September 2009

Chicago is one of those cities that takes their food seriously.  From their bar-food favorites (deep dish pizza, Italian beef sandwiches, Chicago-style hot dogs) to their high-end chefs (Charlie Trotter, Grant Achatz, Rick Bayless), you can rest assured that you will eat well in the city by the lake.  For our anniversary, we decided to head there for a long weekend.  Sure, we took in the sights…but we also took in plenty of good food.  In this post we’re focusing on our high-end highlights.

Chicago 2009 063We’d been planning our trip to Chicago long before Top Chef Masters hit the air, but we found ourselves drawn in by Rick Bayless as he made his way through the competition.  How could you not be?  The guy’s culinary skills are only matched by his Midwestern nice-guy demeanor.  We decided we wanted to try his cooking for ourselves, but we had been warned that waits of an hour or more are not unusual at Frontera Grill and the newly-opened Xoco.  So we played it safe and made a reservation for lunch at Topolobampo, Bayless’s more upscale dining room that sits between the other two and is the only one of the three that isn’t first-come, first-served.

The lobby shared by Topolo and Frontera is colorful and full of energy, but we soon found ourselves being ushered back into a more sedate space.  Darker walls are decorated with colorful Mexican paintings and dia de los muertos dolls line shelves between two rooms.  Tablecloths and candles in glass molcajetes say ‘fine dining’ – but not too loudly.  So does the complimentary serving of guacamole and housemade tortilla chips that puts the usual chips and salsa to shame.  We celebrated the fact that we were on vacation with a pair of cocktails, one of which blended Ayinger Ur-Weisse with passion fruit, fresh lime and a flower tea.  For our meal we started with a shared plate of the tart and silky Fronteriza ceviche before moving onto entrees of cochinita pibil (similar to one of the dishes from Bayless’ Top Chef Masters win) and duck in mole de olla.  The suckling pig was savory and crisp, but Elizabeth’s duck dish blew us away and left us scraping the plate with our complimentary tortillas.  What impressed us most about the experience was the fact that each of the dishes we enjoyed was so much more than the sum of its parts…you really had to get a bit of everything onto your fork for the full experience.  And we were happy to have the chance to do just that.

445 N. Clark St.
Chicago, IL  60610
Topolobampo on Urbanspoon

Chicago 2009 132Some restaurants run like a family reunion. Blackbird glides along on rails, as stark white and calmly efficient as a Scandinavian surgical team. Looking over the menu in the bustling, modern space we realized ordering the tasting menu was our best path. The creativity of dishes jumped off the page, each competing for our attention. We took the pressure off ourselvs and let the kitchen decide for us.

Soon a parade of flavors descended from the kitchen, starting with a light taste of sturgeon belly with trout roe, chioggia beets, and crunchy marcona almonds. All the flavors scooped into one delicate forkful set the tone for the rest of the meal: exquisite ingredients with a studied contrast in flavors, textures and balance. One of my most anticipated dishes – the pistachio gazpacho with ahi, watermelon, sea beans and cocoa – packed a double surprise punch. Precisely diced pink watermelon and tuna intermingled as twins in appearance and contrasts in flavors while a strategic pinch of quality cocoa powder gave the cool soup an earthy gut.  Chef  Sheerin (who has spent time in the kitchens of both wd~50 and Jean Georges – this guy does not F around) even made foie gras, a dish that has grown commonplace on upscale menus, taste exciting and surprising. I was dubious when I first saw the preparation on the menu. Served alongside peaches, sweet corn, and  sliced crispy okra? Was this an overwonked study in irony that the high end dish can slum it on a plate with lowly okra and fruit? How naive of me. The preparation was nothing short of a revelation: the decadent silky foie gras (served torchon) sang while the acidity of soft peach, the crunch of scattered corn, and crisp, almost bitter okra played Supremes to the foie gras’ Diana Ross. It was utter rapture in one bite.

