Thursday, June 30, 2005

Rainier Cherries

Like figs and Silverqueen corn there is a small window of opportunity for Rainier Cherries. Get some now. J and I polished off a three pound box in four days.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Belated Sonoma Review

The Sunday of DC Pride we decided to recover from Priding by doing a nice dinner at Sonoma. We've heard the buzz from several places and were curious to see how it stacked up. We went on OpenTable and made a reservation for 8:30.

Our leisurely walk wasn't leisurely enough because we arrived there at 8:10. After alerting the hostess and acknowledging our earliness, we were actually seated promptly. Unfortunately, we were seated promptly in a table directly next to the bar and it would take a Herculean effort to notice us. First, we had to get the attention of the hostess to get our menus. Then it took another 20 minutes to get anyone to take our order. Along with twenty minutes we did have to catch the eye of the hostess AND the manager to send a server. However, it was all uphill once the server came.

One note - Someone at Sonoma must have read our blog because a server came with his pitcher of ice water and asked whether we wanted ICE water or bottled water.

Anyway, our server was obviously tired and our early arrival appeared to throw things off, but she was friendly as attentive. There was a 2Amy's feel to the restaurant with that California casual elegance. Clean oak floors and exposed brick. Going with the 2Amys feel J decided to order two cheeses, a chevre and a Spanish cheese I forget the name of and isn't on the online menu. They came with a delicious wine jelly and focacciaesque bread. I ordered the chicken liver pate (I am a fan of pate and grew up eating pate and brie every other day for breakfast. The days I wasn't eating pate, I was eating my grandmother's fried rice.) which came with the same bread and coarse grain mustard. For our main course we both decided on the Wagyu burger. We figured that the quality of their burger would be a good barometer of the quality of the rest of their menu. This being our NIGHT OUT, we both got glasses of wine. Mine a non-Merlot red and J's a white (I think their Pino Grigio).

We loved the starters. I think a theme of the whole meal was mellow. Rather than sharp flavors that often are associated with wines and cheeses and even mustard, all of those flavors were gentler. Both cheeses had a nice body to them and paired well with wines that went down easily. The obvious 2Amy's comparisons abound and the chevre was wonderful but a tad less flavorful than the gold standard which is the Pipe Dreams goat cheese. The pate was delicious and worked well with the mustard. It had that wonderful earthiness I associated with good pate without a lot of the saltiness. A plus in my book and it compliments the sour-bitter flavor of the mustard.

The burger was absolutely wonderful. We ordered it medium and it was moist and flavorful. It was served with lettuce, grilled onions and roasted peppers. We were both disappointed by the unimaginative roasted potatoes as a side but were thoroughly impressed with the burger. While J pronounced the burgers best in class, I thought they were a sliver (a tiny sliver) lower than the Ugly Mug's mini burgers.

Monday, June 27, 2005

The Next Food Network Star - Finale

Dear god folks. First it was Gilmore Girls and their evil 30 seconds over and now the Food Network is on the gravy train of letting their show run over it's allotted time. Not just run over, but timed so my beloved DVR would cut off at precisely the moment Emeril was announcing the winner. BLEAH!!!!!!!!!

Let's backtrack here to the start of the special hour and a half episode. It was down to the final four. Their challenge was to do a segment with some bald dude on the Early Show. It starts with Hans, who I am loving more and more every day. Hans knocks it out of the ballpark, being his usual informative self and really engaging Harry Smith (CBS bald dude) in helping make his dishes. I am, however, noticing every meal Hans makes include either grits or spaetzle. Next up is EvilSuzanne. The happily married woman beckons Harry to kiss her, again and again. She then tells him he smells good. Is she looking to trade up? You be the judge. That being said she does involve Harry in putting together the food. But it's all I-lost-87-pounds blah-de-blah that she's been spouting for the whole series. I hate her approach to food because it is really all about hating food. It's about viewing food as either medicine (ooh low carb, high fiber!) or poison (bread, fat, sugar!). Fuck that shit. So Dan and Steve are next and seem so involved in their bad schtick they forget that Harry is there. I wish they could stick with the basics. Last up is FakeDeborah. The actress/chef to the celebrities continues her fake, fake, fakery. She is still Paige Davis with a lobotomy. And she gets worse because the woman seems incapable of giving basic information. Her most egregious example of that was when she was asked how long to cook her pork chops and she said "cook it until it's done." Not only that she admonishes the audience to always make sure their pork is completely cooked (well, duh, trichonisis).

