Archive for the ‘Worth the Travel’ 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.

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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.

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Ray’s Hell Burgers

September 2, 2008

In the last few days of summer, seek out that backyard favorite – better than what you can make at home.  But you’ll have to look for it…this is on-a-mission dining.

Ray’s Hell Burgers

The setting:
Everywhere you turn, people are griping (with reason!) about the economy, and food costs are rising like crazy.  Ray’s Hell Burgers is the type of restaurant you want to seek out in a time like this: no frills, just great food. 

Even knowing the small strip mall in Arlington where Ray’s Hell Burgers (and Ray’s the Steaks) is located, it still took some sleuthing to find it.  From Ray’s the Steaks, walk down the strip mall to number 1713.  This door is all you’re going to find:

 

Be prepared to swoop in on a table as soon as you see one open up.  And also be forewarned: this is basically your middle school cafeteria setting.  Ray’s the Steaks looks like a ballroom compared to this hole in the wall.

The service:
There are a few printed paper menus lying around, so grab one and stand as out of the way as you can be to glance it over.  Basically, all you need to decide are how you want your burger, how you want it cooked (and good luck to you if you say well-done in this establishment), and what kind of cheese you want.  Do not think you’re going to make this decision at the counter – choose before you get to the no nonsense faces by the register.  Oh – and take cash.

The food:
I don’t know when it became so difficult to make a good burger.  I make a pretty good burger at home, but I can’t make anything from close to the quality of meat that you’ll get at Ray’s Hell Burgers.  Everyone in the open kitchen has their station: the guy butchering the steak-quality meat, the gal grinding it into the meat grinder, the two girls weighing that meat on a little scale and forming into patties, the guy on the grill manning the onions…it’s a machine back there.  And what they produce is a helluva burger.

Brian beat me with his burger au poivre: the meat was juicer, the flavor better.  I will only order a Ray’s Hell Burger this was from now on.  They also have just about any cheese you could want on a burger for a surcharge ranging on how fancy your cheese is.  I stuck with white cheddar and wasn’t disappointed.

During the summer, you also get a small ear of corn on the cob and a watermelon wedge.  No word yet on how that will change with the seasonal fruits and veggies.

We also decided to cap off our summer evening doing what you do in the summer: we went for s’mores.  Cosi serves them over a can of Sterno, and we had a great time teaching Jack how to get the marshmallow just crispy charred enough so that it’s gooey the whole way through.  A really wonderful evening.

 

Best for: A good burger at a great price: we averaged less than $10 a person – yes, please!

Worst for: A romantic date night or vegetarians.  It’s burgers here and burgers only.

Overdue Review: Pizzeria Paradiso

May 19, 2008

Yes, I know it’s been forever…yes, I know you’ve missed me.  With rising food prices, we’ve been eating in more (and spending the same it seems!)  How have you been coping with all prices being sky-high?

These quick reviews over the next few days are some of our favorite lower-cost options around town: two stand-by restaurants, and one stand-by recipe.

Pizzeria Paradiso (Or as we shorthand it, “PP”  This can also be used as a verb: “Let’s PP Friday night”)

The Setting:
The two locations in Georgetown and Dupont are similar, with Georgetown also having a basement floor bar, Birreria Paradiso, which has microbrews galore.  The Dupont location (where we typically frequent) is smaller, so expect to wait any night at anytime, unless you’re lucky or just really, really, ridiculously good-looking.  It’s a little cramped, but it still feels like a neighborhood joint, and I usually run into someone I know (since once you eat at PP, you return.  Often).

Grab a stool at the bar facing the brick-oven or squeeze into one of the tables by the window for that part-of-the-neighborhood feel.

The Service:
I love the servers at Paradiso.  They’re super-friendly, and there seems to be low turn-over.

The Food:
Ah, pizza: the true food of the gods.  I love Paradiso with its heavy cheese and yeasty crust.  I always start with the bread (which I dip in olive oil sprinkled with Parmesan cheese) or the mozzarella fresca – buffalo mozzarella with sun-dried tomatoes and slivers of basil.  Next is a pepperoni and mushrooms pie, which will ruin you forever.  The pepperoni is spicy and the mushrooms huge and flavorful.  And don’t overlook the crust: it dips in that olive oil just as well.

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The Dupont location will be moving soon, but thankfully just to a place down the street with more space!  Our server recently told us they’re hoping to move around Thanksgiving, but one never knows for sure until it actually happens.

Best for: Pizza-lovers, people who like to support their local neighborhood place (PP is big on being “part of the neighborhood”) and kids.

Worst for: Couples seeking a quiet, romantic evening out and groups over 6 – head to the Georgetown location for that and enjoy!

Jolly Olde England

April 7, 2008

Brian is in London through April, and when a great fare popped up, we took advantage of it and I visited him there this weekend. As always, food played a big part in our travels.

