Thursday, March 31, 2005

It's time for another Recipe - Wontons

I have been making wontons since I could hold a pastry brush. They are a treasured part of my family history. We used to make them assembly line style with my mother premaking the filling and then one person putting a spoonful of filling inside, another person brushing the wonton skin with egg wash and another person would seal the wonton. When an extra cousin was around we would assign said cousin the job of taking the won ton skin out of the packages, separating itself from the other won ton skins.

The traditional filling my mother made went the shu mai route with the base being ground pork. Depending on who was making it, onions, scallions, shreed carrots, peas, ginger, garlic and all kinds of Asian seasonings were added. When I struck out on my own, I decided initially decided to make it vegetarian with tofu as the base. It then evolved to a more har gow type of filling with the addition of shrimp. In its current incarnation, there are a few cubes of salmon included which gives it an even more divine flavor. This dish is extraordinarily hard to make a recipe for because it just something I throw together with nary a thought to measurements. But several people have clamored for the recipe so I will included it here for posterity's sake. Once again follow your own tastes when it comes to flavors. This is truly go with the flow time. And seriously folks, you need a food processor for this one.


1 package wonton skins
1 egg for egg wash

1 scallion
1 tablespoon minced ginger
2 cloves of garlic
1/2 a block of firm tofu that has been squeezed of the water
1/2 pound of raw peeled shrimp
1/4 pound of salmon meat
1 shot of sesame oil
2 tablespoons fish sauce
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon oyster sauce (optional)
Pinch of sugar (optional)
1/2 teaspoon thai chili sauce
1 egg
1 tablespoon cornstarch

Throw all of the filling ingredients into a food processor and pulse until smooth. Cajole your friends into helping. Place 1 teaspoon of filling onto the wonton skin. Brush 2 adjacent sides with egg wash. Seal tightly so that there are no air bubbles. Fill a pot 3/4 full of oil and wait ten minutes for the oil to heat up (Fill the damn wonton at this time!). Fry until a golden color. These are excellent frozen and reheated in an oven. In some cases it's better because the baking leeches out the oil. Enjoy. Give to the friends who helped you and dangle front of the friends who didn't.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Belga Cafe - The agony and the ecstasy

We've been anticipating our first trip to the Belga Cafe. They are right around the corner from our apartment and eagerly read the rapturous reviews ABOUT THE FOOD. Our first encounter with said restaurant was when the very nice owner dropped a polite note on our doorstep, asking if he could tie up the alley that his restaurant shares with our apartment. Said note included a free dinner for two at the Belga Cafe. We had high hopes for the place given the world class chef and the politeness of compensating us for the use of an alley we don't use.

So we decided to take our friend (who is hard of hearing) to the Belga Cafe for a late brunch on Saturday. And boy is that restaurant LOUD. Not Cafe Asia loud, but loud enough that we had to concentrate to hear each other. While we were seated promtly and our orders were taken fairly quickly, it took a while for the waitress to actually give us something. Like water, or bread. We continually had to ask for everything. And speaking of water, since none of us felt like breaking the bank with this meal, we all ordered water as our beverage. The server asked us whether we wanted sparkling or still and we said still. This is key to the absolute horribleness of our service. While I am never into service where the server sits down with you and tells you their life story, our server was brusque even by my standards. We had to ask another, much nicer server to get us things like water and bread.

The true joy as a foodie about being in a relationship is being able to split your entree with your partner. As J and I could not decide between a sweet or savory brunch dish, he got the sweet (Belgian waffle with caramelized apples) and I got the savory (smoked salmon in wafflized puff pastry) which we split and we both got orders of fries and mayo. Our friend got the sea bass with melted spinach. The food was uniformly wonderful. I was truly delighted with both of our dishes and agree with our friend that the fish and spinach was perfectly prepared but a bit underseasoned. The puff pastry salmon came with a simple and yummy mesclun salad with a divine vinaigrette and a somewhat incongruous helping of Asian greens with sesame. And yes, the fries were incredible. Definitely best in class.