In the judging Hans and the gay duo move into the second round. And it's down to EvilSuzanne or FakeDeborah. And EvilSuzanne gets eliminated. THANK GOD.

So the next challenge is where the contestants are given 16 ingredients of which they need to use at least seven of them in at least two dishes. They have an hour to prepare the dish and will be required to demo it. Hans kicks it hard with his dishes making four - some beet thingy, some salmon thingy, some shrimp thingy and the invariable spaetzle. As brilliant as Hans is in conceiving recipes, this packed menu requires him to speak so quickly that only dogs and certain species of shrimp can divine what he's saying. He kinda goes down in flames. Dan and Steve make their signature salmon Wellington and a shrimp cocktail with a cocktail sauce. They seem to be less cheesy about this demo. I think having a dish they know is a hit gives them a better rapport. FakeDeborah soon becomes EvilDeborah by cribbing the salmon in puff pastry concept. Her demo is typical Deborah, stilted and fake.

Breaking J's heart, Hans is eliminated. We come back from the elimination with the fakety, fake, fake presence of Rachel Ray. She talks about the importance of a tagline - "Hi I'm Rachel Ray and I'm here to make 30 minute meals." We see her do a 7 1/2 minute version of her 30 minute meals. It's typically cheesy and affected. The one hilarious part of her segment was her little confessional about Sara Moulton telling her to paste a smile on her face not matter what. I can only say that only works for Sara Moulton because you can totally tell Sara is freaking out inside when things go wrong.

So we then see they final cooking segments from Dan and Steve and EvilDeborah. Dan and Steve make a lobster potpie.

Dan and Steve
The good - fun rapport. I like when they call each other out on being cheeseballs (Dan when he tries to fake a Maine accent and Steve when he goes on and on about pie dough). The potpie looks easy and accessible. Their tagline was clear and catchy.
The bad - They need to look UP. A lot of looking down at the food. Also they didn't show enough. Steve talked the viewer through making piecrust but he never showed how to do it. If you aren't going to walk us through that, just tell us to use bought pie dough or puff pastry. Also, a beet salad just magically appeared at the end to complement the potpie. This would be acceptable if this was something they you would buy premade but they said they MADE it.

The good - She made food. It was fairly easy to follow.
The bad - Look UP. She was her usual irritating self. But also, her tendency to rave about what she was making got in the way of actual information. She almost never gave out measurements. and her father's secret spice? This is a cooking show. The rest of us don't have your father's secret spice. either tell us how to make our own secret spice or shut up.

After frantically combing spoiler boards for the winner, I was relieved but underwhelmed to see it was Dan and Steve. I think they have the skills to have a good show but their concept is boring. There are tons of shows on the Food Network about entertaining. Barefoot Contessa, Michael Chiarello, Giada DeLaurentiis. What would be really interesting is to see a CATERER put thing together. What are the tricks of the trade to make sure that everything's ready by the time people want to come of the table? How do you cook for a crowd? I wish they would create a show around the tools caterers use and how we mortals can translate them to our cooking. But I am not a Food Network exec. If I were, Hans would be the Next Food Network Star.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

The Next Food Network Star

Yes, J and I are addicted to the Next Food Network Star. This is totally our crack. With the exception of the elimination of Brook in hte first episode, we've been delighted with the judges' choice of bootee. I did say that there was no God i the evil blonde Harmony went all the way. But she got kicked out in the second episode and order in the universe was restored. The crazy, Greg Bradyish Mike and the incompetent "Reuben Studdard" Eric were both very satisfying bootees. So now that it's down to the final four, what is our assessment? The one sentence answer is - "anyone but Suzanne."

Suzanne - I hate her. I hate her Rachael Ray perkiness and I hate her I'm just a Mom schtick. Fine. You're a Mom. That doesn't make you any less annoying. And guess what you're on the FOOD Network. From your constant harping on the 87 pounds you lost and your constant talk about "good" foods and "bad" foods, we can tell you hate food. Or at least eating.

Deborah - Inoffensive. That's all I can say. While she can is competent tv personality, she's way too actressy for my taste. She's the Paige Davis of this competition.

