May 2010

It’s Memorial Day weekend, the official (unofficial?) start to summer.  If you’re like us, there’s a pretty good chance you’re going to be grilling and barbecuing more than a few times over the next few months.  Of course you know the difference…right?

I’ll admit, I had to learn the hard way.   Growing up in New Jersey, I always referred to any situation where meat was being cooked outside as a barbecuing.  Burgers, hot dogs, whatever…if it was being cooked over propane or coals, you were barbecuing.

But step outside the northeast, and you’re likely to be met with funny looks if you talk about barbecuing a burger.  Barbecue is low-and-slow cooking that involves smoke, low temperatures and tough cuts of meat that combine to form something magically delicious.  And although you can call any old cookout a barbecue, you can’t call just any cooked meat barbecue.

Need more insight into the different styles of barbecue?  Check out this video that Tim Carman dug up over at the City Paper.

Now that we’ve established the difference between grilling and barbecue, I wanted to share a recipe for homemade barbecue sauce that I used for a community potluck earlier this month.  When word got out that I’ve got some experience with barbecue, I was asked to smoke some up for our new neighborhood.  So I cooked up forty pounds of pork shoulder in a neighbor’s bullet-style smoker, and I decided to go one step further and cook up my own barbecue sauce to go with it.

A while back, I found a barbecue sauce recipe at, a site I’ve used on a couple of occasions as I’ve learned the ins and outs of good homemade ‘cue.  I tried it and found it tasty but not quite what I’d grown accustomed to as I’ve tasted my way around Kansas City.  There were a few flavors that seemed to be missing, most notably tomato, celery seed and cumin.

So I worked with it a bit and came up with the version you can find after the jump. (more…)

<<EDIT 2:53 PM, 5/28/10: I’ve been informed that Agora’s chef is now Ghassan Jarrouj, who comes to Agora from Sitti in Raleigh, NC.  Jarrouj has 35 years’ experience heading up kitchens with a wide range of Mediterranean influences including Neyla in Georgetown and Taverna Kefi in Wheaton.  My apologies for the confusion.>>

There’s a reason I got as excited as I did when I discovered Urfa Tomato Kabob in Penn Quarter last year – Turkish cuisine is still woefully underrepresented in the DC dining scene.  But not for long.  This week, a taste of Turkey arrived in Dupont Circle in the form of Agora.

If you’ve ever made the trip out to Vienna to taste the authentic Turkish flavors at Nizam’s, you’ll be thrilled to know that Chef Rasit Gulsen is heading up the kitchen in the new 17th Street restaurant.  And if you’ve found yourself wondering how Turks can live almost exclusively on kabob and pide, Agora has the answer you’ve been looking for: seafood.  The riches of the Mediterranean make up a sizable portion of Agora’s menu in a variety of presentations that is likely to surprise most DC diners.

I stopped by Agora just as they were putting the finishing touches on the decor and the kitchen, getting ready for their big opening this week.  While I was there I had a chance to take a look around, take some pictures, and even get a look at their menu.

After the jump, check out some of what Agora is bringing to the marketplace. (more…)

Have you been watching Top Chef Masters?  Even though Susur Lee is credited as representing Toronto, the highest-scoring chef in the show’s history has a connection to Washington in the form of his newest restaurant.  Zentan at the Donovan House features Lee’s take on refined (and redefined) Asian cuisine.

To celebrate Lee’s performance – and to enjoy another new hot spot with friends – the DC Food Blogger Happy Hour will take place at Zentan next Wednesday, June 2nd.  We’ll get started at 6 PM and run until at least 8, and we’re going to be in the restaurant’s private dining room.  Happy hour specials will include $7 beers, $7 glasses of wine and $7 specialty cocktails.

If you’re feeling hungry, be sure to check out some of their sushi or go all out and order the nineteen-ingredient Singapore slaw.  We’ll also be there during their regular “Lucky 7’s” happy hour, so we’ll be able to enjoy $7 small plates that run the gamut from steamed pork dumplings to fluke sashimi.

