Escape the Heat: Mediterranean Salad

Therm We're gonna cheat a little on the no-cook mandate, but the weather is cooling down, so can you handle about 15 minutes of stove work?  You can even prepare the ingredients in advance on a cool day or at night and store them in the fridge until later.

I can't expound the benefits of this salad enough.  While I have a healthy love for brown sugar Pop Tarts, a juicy NY strip, cheese of any kind and bacon, this recipe is my redemption.  It takes advantage of all the fresh tomatoes and basil in the markets right now and can serve as a complete, guilt-free meal.  It's also ultra-nutritious:  pack a container for lunch and I promise it will carry you through the mid-afternoon doldrums and give you the energy to get to the gym.


Try to find French green lentils, also called lentilles de Puy and not to be confused with those bags of light Lentilsgreen lentils in the super.  This variety of lentil holds its shape when cooking, but if you have to use the light green ones, subtract a couple minutes cooking time and aim for al dente or you'll end up with a mushy salad.  I've had a difficult time finding them lately, but I refused to believe there was an area-wide run on French lentils, so a random stop at Rodman's turned up 17.5-oz. boxes of Roland Green Lentils.  (Can I take this moment here to express my love for all things Roland?  This company single-handedly provides a fix for multiple food addictions, many of them olive-related.  And also Rodman's, while I'm at it.  They are a foodie's version of a methadone clinic.)

How much do you use?  Simmer a cup of dry lentils for about 15-20 minutes.  Drain, cool for a few minutes and season them with a tablespoon of vinegar (white, red wine or balsamic...your pick, depending on your palate), salt and pepper.


Use whole wheat couscous if you'd like to increase the healthfulness, regular couscous if it doesn't matter to you (or if that's all you can find).  About one cup, prepared according to directions.  You can cook this at the same time as the lentils.

By the way, you can find all the ingredients for this in Rodman's or Trader Joe's.  TJ's doesn't have French green lentils, but they do sell bags of pre-cooked black Beluga lentils, which can be subbed in with no problem (and no cooking!).TJ lentils


Mash a garlic clove** with 1/4 tablespoon salt.  Whisk this with another 2 tablespoons of vinegar, about 3 tablespoons of olive oil and salt and pepper to taste.  In a large bowl, stir together this dressing with the lentils and couscous.  **If raw garlic is too powerful, toast the clove in a dry pan on a medium-heat stove for a minute or two until lightly browned to tone down the flavor.


Tomatoes:  two cups of halved cherries, pears or grapes, or seeded and diced Romas, heirlooms or any garden variety tomato you can find.

Cheese, glorious cheese:  feta is the traditional choice.  I prefer goat feta because I like its tanginess but I've also used regular goat cheese (one that is on the firmer side).  Chop a 4-oz. chunk and add.

Greens:  basil, definitely, at least a cup.  Spinach and/or arugula are fantastic in this salad, too, and increase its nutritional value tremendously -- try a chopped cup of each or 2 cups of one.  Arugula_300 You could probably add mint, too, but there are so many strong flavors competing in this already that it might be overkill.

Pignolis, or pine nuts:  totally optional, but if you have them on hand, add a quarter cup.   Toast them first (with the garlic!) for a nuttier flavor, but watch carefully as they can turn from brown to burnt in a heartbeat.

Give everything a stir and let it chill for an hour or more.  It will last several days in your fridge...if you can keep it around that long.  Enjoy it as a side dish with any grilled protein or as a complete meal by itself.  Bring it to a potluck and you will be asked for the recipe.

Again, this recipe is highly customizable.  It's also a good vehicle for testing your palate, so taste frequently and adjust according to your own preferences, regardless of the amounts I provided, which are really just guidelines.  However, be cautious with salt, as the cheese will add its own, and with this recipe it's hard to undo the damage of too much salt.


Grilled Quail and Beer by Ferran Adria (hint: one is better than the other)

There are a million recipes, but when it comes to weekend grilling, most of us fall back on the familiar: beef, chicken, pork and fish.

Even with the variety of ways to prepare these protean staples, they can get a little redundant. So every now and then it pays to branch out. In this case, I'm getting quail.

Unless you hunt, the only time most of us encounter quail is in white table cloth restaurants. They're a nice alternative to chicken, though due to the fact that they're all dark meat, quail are closer in flavor to duck (not quite as rich). What I especially like about quail, though, is that I don't have to share.

DSCN5522 There's just something about devouring an entire animal (and its friend) in a sitting. Staring down at the pile of bits and bones, whether they be fish or fowl, it's pleasing in a primitive sort of way. If you must, you can eat quail with a knife and fork, but the birds are small enough to necessitate getting your fingers dirty.

That's when you're really in the spirit of things. Pulling the meat from the bone as warm fat, olive oil and lemon season your fingers, it's a moment more backyard than brasserie. And that's why I decided to pick up a few of the small birds from Market Poultry.

