Monday, August 6, 2007

Nicoise-Inspired Salad

The 90+ degree temperatures in DC have made me reluctant to use the stove or, God forbid, the oven that without fail causes my smoke alarm to go off every time I turn it on. I'm not a big fan of cold salads with just lettuce and raw veg, so a little stove-action is necessary. This variation of a Nicoise salad requires very little time spent standing in front of the stove, and it leaves a minimum of dishes to wash - perfect for a hot summer night when all I want to do is sit on the couch in front of the air conditioner, watching Anthony Bourdain eat exotic cuisine on the Travel Channel.

Nicoise-Inspired Salad

1 handful new potatoes
1 handful cherry tomatoes, halved
a few small radishes, thinly sliced
1 can tuna in water, drained
1-2 eggs
2 Tbsp lemon juice
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 cup olive oil
salt and pepper

1. Place eggs in a small pot, cover with cold water, set over med-high flame until water boils. Remove from heat and cover for 10 minutes. Remove eggs and rinse in cold water, then place in ice water for two minutes. Peel, slice into wedges, and set aside.
2. While eggs are cooking, place potatoes in a separate pot, cover with cold salted water, set over med-high flame, and boil until potatoes are easily pierced with a small knife. Remove potatoes, rinse in cold water, and place in ice water until cool. Slice in half if necessary and set aside.
3. While eggs and potatoes are cooking, whisk together lemon juice, garlic, olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste.
4. Mix potatoes, tuna, tomatoes, and radishes with vinaigrette. Top with egg slices. Enjoy.

This is a very forgiving recipe which can be added to, subtracted from, or otherwise altered. Next time I'll try some chopped parsley and steamed green beans (in classic Nicoise salad style). Canneloni (white) beans would also be good and add some more substance. Whatever you choose, just make sure the ingredients are fresh - that makes all the difference.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Komi (Washington, DC)

1509 17th St. NW
Washington, DC

Johnny Monis, chef/owner of the acclaimed restaurant Komi, was recently named one of the best new chefs of the year by Food and Wine magazine. Following this accolade, the menu became prix fixe only with no ala carte items, raising the cost to a cool $78/person (more for the extended prix fixe with wine pairings). So I was thrilled to be able to experience the magic without paying the price when the sb took me there for my birthday last weekend.

The dining room reminds me of Obelisk with its single, small, narrow dining room which holds at most 20 tables (although that may be overestimating). The decor is simple yet elegant - but one knows that one's surroundings will no longer matter once the food appears. At the far end of the room, an open doorway allows a tantalizing glimpse into the kitchen and occasional chef sightings. (By the way, Chef Monis is not at all bad looking and the sb had to glare at me on more than one occasion as I stared longingly at the door.)

We opted for the normal prix fixe menu which includes a parade of tasting appetizers called mezzethakia, a pasta course, entree, and dessert. We chose a bottle of red Greek wine, with the help of the waiter who was generous enough to pour us tastings of our two choices before we made our decision. It ended up being truly helpful as our first choice was good but nothing special, while the second choice was something to be savored - fruity, complex, with a lingering taste on the tongue.

The mezzethakia began arriving, one by one, spaced rather far between (a little too far for our ravenous appetites). With the succession of each one, the puddle of drool by my plate grew larger. Just kidding, but they really were exceptional and each one was more innovative than the last. We had:
  • house Greek olives
  • a single French Breakfast radish, sliced in half, topped with butter and salmon roe
  • amberjack sashimi with olive oil, sea salt, and chives
  • caramelized dates stuffed with mascarpone cheese
  • grape gazpacho topped with mustard greens and almonds
  • a tiny, adorable gyro with oxtail croquette, tzatzkiki sauce, and pomegranate molasses
  • an octopus tentacle with avocado and quail egg over pork-braised lentils
  • a skewer of feta croquette, tomato, basil, and watermelon with corn vinaigrette
We were also provided with a small pot of homemade crackers in savory flavors of sesame, paprika, and thyme and asiago. We quickly devoured these and received a second pot which we consumed at a more sedate pace throughout the meal. If they sold these in a market, I would keep an unlimited supply in my pantry. They are just THAT good!

The rest of the meal was unfortunately not as exciting as the mezzethakia. For the pasta course, I ordered pappardelle with milk roasted baby goat ragu, which was good but rather oversalted. Tom's tagliatelle with blueberries and guanciale (like bits of bacon) was unique and tasty, but like my dish, the serving size was tiny - three bits, max? Our entrees were also disappointingly small. My suckling pig confit came with the pig served three ways - regular confit, with black truffle moussaka, and third way which now escapes my memory - and was accompanied by two stringy looking lengths of grilled spring onion and two types of pistachio sauce. The confit, especially the one with moussaka, was mouthwatering and perhaps it was intentionally small as a larger portion of the rather fatty meat would have made me feel quite sick. Tom ordered the Colombia River sturgeon with pineapple and fennel which was only average.

