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Friday, August 27, 2010

Sage, Rosemary, Basil and Thai - Guest Post

Growing up Hawaii is like growing up in a melting pot of many different cultures. The majority of the ethnic groups that have migrated there are Asian, thus influencing (along with many other things) cuisine. Asian spices, sauces, and rice are found at almost ever turn. On most corners, next to the McDonalds or Subway, is take out Korean, Chinese, Vietnamese, sushi or another other of Asian food. Because of this, my comfort food isn’t a plate of meatloaf and mashed potatoes, but anything and everything involving rice.

As usual, in the middle of the week I had strong cravings for some sort of Asian food. While doing some shopping in Georgetown with a friend we made our way up Wisconsin Ave and found ourselves at Basil Thai. I had passed it many times, but never tried it.

Basil Thai opened its doors a few years ago, after Onie Sorapun, Janet Varee and Weena, three native Thai women, decided to embark on their adventure of opening their first restaurant. It is a smaller restaurant, about 4 or 5 blocks from the hustle and bustle of M Street. When we arrived for dinner around 7:15 there were only two other tables full.

When I go to a new Thai restaurant, I do as most people do when they are trying a new restaurant. I stick to the basics. For Thai, I think most would consider Pad Thai and some sort of curry to be the staple dishes. After a day of shopping, we were hungry enough to eat enough food to feed a small army, so it only made sense to order Crispy Chicken Wonton, as well as chicken Panang Curry, and Basil Thai’s version of Pad Thai.

The wontons came quickly after we ordered. The menu said that they were going to be minced chicken deep-fried in the wonton wrapper, and served with a sweet and sour sauce. Although fried wonton skin is delicious, there was very little chicken in the wonton, which was a little disappointing for a $6.95 appetizer.

Shortly after we finished our main entrees came out. The plate of Pad Thai looked so good that we each simply dug in with our chopsticks for the first bite, instead of putting some on our plate first. It was delicious. They put chicken, tofu, and a few shrimp in it, and it was very basic and traditional Pad Thai. As high of the mound of noodles was, there were no leftovers of the Pad Thai to take home.

My friend and I are both big fans of yellow curry, unfortunately Basil Thai didn’t have that on the menu, so the owner (who was also our waitress) suggested Panang. The curry was very flavorful, and we ordered it on the mild side. A word to the wise – mild still has a little bit of a kick for a person with a weak pallet when it comes to spice. Since I’d never had Panang curry, I’m sad to say I have no other places to compare it to, but the flavor was delicious and there was a lot of chicken in it.

Overall our meal at Basil Thai was a positive one. There were times when the service was slow, and had to ask for an extra bowl of rice multiple times, but the Pad Thai may have been some of the best I’ve ever had, and the ambiance of the small privately run restaurant created a unique experience in the heart of Georgetown.
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Zoe Edwards grew up in Hawaii and is currently living in DC where she is a journalism student at American University. Since she was eight, her goal has been to attend culinary school after graduating. Zoe enjoys spending her time cooking, and hanging out with friends and family.  You can follow her blog at: http://eatingthroughcollege.tumblr.com/.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Dinner with the Spanish Ambassador

To many in DC, Chef José Andrés is known as the “unofficial Spanish ambassador.” In these parts, being unofficial makes you more likable, because you can’t ignore parking signs or speed limits and, unlike us mere mortals, get away with it. But even if Chef Andres was the actual ambassador, I think it would be tough for anyone to hold it against him, especially once they tried his food.

This past Friday night, Elliot and I were able to indulge; his mother and step-father were in town for the weekend. And as they're just as big of foodies as we are, there was only one true mandate when it came to planning our itinerary: great restaurants. Also, his mom is a big Top Chef fan, so it made sense to keep the momentum going from Andrés’s recent appearance on the show and head to Jaleo.

