Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Aloha

With my MBA finally complete (nearly five years since beginning it), B and I are heading to Hawaii for a week of sun, snorkeling, and--hopefully--fantastic food finds.

Last March, thanks to a work award we were fortunate to both spend a week on the Big Island. I can honestly say it was the only trip I have ever been on, including Paris, where we did not have one bad meal!




(Brown's Beach House, Big Island)



(Merriman's Big Island)

So while this blog is going into hibernation for the next week, look for a Food Field Trip posting soon--maybe a rundown of the culinary offerings on Kauai, perhaps a review of one or two favorites pictured above, or who knows what else!

Aloha!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Capital's Cape Cod?


Hank's Oyster Bar is quite the rare find here; it's small, unpretentious, and actually worth the long wait that one often encounters at the 30 seat original Dupont location. As the name implies the focus is on the sea, but carnivores will find one (yes, just one) daily special that originated on land.

I love this space and the food, especially in the spring. So on a beautiful Lenten Friday last week we stopped by for a 6:30 dinner. On this particular night, service was harried; only two servers covered the dining room and the 20 plus seats on the outdoor patio. They did their best, but it was not the best service we have received here.

On the other hand, the food was fantastic, and was everything fried seafood should be. My only complaint was we ordered too much! When you sit down you are immediately served goldfish--quirky, yes, but it works. The wine list, is small, but reasonably priced. And the oyster list changes each day; at $2 each, it is a great deal for what you're getting.

We started with six oysters from Washington State and Virginia paired with a California Chardonnay. I loved the subtle, salty contrast between varieties.

For entrees, we both went with fried fare, and this is where Hank's really shines. I had the Calamari and Popcorn shrimp, the latter of which was nothing like the fast food variety; both were lightly battered, fried just right, and served with a spicy aioli. And somehow the shrimp were fried without being overcooked -- a rare feat! B opted for the fried oysters and was greeted with a mound of battered, fried, salty oysters, and hand-cut fries.

And this is where we failed -- we also got clam chowder and macaroni and cheese to share. Way too much food! But B adored the combination of cheddar and smoked gouda over the macaroni. It was a bit too oily for my liking, but it did have a rich depth of flavor.

Go early on a weekend night with a small party to avoid an ungodly wait.

Dinner for two with a bottle of Chardonnay, tax, and tip was $115.

Hank's Oyster Bar on Urbanspoon

Friday, March 19, 2010

Lunch Break: Cowgirl Creamery

Cowgirl Creamery, a California-based cheese boutique landed on F Street a few years ago and showcases a variety of artisan, aromatic, and expensive cheeses as well as a limited selection of meats, wines, and craft beers. They also sell sandwiches, the variety of which change daily.

Today we had the fourth straight day of perfect DC spring weather, so I decided to grab a sandwich and eat outdoors. I opted for the day's special, which was comprised of Cowgirl Creamery's St. Pat's cheese (similar in mouth feel and taste to a triple cream), marinated artichokes, kalamata olives, and mixed field greens. The bread texture was similar to a Parisian baguette minus the floured surface.

One bite and I immediately was transported to Napa Valley. The creaminess of the cheese contrasted with saltiness of the olives and perfectly marinated artichokes and was reminiscent of the sandwiches which we had at the Oakville Grocery during our trip to the area two falls ago. The bread was chewy but fresh-baked. It would have paired perfectly with a glass of Chardonnay, but it was a weekday and I was eating on a bench outside the restaurant (reality), so that was not an option. On the upside the people-watching was pretty good.

With tax the generous sandwich was $8.50 and I was able to finish a little over half. This is an extremely flavorful sandwich and a great way to sample some great cheese that may be too strong to eat on its own.

I knew lunch was over when a homeless man sat down beside me and the smell definitely confirmed I am in fact in DC and not Napa!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

A Trusty DC Favorite

Tosca is one of my favorite restaurants in DC, yet this is the first time I am posting about it because I haven't visited in almost six months, which was prior to the inauguration of this blog. But last night my boss E was kind enough to treat my work team to a celebratory dinner.

Tosca is located in the Metro Center area and is easy to miss; its nondescript entrance is heavily curtained to ensure maximum privacy for its weeknight patrons, who consist of a bunch of self-important K Streeters and other politicos.

