October 2008


I thought I could handle it.

“I can quit anytime I want,” I told myself and others.

I shrugged off the evidence – falling asleep at the keyboard while writing a review (or two), dragging Elizabeth on detours to find out-of-the-way shops and farms while on vacation.

But I’ve finally hit rock bottom.  I’m ready to admit it.  I have a problem.

My epiphany moment came about three hours ago, when I found myself smiling broadly as I received a small crottin of goat cheese from a (not really) shady van with a license plate that read “GO GOATS.”  All I can say in my defense is: I’m pretty sure you would have done exactly the same thing if you were in my shoes.

This particular van happened to be driven by one Brad Parker, the goat cheese guru whose Pipe Dreams Farms produce some of the most delicious and sought-after goat cheese on the East Coast.  Even without a website, Parker’s goat cheese has developed a cult-like following among foodies, chefs, and chevrophiles.  Name a local restaurant that offers a cheese plate – Blue Duck Tavern, Proof, Poste, Zaytinya – and there’s a good chance the goat cheese they’re serving is Pipe Dreams.  It tends to sell out as soon as they can get it in at Cheesetique and Cowgirl Creamery.  This is a goat cheese made by goat cheese lovers for goat cheese lovers.

So maybe you can forgive me for my weakness (I hope Parker can forgive me for going all ‘fanboy’ on him outside Poste).  It started out with a simple enough question: “Are you Brad Parker?”  Once he confirmed he was, it was all downhill as I professed my love for his cheese and then proceeded to chat with him about where I’ve eaten it in DC and he proceeded to graciously humor me. 

I suspect it was as much to extricate himself from the situation as anything else that he offered me some cheese, but whatever the reason I’m exceedingly grateful.

I’m not sure that there’s any kind of twelve-step program for this, but I think I’m finally ready to admit I have a problem and put myself in the hands of a Higher Power.  Of course, if that Higher Power can’t make goat cheese as good as Pipe Dreams, I’m not making any promises…

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With the premiere of Top Chef’s fifth season a little more than two weeks away,  I really wanted to make it a point to visit season one winner Harold Dieterle’s Perilla while we were in New York over the weekend.  Though I’ve been impressed by individual dishes and the overall level of competition over the subsequent seasons, I feel like we haven’t yet seen a contender who measures up to Harold.  Maybe that’s why he’s the only winner to have seen a restaurant through to opening thus far (the fact that he did so within a year of winning makes it even more impressive).

On a previous visit to New York, we simply ran out of time to check out Perilla.  Thanks to the wonders of weekend brunches and OpenTable, we were able to plan ahead and make sure that we had a chance to visit this time around.

What a great meal!  I know the experts (chief among them Anthony Bourdain in Kitchen Confidential) look down on brunch and predict that you’ll get sub-par food from a kitchen staff that couldn’t care less, but that simply wasn’t the case at Perilla.  And the opportunity to watch the deliveries of fresh fish and produce and the kitchen’s prep work in action gave us a greater appreciation for what goes into Perilla’s dinner service on a busy weekend night.

Our meals, another Bloody Mary, and Harold after the jump. (more…)

If you’re looking for some of the best places to eat in another city, who better to ask than chefs who have recently moved to DC from there?  Our visit to The Spotted Pig may have been a foregone conclusion, but we sought out additional recommendations from a few of our favorite New York transplants: Spike Mendelsohn and Mike Coletti of Good Stuff Eatery.

They had some great suggestions, but one in particular stood out.  Bar Q, the new “Asian-style barbecue and raw bar with sashimi elements” opened by Anita Lo earlier this year, had two things going for it that made it the choice for our first dinner in town: it was within walking distance of our apartment, and chef Sean Scotese was someone the Good Stuffers could vouch for personally.

Our minds made up, we snagged a 9:30 reservation for Friday night and hoped our Megabus wouldn’t hit too much traffic on the way up.  We arrived with time to spare, settled in and headed over to Bleecker Street to check out the Q with friends.

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When planning our trip to New York recently, Mike and I had one restaurant we absolutely wanted to hit: The Spotted Pig. This cozy gastropub is owned by British chef April Bloomfield and colleagues, serving up seasonal British and Italian food.

