Counter Intelligence

A Double Take for Grape Legs

Posted in District of Columbia, General Interest by melissamccart on February 28, 2007

13.jpgThere’s a little wine shop called Smith and Vine  in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn that I used to visit after I’d moved away from the neighborhood.  You may have read something about it or its sibling, Stinky Brooklyn.  Owned by a former sommelier for Batali’s and Bastianich’s Lupa, the store (pictured) features an ambitious selection of wine from everywhere, but the Italians are the stars.

D.C.’s Grape Legs doesn’t have range of selection or the attention to detail of a Smith and Vine– yet. For one, this modest, old-timey space is only half the size. But on first look, the cleverly named shop seems like it has similar potential. Wine rows replace books on shelves, and black velvet drapes frame this slip of a room.

On the stretch of 9th Street that includes Etete, DC9, Lettie Gooch, and Joe’s Restaurant, owner Franco Clark plays host.  And though on Rockwell he said he’ll  “always have some things open for sipping (3 different wines a day, 18 per week),” when I stopped by, the table held at least 12-15 bottles of open wine.  And, along with the other couple of people inside, I sampled easily 10 of them.  In five minutes.

No, I wasn’t in a rush.  Franco pours fast and frequent– and there’s no bucket, so it’s sink or swill. Naturally, we all chose the latter. Some wines that Franco opened were as disparate as sour grape skins, candy grape juice, and assertive, complex wines for food.  On Rockwell, he said, “I only deal with two small distributors, . . .  So, unlike most of the other merchants in town, I do not source any of the inventory from the major distributors. By doing so, my shelves have labels that most folks never get a chance to see and I think 80% of my wines are in the $7-$15 range.”

For this visit, I wasn’t committed to finishing the tasting, though it was nice to get my swerve on at 4:30 in the afternoon.  Is the generous pour always the case?  I’m not sure, but I’ll be back to find out and peruse the stock, since I’d like to add the shop to my neighborhood rotation (the others are Dupont Market and de vinos on 18th). 

Keep an eye out for his bistro upstairs, set to open in April.

Grape Legs. 1905 9th Street N.W.

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Five on Food: Articles from the Wednesday Dining Pages

Posted in General Interest by melissamccart on February 28, 2007

steakhouse82.jpgFive on Food is six this week. . .  

1) Abalone’s Luster Grows.  San Francisco Chronicle.  Abalone is back and is showing up on dinner plates around town.  Check out the video on how to shuck them.

2) Layered Luxury in a Glass.  Los Angeles Times.  From Paris,  appetizer parfaits.

3) Burger Heaven.  Washington Post.  New York’s burgermania revs up in Washington.

4) It Came from Inside the Fridge.  Boston Globe.  The Globe’s interactive snoop into others fridge and join the chat confessional for some serious navel gazing that’s refocused on the fridge.

5) Tipsy Turvy: Some of our favorite drinks.  Atlanta Constitution.  Learn how to make yourself a fried chicken martini.

6) Kitchen Chemistry is Chic, but is it a Woman’s Place?  New York Times. It’s the gender issue of the Times’ food section.  In the world of molecular gastronomy, the gender gap is a gulf in the world of food.  Despite the gap, the first woman has finally earned a Michelin star.  For a more saucy piece, check out the carnal experience of Robert’s Steakhouse in the Penthouse Executive Club, which earned a better review than Kobe Club. (Be sure to check out the slideshow commentary):

The portions at Robert’s are pretty generous — as they need to be, given how topless some of the prices seem.

photo courtesy of Robert Presutti for the New York Times.

Lighten up!

Posted in New York City by melissamccart on February 27, 2007

For anyone following Chodorow’s absurd $40,000 rebuttal of a zero star Bruni review–  here’s a funny observation from today’s New Yorker, courtesy of Eater’s listage:

David Chang, the chef of Momofuku Ssäm Bar, happened to be under consideration on the day of the review-ad face-off. Over the phone, Chang said, “I felt like I was reading The Onion. If Chodorow was trying to be funny, it might have been one of the funniest letters ever written. But I’m sure he’s dead serious, which made it not so funny.” He went on, “There are so many ‘I’s in that letter—me, me, me.” Chang was thrilled that Ssäm Bar had garnered two stars, but admitted, “If Frank Bruni had poorly reviewed one of my restaurants, I might have pulled a Tonya Harding and broken his kneecaps. I’d have thought, Dude, I’ve gotta do something. But I’d never really do it.”