619 W Randolph St
Chicago, IL 60661
Blackbird on Urbanspoon

Craft cocktails (if you can find them) and classic Italian after the jump. (more…)

Argonaut ExteriorIn case you’ve forgotten, there’s a third member of the Capital Spice team who contributes little more than some cute photos from time to time.  On a recent weekend morning, however, Murphy performed a much more valuable function: he cast the deciding vote on where we would go for brunch.

It was ridiculously pleasant out, the perfect weather for an outdoor meal.  It was also the perfect weather for a long walk with our dog.  So we decided to combine the two and seek out a restaurant where we could enjoy a nice patio brunch with Murphy in tow.

Patio at ArgonautI can’t find the post now, but I remember reading that the Argonaut’s patio was decidedly dog-friendly and that they were offering brunch on Saturdays starting at 10.  I also read something about a “Bloody Mary bar.” It was the perfect combination.  We headed out for a walk and gradually made our way toward 14th and H Streets, NE.

So of course we were early.  Thankfully the staff was nice enough to let us make ourselves comfortable on the patio while they got ready for service.  While we were waiting, we looked over the menu.  What we saw got us hungry in a hurry.

A brunch menu with punch, complete with the appropriate make-your-own morning cocktails, after the jump. (more…)

BlogtoberfestAh, Oktoberfest.  Sure, it’s an almost 200 year-old traditional Bavarian festival that celebrates a royal marriage, but here in America we’ve taken it to its logical conclusion: a month-long excuse to drink German beer, eat sausage and pretzels, and dress like the St. Pauli Girl (Note: Doing so without shaving one’s beard and mustache is likely to earn you more than a few odds looks).

And now Orr Stuhl, the Washington City Paper’s intrepid Beerspotter, has taken it one step further.  As announced on September 14th, Orr is calling all bloggers – food and otherwise – to rise up with one voice and declare the next few weeks to be BLOGTOBERFEST here in Washington.

Here at Capital Spice, we love a good collaborative effort among bloggers (especially one that was born of the DC Food Bloggers’ Happy Hour earlier this month), so we’re definitely on board with this idea.  As explained by Orr over at the City Paper, Blogtoberfest represents an invitation for bloggers to dedicate a few posts during the month of October to various aspects of their own personal beer experiences.

But what to write about, right?  Orr’s glad you asked.  And he wants your input to determine the prompts that bloggers will be encouraged to write about each week. 

Think you’ve got some good ideas?  Then join Orr (and us) at Axis Bar & Grill on U Street this Wednesday for a planning (and drinking) session.  We’ll be gathering around 6:30 before getting down to business at 7.  And we promise we won’t stop until we’ve come up with a lineup of topics that will have you searching the Interwebs to see what your favorite DC bloggers are saying.

See you on Wednesday night – and come thirsty!

Axis Bar & Grill
1340 U Street, NW
Washington DC
6:30 – Happy Hour
7:00 – Blogtoberfest Planning

Get some fresh air and learn how to start your own organic garden at the Rappahannock Farm Tour this weekend.    
Make banh mi at home.

Is a foodie call the next booty call?
Looking for some DC area Oktoberfest parties? The Going Out Gurus’ Fritz has a solid round up
Thanks to the high amounts of fruits, veggies and fish we consume, DC has been ranked the #1 brainiest state in America. (And yeah, we’re brainy enough to know DC isn’t a state but who are we to complain when a compliment is involved?)

Endless Simmer has the scoop on the world’s biggest pie fight
Macheesmo makes a 5-spice popcorn.
Two Taste Buds tries Zaytinya
Young & Hungry covers the Sou’Wester opening party
Moroccan-spiced roasted veggies from Gradually Greener

The autumn nibble is in the air, the sun sets before you even leave the office, and you have a huge craving for a delicious, healthy, homemade soup. But you live in DC which means you work long hours and probably get stuck on a metro delay on the way home. A 15-step Julia Child recipe is so not in the cards for you this Wednesday night. So what to do?

