Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Tweet, Tweet

Working Mom = Eating Around DC's evolution to Twitter.  Follow me at EatingAroundDC for the same juicy commentary, just in smaller bites!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

A Fresh Post (finally)

Yes, I know, I have not posted in far too long.  I underestimated how much pregnancy changes your palette, tastes, and ability to sit for longer than 45 minutes at any given time; B and I eat out less and my preference tends be for the casual, no frills establishments, like Chic Fil A (one should never underestimate the power and joy of an eclectic variety of dipping sauces). But I digress...

Lime Fresh is one of the various Tex-Mex eateries that have nourished me from the first trimester through now. The Miami chain landed in Clarendon late last year, and, true to its name, serves up consistently fresh, flavorful fare.  With my visits having numbered into the double digits at this point, I can confidently assert that the quality of food and level of service is consistently excellent.  While not the healthiest option on the block, I appreciate the variety, the salsa bar, and the  friendly dining room staff.

If not from the outside, the first thing you will notice upon entering is the music.  It is pumping, fun, and yes, you may hear songs that you haven't listened to since your prom in the 90s.  My go-to entrees are a crisp taco salad, which is kicked up with shredded carrots and topped with a generous serving of housemate guacamole as well as the chicken queso burrito, a large bundle of black beans, grilled chicken, luscious queso, jalapenos and sour cream.   You order at the counter, but your food is brought to your table, where you don't have to get up again; if you need more salsa, drink refill, etc., the dining room staff will take care of it.  It is this touch that sets Lime Fresh apart from its competitors.  In Clarendon, there is a middle aged Eastern European woman who is especially helpful and friendly; she always makes my day.

If you are looking for a satisfying, flavorful, casual one-order meal, Lime Fresh in Clarendon has you covered for about $10.

Lime Fresh Mexican Grill on Urbanspoon

Thursday, March 15, 2012

An Over-the-Top Neighborhood OREO Creation

Clarendon's Bakeshop offers delicious treats, friendly service, and a laid-back, family vibe; in other words, it is about as far as you can get in taste and feel from DC's most hyped dessert destination.  The small, bright shop is tucked away in a storefront under the Zoso apartments on Filmore Street. 

I have enjoyed many of the sweets -- cupcakes, cookies, and cakes -- that baker Justin creates in small batches, and his mother lovingly serves and promotes.  But this past weekend, my adoration rose to new heights as I spied and later devoured an oreo cookie enrobed in a blond, chocolate chip studded brownie.  Moist and delicious, this indulgent snack was the ideal compliment to America's favorite cookie.  Does life get any better for a pregnant lady?  I think not.  And not to be left out, B devoured and very much enjoyed a peanut butter smash cookie. 

Stop by if you are in the neighborhood. This is the type of shop you want to thrive as it adds an authentic, community feel to an increasingly dense neighborhood.

Bakeshop on Urbanspoon

Friday, February 24, 2012

Eating Around DC Feeds Three: B, Me, Bump

You may have noticed Eating Around DC has been in bit of winter hibernation.  Have I stopped enjoying the culinary offerings that this city has to offer?  Am I no longer traveling and looking for tasty food finds?  Well, yes... sort of.  My appetite has waned and shifted over the last several months, albeit for good reason, but nonetheless, leaving me short of energy and material to share with you.  So where have I mostly gone?  In short, to my couch. 

In the not-so-distant future, I hope to be able to share some baby-friendly foodie finds in DC, but right now my appetite and tastes have been reduced to those of a five year old.  Think bland!  Whereas before, a luxurious plate of canapes might have included oysters, foie gras, and a California cabernet, now it's all pickles, popcorn, followed by chicken tenders or a hot dog (if I am feeling particularly adventurous). 

I know B hopes my appetite returns soon too, as his DC dining adventures have also all but ceased.  In the meantime, look for updates that your five year old and/or pregnant woman would love.  Next up, is the hot dog the new cupcake in DC?

Monday, January 16, 2012

A breath of fresh bakery air: LeoNora

LeoNora Bakery dazzles with the founder's earnest and successful dedication to the fine art of French bread and pastry making.  The baguette is the closest to a traditional Parisian that B and I have found in DC--with LeoNora's opening, Patisserie Poupon is now a runner-up on this count.  The gluttonous, buttery pastries, at about $2.50 a piece, are also finger-licking good--the chocolate croissant is flaky with a rich, decadent filling.  The "croissant muffin" is similar to a very tender brioche, but has the mouth-feel of a buttery cloud.

