September 2010

On the 600 block of Pennsylvania Avenue, SE, there’s a storefront that has intrigued me for more than a year.  The floor-to-ceiling glass windows have been covered by black plastic from time to time, but they’ve since come down and revealed something like the ruins of Pompey.  A tableau of a restaurant, frozen in time.  Place settings went untouched.  Quality glassware acquired a thick layer of dust.  And no one seemed to know just what was happening with Locanda, the refined Italian eatery that closed so suddenly at the end of last May.

All that is about to change for the better, as the cousin team of Khoa and Denise Nguyen prepare to open a new Vietnamese restaurant they’re calling Ba Bay.  If those names sound familiar, it’s probably not because you saw them on short-lived cooking competition show Chopping Block last year (few people did, which is why the show was canceled so quickly).  But they decided that they enjoyed the experience enough that they would continue the partnership.

I spoke with Denise a few weeks ago and have been trading emails with her since.  This weekend, she and Khoa went back to their roots to learn the secrets to some classic family recipes with their mothers – and to put their own spin on a few dishes, as well.

After the jump, some more details about what to expect when Ba Bay opens (and when that might be). (more…)

Okay, so technically Friday morning isn’t exactly Thursday morning…

Thanks to everyone who took the time to submit an entry for our Top Chef Prize Pack giveaway.  We had a lot of fun reading over your answers and seeing which former Cheftestants you would like to see in an all-star season.

We were surprised that one of our favorite DC competitors, Carla Hall, didn’t come up.  Of all the runners-up so far she’s the one we most want to see get another bite at the apple.

And we loved your ideas for guest judges…the idea of Gordon Ramsay trying to judge Top Chef style instead of throwing a Hell’s Kitchen-quality fit made us smile.

Our winner (chosen at random) hit on a previous challenge that we would definitely like to see make a comeback – and for exactly the same reason.  Food trucks really are popping up at an amazing rate here in Washington, and it would be fun to see the all-stars try their hand at some more creative mobile dining options.

Congratulations to Amy – you win the prize pack that includes Top Chef Season Six (Las Vegas), Top Chef Masters Season One and the Top Chef Quickfire Cookbook.  We’ll be in touch shortly to arrange delivery.

Thanks again to everyone who entered.  We love offering these kinds of contests and we hope to do more of them in the future.

Image by Bravo

We missed you!

Sorry for the post silence lately – we promise we’re still keeping an eye on openings, eating around town and trying some delicious dishes at home.  We’re just a bit behind on letting you know about it.

So…how about that Top Chef DC?  Yeah, definite wasted opportunity.  It had its moments: Sam Kass and school lunches, for example.  But Washingtonians and viewers in general pretty much agree that this season was lackluster.

Oh well – they’re off to Thailand and we’re ready for the rumored-but-not-officially-confirmed Top Chef All Star season that may or may not be currently filming in New York (more on that later – some familiar faces from DC may be involved).  We’re also rooting for the home team on Top Chef: Just Desserts when it debuts this week, cheering on Hook’s Heather Chittum as she takes on a field of eleven other pastry chefs.

And we’re also looking back at some more enjoyable Top Chef memories, as well.  Top Chef Season 6 gave fans plenty of talent and competition – and gave DC fans a favorite to root for clear to the end in VOLT’s Bryan Voltaggio.  The first season of Top Chef Masters provided a fun twist on the format and a winner who’s just such a darn nice guy.  And then there was the Top Chef Quickfire Cookbook – everything you need (except years of training) to duplicate some of the most inventive dishes from the show’s first five seasons.

They’re all available for purchase now…or you can win them right here.  That’s right – we’re having another Top Chef Finale giveaway contest this week.  The winner gets a prize pack that includes Top Chef Season 6, Top Chef Masters Season 1, and the Quickfire Cookbook!

Want to win?  Leave a comment with three components (one for each prize):

1. A celebrity chef you’d like to see as a judge next season
2. The competitor you would MOST like to see in an “All Star” season, were there to be one
3. A challenge from a previous season you’d like to see brought back

We’ll announce a winner (selected at random from all eligible entries) on Thursday morning, just in case you don’t get your fill of Top Chef with Wednesday night’s back-to-back episodes.

