Food News and Gossip


image courtesy of Mango and Tomato

It is a warm spring night. I’m kneading bread dough in a gorgeous white and blue-tiled bakery with three charming Frenchmen. I squeeze the pliant dough with my fingers while pushing it together with the heels of both palms, then flip and slap it back down onto the floured workspace. I am gently teased about my “technique” which is a little bit backward from the norm and occasionally results in flecks of dough arcing through the air. I am a rank amateur.  Thirty minutes later, we nibble macaroons (pistachio and coconut are the best) and oozy millefeuilles while bread bakes in the oven.

Cubicle-dweller daydream? Not quite.  I’m in the windowed kitchen of Paul, the new French bakery by the Navy Memorial Archives. In what may have been my favorite food event to date, several DC area food bloggers were invited to a bread baking lesson in the kitchen just days before the bakery opened.

I have long lamented the lack of the perfect bakery in DC. A  space with an eye toward atmosphere and quality goods. Somewhere the bread is made on site, filling the air with dancing visions of golden crusts and yeasty middles. Where you can stroll in armed with a Kindle and need nothing more but a strong cup of coffee and warm baguette to spend precious spare time in the most delicious leisure possible. Have I finally found it?

Details on Paul after the jump. (more…)

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Photo credit: Bravo

We have to give credit where credit is due.  The chefs who came back for this All-Star season of Top Chef have given us lots of reasons to root for them.  And the quality of this season has done a lot to wash the bad taste of Season 7 (filmed here in Washington) out of fans’ mouths.

By the end of tonight’s episode, we’ll be down to four remaining chefs.  And if bringing an extra chef along to the finale in the Bahamas means we get one additional week of sunny skies and killer cooking, we’re all for that.

Yesterday, we shared our interview with Mike Isabella as we head into the finals.  Today, we’ve got our pick for fan favorite, Carla Hall.  There’s something about the way Carla seems to root for everyone to succeed that is endearing and rare on competition shows like Top Chef.  Watching her fall short of her own expectations – especially when working with “her flavors” and cuisines – is heartbreaking.  But we’re not telling you anything you haven’t already seen for yourself.

We talked to Carla about her deceptively strong performance so far, her involvement with local causes, and some of the things she’s got in the works:

Capital Spice: You’ve really come out swinging this season!  Three Elimination Challenge wins, three big prizes.  How does it feel so far?
Carla Hall: It’s great, but I really don’t know when Matthew [her husband] and I are going to get a chance to take all those trips.

CS: Beyond the trips, you seemed really excited to win Jimmy Fallon’s challenge.  Are you that big a fan of his?
CH: There were two things going on there.  I’m definitely a fan of Jimmy’s, and it was so much fun to be on his show.  He really is just like you’d expect him to be.  But I’ve got a personal connection to chicken pot pie as well: that’s the first thing I ever tried to cook for myself back when I was modeling and going back and forth to Paris.

CS: So this was a recipe you’ve made before?
CH: It was, though I’ve never tried to make the upper crust by forming them around cookware like I did.  I’m glad it worked out!

More of Carla’s projects in the works after the jump.

(more…)

Image by Bravo

When the list of competitors for this All-Star season of Top Chef was announced, we were excited to see Washington represented by three of the most memorable characters from their respective seasons.  As the season has gone on, we’ve been cheering ever more enthusiastically as two of our three local cheftestants demonstrated that they have what it takes to go the distance (or at least as far as the Bahamas).  Our chefs now represent 40% of the Final Five, and the smart money is on at least one of them making it into the Top Three.

We got a chance to chat with both of our local chefs after last week’s episode, and what we heard from Mike Isabella and Carla Hall made us even more excited for what is yet to come – both on the show and in their local endeavors.  Check out our interview with Mike today, and then join us tomorrow for our chat with Carla before watching the first of the finale episodes tomorrow night.

Capital Spice: Congratulations on making it all the way to the finals, Chef.  You’ve been a solid competitor throughout the season.
Mike Isabella: Thanks.  It was definitely tough competition to get there.

CS: Let’s talk about your new restaurant, Graffiato, first.  How’s everything going?
MI: It’s going good.  We’re still under construction, putting in the duct work, the heaters, the framing.  Next week we’ll be laying the pipes for the water and gas.  I’d say we’re looking at a later spring opening at this point.

