image courtesy of Mango and Tomato

It is a warm spring night. I’m kneading bread dough in a gorgeous white and blue-tiled bakery with three charming Frenchmen. I squeeze the pliant dough with my fingers while pushing it together with the heels of both palms, then flip and slap it back down onto the floured workspace. I am gently teased about my “technique” which is a little bit backward from the norm and occasionally results in flecks of dough arcing through the air. I am a rank amateur.  Thirty minutes later, we nibble macaroons (pistachio and coconut are the best) and oozy millefeuilles while bread bakes in the oven.

Cubicle-dweller daydream? Not quite.  I’m in the windowed kitchen of Paul, the new French bakery by the Navy Memorial Archives. In what may have been my favorite food event to date, several DC area food bloggers were invited to a bread baking lesson in the kitchen just days before the bakery opened.

I have long lamented the lack of the perfect bakery in DC. A  space with an eye toward atmosphere and quality goods. Somewhere the bread is made on site, filling the air with dancing visions of golden crusts and yeasty middles. Where you can stroll in armed with a Kindle and need nothing more but a strong cup of coffee and warm baguette to spend precious spare time in the most delicious leisure possible. Have I finally found it?

Details on Paul after the jump. (more…)

Photo credit: Bravo

We have to give credit where credit is due.  The chefs who came back for this All-Star season of Top Chef have given us lots of reasons to root for them.  And the quality of this season has done a lot to wash the bad taste of Season 7 (filmed here in Washington) out of fans’ mouths.

By the end of tonight’s episode, we’ll be down to four remaining chefs.  And if bringing an extra chef along to the finale in the Bahamas means we get one additional week of sunny skies and killer cooking, we’re all for that.

Yesterday, we shared our interview with Mike Isabella as we head into the finals.  Today, we’ve got our pick for fan favorite, Carla Hall.  There’s something about the way Carla seems to root for everyone to succeed that is endearing and rare on competition shows like Top Chef.  Watching her fall short of her own expectations – especially when working with “her flavors” and cuisines – is heartbreaking.  But we’re not telling you anything you haven’t already seen for yourself.

We talked to Carla about her deceptively strong performance so far, her involvement with local causes, and some of the things she’s got in the works:

Capital Spice: You’ve really come out swinging this season!  Three Elimination Challenge wins, three big prizes.  How does it feel so far?
Carla Hall: It’s great, but I really don’t know when Matthew [her husband] and I are going to get a chance to take all those trips.

CS: Beyond the trips, you seemed really excited to win Jimmy Fallon’s challenge.  Are you that big a fan of his?
CH: There were two things going on there.  I’m definitely a fan of Jimmy’s, and it was so much fun to be on his show.  He really is just like you’d expect him to be.  But I’ve got a personal connection to chicken pot pie as well: that’s the first thing I ever tried to cook for myself back when I was modeling and going back and forth to Paris.

CS: So this was a recipe you’ve made before?
CH: It was, though I’ve never tried to make the upper crust by forming them around cookware like I did.  I’m glad it worked out!

More of Carla’s projects in the works after the jump.


Image by Bravo

When the list of competitors for this All-Star season of Top Chef was announced, we were excited to see Washington represented by three of the most memorable characters from their respective seasons.  As the season has gone on, we’ve been cheering ever more enthusiastically as two of our three local cheftestants demonstrated that they have what it takes to go the distance (or at least as far as the Bahamas).  Our chefs now represent 40% of the Final Five, and the smart money is on at least one of them making it into the Top Three.

We got a chance to chat with both of our local chefs after last week’s episode, and what we heard from Mike Isabella and Carla Hall made us even more excited for what is yet to come – both on the show and in their local endeavors.  Check out our interview with Mike today, and then join us tomorrow for our chat with Carla before watching the first of the finale episodes tomorrow night.

Capital Spice: Congratulations on making it all the way to the finals, Chef.  You’ve been a solid competitor throughout the season.
Mike Isabella: Thanks.  It was definitely tough competition to get there.

CS: Let’s talk about your new restaurant, Graffiato, first.  How’s everything going?
MI: It’s going good.  We’re still under construction, putting in the duct work, the heaters, the framing.  Next week we’ll be laying the pipes for the water and gas.  I’d say we’re looking at a later spring opening at this point.

CS: Being in the middle of all of this construction, it must have been hard to travel and stay focused for the finale episodes as a result.
MI: Actually, I was really focused.  I have a great team working with me on Graffiato, including a lot of chefs and staff who are coming over with me.  That freed me up and allowed me to focus [on Top Chef] again.

