June 2008

It\'s a cookoff!In the world of competitive barbecue, there are two camps that largely define the field – the Kansas City Barbecue Society (KCBS) and Memphis Barbecue Association, also known as Memphis in May (MiM).  Each has its own traditional flavors, its own set of rules, and its own national championship.  Although many competitors participate in competitions that are sanctioned by each organization interchangeably, there has never been a joint competition.

This year’s Safeway National Capital Barbecue Battle took the first step toward making a unified competition a reality.  For the first time ever, KCBS and MiM held competitions at the same location on the same weekend, with each crowning its own Grand Champion.  Though each contest was judged according to its own organization’s format, this sets the stage for future cooperative events.  On Saturday the 21st and Sunday the 22nd, Pennsylvania Avenue became the hot spot for local barbecue enthusiasts, and I was there to weigh in as a judge.

Barbecue as far as the eye could see...For those of us who are only certified to judge KCBS-sanctioned events, this year’s Safeway Barbecue Battle represented the first time that we could actually participate as judges in the event – previously, it was exclusively an MiM event and, as such, only Memphis-certified judges were needed.  But the addition of the KCBS contest – which was judged on Saturday, the 21st – gave three dozen of us a chance to sit down on Saturday afternoon and taste our way through the competitors’ ribs, pulled pork, chicken and brisket.

Barbecue competitions’ dirty little secret after the jump.


A graphic accompanying the Post\'s article, created by Gene Thorp for the PostWhen the Argonaut first opened its doors in August of 2005, those of us who live near the H Street corridor welcomed it as the first sign of life returning to the neighborhood.  There were those who worried that Joe Englert’s plans to open eight establishments between 12th and 15th Streets would start us down a path that would turn H Street into “Adams Morgan Northeast,” but community response was generally positive.  In the three years since then, we have seen a steady influx of new establishments that are giving the Atlas District (as the neighborhood has since been branded, in honor of the Atlas Performing Arts Center) a very different flavor.

Last week, the Washington Post confirmed this with a front-page article in the Food Section entitled “H is for Happening.”  The piece is written by Jane Black, a Post staff writer who has contributed dining and food-related items in Washington, New York and Boston (she was the food editor at Boston Magazine before coming to the Post) – so it’s safe to say she knows a bit about the subject.

Seriously?  An article about H Street that doesn’t focus on its Hipster appeal (who hasn’t read about Drunken Jenga at the Rock and Roll Hotel by now?) or its burgeoning nightlife scene?  More after the jump. (more…)

Two of these things are not like the others...On a recent visit to the Dupont Circle FreshFarm Market, I decided to check out the fresh, local eggs to find out just what the big deal is.  Writers and chefs alike sing the praises of farm-fresh eggs, waxing rhapsodic about their bright orange yolks and the depth of their flavor.  Me, I’m happy if it scrambles nicely without sticking too badly, so I wasn’t especially eager to pay roughly twice as much for something I’d be eating just as quickly.  Even so, a recent incident with farmers’ market asparagus (it amazes me how rarely Elizabeth says “I told you so” despite the countless opportunities I provide her) made me think that maybe there was something to back up the hype, so I purchased a half-dozen eggs from one of the half-dozen vendors offering them.

Right away, I could see a distinct difference between my store-bought eggs and the ones from the market – the ones from the market were brown.

More examples of my mastery of the blatantly obvious (and an actual comparison) after the jump. (more…)

For some people, the news that Brennan Proctor and his family would be closing their hot sauce emporium, located on 7th Street, SE, at Eastern Market, is a sad shock.  But those who know some of what Uncle Brutha’s has been through over the past two years see it as another sign that the neighborhood is still a long way from recovering in the aftermath of last year’s market fire.  And, more importantly, they see it as an opportunity for Uncle Brutha’s to focus on what they do best – make and sell delicious, locally-produced hot sauces. (more…)


Lock Up Your Grocers! Wal-Mart is on the Move
Brace yourself Bridget: Wal-Mart announced plans for a “neighborhood” food store this week.
Marketside, a “small community grocery store” (I swear, this is how they are described on the website) will open a handful of locations soon in various Arizona neighborhoods.