However, dessert came and once again, the puddle of drool appeared. Tom had mentioned by birthday when making the reservation, and to our surprise and pleasure, the server brought out a complimentary dessert tasting from the pastry chef. I'm not exactly sure what it was but it included something like candied lemon and was a one-bite delight. I especially liked the words "Happy Birthday" written in beautiful chocolate script on the side of the dish. My dessert was even better - Greek donuts with lavender honey, served with a cup of the most decadent chocolate mascarpone mousse. The unique taste of the honey made the donuts truly spectacular, and I followed each bite with a spoonful of the mousse, feeling utterly spoiled through it all. I didn't pay much attention to Tom's dessert, a coconut panna cotta with apricot sorbet, but the one small bite I had was pretty good.

I can't finish this review without raving about the service. I've already mentioned the wine tasting and the birthday treat, but service went above and beyond in the tiniest details. Tom excused himself to the restroom twice - on each occasion, a server rushed to replace his napkin with a fresh one, folded and placed next to his plate. The second time, Tom attempted to be helpful by folding his own napkin and placing it next to his plate so that the server wouldn't feel the need to replace it. It almost fooled them - almost, but not quite! Right before he got back to the table, not one but TWO servers rushed to replace the "soiled" napkin. Water refills were prompt and our cups were never empty. The bottle of wine we ordered was placed on a nearby table instead of taking up space on ours, and our server refilled our glasses frequently so we never ran out of the vino. The icing on the cake was the adorable homemade sassafras-lime lollipops that accompanied our check to "sweeten the deal", as our server said.

Would I return to Komi? Without a doubt. Unfortunately, the price makes it a special-occasions-only kind of place and my birthday is only once a year...

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Dupont Circle Farmer's Market

Dupont Circle Farmer’s Market
20th St. NW (between Mass. Ave and Q St)
Regular season (April to December 2007): Sundays, 9 am to 1 pm.
Winter Hours (January to March 2007): 10 am to 1 pm

I’ve made frequent visits to the year-round farmer’s market in Dupont Circle for at least two years now. Each time, I’ve been transfixed by the gorgeous tables piled high with fruits and vegetables that travel hours to get to the city from nearby Virginian and Maryland farms. In the summer, I usually go for staples such as tomatoes, berries, and zucchini/squash. But recently, I decided it was time to branch out and try some new things.

First on my list was a bunch of garlic scapes, a curious arrangement of long, curly green stems which actually grow out of garlic bulbs and are only in season a few weeks in a year. The Washington Post’s Kim O’Donnell blogged several times about garlic scapes in stir fry or turned into pesto, so I bought a healthy looking bunch for only $2.50. Unfortunately, the looks belied the taste - mine were perhaps too old and tasted much like woody asparagus or old, stringy green beans.

Last week, I decided to experiment with kohlrabi, a bulbous vegetable with huge leafy greens growing out of the top. Sources say to choose one no larger than a tennis ball and to pare back the harder outer layer to get to the crunchy and slightly sweet insides. I thought the taste resembled a broccoli spear, but sweeter, and it had the texture of an apple. Tossed into a stir fry with chicken, mushrooms, and onion, it was truly delicious.

What next? Perhaps golden beets, if I can still find them, or maybe I’ll sample some of the myriad of greens. Whatever it is, it will be an adventure both at the market and back home in my kitchen! Farmer’s markets are such a fun way to experiment with new food… why not visit your local market this weekend?

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Eating Well

In the past week or two, I've commented several times that the sb and I eat very well. We both love to cook and vastly prefer it to take-out (most days). It's something we can do together (aka "I can boss him around in the kitchen") and the results are usually delicious. Here's just a smattering of the dishes we've made in the past few weeks:
  • Japanese-style curry with chicken and potatoes
  • Whole lemon and herb roasted chicken with roasted vegetables and fresh bread
  • Grilled pineapple drizzled with honey, topped with vanilla gelato and crushed pistachios
  • Breaded pork tenderloin with balsamic-butter glazed potatoes
  • Seared New Zealand ribeye with mashed sweet/russet potatoes and sugar snap peas
  • Grilled spice-rubbed pork chops with zucchini, mushroom, and potato salad
Here's a simple, customizable recipe for roast chicken. Add or subtract other aromatics as desired. Additional spices such as garlic powder and paprika would be nice.

1 whole roasting hen (4 lbs), innards removed
1 lemon, zested
1 large onion, quartered
1/2-1 head garlic
handful fresh herbs (rosemary, thyme, etc.), chop half
1-2 tbsp butter, softened
salt and pepper

1. Preheat oven to 475 degrees F.
2. Rinse chicken inside and out with cold water, pay dry. Cut away excess fat.
3. Rub butter all over chicken. Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper, lemon zest, and chopped herbs. Squeeze juice of half a lemon all over chicken.
4. Squeeze remaining half of lemon into cavity of chicken. Cut lemon into quarters and stuff into cavity along with onion, garlic cloves (unpeeled), and a bunch of herbs.
5. Tie chicken legs together with twine if desired. Place chicken, breast side up, into a roasting pan with rack. (If you don't have a rack, use a bunch of celery and carrots.)
6. Roast at 475 degrees for twenty minutes, then drop temperature to 400 degrees and cook for another 40 minutes or until done.
7. Let sit ten minutes, carve, and serve - crispy, juicy, and fall-off-the-bone tender!

