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May 2009

Weekly Blog Roundup

Honey Heard around the DC Foodies blogosphere this week...The latest food buzz from the Fairmount Hotel in DC's West End isn't coming from the kitchen-it's coming from the roof.  All We Can Eat reported this week that 3 hives serving as home to over 100,000 bees are expected to produce 300 pounds of locally- flavored honey for the restaurant. So far, the honey's fruity top notes are thought to come from area Magnolia trees.

Cork Market is coming to 14th St., wrote Metrocurean this week. From the husband and wife team who own Cork Wine Bar, Cork Market is expected to open in the fall, and be "our neighborhood market" which will offer delivery. The store will offer a wide (price) range of wines, along with beer, gourmet foods and an open kitchen in the back featuring everything you would need for a picnic.

Continuing on his intrepid foodie quest, From Komi to Marvin reported on a convivial visit to Mini Bar this week. The 28-course meal offered dishes that "..are inventive without being pretentious, and don’t strive to be more than good food on a plate." However, some construed offerings missed the mark for FKtM, such as the Cotton Candied Eel.  To paraphrase: bbq eel + cotton candy= not good. To quote: "the whole dish reeked of some stoned chef thinking up the weirdest flavor combinations he could." Is he glad he went? You bet.

DC Foodies congratulates You Gonna Eat All That? on her 10th wedding anniversary. The happy couple celebrated at Corduroy, and were treated to great service and terrific food. Fortunately, they brought their camera along to capture their meal, including Chilled English Pea Soup, Roast and Confit Guinea Hen with local Baby Leeks and Shitake Mushrooms, and Baked Chocolate Sabayon.

Finally, The District Domestic "Imbibed in Old Town" at Jackson 20 [in the Hotel Monaco], the "King of Cocktails" on King Street. Her favorite drink is the Cuzmopolitan, "a sangria-like mixture of Plymouth Gin, Absolute Peach, Cointreau, fresh squeezed lemon juice, muddled pineapple and a floater of pinot noir." To eat, try the bucket of fried chicken-something that this girl from Buffalo couldn't get enough of.

One more note on TDD's recommendation- Tuesday and Thursday evenings are Doggy Happy Hour (seasonal) in the courtyard of the Hotel Monaco-so bring your pooch along while you dine and unwind.


Scandal in the House of Parker!

Wine_advocate_front Yesterday a friend of mine sent me this article from the Wall Street Journal, regarding some recent impropriety at The Wine Advocate, Robert Parker's consumer advocacy magazine for wine. Though some of you might not know the name, rest assured that Mr. Parker has at least indirectly influenced your wine-buying decisions, and not through stories of hard-nosed P.I.s and Old West adventure.

Parker is the self proclaimed "most powerful man in the wine world," and by many accounts, is the most influential critic of any kind in his chosen field. By cultivating a reputation for impartiality and incomparable tasting abilities, and introducing the American-friendly 100-point scale to the field of wine judgment, Parker and his peoples wield unheard of influence. With a score of 98, a once unknown is raised to cult status, where the poor schlub on the next shelf over with the 89 is doomed to clearance. Parker's palate even influences wine at the point of origin, with myriad winemakers admitting to tweaking their style to fit the emperor's taste.

When he founded the WA in 1978, Parker took a Naderesque view of consumer advocacy, seeking to judge his chosen subject objectively, and refusing to accept advertisers' dollars. Leaving out of it the absurdity of judging taste objectively, and on such a specific quantitative scale (I give 2009 trucker hats a 91!), it appears that Parker's crew hasn't exactly been sticking by the rag's altruistic precepts. It's come to light that several of the critics have taken thousands of dollars worth of meals and trips from suppliers and importers, with one subjecting himself to a guided tour by Wine Australia, an advocacy group representing some 40 or so of the eponymous continent's wineries. Parker has written off the offenses, saying, "I don't hold the independent contractors ... to the same stringent standards as I adhere to (sic). Yet I do have serious guidelines regarding conflicts of interest, and they are well aware of them."

Really, Mr. Parker? Well, to be fair, Parker clearly outlines his standards, and those to which he holds his writers, in discrete, very separate terms. But considering that said writers now account for the vast majority of wine's reviewed, do not their standards matter as much, if not more than those of the founder? It's all well and good that Parker himself refuses special treatment (a claim that itself seems a bit dubious), and deems his reviews untainted, but what of the thousands of other reviews that are written on his behalf?

I understand Parker's decision to eschew advertising revenue, and think it should be applauded. That said, it doesn't give him the right to a high horse and impossible claims. Unless every wine is reviewed in a consistent, completely blind tasting environment, with no given information but the glass in front of the judge, then there can be no legitimate claim to impartiality. Hell, even in the aforementioned ideal environment, fairness falls apart, as palates and patience tire. Regardless of one's set of personal and professional standards, a wine tasted at 8:00 AM in the office is going to taste different than one consumed after a hearty Cassoulet in a fine cafe in Nimes.

Parker1 Honestly, I don't think this is going to be the end of the Advocate, and it probably won't diminish Parker's influence in any real way. I don't mean to denigrate the man or his magazine: The Wine Advocate is a great resource for information and tasting notes, and Parker's heart is certainly in the right place. It's just the mythology of veracity that has developed around the magazine's grading system, which likens wine to high school chemistry Scantron quiz, that corks my bottle. I feel that recent events have drawn back the curtain a little bit, and hope that fervent Parkerites will bear them in mind before buying into the next 100-point hype.

If you'd like to learn more about Robert M. Parker, Jr. and The Wine Advocate, head down to your public library and pick up "The Emperor of Wine" by Elin McCoy, for a fascinating look at this controversial man.

But don't take my word for it.


