Counter Intelligence

Matt and Ted’s Excellent Adventures

Posted in New York City, South by melissamccart on July 30, 2006

peanuts.jpgMaybe I should be spending more time cooking rather than reading about it.  When I can expect a Matt and Ted Lee byline in the New York Times every Sunday, I can’t help myself.  Apparently, the brothers grew up in Charleston and “learned to cook southern without a southern grandmother,” according to their cookbook that’s due out the end of October.  That explains their their focus on local dishes such as gumbo, pecan pie, and low country oyster roasts.

How cool would it be to eat, travel, and write about it with your brother? And Matt and Ted Lee are especially good at telling stories about out of the way places, regional foods, and plain-folk culture in ways that help readers better understand a region, as opposed to just a dish. 

It helps that they research the background nitty gritty on local fare such as boiled peanuts, after which they named their southern foods company. In one interview, a reporter from the Amherst College Magazine, said of Ted Lee and his boiled peanuts,

Now, any peanut is a humble thing, but a boiled peanut is about as glamorous as a woodchuck, the bottom of the legume barrel. Blessed with the gift of gab, though, Ted can make boiled peanuts sound extraordinary. He likens them to edamame, traces the lineage of the boiled peanut to Asia and Africa, and suggests uses for them that make one drool. After a two-minute conversation with Ted it’s impossible to resist becoming a boiled-peanut proselyte.

Though you’ve probably read their stuff, here’s a sample of a few pieces if you haven’t.  Today’s “Super Fly” is especially fun.  Dim Sum and Then Some ; The Industry:  Super Fly ; The Industry:  The Gambler ; The Industry:  Tender is the Night ; A Low Country Oyster Roast, Way Up North ;  Gumbo Variations:  To Each His Own.

For the Love of Lime

Posted in Niche by melissamccart on July 29, 2006

lime.jpgWhen I first met him, a friend of mine used to swear that squeezing lime over plain cheese pizza transformed what’s already great into the sublime slice.  My initial response was, “What does a kid from Savannah know about pizza?” But it’s true.  Squeeze lime on a pie from My Little Pizzeria in Brooklyn, Pete and Eldas in Jersey or 2 Amy’s in D.C. and it will become one of your regular pizza condiments, along with red pepper flakes and sprinkled parmesan.

Fast forward to this spring at a Rockwellian‘s house.  When I had expressed interest in making sausage, this guy invited me to join some friends in making chorizo and Italian links on a rainy Sunday.  For lunch, he made foccaccio and pork shoulder.  Though the pork was already great– it was his Italian grandmother’s recipe– what did he suggest we do?  Squeeze lime over our cut before eating.  Delicious.

And in Heat, which I’ve been reading most of the weekend, Bill Buford has been reminding me of the benefits of citrus, since it’s Mario’s thing.  In talking to the writer about the influence of the Alice Waters’ school on his cooking, Batali describes how he has developed an appetite for vinegars and lemons:

“Since then my food has always been on the upper edge of acidity, which is where I naturally like it.  I tune things us with acidity.  I fix things with acidity.  A lot of flawed food made by these French guys would be brightened up with just a touch of acidity– to get you salivating.”

I didn’t know that adding citrus to pork or pizza is a simple way to make something good taste better. But how do you know whether to add some acidity to pork, a pie, or a pot roast? Clearly my strengths lie in eating and drinking, not cooking.

Five on Food: Articles from the Wednesday Dining Pages

Posted in General Interest by melissamccart on July 26, 2006

 Asian pub food1) Cool ‘Nomadic’ Dishes Downtown: Appealing Pub Food and Global Influences Define this New Generation Korean Cafe. Los Angeles Times. For the past couple of years, fusion was to food what hair scrunchies are to fashion, particularly in reference to Latin-inspired anything. Apparently, it’s now acceptable, provided the fusion is rooted in Korean or Japanese cuisine.  This article is also more evidence on the rise of the Asian pub

