June 2010

I have a long term love affair with some foods (sushi, gelato, cookie dough). Others are casual friends with benefits, coming into my kitchen when the season strikes (brats on the grill, hot chocolate). A few are embarrassing lapses of judgement I’d rather forget (Hot Pockets, I’m looking at you). One of the benefits of living in a diverse city like DC is that there are always new foods on the horizon, a new flirtation just around the corner.

So really my relationship with Vietnamese food is more along the lines of giving each other the casual whats-up head nod at parties. We haven’t really gotten serious. My introduction centers mainly on pho, that glorious beefy noodle soup that warms my soul every winter. I’ve also indulged in the occasional banh mi sandwich.

Make no mistake – I’m the one missing out by not trying to get to know Vietnamese a little better. So for our first official date, I wanted to go to the best: Four Sisters. There are an abundance of modest mom-and-pop Vietnamese restaurants in the DC/NoVa area but the restaurant that always rises to the top of the class with praise is Four Sisters. (more…)

Here at Capital Spice HQ, we like to wade knee-deep in the season’s bounty and use it to guide or recipes.  Mint growing out of control? Oh tragedy, looks like mojitos are on deck. Have a case of the basil overload? Sounds like the perfect excuse to go crazy with caprese and pesto. And I don’t need any recipe to tell me how to eat cherries, which are perfect just the way nature delivers them.

When Mike’s parents drove down from New Jersey this week, we knew we had another summer harvest in spades: fresh blueberries. Much like pinkie rings and fist-pumping, you just don’t F around with New Jersey when it comes to blueberries. Once these little antioxidant bombs come into season, those in the know hightail it to pick-your-own farms where thimble-sized berries can be had for a song. We knew immediately that a bounty of Jersey blueberries were headed for our front door. But what to do with the plethora?

Blueberry soup is perhaps not the first thing I’d think of when considering a blueberry-based recipe. I don’t know that it would even make the top ten (although 6 out of those ten would probably be variations on some kind of cocktail, so that list is pretty skewed). Mike and I came across the recipe when thumbing through From the Earth to the Table, one of our never-fail cookbooks.  It looked healthy and easy – critical criteria for us these days. We were intrigued.

Commonly found in the cuisine of those strapping Scandinavians (or, Scandi Candy), fruit-based soups provide a light meal in the dead heat of summer. The trick to preparing them is balance. In many cases, the natural sugars from the fruit – especially if the fruit is cooked – can deliver an over the top sweetness more appropriate to dessert. With this soup, the blueberries require some additional sweetness to overcome their natural tart flavors.  Chef Ash brings natural sugars with honey to sweeten the berries but keeps the flavors complex with earthy cloves, red wine, cinnamon, and herbs. The original recipe paired the soup with lavender, but Mike’s allergy to the herb led us to rosemary instead.

Recipe after the jump! (more…)

So you’re in the mood for a drink but you’re sick of your usual and the last time you mixed something creative for yourself was at that party junior year (and that didn’t go so well).  You’re in luck, as that’s pretty much exactly the kind of problem that Tom and Derek Brown created the Passenger to address.

If you haven’t checked it out yet, next week is your chance to do so with thirty of your closest food blogger friends.  The eleventh installment in our monthly DC Food Blogger Happy Hour series will take place on Wednesday, July 7th at the Passenger.  From 6 to 8 PM you’ll be able to belly up to the bar and try some of their creative (or ultra-traditional) cocktail offerings, or tap into their vast knowledge of spirits to find your next personal favorite.

This month Thrifty DC Cook has taken the lead on organizing the Happy Hour, and she promises plenty of delicious surprises for anyone who comes out to join us.  We are DC food bloggers, after all.  For more information on what’s in store, make sure you check out the event on Facebook.  While you’re there, take a second to respond and let us know if you’ll be coming so we can give the folks at the Passenger fair warning.

The Passenger is located at 1021 7th Street, across from the Convention Center just north of Mount Vernon Square.  Not coincidentally, you can get to the Passenger by taking the Metro to the Mount Vernon Square / 7th Street – Convention Center stop on the Yellow and Green Lines.  Street parking is available – but limited – in the nearby area.

Hope to see you there!