Dan and Steve - I just heard...THEY'RE GAY. And they can't shut up about it. I find them to be fairly competent when demoing the cooking but if they "show their personalities" they end up looking cheesy. The judges got it right on this one. Cutesy.

Hans - My favorite to win. Low key, knowledgable, and smart. I like his 20 second mushroom piece where he talked about the qualities of different mushrooms. It was great to hear how the actual mushrooms would fit into the cooking.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Nice but Not

So I wrote a snarky comment on the DCFoodies site on my moral outrage about the Smithsonian's Folklife Festival. I find the food demonstrations irritating because there are no samples. One time I actually did make something from a Folklife demonstration and it tasted awful. I had nothing to compare it to because I never had a taste. So somehow I get a response from the DC Tourism board about my nit. They tell me that they understand my concern and wanted to address the no-tasting policy. I get the link and then I get even MORE outraged. So the DC tourism's answer to the lack of tasting is to set up $75-80 tasting at DC's chi chi restaurants. For example:

Tuesday, July 5 at 7 pm
Church Ladies’ Supper at Georgia Brown’s
Georgia Brown’s
950 15th St. NW

Darrell Hughes, Executive Chef of Georgia Brown’s will welcome Brenda Rhodes Miller, author of the new Church Ladies' CelestialSuppers and Sensible Advice for one special night. Chef Hughes will prepare a four-course tasting menu showcasing recipes from Miller’s book and her first best-seller, Church Ladies' Divine Desserts. In addition to the dining experience, guests will meet Miller and enjoy the opportunity to purchase autographed copies of her cookbooks. $80 per person including paired wines (gratuity and tax not included). Reservations are required. Space is limited.

An $80 tasting event is not an effective response to my beef about not being able to taste the food during a cooking demonstration. That's crazy. And this particular event drives me even crazier because Church Lady food should not cost $80. I'm not even sure it should be paired with wine. Give me a REAL event like restuarant week, which makes me actively want to TRY the food as opposed to pissing me off.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Ugly Mug News

For those of you who have gotten over Ugly Mug's inauspicious opening and are now a regular - Chef Graig Glufman is leaving. Word on the street is that he wants more of a restaurant than a bar. The recipes are staying so let's hope the kitchen staff continue to churn out the best miniburgers on earth and some damn good pizza to go with it. Anyone with news on where Chef Glufman ends up should let me know because I will follow that guy wherever he goes (for his FOOD).

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Not William Wegman's

So late one recent weekend night, I got the hankering to go check out Wegman's way out in Virginia. I come from a long line of late night shoppers so this was not too unusual for me. I'll never forget my aunt taking me to a new grocery store somewhere in Texas in the middle of the night and apologizing because it was weird.

You know, there are lots of weird things in life -- voting for people who will work against your own best interests, seriously wearing one's collar up for fashion's sake or serving tortillas with mu shu -- but checking out a grocery store just doesn't rank too high, if at all, on my weird list. So with the perceived support of my aunt, and my mom who would take us out shopping very late as well, I headed out to Wegman's in Fairfax.

What's Wegman's? It has shades of Whole Foods, Trader Joes, Central Market (I know CM from TX), and Eatzi's, and your everyday grocery store.

Packed with gourmet and organic, but still carrying your mass-produced Jifs and Ols El Pasos, I'd say what separates Wegman's from your typical grocery store is the amount of onsite-prepped food that is avaialable. That combination is pretty great and I do like being able to grab my Charmin with my Cypress Grove Humboldt Fog (a cheese with a great name and a better taste).

I didn't think it was that different from Whole Foods, but I was also there quite late and most of the fun was over for the night. It did look like you could get an array of sandwiches, sushi, soups, salads, breads and more and enjoy your bounty off in the cafe. I did see a deli, an extensive bakery, quite a bit of chocolates and chocolate gifts, and several areas of pre-prepped dinners.

Several of the prices I saw were better than Whole Foods and other markets, but some were the same. I'd be surprised if shoppers found it more expensive than the others, but it's possible.

Tea lovers will rejoice at their selection of teas in every shade, berry, and brewing contraption. Likewise, they seem to be doing well in the basics department, though, of course, that is somewhat overwhelming. There were some delicious cheeses, but I think Whole Foods gives them a run for their money in that area.

In the end, I am sure I would go back, but I would like to be there when all the bells and whistles are going.

