Sunday, November 29, 2009

Thanksgiving Revisited

First thought. I have a whole new appreciation and respect for my mother (just don't tell her and Mom if you read this, try not to gloat). Thanksgiving dinner preparation--even with a day off to shop and bake--is no easy feat.

Second thought. Cooking Thanksgiving while hosting relatives adds a whole new dimension of balance that I did not anticipate.

And having said that, hosting my first Thanksgiving was not easy, but was wonderful and warm and delicious.

Appetizers included roasted shrimp cocktail, brie in a puff with mixed berry compote, and homemade (by a friend) tapenade with pita chips. All three were big hits and easy to prepare in advance; the brie was cooked in the toaster oven and the shrimp were roasted in the morning -- leaving the oven free for dinner preperation. With the appetizers, we served 1+1=3 Cava, a great value and wonderful way to open the evening, by loosening up both the high-energy chef (that would be me) as well as the family exhausted from touring the national zoo in the rain.

And now onto dinner. First off, the rolls. James Beard's sweet potato rolls were absolutely the star of the show. While prep took half a day, owing to the dough rising twice, I was able to prepare two days ahead, par-bake, and then finish on Thanksgiving. This is a recipe that I found in the Washington Post's Thanksgiving Food Section. I highly recommend this for any holiday meal, but allow ample prep time and do not attempt to do the day-of.

Next, the Washington Post came through again with their recipe for apple cider glazed root vegetables, which are phenomenal, relatively easy to make, and allow otherwise bland overlooked vegetables like the turnip, shine. Just be sure to use enough nutmeg. The mashed potatoes were improvised yet simple but won more acclaim than expected; red potatoes, skins on, with melted butter, sour cream, chives, green onions, and a dash of Cajun seasoning, salt, and pepper.

And the turkey. And yes, I caved, got nervous, and ordered a pre-cooked (gasp) or in this case smoked turkey from Rockland's Barbecue in Arlington. And I acknowledge that this a bit of a wimpy way out, but I did not have a chance to cook a turkey prior to the holiday and when I entertain I am a much better host if I am confident, so Rockland's fit the bill. $45 for a smoked turkey with gravy. And B and his family loved it. I am more of a turkey traditionalist, but the turkey was tender, had a great smoky flavor and aroma, and the reheating instructions easy to follow.

For the stuffing I redeemed myself and made one of the stuffing choices from this year's Thanksgiving Bon Appetit: whole wheat stuffing with pancetta, chestnuts, and parmesan.

And for dessert we turned to one of of our favorites, Ina Garten's Pumpkin Mousse Parfaits. This twist on the traditional pumpkin pie is beautiful and a crowd pleaser.

And for a nightcap we joined B's parents at our go-to bar that also happens to be next door for a much-welcomed beer.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

I am Thankful for... Ray's the Steaks

Wow. We have have had the inlaws in town since Wednesday along with my husband's sister, her husband, and their adorable two-year old daughter and it has been wonderful and exhausting and seemingly impossible to please everyone at the same time. Until that is tonight; we made reservations at Ray's the Steaks and were all treated so well.

Though everyone had been to Ray's before (B and I are creatures of habit after all!), tonight was truly special. After a day of family activities in our two bedroom condo (yes, it is as spacious as it sounds), we were ready to get out.

And get out we did. Mark Slater recommended a wonderful, full-bodied, and slightly dry Chilean Cabernet (Ventisquero Reserva) for $23 (which made my father-in-law's night on both the price and taste counts). And then the kitchen sent out gratis the deviled eggs made with steak tartare (which we actually have never had at Ray's, but the tartare rivaled that which we ate in France), as well as samples of the crab bisque. We then proceeded onto a mix of salads followed by New York strips and Filets in au poivre or brandy mushroom cream sauce. And everyone was very happy and more than that, I think in love, with their steaks.

Then we dove into each of their phenomenal desserts. We were treated to white, milk, and dark chocolate mousse (aka my reason for living), strawberries and cream, and key lime and coco not cream pie. Everyone from the two-year old to the if-I-mentioned-their-ages-my-blog-would-be-shut-down-in-laws was in love with these desserts.

