World Dinner Club

World Dinner Club
World Dinner Club

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Sutter Home Winery | 2010 Build a Better Burger

Sutter Home Winery | 2010 Build a Better Burger

Really psyched that my friend from Peace Corps Cameroon, Peter, is going to be in the Sutter Home 2010 Build a Better Burger competition!

Think Global, Act [and Eat] Local?

It was great to get out in the morning on Sunday and visit the farmer's market in Dupont Circle

Some glorious and really ripe peaches were there in abundance.  I caramelized some in brandy and molasses and served with a teaspoon of marscarpone cheese.

Summer is incomplete without watermelon.  I've started using them more for gazpacho and salads.

 I was impressed by the number and diverse color of different peppers and chiles.  I brought some nice looking whole cayenne... will be nice for braising the organic, lamb ribs that I picked up there too.

There were great summer flowers and perennials.

 These pears were being sold by the "fruit nazi:" a lady who gets upset if you don't use a basket.  "I'm very particular about people handling my fruit"

Dolcezza was out here as usual with a great ricotta lemon and cardamom gelatto, that paired well with a tart lemon opal basil.  The right way to cool off!

These squash blossoms were great at dinner.  I stuffed them with minced oyster mushrooms, garlic, onions and bit of green chile.

 I don't like eggplant, but these were gorgeous and very vibrant!
 Heirloom tomatoes are unmistakable and a healthy reminder that real food is not supposed to look standardized and cartoonish--to say nothing of tasting good.
 Some nice basil that I turned into an Asian-style gremolatta of sorts with green chiles, red onion and parsely  to top a lamb shoulder chop for dinner that night.

This Lonza from Red Apron is a cured pork that is subtlety seasoned in a herb and spice crust that includes juniper.  (Great with the Asian pears!).

Monday, August 30, 2010

Andrew cooks Indonesian shrimp - - Travel Channel

Andrew cooks Indonesian shrimp - Bizarre Foods Video - Travel Channel

Simple, yet perfect explanation of why Southeast Asia food is so wonderful: that beautiful melange of Indian and Chinese flavors!

Tapas Tasting notes: Mercado San Miguel, Madrid

Trying to wrap-up notes from my trip to Madrid earlier this month...  Near the Plaza Mayor, is the not to be missed and inviting Mercado San Miguel.

Rich hot chocolate and delicious chros.  'Nuff said.
Olives can surprise you.  You think you know the acidic or briny flavor in store, but then they can catch you off guard with sweetness or even just a mild quality that you were not expecting.  The range of flavors in a single glass case, give credit to the age and quality of the fruit as well as the care in their preparation.

What a fun way to begin the day!

Friday, August 27, 2010

This is not Firenze

At least one new place that I try during restaurant week ends up being not everything it’s cracked up to be.  This summer that place was Ristorante i Ricchi.  The staff that greeted us at the door and at the bar was solicitous as we were seated efficiently at a central table in what looked less like a stylish DC power restaurant and more like a slightly uppity Olive Garden.  

Many restaurants seem to participate in restaurant week because they think they have to, when in fact they are not really planning on making an effort.  If it is not worth a high end restaurant’s time to participate, then that’s perfectly acceptable to me.  However, rather than entice new customers, they will only succeed in alienating the public if they do not participate in the true spirit of offering someone a high quality meal that is representative of what you do in your restaurant.  I remember how after I visited the Oval Room for lunch in 2006 and they deigned to bring us lunch for $20 that was a sliver of steak or three small ravioli.  It was such a disappointment that I’ve had not inclination to go back, although I have been to other restaurants in the same restaurant group.

Back to i Ricchi…

Our waiter laid the charm on thick.  A little too thick, in fact. Our salesman of a waiter started talking about how i Ricchi had been there for over 20 years serving Tuscan food and how it was a replica of a Florentine restaurant.  This was not Florence.  The easy, folksy charm gave way to pushy sales: "the sea bass on a scale of 1 to 10 is 11," "the tortellini is to die for," etc.  We asked to actually take a moment to see the menu and soon saw that the sea bass seemed to cost as much as the $35.10 for the restaurant week dinner.  Our waiter wanted to check that each and everyone of us was ok with ice water and not mineral water and pushed us to order the tortellini to share in addition to our restaurant week meal.  The soup was underseasoned, the gypsy steak tasty, and the chocolate torte was a little too hard.  There was nothing to write home about.

Earlier, I tried to order wine and asked if he recommended a certain bottle and he asked if he would steer me to something more expensive. I said no.  But there was a similar bottle for the same price as my original choice.  In the quick exchange I didn’t recall the name of the new selection and was brought the wrong bottle.  I took the difference out of his tip.  

