Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Food Field Trip: Mythical, Magical New Orleans

New Orleans is a city shrouded in historical legend; its dining scene is no exception.

Where else but New Orleans is there an open-air 24 hour table-service restaurant, Cafe Du Monde, that serves but one thing? The beignet order consists of three larger-than-life hot puffs of sweet fried dough, topped with easily a half box of powdered sugar. Whether you are an eager toddler or a seasoned traveler, a big plate of beignets is the of stuff of legend (albeit a very well publicized one) at an incongruously affordable price ($2.50).
Café Du Monde on Urbanspoon

If you yearn for a more refined destination, hop the St. Charles streetcar (a throwback which moves at equally historic speed) down the majestic oak-lined avenue to Commander’s Palace uptown. While I have blogged about the Commander’s magic before, I would be remiss not to mention one of its lesser known charms. Request the upstairs dining room and you will find yourself eating in a tree forest. With the garden lights illuminating the same type of oak trees which align St. Charles, I always find myself transported, and that is before the dining pageant begins.
Commander's Palace on Urbanspoon

While he got his start with the Commander’s magic, Emeril Lagasse has been his own NOLA sorcerer for years.  Like the Brennans' establishments, his restaurants' team service is down to the last detail.  I was equally as impressed with Delmonico as I was on my first visit some four years ago.  This time it was the presentation and flavor of a gargantuan soft shell crab.  Fittingly, the crab was locally sourced from a place by the name of Grand Isle. The crustacean was certainly befitting of its place of origin, and appeared to have descended from the dinosaurs.  It was perfectly fried, topped with a zesty tomato sauce,laid over a corn salsa, and seemingly devouring a handful of lightly dressed baby spinach.
Emeril's Delmonico on Urbanspoon

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Eating Around DC Hurricane Hunkering

Arlingtontians Stocking up before the Storm

Back-to-back posts with a natural disaster theme is a first for Eating Around DC.  In the words of the Barefoot Contessahow bad could that be?  I guess we will see...

With Hurricane Irene upon us, B and I have stocked up on the essentials.  These include a $30 case of water (gasp).  Apparently that is what happens when you wait until the last minute and  head to the Clarendon Whole Foods on Friday night.  This box o' Volvic (could that name be anymore disturbing?) is sitting in a corner complete with the receipt because should we not need it, we will swiftly be returning it on Monday.  $30 for a bottle of wine, liquor, or a case of beer, is fine but $30 for water is the height of Arlington absurdity and a clear indication that DC is in disaster mode.

Speaking of, the Arlington Farmers Market convened briefly this morning.  While it was a skeleton crew, relocated behind the CVS on 15th street, those farmers that were able to attend made sure that we did not miss even one week of tomato season.  Thank you!

And not sure what tonight holds, but am guessing cabin fever will certainly ensue by tomorrow.  A perfect Sunday escape may just be Bar Dupont if you are looking for an excuse to get out of the house and drown your sorrows over a missed weekend at the beach.  In addition to their panoramic view of Dupont Circle and potent well-mixed cocktails, they will be offering $5 themed drink specials like the ubiquitous Hurricane and a predictably strong Irene (Belvedere Intense Vodka, Peach Schnaps, Blue Curacao, and Sour mix).

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Eating Around DC Earthquake Edition

Hot N' Sour Soup before the Shake

I just experienced my most memorable lunch, though not for the reasons one might ordinarily expect.  A 5.8 magnitude Earthquake struck the DC area while I was slurping on hot and sour soup at TNR Cafe in Arlington.  I intended to blog about the cafe for its simple, spicy, vegetarian soup, which is a great value ($2).   All true, but as a Washingtonian, an earthquake is not something I was even remotely prepared for.

About fifteen people, mostly single diners occupied the restaurant, a small storefront in Courthouse, when the building started to shake slightly.  A few audible hmmms (akin to, that was interesting....I wonder what is happening), and then the shaking intensified including an ominous, low rumbling sound.  I am not sure who ran first, but soon everyone was sprinting for the door; it was quite chaotic (proof of my panic: I even left my iPhone on the table).  After a minute of stunned silence on the sidewalk, relief set in.  Yes, that was an earthquake (and not the bomb attack every DC resident fears) and everyone seemed to be okay.  The servers hugged, reassured the diners that it was safe to go back in, and then continued to feed a previously hungry and now (literally) shaken crowd.  Check please!

Tnr Cafe on Urbanspoon

Friday, August 19, 2011

Food Field Trip: Do you know what it means to miss...