And I am happy to report that with the change of seasons, Ray's has switched over from tiger butter fudge to their rich, cinnamon hot chocolate with the check.

And on the way out, we ran into dear friends, making Ray's feel like home (cheesy I know, but I am full and happy).

Thank you Ray's for a wonderful post Thanksgiving experience.

Oh and shhh but big news about the Ray's empire is soon to be released, perhaps as early as next week. Can't wait. UPDATE -- The news is out.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Food Field Trip: A NOLA Palace that is a Perfect Fit

(Photo: Business Week Online)

Commander's Palace ( is without a doubt one of my favorite places on this planet (restaurant or otherwise). It is the grandfather of New Orleans dining, and while it was closed for 14 months following Katrina, I have been fortunate enough to visit three times since and in the spirit of Thanksgiving tomorrow, I am so thankful for this restaurant.

This past weekend we were able to take friends to the fabled iridescent blue dining mecca and it was wonderful. Commander's has the best and most consistently fantastic service of any restaurant I have ever visited. From the moment you are greeted through cocktail and wine selection, and, on this past visit, a post dinner tour of the kitchen and the property, you are treated like royalty. And this means a dinner experience that it allowed to linger long into the evening in one of the many varied and beautiful dining rooms.

Commander's employs team serving and you are in good hands. I love that you select your cocktail and relax before menus are even presented. This is truly a celebratory experience. The food is wonderful and I have never gone astray with the waiter's suggestions -- this time chicken and oyster gumbo followed by a flaky rockfish in lemon, wine, cream sauce with wild mushrooms and finally, a decadent bread pudding souffle with whisky cream sauce for dessert. Their dishes celebrate each ingredient which come together to form a unique and perfect whole.

If you are headed to New Orleans, I highly recommend this experience. An average dinner for two with three courses, wine, tax, and tip averages around $200. But you will leave feeling like a (fattened) king or queen!

Commander's Palace on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

A Study in Charbroiled Oysters: Acme and Drago

Even though I have visited New Orleans a half-dozen times, I had never sampled one of their homegrown delicacies: charbroiled oysters. We more than made up for this last weekend.

Our first food stop of the trip was the famed Acme Oyster House (, located off Bourbon and Iberville Streets. After enduring the flight from DC and enjoying a "welcome to NOLA" cocktail, we were famished and not wholly prepared for the line that awaited us. But we persevered and were rewarded with seats at the Oyster bar where they were busily shucking huge Louisiana Oysters.

We ordered a dozen of the charbroiled oysters ($16.99) straight away and settled in with a couple of Abita beers. While waiting, I asked how many oysters were shucked nightly, whereupon the shucker responded with the precise and no doubt often-told answer: between a buttload and a shitload. Mystery solved.

Our oysters arrived bubbling hot and topped with a healthy dose of Parmesan cheese which had melted into the butter sauce. Once grilled the oysters cook down to plump bites with what looks like lasagna-type layers from the side. Each oyster was juicy and delicious with a kick of lemon and french bread for soaking up the extra sauce.

Acme Oyster House on Urbanspoon

Two days later at the New Orleans Po' Boy Festival, we again got to try the same dish, but this time by the inventors of the concept: Drago's (Drago's Seafood Restaurant). These oysters had more char and less cheese and were equally as plump and juicy.

And while it is a tough choice, the winner was Drago's, but I may just have to go back soon and make sure I made the right decision!

Friday, November 20, 2009

NOLA Bound


We leave for New Orleans tomorrow afternoon, one of our favorite cities for many reasons, including (of course) fabulous eating and drinking options. Right now our plans call for the ACME Oyster House, Hermes Bar at Antoine's, Commander's Palace, and the Po Boy Festival ( And I should note if past experience is any indication I will also have an ungodly number of beignets. Stay tuned for the food field trip reports.

Monday, November 16, 2009

W DC Living Room Bar: Modern, Chic, and Pricey


Friday night we decided to finally check out the Living Room Bar at the W hotel ( Located across the street from the White House, and formerly home to the very much in need of a makeover Hotel Washington, the first W in DC opened this past summer.

