May 2009

This weekend I issued Mike an exasperated challenge: Let’s make one recipe from each of our cookbooks before June’s end. We have 29 cookbooks in the house, not counting stacks of foodie magazines. Compared to other personal libraries an inventory of 29 might not be so expansive. But in reality only 5 are in regular rotation. The others sit in the back room gathering dust, taking up space, and generally irritating me.

“Mike,” I’ll say in the midst of a cleaning attack, “don’t you think we toss this [book with a ridiculously obscure cooking focus] into the GoodWill pile? We’ve had it for like, 4 years.”

“What? That? No. We haven’t even used that yet. There’s good stuff in there,” he’ll answer.

You can see how this quickly goes nowhere.

While Mike may be reluctant to let go of unexplored recipes, he is always up for is a food challenge.  I threw down the gauntlet. He quickly accepted.

So here we are, facing down the month. 29 cookbooks… 29 different recipes. We’ll post all of our efforts here. Even if they turn out to be epic food fails.

The President got another burger this week, this time at Five Guys near the Nationals Stadium. I’m all for his support of local small businesses but really, isn’t it time for a salad? 

Art & Soul is down one chef reports Tom Siestsema in his weekly chat. 
This is Why You’re Fat tends to specialize in over the top gross items but I have to say… those donut fries look tasty.  

Prince of Petworth checks out U St Café
Pitango Gelato is open in Logan Circle. DCist has a first look.   
While other restaurant chains have suffered this year, P.F. Chang’s (the Cheesecake Factory of Chinese food) is growing. The company credits an early focus on streamlining operations.   
Those Matchbox owners really love the Hill. They just announced plans for a second restaurant in Barrack’s Row, this one with an art deco and old fashioned comfort food theme. Sounds good but also sounds familiar.

We’re still psyched to check it out. Mayor Fenty reports that some of the “most sought after restaurants in New York” are interested in expanding to DC as our fair capitol is considered one of the first cities to “bounce back” from the recession.  We know Buddha Bar is in the works on Massachusetts Ave. Any thoughts on other restaurants big enough to expand? My money is on Shake Shack throwing its hat into the DC burger ring. 
Brunch & the City reviews Sunday brunch at Old Ebbitt Grill.  

The 9:30 Club will feature a special cupcake in honor of the Cake concert. 
Fun fact: Rocky Road ice cream was invented during the Great Depression. The addition of walnuts (later switched to almonds) and marshmallows to chocolate ice cream was dreamed up by Bill Dreyer of Dreyer’s ice cream and marketed to “give people something to smile about.” 
DCist has a fascinating interview with a rogue baker. The article includes tips on identifying the best possible artisanal bread.  

Ferran Adria, renowned chef of Spain’s El Bulli, is trying his hand at beer brewing. Itty Bitty Betty are you reading this???

Table manners… what is your take on texting during meals?
McDonald’s and Wendy’s are moving towards cage-free eggs. 
A peek into Per Se’s kitchen, which remains bustling despite the economy and 10% decline in reservations.  

Anthony Bourdain holds court on Top Chef, Kobe beef in hamburgers, and what’s missing in America’s culinary landscape. Tip: It isn’t bacon.

Salad and FishYeah, that’s right.  Three.  Here it is the end of May – the fifth month of the year – and we’re not exactly keeping pace with my foodie New Year’s Resolution to attempt a restaurant-quality meal each month.  Sure, we started off strong with two recipes from Jose Andres…but that didn’t happen until February.  March came and went without a follow-up, but then we came back with some killer seasonal recipes from Tom Colicchio for Barry Koslow’s ‘Favorite Five’ ingredient list.

Now it’s May, and I’m proud to say that we’re back with a third attempt.  This month, in honor of the soon-to-open Blue Ridge, I took a crack at a pair of seafood dishes from Chef Barton Seaver.  Taking the recipes from a feature in the June 2008 issue of O, the Oprah magazine, I went shopping for the ingredients required for grilled calamari with minted red pepper and prosciutto-and-herb-wrapped halibut with blackberry salad.

The recipes seemed straightforward but high-end, exactly the kind of meal I had in mind when I made my resolution.

