May 2008


Even with so many highly-recommended restaurants out there that we have yet to try, there are some spots we return to time and time again.  Sometimes there’s a specific dish (or cocktail) that keeps us coming back, but more often than not it’s a combination of the food, the service and the atmosphere that makes a favorite. 

Such is the case with Poste Brasserie, the restaurant in the courtyard of Kimpton Hotels’ Hotel Monaco in Penn Quarter.  Situated in the original sorting room of the 1841 General Post Office, Poste calls to mind European settings with its spacious, enclosed courtyard sheltered from the frenetic pace of the surrounding neighborhood.  Cocktails, created by the bar staff, are inventive and tasty, with new classics like the Basil Lemontini and fresh offerings that make creative use of seasonal ingredients.  The commitment to fresh and local ingredients at the bar echoes Chef Robert Weland’s focus in the kitchen, where he creates dishes that can be comforting and high-end (his smoked duck reuben is an all-time favorite) or simple and fresh (a tomato gazpacho served over a dollop of dijon ice cream fills your mouth with the intensity of its flavor).

Weland doesn’t just put the ‘fresh and local’ mantra to use in his menu – he is an ardent advocate who grows his own lettuces, herbs and heirloom tomatoes in the courtyard outside the restaurant and who shops the local Penn Quarter farmers’ market.  Poste has found a great way to reflect this: their “Market to Market” dinner series.  What is that, you ask?  Find out after the jump.

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<<EDIT 5/21/09: A year later, we’ve revised our review.  Check out this post for an updated take on Sushi-Zen.>>

 

Full disclosure: I was a Johnny-come-lately to the sushi revolution. I grew up in a landlocked square-state and the seafood my mother served rarely ventured beyond smoked salmon, which I still love. As a teenager, I decided raw fish was simply gross and weird and certainly not something I’d deign to put in my mouth. Never mind that a Bennigan’s Monte Cristo – which is a fancy pants name for a fried club sandwich – was deemed delicious and worthy of going out of my way to attain. Regardless, I carried this unfortunate no-sushi-zone attitude with me through college in San Francisco (That’s right, no sushi in San Francisco! Seriously! What wasted foodie potential. What was my problem?) and the early days of living in Washington, DC.

 

Luckily for me and the sushi restaurants who regularly enjoy my pocket cash, this is about the time Mike stepped onto the scene. Mike’s father regularly travels to the DC area for work and the two had dinner together at least once a week. Sushi-Zen was their favorite spot. They were initially attract due to the convenient location, about halfway between Mike’s bachelor pad and his father’s Fairfax, VA office but quickly grew to love the menu options and relaxed family atmosphere. About two months into our relationship, Mike invited me to join them for their Monday night get togethers. I argued my sushi policy and he listened patiently but ultimately encouraged me to join them and “try at least a bite.”

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Charlie Vergos RendezvousFor the second year in a row, I’ve been fortunate enough to combine my position as a fundraiser with my love of all things barbecue in an event that celebrates the different ‘cue traditions of Kansas City, Memphis, Texas, South Carolina, East Tennessee and North Carolina.  I know – sometimes it’s tough to be me.

But for those who haven’t noticed, finding good barbecue of ANY kind in Washington, let alone all six of these styles, is easier said than done.  Thankfully, I had no shortage of help in identifying the “best” barbecue joints across the country.  Shocker – ask a Congressional office for a recommendation, and you can rest assured that they won’t hesitate to tell you that three (or more) restaurants from their district are all “the best you’ll ever taste!”  So I found myself with quite a few choices to start out.

Jack Stack BarbecueThankfully, I was able to narrow the field rather quickly in some cases…there are very few authentic barbecue establishments that have any kind of protocol for shipping to DC.  But there are some places that couple tradition and taste with marketing and shipping savvy.  Top marks in the field go to Charlie Vergos’ Rendezvous (from Memphis), who package your order with sauce, spice rub, placemats, paper servers’ hats and their addictive barbecue-spiced popcorn; and Fiorella’s Jack Stack Barbecue (from Kansas City).  Jack Stack’s meat ships in branded styrofoam containers and provides comprehensive instructions for how to reheat anything you may have ordered on almost any type of heat source.  What put them over the top for me, though, was a Customer Service department that went above and beyond the call of duty in handling a few hiccups with my order.  This may have been the best customer service experience I’ve had in quite a long time, and that carries a lot of weight in my book.

When all was said and done, I was able to feature barbecue from nine establishments across the country this year.  A run-down of the contenders and what we served after the jump.