While the hotel was and is famous for its rooftop bar with great views of the White House and mall monuments, we had not made a reservation and were not patient enough to wait in the velvet roped lined to get up there – owing to a long work week and a pressing dinner commitment at Ray’s the Steaks (priorities!). So we opted for drinks in the lobby bar.

We were greeted immediately by the doorman and entered into a space oozing with modern touches – (faux fireplace in the form of a flat screen TV on the right) and full of DC residents doing their best to dress--and act--like Manhattanites. I of course proceeded to trip over the welcome mat, so there was no question that I was not up to the level of cool, but I tried to recover quickly.

The W renovation transformed the Hotel Washington's stodgy lobby, with a soaring white ceiling complete with restored original moldings, artsy chandeliers, a huge open space segmented with couches, over sized chairs, and a wine bar at the far end of the room. This place is trying to be very hip and in most cases, they have succeeded. The music was a mix of every genre from Indian to 50’s standards supplemented with a house/techno beat. While everything on the wine list was of excellent quality, the prices were rather obscene with wines ranging from $ 9 - $30 a (the majority around $15); house cocktails were also available for $15.

We decided on a glass of the Gloria Ferrer ( champagne which we had enjoyed while in Sonoma last fall and were happy to see that this option by the glass was the low end of the price scale. The service was much more attentive than I had anticipated, and the champagne pours were generous and perfectly chilled.

All and all it was a great way to start a weekend and after a few sips of the champagne, I began to feel a bit hipper -- maybe it was the pulsating music. I am looking forward to enjoying one the W's new winter-inspired cocktails at their rooftop bar later this season.

P.O.V. on Urbanspoon

Friday, November 13, 2009

Eating Around DC Takes Five Bites.

Eating Around DC got its public debut this morning on Metrocurean's Five Bites. Check out my suggestions for satiating fall dishes at Metrocurean's site on all things food, wine, beer, spirits, and related events in DC:

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Present: A Diamond in the Rough on Route 50

About a week ago -- yes this is a bit of a delayed review, friends suggested we try Present (, a highly-rated Vietnamese restaurant located in the suburbs of DC on the infamous route 50. I had actually been intrigued by this place, as Tom Sietsema gave it three stars in the Washington Post Fall Dining Guide, a really high rating, putting it on par with some great area restaurants. But I was put off by its location, as I prefer heading downtown verses out to strip-mall on what can only be described as suburban sprawl hell. But I gave in and can't believe I am typing this but the trip down route 50 on a Saturday night was worth it.

The outside of the restaurant is not much to look at, but inside is actually quite pleasant with a bamboo-toned dining room with a water feature in the center.

The service at Present is top notch. Our friend who made the reservation was greeted by name when she stated her reservation time, and while the table was not quite ready, the host graciously offered us menus and escorted us to a small waiting area. The servers take great care in describing every dish and explaining how best to eat each creation when as they put it, "Once you are ready to enjoy..." As an example, we were instructed to enjoy a beef entree by tapping the beef only once--but never twice--into the accompanying sauce for maximum enjoyment.

The menu items are all named with interesting sounding titles -- like Fish in Shallow Water, Basking on a Sandy Beach, and Mosaic Pathway. We started with autumn rolls, intricate rolls filled with pork and accompanied with lettuce, mint, and a tangy dipping sauce. We also tried the Smokey Petal, at the recommendation of our waiter. This spicy dip made of baby clams was served in a sesame cracker shell, and while the combination does not sound immediately appetizing, it was excellent. Both appetizers were beautifully presented and full of flavor with complex textures between the soft filling, crispy roles or cracker, and the leafy greens.

I wish I remembered the names of our dinner entrees -- something about a hard working pig and a cow standing out in a field, perhaps? We opted for four diverse choices so that we could try everything: vermicelli with crab, a crepe dish, beef, and pork.

Both of the meat dishes were standouts, with flavorful juicy beef, and crispy tangy pork that we agreed were the winners. The crepe dish was good, but was overwhelmed by a serving of greens that would make a manatee envious, and the vermicelli while cooked perfectly, would have benefited from more crab and a hint of spice.