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Mount Vernon Wine Festival (Virginia)

Mount Vernon, the former home of President George Washington, occupies a gorgeously green space overlooking the Potomac River. While visitors flock to this historic site 365 days a year, one weekend each spring, hundreds of people descend upon the estate for the Mount Vernon Wine Festival, which showcases local Virginia wineries amidst the backdrop of the Mount Vernon mansion, the Potomac River, and the music of local jazz bands.

Although I attended the last day of the festival on a Sunday night, the wine tasting tent was still teeming with people when I arrived. It was a struggle to push my way to the front of each table for a small sip of wine. I stuck mostly to reds - Cabernet Sauvignons and Merlots were quite popular - and tried a couple whites - Viogniers and Riesling mixes - but the one wine which stood out to me the most was Sarah's Patio Red from Chrysalis Vineyards in Middleburg, VA. This wine, made from the local Norton grape, is a fruity and sweet chilled red that is very drinkable and perfect for summer grilling.

I bought two bottles, one to take home and one chilled and opened immediately for sharing with friends while we sat on the lawn with baguettes and hummus from Firehook Bakery, listened to jazz, and watched the sun go down. Could there be any better way to close out a weekend?

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Bamian (Falls Church, VA)

5634 Leesburg Pike
Falls Church, VA 22041

When I think of Afghanistan, I think of a war-torn country, its people oppressed by years of tyrannical leadership. Until tonight, that is the only image I had of Afghanistan. After eating at Bamian, I am left with another impression, that of delicious, heavily-spiced, wonderfully exotic food.

Located in a strip mall on Route 7/Leesburg Pike, Bamian looks nondescript on the outside. But once you pass the doors of the lobby into the main dining area, you wouldn't think you were on Route 7 anymore except for the occasional glimpse of the cars rushing by through the windows. With its high ceilings, dim lighting, and white cloth tabletops, Bamian's decor and attentive service make you wonder how expensive Afghan food can get. But then you see the menu.

With appetizers all under $5 and entrees averaging $13, it is possible to sample a variety of the tasty offerings on the menu. For my first visit (rest assured, there will be more!), Tom and I started with the sambosay goshti, a fried pastry stuffed with ground beef, chick peas, and herbs. Shortly after ordering, four of them arrived at the table, very much resembling crab rangoons. Crispy on the outside, well-flavored and curry-like on the inside, they were the perfect treat as we awaited the main courses. We didn't have long to wait. Almost immediately following our consumption of the sambosay, the waitress brought forth my boneless chicken thigh kabobs, lined up around a bed of seasoned rice and accompanied by a basket of fresh nan (bread). She also brought Tom's Qaubili Palau, lamb and rice topped with a sweet heap of shredded carrots and raisins, with a small bowl of "meat sauce" on the side. Everything was incredible. From the nan dipped in meat sauce (shredded lamb in a sweetly spicy red sauce) to the perfect pairing of sweet raisins, crunchy carrot, delicate grains of rice, and tender lamb, to the juicy grilled chicken dipped in a green sauce reminiscent of salsa verde. Delicious.

We tried to order the Goshe Feel (elephant ears topped with ground sugar and pistachios) for dessert but unfortunately they were all out. But I'm sure I will be back soon because it won't be long before I hear something about Afghanistan and this time, I won't be thinking so much of war and terrorists, but I will be envisioning lamb kabobs and warm, toasty nan.

Food: 8
Service: 9
Decor: 7

Overall: 8

Cross-posted on Well Fed On the Town

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Pork Casserole

Who doesn't love a casserole? It's hearty and comforting (just right for sitting in front of the TV on a winter's night); it's cleanup friendly (a one-dish meal); and you can make one with just about any conglomeration of foods from your fridge and cupboard.

Tonight, I had a few boneless pork chops sitting in the fridge, a couple leftover red potatoes (too few for mashed or roasting), and an assortment of veggies. Taking inspiration from a few online recipes, I thinly sliced the potatoes, pan-fried them briefly to help start the cooking process, then layered them in the bottom of an 8x8 baking dish. I seasoned (garlic salt and pepper) and seared the chops on both sides, laid them on top of the potatoes, then topped them with sauteed onions and mushrooms and a scattering of chopped red bell pepper. I wanted to smother all of that with cream of mushroom but, not finding any in my cupboard, I used a creamy potato/bacon soup instead, thinned with a bit of milk. A couple of handfuls of shredded cheddar finished off the dish before it went into the oven at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes.

The result? Moist, flavorful pork with a savory sauce, tender potatoes, and a delicious assortment of veggies with surprisingly still-crisp red peppers. The best part is: you can never make a one-serving casserole, which means lunch (and dinner?) tomorrow will be very tasty.

Monday, February 26, 2007

A Light Supper

A few weeks ago, I made what is (for me) a rather healthy dinner. Having spent three weekends in a row away, I was sick of fast food and takeout, and I was craving something green. An indulgent trip to the grocery store resulted in the following meal:

heirloom tomato salad with garlic croutons
parmesan stuffed mushrooms
fresh-baked baguette with butter (Smart Balance)

The picture above does not do justice to the vibrant, fresh flavors of the juicy, sweet tomatoes, savory yet earthy mushrooms, and delightfully chewy bread. With tastes like this, who needs meat?? Maybe I should become vegetarian...