It's worth noting that Wegman's was honored as the best place to work in the U.S. by Fortune magazine. Not too shabby.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Bistro Italiano

I've been remiss. I have been going to Bistro Italiano all of these months and never once reviewed it. Well here it is. M, J's co-worker had been telling us about Bistro Italiano for months before we went there. It's on the Northeast side of Capitol Hill, so we'd actually have ot make an effort to go there. But it was well worth it and hella cheap.

If any restaurant is a neighborhood place, it's Bistro Italiano. Tucked into DC street behind the retail block of Mass Ave., you could easily miss it. It's small, seating 30 at most. The decor is on the tacky side with toothpaste green walls and travel agency pictures of Italy. The service and food is lovely. We've had consistently friendly service with our water glasses filled and our food served promtly.

The food is totally unpretentious. We're talking iceberg lettuce salads with a big tomato wedge. The best I can compare it to is Dupont Italian Kitchen before the DIK decided to serve completely crap food. Friday night, I had the Caesar salad and J had the house salad with the balsalmic vinaigrette. Both were decent. Our pastas however, were very satisfying. J had the pasta with meat sauce. The sauce was interesting because it was presented as the spaghetti on the bottom with a layer of ground meat and a layer of tomato sauce. It was quite wonderful. The meat actually tasted like SOMETHING. It didn't just add texture to the tomato sauce which had that texture of coarsely pureed tomatoes that indicates the sauce didn't come out of a jar. I had that manicotti which was hearty but I wasn't crazy about the ground meat and ricotta filling. It was somewhat solid so that the meat and ricotta were in one block. I thought the two textures weren't blending well. But the tomato sauce was making up for a so-so filling.

Although we didn't get it Friday, I highly recommend the pizza. It's exactly what you want your neighborhood pizza place pizza to taste like. The crust is not that thin cracker crust like Pizerria Paradiso but much more doughy. And the sauce and toppings are all top notch. And we totally, unabashedly recommend the cannoli, which have the light crisp cookie surrounding the sweet (but not too sweet) and rich marscapone and ricotta filling.

This food is not about osso buco and balsalmic reductions. In an earlier era, you'd have checked tablecloths and drippy candles in chianti bottles. It's the spaghetti and meatballs and friendly service. Things look like they're supposed to look and taste like they're supposed to taste.

Bistro Italiano
320 D Street Northeast
Washington, DC 20002-5722

Thursday, June 02, 2005

5 More Things

5 More Things About Han Sung Oak

1. The outfits the waitresses dressed in looked like they were Japanese Anime Schoolgirls. I expected them to fight each other with maces and laser bolts that shot stars and hearts. It was a little disconcerting to see 40-year-old women dressed like they needed a bookbag.

2. The marinade for the chicken (and beef for that matter) ROCKED. We kept pouring it on our rice.

3. How can you tell you're not Korean? If they give you potato salad as part of the panchan. It's so bizaare. Here are all of these awesome little dishes of jellyfish, tofu, kimchee and seeweed and there's...a little plate of potato salad. Thanks to the chowhound boards we were prepared but it was still the most disconcerting thing to have potato salad as part of your meal. Of course the people of Korean descent weren't given the potato salad.

4. The seafood pancake is a meal in itself. In fact, most of the appetizers were huge. The first time we came and ordered it, we thought we'd get this little quarter sized pancake and what comes out is a pancake the size od a large serving platter.

5. The waitstaff really doesn't want you to grill the meat yourself. They come to your table and put the meat on the grill and then come back when it's ready and turn it.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Han Sung Oak

I've been meaning to get the review of Han Sung Oak up for a while, so here we go.

Our first shared Korean food experience was on our honeymoon in Toronto. I had never had it before and he hadn't had it in a long time. Turns out our B&B was right by Koreatown so one night we ventured out to a place called Joon's. Honestly it rocked. They bring many small dishes to eat with the meal called "panchan." I've since learned that Joon's was a bit more laid back on the panchan than other places but there was some delicious kim chee, some toasted seaweed, and a handful of other dishes. The star was their special take on Korean barbecue which we cooked at our table. Delicious. I'll spare you the details though so we can focus a bit more on Han Sung Oak.

