Work travel is overrated. It sounded glam when I was in college and a recent grad. Traipsing around new cities on the company dime? Sign me up! Now I know it’s more of a tease than anything else. Multiple day trips to Manhattan for my last job got me little more than nose prints on the high rise window as I thought of all the fun things I wasn’t doing.

But some work trips? So worth it. Like skipping down the Las Vegas strip while attending CES (that’s the Consumer Electronics Show).  I was lucky to get to travel with my work friend KentuckyFrench who has an adventurous palate and masochistic liver.

China Poblano
The Cosmopolitan boasts one of the newest restaurants, from hometown chef Jose Andres: China Poblano. I had high hopes when we sat down at China Poblano, an intriguing mix of Mexican and Chinese food. The interior was energetic and the idea of fusing two distinct cuisines with, presumably, so little in common may have been a misfire in the hands of any chef but Andres.

My expectation of fusion put the carro ahead of the burro. I hoped for a mad scientist approach to plates with both unfamiliar and favorite flavors intermingling. Instead, at first glance, the menu offered one half Chinese food and one half Mexican food with each side keeping its foot firmly in traditional territory. I was worried this was less of a fusion experiment and more of an upscale KenTacoHut compromise: separate menus, one roof.

Digging a little deeper into the menu, KentuckyFrench and I unearthed promising crossover items. Like Jaleo, China Poblano focuses on shareable small plates. Once we singled out our targets, KentuckyFrench and I ordered with courage, ready for something unexpected. And if that failed, we always had the salt air margaritas to lick our wounds.

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On the eve of President Obama’s inauguration last year, top chefs, writers and artists from all over America descended on Washington to put on Art. Food. Hope. They served up a dozen amazing meals, inspired numerous conversations about what the new administration could do to show its commitment to sustainable agriculture, healthy food culture, and solutions to hunger.  Needless to say, the dinners were completely sold out, and they raised more than $100,000 for local charities like Martha’s Table and the DC Central Kitchen.  As luck would have it, we here at Capital Spice were even lucky enough to be at the Dupont Circle FreshFarm Market that Sunday morning when Alice Waters and several other participating chefs stopped by to pick up some ingredients.

Ris Lacoste, Barton Seaver and Alice Waters with representatives from FreshFarm Markets, Martha's Table and DC Central Kitchen

They figured it worked so well last time, why not try it again this year?  In the same spirit as last year’s event, Jose Andres, Alice Waters and more than two dozen local and national chefs will be working to put on 15 dinners on Sunday, January 24th.  To make it even more interesting, this year they’ve added a “Sunday Night Sips” cocktail reception to precede the “Sunday Night Suppers.”

With seating at each dinner limited to 20 guests, intimate doesn’t even begin to describe this.  These are basically command performances by most of Washington’s most celebrated chefs, with a handful of imports from as far away as San Francisco thrown in for good measure.  Four courses and conversation, with the goal of continuing all of the positive impact that came out of last year.

Have dinner plans for Sunday, the 24th yet?  Check out the list of participating chefs after the jump and get some more information on how you can get involved. (more…)

Image courtesy of Bravo

As we head into the two-week finale of Top Chef Season 6, Washingtonians have a pair of reasons to celebrate.  Brothers Michael and Bryan Voltaggio grew up in nearby Frederick, Maryland, and their careers have followed similar but distinctly different paths.  Each brother has racked up an impressive three Elimination Challenge wins, and Michael can claim an additional Quickfire win to give him the slightest of bragging rights over his brother.

Over the course of the season, Bravo has been dilligent in bringing us the brother-vs.-brother tidbits, showcasing the rivalry and playing it up as the biggest thing since Cain and Abel.  But what was it really like for the Voltaggio brothers?  And how has their side-by-side success affected their family?

We caught up with each of the Voltaggios over the phone in advance of tomorrow night’s finale, and we asked them a few questions about their experience on the show.  We also asked about what it’s been like in their restaurants since the season began and what they’ve got in the works.

Today we’ve got our interview with Michael Voltaggio, Chef de Cuisine of the Dining Room at the Langham in Pasadena, California.  Check back tomorrow for our follow-up interview with even-more-local-boy Bryan Voltaggio, and then make up your mind about which brother you’re rooting for to win it all!

Capital Spice: Thanks for taking the time to chat with us today, Chef.  I’m sure you’ve been asked this by everyone you’ve spoken to since the show aired, but what was it like having your brother on the show?
Michael Voltaggio: It was a lot of fun, and definitely an incentive to do the show in the first place.  We each expected the other one to do really well on the show…and we’re both very pleased.

