Salmon with Lentils and Mustard Herb Butter, or What I Call, Butter Up Your Wife Salmon

Salmon is one of the easiest and most versatile fish to prepare. You can fry it, grill it or smoke it, and it's pretty hard to ruin it. Of course, there's always a danger of overcooking it, but even then, if you use the right technique it's going to come out pretty good.

20150311_211849038_iOSI've been making this salmon recipe from Epicurious about once a month for the last two years. It's "healthy," at least from my perspective since it's fairly low carb and high in protein, and it's been a go-to recipe of ours since we started eating healthier. For a while, I was just frying it on a pan over high heat like the recipe calls for, but then one night, when we were having some friends over, I bought some wood planks and discovered the magic of smoking the salmon on my gas grill.

Charred Wood PlankIt happened completely by accident that I figured out the right way to cook salmon on a wood plank. I did the precursory soaking of the plank for two hours. Then, after heating up the grill on max heat for a good 10 minutes, I put the planks on the grill and let them sit…for a while. Too long, at least at the time I thought it was too long. I was in chatting with our friends when I suddenly it occurred to me, "Shit, the planks!"

I ran outside to the grill and the sides were flamed up. I put out the flames, and flipped the plank over and slapped the salmon down. I reduce the heat to medium but keep the planks on the hot side of the grill. The plank was smoking like crazy but it never flamed up again since it had soaked for a long time.

Plank SalmonThe result was an intensely smoky flavored salmon with a perfect buttery texture. Ever since then, I let the planks catch fire and put them out before placing the salmon on them. After the first bite, Amy and I looked at each other with that Holy Shit Is This Not The Best Fish You've Ever Eaten look.

(legal disclaimer: This site is for entertainment purposes only. If you listen to me, you're an idiot. Do NOT let your wood planks catch on fire.)

Smoked Salmon with Lentils and Mustard Herb Butter (Modified from the Epicurious recipe previously mentioned)

For the Herb Butter (I make double for the next time I make the recipe because this is what takes the longest to do)

10 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened in the microwave for 10 to 15 seconds. It's important to NOT melt the butter. Only soften it to a point where it can be mixed)

2 tablespoons of chopped chives

2 tablespoons of chopped fresh tarragon

4 teaspoons of grainy mustard

4 teaspoons of fresh lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

For the lentils:

1 cup French green lentils

4 cups water

1 leek, white and pale green parts only (the original recipe calls for 2, but I just think 2 is too much)

1 tablespoon of unsalted butter

1 tablespoon of fresh lemon juice

For the salmon:

4 6oz to 8oz Salmon fillets

Salt and pepper to taste

1 large hickory or cherry plank (most grocery stores have them, but you can order them on Amazon in bulk for a lot cheaper)

Two hours before you start cooking, soak the wood planks. (If I could tell you the number of times I forget this step…)

You can make the mustard herb butter as far ahead as you want. (I sometimes quadruple this because I actually will use it as a replacement for butter in other recipes)

20150311_212928189_iOSStir the ingredients for the herb butter together in a bowl until thoroughly mixed. Spoon onto plastic wrap, then roll into a tube. Twist the ends until you have a nice log of compound butter. Place in the fridge until ready for use.

To cook the lentils. Bring the lentils, water, and 3/4 of a teaspoon of salt to boil in a medium saucepan.  Once boiling, reduce the heat to low and simmer for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, check the lentils. They should have some bite to them but not be chalky. If you cook them past this point, they'll get mushy. I don’t think I've ever cooked them past 22 minutes. This is not lentil soup we're making here after all. Once the lentils are cooked enough, reserve 1/2 cup of the cooking liquid and then drain the lentils.

20150311_221947591_iOSWhile the lentils are cooking, chop the leeks, rinse them in a colander, and cook in the butter on medium-low heat until tender. About 10 minutes. Keep the lentils warm while you cook the salmon.

Add lentils, reserved cooking liquid, and 3 tablespoons of the compound butter to a large fry pan (I use the cast iron skillet). Add the lemon juice and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Heat up the gas grill on high for 10 minutes. While you wait, relax and have a beer. If you have a charcoal grill, good luck my friend. Have a couple beers.

Once the grill is ready, place the SOAKED (can I stress this enough?) wood planks on the grill. Leave the grill on high. Check on the wood planks often. Once the planks start to smolder, flip them over and reduce the heat to medium. Season both sides of the salmon generously with salt and pepper (I'm talking a huge pinch per side of the fillets). Place the salmon on the wood plank(s) and cook 120 degrees in the middle (basically medium), about 10 minutes. (Please use an instant read thermometer because I frankly don’t keep track of the time.) Once done, remove from the planks with a spatula and cover with foil until ready to serve.

To serve, place a salmon fillet on a serving of the lentils and top with a slice of the mustard herb butter.


Restaurant Cheese Plates: What's the Deal?

As a D. C. Foodie generally and a cheese lover specifically, I am often tempted by the cheeses on offer at restaurants throughout the city.  For some, cheese takes the form of a 'cheese course' (either a la carte or as part of a larger tasting menu).  For others, it's a simple 'cheese plate.'  And for those who want you to know just how much attention they have given to the curds, it is a 'Chef's selection of artisanal and farmstead cheeses.'

Regardless of the name, I have found cheeses at restaurants to be an uncertain proposition.  It's not a question of quality - any establishment that offers cheeses is doing so to highlight them, after all.  It's a simple question of value.  At one restaurant in Northwest, the menu offered a selection of cheeses for $12 without identifying them or indicating what else, if anything, would be served.  I received a selection of four delicious Italian varieties including Tallegio, a personal favorite.  At another restaurant downtown, I recently opted for a sampling from their artisan cheese selection, which was clearly listed so I could make my own choices.  For the same $12, I received three small samples of cheese with a diverse spread of accompanying fruits, nuts and crackers.  The cheeses were great, but the portions definitely left a bit to be desired for the price.

