Archive for February, 2008

Cork

February 27, 2008

A new wine bar with a chef who was previously a sous-chef at CityZen, Palena and Michel Richard Citronelle?  YES, PLEASE!

Cork

The setting:
Cork is done in the popular “urban renewal” style of clean lines of a refurbished older building.  The ceilings are high (making it very noisy) and polished concrete and support beams abound.  Cork’s best feature, though, is a large bar with an extension at the corner of the “L” making for more bar space and a little nook.

In walking to the bathroom (really, just two for the whole place?) I noted a full, bustling restaurant I’d love to check out for a sit-down meal.

The service:
Because we were camped out at the bar, we had great service.  The bartenders were easy to grab and recommended some great small plates.  We had a large party (for Alison’s birthday, incidently) and bought bottles of bubbly instead of just each person getting a glass.  The bartenders kept glasses filled and new wine selections poured quickly.

The food and wine:
Cork mainly deals in “Old World” wines, and I tend to prefer New World (with the exceptions of Sangiovese and Dolcetto) so I decided to stick with the bubbles.  I drank a few glasses of Domaine de Martinolles, Blanquette de Limoux, “Le Berceau,” Brut NV, Grape: Mauzac  Region: Roussillon and throughly enjoyed it at $7 a glass.  Brian went with Molino di Sant’Antimo, Chianti dei Colli Senesi 2005, Grapes: Sangiovese and Canaiolo  Region: Tuscany for $10 a glass and also really loved it.

To eat, we indulged in foods that could be passed around our large group: Charcuterie Selection, which desperately needed bread or an accompanying spread (although the mini gerkins were delightful), Red-Wine Braised Lamb, which was To. Die. For., and Pan-Crisped Brioche Sandwich of prosciutto, fontina, with an egg on top that sounds a little odd but was a HUGE hit with everyone.

And then there was the calamari.  Yes, I know everyone does calamari, but this was SO GOOD:  not greasy but light and salty, and our group ordered three servings.   We wanted to try the chicken livers, but evidently everyone else did too and they were sold out.

I thought Cork was great and a wonderful addition to the Logan Circle area.  Wine bars for everyone!  Now if Veritas near me could just get up to snuff on the cooking…

Best for: Wine lovers who want some decent nosh.

Worst for: Non-drinkers.

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A Study in Salt

February 25, 2008

We had dinner at Chris and Julia’s, the couple with whom we tried New Heights during Restaurant Week. Chris is quite the chef, and our meal was dubbed, “A Study in Salt” with each course enhanced by an artisan salt from Le Gourmet Chef in Columbia Mall.

Marscapone-stuffed Dates with Fleur de Sel
Remove the pits and stuff with marscapone cheese, so it resembles a stuffed olive. Back at 350 for 10-15 minutes and sprinkle with 3-4 grains for fleur de sel. Serve over a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.

Arugula and Prosciutto with Himalayan Pink Salt
Arugula Simply dressed with prosciutto, toasted hazelnuts, and tossed with balsamic and a dash of Himalayan pink salt.

Braised Buffalo Short Ribs with mushroom risotto, brussel sprouts, and smoked sea salt.
If you haven’t ever had it, buffalo is delicious and one of the healthiest meats available. It is easily found locally at several farmer’s markets (notably Cibola Farms at Dupont Famer’s Market on Sundays) or online.

Reduce 2 bottles of Zinfindel in half.

In a separate pan, brown the short ribs and remove. In the pan where you browned the meat, cook 2 onions, 2 cut up stalks of celery and a cut up carrot with six cloves of garlic in olive oil and rib fond (stuff left over from browning) until the vegetables become soft and slightly transparent (except for the carrots).

Put the ribs back in and add the reduced wine and enough chicken stock to cover, throw in 6 sprigs of thyme and braise for 3 hours at 300. Take out the ribs, strain the liquid, and reduce that until ready to serve.

For the brussel sprouts, wash and cut them in half and toss with enough olive oil to coat, but not enough to leave liquid in the pan. Roast at 450 for about 15 – 20 minutes, until browned.

