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September 2009

Foodie To-Do List: Share Our Strength's #SOSFood and DC Food Blogger Happy Hour

To do list

As 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:


#SOSFood, Share Our Strength's Twitter-Based Food Chat:

What: 
Share Our Strength is constantly coming up with new ways to engage people on issues of childhood hunger within our country.  Tonight, they're hosting a virtual chat "joining together food lovers and food bloggers to talk about food, culinary trends and how to be a successful blogger."  It's a great way to interact with some folks who share your love of food.

When: 
Tonight, 9-11 PM

Where: 
Twitter - follow along using hash tag #SOSFood

Why: 
This is Share Our Strength's 2nd monthly Twitter chat, and this time around they're featuring two DC-based panelists: our own Jason Storch and author Monica Bhide (who also writes A Life of Spice).  As if that weren't reason enough, they're promising gift baskets full of yummy items will be given away to random participants during the chat.

Cost:
Free - but if you don't have a Twitter account yet you won't be able to actively participate.  Go sign up for one now so you can join in the chat (and win prizes!).


DC Food Blogger Happy Hour at CommonWealth Next Wednesday:

What:
Last month, close to 60 bloggers showed up for drinks on the patio at Poste Brasserie to celebrate the inaugural DC Food Blogger Happy Hour.  The general consensus was that these should be regular things, so they'll be taking place the First Wednesday of every month from now on.  Next Wednesday we'll be gathering at CommonWealth Gastropub in Columbia Heights.

When: 
Wednesday, October 7th
6 - 8 PM (Happy Hour specials until 7)

Where:
CommonWealth Gastropub
1400 Irving Street, NW
Washington, DC

Why:
Getting frustrated at your friends' lack of enthusiasm about that AMAZING meal you had last week?  Eager to dish about restaurant gossip without having people look at you funny?  So were we!  Thus was born the DC Food Blogger Happy Hour, and this time we wanted to hold it in a location that offered some quality beer options to go with the food.

Cost: 
That's entirely up to you - but just try to say no to those delicious Scotch eggs and an Imperial pint or two to wash them down.  Show up before 7 to enjoy some decent Happy Hour specials.

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


Kaz Sushi Bistro

KazSign

With all the innovative cuisine available to the contemporary gourmand, it is amazing how the simplest preparations still have the ability to impress. For lack of human intervention, its hard to top sushi; little is any cooking, very little spicing to speak of, and when it comes to sashimi, there is naught to be done besides slapping the fish on the plate. In a world where foams and fusions are now commonplace, it is surprising that a sushi chef, using the most ancient and ascetic of processes and products, can still even raise the occasional eyebrow.

Kazuhiro Okochi (Kaz to his friends) comes from an unusual background for a sushi chef, having studied fine art in Oklahoma before a lengthy stint in Osaka, where he studied traditional Japanese, French, and Chinese styles of cooking. In 1988 he returned to the US as Executive Chef at Sushi-Ko, the oldest and most esteemed sushi bar in DC. After a decade, Kaz set off on his own, founding Kaz Sushi Bistro, which celebrated its tenth anniversary this year on April 14th. Many years ago, when both KSB and I were pretty new to the city, this place really widened my horizons, exposing a guy who could hardly stand overcooked salmon to the joys of raw fish. I have made a point of going as frequently as my checkbook will allow ever since. Realizing that it had been almost a year since our last visit, Eliza and I went with some friends during August's Restaurant Week to reacquaint ourselves with Chef Kaz's simple but extraordinary style.

KazRoom

Kaz does indeed have a very "bistro" feel; it is small, a little cramped even, with bare black tables and an open kitchen / sushi bar in the back. We were led to pleasant little four-top facing Eye Street. For Restaurant Week, I had always considered Kaz to be a bargain, so I was disappointed to learn that, despite the price increase, the menu structure had not changed. For $35.09, patrons are given a choice of one appetizer, six pieces of nigiri, two maki rolls, and one dessert. While options and portions are plentiful, it would have been nice to see a complimentary plum wine thrown in with the deal, or another such add-on that other restaurants have done to off-set the change. But no matter -- by the end of the night, we had ordered so much ala cart so as to render the RW menu moot.

I'm gonna cut right to the chase here: Kaz has gotten its share of mediocre reviews online from first time visitors who were left less than impressed. The California Roll, the Spicy Tuna Roll... yeah, they are good quality, but do little to justify shelling out the extra dough. Don't get me wrong -- the fish is all great, and Kaz has some of the best unagi I have found in the city. However, if one were to go in and order the usual suspects, I could totally see where he would find the hype unjustified. At Kaz, it's all about the signature stuff. The Restaurant Week menu featured a few of these -- including the Tuna with roasted Almond, which is beautiful for its balance and richness -- but we soon lost patience and started ordering some old favorites off the regular menu.

On the specials that evening was the smoked mackerel, offered both as an appetizer with seaweed and vinaigrette ($10.25), and a two piece nigiri with herb miso ($5.50). The Norwegian fatty mackerel is smoked in house, and still had that almost campfire aroma when it arrived at the table. Blissfully reminiscent of pulled pork, the mackerel was stringy and pleasantly firm, with more of that intense wood smoke on the palate, along with a slightly salty, nutty finish. This dish perfectly encapsulates the chef's ethos of combining new world flavors to a traditional dish, and is a must try if you still see it on the menu.

WasabiKaz

The previously mentioned tuna with roasted almond ($6) is also delicious, and has a wonderful crunchy and buttery texture contrast that works far better than you would expect. If your tastes are a bit more on the decadent side, the tuna with fois gras miso ($7.50) features the same great tuna richness, amplified by the tangy, gamy, fatty topping. The Kaz tuna experience is further improved by the addition of Hon, real crushed wasabi root available for $3 a teaspoon. Unlike the powdered stuff normally served, Hon is not bitingly hot, but more mildly spicy, with a pleasant green flavor, and a novel, stringy texture.