But there are definitely restaurants out there that tailor their offerings toward real cheese lovers.  Dino immediately comes to mind - their Formaggi di Dino list offers seven cheeses from across Italy and one American option, with detailed descriptions and individual price points for each.  They don't indicate the size of the samples, but they are generous enough to allow for a true tasting.  And I was pleasantly surprised to find an unexpected gem last week: Central Michel Richard.

This bistro-style offering from the man who brings us Michel Richard Citronelle (I'll give you one guess what that man's name is) is billed as offering creative, upscale fare such as lobster burgers and one of the most delicious versions of fried chicken you will ever taste.  But the best value and most pleasant surprise on the menu may very well be their 'Daily Cheese Plate,' which offers no description but carries a $13 price tag.

The lack of description made me a little wary at first, but I decided to give it a try because of a truly wonderful Roquefort I tasted at Citronelle last December.  (As it turns out, they don't say anything specific about the cheeses in question because they really do change from day to day.)  When the cheese plate came out, I was stunned.  Six impressive samples crowded a cutting board that was loaded with cheeses, grapes, and nuts.  There was easily a pound of cheese on the board, and the quality was equally impressive.  On the night of my visit, I received:

  • Epoisses - A pungent, unpasteurized and creamy cow's milk cheese that has a rich, almost meaty flavor
  • Le Chevrot - A French goat's milk cheese with a soft, bloomy rind and a mild tangy flavor
  • Le Chatelain Camembert - A pasteurized camembert from France with that traditional smooth and creamy taste
  • Roquefort Vieux Berger - One of the best blues I have ever tasted, this raw sheep's milk version has peppery and salty notes with a slightly chewy texture
  • Petit Ardi Gasna (Petit Basque) - A firm, raw sheep's milk cheese that tastes nutty and sweet
  • Cantal - A firm, cow's milk cheese from the Auvergne region of France, Cantal reminded me most of mild cheddar with grassy flavors as well

By themselves, the Roquefort and the Petit Basque frequently retail for as much as $30/pound, and the Chevrot, the Epoisses and the Camembert are sold in their own packaging (preventing sales by weight).  If I were to try to duplicate this cheese plate at home, I could easily expect to spend almost $50 on the cheese alone!

Despite the value, however, Central's approach to the cheese did have room for improvement.  The cheeses were served without any crackers or bread, despite the creamy and spreadable nature of both the Epoisses and the Camembert.  A question to my server about the cheeses on the board resulted in a response that identified them only by type (Camembert, Roquefort, Petit Basque, etc.), instead of by producer.  When I asked again, I was informed that they didn't have that information available at the time, but that they purchased all their cheeses from Murray's Wholesale in New York - a legendary fromagerie, to be sure.  It was only after a call to Scott in New York that I was able to identify which Roquefort and which Camembert I had been served.  A subsequent mid-afternoon call to Central put me in touch with someone who was able to confirm the specific cheeses that Scott and I had identified.  This lack of specific information seems to be a common theme at Michel Richard's restaurants - it took requests to my server and the maitre d' (who then asked the chef) before I could find out the name of the Roquefort I fell in love with at Citronelle last year.

If you are planning to visit Central Michel Richard in the near future, I would highly recommend leaving room for their cheese plate - at only $13, it's a great deal.  Just remember to ask for bread, and be prepared to do some sleuthing if you taste something you truly love and want to find again later.

Brasserie Beck

Becks_kitchen I love places with beer lists, because I don't know anything about beer and there's always something new to learn. In my four trips to Brasserie Beck, I've learned a few things. First, Belgian beer rocks, each beer has a special oddly-shaped glass to be served in, a gueuze goes great with oysters, and Chimay is pronounced she-may (I'm looking forward to learning more in my future trips). Brasserie Beck is beer snob heaven. The very bright and very crowded bar (unless you get there before 6) is a haven for people looking to relax after a long day at the office. It's understandable why it's such a popular happy hour spot, but it's not just the beer you should go to Brasserie Beck for -- hell, you just might also want to eat some food.

Mussels_and_frites_2 I'd recommend both the leek and potato and pea and veal meatball soups. A sinful liver parfait I'll never tell my doctor I ate is going to be hard not to order again and the oysters are amazing. On my last trip we had Olympia and Stellar Bar oysters. Please, I beg you, don't order the Stellar Bays if they have them because I want them all to myself!

The mussels are for true mussel lovers. If you like the little tiny mussels that other places serve, don't be surprised when you get a plate of the giant meaty mussels at Becks. They come with a bowl of skinny, parsley-coated frites and a trio of flavored mayonnaises.  This dish is a meal on its own and a steal at $17.

Roasted_rabbit_leg_beck With the entrée selections a Brasserie Beck you can take a lighter approach or continue your gluttonous descent. On the lighter side, the curry salmon, with its milky yellow curry sauce, could've used some heat, but still very tasty and was one of my favorites. On the richer side, the lamb shank is falling-off-the-bone tender, but the rabbit is my favorite dish of all with meat that was probably the most tender of any meat I've ever eaten. Those of you that won't eat rabbit because it's a cute little animal don't know what you're missing. I found the entrées to be a very good value given the generous portions.

I've had mixed experiences with the desserts, but that's usually the case with me. The pear tarte tatin I thought was too buttery and came off greasy which is not exactly what I'm looking for in a dessert after a large meal. The caramel cheesecake, on the other hand, was just what I love in a cheesecake - moist but not runny, cakey but not dry.  I like that the caramel sauce was applied with a light touch too.