Perhaps my favorite part about this new bakery is the lack of pretense.  The no-frills storefront occupies one of the few remaining drab storefronts in Clarendon.  But the attention is 100% on the craft of bread and pastry making.  Unlike so many new neighborhood offerings, LeoNora is not a scene, but rather a breath of pastry-scented fresh air!

Friday, January 6, 2012

I Adour Bubbles

The St. Regis in DC is located mere blocks from the White House, but until recently, when I was looking for an elegant, yet classical Washingtonian cocktail experience, I would think Hay Adams or (the recently redone) Jefferson.  But on the first day of 2012 I discovered the ornate, laid-back Adour bar and its master mixtress of cocktails, Jane. 

Since today marks the end of a characteristically frantic week back at work after a holiday, I wanted to share a bubbly unique escape that will help you unwind into the weekend.  Adour's signature cocktail (pictured above) centers on hand-crafted Cointreau pearls.  These delicate orbs float majestically through crisp, bubbly prosecco. The real magic here comes when the pearl bursts on your tongue providing a sweet edge to the subtle prosecco.  This bubbles on bubbles beverage is a sure cure for the January blues. At $16 it is an affordable indulgence, especially when you compare it to the cost of cocktails at the St. Regis in NYC where pricetags swell into the mid 20's

And while these bubbles may go to your head, make sure you look directly upward from that mesmerizing potion.  Those square carvings on the ornate ceiling are actually angels with wings.  .  So take flight on a cocktail journey that won't let you down.

Adour (St. Regis Hotel) on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Food Field Trip Miami: My Favorite Crab

Joe's Stone Crab
My new year's resolution--such that I have one--is to finally clear out my backlog of draft blog entries, which is chock-full of a number of fantastic food finds, both near and far, discovered in late 2011.  I have been incredibly delinquent, but ideally that blogging procrastination stops now. So let's start with a blast of warm air and head south.

On the way back north after our incredible journey to Havana in early November, B and I soaked in two days of fun and sun in South Beach.  Lucky for us, the timing coincided with the beginning of stone crab season.  These over-sized clawed crustaceans rival the tender delicacy of a Maine lobster claw.  As a New Englander I did not think anything could compare to lobstah, but it's cousin claws awfully close!

Joe's Stone Crab is one of only a few truly historic Miami institutions, whether culinary or otherwise.  It opened its doors in 1913 and every year since, during stone crab season (October 15 - May 15), Joe's continues to bring old-school elegance and yesteryear glamour to South Florida.  Joe's pays homage to the sustainable harvesting of the crab--only serving it in-season--and its tuxedo'd waiters work tirelessly to serve the crowds.  But despite the formality of this restaurant, reservations are not accepted, so waiting is part of the deal. 

B and I managed to snag a patio seat (open seating with no wait) and enjoyed the traditional stone crab dinner platter, which was comprised of three lush tender claws accompanied by a tangy, citrus remoulade.  The claws are served pre-cracked, which is key, because like their name implies, their shells are quite hard; unlike Cheseapeake crabs, a (pre-cracked) stone crab claw requires very little effort for maximum return.  A hockey-puck sized hashbrown, spinach, and a sweet and sour coleslaw (smothered in plenty of relish) rounded out the plate. 

To complete this quintessential South Florida experience, the meal was capped with a sour yet sweet slice of absolutely delicious key lime custard pie that even Dexter would appreciate.

I highly recommend this experience if you find yourself in Miami during stone crab season.  For approximately $50 a person you too can fall in love with this most perfect of crustaceans.

Joe's Stone Crab on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Food Field Trip NYC: The Big Cheese

Cheese is generally a versatile, shareable, and affordable indulgence.  So how about a breakfast, lunch, and dinner cheese itinerary for NYC?  You got it!