The lesson for diners may be to give up on restaurant week at very high end restaurants and stick to middle market establishments.  For restaurants it may be that the experience still counts and that service remains paramount, even when serving the unwashed masses during restaurant week.  Needless to say, I won’t be going back to this restaurant.  I can say that this is not how things are done in Florence.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Super Chicken

Super Chicken

Awesome Peruvian chicken for lunch today! Best friend yuca I've tried in the DC area at a wonderful hole-in-the-wall join called "Super Chicken" in Falls Church.

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Paella Pilgrimage

I’ve always enjoyed paella and often struggled to make this quintessential Spanish dish at home to meet my own expectations. While in Spain earlier this month, I went to one of its great institutions.  After a morning at the enormous Prado museum, I went to the fabled La Barracca in Madrid, which is a veritable temple to saffron-infused rice.  Short of heading to Vallencia, this is one of the best places in Spain for paella. We ordered a first course of soup followed by the house mixed paella (the classic from Vallencia with rabbit was considered briefly, but we passed), to be washed down with a bottle of Rioja.  The bottle for the two of us was quite essential; as all good things in Spain take time and what could be better than a legendary lunch?  

The waiter came by with a large breadbasket and seemed disappointed that we chose only a roll each and not a few pieces of bread.  That may in fact have been the worthwhile choice as a small dish of creamy aioli surfaced that we quickly found we wanted to slather to excess on our bread.  Soup appeared on our table: gazpacho for me and Sopa de Ajo, a hearty Castilian bread and garlic soup for S. My gazpacho was quite perfect.  The texture was silky thanks to love and Spanish olive oil and the flavors slightly piquant, but balanced and refreshing.  S’s soup was a peasant dish that was prepared with respect for the simple and honest ingredients.  It had great texture from the soggy bread and the cloudy poached eggs and we both found it fairly filling.

After the soup bowls were cleared and another glass of wine sipped, our waiter emerging triumphantly with our Paella La Barracca. The paella was stunningly bright and had a rich mix of chicken, shrimp, razor clams, pork, and mussels.  The paella dish was presented to our and then carefully plated table-side so that we each got a mix of everything. I dug in with gusto and liked the slightly chewy sweetness of the clams along with the juiciness of the shrimp and pork.  The chicken was dry and unlike the rice-baked perfection of the other ingredients.  The bright, saffron mounds on my plate were dotted with shreds of pimenton that seemed so perfectly patriotic (these are the colors of Spain’s flag after all).  Hopefully, this is just a happy coincidence.  

Eager for more clams and happy that I was wearing loose trousers, I turned to see what was left on the serving side table.  I was in luck.  There was more seafood.  A minute later our hero appeared; having spied me ogling the paella pan and heaped the rest of the dish onto my plate.  Another gradual savoring of sweetness of rice and seafood and another glass of white, before we had to throw in the towel. Barely able to walk, we had to politely refuse dessert and stumbled outside into the heat of mid afternoon Madrid, a city which sensibly recognizes the value of a siesta under such trying circumstances.  

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Tapas Tasting notes: Iberico Ham

It was in Lisbon that I first tried what the Portuguese call Pata Negra, or black foot ham.  A delicious, bold red ham that comes from Iberico pigs, with, yes, you guessed it black feet.  While we generally prize Serano ham in the United States,  Jamon Ibericos is the premium ham in Spain. These are happy pigs, rolling around in the forest and feeding on acorns, which is why they are so darn delicious.

 Some of the well-aged whole hams go for $3000 per leg.  These are generally special edition, vintage hams that have been aged for 15 years, developed an intense and rich flavor and are sometimes sold in exclusive designer leather cased.  

Within  an hour of arriving in Madrid, I was struck by the beautiful site of the big Museo del Jamon (Museum of Ham) stores which are found in the city center and which serve tapas and drinks and contain dozens of gorgeous hams.

One of the best scenes to try many things, we found was in the Mercado San Miguel, with its diverse array of eating options, including a ham specialty counter that represented all the the beautiful and intensely flavored Iberico options.

From a nice cerveceria in Plaza Santa Anna, we found our selves a half platter of Iberico cuts.  We had the bold and nearly violet ham, fiery chorizo sausage, fatty lomo (cured loin), and salty and spicy salchichon (like salami), which was a superb pairing for intense Manchego cheese and complex Rioja wine.

I was tempted to buy a leg and smuggle it home, but alas my apartment in DC, can't really accommodate a leg of ham hanging from a light fixture.