The risotto takes forever to cook (and employs my father’s favorite cooking technique: “Just keep stirring”), but really is delicious. Use your basic box of risotto and cook according to instructions. Add reconstituted chantrelles about halfway through.

Chris is a huge fan of Alton Brown, and it showed with the dessert. The chocolate cups were created by melting dark chocolate in a double boiler, and when it is just tacky (around 104 degrees for those of you keeping track), spoon it over the rounded side of a blown up balloon to dry into a “cup.” To make the mousse, use 8 oz of whipped cream (and you’ll actually need to whip it up!) and 8 oz mascarpone cheese. Add to that 1/4 cup sugar. Melt 4 oz dark chocolate and fold it all together to create the mousse. Top with a few sprinkles of Hawaiian red salt and it’s to die for. Trust me – and Chris – on this.

Updated 3.11.08 – Whole Foods in Arlington now has a whole slew of these salts in beautiful glass jars in the cheese section.  So now you can pick up your artisan salt without having to trek to Columbia!

Thai two ways a la Logan Circle: Rice and Thai Tanic

February 19, 2008

Alison’s reviews on her new neighborhood spots:

An examination of my favorite ethnic cuisine in my new ‘hood – one with a chic vibe and the other my go-to take out joint.

Rice

I was eager to try this neighborhood spot and was not disappointed! 

The setting:
Rice is very feng shui minimalist chic – spare tables, light washes as a nod to wall décor, and an exposed brick wall.  I recently visited on a Friday night (note: on the early-ish side: 7pm) and was seated right away, although it did get crowded later on.  I wished for a table along the perimeter of the room, but that’s more of a personal preference, and those tables seemed to be reserved for 4 people as opposed to our party of 2.

The service:
Unobtrusive, adequate – nothing to note either good or bad, which was fine by us for a laid back meal in a neighborhood spot.

The Food:
The menu is divided into three sections: house specials, traditional Thai, and good for you green (vegetarian).  Matt and I both had a hankerin’ for traditional Thai – he the shrimp pad thai, and I the chicken green curry.  We also shared an appetizer of chicken satay.  The satay was fine – not out of this world, but a tasty start.  I particularly enjoyed the dipping sauce it came with – a departure from the normal peanut and more of a sweet chili dip, YUM!  Matt’s pad thai was delicious – easily the best I’ve had in DC, although he said that next time he would order the chicken instead of the too-salty shrimp, and would request a bit of heat.  I think he was right on both observations, but it was tasty enough that I managed to stealthily snitch more my standard one-bite taste!  My green curry was accompanied by the prettiest bed of rice, which was both lovely to look at and a tasty upgrade from your standard sticky rice.  The curry itself was delicious – just the right amount of kick to it, although the wee eggplants were a bit too firm with too-tough skins for my liking.

Best For: Authentic and/or Vegetarian Dishes, Eating in the restaurant.

Worst For: Take out (only due to the longer walk from my flat and fab atmosphere that it would be a shame to miss out on)

Thai Tanic

In the absence of a neighborhood chipoltz, this has become my go-to once a week quick dinner (and next day lunch!).  It is what it is – unabashedly unpretentious and no ingenuity to speak of, but I have come to love it!

The setting:
The setting of the actual restaurant is the anti-dote to Rice: decidedly un-chic and even downright dodgy from the outside.  Indeed, as many times as I have eaten their food, I have never actually eaten in, preferring instead to enjoy my dinners down the block, chez-moi.

The service:
Can’t comment on eating in-house, but they always have my called in orders ready in 10-15 minutes and have never messed up an order.

The Food:
I alternate between the chicken green curry and the pad see ew, with occasional starters of steamed dumplings or spring rolls, although I’ve also tried their drunken noodles and pad thai. The portions are very generous and almost always serve as my lunch the next day.  Everything I order here I am pleased with – nothing is out of this world, but it is always super tasty.  A word of caution: requests for “a little bit spicy” result in a bit more heat than most Americans are accustomed to and require gobs of milk or beer to wash down the spicy-goodness.  Request heat with caution (or reckless abandon!)

Best For:
Take out, big portions, traditional cravings for your Thai stand-bys.
 
