Can’t get up to Maine or even the Chesapeake for a quick meal? Tackle Box has you covered. Set up by the same team responsible for Hook, Tackle Box feels like a rehabbed coastal seafood shack plopped on to Georgetown’s M Street.

A few weeks ago, Mike and I wanted to do a special dinner at home. The weather was still too warm for risotto, our classic go-to for special splurge occassions and we wanted to mix it up with something new. It was time to try the Tackle Box lobster pot. Delivered in an aluminum bucket (yours to keep!), the lobster pot contains everything you need for a home cooked seafood delight: quahog clams, white water mussels, corn on the cob, chorizo, new potatoes, lemon and – the star of the show – Maine lobster. All you need to do is add white wine or water, whatever spices you’d like and put it on the stove to boil.

Here’s the rub: We are hypocritcal carnivores. There, I said it. I find animals both adorable and delicious. Okay, maybe lobster isn’t on the same level as a cuddly lamb (mmm… roast lamb) but I have a hard time looking a live animal in the eye and then putting it to death. Plus I’d heard all the horror stories about the lobster screaming in the water… oh man. So when we got home with our pot of goodies in one hand and a measure of dread in the other. Would the lobsters scream and thrash? Would we be horrified? Would it ruin dinner? Would our soft-heartedness win and we’d end up with  pet lobsters in the apartment? If so, could I convince Mike to name them Lombardo and Bob?

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“It’s a walk-off.”

When the Who Cooked It Better? gauntlet was thrown down after Endless Simmer’s Spice Master contest, I couldn’t help but smile. As anyone who knows me can tell you, most of my kitchen improvisations involve cumin, paprika, chili powder, or a combination of the three. Working three of the spices from the Tunisian fun-pack wouldn’t be the problem – editing would. I needed to find a dish that highlighted the spices without going overboard.  I wanted to avoid doing a typical lamb-and-cous cous arrangement, so I figured I’d try to work with some kind of fish or shellfish.

In the end, I turned to John Ash’s “From the Earth to the Table,” a cookbook we picked up after seeing it in a winery in Temecula, California. We’ve found some real winners in this book before, and Elizabeth reminded me that one of them is a delicious tomato-curry soup served with riso (a rice-like pasta, similar to orzo only smaller and easier to overcook).  The soup base already had me using one of the required spices, so it seemed like a great place to start.

Full disclosure – I’m not really a recipe person. I like to use them more as inspirations than blueprints, adding ingredients that make sense (or that I happen to have on hand). In this case, however, I tried to stay relatively close to the original recipe and then supplement or replace with the Tunisian spices we had to work with.

Recipe after the jump.

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The days of three-martini lunches and back rooms wreathed in cigar smoke may be gone (unless you work for Sterling Cooper), but Washington’s lunch scene is still dominated by steakhouses and other expense account-friendly venues.  Thankfully, the evolution of the DC dining scene has not passed these power spots by – their menus now boast locally sourced ingredients, sustainable seafood and even inventive vegetarian options alongside the three-pound lobsters and filets mignon.

And while perennial favorites (the Prime Rib, Old Ebbitt Grill, the Monocle, the Palm) still do what they do best, here are five of the newer establishments whose plush leather seats and white linen tablecloths provide the backdrop for big deals and some of the best political gossip:

5. Charlie Palmer Steak – The newest power spot on the Hill, Charlie Palmer has been packing in the political crowd since it opened in 2003.  They’re deservedly well known for their upscale take on a standard steakhouse menu, with entrees that highlight their “line caught” provenance or the names of the farms that supply them.  Not as well known is their daily pris fixe menu: they offer a variation on the typical Restaurant Week menu (one of two appetizers, entrees and desserts) for $20.08, making this a great place for the junior lobbyists among you to treat a client without breaking the bank.  Don’t be surprised to see a handful of Congressional types on hand, as well – although Congressional gift bans prohibit lobbyists from treating Members and staff to lunch, fundraising events allow everyone to sit down and enjoy a good steak together.

Charlie Palmer Steak
101 Constitution Avenue, NW
Charlie Palmer Steak on Urbanspoon

 

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You can set your watch to specific events in DC: cherry blossoms on the tidal basin, interns clogging Georgetown sidewalks and, for Mike and me, summertime crabs at the Quarterdeck.

Tucked away behind non-descript apartment buildings and on the edge of Ft. Meyer, this is not the type of restaurant you stumble upon by accident. Nope, you need to twist and turn your way through residential streets and — just when you’re pretty sure you’ve lost your way – there it is.

Georgetown upstarts aside, this is a crab shack in the truest sense of the word. It isn’t fancy (a friend of mine still blames a breakup on the restaurant’s lackluster atmosphere) or fussy and that is exactly why we love it. Quarterdeck has a full menu and is open year round, serving up burgers and sandwiches in the colder months. You can easily spot the summertime patrons (ahem) from the year-round loyalists. The latter are a no frills lot who hang out at the bar and would look just as at ease in a VFW hall.  

Service is straightforward and friendly, quick to supply refills on your pitchers of beer and fries while you pound away at your crustacean friends with the wooden mallets they provide. (Bibs are also available.)

You can order your crabs by the dozen, half-dozen or crab feast. Really, for $34.95, the feast is a steal and the only way to go. The only catch is everyone at your table needs to order the all-you-can-feast option or no feast for you! Quarterdeck receives a daily crab shipment in the season but it’s still wise to call ahead to reserve your batches. The crabs arrive en masse as soon as the kitchen can churn them out, dumped on your table still steaming with a healthy dusting of Maryland Old Bay seasoning. If you order the feast, the crabs keep coming and coming until you cry uncle (this is also when you start to regret all those french fries you had at the start of the meal).

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Ramps after cleaning and trimmingOn a recent trip to the Dupont Circle FreshFarm Market, we were thrilled to see that one of the vendors was offering ramps.  Ever since we picked up a copy of the recently re-issued “Think Like a Chef” by Tom Colicchio, I have been waiting for spring to roll around to try them.  In the book, Colicchio describes ramps as “wild leeks, harvested only in the spring, and I prefer them for the reason I prefer wild varieties of almost everything: they taste liike the cultivated variety, only more so.”  These cousins of the onion combine the best notes of onion and garlic flavors and aromas, and we felt like we just had to give them a try. 

So we shelled out the $5 asking price for a small bunch of lightly purpled stems with broad, flat leaves and we took them home, eager to put them to use as a component in one of Chef Tom’s “trilogies” – combinations of three ingredients whose flavors, textures and seasonality make them natural partners.  In the case of ramps, Colicchio pairs them with asparagus and morels, two more harbingers of spring whose earthy, woodsy flavors go well together.  For our dinner, we decided to use some red snapper filets in a dish that sautees the fish in a beurre fondue with a ragout made from the trilogy.

But I cannot tell a lie – we weren’t about to drop $15-$20 on a small carton of fresh morels.  We used reconstituted dried morels, and I’d do it again in a heartbeat.  The flavor was there, and the fact that the recipe had us cooking the morels until soft meant that their initial texture was irrelevant.

Details on prep, including what the hell beurre fondue is, after the jump. (more…)