Archive for the ‘Great for Groups’ Category

Blue Duck Tavern

February 9, 2009

My dad is hard to please when it comes to food.  Part of the problem is that he (like all of us in my family) finds pleasure in food more than most other activities.  When we talk about travel, we talk about what we ate.  When we talk about what we did for the weekend, we talk about what we ate.  And when Dad comes to visit, we plan where we’re going to eat.  We had a great dinner at Corduroy, a decent dinner at the now defunct 21P, and a bit of a disappointment at Brasserie Beck (which killed me because we had such an incredible meal the time before). 

There’s a lot of pressure to pick the right place, and with his wonderful girlfriend and her parents joining us for a holiday dinner out, we decided on our favorite restaurant in DC: Blue Duck Tavern.

Blue Duck Tavern

The setting:
Blue Duck is connected to the Park Hyatt in the West End, and the restaurant is reached through massive wooden front doors.  The foyer and lounge is sleek marble, with the tables and chairs looking like a Pennsylvania Dutch farmhouse.

As a party of 8, we were seated in an alcove of a room for privacy, away from the hustle of the open kitchen.  However, you have to walk through the edge of said kitchen to get to the restrooms – a move that’s strategic since they march you right by the heavenly apple pies.


On this occasion, I asked if I could take a picture of the kitchen, and was jokingly told, “We’re going to have to confiscate your camera.”  Alison believed he server (Alexander – who we’ve had before – he’s fabulous) and protested that I had a little food blog and they couldn’t take my camera.  Instead, Alexander took me over to meet the chef

The service:
Servers at Blue Duck seem to have just the right balance of formality and familiarity.  They were responsive to our needs, and made excellent recommendations (and I should have listened to what our server was suggesting…)   I think the vignette above about taking pictures of the kitchen perfectly illustrates the type of service you’ll get at Blue Duck.

I also have to mention because it was so cool when it happened…when we were served our entrees, multiple servers brought the plates and served us from the right side at the same time – it felt very fancy and old school.

The food:
To me, what’s so great about the food at Blue Duck is that I recognize what it is and where it came from.  The menu lists the farmers who provide the food, and you have the feeling that what you’re eating is seasonal – an old fashioned “new” trend.

Since we were here in winter, it just seemed appropriate to eat meat that had been slow cooked.  I opted for the lamb shank, whereas the men in my life (Dad, Brian, and Matt – future brother-in-law) out ordered me with the short ribs.

Blue Duck Tavern by you.

Oh, those short ribs…to die for.  Really.  Warm, flavorful, comforting.  My lamb shank (above) was good, but the short rib (below) was better.

Blue Duck Tavern by you.

The sides are my favorite things at Blue Duck, and what side do you think is the best in my humble opinion?  You guessed it: the grits.  It is very rare to find a restaurant that does grits correctly.  I’ve been to many places in the south that don’t make them as well as my grandfather did (one, they were so wonderful…slow cooked over a double boiler with butter and salt…) and it’s usually laughable what passes for grits up here.  But Blue Duck makes them creamy and delicious – usually flavored by another ingredient in season.  We ordered two for the table to share, and none went to waste.

The duck fat fries are also excellent – triple cooked, one blanched in water, and the twice fried with duck fat – have a great outside crunch with a velvety interior – I just wish I could train my palate not to want ketchup with them!

Blue Duck Tavern by you.

Even though you might be stuffed from a decadent and heavy dinner, do not forgo dessert.  The “individual” (read: feeds 3) apple pie with hand churned ice cream is not to be missed.  It isn’t overly sweet, and you can really taste the freshness and wholesomeness of the apples.  Delicious.

Blue Duck Tavern by you.

Blue Duck Tavern is my favorite restaurant in DC for a reason, and it didn’t disappoint on this trip as a great spot for 3 generations at one table, and for impressing a hard to please foodie father…

Best for: Celebrating the little big ocassions –  a new job, a holiday, or 11-month anniversary.