As always, we ask that you join us on our Facebook page to let us know if you’ll be able to attend.  We’re already at 45 guests and counting, so this one should be BIG!  While you’re there, take a moment and let us know where you would like to do a future Food Blogger Happy Hour – chances are you’re not alone.

Okay, first things first: do you have any idea how tough it was not to make a “Domo arrigato” pun on robatayaki or to rhyme “Kushi” and “sushi” in the title?  Anyone who knows me knows that this is either an indication that I’m growing as a person or a case of me being paralyzed by too many options.  I’m guessing the latter.

In any event, I’ve been looking forward to writing about Kushi since I found myself near the Convention Center at lunchtime a few weeks ago.  The restaurant bills itself as an izakaya, a “sit-down sake shop.”  In practical terms, it’s a full-service Japanese restaurant that offers sushi, grilled and skewered entrees and an impressive beverage menu.

That diversity allows for a wide range of experiences depending on what you’re in the mood for.  Looking for a few tender, savory skewers or charcoal grilled items to tame your appetite?  Pull up a stool at the first counter, where you can watch them prepared and cooked before your eyes.  Eager for some a la carte sushi?  There’s a second counter at the back of the shop for that.  And there’s table seating throughout the space if you want a little of both and some more besides.

I walked in by myself for lunch, and I was invited to grab a seat at the sushi counter.  Sushi sounded good (and looked better), but a quick read through the lunchtime menu convinced me to try a trio of skewers.  The combination of price and selection was just too tempting to resist.

After the jump, a rundown on the robatayaki and the details on Kushi’s newest omakase offerings. (more…)

In 2008, date planners everywhere suffered a major loss when a kitchen fire closed Ristorante Piccolo. But rejoice, incoming romantically inclined interns! Piccolo has finally re-opened. Built into a townhouse on 31st Street in Georgetown, Piccolo is  a pleasant stroll from the hubbub of M Street NW.

With a classic Italian menu and intimate two-person tables on the second-floor balcony, Piccolo’s return continues to strive for a romantic setting. The interior boasts walls with a warm glow and soft acoustic guitar recordings play throughout the dining room.  The menu will be comfortable to anyone familiar with Italian-American food, with no real surprises but a solid showing of classics.

Romance and budget can live in harmony for diners willing to head out before May 23rd: Ristorante Piccolo is taking part in a Tastings Journal promotion featuring a 5-course tasting menu (one glass of wine included) for $45.

I visited the restaurant last week with some co-workers, willing to test my third-trimester appetite against all five courses. The first course’s bruschetta had a surprising kick to it with the tomatoes giving way to a welcome spice not typical in bruschetta. Flavors settled down for a creamy lobster bisque featuring a few lumps of lobster meat. My third course, spaghetti with a tomato reduction and pesto, mixed flavors nicely though not so well that I wanted to push myself to finish the bowl. (As a brief aside, I was pleased to see the bowl of pasta served with a spoon and fork, spoons making it so much easier to twirl pasta appropriately.) By the fourth course, fresh tortellini stuffed with cheese and tossed with seared jumbo shrimp, I was starting to fade. My stomach was running out of space and my short-sighted menu selections seemed to concentrate on only the richest of each course options. By the time the desserts came around, I barely mustered the spirit to try a bite of each…though I did note with satisfaction that the tiramisu had the familiar tang of ladyfingers soaked in espresso (a step I think many restaurants skip).

I’m glad Ristorante Piccolo is back on its feet. Though they desperately want to carve a niche as one of the most romantic dining options in Georgetown, I’m reluctant to vote for them for the title. The spotty service we received (a waiter who didn’t know what pasteurized meant, two others who were unable to break a $20 when the bill came, having to request the wine that was supposed to come with our fourth course rather than be reminded of this included benefit) kept me just a little on edge. Still, if they can work out the kinks I’d heartily recommend the restaurant for those evenings out when you need a solid but safe menu of familiar Italian dishes.