The principle here is that Arizonans, and presumably the rest of the country in due time, need a quick meal grocery store option. Marketside will offer “complete meal solutions” to the busy shopper. The store places a heavy emphasis on prepared meals, fresh ingredients and affordable prices. Yes, in theory these are all good things but this whole evil plan leaves a pit in my stomach. First off, I’m concerned that Wal-Mart will apply it’s well-polished business attack of driving small producers out and inflating prices in these neighborhoods they claim to care so much about. (more…)

You can set your watch to specific events in DC: cherry blossoms on the tidal basin, interns clogging Georgetown sidewalks and, for Mike and me, summertime crabs at the Quarterdeck.

Tucked away behind non-descript apartment buildings and on the edge of Ft. Meyer, this is not the type of restaurant you stumble upon by accident. Nope, you need to twist and turn your way through residential streets and — just when you’re pretty sure you’ve lost your way – there it is.

Georgetown upstarts aside, this is a crab shack in the truest sense of the word. It isn’t fancy (a friend of mine still blames a breakup on the restaurant’s lackluster atmosphere) or fussy and that is exactly why we love it. Quarterdeck has a full menu and is open year round, serving up burgers and sandwiches in the colder months. You can easily spot the summertime patrons (ahem) from the year-round loyalists. The latter are a no frills lot who hang out at the bar and would look just as at ease in a VFW hall.  

Service is straightforward and friendly, quick to supply refills on your pitchers of beer and fries while you pound away at your crustacean friends with the wooden mallets they provide. (Bibs are also available.)

You can order your crabs by the dozen, half-dozen or crab feast. Really, for $34.95, the feast is a steal and the only way to go. The only catch is everyone at your table needs to order the all-you-can-feast option or no feast for you! Quarterdeck receives a daily crab shipment in the season but it’s still wise to call ahead to reserve your batches. The crabs arrive en masse as soon as the kitchen can churn them out, dumped on your table still steaming with a healthy dusting of Maryland Old Bay seasoning. If you order the feast, the crabs keep coming and coming until you cry uncle (this is also when you start to regret all those french fries you had at the start of the meal).

(More after the jump)


Foodie Magazine Day!  Foodie Magazine Day!For my second “Foodie Magazine Day” post, I turn to Bon Appetit.  Maybe it’s the fact that this was our first real food magazine (thanks to a free year’s subscription that came with our purchase of the Bon Appetit cookbook), or maybe it’s the focus on more accessible (and therefore more appealing) recipes and experiences, but this remains one of my favorite sources for recipes and cooking inspirations.

In the June 2008 issue, Bon Appetit encourages readers to start a cooking club and provides a set of recipes that lend themselves to having the group cook them together in one kitchen (assuming all of your prep work is done ahead of time and your kitchen is bigger than most Capitol Hill condos, of course).  Although we weren’t planning to start a cooking club, the main course of the meal caught my eye.

Sliced duck breast, broiled plums and bacon-wrapped asparagusElizabeth and I both love the big flavor of duck, but we had only tried to cook it once before and we had purchased pre-packaged poultry for that attempt.  As part of our ongoing effort to do as much of our own food preparation as possible, I decided to visit nearby Capitol Hill Poultry in Eastern Market to pick up some duck and try it myself.  I bought the front halves of two whole ducks, bones and all, and brought them home.  I began to approach them the way I approach a whole chicken, cutting along the central bones, when I noticed that the breast halves seemed to sit along flat ridges.  Working my knife and then my fingers between the ridge and the muscle, I was actually able to pull the meat cleanly away without any of the laborious butchering I had been expecting.  After that, it was just a matter of trimming the breast halves to remove some of the excess fat.

