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March 2008

St Patrick's Day 2008!

While Washington DC will never be Chicago or New York, it would be unfair to say that we don't do St. Patrick's Day right. Sure, our parade is a bit on the... small side, and there is no way anyone will ever dye the Potomac green. Forget all that, and try to remember the true spirit of the holiday! Any rational observer could tell you that this area has nearly as many drinking establishments per capita as it has lawyers. The pub is the heart of the holiday, where people go to eat and drink, and sing and drink, and dance and drink! And drink!

But with so many choices, where to go? In the interest of providing you with a more comfortable drinking environment, here are listed some of DC's premier Irish eating and drinking establishments, and what they have to offer this coming Monday.

The Brickskeller

If your taste in beer runs more Scottish than Irish, swing by the Brickskeller next Monday. The 'Skeller hosted esteemed Scottish brewer Bruce Williams this past Wednesday and tapped some eight casks of his beers from Heather Ale and Williams Brothers breweries — on Monday they will be breaking out the leftovers at the upstairs bar. If the cask ale I'd mentioned in my article on Birreria Paradiso piqued your interest, take this opportunity to try several examples of the kind. Though, if you'd rather go more traditional, rest assured that the Brickskeller will be featuring Guinness and Smithwick's on tap, in addition to the largest selection of Irish beers pretty much anywhere.

If you are feeling large-selection with a more downtown feel, try the Brickskeller's sister restaurant, Regional Food and Drink. While RFD is going the more "green beer and car bombs" direction this year, their 30+ draft selection and more lively atmosphere makes it a great place for the beer geek who also wants to 'party' in the traditional sense.

The Brickskeller
1523 22nd St. NW
Washington, DC
202-293-1885
www.lovethebeer.com/brickskeller.html

RFD
810 7th St. NW
Washington, DC
202-289-2030
www.lovethebeer.com/rfd.html

The Dubliner

A Capitol Hill institution since 1974, the Dubliner is family owned and operated by first generation Irish immigrants, heavily staffed by Irish nationals, and is one of the largest purveyors of Guinness in the United States. The Dubliner has tons of street cred, no doubt about it, and it backs that up with an extensive menu of Irish favorites including Shepherd's Pie, Corned Beef and Cabbage, and Fish and Chips. On Monday, DC's premier Irish Pub will take over a portion of the adjoining Phoenix Hotel and offer up three traditional bands from 2:30 till close, available to all for a $10 cover charge. The restaurant will open at 10 a.m., but considering the expected crowds the menu will be slightly limited.

The Dubliner
4 F St. NW
Washington, DC
202-737-3773
www.dublinerdc.com

Finn Mac Cool's

Having only opened its doors about 4 years ago, Finn mac Cool's has developed a surprisingly big following the Barracks Row neighborhood of Southeast DC. Though I haven't found their food terribly interesting, the bar is developing a new beer program which may be something to keep an eye on. Having recently installed an extended tap system, Finn mac Cool's is now offering some very interesting beers, including the 18% ABV Dogfish Head Worldwide Stout and Sierra Nevada's ESB. On Monday, Finn Mac Cools will be offering several drink specials and feature two bands from 3:30 to close. If you can stomach the drunken college students, swing by and see if they will make you a $5 Car Bomb with the World Wide instead of Guinness. If it doesn't taste good, at least you won't remember.

Finn Mac Cool's
713 8th St. SE
Washington, DC
202-547-7100
www.finnmaccoolsdc.com

Flanagan's Harp and Fiddle

Though offering much the same food and drink as the others on the list, Flanagan's bears mentioning for their live broadcast of Irish sports this coming Monday. At 10:00 a.m. you can watch Offaly take on Galway in the Irish National Club Champs Hurling Final, followed at 11:40 by the Club Champs Football Final between Dublin and Cork.

4844 Cordell Ave.
Bethesda, MD
301-951-0115
www.flanagansharpandfiddle.com

Ireland's Four Courts

Easily the largest Irish pub in northern Virginia, the Four Courts is a sprawling affair, with two large bars that sit 60 between them, and a dining room with space for another several hundred besides. If you make the pilgrimage to this much touted house of Guinness and meat pies this Monday, do not expect to sit. The restaurant will only be seating from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., and by the looks of their website they are all but booked. The name of the game on Monday will be "bands and beer"— the Four Courts has booked five bands for the big event, one of which will be housed in a heated tent to contend with overflow. Do go someday and try the Courts' Shepherds Pie and Bread Pudding, both of which are great — do not go this Monday if you are up for something more filling than the liquid bread.

