Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Food Field Trip SoCal: A Cupcake DJ!

Attention cupcake watchers, and all you who thought Georgetown Cupcake's Bouncers were over the top.

This is a Cupcake DJ, who I found spinning on a recent Friday night at Cups, a cupcake shop in La Jolla, California. Walking by, I at first mistook the shop for a bad club. After my double take, I decided to go in and check out the cupcakes available in two sizes (after several minutes of staring at DJ Cupcake stationed in the corner). The cupcakes looked dry, and I did not have the energy or the appetite to try, but I have my suspicions based on the total of three customers in the shop (and the aforementioned DJ enlisted to attract patrons).

So DC, should we count ourselves lucky? We are (at least for now) above the audacity of the west coast Cupcake DJ, and the cupcakes at both Georgetown establishments both look and taste extraordinary.

Cups on Urbanspoon

Monday, September 27, 2010

Food Field Trip SoCal: Terrific Tamales in downtown LA

There are not many things I like about Los Angeles; as far as major cities go it is one of my least favorite. But when my day-job related training took me there last week, I was determined to find something to like about the place. So always up for a challenge, I embarked upon the pursuit of Mexican street food.

It turned out karma was on my side and I did not have to look very far. The weekly Thursday market that had set up in the plaza adjacent to my office included an alluring tamale stand, Corn Maiden. Score.

So for lunch I passed on the boxed soggy sandwiches and stale cookies doled out to the training attendees and headed outside for a tamale. The ten tamale choices--ranging from pork to peppers to cheese—were dizzying, so I asked the proprietor for his help. He suggested a smoked gouda and roasted green chili combo.

I unwrapped the bundle, literally tied like a present to find a work of art--a rich purple cornmeal shrouding a bright green pepper, which enrobed the ample, gooey, gouda. The flavor was both smoky and sweet, with a subtle heat added in the form of New Mexico chili and garlic sauce.

This lunch, served with a side of black beans and rice, turned out to be a bright ray of LA food sunshine, and was quite the bargain at $5.50.

Though I found this only by happenstance, I later went to the company’s website and discovered that none other than Oprah had discovered this tamale company before me and recommends them shipped frozen as gifts. So this may be old news to some, but if you have not tried these tamales, and are in LA, they are worth the search.

Monday, September 20, 2010

A Big Bite of N'awlins in DC: Desperados Burgers

Desperado's Burgers is the first DC outpost of the New Orleans Port of Call burger bar which sits on the outskirts of the French Quarter.  Like the original, this quaint U Street operation showcases the same big juicy burgers served with a side of loaded baked potatoes, and potent cocktails (but on the latter, unfortunately, DC law precludes 'to-go cups').

I applaud Desperado's for their ability to recreate the feel of New Orleans; not the over-the-top Bourbon Street debauchery, but of the off-the-beaten path neighborhood bars you can find in the Big Easy if you know where to look.  The bar-restaurant is galley style, brick, dimly lit, with a chalkboard listing the beers, with friendly, low-key service.  The whole place probably only seats about 30 people, which raises for me the dilemma of whether or not to tell anyone--much less blog--about such a gem that I like too much to risk contributing to crowds.  But obviously the altruistic side of me won out.

So here is the scoop: the burgers are big and juicy, close to the size of Hellburger, and come with a variety of hearty toppings to choose from including blue cheese, avocado, and  bacon.  I especially liked the Cajun burger which added  a nice heat.

Desperados Blue Cheese Burger with Loaded Baked Potato
On my last visit,  a weeknight, I did not venture into the cocktails, but instead went with one of the five draft beers, each of which served in their logo glasses. I loved the hoppiness of my choice, the Baltimore Deadlift IPA, but I would have liked to have seen some Abita offerings, given their New Orleans routes. 

There are a few kinks to work out.  The potatoes could benefit from some additional cooking time and are not yet up to snuff with their original counterparts; and the burgers, while moist, juicy, and delicious, were not all served at the requested cooking temperature. 

