Counter Intelligence

Back to the Lees.

Posted in General Interest by melissamccart on October 30, 2006

ncfruit.gifBy the way, I know I’ve been teaching in schools with lots of Asian kids for too long.  Until I found out about this cookbook and saw their pictures, I wondered whether the Lee Brothers were Korean or Chinese.  And how weird that Asian kids who went to Harvard and Amherst ended up starting a food writing career boiling peanuts.  I don’t know about you, but I don’t know any Asians who work on the low end of food prep, let alone boil peanuts.

They’re definitely not Asian, though.

Born in New York and transplanted to Charleston before high school, the Lees grew up appreciating foods in two cities that pride themselves on local dishes.  Though I’ve just started getting into their new cookbook, a couple of things to chew on:

1) Their discussion of the downtown touch versus the rustic touch.  Downtown– as in Charlestown–is adding something “fancy” or unexpected to a regional dish.  The Lees use the example of pureed Jerusalem artichoke added to she crab soup.  Rustic touches include finding “a gizzard at the bottom of a bowl of gumbo, or a whole crab to crack open in [a] frogmore stew.”

2) Their Sunday/Tuesday recipes.  People have less time on Tuesdays but still may want fried chicken.  The Tuesday recipe skips the brine and does more with less time.

3) There are lots of pickles, chutneys, chow chows, relishes, and other condiments around which the brothers plan meals, not the reverse.  So, if they have scuppernong preserves, it makes, “a great glaze for slow roasted duck.” 

The other thing I like is they make southern cooking seems like it’s evolving, rather than stuck in the days of ham hocks and lard.  It’s more interesting to me than Edna Lewis.  As much as I appreciate her, I don’t live on a farm in the south in 1940.

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The Doughnut Plant

Posted in New York City by melissamccart on October 29, 2006

Two mentions of The Doughnut Plant in one day: Ed Levine Eats has a post on it and Brian Bistrong and Chieun Ko-Bistrong cites them in the Times’ “Habitat” column, “And Doughnut Plant doughnuts, you know, those large ones they have at Dean and Deluca?”  Mr. Bistrong said.  “Well, they’re great.  We both find them very addicting.” 

In Levine’s post, he goes to the plant and buys one of each.  Really, they look and sound kind of ridiculous. 

Raised Valhrona Chocolate Doughnut
2001_6.jpg

Raised Peanut Butter and Jelly Doughnut (ew.)
Raised Vanilla Doughnut
Pumpkin Cake Doughnut
Tres Leches Cake Doughnut
Blackout Cake Doughnut

But then again, donuts are a silly and frivolous food.  I’ve had a couple recently at Pyramids Moroccan on 6th and Florida– as well as at Komi for dessert.  I also hear they’re delicious at Colorado Kitchen and Tabard Inn.  True?

I think donut freaks are waiting anxiously for the Fractured Prune to open in Dupont and Arlington at the beginning of 2007  later this month! Erin Zimmer wrote about them for dcist here.  Are they better than The Doughnut Plant’s?  Someone will have to arrange for a taste test when it opens, though like cupcakes, I’m not so sure doughnuts travel well. 

“Foodies are competitive.”

Posted in General Interest by melissamccart on October 29, 2006

amanda_hesser_nytimesmagazine.jpgAmanda Hesser says this in her essay, “Foodies Face Off,” first printed in the Times Magazine, now in her collection, Cooking For Mr. Latte. In it, she and her then boyfriend and some other foodies meet at Craft right after it first opened. Though she doesn’t include a list, she makes some observations about foodies that may be universal:

1) Foodies bitch about everything, including the menu layout.

2) While other people when dining out try to avoid long silences at dinner, foodies are fine with them. After all, they need to concentrate when they’re memorizing the menu, scrutinizing an entree, and savoring the first bites of each course!

3) Foodies often drink alot. A drink list for the night that includes prosecco, reisling, gamay, barolo, grappa, and a bourbon may be an individual’s, not the table’s.

4) A table of foodies cannot overlap orders.

5) Even if the chef has created a dish that’s “supposed to entertain your palate from the first bite to the last,” expect to plate swap at a foodie dinner.

6) A table of foodies may make slightly obscene noises– moans, slurps, etc.– thorughout the course of a meal.

And last, 7) Non-foodie friends who dine with a table of foodies will be at various times throughout the meal angst ridden, embarassed by wonkiness, or incredibly bored.

Any other rules she missed?

It was a dark and stormy night. . .

Posted in General Interest by melissamccart on October 27, 2006

marsflashb_allthesky_full1.jpgI’ve finally found the perfect dark and stormy at Creme.  Served in a stemless wine glass, it’s crushed ice, rum, fresh ginger, lime juice, and I’m guessing Blenheims, though it may be some other kind of ginger beer. 

 I’m not entirely sold on the menu, but I do like the mushrooms, the hot dog, and the shrimp and grits at Creme. 

Really, I prefer it as a place to go for a drink in the neighborhood that’ s more low key than Bar Pilar, less divey than the Raven, and less expensive than Al Crostino.  That, and I had a disturbing experience at its sister restaurant. 