You may recognize Chef Bloomfield from a guest judge stint on the finale of Top Chef Season 4 (hint: she’s the lady in this photo montage).  Featured on pretty much a gazillion foodie shows, her insanely popular spot might be the only Michelin starred restaurant that doesn’t require a small bank loan for a meal. The bad news? It doesn’t take reservations. The wait for a table on Friday or Saturday nights is known to be epic. To save time (and maybe a little money), we opted to skip right ahead to Sunday brunch, making The Spotted Pig an exclamation point at the end of our foodie Tour de Gout in New York.

Even if you don’t have the exact address of The Spotted Pig handy, you can spot it on a Sunday morning by two distinct signs: a lush container garden and a hanging pig over the front door. If you arrive much later than the restaurant’s 11 am Sunday opening, you can also spot it by the crowd waiting outside for a table.

The interior of this gastro pub is clearly designed to evoke neighborhood country pubs. With wood paneling, sparingly utilized stained glass windows and embroidered stools, they do the job nicely without veering into cliche territory. The pressed-tin ceilings and exposed brick add to the coziness, giving me one more reason to daydream about living in the West Village so I can become a bar regular here on slushy winter nights.

But this wasn’t a slushy winter night; it was a crisp, sunny fall morning and we were ready for brunch. Let’s get to the food.

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I tried baklava for the first time in college with my Ancient Greek class. Someone threw a party after we finished reading Lysistrata, which is a pretty good excuse to have a freshman mixer if you ask me. So picture it: We’re all mingling and doing our very best to pack on that freshman 15 when someone hands me a piece of baklava. I take one bite and I’m in heaven. What is this delicious piece of flaky, buttery, nutty goodness?

I’ve always enjoyed baklava but I wasn’t inspired to make it until recently when my co-worker Samer was generous enough to share two panfuls with the office after the close of Ramadan. The pastry was fresh enough to still hold on to its oven warmth and every buttery bite melted on my tongue. I begged him for the recipe, which he had to get from his mother over the weekend. Luckily my groveling was 100% worth it. Thanks to Mrs. Samer’s Mom I was able to make this amazing treat for a Mediterranean-themed baby shower and THANK GOD because Mike and I would have surely devoured the entire pan ourselves if left to our own devices.

Recipe and instructions after the jump!    (more…)

Whether you’re a Philadelphia ex-pat or just a Phillies fan looking to celebrate the next World Series win, the Atlas District of H Street is quickly becoming your go-to destination.  Philadelphia Water Ice Factory (1204 H Street, NE) already serves up classic icy treats and cheesesteaks on Amorosa rolls.  Now, as reported at Metrocurean earlier this month, we’re a matter of days away from the opening of Taylor Gourmet, a combination deli, market and sandwich shop that will bring an updated taste of Philadelphia’s 9th Street Italian Market to 1116 H Street.

With final inspections taking place this week, owner Casey Patten took some time away from a round-the-clock construction schedule to give me a look around and fill me in on what we can expect once Taylor is open.  Think classic Italian sandwiches with high-end ingredients on bread shipped down from Sarcone’s Bakery in South Philly.  Imagine fresh mozzarella from Claudio, King of Cheeses (a gamble considering its three-day shelf life).  Visualize shelves of authentic Italian olive oils, pastas and other market goods as well as Italian wines, bottled waters and beer. 

Now wipe that drool and follow us inside for more information and photos.

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Last Saturday, Elizabeth and I drove out to Shenandoah National Park to view the fall colors along Skyline Drive and to do a bit of hiking.  We were accompanied by our friend Nell and Murphy, our cocker spaniel.

And because we’ve been warned about the bumper-to-bumper traffic that can snarl the Skyline Drive during peak foliage-viewing weekends, we resolved to set out bright and early.  REALLY early…even before it was actually bright.  So at 6:30 AM we picked up Nell and took off along Route 66, following it all the way to Front Royal and the northernmost entrance to the park.

Our planning paid off beautifully, allowing us to take a leisurely drive and stop for a strenuous but enjoyable 6.5-mile hike to a singularly disappointing “waterfall” (that trickle in the middle of the photo).  After packing all this activity into the morning hours, by the time 2 PM rolled around we felt pretty good about heading out to come home.  But rather than retracing our route back to Front Royal, we took an alternate exit from the park and found ourselves in scenic Sperryville, where “antique tables” are made daily.

As we soon found out, that’s not all they make in Sperryville.  Join us for a taste of Rick Wasmund’s amazing applewood-smoked whisky and a tour of the distillery after the jump. (more…)

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