Foodie To-Do List: Chocolate, Cochon and Florida Market

TodoAs part of an ongoing effort to alert you, the readers of DC Foodies, to all of the really cool food-related events, classes and opportunities throughout the Washington Metropolitan area, we give you this week's edition of the Foodie To-Do List.

Each Wednesday, we give you a heads-up on a few of the upcoming events that we think look particularly interesting.  This week, we've got:

Complementary Tasting of Madecasse Chocolates at Biagio Fine Chocolate:

What:
Made from cocoa harvested on cooperatives in Madegascar, Madecasse chocolates are produced bean-to-bar (a rarity) in their home country.  Join co-founder Tim McCollom for an opportunity to taste the chocolate and to learn a bit more about what goes into the production process.

When:
Thursday, May 28th from 6:30-8:30 PM

Where:
Biagio Fine Chocolates
1904 18th Street, NW
Washington, DC

Why:
Biagio takes chocolate very seriously, and they eagerly support principled producers who also happen to turn out high-quality products.  When they make a recommendation, it's worth checking out...especially if it's a free taste!

Cost:
Free.  This is a complementary tasting.  But 10% of all sales at Biagio from now until Sunday will be donated to the Millennium Challenge Account to provide fermentation tanks, drying areas, scales, small business development training and technical oversight to newly formed cocoa cooperatives in Madagascar, so part of any purchases you make will go to a worthwhile cause.


Cochon 555 at the Mandarin Oriental:

What:
When it comes to "whole animal" cooking, there's nothing quite like pig.  From snout to tail, chefs all over the world revel in coming up with new and creative uses for the parts that aren't used to make bacon and barbecue.  This competition pits five local chefs - Nicholas Stefanelli of Mio, Brian McBride of Blue Duck Tavern, Jamie Leeds of CommonWealth and Hank's Oyster Bar, RJ Cooper of Vidalia, and John Manolatos of Cashion's Eat Place - against one another as they each prepare a 70-pound heritage pig.

When:
Sunday, May 31st @ 5 PM (VIP reception begins at 3:30)

Where:
Mandarin Oriental Hotel
1330 Maryland Ave., SW
Washington, DC

Why:
The Swine Flu scare is SO last week.  Between the all-star chefs and the five local wineries that will be presenting their products, this is a pork-lovers dream come true.

Cost: 
$125 per person for basic tickets, $175 for VIP Experience.  Tickets must be purchased in advance here


Exploring the Florida Market / Capital City Market as part of Walking Town DC:

What:
This weekend, Cultural Tourism DC sponsors their annual "Walking Town, DC" weekend of free walking (and, in some cases, bicycling) tours.  Topics range from neighborhood histories to tours of the National Arboretum; this particular walk focuses on the wholesale and retail vendors who make up the Florida Market in Northeast.

When:
Saturday, May 30th from 10 - 11:30 AM

Where:
Meet outside New York Avenue Metro station (Florida Avenue exit)
End at Litteri’s Italian Deli, 517 Morse Street, NE

Why:
The Florida Market is a part of DC Foodie history (as is A. Litteri's), but there are plans in the works to redevelop this entire area.  Take a walking tour with Richard Layman, an authority on the market and on historic preservation and urban revitalization, and learn about what the market currently offers.  Along the way, check out some great food finds that you probably didn't even know existed!

Cost: 
Free, but there will be opportunities to purchase food from retailers and vendors along the tour.
 

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If you would like your events posted here, please email help@dcfoodies.com with the event info.


The Perpetual Grill: Leg of lamb, charred garlic and onions, and berry cobbler

Image019 Monday was Memorial Day, the official start of the grilling season, blah, blah, blah. Naturally, food writers across the land responded in kind. You couldn't open a newspaper, thumb through a magazine, or log onto a food-related Website last week without learning how to grill a hamburger or skewer zucchini.

Well, here at D.C. Foodies, we know that grilling isn't a seasonal pursuit. That's why we bring you the grilling knowledge all year long.

As long as we have fire, we will grill.

The warmer weather did, however, give me the opportunity to break in my new backyard. The missus and I certainly enjoyed living on Capitol Hill, but our tiny apartment wasn't much for entertaining (though that never stopped us). I was lucky enough to have a small patio for my charcoal grill, but now I have land for my gas and charcoal equipment to roam. Hell yeah.

For my inaugural backyard soirée, I went big: leg of lamb on a spit, charred scallions and young garlic, homemade tzatziki, and mixed berry cobbler on the grill. To drink, I picked up a few six packs of Duck-Rabbit, one of North Carolina's many great breweries finally making their way into our area.

I was particularly excited about the lamb. It's one of my favorite meats and perfect for grilling. Consequently, it graced the grates of my old Weber many, many times, many, many ways: chops, steaks, kabobs and butterflied leg. Thanks to my new gas grill, I can now add rotisserie to the list.

Honestly, I don't know if there's a prettier sight than five pounds boneless leg of lamb slowly turning and sweating on a grill. (Decadent tip: Rather than loose all that luscious lamb fat, stick a pan of potatoes underneath the meat. Roasted potatoes in lamb fat -- come on people, what more can I do for you?)
As for the vegetables, I snagged a couple bunches of young garlic. They're in season and tasted great when I grilled them with the smoked pork chops a couple weeks back. I also grabbed few bundles of green onions.

By the way, if you're not grilling green onions, start. The heat cools the onion's bite, leaving you with a mild, sweet treat. Add a little salt, chunky black pepper and olive oil, and your day is going right. I find an excuse to throw on a few scallions nearly every time I light the grill.
Image005

The dessert, a berry cobbler, is a classic outdoor dish, as it can be done on a grill or campfire. Peaches also work here, but I'm not a fan and berries are in season. Just to be fancy (and because it's good), I finished the dessert with crème fraîche ice cream, and a drizzle of honey and balsamic vinegar.