Disclaimer: TOTALLY kidding. I need meat. Badly.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Chinese New Year

Happy Year of the Pig! The Chinese new year officially began Sunday, February 18. I was in New York City over the weekend and met up with my mom to have dinner at an auntie's house in Brooklyn. The grandfather is apparently a very good cook so we were treated to an assortment of authentic Chinese dishes such as salt-baked chicken, stewed Chinese mushrooms with abalone, and roast pork with that salty, crispy skin. The latter was Tom's favorite as he is a lover of all things pig. They didn't have one of my favorite dishes though, so my mom made it during her visit here in D.C. this week. The following is a very sketchy description of how to make it. There are no exact measures as everything is "to taste".

Braised Pork with Taro

pork belly (with skin on if desired), cubed
Chinese cooking wine
five-spice powder
soy sauce
fish sauce
vegetable oil
taro, peeled and cubed
beef broth or water

Mix first five ingredients, adding a bit of cornstarch and oil to coat the pork. Heat oil in a Dutch oven or large saucepan, then saute pork until browned on all sides. Add enough beef broth or water to cover the bottom of the pan, cover, and let simmer for 1.5 hours or until the pork is tender. Add cubed taro and simmer another half hour till taro is soft enough to stick a fork through. Add more broth/water as necessary. The sauce should thicken as the taro cooks until it becomes the consistency of a sticky gravy. Serve with rice!

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Love Bites: Romance in Hawaii

Five Palms
Mana Kai Resort
2960 South Kihei Road
Maui, Hawaii

In honor of Valentine's Day and Well Fed on the Town's Love Bites event, I wanted to mention the most romantic dinner I've ever had. I've been on dates at many fancy restaurants, but they've all been fairly similar - white tablecloths, dim lighting, good wine, mood music, ingratiating waiters. The one that tops them all is the dinner Tom and I had at the Five Palms in Maui, with the sunset as a backdrop and some of Hawaii's tastiest dishes on the table, including the aptly named Ono fish ("ono" means delicious) and the best rack of lamb I've ever had, with a brilliantly purple side of mashed sweet potatos and a savory saute of shelled edamame with peanuts. While it was also one of the most expensive dinners I've had, it was worth every penny for the opportunity to eat sumptuous cuisine practically on the beach while watching the fiery orange sun descend behind the head of my dining partner, who is not so hard to look at either!

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Shabu (Park City, Utah)

Main Street Mall
333 Main St.
Park City, UT 84060

To save money, our ski group decided to eat out only once during our four nights in Park City (not counting lunches at the ski lodge, which were entirely necessary). A girl I'd met during a ski lesson recommended Shabu on Main Street as a great Asian fusion restaurant favored by locals and largely unknown to tourists due to its hidden spot on the second story of a nondescript mall. The dining guide we'd picked up at the airport listed Shabu's entree prices as ranging from $13-25, which seemed reasonable so we decided to give it a try.

The dining guide lied.

Appetizers went as high as $20 with
most entrees in the mid to high $30s. But the atmosphere was pleasant (dimly-lit, mahogany furnishings, modern art in sensual colors) and the food smelled delicious, so we stayed.

The drink menu was extensive, with many creative martinis including my delicious Jupiter Cosmo (Park City's signature drink, according to another airport magazine) which was made with Chambord, orange vodka, pomegranate juice, and orange juice. The other drinks looked equally tasty but one of our dining companions was disappointed in his overly tart Green Dragon with green tea and lemon juice.

Instead of one of the listed appetizers, Tom and I decided to order the Killipede, a maki roll with spicy tuna and tempura shrimp wrapped in avocado and topped with two different kinds of roe. Although Tom doubted how sushi could really be "that good", this defied our expectations and treated our taste buds to an explosion of taste and texture. The accompanying sweet sauce (teriyaki) paired perfectly with the generous portion of shrimp, the fresh tuna, and the creamy avocado, while the little piles of roe burst with satisfying saltiness between our teeth. The other couple ordered an ahi tuna appetizer which looked decent and came on a bed of creamy sweet potatoes (the only portion that I tasted).

For the main course, our opinionated waiter strongly recommended we skip the restaurant's namesake dish, the shabu shabu (a Japanese style of cooking at the table in which one dips uncooked meat and veggies into very hot broth). We followed his advice and I ordered the Miso-Glazed Black Cod; Tom had the Wok Seared Diver Scallops; the other couple had the Freestyle Sea Bass and the Shabu equivalent of Peking Duck. When the food arrived, everyone waited anxiously to dig in while I postponed the eating for a few pictures. The food was almost too pretty to eat, especially because of the bright purple garnish of edible orchid. But eat we did, and for the most part, I enjoyed every bite. My cod had a beautiful creamy texture and the miso helped bring out the fish's natural sweetness. The accompanying stir-fry of broccoli and mushroom was nondescript but the halved baby carrots not only looked pretty; they were also perfectly soft yet with a nice bite. The dish also came with a crab-stuffed pastry which tasted a little off and didn't add much to the dish.