Far and away, for straight up hedonistic pleasure, nothing in town beats Kaz's seared salmon belly with soy-lemon sauce ($6.50). This sizable piece of nigiri looks obscene, all pink and glistening with fat, and smells like very mild grilled salmon. Once eaten, the sushi melts away like butter as you chew, all the

SalmonandMack1

while bursting with fatty goodness, balanced perfectly with the acidic sauce. Dear lord, I swear we ordered at least eight orders of these things for the table, and even if everything else had been wretched, I would have deemed the meal a success.

If any of these sound appealing to you but you still feel a bit timid, take a friend and go for the Kaz Sushi Tasting 009 ($32), which features eight different pieces of nigiri (chef's choice, mostly from the signature menu), and one signature roll. It's a great tour of what Kaz has to offer for $16 each (assuming you don't mind splitting each piece), and I have never been disappointed or felt cheated by the chef's selection. If you are a sake fan and have some money to spend, Kaz also features a sizable selection of bottles and carafes. Though the menu is categorized by type, with a brief primer on the side, I find sake types to be ridiculously vague and unhelpful, so bring an aficionado who will know them by name. For beginners, I suggest a bottle of Kaguyahime ($38 / 500ml), which is light, floral, and just slightly off dry. All in all, though, I felt just as well served by a big ol' bottle of Kirin for nine bucks.

After such a long absence, it was nice to see that Kaz was just as grand as I'd remembered. Though undeniably pricey for a casual sushi joint, the culinary adventure that is the signature menu, and the universally fresh and high-quality fish make Kaz well worth the price paid.

Kaz Sushi Bistro
1915 Eye St NW
Washington, DC 20006
(202) 530-5500
Lunch: Monday through Friday, 11:30am to 2:00pm
Dinner: Monday through Saturday, 6:00pm to 10:00pm
Closed Sunday
Dress code: Casual
map


Foodie To-Do List: Market to Table Class, Save the Deli Author Event, Sparkling Rendezvous at Sofitel

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:


Farmers Market Basket: From Farm to Table Participation Class at CulinAerie:

What: 
Fresh, Local, Seasonal, Sustainable: that's the food mantra these days.  But what does that mean, exactly?  And what is that mound of green stuff at your favorite Farmers Market or in your CSA box?  This is the place to figure it out.  Instructors go shopping at the market on Sunday and present to you a Farmers Market Basket on Monday.  Then you work with them to learn recipes that use all of these great seasonal veggies.

When: 
Monday, September 28
6:30 PM

Where: 
CulinAerie
1131 14th Street NW
Washington, DC

Why: 
These monthly classes are meant to rescue you from being overwhelmed by the contents of your CSA share, but they also work if you're trying to branch out beyond the fruits and vegetables you know (and are probably sick of by now).  Seasonality means that each month's offerings are unique; September produce is definitely worth checking out.

Cost:
$85 per person.  Sign up via CulinAerie's website (registration required) or call (202) 587-5674 for more details.


"Save the Deli: In Search of Perfect Pastrami, Crusty Rye, and the Heart of Jewish Delicatessen"
at the Sixth and I Historic Synagogue:

What:
Do you long for a good pastrami on rye?  Wonder why you can't find those amazing kosher dill pickles anymore?  Can you tell the difference between a knish and a pierogi?  If so, you'll probably enjoy this evening with author David Sax as he discusses his new book Save the Deli.

When: 
Wednesday, October 21
7:00 PM (Doors open at 6)

Where:
Sixth and I Historic Synagogue
at the corner of - surprise - Sixth and I Streets, NW
Washington, DC

Why:
Sax really digs into the past, present and future of the American Jewish Delicatessen tradition and offers some interesting insights on what can be done to save this dying institution across the country.  Plus, he's being interviewed by Washingtonian's Todd Kliman.  It should be a deli-lover's delight.

Cost: 
Tickets are $6 each, or you can get two free tickets with the purchase of the book for $24.


A Sparkling Rendezvous with Champagne Pommery at the Sofitel Washington DC Lafayette Square:

What:
There are stay-cations, and then there are stay-cations.  Between now and December 31st, anyone who purchases a bottle of Pommery's Cuvée Louise 1998 Champagne in Le Bar will receive a complimentary night of "luxurious accommodations and French style."

When: 
Based on availability with or without reservation any day from now until the end of the year

Where:
Sofitel Washington DC Lafayette Square
806 15th Street NW
Washington, DC

Why: 
Trying to get away in this economy can be tough, but you want to make your night out special.  Champagne is a fine way to celebrate a special occasion, and fine champagne is a splurge that everyone should enjoy at least once.  Why not have a room to retire to once you've shared your bubbly?

Cost:
The room is free, but the bottle of '98 Cuvée Louise will set you back $299 plus tax.  For more information or to make reservations, call the Sofitel at 202-730-8800.

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


The Politics of Food: Foie Gras




Foie1

Some how the enlarged liver of water fowl has become a flashpoint in the animal rights movement.

To some extent, I understand their concern. To some extent, I don't.

I don't mean to be obtuse. Foie gras is an interesting topic. For anyone who doesn't know, foie gras is the fattened liver of ducks and geese. People either love it or loathe it -- if they even know what it is. Those who love it do so because it is a wondrously rich and delicious delicacy. Those who don't, don't because making foie gras requires the birds to be force-fed more food then they normally eat so that their fatty livers grow even fatter.