Worst for: Watching your budget and waistline.


Herb and Parmesan Crusted Pork

January 7, 2009

Most of the time, I want food that is warm and filling: comfort food.  And sometimes it’s hard to find comfort food that doesn’t take all day to prepare (have you ever made fried chicken?  All. Day.) and is moderately healthy.  Enter the other white meat: pork.  When eaten as a chop (get the boneless chop, butterflied if you aren’t a big meat eater, and split it apart so it gives you 2 thin chops) and trimmed of the side of fat, it’s lean and delicious.

I saw Giada De Laurentiis make this on Everyday Italian (and may I just take a moment to say that I heart Giada…the woman who showed me that Italian food is not just pasta and red sauce) and it has become one of my “signature” dishes.  I like it because it’s easy but impressive for guests (I have a good friend who is a restaurant manager and asked me for the recipe because he liked it so much),  relatively cheap to make, and DELICIOUS!  What more could you want?

Herb and Parmesan Crusted Pork


  • Pork chops, boneless.  I trim the fat off the side to make it healthier and so you don’t get that wad of gristle.  Because, gross.
  • Grated Parmesan cheese.  You don’t have to get fancy – the stuff in the green plastic can will work best, actually.
  • Italian breadcrumbs.  Natch.
  • 1 egg, beaten.  My health and time trick?  Egg Beaters.  Use them, they’re awesome.
  • Olive oil and vegetable oil.  You’ll be combining these in the pan to cook the pork.  Olive oil alone will “burn off” faster, so the veggie oil offsets this and keeps the smoke alarm from going off.  I learned this the hard way.  You’ll need quite a bit of oil – if you’re trying to use your last tablespoon, it ain’t gonna cut it.

First things first: heat that pan!  Combine your 2 oils until its completely covering the bottom of the pan in a thick layer.  Heat the pan to medium-high.  When the oil starts to look really liquidy/glassy, it’s ready.

I like to get everything lined up assembly line style: pork on one plate, egg in a shallow bowl, and the Parmesan and breadcrumbs combined in a 1/3 Parm, 2/3 breadcrumb ratio mixture.  This isn’t an exact science, so you’ve got plenty of room to fudge and it’ll still taste great! 


Prepare your pork by dipping it first in the egg to coat, then into the breadcrumb and Parmesan mixture, turning to coat evenly.

herb-and-parm-pork-2  herb-and-parm-pork-3  herb-and-parm-pork-4

When the oil is hot, place the chops in the pan.  Be careful!  The oil is hot, and this sucker is going to splatter while it cooks.  Have tongs at the ready.  Cook on the first side about 5 minutes for a thick chop, about 3-4 minutes for half of a butterflied chop.  Carefully flip and cook for another 5 minutes or so.  You want the color to be a darkish brown – this isn’t going to brown up light and lovely.  I also will turn thicker chops on each side (the skinny side so it stands up like a book – you may have to hold it there with the tongs) to make sure the chop is cooked through.


You may need to add more oil to your pan as your cooking.  You’ll know if the oil gets too low because the pan will start smoking like nutso.  Keep your stove top fan on high the whole time you’re cooking this dish and just be ready for it.


Incidentally, I find that this is one of those great dishes to prepare with a glass of red wine in one hand while you’re watching the stove.  This is less than 30 minutes from start to finish, so just the right amount of time to enjoy a glass of vino.

I like to serve this with Brussel sprouts, roasted potatoes, wilted spinach, or a Parmesan cous cous.  Enjoy!

Oyamel – Day of the Dead

November 1, 2008

If you aren’t familiar with traditional Mexican food – and the holiday Day of the Dead, you might be surprised by what you find at the Penn Quarter hot-spot.