Check out our map of sites associated with Top Chef DC, updated each week

It’s official: the Washington-related puns have begun and it’s only Episode Two!

Last night’s episode of Top Chef began with a Quickfire Challenge whose DC connections were worn on its sleeve, er, apron.  Paired cheftestants, red and blue aprons, working together to achieve consensus (with one hand tied behind your back, no less!)…what better metaphor could there be for Congress?

And the end result: a bipartisan-dwich!  Get it?  The only way this could have forced the connection any further is if every sandwich was required to include “pork” as a main ingredient.

Even so, the episode did a great job of introducing the chefs (and the audience) to the Let’s Move! initiative and the national effort to improve the quality and nutritional value of school lunch programs across the country.  It didn’t hurt that they included White House Chef / Food Policy Guy / Foodie Sex Symbol Sam Kass to do so.

After the jump, details on the local (Kass) and the locale (Alice Deal Middle School) as well as some more info on Let’s Move! (more…)

There’s something fitting about this particular Travel Tuesday going up on a Wednesday morning.  A few weeks back, I told you about my trip to New Orleans and my highly scientific study of the Crescent City’s signature sandwiches, the po’ boy and the muffuletta.  Three of each over the course of the trip…not too shabby.

But that pales in comparison to the dedication with which I threw myself into my third and final quest: a search for the best Sazerac in the city that created the cocktail.  To say I’m fond of a well-made Sazerac is a bit of an understatement.  Over the course of my trip I tried no fewer than five different versions of the classic rye-and-absinthe drink.  I even paid a visit to the Museum of the American Cocktail (an impressive collection within the larger Southern Food and Beverage Museum).

I sought the Sazerac in the classics – the bars that claimed it as their own as well as the ones that have likely been serving it since its earliest days.  I tried a few in bars with no obvious connection to the drink besides a commitment to well-crafted cocktails.  I even checked out a Bourbon Street bar’s offering for the sake of comparison.

And what did I find?  Generally speaking, there’s a reason a bar (or a bartender) becomes a classic.  Whether through skill, art or sheer force of repetition, they deliver if you know what you’re looking for.  But beware of any place that claims too close an association with something…you’re apt to find the spirit of the thing lost to the marketing and hype that surrounds it.

After the jump, the making of a Sazerac and a run-down on the contenders for my new personal favorite. (more…)

image courtesy of FishMarketVA.com

The tastes of summer are distinct and simple.  The warm acid of the perfect late summer heirloom tomato. A chilled glass of sparkling wine during a DC-damp breeze. Iron-tinged water slurped from a garden hose. And, of course, that tongue-full of almost melted, saved from dripping off the cone, sweet ice cream in DC’s hot summer blast.

It is a fact that all ice cream tastes better when enjoyed during a stroll through a scenic neighborhood. This is 100% scientifically accurate; don’t bother looking it up. Why do you think the Italians are so big on their evening strolls (passeggiata) and gelato? For DC’s residents, there are few lovelier walks than Old Town, Alexandria. And if you’re really looking to up the charm, you’re best bet is to head straight for Pops Ice Cream on King Street.  Located a block from the wharf and a stroll from shops and drool-worthy residential neighborhoods, Pop’s is a sweet launch pad for a summer evening of simple pleasures.

Photos and details after the jump! (more…)

As we promised earlier in the week, we’re not going to be doing minute-by-minute recaps of Top Chef on Thursdays…there are plenty of other blogs and sites that will take care of that.  Here at Capital Spice, we’re all about the Washingtonian aspects of each episode.  We’ll give you a run-down of the who, where and why.  And we’ll be tracking all of the Top Chef locations – including challenge sites, the Top Chef house, Whole Foods and past Cheftestants’ restaurants – on one of our signature Google maps.

Top Chef wasted no time throwing the seventeen new Cheftestants into action last night, once again leading off with a mise en place competition and then challenging the competitors to cook a dish that reflects where they’re coming from.  With a focus on introducing the competitors and no special guest judges, this episode could have taken place almost anywhere.

Actually, that’s not entirely true.  The episode title – “What’s Your Constituency?” – served to connect the elimination challenge to Congress and, by extension, Washington.  And the beautiful views down Pennsylvania Avenue from the Newseum can’t be duplicated anywhere else.  This week, the real DC connections come in the form of the challenge venues.

