Thursday, April 21, 2011

Hot dogs Soar at DC-3

There has been a lot of talk recently about the hot dog. In my opinion, this link of cased meat rarely gets the respect it deserves. Sure, people expect to eat them at baseball games or unimaginative versions on street corners. But this sells the hot dog short. There is so much more that can be done with them.

It seems that the folks behind Ted’s Bulletin and Matchbox agree with me. They recently opened DC-3 by Eastern Market. DC-3 is a hot dog temple. They offer 17 different regional hot dog preparations including some of my personal favorites that, to date, remain difficult to find here in DC. The dogs range from traditional to new age (i.e. a falafel dog and a cod dog), meaning there is something for everyone.

Elliot and I tried 3 different hot dog preparations and 2 sides. We were both impressed that we were able to eat so much for just over $20. This makes DC-3 a great place for us to keep in the back of our minds on the nights where cooking doesn’t seem to be in the cards, but we don’t want to spend a lot of money.

First on the “to-try” list was the Cincinnati-style coney. It's topped with traditional Cincinnati chili, mustard, chopped onion and plenty of shredded cheddar cheese. As a Cincinnati girl (born and raised), I can tell you that this is as close to home as I am going to get inside the beltway.

Also, as both of my parents are from Chicago, I also have soft spot in my heart for the overstuffed Chicago 7. Almost all of the essential elements of this hot dog are up to snuff. There was something that wasn’t quite right about the poppy seed bun, but beggars can’t be choosers. I was particularly impressed with the correct portioning of each of the 7 ingredients that go into making up this dog.

The last frank that we tried was the Lancaster Dutch Pretzel Dog. Neither of us have any connection with Pennsylvania, but we were intrigued by the pretzel bun. I’m glad we decided to try this, because the bun combined with the slightly sweet all-beef dog and the spicy deli mustard was perfection.

DC-3 offers a few sides to go with their dogs. Both of the ones that we tried were winners. The frips (a strange combination of fries and chips) were crisp and salty without overpowering the main dish. Fried pickles have recently been brought into the spotlight and that popularity is rightfully deserved. These fried rounds are fantastic dunked in the dipping sauce provided every order.

If nothing on the board piques your interest - though it's highly unlikely nothing will - you can build your own dog for a mere $6. You get to choose the type of frank you want, customize the bun and even go down the line and decide what will top your personalized dog. But, no matter what you order you won’t be disappointed by this new cheap eat on the Hill.

Friday, April 8, 2011

The Tout de Sweetest Thing

It’s the little things in life that make you smile. For some it’s listening to the sound of rain on the roof. For others it’s an unexpected email or phone call from a good friend. For me, it’s pastries - specifically French pastries. If you give me a flaky almond croissant or a chocolate mousse pyramid you’ve pretty much made my day twenty times better than it already was.

Since moving to D.C., I have been sans a reliable French bakery. There was just nothing out there that matched the pure bliss and flavor of the one I grew up two blocks from back in Ohio. Thankfully my p√Ętisserie dreams have been answered by Tout de Sweet in Bethesda.

Tout de Sweet ‘s small storefront near the Woodmont Triangle has a sleek and modern look that screams, "Paris chic." The front window displays colorful French macaroons while the small chalkboard advertises that they sell coffee and tea to go with your “sweet treat.” The walls inside are stark white with hints of mint green, a hue that recalls the color of a pistachio macaroon.

Jerome Colin, who previously worked as a pastry chef at Le Paradou and Sofitel Hotel, churns out some of the most authentic and tasty French bonbons that I have had since I was in France. The macaroons are the perfect midday pick-me-up with their sweetness and signature “soft crunch.” Every buttery croissant calls my name as if it was begging to be eaten. The willpower that it takes to walk by (and not eat) the beautiful cupcakes and mousse cakes deserves a round of applause.

Unfortunately, there are just a few bar stools that invite you to linger over your coffee and pastry. Luckily, there is plenty of seating across the street that can be utilized as we are headed into the warmer months. You can close your eyes, enjoy the sunshine, eat your French pastry and imagine that you are sitting in Paris living the sweet life.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

First Bite - Medium Rare

Medium Rare is a rarity, in both concept and execution. How many other restaurants in D.C. can you think of that not only exude a fine-dining confidence while offering a single item on the menu? None come to my mind. And so it is the brain trust behind behind the new bistro, opened up shop in Cleveland Park.

The premise is simple: once seated, diners are served bread, a mixed-green salad, and slices of sirloin cap steak paired with frites. Half of your serving of the steak and frites arrives immediately after you've finished your salad, while the latter half delivered to the table later to ensure you're always eating hot food. This alone is a brilliant touch.

But the prix fixe menu is tremendously liberating. You walk in with really only two decisions to make: how you'd like your meat cooked and whether or not you'd like additional items like wine or dessert. Because the restaurant is called Medium Rare, it seems like that first question is off the table. Therefore, you're free to enjoy the evening without all the self-doubt inherent in selecting from an over-packed menu. By deciding to dine at Medium Rare in the first place, all of the pressure's relieved.

Beyond that? The food rocks. Everything's incredibly delicious. Even in the restaurant's first week of operation, the recipes are delicious. Utterly perfect, even. I guess that's another benefit of only providing a handful of dishes. The bread was right out of the oven, crispy and delicious. The salad wasn't drowning in vinaigrette. The frites were everything that frites ought to be. And then there was the meat. Dear God, what a delicious steak. Cooked perfectly, topped with an amazing house sauce, and so tender I barely needed a knife. Elyse looked at me midway through the meal and asked, "Is this your new favorite restaurant?" And it just might be.

As much as I love the D.C. restaurant scene, and as much as I've grown as a foodie (both in waist size and in scope of taste), the one thing I've really been missing is simplicity. This restaurant is a temple of simplicity. It recognizes that no restaurant can be everything to you every day; no establishment can carry the full arsenal of whatever any person might want to eat at any given moment, even though some misguided operations try. Medium Rare is the confident operation that says, "You're not always going to be in the mood for steak, and that's ok. When you are, come visit us, and we'll take care of you." At $19.50, it's hard to argue with the menu, and if you want to splurge on the dessert or alcohol, those are dandy to0. I nearly went into a coma after eating the chocolate cake; one of the managers told us he found a nearby bakery that makes a tw0-layer chocolate fudge cake and simply asked if they could double the number of layers. You gotta love that kind of imagination, don't you?

In the end, it's hard to oversell the quality of this place. The wait staff was stellar, the ambiance was chill and inviting, and the food was fantastic. What more can you ask for just over twenty bucks? So head up (or down, depending on your geography) and give this place a shot. You'll be glad you did. And if you're not, that's fine. More for me.