But in the larger scheme of things, why does anyone really care? As Mark Caro rightly points out in his book, "The Foie Gras Wars," foie gras is nothing more than the liver of unnaturally obese ducks that a limited number of wealthy people plunk down $20 to eat at expensive restaurants. Surely there are more important issues for people to worry about. But it is foie gras' relative obscurity and exclusivity that makes it such a perfect target for animal rights activists and sympathizers, Caro argues.

As he notes in his book, "foie gras (a) has a funny French name, (b) is enjoyed by the relatively affluent, (c) remains unknown to your average Tyson chicken eater, (d) is liver, and (e) is made from ducks. We like ducks."

This fondness of ducks, and concern that they're subjected to torture, is the reason protesters harass restaurateurs, demanding that all foie gras is pulled from the menu. However, the picketing and protesting can have the opposite effect. Damien Brassel, chef and owner of New York's Knife + Fork restaurant, responded to protesters by adding it to his tasting menu, according to the Village Voice. Other restaurants in New York, D.C. and elsewhere have done the same.

While researching this topic, I spoke to a local chef who's worked with foie gras for years. Like the fur protests of the 1990s, the chef said the foie gras protests are a passing fad and would not consider pulling the controversial dish from the menu.

Now, I like foie gras. Of course I also like beef, pork and chicken. But the main difference between foie gras and the Holy Trinity of American meat is scale. Given the enormous amounts of beef, pork and chicken we eat, the industries that provide those products to us are understandably large. And large companies have lobbyists, legislative clout and well-funded marketing departments (Beef, it's what's for dinner; Pork, the other white meat; The incredible, edible egg; etc. and so forth.) 

In contrast, the small amount of foie gras produced in the U.S. comes from two farms: Hudson Valley Foie Gras in New York and Sonoma Valley in California.

So despite the various problems and abuses in the beef, pork and poultry industries over the years, not too many people are chucking bricks through restaurant windows because there's a burger on the menu.

To understand why someone would vandalize a restaurant and threaten its staff over a duck, it helps to understand how foie gras is produced. Foie gras is made by artificially engorging ducks or geese a few days before slaughter (a process known as gavage or noodling). The forced-feedings cause the birds' livers to increase in size because that's where they store fat. Gavage may be considered a grotesque process by some, but consider that the birds naturally do this to a lesser extent every year to prepare for migration.

For the daily feedings, a worker holds a bird (typically a duck in the U.S.) between his legs and slides a metal or rubber tube down the bird's throat. The bird is then force-fed about 10 ounces of grain. This can be a rough way of feeding an animal, but ducks and geese swallow their food whole. So as long as the worker is careful, the process shouldn't cause the animal much discomfort, and certainly no injury.

But are the workers always careful? I'm sure not. Judging by the videos and accusations made by the Humane Society and PETA, gavage is a highly cruel process suffered by filthy, injured animals forced to live in wretched conditions.  The problem with these videos, it seems to me, is they highlight the worst cases not the typical cases. As such, they distort the issue. Rather than discuss the issues involved with producing foie gras, animal rights groups dredge up imagery and anecdotes about farms with the very worst animal husbandry practices. The way in which these operations treat their livestock has nothing to do with foie gras, it has to do with the way they treat their animals. And whether we're talking about ducks or cattle, abuse is abuse.

For her The Village Voice article, writer Sarah DiGregorio visited Hudson Valley Farms to witness first-hand their production practices. Although Hudson Valley is a favorite target for protesters, DiGregorio found no signs of abuse, even going so far as to personally inspect the esophagi of freshly slaughtered ducks. Caro took similar tours, including of Hudson Valley, while working on "The Foie Gras Wars" and found no signs of torture or abuse either.

During the feedings, DiGregorio said the ducks didn't seem to enjoy being held between the worker's legs and force-fed, but the animals did not appear to be tortured. Once the 10 to 15 second feeding was over, the birds calmly walked off.

That's an important point. Hudson Valley doesn't raise its birds in cages. The animals are raised in sanitary environments and allowed to wander around in large, open areas. Farms in Canada and Europe have been known to raise their birds in cages. As a consumer, you have the ability to decide whether this is important to you. If it is, then make sure you're buying foie gras from farms that raise their birds in cage-free environments. If you don't care, that's fine too. At least you know there's a difference.

Like veal, foie gras is not an easy issue. Everything we eat, whether it walked the earth or grew from it, has political, moral and nutritional implications. And as we must eat to live, we should be aware of the consequences, and not merely cherry pick the issues we decide to fight for or against.

If you choose not to eat foie gras, fine. If you choose not to eat veal, fine. But I will. And I will do so being well aware of what I'm eating and secure in the knowledge that people like Forrest Pritchard at Smith Meadows Farm, and the folks at New York's Hudson Valley Farm, are producing these products in a sustainable, conscientious and humane way.



Foie Gras Three Ways

(Makes a lot of foie gras)

For these dishes, I went online and ordered 2 pounds of Hudson Valley foie gras from D'Artagnan. That much will easily feed 10 people a reasonable amount of foie gras. Remember it's all fat. Really, really delicious fat. But don't eat it regularly or your cardiologist will tell you to lay off it for good.

As for the recipes, they include two American techniques (grilling and searing) and one French technique (cru au sel: raw with salt). To be fair, the use of two American techniques and one French is a misrepresenation of foie gras cooking techniques. The grilling and searing techniques represent most, if not all, of the American approaches to preparing foie gras. Cru au sel is but one of a great many ways the French have come up with to prepare foie gras. In fact, I had to cajole the chef who worked with me on these recipes (who's training is classic French cuisine) to allow me to try the grilling technique (this is a grilling column). Fortunately, it worked out (to my relief and the chef's surprise).