Han Sung Oak is becoming one of our new favorites. We knew we wanted Korean one night and just picked it from a list. Set just a bit up the road from Bailey's Crossroads on Columbia Pike, Han Sung Oak is a sizable suburban restaurant at the end of yet another strip mall. We noticed upon walking in that we were among the very few non-Koreans in the place. A good sign!

We've been twice. The first time there was a brief wait and the second time we walked right in. Most recently, we were shown to our table by the host and were promptly greeted by a server. The servers all seem to be women, meaning I did not see men serving. They also wear very utilitarian blue outfits which I can't figure out if they feel Stepford Wivesy or not.

This time, we ordered the Korean barbecue with chicken (I say "Korean" barbecue like they would bring us "West Memphis" or something) and the bi bim bap. When we first went, we ordered an appetizer (a fabulous but LARGE) shrimp cake, and each had our own barbecue. That along with the piles o' panchan were way too much.

Of the various panchan there are a few standouts a slightly sweet and slightly vinegared dish of strips of tofu was a favorite. Generous portions of kimchee were appropriately cool and spicy and the other little salads were tasty as well.

So basically, they cook the barbecue order(s) on inset or tabletop grills while replenishing the little sides of panchan and keeping water glasses full. The service is attentive, but not chatty. Their not angling for a seat at your table or to sell you on the nightly special. It's all about getting the food on the table and making sure you have what you need. Nothing more, nothing less, and that works for me.

Our barbecued chicken was cooked until crisp and tender (although you can cook it more or less) and soaked in a savory beef broth (assuming it's beef). Placed on the servings of steamed white rice, it was comforting and warm.

I think what I like most is the intensity of the flavors. Sweet, salty, peppery, beefy, and yes, chickeny (shut up, it's my blog and I can make up words if I want).

The bibimbap we ordered was rice with beef, a fried egg, mushrooms, bean sprouts, spinach, and more. Again, comfort food. I'm honestly not sure I would order this again, but I think T would. As a Southern boy I tend to like my comfort food Paula Deen style so I would have liked more flavor, if not a pound or two of cheese. Of course, that'snot to say that I didn't eat quite a bit of it.

After finishing our food, we were brought a sweet cold sipping tea, I'm trying to figure out what it was and will know soon, but it was cleansing and tasty.

All in all, Han Sung Oak is tasty with attentive service. I look forward to our nextr visit!

Hell's Kitchen Indeed

This isn't just hate, it's hateration. I have hateration for the stupid Hell's Kitchen tv show. It ranks right up there with Britney 'n Kevin Chaotic for the worst reality show. I caught the first 40 minutes of it that J TiVoed. Goddamn if that wasn't painful to watch.

This show should be made for me. I love reality TV and I love food. I love watching the behind-the-scenes at restaurant reality shows. I loved The Restaurant because Rocco was a true asshole. His complete cluelessness about his assholery made his eventual smackdown so delicious. Since Gordon Ramsay seemed to be running the show, there will be no delicious Ramsay smackdown. And due to bad editing, you don't get a sense of who the asshole contestants are when Gordon gives his initial browbeating.

I think the thing with this Gordon Ramsay guy is that his asshole act is simply that, an act. I'm sure he's an asshole in real life but all of the stuff he does is so Rachael Ray affected. Instead of the perky "How GREAT is THAT," we get the "this bleeping sucks!" Either way, you know they spent hours in front of the mirror coming up with their stupid catchphrases and personas. It was painful to watch him spit out the food. What kind of shit is that? I spent the whole time feeling bad for the P.A.s who had to clean up the predigested food that Gordon spat on the ground.

The restaurant challenged sucked so hard. The contestants broke up into two teams and each team had to make dinner for half the restaurant. From what I saw, Gordon the Screamer would intercept the plates and criticize them before they reached the customer. Stupid stupid stupid. How much more fun would it be for the fame-whore customers to have to eat an ill-made dish and have to give an evaluation of it on camera? Instead we get more of the blowhard. And you know the customers could not have a good time with that since their food kept on getting sent back.

For a show like this to work, you've gotta have some respect for the person deciding who gets to stay and who gets to go. And people have to EARN their smackdown. They have to be assholes like Wendy Pepper and YaYa. Seeing of prick throw a tantrum at people isn't fun unless the peopel are also dickheads themselves. Otherwise, it's just an excercise in cruelty, which invariably makes me lose my lunch.