From start to finish, the entire experience at Jaleo lived up to Chef Andrés’s reputation. The carafe of sangria was not only poured with precision, but the taste of the fruity wine punch bordered on perfection, with the little bits of fresh fruit adding to the already magnificent flavor. Each bite of the patatas bravas had just the right amount of spice mixed with the garlic aioli. Chef Andrés says that you will want to eat his fried dates wrapped in bacon every day. I can guarantee you... he isn't lying.

Elliot's step-father suggested we try Jaleo's version of paella. Although I have dined here many times, I have never tried this traditional Spanish dish. The paella needs to be ordered almost immediately upon sitting down because it takes at least 30 minutes for the dish to be cooked. Let me tell you right here and now that the wait was worth every millisecond. The large dish of rice, chicken and mushrooms came out piping hot and was served on top of garlic aioli. (Side note: This was a brilliant move. Layering the aioli onto the plate before serving the paella means that the dish effectively cooks in the additional ingredient.) As everyone took their first bites, it was evident from all of our faces that this was an entree that was executed to perfection.

Although we got to the restaurant right after happy hour, it is only appropriate that I share with you that their “Jaleo Hour” is well worth the claustrophobia that tends to surround the bar from 4:30 – 7pm. The sangria flows at the liberal price of $4 a glass and a handful of tapas plates (including the bacon wrapped dates and patatas bravas) are offered for $5. Some drinks and a few noshes can easily turn into great meal on a budget.


Friday, August 20, 2010

Keep on Lobster Truckin' - First Bite and Guest Post

Philly has its cheese steaks. Buffalo has its wings. Chicago has its deep dish pizza. And Boston has its chowdah and baked beans. Maine has its lobster. Since DC is a melting pot of transients and transplants, it comes with great anticipation when a close replication of a geographic favorite finds its way to DC. Especially a food that reminds us of summers on the beach with family and friends.


Enter Red Hook Lobster Truck, driving on to the mobile food truck scene with vigor.


Rejoice, New Englanders: the search for a local authentic lobster roll is over.


The perfect lobster roll is elusive and difficult to replicate because of its simplicity. It should feature a tender and non-chewey lobster (which means it must be cooked perfectly), and shouldn't require more that a bit of mayo, lemon juice, and salt and pepper.

With that in mind, I ventured on Thursday to Farragut Square to check out the scene. And wow. The turnout was intense. With a line of more than a hundred people wrapped around the corner eager to get a taste of summer (check out the picture from inside the truck), The Lobster Truck DC certainly has a good thing going.


With a crew of just four people inside the truck (one to take orders and the rest to prep), the menu is very straightforward. For $15 you can get an ample-sized lobster roll made with whole knuckle n' claw meat served on a buttered and toasted bun. Presented on a red-checkered paper in an an aluminum tin, the presentation is classic and transports you momentarily to the coast of New England.

Pick up the roll with two hands, shut your eyes, ignore the surrounding street noise, and inhale deeply. The smell alone can take you away to a shack on the side of the road in Cape Cod. Best of all, the taste is very well balanced. It's creamy, but not overwhelming. Meaty, but not tough. Salty, but in a complementary way. Delicate, but hearty enough to eat with two hands and big smile on your face.


For those who think that the $15 for a roll may be a bit pricey or have an aversion to lobster, you can save some coin with an $8 shrimp roll seasoned with paprika and scallions, which is tasty, but not as much as its big brother. It has a bit of a crunch, but I'd stick with the lobster roll if I were you.


And don't fret, if you're in the market for a more complete meal, drop an extra $3 to get your hands on a bag of Cape Cod kettle-cooked chips and a Maine Root fountain drink, built in to the side of the truck. White cream frosted whoopie pies are also available for those of you who are in need of a sweet-tooth fix to compliment the savory saltiness of the rolls.


On the downside, the line may be a bit daunting and takes some time to get through. And yes, $20 may be a little bit pricey when it comes to a food truck lunch, but sometimes it's ok to pay for quality.