The diminutive size of the birds also means you're not going to be spending all afternoon at the grill. But because of the haute connection, it's a dish that impresses.

I don't want to spend a whole lot of time messing with the quail, so I dress them simply with olive oil and grilled lemon. Like I said, the bird is all dark meat, which is rich and flavorful. Why get in the way of that?

Keeping with the Mediterranean theme, I served the quail with warm pita and tabouli salad, both of which I bought. Seriously, I'm keeping it simple.

DSCN5525 To accompany the meal, I picked up a bottle of Inedit, made by the Spanish brewery S.A. Damm for none other than famed Spanish chef Ferran Adrià. Adrià put molecular gastronomy on the map and his restaurant el Bulli has produced such chefs as Denmark's René Redzepi and our very own José Andrés.

Despite Adrià's culinary success, I was skeptical about the beer. Adrià is known for his skill in the kitchen, his culinary vision and his very exclusive restaurant in Catalonia, Spain. The only thing he exports to the world is talented chefs. The beer seems like something dreamed up by marketers and accountants to take advantage of the popularity of craft beer. It's made by a brewery that's best known for its popular lager, Estrella, and partially owned by Anheuser-Busch InBev, a corporate behemoth better known for hostile takeovers than quality beer.

Frankly, Adrià's beer seems like a gimmick, but I don't know for what. Is it meant to draw attention to a restaurant none of us will visit or a chef that none of us will meet? If you visit Inedit's Website (yes, it has it's own Website), you can find tasting notes, instructions on how to serve it (thus the white wine glass), and a series of incredibly pretentious videos in multiple languages.

On the other hand, the 750 ml bottle of Inedit was $10 at Whole Foods, so the price alone makes it worth trying.

The first thing that jumped out at me was the fact that the beer wasn't a traditional light lager. The Spanish love beer, but they primarily drink pale lagers. Inedit is more of a witbier, equally refreshing in hot climates like Spain, but more popular in Belgium and the U.S. According to the fancy booklet tied to the bottle, the beer is a lager/wheat blend. The 4.8 percent beer pours a cloudy straw color. It's crisp, a little sweet, with a faint orange peel flavor. For a $10 beer, it's good.

DSCN5515 But that's the thing. It's just good. Why would one of the most respected chefs in the world go out of his way to put his name on a beer that's just ok? If it's a first step toward a few tapas joints in Barcelona, then I'm not sure I'd want such a pedestrian beer to be my flagship. In one of the promotional videos, Adrià says Inedit fills a need for a proper beer to accompany food. That's ridiculous, of course. The variety of traditional Eurpean and American craft beers being made today - including Belgian witte beers - more than fills whatever gap Adrià and S.A. Damm allege.

Don't get me wrong, it's a good beer. But when Ferran Adrià produces a beer, you expect something great. On the other hand, it's $10 a bottle, and that's the important thing. Ignore the self-important black and white photo on the dangling brochure, ignore the pedigree, and just enjoy a good beer at a good price. Because once you start thinking more about it, it only gets worse.

Grilled lemon quail
(Makes four servings)

DSCN5505 8 semi-boneless quail, two per person
1 lemon, halved
4 tbs. olive oil
1 tbs. balsamic vinegar
Salt and black pepper to taste
Pita bread
Tabouli salad (optional)

This is a very fast recipe. The birds take 10 minutes to cook, so you'll probably spend more time getting the grill ready.

DSCN5514 As you're heating up your grill, pull the quail out of refrigerator and season both sides of the birds with salt and pepper and two tablespoons of olive oil. Grill the birds directly over the hottest part of grill for five minutes per side with the lid down. Grill the lemon halves for the full 10 minutes slightly off the hot spot.

Remove, dress with the hot lemon juice, remaining olive oil and balsamic, and eat ... with your hands.

Komi Restaurant

At this point, Amy and I pretty much have a standing reservation at Komi for our Anniversary. After several attempts on special occasions to "try something new", and being fairly disappointed, we given up for a little while. This time, it was our ten-year anniversary, and I wanted it to be a dinner we would remember.

I called to make a reservation about 2 weeks ahead and they had a few openings left. If I'd waited much longer, I probably would've been shit out of luck. Komi isn't quite popular enough to necessitate a thirty-day-in-advance reservation like Minibar or Citronelle, but I have this feeling it will be soon, so don't put off making that call too long.

Our reservation was at 8:30, which is probably as late as you want to go considering it's about a 3 hour meal. The meal truly is an experience from start to finish and I tend to starve myself the day of the meal, eating a very light lunch at the most, because otherwise I'll regret it later that day. If you're unfamiliar with how the menu works at Komi, there are two options: "Dinner" and "Degustazione". "Dinner" is $84 and includes the selection of mezzathakia (small tastes) at the start of the meal, a choice of pasta course, and a choice if dinner course.