B and I discovered this place about three years ago during Restaurant Week; yes, despite my previous rant, Restaurant Week can have a positive outcome! Tosca actually offers a three- course special--if ordered before 7pm--every night year-round except holidays for $35 which includes most of the best items on their regular menu.

Last night was the first time I did not get the tender pillows of goodness that are the veal ravioli. This was a real departure for me, since they are one of my favorite bites in DC. But, I decided to be bold and instead started with the truffle butter seared foie gras over lentils. The dish was rich and flavorful, but I think it could have benefited from an accompaniment other than lentils which just added to its heft. I had the lobster risotto for a main course. The risotto was fabulous, cooked al dente, and included large chunks of tender lobster, a touch of saffron, and a fantastic fried parsley garnish. Both choices were very good, but I have to say, neither was as spectacular as the veal ravioli.

I started with a perfect Kir Royale and then a less than stellar (especially for the price) glass of Barbaresco. The value on bottles are slightly better than on the glass, and their list has a handful of good picks for under $50.

For dessert I am also a creature of habit; Tosca's twist on tiramisu is closer to a mousse, served up in a martini glass. Last night though I opted for the rice pudding instead with vanilla infused kumquats, which was pretty much a let down. However, I did devour the house-made apricot jellies that were served at the end of dinner. These were bursting with apricot flavor and then had the tang of a sour patch kid. How often do you get that combination?

Tosca has the best Northern Italian dishes I've yet to find in DC and the service is flawless. And the pre-7pm prix-fix deal is one of the best values at any place in the area.

Ristorante Tosca on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Sunny Skies and Sweet Treats

The yogurt of my dreams is a whipped, rich, creamy soft-serve--much more like ice cream and lacks the tang of real yogurt.

Today I treated myself to a rare afternoon snack at a self-serve yogurt shop, were you could pick from nearly twenty flavors lining one wall and massive tubs to fill. And a topping bar on the back wall that ranges from healthy fruits to peanut butter cups. My one complaint: no cookie dough! TCBY had it!

But the dearth of this topping aside, one of the best parts of this set up is that they charge by the ounce. Today I only wanted a sampling and was able to get a delightful peanut butter and cookies and cream twist with a touch of peanut butter cups for $2.12.

For what feels like the first time in years, the sun was shining brightly in DC today and temperatures hit the 60's. By no means balmy, but in my mind enough to justify a stop in at the newest downtown yogurt venture: FroZenYo.

The place first caught my eye and ear a few weeks ago with a cheesy banner for a sign and loud pop music blasting onto the sidewalk. The shop is between one of those terrifying warehouse size gift shops near Ford's Theatre and American Apparel, but the inside is ultra-modern. But the contemporary appeal stops there; unlike the fad of all-natural, not-too-sweet swath of yogurt shops sweeping D.C. and elsewhere along the East Coast, this place is the real old school-style frozen yogurt.

So does life get better in DC?! Not today, at least for those of us that like a taste of the old-school frozen yogurt. If you have a sweet tooth I recommend it. I will be back especially because it is close to my work and the metro. Dangerous.

FroZenYo Downtown on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Cristina's, at Last

Having good friends move to faraway lands is usually an incentive to explore new places. Last week, we were treated to our first glimpse at solid red sauce Italian in the DC area; since moving here from Boston some five years ago, we have been furiously searching out red sauce establishment in the area, albeit with mostly lackluster results.

Last week some good friends coaxed us to traveling across state (and DC) lines to Wheaton to try Cristina’s, a Mom-and-Pop establishment, where the latter smiled broadly at our friends, regulars there, when we all entered. While the interior is akin to a Papa Gino’s (loud Venetian fresco wall paper et al.), I was actually reassured to see this; sometimes the cheesier the better when it comes to Italian-American.

But questionable decor aside, Cristina’s really shines on the requisite Italian-American fare. I had the chicken parmesan, B the veal saltimbocca. Both were tender, perfectly pan-fried, smothered in good mozzarella and crispy pancetta respectively, and then topped with tasty red sauce for the chicken, wine reduction for the veal. Entrees (which come with a salad that's not all that impressive) are priced at $15 - $20.

But my favorite part of the meal was dessert. The four of us shared a massive cloud of creamy, rich old-school style tiramisu.