The setting:
I was at Oyamel the week of Halloween, and at first glance it appears as though this restaurant has gone overboard with decorations: skeletons wearing traditional Mexican prints, candles that have been burned to allow all the wax to drip and create something akin to an altar, a bathroom decorated with tarot card-looking figures.  But it pays homage to the Mexican holiday, Day of the Dead.  The space still has that terra cotta color palate associated with Mexican restaurants, but there are also cool wire mobile and festive carnival flags hanging from the ceiling in the multi-tiered eatery.

The service:
Our waitress was very deliberate in pronouncing every dish in authentic-sounding Spanish, but she wasn’t so great at telling us what was in something or being able to put the name of a dish to what we were describing (even though she has worked there forever).  She also told me the drink I ordered – mango puree with tequila and infused with chili oil – wasn’t very spicy.  Um, it was basically like drinking Tabasco.  She had to make two orders of guacamole for our table, so I’ll forgive her for letting the chips run low: the ultimate Mexican restaurant faux-pas.

The food:
There are no fajitas on the menu here, and you’d be disappointed if Taco Bell is the picture that forms in your mind when you hear the word “taco.”  Instead, Oyamel prides itself on serving traditional Mexican food – and evidently that includes grasshoppers.

Oh, yes.  I did.

But first!  Guacamole!  Your server will make it fresh table-side, ranging from a little too mild (no more than avocados and tomatillos) to red-oniony spicy.  At our end of the table, we enjoyed the mild version, made even better by mixing a little of the salsa with it.


Oyamel serves food tapas-style, so I ordered 4 dishes to sample:

The Queso fundido con tequila is basically cheese with tequila on top that they light on fire. Yeah, buddy! I’d recommend sharing this because even the cheese-lovers who walk among us may find it to be a bit too much cheese for them. Also, if your server has brought you enough chips, the cheese is really better on them than the tortillas served with the cheese.

The Sopes de frijol con hoja de aguacate was really fantastic – four discs made from corn, topped with cheese and beans, and evidently avocado leaves (somehow I missed that part when I was eating them). But don’t eat these if you’ve recently had dental work – they’re a bit…hard.

The carnitas taco was just a teaser.

And then, the coup de grâce: grasshopper tacos. Yes, they were really grasshoppers. Yes, I really ate them. No, I probably won’t again. I’ll let the pictures speak for me:


Catch your breath, people…this is considered a delicacy in Oaxaca. To report, they were crunchy (“that’s the exoskeleton” observed our astute server) and a bit tasteless, and I later picked a grasshopper leg from between my teeth. Call before you go if you want to try them because – according to our server – they “have peculiar mating habits” and aren’t always available.


Best for: Adventurous eaters who can’t afford a a trip south of the border with these airfare prices.

Worst for: The squeamish. You know who you are.

Let Them Eat Cake! Hello Cupcake vs. Georgetown Cupcake

October 20, 2008

And the winner is…

I’m not going to tell you that quickly!  One thing is for sure: I love cupcakes, and having Hello Cupcake within walking distance to work and Georgetown Cupcake within (a long) walking distance to my apartment isn’t good for my svelte figure!

Hello Cupcake vs. Georgetown Cupcake

The Setting:
I had read all about Hello Cupcake on my favorite food blog, Apples and Bananas, when Bananas did an interview with Ms. Hello Cupcake before they opened.  The place is decorated by her architect husband with an eye towards eco-chic.  I’m not so much a fan of the faux-grain wood motif, and the frosting wave patterned cupcake counter was lost on me.  But I do love the “Murano” glass chandeliers and being able to sit and eat my sugary treat.

Georgetown cupcake is much smaller and doesn’t lend itself to hanging out.  The line is often out the door and down the street, but when you get inside it looks exactly like you want a cupcake shop to look: white and pink with a dainty dollhouse table and gorgeous flower arrangements.  The cupcakes are stacked so beautifully on cake platters, and it made me want to sample more because they all looked that much more pleasing.  And the smell…pure frosting and butter!