CS: The show seemed to play up the sibling rivalry element in the kitchen.  What was it like off-camera?  Are you two really that competitive?
MV: There’s only so much they can do to play up what you see on screen.  We absolutely push each other both on and off camera.  You have to expect that kind of competitiveness among brothers to begin with – the fact that we work in the same field intensifies it.  The bonus is that our shared experiences mean we’re able to support each other, too.

Favorite wins, plans at the Dining Room, and the effect of his and Bryan’s success on their mother after the jump. (more…)

LogoATTENTION BRIDEZILLAS:

After taking a highly scientific survey of my engaged and married friends, the wedding priority list appears to be:

 

  1. The successful exchange of “I Dos”
  2. Look amazing
  3. Have a reception so legendary your friends talk about it for years and simultaneously hate you because they know they’ll never possibly top it

I’m pleased to share a new weapon in your wedding planning arsenal, helping you attack #3 with a vengence.  endives

Jose Andres Catering now brings the magic and whimsy that made the chef famous to catereed events. Jose Andres Catering offers four distinct menus: Mediterranean – think Zaytinya’s classic and contemporary mix of Greek and Lebanese cuisine; Mexican – with bright flavor combinations like jicama wrapped tuna ceviche; Spanish – featuring classic flavors  you may recognize from Cafe Atlantico plus a paella dish the width of a hot tub; and Jose’s Way, the closest approximation many of your guests may get to tasting the genius of minibar starring the potato mousse and Jose’s take on the Philly Cheese Steak.

Thinking of a signature cocktail? How about a Magic Mojito from the Jose’s Way menu. Guests can ogle as cocktails are mixed and poured over a cloud of cotton candy, which replaces the sugar cane in the drink.  Further sweetening the deal, Chef Andres partnered with notable Ridgewells Catering for service, ensuring a smooth experience for your event. 

Jose Andres Catering
5525 Dorsey Lane
Bethesda MD 20816
(301) 652-1898

Bloody Mary with Celery FoamAs a twirtysomething, I’ve noticed brunch has become the new Saturday night. Raucous girls’ nights in Adams Morgan are replaced with cozy dates or -for some – hanging with the kids. Naturally the next best thing to a boozy Saturday night is a stiff Bloody Mary on a Sunday morning.  And what better Bloody Mary to sip than a Jill Zimorski version of the classic Bloody Mary with tomato water and celery foam? 

The Cafe Atlantico Latino Dim Sum brunch has been on our must-try list for far too long. The weather was warm, our weekend was open and it was time to do something about it. We were joined at brunch by Los Alemanes and their adorable boy Lucas.  

We’d been lucky repeat visitors at Andres’ MiniBar upstairs and couldn’t wait to try his unique take on dim sum, a traditional Chinese breakfast. We were not disappointed.  Brunch at Atlantico is offered a la carte, with a selection of roughly 25 small plates that can be mixed and matched to create your ideal meal.  But they also offer a pair of tasting menus that put your choices in the hands of the chefs for $35 (14 dishes) or $25 (12 vegetarian dishes) and allow you to experience a broader range of tastes in one sitting.  We couldn’t help ourselves – we went for the tasting.

Oyster with Mango Lime OilThe chefs wasted no time getting us started.  Out came one of the most intensely flavorful bites I have ever enjoyed at a brunch: a small, silky kushi oyster topped with a sweet mango puree and a few snippets of chive.  We exchanged looks around the table and knew that we were all thinking the same thing: Wow.  With an opening salvo like that, we couldn’t wait to see what would follow.

A play-by-play of the other thirteen dishes (and a detour for some tableside guacamole) after the jump. (more…)

minibar-logoIn most restaurants, a twenty-eight course meal would be unfathomable, an exercise in excess guaranteed to end with lots of wasted food and serious discomfort.  But at Jose Andres’ minibar, the focus on quality and artistry results in a parade of bite-sized dishes that add up to one of the most unique (and sought-after) dining experiences on the East Coast.

