Thursday, March 31, 2011

Who's that Kid with the Oreo Cookie?

Bayou Bakery's Paper Bag of Sweet Nostalgia

Over-the-top takes on childhood classics are all the rage right now.  Having an insatiable sweet tooth, I have tried a myriad of these inventions around DC, and while I have largely been impressed with the creativity and appearance, I am often disappointed by the flavor execution.  But last week, I sampled Bayou Bakery's take on the O-R-E-O and was more than pleased.

David Guas's Dat ‘O is a giant chocolate sandwich cookie, of both ample size--and sweetness--for sharing.  The rich chocolate cookies carry the buttery finish reminiscent of the original Nabisco varietal; the sugary, firm cream filling is slightly sweeter than the classic version, but is an apt contrast to the rich dark chocolate bookends.

The Dat 'O takes the Oreo idea to new heights, which is the reason for this post -- I know, my third on Bayou in the last six months.  And while I had no intention of reviewing Dat 'O, this sweet treat is worth the post and your trip to Arlington Courthouse.  Now if only Bayou would think about adding more treats to its sparsely populated dessert case!

Bayou Bakery on Urbanspoon

Monday, March 28, 2011

Where are you being watched?

It has been said that DC is filled with more spies than any city in the world--do you ever feel like you are being watched?  I do and I have confirmed my suspicions!  Let me explain.

Perhaps a nod to the good ol' boy history here, or the hunting culture close by in Virginia horse country, or nothing more than just a whimsical designer's touch, but taxidermy – real and faux – dominates!  Based on three experiences in the past month, I can safely assert that deer heads are just as much a part of the DC dining scene as politicians and fanny-pack wearing, camera carrying, cherry blossom-seeking tourists.

This trend is not new.  From stately classics like the Capital Grille to reliable institutions like the Old Ebbitt Grill to the German-influenced newcomer Biergarten Haus, the eyes have it!

Let’s start at the top. The Capital Grille is known as one of the most reputable high-end steak house chains in the country.  And at the DC location, feels like a cross between a Mad Men set and a gussied up dining room at a hunting lodge.  While admittedly both comparisons I have not experienced, at the urging of B, I did recently relish a dinner here.  And under the watchful gaze of stuffed animal heads, and that of a pewter eagle seemingly taking flight from the kitchen, we enjoyed some of the finest service and most polished steakhouse classics in DC.  Where else does each server take such pride in their work that they provide their personal business card after the meal?  And while great steak is a hallmark, the accompaniments are just as memorable.  They will gladly serve you a cup--vice a bowl--of the french onion soup.  The macaroni and cheese teems with large chunks of sweet lobster claw meet and the house made coconut cream pie is on my short list of best desserts in DC.
The Capital Grille on Urbanspoon

Old Ebbitt Grill has whimsical faux taxidermy of all kinds. Yes, you will find the standard deer head, but can also enjoy oysters under the watchful, perhaps even, envious eye of a walrus!  Here again, the dated feel is part of the charm.  And while waiters and waitresses are not quite as polished, the majority are efficient, friendly, and well seasoned – Old Ebbitt is one of the top ten highest non-chain grossing restaurants in the country!  While part of the Clyde’s Group, the food and service here always seems a notch above Clyde's (and vastly superior to the reliably dreadful service at the Georgetown location).  A recent brunch offered a zesty, crunchy romaine heart Caesar salad and an indulgent Southern-inspired take on shrimp and grits. Coo coo ca choo!
Old Ebbitt Grill on Urbanspoon

On H Street, the feisty ram Hans greets you as you belly up to the bar at the Biergarten Haus.  While I cannot yet comment on the food, the German beer, offered in both half and full liter steins, can be a meal in itself.  After a couple of liters, Hans might just appear to bob his head to the oompa music.
Biergarten Haus on Urbanspoon

So DC diners, next time you are out, look up and around…you never know who or what may be watching you!

Friday, March 25, 2011

Food Field Trip: Symon Says Cleveland

The prospect of business travel to Cleveland on a frigid week in early March was not exactly an inspiring thought.  And I was surely not expecting to have an exceptional meal and dining experience on this field trip.  But, the food, ambiance, and service of Iron Chef Michael Symon's Lola Bistro proved on par with fine dining restaurants world wide. 