Hello Cupcake: 0
Georgetown Cupcake: 1

The Service:
I’ve seen Ms. Hello Cupcake front and center every time I’ve been in or walked by – it’s clear she’s running the place.  Her employees aren’t quite as sugary sweet and enthusiastic, but what do you expect when the boss keeps telling you to not put the cupcakes in a box automatically, and the customer gets irritated.  I have to admit I didn’t notice last time I was there if they were still trying to get away with putting the cupcakes in a paper bag.  They did try to sell me a $3 “cupcake holder.”  Thanks, but no thanks…

Georgetown Cupcake is a high school drama kid’s dream job.  Sweet, eager, and totally silly in a way that makes me SO glad I am no longer that sweet, eager, and totally silly drama kid I was.  When I asked which cupcake they recommended, they gushed, “OMGTHEY’REALLSOGOODICOULDN’TPICKJUSTONE!!!”  And then when I ordered, “OMGTHATISTOTALYLMYFAVORITEIFREAKIN’LOVEIT!” 

But they were sweet.  And eager.  And for that, I award points, bringing us to:

Hello Cupcake: 0
Georgetown Cupcake: 2

The Food, AKA: Cupcakes:
I’ve had more from Hello Cupcake than Georgetown Cupcake just because of it’s proximity to work and the Friday doldrums.  I’ve sampled the Prima Donna, You Tart!, Peanut Butter Blossom, Heart of Darkness, and Triple Coconut.  By and large, the cake ain’t great.  It’s a little dry and flavorless – how is it that Betty Crocker cake mix is so much better than a $3 cupcake?  I’ll take BC Devil’s Food Cake any day over a Heart of Darkness.  What’s great about Hello Cupcake’s creations, though, are the frostings.  The strawberry cream cheese frosting on the Prima Donna was just meh, and I thought the Peanut Butter frosting was a little too good-for-you peanutty.  But the lemon goodness that tops You Tart!?  And the fantastic doesn’t-taste-like-a-Mounds Triple Coconut with the toasted coconut bits?  YUM!  And my co-worker literally licked her fingers clean of the chocolate ganache frosting on the Heart of Darkness.

My favorites, in order: Triple Coconut, You Tart!, Heart of Darkness, Prima Donna, and then the Peanut Butter Blossom.

Georgetown Cupcake is a hair cheaper than Hello Cupcake – $2.75 at Georgetown Cupcake.  The strawberry banana cupcake I had was basically like eating a slice of banana bread with Philadelphia Strawberry Cream Cheese on top.  The cake was a little dry, and the frosting heavier than Hello Cupcake.  But there are more traditional flavors at Georgetown Cupcake, so the purist in you will be happy.  (Hello Cupcake, by the way, has a Maya Favorite cupcake – chili-infused and topped with red pepper flakes.  My friend Megan said you could feel the heat in your throat – not your mouth).  Georgetown Cupcakes also sport girlier toppings – they’re just screaming to be served at a bridal or baby shower.


This past week I ordered another half dozen cupcakes from Georgetown Cupcake, making it  a tie with Hello Cupcake.  Georgetown Cupcake’s cake is moist – maybe too moist – and the frosting is still too cream-cheesy and heavy.  Brian, however, likes them better. 

I think if Hello Cupcake and Georgetown Cupcake had a little cupcake baby, it would be nearly perfect!

This tie in the last category brings the total to:
Hello Cupcake: 1
Georgetown Cupcake: 3

The bottom line is that cupcakes make people happy.  You should eat them, whether they come from a Betty Crocker box at $6/dozen, or a little cupcake shop for the same price as a full meal.  Enjoy, and don’t tell your dentist.