Aside form the less than desirable location, my only other complaint is the portion sizes. While the appetizers were sufficient, the entrees, specifically the two meat entrees, were quite small. While they were packed with flavor, you definitely need to start with an appetizer and end with a dessert to make a complete meal.

The price for this treat was quite an unbelievable value, totaling about $125 for four with two appetizers, four beers, one glass of wine, four entrees, shared dessert, tax and tip.

Present on Urbanspoon

Monday, November 9, 2009

Taylor Gourmet: Perfection in the Sandwich Concept, but the Details Need Work


One of my favorite new sandwich shops in the DC area is Taylor Gourmet ( Located in the quickly up-and-coming H Street strip, Taylor’s specializes in Philadelphia-style Italian sandwiches (think cold cuts, chicken cutlets, house roasted turkey), which are served on fresh seeded rolls delivered daily from Sarcone’s Bakery in Philadelphia. While I have been to Philly only once, the customers eating behind yesterday (in between bites) were impressed with its authenticity.

In addition to sandwiches, Taylor’s offers Rocky’s risotto balls, which are delicious, fried 2 inch rounds oozing with a center of mozzarella cheese and served with a tasty, spicy marinara for dipping. I think I like these risotto balls even better than the ones at Two Amys – though I am sucker for these treats and will likely still order them anytime they are on the menu.

Yesterday I ordered the 9th Street (all the sandwiches are named for streets in Philly), an Italian cold cut sandwich with aged provolone and prosciutto, capicola, and salami. And B opted for the Church St., Italian chicken sausage patties with roasted red peppers. And of course, we had to share an order of the risotto balls. The food was fantastic – with the starter of those addictive balls and meaty, chewy, flavorful sandwiches.

My biggest complaint/criticism is that yesterday it felt like Taylor’s was in fact run by two 28 year old guys; it is, and I do not mean to be disparaging, but the place is supposed to open at 11:30am and when we arrived at 11:40am, the restaurant was still shuttered with a line forming out front consisting of both patrons and the bread delivery guy. On a cleanliness note, there is no way that the place was cleaned since the night before. The bathroom was dirty and had no paper products.

So, great food, will definitely go again, but hope Taylor’s gets their act together in the execution department, particularly given their franchising in the metro area. Hopefully, yesterday’s slip wasn’t indicative of a larger problem or lapse in attention to detail as they expand (newest location is downtown, with another planned for Rosslyn).

Taylor Gourmet on Urbanspoon

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Great Beginnings and Endings: Proof and Osteria Bibiana

Last night B & I experienced some of the finest cocktails DC has to offer. A friend was in town, so we met her at Proof ( Despite its focus as a wine bar, the bartenders mix some of the best martinis in DC and this is often a go-to cocktail spot for us. Tom Sietsema, WaPo food critic, agreed in his latest dining guide (which will likely mean an even more frenetic bar scene), but last night we managed to snag a corner table in the bar. The bar area can and does get crowded, but the bartenders provide excellent service, the music is usually mellow jazz or classic standards, and the screens above the bar show images from the adjacent National Portrait Gallery. Plus, sipping a cocktail while gazing on the huge wine selection above the bar is always a treat. Last night, we really needed the martinis after fighting our way through a mass of Capitals fans on the metro. It was worth the trip; our martinis: a cosmopolitan, gimlet, and gin martini, dry, up with olives were perfect. Martinis average about $12 depending on the brand of alcohol.

Skip ahead three hours...