2051 Wilson Blvd.
Arlington, VA
703-525-3600
www.irelandsfourcourts.com

Ireland's Four Fields

Formerly known as Ireland's Four Provinces, Four Fields is the probably the best known uptown Irish pub. This frequent award winner trades on the quality of its Guinness, which it claims to be the best in the city, and is served in the proper 20 oz. Imperial Pint glass. Though not offering anything particularly different to you in the way of food this St. Patrick's Day, Four Fields does give you the opportunity to give back. The pub is a huge supporter of the Capital Area Food Bank, and will accept donations of nonperishable items any day of the week after 5 p.m — this year they have already delivered over 750 pounds of food and toiletries.

3412 Connecticut Ave NW
Washington, DC
202-244-0860
www.irelandsfourfields.com

Irish Channel

Offering an eclectic combination of Cajun and Irish fare, the Irish Channel is an odd pub to find in the heart of Chinatown. Since I have never tried the food I will decline to comment further; having once taken shelter there in a storm, I can say that place has the unpolished-but-comfortable feel uncommon to most modern bars. On the Big Day both the downtown and Maryland locations will be featuring live music all day, and a full selection of Irish classics such as Bangers and Mash, Mullingar Stew, Fish & Chips, Corned Beef and Cabbage, London Broil, Shepherds Pies and Black and White Pudding. For you Marylanders, the Channel will be running a shuttle to and from the DC parade on Sunday, March 16th.

Irish Channel
500 H St NW
Washington, DC
202-216-0046

1053 MD Rte 3 North
Gambrills, MD
410-451-4222
www.irishchannelpub.com

Murphy's

One of many Irish pubs in Old Town, Murphy's stands out for its authentic looking facade, cozy-but-spacious atmosphere and more than decent traditional Irish fare. On Monday doors will open bright and early at 9 a.m., featuring a hearty Irish brunch (read: meat and grease!) with harp accompaniment by Caroline Gregg (10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.). Music will continue throughout the day until 1 a.m., and no cover will be charged throughout. Though relatively large for a pub, the space gets quite packed on the best of nights, so best to get there earlier than later.

Murphy's
713 King St.
Alexandria, VA
703-548-1717
www.murphyspub.com

Nanny O'Briens

This little Cleveland Park bar is considered by many to be the most authentic Irish pub in Washington. Though less polished and 'Irish looking' than most of the bars on this list, Nanny's hosts weekly Monday "Seisuns" (classic Irish jam sessions) which have been host to some of the best Irish musicians in the world. This Monday the bar will offer beer and shooter specials with the musical stylings of Bloody Onions and others. $15 at the door.

3319 Connecticut Ave, NW
Washington, DC
202-686-9189
www.nannyobriens.com

O'Sullivan's

Nee Molly Malone's, this little Irish bar is a pleasant alternative to the loud, "Red Bull and Vodka" driven antics of most of the Clarendon metro corridor. The atmosphere is often sedate, but on Friday and Saturdays the bar area can become quite packed and smoky, and I suspect St. Patrick's day will leave one with little elbow room. The restaurant will open early (8 a.m.) and offer their usual selection of Irish and American fare — I've eaten there a couple of times, and if you have a hankering for real Bangers and Mash, O'Sullivan's is suitably greasy. There will be live music from open till close thanks to Brian Bray and Dave Smith, and traditional Irish dancing will be featured Sunday evening.

O'Sullivan's
3207 Washington Blvd.
Arlington, VA
www.osullivansirishpub.com

Pat Troy's

Pat Troy's Ireland's Own is one of those rare places that succeeds winningly as both a family restaurant and raucous watering hole. Though the food is well prepared, it is nothing to write home about — the usual Burger/Shepherd's Pie affair. Likewise, while the draft selection surely features an adequate selection of Irish and domestic staples, innovation is not really to be found. What makes the bar a must attend on St. Patrick's Day is the craic factor. Pat Troy's is fun, even on a normal night! The bar hosts live musicians five nights a week, and the musicians rarely fail to bring the large main room into the action, playing sing-along Irish classics along with more modern tunes (someone yelled "Freebird!" last time I was there, and damned if the band didn't actually play it!). On Saturday nights, owner Pat Troy comes out and performs one of the most bizarre/enjoyable one-man shows I've seen; interspersed with patriotic monologue, Pat leads the crowd in rousing renditions of the American and Irish classics, culminating with The Unicorn Song, along with appropriate body movements, sound effects and headgear. Having not been, I can only imagine what he'll do on St. Patrick's Day! The bar will open at 9 a.m. on Monday, and will be serving food in an attached heated tent. Live entertainment all day in the main restaurant with a $10 cover.