This restaurant is a little outside the bounds of my usual geographic radius, but is worth a try if you are in the area. Easily the best classic Italian-American restaurant we've discovered in the greater DC metro area.

Christina's Italian Restorante on Urbanspoon

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Lunch Break: Tackle Box


So about a month ago I intended to do this segment maybe once a week or so and since then, regretfully...crickets. But my recent lunches have not warranted a write-up: Lean Cuisine is hardly even food, and the commonplace jaunt to Potbelly or Chipotle, while satisfying, seemed to fall short.

Friday I took a much needed day off. As part of this escape, I planned a stop in Georgetown at Tackle Box, one of my favorite lunch places. While I prefer company at dinner, there is something rejuvenating about taking time by myself at lunch to relax, read, and think while enjoying a good bite.

Tackle Box is owned by creators of its more upscale neighbor Hook and bills itself as DC's only lobster shack. The interior is filled with red picnic tables for communal eating with a long counter along the far side of the space perfect for solo dining. The chalkboard menu consists of the standard New England clam shack fare, but the true stars are the fish selections, prepared grilled or crispy with a choice of house-made sauces. Sides range from asparagus and broccoli to sweet potato fries.

The prices aren't cheap, and the portions aren't huge, but the food is fresh and flavorful. A Tackle Box meal with a fish, side, and sauce is $9 or for $13 the Maine meal includes an additional side.

On Friday, I had the crispy calamari with spicy marinara sauce and a side of macaroni and cheese. The calamari where thickly cut rings and tentacles served with a smattering of hot peppers. They were tender with a nice crisp too them and a lot of heat between the peppers and the marinara. I find the macaroni goes from good to great with a few shakes of the Tackle Box seasoning. I really enjoyed both while watching foot traffic along M Street from my perch in the window.

The crowd on this day was decidedly Georgetown with its mix of amazingly svelte moms and a slew of nannies and baby carriages. Mercifully all the kids were pretty well-behaved. On weekends the crowd skews older with more professionals, tourists, and a few students, and it is much more crowded.

My one complaint about this place is the temperature. In the summer this place is about ten degrees too hot and in the winter so cold that you have to keep your jacket on. My hunch is this is intentional to keep people moving, but it does take away from the overall experience.

Lunch with a perfectly carbonated fountain Diet Coke (I fancy myself a connoisseur of fountain Diet Coke) was $12.50.

Tackle Box on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

American Flatbread: Pretty Good Pizza


Sunday night, our condo building experienced a power outage--due to a suicidal squirrel--so cooking the roast chicken we had planned for dinner that night was no longer viable. Not in the mood for bar-food, but not looking for anything too fancy, we decided to give American Flatbread a try.

First referenced in a post a few weeks back, American Flatbread occupies a relatively new commercial strip in the Zoso apartment building in Clarendon. The interior set up is a bit awkward, and the d├ęcor is not my favorite. The space is a mix of laminate floors, antique chandeliers hanging from a lofted ceiling with exposed ducts, a visibile dishwashing area, and an open kitchen containing a self-proclaimed "primitive" (?!) oven.

This Vermont-based chain's claim to fame is what most would describe as pizza, all of which which range from $14 - $22. You can also split any flatbread between two of the 8 or so options or create your own. A flatbread easily feeds two people, so we opted to split one, with half pepperoni and peppers, half 'Punctuated Equilibrium' (olives, red peppers, Glen Farms goat cheese, rosemary, red onions, mozzarella, and garlic). The menu also contains a a handful of salads, though we did not try any.

The standout here is the organic and local ingredients. The pepperoni was spicy and quite flavorful; the sauce on its half of the pizza also had a nice bite to it. The other half was a white pizza with intense rosemary and goat cheese flavor punctuated (hence the name I guess) by the saltiness of the olives and the sweetness of the red peppers. The crust is flavorful and chewy, with a very slight char.

I was impressed by their craft beer selection on tap and really enjoyed a $6 pint of the Flying Dog's "In Heat Wheat." B seemed to enjoy the extra-hoppy Heavy Seas Loose Cannon Hop3 Ale.

Though the ambiance leaves a lot to be desired, the flatbreads are some of the best pizza available in Arlington, the price is right, and the beer selection--though limited--is quite unique. I will be back.

Dinner for two with a shared flat bread, four pints (we were thirsty), tax, and tip was $48.