We ended the evening at Osteria Bibiana ( This was our first trip and we wandered in around 9:30pm looking for a place to unwind with after dinner drinks and dessert. Bibiana opened a few months ago and completely transformed and maximized the former sterile Luigino's space -- rich browns, deep oranges, modern chandeliers, and oversized black and white photos of Rome. You are greeted immediately by a coat check and walk directly into the bar with dining rooms flanking either side. We timed it right and and were able to snag a lounge table. The wine list by the glass is extensive and ranges from $9 -$14. We were thrilled to see a Lambrusco (an Italian sparkling red wine that we last enjoyed in Modena, Italy -- yes, I am so chic, can you tell? : )) Anyway, the wine was great, a really rich red wine with moderate bubbles served in oversized champagne flutes. We paired the wine with a chocolate bomba -- a rich mousse based dessert with a chocolate crust, chocolate krunchies (their words), topped with a caramel sugar disk and surrounded by a milk chocolate fudge sauce. The two paired wonderfully, the service was attentive, and we are really looking forward to going back for dinner.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Anticipation: Hosting our First Thanksgiving Dinner

Today B and I are spending a gorgeous fall afternoon planning for hosting our first Thanksgiving dinner.

We live within walking distance of a Williams Sonoma, Pottery Barn, and Crate & Barrel. While this is not always good for thrift, it is great for entertaining. Today we bought our first gravy boat and a double serving dish (perfect for entertaining in a small condo) at Pottery Barn and found maroon napkins with deep orange paisley accents, and delightful Irish coffee mugs which will double as serving vessels for the Barefoot Contessa's Pumpkin Mousse parfait at Crate and Barrel (pictured below).

And at this very moment I am listening to the Splendid Table ( on NPR, a food radio which covers cooking, wine, traveling, and all things food.

B is sitting across the room, perusing the latest Bon Appetit, and musing (with both trepidation and expectation) that that this (the cover model turkey) what he wants his turkey to look like. Full disclosure: we have never cooked a turkey before, so we will see how it goes, but for now it is fun to plan!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Food Field Trip France: Le Nord, The End

While we did not make the trip to Paul Bocuse's flagship restaurant on the outskirts of Lyon for a number of reasons, including the time involved, getting out there, and spending 250 euros a person, we did want to at least experience a taste of his brand of Lyonnaise magic. We opted for Le Nord (, one of five brasseries located in the heart of Lyon, a fifteen minute walk from where we were staying. This was our last dinner in France and I hate to admit it, but we definitely started to suffer from eating fatigue.

Le Nord is a chic brasserie fronted by an open kitchen. It reminded me a lot of DC's Central in that the kitchen was visible to diners and bustling with constant activity. And the most noticeable difference between Le Nord and every other restaurant we ate at in France was the pacing; this was the most American in speed with courses following closely one after another. While the service was attentive, it felt a bit rushed.

As for wine, they had several house options from local producers and we chose two house pots (which are a little more than a half bottle) of Burgundy and a Bordeaux to compliment the meal. Again, we were losing steam so while I hate to waste good wine, we did leave a good amount on the table.

While we had intended to order off the prix fix menu, we instead opted for the a la carte options as we both really wanted to try the French onion soup and I was really eager to try the mushroom and scallop risotto. B & I were both happy we did.

The soup was beautiful and covered in a crisp layer of gruyere that when punctured revealed layers of cheese, bread, and onions swimming in a rich broth. This could have easily been a meal in and of itself. It was textbook French onion soup, that stood out because of the quality of ingredients, and the way all the elements came together. It was a rich, layered, warm treat that was perfect for a cool fall night.

My risotto did not disappoint either, though it was served in a deconstructed way with a rich, creamy arborio base, topped with several types of mushrooms, and lined with four large scallops in a rich broth. All the ingredients were done to perfection: the scallops had a nice sear and retained their juices; the mushrooms were flavorful and firm; and the risotto was creamy, yet al dente. And while I hate to admit to two lackluster dining performances on my part in one night (the first being that we did not finish the wine), I could only eat half of this dish. That soup did me in.

B opted for the veal scallopini which was served traditionally: a thin veal cutlet flash fried, lightly sauced, and topped with capers. It was very good, but the depth of flavor (or lack thereof) kept it from being great.

But, the real star of B's choice was the side: a steaming gratin dish oozing with macaroni and cheese and topped with bread crumbs. Last I checked this was not traditional French fare, but the quality of the cheese and the placement of a candle to ensure the dish stayed hot, made this one of my favorite dishes of the trip and the only time we were served any type of pasta.