More about my attempts to follow Bon Appetit’s lead and the recipe after the jump. (more…)

Enology as seen from Wisconsin AvenueFriday the 13th may be unlucky for campers at Crystal Lake and Tupac Shakur, [ETA: … and metro riders and, sadly, Tim Russert. Perhaps we were too quick to mock?] but tomorrow is going to be a lucky day for Cleveland Park residents and wine lovers throughout the District.  Enology, the new wine bar from the team that brought Veritas to Dupont Circle, opens tomorrow night where the Zebra Lounge once stood. 

Enology (an Americanized spelling of the study of winemaking) takes the service model that has been working VERY well for Veritas and adds an All-American twist: everything the restaurant serves is domestically produced, from the wines and beers to the cheeses, charcuterie and chocolates.  Even their extensive list of spirits is American!  They joke that the only import in the place is the General Manager, Jamie Smith. 

Wine-themed pop art, dark wood tables and leather chairs set the tone.I stopped by this afternoon and had a chance to chat with owner Adam Manson, GM Smith, and Assistant General Manager Rob Jemio.  Pleased with last night’s mock service (“a huge improvement from one night to the next,” they said), the team is looking forward to their official opening tomorrow night.  After spending just a few minutes talking with them, so am I.

Check out their impressive Le Sommelier dispensing system and 78 reasons to visit Enology after the jump. (more…)

In the world of dining, even the most loyal local foodies would agree that DC is a small pond with a couple of killer whales. Starting this June, DC can add another bold name when Bravo’s Top Cheftestant Evangelos “Spike” Mendelsohn opens his Good Stuff Eatery on Capitol Hill. On Tuesday night, Mike and I were lucky enough to have dinner with Spike and his partner-in-food Mike Colletti at Dr. Granville Moore’s on H St NE.


Say what you will about his performance on Top Chef: Spike brought this season’s most engaging and controversial character. Doubt us? Take a look at Television Without Pity’s Top Chef forum: On the night before the season finale Spike’s thread comments still vastly outnumber the three finalists, even gripetastic Lisa Fernandes.  So how does this food personality stack up in real life?


Look, I’ll be honest. If Tom Colicchio himself granted me the power to choose any Top Chef participant to start up in DC, I’d probably opt for Harold “Top Chef Saint” Dieterle or Sam Talbot. (Do I need to explain the latter?). Spike, though a serious contestant who came damn near the final three, always had an onscreen persona that put me a little on edge. Part experienced chef (his resume includes culinary school plus due diligence at the openings of Le Cirque and Mai House), part aggressive competitor and part-time schemer, it was hard to tell if he belonged in the good or evil column of reality show contestants. I was worried which version of Spike we might get – would “part-time slickster politician” make an appearance? (more…)

<<EDIT: 9/11/09, 5:00 PM – As a result of Tim Carman’s post about Makoto’s erroneous kaiseki classification over at Young & Hungry, we’ve gone back and edited each reference here to reflect the more appropriate “kaiseki-style.”  Thanks for letting us know, Tim!>>

Unless you know what you're looking for, you just might miss Makoto.  All images thanks to Toro E. at Yelp.comI wanted to do something special to celebrate Elizabeth’s new job.  Rather than going back to a favorite restaurant or trying one of the higher-profile chef’s tasting menus around the city, I decided to take her to a place that I had heard about and filed away for just such an occasion.  When she posted about our love of Sushi-Zen, I knew that Makoto was going to be a winner.

If you haven’t heard of Makoto, don’t feel bad.  Despite offering what has been described as the most authentic Japanese dining experience in the entire city, it seems like very few people are aware that Makoto even exists.  With only twenty-seven seats in the entire restaurant, that’s probably for the best.  Makoto serves an assortment of sushi, sashimi and traditional Japanese dishes like soba noodles a la carte, but the restaurant is primarily focused on the presentation of multi-course kaisekistyle meals.  This ‘chef’s choice’ approach results in an impressive 8-to-10 course meal that presents a subtle and balanced series of tastes and textures.

More about our experience after the jump. (more…)

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