Foie2

Grilled Foie Gras with Gastrique of Porter
(for two)


2 4 oz. pieces of foie gras
2 tbs. of honey
2 tbs. of balsamic
1/2 cup of porter (I used Flying Dog's Road Dog porter)
Kosher salt

Typically, foie gras will come in two lobes, with one lobe larger than the other. The larger lobe has more veins than the smaller. If you cut your pieces from the smaller lobe, you are less likely to encounter veins. Use a hot, thin-bladed knife to cut on the bias through the lobe of foie gras in order to render the two 4 ounce pieces. Also, make sure to work with cold, not frozen, foie gras. As foie gras warms, it will begin to melt like butter.

Once your pieces are cut for grilling, get your grill as hot as possible. When it's ready to go, salt one side of the foie gras and place it on the grill for 30 to 45 seconds. If you want a cross hatch, turn the foie gras 90 degrees. If not, allow to grill another 30 seconds or so. Turn the foie gras and grill for another 30 seconds or so. Remove from heat and set aside.


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In a medium, non-reactive pan -- on the stove or grill -- combine the honey, balsamic vinegar and cook over medium heat until the mixture starts to caramelize. The consistency should be syrupy. Remove the pan from the heat and slowly add the porter; reduce by half. This should take about 5 minutes. When the sauce has thickened, place the foie gras in the pan and allow it to finish cooking, about 2 minutes.

Remove the foie gras from the pan, and sauce it lightly. Serve it with the remainder of the beer.


Foie5

Seared Foie Gras with Peaches
(for two)

2 4 oz. pieces of foie gras
1 peach, peeled, halved and sliced (or cut into a fan)
1/2 cup of dessert wine, such as Sauternes or Beaumes de Venise
1/2 cup of veal stock
Kosher salt
Freshly cracked black pepper
Himalayan Pink Salt or other finishing salt

To begin, heat a high-quality aluminum pan (do not use Teflon) over high heat. Season one side of the foie gras with Kosher salt.

Foie6

When the pan is very hot, place the foie gras in it, seasoned side down. Because the foie gras will begin to melt immediately, you do not need additional fat in the pan. Also, it will smoke ... a lot. After 45 seconds or so, a crust will have formed on the bottom. Turn and cook the foie gras for another 45 seconds or so. Remove the foie gras from the pan.

Turning down the heat to medium, place the peach into the same pan, which is now coated in rendered foie gras.  Sear for 30 to 45 seconds and remove from the pan.

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Add the wine to the pan and cook off the alcohol, about three minutes. Add the veal stock, stir and allow to reduce by about half. This should take 3 to 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat, and return the foie gras and peach to the pan. Warm the foie gras and peach, while gently basting, for about a minute.

Plate the foie gras and peach, and sauce lightly. Finish with the cracked black pepper and pink salt.

Cru au Sel
(for 8-10)

In this simple, classic French preparation, the foie gras is cured rather than cooked.

1 lobe (approximately 1 lb.) of foie gras, cleaned of all veins
5-6 cups of Kosher salt
Approximately 1 tbs. finishing salt (such as the pink salt)
1/2 tsp. freshly cracked black pepper
Crackers (or toasted brioche or baguette)
1 container of Membrillo (quince paste)

Allow the foie gras to come to room temperature for about 30 minutes. Disturbing the liver as little as possible, gently work through the underside of the lobe, identifying the veins and any bloody bits, with the tips of your fingers or the tip of a boning knife. Return the lobe to its original shape as best as possible.

Place 1-2 cups of salt into the bottom of a container big enough to hold the lobe of foie gras. Roll the cleaned lobe of foie gras in cheesecloth to keep its bits together (if any pieces came off during cleaning, these can be added back to the middle of the lobe and secured with the cheesecloth). Gently form the lobe into a loose log shape, tightly closing the ends of the cheesecloth, and place seam-side down into a container. Do not place it seam-side up, or too much salt will enter the interior of the log. Pour the remaining 3-4 cups of salt over the top of the lobe, and allow to cure for two hours.

After curing, remove the lobe and rinse in cold water, removing all salt. Lay a sheet of aluminum foil down on a flat surface, then cover with an equal size sheet of plastic wrap. Lay the foie gras on top, roll up, and twist tightly to form a perfect cylinder. Place in the refrigerator for at least three hours, or until ready to serve. Before serving, remove the log from the fridge for 15-20 minutes, slice into disks with a hot knife, and serve simply with a sweet jam or membrillo, finishing salt, pepper, and toasted brioche or baguette.

Additional photos of the foie gras, including the preparation, can be seen here.


Real Tequila Deal at New Heights

NewHeights1 The past fifty years have not been kind to tequila. Formerly the honest, artisanal product of proud distillers in central Mexico, tequila is now widely considered little more than a frat drink, a cheap and effective instigator of bad decisions and worse hangovers. But what Pepe Lopez and Jose Cuervo bring to the party is decidedly not real tequila — indeed, a lot of what goes into these and others of their ilk is straight fermented sugar, or essentially, industrial-grade alcohol.

Real tequila, made from 100% agave and in the traditional method, is more than just a shooter. Oh, and sure, your higher-grade mass-market brands like Patron, Milagro, Corazon and the like are fine, but still not all that interesting. It's rare in this town to come across a truly interesting selection of tequilas, which is why I was shocked when I wandered into New Heights in Woodly Park and saw a bottle of Don Fulano.

NewHeights3 For every geek, there is a revelatory moment, when a thing that had once been a minor interest promises so much more. Handel's Messiah, or The Velvet Underground's Pale Blue Eyes have no doubt turned many a dabbler down the path of the music nerd. As for literature, Ulysses and Gravity's Rainbow have opened up the minds of millions of readers, exposing them to a completely new understanding of the medium. Don Fulano worked similar magic on my 23 year old mind when I tried it long ago at my old place of business. Up until then, the best liquor I'd ever had was Seagram's VO, and I couldn't even down a shot of Mexican courage without gagging. Sipping the Fulano was revelatory; where I expected simple, it was complex; where I expected burning, it was smooth. I wish I could have had more, but the stuff was over $150 a bottle, and soon dropped out of the market.