Beef Cheek Pirogi
Yes, I know this sounds gushy, but Lola almost warrants a visit to Cleveland--though preferably outside of winter--just to experience Symon's inventive cuisine.  Lola effortlessly combines modern touches (wine lists on iPads, a soaring open wine room behind the bar, sharply geometric chairs) with the classic (dim lighting, white table cloths, tear drop chandeliers).  Service was knowledgeable, passionate, and friendly, with a welcome side of Midwestern warmth.  And the food was classic without ever being boring.

Pork Chop
Appetizers of fried bone marrow and beef cheek pierogi were indulgent yet accessible.  The famed pork chop and venison entrees my dining companions and I feasted upon all brought out the juicy and tender flavors of the meat.  And dessert was satiating and playful.  Three chocolate, orange, and hazlenut donuts were served with hot chocolate for dipping.

After this meal, I think we should all do what Symon says or more specifically, enjoy with abandon what Symon creates.  If you find yourself in Cleveland this place is a must.  Appetizers average $15 and entrees hover around $30, with a wide-ranging wine selection.

Lola on Urbanspoon

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Double Ds: Dangerously Delicious Pies Await on H Street

H Street's Dangerously Delicious SMOG Pie

The food scene on H Street NE has evolved from what was once a row of hipster watering holes to now include some vibrant and eclectic dining destinations.  A recent Living Social offer fortuitously led us to try Dangerously Delicious Pies--on the eve of Pi Day no less.  We were pie-eyed by the myriad of both savory and sweet offerings of this Baltimore import, so we decided to order one of each.

For the savory we opted for an entire SMOG pie, which despite its name was a delicious combination of Steak, Onion, Mushroom, and Gruyere.  This pie's hand-made, hand rolled crust was a treat for the eyes as well as the buds.  When punctured, the buttery, flaky crust revealed a hearty filling that tasted like someone had slaved all day in the kitchen: tender and large pieces of steak, onions, and mushrooms were enrobed in a beef cream sauce.

And for the sweet, the Chocolate Chess, a Swiss chocolate and heavy cream chocolate ganache creation which according to DD's menu "equals an amazing chocolate pie experience."  And I can say, that why yes, yes it does!

We got both pies to go and were impressed with how well they reheated at home.  These pies would make a great housewarming gift, and the whole pie easily feeds four for around $35.  With so many choices, I will definitely be back many more times well before Pi Day 2012!

Dangerously Delicious Pies on Urbanspoon

Thursday, March 17, 2011

An Afternoon in Paris (by way of Georgetown)

Patisserie Poupon pleases my (wanna be) Parisian palette. Try to say that five times fast.  Fortunately, you don’t have to!  But you can experience relatively authentic French café fare on the northerly outskirts of Georgetown.

We discovered Patisserie Poupon a few weeks ago owing to an Express article on where to locally purchase a king cake, which we promptly ordered for a Mardi Gras celebration.  Their non-traditional but absolutely delicious version was a buttery croissant ring  tinged with cinnamon and sugar, and contained a small king.

So thoroughly impressed with the cake, we obliged our taste buds once more and ventured last weekend to the small storefront cafe on Wisconsin Avenue.  The line may be long, but it is absolutely worth the wait.  Opt for one of the savory selections, like the pate and cornichons on homemade brioche.  Its intense flavors were simultaneously earthy, buttery, and tart.  Or select the more traditional baguette jambon fromage if your appetite is heartier.  The flavors were matched by the lovely heated outdoor courtyard seating; I actually forgot that we were in DC.

For dessert we shared a dark chocolate layered raspberry mousse cake, whose rich flavors and delicate preparation immediately brought me back to my favorite dessert house in Lyon (if only I could remember the name!).  I splurged with the delicately prepared hot chocolate, but the reasonable prices with lunch for two under $30, kept our travel budget in check.

Though we were satiated, we opted to pretend to be in Paris for a little while longer and did some window shopping, with Wisconsin Avenue our Champs-Elysees.  This was easy to do given the handful of French-inspired boutiques adjacent to the café.  Head up the hill to a series of unreasonably priced design stores, where you can browse through modern to mid-nineteenth century pieces, that will make you crave a luxurious French country estate in which to feast on such French fare.  Sigh… at least for now, I will just have to wistfully dream on Wisconsin.

And if you really want to French-it-up this spring -- April in Paris anyone? --French Twist DC details the upcoming Georgetown French Market.

Bon Appetit!

Patisserie Poupon on Urbanspoon

Monday, March 14, 2011

A Topless Twist to the Cupcake Trend

Topless Bakery: Lavender Lemon Cupcake

Want to go topless this spring without baring it all?  Think dessert.