2) Farmer Brown Serves Up Hearty Southern Food with a San Francisco Twist.  San Francisco Chronicle.  Michael Bauer critiques solid, southern cuisine provided by African-American farmers and cooks at Farmer Brown.  “Jay Foster. . . is the maestro of this ‘neo-soul food’ restaurant, which features Southern-style organic comfort food. The cuisine may be country, but his ideas are urbane.”  D.C.’s Taste of Carolina and Farmer Brown reinforce that Edna Lewis‘s cooking is finally being embraced by restaurant chefs outside of the south.  By the way, check out the great egullet thread on southern cooking

3)  Small Treasures:  Little West 12th StreetNew York Times.  Kris Ensminger appreciates tiny places and knows that readers will, too. Like an artichoke that’s all work with a small but succulent reward, or a raw oyster that’s potentially hazardous to your health yet briny-delicious, the pleasure upstages the hassle.  Small, serious restaurants feel private, secretive, and yours, even if it’s known, such as Little Giant or Batali’s tiny Bar Jamon and Casa Mono.

4) The more informative piece from the Times comes from the answer part of the Bruni blog, “An Answer, Crusteacean Hypnosis, and More!”  A reader asks why restaurants are reviewed in the same stretch of time.  His answer: “Usually reviewers don’t weigh in during a restaurant’s first month, when it may still be ironing out kinks and performing at a level that’s not quite predictive of how it will perform over time. So reviewers weigh in at the six- or eight- or 10-week point, or something like that. And thus the reviews appear in an only marginally staggered cluster.”

This piece prompts me to wonder,what if reviewers Dale Peck’d restaurants?  They wouldn’t have to do a Hatchet Job, they could just buck the system.  You know, review it before other papers, interview the servers before it opened for their impressions, whatever. It could change the ritual of restaurant openings, how staff is treated by management, etc.  Is anyone doing this and if so, who?

5) Brookline’s Wine Jukebox. Boston Globe.  New wineshop goes Horn & Hardart on us with wines by the glass.

Wishing for Wine Bars

Posted in District of Columbia, New York City by melissamccart on July 21, 2006

wine.jpgIn New York in the late ’90s, wine bars were about as original as a bachelorette party from Long Island.  Though many were in prime neighborhoods, the rooms were sterile, the lists meandered, and the clientele was transient.  As a result, most of them folded.

Partly because of the popularity of wine crusaders such as Terry Theise and Joe Bastianich, wine bars are back.  Though the resurgence in New York began around 2003, it’s only now they’re opening en masse in cities around the country.  In this week’s Time Out NY, writer Jim Clarke notes that many of them share characteristics such as a focus on a particular region, 30 or so wines by the glass, tapas or small plates, and exposed brick walls.

Since I moved to Washington a couple of years ago, I miss drinking a glass of wine at a wine bar. Though D.C. has more to offer as far as wines by the glass than when I first moved here, they’re housed in restaurants where the focus is on the food, such as Firefly, Dino, Sonoma, and Agraria

Would a wine bar make it in Washington?  Just as the Food Section of the Washington Post often underestimates the interests of its readers, perhaps financiers assume that Washingtonian diners won’t find a wine bar interesting or accessible.  Now that restaurants have established that’s not the case, it’s time for our own tiny, eclectic wine bar with a focus on a particular region, a selection of 30 or so wines by the glass, and some small plate options for nibbling.  If not the New York version, a D.C. adaptation would be just fine.

Five on Food: Articles from the Wednesday Dining Pages

Posted in General Interest by melissamccart on July 21, 2006

1)  Austrian Wines Have a Voice, and It’s Excited.  New York Times.  A profile on the inimitable Terry Theise and the rise of Austrian wines.  In addition to having staged the comeback of Reislings and Gruner Veltliner, Theise’s more recent crusade is to promote Austrian reds as serious. “Austrian red wine is to be taken seriously, that much is beyond dispute,” he writes in his 2006 Austrian list. “Yet for every truly grown-up wine there are many others that are silly, show-offy, insipid, even flawed.”