Unfortunately, service was really lacking. As mentioned before, we thought the Chilean sea bass only needed a spritz of lemon to be a true memorymaker. So we asked for a slice to acheive cuinary perfection. And we asked. And asked. And asked. It took 15 minutes for the lemon. While the place was full, it was not completely packed, the way we've seen it on a Friday or Saturday night.

The sad-ass ending to our meal was discovering that our flat, DC-tap-tasting water was going to set us back $11. While it was an honest mistake, and we were willing to pay for it, when we mentioned to the brusque server that maybe they could be a little clear when someone would be spending as much on WATER as we would spend on a lifechanging dessert at 2 Amys, she told us that we should have specified TAP. I was seriously ready to get some steeled toed boots and do some tap on a certain pissy server's head. Seriously, in all of my experience dining in some pretty nice restaurants, water was water - no charge. If you wanted bottled water that you PAY for, you specified it.

Luckily, a diner next to us affirmed that we weren't crazy and said he was a friend of the owner and would have a word with him about it. But really folks - WATER.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Belga Cafe-- Lives up to the Buzz Good and Bad

A Mini Review- Grrrrreat food. I mean really delicious. Waffles with carmelized apples and fries were perfect, filling, tasty. One diner had the sea bass. Perfectly cooked, but lacked flavor. As many have said, the food is very good. I have talked to nine people who said the same. They also said the service was from spotty to horrible.

Our service was the worst I have had in a DC restaurant. Slow, silent, and arrogant. More soon, but I doubt we will return. A shame, because the chef certainly knows how to plate 'em up.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

The Old Siam - New on Capitol Hill

The Old Siam
406 8th Street SE
(202) 544-7426

Eighth Street, and Pennsylvania Ave. leading down to it in Southeast have a lot going on. Until now though, there has not been a Thai spot and we honestly needed one. There is fantastic Pakinstani food at Aatish, good burger and bar food at Mr. Henry's and The Ugly Mugg (see below), and more. But I love me some Thai. Until nopw there has just been Talay Thai several blocks away that mainly serves as our delivery place.

So here comes The Old Siam, barely a stone's throw from the Eastern Market Metro and equally close to our place. I walked by earlier this week and met the owner and chef who were kind and inviting. Tonight, my partner and I made good on my prmoise to give the place a try. And we were not disappointed.

We were greeted by the hostess and shown quickly to our table. The restaurant has a considerable amount of space in what used to be a bar. The decor is mid-scale elegant Thai and done nicely. Our table was one of three located between the front room (a handful of tables and the bar) and the back room (10 or so tables, minimal plants, colorful decor). Our middle room may be a place that pickier diners would not have liked as it sits near the ice machine and the doors to the downstair area. For us it was intimate and allowed easy and quick access for our server to refill our oft-emptied water glasses.

The Menu

It's a Thai place. There are not a million variations here from what you have probably seen at a Thai place. You have your chicken satay, your tom yum soup, your red and green curries, mixed in with a few items I have seen in fewer places-- Kee Mow, Himmapaan Stir Fried, etc.

Our server was quick and kind. I am a siouthern boy so I tend to ask many questions about the owners, how business is, etc. She answered but was not too interested in chat. I shut up once the food arrived.

We started with the Spring Rolls and the Blanket Shrimp. Spring Rolls were three tighly-packed, golden-fried, and full of delicious, mildly-peppered glass noodles and earthy woodear mushrooms. Served with a well-balanced sweet and sour sauce, we were delighted. So often, Thai spring rolls are served with a weirdly textured and bitingly sweet sauce that looks like red dye number whatever was in greater supply than common sense to the folks who made it. Not so here. Yummy.

Blanket Shrimp were wonderful. Fluffy fried shrimp wrapped in spring roll skin and served with the same sauce as the Spring Rolls. These were my favorite. Simple, tasty, and gently fried.