Speaking of cranky, the item Eater pulled from  “some restaurants just piss egulleteers off” thread continues to grow legs.

Fungi Umami

Posted in District of Columbia by melissamccart on February 27, 2007

img_1651_edited.jpgI’ve chained umami to Japanese food because I associate it with sushi and its a dominant characteristic of cuisine from the region.  Yet one of the reasons why people may be going crazy over Eli’s Mushroom Masterpiece at Creme is because it’s so, well, umami.  Sauteed mushrooms and truffle oil is umami times two, since mushrooms are allegedly “the king of umami”, according to Gourmet’s Choptalk.  And its awfully similar to this dish at Morimoto, albeit sans prosciutto (which would be quite the addition, with the truffle oil and all.)

When I was there this past Monday, it seemed every patron at the bar was eating this savory appetizer at one point or another.  And, my friend Mimi asked me about the ingredients over email the other day.  To dream about the ingredients of a mushroom appetizer the day-after?  That’s saying something. 

Creme. 1332 U Street N.W. 202-234-1884

Savor/Saveur: Melting March Malaise, Part One

Posted in District of Columbia, General Interest by melissamccart on February 26, 2007

144100061.jpgMarch in Washington can be interminable.  The fun of romping in the cold and snow has lost its appeal and spring can’t come fast enough.  Though it’s seems like it would be a vacation month, like September, it’s filled with workhorse weeks: long stretches of days during which we finish projects, spring clean, tone up, and prep for the new season. 

Through Company’s Coming, Ed and Jinny Fleischman offer midweek respite from the grind with reasonably priced, hands-on classes that focus on the cuisine of foodie destinations: Hong Kong, Provence, and the Piedmont region of Italy, for starters.  Despite that classes are in the Fleischman’s home, they bring experience to the table that transcends what’s local, including:

. . . .classes with Julia Child, Madeleine Kamman, Jean-Louis Palladin, Mt. Vernon College, the Cordon Bleu and Ritz in Paris as well as a program for cooking teachers at Tante Marie’s Cooking School in San Francisco. . . . Other travels have expanded their repertoire of world cuisines and wines to Hong Kong, Mexico, Australia, Chile, and the Italian Piedmont, many parts of France, Morocco, Spain and Portugal. In 2006 they took an intensive Mexican cooking class in Puebla, Mexico.

This spring, look out for the Saveur classes, during which the Fleischmans teach a menu from the magazine and participants receive free subscriptions for the year. 

Cleveland Park die-hards may want to check out classes that feature locals from the neighborhood, such as “Turkey with Pam,”  and “Tony’s Take on the Northwest,” featuring Northwest wines showcased by Tony Quinn, of Cleveland Park Wines. 

Those who really want to travel may want to hold out for the late April trip to Provence, where travelers head to Ansouis for a week of eating, drinking, cooking, and exploring.

Company’s Coming.  Midweek classes $65, Saturday classes $70.   202-966-3361.

Ketchup Esoterica

Posted in Niche by melissamccart on February 25, 2007

86071004003o.jpgIf you’ve read Ray Sokolov’s Fading Feasts, you may share my relief that many of his declarations about foods he claimed were disappearing in 1979 have returned to regional tables.  Some of these include morels, key lime, Smithfield ham, moonshine (well, bourbon, in particular) boudin, and cured meats.  Others have a way to go. Thankfully, I haven’t had to endure Brunswick stew made with squirrel, for example.

In the most recent printing, Sokolov includes an essay on ketchup.  It wouldn’t surprise me if the condiment is next thing for which restaurants offer dizzying varieties, as is the case with mayo and mustards.  Some paraphrased Sokolovian observations:

The word–first recorded in English in 1690– originates from Maylay ketchap and the Chinese Amoy dialect, ketsiap, both of which refer to something prepared by pickling shellfish in brine.  It’s a derivative of Roman garum and Vietnamese nuoc mam, made of the juice of fermented anchovies.