Of course, time is a tricky bastard, and rarely is anything as good as we remember. Regardless, when I saw that familiar, long gone bottle behind the bar at New Heights, I was elated, and excitedly engaged the bartender in conversation.

NewHeights2 Apparently, bar manager Jason Robey was once the distributor of this and other tequilas in the DC market, and continues to stock several, at great effort and expense, from sources on the west coast. Many of Jason's tequilas will be unfamiliar to most, so he's developed a great little flight to make it easy on ya. Everyday, New Heights will pour up three samples of their more esoteric tequilas — including Chinaco, Los Azulejos, and Don Fulano Anejo — for $40, which is a good $20 less than what you would pay ala cart. As a bonus, Jason serves this up with his own house-made sangrita, a traditional blend of tomatoes, citrus juice, onion, adobo, and other spices, served with a salted rim. When sipped after fine tequila, sangrita serves to both cleanse the palate and enhance the flavors of the liquor.

While I couldn't guarantee that these, or indeed any tequila would provide you with the epiphany I experienced way back when, if real, fine tequila interests you at all, you are not likely to find a better deal in town.

New Heights
2317 Calvert St NW
Washington, DC 20008-2622
(202) 234-4110
Bar opens daily Mon - Sat at 5:00 PM


Weekly Blog Roundup

IMG_0541 Heard around the DC Foodies blogoshere this week...Fall in DC will bring a windfall of new restaurants in the area. Metrocurean has put together a list of several promising additions to our dining scene. Among them are Masa 14, Birch & Barley and ChurchKey, all set to open on 14th St. Chef Eric Ziebold is expected to open Sou"Wester, which will feature a Southern-inspired menu. For more mouth-watering details, go to Nine Noteworthy Fall Openings.

Speaking of Birch & Barley and ChurchKey, Dining in DC reported that Kyle Bailey was appointed as the Executive Chef this week. Bailey, a CIA graduate, has worked in NYC, where he received notable praise. His new menu will include fresh pastas and wood-fired flatbreads, and a focus on local ingredients. For more on the menu concepts and offerings, and much more on the latest happenings in and around DC, check out DiDC's full post here.

Capital Spice has the scoop on the new White House Farmers Market. From President Obama's lips to the team at FreshFarm Market's ears, this effort quickly gained traction and will come to fruition on Thursday. The location on Vermont Avenue (map here) will feature 19 producers (so far) and will be open from 3 p.m.-7 p.m on Thursdays (in season). To see a full list of producers at this new market, check out Announcing the Producers at FreshFarm's White House Market.

From Komi to Marvin reviewed Bastille this week. The French (or Pan-French as FKtM noted) restaurant in North Old Town got dings for its location; next to train tracks, a coal plant and furniture store. The cuisine fared a bit better, with an appetizer of shrimp and calamari begneits that was big in portion, but a bit light on seafood. The fois gras flan was a small piece of fois, burnt on one side and served with a caramelized blueberry sauce. A piece of goat cheese cheesecake ended the meal on a higher note, but in comparison to the same dessert at 2941, FKtM described Bastille's rendition as "lackluster".

Finally, let's see what local food bloggers have been cooking up. Hungry Yet? made a savory Goat Cheese and Leek Galette using locally-produced and sold Moutoux Orchard flour. The Arugula Files gave a send-off-salute to summer with Corn Quesadillas. 

One more thing before I forget! Congratulations to The Food Scribe's April Fulton for being featured as a locavore at the Silver Spring farmers market, as part of a segment on WJLA TV. Check out her blog for a link to the video.


Franklin's: Stellar beer bar, great brewpub, completely unlikely success

Franklin1 Franklin's is a great brewpub, but it shouldn't be.

Before opening the Hyattsville establishment in 2002, Mike Franklin never ran a restaurant and had zero brewing experience. None. The guy sold toys, for Pete's sake.

He chose the location based on the fact that he liked the old building that now houses the shop attached to the brewpub. It's also walking distance from his house.

You know what else is walking distance from his house? Squat.

This is Hyattsville, Md. Located between the Northeast D.C. and College Park, and famous for absolutely nothing at all. There's a small neighborhood and a few gas stations, but not a whole lot else. There was even less back in 1992 when Mike decided to buy an old hardware store and convert it into an "urban survival store," replete with toys, games, knick knacks, and a damn fine selection of craft beers and wine tucked away in the back. Originally, the shop also had a sandwich counter, which was the precursor to the brewpub.

After a few years, Mike got to a point where he figured he either had to grow his business or sell it, so he gambled on growth.

Although he sold Bud and Miller in the shop, Mike noticed that a lot of his regular customers were buying the craft beers he stocked. In the late 90s, brewpubs had a slightly better success rate than restaurants (meaning they were failing a little less than restaurants), so Mike figured he had an audience that wanted craft beer and the data to justify launching a brewpub.

Recap 1: A two-story brewpub located close to nothing that features a menu that's more bistro than bar grew out of a beer cooler and a sandwich counter. This shouldn't work. Yet, Mike and wife Debbie have one of the best beer bars in the D.C. area. Go figure.

"This turned out to be a 'build it and they will come' story," Mike said.

Despite Mike's complete lack of restaurant and brewing experience, he clearly knows how to run an operation. Since the day it opened in 2002, the place has been a destination for Mike's Hyattsville neighbors and beer geeks throughout the region.

Luck seems to be a reoccurring theme for Mike. While he was building Franklin's, Mike hedged his bets and had the space designed so that if he couldn't find an affordable brewing system, the areas he set aside for the tanks could be converted into dining room space.