As much as I hate to drive more people towards this spot, I do recommend trying it out.  The atmosphere cannot be beat, the burgers are some of the best around, and it is a great way to escape DC for a while.  Burgers are $9.50  and come with the choice of baked potato or french fries, though I recommend the baked potato without question, even if they do still need to perfect the cooking time.

As of this posting, Desperados Burgers is still lacking a website.

Desperados Burgers and Bar on Urbanspoon

Friday, September 17, 2010

Food Field Trip: A Tale of Two Pizzas -- One Famous the Other Infamous

Over the last few years a diversity of pizza places have proliferated in DC, with the introduction of, say, Pete's Apizza, Fireworks, and  American Flatbread.  So with a decent comparison point, we enjoyed two radically different pizzas a few weeks on our trip to Cape Cod.

The first, Frank Pepe, was actually a pit stop in New Haven on our drive up 95.  And a testament to this restaurant's pull, we ran into a fellow DC friend and foodie while waiting in line outside.   Pictured below is a small New Haven-style pizza which is ample eating for two, with a split of fresh tomatoes atop a traditional red sauce and then a white base with plenty of chunky garlic and clams.

The pizza had a nice char, with a chewy bite.  The large chunks of clams were somewhat overwhelming, whereas the fresh tomato side was textbook.  The service was surprisingly friendly given the volume, but the clientele was kind of depressing.  One man, who we watched with awe devouring a large pizza for himself alone, barely fit into the booth and and his gut overfloweth onto the table.

Is this worth the stop on a drive up 95?  Yes; as long as you don't have to wait in line for more than 30 minutes.  We had intended to try their main competition, Sallys Apizza, just down the street but, alas, it was closed for lunch.

Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana on Urbanspoon

While in Provincetown, we lunched twice at a local favorite: Spiritus. This seemingly unassuming pizzaria in the heart Commerical Street, is infamous for the 1990 riot, and as I understand it, is still a gathering spot for hundreds of gay men after midnight.  But in addition to this storied history, which really has nothing to do with food, their pizza is really good.

The whole wheat crust is the best of its kind I've had anywhere, adding flavor, texture, (and makes the pie feel a little healthier).  The thick-cut pepperoni is excellently spicy, and both the zesty tomato sauce and the Greek white pizza pack a lot of flavor.  At lunchtime, when B and I visited twice this past trip, the vibe is mellow with a diverse mix of customers and the counter service efficient.

Slices, available in cheese, pepperoni, and Greek, hover around $3.50.  Whole pizzas are also available.

Sundae School Ice Cream on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, September 14, 2010


This past week I was surprised to see a new menu addition staring up at me from the middle of the menu at Central: a cheesesteak.  I was intrigued; this is just the type of playful take on classics that Michel Richard surprises you with at both Cirtonelle and Central.  If I were anywhere else, I would be skeptical of what seems like a gimmick, but of course, had to try this new take on the Philly classic.

Central's take on cheesteak, with the fired chicken peering out in the background.

Central's version is based around 72-hour braised short ribs atop house made brioche along with shitake mushrooms and onions, and homemade cheese sauce. It is served with hearty steak fries -- a potato sliced into six wedges (different from the other fries offered on the menu) and a homemade zesty ketchup which gets its kick from Worcestershire and horse radish. 

The verdict?  Playful, yes, but beyond that, absolutely melt in your mouth -- I am never traveling to Philly again -- delicious.  The short ribs are so tender, and their juices soak into the bread.  The cheese sauce was addictive, tangy and creamy.  And those fries, meaty and zesty with a coating of what I think was celery salt, and more importantly a great vehicle for that ketchup. 

My one complaint is not about the food, but the presentation.  This dish is served atop a thin layer of parchment paper, much like a traditional cheesesteak.  Cute.  However, because this is more knife and fork food, the parchment paper does not hold up, and tears, which could result in an unfortunate addition to the sandwich.