And then there was the beer. I was pretty psyched when I heard Duck-Rabbit found its way up here. I used to live in Chapel Hill and am a big fan of the North Carolina brewing scene. Duck-Rabbit is certainly one of the better beers produced in the Tar Heel state, but there are many more and a few better ones. Hopefully, breweries like Big Boss, French Broad and Carolina Brewing will follow Duck-RImage043abbit north. 

For those of you going to Savor this week, swing by the Foothills table. You'll be glad you did  (especially if they bring their Seeing Double IPA). The Winston-Salem brewery might be producing the best beer in North Carolina and some of the best brews in the country. And if you want to check out a couple other North Carolina beers, you can find Highland and Carolina Beer Company at Total Wine, and occasionally in Greg Jasgur's always surprising beer lineup at Birreria Paradiso. If you're looking for Duck-Rabbit, I found it on tap at Rustico and RFD, and in the bottle at Whole Foods and Galaxy Hut.

So as your friends and neighbors are getting the rust off their grills and grilling skills to burn a few hot dogs, bust out a fat lamb leg and show them that for a few of us, the grilling season never ends.

Rotisserie lamb, grilled garlic and onions, and berry cobbler
(Makes 8 servings)

For the lamb and vegetablesImage025
1 5 lb. lamb leg, butterflied and tied
2 bundles of spring onions (about 8 onions a bundle)
2 bundles of young garlic (about 8 garlic stalks a bundle)
1 cup olive oil
1/2 cup of fresh rosemary
1/4 cup of tarragon
3 tbs. oregano
1 clove of garlic, minced
Kosher salt and cracked black pepper to taste

For the tzatziki
1 16 oz container of Greek yogurt, plain
1/2 English cucumber, seeded and diced
1 lemon, zested and juiced
4 tbs. of dill
1 garlic clove, minced finely
Kosher salt to taste

For the berry cobbler
4 pints of blueberries
2 pints of raspberries
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup flour
1 tsp. lemon zest
2 tbs. lemon juice
3 biscotti cookies (1/2 cup)
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
Pinch of salt
6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces

The night before, marinate the lamb and prepare the tzatziki. For the lamb, coat the meat in olive oil and cover with the tarragon, three quarters of the rosemary, and the pepper. Because salt will draw moisture out of the meat, don't add any until you put the lamb on the grill. Cover with plastic wrap and stick it in the refrigerator. For the tzatziki, combine the ingredients in a bowl and taste. Adjust the seasoning as necessary.

Image010 When you're ready to start grilling, pull the lamb out of the refrigerator so it can lose some of the chill and generously sprinkle with salt. Light the grill and skewer the lamb. Once the lamb has had 30 minutes to warm up, place the spit on the grill, start the rotisserie and close the lid. If you like your lamb rare, it'll need an hour and a half with the rotisserie burner set to about medium heat. For more well done, shoot for two hours and an internal temperature of about 170 degrees.

In a bowl, combine the remaining oil and rosemary with the garlic, oregano and pepper. Baste the lamb leg with this sauce every 15 minutes.

As the lamb cooks, prepare the cobbler. Place the berries in a large mixing bowl and add the sugar, flour, lemon zest, and lemon juice. Gently toss, making sure not to crush the berries. Carefully move the mixture into a cast iron pan -- or a baking pan you're comfortable using on the grill -- that's been oiled

For the topping, combine the biscotti, flour, brown sugar in a food processor. Pulse the mixture until it's reduced to a coarse powder. Add in the butter and the salt, and pulse again. Spoon this mixture on top of the berries.

Image051 If you're using the same grill the lamb is cooking on, you'll have to bake the cobbler while the lamb leg rests. If you have a couple grills at your disposal, go ahead and throw the cobbler on. Whether you're using gas or charcoal, you'll want to cook the cobbler with the lid down for 40 minutes using indirect heat.

When the lamb is done, remove it from the grill, but not the spit, and let it rest for 20 to 30 minutes under a piece of aluminum foil. As it rests, brush the garlic and onions with olive oil, season with salt and pepper and toss on the grill for about four minutes per side, or until they pick up a nice char. You can also toss on a couple pieces of flat bread to warm up.

Image031 After the lamb has finished resting, remove the spit, carve it up and break out the tzatziki.

When the cobbler is ready, the crumbly crust should be golden brown with the fruit bubbling through. Try to let it cool off -- trust me, it's hot -- before dishing it up with your favorite ice cream.


Weekly Blog Roundup

U market patrons Heard around the DC Foodies blogosphere this week...This week, Arugula Files takes on the love/hate relationship we foodies have with Lauriol Plaza. Even in a restaurant where "the cooks turn over quicker than pancakes", Arugula Files points to the Masitas de Puerco- Cuban pork with bitter oranges as one of her favorite dishes. Also not to be missed are the Enchladas de Mariscos, and the tortillas. And, don't go on a Friday or Saturday night, as "that's just asking for trouble."

"14th and P is slowly turning itself into quite a foodie destination", notes Brightest Young Things, referencing the opening of Pitango Gelato, which opened this week in DC. The Baltimore-based gelataria gets their dairy from a farm in Pensylvania, and uses organic, fresh, local (whenever possible) ingredients to craft each flavor. DCist reported that the dairy was built by owner Noah Dan, to ensure that the raw milk (which is pasteurized) he uses as the base for his gelatos is the highest quality possible.

Recently, District Plates penned "In Summer, You'll Find Me Putting On the Dog" for the Washington Post. In it, he noted that summer officially starts when " teeth snap through the natural casing of a juicy, fresh-from-the-grill hot dog and my nose fills with the sharpness of mustard and pungent onion." If you're not outfitted to make dogs yourself, District Plates recommends Zwiegles hot dogs (available at Wegmans), and Martin's potato buns. As for condiments, District Plates offers a recipe for Spicy Beer Mustard that will "take your breath away."