Franklin2 No need. Mike lucked out and found out about an Ohio brewpub that was going under and auctioning off its brewing equipment. He headed north, placed a bid, and called Debbie to let her know he just bought a brewery.

As every brewery needs a brewer, Mike put the word out that he needed someone to run the operation. Two dozen applications and five in-person interviews (beer tastings) later and Mike found Charles Noll, Franklin's resident brewer.

Given the consistent quality of Charles' beer, it's clear that Mike got lucky again.

Like Mike, Charles didn't set out to be in the brewing business. He graduated from college in New York with a degree in criminal justice. But Charles was always more interested in home brewing than busting perps, so he followed his sister out to California to try and get into brewing. He did. While living out of a campground in Northern California, Charles went from apprenticing at a local brewpub to enrolling at the American Brewers Guild.

Once a certified brewer, Charles headed back to Albany where there was a growing craft beer scene, but fewer people vying for jobs in the industry. There he spent a few years as head brewer at the now-defunct Malt River Brewpub. Although he was able to produce a few beers based on his own recipes, most of the beer was brewed using a mishmash of previous brewers' directions. Eventually, it became clear that the Malt River Brewpub was not long for this world, so Charles began checking help wanted ads. He found Mike's.

Franklin3 Recap 2: the toy guy (right) who never ran a restaurant or a brewery hired a criminal justice grad (left) whose primary brewing experience came from a failed brewpub where he followed other brewers' recipes.

Of course this would work. And it has.

Enough about the back story, let's talk beer. Charles makes good beer. And to be clear, the only recipes that Charles brought from Malt River were his own. At any given time, Franklin's has eight beers on draft, five of which are constants ... sort of. Anarchy Ale is the house beer, but no two batches are alike.

The ale tends to be a hoppy style, but Charles tinkers with the recipe with every batch to keep the beer geeks happy and avoid too much repetition. The rest of the standards - the Twisted Turtle Pale Ale, Sierra Madre Pale Ale, Private I.P.A, and Bombshell Blonde - cover most of the popular beer styles. Charles also tries to keep a stout or porter on tap most of the time, but like the Anarchy Ale, the recipe changes. During my recent visits, Charles had worked up a batch of pepper stout. (I liked the stout, but didn't get any of the pepper. However, a guy seated next to me at the bar nearly gagged on his sample because it was too "hot" for him. I guess spice is relative.)

For the rest of the taps and the rest of the year, Charles produces a regular rotation of seasonal beers. This summer it's been the Summer Wheat Ale and a German-style Helles. With fall closing in, Charles' Oktoberfest will be returning. During the holiday season, a Christmas ale is produced, and spring means Maibock.

Along with the seasonals and standards, Charles brews up a variety of rotationals, including red ales and malty session beers, like Mission Accomplished, which was still on draft when I stopped by last.

On top of all of this (because producing more than 2 dozen different styles of beer a year just isn't enough), Charles has a firkin.

Actually, let me back up. Franklin's has a nitrogen tap, which makes any beer poured through it very smooth and creamy (think Guinness), albeit artificially. (Beer taps in the U.S. use carbon dioxide to force the beer from the kegs to the taps. The CO2 also preserves the beer longer, reducing waste. While efficient, it does inject additional carbon dioxide into the beer. Replacing the carbon dioxide with nitrogen allows the beer to come out at its natural CO2 level, but with a bit of added N.) The natural way to do this is to use a beer engine, or handpump, which requires the bartender to manually pump the beer out of a beer cask. This is the way most British ales are drawn in the U.K. However, you can't use a standard keg with a beer engine (American kegs are designed for the gas systems), so it can be a pain for most American bars that don't want to deal with special beer taps or casks. That's not the case with Franklin's. Because the beer is brewed on-site, it wouldn't be a big deal to keep a couple casks on hand for the beer engine. Charles said his biggest problem is lack a space to set up a beer engine and cooler for the beer cask.

Franklin4 So until Mike builds him a beer engine station (please Mike, build him a beer engine station), Charles has a firkin to fall back on. Firkins really are the second best thing to a beer engine. Basically a firkin is a 9 gallon keg that Charles can fill with one of his standard, seasonal or rotating beers, or he can whip up something special. And because the firkin relies on gravity, not a CO2 tap, the beer comes out completely unadulterated. Every Friday, Charles puts a new firkin on the bar. Rarely does it see Saturday morning.

If that's not enough to convince you that Franklin's is a great beer bar, they also sell and fill growlers. Although Mike did a great job designing the place, sometimes you'd like to drink the beer at home. That's where growlers come in. You can buy one of theirs or bring in your own.

(Being able to fill any growler is big. I have a growler from a North Carolina brewery that I once took with me on a trip down to one of my favorite beer bars in Durham. Although the place sold growlers, they would only fill their own. They really didn't care that I carted that damn thing four hours, hoping to fill it with some of North Carolina's finest hoppy goodness.)

Franklin5 And if that's still not enough to convince you, consider that Mike Franklin still has one of the best selections of craft beers in the area. The sandwich counter was converted into shop space when the brewpub opened, but he never stopped selling beer and wine. In fact, he's expanded the shop's beer selection since the brewpub opened.

There are a few places in the area to get fresh beer: District Chop House, the Rock Bottoms and the Capital City locations. None of them produce beer as consistently good as Franklin's. Add to that the extra touches like the growlers, craft beer selection and Friday firkins and you have one of the best beer bars in the D.C. area.

That's not to say I don't have a few quibbles. First off, Franklin's is a restaurant first and a brewery second. That means the food is quite good (the onion rings are kick ass), but this isn't a restaurant review. As bars go, it's not much of one. But that wasn't Mike's goal. He intended to open an establishment that would attract neighbors, families and beer enthusiasts, in that order. To that end, he has succeeded.