Central's take on cheesesteak is $25.

Central Michel Richard on Urbanspoon

Monday, September 13, 2010

Humdrum Harry's

Harry's Tap Room in Clarendon never fails to underwhelm me.

But for some reason, I have continued to check it out every few months for brunch or lunch. It is always consistent (see above).

I have decided that this relationship is not working. I am done with Harry's.  That is all.

 Harry's Tap Room on Urbanspoon

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Falling for Fireworks

Fireworks had me at hello. Well, more accurately, as I reported last week, hello, how about I try one of the 32 beers on tap?  But after a return visit this past week for dinner, I realize that I may be falling hard for this newcomer.

Why?  First, their outdoor patio is huge, quiet, and comfortable fronting Courthouse Plaza and set back from Clarendon Boulevard.  The outdoor space will soon have a fire pit and table once they get it re-tiled or so they tell me.  Second, the service is excellent, with knowledgeable friendly servers who really knew their stuff from the beer to the food to the restaurant's story. Third, the pizza, is really good--dare I say bordering on excellent.

I ventured out this past week with a friend to try the food.  We started by sharing the smokey blue cheese risotto balls.  If there was a weak point of the meal, this was it.  While the balls were tasty, with a smokey, creamy center of blue cheese, they could have benefited from an additional crunch--perhaps a few more minutes in the fryer, and a bit more bacon, which was too sparse.  The garlic cream sauce underneath was lacking flavor, resulting in a soggy, unappealing underside.

But, oh my, the pizza! I understand from talking to the floor manager that Fireworks aims to be the best wood fired pizza place in the area, and if my experience is any indication they are well on their way.  I opted for the RT, named for a brewer at Allagash.  This pizza's pesto base was covered with roasted peppers, goat cheese, spinach, and salami.  The crust had a nice crunch and chewiness; the ample toppings, which I thought might overwhelm or cancel each other out, worked well.  Not a traditional choice, but I loved it.

My friend and I had wanted to try the mixed berry cobbler, but they were out.  We went instead with the hot cookie sundae.  This was a Cheesecake Factory-style larger than life dessert, but it delivered on the promise of a gooey, hot cookie and was suitable for sharing.  Perhaps the best part was the pairing of the Brooklyn Brown Ale that my server suggested.

And at least on my visit, I was not the only one impressed with Fireworks.  I overheard the couple at the table next to me also complimenting the server on their margarita pizza.

This is a casual dinner spot with prices to match--around $11 for a small pizza and $17 for a large.  For more details on the happy hour food and beer steals, check out my original Fireworks post.

Fire Works Pizza on Urbanspoon

Friday, September 10, 2010

Food Field Trip: Three Squeals for the Pig

A rainy start to our Cape vacation led us to what is now my favorite pub grub spot in Provincetown: The Squealing Pig, just a few doors down from my other Provincetown favorite. It is cozy, with a twelve stool wooden bar along one side and table seating for about forty. The two waitresses serving the entire dining room, plus a bartender were beyond efficient.  This is key, because at least during rainy-day lunches, this walk-in only place, was packed.

We decided on the Pig after reading a Chowhound post lauding their smoky clam chowder, which we learned gets its flavor from the house smoked halibut. And we made this rainy day lunch hearty by pairing the steaming hot bowl of soup with Parmesan truffle fries.

The chowder, while not traditional, was exceedingly tasty, with ample fish, potatoes, and a cream-based broth. The fries were crispy with an intense, but not overbearing salty/sweet Parmesan/truffle bite.

Then on another one of our rainy days (yes, this vacation included several), we headed back for their home-made chili, which was chunky and spicy with large pieces of fresh red and green peppers. The accompanying chips were definitely not homemade, but served as just the right vehicle to enjoy this dish and counter the heat.