To find out where (and when) you can get your lobster or shrimp roll fix, follow the Red Hook Lobster Truck on Twitter via @LobsterTruckDC
 
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A DC-area native, Adam Zuckerman is entrepreneurial attorney, MBA and blogger who is inspired by social media, tech, food, witty conversation and all things outdoors. You can follow him on Twitter via @apzuckerman or his blog, www.FindingZuckerman.com.

Straight Outta Philly

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I am a Mid-Westerner. I grew up learned what cornfields looked like by driving past them on long car trips. Trains were things that carried freight, not people. My idea of a quick meal was Skyline chili or a Chicago hotdog. Yet, my friends from the East Coast lovingly spoke of their eight-lane highways, train rides, New York style pizza and Philadelphia hoagies – things that I knew of in a mythical way.


Recently, I was introduced to Taylor Gourmet, a hoagie shop that was opened by two former residents of Philadelphia who now live inside the Beltway. They missed their beloved hoagies so much that it seemed almost natural to introduce them to District residents, myself included. I have fallen under the spell of the fresh bread (trucked in from Pennsylvania on a daily basis), the fresh ingredients and the gigantic portions.


The menu is large enough to satisfy meat-lovers and vegetarians alike. Each sandwich is named for a street in Philly, but it is far easier for me to remember the delicious components that make up the hoagie. I’m a fan of the Island Avenue (breaded chicken cutlets, arugula, pesto, brie) and the Cherry Street (house cured roast beef, brie, roasted garlic spread). Elliot salivates just thinking about the 9th Street Italian, which combines genoa salami, capicola, prosciutto and sharp provolone. He claims that this is the perfect sandwich. I think that most of the combos on the menu come pretty close, especially considering how big and flavorful they are. (Each 12 inch sub could easily feed you for 2 meals.)


Taylor Gourmet also serves fried treats such as ravioli and risotto balls. The risotto balls were a bit spicy for our taste - and not nearly as good as 2 Amy’s version, suppli - but the fried ravioli could make a terrific snack or the perfect palate pleaser prior to your meal.


Currently, you can find Taylor Gourmet locations on H Street NE and at Mt. Vernon Square, but there is a location opening in Bethesda at the beginning of September. For those of you that don’t live within walking distance of one of the locations, Taylor offers delivery within a limited area. But I can guarantee you that it is worth the trip to this Philadelphia style hoagie outpost.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

La Dolcezza Vita


During these hot summer months, one can’t help gravitating toward cold treats that both cool you down and satisfy your sweet tooth. You can find old-fashioned ice cream at Larry’s in Dupont, frozen custard at the Dairy Godmother in Alexandria, water ice on H St. at Rita’s. Yet my favorite treat from the ice box has to be gelato.


During my time in Italy, it was next to impossible to stay away from the yummy goodness of this old-world treat. I was drawn to the rich flavors and textures that were beautifully layered on top of milk, cream and sugar; knowing that it had half the fat and calories of ice cream didn't hurt, either. It was hard to go more than a day or two without wandering into one of the gelato shops that beckoned to me from every corner.


Back in the District, my options were few and far between. I was lucky enough to discover the original location of Dolcezza, a local gelatoria located between Glover Park and Georgetown, that specializes in Argentinean gelato. The moment that I tried a bite of their rich and creamy valrhona chocolate, I was hooked. Their fresh artisanal gelato is made daily and features fresh - and local - ingredients. You will find local peaches, plums and nectarines being used in the summer; oranges and other citrus in the winter; and any other superior ingredients, such as cardamom, that pique the interest of the artisans.


I have spent many a night sitting outside of one of the three Dolcezza locations with friends. Each one of these evenings is colored not only by the flavors springing from each savory bite of the gelato but also from conversations shared with people I love. Sure, at first glance this frozen treat seems pricy for the size, but it repays your taste buds and memories in spades.