Ristorante Piccolo
1068 31st St NW
Washington, DC 20007
Ristorante Piccolo on Urbanspoon

Image from Le Bernardin website

On Friday night, DC foodies have a chance to see a pair of bonafide celebrity chefs doing what they do second best: sitting around laughing and chatting with each other on all kinds of topics.  Anthony Bourdain and Eric Ripert are coming to the Warner Theater for what is being billed as “an evening of storytelling and observation providing the audience with a frank and provocative back and forth about what really goes on behind the kitchen doors- from both ends of the spectrum.”

That’s right.  Bourdain and Ripert.  Onstage.  Together.  Just hanging out, you know, like a pair of bros.  And you can join them (maybe even ask them a question if you get lucky).

It’s a total foodie geek-out opportunity, and the bonhomie between the two chefs pretty much guarantees it’s going to be a good time.  To this day one of my favorite episodes of “No Reservations” involved Bourdain getting back on the line at Les Halles and eventually being joined by Ripert on the fish station.  Grub Street has a great reminder of just what fun the episode was to watch.

We had a chance to chat with Eric Ripert in advance of his visit, and we took the opportunity to ask him about the show, his “regular guest judge” role on the upcoming DC-based season of Top Chef, and how much the city’s dining scene has changed since he was cooking at the Watergate twenty years ago:

Capital Spice: Good afternoon, Chef.  Thanks for talking with us today.  We’re already looking forward to your show on Friday night – what can you tell us about it?
Eric Ripert: It’s going to be a lot of fun.  The setup is one of a moderated conversation, with a question and answer period at the end.

CS: Can you give us an idea of what you’ll be talking about?
ER: It’s hard to say…for us, it really is going to be a conversation, and we have a very easy dynamic.  But I expect we will be speaking about things like the current state of “fine dining” – what it means today, the state that it’s in.  Of course, we’ll likely also talk about things like Top Chef, so there will be something for everyone.

CS: It looks like you’ve only got two of these evenings scheduled (the second is in Baltimore on Saturday night).  What made you pick DC for this?
ER: Washington is an easy choice – it’s relatively close to New York, where Tony and I are both based, I have a restaurant here, and it is a city that enjoys good food.

More of our interview with “The Ripper” – including some of his favorite recent dining experiences and some Top Chef gossip – after the jump. (more…)

<<EDIT 12:24 PM, 5/13/10 – Sorry for the confusion – I listed the address as NE, not NW, but I’ve corrected it.

UPDATE 12:20 PM, 5/13/10 – Check out Buddha Bar’s dinner menu, just in!>>

If you’ve ridden the Circulator from Union Station to Georgetown or driven along Massachusetts Avenue near Chinatown at any point in the past year or so, you’ve been tantalized with a large advertisement for Buddha Bar in the ground-floor windows of 455.  The gigantic space has been a work in progress for almost twice that long, but the wait is finally over.  Buddha Bar opened for dinner service last night and is now ready for business.

Maybe you’re familiar with their popular series of music compilations.  Perhaps you’ve paid a visit to Little Buddha in Las Vegas or the original Buddha Bar in Paris.  Or maybe the Washington outpost of this global lounge and restaurant concept (branded as “eatertainment”) is your first experience with the concept.  Whatever your level of familiarity with Buddha Bar, prepare to be impressed.

After the jump, take an early look at the space with photos while you’re making your plans for this weekend. (more…)

Comfort food with flair. Gratis baskets of bread with their goods baked in house. Outdoor seating. Friendly service. I’m not sure why Liberty Tavern in Clarendon hasn’t made it into our heavy rotation for dining but its loyal following of other fans have certainly discovered the love.