Call Soupergirl. Faster than you can say organic chicken stock reduction, signing up for Soupergirl’s weekly email list will keep you in the know about upcoming  soup deliveries which can be scheduled for your home, office, or pre-established pick up joint (sorry, Rhinobar did not make the cut). Every week Soupergirl offers two different types of soup – a chunky meal-worthy soup and a pureed light soup or appetizer. Plus, Soupergirl has a special arrangement with Treet Bakery for desserts and bread, so you can settle the score on all your comfort food needs.

Even better, Soupergirl is dedicated to the locavore movement, meaning all soups are healthy (“Healthy, but so good you can’t tell,” she claims) and seasonal. Soupergirl sources local farmers like Sunnyside and Spring Valley as well as an organic co-op for the produce it takes to make her creations. Soupergirl even sources biodegradable containers to safely carry her meals to your stoop.

I caught up with Soupergirl after a night of deliveries and she shared some of her favorite flavors plus a soup to match nearly every life occasion:


Maybe it’s the chill in the air and darker evenings but we’ve been in a pizza mood lately. When the chance came to meet up with Dumpling Diva for a quick dinner in Arlington, we knew we’d be dining at Piola in short order. The Source 037

Piola, a relatively recent addition to the Rosslyn line up, is a restaurant chain of a different color. Unlike many franchises that smother regions with their ubiquity (coughFiveGuyscough), Piola hopscotches around the globe with their winning approach. Restaurants have sprung up in Italy, Brazil, Argentina and Mexico in addition to a handful of US locations in New York and Florida. Inside their Rosslyn location brightly colored glass warms up a soaring industrial space that never fails to host a bumping post-work drink crowd. The space is designed to stay lively with special discounts for Arlington residents and events throughout the calendar, like a bottomless gnocchi on the 29th of every month.

Try to score one of the outdoor tables on Wilson Blvd while the weather holds. What you lose in a lackluster view (especially into a sad Domino’s delivery space across the street) you make up for with fresh breezes and the ability to hear your neighbor over the din. 

After a quick round of drinks, Mike, Dumpling Diva and I got down to the serious business of selecting our flavors for the night. The menu at Piola is impressive. Finicky eaters can rest assured that pizza classics are represented, while the more adventurous among us can gallop through the menu of ingredient possibilities. While the restaurant may feel New World Italian in decor (and by that, I mean not Italian at all) the restaurant’s footprints in South America and The Source 032Europe shine through in the menu’s flavor profiles. Interested in catupiry cheese with hearts of palm and artichokes? The Curitiba has you covered.  How about a pizza that tastes like brunch? Try the Copenhagen with smoked salmon, brie, parsley and mozzarella.

We quickly settled on two ambitious options: the Mantova and Lisbona. Piola’s focus is on crispy, thin-crust pizzas delivered hot out of a wood burning oven with a horde of fresh ingredients in unexpected combinations. For years I labored under the youthful delusion that pizza crust is merely a sauce and topping delivery system and only delicious when it comingled with its cargo, kind of like an ice cream cone. Under Mike’s patient New Jersey tutelage, I finally saw the error of my ways. All of his hard work came to fruition that night when we both admired the two pies set in front of us, blistered and charred just so on the rims with a crispy, crackerlike bite.

Get the full dish after the jump! (more…)

Arthur Bryants SignI have a confession to make.  My status as a certified Kansas City Barbecue Society judge has been, until this weekend, largely ceremonial.  Don’t get me wrong – I’ve sat through the certification course and I’ve judged my share of contests.

But I hadn’t experienced the dean of the Kansas City barbeque establishments.  That’s right – I’d never been to Arthur Bryant’s.

Sure, we tried to swing by as part of our visit to LC’s Bar-B-Que and Gates & Sons last December.  But the line snaked out the door and along Brooklyn Avenue…in December.  It would have to wait for another time.