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Monday, August 16, 2010

The Burger Joint


I feel like every time I turn around another burger place pops up. The greater DMV spawned the mighty Five Guys, Chef Spike’s Good Stuff Eatery and the internationally-known Ray’s Hell Burger. We just received word that New York’s famous Shake Shack is setting up shop in Dupont. I think you could be eating burgers and fries for days– the list of burger places just goes on and on. Down the street from my office stands the original location of another DC burger “chain,” BGR – The Burger Joint. BGR originally opened its classic-rock-memorabilia and kitchy-mosaic-table-filled restaurant in Bethesda. But in the past year or so, the concept has expanded to Alexandria, Dupont Circle and Arlington with another one on the way in Clarendon. The owner, Mark Bucher, clearly wants to make sure that he is a force to be reckoned with in this burger town.

BGR aims to master the basics – burgers, fries and milkshakes, with a few surprises thrown into the mix. The burgers are made with a mixture of premium meat, served on a toasted brioche bun and made fresh to order. If you are looking for a traditional burger, you really can’t go wrong with “The Burger” or the BGR sliders. The meat is able to retain most of the flavor without making that light and perfectly crisp bun too soggy. During the summer months, you can also grab what the Washingtonian has dubbed the best lobster roll in DC. I haven’t had many lobster rolls in this city since arriving here 6 years ago. Then again, I'm a midwesterner; I shouldn’t be considered an expert. Yet, I can accurately tell you that the claw meat was fresh and flavorful and was complemented beautifully by the crisp lettuce and fresh bun. 

You can’t have a burger without fries (and if you are feel like going all out – a shake). BGR offers regular and sweet potato fries. The last time I had them, I wished that I had asked for them extra crispy but it wasn’t an egregious error by any means. When it comes to shakes, BRG does the classics (i.e. chocolate and vanilla) very well. They are thick and creamy and make the perfect treat on a warm summer day. Each location also offers a new “limited-edition” milkshake on a monthly basis. I had July’s peach shake and it was just only so-so. I could have used a bit more peach flavor a little less graham cracker. Is BGR a burger destination? Sadly, it isn’t. But if you are around one and need to eat lunch or dinner or just have a snack, you won’t be able to go wrong. You will leave full, happy and you won’t be able to get that classic rock music out of your head. 
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Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Ulah-Lah

Please welcome Kate B. of Suburban Sweetheart fame to CapitolBites.com. CapitolBites features a weekly guest post. Please leave a comment or email me at capitolbites@gmail.com if you are interested in contributing.
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Brunch is the most important meal of my day. Scratch that. Brunch is the most important meal of my life. That’s why I implemented The Great DC Brunch Tour of 2009/2010, in which my friends & I brunch ‘round the District, eating our way through most Saturday and Sunday mornings.


A few places that have made it onto my “I’ll be bahhhk” list of regulars (pronounced a la the Governator, if you please). Among them are Woodley Park’s Open City, which is two blocks from my house and serves chai tea waffles at all hours, and Dupont’s Urbana, just $11 for all the bellinis your liver can handle. But as our forefathers said (this is DC, after all), “E pluribus unum,” or “Out of many, one” – and for me, that one is Ulah Bistro.

I know. You’re all, “Where?! What?!” I’d never heard of it, either. But frankly, I’m glad you haven’t heard of it – & I’m even wary of telling you about it now, because the joy of Ulah Bistro is that it always, always has room for walk-in brunchers, with a minimal wait. To sweeten/seal the deal, the food is both inexpensive & delicious. I live in desperate fear that the secret of Ulah Bistro’s deliciosity will become public knowledge & I’ll soon have to – GASP! – wait in line for my breakfast burrito next time.

If we’re being honest, I’ve never ordered anything from Ulah Bistro except that darn breakfast burrito.
Though plenty of their other dishes appeal to my picky palette (how could I not love a place that serves Gouda mac & cheese with bacon for brunch?), I’m a firm believer in the old adage “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” – and that breakfast burrito ain’t broke. It’s crispy, not floppy, as breakfast burritos so often are (I’m lookin’ at you, The Heights), and the stuffing is, well, stuffed with sausage, eggs & cheese to the max. Oh, & no vegetables in there to muck up my quest for a brunch-induced coronary! For just $9, it fills me up & keeps me happy, with potatoes on the side & a smile on my face.