Simple math will tell you that the six seats at the minibar represent a logistical challenge for anyone hoping to experience the restaurant that has earned “Outstanding Chef” nominations from the James Beard Foundation for Jose Andres two years in a row now.  With two seatings a night from Tuesday through Saturday, the minibar can only accomodate 60 guests in a given week.  Is it any wonder, then, that eager diners hover over their phones waiting for 10 AM to roll around on the morning exactly thirty days before they hope to dine?  Or that the twelve seats available that morning are often booked by 10:15?

bagel-and-loxIn any event, Elizabeth and I found ourselves arriving at Cafe Atlantico on Saturday eagerly awaiting our 8:30 seating.  We knew we were in for a treat, and we were psyched to be sharing it with two friends in from out of town.  Though we hadn’t been fasting, we were definitely ready to take on as many courses as the chefs could throw at us.  Cotton candy wrapped around something savory?  Bring it on.  A “composed salad” instead of the usual mess of lettuce and dressing?  You know it.  We were ready to take on the “art and science” that goes into this kind of innovative cuisine. 

Plenty of photos and descriptions after the jump!

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img_6895As you may recall, I resolved to try at least one restaurant-quality recipe each month as my foodie resolution for the year.  As you may notice, it’s now the last week of February and I have yet to report on any such efforts.

January kind of got away from me in this department, but I’m pleased to report that I started my resolution with a vengeance in February (for the record, I’m also committed to making up a recipe so that I still end up with twelve by year’s end).

I knew that I wanted to open strong – and local – so I spent some time looking around from recipes from some of DC’s best-known chefs.  What did I learn?  That most of those celebrity chefs are smart enough to put their recipes in book form.  As such, there are very few recipes from the likes of Michel Richard and Jose Andres that are available for free online.  As I progress through this resolution, I may just need to invest in a few more cookbooks (or reach out to some foodie friends for help).

img_6905I lucked out when I found out that Jose Andres cooked a few of his recipes for the Today Show last January – they were good enough to publish the recipes online.  I looked through them, and I was thrilled!  As it turns out, one of the recipes is for a “pork loin baked in sea salt,” and the technique is exactly like one demonstrated by Katsuya Fukushima at L’Academie de Cuisine last month.

I knew I had to try it – and I decided to do so along with seared piquillo peppers from the same Today Show segment.

Photos, descriptions and more after the jump. (more…)

open-table-sold-outIf you’re a foodie making your way to Washington for President-Elect Obama’s inauguration next week, you’ve probably already seen plenty of suggestions on the best of the best restaurants here in DC – Komi, CityZen, Citronelle, Minibar.

Rather than wasting your time with gushing descriptions of places that have been completely booked for a month or more, we’re here to help you seek out a few foodie experiences that are representative of Washington’s dining scene.  While you’re here, check out:

  • Ethiopian cuisine – The Washington area is home to more than 200,000 Ethiopians, giving us the largest Ethiopian population in the United States.  And Ethiopian cuisine, with its injera bread and complex spices, is an experience not to be missed by true foodies.  For an authentic taste of Ethiopia, check out one of the numerous restaurants clustered along 9th and U Streets, NW.  Popular choices include Dukem, Madjet and Zed’s, but we can personally vouch for the great flavors at Etete.  Their kitfo – a spicy minced beef dish served raw, medium, or well done – is a great introduction to the heat of most Ethiopian cuisine, and it is complemented nicely by tej, a traditional Ethiopian honey wine.  Most of the Ethiopian places in Washington will accept reservations, but you should also be able to score a table if you walk in.

Etete
1942 9th Street, NW
(202) 232-7600
Etete on Urbanspoon

  • Local, sustainable, organic, farm-t0-table – Is anyone surprised that food and politics mix here in the nation’s capital?  One of the biggest trends on the DC dining scene lately has been a push for more ethical dining options.  At places like Restaurant Nora, which has been serving primarily organic cuisine for more than a decade, this is hardly news.  But for many other restaurants the move to sustainable seafood, locally (and humanely) raised meats and in-season vegetables is a revelation that local foodies have been quick to embrace.  Pass on the Chilean sea bass and seek out a sustainable alternative at restaurants from Dino to Hook.  For a taste of the farm-t0-table scene, check out newcomer Founding Farmers – a restaurant whose commitment to sustainability carries through to its efforts to earn LEED Gold Standard certification.  For the inauguration, their ‘bar chefs’ will be mixing up a number of signature cocktails – including an Obama Sangaree made with Courvoisier Exclusif, Dry Sack sherry, Cointreau Noir, fresh squeezed lemon and orange juices and simple syrup.  Even better – visit the vendors in the East Hall and on the farmers’ line at Eastern Market this weekend and cap off your experience with blueberry pancakes or a crabcake sandwich at the famous Market Lunch.  The crowded space is a favorite among regulars that is not to be missed.

Market Lunch
East Hall at Eastern Market
225 7th Street, SE
(202) 547-8444 
Market Lunch on Urbanspoon

More recommendations for authentic DC foodie experiences after the jump. (more…)