Pat Troy's Ireland's Own
111 N. Pitt St.
Alexandria, VA
703-549-4535
www.pattroysirishpub.com

Pizzeria & Birreria Paradiso

Because everyone is Irish on St. Patrick's Day, Pizzeria Paradiso is getting into the act with an interesting food and drink special. On March 17th, 5 p.m. until close, both the Georgetown and Dupont locations will be offering a choice of two 8 inch "Irish Pizza Pies," with a pint of stout, for $16. Choose either the "It's Not Easy Being Green" (a pie topped with fresh kale and artichoke) or the "Traditional Irish Pie" (topped with homemade corned beer, cabbage and potato), served alongside a pint of Victory's Donnybrook Irish Stout in Georgetown, or a good ol' Murphy's Stout in Dupont.

Dupont Circle
2029 P Street NW
Washington, DC
202-223-1245

Georgetown
3282 M Street NW
Washington, DC
202-337-1245
www.eatyourpizza.com

Restaurant Eve

Every year on St. Patrick's Day Chef and native Dubliner Cathal Armstrong gives tribute to his native land by featuring a selection of "home style" Irish cuisine is his Tasting Room. Being one of the area's finest restaurants, I fear that by now the place is pretty well booked up (though you never can be sure about dropouts), but for the homebody I have great news! On Saturday, March 15th, at 8:30 a.m. Chef Armstrong will be appearing on CBS's Early Show's 'Chef on a Shoestring' segment, where he will show viewers how to make a fantastic Irish style meal for less than $40. That's 8:30 a.m., so set that DVR now.

Restaurant Eve
110 South Pitt St.
Alexandria, VA
703-706-0450
www.restauranteve.com


Forget the Green - Irish Cheeses Wear the Blue, Gold and Brown

Derby A pinch is the penalty for failing to wear green on Saint Patrick's Day, but if you're looking to put together an Irish cheese platter to celebrate the holiday in your home, you would be smarter to avoid the green cheese and look at more traditional hues.  It turns out the most recognizable green cheese, Sage Derby, is actually an English creation - not at all appropriate for celebrating your Irish roots!

There is a wealth of Irish cheeses that are readily available in the Washington area, including a mildly salty blue, a range of traditional Irish cheddars, and a pair of unique cheeses streaked with a Guinness-like porter and Irish whiskey from the heart of County Limerick.  Any (or, if you're like me, all) of these provide a great taste of the Emerald Isle's rich cheese-making tradition and a colorful approach to a Saint Patrick's Day cheese platter.

Img_4348 I started with a cheese that I've heard quite a bit about lately - Cashel blue cheese from Tipperary.  Last month's Food & Wine magazine featured an article that followed local celebrity chef Cathal Armstrong home to County Donegal.  This is Ireland's first farmstead blue cheese, made from cow's milk and first created in 1984.  It has a smooth, creamy texture that is reminiscent of Roquefort, but it tends to hold its shape better at room temperature.  The flavor of the cheese is at once mildly sweet and bracingly salty.  As Cashel warms up, you can even start to detect a bit of a musty scent - but the scent is not at all overwhelming.  Cashel works well as a component to a varied cheese plate: the saltiness can balance against sweet accompaniments like apples or grapes, and the creamy texture begs for crunchy counterparts like peppery crackers or unsalted nuts.