Lucky Ms. Cavanaugh Goes to Washington met with Chef Todd Gray, of Equinox, to learn how to prepare a regional specialty- soft shell crabs. Fortunately for readers, she shares one of her favorite dishes of Chef Grays; Soft Shelled Crab with Vidalia Onion Puree, Rappahanock Spinach and Equinox Bacon. For cleaned crabs, Ms. Cavanaugh recommend buying from Whole Foods, or Black Salt in Palisades.

Finally, for your foodie pleasure:  this week in her regular feature "Market Mash Up", The Food Scribe took rather late-in-the-season-ramps and paired them with first-of-the-season-tender-zucchini in a side dish complimenting halibut. While strawberries are going strong at the farmers markets, try The Bitten Word's Strawberry Citrus Salad, or pick up farm-fresh asparagus for Roasted Asparagus with Red Pepper Puree and Microgreens from The Garden Apartment.


Smith Meadows Farm Day, 2009

SMFSIGN Though I can't say I grew up in a rural area, I was definitely far enough away from an urban center to have first hand experience with "farms." When I was quite young, my parents once took me to Stony Kill Farm, a New York State educational farm. Being, oh, five or so, I didn't give a second thought to the cows and chickens, wandering about like they owned the place. (Also had my first experience with an electric fence that day — parents, just let your children grab it. You know they want to, and they gotta learn sometime). By synthesizing the things I saw that day with the information gleaned from my Richard Scarry books, I came to the conclusion that this is just how farms are, and that that pork chop I'd eaten the previous day came from such a place, and may or may not have once been a pig in a hat with talking worm friend.

However creepy this may have seemed to me at the time, the real origin of my meal was probably far more disturbing. I don't have to tell you all about the hideous conditions under which most animals are raised, and this recent Swine Flu H1N1 thing is just the latest incarnation of the virulent side effects. The animals themselves are certainly not in any position to wander, and I am pretty damn sure they have neither hats nor friends.

SMFHOUSE But there are some people doing it right. If any of you frequent the area's numerous farmers' markets, you've no doubt come across Smith Meadows, purveyor of fine grass-fed meats and awesome homemade pasta out of Berryville, VA. Last Saturday, in an effort to educate and connect with their customers, the Pritchard family and their staff threw open the doors and fields, to "extend a hearty welcome to all visitors who want to see a contemporary 'Old-Fashioned Farm.' " Promising field tours, cooking demonstrations, and catered lunch featuring pork and beef barbecue, the event sounded promising, so Eliza and I made the hour's drive out to the West Virginia border for the 10:00 start time.

Arriving promptly at 10:15 (yeah, we overslept), we converged on the main house (which operates year-round as a B & B) with about forty others for the beginning of the tour. The group was led by Forrest Pritchard, who with his sister Betsy and several other family members, runs the daily operations on the farm. Over the course of the next hour and a half, Forrest took us on a tour of the the smaller Virginia portion of Smith Meadows, whose 500 acres straddles the VA/WV line.

SMFBEES About a hundred yards up the driveway from the main house is the apiary, the first stop on our tour. The small collection of hives and their maintenance are contracted out to Eric Lindberg of nearby Rock Ridge Farm and Apiary, who personally comes to tend the hives every week or so. The eight colony towers set up along the creek provide enough insects to pollinate all the plants for about a mile around. According to Forrest, Smith Meadows is essentially a grass farm, with the animals there to just do the mowing, so making sure the native plants are properly pollinated is rather important.

Though bees are great and all, the gaggle of children in the group quickly grew restless, requiring something a bit bigger, and, oh, "farmier" to hold their attention. We trucked onward to the southwest quadrant of the pasture, and into an antiquated apple orchard-come-pasture with pigs in residence. Smith Meadows pastures about 150 to 175 of these guys every year, most of which grow to nearly 300SMFPIG1 pounds. Unlike industrially raised  pigs, which subsist on any number of animal byproducts and other undesirables, Smith Meadows' pigs live on a combination of soy, corn, barley, and what they find in pasture, which may includes apples, mushrooms, and to my surprise, mice. The hogs are kept until their 11th month, at which point they are butchered locally at Horsts Meats of Hagerstown, MD — these two pictured at left probably made the trip this week. It was both heartening and bizarre to see pigs living so naturally. Though it is easy to forget, standard pigs are only a few generations of selective breeding away from their wild ancestors, and are quite clearly as comfortable in the woods as in a wallow.

SMFCATTLECALL  The curious animals followed us a good ways towards our next destination, pasture land to the north currently hosting the farm's cattle herd. Conspicuously absent were the men on horseback and in pickup trucks, those icons of the American beef industry. Also absent when we arrived at the gate were the cows, which Forrest soon remedied with a few loud bellows of "Here Boy!" or something to that effect. WithinSMFCattle2 minutes there was a thunderous chorus of "moos," and soon after several dozen pairs of bovine eyes watching us cautiously from a copse of trees. Forrest explained that the cows are conditioned to follow his call to new pastures, making the entrapments of industrial herds unnecessary. The farm raises about 200 to 225 head of cattle per year, most of which are hybrid breeds, whose inherent vigor give them good size and meat quality without the need of hormones or feed lots. Veal calves are also kept with the common herd; one little guy ran a circuit, back and forth, following us as we left the pasture.