Classic Baked Macaroni and Cheese

September 24, 2008

My friend Megan brought this mac and cheese over for a football party.  She found it on Recipe Zaar and tweaked it by adding Gouda cheese, mustard powder, and garlic powder.  It was OMG good.  Just don’t look at the nutritional content…

Fannie Farmer’s Classic Baked Macaroni and Cheese
From the 1946 edition of “Fannie Farmer’s Boston Cooking School Cookbook”

Serves 4:
1 (8 ounce) package macaroni
4 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons flour
1 cup milk
1 cup cream
1/2 teaspoon salt
Fresh ground black pepper, to taste
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1 cup shredded Gouda
1/2 cup buttered breadcrumbs (we just used the Italian-style, although Megan and I agreed it would be AWESOME with panko breadcrumbs)

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F.
  2. Cook and drain macaroni according to package directions; set aside.
  3. In a large saucepan melt butter.
  4. Add flour mixed with salt and pepper, and a generous pinch of garlic and mustard powders.  Using a whisk, stir until well blended.
  5. Pour milk and cream in gradually; stirring constantly. Bring to boiling point and boil 2 minutes (stirring constantly).
  6. Reduce heat and cook (stirring constantly) 10 minutes.
  7. Add shredded cheddar little by little and simmer an additional 5 minutes, or until cheese melts.
  8. Turn off the burner.  Add macaroni to the saucepan and toss to coat with the cheese sauce.
  9. Transfer macaroni to a buttered baking dish and sprinkle with breadcrumbs.
  10. Bake 20 minutes until the top is golden brown.

Restaurant 3

July 24, 2008

For our monthly anniversary, Brian and I ventured to Eleventh Street Lounge looking for some good food and drinks in a swanky location.  We were disappointed in the setting (it felt like a place to go after you were already drunk – the floors seemed like they’ve been sticky a lot in their history, and the furniture was a little shabby) and the menu (just didn’t seem appetizing once it was in front of us) so we each had a martini and then walked the block to Restaurant 3.

Restaurant 3

The setting:
We were led to a half-round booth for two (with room for 4 total with 2 chairs should you venture in with a larger party) in a dark yellow leather.  The decor seemed southwestern to me, although I think they were going for Tuscan given the paintings on the walls.  Brian felt that the yellow walls and picture lights were too bright for evening.  I saw what he meant, but I kinda liked it.

The service:
Our waiter let us take our time in deciding what we wanted – which was kind since it was 9:00 p.m. on a Monday night and the menu looked so great we simply couldn’t decide!  He was responsive in answering questions, refilling glasses, and making suggestions.

The food:
We’ve had Restaurant 3 on our radar since it opened, but we’ve always put it off.  No more.  The food – and the menu – was fantastic.

There are two types of bread – and two spreaders – in the delicious bread basket.  The white bread must have had a cheese in the batter (asiago?) and the smell – and taste – was wonderful.  There was also equally good wheat bread that I barely tasted after gorging myself on the white bread.  There was both butter and an olive tapenade.

For an appetizer, Brian ordered the fried oysters.  The portion was huge – easily shareable by a party of 4 – and really good, battered in cornmeal.

We also each had a salad – Brian the spinach salad (he can’t resist) and I the Caesar.  The Parmesan “crisp” in my salad was too thick and a little soggy, but the salad good none the less.  I also appreciated that our server waited until I’d taken a bite before approaching me with the (very colorful!) pepper mill.  This just so happens to be one of my biggest pet peeves in restaurants: I don’t KNOW if I want pepper until I try a bite first – it may not need it!  So kudos to our guy for doing it right!  (Brian, by the way, disagrees with me on this and thinks the pepper mill is part of the presentation).