My fellow diners have been all smiles, too, because Ulah Bistro has something for everyone: a few salmon options, a bunch of tasty-sounding omelets, some challah French toast that’s calling my name but has yet to edge out the breakfast burrito for my heart, & even a breakfast burger for the lunch-loving brunchers among us. Prices are cheap – like, tenspot cheap – & appetites are sated. What more could a brunch connoisseur want?

Speaking of old adages, another one I subscribe to is “Two Jews, three opinions,” & my friends & I are no exception to that rule – except when it comes to Ulah Bistro. We’ve been half a dozen times in the past year, yet I’ve heard nary a complaint about the food, the service, the ambiance, the wait, or anything at all. In fact, I dare say that if Ulah Bistro could step into the conflict in the Middle East, they might just be able to work out a food-centric deal for peace – though I guess it shouldn’t involve sausage-filled breakfast burritos.


images:
brunchdc.blogspot.com



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Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Carmine’s – More than I Bargained For


My friend Abby works in Silver Spring and I work in Bethesda. Yet, I live by Union Station and she lives in VA. So what does this mean? Well, finding a happy hour spot that is both convenient and good is an ongoing issue for us.

Last night - craving
comfort food and convenience - we headed to the newly-opened Italian eatery in Penn Quarter, also known as Carmine’s. According to their website, “Carmine’s is a family style, value-driven restaurant concept….that serve[s] every meal in the style of an Italian American wedding feast.” The original Carmine’s opened in New York City in 1990 and has enjoyed a loyal following ever since. It is hard not to love the restaurant’s over-sized portions and friendly service.

Carmine’s opened in DC at the beginning of August. Although the original location in NYC has quite a following and always seems to be packed, the Chinatown location was far from cramped. There wasn’t a wait for a table and there were plenty of open seats in the bar.

Happy Hour specials were few, but all a good value. For about $25, Abby and I were able to get 3 Big Berry Cosmos (essentially, large frozen versions of the cocktail), a gigantic plate of fried zucchini and an appetizer portion of meatball sliders. The zucchini was julienned and fried to a perfect crisp, meaning that you could barely taste the veggie itself. For those of you with significant others who won’t eat veggies – give them these babies and they will barely realize they are eating something healthy (never mind that they are fried in oil). The sliders were on a flavorful focaccia bread, but the actual meatball seemed a bit dry. For a restaurant that is known for their 16-wheeler sized portions, the 2 sliders on the plate left something to be desired. But, then again, I do have to remember that those dishes together rang up to grand total of $10.

And I can’t talk about happy hour without mentioning the drink specials. The frozen cosmos were outstanding, and will only set you back $5. [For those who prefer non-mixed drinks, Carmine’s also offers $5 glasses of wine and $4 Peroni pints.] The cosmos are very berry-y, with just the right about of citrus mixed in. And, to top it off, the glasses were huge filled to the brim as well as deceptively strong. So whether you're looking for old-school Italian cuisine, delectable happy hour fare or just more beverage for your buck... Carmine's is where it's at.


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images: capitolbites flickr steam


Monday, August 9, 2010

The Way "We" Slice It


To my mind, few food items inspire the same kind of loyalty in people as pizza. When you find a great spot, you end up eating there religiously. People argue why their place is better than alternatives X or Y. And, if you frequent a restaurant, you become a regular... part of a community. Sure, people take ownership of other kinds of restaurants. But for pizza, it just seems to make more sense.

As such, my expectations were immediately sky-high upon hearing that Chief Spike Mendelsohn, the Top Chef contestant turned mad grill-ologist behind Good Stuff Eatery, was opening a pizza place. Good Stuff had quickly become one of my favorite DC food spots; the Good Stuff melt is very nearly a religious experience on a bun for me. So, after enduring a set of fairly extensive delays - it was originally billed to launch in April - We, The Pizza finally opened it's doors to the public.

