Supertastes’ Best Of Summer

If you feel like taking a break from ingesting nothing but gin and tonics and popsicles, which is a totally solid way to pass these 90 degree days, I find a pesto in the food processor is a reasonably cool addition. Recently, I tried a parsley pesto from Bon Appetit, which involves almonds and chives, and I added roasted broccoli into the mix. A totally serviceable supper with sliced tomatoes, but nothing compared to this herb pasta with shallots and lemon. That broccoli was better used in this veggie pasta sauce with sun-dried tomatoes and ricotta salata. Then again if you’re cooking pasta sauces, let the market be your guide using a few key tips from Supertastes.

But if your a/c is pumping and your oven is too, my favorite summer recipes are chicken and pork enchiladas with a spicy tomatillo sauce and the best eggplant parmesan you’ll ever taste (with eggplant slices that are baked, not fried). Both are great for company, because you can prep them ahead, but the downside is you’ll have to share.

And if g&ts and popsicles are your cruising speed, spice it up (and get your protein) with a batch of jello shots. A drink and a meal in one!

This entry was posted in Recipes and tagged .

Leave a comment

Let’s Do Lunch

Since being self-banished from my old regular spot, Trio, I’ve been impatiently waiting for Le Diplomate to start serving lunch. But a girl’s got to eat, so I’ve been making the rounds. Falling into the al fresco dining category, the 17th Street staples Agora and Pizza No. 17, which has a few interesting additions to its pizza and sandwich offerings. Try the mortadella and mozzarella sandwich. The more dubious category of child-friendly has given me so-so meals at Commissary and Tortilla Coast.

Oh how I wish Pearl Dive Oyster served lunch every day, but its genius brunch-for-lunch eggs benedict must be saved for Fridays. This has forced me to try some new places. The lunch at Edgar in the Mayflower Hotel can be tasty, but the vibe is way too business-y for us unyoked types. I much prefer the funky experience at the new Russian joint just up Connecticut Avenue, Mari Vanna. (Right now the Edgar homepage declares itself the spot for “power dining for the 21st Century” and Mari Vanna promises buy one, get one free house-infused vodka shots. Your call.)

With twinkling lights, flowery, country decor, and tiny framed pictures everywhere, this outpost of a Russian chain feels out-of-the ordinary. I’m all for any place that serves blini and caviar. Heck, I’ll even take those vodka shots. But I was actually delighted by my lunch there last week. The borsch–a thin beet soup with onions, beef, sour cream and fresh dill–is a must-order and both sandwiches on offer that day were unusual and hauntingly good. There was this light “avocado and celery” sandwich, also with lettuce, tomato, cucumber, and a divine parsley pesto. (Side note: I think I’d like to have a parsley garden so I could make in bulk this pesto to spoon into literally everything.) But if I could have only one, I’d probably order the “Russian-style sausage” sandwich with cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion, and a bright, sweet relish.

I realize I’m gushing now, but it really was special eating Mari Vanna’s food. I can’t wait to go for dinner to enjoy the dumplings, the pierogi, and the blini and caviar. At lunch there was no need for vodka–the drinks were still a treat. They offer a wide selection of fresh fruit and vegetable juices–I had carrot and orange–and several sophisticated-sounding lemonades. Everyone in the room had a different brightly colored drink before them.

You can add Mari Vanna to the growing list of restaurants where you can actually forget you are in D.C. Which is probably what the many Russians in the room were trying to do. I suppose when Le Dip begins serving lunch, I’ll still need a juice and celery and avocado sandwich cleanse to break up all the burgers I’ll be eating.

This entry was posted in DC Scene, Drinks, Restaurant Reviews and tagged .

Leave a comment

The Joy of Not Cooking

As Michael Pollan hawks his book encourages people to get back into their kitchens, my mind wanders to simple treats that will let me spend more time outside in this beautiful spring weather. Maybe picnics are my inspiration or maybe it was a recent visit to Glen’s Gourmet Market in Dupont Circle. Newly opened in the former “secret Safeway” location at S and 20th Streets, this shop is certainly not a one-stop grocery experience. The deli and the produce suffer at the expense of super trendy food genres like sauces (hot, bbq, marinade) and things pickled. The store, which sells products produced “locally”–that is from NY to VA–also specializes in the ever-growing prepared food market.

What a shop like this is great for is gifts and inspiration, which brings me finally to my latest love. It began with perfect, fresh ricotta. I knew I wanted it on toasted baguette with honey, but I needed another note. I asked the cheesemonger at Glen’s for a recommend and he first suggested black pepper, but when I asked about a green, he said arugula would have the right bite. And does it ever! Right now I feel I could eat my little open-faced sandwiches all season, leaving me plenty of time to lie in the grass hunting for four-leaf clovers.

This entry was posted in DC Scene, Easy Indulgences, Restaurant Reviews, Snacks and tagged .