The entrees were also huge.  Brian had a beautiful Japanese sea bass with pea risotto and sweet potato “straws.”  I had short ribs with collar greens and a macaroni and cheese bake.  We only ate a few bites given how stuffed we were on bread, oysters, and salad.  However, I had some great leftover lunches during the work week 😉  The fish had a wonderful flash crunch.  It was buttery and firm, and actually held up beautifully in the microwave at work!  The risotto was great, and the sweet potato straws (which did not hold up so beautifully) really complimented the sea bass.  The short rib was presented with the bone detached (but still presented!) and was good, although slightly overdone.  The collards were good (although I grew up with better greens – and there was a roasted ladybug in them I discovered during a work meeting while I was eating lunch – oops!)  The macaroni (actually a linguine) and cheese bake actually was better on reheating!  We also ordered a side of asiago cheese grits that were too heavy on the cheese, although I couldn’t tell you if they improved on reheating because Brian ate them all the next night and didn’t save me any.  Hmpf.


We were surprised Restaurant 3 wasn’t packed to the gills given what a great experience it was.  Brian said there was no excuse with such a great menu that Restaurant 3 shouldn’t have a wait every night of the week – even 9 p.m. on Mondays.

Best for: A romantic evening out, large parties, dinner with the ‘rents. 

Worst for: Someone on a diet who doesn’t want to be tempted by large portions.

Cafe Asia – Arlington

May 7, 2008

Much to Brian’s chagrin, I’m not normally in the mood for sushi.  But when I am, we head to Cafe Asia.

Cafe Asia

The Setting:
I’ve been to both locations of Cafe Asia and they are similar in feel – modern, open, and the decor is bland (I’m not one for white on white).  The Arlington location has two outdoor seating spaces, and on this last trip I discovered the huge back room – a giant movie screen against one wall and an accent wall of bright orange.  All I could think when I saw the space was, “Office Holiday Party!”

The Service:
The servers always pop by before you’ve had a chance to look at the drink menu (something you should definitely check out) and then don’t come back for.ever.  Also, don’t expect your water glass refilled, and ask for new drinks at the first sign that you’ll need a new one – it’ll take a while.  Also, as quick as they are to come to the table, when it’s time for your check, you’ll inevitably have to flag someone down.

The Food:
Let’s start with the cocktails since I suspect this is really why this spot is Brian’s favorite.  Order the mojito.  Seriously.  You wouldn’t think that a great mojito would come from an Asian place, but it does.  It’s just one of the great mysteries of the universe.

Usually I stick with my tapas-style ordering of several appetizers: the miso soup (a little bland but a large portion), crab wontons (great mayo-ish dip on the side), chicken satay (but WHEW is it spicy!), and a California hand roll.  I’m not so keen on how they do their hand rolls – too much shoved in unevenly, but I haven’t learned my lesson even after ordering it a half-dozen times.  Steer clear of the Vietnamese spring rolls.  They sound delicious with ground pork, noodles, and mushrooms, but they always leave a film in my mouth that I can still taste an hour later.  (It took me 3-4 times of ordering this before I remembered).

Brian gets sushiand loves the Cafe Asia roll, and we’ve also had success wirh the Ninja roll, spider roll, firecracker roll (Brian rolled his eyes at that one), and anything that adds a little “crunchy.”

For noodles, the noodle soup is HUGE – the recipe must have been handed down from someone who used to prepare it for a whole village.  Jeanette got the Tom Yum soup and it looked divine and she slurpped the hell out of it (which is considered polite).  On the most recent visit, I went out of my comfort zone and ordered the Yaki Udon with chicken and was very, very happy with it – I’ll be ordering it again!

Cafe Asia is a great place for groups.  The menu is huge and almost anyone can find something they like – including non-sushi lovers and those watching what they eat!

Best for: Groups, a fun later-in-the-relationship date

Worst for: An intimate, romantic night out

The Majestic Cafe

April 26, 2008

Kate and I went out for a weekend lunch – which we try to do once a month or so. I last saw her the day after Brian left, and he’s coming home today! We went down to Alexandria to check out the Torpedo Factory and eat at the Majestic Cafe.

Majestic Cafe

The setting:
The Majestic is a great little bistro setting, bright with sunlight (skylights? windows? I didn’t notice) and slick black chairs and black and white checkerboard floors. There are only two bathrooms for the whole place though, so don’t wait until you just can’t wait anymore!