Worst For: atmosphere, menu creativity.

Alison Kiss my Grits

Poste

February 12, 2008

In looking for brunch spots convenient to the red line and the orange line, I thought Poste would be a good option.  Perhaps I should expand my search next time.

Poste

The setting:
I like the way Poste looks, and I love the way the Hotel Monaco is decorated.  In walking through the hotel lobby to get to the restroom, you pass vivid green walls, funky couches, and jigsaw piece-shaped mirrors.  The restaurant is more subdued with neutral colors and cushy banquets with throw pillows.  My favorite detail may be the side plates on the set tables that look like they should hold a candle instead of a piece of bread.

The service:
I’m such a sucker for the server who can do the Cocktail pour from a water pitcher.  Our service was attentive and friendly, although there wasn’t a timely check-in after our food was delivered (incorrectly).

The food:
I’ve eaten at Poste before for brunch and recalled that the portions were somewhat small, but delicious.  This time, however, I was disappointed in my selection.  I ordered the “eggs any style” with bacon (natch).  I asked for the eggs scrambled with cheese and truffle fries – a $4 surcharge – instead of the super-garlicky breakfast potatoes.  When my plate arrived the home fries were on the plate instead of the truffle fries, and the eggs seemed rather pale to contain cheese.  The potato problem was corrected immediately, but I took my chances with the eggs, figuring perhaps it was white cheddar.

But the food was just…okay.  Granted, I’m completely spoiled by breakfast because Brian somehow makes the best scrambled eggs known to man, but these had no seasoning and seemed like a folded omelet instead of scrambled.  I also think there is no way I actually had the truffle fries.  If that was fungi on my frites, that pig needs a new job

I also take issue with a $4.50 hot tea.  Come on…  With the surcharge for my “truffle” fries and the hot tea, my mediocre breakfast came to $22 – sans booze.

I think brunch is perhaps not the time to visit Poste, at least not with the expectation of a traditional breakfast.  I’ll be back for a dinner before writing Poste off.

Best for: A Sunday lunch rather than brunch.

Worst for: Big appetites in search of a budget-friendly Sunday morning staple.

Ray’s the Steaks

February 10, 2008

It may not look like much, but man oh man – THIS is good steak!

Ray’s the Steaks

The setting:
Ray’s the Steaks in Arlington is unassuming from the outside. It’s easily missed in a strip mall most notable for it’s liquor store. The inside isn’t much better: white walls and bare tables with the only ambiance found in a back corner surrounded by the shelves that function as the restaurant wine cellar. It reminds me of a German beer hall with people packed by the front door and metal swinging bench waiting for hours to be seated.

The service:
I’ve been to Ray’s several times now and the service is consistently friendly and attentive. They seem to want you to enjoy your food and know that the wait has been a pain in the patooty. To lessen the wait, you can stop by starting at 4:00 before they open to put your name on a list. On a Saturday we stopped by at 5:15 and the first available seating was 9:30 p.m. So eat some celery sticks back home and wait to get some great steak.

The food:
I like the little touches at Ray’s the Steaks. They bring spiced cashews when you’re seated and 2-bite-sized pieces of focaccia with drinks.

To start, I would ALWAYS recommend the crab bisque. Our friend Luke declared it the Best Soup Ever (a superlative Brian has issued before, but he thinks most things are The Best Ever, so you always need a second opinion to his).

rays-the-steaks-bisque.jpg

The steaks are also out of this world. I tend to get the petite filet with a brandy mushroom sauce on the side. The menu announces that many of the steaks are only available rare to medium because the chef doesn’t believe in ruining the texture of really fine meat. This is one of those times when even Picky Ashley agrees – you really should just let them do their thing.

I’m always slightly disappointed in the sides that come with the steak. Creamed spinach and mashed potatoes come family style in little cast iron skillets, but they lack something, for lack of a better description, southern in their preparation. I need butter or cream in my potatoes, and more salt and cream in my spinach.

The desserts are also fantastic: tart and tangy key lime pie and white chocolate mousse with strawberries. And another perfect touch to the end of the meal? I tiny cup of hot cocoa. I love it.