Parkway Bakery and Tavern Shrimp Po Boy

...New Orleans?  The spirit and culture of the city--its people, its food, its music--are infectious.  Allow me to relay but one story.

On my last day in the city yesterday, I happened to step into Marlin William’s cab outside of the New Orleans convention center.  Marlin is a large, gregarious, cheerful man with a low booming voice who drives a very clean and well air-conditioned (a rarity!) cab.  He was only supposed to drive me back to the hotel, but asked if he could also take me to the airport later that day.  While it seemed a tad odd, I eagerly agreed to the plan after he promised a stop at his favorite po-boy shop, Parkway Bakery and Tavern.  While I had originally suggested we swing by Domilise’s (since I've actually never tried it in the half-dozen times I've been to New Orleans), Marlin claimed Parkway's po-boy would be superior, and backed up his claim by offering to buy my lunch if I was not satisfied.  This money-back-guarantee, coupled with the fact he took no money from me for the fare to the hotel (trusting – yes some people still do that -- that we would settle up once I got to the airport) sounded like a sure bet.  So just as we had planned, he came back to the hotel a half hour later, cheerfully loaded my bags, and off we went.

Marlin not only introduced me to Parkway, but he called my order in ahead of time and insisted on going inside and getting it for me –hallmark New Orleans service.  Marlin explained that the secret to a good po boy is its freshness, and he told me that at Parkway Bakery, all ingredients are delivered, made, and prepared daily – no pre-fab sandwiches here.  And Marlin’s charms were evident when I got to the airport and unwrapped  my lunch, complete with the extra pickles I requested.  This $12 foot-long behemoth was overflowing with what must have been 30 freshly fried, plump, tender, and slightly spiced shrimp sandwiched in between crusty French bed, dressed with the classic lettuce, tomato, pickles, and mayonnaise. My heart soared and stomach sang as I made quick work of this indulgent lunch, glancing up to see other airport passengers staring longingly at my po boy.
Marlin was born and raised in the city, which he has only left briefly (for Texas) when Katrina struck, and he knows what it means to miss New Orleans--he returned to his home city as soon as he was able.  Marlin is happy; he loves what he does and clearly adores introducing visitors to his city.  A former New Orleans bus driver, Marlin now moonlights as a tourguide.  While my convention schedule did not allow for a tour, I am thinking of taking Marlin up on that option on my next visit.  Marlin does not have a blog or a website or a twitter handle (he is far to busy showing visitors the true NOLA), but he does have a phone number.  I am sharing it here, because if you want to experience the true face of New Orleans, give him a call: (504) 344 5300.  Whether it is for an airport pick-up complete with a po boy en route or a local's city tour, I have no doubt that you will quickly catch the infectious spirit of New Orleans.

Parkway Bakery & Tavern on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Food Field Trip: New Orleans When the Herb-Saints Go Marching In...

...I want to be at that table!  The regenerative power of a good meal is one of the reasons I live to dine out.  After a long day of shuttling between countless conference sessions in the New Orleans summer heat, my colleagues and I were drained.  Not dissimilar to the dog we passed earlier that day, we needed a pick-me- up.  On we went to Herbsaint, Donald Link's ode to Southern cuisine with a New Orleans twist. 

From start to finish, dining at Herbsaint, located on St. Charles Avenue in the Warehouse District, was rejuvenating and exciting.  The dining room is understated and warmly lit; the waitstaff is enthusiastic and knowledgeable--their recommendations from wine to appetizers were spot on.  The care that went into each of the dishes was evident in the presentation, taste, and the clean plates that were taken away. 

My appetizer of shrimp and grits showcased fresh-caught gulf shrimp (delivered daily by a gentleman named Dino), which were enrobed in a spicy roux, studded with tasso ham, and charred ocra atop a cake of creamy grits.  Another appetizer of homemade spaghetti, topped with a fried-poached farm egg, was eagerly devoured.  But seriously, an egg that is perfectly fried and poached--who knew?  As we continued on through to the entrees, the clean plate trend continued.  The fish of the day was fork tender and perked up with green chilis.  And for dessert, the ice creams were the perfect end to the meal.  Both cafe au lait and salted caramel varieties quickly disappeared, so no photographic evidence exists.

So here's to the good works of those Herbsaints!