Cooking steps, photos…and an unexpected result…after the jump. (more…)

Sei ExteriorSei, a recent addition to the vibrant Penn Quarter dining scene, does a commendable job of walking the line without crossing it. The restaurant is decked out in an all white interior, from the banquettes to the mother of pearl curtains to the white leather chairs laced up the back, corset-style. We are immediately transported from Penn Quarter to another realm – one that is sexy, fresh and very cosmopolitan. The design alone made me eager to order an upscale cocktail, which is exactly what we did.

Mike and I stopped by Sei recently for pre-theatre dinner before a tango performance. Although Sei’s focus is Asian small plates, the atmosphere and experience feels like a milongas tango: restrained, sophisticated, dramatic and at times surprising. Mike began his dinner with a Liquid Wasabi made with sake, lime juice, and a simple syrup of habanero and ginger. The spicy kick of the syrup mixed with lime juice kept our tastebuds active and kickstarted his stomach for dinner. Meanwhile my Silver Samurai – sochu, fresh cucumber, vanilla syrup and Wasabi Guacamolecrushed black pepper – was bright, clean and crisp. The cracked pepper kept the drink down to earth and balanced what could have been a too-sweet concoction.  

Dinner started with a spicy wasabi guacamole, served with wonton chips. The guacamole arrived with a bright mound of pico de gallo salsa, a cool relief to our tongues with the kicky and creamy guacamole. Our wonton chips were light and airy – a great treat until you need them as tools to scoop up guacamole.  

After that our plates began arriving fast and furious. While my seaweed salad was about what you’d expect, the fish and chip sushi roll was anything but. Made with flounder, malt vinegar, wasabi and french fries, the spicy roll was balanced nicely between all of its flavors, tasting neither gimmicky nor fake. The malt vinegar was mild enough not to distract and must have been used sparingly as it didn’t seep into the roll’s rice, upsetting the harmony of the overall flavors. This is a must-try and truly unique roll.

The caesar salad roll, while clever in theory, was so-so in practice. I’d love if the Sei chefs took a few cues from their neighbors at Minibar when it comes to updating the caesar. The sundried tomato roll, which featured avocado and green tea salt, was a little more savory than I typically like my sushi rolls but Mike adored its acidic tang. 

Pork BunsThe pork buns were one of the few non-sushi items of the night for us. Made like an upscale dim sum, they arrived pre-sliced into neat little triangles. The buns were soft and pliant, easily giving way to the savory, well-seasoned pork: the perfect finger food. I wish plates like these were served in lunch trucks in Rosslyn – I’d be out there every day for my tiny little pork bun lunch.

Overall we enjoyed Sei. It’s a bit too pricey to become regulars but the restaurant is a sophisticated addition to DC’s dining options. The combination of fun food, adventurous cocktails, smooth service and heavenly interior could make it an ideal destination for a bachelorette or cosmopolitan sweet sixteen birthday party.

444 7th Street NW
Washington, DC 20004
Sei on Urbanspoon

After last night’s media sneak-peek at the H Street Country Club, you’ve probably got way more information about this new place than you could possibly want.  So rather than piling on with more descriptions, we just wanted to leave you with a few photos of dishes we ordered up at the soft opening this weekend (some of which weren’t on offer to media-types last night).

If you’re planning to be there for the opening tonight, you may want to head out of work early to be there when they unlock the doors at 5.

And when you’re staring down the Mixing Bowl on the sixth hole, Par Bar in hand, do yourself a favor and aim for the loop-the-loop in the middle.

Pork Tacos al Carbon – Smoky and succulent pulled pork, cilantro and onions in corn tortillas.  Served with tomatillo and roasted tomato salsas.Pork Tacos al Carbon - Smoky and succulent served with tomatillo and roasted tomato salsas

Lobster Tostada – Sweet bites of lobster meat with avocado and greens, lightly dressed and sitting atop a crunchy tortilla.
Lobster Tostada

Shrimp Tacos – Warm corn tortillas filled with light, tangy combination of chopped shrimp and veggies.  Served with roasted tomato and tomatillo salsas.
Shrimp Tacos

Chilaquiles with Roasted Duck – Rich duck meat atop a combination of corn tortillas, cheese, tomato salsa and crema.  The only entree we sampled.
Duck Chilaquiles
Image Courtesy Food Network

Image Courtesy Food Network

Sure, the contrived environment and sleep deprivation that food competition contestants go through are hardly the best conditions for showing off your cooking chops.  But with everything Teddy Folkman’s got going on here in Washington, his stint on the new season of The Next Food Network Star must have felt like just another month in the life of the Flay-slaying mussel man.