. . .Early English and American ketchups evolved with ingredients available there, such oysters or walnuts.  Sometimes only the juice was kept and the solid matter was discarded, producing what we’d now call ketchup.

  The condiment was originally used to relieve the monotony of food on sea voyages and otherwise, through the use of vinegars and horseradishes, soy and garlic, pickled walnuts, oysters, mushrooms, lemons, anchovies, and onions.

Tomato ketchups were the preferred condiment after 1900, when canned tomatoes became more widely available. . . . In her memoirs of being a child during the early 20th century, M.F.K. Fisher confesses to her guilty pleasure of mashed potatoes and ketchup, “from a large, full, vulgar bottle that stood beside my table mat where a wineglass would be at an ordinary commonplace, everyday banquet.”

If you’re particularly ambitious, you can concoct your own tomato or walnut version made with salt, vinegar, nutmeg, cloves, ginger, pepper, shallots, horseradish, anchovies, and port.

Whiff of Molecular Gastronomy

Posted in District of Columbia, General Interest by melissamccart on February 23, 2007

oniongood.jpgIn reading Ping Island, the blog for McCrady’s in Charleston, I’ve often wondered what the point is of making olives puff and onions glass (see pix).  Clearly I haven’t fully embraced Alinea’s and WD-50’s genre that’s seeping into kitchens around the country.  Even though I’ve been a little critical of it, I realize my skepticism is unfounded and narrow, as it would be to eschew Indian food. Or tartare. Or rabbit.

Chow recently had a great primer on molecular gastronomy, including the definition– the application of scientific tools and techniques to cooking (isn’t that all cooking?!)–and chefs’ response to the term (those who think it’s stupid, here).

Washington has its share of chefs who embrace the genre as seen in the presentation at Minibar and Laboratorio, in particular.  (Which, by the way, the weekly Bebo mailing notes that Laboratorio is back for the night of March 3rd):

Seatings are at 8:30pm.
Dinners are $65 per person, plus beverage (not including tax or gratuity)
Optional wine pairing available upon request.

Yet the genre has been making its way into other kitchens around town as seen via saffron lollipops at Taberna de Alabardero, beer infused jelly in a PB&J at Rustico and in foie gras custard at PS7’s.  Are Washington restaurants just dabbling or commiting to molecular gastronomy? What other kitchens show that they’re Achatz acolytes?  Is ths a serious genre or is it as playful (and absurd) as foie gras cotton candy? 

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Welcome Back, Moonshine.

Posted in Everywhere Else, Regional, South by melissamccart on February 21, 2007

main-glass-sm.jpg On the heels of microbrews comes a sharpened interest in artisanal ryes and bourbons, legal or otherwise. 

This, according to John T. Edge, in a new series which chronicles food traditions of the South in The Atlanta Constitution.

In “High Class Hooch,” he explores the rising popularity of bourbon and rye through the lens of LeNell Smothers, owner of Red Hook (Brooklyn)’s  LeNell’s Wine and Spirit Boutique.  In it, he gives props to Black Maple Hill from Kentucky and Isaiah Morgan Rye in West Virginia as well as Pappy Van Winkle bourbon.  According to the article, interest isn’t relegated to the South– it’s all over the country.

And for those of us who need a booze primer:

Things to know, spirits to seek

• Whiskey is made from three ingredients: grain, water and yeast.

• In the South, the primary grain is corn, used in combination with malted barley, rye and wheat. The prevalence of wheat, the style popularized by Maker’s Mark, results in a softer whiskey. The prevalence of rye yields a raspier whiskey.

• Bourbon is whiskey made from at least 51 percent corn. To be called straight bourbon, it must be aged in new charred-oak barrels for a minimum of two years. Woodford Reserve is a widely available premium bourbon.

• Compared with bourbon, two things distinguish Tennessee whiskeys like Jack Daniel’s and George Dickel: They must be made in Tennessee, and they must seep through a charcoal filtration system.

