Bathroom: Reasonably clean, if malfunctioning.

Thai Carrot Soup - Winter Is A Time For Tubers

Small_thai_carrot_soup_with_peanu_2 I love Thai food but what's funny is that I hardly ever make it at home...Me, the recipe guru. I think it's because I have this wonderful Thai place nearby and whenever I have a hankering, I just order-in or go to pick it up. Occasionally, I make my rendition of of a peanut curry, usually with chicken and green beans. Here, I take the peanut flavor and coconut milk creaminess and apply it to a carrot soup. This soup is easy to make, packs big flavor, and gets a bit of heat from a jalapeno pepper. Enjoy!

Thai Carrot Soup


2 Tablespoons butter

1 leek, white part only, chopped (be sure to wash thoroughly- you can substitute 1 small onion)

2 cloves garlic, chopped

2 Tablespoons ginger, chopped or grated

1/2 teaspoon coriander

1 teaspoon cumin

2 pounds carrots, peeled and chopped 1/2 thick

1 jalapeno pepper, seeds removed and rough chopped

4 cups chicken stock (can substitute vegetable stock)

3 heaping Tablespoons creamy peanut butter

1 cup lite coconut milk


roasted peanuts, chopped


In a heavy bottom pot, melt butter over medium heat. Add leeks, garlic and ginger. Cook until softened but not browned, approximately 3 minutes, stirring frequently. Add a pinch of salt to help leeks render their moisture.

Add coriander and cumin. Stir to incorporate. Add carrots, jalapeno and chicken stock. Simmer covered for 25 minutes, or until carrots are tender. Add peanut butter. Transfer soup to blender and blend at high speed until soup is smooth (you may need to do this in 2 batches). Pour soup back into pot and add coconut milk. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Ladle soup into serving bowls and garnish with cilantro and peanuts.

A. Litteri, Inc. - Home of Italian Products

Img_3943 Since 1932, Washingtonians have been able to get a true taste of Italy at A. Litteri in Near Northeast, tucked away among the warehouses of the Florida Market that lies between New York Ave. and Florida Ave. near Gallaudet University.  Whether it's authentic balsamic vinegar, fresh pasta from Baltimore's Little Italy or mozzarella di bufala campana, you can find almost anything you're looking for in this off-the-beaten-path delicatessen.  And although it is not primarily a cheese shop (as my previous features have been), owner Mike DeFrancisci and his family pride themselves on carrying only the best and the freshest cheeses that Italy (and the rest of the world) have to offer.  When I'm looking for aged pecorino or fresh mozzarella, I know I can find it at Litteri's.

A true tour of A. Litteri must begin with directions - it's not the kind of place you'll stumble upon otherwise.  Located at 517 and 519 Morse St., NE, Litteri can be reached by taking 6th Street north from H Street, NE.  When you come to Gallaudet University at Florida Avenue, you will want to take your next left - onto the 500 block of Morse.  Parking is scarce (especially on Saturdays when one of the biggest flea markets in the city takes over a nearby parking lot), so be prepared to walk a bit.  Alternatively, you can take the Red Line to the New York Avenue Metro stop and then head east a few blocks, but the walk to Litteri is less than picturesque.  The red and green vertical stripes outside the green door announce your arrival.

Img_3945 Step inside the door for the first time, and you're likely to need a moment.  Immediately on your right, cases of wine are stacked six feet and higher, and signs trumpet prices as low as $3.99 for a bottle of Italian wine.  A mild feeling of claustrophobia can set in as you make your way toward a refrigerated case full of bottled soda, deli pickles and pre-made Italian sandwiches (made fresh each morning on hard and soft hoagie rolls).  Everywhere you look, your eyes are greeted by stacks of canned, bottled and packaged items from traditional Italian-American retailers like Cento, Sons of Italy, and De Cecco.  But in and among these items that can be found at most grocery stores are true gems that reflect Litteri's 80+ years of service (the original was opened downtown by DeFrancisci's great-uncle and grandfather in 1926) as a conduit for Italian staples: dried porcini mushrooms, arborio rice (for risotto) and desserts whose labels contain only a few words in English.

What appears to be a daunting and somewhat haphazard layout eventually resolves itself into a fairly well-organized floorplan: wine takes up a good portion of the front of the store, followed by spices and dry pasta along the right-hand wall.  The left wall is taken up with refrigerators and freezer cases containing fresh-made pasta from Frank Vellegia's Casa di Pasta in Baltimore, hand-tossed pizza dough, and packaged fresh cheeses (mozzarella, ricotta, mascarpone, etc.).  Down the middle of the store two large shelves offer a dizzying array of olive oils, vinegars made from almost any fruit you can think of, jarred pasta sauces (for those who don't have the time or the energy to make their own 'gravy' from scratch) and canned goods.

Img_3944 If the layout of the store didn't serve to draw customers to the rear, the deli counter that runs along the entire back wall would easily do the trick.  Even from the front of the store you can see the hanging salamis and prosciutti beckoning you.  The view continues to improve as you approach the counter, with hand-linked sausage and stuffed vinegar peppers on display in a glass case that is full of Italian-American delicacies like baccala (salted cod) and soppresata (a pork salumi that has large chunks of fat throughout).  The men who work behind the counter have done so for years, and this is reflected in the easy, ongoing conversations they share with regular customers.  They are quick to offer samples of anything from an obscure salume like mortadella to an everyday provolone, and their recommendations have always served me well.

The counter is the heart of A. Litteri - in addition to the cold cuts and cheeses that they slice to order, visitors can also purchase a wide variety of Italian accompaniments by weight - assorted cured olives, sweet and hot peppers, pine nuts, grated Parmesan cheese and sea salt-packed capers all sit ready and waiting behind the counter in large containers.Img_3949_2  And it is here at the counter that customers can have sandwiches made to order.

These are not your ordinary, run of the mill sandwiches.  They are possibly the best deli sandwiches I have found since coming to Washington more than a decade ago.  The meatball and sausage sandwiches remind me of the ones I enjoyed with my family on weekends while I was growing up in New Jersey, and the cold cut options go far beyond those of most sandwich shops.  Additionally, this is the only place I have ever found to offer fresh mozzarella as a choice of cheese for your sandwich without any sort of upcharge.  The freshness of the bread and the rich flavors of the various condiments make for a great taste at a reasonable price - a loaded sandwich on a soft roll can be had for less than $5.

If you have ever visited the Italian Store in Arlington and fallen in love with their Old World charm, I encourage you to visit A. Litteri for the genuine article.  To make the trip even more worth your while, take some time to explore the Florida Market (the nearby warehouses and wholesale food vendors in the area).  Though more than a year old, this article from the Washington Post offers some great tips on places worth checking out.  Just make sure to plan your visit for a time when Litteri is open - they close at 3 PM on Saturdays and are closed all day on Sundays.

A. Litteri, Inc.
517 & 519 Morse Street, NE
7th & C Streets, SE
(202) 544-0184
Tuesday and Wednesday, 8 AM - 4 PM
Thursday and Friday, 8 AM - 5 PM
Saturday, 8 AM - 3 PM
Closed Sunday and Monday