The service:
Our server was nice, although seemed a little nervous. Probably just because Kate and I are such sexy women 😉 He forgot one of the cheeses in the special cheese ravioli, and described the lunch special sandwich (which we both ordered) as having avocado, bacon, mayo, on the chicken sandwich (with lettuce and tomato). Umm…nope! But it was still great!

The food:
The majestic has a lunch menu instead of brunch. Still, the promise of a bacon, avocado, and chicken sandwich met my requirement for pig in the morning (although I’d already had a Starbucks sausage breakfast sandwich because I wasn’t sure any pork product would be part of lunch) and the “homemade bread” bookends cemented my decision. Instead, the sliced chicken sandwich came with only tomato and micro greens on buttered, grilled bread. However, I have to say it was maybe the best chicken sandwich I’ve ever had – clearly making a sandwich with roast chicken (with skin!) makes all the difference in the world, and the on-the-thin-side slices of bread were perfect and really, really tasty. It was savory and salty, but the micro greens gave just enough healthy green taste. The sandwich was also served with swoon-worthy, house-made potato chips and a not-so-great-because-I-like-em-out-of-the-jar pickle.

Also, a word of caution for the iced tea purists out there: it was brewed with some fancy flavored tea and cost $3. Southerners beware…

Overall, I think this is a great stop for a weekend lunch and I’d love to go back for their Sunday family dinner (May looks HEAVENLY) or another night to try what I’m sure will be some great food!

Best for: Delicious food in a great area of town.

Worst for: Those seeking a weekend brunch.



Oink, Oink

March 25, 2008

As much as I love the D.C. food scene, there are some things you just can’t get up here like down south.  Blue Duck fills my void for grits and if I have a hankerin’ for that Atlanta favorite Chick-fil-A, I can always count on Tams to go with me to fill our cravings in the GW food court. BBQ, however, (and for this girl that means the pig variety) is something D.C. just hasn’t gotten quite right. 

There are two ways I’ve found around this predicament, and sadly, neither of them is so easy as picking up some Rockland’s or Red, Hot and Blue.  While they will do in a pinch, (and Rockland’s corn pudding and collards are not to be snubbed!) none of them quite cut it for a gal who loves BBQ so much she is willing to post a picture of herself on the web wearing a plastic bib, inhaling a Fedex-express-shipped-straight-from-Alabama  pork rib.  Unfortunately, neither solution I’ve found results in immediate gratification.  Good BBQ requires time, but I promise neither of these solutions will disappoint!

The first solution to the lack of good BBQ in DC is a wee bit labor intensive and can require a stroke of airport security luck.  On our most recent trip to Atlanta, our Dad made his famous hickory smoked pulled pork BBQ for a family gathering.  Ashley and I, dismayed at the lack of leftovers, persuaded him to cook us our very own Boston Butt to take with us back up to D.C.  Not trusting our treasure to checked luggage, we took a chance and froze the meat overnight, packed it all in Gladware, and hoped that the sauce on the meat would not violate the TSA liquid ban.  After a few tense moments we made it through with nary a protest from airport security, who merely raised an eyebrow or two.

My dad swears we should be able to make this ourselves fairly easily, although the lack of a charcoal grill has put a delay on our little experiment.  I’ve included his directions below:

dad-with-pork-butt.jpg DeFord’s Hickory Smoked Boston Butt:
Trim the fatback off of the Boston Butt

Let charcoal cook down until white and ashy, spread coals to each side so that the meat cooks indirectly.

Place Hickory Planks (this is key) on top of coals and let the meat smoke until the coals are dead and have stopped producing smoke (approximately 4  hours.)

Place pork in a pan roaster with a small amount of water in the bottom of roaster, bake in oven at 250 degrees ”until it is done” and the meat falls apart  (approximately another 4 hours.)