For entrees we decided to go with a dish we have had many places, and a dish that is new to us. The standard issue, good ol' reliable Pad Thai with shrimp was my choice. Why? Well, I think it canbe a good measure of how well a place can do. I also know that I can eat a mediocre Pad Thai and still enjoy it. This was not mediocre Pad Thai. You know how some Pad Thai has that very goopy and too-sweet sauce on it? I've had not great Pad Thai swimming in the stuff too many times. The Old Siam knows from sauce and there was just enough to complement the dish -- nothing more, nothing less. The peanuts crumbled on top were generous as well as the 6-7 plump juicy shrimp. Thr rice noodles were generous as well but stood out because they took kindly to the slightly hot, well-considered spices and hint of citrus. Easily the best Pad Thai I'vehad in a long time.

I would go back for the Pad Thai, but my partner's choice of Kee Mow Noodle with Tofu was fantastic. I mean it's been more than an hour since we left and I am still thinking about it. He could chime in more, but from the several tastes I had this was a thoughtful and expertly cooked dish. What the heck was the sauce? A vaguely earthy flavor with a touch of sweet and heat. The tofu cubed and cooked to a crisp on the outside and a bit chewier on the inside considtency. Served with the flat wide rice noodles one is used to in Pad See Eew or Broken Noodles, the dish was garlicky and comforting.

There was clearly a buzz in the air and the place was pretty packed. Neighboring diners were asking the same thing we were, wondering about the background of the owners, how business had been , etc. Everyone seemed happy to have a thai place on the hill and we were glad to join in the chorus.

Let me close by saying it is great to have a Thai place on the Hill, but it's even better to have a high quality Thai place on the hill where folks know how to cook. A restaurant is good, but a delicious restaurant is much much better. Let'shope this raises the game in the area.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Celebrity sighting

So last night I wanted soul food so I went to Levi's Port Cafe down 8th street past the freeway. So who was in front of me in line ordering tons of food but the mst famous Cosby kid ever. RAVEN SIMONE! I totally didn't recognize her since I always expect enoutrages and she was totally not entouraged but the woman behind me who taught middle school said "Raven?" And Raven shot her a smile and said, "Yes, it's me." Ms. Simone ordered three orders of fried chicken, dark meat, with sides of collard greens, and rice and mac and cheese. She also got sides of lima beans, green beans and cabbage. She's so down to earth that if the woman didn't actually say "Raven" I would have never guessed it was her. The only dirt I have is Raven likes dark meat chicken and doesn't eat pork.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Cooking for a crowd

So this weekend I cooked an appetizer reception for 80 and a intimate dinner for 12 and it went over really well. Actually J handled almost all the desserts for the appetizer receiption so he rocks. As usual. Here's the menu:


Satay chicken (on these huge skewers that made it look like a sculpture) with peanut sauce
Sundried tomato and feta mini pizzas
Roasted pepper and goat cheese mini pizzas
Strawberry mini cupcakes
Lemon mini cupcakes
Picstachio bundt cake
chocolate cookies
Brie and crackers
Chocolate cinnamon bundt cake
Strawberries and chocolate dipping sauce

Dinner (Italian without Pasta)
Mushroom ragu in puff pastry appetizer
Roasted asparagus
Risotto cakes
Polenta and grilled chicken with mushroom cream sauce

Friday, March 04, 2005

The Ugly Mug - Reloaded

So we went back to the Ugly Mug. For some reason, it's my time of the month because I want greasy bar food. For example, last week we went to a bar for dinner and our meal consisted of 25 cent tacos, cheese fries, and hot wings. So given that mind state, we were willing to take another chance on the Ugly Mug. Our instincts were correct and the bizaare service we experienced last time we came was attributable to the fact they weren't ready to open. This time it was like going to a restaurant as opposed to a bar. Our half of the restaurant was LIGHTED. We are seated promtly by the HOSTESS. Our orders were taken quickly. And there was a beer list. Being the geeks that we are, we ordered ginger ale. Foodwise, we ordered the usual - miniburgers with shoestring onion rings, and calamari. Oh my god those were good miniburgers. It's amazing that ground beef could taste so good. And the brioche bun was so tasty. Once again, the calamari was yummy yummy yummy. While the server wasn't going to be my best friend, it was prompt and efficient. Kind of like a German bureaucrat. I'd recommend it this time. The kinks have been ironed out.