Img_4360The second cheese in my Irish cheese platter was at once an easy choice and a difficult one.  It just wouldn't be an Irish collection if I did not include a cheddar, so that was the easy part.  The difficulty was choosing one -- many of the most readily available Irish cheeses are cheddars.  Rather than just pick a run-of-the-mill cheddar, I decided to seek out a truly unique cheese to fill this role in my platter.  I went with a readily available option that blends the dry bite of an aged cheddar with the nuttiness of hard cheeses like parmesan: Kerrygold Dubliner.  Dubliner is aged for about a year, and during that time it can develop naturally occuring calcium crystals that give the normally smooth cheese a little bit of a granular texture.  It is a firm cheese that crumbles and grates easily, but I tend to enjoy it in small chunks with a slice of apple or pear.

CahillsMy third and fourth selections came as a package.  I set out fully aware of the porter cheese made by the Cahills in County Limerick, so it seemed only appropriate that I should include it on my platter.  This is the cheese that many shops refer to as "Guiness cheese" because the porter used is very similar in style and flavor to that most famous of Irish exports.  What I didn't know until I arrived at Bower's Fancy Dairy Products in Eastern Market, however, is that the porter is not the Cahill's only alcohol-infused cheese...and their other offering is perhaps even more appealing to those who like to celebrate with a bit of Irish cheer. 

Cahill's Whiskey Cheddar has a network of deeper yellow veins running throughout the cheese where the whiskey was allowed to seep into the cheese through naturally occurring 'faults' that run throughout the mold.  I was taken by the sweet notes that the whiskey imparts to the cheddar, smoothing out its normally dry taste and giving it a mellow, caramel-like flavor.  The porter, as seen in the picture to the right, has an equally veiny appearance where the beer was allowed to run its course.  If you love the deep, rich, chocolatey notes of a great porter, you're in for a bit of a disappointment with this cheese.  The beer's impact on the flavor is more subtle - though it definitely gives the cheese a depth of flavor and a heft that the whiskey cheddar did not possess.  Both of these cheeses struck me as more novelties than go-to choices for the future, but I enjoyed the unique character they lent to the platter.

Img_4347The four cheeses I selected are fairly representative of the Irish cheeses you're most likely to find in cheese shops throughout the area (and through online retailers like iGourmet).  If you're looking for more of an artisanal approach, however, I would encourage you to pay a visit to Cowgirl Creamery.  A phone call to the shop resulted in no fewer than three recommendations of farmstead cheeses brought in through their relationship with Neal's Yard Dairy in England, including Cashel blue; a washed-rind cheese called Durrus; and Coolea, a gouda-style cheese made by a Dutch family in Ireland.  If you're looking for the cheeses I've featured on my platter, you can find them at a multitude of price points.  Normally, you can expect to pay $19 or more per pound for the Cashel blue, $12-$15 per pound for Kerrygold's Dubliner, and $16-$18 per pound for the Cahill's offerings (the porter is less expensive than the whiskey cheddar).

Because of the upcoming holiday, however, the good folks at La Cheeserie in Calvert-Woodley are running a special sale on Irish cheeses.  They announce their sales on Wednesdays through their advertisements in the Post's Food section and they generally run until the weekend.  I was told by an employee that this week's sale would feature Cashel blue and Cahill's cheeses at $12.99 per pound and that Kerrygold cheese would be on sale for $7.99 per pound.  Those are significant savings relative to standard prices, so if you've been tempted by any of my descriptions above, I would encourage you to pay a visit to La Cheeserie and try them for yourself.


Guinness and Chocolate Cheesecake

St_patricks_parade_collage_2 Living in Alexandria, I feel like I have been preparing for St. Patrick's Day for a while now. On the first Saturday of March, Alexandria celebrates St. Patrick's Day with a terrific parade consisting of bagpipes, beautifully costumed dancers with curly coifs, floats, our armed services, police and fire brigades, dignitaries, local celebrities, school bands, the Ballyshaners, and more. It's a fun time and everyone is Irish for a day; four-legged friends included.

So inspired by the Emerald Isle, I made Spotted Dog, or Irish Soda Bread with Raisins, right after the parade. Now, for DCFoodies, I wanted to find a recipe which incorporated a great drink of Ireland; Guinness® beer. Guinness® and Chocolate Cheesecake is a rich and decadent cheesecake in which the chocolate notes of Guinness® Extra Stout compliment morsels of semi-sweet chocolate and creamy cheese.

For this recipe, I highly recommend you use a 9 inch springform pan. This will keep the cheesecake Small_guinnes_chocolate_cheesecak_3 intact. If you get a few cracks in your cake, don't worry! Enjoy.