Franklin6 But I'm a purist at heart. I like my bars to be bars. At Franklin's you're just as likely to see a family having dinner as you are a few guys unwinding over drinks after work. All that being said, Franklin's is a God-send to beer geeks with kids. There are few places around here where mom and dad can enjoy a well crafted beer while the kids root around for a new toy or fist-fulls of candy. I also like Mike's decision to put the bar on the second floor, away from the toys and (most of) the tots.

The bartenders are another issue. Every bartender I've encountered has been very friendly. On the other hand, I've swung though on a slow Friday and had to work to get the bartender's attention ... while sitting at the bar. Other times, I got the impression that the bartender was content to give me the beer menu and allow me to engage in a bit of self-study. I don't expect the bartender to go though the ins and outs of every beer with me, but a good bartender should be knowledgeable about the beers and (most importantly) willing to talk about them. I would also expect the servers in a brewpub to be knowledgeable about the beers.

Franklin7 Then there's the general store and Web site. Both do a great job of hiding the great selection of beer and wine for sale. Unless you wandered past the stuffed animals, candy bins, greeting cards, various tchotchke and into the back of the store, you would never know there was a large selection of craft beers, imports and wines available. And no where is it posted that you can buy a bottle of wine from the shop and bring it into the restaurant for a $10 corkage fee (although why you'd want to drink wine at such an excellent brewpub is beyond me). Unfortunately, the Web site is no help. The section on the store has more information on the shop's former life as a hardware store than anything on the beer and wine available. I wonder how many regulars have gone elsewhere for craft beer unaware of the selection Mike keeps hidden in the back.

But how can I blame Mike for a few miscues when he's running an otherwise great beer bar? After all, it's not like the guy has ever done this before.

Score: 14 or 20 (beer: 6 of 8, atmosphere: 3 of 5, bartenders: 3 of 5, other elements 2 of 2)

The Best Beer Bars so far: Birreria Paradiso (17 of 20), The Galaxy Hut (16 of 20), and Franklin's (14 of 20)

Want to see more photos of Franklin's? Check them out here.


Weekly Blog Roundup

Heard around the DC Foodies blogosphere this week...Each Wednesday, I look forward to seeing what Metrocurean will mention in her Wednesday's Delicious Deals post. This week, West End Bistro's complimentary Philadelphia soft pretzels were featured, and can be enjoyed while watching Top Chef each Wednesday, at the bar or hotel lounge, as long as Philly contestant Jennifer Connelly is on the show.

Gut Check recently reported on the opening of BGR: The Burger Joint in Old Town Alexandria. People have been enjoying BGR's burgers in their Bethesda location, including a 15.4 lb. mega burger. On the hamburgers at the N. Washington St. location, Don Rockwell member "goldenticket" noted "I thoroughly enjoyed my first BGR burger on Monday, cooked just as I ordered (Med-rare). I look forward to going back to try some of the other offerings like the veggie and turkey burgers".

Foodie Tots has been going strong with her participation in the One Local Summer Challenge. Visiting local farms and markets, FT has been using summer produce to make delicious dishes, such as Chilled Plum Soup with Blue Cheese Panna Cotta and Tomato Jam.

In more great recipes from local food bloggers, Adventures in Shaw returned to her blog after a brief hiatus that left her anxious to whip something up. "I feel like I’m having to play catch up, so I’ve been whirling around my kitchen like a drunken teenage girl on prom night", she noted. Despite the summer heat, Roasted Red Pepper Soup can hit the spot. AiS recommends that you take the time to roast your own (preferably local) red peppers to add great depth of flavor to the soup.

Finally, Local Kicks reported that Pork Barrel BBQ will be opening a restaurant in the Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria next spring. A duo of Capital Hill workers who dreamed of their hometown Kansas City BBQ while serving on the Senate Appropriations Committee have teamed up to form a line of BBQ products and open a bbq joint in our area. Thus, talks of pork barrel spending turned into Pork Barrel BBQ.


Pizzeria Paradiso: The New Dupont Location is Open for Business!

Paradiso1 Way back in 1991, a small restaurant called Pizzeria Paradiso opened up on P St in the Dupont Circle neighborhood, and quickly made a name for itself. Featuring wood-fire baked, Neapolitan style pizzas of unusual quality, the pizzeria soon outgrew its meager floorspace, and so was born Paradiso 2 in upper Georgetown. With continued acclaim, and the addition of one of the city's finest beer programs, business kept rolling in, and soon little Paradiso 1 just couldn't handle the crunch. So, after a year's construction and the usual cadre of setbacks, please welcome the new Paradiso, which opened up last Saturday in a custom-built space right up the road from the original. I wandered over around 8:00 that night to meet some friends and scope things out.

Paradiso5 Those familiar with the Georgetown Pizzeria Paradiso will feel instantly at home in the new space. Clearly designed with a similar mindset, the new space is all exposed brick, cream-colored walls with wood accents,and big windows -- even those cute, rustic pizza-pie sculptures aligning it's sister's basement feature here along the bar partition. The space appears to seat about 75+, and will accommodate another 24 once the large, seasonally-heated patio is opened later this month. The bar is a good deal larger than either of it's predecessors, and will seat a 15 or so in relative comfort.

Paradiso3 Opening night was packed: over the course of my two hours there, I saw many a party turned away at the door, which is both encouraging and not surprising given Paradiso's cache. As I had other things to attend to (binge drinking is "other things;" don't judge), I did not sample the food that night -- that said, rest assured that if you love Paradiso's formula of thin, chewy crust, fresh mozzarella cheese and myriad meat and veggie toppings, it does not appear that you will be disappointed. If my nose and eyes are any judge, the food at the new Paradiso is exactly what you might find at the other locations. If you are at all concerned, grab a table in back, and watch your pizza being flipped, topped and baked in the restaurant's open kitchen.