And thanks for reading!

Image Credit: Pressed Magnolia Studio

When we told you about FryCaptain’s debut yesterday, we warned you that there were a couple of additional food truck launches on the very near horizion.

Is today soon enough for you?

Wonky Truck has done a few test runs over the past two weeks, and today they go live.  They’ve even got a new website up and running, though they’ll continue to post location updates via Twitter (@eatwonky) and Facebook.  Hungry fans can find them at Franklin Park today from 11:30 to 2 to find out what all the fuss is about.

Image Courtesy eatWonky

I had the chance to chat with Jeff Kelley, one of the pair behind the Poutine Machine, and he gave me some more information on the gravy-and-cheese curd concept that he and partner Minas Kaloosian are about to unleash on the DC dining scene.  Like any good politically-minded Washingtonian, I wanted to see just what makes a Wonky Dog so wonky.

As it turns out, wonky means “a little off-center” in Canadian slang – the perfect description for the idea of putting cheese curds, gravy and fries on top of a hot dog.  But somehow that’s exactly the idea that Jeff and Minas came up with upon first tasting poutine in Vancouver.  So all you policy wonks with a dream of chucking it all and starting a new career as a food truck driver/chef will have to find a new inspiration (may we suggest the guys at Pork Barrel BBQ?).

Kelley gave us a few hints of things to come and a look at the truck’s menu board.  Check them out after the jump. (more…)

It’s official!  After test runs on Friday night in Adams Morgan and Saturday evening in Dupont Circle, the newest food truck to hit the streets will be serving its first lunch crowds today.

FryCaptain, the brainchild of Jake Sendar, will be bringing crisp, hot french fries (complete with an array of flavorful dipping sauces) and cold, thick milkshakes to compete with the lobster rolls, frozen yogurt, cupcakes and all the other food truck treats.  And they’re not a moment too soon – there are at least two other trucks scheduled to start making the rounds within the next week.

We talked with Jake and his fry chef Rusty to get an idea of what to expect when the truck pulls up to its first stop – 1 Massachusetts Ave., NW (near Union Station) – today.

We asked about the fries and learned that they’re cut and prepped each day before service begins, then fired up hot on the spot.  For now, at least, they’re cooking the fries in a trans-fat free vegetable oil, but they’re still looking into other options and may consider peanut oil or another option down the road.  They are also committed to bringing their promised duck-fat fries online within the next few weeks, though they’re rolling out with just the basic fries for now.

Funky flavors for dipping sauces and shakes after the jump. (more…)

When it’s time to celebrate a special occasion, most of the better restaurants in the area are only too happy to offer up a Tasting Menu.  Designed by the chef and choreographed from start to finish, these multi-course culinary adventures have become de rigeur for celebratory dining.  And because they show off the skills of the chef and the best of what’s in the kitchen, they tend to be meals to remember.

Unfortunately, those meals come with the kind of price tag that makes them impossible for most of us to do with any regularity.  Sure, you can order off the a la carte menu and save some cash, but there are some real deals out there that allow even the most dedicated of bargain hunters to enjoy the cuisine at a few of the highest-rated restaurants in the area.  You just need to know where to look.

The Inn at Little WashingtonBoxed Lunches
Yes, that Inn at Little Washington.  For more than thirty years, Chef Patrick O’Connell’s cuisine has drawn guests to “little” Washington more than an hour away from the District.  The setting and the service don’t hurt, of course, but this is still the Holy Grail for many DC foodies.  The cost of dinner at the Inn begins at $148 per person (Sunday through Thursday) and tops out at $178 on Saturday nights.  Add in the cost of wine and a room at the Inn so you don’t have to drive back after your two-to-three hour meal concludes, and you’re looking at a significant investment.

This past weekend, while on a road trip through northern Virginia that turned up an impressive winery (Gray Ghost) and a charming downtown worth further exploration (Culpeper), we discovered the Inn at Little Washington’s great big secret: they offer an $18 boxed lunch that’s packed with enough food for two people!

What you get for the money – and a pair of additional money-saving dining options – after the jump. (more…)