Leave a comment

A Soft Opening Brings Stiff Competition

The Washington City Paper is just out with its Best of D.C. lists and already they are out of date. The addition of Le Diplomate to the city scene could change a few of them–best burger, best brunch? At the very least, I’m sure the editors will add Best French to their categories (there’s Best Italian, Japanese, Middle Eastern, Irish, but no French, which says plenty), but I’d suggest they also add Best Dining Experience and Le Diplomate would run away with it.

At 5:30 on Friday, the masses were descending upon the new bistro at 14th and Q Streets NW, during its soft opening. We had a great table, and frankly I didn’t see anything but great tables, albeit a little sunny. The hubbub parted as restauranteur Stephen Starr himself approached our table and asked if we’d be happier with a bit less glare. Moments later we were even more comfortable and, even rarer, felt completely cared for.

And this was before our super hunky waiter arrived with a round of kir royals. The space is stunning and to the question “Does it feel like Paris?” I’d say, Who cares? It feels like New York. It’s so sleek and un-D.C. that we opted to sit inside despite the perfect weather and will again. As for the food, the sweetbreads were lovely, the burger awesome (two patties, cheese, onions, and pickles), and the creme brule just as you’d want it. All you can do is sit, stunned, and cheers that a Real Restaurant has finally opened in D.C. Style matters, people! And a little TLC doesn’t hurt.

This entry was posted in DC Scene, Restaurant Reviews and tagged .

Leave a comment

Supertastes’ Best Of Soups

By far my favorite food genre, soups are perfect for this time of year. One day chilly, the next sweaty, I find a lovely pureed vegetable soup that can go hot or cold to be genius. Just saute a chopped onion in a little butter and olive oil and then add, all roughly chopped, 2 bunches of asparagus, 1 head of broccoli, a couple of potatoes, and 8 cups of chicken or vegetable stock, or a combo of stock and water. Bring it to a boil and then simmer 35 minutes. Puree with a hand-held immersion blender and heat through, adding a healthy dose of hot sauce. This is a great mid-week meal served with cheeses and bread.

Many, many of the soups I make come from the Joy of Cooking: All About Soup and Stews (I rarely crack the similar titles from Williams-Sonoma and Cook’s Illustrated). The book has variations of the above as well as a great salmon chowder and a spicy chorizo and greens soup.

As for my own soups, I think my technique of boiling my chicken in stock and water with all my seasonings, including a generous dash of red pepper flakes, and straining it all before making the chicken soup with just shredded chicken and delicate greens is original. Same for my split pea recipe, and I use that term loosely, which I think of as controlled chaos. But none is so personal to me as my parsley soup, a showcase for my earliest food revelation.

This entry was posted in Cookbooks, Media, Recipes, Soups and tagged .

Leave a comment

Supertastes’ Best Of Spring

The first thing we think of when the world starts to warm is, of course, asparagus. It’s finally here, so as you get to roasting the spears or blending them into soup, consider also this simple, creamy pasta sauce of ham and spargel.

One of the only things you can find at the farmers market this early is delicate greens, like mache and pepper cress. Try this amazing preparation: bake an egg on a bed of those greens and a slice of bread in a ramekin. The epiphany comes when you drizzle sage butter over each one.

Among those greens you’ll also find the standby spinach. Make a spicy sausage and spinach pasta sauce, roast a few baby artichokes, and toast the new season with a tangerine and tequila cocktail I call the Palm Spritz. Cheers!

This entry was posted in Recipes and tagged .

Leave a comment

Facing the Food Facts

I said to a friend the other day that all I want to do in the evenings is a little yoga and then read Wolf Hall. I was explaining why I haven’t been writing much and since saying it nothing has felt more true. With one baby off to bed and another on the way, food has taken a back burner. It doesn’t help that I think the New York Times and Washington Post food sections are suffering under the leadership of Mark Bittman and Joe Yonan. Or that I’ve recently tried several M.F.K. Fisher books and couldn’t get into them. But mostly my taste isn’t what I’d describe as super these days.

Nothing too spicy, nothing too bitter, nothing too complicated, and plenty of sweets. I’m loving Sugarfina for candy and Harney & Sons for my insatiable tea needs, and I’ve discovered how addictive the fresh-ground honey-roasted peanut butter is from Whole Foods. Eating super simply has allowed me to highlight fine ingredients. I’m happiest eating sliced tomato and fresh mozzarella on a piece of toast drizzled with fancy olive oil and balsamic vinegar from O&CO.

I suppose I’ll still write when the urge intersects with opportunity, but in the next week or two I’ll be taking a walk down memory lane with several Best Of recipe posts. First up, Best Of Spring, but I’ll also cover my favorite soups and pastas, as well as my specialty, salads that taste like meat. Stay tuned.

This entry was posted in Easy Indulgences, Gifts and tagged .

Leave a comment

A Good Diner Is Hard to Find

And when you find one, you can go every Sunday for brunch or every Friday and Saturday late night or several times a week for lunch. The best diners do all the classics well, but win you with their range and versatility. The Greek diner near my college, for example, had addictive tzatziki and superb silver dollar pancakes and inexpensive pitchers of beer. Heaven.