Unfortunately, my dish was probably the best of the lot. Tom's diver scallops were overcooked and hence chewy. The steamed bass with Asian vegetables in a black bean broth was good but a bit bland. The Peking duck arrived looking like an enormous burrito, with a side of green beans in an apparently fiery hot peanut sauce. While everyone else still enjoyed their food, I venture to say I enjoyed mine the most.

Lured by the dessert menu, we ordered two: Chocolate Tempura Ice Cream and Warm Banana Cake. I did not try the ice cream although it looked suitably crisp and delicious. The banana cake was homey and comforting, with big chunks of banana in and on top, and a rich creme anglais. Not the best dessert I've had but certainly satisfying.

The dining guide may have tricked us into dining at Shabu, but our senses did not lead us astray. The rich smells coming from the other patrons' tables had us ordering eagerly despite the hefty price tag, and for that decision, our stomachs were justly rewarded. The food from Shabu was far from perfect but it was worth the cost - and coming from a spendthrift such as myself, that is a rare compliment indeed.

Food: 8.5
Service: 7
Decor: 8
Overall: 7.8

Cross-posted on Well Fed on the Town

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Well Fed on the Town

I've been posted! I'll be contributing articles to Well Fed on the Town, mostly as cross-posts from this blog. There are many other interesting articles up there as well, so go check it out!

Monday, January 22, 2007

Eating in Bed (New York City)

530 West 27th Street
New York, NY 10001

My college girlfriends and I met up in New York this past weekend. We had a great time in Bed together. Get your mind out of the gutter - I'm talking about the uber-trendy restaurant made famous in an episode of Sex and the City! The place was perfectly appropriate for a girls night out. In fact, I can't imagine any heterosexual male choosing to go there without a date in tow (or rather, a date towing him). The main dining room is filled with enormous foam mattresses on low platforms, with mounds of plush pillows for one to lean against while sipping suggestively-named cocktails such as the "Wet Spot". With low lighting and a fake fireplace projected on a large screen dividing the bar from the dining area, it sets the scene for seduction - or for some major girl talk!

Upon being seated and storing our shoes in a special compartment, my girlfriends and I each ordered a $14 cocktail. Seems overpriced to me, but then again, it's New York. The drinks were a bit on the strong side even for a Jack and Coke kind of girl such as myself, but they did have quite a variety of special concoctions including the Autumn Breeze which tasted of apple pie (still undecided as to whether or not that is a desirable taste in a cocktail). We also ordered a couple of appetizers: the barbecue blackened scallops and the beef carpaccio. While waiting, we were served warm, thin slices of bread with garlic cream cheese and roasted red pepper hummus for spreads. These were consumed throughout the meal as we just couldn't stop craving one more bite.

The appetizers came out fairly quickly. I definitely give Bed an A+ for presentation. The scallops rested on a bed of red sauce, yellow corn, and salty nuggets of chorizo, and were topped with a crispy circle of pancetta (who doesn't like bacon?). The carpaccio came with thin slices of beef on the bottom, covered with a crispy assortment of diced vegetables and parmesan shavings, then topped with a pyramid of perfectly crunchy toast points. Both were delicious. The scallops may have been a touch overcooked but went beautifully with the sauce, and the crunch of corn and saltiness of chorizo added tantalizing texture and taste. The carpaccio was very well seasoned and also had great texture with the topping of vegetables. They were gone in seconds.

It's a good thing our entrees came out soon after. Katrina opted for the Chilean Sea Bass which was snowy white with a touch of golden sear on the edges, topped with what tasted like crispy onions, and resting on a bed of creamy mashed potatoes. Although the bass was suitably sweet, I thought the texture was a bit too chewy, nothing like the melt-in-your mouth dish I had at Pod in Philly. Trimi ordered the Beef Tenderloin, a nicely done steak with a Shiraz wine sauce and roasted potatoes. While it was good, it was really nothing special and not quite worth its $38 price tag. I had the New Zealand Rack of Lamb, with carrots, zucchini, and what tasted like very salty truffle mashed potatoes, but was actually something called batata baroa (does anyone have any idea what this is??). The lamb was good, but again, nothing special, and not at all as tender as other lamb dishes I have tried (the most memorable being the rack of lamb at a restaurant in Maui whose name I've forgotten - although I'm sure eating outside on the beach at sunset contributed to the heavenly taste).

After so much good food, dessert was a letdown. We split the Crepes Souffle, mostly out of curiosity for what such a dish would taste like. Putting aside taste for a second, our first thought upon seeing the dish was "Is this a calzone?" It looked unappetizing from the start and did not taste much better. Eggy, only slightly sweet, with a burnt caramelized top and a too-sour passion fruit sauce. We really should have saved our appetite for dessert fondue at Dip!