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Icelandic Yogurt

1.    Yogurt is yogurt, right?  Not if you are a Viking! Looking in the dairy section of Whole Foods, I stumble across something new: skyr.  What on earth is Viking food doing in a suburban grocery store, where people are more like to arrive in a Subaru covered in environmental bumper stickers than in a Norse long boat?  An Icelandic expatriate in New York City named Siggi Hilmarson recovered a family recipe for traditional yogurt.  Skyr has been eaten in Iceland since the 11th Century when it was brought by settlers from Norway.  Bacteria cultures and rennet are added to skim milk that ferments as most yogurts do, but is strained of its whey to produce what is technically a fresh cheese.  The result is a white, creamy and smooth dairy food that one can eat with a spoon.  I had some for breakfast this morning.  It was very neutral, but good with granola.

“Siggi’s Skyr” has found its way into 100 Whole Foods stores, including this one in Northern Virginia, after being produced in commercial quantities and introduced in several high end stores in New York, such as Dean and Deluca and Zabar’s.  As it can be slightly sour or at least not particularly sweet, it is often served with jam, honey or fruit.  However, innovative recipes to use skyr with tzatziki, sun-dried tomatoes and even avocados have produced a number of savory dips.  If the Minnesota Vikings are ever in a super bowl and I’m hosting a party, I know I won’t be using sour cream in my dip that night.

Friday, August 20, 2010

India's spice girls | Deccan Chronicle | 2010-08-15

India's spice girls | Deccan Chronicle | 2010-08-15

Great article about globalization and the cross-culinary experience of food. After eating at Tabla last week, I'm reminded that the mingling of traditional and contemporary is profound.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Embracing new things and why I hate the word "exotic"

It’s restaurant week in DC—more on that in a later post—and I’m reminded of a few years ago during restaurant week when I was dining at Zaytina, Jose Andres Eastern Mediterranean restaurant, with two old friends.  One of them was describing a recent trip to East Africa.  He was very animated in describing it as the most “exotic” place he had been.  He said the food was exotic, the people were exotic, and the scenery was, yes, exotic and so on.  We then started talking about another part of the world and he started describing some people and beautiful and exotic.  I found this quite frustrating to hear ad nauseam.  Then it struck me:  exotic was just all too frequent euphemism for bizarre and alien.  Above all, this casual method of colonization requires a mantel of acceptable elitism.  The unconscious condescension that takes place requires putting down a culture, country or cuisine as bizarre; a politically correct form of “barbarian.”  So, I reject the word exotic in order to embrace food that new and foreign, rather than imagine them to be quizzical.  So, yes whether Amazonian fly larvae or Roman tripe stew, the atypical is special and to appreciate in a genuine and natural sense rather than treated as "exotic."  It's all in the mind of the beholder, rather than the eye or taste buds of the beholder.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Eating Larvae In the Amazon

Visiting Brazil last year was a cool experience.  Above all spending a few days at the Amazon Eco Lodge up river from Manaus provided a unique opportunity to go on a guided walk into the rain forest and see nature up close and personal.  Here I'm tasting some larvae that has been growing inside a small pod.  While I'm usually apt to speak endlessly, it was difficult to describe aside from having the texture of a soft cheese.  Otherwise, I think it tasted "coconutty." 

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Hot Dog Pilgrimage

Last Friday, after a long day of reviewing excruciating slides on manufacturing processing and sourcing widgets at our midtown Manhattan office, my colleague and I fled swiftly.  I told her that I needed to go on a hot dog pilgrimage to Gray’s Papaya.  She suggested the one not far from our Times Square office, but location is personal to me and I insisted that we had to go 72nd and Broadway to find the hot dogs that I was craving.  I lived on the Upper West Side after college and miss late nights followed by one of these hot dogs.  In the years since, have developed a practice of going to Grey’s Papaya when I am in New York.  The famous recession special that never goes away is two franks and a drink for just $3.50.  Although, I think it was $2.50 in 2000.  (Cursed food inflation!) 

After a long week, I agreed with her that these things were not best eaten by a dry palette and found a bar that was open before 5 pm on Columbus Avenue and threw back three Bass each.  Relaxed and rearing for Grey’s we walked over to 72nd street. The perfect combination of tomatoey onions that have been sweat into near oblivion and extra spicy mustard over a narrow frank and on a not too doughy roll is incomparable.  The casing quietly crunches as you take that first bite and for me every subsequent bite is a chomp, never a nibble, as all good street food should be inhaled rather than nipped at. 

2090 BroadwayNew YorkNY 10023 

at 72nd St.