Herbsaint Bar & Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Monday, August 15, 2011

Food Field Trip: New Orleans Sips and Bites

Carousel Bar, Hotel Monteleone

What else but work could compel someone to visit New Orleans in August?  The heat is oppressive, but the dining scene is as always impressive!  My plan is to highlight some of my favorite sips and bites throughout the week.  And thanks to my new iPhone, I'll have better pictures.

First stop, the Carousel Bar at the historic Hotel Monteleone.  Dating to 1949, the bar is actually a rotating (albeit at a very slow speed) carousel.  A portion of the bar area is currently under construction, but the carousel is still spinning and the bartenders are still shaking.  The Hemingway ($12), a blend of rum, fresh lime and grapefruit juices is a perfect antidote for the summer heat.  And where else can you enjoy craft cocktails from a perch on a merry-go-round!

In the last few years John Besh has opened more restaurants than Emeril Lagasse.  Luke, his newest, has the feel of a German/French brasserie and marries Alsacean cuisine with New Orleans cooking.  The savories were solid, but the stand out was the decadent bread pudding ($8).  A sweet symphony of vanilla, bourbon, and caramel.  This hot and cold dessert is a temptress worth the indulgence.  I may return just for dessert.

Lüke on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Tasting History at America Eats Tavern

There are times when even in August, the cruelest month in DC, when I think, wow, I am still so lucky to live here.  Dinner at America Eats Tavern last Sunday was one of those times.  Where else but in Washington can you learn about the far-reaching effects of government policies on food consumption and then walk a few blocks to taste the history?!

I have twice before in this town tried eating history, and on one of these occasions  thought I would have been a much more svelte human being if I were to have lived through colonial times.  But dinner at America Eats Tavern is making me question my original judgment of early American fare.

A partnership between Jose Andres and the National Archives exhibit, What’s Cooking Uncle Sam?,  America Eats is a “pop-up” restaurant which (appropriately) debuted on July 4th and is slated to remain open until January.  The menu is the result of countless hours of historical research (and is akin to reading, in a fun way, a history textbook) and reinterpretations of American classics dishes from cocktails to desserts.  More casual fare is available in the open-seating bar area on the first floor.

Pictures of Americans eating through the ages adorn the former (and still cramped) Cafe Atlantico space.  The menu explains the origin and history of every dish and the wait staff provide thorough detail on their modern interpretation.  Highlights of our meal included "vermicelli prepared like pudding," which was topped by a salty parmesan crust and accompanied by meaty mushrooms and de-boned buffalo wings, which were thus totally appropriate for white table cloth dining.  Crab cakes were paired with a salad of juicy watermelon, pungent goat cheese, and pickled rind.  And for dessert fresh strawberries were hollowed out and filled with strawberry gelatin and sandwiched between flaky, thin shortcake.  And all our cocktails--from the Martini to the Moscow Mule to the Whiskey Sour to the Brooklyn--did not disappoint.

Several dishes are only available certain days of the week, so I now have the perfect excuse to go back and try the rest of the menu!  I also cannot think of a more fun way to expose out-of-town guests to DC.  While the service was a bit slow at times (though I've found this is not unusual for Sunday night dining), the wait staff was responsive and knowledgeable.  Reservations fill up a few weeks in advance, so plan ahead.  Dinner for two with way too many appetizers, entrees, dessert, four cocktails, tax and tip was $200.
America Eats Tavern on Urbanspoon

Friday, August 5, 2011

Friday Night in DC: Sculpture, Jazz, and Free Drinks

Readers know that Jazz in the Sculpture Garden is one of my favorite DC summer activities.  Every summer Friday from 5-8:30 through September 9th, the National Sculpture Garden plays host to a variety of jazz groups and styles.  There is a (mostly) full bar on hand, but there is nothing like a glass of the sangria to ease into the weekend.

This summer, with temps seemingly in the upper 90's to low 100's every weekend, the weather has been much too hot to enjoy this DC summertime tradition.  But with today's highs only forecasted to reach the upper 80's, why not give it a try?

Still not convinced?  How about a free drink after the event?  Head to the Redline in Penn Quarter (a short walk away) after the concert.  Simply belly up to the bar, tell the bartender who performed at Jazz in the Garden, and enjoy a complimentary glass of champagne or draft beer. 

Let the weekend begin!

Redline Gastropub on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Food Field Trip Cape Cod: Eating at the Edge of the Earth

Not quite the Potomac!