Another couple, Will and I were supposed to go for burgers at Mark and Orlando’s.  Since it was closed for a private party, we went to Al Tiramisu. Clearly, my friend and her husband were regulars.  Little did I know, the Tuesday night burger night would turn into a crazy expensive plate full of black truffle pasta –as in the waiter stopping by the table with a basket full of truffles and waiving it under our noses beforehand, saying “Look what just arrived this afternoon!”– and other expensive, delicious goodies.

Truffles, combined with the fact that the wine we ordered was a reserve bottle the owner was saving for our friends, I knew it was going to be pricey. Until I discreetly translated what was going on, Will was having a perfectly fine time, oblivious that we were racking up a huge bill.

Luckily, we both have a sense of humor and affectionately refer to it as the $600 hamburger night.

Five on Food: Articles from the Wednesday Dining Pages

Posted in General Interest by melissamccart on October 25, 2006

j19511.jpg1) It’s a Hairy Crab Extravaganza.  San Francisco Chronicle.  This is from the Shanghai blog, but I had to include it.  Hairy Crab!  Gross!  I want to try one.

2) Starbucks Plans to Triple the Number of Stores.  Boston Globe.  This is just downright depressing, though I’m a Starbucks slave since it’s the only coffee that’s open in my neighborhood at 6, when I’m en route to work.  Well, there’s 7-11, but the 17th street manager can’t figure out that people go ballistic when they have to open 16 creamers for a splash of milk every morning. How hard is it for someone else to open a coffee shop early, carry food that’s halfway decent, and offer coffee sans the ulcer on the side? If someone would follow this  friendly advice, maybe Starbucks wouldn’t be taking over the world.

3) Jellied Treats Make Their Way Onto Halloween Menus.  Chicago Tribune.  Are we moving back toward Julia Child era foods that look like bodily fluids and jiggle?

4) Queens Vendor Wins Pushcart Award.  New York Times.  Go Sammy’s Halal!  If only Washington had enough pushcarts to give an award.  Right now, we’d only have the “hardest pretzel” award and the “hot dog that almost tastes like meat” award.

5) Eclectic Wheaton (Eight Nationalities Make Customers Feel at Home).  Washington Post.  Walter Nicholls writes an easy to navigate compelling piece on where to find Burmese, Cantonese, Korean, Thai and Vietnamese fare that’s the real deal.

Bebo is all that.

Posted in General Interest by melissamccart on October 25, 2006

header_galileobebo1.jpgSitting at the bar at Bebo Trattoria on a weeknight will prove beyond your expectation for that soulless stretch also known as Crystal City.  If you position yourself toward the far end of the bar and look to your left, you’ll see Roberto Donna working his magic behind the glass windows in the kitchen.  Look to your right, take in the expansive dining room that used to house Oyamel.  In front and above you, rows and rows of wine bottles.  The space, the wine, and Roberto in the Galileo days used to mean a big tab at the end of the night.  No longer.

Perhaps you can order a bottle of wine at the bar, but by the glass is encouraged.  Red wine is listed before white wine, with the most expensive Barolo listed at around $16 a glass on down to $6.  With these kinds of prices, you can afford to try several.  And if you’re a wine conneiseur, you likely will want to.

Antipasti, soups, and entrees are red sauce Italian, the Roberto Donna way.  Lardo is paired with a side of delicious ground beef tartar.  The cabbage soup is served with a slice of thick cut italian bread, saran wrapped to hold in the warmth.  Many dishes evoke Rustic central Italy, such as the sausage ordered with a  separate side of canneloni beans, or the broccoli rabe roasted with anchovies.   But the star may be the tripe, which my dinner companion described as “close to Roberto’s heart.”   

Should you go soon, withhold judgment on the service.  It’s only been open a week and the bar staff and servers are still in training.  But really, expect that, if not this weekend, just weeks from now, you’ll be lucky to get a chair.  At price points $16 and under for wine, antipasti, and entrees, with a view of Roberto in action, it’s already among the best options in Washington, period.  You will so enjoy it. In the words of my companion, “What a pleasure it is to eat here.”

So, What’s the Date?

Posted in General Interest by melissamccart on October 22, 2006

dates.jpgAt the high school where I teach, there’s a fairly large Muslim population; one of my former students asked if I’d be the faculty advisor to the group.  The interesting thing is, it’s a student who I had two years ago — a big football player– who didn’t do that well in my class.  Even though I adore him, he’s the last person I would have expected to ask me to help  out.  Not to mention, despite the fact that I teach World Civilization to (formerly) 9th graders and (now) 10th graders, I still can’t wrap my mind around who does what during the month of Ramadan.  For the purpose of this post, I’ll just stick to observations I have about food and feasting during the month.

Some basics.  All Muslims have fasted for the last month.  That means, no food and no drink from dawn until night, at which point they can break fast.  Sounds clear cut, right?  Apparently, Shiites and Sunnis differ as to when night actually arrives:  Sunnis at my school argue that its sunset, Shiites say its not until total darkness. 