My Dad serves his pulled pork with a simple, vinegar based Carolina-style sauce.  This is an imprecise recipe (like most in the Smith family), all brought to simmer together over medium then low heat.  Ingredient amounts are highly relative.  My Dad recommends using them “in whatever proportion suits you.”  It will require a bit of trial and error taste testing to figure out just how you like it, but the ingredients are listed below:
Brown sugar
Texas Pete
Liquid smoke
Black pepper
The second solution for those in desperate need of a pork fix (sans fixin’s) comes in the form of the above mentioned fedexed product. Thanks to Jared’s parents, who must know just how dire the situation is up here, his parents sent several racks of Dreamland BBQ ribs up for a group of transplanted Southerners to feast on during the Super Bowl.  You’ll notice on their website that some packages come with not only Dreamland BBQ sauce, but also other necessary accompaniments including 1 loaf of Sunbeam Bread, bibs, wetnaps, and toothpicks. This stuff was seriously good- in fact, if I were Jared, I don’t know that I would’ve shared ‘em! Thank gawd the folks down at Dreamland are lookin’ out for us Dixie transplants Click here to order your own rack.

In addition, the Taylors graciously shared the family’s generations old BBQ sauce recipe. 
Taylor Family BBQ Sauce:
This is enough for 4-6 pieces of chicken, or 1 slab of ribs.  It can be multiplied, but if you do that, taste it after you’ve combined all the ingredients as you might need to adjust it with some of the ingredients.  You can also cut this recipe in half for 2-3 pieces of chicken:
6 TBS ketchup
4 TBS vinegar (red wine vinegar is good, but any will do)
2 TBS Worcestershire sauce
8 TBS water
4 TBS butter
6 TBS dark brown sugar (but regular brown sugar is ok, too)
2 tsp salt
2 tsp dry mustard
2 tsp chili powder
2 tsp paprika
1 tsp red pepper
5-6 dashes Tabasco (or any hot sauce)
The order of these ingredients is irrelevant.  Just put all together in a pot, put heat on low to medium, mixing well for several minutes with a whisk to make sure all ingredients are dissolved and mixed (you’ll still see spots of the chili powder or paprika, though).  Bring to a boil, continuing to stir, then put on low or simmer for about 5 minutes or so.
Thanks, Taylors, for a great meal and for sharing the family recipe with the masses!


March 4, 2008

Logan Circle is booming, and Merkado – from the same folks who brought you Logan Tavern, is a good bet for a fun night out.


The setting:
Merkado has a great setting for a rowdy crowd – bright orange and open, with a tendency to get really loud.  We sat at a booth against a back wall near the bathroom (and when bustling, I can’t imagine how crowded the loos must get) in a half booth, half chair setup.  They’ve seemed to shoved as many tables in as possible, and I’d hate to be seated in the middle of a cramped room.

The service:
Our poor waiter was working a double (and was evidently closing since we were the second to last table to leave) but was jovial and fun, and even laughed at a few things we said to each other at our table when he was around.  (Clearly, I’m a riot).

The food:
As Brian has started saying, “Yum-o!”  The yellow salsa was great and they brought large fried tortillas instead of chips, so I was glad everyone had washed their hands.  Alison and I split the steak fajitas.  Although they were fine, I didn’t care for the lime flavor – I thought it was a little overpowering.  The condiments were typical for fajitas, but there was plenty of food for us both.

Brian and Matt both got the goat cheese and steak burrito and I could tell Brian loved it because of the moan he let loose after the first bite.  (He’s very emotive when it comes to food).  The burrito was accompanied by plantains – Brian’s first experience with them.  They were delicious. 


The wine selection was also pretty good and we all split a bottle of Malbec.  Our other sweet treat at the end of the meal was a yummy dessert of Caramelized Banana Taquito with Vanilla Ice Cream & Caramel Sauce.


Best for: Loud, rowdy groups or a fun date night out.

Worst for: An intimate date.