SMFDucks The last stop before lunch was the poultry section to the northwest of the main house. Though they do not breed on premises, Smith Meadows raises sizable flock of laying hens, meat chickens, turkeys, and as of very recently, ducks. The chicks are brooded in re-purposed farm equipment, and then pastured for forty days in special hutches. Through regular fence movement and clever design, the chickens stay growing and healthy without the need of antibiotics or supplements, and the earth is not overworked by their presence. Thanks to an exemption in USDA rules, Smith Meadows is allowed to slaughter their own poultry, which they do in a clean, modern processing center just to the west of the hutches.

SMFLUNCH At this point it was nigh on 1:00, and with the tour over, we retired to the big tent for an outstanding lunch of beef barbecue, pork ribs, and accouterments, all from Smith Meadows, with greens from nearby Spring Meadow Farms. To follow would be cooking demonstrations, house tours, and lectures, all of which were added value to an already worthwhile morning.

It's easy to get self-righteous about the whole natural foods thing without really understanding why. Sure, there are lots of books on the subject, and gut instinct goes a long way, but all of that pales compared to seeing the situation for oneself. In the end, I know that most of those animals are bound for the table, but at least in the meantime, I now know firsthand that they lived with dignity, and without physical or psychological discomfort. So too do I know the meat is healthier, from seeing the animals, and the conditions in which they live. Perhaps most importantly, I now know firsthand that when I buy products from Smith Meadows, I am supporting some really friendly, cool people, with a great perspective on food and business. Thank you much to the Pritchard family and everyone else at the farm — in my mind, Farm Day was a huge success, and I hope you do it again next year.

Smith Meadows
568 Smithfield Lane
Berryville, VA 22611
(877) 955-4389
Farmer's Market Schedule here.
(Their ground beef is also featured in the burger at Cafe Saint-Ex)



Foodie To-Do List: Pop Tarts, Beach Blankets and Summer Solstice

TodoAs part of an ongoing effort to alert you, the readers of DC Foodies, to all of the really cool food-related events, classes and opportunities throughout the Washington Metropolitan area, we give you this week's edition of the Foodie To-Do List.

Each Wednesday, we give you a heads-up on a few of the upcoming events that we think look particularly interesting.  This week, we've got:

Free Pop Tart Day at California Tortilla:

What:
You know you grew up loving those delicious (if not especially nutritious) fruit-filled pastries.  Maybe it was fresh from the toaster before school.  Maybe it was cold (still good!) at school.  Either way, your annual chance to relive those memories for free will take place today at your local California Tortilla.

When:
TODAY - Wednesday, May 20th

Where:
All California Tortilla locations - find your closest option here.

Why:
Being a DC Foodie doesn't have to mean foie gras and caviar at every meal...sometimes it can be fun to enjoy guilty pleasures like darn tasty burritos and free Pop-Tarts!  Besides - one winner at every location will find a golden ticket that earns them free burritos for a year (gym membership not included).

Cost: 
One free Pop-Tart per customer. 

Big Beach Blanket Wine Bash at EatBar:

What:
Sip your way through 25 summer-appropriate wines while enjoying snack foods and beach-themed movies...all for $25 per person!  If you haven't tasted Albarino, Verdejo, Gruner Veltliner or other refreshingly light varietals (or if you have and you know you like them), this is the tasting for you.

When:
Saturday, May 30th, 1-4 PM

Where:
EatBar
2761 Washington Blvd.
Arlington, VA

Why:
Surf's up!  There are far worse ways to spend the weekend after Memorial Day than by working your way through the Neighborhood Restaurant Group's Top 25 summer sippers.  Throw in the flicks and some of EatBar's notoriously tempting snacks (served up from the "Snack Shack" in keeping with the theme), and you've got a great way to pass the afternoon.  What you do after that is up to you!

Cost:
$25 per person including wine tastings, snacks and discount pricing on all wines purchased on site.  Call (703) 778-5051 for reservations or additional details.


Summer Solstice Farm Dinner with Chef Cathal Armstrong:

What:
Gourmet Rappahannock is putting together a dinner en plein air, (which we think is French for "al fresco") to show off the bounty that is Rappahannock County produce.  Chef Cathal Armstrong of Restaurant Eve, Eamonn's and the Majestic in Old Town will be on hand to serve up this culinary masterpiece, with the net proceeds of the dinner going to benefit the Rappahannock County Farmland Preservation Fund.

When:
Saturday, June 20th
Cocktails @ 5:30 PM
Dinner @ 6:30 PM

Where:
Mount Vernon Farm
206 Mount Vernon Lane
Sperryville, VA

Why:
Cathal Armstrong's Restaurant Eve is consistently one of the top-rated restaurants in the Washington area, due in no small part to his ability to bring out the best in a wide range of local and seasonal ingredients.  He's that much closer to the ingredients in this setting...care to wager on what that means for the quality and the flavor of what he serves up?

Cost: 
$180 per person.  Seating is limited.  
For more information, call (540) 987-8682, ext. 2 or buy your tickets online at the website.

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If you would like your events posted here, please email help@dcfoodies.com with the event info.


Crystal City Farmers Market

Crystal City Sign Arlington County welcomed its sixth farmers market on Tuesday with the addition of the Crystal City Farmers Market.  The new market, located steps from the Crystal City metro station, is the brainchild of the Crystal City Business Improvement District, a public-private partnership established in April 2006 to provide a “higher level of service to visitors, workers and residents in Crystal City”.  Last year Crystal City BID began a Community Supported Agriculture program with Great Country Farms for residents and employees of Crystal City.  The overwhelming success of this program highlighted the demand for fresh produce, meats and dairy within Crystal City, leading to the creation of its first farmers market.  My friend James, a resident of Crystal City, first told me of the new market back in April, so I was looking forward to opening day.  To add to my excitement, I saw on their website that both Red Apron and Meat Crafters (two vendors I’ve been dying to try) were participating in the new market.  As I reviewed the expected list of vendors on their site, I was impressed that a brand new market was able to get such a diverse list of vendors.  The list included four bread/pastry vendors (including one of my favorites, Atwater’s Bakery), four meat producers (with everything from pork to lamb) and a wealth of fruit and vegetable farms.  Even more interesting, I noticed a loose leaf tea vendor (and we all know by now how much I love my loose teas) and a seller of salsas and pico de gallos made from locally grown ingredients (for a full list of vendors, go to the Crystal City Farmers Market website).  To say I was excited would be an understatement (and let’s not point out how sad it may seem that I get this excited about farmers markets).  So on Tuesday, I headed over to Crystal City with my reusable shopping bag in tow.