You might have thought cupcakes were the stuff of bad reality shows and birthday parties, as DC has seen far more than it's fare share of this trend.  But what happens when you turn the cupcake craze inside out?  You get Topless Bakery, an Alexandria based delivery operation that dares to invert the frosting!  It's playfully risqué treats are piped full of goodness, their tops laid bare!

Elise is the baking maverick who dreamed up this playful concept while working a 9 to 5 desk job.  Inspired by her maternal baking lineage, she has made Topless Bakery a family affair.  Her sister provides the creative names, her mother the lavender, her father the sometimes delivery man.

The topless concept lets both the cake and the frosting shine, with a philosophy that even your mother would approve of: its what's on the inside that counts.  The treats include creative cupcakes (at $3.25 each) such as the birthday suit (blush), a vanilla cupcake with rainbow sprinkles full of butter cream, and the Triple C (gasp) cream cheese filling baked into to a rich chocolate cupcake.

My favorite, the lavender lemon cupcake, surprised me.  I usually find lemon flavored sweets almost cloying.  This sophisticated flavor palette was refreshing with a sweet lemon frosting surrounded by an almost impossibly moist lavender infused cupcake.

The tea cakes actually amp up the filling to cake ratio.  They include tangy custards such as  strawberry and lemon, and are available in standard and bite size portions, like the Cuddle me Carrot.

Delivery is free, and there is no minimum order, so this DC original can be sampled without the hassle of waiting in line for the ever popular cupcake.  Cupcakes and teacakes are 6 for $22.50 or 12 for $37.50.  You can also sample Elise's creations at Eola in Dupont circle, the Soundry in Vienna, and at the soon-to-open Queen Vic on H Street.

Perhaps DC should consider going topless (cupakes, that is) this spring...

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Food Field Trip Vieques: Bringing it Back to DC

Before I present a review of my most recent food field trip, I would be remiss not to mention the pure bliss of rum cocktails on a winter Caribbean vacation.  And while DC may not boast azure waters, balmy breezes or rum production, if you get creative, you can recreate that feeling here in DC (more on that later) on a rainy March day.

At the W Vieques Resort's outdoor firepit, we enjoyed gourmet bar bites from Alain Ducasse and the rum creations of talented mixologists. My favorite drink, the Downhill Racer, was a smooth and tropical mix of rum and pineapple juice served over ice.  B's choice was a riff on the Manhattan--with premium dark rum (what else?!) instead of bourbon--which paired well with succulent short rib sliders. And while these uber trendy rum cocktails were potent, it was Duffy's and their expat bartender Adam that really won us over.

The vibe at Duffy's, located on the side of the island opposite the W (a whopping 20 minute drive -- it's a small island) is everything a beach shack should be: an open air full bar with plentiful seafood choices and panoramic views of the Caribbean sea.  I thought the $6 classic rum punch was perfection, though I thereafter realized for a dollar I could have Adam spin the wheel for a chance to win another drink.  And what did that wheel land on?  You guessed it -- a free rum punch.  A drink and a wheel spin at lunchtime proved to be quite the relaxed, adult Price is Right.

The majority of the food at Duffy's consumed during two lunchtime visits was not overly memorable, nor all that palatable without the aforementioned rum.  But there was one notable exception: the daily special of conch ceviche, which included fresh citrus and was kicked up by Duffy's delectable homemade mango hot sauce.

What to do for rum and sand if you find yourself stuck in DC for spring break?  Don't fret.  First, head over to the Smithsonian Hirshhorn Museum for photographer Mario Garcia Torres's visual tropical escape.  Running through March 27th, the multimedia Directions exhibit pairs photographs of what remains of the once popular St. Croix Grapetree Bay Hotel with a still of the place in its heyday. This piece is strangely haunting, but brings you right onto the Caribbean shore.  The entire slide presentation lasts 12 minutes and is backed by Mario Lopez Landa's Caribbean-influenced soundtrack.

Thirsty yet? Cross the mall and walk through Penn Quarter to PS7 for its Sun and Sand.  This concoction of Brugal rum, rootbeer crusta, orange and vanilla delivers a sunny creamsicle for adults. This cocktail will make you forget you are in DC.  Just be patient; PS7's mixologist Gina Chersevani is (rightly) gaining in popularity for her creative concoctions, the bar area can be jammed, and the bartenders are in no rush.  But for $10 (the Hirshhorn exhibit is free), you too can experience a Caribbean-inspired rum fueled escape right in the heart of DC.

