February 2011


When we heard that Chef Jamie Leeds was selling CommonWealth Gastropub in Columbia Heights to focus on an expansion of her original Hank’s Oyster Bar, our thoughts turned to the only one of her restaurants unaffected by the news: the second Hank’s in Alexandria.  While there are some restaurants we haven’t written about because we don’t have many nice things to say, our silence regarding Hank’s is more a reflection on its role as a solid go-to for oysters, seafood and even brunch in Old Town.  We rarely plan our visits, so we don’t tend to have a camera with us when we stop in for a bite.

Now you know we love good oysters.  You’ve heard us tell the tales of Oyster Riots passed, and we shared our love of the oyster happy hour at Johnny’s Half Shell years ago.  So you can understand at least part of the reason we’re happy to keep coming back to Hank’s.  But the menu, with its daily specials and its emphasis on classic preparations of fish and seafood, has offered us plenty of reasons to visit beyond a few briny morsels every now and then.

A few of our favorite things from the sea after the jump.

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Maybe Jean-Georges Vongerichten was looking for a challenge.  That’s pretty much the only reason we could come up with to explain why a man who has more than a dozen restaurant concepts within his portfolio chose to use the word “steakhouse” in the name of his Washington venture.  Nothing else makes sense.

The fact that he even considered opening a restaurant in Washington shows that he knew we’ve evolved beyond the days when haute French and red-meat-by-the-pound were the only options for high end dining.  Even so, we’ve got more than our fair share of places where steak is featured front and center.  It could hardly come as a surprise that potential diners would assume a place called “J&G Steakhouse” was just part of the crowd.

Whatever the rationale for the name, it relegated the restaurant to a lower tier of our “to-do” list for more than a year.  But any regular reader of our Restaurant Week recommendation posts knows that we like to seek out high-value opportunities when making our RW reservations, and this time around J&G Steakhouse seemed to offer the best bang for the buck.  At the very least, it would give us a chance to see what the newest steakhouse on the block brings to the table.

The anti-steakhouse experience after the jump. (more…)

We asked for some answers that made us smile, and you definitely delivered for us.

Now it’s SeamlessWeb’s turn to deliver for you.

Last week we invited you to enter for a chance to win one of two $25 gift cards.  We wanted to hear about how you take your coffee – whether you get it as part of Free Coffee Days or you make it at home.

Congratulations go to Elyse and Monica for having the two answers that brought the biggest smiles to our faces:

Elyse: “I take my coffee in the style of Sally (from When Harry Met Sally): Coffee with a little bit of 1/2 and 1/2 and a splash of soy with a shot of vanilla (if you dont have sugar free leave it out) foam and a sprinkle of cinnamon. And can I have that extra hot?”

Monica: “How do I take my coffee? I take my coffee from other people. I’m a sneak coffee drinker. I claim not to drink it, I claim to prefer tea, I claim to dislike its strength … until a big pot of it has just been brewed in the office, and then I’m LURED in by its delicious scent. The next thing I know, I’m jittery and trying to hide my coffee mug amongst the other ones in the office sink, which is nearly impossible because they’re all different. Shh … don’t tell on me.”

You’re secret’s safe with us, Monica!

Congratulations to both of our winners, who will be contacted by a representative from SeamlessWeb shortly to arrange redemption of their prizes.

And keep watching us here at Capital Spice for more opportunities to win fun food giveaways!

Some things are just meant to be.  The stars line up, you find yourself in the right place at the right time, and you’re handed something you didn’t even know you were looking for.  It can be a job opportunity, or a romantic connection, or something even deeper than those.

For us, it was bacon.

On January 26th, Mike read Bonnie Benwick’s profile of Mrs. Wheelbarrow and the Yummy Mummy’s tandem charcuterial endeavor and everything just fell into place.  We were just gearing up to start another one of our Cookbook Challenges – an attempt to winnow our ever-growing collection of cookbooks by attempting a new recipe from each one to make sure we still found the books helpful.  In fact, one of the first books Elizabeth reached for was Mike’s copy of Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn’s “Charcuterie: the Craft of Salting, Smoking and Curing.”  Although he had received it a little over a year earlier, he had yet to attempt any feats of cured meat.

Enter “Charcutepalooza.”  The article made it sound tasty and fun all at the same time, and anyone who has read at least a few of our posts knows our love of all things brined, cured or smoked.  So we reached out to Mrs. Wheelbarrow through her website and decided to throw ourselves into the challenge along with the hundreds of other bloggers who have signed on.  A contest with some killer prizes has no doubt piqued the interest of some, but most seem genuinely motivated by the spirit that inspired the ladies to begin with.

The process seemed easy enough.  Each month a new pair of challenges is announced, with one for novices and one for those seeking a more intense assignment.  We all agree to work on the challenges ourselves and blog about our results on the 15th of each month.  We’ll continue like this throughout 2011, having cooked our way through a dozen recipes (more if you try both challenges in any given month) by the time we’re through.

So why am I up at 11:30 on a Monday night (Valentine’s Day, no less) waiting for my homemade bacon to reach an internal 150 degrees Fahrenheit?  My delicious, unintentional procrastination after the jump. (more…)

Work travel strikes again but at least this time I ended up in one of my favorite cities – San Francisco! Here are notes from the travel scratchpad. I took photos when appropriate; client dinners don’t always lend themselves to foodie habits. If you’re planning a trip there yourself, check out our past reviews in San Francisco.