Besides food and decor, service was only decent at best. While the waitress was friendly, she did not seem to know the menu very well. Additionally, the bus boys were abrupt and almost rude, asking to take our plates almost before we were finished and failing to refill our water until asked. The only plus to the service was the speed with which our meals arrived. I also did not appreciate the hostess asking us to check our coats, then being charged $2 for each one.

While eating in Bed is a novel idea and certainly has its charms, the logistics of actually doing so are complicated and by the end of the night I had a crick in my neck from leaning down to eat and was $80 poorer. Maybe I'm just not used to New York prices, but I do think the food was not worth the cost. It was good, but not great, and there are many places that come to mind that would be less expensive yet more satisfying.

New rating system
Food: 7
Service: 6
Decor: 8
Overall: 7

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Conveniently Delicious

I like to make things from scratch - it makes me feel culinarily authentic. But I can't deny the pleasure of churning out something truly tasty in a sweetly short time using pre-made ingredients. Over the past two days, I have succumbed to the convenience thrice:

1. Store-bought pizza dough. Who doesn't love a fresh pizza, crispy and hot off the stone? Pizza dough is fun to make but prolongs the moment when I can bite into a layer of gooey cheese that gives way to still-crunchy vegetables, salty pepperoni, and at last, the carb-a-licious crust. But not all store-bought doughs are the same. I prefer the kind from Trader Joe's, which rolls out well and bakes to a golden brown goodness.

2. Jarred tomato sauce.
I usually make my own red sauces with tomato paste, diced tomatoes, and a variety of herbs/spices. (I suppose this is not really making sauce from scratch as most of these ingredients are canned.) But simmering these ingredients till the flavors meld is often a time-consuming process. Jarred sauces, with a few additions such as crushed red pepper flakes and minced garlic, can make a shrimp fra diavolo in a fraction of the time.

3. Puff pastry. This has got to be the king of all convenient store-bought food items (well, maybe queen next to dried pasta). I tried once to make quick puff by hand. Owing partially to my overzealous food processor and partially to human error, my puff became a greasy pate brisee (savory pastry dough) which I froze into a pie plate and have yet to work up the courage to bake. My cooking teacher praised the brand Dufours but they only carry the Pillsbury kind at my local Safeway - still works a heck of a lot better than anything I could make! I used mine for cinnamon and sugar palmiers aka elephant ears. If only you could smell my house right now...

Monday, January 15, 2007

Welcome to ChompOverload!

I've been blogging since 2002, but I recently began posting quite a few food-related entries, mostly for my own benefit so I can remember what I liked/disliked about a particular recipe or restaurant. I decided that it's time to let those food posts stand on their own and thus ChompOverload was born (I must give credit for the name to both my roommate Annie and one of my favorite websites, Hopefully it will inspire others to explore their own passions, culinary or otherwise.

To start, I'll be backposting some of the more recent entries from my other blog. Most of them will mention my boyfriend Tom, who acts as both my taste tester and dinner date. Enjoy!

Circle Bistro (Foggy Bottom)

Circle Bistro
1 Washington Circle NW
Washington, DC 20037

I thought I'd missed Restaurant Week when I checked OpenTable last week and discovered that most of the good places were already booked up. But Tom and I got lucky and scored a reservation at Circle Bistro for Sunday night, the last night of Restaurant Week. I've heard fairly good things about the food from both the Washingtonian and from DCFoodies. However, the service has been rated surprisingly poor for such an expensive restaurant. Our experience prtty much reflected what all the reviews have said.

The restaurant was under construction so that might account for the rather claustrophobic feeling of the small, narrow dining room (only seats about 50). Circle Bistro has large curving glass windows but they were covered by boards during our visit. Otherwise, the soft lighting from Japanese-style paper lamps provided a nice ambience with the minimalist decor in subtle tan colors.

This being our first time there, I was not sure if the menu offered for Restaurant Week was inclusive of all regular menu items, but there was a very good selection with a few upcharges (of which we were not aware until we received the bill, not knowing what "2 supplement" or "3 supplement" meant on the menu - an extra $2 or $3 as it turns out).

For starters, I had the diver scallops, which were a tad on the small side but they went perfectly with the bed of leeks and a delicious lemongrass sauce. Tom had steak tartare which came with an adorable paper cone of perfectly crisp pommes frites and garlic mayonnaise (perfect for this mayo lover). The tartare itself was well-seasoned with a lovely sushi-like texture. Next, I opted for the hanger steak as a main course, while Tom tried the risotto. Both were excellent choices. While not terribly original, the steak was perfectly medium rare, juicy and tender, with a savory sauce, fingerling potatoes, and wilted greens. The risotto was a flavorful combination of creamy arborio rice that I thought was too chewy but Tom loved, with small bits of pancetta and blue cheese. For dessert, I had a chocolate bourbon cake and Tom ordered the madeleines. The cake itself was a poor imitation of the molten chocolate cakes served at many famous steak chains, but it did come with a delicious shot of cinnamon hot chocolate topped with a rich whipped cream. Tom's madeleines were mediocre, nothing special, with a sour cherry compote that was just that - sour.

The service was decent, although our water glasses were not topped up as often as I would have liked. Also, several tables near us waited fifteen minutes each for their checks, although the waitress did offer to bring at least one table another round of drinks as they waited.

