Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Big Cheese: Grilled Cheese on Wheels

On countless mornings this summer, I jogged by a curious site parked in Rosslyn: a truck with a suspiciously happy grilled cheese sandwich painted on the side.  But at 7 in the morning, the truck was in sleeping not serving mode.  It was not until this past Saturday at Clarendon Day that I saw the Big Cheese Truck in action.  I was so excited that I think I may have even started to run out of a force of habit.

As B and I eagerly bellied up to the counter, the owner detailed the menu as happily as the smiling bread logo watched over patrons.  The Midnight Moon, a combination of goat, gouda, and caramelized onions on multigrain, sounded like the ideal fall lunch.  And at $6, it was all that a grilled cheese should be, simultaneously gooey and indulgent.  But unlike your standard order grilled cheese, the savory, sweet combination of the gouda and goat cheese was a distinctively adult take on a childhood classic.

It does not get much better than an indulgent grilled cheese sandwich paired with a Blue Moon Harvest beer enjoyed together at an outdoor street festival on a fall afternoon.  In my mind, it was the perfect autumn lunch.  To follow this cheese and determine if it will be coming to a location near you, click here.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Food (Almost) Field Trip: Volt

Maine Lobster Prepared a la Volt, Frederick

Without traffic on I-270 (how often does that happen?), Frederick, Maryland is a 45 minute drive from DC; in rush hour (most of the afternoon), it can take twice the time.  So to Eating Around DC, dining in Frederick falls somewhere between "local" and a "food field trip."  Bryan Voltaggio's acclaimed Volt occupies a restored 19th century mansion in the heart of Frederick.  The setting is both historical and charming, but what is the best way for DC residents to fully enjoy the experience given the distance?  That is the question B and I have been asking ourselves.  And this past weekend we decided to stay at a bed and breakfast in Frederick to fully embrace this adventure.

Volt itself soared (details below), but the overnight experience did not!  I will start with the bad in case you are considering such an escape.  Frederick is small, charming and remote--the perfect setting for a quiet night away, right?  Wrong.  At Hill House, a mere block  from Volt, the noise throughout the dead of a Thursday night was unreal, and louder than any hotel we have ever stayed in -- London, Rome, Paris, or New York.  Owing to a street sweeper, trash truck, and perhaps, though I can't be sure, helicopter, all of which made extended cameos between 2 and 4am, I cannot condone the place.  The Victorian windows of the B and B were no guard against any of this noise.  But Volt is worth the trip, and the afterglow of such a dining experience should be allowed to shine, so save yourself the frustration and go with another after-dinner plan (drive, car service, or maybe a country inn nearby).

The white tablecloth dining room at Volt is minimalistic and elegant.  You enter through a tiled doorway under a mosaic that simply and appropriately proclaims Eat.  The numerous servers are darting around everywhere in their trademark brown converse sneakers.  Simultaneously attentive and palpably nervous, they purport that the menu, priced a la carte, is designed so that you can enjoy all four courses, but the portions we ordered were large enough that many could have easily been shared. 

While the menu was presented--and orders solicited--with a bit of haste, after the cocktails arrived, the pacing improved markedly.  With my first sip of a cherry-infused concoction and my first bite of a foie gras-infused fennel macaroon, Volt won me over.  This is dining as entertainment, with flavors (vegetable ash), textures (soy air), and presentation (vibrant colors set off against oversized white plates) all coming together as a cast of characters to entertain the palate and the eye.

The six varietals of bread were all addictive.  The bacon brioche was a buttery puff of sweetness; the cheddar and chive biscuit was a savory Southern-inspired bite.  Unlimited house-filtered sparkling water is complimentary and refilled consistently throughout the meal.

The ingredients of each course were artfully deconstructed on the plate, and the flavors merged in your mouth.  A hearty cylinder of Hudson Valley foie gras was as rich as would be expected, but that was offset tastefully by the color and sweetness of crimson watermelon cubes and cucamelon slivers; the accompanying mini brioche loaf was quite adorable (and delicious). A pasta course of Cherry Glen Farm goat cheese ravioli, yellow corn, vegetable ash, maitake mushrooms, and balsamic brown butter tasted like a perfect early fall harvest on a plate.  The protein portion of the entrees was the star of the show.  B ordered chicken and I opted for lobster, which were heightened by the colorful and rich sides of bacon lardons and tender carrots respectively.  Dessert tasted as good as it looked.  A deconstructed carrot cake was moist and ethereal with a spiced foam; a rich cheesecake was offset in both color and flavor by vibrant purple figs.