Degustazione includes more mezzathakia, palate cleansers between major courses, and desert. The catch is that you don't have your choice of pasta course and entree, although I've regularly specified that I didn't want a specific pasta or entree dish because I've already had it before. Last Friday, we ordered the full Degustazione and we had a total of 14 courses, few with multiple tastes in each. The courses don't come out one after an other in rapid succession and this is a very good thing. (When eating this much food, you need to take it slow.)   

(Normally when writing up a meal at Komi, I would write about each dish in detail and how if tasted and made me feel, but this time, I think I'll spare you all and write up the highlights.)

The small tastes started with what ended up being our favorite -- a small mountain of crab on top of Greek yogurt and all lightly topped with crab roe, or what our server referred to as a warm crab salad.  The flavor of the Greek yogurt complimented the flavor of the crab surprisingly well and after all the crab was gone, there was this pool of Greek yogurt and roe left over that I really would've liked a couple pieces of bread to soak it up. This was a perfect blend of Mediterranean style cooking with local ingredients.

A new mezzethakia to the menu since our last visit to Komi was a diver scallop duo of carpaccio, with a mustard and dill sauce, and tartar, served on a little spoon with pine nuts and beets. The scallops were amazingly fresh and melted in your mouth like butter. Some of the best dishes Johnny Monis creates are simple with fresh ingredients and different flavor combinations than you normally see, and this was a perfect example of this.

Crossing the lines of dessert and appetizer, the faux gras profiterole with candied ginger and shallots, and on the same plate as a smore with a goat cheese marshmallow, mixed savory with sweet. And of course, we also had the roasted Medjool dates stuffed with mascarpone cheese and greek yogurt. No description needed.

Someday, I hope that Johnny Monis will branch out and start a restaurant where all he serves is his amazing homemade pasta. A new pasta was on the menu this time, a bluefish-filled, homemade ravioli with a summer vegetable succotash. I think that bluefish is a really under-appreciated fish and I was happy to see it on the menu. The distinctly salty, oily flavor of the fish was complimented by the sweetness of the vegetables. I spied some sliced sweet sun-gold tomatoes, a tiny orange variety of cherry tomatoes, that I've been getting at the farmers markets lately and really made the dish.

For an entree, I was happy to see the return of the roasted suckling pig. They bring the full leg out and show it to you after it's been cooked and then they slice it up and serve it on the dish with various accompaniments like a savory oregano salt, sweet blueberry mostarda, tarte pickled cabbage, eggplant puree, and habanero pepper sauce. My favorite combination was some pickled cabbage and pepper sauce. When serving the pig, the kitchen peels the crispy skin off and puts slices of it on the plate. You literally can use the skin as chips to scoop the accompaniments it's so crisp, and has a flavor better than any piece of pork you'll ever eat.

If there's any job in the world I wouldn't want to have, its the one that has to finish a long meal at Komi with dessert. Perhaps that's why I've never been very satisfied by the desserts at Komi (other than the donuts of course). At the end of a long meal like that, I'd prefer a light sorbet or pastry with filo dough rather than a chocolate cake with heavy ganache sauce like we were served.

I can't remember a time when I've ever had even the slightest issue with service at Komi. The staff at Komi really go out of their way to make the entire experience a memorable one, yet service isn't overbearing. Dishes are described in detail when they're brought out and the servers are always able to speak to the food and are very enthusiastic about the food that is coming out of the kitchen. The entire night, Derek Brown did a fantastic job with the wine pairings. The most notable I thought was a Sparkling Gruner Veltliner which I promised myself I would track down at a local wine store if I could.

One final note, since I told them it was our anniversary, we were brought a little mango lassi and fortune cookies at the very end. I quickly gobbled mine up while Amy delicately broke hers open revealing the piece of paper that said "Happy Anniversary" inside. "Jase, did you just eat your fortune?" She asked me.

"Uhm...I guess so."

1509 17th St NW
Washington, DC 20036
(202) 332-9200

Closed Sunday and Monday.

Dress Code: Business Casual
Parking: It's very difficult to find parking in this area. There is a pay parking lot around the corner in an office building that's open until 12.
Smoking: Not Allowed.
Closest Metro: Dupont Circle
Reservations: Taken and recommended.
Baby-Child friendly rating: 1 diaper. I wish I could give it more but the atmosphere just isn't appropriate for a child.

Café Olé

It seems lately, that every other new restaurant that opens in The District serves tapas. I'm so sick of them. Places like Jaleo, I Matti, Cities, etc, etc, that charge $8-10 for a quarter serving of a real meal are just starting to get on my nerves. Usually the food is good, but the amount they are charging for a serving that would barely feed my cat is just plain robbery.

There is one exception in the D.C - Café Olé.

Continue reading "Café Olé" »