To start, head to Viva la Crepe! on Bleecker Street in the West Village, these days also known as Marc Jacobs Land.  The casual, counter-service restaurant has crepe-making down; they are most worthy of the gratuitous exclamation point in their name.  Plus watching crepe creation is always transfixing.  My delightful yet portable crepe provided the protein I needed for the day in a hand-held package oozing with nutty gruyere and salty ham enrobed in the sweet casing.  At $8.50 this is a Parisian-inspired breakfast at a pauper's price.
Vive la Crêpe! on Urbanspoon

NYC has not one, but (at least?) two restaurants dedicated to macaroni and cheese. A few years back I was won over by my personnel skillet of bubbly buffalo chicken macaroni and cheese at S'Mac in the East Village.  This year, Macbar was located not far from our hotel in Soho, so I just had to give it a try.  Macbar is quite gimmicky in appearance -- the elbow-shaped interior is glaringly yellow and the dishes served in the same shape -- but despite the over-the-top aesthetics, the food is the real deal.  The macaroni and cheese is made to order.  Puncture the crispy topping and a world of gooey, indulgent elbow macaroni swimming in a variety of cheeses await.  And the soundtrack, carried over from the adjacent bar/restaurant is really fun, maybe even hip.
MacBar on Urbanspoon

Swizz Restaurant and Wine Bar, within walking distance of Broadway, boasts that "two Swiss owners will offer you culinary delights  at affordable prices." This claim holds true in the surprisingly understated setting that, though near Times Square, conveys a neighborhood feel.  Upon entering the street level restaurant or basement dining room and wine bar, you quickly surrender to the wonder and beauty of fondue.  While a pre-theatre menu is available, B and I opted to share the classic cheese fondue, adding sausage and apple dippers to the traditional crusty bread.  This authentic pot of bubbling sweet, salty, and savory communal goodness was the perfect pre-theatre meal, which was satisfying but did not risk putting us to sleep before curtain call.  And the service was so warm and friendly that we decided to have another drink and stick around.  For dessert, our server offered to make the Jacques Torres chocolate fondue for one (even though it was only listed on the menu for two).  The for-one portion proved the perfect size for sharing; the chocolate was impossibly dark, rich, and addictive.  The service was beyond friendly and efficient, and the prices are affordable -- with two drinks each, cheese fondue, and a shared dessert our bill with tax and tip was under $100 -- a rarity for an intimate sit-down dinner for two in NYC.
Swizz Restaurant & Wine Bar on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Food Field Trip NYC: Snoopy goes Gaga

This year B and I escaped to New York City for Thanksgiving.  Thanks to stumbling upon Jet Luxury, a company that manages rooms in 4 and 5 star hotels, we snagged a great rate at the indulgent Trump Soho.  I am not a fan of The Donald in any way; at least that was the case prior to this trip.  But after a stay at this property, I appreciate that his powers--or at least his name--translated into a truly world-class hotel.  Collapsing onto the bed felt like being enveloped into a cloud; the hotel's location was the perfect base for all New York City has to offer...shopping, art, shows, and of course, food!

To start our journey we played the ultimate tourists and rose early to join the masses at the 85th Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.  Prior to giving up any and all personal space on the parade route--an experience I hope never to replicate--we needed caffeine and fuel.  While the holiday pickings on Spring Street were slim, Balthazar was open and a flurry of activity.  The cinnamon bun I selected from a myriad of flaky pastries did not disappoint.  It was airy and sweet, without being cloying.  It was so delectable that B went back on Friday to get two more for breakfast.
Balthazar on Urbanspoon

After the parade, we quickly ducked into the subway. Famished, we called around to see what was open for a casual lunch.  Lombardi's had been on our short list for a while, so we headed to this NY pizza institution for a coal fired pie.  The service was brusque and ambivalent.  RC Cola products stand in for Coke or Pepsi (yes, this brand apparently still exists), but the pizza--with its charred crust, gooey mozzarella, and fragrant, flavorful sauce--was just excellent.  Lunch for two at this cash-only destination was a reasonable $40.
Lombardi's Pizza on Urbanspoon

After a long winter's nap on Thanksgiving Day, we embarked upon an enchanting evening at Tocqueville.  This charming, elegant, and seemingly hidden dining room was the ideal setting for Thanksgiving dinner.  Since the restaurant was at capacity, we had to wait a bit for our table.  The delay allowed us to enjoy a sublime cocktail, the Tocqueville Toddy, which consisted of mulled warm apple cider with brueil calvados. The fragrant potion set the tone for a seasonal meal in an intimate dining room with soaring ceilings, low light, and plush banquettes. The sommelier helped B select a wine--an impressive Washington Cabernet--that complimented the three- course ($95 pp) prix fix. Highlights included a creamless caramelized chestnut and pumpkin soup and dry-aged striploin of beef in black truffle jus. Being a purist, I opted for the turkey, which was moist, flavorful, and well served by the accompanying sweet potato-maple mousseline.
Tocqueville on Urbanspoon