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Monday, August 16, 2010

Global is good!

I know that correlation is not normally causality, but the more global a city, the richer a place it is from a culinary perspective.  

The five most global cities in the world are all great places to eat!  In the 2010 Global Cities Index in Foreign Policy, New York, London, Tokyo and Paris can be proud of their status as culinary capitals as well as their international economic and political integration.

Check it out: The Global Cities Index

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Gourmet Empanadas in Dupont Circle

Stopped in to try Panas' Gourmet Empanadas on P street west of Dupont Circle today and they knocked my socks off. The flavors and textures of the flaky crust and warm fillings are barely comparable with the papery, dry shells that cover Julia's Empanada's here in DC.
The Tamal and CubaNovo were very satisfying on a cool, soggy Sunday.

The Cuba Novo was juicy roasted pork with a delicious caramelized onion flavor that was hearty and satisfying on its own without sauce.  Here I tried it with the Aji spicy mayo.

The Tamal was very cheesy and with a mild and not at all mealy corn filling.  The menu suggests that is was mildly hot, but I didn't think so, leading me to top it with lots of Pimenton.  This roasted red pepper sauce was a nice foil for the cheese.

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Saturday, August 14, 2010

Charm City Renaissance

Restaurant Review: Woodberry Kitchen, Baltimore, MD
2010 Clipper Park Rd.; 410-464-8000 

The Hamden area of Baltimore is the latest neighborhood in an American city that has been pronounced a hipster enclave. Baltimore is in the midst of a sputtering renaissance. Driving through the city gives you a sense of the possible—that reinvention can happen. That’s why when you walk into the renovated mill that is Woodberry Kitchen, you see that great things can happen in Baltimore. This is local chef Spike Gjerde's newest restaurant. The restaurant has a simple menu of seasonal and local food from the Chesapeake area in an urban rustic environment. Having made a reservation, we were asked to wait for 20 minutes. We got a drink at the bar and we politely offered some warm popcorn. Impressive sounding cocktails were in the offing, but noticing that a julep was featured on the cocktail menu, I went for that warm weather crowd pleaser. What took a lot of dramatic bartending gestures, turned out to be something that was functionally a tremendous mistake. The julep was poured into a pewter cup and had a massive dome of crushed ice and a five inch forest of mint sprouting out of the top. In addition, the drink beneath this foliage-enhanced snow cone was full to the brim causing spillage of the drink without allowing yours truly to enjoy his cocktail. The only course of action was to spill more on the floor in a doomed attempt to drink, before finally waiting until this snow cone had a chance to melt away. The result was a rather watered-down cocktail.

When being shown to a table in the casual side rooms with their high ceiling and exposed brick interiors, diners are greeted as “friends” and in a further contrived folksy way told to “enjoy their supper.” That supper is in fact superb and prices are moderate: cold appetizers are $10 and under, while warm ones are $9-14 and most main dishes are $18-25. Several traditional foods were prepared with sincerity and respect for the ingredients in contrast to the overwrought julep. Charcuterie was displayed on a wooden board featuring warm slab of bacon, spicy salami and sopressata and rich bresaola. A simple salad of sweet greens and tangy vinaigrette allowed its ingredients to speak in an uncomplicated style about the meaning of freshness and fullness of flavor. Deviled eggs had a piquant quality that impressed me and changed my usual disinterest for cold eggs. This was accompanied by a flat bread of warm peaches, goat cheese and pork shoulder. The pork shoulder that was probably once moist and flavorful was disappointing baked into oblivion after being put on top of this pizza. The dryness left one with all the stringiness and none of the sweet juicy quality of a slow-cooked pork shoulder that most people would recognize.

The waiter, who earlier was somewhat indignant when I disregarded his options of either still or sparkling water and asked for ice water, was now enthusiastic.  He said “everything here rocks” and strongly advised ordering the veal. The veal was everything the pork shoulder deserved to be: slow cooked, juice, sweet and ready to melt in your mouth. It had been braising all day in a happy, syrupy liquid of mostly cola to affect a mundane, yet not the least bit trashy result of perfect comfort food. The sweet corn and pepper succotash it sat on, reinforced the idea that this is what I’d eat if I needed to warm up on a cold day. It was the middle of July, but the taste sensation was so great it quickly reminded me of winter.

Dessert was a rhubarb crumble with ice cream that was sweet and buttery with a mild ice cream that didn’t overpower the main attraction. As we finished our glasses of sangiovese, it was the right way to end a night of powerful eating in a subdued, yet impressive restaurant. The staff was solicitous as we left from the hostess to the parking valets.