After the jump, we talk Quickfire wins – both satisfying and controversial – and find out who Isabella thinks went home before their time. (more…)

By the time you read this post, Roti Mediterranean Grill will be open for breakfast.  If  you hurry, you might still beat the rush to be one of the first to try a sandwich wrapped in laffa or tucked into a house-baked pita pocket.  Even if you’re not enough of an early bird to check out their breakfast offerings, you may want to check out Roti in NoMa sooner rather than later.

Why?  Roti is offering up spit-roasted meats and freshly made toppings that will make up for all those mediocre gyros and kebabs you’ve settled for in the past.  They’re even baking their own pita bread on site.  And they’re delivering all these big sit-down style flavors at carryout prices.

There was a time when the area north of Union Station on First Street, NE, was an expanse of vacant lots and dilapidated buildings.  These days, with multiple federal offices and other large employers moving into the area, there are new dining options opening every week.  Even so, Roti Mediterranean Grill is poised to stand out among its neighbors.

So what’s Roti all about?  Imagine Chipotle with the flavors of the eastern Mediterranean.  Got it?  Now check out that picture to the right.  Pretty close, right?  On the surface, Roti’s quick-service, choose-your-own-adventure style is similar to that of the ubiquitous burrito place.  But their flavors are miles apart.

Check out some of what Roti will be offering when they open today after the jump. (more…)

When we heard that Chef Jamie Leeds was selling CommonWealth Gastropub in Columbia Heights to focus on an expansion of her original Hank’s Oyster Bar, our thoughts turned to the only one of her restaurants unaffected by the news: the second Hank’s in Alexandria.  While there are some restaurants we haven’t written about because we don’t have many nice things to say, our silence regarding Hank’s is more a reflection on its role as a solid go-to for oysters, seafood and even brunch in Old Town.  We rarely plan our visits, so we don’t tend to have a camera with us when we stop in for a bite.

Now you know we love good oysters.  You’ve heard us tell the tales of Oyster Riots passed, and we shared our love of the oyster happy hour at Johnny’s Half Shell years ago.  So you can understand at least part of the reason we’re happy to keep coming back to Hank’s.  But the menu, with its daily specials and its emphasis on classic preparations of fish and seafood, has offered us plenty of reasons to visit beyond a few briny morsels every now and then.

A few of our favorite things from the sea after the jump.


Maybe Jean-Georges Vongerichten was looking for a challenge.  That’s pretty much the only reason we could come up with to explain why a man who has more than a dozen restaurant concepts within his portfolio chose to use the word “steakhouse” in the name of his Washington venture.  Nothing else makes sense.

The fact that he even considered opening a restaurant in Washington shows that he knew we’ve evolved beyond the days when haute French and red-meat-by-the-pound were the only options for high end dining.  Even so, we’ve got more than our fair share of places where steak is featured front and center.  It could hardly come as a surprise that potential diners would assume a place called “J&G Steakhouse” was just part of the crowd.

Whatever the rationale for the name, it relegated the restaurant to a lower tier of our “to-do” list for more than a year.  But any regular reader of our Restaurant Week recommendation posts knows that we like to seek out high-value opportunities when making our RW reservations, and this time around J&G Steakhouse seemed to offer the best bang for the buck.  At the very least, it would give us a chance to see what the newest steakhouse on the block brings to the table.

The anti-steakhouse experience after the jump. (more…)

We asked for some answers that made us smile, and you definitely delivered for us.

Now it’s SeamlessWeb’s turn to deliver for you.

Last week we invited you to enter for a chance to win one of two $25 gift cards.  We wanted to hear about how you take your coffee – whether you get it as part of Free Coffee Days or you make it at home.

Congratulations go to Elyse and Monica for having the two answers that brought the biggest smiles to our faces:

Elyse: “I take my coffee in the style of Sally (from When Harry Met Sally): Coffee with a little bit of 1/2 and 1/2 and a splash of soy with a shot of vanilla (if you dont have sugar free leave it out) foam and a sprinkle of cinnamon. And can I have that extra hot?”

Monica: “How do I take my coffee? I take my coffee from other people. I’m a sneak coffee drinker. I claim not to drink it, I claim to prefer tea, I claim to dislike its strength … until a big pot of it has just been brewed in the office, and then I’m LURED in by its delicious scent. The next thing I know, I’m jittery and trying to hide my coffee mug amongst the other ones in the office sink, which is nearly impossible because they’re all different. Shh … don’t tell on me.”

You’re secret’s safe with us, Monica!

Congratulations to both of our winners, who will be contacted by a representative from SeamlessWeb shortly to arrange redemption of their prizes.

And keep watching us here at Capital Spice for more opportunities to win fun food giveaways!