In addition to his duties at Granville Moore’s, Folkman has partnered with entrepreneur Joe Englert to take on consulting chef roles at both the H Street Country Club (opening tonight) and the Capitol Lounge.  He’s also working with Englert on a number of new restaurant concepts to debut over the next year or two on H Street, NE, and Pennsylvania Avenue, SE.  As if that weren’t enough to exhaust him, he is also a frequent participant in charitable events like last week’s Brew at the Zoo in Baltimore and the upcoming Brainfood grill-off.

So what was it like to go through the Food Network wringer?  After reading some of the notices responding to his bio video and Joe Yonan’s advance look at the first episode over at All We Can Eat, it sounds like Teddy may be rubbing some folks the wrong way…we wonder if the pressure may have had something to do with that (and we hope it’s a temporary condition).  Eager to get his take on the experience, we were lucky enough to score one of the first interviews with Teddy as the debut of the show (Sunday, June 7th at 9 PM) approaches.

We’ve been quite open about our friendship with Teddy and our desire to see him succeed, but it bears repeating.  We’re not even going to pretend to be impartial throughout this season.  Even so, we scheduled this interview through the Food Network’s PR people, just like every other food writer out there:


Image Courtesy Food Network

Capital Spice: Thanks for taking the time to talk with us today, Teddy!
Teddy Folkman: No problem, thanks for reaching out.

CS: So…what does it feel like to be DC’s Most Crushable Chef?
TF: I heard you guys did this while I was away…but I’ve just been telling myself that you meant ‘crushable’ as in “the chef you’d most like to tackle,” so I’m honored to know so many people want to crush me!

CS: That works.  So who’s your most crushable chef?
TF: No doubt – Ann Cashion.  She’s been a mentor and an inspiration throughout my career.

More Q&A with Teddy – including some teasers about what to look for on-screen and in-town when the episodes air – after the jump. (more…)

Pint-sized reviews of some favorite dining experiences in New York. Planning a trip? You should also check out our full-fledged reviews of Perilla, wd~50, The Spotted Pig, and Apotheke.

Bouchon… Ladies Who Lunch In the Mall
NYC Trip 056I can count on a single hand the chefs whose name and reputation could bring me to utter the phrase “let’s get lunch in the mall,” with Robin Scherbatsky-style exuberance.  Yet here I was, on a beautiful Saturday afternooon in Manhattan, leaving Central Park and heading into the Time Warner Center for lunch at Bouchon, Thomas Keller’s casual bistro located only one floor below the hallowed (or not, if recent reviews are to be believed) Per Se. The space itself was surprising. The 60-seat cafe is plopped right in the middle of the 3rd floor, making up for its open exposure with a flood of natural light from the six-story front window of the building. A counterfront bakery is down the hall, not quite adjacent but within eyesight, so you can take some of Keller’s baked goods home with you to devour later.

I’ve never dined at a Keller restaurant before so my expectations were fairly open. I was hoping to see a nice mix of NYC Trip 059California and French cuisine, with a heavy focus on seasonal ingredients. I wasn’t disappointed. The menu is honest and simple with standard bistro fare turned up a notch by better-than-average ingredients. My wagyu beef reuben, served with cheese and wilted arugula on a crusty bread, was rich and decadent for a lunchtime sandwich. However, it was my companion (and soon-to-be-tour-guide) Amanda’s quiche that had my full attention. I had order envy as soon as it was placed in front of us. The quiche was creamy with a perfectly scorched top layer, served with glistening fresh greens. Simple, rich, delightful. I don’t know if I’ll make a beeline for Bouchon on my next visit to New York but it was a great spot for a hearty, flavorful lunch before powering through the rest of our day. It is absolutely worth a visit if you find yourself hungry in the middle of  Central Park.