PS7's on Urbanspoon

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Bourbon Steak: Hello...and Goodbye Chili Dog

Bourbon Steak's Red Apron Half Smoke with Venison Chili

Metrocurean's February Delicious Deal led us to Bourbon Steak to try out new chef Adam Sobel's bar menu.  At the princely sum of $7--beyond a bargain at a restaurant whose entrees hover around $50--the off-menu "smoke and stout" special included a local Red Apron dry-aged beef and pork half smoke and Dale's Pale Ale (they were out of stout).  Before you drop everything and run to Bourbon's lounge in droves, this special ended in February.  However, I spoke to the folks at Bourbon late last week, and they informed me that they are thinking about making the special available again--or even adding the half smoke to the lounge menu--no decisions have yet been made.  In the meantime, I am not below begging, so Bourbon, please, please, please consider adding this delicious dog to your menu.

But our Saturday night was not just half smoke filled. Upon arriving, both the lounge and restaurant were absolutely jammed, but we managed to snag a bar table among the sea of beautiful people and cougars.  The style factor here was higher than most DC restaurants -- except for maybe the W -- so I was glad I opted for heals and a dress over Uggs and jeans.  The service was attentive and incredibly efficient. 

We started with lobster corn dogs, a staple on the lounge menu.  For $15 you get six mini lobster filled fried dough balls on sticks.  I was impressed with the amount of lobster and thought this take on comfort food was a fun and easy to maneuver bar snack.  We paired these little guys with classic cocktails -- a Hemingway for me (rum, grapefruit, and maraschino cherry) and a gin and (house made) tonic for B; both were textbook.

Now onto those dogs.  There were actually two half smoke choices.  I opted for the venison chili version with charred jalapeno and cheddar cheese sauce.  The chili would be delicious on its own, but was well matched with the cheese sauce and crispy baguette which both countered the heat and soaked up the juices.  B had the so-called NY Cart Style with sauerkraut, spicy ketchup, and onions.  This more traditional presentation was equally as delicious and elevated street food to high art.

We also shared a requisite order of Bourbon's famous duck-fat fries.  A crispy, indulgent trio (complimentary in the dining room) of herbed, Old Bay, and cheddar fries were paired with homemade ketchup, cheez-whiz, and barbecue sauces.

Our experience at Bourbon (great service, creative cuisine) will certainly lead us back for a splurge dinner in the near future.  Delicious, stylish, and trendy all in one -- how often do you find that in DC?!

And if you are so inspired and can't wait until Bourbon decides whether to add the chili dog to the menu, We Love DC details Sobel's recipe for the venison chili: top a Red Apron half smoke and you have yourself a hearty meal!

Bourbon Steak Dc on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Let the Good Times Roll: Mardi Gras in DC

Mardi Gras is quite the foodie holiday, bringing wanton gluttony to the winter doldrums. But unlike Thanksgiving, with its bounteous food, or St. Patrick's, with its free flowing libations, New Orleans-style Carnival celebrations can last several days, and hold claim to both good food and drink. 

DC offers some surprisingly authentic Mardi Gras options.  Below are the details on two of my past favorites as well as a new one this year.  And where will I  be spending the evening you ask? -- at a work training in Cleveland!  And not only in Cleveland, but out by the airport, so while the good times may be limited for me, Tuesday, March 8th should be a great time if you find yourself in the DC area.

In DC, Central's annual celebration runs from 5 - 10:30pm and includes live music from Laissez Foure, traditional New Orleans inspired food and cocktails (both areas where Central excels), and of course, beads and trinkets.

Over the bridge in Arlington, the local parade starts rolling at 8pm, bringing a tinge of the feeling you get when watching the parades roll by in the Big Easy ... less the open containers of course.  But the area around Wilson Boulevard has plenty of opportunities for both pre- and post-parade libations.

Ragtime is always a festive choice for Mardi Gras, with hurricane and cyclone specials and plenty of Cajun fare backed by live New Orleans style jazz from Le Bon Tempes Krewe.

Bayou Bakery is new to the mix this year but might well prove the most authentic for Mardi Gras food and drink with Louisiana native David Gaus serving up $7 "Chew Dat" specials (gumbo, jambalaya), as well as beignets and king cake from 5 - 10:30pm.  Wash it all down with Abita Amber available on tap.

Outside of New Orleans, DC is a pretty good place to be for Fat Tuesday.  Sigh... if anyone knows of celebrations in Cleveland, please let me know!

Bayou Bakery on Urbanspoon