The local craft tap beer selection here is also quite unique. And while it was only August, the rain and the temperatures proved the perfect occasion to sample my first taste of fall in the form of Maine's Shipyard pumpkin beer.

Like most places in Provincetown, anomalies abound: an Irish-decor gastro pub with a Nepalese chef and an extensive microbrew selection. But don’t let the humble interior fool you. The comfort food is well above average, the ambiance is warm, and the service knowledgeable and friendly. 

Prices are relatively affordable, the chowder is $8, the fries $6, and chili $10.  Beer prices hover around $6.  I will return, and I intend to one day visit their sister location in Boston's Back Bay.

Squealing Pig on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Coffee House without the Pretense: Northside Social

Northside Social, the relatively new occupant of the old Murky Coffee Shop in Clarendon, is fast becoming one of my favorite coffee houses. Full disclosure: I don’t actually like coffee. I do, however, love freshly brewed teas.  Fuller disclosure: I hated Murky and its antics.  Murky was dirty, its staff annoyingly pretentious, and the food selections almost nill.  Northside, owned by the same folks as Liberty Tavern and Lyon Hall, has remedied these issues, with ample bar, table, and couch seating, as well as an extensive soup and sandwich menu. And perhaps best of all, offers some wonderful desserts.  The upstairs transforms into a wine bar nightly after 5pm with the exception of Sunday.

The overall vibe of the new place is a vast improvement. The walls are adorned with a rotating display local art for sale and the music is usually a half mellow/half hipster upbeat backdrop which works well for catching up with friends, or in Eating Around DC's case, blogging.  Northside Social is the only place I have blogged about while actually sitting in the space!

When you take everything together Northside Social is a solid overall value with some decent (the savories) to fantastic (the desserts) food.

This chicken salad sandwich is flavorful with tarragon and bits of apricot, if a bit dry, and a tad pricey (but remember you get the atmosphere and free Internet for things like this post!). And the iced tea in the background, peach nectar, is the perfect antidote to a summer day.

It is the desserts though, which are the stars. I had a baseball sized black forest brownie the other day: a rich chocolate ganache on top of a moist cake, offset by the cherries contained within. Their homemade soft-serve ice cream has some interesting and ever-changing flavors, including a Graham Cracker which B thoroughly enjoyed. And this being a coffee house, I have heard the coffee is excellent too.

I feel like in many ways I am not  hip enough to be a coffee house person, but at Northside Social most of the servers, lack the typical I-am-so-much-hipper-than-you barista attitude.  Soups are $5, sandwiches served with a small green salad, potato salad, or chips are $7-8, Desserts and the ample beverage menu start at $2.

Northside Social on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Food Field Trip: Fine Dining Cape Cod Style with a Twist: Edwige

Edwige, a Provincetown mainstay since the late 70’s, offers what I have found to be the best sit-down restaurant experience on Cape Cod. So my expectations are always exceedingly high when visiting (which of course can be a recipe for disappointment). But on our annual visit last week, both the food and the overall experience were fantastic and quintessential Provincetown.

Located on the second floor of an hundred and fifty year old Cape-style building on Commercial Street, Edwige oozes with all that is great about this artist’s colony on the tip of Cape Cod. The dining room, which boasts an truly amazing diversity of diners, is painted in a warm red color with exposed beams, while a rotating selection of artwork adorns the walls. The waiters are friendly, knowledgeable, efficient, and quite honestly, beautiful (though this being Provincetown I hold no illusions that I am exactly their type!).

We made a reservation a few days in advance, but if you have not had time to plan, there is a small covered patio that accommodates walk-ins. We had stopped at the Wine Library in New Jersey on our drive up to pick up a few bottles (a detour we won't likely again make) and were pleased to learn that Edwige allows you to bring your own wine for just a $20 corkage fee. They also specialize in house-infused vodka cocktails, which look quite tasty; their wine list looked just OK.