Guinness® and Chocolate Cheesecake

(adapted from Allrecipes.com)

serves 12

Ingredients

for the crust

  • 1 cup crushed chocolate graham crackers
  • 2 Tablespoons white sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/4 cup butter, softened

for the filling

  • 3 (8 ounce) packages of cream cheese, softened
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/2 cup semi sweet chocolate morsels
  • 2 Tablespoons heavy cream
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • a pinch of salt
  • 3/4 cup Irish stout beer (ie: Guinness®)
  • 2 Tablespoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 ounce semi sweet chocolate for clover garnish (optional)

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 9 inch spring form pan with butter.

for the crust

Place chocolate graham crackers in a food processor with sharp blade and process until the crackers have a sand-like texture. To the process, add the sugar, cocoa powder and butter. Process until the butter is incorporated and the crust comes together into pea size balls.

Press the crust evenly into the bottom of the spring form pan.

for the filling

Place the cream cheese into a large mixing bowl and beat with an electric hand mixer until smooth. Add the sugar and combine. Add the eggs one at a time. Continue beating until smooth

Place the chocolate and heavy cream in a microwave safe bowl. Microwave, 30 seconds at a time, and stir until chocolate melts (time varies depending upon your microwave). Beat the chocolate mixture into the cream cheese mixture until smooth. Add the sour cream, salt, beer and vanilla. Beat until smooth. Pour the filling over the crust.

Place cheesecake on a baking sheet and then put into the oven on the middle or upper rack. Underneath the cheesecake, place a pan of water. This will keep the cheesecake moist.

Bake for 45 minutes. Turn off oven and allow cheesecake to continue baking for an additional 45 minutes to an hour, with the oven door closed. Refrigerate cheesecake for at least 4 hours before serving. This will allow the cheesecake to set completely.

To make the clover garnish, melt 1 ounce of chocolate in the microwave. Stir until smooth. Using a spoon, drop 3 circles of chocolate in a clover pattern, onto wax or parchment paper. Starting where the two bottom clover leafs connect, make a stem. Allow to cool completely and place in the middle of cheesecake.


Taste of the Nation

Totn Every year, Share Our Strength organizes a food benefit like no other in the DC area. This year, on the 24th of March, they bring together some of the best culinary talent in the DC area to serve up incredible food, wine, and other delicacies, with the common goal of ending childhood hunger. The main attractions are the restaurant booths, where chefs serve up small bites of dishes, some from restaurants menus, some unique creations that the chefs create especially for the event. Local wine distributors also have booths where they give people tastings of the wines they sell. The list of restaurants and participants is quite impressive and includes:

1789 Restaurant * Belga Café * Berliner Distributors * Best Buns Bread Company * Bistro Bis * BLT Steak * Bobby Van's * Butterfield 9 * Cafe Saint-Ex * Capital Grille * Carlyle * Caucus Room * Central Michel Richard * Charlie Palmer Steak * Circle Bistro * Dino * Farrah Olivia by Morou * Finn & Porter * Firefly * Hank's Oyster Bar * Hook * ICI Urban Bistro * IndeBleu * International Trade Center at the Reagan Building * Kinkead's * La Tasca * Lebanese Taverna * Les Halles * Locanda * L'oustalet * The Majestic * Mark and Orlando's * Mendocino * New Heights * Neyla * Noras * Notti Bianche * Oceanaire Seafood Room * OLiVES * Oya * Perry's Restaurant * Poste * Proof * PS 7's Restaurant * PX * Restaurant 3 * Restaurant Eve * Ristorante Tosca * Rustico * Sam & Harry's Steakhouse * Ten Penh * The Capital Grille * The Caucus Room * The Source * Vermilion * Vidalia * Zengo

Amy and I attended this event last year and we had a wonderful time and we definitely plan to return this year as well. All ad revenue from January and February on DCFoodies.com was donated to this wonderful cause. I hope to see you all there!

Purchase Tickets
Event Details

Taste of the Nation
Washington, DC

Monday,  March 24th
Washington Hilton
1919 Connecticut Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20009


Weekly Blog Round Up

Heard around the DC Foodies blogoshpere this week...Endless Simmer, one of our fellow DC food bloggers, has been nominated for Best Food Blog 2008. Anyone can vote, so head over here and give them some support.