As a true New Englander at heart, I believe there is no better summer vacation destination than Cape Cod--on which there is no place more unique, beautiful, or quirky than Provincetown.  Bordered by the National Seashore and Cape Cod Bay, Provincetown is quite literally a spit of sand at the end of the earth.  But its history is also intriguing; the place where the Pilgrims first landed has continually reinvented itself.  What was once a whaling community later became a Portuguese fishing village, artists’ colony, and wealthy gay hot spot.  The dozens of  restaurants also reflect these same values of openness, eclecticism, and diversity.

Because my increasingly hectic real-life schedule has delayed this post (don't you hate that?!), I am going to provide an all-in-one “day in the life” highlights of my favorite spots this season for casual fare (a fine dining wrap up will come later this week).  We hit all of the referenced links during the span of a week, so be forewarned – should you actually attempt all these eating feats in one day, I cannot be held responsible for your flavor and calorie overload! 

Connie’s Bakery, which we discovered this summer had relocated to Commercial Street's Aquarium Arcade, is a perfect morning spot to fuel up before kayaking to Long Point or embarking on a whale watching excursion to Stellwagen Bank.  Warm, fresh-baked focaccia sandwiching a cooked-to-order egg, gooey white cheddar cheese, and crisp bacon makes for a hearty, flavorful breakfast.  At around $5 it is a quick and affordable bet. Take your sandwich to the dock at the end of the arcade, where you there is ample outdoor seating overlooking the bay.

Mima's Deli, new to the scene this year, provides shockingly authentic Cuban fare.  This was not something I expected, but in Ptown, nothing is ever as it seems.  And since B and I are eagerly anticipating our first trip to Cuba this fall, we had to check out this counter-service restaurant (if only to browse the Havana photography exhibit).  While the photographs were just average, the Race Point Road location is perfectly placed for grabbing lunch on the way to one of B's favorite beach's (in the world).  The Cuban sandwich is well worth the near $10 price tag.  What really sets this authentic sandwich apart is the fresh, slow roasted spiced Cuban pork.  Just bring two things: cash (no ATM on site and credit cards are not accepted) and patience (just feel the authenticity).  The reward is a hot pressed sandwich that is oozing with flavor and reminiscent of the Cuban sandwiches B grew up on in Tampa.

So you have no doubt by now worked up quite the thirst -- kayaking, whale watching, and/or beaching -- all hard work!  Time to relax with a cold beverage, for which I have two recommendations.

If you are the mood for air conditioning (central air is a rarity up this far on Cape Cod and in fact rarely necessary), head to the East End's oh-so-classic Mews for what will be the best martini you will have on Cape Cod.  As one of the few year-round restaurants in Provincetown, the Mews holds a special place in my heart, as it is where B and I enjoyed dinner on a bitingly cold February night almost ten years ago after getting engaged.  With an unparalleled selection of vodkas, you cannot go wrong with any of the drinks (on the other hand, the food has fallen off in recent years).  The mistress of the martini behind the bar is seasoned and skilled; this is one of my favorite martini spots anywhere.
Mews Restaurant & Cafe on Urbanspoon

If you find yourself closer to the East End and in a more casual mood, stop by the open-air Nor'East Beer Garden.  This new place takes both elements of its title seriously with a great selection of on-tap craft beers (including selections from Nantucket and the Berkshires) served amid a courtyard landscaped with wild flowers and filled with equally wildly floral characters.

This year mimicked last in that my favorite Ptown bar (dare I say, Gastropub), The Squealing Pig, was a frequent stop.  For a quintessential Cape Cod dinner, you cannot go wrong with a half dozen Wellfleet oysters ($10).  Follow that up with the fish and chips ($15).  Fresh caught and fried, served with house-cut fries and a homemade vinegar-based colesaw, this is a swimmingly delightful end to a day at the beach.  And to wash it all down, Harpoon's Oyster Stout, a unique 100-barrel series offering of the Boston-based brewery, combines barley, chocolate rye malts, and the briny, mineral flavor of the oysters.
Squealing Pig on Urbanspoon

My favorite newcomer to the town's food scene this year was easily PTown Scoop. This family-owned ice cream parlor is located steps from the wharf where we rent a bay front condo each year.  I blame this proximity for my four visits!  But it was the friendly service and the over-the-top creamy ice cream flavors that kept me coming back.  From chocolate peanut butter to cake batter to mocha chip, all of the ice cream is decadent, lovingly scooped, and best enjoyed strolling down Commercial Street.  Plus there is something about Cher playing in the background that makes ice cream all the more fun -- this is Provincetown after all!