After the jump, check out some local intel on the locations and the map. (more…)

At 9PM tonight, the wait is over.  All that speculating about the challenges; all the sightings of Tom, Padma and Gail; all the shopping, chopping and cooking were completed more than a month ago.   Now it’s time to sit back and “watch what happens.”

Yesterday, we presented our interview with DC native and current Baltimore chef Timothy Dean.  Today, we’ve got our conversation with the only Cheftestant from this season who didn’t leave town when the cameras stopped rolling: the Oval Room’s Tamesha Warren.

Image courtesy of Bravo

Warren is a sous chef at the celebrated downtown power spot and previously cooked in the kitchen of Jean-Georges so you know her technique is SOLID.  As the youngest contestant in the field and the hometown favorite, she’s got a lot of pressure on her to do well.  Fortunately, it sounds like she’s up to the challenge:

Capital Spice: Good morning, chef.  How have you been since taping ended?
Tamesha Warren: It’s been crazy already.  The producers warned us to be ready, but I really didn’t expect it to blow up the way it has.  Just the other night there was a party in the restaurant asking for “the lady who’s going to be on Top Chef!”

CS: You’re the sous chef at the Oval Room, one of Ashok Bajaj’s restaurants.  How did he react to you going on the show?
TW: Bajaj is a great person to work for – anything he can do for you, he will.  He was very supportive of my participation.

Age as an asset or liability, DC dining favorites and how YOU may have helped Tamesha prepare after the jump. (more…)

This season, Top Chef offers two contestants with local pedigrees for those who like to root for the home team, and their backgrounds are decidedly different.  As we’ve done in previous seasons, we here at Capital Spice sat down for a conversation with each of the local Cheftestants.  For today’s interview, we spoke with DC native Timothy Dean, who comes to the competition as chef/owner of Prime, a steakhouse on Baltimore’s Fells Point.

Top Chef DC represents a homecoming for Dean, but it’s certainly not the only thing that’s been bringing him back to Washington lately.  He’s planning to open a DC outpost of Prime in the near future, and he’s been scouting locations.  I know what you’re thinking: “Great…another steakhouse for DC.”  I had the same misgivings, until Dean dropped Michael Landrum’s name and clarified that his concept is much more “Ray’s the Steaks” than “Capital Grille.”

But I’ll let him tell you in his own words:

Capital Spice: Thanks for taking the time to talk with us.
Timothy Dean: Happy to.

CS: So let’s start with the basics – how would you describe your style as a chef?
TD: I’m sexy, and I can cook.

CS: And what kind of cooking background are you coming from?
TD: I’m the chef and owner of Prime, where we prepare the best steak you’ve ever had in your life.

CS:Were you worried that the judges might pigeonhole you as the “steak guy?”
TD: Not at all – my background runs a lot deeper than that [Dean actually cooked with Jean-Louis Palladin in the Watergate back in the 90s] and I think that will show through.  That being said, people are definitely going to be excited to check out Prime after they see what I can do.

Check out Dean’s thoughts on the benefits and drawbacks of being a local in the contest, what he did to prepare for the show, and his relationships with his fellow contestants after the jump. (more…)

We’re roughly sixty hours away from the premiere of Top Chef Season 7, and here in Washington we’re all eager to see just how our hometown plays as host to the seventeen newest Cheftestants.  Will they have as many celebrity sightings as we do?  Will they revolutionize the Rubber Chicken dinner?

At Capital Spice, we’re especially interested in seeing how everything plays out.  When we ran our Top Chef DC contest back in December, we had no idea that the show was going to be filming in town just a few months later.  But as soon as we heard the news, we reached out to see if there was any way we could be involved.

The production team was great, inviting us to attend the first Elimination Challenge to get an insider’s perspective on what goes on during filming.  We were able to chat with the chefs and guests, sample the food, and watch as Tom, Padma, Gail and Eric Ripert worked their way around the room.  We’ll have plenty of details for you once the episode airs, but suffice it to say that what you’ll see on screen is just a taste of what went on at the Mellon Auditorium.

After the jump, an idea of what you can expect from Capital Spice throughout the season. (more…)

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