The menu consists of about ten appetizer and ten entrée choices.  The focaccia served at the beginning of the meal is worth the carbs. Recently, Edwige started offering demi portions of all entrees, which makes for the perfect size if you plan on partaking in appetizers.

B and I split two appetizers to start and the food was certainly memorable, a combination of farm fresh ingredients, careful preparations, and unique flavor combinations.

The tuna tartare rivaled the preparation we had this past spring in Hawaii. And the combinations of crunch with the avocado and tuna made for a pleasant texture.

The duck confit egg roll was bursting with tender, roast meat, offset by the crunch of the wrapper, and the tang of the dipping sauce.

My entrée was the most robust flavor combination I have enjoyed in months. I opted for the demi portion of the chili and coffee braised short ribs, with jalapeño au gratin potatoes, fried shiitake mushrooms, and crisp green beans. The short ribs were fork tender, spicy and sweet--complementing in both taste and texture the potatoes.

B had his favorite (and what appeared to be the most popular dish), the Brazilian seafood moqueca.  This hearty dish, served in a cast iron skillet, is an assortment of halibut, shrimp, and scallops cooked in a creamy coconut milk broth.

The whole experience was really wonderful. And no, this is not a traditional Cape Cod seafood shack, or even a traditional Cape fine dining establishment, but the care and preparation that goes into everything, from the food to the setting, shines. Unlike some other places I've come back to year after year on the Cape, Edwige is never tired or dull. Do note that the chefs at breakfast and lunch are different; I have never had either of those meals at Edwige, so my recommendation is specific to dinner.  Dinner with two appetizers, one demi entrée, one entrée, corkage, tax, and tip was $105.

Edwige At Night on Urbanspoon

Friday, September 3, 2010

Fireworks: Courthouse's own Church Key?

No. But now that I have your attention, let me say that our dear home Courthouse recently got what could be the next best thing beer-wise with the recent opening of Fireworks. Showcasing wood-fired pizzas, this Arlington restaurant, reportedly owned by two brothers, is its second--the original is way outside the beltway in Leesburg. Its craft beer selection of over 30 on tap varieties, all available in traditional and tasting sizes, competes only with Lyon Hall in this neighborhood.

This afternoon B and I popped in for a drink at the bar, and discovered confusingly worded (but quite the steal) happy hour specials, which are available from 4 - 6:30 on weekdays. Their "5 for 3 Special," only available at the bar, is simply this: five selected beers at $3 each (save Miller Lite, which is $2), and five of the 10" inch pizzas for $5.  The Abita Purple Haze on tap was effervescent and fresh, as was B's Stoudt Pils, a beer we have never seen before.  Additionally, though now only available if you bring your own, they will soon sell growlers of all of their tap beers.  Despite the signs indicating growlers were available, our kind bartender informed us they need to get a sanitizing machine (no idea) before they can sell the actual growler bottles themselves.

If nothing else, I am thrilled that despite being in a Marriott Residence Inn (which, by the way, also has a strange outdoor fountain which would seem more appropriate in the U.S. Southwest than in Arlington) that my neighborhood has this type of craft beer bar.

As for the pizzas, we did not eat, but our bar perch was directly in front of the wood-fired oven, and what was coming out did not look consistent.  Some crusts looked perfectly charred, others spongy and barely cooked.  But I will reserve all judgment until I actually try it.  As for now my sure recommendation is to go for the beer selection.  I'm going to give the kitchen time to work out kinks, but if anyone tries their pizza, please let me know what you think!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Happy Birthday! Eating Around DC Turns One

Wow. I cannot believe a year has passed since I started this blog. Almost 130 posts and 7 Food Field Trips later, this project has taught me:
  1. How much I eat out. I only blog about half of my restaurant dining experience since I also have to work full-time to fund this endeavor.  But if someone would like to pay me to do this, please do let me know!
  2. That cupcakes are by far the most popular--and controversial--food topic in DC right now.  When Eating Around DC broke the news on cupcake bouncers, this site saw some 3,000 hits in a single day.
  3. How much I truly enjoy writing about food and turning people on--although in some cases, off--to unique food finds and experiences.
Eating Around DC is promising to be a rambunctious toddler in the coming year, with a reservation I was able to score (after three days of persistent calling) at French Laundry for October and a site redesign (once I master this blogger application), which will hopefully result in more user-friendly eating guides for both DC and Food Field Trip locations.