Overall, it was a good experience but probably not a place I'd go back to until I've tried all the other places on my list! And oh, the list is long...

The Trials of Baking

Original posting date: January 12, 2007

Ever since mid-December, when my coworker Kate gave me her old, unwanted Kitchenaid mixer, I have had the biggest urge to bake. To date, I have used the mixer a handful of times to make cranberry and chocolate scones, butterscotch blondies, chocolate mousse, pate sucree (pastry dough), and maybe one or two other things that I have now forgotten.

After work today, I decided to make both sweet and savory foods using my mixer. For Christmas, Annie gave me a gorgeous red tin of sugar cookie mix from Williams Sonoma, so I mixed up a batch of sugar cookie dough which looks good enough to eat already but must be refrigerated for four hours before being rolled out. I also tried out the dough hook attachment for the first time, using it to knead a dough for pull-apart garlic bread. I'm rather disappointed though - I forgot to add 3 tablespoons of sugar, which may prevent the yeast from doing its full duty. In addition, the dough seemed a bit dry and did not roll into a ball easily, so I'm skeptical as to its outcome.

Results: As usual, Tom and I made too much food for dinner so we didn't have room for the sugar cookies. Good thing the dough can stay in the fridge for up to 3 days. We'll roll it out into cute shapes tomorrow and drizzle them with melted chocolate when they're done. As for the bread, I was a little worried when it came out feeling quite hard, but the middle was still soft and chewy and it had a fairly decent savory flavor. The sugar may have helped give it more depth but it still wasn't bad for my first attempt at bread-making!

More results: I made the sugar cookies the day after whipping up the batch of dough. After letting it rest for half an hour on the counter, I rolled it out to about a 1/4" thickness, cut it into circles with a small water glass, and cut delightful little shapes out of the centers using mini-cookie cutters that Annie got me along with the sugar cookie mix. Baking at 325F for 12 minutes resulted in slightly too-crisp cookies that I let cool and drizzled with melted chocolate/milk. Next time I think I'll make them a little thicker and bake them for less time. Oh well, lessons learned!

Wild Goose Chase

Original posting date: January 7, 2007

My coworker's boyfriend is an avid hunter and was filling up their fridge with all his game, so she pressed upon me a few frozen goose breasts which I promptly stuck in my freezer and ignored for a few months. Lately, I've been talking to another coworker who also loves to hunt and he gave me some ideas for how to cook the goose. I tried his recipe tonight.

A few days preceding the cooking, I soaked the goose in water and put it in the fridge, changing the water out once or twice a day. Yesterday, I washed the goose off, patted it dry, and marinated it in a simple mix of olive oil, rosemary, thyme, salt and pepper. Tonight, I washed the marinade off, patted it dry, and once again drizzled with olive oil and a bit of salt. Then I grilled it on an electric grill at high heat for about 20 minutes. About halfway through, I realized the breast was too fat so I butterflied the meat and placed both halves back onto the grill. The goose turned out to be medium to medium rare with a deep pink center. I served the goose cut into 1/2 inch strips with a mushroom garlic sauce, roasted balsamic carrots, and homemade beer biscuits (no milk, had to use beer).

As far as wild game goes, I suppose this tasted pretty good. The goose had the texture of steak but slightly chewier and very rich, with a mild liver taste. It tasted better with the sauce to mask the liver flavor (although if you are a liver fan, you probably wouldn't want to do this). The biscuits didn't rise very well and ended up tasting like large chewy oyster crackers. The carrots were probably the best part of the meal so I'm posting the recipe below. Enjoy - goose optional.

Balsamic Roasted Carrots

2 carrots per person
olive oil
salt and pepper
thyme (optional)
balsamic vinegar

1. Preheat the oven to 425 F.
2. Peel and slice the carrots on the diagonal into 1 inch sections.
3. Toss the carrots in a shallow roasting pan with a drizzle of olive oil and seasonings, minus the balsamic.
4. Roast for 30-40 minutes, stirring once or twice, until fork tender.
5. Add a splash of balsamic vinegar, mix well, and return to the oven for a few minutes.

Ardeo (Cleveland Park)

Original posting date: December 22, 2006

3311 Connecticut Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20008

Tom Sietsema, the award-winning food critic from the Washington Post, gave Ardeo 2.5 out of 4 stars. His description of the food made me drool longingly, especially when he described the lemon and thyme roasted chicken as well as the chocolate peanut butter bomb. Unfortunately, neither were as good as I imagined them to be.

Tom (my boyfriend, not the food critic) and I tried it out last night with three of his college friends. My first impression of the place was: "Woah, fancy." The interior of Ardeo is every bit as classy and stylish as it looks on the outside, with dim lighting and snow-white tableclothes. The staff graciously invited us to have a drink while we waited for Tom's ever-late friends. I asked the bartender to make me something fruity but not too sweet, which he obliged with a tart and yummy key lime martini, one which turned out to be more potent than it tasted. He was appropriately friendly and humorous for a bartender, but only to me; he practically ignored Tom.