Up until a couple of months ago Trio Restaurant on 17th Street in Dupont Circle was more than a good diner. I’d say it was the best diner in D.C. where admittedly there aren’t many. It had a wide-ranging menu with a lengthy list of changing specials that were well executed and drinks that say, I respect you as a patron. You could get exotics like liver, escargot, or lobster bisque or classics like a solid wedge salad, a great pulled pork sandwich, or the best Reuben in town.

BUT a couple of months ago a change of ownership marked Trio’s sharp decline. I noticed slipping before news of the sale broke, when George, the long-time owner, was simply on vacation according to staff. Instantly the time it took to get your meal doubled or even tripled and for some inexplicable reason they were out of iceberg lettuce. What initially seemed like a blip has snowballed and once the sale was reported it became clear to this regular that some essential kitchen staff had not survived the regime change. Possible efforts at “streamlining” or cost-cutting have been felt elsewhere. The page of specials now sports more white space than type, and I recently saw the most dilapidated truck out front delivering disintegrating boxes of sad-looking produce. That should have been it for me and Trio.

I have a philosophy about BLTs. Not too toasted, definitely with mayonnaise, more veg than bacon, and NO riffing. (Years ago, a break-up became very easy for me when I found that his restaurant’s BLT was served with Russian dressing.) I also believe that a BLT should cost no more than $4.95. Trio’s BLT costs $7.95, which I grumble about often, but still I order it because it meets my requirements and I get cravings. And that’s $7.95 without french fries or anything like that, just a spear of pickle and a plastic thimble of cole slaw. All this is to say that I was horrified at my recent order featuring crumbly B, browned L, and pale pink, mealy T, and sorry we’re out of pickles. I don’t know why I was additionally irked instead of grateful that it was half its normal size.

I’ll have to find somewhere else to have lunch a couple times a week. I look now to Stephen Starr’s Le Diplomate opening soon at 14th and Q Streets NW, serving brunch, lunch, and dinner. Maybe bistro is the new diner.

This entry was posted in DC Scene, Restaurant Reviews and tagged .

Leave a comment

The Fish Wrap Scrap: Knives, Vegetarians, and Feet

I read last week’s food sections from the comfort of a poolside chaise in Miami, but even that tranquil setting couldn’t buffer me from the annoyance I felt at the big food-editor-of-the-Washington-Post’s “coming out” piece–as a vegetarian, that is, though Joe Yonan did compare it to his earlier coming out. (I wonder if he was plugging his new book that time.) But the bad taste didn’t end there. Using Anthony Bourdain as his villain, Yonan countered the argument that the worst dining table crime is to tell someone’s grandma you’re not eating the meal she cooked because you’re a veg with this: “I think the absolute rudest thing you can do is to show a lack of respect for someone else’s decision about what they are going to consume.” So this is just another rant from the infamously thin-skinned Post food editor, and I’d say who cares except that a guy who doesn’t eat like 96% of us shouldn’t be the editor of a mainstream food publication/section. Alan Richman at GQ just ranked Johnny Monis’ Dupont Circle Thai Little Serow the most outstanding restaurant of 2013. Shouldn’t the Post’s food editor be able to eat there (not to mention love it)? (And is it just me or was Mark Bittman trying to distance himself from Yonan when he called himself a “true omnivore” in the Times Magazine this weekend?)

Maybe I’m just in a bad mood now, but I’m taking this bit of news in the New York Times personally: Wusthof has managed to improve upon the standard chef’s knife. A few holes and a ridge later and all of your cucumber rounds fall gently to the cutting board instead of stacking up and then rolling away never to be seen again. Don’t get excited southpaws. The knife is for right-handers only and there are “no plans for a left-handed version.” Well, nuts.

Perhaps I should seek some zen at the tea house and foot-soaking salon in Arlington reviewed in the Post this week. Although for $28 ($6 for the tea, $22 for the feet), I could probably come up with something pretty special at home.

This entry was posted in Fish Wrap, Media and tagged .

Leave a comment

The Fish Wrap: Warning, The Med Diet Linked to Smugness

I will take Jane Black’s do-gooder public service pieces over Mark Bittman’s smug moralizing any day. In the Washington Post, Black writes about healthy shopping classes taught at grocery stores across the country. In the New York Times, Bittman weighs in on this week’s news that a Mediterranean diet beats out a low-fat diet that people don’t stick with (that is, a regular high-fat American diet) on all fronts. You can hear Bittman’s shrill “I KNEW IT!!” echoing throughout his article. So Black wins on readability, but her recipes also lap Bittman’s–shouldn’t there be a lesson in the low-fat group; something about how people need to want to eat the food? Okay, so try Black’s clams, tomatoes, and beans roasted in parchment and her braised turkey legs and thighs. And help me forget I ever heard about Bittman’s olive tapenade on orange slices.

This entry was posted in Fish Wrap, Main Courses, Media, Recipes and tagged .

Leave a comment