Boulevard
Landing in San Francisco late in the evening, I was flying solo for dinner.  I wandered from my hotel but was not lost. Boulevard was calling my name and I knew I could find a warm seat at the bar. The brasserie feel of the restaurant put me at ease immediately, as did the fact that it was so crowded at 9pm on a Tuesday night. I scraped my chair up to the bar and immediately landed on my dinner for the evening: pan-roasted California squab with homemade gnocchi, white truffles from Oregon, and roasted brussel sprouts. I was in heaven. The squab was rich and moist – slightly crispy on the outside but still the deep red I was hoping to see in the center. The soft, plump pillows of gnocchi melted on my tongue and the slight tang of the sprouts brought my palate back down to Earth. The by-the-glass wine list was a little pricey but a well-made bourbon cocktail soothed me into the rest of the evening. Their Michelin star is well-deserved.

Boulevard on Urbanspoon

Barbacco Eno Trattoria

courtesy of A Food Lover's Life

Ask someone to come up with trademarks of the Bay Area and you’re likely to get similar answers: great food and technology. (It’s no shock that OpenTable is based there.) Barbacco has found the perfect way to blend both: the drink menu is on an iPad. Brilliant. But the restaurant is more than a tricked out lunch joint. The food was spot on: brussel sprouts lightly fried in duck fat might just spur a religious experience while the farro risotto melds a lesser known grain with a round, full-bodied flavor and the risotto texture I expect. Well done all around.
Barbacco on Urbanspoon

A Top Chef restaurant, another Michelin starred spot, late night burritos, and the top of my Next Time! Wishlist after the jump.

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For two years now, SeamlessWeb has been providing welcome jolts of caffeine to weary New Yorkers from time to time.  Starting today, they’re doing it here in Washington too.  And to celebrate, they want us to give you free cash.  Go figure, we said yes.

Let’s start with the free coffee.

If you were in the vicinity of Foggy Bottom this morning, you may have noticed a bright red truck trumpeting SeamlessWeb’s online food delivery service.  Hopefully you bothered to wander over to find out what it was all about.  If you did, you were part of FreeCoffeeDay!  If not, you missed out.

But don’t worry – the truck is going to be making the rounds for the next three days, stopping at Union Station tomorrow, Dupont Circle on Wednesday and in Chinatown on Thursday.  Each day, you’ll be able to stop by the truck and pick up a free cup of coffee to help get your day going.

And to sweeten the deal just a little bit further, SeamlessWeb is running a Twitter promotion in conjunction with FreeCoffeeDay.  Tweet a photo of yourself enjoying your free coffee to @seamlessweb and the hashtag #freecoffee and you’ll earn a chance at a free $100 SeamlessWeb gift card.

The free coffee doesn’t stop flowing on Thursday.  Starting next Monday, the 14th, and running through to the 27th, you’ll be able to swing by some of the local restaurants you can find on SeamlessWeb’s normal delivery service and score a free cup of coffee from them, as well.  Play your cards right and you’ll be jittering your way through the entire month of February on someone else’s dime.

So what about that free stuff they want us to give you?

How do two $25 SeamlessWeb gift cards sound?  They’re yours for the winning – all you have to do is tell us how you take your coffee, just like that sweet little girl did in the movie Airplane!  The two answers that make us laugh the loudest will win.

Not familiar with SeamlessWeb?  Neither were we, but they’ve been offering online ordering and free delivery from all kinds of restaurants here in DC since 2003.  I did a quick search, and they’ve got 30 restaurants that will deliver right to my office.  I can choose from Indian, Japanese, pizza or Turkish, as well as a wide range of offerings via Takeout Taxi, all accessible through SeamlessWeb’s site.  Use code FREECOFFEE on the site, and you can save an additional $5 on your first order of $10 or more.

When it comes to food, Seth Cooper knows that process matters.  He embraces the “Fresh, Local, Seasonal” ethos and he even makes his own cheese.  But he found himself frustrated over and over again as he tried to bring that mentality to meat.

From 2006 to 2008, Cooper lived in England and enjoyed farmers’ markets right on his street where butchers would bring freshly dressed cuts of meat to sell.  He loved the freshness and the more assertive flavor of the grass-fed beef.  He could ask questions about the differences between breeds of cattle and even between different steaks taken from the same animal.

Upon arrival in Washington, he found a kindred spirit in Jon Wrinn.  Together, the two engineers sought to tear down all the barriers that the meat industry has built up between the farm and the fork.  They visited butcher shops and market stalls trying to find knowledgeable purveyors offering top-quality local meats, but they found that combination in short supply.  They even toyed with the idea of butchering their own animals before buying a cow and splitting it among a group of friends.  They felt so strongly about what they were doing, they traveled to Penn State’s Meat Laboratory to take classes regarding the regulations and procedures governing small-scale butchering operations.

Thankfully, they came to the conclusion that they couldn’t be the only ones who were looking for this, and so they’ve set out to make it easier for others.  Thus was born White House Meats.  Their idea: bring grass-fed, dry-aged, locally-raised beef to Washingtonians in a way that allows them to promote the cause and have some fun at the same time.  Their method: The Meat-Up.

What is a Meat-Up and how can you get the hook-up?  Find out after the jump. (more…)

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