Thanks for reading! And please keep the comments, suggestions, recommendations, and feedback coming:

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Food Field Trip Cape Cod: PB--Painfully Bad?

As readers know, I don't have the patience for new places--reviewed as groundbreaking--that end up having either unremarkable food or poor service. This is especially true on vacation, in which time always goes by too quickly and opportunities to dine are finite. So, before I leave on any trip, I carefully map out dining options, relying heavily on blogs, Chowhound, and Washington Post reviews. An August 13th piece in the Sunday Travel section a few weeks back, prompted a visit to PB Boulangerie when we were on the Cape last week.

I was so excited that I called PB immediately upon reading the story to make a reservation at what sounded like a little slice of Paris in Wellfleet, only twenty minutes from where B and I were staying. The night started off well, with a warm greeting by the French chef, and the buttery smell of baking croissants. The decor was French country meets Cape kitsch.

Then it all went downhill. It felt like PB Boulangerie rushed to open without training any of their staff. Our waitress tried hard, but nervously giggled the entire time, knew nothing about the food, and laughed when stating the chef recommends the steak medium rare. Why? I have no idea. She also kept calling me dear, which seemed so off, as she was only about twenty two years old. And when we needed additional spices/condiments to flavor the food (which was often) we had to work to flag her down. A request for silverware for our desserts was greeted with a whatever glance followed by a long pause before we had anything to eat with. We had to ask three times to get the homemade bread--a staple in a French bistro.

The open kitchen was a frightening chaotic scene, lacking any sign of the finesse of French bistros like Central or Le Nord. I know these are high standards, but the food was priced similarly, so one would expect something close in terms of kitchen showmanship. Instead, the server attempting to slice the prosciutto appeared to have absolutely no idea what he was doing; the woman baking the lemon cookies that accompanied the check kept banging the tins loudly on the counter, trying desperately to remove the treats.

While the presentation of the dishes was decent, the food was not, with the exception of a rich, roasted corn chowder. All other options--from a $14 heirloom tomato salad to the poached cod over fingerling potatoes in littleneck clam jus, to the steak frites--were quite frankly terrible and had about as much flavor as one would expect from nursing home fare. Good thing there are a fair share of them on the Outer Cape.  And the steak frites did not include frites at all--limp potato chips accompanied the just OK cut of steak--and the promised herb butter, sat almost frozen on top of the meat.

Then there was a facilities issue. Apparently, the woman's restroom was broken, but with no sign posted on the door, it appeared as though someone was in there for a very long time since the door was locked. When I finally asked the hostess, who saw me waiting, she giggled and noted: "Oh, it's broken!" What? Have you heard of a sign or informing guests waiting outside the door? (The woman before me just walked into the men's room and I think she had the right idea.)

After this meal, which really put a damper on my night, we left with croissants for the next morning and a baguette for lunch, both from the bakery. While the flavor of the baguette was close to those that one fines in France, the texture of the crust was not. The only saving grace to this institution were the delectable croissants. The bakery is open at 7 each morning Wednesday to Sunday, but I have been told that there is often a long wait.

Vacations are too short to waste on lackluster food or service. And the price for this pleasure was $150--and that was with only one glass of wine each! No thank you!

If PB Boulangerie is to survive they need quite a bit of work and to figure out what they are.  A bakery?  A bistro?  An oyster bar?  Pick one and do it well.

As for me, I will not be returning. There are too many other fabulous Cape Cod restaurants and more such reviews are coming later this week.

PB Boulangerie on Urbanspoon