Belgian_beer_on_draft_beck Overall though, I wouldn't say that Brasserie Beck serves food that's amazingly better than other good French (or Belgian) bistros like Bistro du Coin, Bistro Lepic, or Montmartre, but what I think makes it stand apart is the service. Each time we were there the service was very good and the servers, bus persons and expediters all were very attentive and knowledgeable about the menu. On your way to your table there won't be a single person that you pass working for the restaurant that won't smile and say hello. The pacing of the food can be a bit slow, but there are worse things that can happen.

Brasserie Beck
1101 K Street, NW
Washington, DC 20005

(202) 408-1717
web site

Dress Code: Casual
Parking: Valet is $7 but has a tendency to back up. There isn't much street parking in the area but sometimes you're lucky enough to find a spot.
Smoking: Not Allowed.
Closest Metro: Metro Center, McPherson Square, Mt. Vernon Square
Reservations: Taken and recommended.
Baby-Child friendly rating: 3 diapers. Plenty of high chairs and they have a nice way of seating you in the back room with your child which is better for you and everyone else.

Circle Bistro

I want to write about this while it's fresh in my mind...

I stopped by Circle Bistro tonight for an early dinner. The place wasn't very busy due to it being Halloween and we had Noah with us so we just sat at the bar. After a few drinks with their happy hour specials (half price wine glasses, beers, and cocktails), we just ordered a bunch of appetizers.

To start with, at $8, Circle Bistro's duck confit is a steal. Yum! Yum! Yum! As is the three cheese plate at $9. Go soon and try the sweet potato soup with fennel sausage and sage croutons -- the best soup I've had in a while. When Chef Cox stopped by to say hello, he told me that this wont be on the menu long (soon to be replaced by an onion soup), so go to Circle Bistro and try it now. Also, the papardelle with duck ragu...a perfect hearty dish for the fall - Love it!

When I return, I need to try the monkfish - It sounded sooooo good!

Gerard's Place

Somehow, I figured out that Spamalot was playing at the National Theater and since Amy is the biggest Monty Python fan ever, I figured I'd never be forgiven if I didn't get her tickets. Through some miracle, I was able to get them for Friday night.

We had a baby sitter coming early enough for us to get dinner before the show, but for some reason, the week flew by and I never made a reservation. It was Friday when I realized that I had no idea where we were eating dinner before the show.

Time for something completely different.

I've always wondered what Gerard's Place was like. Other than the expense of eating there, I don't think I've ever heard a negative thing about Gerard's Place, but I thought that recently, I'd read something about how Chef Gerard was revamping his menu for cheaper prices and less "stuffy" ingredients that people don't want (I tried to find the article, but I couldn't track it down).

There were plenty of reservations available at Gerard's. So many, that pretty much the entire night was open, so I made one for 6:30 PM which thinking back, was cutting it a bit close.

We arrived for dinner prompty at 6:30 PM. There were only two other tables filled. Amy and I looked at each other. We were both thinking the same thing.

Shouldn't this place be a bit more crowded on a Friday night?

The menu is pretty simple. You can either choose Chef Pangaud's five-course tasting menu for $89 a person, or the three-course prix fixe menu for $59. If we had more time, we would've chosen the chef's tasting menu, but we only had an hour until the show started and chose the three-course menu, which has about five or so choices for each course.

My only complaint about our meal that night was the wine list. Just about all of the good wines were $60 or more a bottle and over half the wines were over $100 a bottle. I tried to hide the shocked look on my face. So these must be really awesome wines to cost so much right? Well, the wine that I ordered, a 2002 Haut-Mondesir, was $75. Yes, it tasted wonderful and I have to say that I picked a great spicy and dry wine to go with the food we ordered, but when I Googled the wine to see where I could get it, I found that it was available for about $20 a bottle at Cleveland Park Wine and Liquors. Ouch. That's quite a markup.

Our first course came out fairly quickly, which I appreciated since we didn't have a ton of time. Amy had ordered the "progressive tasting" of red and golden beets and the presentation of this dish was perfect with four separate portions of beets on a large colorful plate: a traditional layered beet and goat cheese napoleon, a sweet golden beet carpaccio with citrus oil, a smooth and sweet red beet mousse with chopped hazelnuts, and a golden beet salad with candied orange. All of them tasted wonderful, but Amy's favorite by far was the red beet mousse. I tasted this as well and I swear it could have been a dessert.

I regrettably ordered the scallop appetizer. I say "regrettably" not because they were bad at all -- in fact, they were quite good. There were two fresh scallops sliced in half and placed on a bed of pureed herb sauce and arranged around a tiny garlic flan. But, when it comes down to it, I compare all scallops that I get to the ones that I get at Ray's the Steaks. I think I would've enjoyed another dish more, like the carrot soup or duck foie gras, since I wouldn't have had thoughts of another preparation which I like more in the back of my head.

Our entrees were brought to the tables with the same synchronization as the first course and were even better. I love it when entrees are better than the appetizers and don't leave you flat, dissappointed, and expecting more. The slightly gamey, yet rich flavor of the juicy roast duck that Amy ordered made us think that this was quite possibly some of the better duck in DC. With the duck came a perfect cylinder of mashed potatoes on top of duck confit. We ended up eating through the mashed potatoes to get to the confit. I had the succulent veal chop, which when I cut into, juices ran all over.

Desserts were fantastic as well and were the perfect finish to the meal.  I should note that we were asked to order our desserts at the same time as our main course due to the fact that they prepare the desserts fresh to order. The lemon souffle that I has was light and fluffy like a souffle should be and the strawberry sorbet and sauce it was served with was the perfect compliment.

We finished our desserts and still had time to spare to get to walk to the National Theater. So all in all, service was prompt and our food was delivered promptly as we finished each course. I couldn't really ask for more in a pre-theater dinner. Great food, timely service, but a wine list that's overpriced relative to the food. If I go there again, I might call and ask if they accept corkage, because that would be a way to solve the wine dilemma there.