2) Oysters Gone Wild?  Send ’em Back.  LA Times. Though few restaurants that serve oysters curtail their offerings in months that don’t end in R, many serve spawning oysters, which makes meat look milky and taste flabby.  Advice to diners?  “Look for the telltale milky sac that indicates an oyster is spawning. If it’s just getting going, the sac is little more than a thin, cream-colored line less than half an inch long. If the oyster is in high gear, the sac will be large and cloudy, overtaking much of the oyster’s body mass. And if that’s what you see on your plate, you shouldn’t hesitate to send them back, either at a restaurant or to your retailer.”

3) Can the Supper Club be Revived? San Francisco Chronicle.  Michael Bauer addresses the difficulty in attracting crowds that appreciate both food and entertainment at new lounges in town and whether a place can offer both without one drawing attention away from the other.

4) Going Back to Lard for Old Time Pies.  Boston Globe. Yet more evidence on the comeback of lard.  This cherry pie recipe is an 1896 Fannie Farmer cookbook.

5) Don’t Forget to Gripe on your Way Out.  Chicago Tribune.  An interesting piece that addresses how one restaurant group gives voice to customers who may feel awkward pointing out bad service during their visit.  Both Todd Kliman of Washingtonian and Tom Sietsema of The Washington Post regularly suggest to diners in their weekly chats that they should speak to the management, rather than complain about it online.  Perhaps Francesca’s Restaurants offer the middle ground.

Whistle Pigs and Pole Beans

Posted in South by melissamccart on July 17, 2006

Visiting Peter and Vicki Generally at their home outside Charlottesville is always a treat, especially when you’re coming from a not-quite gentrified corner of D.C. during a heat wave. The2beans.jpg 1840’s house set on acres of rolling hills is charming and eclectic, much like they are.  Should you visit, you might find Vicki tending her dahlias and zinnias or Peter and their son Phinizy shooting skeet in the front field.

My favorite part of the Generally’s property is the vegetable garden, which reminds me of those at nearby Monticello. Though hers isn’t nearly as big or as particular as the Thomas Jefferson model, it is packed with regional varieties of squash, beans, and other Americana vegetables–no broccoli rabe here.  Vicki is also diligent in excavating any critters and pests that feast in her garden, particularly groundhogs, known in some circles as whistle pigs. 

Even Peter and Vicki had yet to hear the term whistle pig until recently, despite that they grew up in the South and had practiced medicine in rural communities for most of their lives.  Vicki got such a kick out of it that she jokingly asked the pest control guys she hired to save the carcasses so she could pose with them for her Christmas card photo.  (more…)

Beyond Bud at Birreria Paradiso

Posted in District of Columbia by melissamccart on July 13, 2006

I love Budweiser.  After drinking several the course of a night, a couple of Advil usually saves me from the tyranny of a hangover the next morning. birreria.jpgAs I was reminded after a recent visit, the beer at Birreria Paradiso isn’t quite the same. After two, a person with normal tolerance is toast. In one tasting, a friend said that she could feel the alcohol burn in her mouth after sipping a Belgian selected by Thor, the manager and beer connoisseur. 

 Though Birreria offers what seems like a thousand bottled beers, Why bother? There are so many interesting options on tap.  Birreria’s draught list includes Hennepin, Ommegang, and Dogfish for the conservative at heart, as well as Rasputin Stout and some banana flavored Belgian ale, which is so good, according to Thor, that it made him want to “take off his clothes and run down the street naked,” or something like that. And, according to him, a keg of German Kristal Weisse is en route–my favorite beer that’s available nowhere I’ve been aside from Germany and the general vicinity.  I’m pretty excited.

Combine Thor’s beer-wonkiness and general charisma,a well-edited catalog of beers, and an interesting collection of beer glasses to accompany each selection, and you’ve got one gem of a bar, despite that it’s in a Georgetown basement.   Not only is it worth the trip, its worth adding to your repertoire of regular places. In case you needed more convincing, all draught beer is two bucks on Tuesday and Wednesday between 5pm and 7pm.  And the pizza’s pretty good, too.

Birreria Paradiso.  3282 M Street NW @ Wisconsin in WDC.