Best for: Carnivores who love and crave excellent meat.

Worst for: Those for whom the setting matters.

Breadline

February 5, 2008

My office treated us to a catered Breadline lunch – I definitely understand the hype.

Breadline

Breadline

I’m a purist when it comes to most food – I like simple food and straightforward preparation. So I was drawn more to the turkey sandwich with micro greens. There weren’t that many condiments to add to the sandwich: just a little mayo was all I put on to compliment the greens and fresh turkey – like it was picked right off the bird. What was so delicious about the sandwich, though, was the bread. My grandmother used to make her own bread instead of buying it, and this white bread tasted exactly like hers. I also tried a sandwich with prosciutto, bleu cheese, and fig spread on walnut bread that I surprisingly liked. The sweet of the fig spread with the salty proscuttio and sharp bleu cheese was really a great combination, especially further balanced with the earthiness of the walnuts.

As sides, I tried the couscous with apricots (delicious) and a lentil and feta salad. I loved the couscous, but thought the lentils needed something acidic to finish the tastes.

This would make a great workday lunch in the future.

Mardi Gras Party!

February 3, 2008

Brian is from New Orleans and most years we’ll go down for Mardi Gras, but with it falling so close to Christmas this year, we decided to stay here and just throw a party! We had King Cake shipped in and made hurricanes (we used the mix, but the key is the crushed ice – we served ours out of wine glasses), jambalaya, and a recipe from Brian’s childhood – artichoke balls. We called Brian’s mother for the recipe and they were a hit!

Artichoke Balls
Makes a little less than 3 dozen, and is good to have on hand for Veggies and dieters:

3 cans artichoke hearts
1/2 tablespoon garlic, minced
Just less than 1 cup Parmesan cheese
1 egg
Salt & pepper
1 cup Italian bread crumbs
3 tablespoons olive oil

Drain artichoke hearts and mince finely. Combine with remaining ingredients until mixture can be molded into small balls. Bake in 350 degree oven for 15 minutes.

Enjoy and Laissez Les Bon Temps Roulez!

The Palm, Atlanta

February 1, 2008

A difficult week at home was punctuated with a trip to the Palm Restaurant at Lenox.  But the meal’s punctuation mark was a ? instead of !

The Palm

The setting:
The Palm is known for having that typical steakhouse decor: wood paneling and famous (aka: a lot of extra money spent schmoozing and eating steak) faces on the white walls.  It’s the forced unfussiess that makes it pretentious.  The Washington, DC location has recently had a remodel and the glassed-in room looks pretty snazzy.

The service:
*Sigh*  When you are the ONLY TABLE having lunch on a Sunday, you should have excellent service.  However, our waiter never pointed out the (much less expensive) lunch menus in the middle of the table, was absent when Alison’s mimosa was delivered pretty much as straight orange juice, and “just 5 minutes” turned into 15 for Jeanette to get her underdone replacement steak.  The manager (I assume) also had an air of “How could something be wrong?  We are THE PALM!” to the Problem of the Mimosa as well as an empty pepper mill.  When I asked for my cappuccino without cinnamon, it still came out with cinnamon.  And the runner who brought it didn’t understand when I kept saying (politely), “No cinnamon, please.” 

The food:
I admit it, I’m spoiled when it comes to steak.  My father raised us on wood-fired (make mine applewood, please) bacon-wrapped filet, and Brian has a love affair with Rays the Steaks that keeps my canines happy.  The problem with the steak at The Palm is that it just isn’t very flavorful.  What you are paying for is a hunk of over-priced meat and the chance to spend enough to get a free blanket

The sides of scalloped potatoes, spinach, and sauteed mushrooms were good, but expected.  Jeanette’s halibut was completely overdone, and all of the steaks at the table were over or undercooked.

Dessert consisted of a HUGE slab of chocolate cake and a bowl of berries.  Meh.

With all the great restaurants out there, find a different steakhouse that prides itself on great food, and not just clout.

Best for: Diners who care about the name of the restaurant more than the food.

Worst for: Carnivores who love good red meat.