Gerard's Place
915 15th St NW
Washington, DC 20005
(202) 737-4445

Mon - Fri: 11:30 AM - 2:30 PM
Mon - Thur: 5:30 PM - 9:00 PM, Fri - Sat: 5:30 PM - 9:30 PM

Dress Code: Business Casual
Parking: Street. Suggest Metro or Cab in this area
Smoking: Not Allowed.
Closest Metro: McPherson Square or Farragut North
Reservations: Taken
Baby friendly rating: 1 diaper. The atmosphere didn't seem right for a child. This is a good place for a night out without the kids. :) 

Circle Bistro

I often wonder what goes through the average Washingtonian's mind when they are deciding where to dine. Maybe because it's summer time and everyone was away for the weekend, but the first time I went to Circle Bistro, it was nearly empty. I made a late reservation at about 9 PM, and when we arrived, there were only two other tables. Now, I knew from my research that Circle Bistro was good, but I'd started to think that maybe I'd missed something. Could the chef recently have changed? Had the restaurant been closed due to a failed health inspection in the last couple days? What the hell??

Lucky for me, all of those questions were answered with a resounding, "NO!" Our meal that night, and every other night we've been to Circle Bistro, has been quite good. Of course, there were some annoyances, but I'll get to them in a bit.

I'll start with the appetizers. Picture two large fried zucchini blossoms, stuffed with goat cheese and pine nuts and served with a colorful, chunky vegetable "salsa" on the side -- I wish I could've taken a pint of the salsa home with me. (Sadly, the fried zucchini blossoms are a summer dish and are no longer on the menu, but they've been replaced by a tomato and zucchini tart.) A soft shell crab fried in tempura batter is also done especially well -- I thought frying the crab in a light tempura batter was a nice touch and kept the batter from getting too heavy.

Executive Chef Brendan Cox, who's trained under such notable local chefs like Todd Gray of Equinox and Roberto Donna of Galileo, has a purpose for every ingredient on your plate at Circle Bistro -- you want to be sure that you get a little bit of each ingredient in every bite. This was so with the hanger steak which I had on my first visit. The steak is seared on cast iron and then served on a bed of baby spinach with roasted fingerling potatoes, and organic sweet onions. Each ingredient on its own is good, but the combination of all of them together does wonders for my mood. If it weren't for my incessant need to always try something different, I'd probably order this on every return trip.

Soups at Circle Bistro are magnificent.

In our first visit, Amy ordered an un-ordinary minestone soup (sadly no longer on the menu either -- serves me right for doing a thorough review after multiple visits). I counted 13 ingredients ranging from rapini (or broccoli rabe) to lima beans. What really made the soup, though, was a fritter (that looked like a wonton) filled with herbed goat cheese. When you cut open the fritter with your spoon and mixed the goat cheese in with the soup, it gave the broth a creamy texture. Brilliant!

Other than the minestrone, you'll find a hearty and spicy gazpacho with heirloom tomatoes and jumbo lump crab remoulade, which just had to be the best damn gazpacho I've ever tasted. I commented to Amy that if she's overdue with our baby boy, we should go to Circle Bistro and the gazpacho might kickstart labor. More recently, there's a yellow pepper soup that's so popular, they ran out last Saturday night when I was there.

Other highlights include just about anything with mushrooms. Brendan Cox is a self proclaimed "Mushroom Maniac" (as am I).  The pan-roasted rockfish with girolle (or small chanterelle) mushrooms and zucchini is evidence of this. The fish is roasted with the skin side up in order to leave the skin extra crispy. As I was eating this dish, I noticed a pleasant salty flavor and I said to Amy, "I taste a slightly salty flavor in this dish, but it's not from extra salt." Then I noticed the little bits of crispy pancetta and it all made sense. Yum. I recall eating a similarly served dorade at Citronelle that wasn't nearly as good as this dish.

Of course, Circle Bistro isn't The Most Perfect Restaurant In The World like I've made it sound so far. The nights that I've been there when they were actually busy, I noticed that the kitchen would get a little behind and there was a noticable wait between courses. Luckily, my wife and I have plenty of things to talk about, but if I was on a first date with someone, it might get awkward.

Also. glasses of wine are more expensive than I like to see, ranging from $8 to $13. They seem especially expensive when you can get a full bottle of the $9-a-glass Kermit Lynch Cote du Rhone for just $28.

In all my trips to Circle Bistro, I've had no complaints about the service. It is always spotless and the servers are very familiar with the menu. I'd say the only tiny complaint would be that sometimes my empty glass of wine wasn't replaced with a new one quite as fast as I like. But honestly, I drink like a fish, and most people can stand to have their glasses empty for a short period of time. I also wouldn't mind if when I order the cheese plate the server explain what each cheese is instead of vanishing instantly. It tends to remove some of the guess work.

I'd be remiss if I left out details about the desserts. Heather Chittum, Circle Bistro's pastry chef, makes a bad-ass madeleine -- one shouldn't leave Circle Bistro without trying them. Others worth noting are the profiteroles with homemade mint ice cream and chocolate sauce and a bittersweet chocolate mousse with raspberries.

And finally, if you get a chance, stop by the Circle Lounge, Circle Bistro's bar, for happy hour from 5-7 PM, Mon - Fri, where all glasses of wine, beer and cocktails are half off. Make sure you order the pomme frites with garlic aoli (butter) and ketchup -- they're a guilty pleasure.

Circle Bistro
One Washington Circle Hotel
One Washington Circle, NW
Washington, DC 20037
(202) 293-5390
Circle Bistro Web Site

See the Circle Bistro web site.

Dress Code: Business Casual
Smoking: Allowed at the bar
Closest Metro: Foggy Bottom
Parking: Free Valet at the hotel!
Reservations: Taken
Amy's Bathroom Rating: Hotel restrooms are always pretty clean, although the location right next to the hotel's basement-like laundry room is a little weird.