This is not your average meal and while not as pricey as similar caliber restaurants in the heart of DC, it is a culinary investment.  An over-the-top dinner for two with four courses, cocktails, and wine, was upwards of $300.   And in case you want more (and I think you will), each diner leaves with an individual coffee cake for the next morning.
Volt on Urbanspoon

Monday, September 12, 2011

Cava Mezze's Spicy Balls

Dip Sampler at Clarendon's Cava Mezze

With all the buzz about Ben and Jerry's release of Schweddy Balls ice cream, I found it an amusing coincidence that the majority of items we ordered this past Friday at Cava Mezze came in spherical form. 

As the name suggests, Cava Mezze's speciality is small plates of Greek-style tapas.   The Clarendon location is the third and latest branch of this burgeoning micro-chain, but last Friday was my first experience.  I am half-Greek, and while I have always enjoyed lamb prepared by my grandmother on Easter and Mediterranean food in general, I have found oftentimes Greek cooking to be relatively bland, with earthy flavors, but not a lot of heat.  I realized I have been eating at the wrong places--none of the dishes we tried at Cava was in the least bit bland.  Every dish--from the mac and cheese to lamb meatballs--had a lively personality all its own. 

The dip sampler consisted of six orbs of unique dips, whose ingredients included salty feta, jalapenos, and red pepper.  The calamari, pepped up with banana peppers and tempered with a cucumber yogurt sauce, was reminiscent of one of my favorite Greek-influenced Providence College haunts.  Zucchini fritters were in the form of what else but balls.  These two-bite explosions, the star of the evening, combined thin shreds of the vegetable with gooey cheese, which were  then rolled and fried to a crisp.

And it was not only the balls that were spicy.  My cucumber jalapeno margarita was refreshingly intense--the cucumber put out the fire of the drink's slight burning burst.  This $9 cocktail was excellent, and I point this out because while a new micro-brew tap house springs up seemingly weekly along the Rossyln-Ballston corridor, finding a well-crafted cocktail generally requires heading over the river into DC.

Cava Mezze's flavorful dishes, potent drinks, and sleek dining space is a welcome addition to the Clarendon dining scene.  Just be forewarned, the volume inside is impossibly loud.  Hopefully, soundproofing is installed soon, as the volume level is not sustainable for patrons, let alone the waitstaff.  But, oh those spicy balls...

Cava Mezze Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Current Mexican Fix: Taqueria Poblano

Taqueria Poblano Tres Enchiladas

I am a Mexican food junkie.  I love the confluence of spicy and sweet, the succulent meats, and the liberal use of cheese, beans, and avocado.  This past month, I have been repeatedly drawn back to Del Ray's Taqueria Poblano.  This haven of authentic, smokey Mexican food and potent margaritas has two locations: in Arlington off of Lee Highway, and along Mount Vernon Avenue in Del Ray. 

The small storefront cafe in Del Ray is always bustling at lunchtime on the weekends.  A brightly colored dining room is staffed by a surprisingly efficient skeleton crew of 3 to 4 men who navigate the impossibly small and packed dining room, shuttling drinks and steaming hot plates from the kitchen. 

B and I have both repeatedly ordered the "tres enchiladas."  The combination of stewed meats: chicken, beef, and pork is nestled between corn tortillas topped with melted cheese and a handful of pickled onions.  This tasty trio is then placed atop a red chili sauce.  The combination of the tender, spiced meats and the smokey, sweet (with a slightly bitter after-taste) sauce makes this dish click.  The guacamole and pico de gallo are always fresh and help to offset the deep, earthy flavors of this dish.  If I had one complaint, it would be the lack of flavor in the re-fried beans, which serve as a limp, sad side.  Though I have never left hungry -- those enchiladas pack a punch, both flavorful and filling   At $13.95 each, Taqueria Poblano is an affordable Mexican escape.

Taqueria Poblano on Urbanspoon