My friend Jill and I met up for lunch on a recent warm afternoon to take in some fresh air in the middle of the workday. Fresh off the metro, I arrived first and was greeted with a warm smile from the host who gave me the option of outdoor seating (win!). The patio area of Liberty Tavern doesn’t take much space – only about two bistro tables deep with a snake around the corner of the building – and it may not have a world class view but I’ll take a fresh breeze on a Wednesday any way I can get it. Before seating me I was impressed that the host took the trouble to re-adjust the umbrella so both Jill and I would be able to sit in the shade. (Lunch hour or not – it’s hard to claim productivity when you leave the office at the end of the day with more freckles than when you arrived.) 

Jill and her adorable 6-week old baby Maya arrived shortly afterwards and we quickly got settled. By which I mean we spent so much time catching up we completely ignored the menu for far too long. Our waiter Daniel was in no rush. He was friendly and relaxed, making sure a full bread basket arrived at our table promptly. (Servers! If there is ever an 8-month pregnant woman in your section, don’t even bother asking if she wants a bread basket. Just make sure one materializes with a quickness.) At this point, I could happily make a meal out of slices of bread and good quality butter but better sense prevailed. Jill and I managed to dig into the menu, which boasts a variety of flavors.

Liberty Tavern’s menu is perhaps best know for wood-fired pizza. The Staten Island Pie, with mozzarella, san marzano tomotoes, provolone and basil, looked especially appealing but a touch too greasy for a warm spring afternoon. One of the fresh soups, a split pea puree with creme fraiche, caught my eye as a tasty vichyssoise variation but we were informed it is served warm so it also missed the cut.

So what did I get? Two words: homemade pastrami. (more…)

While the snow was still on the ground and a chill was still in the air, we got a craving for something warm and inviting.  Something that would help us forget the DC winter and would bring to mind sunnier climates.  We wanted Mexican.

Thankfully, our good friend Coffee Shop Girl has heard us complain on multiple occasions about our failure to find good (and authentic) Mexican food in Washington.  She had already tried to steer us toward the best horchata in town, resulting in our visit to Taqueria Distrito Federal.  Her next suggestion was the Oaxacan cuisine at the appropriately-named Casa Oaxaca in Adams Morgan.  So we bundled up and made plans to meet her and her boyfriend to check it out.

I knew we were in for a good time when we arrived and settled in with drinks.  The menu offered more than a dozen flavors that could be worked into your choice of margaritas, mojitos or martinis, including some more exotic flavors like tamarind, prickly pear and hibiscus.  I immediately gravitated toward the refreshing fizz of a michelada, and Elizabeth put their horchata to the test.

We quickly dispatched the small, black bean tortas that were sent out as an amuse bouche, and got ready for a saucy adventure.  Details and dishes after the jump. (more…)

When traveling for work, food can often be an afterthought.  You can’t control where and when you’re going, and chances are your meals will be dictated by the schedule of the conference or activity that brought you there in the first place.  So you make your peace with a couple of grab-and-go meals and you hope for a decent dinner or two along the way.

Unless, of course, you’re headed to a foodlovers’ Mecca like New Orleans.  Whether you crave high-end cuisine or down-and-dirty dining, New Orleans has you covered (and then some).  As the great philosopher Axl Rose once said, “If you’ve got the money, honey, we’ve got your disease.”  With this much great food all around, you find a way to eat well while you’re in town.

I wanted to make the most of my meals, so I decided to focus on three New Orleans specialties: the po’ boy, the muffuletta and the Sazerac cocktail.  The first two are ubiquitous sandwiches that can be found in varying forms throughout the Crescent City.  The latter is the cocktail by which I judge most bartenders – and it was first concocted in New Orleans.

But I couldn’t settle for just one version of these delicacies…the debate over who does them best is fiercely partisan and it just wouldn’t do to sample a po’ boy from Mother’s without also trying the one at Domilise.  Sure, the Central Grocery muffuletta is the original, but what’s with all the fuss over Verdi Marte’s hot version?  And whose Sazerac would be my new gold standard?

I would have to try a few of each, in the name of science, of course.  The things I do for this blog…