Second, my Syrian students — and lots of others at school– say that today is the last day of Ramadan.  Apparently, the 23th is the Eid al Fitr, the day to feast in celebration of the end of Ramadan.  It allegedly corresponds with the first day of the new moon.  I wish I could check out someone’s celebration tomorrow to find out what it’s all about.

Despite that each culture breaks fast with foods that are special to their own– When I broke fast last week with students, Malaysians brought various noodles, Middle Easterners brought lamb, yogurt, honey, loukoumades (what are they called outside of Greece?)– everyone breaks the fast by eating a date.  Maybe that’s particularly American, I’m not sure.  Here’s what Epicurious says of breaking fast each night:

• A Slow Start: The fast is traditionally broken slowly, with dates and a glass of water, followed by hydrating juices and soup. The dates hark back to a belief that the Prophet Mohammed used this fruit to break his fast. The juices often include jallab, a sweet, refreshing beverage made from berries and garnished with pine nuts. To break the fast, Bsisu shared an Orange Lentil Soup that’s a common Ramadan dish in the Eastern Mediterranean.

So, here’s a post to glorify the date.  Not so glamorous a fruit in American culture, yet revered around the Muslim world today. 

Four reasons why the Mets should have beat the Cardinals last night.

Posted in General Interest by melissamccart on October 20, 2006

8506sheaseatnumbered.jpg1) Polish American Night

2) Pakistani American Night

3) Hispanic Heritage Night

4) Jewish Heritage Day

There used to be an Asian American night, but I think that too many people were weirded out by sushi at the games.  Sushi!   You know that someone on one of those August days got the funk from raw fish sitting out. . . .

What does Busch Stadium have,  Budweiser and Fuddrucker’s night? 

photo from Sasha Frere Jones’ blog.

Slated for Slaters’ Lane: Buzz Bakery and Dessert Lounge

Posted in District of Columbia by melissamccart on October 19, 2006

splash.gifI stopped by Buzz today after work, the dessert lounge that’s scheduled to open across the street from Alexandria’s Rustico around November 1st.   Think red velvet cupcakes, lemon chess pies, homemade ice creams, candy bars, and a busy bee cake decorated for the lounge’s onomatopoeic namesake.  Many dessert choices will be childhood favorites reimagined for adults– all within the $7 range. 

Planet Wine has selected dessert wines and after-dinner digestifs, while bartenders from the Evening Star group have concocted cocktails for the lounge.  And if you’d like a beer, your choices will be on the sweet side, since much of what’s on the menu is for those who venture to Buzz to satiate their sweet tooth.

Buzz isn’t just a place to lounge.  It’s a place to get morning coffee, pastries, and log onto wi-fi.  Serving customers from 6-12 every day, the bakery will open early enough to compete with Starbucks and will feature Illy brand coffees. But don’t get Buzz confused with Adams Morgan’s Tryst, which Spokesperson Melissa Gold characterizes as having a “bohemian vibe. . . more of a bar.”  With big comfy couches, seating for 35, and a communal table in the center, Buzz is more cozy than the scene that Tryst can be. 

The decor, designed by owners Christi Hart and Michael Babin, is far from finished, but the vision is ” light kitch-eclectic”: mocha walls with hot pink, orange, and green accents.  I’m especially excited about the chocolate room, where you can watch your candy bars as they’re made. 

Food Lit: (Missing) New York

Posted in New York City by melissamccart on October 18, 2006

A couple of favorite food passages from books I’ve taught.  I half think that part of the reason New York food is ranked so highly in the culinary world is because the pastiche of sounds, smells, tastes, and rhythms– all against the backdrop of the skyline– heightens your senses like few other places on this side of the Atlantic, anyway. 

1750_edited.jpgOne                                                                                                                    ” I was in love with New York.  I do not mean ‘love’ in any colloquial way, I mean that I was in love with the city, the way you love the first person who ever touches you and never love anyone quite that way again.  I remember walking across Sixty-second Street one twilight that first spring, or the second spring, they were all alike for a while.  I was late to meet someone but I stopped at Lexington Avenue and bought a peach and stood on the corner eating it and knew that I had come out of the West and reached the mirage.  I could taste the peach and feel the soft air blowing from a subway grating on my legs and I could smell the lilac and garbage and expensive perfume and I knew that it would cost something sooner or later– because I did not belong there, did not come from there– but when you are twenty-two or twenty three, you figure that later you will have a high emotional balance, and be able to pay whatever it costs.  I still believed in possibilities then, still had the sense so peculiar to New York, that something extraordinary would happen any minute, any day, any month.” Goodbye to All That.  Joan Didion.

Two                                                                                                                                                                 “I walked along, munching the yam, just as suddenly overcome by an intense feeling of freedom– simply because I was eating while walking along the street.  It was exhiliarating.  I no longer had to worry about who saw me or about what was proper.  To hell with all that, and as sweet as the yam actually was, it became like nectar with the thought.  If only someone who had known me at school or at home would come along and see me now.  . . .What a group of people we were, I thought.  Why, you could cause us the greatest humiliation simply by confronting us with something we liked.  Not all of us, but so many.”  The Invisible Man.  Ralph Ellison.