Michel Richard Citronelle

On my birthday, Amy surprised me by taking me to Michel Richard Citronelle. I know -- it's quite a present isn't it? I'm going to atttempt to give you a good picture of the entire experience through my writing, although it will be challenging to express what was going through my mind while all that exited my mouth was a lot of oohs and ahs throughout the night.

If you've never been to Citronelle before (and just so you know, before my birthday, I'd never been either), you basically have two choices for dinner: the eight-course tasting menu and the three-course tasting menu. The eight-course tasting menu is a set menu (called the Promenade Gourmande) -- you get all eight dishes and there's no substituting, although I'm sure they would if you had a food allergy or something.

The portions are very reasonably sized and well spaced. With the three-course tasting menu, there are many dishes to choose from for each course, but you only get three of them: an appetizer, entree, and dessert. We decided to throw all caution to the wind and ordered the eight course tasting menu which was $150 per person -- plus ordering the wine pairing for myself for an additional $80.

To start, service is perfect -- no question -- it was probably the best service I've ever received. The waiters are friendly and conversational. The manager comes around to check on every single table and I found no evidence of snooty service like I've read on chats or user reviews on The Post. The only problem I experienced was that the wine tasting wasn't consistently poured before the next course came out -- OH THE HORROR!

Our table had a view of the kitchen, which is open for most to see. Inside, we could see the chefs (Michel Richard was sadly missing) who all moved with the efficiency and grace of synchronized swimmers. Each had their own job they were performing whether it be plating a certain dish or preparing the dorade. The kitchen was spotless - I could've eaten off the floor.

The night we were there the menu looked like this:

Amuse Bouche with egg surprise, mushroom cigar, haricot vert tartar
Asparagus Vichyssoise, served cold
Foie Gras with red onion pickles
Dorade Royale with roasted, fingerling potatoes & leeks, black bean sauce
Lobster Medallion with citronelle sauce, japanese eggplant
Squab served three ways
Imported Cheese Selection
Raspberry Vacherin
Chocolate served three ways

I'll concentrate on describing to you the dishes that put me in gastronomic extacy.

First, the foie gras...The foie gras was seared with pickled red onions, beets, and beet sauce (I think it was beet sauce) and had to be the most delicious morsel of food I've ever eaten. I've eaten other foie gras, and this, in my humble opinion, is the optimal way it should be served. I prolonged this course as long as possible, taking small delicate bites and mixing each with a tiny amounts of the pickled red onions, all along trying to avoid the inevitable conclusion that the final bite would come. Cooked to perfection, as you cut into the foie gras with your fork, the slightly pink juices from the liver would run out onto the plate and you could see the fat-engorged flesh of the foie gras -- it was literally bursting with flavor. The texture was soft and melted as it touched my tongue -- no chewing was needed.

If the only dish of the night had been the foie gras, then I would have been satisfied, but the list continues. The "squab three ways" was probably my second-favorite dish. What is squab you ask? From the Epicurious Food Dictionary, squab is:

"a young (about 4 weeks old) domesticated pigeon that has never flown and is therefore extremely tender."

The squab steak was the whole breast, filleted and grilled, which gave it the appearance of being steak-like. However, it didn't taste anything like a steak. Since squab is a game bird, the meat is fairly dense -- I found it to have a mild flavor like a cornish game hen.

The second form that the squab took was a very simple crispy wing which didn't have an abundance of meat on it, but was good nonetheless. The skin was extra crispy and the meat was so tender you just sucked it right off the skinny bone.

By far the best part of the squab dish, though, was the homemade sausage with squab, foie gras, squab foie gras, and mushrooms. The perfume of it was like the most aromatic liver pate ever -- nutty and peppery. If the portion of this were larger and made up a whole dish, I would have had a hard time determining what was better: this or the seared foie gras.

The amuse bouche (French for amuse the mouth and defined as "A small bite before the meal begins". Thanks Amuse Bouche for the definition.) was an egg surprise, mushroom cigar, and haricot vert tartar. The word that came to mind when it was first brought to the table was "dainty." These three tiny portions of food were very colorful and all delicately arranged on a single plate. The egg surprise was actually tomato and mozzarella -- it looked like a sliced hard boiled egg, and it was served with tomato gelee and basil oil. The ingredients came all thoughtfully arranged on a spoon for ease of eating. Melts in the mouth.

The mushroom cigar literally looked like a cigar, but sure didn't smell like one. If you're a mushroom lover like me, this is for you. The center is filled with cooked, pureed mushrooms; the wrapping made with fillo dough; and served with ginger sauce. This one wasn't so colorful, but what was lost in the visual senses was gained back in the flavor. The strong, pungent flavor of the mushrooms was well-matched by the silky ginger sauce.

The rest of the dishes were all excellent, but not mind-blowingly so. As far as desserts go, the chocolate three ways was probably some of the best chocolate desserts I've ever had. The cheeses were...well, they were cheeses. I've had better, but I imagine if we could've allowed them to bring out raw milk cheeses, that they would've been better.

I shouldn't leave out the wine pairing, which was six half glasses of wine to go with the eight courses.  Each was paired perfectly with the course it went with. At one point, they brought out a sweet Spanish dessert wine to go with one of my courses (I forget which one), which puzzled me, but once I drank it with the food, it made complete sense. The right wine always makes good food even better.

Now the bad part, the check: Two tasting menus at $150 each, the wine pairing at $80, and two bottles of water for $7 each. It all came to $433 after tax. Cough. Clear throught. Try to keep composure. After the 20% tip -- $520. This meal was at least twice as expensive as any we've had before.