Metrocurean tell us that a new boutique kitchen store will be opening on Capital Hill at 713 D St. Hill's Kitchen will offer 2 floors of fun, with the first floor offering kitchen supplies and the second floor eventually offering cooking classes in a luxury kitchen. Capital Hill native, Leah Daniels, is aiming to open Hill's Kitchen by the end of the month.

You can check out the list of Restaurant and Chef semifinalists for the 2008 James Beard Foundation Awards over at Sauce on the Side. The final nominees will be announced March 24th. DC area semifinalists include Jose Andres, Minibar, for Outstanding Chef, Vidalia for outstanding wine service,  Ashok Bajaj, Bardeo, Ardeo etc., for Outstanding Restaurateur, and Todd Thrasher, Restaurant Eve, for Wine & Spirits professional. Check out all of our area's nominees!

The District Domestic dishes on a delicious Chevre Cheesecake by Chef David Guas.  Chef Guas, a private consultant and boutique pastry caterer, founded Damgoodsweet Consulting Group after being the creative force behind the desserts at restaurants such as Acadiana, DC Coast, Ceiba and Ten Penh. Read the interview which The District Domestic did with  Chef Guas, and read what he has to say about the most overrated dish, favorite kitchen gadget and worst customer pet peeve.

If you want a hilarious read, check out The French Laundry at Home. This week, TFLAH recounts her adventure making "Tongue in Cheek" including her encounter with an entire veal tongue. Pictures included!

Finally, Feedback returns to the Washingtonian's Best Bites Blog. Feedback gathers information from diners as they exit a restaurant. This week, the Washingtonian interviewed diners as they exited from Hudson. Read about their impressions here.


The Bar at Brasserie Beck

Becks1Last year Marcel's esteemed chef/owner Robert Wiedmaier opened Brasserie Beck to great fanfare and accolades. A welcome addition to the growing McPherson square neighborhood, the Brasserie works to be to beer and bistro fare what Marcel's is to wine and haute cuisine. Having only been in once before, my girlfriend and I decided to swing by the other night on a jaunt downtown.

This particular evening the bar was packed, an unusual occurrence at most DC bars on a Tuesday. Pressing in as close as possible to the small marble bar, we did our best to take a look at the much touted beer list. As I remembered from our previous visit, Beck is indeed heaven for the aficionado of Belgian beer. Buyer/Beer Guru Bill Catron has put together a fine and comprehensive collection. Belgium is to beer what France is to wine, and the menu here certainly does the motherland proud. With a selection of 11 drafts and over 100 bottles to be had, the list is kind of overwhelming; even given the care taken to describe each bottle, by page 12 you will have likely forgotten where you'd begun. I would almost certainly have asked the bartender for his advice, if only I could get within two yards of him. On my previous visit, though, we sat at a bar table, where service was extremely spotty despite the bar being empty, and the waitress offered little help with our questions.

Becks2Being a bit set adrift I went with a beer with which I am quite familiar, the Brouwerij Bavik Pilsener. I have to admit that given the full house, bar service was prompt, and I quickly received my beer in a proper, branded glass. The importance of serving beer in the proper vessel cannot be overstated, and Beck certainly has taken this truth to heart, as every beer I saw being served featured its own esoteric piece of glassware. My Bavik was nice, with a body not unlike the more well known Stella Artois, but with a more pleasing nutty, yeasty character. Unfortunately, my Bavik was also tiny, maybe 10 oz at the most, and at $7 a glass without any apprisal, that is unacceptable.

During the brief period between our first and second drinks, we espied the raw bar display, which appeared to feature a fine selection of oysters and other fresh seafood. Being on a bit of a shellfish kick, and having by then staked out a meager bit of bar space, we figured we'd indulge. Our half dozen came out quickly, but I found it hard to believe that what we were given bore any relation to those bivalves on display. Up close, these oysters looked dry, shriveled, and like my beer, tiny. Hoping appearances might have been deceiving we dove in, but these sad little shellfish tasted exactly as they appeared— dried out, flavorless, and hardly half a mouthful. As I'd said, we ordered on a bit of a lark, so when we were presented with the bill, which included a sixteen dollar charge for the underwhelming oysters, I was irritated.