Togio Farms Tomatoes When I got off the metro, I was a little disoriented, as I’m not familiar with Crystal City.  I took a guess and walked down the hill, hoping I was going in the right direction.  When I saw the white tents on Crystal Drive, I figured I had either stumbled upon the farmers market or some sort of tent revival.  The market stretches from 18th to 20th street, lining both sides of the sidewalk with vendors.  The first vendor I saw was a familiar one, Toigo Orchards.  Sprawled out along the table were an intricate mass of tomatoes still clinging to their bright green vines.  These were the first vibrant tomatoes I’ve seen this Spring at any farmers markets.  I had promised myself I would try my hand at making and canning my own tomato sauces this year, so they were quite tempting.  But I opted to wait until tomato season was in full swing before making my own sauces.  Togio also had their collection of tomato sauces and apple products prominently displayed next to the tomato shrine.  People were lining up for the sample of apples out and animatedly asking about the various products for sale on the tables.  I usually pick up a jar of their tomato sauce but since I still had some of Chef Stefano’s smoky bacon and Parmesan pasta sauce from The Copper Pot, I decided to move along to the other vendors.

Tea Company Teas Jars of loose teas populated the next table, signaling that I’d found the new loose tea vendor TeaCo.  Myra Ceasar, one of the people behind TeaCo, was explaining the various blends to an eager young lady, unlocking the jars for her to smell.  She had the black teas separated from the other teas, allowing customers to see the various lines offered.  Myra admitted she’d brought a limited supply of teas since it was their first time at the new market.  As with many loose tea purveyors, TeaCo offers a variety of  blends of tea leaves that fall into one of six categories:  black teas, green/white teas, oolong teas, herbal teas, rooibos teas and medicinal herb teas.  They work with tea growers around the world in an attempt to get high quality leaves for their tea.  While she had the more familiar blends like Earl Grey and English Breakfast, she also had some unique blends that caught my eye.  The Persian Rose blend was already in a cute glass jar container, perched at the front of the table.  The blend has a strong, earthy aroma, mixing the smells of rose with a hint of cardamom and bergamot.  I love a good rose tea and I also love cardamom, so I was anxious to see how the two would work together in one cup.  Myra offered other blends to smell, each having its own signature fragrance.  I asked about the coconut creme blend listed on the sign.  Myra laughed and said unfortunately, she hadn’t brought that blend to market.  However, several people had already asked her about that very blend.  She said she would probably bring more varieties of tea next week, including the coconut creme.  She mentioned that they also sell their teas at Eastern Market during the weekends, bringing a larger selection of their blends to that market.  I bought the jar of Persian Rose and thanked her for bringing loose teas to more markets in the DC area.

Arugula Plants Displays of colorful hanging baskets of flowers dotted the Four Seasons Nursery tent.  Although I’m not one to buy plants (mostly because I am the equivalent of the plant Grim Reaper), the vibrant colors drew my eye to the stand.  The gentleman manning the tent was giving an older lady advice about low maintenance, but pretty plants for her condo.  Apparently she also had problems keeping plants alive for very long.  Four Seasons also had several herb plantings, including bushy basils and arugula plants that looked ready to eat.  But Four Seasons wasn’t the only stand with plants and flowers.  Beautiful orchids (one of my favorite flowers, mind you) lined the Orchid Station while LynnVale Studios had an assortment of different flowers in rich, lively tones.  Even though it wasn’t all that sunny, the array of flowers at the market certainly reminded us of Spring’s arrival.  Considering my long metro ride home, I opted against getting any plants or flowers from the market that day.

I was pleased to see one of my new favorite vendors Cherry Glen Goat Cheese at the market.  However, I was a little disappointed to find Cherry Glen was the only cheese or dairy vendor at Crystal City.  I was consoled, however, by the fact that Cherry Glen had samples of their goat cheeses out to try.  I still had a bit of the Monocacy Gold left from my purchases at the Mount Pleasant Farmers Market, so I didn’t pick up any more.  But I did learn they also offer fresh ricotta cheese. 

Bigg Riggs Ramp Vinegar As I continued along, I caught sight of the sign for Bigg Riggs Farms, a vendor I have read about numerous times from my fellow DC Foodies writer, Ramona Padovano.  I had never seen them at other markets I frequent, so I was curious to see what they had to offer.  One side of their tent was a table filled with salad greens fresh picked that day.  The mixes were voluminous, spilling out of their baskets and onto the table.  It looked like an explosion at a salad bar with green and deep purple leaves everywhere.  Before buying a bag of them, I looked around the rest of the tent and saw an interesting glass bottle sitting atop wooden crates.  Upon closer inspection, I found a ramp suspended in clear liquid, labeled ramp vinegar.  I have seen my fair share of ramps this season at the markets, but this was the first time I saw a ramp product at the market.  Although I was tempted to buy a bottle, my lack of affection for vinegars in general kept me from doing so.  Bigg Riggs also had a nice selection of jams, sauces, apple butters and hot pepper jellies for sale, all stacked strategically around the tent.   I bought a heaping bag of the salad greens and promised myself I’d get the ramp vinaigrette if it was available next time.

