July 2009

Le Bon ExteriorMy work has always required me to spend at least some time on Capitol Hill, but until recently my office has been elsewhere.  Now that I’m working on the Hill full time, I’ve begun to explore the lunch options in much greater detail.  Lucky me, right?

I had always felt that the restaurants in closest proximity to the Congressional office buildings lacked a certain…I don’t know what. (Bet you thought I was going to toss off a French phrase there, didn’t you?)  Simply put, the majority of the choices seemed to be geared toward expediency – sandwich chains, steam table buffets, and coffee shops abound.  I was ready to start investing in brown bags.

Le Bon CounterBut then I decided to stop into Le Bon Cafe, a quaint little storefront on 2nd Street SE between a FedEx Office and Pete’s Diner.  I had seen plenty of people streaming in and out of the bright blue doors and even some friendly gatherings at the tables outside, so I decided to check it out for myself.  The line, which ended just inside the door, struck me as a good sign (though it was lunchtime on Capitol Hill and that’s hardly unusual).

Breaking away from the Hill lunch rut after the jump. (more…)

formosa2When word got out that Derek Brown was working with SOVA Espresso & Wine on H Street, some of the loudest cheers came from us here at Capital Spice.  And when we met Jamie MacBain, a bartender who came to DC from Portland’s craft cocktail scene, we knew that good things were in store.

Unfortunately for us, MacBain’s talents haven’t gone unnoticed, and it wasn’t long before the folks at the Four Seasons came calling.  As of Monday, MacBain has started behind the bar at Bourbon Steak, Michael Mina’s high-end dining room in Georgetown.  They’ve been proud of their cocktail program since they opened, making their own bitters and tinctures, squeezing their own juices and pouring their sodas from glass bottles instead of a gun.  It’s a great fit for a guy like MacBain, who was one of the founders of the Oregon Bartenders Guild.  And it means we’ve got another place to go for hand-crafted classics and innovations when we’re out drinking on M Street!

bourbonsteakWe suspected something was up when we didn’t see MacBain and SOVA listed among the competitors in the DC Craft Bartender’s Guild’s 2nd annual Rickey Month celebration.  So we checked in with Frank Hankins at SOVA and he confirmed that Jamie had gotten “an offer that was way too good to pass up” from Bourbon Steak.  Bummer.

So what does this mean for H Street?  Thankfully, Frank assured us that SOVA will continue to mix the impressive array of grape-based spirits (pisco, brandy, grappa, etc.) that Brown helped him put together.  MacBain’s fellow bartenders are still on hand, working hard to crank out the Arequipa Sunsets, Formosas and French 75s.  But they could definitely use a hand, and Frank has asked us to help spread the word.  Here we go:


Interested in being part of the growing craft cocktail scene here in DC?  Looking to shake things up behind the bar?  Want to work with a unique drink menu created by Derek Brown and other top talents?

If so, SOVA is calling.  As part of the emerging Atlas District on H Street Northeast, SOVA attracts a diverse crowd from all over the metro area.  In addition to craft cocktails and punches, SOVA serves a range of moderately priced wines using a Cruvinet system and a selection of beers.

Regulars include students at nearby Gallaudet University, so knowledge of ASL is a plus (but not a requirement).

If you’re interested or just looking for more information, reach out to Frank Hankins at SOVA.  Email frank@sovadc.com or call (202) 397-3080 to inqure.

Let’s face facts: Most of us are mere financial mortals. As much as we may love to leave dinner in the capable cleavers of professionals every night, eventually the bank account goes a little anemic. Here are a couple of tips and tricks we use to stretch our dining dollar:

livingsocialGroupons:  Leveraging the power of a group purchase, Groupon publishes a new deal every morning featuring a discount on a reasonably known restaurant, salon, spa, or activity. Most groupon offerings are local or at least in the inner rings of MD and VA- this isn’t your parents Entertainment Book filled with exurb chains. Recent appearances include $40 of food at Sushi-Ko for $20 and $15 for $35 worth of food and beverages at PS7. LivingSocial.com has recently thrown its hat into the ring and may be worth keeping an eye on as well — Monday’s deal featured 50% off at Zengo. DC City Paper’s deals are not to be overlooked, with $50 gift certificates that only cost you $25. Current restaurants on offer include Dino, Policy, and Commonwealth.

opentableOpenTable Dining Points:  OpenTable is an online restaurant reservation system can give you a little extra cash in addition to finding a reservation quickly. For every reservation you make and fulfill on OpenTable, you get 100 dining points.  Like frequent flyer miles, points add up to a check coming back to you to spend on dinner. Checks are available in $20, $50, and $100 increments. To bulk up quieter hours, some restaurants work out 1,000 point reservations with OpenTable, getting you to the magic check finish line even faster. OpenTable does not send you your check automatically – you have to order it when you have enough points.  The checks typically arrive within 2 weeks and can be used at any restaurant featured on OpenTable.