Was it twice as good? The answer is a very simple, "No." The 7-course tasting menu at Komi comes to mind where we both had the wine tasting and probably remains to this day the best meal we've ever eaten, was only $250 (and I think I'm overestimating). I think if I were going to go back to Citronelle, I wouldn't get the 8-course tasting menu. I'd probably get the 3 course tasting menu, order the Foie Gras, the Squab, and Chocolate Three Ways, and a good bottle of wine. Of course the menu changes quite often, so those dishes might not be on the menu anymore, but you get the picture.


Michel Richard Citronelle
3000 M Street NW
Washington, DC
(202) 625-2150 Map

Breakfast in Lounge
Daily 6:30 a.m. - 10:30 a.m.

Monday - Thursday 6:00 p.m. - 10:00 p.m.
Friday - Saturday 6:00 p.m. - 10:30 p.m.
Sunday 6:00 p.m. - 9:30 p.m

Served Monday through Friday

Dress Code: Dressy. Jackets required for men. Business attire required for lunch.
Smoking: No clue. Probably allowed in the lounge.
Closest Metro: Foggy Bottom
Parking: Valet parking for $10. Parking on the street is difficult in Georgetown.
Reservations: Taken and recommended.
Amy's Bathroom Rating: Very Clean and Immaculate.

Bistrot Lepic

On Thursday night, after returning home from work, I came to the ghastly conclusion that there was absolutely nothing in our kitchen to cook for dinner. Rather than go down the street to the Usual Suspects (2 Amys, Cafe Ole, Cafe Deluxe, etc.), Amy and I decided that we needed a change of pace. The plan was to go down to Glover Park (or North Georgetown if you like) and go to either the wine bar at Bistrot Lepic or Cafe Divan for a quick dinner and then hit the grocery store afterward.

Upon arriving in Glover Park and parking easily on the wide-open 34th Street behind Cafe Divan, we decided to go with French food rather than Turkish. Besides, we had just been to Cafe Divan a couple weekends ago, when my parents had visited, and it's been forever since we've had French food. Rather than dine downstairs like our last trip to Bistrot Lepic, we went up the stairs to the wine bar and where there are a bunch of cozy, short little tables. When you reach the top of the stairs, you're standing facing the small bar at the one end of the room and to your left is the small dining area. There were a few couples sitting already with a group of four people in the corner. Overall, I'd say that the entire room can seat about 25 people maximum.

One thing to keep in mind is that smoking is allowed in the wine bar, so if you are really sensitive to smoke, this place is probably not for you. However, they do have ceiling fans blowing the air around and we barely noticed that the people two tables over from us were smoking. There was only a single waitress covering the entire room and she was scurrying around trying to get people their food and drinks. There was also a runner that was bringing dishes up from the kitchen downstairs.

The full menu is available at Bistrot Lepic's wine bar as well as their "Appeteasers" menu, which has a bunch of interesting small plates that you can order when you just feel like a small salad or plate of paté with a glass of wine. The small plates all looked fairly appetizing, but the country paté sounded especially good to me. Paté and a glass of wine always makes for a good meal. (I chickened out, though. I had a perfect opportunity to try snails and conquer one of my food phobias, but I ordered the paté instead. Oh well, maybe next time I'll grow some balls.) Amy decided to get two of the small plates rather than order a whole entree -- one of the special salads which was mixed greens with goat cheese and roasted red peppers, followed by the onion tart with bacon in soft pastry. All of the appetizers sounded (and looked, from what we could see on other tables) intriguing. There was also a plethora of specials. I ended up ordering one myself -- the hangar steak with frites (pronounced freet not fright. Amy is constantly correcting me when I pronounce that word incorrectly). As far as prices go, appetizers and salads range from $7 to $14. Entrees are a bit more expensive, ranging from $17 to $27. Specials can run a little more.

The wine menu has an average number of wines available by the glass. Now that Amy isn't drinking, I'm forced to order off of the limited selection of wines available by the glass rather than order a whole bottle. Not to sound too much like an ignoramus, but ordering wine in a French restaurant can be quite intimidating, with all of those French names that I just know I'll mispronounce. I think I need to take a French language class.

We found that the wine bar seemed especially conducive to good conversation, and I'm not sure why. I don't know how long it was until the food came out -- it didn't seem like we waited very long, maybe it was because I was enjoying the atmosphere and good conversation with Amy. My paté came with a very fresh side salad with a light but tasty vinaigrette. The paté was a country paté with a prune and armagnac filling. I wouldn't say it was worlds better than other patés I've had, but overall I was pretty satisfied with the dish I'd chickened out with. At first Amy wasn't so happy with her mixed green salad, but as she ate it, she grew increasingly fond of it.

Our second course came out not too long after we were done with our first. My steak, which I had ordered medium-rare, was more on the very rare side, but I didn't mind -- I'd rather my steak was undercooked than overcooked. The hangar steak was very lean and tender. On the side was a  mixture of dijon mustard and very finely sliced onions that complimented the steak very well. Like the paté, the steak came with a salad on the side. It was a nice palate cleanser when I was done eating the steak and gave me a more satisfied feeling than if I'd eaten a side of mashed potatoes. I didn't get a chance to try Amy's onion tart, and quite honestly, I was really surprised that Amy ordered an onion tart. I mean, ever since she's been pregnant, she's hasn't been able to go near onions.

I wasn't especially hungry when we were done with our second course,but the desserts sounded so good that we couldn't help but order some.  Amy went with the almond tarte and I, like last time, went with the pear tarte. I'm such a sucker for pears. I think the one of the reasons I've started gaining so much weight since Amy's been pregnant is because she won't share a dessert with me. Oh well, I'll lose the weight when I have to chase around a little 2-year-old all day. I didn't get a chance to try Amy's almond tarte, because I was too enthralled in my pear tarte. Do you get that I thought it was scrumptious? Amy wasn't too happy with her almond tarte and she wished she had ordered the chocolate tarte.