When his friends finally arrived, we ordered: the roast chicken for me, tagliatelle (lamb/fennel sausage over papardelle) for Tom, and for his friends: squash ravioli, duck, and the New York strip. While waiting for our food, we nibbled on mediocre bread and a small plate of olives. Tom and one of his friends ordered a beet and goat cheese salad to share, which was thoughtfully arranged on two separate plates. The few bites I had were tantalizing to the senses - creamy goat cheese surrounded with an interesting texture contrast of crushed pistachios, accompanied by bites of perhaps overdressed greens and sweet cubes of beets.

In comparison to the delightful salad, our entrees were decent at best. My chicken was dry and almost chalky. The risotto was an interestingly crunchy farro and parmesan blend, topped with rather stringy chard and a few sun-dried tomatoes. The lemon thyme jus was probably the best part of the meal, without which the chicken would have been almost inedible. Tom's vegetarian friend did not seem full after consuming the one vegetarian entree on the menu, squash ravioli with a mere seven or eight one-inch wide medallions. The duck was a bit tough in texture, definitely not the best duck I've ever tasted (that honor goes to Little Fountain Cafe). Tom's pasta was perhaps the best of the dishes I tried (I did not sample the steak), with nicely spiced and not too gamey ground lamb mixed with fresh-made papardelle noodles, but even that was lacking in one of the advertised ingredients: roasted peppers.

I thought that perhaps the acclaimed dessert chef of Ardeo could compensate for the lack of "wow factor" in my meal, but I was sadly disappointed. A Reese's peanut butter cup, with its slightly salty sweetness, would have been preferable to my overly sweet and fluffy chocolate peanut butter bomb. The caramel-coated popcorn was a cute touch but could have been pulled out of a box of Cracker Jack. Tom's vegetarian friend was again disappointed; his duo of chocolate cakes with a minty creme filling were tasty enough, but the second of the two was hard as a rock and virtually inedible. Surprisingly, the waiter had no response when this was brought to his attention.

Bottom Line: I may try Ardeo again but perhaps only to grab a drink and an appetizer before heading elsewhere in the area for a tastier and cheaper meal.

Ray's the Steaks (Courthouse/Rosslyn)

Original posting date: December 14, 2006

Ray's the Steaks
1725 Wilson Blvd.
Arlington, VA 22209

After hearing about this local rival to Morton's and Ruth's Chris, I had to go check it out for myself. But three times I arrived at Ray's doors and was turned away. The first time, the restaurant was closed (they don't open Sundays and Mondays although that has now changed). The second time, the wait was one and a half hours so I walked down the street to Cafe Asia instead. The last time it was a few days before Thanksgiving and they had closed early for the holidays. After three attempts, my patience was wearing thin, but the thought of a juicy hunk of beef was too much to resist.

Last night, Tom and I went to Ray's once again, this time calling first to make sure they wouldn't be closed for some random reason, and showing up at 6pm to ensure that we would be beat the dinner rush. Success! We were seated promptly and presented with a small dish of spiced cashews and a menu filled with... steak. As far as entrees go, Ray's is strictly a steakhouse although it offers one vegeterian option - portobello mushrooms. Of course, I am very much a carnivore and did not hesitate to order the filet mignon with mushroom brandy cream sauce. Tom decided to go for the New York Strip au poivre (coated with crushed black peppercorns). While we waited, we snacked on the cashews as well as some soft rosemary flavored bread. The gratis snacks were small, but I appreciated that since I wanted to save my appetite for the main attraction.

The steaks arrived with small cast iron skillets of mashed potatoes and creamed spinach, which were nothing to write home about. But the steaks.... they looked PHENOMENAL although I was a bit taken aback at how small my filet was in comparison to Tom's strip. But the quality of meat is much different and I really can't eat that much anyway. My first bite was bliss. Hot, juicy, and cooked just right (medium-rare) with wonderful flavorings and slightly sweet brandy sauce that was the perfect complement to the meat. Tom's steak, on the other hand, was definitely overcooked, bordering on medium-well, although he had requested it medium-rare. Our waitress noticed this right away and graciously offered to make him another one. While he was considering whether or not to take her up on the offer, another waitress (or hostess) came by and said "I won't let you eat this" and immediately whisked it away. The first waitress offered him a complimentary cup of crab bisque while he was waiting. He declined (damn sb!) but we really appreciated the offer.

When the second steak came out, it was done right, maybe even a little undercooked, but otherwise great. The peppercorn sauce was a little too spicy for me but it tasted good for the first couple bites. I nearly finished my filet even though towards the end, each bite was pleasure mixed with the intense pain of forcing more food into a full stomach. After she had cleared our plates, the waitress brought us a complimentary slice of key lime pie to atone for the overdoneness of the steak. Although I was stuffed to the brim, the sb and I still managed to polish it off. The crust was perfectly crunchy with a not-too-tart custard, topped with whipped cream and strawberries. I also loved the tiny gratis cups of homemade hot chocolate that come at the end of each meal.

In the end, the wait was truly worth it. Not only was the food delicious, the service was also exceptional and I wouldn't hesitate to go back the next time I have a craving for nice bloody steak.