Dining in NYC couples well with drama.  Perhaps nowhere is this more evident than at DB Moderne Bistro.  This was hands-down the best pre-theatre meal I have ever had.  While the dining room was full, service was attentive; excellent wines were available in the 1/4 litre, and the $45 three-course prix fix offerings were diverse.  Each of our (combined) six separate courses was flawless.  A starter of pasta, pumpkin, mushrooms, and greens captured the essence of the season in every bite. The Coq au Vin was was so rich and caramelized, that the entree looked more like short-ribs than chicken and tasted divine.  It left us wanting more and wondering, how did they do that?  The desserts were delicate and rich, offering savory and sweet choices. 
db Bistro Moderne on Urbanspoon

New York City is always a wonderland at the holidays, when seasonal treats, stalls, and stores spring up all around the city. Case in point: Gaga's Workshop at Barney's.  This surreal world, comprising the 5th floor of this luxury landmark, consists entirely of a Gaga inspired art installation and merchandise running the entire Gaga-gamut: from sunglasses to studded leather bracelets. True Gaga-fanatics can score a $95 chocolate shoe or a $45 rock candy bracelet.  Yes, prices are at the superstar level, but this experience is free and a must-see if you are in NYC.  If you try the chocolate let me know.  I could not justify the purchase price.  But do not fear, I did not want for sweets.

In my opinion the best chocolate chip cookie anywhere is found right in Manhattan.  City Bakery's Birdbath Soho was conveniently located just blocks from our hotel and I could not resist the pull of that cookie in the window!  The classic chocolate chip cookie is crunchy and chewy, bursting with rich chocolate chunks, sweet with brown sugar; and very shareable at about six inches in diameter.  At $3, this cookie is an escape that I think even Lady Gaga would appreciate.
Birdbath on Urbanspoon

Thanksgiving is a time to indulge and that we did!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Ray'slon-Ballston Corridor

With last month's quiet opening of Ray's to the Third, the latest creation of Michael Landrum, Wilson Blvd is fast becoming Ray's World.  The restaurant occupies the sprawling first floor space of the Bennett Park apartments -- the long speculated location of Landrum's now (apparently defunct) seafood concept, Ray's the Catch.  Ray's to the Third follows the land-loving and somewhat tired Landrum playbook, and is somewhere in between the original Ray's the Steaks and Ray's Hellburger on account of both price point and menu offerings.  The majority of the staff was out-placed from the now "closed for renovations" Ray's East River.

True to form, the Third's food is decent-to-good, comforting and flavorful. The spicy fried chicken gets its heat from both the batter and a devilishly good dipping sauce.  The talented and entertaining Wayne, who came down from the Steaks (and before that, Old Ebbitt Grill) to manage the Third, would not relay the secret recipe, but he did tell me the sauce starts with habanero paste and vinegar, and is kicked up with paprika and chili powder adding heat and depth.  Regardless of the exact recipe, the sauce is hellishly hot and a perfect companion for the chicken.  For about $12 you get two large pieces of fried chicken, a tangy coleslaw, decent (but not nearly as good as the Steaks) macaroni and cheese, and chunk of jalapeno corn bread.  The steaks, cheaper cuts of meat than up the street, hover between $15 and $20; pretty good fries replace yawnishly requisite mashed potatoes and creamed spinach sides.

While I would not go out of my way to eat at Ray's to the Third, it is a welcome neighborhood addition to the Orange Line corridor.  The Third offers a solid option for casual dining with plenty of seating, a local clientele, and if recent visits are any indication, no waiting.  But if you do have to wait or just wish to dine solo, the Third (unlike the others) offers draft beer and a full bar.

Though my excitement for this once grand Titan of fine/casual dining has waned in recent months, I still have perhaps an unrealistic hope that the Ray's Empire may once again be great....

Ray's To the Third on Urbanspoon

Monday, November 7, 2011

Food Field Trip Havana: Time Travel

Without question, Cuba is one of the most challenging international destinations to (legally) visit for a US citizen. Though the country possesses a rich and unique culinary tradition, the embargo has taken its toll on the country's cuisine and for the first time in a long time, I did not mind the fact that Cuba was not going to be a foodie destination. The country is still is so sensory, that the constant, pulsing stimuli you are surrounded by negated my urge for food finds. Plus, how do you critique a country that does so well with what they have, but lacks the resources of the rest of the world?!