I'm not sure why I was expecting something else, but the check came to close to $120 -- not your average mid-week night out. What was meant to be a quick dinner out before hitting the grocery store ended up being an expensive 2-hour dinner -- and we never got to the grocery store. Mission un-accomplished.

Bistrot Lepic
1736 Wisconsin Ave. NW
Washington, DC
(202) 333-0111

Tue-Sun 11:30 am-2:30 pm
Tue-Thu 5-10 pm
Fri-Sat 5-10:30 pm
Sun 5-9:30 pm
Closed Mondays.

Dress Code: Casual for the Wine Bar and business casual for the regular restaurant downstairs
Parking: none. Park at 34th and Wisconsin, there is usually parking down 34th St.
Reservations: Taken and recommended for the regular restaurant. Wine bar is first-come first-serve.
Smoking: Allowed in the wine bar
Nearest Metro: It's a very long walk from the nearest metro at Foggy Bottom. Take a cab or drive. The Pennsylvania Ave. bus line (bus numbers 30, 32, 34, 35, 36) will get you there too.
Amy's Bathroom Report: They are clean and kept respectable, plus you get to check out the wine cellar nearby.



Cashion's Eat Place

Cashion's Eat Place. The name sounds rather deceptive doesn't it? The name makes you think of some soul food place that serves you buffet style. However, Ann Cashion and John Fulchino's French-American restaurant in Adams Morgan is anything but that. Saturday night when we dined there, we had the luxury of sitting in the window. Every five minutes, someone would walk up in jeans and a t-shirt looking for a quick bite to eat. When they took one look at the menu, their eyes popped out of their heads and they quickly did a 180 in the other direction. We first went to Cashion's when we first moved to DC, before Ann Cashion won her James Beard Award. I was happy to see that the restaurant hasn't changed much.

Saturday morning, I called to make the reservation because I was too absent-minded to call the night before or any other time in advance. I got their answering service, but it turned out that you could leave a message to make a reservation, so I did. The answering service said "If you'd like to make a reservation, please leave you name, phone number, the number of people in your party and the time you'd like to make your reservation after the beep and we'll call you to confirm."

My response was, "Hello, my name is Jason Storch. I'd like to make a reservation for anywhere from 7 to 9:30 pm. Thank you." And then I hung up.

Instantly, Amy said, "Uh...did you forget something?"


"You didn't say how many people you wanted the reservation for," she barked.

"Oh, shit."

Anyway, I called them back again and left a new message with the full information that they had requested in the first place. Later, someone from the restaurant called me back as promised I also remembered to leave my phone number the second time). They didn't have anything the times I wanted though. I had a choice of anywhere from 5 to 6 PM or 10 PM. Damn. We chose 5:45. I later found out at that if you want your choice of times on Saturday night, you have to call by Tuesday.

Before I get to the meal, let me tell you about one thing. The $5 valet doesn't start until...well, until sometime after we arrived at 5:45. It probably started at 6, but Cashion's web site mentioned nothing of a start time for the valet. Anyway, I was driving around Adams Morgan for about 20 minutes trying to find a spot.

OK. Now onto the food. Amy's not drinking, so I had to choose from the wines by the glass. Most of the glasses ranged from $8 to $9. I did take a quick look at the wines by the bottle. For a restaurant where the entrees range from $20 to $30, I would've expected the wines by the bottle to be more expensive than they were. There were many in the $30 to $40 range.

Amy began her meal with a roasted beet, goat cheese, and walnut salad. Amy loved the beets. For some reason she said the beets were soothing. I loath beets. I'm not sure what it is about them...the texture, the flavor, the fact that they turn your tongue red...I.LOATH.THEM. I did, however, like the goat cheese which I spread on the bread they gave us. I started with a goat cheese and leek tarte, which tasted really strong, and creamier than I expected. A word for any vegetarians out there (Not that Cashion's Eat Place is vegetarian friendly at all), but there were two pieces of bacon on the tarte, which was not mentioned on the menu.

I wasn't all that crazy about my entree -- organic beef short ribs on top of risotto with fava beans, peas and caramelized onions. The short ribs were tender and would have been great on their own, but the sauce ruined it. It made the dish more like a stew. The short ribs were swimming in the sauce which was extremely over-powering. Thinking back, it serves me right for ordering beef short ribs which aren't the finest quality of meat by definition. Frankly, I'm sick of seeing every restaurant with short ribs on their menu. I should've ordered the bison filet or the lamb roast which I would've enjoyed much more.

Luckily for me, Amy didn't finish half of her Mediterranean Dorade. If you're unfamiliar with what dorade is (like we were when Amy ordered it), here is a fact sheet on the fish. The fish was roasted to perfection and cooked very simply (unlike my short ribs) with some grilled veggies, black olives and lemon. The fish tasted like and had the consistency of salmon, with a slighly meaty texture.

After our entrees, neither of us had much room for dessert, but we ordered some anyway because you always want to order dessert at Cashion's. We opted for the chocolate hazelnut terrine which our waiter recommended. I was expecting  a slightly larger piece of cake than what appeared, but since I wasn't very hungry, I didn't mind. On the side there were hazelnuts covered with hardened caramel, basically like a hazelnut brittle. The chopped hazelnut layer in the cake had cinnamon in it as well with cut the sweetness of the chocolate. It was all VERY good!

Service was excellent -- Attentive, but not over-attentive -- Friendly, but not too friendly. Our food came out perfectly timed. At no point in our meal did I look around wondering where something was. Like I said, perfect. Cashion's does a nice job of keeping the reservations spread out and not overloading the servers and the kitchen staff, unlike some other restaurants that we've been to lately.