Bouchon Bakery
10 Columbus Cir
New York, NY 10019
Bouchon Bakery on Urbanspoon 

Cookies, Custard and Sunday brunch after the jump! (more…)

Biagio Fine Chocolates in Adams Morgan is hosting a chocolate tasting this Thursday the 28th with Madecasse Chocolates. 10% of the evening’s proceeds will go to cocoa cooperatives in Madagascar.

Robert DeNiro discusses his restaurant investments.  
Strawberries are in season in the DC area. You can pick some up at your local farmers market or go pick your own from the farm. Once you have these ruby joys at home, try your hand at JohnnaKnowsGoodFood’s spiked strawberry lemonade recipe. 
Hormel reports a strong increase in the sale of… spam
W’s update of the Hotel Washington’s rooftop restaurant looks just like the W: swank, glitzy and perfect for a few sophisticated cocktails.  
Southern Hospitality, which may or may not be owned by Justin Timberlake, is being hit with a sexual harassment lawsuit
13-year old prodigy chef lends a hand to Alinea’s kitchen in Chicago.  
Daniel Bouloud focuses on his next restaurant, DBGB: his 10th restaurant, his first step into “casual” dining” which is set to open in the next two weeks in Manhattan’s Lower East Side.

The Reliable Source has your celebs dining in DC spotting covered: Project Runway winner Christian Siriano was spotted dining with his family at Redwood in Bethesda.   Owen Wilson was sighted at the Bourbon Steak bar in DC before the Night at the Museum premiere.  
In an apparent effort to reach out to retirement communities across America, Baskin Robbins kicks off… soft serve ice cream
A Virginia fish importer has been sentenced to 5+ years in prison due to fish fraud.  Hat tip to DCist for the link.

IMG_7528It’s Memorial Day weekend, the unofficial start to summer.  If you’re still reading this, then you’re probably counting the hours to your three-day weekend.  If not, you’re probably stuck in traffic on Route 50 heading toward Ocean City.

For most Washingtonians, summer beach excursions rarely end up further north than Dewey Beach and Rehoboth.  But I grew up in New Jersey – ‘down the shore,’ as a matter of fact.  For me, the beach means Seaside Heights, with all the Jersey stereotypes that come with it.

MidwayOn a recent trip home, Elizabeth and I took advantage of the surprisingly warm weather to visit the boardwalk in Seaside with my family.  Since we’re usually up there for holidays and other special occasions, I haven’t had much of a chance to show Elizabeth this quintessentially Jersey Shore experience before.

And while we were on the boardwalk, in between games of Skee-Ball (practice for when the H Street Country Club opens), we got to enjoy a Seaside classic: boardwalk hotdogs and fries at Midway Steak House.

The perfect Jersey shore meal after the jump. (more…)

movieposter_breakup_smallThe signs were there; you just didn’t want to acknowledge them.  Maybe you got too comfortable…or maybe he just started taking you for granted.  Either way, there was a while there where things were clearly winding down.  As long as we’re being completely honest here, you had already started seeing someone else.  And when it was all over?  Some regret, sure – but it was tempered with a healthy dose of relief.

I’m not sure if everyone experiences this kind of thing with a restaurant or if it’s just a weird side effect of thinking about food so often, but we’ve recently gone through a long-overdue breakup.  For the better part of eight years, there was one restaurant we visited more than any other.  We knew the menu well enough that we could tell when they made changes.  We outlasted at least three servers and witnessed a chef’s growth from a young apprentice to a comfortable hand.  Our meals there became comfort food in the broadest sense of the phrase.

But over time, we noticed a few disturbing trends.  Each was off-putting in its own right, sure, but it was the combination of them that cemented our decision to end things.  It’s been a month now, and we don’t show any signs of backsliding.  For better or worse, it looks like this breakup is going to stick.

bre_22Here at Capital Spice, we’ve adhered to a policy of not writing about restaurants we visit if we don’t have primarily positive things to say about our experience.  We recognize that any establishment can have an off night, and we rarely visit restaurants often enough to distinguish chronic problems from one-time missteps.  In this case, though, our lengthy relationship with this restaurant and the fact that we’ve previously given it a positive review brought us to the conclusion that this post was an exception we were willing to make.  Even so, we’d rather wait until after the jump to name names – so if you’d rather not know you should probably stop reading here.

It’s not us, it’s them…after the jump. (more…)

Next Page »