Cuba lies a mere 90 miles off the coast of Florida, but amid the political environment it might as well be a world away. The government- imposed (on both sides) strained separation is immediately palpable. Upon landing in Havana or Miami, charter flight passengers erupt in applause--a unique occurrence on a 45 minute, incident-free journey. Such constant energy and tension fueled our Cuban experience.

Havana is like nowhere else. It is a heartbreakingly beautiful city, which is simultaneously resplendent and crumbling. The people are proud of their land and culture, and it is this pride that pulses through the streets and drives the city. From the once traditionally stunning, now deteriorating, yet still beautiful (within-the-state-of-decay) buildings to the 60,000 or so restored (to varying degrees of success) classic cars, Havana is perhaps the only place on earth where you can time travel. The city is more or less the same as it was in 1959, but the culture has not stagnated; if anything, based on the people-to-people journey that we experienced with the Harvard Alumni Association and Distant Horizons, Havana’s art's scene is vibrant, even thriving in what can only be described as a very constrained environment.

Before I talk about the unique and surreal dining B and I enjoyed in Havana, I need to qualify our experience. There is a dual economy in Cuba: one for locals and another for international tourists. 25 Pesos (the local currency) is more or less equal to 1 US dollar converted into a CUC (the tourist currency). So it is hard to praise either the government-run or paladares (privately owned) restaurants that we visited since such meals are out of reach to the vast majority of Cubans. Food is at a premium. Despite Cuba’s lush landscape, agriculture is limited and the land is severely underutilized, meaning that Cuba relies heavily on imported food, much of which is imported from the US (quietly exempt from the embargo [US speak] or blockade [Cuban speak]). It is within this dichotomy that I talk about our experience.

As Anthony Bordain noted on his "No Reservations" visit, Cubans make decent beer and fabulous rum. Alcohol was very much a part of this journey, from the requisite welcome mojito at most paladares to drinking like Hemingway at La Floridita to the downright practical reality of downing a beer to bolster one's intake of calories and carbohydrates. While I have had my fill of mojitos for perhaps a lifetime, I was quite impressed with the full-bodied Bucanero beer and B gained an appreciation for the 7 year-aged Havana Club as an apertif.

The meals varied wildly in terms of quality and flavor, but on the whole service was nostalgically formal and beyond gracious.  With the exception of a succulent roast pork at the Hotel Nacional, the paladares, small private restaurants run out of people's homes, offered more creative and robust dishes than hotel and government-owned restaurants.
Our trip to Vistamar, a paladar in the once-ritzy Miramar section of the city was simultaneously enchanting and haunting.  From our perch on the balcony of this ocean front home, we could see what was once a magnificent block of late 50s-era homes complete with seaside swimming pools, but is now an eerie spread of empty, faded aquamarine pits.  While the variety was limited, the seafood here was local and fresh.  The butter poached Caribbean lobster was an incredibly flavorful feast at less than $20 a person. 

We also had the opportunity to dine at La Guarida, Cuba's most storied paladar. The food here was world-class, and the setting other-worldly  La Guarida is located on the top floor of a decaying (but like most of Havana) once grandiose apartment building.  You climb three flights of crumbling stairs before entering a candlelit wonderland with whimsical, off-beat decor (a chair was suspended mid-wall and Jesus and John the Baptist statues graced the hallway to the bathroom).  The environment and food at La Guarida was unlike most other places in Cuba, with not only air conditioning but complex flavors and a relative variety of ingredients.  The standout was my meaty grouper filet in a garlic sauce.

One of my favorite food travel moments of my 32 years was lunch at the home of artist Jose Fuster.  Fuster is sometimes referred to as the Cuban Picasso, whose vibrant media spans painting, ceramics, and sculpture.  Fuster  has taken his talents quite literally to the streets and has brightened up his entire neighborhood with vibrant mosaics.  Our glimpse into FusterWorld was accompanied by a menu of spicy lobster, fried fish, and beans and rice.  The meal was very good in and of itself, but dining at the epicenter of his magical, surrealist version of Cuba was the real treat.