Our bill came to about $100 for two appetizers, two entrees, two glasses of wine, a dessert and a cup of coffee. Overall, I was pretty pleased with our visit to Cashion's Eat Place and we'll probably go back again soon.

Cashions Eat Place
1819 Columbia Rd NW
Washington, DC 20009
(202) 797-1819

Dress Code: Casual to Business Casual
Parking: None - Good Luck finding a spot in Adams Morgan. I ended up parking illegally. Valet available for $5, just be patient.
Nearest Metro: Woodly Park.
Reservations: Taken
Amy's Bathroom Rating: Immaculate.


Back in October, Kuna closed its doors. Everyone thought they were closed, including myself. Once everyone calmed down, the owners announced that they were simply remodeling and changing the restaurants format. Then in December, they reopened their doors as Opera.

On Christmas Eve, Amy and I decided to stop by and see if the change was for the better or worse. There weren't many customers there and the only people serving food were the owners. Talking to one of them, we found out that the change in format "...all started with a coat of paint." Then they realized that they needed new dishes and once they bought new dishes, they bought new silver, and then table clothes. After the remodeling happened, they felt it was also time to change the format of the restaurant from Italian to French.

Opera's menu is significantly different from Kuna. The pastas that used to make up the majority of the menu are gone - yes, no more penne with vodka sauce. (sob) Appetizers consist of salads and lighter items like steak tartare and country pate. Prices for appetizers range from $6 to $8. We had both the steak tartare and country pate at our last visit and they were very yummy. Nice medium sized chunks of steak tartare are served on top of potato skins. The steak is served with capers and chilies. It was nice and spicy! A "light fare" menu is also available with dishes like assorted cheeses, cured meats, and boudin noir, as well as some lighter choices like grilled asparagus and salmon tartare. Our first trip to Opera, we ordered the cured meats to start. When it comes down to it, cured meats are cured meats. However, you get the pate and garlic sausage with the cured meats, which are very good on their own. The meats were...well, meats. Cured meats, by themselves, get a bit boring after a while unless they're served with cheese. I'd recommend ordering the meats and cheeses to share with a table of four or more. Make sure you call and make a reservation if you want to go with a partner of more than four people though. There aren't many tables that can hold more than four. Our last trip to Opera, we ordered the pate on its own. It was served with fig and celery root moutarde (mustard). We enjoyed the pate much better on its own and it left us not nearly as full leading into our entrees. Dishes in the "light fare" menu range from $14 to $17.

Entrees change on the menu quite often. The last time we went to Opera, only two of the entrees remained on the menu from our first trip - the lamb chops and the pork chop, which I happened to order during our first trip. The pork chop comes with knockwurst, garlic sausage, and sauerkraut. The dish wasn't bursting with flavor but it tasted very different from any pork dish I've eaten in DC. Everything in the dish was baked together, almost as if it was a stew. The flavor of the sauerkraut was mixed with the knockwurst and the garlic sausage. The pork was tender and cooked just right - not dry, but juicy. You wont find lots of heavy, starchy side dishes served with Opera's entrees. Everything on the plate is meant to compliment and add to the flavor. Our last trip, I had a tenderloin dish served with potatoes, yams, carrots and onion. I wasn't so crazy about this dish because the way it was cooked (similar to the pork chop) kind of ruined the meat. The tenderloin was chopped up into small chunks and only a few were actually cooked medium rare the way I asked. Amy ordered a fried risotto dish that reminded us of the suppli that 2 Amys serves, only Opera's version is served with a vodka sauce (the vodka sauce returns!). It was pretty good, but in order to keep the fried risotto from getting soggy, the outside is made very crispy and ends up being a bit chewy.

This is a little off topic, but I've gotta mention it...Our last visit, there was this woman a few tables over who'd obviously had one too many glasses of wine and was talking very loud for the size of the dining room. She had ordered a dish with a thick bacon as one of its ingredients - a different version of the pork chop dish I'd ordered our first trip. Just think of someone with a nasal, Fran Drescher-esque sound to her voice saying this over and over, "I CAN"T BELIEVE HOW BIG THIS BACON IS! HAVE YOU EVER SEEN SUCH HUGE BACON?! THIS IS THE BIGGEST BACON I'VE EVER SEEN!" It was all very phallic and Amy and I and the tables around us couldn't stop giggling.

Another significant renovation occurred in the area of the bar. The tiny serving area that used to be the bar has been increased in size considerable, and now there is room to store many more liquors. The drink menu has been expanded as a result. We've found ourselves ordering a few drinks each which has made our bill more expensive than it should have been. Drink prices range from $8 to $10. The wine list is not huge, but has some good wines on it from Italy and France. There is even the Insolia which is one of our favorite wines from 2 Amys. One draw back to the new format - the free wine tastings that Kuna used to have while you waited for your table are gone.

We have yet to try the desserts at Opera and haven't seen anyone else order them either. Both visits, we were too full to eat anything else after the entrees. Just to name a few though - panna cotta, chocolate torte, and tea poached figs.

We were pretty happy with both of our trips to Opera. As I said before, both times we ordered a few drinks each which caused our bill to be over $120. The drinks alone added $45 to our bills. Overall, I'd say the menu at Opera is very reasonable, with no dish costing more than $20 (with one exception - the tenderloin I ordered at our last meal was $22).

Is Opera better than Kuna? I'd say it's all a matter of personal taste. Personally, I'd have to say it's not. I miss the pasta dishes I loved at Kuna. However, there are lots of good things about Opera like the country pate and steak tartare that are worth going back for. Plus, there are plenty of other places in DC to get good pasta.

1324 U St. NW
Washington, DC 20009
(202) 797-0523

Dress Code: Casual
Parking: none - street parking is a rare commodity in the U Street corridor. There is no Valet either. I recommend cabbing or taking the metro. The U Street stop is a block away.
Reservations: Taken