• Single-barrel whiskeys are just that, bottles of whiskey sourced from a single barrel, chosen by a master distiller for superior qualities. Blanton’s was the first. Evan Williams makes a consistently good single barrel at a very favorable price.

• Small-batch bourbons are one-offs, small runs of special recipes done by larger distillers. Often a larger distiller will do batch production and aging for an artisan who lacks proper facilities. Among recent entries in this category are the Experimental Collection bourbons from Buffalo Trace, packaged as a set of three 375-milliliter bottles. The barrel in which the Fire Pot Barrel bourbon aged was heated to 102 degrees for 23 minutes to dry the wood, resulting in a whiskey with tobacco-y tannins.

• Rum is distilled from fermented molasses and, sometimes, sugar cane juice. In addition to Prichard’s (available at Green’s and other well-stocked package stores), another Southern craft distiller of rum is New Orleans Rum, makers of the Cane brand.

— John T. Edge

Check out the video here.

Five on Food:Articles from the Wednesday Dining Pages

Posted in General Interest by melissamccart on February 21, 2007

78539793_d68896c7d3.jpg1) A Grandchild of Italy Cracks the Spaghetti Code.  New York Times.  An engaging first person article about the writer’s quest to find the origins of her family’s spaghetti sauce in Italy.  Yet she finds out what’s reinforced in this article in American Heritage about the History of Pizza— that US ingredients and the tastes that evolved as a result of a hybridizing culture meant that the sauce changed, too.

To understand why I made my sauce then way I did, I needed to start closer to home, with my mother. She has been making spaghetti sauce for almost 60 years, from a recipe she learned from her mother, who had been making it with American ingredients since the early 1900s.

Also in the Times: an article on tomorrow’s Whitney exhibit on Gordon Matta-Clarks’ links between food and art.

2) Seduced by Sugo: Long Cooked Italian Sauces Captivate Chefs and Diners.  San Francisco Chronicle.  More Italian home cooking today on the left coast, with an emphasis on bringing home cooking to restaurant kitchens:

Italy’s long-simmering meat sauces are legendary. And while they may be a dying art among home cooks in Italy, they are in vogue with Bay Area chefs, who go so far as to include the number of hours of cooking time on their menus. These chefs realize that a rich, stewy meat sauce ladled atop buttery egg noodles satisfies a diner’s innermost desires for the warm, reassuring dishes of nonna’s kitchen, even if that diner never had a nonna.

Also in the Chronicle— Bauer’s response to San Francisco having been anointed Bon Appetit readers’ favorite restaurant city and the debut of their new column, “The Accidental Vegetarian.”

3) From Chop Suey to Chiu Chow:  LA’s History of Chinese Restaurants.    Los Angeles Times.  Charles Perry traces the evolution of Chinese cuisine in LA, beginning in 1860.  Also check out “Pork Boy” and his huge piece on The Year of the Pig.

4) Seeing Red.  Enough of Trendy.  We Want Old Fashioned Italian.  Boston Globe.  Where to find good old red sauce Italian favorites in Boston.

5) Pizza Perfect.  Chicago Tribune.  Thin crust is squeezing out cornmeal-deep dish in Chicago.

Cookbook Wishlist: Asia

Posted in General Interest by melissamccart on February 19, 2007

spinachmushrooms.jpgSimple Chinese Cooking by Kylie Wong. From the host of the Australian cooking show.

Washoku: Recipes from the Japanese Home Kitchen.  By Elizabeth Andoh. (Japan doesn’t celebrate Lunar New Year, but I still want this book.) Check out her interview on The Splendid Table– here.

Into the Vietnamese Kitchen.  By Andrea Nguyen. 175 fundamentals of Vietnamese home cooking, inspired by the her mother’s notebook of family recipes. For other reading, here’s Didier Corlou’s discussion on the origins of Pho and Cooking with Amy’s simple recipe for Banh Xeo from the Red Bridge Cooking School.

Eating Korean. By Cecilia Ha-Jin Lee. Check out her website here.