B and I were the youngest (in some cases by a half century or so) travelers on this Harvard Alumni Association trip.  Our group meal times allowed us a forum to distill and challenge one another’s notions of what we were experiencing. In spite of the "just OK" quality of the food at most dinners, the conversation was always flowing as heavily as the rum. And while I may not embark on group travel again anytime soon, this simultaneously fascinating and frustrating experience opened my eyes to Cuba and I am still (and likely will be for some time) processing this wrinkle in time!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Off to Cuba -- Fill 'r Up

Fast Gourmet's Cuban Sandwich with Eggplant fries

Fall is my is my favorite time of year to travel.  Mild temperatures with just a hint of crispness abound and the tourist crowds are minimal.  As I look back over entries from past autumns, I realize how fortunate I am--two years ago I was getting ready for a culinary adventure through Paris, Beaune, and Lyon; last year, I was preparing for a Napa Valley wine journey (complete with a reservation at The French Laundry).  But this year is a bit different--B and I are headed to... Cuba. 

We were lucky enough to get a spot on the Harvard Alumni Association's 35 person tour-- centered on architecture, art, and music--under one of the "people to people" licenses for travel to Cuba that the Obama Administration began to expand the issuance of last spring.  Perhaps graduate school is finally paying off!  And although this tour is not singularly focused on food, the itinerary includes historic dining spots and dinners at family-operated paladares.  So, upon my return next week, I will bring you a special Food Field Trip Cuba edition.  But until then, I have a Cuba-related teaser for you to chew on...

I have never viewed a gas station as anything other than a place for a fuel fill up, a bathroom stop, or maybe, just maybe a place for a Diet Coke and if hunger is really setting in a prepackaged, processed snack.  But in DC just north of U Street, Fast Gourmet is transforming a functioning gas station into a culinary destination.

You first pass the fuel pumps and then walk into the station past the gas cashier (safely isolated behind bullet proof glass) and head to the counter up back.  Just follow your nose.  It is here, that you find a bustling open kitchen, dishing out hearty fare. 

We both went for what else, but the Cuban sandwich. Now before you send in the comments, I understand this is an American-concocted creation.  So we ordered, and then took a seat at a counter overlooking the gas station and, on this particular evening, an intersection where a traffic stop was being conducted by some half dozen local police.  Only in DC do you get this type of people watching, while indulging in some truly excellent casual fare.  The sandwich was massive, filled with succulent and juicy roasted pork, savory ham, gooey cheese, yellow and whole grain mustard, and of course, pickles.  It was quite simply the best sandwich I have had in DC all year.  And that is to say nothing of the eggplant fries.  These fries, golden eggplant freshly battered, literally melted in your mouth.

Almost everything on this menu is under $10 and available for eat-in or pick-up.  Drinks are limited to the carbonated, non-alcoholic variety and the atmosphere, is well, that of a gas station.  So if your stomach is on empty, this made to order gourmet gas station fare is worth the trip!

Fast Gourmet on Urbanspoon

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Oyamel's Little Dishes from the Streets

Oyamel: Fried Masa Cakes with Shredded Duck Confit

I was slow to embrace the tapas craze.  The stress of having to choose several small plates instead of just one entree outweighed the inherent benefit -- variety.  But I have recently discovered that tapas dining done right can be a real treat.  Jose Andre's Oyamel brings antojitos or the little dishes from the streets of Mexico to DC's ever-expanding fine dining scene in Penn Quarter.

This bustling, vibrant, and loud restaurant is yet another tough DC reservation to score.  But if you are patient, and can handle a wait at the cramped bar area (made much easier with a potent, Margarita in hand), you will be rewarded with the best Mexican food in the area.

We began with the queso fundido topped with chorizo, which is flambéed with tequila and served with hot hand-made tortillas.  After that, there were so many possibilities.  From a delicious take on black refried beans stuffed with cheese to a tamale verde with shredded chicken, each dish was delicate and decadent.

If you are looking for a culinary way to celebrate the season, get in before November 2nd, when the little plates spread is even bigger, with a "Day of the Dead" special menu.  B and I shared and slurped a creamy and rich butternut squash soup, which was spiced with habenero chiles, sweetened with cinnamon, crunchy with pumpkin seeds and fried pork skin (and quite pretty thanks to micro marigold blossoms).