CS: Being in the middle of all of this construction, it must have been hard to travel and stay focused for the finale episodes as a result.
MI: Actually, I was really focused.  I have a great team working with me on Graffiato, including a lot of chefs and staff who are coming over with me.  That freed me up and allowed me to focus [on Top Chef] again.

After the jump, we talk Quickfire wins – both satisfying and controversial – and find out who Isabella thinks went home before their time. (more…)

By the time you read this post, Roti Mediterranean Grill will be open for breakfast.  If  you hurry, you might still beat the rush to be one of the first to try a sandwich wrapped in laffa or tucked into a house-baked pita pocket.  Even if you’re not enough of an early bird to check out their breakfast offerings, you may want to check out Roti in NoMa sooner rather than later.

Why?  Roti is offering up spit-roasted meats and freshly made toppings that will make up for all those mediocre gyros and kebabs you’ve settled for in the past.  They’re even baking their own pita bread on site.  And they’re delivering all these big sit-down style flavors at carryout prices.

There was a time when the area north of Union Station on First Street, NE, was an expanse of vacant lots and dilapidated buildings.  These days, with multiple federal offices and other large employers moving into the area, there are new dining options opening every week.  Even so, Roti Mediterranean Grill is poised to stand out among its neighbors.

So what’s Roti all about?  Imagine Chipotle with the flavors of the eastern Mediterranean.  Got it?  Now check out that picture to the right.  Pretty close, right?  On the surface, Roti’s quick-service, choose-your-own-adventure style is similar to that of the ubiquitous burrito place.  But their flavors are miles apart.

Check out some of what Roti will be offering when they open today after the jump. (more…)

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.

Image by Brooke Hatfield

In just its second year, the Washington chapter of Meat Week is all over the Internets this week.  Captain Jenelle Dennis (aka BabeBQ) has done a great job of spreading the gospel of ‘cue, and it looks like turnout for this year’s Meat Week will far surpass last year’s.

Want to see what others are saying about Meat Week?  Check it out:

Washington Business Journal
Washington Examiner’s Take 5
Washington Post’s All We Can Eat blog – Jim Shahin’s “Smoke Signals” column
NBC Washington
Northern Virginia Magazine’s Gut Check blog
UrbanDaddy
City’s Best
TBD.com
Girl Meets Food
Kevin’s BBQ Joints (blog)
Zagat Buzz

But enough about us – this update is really about you, or at least it is if you’re thinking about joining us for any of the Meat Week festivities.  We figured you might want to know when to show up each night, not just where.  And as the title of this post suggests, we wanted to encourage you to email Jenelle sooner rather than later if you’re interested in attending either (or both) of the Meat Week Sneak Peek events.

Details after the jump. (more…)

Just when you thought it was safe to hit the salad bar, Meat Week comes roaring back into Washington ready for round two.  Last year, Snowmageddon forced the cancellation of the final two Meat Week events in our area, leaving hungry carnivores unable to enjoy scheduled outings to Branded ’72 in Rockville and Mr. P’s Ribs and Fish on Rhode Island Avenue.  Some folks might have taken that as a sign, a warning from on high to repent and change their ways.

Not us.

This Sunday, DC Meat Week will once again provide carnivores with seven nights of barbecued deliciousness at some of the area’s best ‘cue joints.  And for the second year in a row, Meat Week will be one of your first opportunities to check out a highly-anticipated newcomer to the DC BBQ scene.  Some of the venues have stayed the same (we HAD to kick things off at Urban Bar-B-Que again, and you know we wanted take a second run at Mr. P’s), and a couple of recent additions have been added to the list as well.

Perhaps the biggest change in DC’s Meat Week chapter is who’s running the show.  I’ve passed the Captain’s hat to Jenelle Dennis, aka BabeBQ, though I’ll be staying on as First Mate along with David Gootzit.  Jenelle brings an impressive barbecue pedigree to the role – she’s a KCBS Certified Barbecue Judge and one of the architects of the Snackadium.  Seriously impressive.

Check out the full line-up of venues for this year’s Meat Week after the jump, and pay special attention to Tuesday and Wednesday nights: they’re RSVP-required sneak-peeks at two of the best things that are about to happen to the DC barbecue scene. (more…)

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