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Sticky Rice DC exteriorAfter years of anticipation, Sticky Rice has finally opened its doors at 1224 H Street, NE.  As friends and neighbors of the new outpost of the Richmond sushi-and-tater tots fixture, we went on Thursday to check out their soft opening.

With a trifold menu that offers four pages of choices, it seems like there is going to be plenty to appeal to a wide range of tastes – they’re especially proud of the numerous vegetarian- and vegan-friendly items on the menu.  A word of warning, though – many of the appetizers and even a fair number of the sushi offerings are either fried or contain fried elements (shrimp tempura, fried ‘crunchies’, etc.). (more…)

Deep in the heart of Texas, we needed a meal. It was the weekend of my brother Jimmy’s college graduation in Dallas. We arrived on Saturday morning and had a lovely brunch at Esperanza’s Bakery in Ft. Worth (an offshoot of the famous Joe T’ Garcia’s restaurant, which is across the street). After the meal, we even picked up two dozen delicious, brightly colored Mexican cookies to take back to the hotel to share with family.

 

On Sunday evening, the family festivities were coming to a close. The only family members left in town were Mike, Jimmy (who was patiently waiting for us to skip town so the real celebrations could start), my parents and me. My parents wanted to try a downtown diner called Snookies, basically because it was my grandmother’s nickname.

 

I was a little skeptical. I can’t speak to the whole of Dallas dining based solely on our two days there. But I can tell you that I was looking forward to some green and fresh items once we got home. Good news: the food was pretty good Snookies is your classic burger place – lots of burger options, milkshakes, fried anything, and – what’s this? – an ostrich burger.

 

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Like most good food geeks, we subscribe to several food and cooking magazines – Bon Appetit, Cook’s Illustrated, Food & Wine, Gourmet and Everyday Food.  Whenever the mail brings a new issue, I gleefully chant “Foodie Magazine Day!  Foodie Magazine Day!” like a drunken Adam Sandler, circa 1995.  And more often than not, the new magazine is perused in its entirety before the weekend is out.  So what do we do with all that glossy paper once we’ve read through?

Before we started Capital Spice, the answer was “not much.”  I would make it a point to save some of the recipes that caught my eye, but I didn’t always follow through on trying them afterwards.  But now, inspired by the guys at The Bitten Word, we’ve got an incentive to put our subscriptions to use on a semi-regular basis.

I give you the inaugural “Foodie Magazine Day” post – a write-up of our efforts to recreate a recipe taken from one of the magazines we subscribe to.  

In this case, the recipe is from the current issue of Gourmet.  To be honest, this is probably my least favorite of the foodie mags we get, because it’s really more of an aspirational magazine – features on culinary classes all over the world are nice, but of limited utility at this point in my life.  Even so, it provides some very creative (and high-end) recipes if you take the time to look for them.  And their focus on the exotic results in some menus that are guaranteed to stretch your culinary boundaries – though you may have to make a trip to a specialty store or two for some of the ingredients.  For this dish, I had to track down fresh curry leaves…after a few false starts, I found them at Eastern Market, where a produce stand at the rear of the hall carries a wide range of fresh herbs and vegetables year-round.

I followed the recipe for these aromatic braised chicken thighs to the letter, but I opted to forego the fried onion accompaniment.  I’ve included the full recipe, so if you try them together please share your thoughts on the onions!  We found the chicken to be moist and tender (the dark meat holds up to slow-cooking a lot better than white meat would have), and the fragrance of the simmering chicken really whetted our appetites.  Served with a cup of the ‘Seafood Refresco’ from Chris’s Marketplace, a favorite producer at the Dupont Circle and Penn Quarter Farmers’ Markets, it made a great weeknight dinner and provided plenty of leftovers for lunches.  My only complaint is that it’s not the most attractive dish in the world – the addition of the fried onions and rice in Gourmet’s images still results in a rather brown, monochromatic presentation.  If you want a more enthusiastic reception, you may want to serve this accompanied by a green salad studded with colorful peppers or radishes.

Recipe after the jump. (more…)

Since it opened three years ago, Cheesetique has become one of our favorite places to shop – not just for cheese, but also for all kinds of foodie novelties like truffle salt and acacia honey.  Between the allure of the foods themselves and the eager-to-help staff, it’s hard not to like the place.  Throw in something as cool as cheese tasting classes, and we want to be your best friends!

Jill Erber, the proprietor, has been holding cheese tasting classes all along, but now that they’ve moved into their new, larger location (complete with its own cheese and wine bar in the back), she has the space to really do them right.  To celebrate this, the first tasting class in the new shop was held last month, and they went all out – featuring a selection of double- and triple-cream soft-ripened cheeses and matching them up with Don Conde, a terrific Spanish sparkling wine. (more…)

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