Atwater’s familiar display case of breads was a welcome sight, but so were the other bread vendors at the market.  Great Harvest Bread Company was giving out samples of their bread, so James (my frequent farmers market companion) decided to try their cheddar garlic bread.  Unlike some vendors who only give small samples, the man standing guard at Great Harvest cut off a healthy chunk of the bread for James to taste.  As we both sampled the hunk, we were told all the bread was made from fresh ingredients using no preservatives.  The taste of garlic permeated every inch of the bread, but the addition of molasses kept it from overpowering it.  James bought a loaf of their jalapeno cheddar bread while I mulled over the selection of cookies.  In the end, I decided not to get any because a lovely container of strawberries caught my eye. 

Westmoreland Strawberries The strawberries in question lined the front table at Westmoreland Produce.  Their sign promised fresh produce free of any pesticides or chemicals, but I didn’t see any other information about the farm.  The table was fairly crowded with people looking over their selection of salad greens, spring onions, strawberries and container plants and flowers.  The strawberries were a bright red and plump – in other words, irresistible.  A large container of strawberries was only $5, so I snapped up some with the intent to make a shortcake with them.  As I was paying for the strawberries, I chatted briefly with one of the ladies at the stand.  She said they were surprised at the turnout for the new market but happy to be busy.  And they were busy – as I finished paying, she ran off to help another lady looking at the various plants available. 

I will be honest; I was really scanning the market for the Red Apron sign.  I glanced here and there at the other vendors, but my eyes were always on the hunt for the red sign marking Nathan Anda’s charcuterie.  His hot dogs and cured meats have set the DC foodie community buzzing, with entire threads posted about them on Donrockwell.com and other DC centric food blogs.  While his meats are currently available for sale at Planet Wine in Alexandria, I don’t make it out to the less than metro friendly Alexandria that often.  So you can only imagine my disappointment when I didn’t see the elusive meat vendor at Crystal City.  Market manager Sara Abramson informed me logistical issues kept Red Apron and Meat Crafters from joining the market on its opening day.  The next day at Penn Quarter I finally met up with Nathan and his hot dogs and learned red tape with Arlington County was holding up their start at the Crystal City Farmers Market.  They do, however, hope to have everything resolved shortly and to start selling at Crystal City soon. 


Strawberry Shortcake 2 Strawberry Shortcake with Black Pepper Biscuits

For the biscuits:
2 cups all purpose, unbleached flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
7 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into squares
1 1/2 cups Buttermilk
1 egg and a teaspoon of water, for the egg wash


For the strawberries:
1 quart strawberries, hulled and sliced
2 tablespoons quality, aged balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar


For the whipped cream:
2 cups heavy cream
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.  Place the bowl and whisk attachment of a stand mixer in the freezer.
In a bowl, combine the strawberries, balsamic vinegar and sugar.  Place in the refrigerator for at least three hours to allow the berries to marinate. 
Sift together the flour, baking powder, sugar, salt, pepper and baking soda. In a food processor, combine the sifted dry ingredients and the butter, evenly distributing the cubes of butter amongst the flour mixture. Pulse the ingredients repeatedly until they form a dry crumble consistency. Slowly pour the buttermilk into the food processor and resume pulsing until a soft, wet dough is formed. Gently scrape out the dough onto a floured surface.  Knead the dough until it is smooth and then roll it out to 1 inch thick.  Using a biscuit cutter, cut eight circles and place them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.  Whisk together the egg and water and brush the wash over each biscuit.  Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, or until golden brown. 

While the biscuits are cooling, take out the whisk and bowl for the stand mixer.  Place the heavy cream, sugar and vanilla in the bowl and whip on medium speed until soft peaks are formed and no liquid remains.  Be careful not to overwhip, as this will cause the cream to curdle and become a mess.
Allow the biscuits to cool to room temperature.  Split one of the biscuits in half and place a dollop of whipped cream on top.  Spoon some of the strawberry mixture onto the cream.  Place the biscuit top slightly askew of the cream and berries.  If you’d like, top the biscuit with some more cream and a bit more of the berries (this is totally optional and depends on your level of decadence).  Repeat this procedure for the remaining biscuits and serve.

The Crystal City Farmers Market is located on Crystal Drive between 18th and 20th Street from 3 pm to 7 pm every Tuesday. 


Winery At La Grange: Prince William County's First Vineyard

LaGrangeManor The Virginia wine boom has seen vineyards creep closer and closer to DC in these past couple of decades. Though we've yet to see a winery open up in Fairfax (Sorry, Springfield Estate is actually in South Africa), as of 2006 the fine wine of the USA's fifth largest-producing state is made a mere 40 miles from the Capitol. On our way down to Charlottesville last month, Eliza and I made a quick detour off 66 to check it out.

When Chris Pearmund (owner of the nearby and well establish Pearmund Cellars) looked for an vineyard site in Prince William County, he wanted something special. He found it in the La Grange Manor, a 20 acre estate centered around a three-and-a-half story red brick house built in the 1790s. With vineyards just recently planted and not yet mature, the winery now produces a wide selection of wines made from grapes purchased from local vineyards.

LagrangeArbor The estate itself is beautiful to behold. Set off a small road in the middle of brush land and farm country, the hill-set house cuts a stately figure, surrounded by tall boxwoods, which form a fetching trellis arching over the house's back porch. Great pains were made to restore the interior in a historically accurate fashion, based on scant evidence gleaned from some early twentieth-century photographs, giving the ground floor tasting area an old-world, turn of the century feel. To the right of the front door, horseshoed around a brick and white-paneled fireplace is a modern, tile covered tasting bar — we sidled up to take in our options.