Becks3Having read so many great things about Brasserie Beck, not the least of which on this very website, I have to say I am surprised that my experiences have been so mediocre. I have seen none of the exquisite service for which the restaurant is so acclaimed, and though I have to give the beer list its due, the prices across the board are inexcusably high. Add to that the level of frustration I experienced with the restaurant's Flash-heavy website, and I have to surmise that Brasserie Beck, like many a downtown eatery, emphasizes style over substance in order to justify their prestige pricing. I hope that I am wrong (and am sure that I will hear a word or two to that end), but even with a beer list as impressive as theirs, I cannot echo the predominate praise.


Brasserie Beck
1101 K Street, NW
Washington, DC 20005
Map
(202) 408-1717
website

 

 


Dining Out For Life

This is just a reminder for everyone that tomorrow (Thursday March 6) is the annual Dining Out for Life event to benefit Food For Friends, a local charity that supports men and women in the DC area with HIV/AIDS by providing home-delivered meals, groceries, and nutritional counceling. The event spans many, many restaurants throughout the city and some restaurants donate 100% of their proceeds for the day to the Food and Friends charity!

Check out the list of participating restaurants here.


Feta cheeses from Keswick Creamery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Great Eggspectations

I sure do love eggs. I probably couldn't rattle off as many ways to eat them as Bubba could shrimp, but scrambled, poached and hard boiled are favorites. A few years ago I started buying brown eggs because they seemed more rustic and had a fresh-from-the-farm appeal. When I lived in Richmond, VA, I bought organic cage-free eggs from Ellwood Thompson's, an organic/natural grocery store. Those were the best eggs I had ever tasted. Deep orange in color, I loved them scrambled leaving them slightly wet and creamy. I am in search of such eggs.

As of late, I've been buying fresh brown eggs at the Dupont Farmers Market. On Sunday, I counted four vendors who were selling them. In the spirit of supporting local farmers and with the hope that these eggs would taste better, I've paid about double ($4.77) for a dozen eggs which I usually buy at Safeway (Lucerne large brown eggs). But, are they better? Will I find the elusive deep orange yolks?

I did a bit of informal experimentation with my eggs, comparing supermarket brown eggs which have been in my refrigerator for over a week, to fresh from the market brown and certified organic eggs from Sunnyside Farms (purchased from Eco Friendly). I compared the look of the eggs raw, and the taste and texture of the eggs both scrambled and hard boiled. My husband Frank and I were the testers.

Small_eggs_raw First, I cracked the eggs and placed them in a white dish. The supermarket egg is on the left and the farmers market egg is on the right. I noticed that the egg whites differed more than the yolks. The whites from the older supermarket egg was watery, and the farm fresh egg was more viscous. I think you can pick that up in the photo. The yolks were really about the same. I was hoping to find a deep orange yolk with the farm egg, but alas, they were both deep golden yellow.

I then whisked and scrambled each egg separately in a non-stick skillet with a pat of unsalted butter andSmall_eggs_scrambled  a pinch of kosher salt (how I usually make them). I cooked them almost all the way through, but left them wet. The farm fresh egg (right) was creamier and more moist given the same cooking method. The taste was about the same.

Next, I hard boiled a supermarket and a farmers market egg in my usual method, which is to place the eggs in a pot of cold water and bring the water to a boil. I then turned off the heat and left the eggs covered for 6 minutes, removing them to an ice bath to cool. This seems to be a great way to stop the cooking and reduce the green sulfur ring around the yolk.

Small_eggs_hard_boiled I peeled the eggs by gently cracking the shells all over, placing them under slowly running cool water to separate the shell and membrane from the egg. Much to my surprise, the farm fresh egg peeled easily. In fact, it was easier to peel than the assumed much older egg. Older eggs are supposed to be easier to peel because the air pocket within the egg gets bigger as the egg ages. With a smaller air pocket, the shell and membrane stick to the egg more.

Again, both eggs looked about the same in color (farmers market egg on the right). The farmers market egg yolk was again creamier and more moist, with the supermarket egg yolk being dryer. The taste was about the same.

Perhaps there is a more notable difference when using fresher eggs in different preparations, such as pasta, or in baking. I really can't say that the farm fresh eggs were far superior to supermarket eggs, for the methods I used to prepare them, given the cost.

If you have any favorite egg vendors, or know where to get deep orange eggs, I would sure like to hear from you. Until then, I'll continue my search for Ellwood Thompson eggs.