Weekly Specials and Happy Hours: I learned the hard way that a weeknight happy hour, despite my best intentions, ends up putting the spotlight on cocktails and the hindsight on bad food decisions that come after an intense post-work gossip session. Jumbo Slice at 1 am on a Tuesday? Yeah, I’ve seen the belly of the beast. For those with an adult sense of restraint, check out Metrocurean’s Wednesday Delicious Deal, featuring a constant parade of intriguing specials and deals. Refined happy hour tastes will appreicate Metrocurean’s tip on the the sexy, sophisticated bar at the St. Regis, miles away from candy-coated, half-off cocktails at Ozio.

<<UPDATE 5:00 PM 8/24/09: Restaurant Week has officially begun, and we received an update today from the folks at the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington.  As of today’s count, there are almost 210 restaurants participating in Restaurant Week, and we’ve got them all up-to-date on our Google map.  Check it out!>>

By now you’ve probably seen countless other sources announce the participants in the upcoming Summer Restaurant Week that will take place from August 24 through August 30.  But we here at Capital Spice like to give you one more piece of information to keep in mind as you’re making up your mind on where to spend your Restaurant Week dollars: location.

As we have in the past, we’ve included all of the participating Restaurant Week establishments on one handy-dandy Google map.  So take a look and figure out what’s closest to your office for a $20.09 lunch.  Or scout out the spot closest to your favorite hotspot and grab a $35.09 dinner before going out.  Then head over to OpenTable and make your reservation!

Click on the image to go to our Google map that locates every restaurant participating in DC's Summer Restaurant Week 2009.

Click on the image to go to our Google map that locates every restaurant participating in DC's Summer Restaurant Week 2009.

Don’t forget to check out DC Foodies – they’ve been collecting Restaurant Week menus for years and will likely be doing so again for this round.

And if you’ve got questions about specific restaurants, feel free to ask!  We’ve done our share of Restaurant Weeks, so we may have some insight.

MargaritaTalk about a leap of faith.

When a restaurant advertises itself as “The Tac ‘o’ The Town,” it’s easy to write it off as another Americanized take on Mexican food.  And when that restaurant has two locations, in Arlington and Del Ray, it makes it even easier to write it off.

But doing so would be a big mistake in the case of Taqueria Poblano.  We visited their Arlington location for the first time a year or so ago, on a night when we didn’t feel like waiting for a table to open up at our usual sushi joint.  What we found was a pleasant surprise: a flavorful take on tacos and some damn good margaritas.

TaquitosSince then, I’ve been back on a number of occasions with my father whenever we get a taste for those margaritas.  It’s not the healthiest of dinner choices, sure, but the freshly made guacamole is addictive and the meats that they serve up for their tacos and entrees are always spicy and tender.

A sampling from their menu and some photos to go with it after the jump. (more…)

Woah. Did anyone else know that restaurant critic, and Top Chef Masters judge, Gael Greene was a one-night Elvis groupie? Check out the dirty details in this memoir excerpt.  
The Arlington Cinema N’ Drafthouse filed for bankruptcy. This place is a neighborhood gem I would hate to lose, though I confess Mike and I don’t visit nearly as often as we should.
Retiring New York Times food critic publishes his first book “Born Round.” This excerpt chronicles his childhood eating strategy which includes hysterics and baby bulimia.   
SoGood thinks bacon has jumped the shark
A new documentary at the E Street Cinema tells of a special inner-city culinary arts program in Philadelphia.  
Is the classic pub disappearing from the English countryside?  
Ladies and gentlemen, the Eight Wonders of Kansas Cuisine.  
The Grand International loves Third Edition in Georgetown. 
Johnna Knows Good Food gives us the scoop on a special chocolate exhibit at the U.S. Botanic Garden. 
OMFG. Blackberry and bourbon-peach pie from The Garden Apartment.

From Komi to Marvin checks Ravi Kabob off her list
Endless Simmer gives okra a test run
Arugula Files tries Cava in Barracks Row and brings a little Cava love to her kitchen. 
Two new bakeries are on their way to U St NW.  My quest for the perfect croissant lives on! 
Tim Carman over at Y&H shares his dining guide review of Makoto, one of the best kept fine dining secrets in DC.  
Budak’s Tumblr takes a cooking class while traveling in India. A four-hour, hands-on cooking class.  
Bethesda Restaurant Week is coming
Penn Quarter Living checks out Proof’s charcuterie board.  

Brightest Young Things gives us a rundown of DC food blogs on Twitter.

The new Fairfax cupcake bakery got the name just right. Cupcakes, actually, are all around us. Less than a year after Interiorour epic Capital Spice Cupcake Showdown, we have several cupcake newcomers in town and no end in sight. Cupcakes Actually is a welcome addition to the line up. 

We stopped by this itsy bitsy bakery after a trip to Virginia wine country to see what all the fuss was about. It’s easy to figure out. This space is friendly, open, and makes sure you get down to cupcake business. There are a few stools inside if you prefer to enjoy your cupcake in the store, but welcoming patio furniture and easy to-go boxes make it a great drive by during errands or for Fairfaxers on their way home from an afternoon running errands.