When Elyse and I visited We (as Spike and co. have taken to calling it), we immediately knew that we'd have to spread ourselves out. We, The Pizza offers 12 different pies... and that's before you even consider the wings, pasta, sandwiches and homemade Italian sodas. We decided on four different slices (sausage and peppers, cheese, spinach and artichoke, mushroom) and two different sodas (sour cherry and pineapple). The sodas were great, but they definitely weren't the stars of the show.

Before we go any further, a confession: I judge every pizza joint by how it handles a plain, cheese pizza. Without any exotic ingredients or zany combinations to hide behind, cheese pizza gives a truly accurate depiction of what kind of clout any given pizzeria truly has. Spike did not disappoint. The crust was baked perfectly. The blend of cheeses was balanced and delicious. And don't even get me started on the seasoning. After my first bite, I knew I'd be back for more.

That only set me up for the other flavors. While the sausage and peppers pizza was fairly bland and non-distinct, the final two slices sent me into the stratosphere. The Forest Shroomin Pie -made with wild forest mushrooms, truffles, mozzarella and thyme - was unbelievable. This is what people should mean when they say mushroom pizza, rather than a normal pie topped with a few measly fungi. But as good as the Shroomin Pie was, nothing could prepare me for the spinach and artichoke slice. It was a revelation; rich, creamy and had a tremendous amount of flavor cohesion. Even after a few weeks, I still don't feel as though I've had enough time to truly put it into words. But suffice it to say, Elyse and I will be back soon. On our walk home that evening, we talked about making We the Pizza our pizza place. Or, in her words, "God help us when they start delivering."


Sunday, August 8, 2010

Down By The River


When I tell people I live in the Northeast quadrant of the District, I have been known to get some funny looks. Yes, Northwest is the best known and considered to be the "safest" part of the city, but I am mere blocks from the capitol building and I feel plenty safe.

Michael Landrum of Ray's Hell Burger fame wants to help shatter that misconception, and he decided not to just talk the talk but to also walk the walk. After going through many concepts, Landrum opened Ray’s the Steaks at East River in Ward 7, with the hope of employing people from the community and feeding good, honest, well-priced food to everyone else.
Although Ray’s bills itself as a steak house, this isn’t your senator’s Capital Grille. The prices are extremely modest, with the most expensive item topping out at $22. A party of 4 can easily eat here for well under $100 (with drinks, tax and tip) and I can pretty much guarantee that you will have days upon days of leftovers.

The menu isn’t huge, but it is also large enough that just about everybody can find something that tempts their taste buds. My eyes (and stomach) immediately gravitated toward the crab bisque. The soup came out of the kitchen piping hot with bits of crab meat floating on the top. My boyfriend pretty much died over the concept of chili mac. He says that is undeniably delicious and unbelievable balanced. The creaminess of the mac tempers the heat of the chili and complements it beautifully.

Each entrée is served with your choice of a salad and 2 sides, and all of them could have come right out of your southern grandmother’s kitchen. They include sweet potato fries, cole slaw, baked potato and the fresh vegetable of the day. Each side and entree comes on its own plate, allowing the flavors of each individual dish to be showcased. All of the main dishes could be considered a home run. Each prime rib slice was oozing with juices that capture all of the delicious flavors that were already in the meat, but waiting to be discovered. Each steak that comes out of the kitchen will make you wonder why anyone ever paid over $20 for a good piece of meat that is over 5 oz. The portions served at Ray's are HUGE, giving you yet another reason to think that Granny is back in the kitchen and scheming to fatten you up before you leave her house.

I had few complaints about our evening or our service (especially knowing that this was the first restaurant job that many of the servers have had), but the number of extra serving plates does prevent an issue when it comes to room on the table. Ketchup bottles and water glasses are shoved to the windowsill and quickly forgotten, especially when there is food on the plates to be devoured.