La Grange offers two tasting programs, one featuring eight of their whites and reds, the other the full range of 12, for a reasonable five and eight dollars respectively. Curious about the high-end "Snort," a Portuguese style fortified wine, we opted for the whole run.

The first few years of operating a winery and developing a style can be tough, so it was not a great surprise that La Grange's offerings were rather hit or miss. In the win column is the 2007 Pinot Gris ($19.00) — an unusual varietal for the area — which was pleasingly dry and citrusy, with good body and impressive acidity. The 2008 Cuvee Blanc ($19.00) made a pleasing, off-dry quaff, and we picked up a bottle to enjoy on our balcony. Impressive too was the 2006 Norton ($19.00), which was well balanced, spicy, and gamey, just as a good Norton should be. Also nice were the 2006 Merlot ($21.00), with its soft tannins and plummy, tobacco accented nose, and the 2006 Meritage ($25.00), which, though tannic, should show well after a few years in the cellar.

LaGrangeBarn File under "not so hot" the 2007 Rose of Merlot ($16.00), which was kinda limp for want of acid. The aforementioned 2007 Snort ($29.00) was a bit of a disappointment, bearing more residual sugar than its meager tannins could handle. Worst of all was the 2007 Cabernet Franc ($19.00), which the winemaker's notes describe as "A medium bodied wine with strong cherry and toasted almond aromas." In fact, the cherry flavor was so strong as to approach that of a Luden's cough drop, and the almond flavor was overwhelming, crossing over to the realm of artificial extract. Though I thought the wine undrinkable, I couldn't fault La Grange for false advertising.

LaGrangeCheese After running the line and thanking our bartender, we proceeded to the retail counter, where purchased a couple glasses of white and a hunk of cheese, and then retired to environs. We snagged a couple Adirondack chairs near a huge outdoor stone fireplace, and looked out over a vineyard of young Cabernet Sauvignon vines. The cheese was excellent, the view lovely, and the musical stylings of Blondie and Journey — courtesy of a wedding reception at the winemaking facility above — gave the whole experience a pleasant air of the surreal. Though the wines may be a bit pricey and variable, La Grange is a fine place to spend a sunny spring afternoon, and well worth the hour's drive.

The Winery At La Grange
4970 Antioch Road
Haymarket, VA 20169
(703) 753-9360
Food: Large selection of light fare (cheese, crackers, pate, etc).
Wine Availability: Limited availability in Virginia.


Foodie To-Do List: National Gallery of Art, EcoFriendly, and Chef's Best

TodoAs part of an ongoing effort to alert you, the readers of DC Foodies, to all of the really cool food-related events, classes and opportunities throughout the Washington Metropolitan area, we give you this week's edition of the Foodie To-Do List.

Each Wednesday, we give you a heads-up on a few of the upcoming events that we think look particularly interesting.  This week, we've got:

Garden Cafe Espana at the National Gallery of Art:

What:
Inspired by two Spanish exhibitions opening in the Gallery over the next two months, Jose Andres has created a whole new menu for the museum's Garden Cafe.  A selection of a la carte dishes and a full buffet will offer everything from Spanish anchovies and olives to braised short ribs and cold garlic-almond soup.

When:
Now through September 17th
Monday through Saturday, 11:30 AM - 3 PM
Sunday, Noon - 4 PM

Where:
National Gallery of Art, West Building
6th Street and Constitution Ave. Entrance
Washington, DC

Why:
Touring museums can be hungry work, but there's plenty to take the edge off when Andres' star power is involved.  Talk about a great way to pass a lunch hour: classic artwork, traditional Spanish dishes, and even Sangria and Spanish wines.  ¡Buen provecho!

Cost:
$19.25 per person for the buffet; a la carte menu items as priced.


Celebrate Chicken Season with Ecofriendly Foods:

What:
When it comes to shopping local farmers' markets, you quickly learn that EVERYTHING has a traditional growing season (despite what the shelves at Harris Teeter might tell you).  Chicken season begins in earnest this weekend, and the folks from EcoFriendly Foods will be celebrating with samples and recipes, Bruce's Famous Sweet-Onion / Apple Barbecue Sauce, and Southern Fried Chicken in picnic baskets from Dinner Matters.

When:
Sunday, May 17th

Where:
Dupont Circle FreshFarm Market
20th Street, NW, between Massachusetts Ave. and Q Street
Washington, DC

Why:
EcoFriendly Foods is SO hot right now.  Their meats appear on the menu at some of the best and most popular restaurants in the DC and New York dining scenes.  And their "grass-kickin' chickens" are always a treat.

Cost:
Free to stop by and sample.  But good luck trying and not picking up a chicken to take home! 

Food & Friends' "Chefs' Best" Dinner and Auction:

What:
Now in its 19th year, "Chefs' Best" brings together more than 50 of the most celebrated chefs in and around Washington to benefit the volunteer and culinary efforts of Food & Friends.  Food & Friends is all about helping those with cancer, HIV/AIDS and other life-threatening illnesses, and this annual gala event is a great way to support their efforts while enjoying great food and some sweet auction items.

When:
Monday, June 1st, doors open at 6:30 M

Where:
Hilton Washington
1919 Connecticut Ave, NW
Washington, DC

Why
Where else can you enjoy food from celebrated local chefs like Dean Gold, Geoff Tracy, Teddy Folkman, Patrick O'Connell, Robert Weland, Peter Smith, and Anthony Chittum all in one room while helping to ensure that Food & Friends' efforts continue to grow throughout the DC area?  Last year, they were able to provide more than 913,000 meals to those in need...with a successful event this year, they might just break a million!

Cost:
$225 per person. 
Tickets can be purchased on the website.  For more information, contact Eliza Yoder at (202) 269-6826 or via email at eyoder@foodandfriends.org.

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If you would like your events posted here, please email help@dcfoodies.com with the event info.