I have a handicap when it comes to cupcakes. If there is a red velvet option on the menu, I am honor bound to order it. In this case it was a Simply Red – a classic red velvet with cream cheese frosting – that did me in. Despite the many appealing flavors they also had on hand (a champagne cupcake? vanilla blended with rasberry Cupcake and Milkpuree? Italian Stallion with traditional cannoli filling?) I had to go with the classic. It was good. Not the best I’ve ever had in my life but definitely a strong showing. The cake was rich and decadent, a nice blend of earthy chocolate and sweet sugar paired with a whipped to a frenzy cream cheese frosting.

However, the true calling card of Cupcakes Actually is the Actually Dipped variety: moist vanilla or devil’s food cupcakes topped with butter cream icing and dipped into chocolate fudge or creamy caramel. Gilding the lily? Who cares when it tastes this good. But be sure to arm yourself with a tall, cold glass of milk. Dipped Black and White




Cupcakes Actually
11944 Grand Commons Ave
Fairfax, VA 22030
Cupcakes Actually on Urbanspoon

InteriorOver the past few years, the section of Wisconsin Avenue north of the Social Safeway and south of the National Cathedral has been transformed.  New bars and restaurants have opened, bringing with them a new (and younger) clientele.  Rents have gone up, driving out Blockbuster and underperforming eateries to make way for more vibrant enterprises.

Despite the progress in the area, there are still a few institutions whose loyal clientele keep them in business year after year (and I’m not just talking about JP’s and Good Guys).  Sushi-Ko is one of them; so is “Plain Old” Pearson’s Liquors.  For us, though, the throwback that has the greatest impact is the one that has been serving up traditional European fare for more than sixty years now: Old Europe.

Though the menu includes some French and Hungarian influences, Old Europe is first and foremost a German restaurant.  Entrees are named in German and then described in English.  Beer is sold by the half-liter as well as the pint.  Most menu items are hearty combinations of grilled or roasted meat and root vegetables served in generous portions.  It just doesn’t get more authentic than this.

Our German love note (tender, but sensible and efficient) after the jump. (more…)

Thomas Keller Chicken and Tomato 004So here it is July, and I’m proud to say that I have taken another step toward the completion of my New Year’s Resolution (to attempt a restaurant-quality meal each month).  I’m not as proud to say that this still only makes four such meals despite the fact that July is the seventh month of the year, but I’m committed to picking up the slack so that I can still end the year with twelve of these experiences under my belt.

For this month’s challenge, I found myself intrigued by several tweets raving about Thomas Keller’s recipe for roast chicken.  “So simple!”  “So perfect!”  So I decided to try it for myself and see what all the fuss was about.  To complete the restaurant quality meal, I turned to Food & Wine’s archives and picked a suitably summery side from a list of Keller recipes: heirloom tomatoes stuffed with succotash.  Remembering what happened when I tried to channel Barton Seaver back in May, I knew I would be thinking long and hard about every grain of salt I added to these dishes.

Recipes for Thomas Keller’s favorite roast chicken and the succotash-stuffed tomatoes after the jump. (more…)

Goat Meat with VeggiesFood news travels fast here in Washington – between the various professional reviewers and all of our fellow bloggers, there are very few items that pass unremarked.  Sometimes it seems like we’re all writing as fast as we can with one eye on Twitter, one eye on our inboxes and one eye on every promising storefront we pass.  The arrival of Poste Roasts, the newest offering from Chef Robert Weland of Poste Brasserie in the Hotel Monaco, has been no exception.

As luck would have it, we were writing about some of our favorite group- and family-style dining options around the city on the day that the Poste Roasts concept was announced.  We were already writing about the Thursday evening Market to Market dinners, so this new offering made a welcome addition. 

When we read the press release, Elizabeth was the first to see the potential.  “Any interest in getting a group together to do this for your birthday?” she asked me, thinking a month ahead.  I wasn’t sure right away, but it didn’t take long for me to realize that this would be a great way to celebrate with a group of our friends…weather permitting.  And the more I thought about it, the more excited I got.  After all, we already knew we were fans of Poste; why not see what Chef Weland could do with spit-roasting?

IMG_8564As it turns out, he can do plenty.  When you call to make your reservation (at least a week in advance, please), you select an entree for your party.  The locally-sourced options include standards like suckling pig, beef brisket, and baby lamb, as well as a grilled wild Alaskan salmon, but that’s just the beginning.  You can also go further afield and try Peking duck, squab (pigeon), poussin (young chicken) or capretto (baby goat).  Each comes with its own paired sides and is served family-style for the whole table to share.

If you’ve seen Metrocurean or Young & Hungry over at the City Paper recently, you’ve already read about a delicious suckling pig dinner they enjoyed in the Poste Garden.

Us?  We went with the goat.  Check it out after the jump. (more…)

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