Pickles and BeefFinally, during our visit to Kansas City this weekend, that time came.  Elizabeth actually asked her parents to carve out time in our weekend with them to drive into East Kansas City to visit the original Arthur Bryant’s for lunch.  Nevermind the fact that there are three perfectly good barbecue places within 10 minutes of her house…they agreed to take me to Arthur Bryant’s.

 Seventy-nine years of barbeque tradition – complete with photos – after the jump. (more…)

cork logoSometimes, after a long day at work, you just need to unwind with a glass of something red (or white or bubbly).  With all of the great wine bars and wine-focused restaurants that have opened over the past few years, it’s gotten much easier for Washingtonians to get together and do just that.  Whether you live on Capitol Hill or 14th Street, in Penn Quarter or Glover Park, you’ve got a local establishment with a wine list that reads like an encyclopedia close at hand.

One of the most tempting of these options is Cork on 14th Street.  A neighborhood wine bar first and foremost, Cork is “intimate” in all the best meanings of the word.  But it’s not just a place to nurse a glass of pinot noir at the bar (and don’t even think about going all “Sideways” as you sip).  Cork is also a great place to grab a bite (or several): they offer up about two dozen impressive small plates that are designed to be nibbled and shared.

Roasted LeeksWe could have checked it out on our own and shared the plates between us, but our visit to Cork had an ulterior motive.  Like a lot of people, we’ve been fascinated by Ashley Messick’s attempt to eat her way through Washingtonian Magazine’s 100 Best Restaurants list.  She’s been documenting her efforts at From Komi to Marvin, and we had the chance to meet her at the Food Bloggers’ Happy Hour earlier this month.   While there, we made plans to check out a restaurant together, and after looking over what remained on her to-try list we settled on Cork.

Plates to share and wines that pair after the jump. (more…)

September can be such a tease.  The air is livable and I long to stomp through crunchy leaves with a hot cider in one hand and our dog’s leash in the other. But we just aren’t there yet. White linen may have left the stage but corduroy jackets aren’t regular stars. Similarly, the cool air means the end of berry season but corn is still stacked on the vendors’ folding tables.  What goes best with an early fall warm day and cool evening breeze?  Crab and corn chowder.

As if the addition of crab to a classic corn chowder doesn’t make it sound appealing, how about a recipe that co-stars Corn Chowder 003bacon and chanterelle mushrooms? Sold. I’d been eyeing this recipe, from The Bon Appetit Cookbook, all summer, waiting for the mercury to drop just enough to rationalize a full-bodied savory soup. The recipe is a roadmap of the season’s best options: local crabmeat, fresh leeks from the farm, and bright crispy corn.

For me, hot soup recipes are best left to low key Sunday evenings when ingredients can sizzle and simmer on their own time while I prep the next step, glass of wine in hand. Though it can be accomplished with only two hands, I recommend tackling this recipe with the help of a sous  in the kitchen. If only for the witty banter.  

Recipe after the jump! (more…)

Homemade vanilla wafers from the Savory Reviews  

Hot dogs get a gourmet makeover in Philly.  

Technology and MSG gives four dishes from China Express a test drive.  

Kellari Taverna, a new Greek restaurant on K St, is now open.  

Glenn Babbock has joined Nage as a co-owner and chef de cuisine and We Love DC got some extra love by way of cooking classes. 
Coca Cola’s “Heist” wins an Emmy for best commercial. 

The Not So Thin Man signs up for the 100 Drinks to Try Before You Die challenge
Lemon-lime shortbread from A Measured Memory. 
The Slow Cook makes the big summer to autumn kitchen garden adjustment.  
Houndstooth Gourmet’s peach and raspberry galette looks positively pornographic (in a good way). 
Arugula Files enjoys Rays the Steaks
Looking for an ambitious kitchen project this weekend? Try Tartelett’es Matcha and Peach Pate de Fruit Macaroons
I wish The District Domestic would bake me a birthday cake like the one she made her mom – an almond cake with lemon curd, blueberries and a mascarpone frosting.

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