Prices range from $6 - $13 and two to three plates per person will leave you satisfied and satiated; Andres' dishes may be little, but each delivers, big, bold flavors.

Oyamel on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, October 18, 2011


Graffiato's Pumpkin Zeppoles Nestled in Caramel

Blah describes the way I have been feeling lately about the newcomers to the DC dining scene.  But, and this is a big but, when B and I tried Graffiato this past weekend that Blah feeling instantly morphed into Bravo, Brilliant, Bring-on-More!

A note up front: it took us about a month to get a reservation at Graffiato.  While it was unquestionably worth the wait, if you do not want to plan that far ahead, the downstairs bar area provides room for approximately 25 walk-ins and offers the full menu. 

Graffiato is Mike Isabella's (formerly of Zaytinya) ode to Italian-American food, but with a characteristically un-Italian-American twist: only small plates.  The dining room is sparse and casual; you will not find any white tablecloths here.  But what you will find is exceptional food, solid service, and an overall atmosphere that provides culinary treats without taking itself too seriously. 

I highly recommend the $55 tasting menu with the $35 wine pairings.  For DC this price tag is an unparalleled value and includes four courses comprised of many small plates  ranging broccolini to burrata.  You will not leave hungry.  The most impressive part of the entire spread was the way that the kitchen was able to make each ingredient shine without adding unnecessary flash - no foams or flaming presentations here. 

The "country man's pizza," which had a mushroom puree base and slow poached egg, was every bit as polished as the slightly more upscale potato gnocchi with shaved truffles.  Both tasted of fall goodness--earthy, indulgent, and leaving you wanting more.  A chestnut marscapone ravioli topped with brown butter, brussel sprout leaves, and winter squash was truly a bite of Thanksgiving.  Isabella is perhaps best known for his pepperoni sauce and this too delivered, adding spice to an indulgent, fork tender plate of chicken thighs. 

While the service originally lagged, it quickly picked up.  House filtered sparkling and still water are offered gratis--one of my favorite new restaurant trends.  The wine pairings managed to compliment each of the four courses, which is quite the feat, given the number of plates in each.  My one complaint was the starter of Virginia sparkling wine which predictably lacked the crisp, bold features of its California and/or French cousins.

Graffiato is fun, affordable, and somehow manages to have a sense of humor, while clearly taking food very seriously.

Graffiato on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Local Beers Pour onto the Scene at Shirlington Oktoberfest

Capitol City hosted the 12th Annual Oktoberfest this past Saturday in Arlington's Shirlington Village.  Bright sunshine brought above-average autumn temperatures and set the scene for a delightful afternoon.  Combine 40+ plus breweries, German food, and a oompa band DJ spinning German-themed tunes on an Apple laptop (perhaps an ad hoc tribute to Steve Jobs?) and you have one DC's most spirited fall events. Lederhosen-clad urbinates dotted the landscape, which also included many four-legged friends. 

This homage to craft beer's growing popularity prompted the organizers a few years ago to ditch the all-you-can-drink arrangement and allocate ten 4oz tasting tickets with the $25 admission price tag.

Breweries from across the country --from Harpoon to Abita--sampled their suds, but I could not help but notice and revel in the growing number of local brews.

Falls Church's Mad Fox was pouring their Punkinator, a seasonal offering that gets its flavor from 250 pounds of heirloom Cinderalla pumpkins and pumpkin pie spice from Penzey's of Falls Church (located right across from the Brewery).  The parents of the Fox in Mad Fox were pouring on Saturday, and their enthusiasm was contagious. 

Alexendria's Porty City was also ably represented with four taps.  This burgeoning local powerhouse is less than a year old, but already available in some 250 plus locations.  Public Tours are available at the brewery at 12:30 and 2pm on Saturdays (reservations not required) and include a tasting glass and full beer tasting.

The Lost Rhino may be the most lauded newcomer among NOVA beer lovers; their Face Plant IPA packs a hop-filled punch.  Tours are available at their Ashburn brewery Saturdays until 6pm.

Not to be left out, the District also now has its own brewery.  While I didn't make it to the DC Brau booth on Saturday, I did learn that they open their doors most Saturday afternoons for tastings, tours, and growler fills.

As I sat back, enjoying a weisswurst and an Oktoberfest style beer, I realized that though I remain a skeptic when it comes to the area's wine scene, I am a full on convert and proponent of the growing, local craft brewing community.