By dessert, we were beyond full, but decided to share the chocolate mousse since we had not yet had any mousse on the trip and I would feel like a failure if we went to France and did not once try this famous dessert. The mousse was the perfect combination of texture and flavor, airy, yet with rich dark chocolate flavor. For any mousse aficionados out there, it had the texture of Central's mousse with the rich flavor of Ray's the Steaks dark chocolate mousse. And as if the dish was not rich enough on its own, it was served with a slice of brioche, which we were too full to even touch!

So while our last meal in France did feel a bit too American, it was also a rich, flavorful final chapter to a fantastic yet gastronomically exhausting journey through France. The total at Le Nord was 100 euros.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Food Field Trip France: La Machonnerie

At the end of the week, we arrived in France's food mecca: Lyon. The point of this, the tail end, of the trip was singular: to eat. Our first night we had reservations at a traditional bouchon, La Machonnerie ( La Machonnerie is located in the heart of Old Lyon and is fronted by a diorama of marionettes, a Lyon tradition.

We entered into the main dining room, a warm, bustling space, and were promptly greeted by a friendly server who to our surprise, spoke excellent English, offered us an English-language menu, and showed us to a large corner table.

B and I were once again really hungry, and were offered a plate of fried pig fat (yes, it is actually delicious) and a rich cheese spread. I am not sure if I should admit this, but we polished off the fried pig with cheese pretty quickly.

Next, it was onto the wine choice. We opted for a full-bodied 2005 St. Joseph which stood up wonderfully to the food that was to come.

The menu, while in English, was crudely translated and offered three prix fix options. Given the choices, we opted for the most expensive of the three for 36 euros and settled in for the richest four courses we have ever eaten.

B went with the salad, which sounds like a lite choice, right? Wrong! It was a delicious, rich bowl of leafy greens with onions, bacon lardons, and some sort of hearty, balsamic-based dressing.

I opted for what I would later learn was a Lyonnaise speciality: leek terrine. The terrine was served cold, and was a rich, textured foil to the tart mustard sauce and perfectly cooked crayfish tails. As you can see in the picture, this was a large portion and could have easily been a main dish.

But when it came time for the main course, the richness was turned up several notches. I opted for roast chicken in a morel mushroom cream sauce. This dish was wonderful. The morels are the meatiest mushrooms I have ever tasted and added both flavor and texture to juicy bone-in chicken thighs and breasts. B was brave with his choice and oopted for the kidney cooked in a wine sauce with baby onions. He loved this dish, and described it as tasting like an uber-tender filet mignon. I had one bite and hate to admit this as a person who loves food, but could not get over the fact that I was eating a kidney -- too rustic for me. The dishes were served with a leek gratin oozing with cream and gruyere cheese.

Next, came my favorite food moment of the entire trip. I selected the cheese tray and thought I would get to ask for two or three selections. To my absolute delight, the waitress went over everything on the tray and then left it at the table for me to self- select. I opted for the homemade fig cheese spread, a rich goat, a creamy cow, and finally a goat cheese studded with olives. I was so full at this point in the meal, that I only had a taste of each, but I loved being given free reign of an excellent assortment of French cheeses.

B's cheese course was a bit more modest, and was actually more like a sour yogurt served with an apple compote. B happens to love yogurt, so this was a good choice. I was to pre-occupied with my cheese tray decisions to taste his selection.

And now onto dessert. Before we selected our desserts we were offered house-made meringues the size of a baseball. We opted to split one as we were not sure if we were going to make it through!

For dessert B got the ice cream souffle, which was dense, tart, and decent, but not remarkable.

I opted for the raspberry sorbet because I thought this would be a lite choice to end the meal. The sorbet was placed in front of me, and then a waiter brought over a mini-wine barrel full of grappa which he poured on top. This is a dessert that will put hair on your chest. The sorbet was a perfect combination of tart and smooth, but the grappa added quite the edge.

This was the best and most expensive meal of the trip at $117 euros, and this was the first time I have ever woken up with a food hangover that rivals any hangover I faced in college. Well played.