Paradiso2 Of course, no offense to the pizza, but to me, Paradiso is all about the beer. As previously stated, Paradiso has one of best beer programs in town, featuring an eclectic, well-document collection of brews from every style available. In addition to an extensive bottle list, the new Paradiso has 11 draughts, one of which, like the flagship bar, is dedicated to cask-conditioned "real ales." Though lacking your macros like Miller and Bud, a Paradiso list is never wanting for diversity, so lovers of any style are bound to leave satisfied. That night, I had the good fortune to sample (amongst others) the Brouwerij Bockor Cuvee Des Paradiso4 Jacobins Rouge ($8), a Belgian Flanders red ale whose acquaintance I had not yet made. My friend Tim described it as "SOOO Good," so I chanced it, and he was right. The Jacobin is a full-bodied, heavily cherry accented beer, with a complicated nose of sour cherry, wheat, and spices, and a pleasantly dry finish; thank God for it's reasonable 5.5% abv, as I drank two in absolutely no time. In recognition of the bar's opening, beer-guru Greg Jasgar has created a couple of unique, beer-centric cocktails. I tried the Cosmoplambic ($10), a unique blend of vodka, lime juice, Grand Marnier, and raspberry lambic that really hit the spot, and pretty much put a bullet in any of my plans to drive home.

Paradiso7 For burgeoning beer lovers and snobs alike, the GT Paradiso has one of the best happy hours in town, featuring half-priced draughts from 5-7 PM on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. The best news in all of this is that the new Paradiso will offer the same deal, albeit with a different selection, and a lot more standing room. If frantic crowds of sweaty beer nerds have kept you away in the past, make a point of checking out the new Paradiso's happy hour before they catch on! Alternatively, to you regulars out there, check out the new space for an airier, more Metro-accessible dose of what you've come to love and crave.

Pizzeria Paradiso
2003 P St. NW
Washington, DC
202.223.1245
eatyourpizza.com


Foodie To-Do List: Help Out with Eat-Ins, Oyster Riot Tickets on Sale, Bourbon and Blues,

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:


Slow Food DC Hosts "Eat-Ins" to Raise Awareness for It's Time for Lunch:

What:
Slow Food USA has launched a nationwide campaign calling on Congress to provide real food for America's public school children.  More than 150 "Eat-Ins" are scheduled across the country on Labor Day, and our local events need volunteers to assist with set-up, the events themselves and break-down afterwards.

When: 
Monday, September 7th (Labor Day)
Volunteer shifts as early as 10:30 AM all the way through 4 PM and beyond

Where:
City Blossoms' Girard Ave. Community Garden
Girard Ave. just off the corner of 15th St., NW
Washington DC

-or-

Elsie Stokes Whitlow Charter School Garden
12th and Perry Streets, NE
Washington DC

Why:
“The way we feed our kids is a reflection of our values.  We cannot, in good conscience, continue to make our kids sick by feeding them cheap byproducts of an industrial food system,” stated Josh Viertel, President, Slow Food USA.  “It is time to give kids real food: food that tastes good, is good for them, is good for the people who grow and prepare it, and is good for the planet.”  That pretty much says it all.

Cost: 
Volunteering is free - and it's good for you, too!  Contact Lola Bloom (wonder_lola@yahoo.com) to volunteer for the City Blossoms event or Kate Hill (bananapeel@starpower.net) to help out with the Elsie Stokes Whitlow event.


Old Ebbitt Grill's Annual Mad Dash for Oyster Riot Tickets:

What:
Sure, Old Ebbitt Grill has their new Block Party event taking place this coming weekend, but the real can't miss event for foodies comes on Tuesday morning.  That's when tickets go on sale for Oyster Riot XV.  Last year's tickets were completely sold out within ten minutes, so make sure you're ready when this year's chance rolls around.

When: 
Tuesday, September 8th
Tickets go on sale at 7:30 AM 

Where:
In person at Old Ebbitt Grill (675 15th Street, NW)
Online at http://ebbitt.com/main/home.cfm?Section=Main&Category=Gifts (can't buy 'em yet)
Over the phone at (202) 347-4801

Why: 
Oyster Riot really is an amazing experience.  If you're hoping to go (and not pay exorbitant prices to scalpers after the fact), it's now or never.

Cost:
Interestingly, Old Ebbitt Grill doesn't seem to have announced the price of this year's tickets, but it's a safe bet that they're even more expensive than last year's (which were $115 each). 


Bourbon and Blues Thursday Nights in the Lounge at Bourbon Steak:

What: 
Beginning next Thursday, you can make yourself comfortable in the lounge at Michael Mina's Bourbon Steak from 8 PM to midnight every Thursday night.  Live jazz, rhythm & blues and blues musicians will be performing and the lounge will be offering a laid-back menu with treats like lobster corn dogs, barbecued pork baby back ribs and fried pickles.  32 Bourbons are on hand as well, for sipping or for drinking in new and traditional cocktails.

When: 
Thursdays, beginning September 10th
8 PM - midnight

Where: 
Bourbon Steak
Four Seasons Hotel
2800 Pennsylvania Ave., NW
Washington, DC

Why: 
Cocktails on the patio lose their luster when it starts getting dark at 7:30.  Make your way indoors for a smooth Thursday evening and you can get your fill of fine dining, fine spirits and fine music all in one place.  The new lounge menu provides a great way to sample the skill in the kitchen at Bourbon Steak without breaking the bank, and the cocktail program's attention to detail is definitely worth a look.

Cost:
No cover, but menu items range from $5 to $19 and the Bourbons in their collection go for anywhere from $11 to $65 a glass.

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