Afternoon Tea at Harrod’s
The first time I ever had afternoon tea, it was at Harrod’s with my college BFF Laura. Since, afternoon tea has become a favorite thing to do. In London, Brian and my experience at the Orangery topped this trip to Harrod’s.

The tea Brian was looking at originally was described as “with liqueur,” and we had to ask two waiters if this tea actually came with booze. (Umm…we were in England – where they speak English – and with means with). Instead, he settled on a mint tea, and I had the Georgian blend. The setting is nice (and Brian particularly liked the pattern on the skylights) and the waiters just a little snooty. The sandwiches are good, the pastries nice, and the cream throughly clotted.

Next time, though, I think we’ll just go to Harrod’s for the Food Halls and grab a crepe instead.

Speaking of crepes, another favorite of ours in London is the “pancake” stand across the street from Big Ben and Parliament. In fact, my banner picture for this blog was taken eating one of these crepes. Last time I had the mushroom and cheese, this time it was Nutella and banana. I find Nutella a little overpowering, so I had a very thin layer with my chunky bananas. We ate them while sitting on the bank of the Thames, right across from the London Eye. This makes a perfect picnic while waiting for a River Thames cruise to the Tower of London, Greenwich, or walking across to the Eye.

We also had a romantic dinner at Uno in Pimlico. While the wine list by the glass is lacking, the food is simply fantastic and the setting chic. When it takes me several rounds of the waiter coming by before I can pick, you know it’s a great menu. If you’re in the area and looking to escape fish and chips, Uno is a great bet.

4 days, 7 pounds: New Orleans

March 11, 2008

A long weekend in New Orleans – at Brian’s dad and stepmother’s house – was a weekend of pure indulgence.  (Because I normally watch what I eat…right?) 

We came home just in time for dinner, and Brian’s stepmother, Cheri, greeted us with a Fleur-de-Lis martini – champagne, a shot of vodka, and pineapple juice.  Mmm…  She also had crawfish etoufee on the stove:

Brennan’s Etoufee:
1 cup unsalted butter
1 cup chopped onions
1/2 cup chopped celery
1 cup chopped green onion (shallots as we call them)
1 tsp garlic
2 tbls flour
1 can petite diced tomatoes (drained)
1 can mushroom soup
2 cups fish stock
2 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
dash cayenne
1 tbsp Worcestershire
1 pound crawfish tails

Saute onion, celery, shallots and garlic.  Stir in flour and cook till brown.  Add mushroom soup and stir well.  Add tomatoes and brown.  Blend in stock and simmer 10 minutes.  Add salt, pepper, cayenne, Worcestershire and crawfish.  Cook slow 15-20 minutes.  Serve with rice and Le Sueur Peas (they’re the best).

I experienced my first *real* po-boy on Saturday at a strip mall joint called Bears.  I had the roast beef and was barely able to eat it – po-boys fall apart as you eat them, and at one point I actually gooped it down the front of my face.  Classy.

We also stopped by Cafe du Monde in Mandeville for cafe au lait and beignets.  “Coffee and donuts” is how people from New Orleans refer to beignets and cafe au lait, but the unsweet dough – doused with powdered sugar – is a far cry from Krispy Kreme.  This outpost of Cafe du Monde seems to be resting only on their name, and the donuts weren’t great.

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However, a trip across the “money bridge” brought us to Morning Call – where Brian has been going since he was a little kid.  This is where Brian and Jack introduced me to beignets last year, watching me with intense concentration to see if I was a shaker or a patter.  One way denotes an outsider and fool…I chose the right way 😉

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Sundays are either devoted to God, football, or booze, and in New Orleans, you can have all three!  We concentrated on the booze, consuming a mai tai in between 3 runs to the grocery store.  (No, we were not driving drunk – promise).  Although we placed an order for 20 lbs of crawfish, Rouse’s neglected to call and tell us they didn’t get the shipment.  No one on the Northshore got any of the mud bugs, so we cooked bleu cheese burgers instead.

Cheri also made Houston’s spinach and artichoke dip…YUMMO.  I’m sure it is also completely fat free.  The important step is sticking the dip in the oven to get the cheese a little crunchy on top.

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We also made a trip to Copeland’swhere we started with the crawfish bread (huge portion, delicious, and completely fat free), I had stuffed shrimp with a baconcheesebuttersourcream baked potato, and Brian had crab stuffed catfish bordelaise. 

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Although we could barely move, we ordered two desserts: white chocolate bread pudding (my mouth is watering as I even type that) and dulce de leche cheesecake.  Brian also loved the Cosmopolitans, and his dad made fun of him the whole time he was drinking them.  What can I say?  The man likes pink drinks!

I also had a muffaletta in the French Quarter – not my thing, but I was glad to have tried it.

I don’t think I’m ever eating again…