Counter Intelligence

Meredian Hill Tamales

Posted in District of Columbia by melissamccart on March 30, 2007

125730836_9bb1e374bb_m.jpgLate afternoons, I walk Charlie in Meredian Hill so she can chase squirrels in the park.  Now that the weather is nicer, there’s always a pick up soccer game or two on the fields.  Come 5:00, a little Salvadorean woman backs up her huge pickup truck into a spot right next to the park entrance, saved for her by one of the players.  Out the back, she sells a different lunch plate every afternoon: chicken tamales, veggie tamales, burritos, etc.  I’m not sure how much it is (I think most of the players just help themselves), but she asks me if I want one every day, with a Gatorade to wash it down. Sometimes I take her up on it and give her $5; other days, I pass.  It’s not like I’m the one who’s burning calories.

For street food, they’re really good.  And, she’s such a charming cook, with a fancy collection of aprons.  She wears a new one each day.  On weekends, she has more competition.  While park police aggressively ticket people whose dogs are off leash (my very nice neighbor was handcuffed and put in jail for mouthing off to a cop who was writing her a ticket), they seem to look the other way at the ad-hoc street carts lining up around the park as of late.

(This is about six months ago.  She’s a bigger puppy now.)197741368_8e3004bdcf.jpg

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New on 9th

Posted in District of Columbia by melissamccart on March 30, 2007

quartet-of-fruit-tarts-300.jpgOn my way out of Lettie Gooch, the owner directed me to the new pastry shop, Chez Hareg.  You’d never know it was there.  Yesterday, I picked up some ginger cookies, pecan chocolate cranberry cookies, macaroons, and meringue drops for a friend.  I’m talking to the owner today; she allegedly used to work at the Ritz. Upstairs, check out the Illy coffee bar and the free wi-fi.

Grape Legs is coming along, too.  This time, I actually bought a delightful Muscato and was briefed on the fact that Brown Sugar Smoke House allegedly has delicious ribs.  I thought it was closed.  Have you been yet? I hear it gives Oohs and Aahs a run for its money. 

Chez Hareg Fine Cakes and Pastries.  1915 9th Street N.W.

Brown Sugar.  928 U Street N.W.

Five on Food: Articles from the Wednesday Dining Pages

Posted in General Interest by melissamccart on March 28, 2007

emg-cl38wp.jpg1)Steeling Yourself: Learning How to Hone Your Knives Will Keep Your Cuts Safe and TrueChicago Tribune.  Great instructions on how and why to use a steel on your knife.  I’m incredibly bad and spastic at this, so I just take them to get sharpened at Eastern Market.

2)Roll With It. Washington Post. Eggs go upscale:  a primer.

3) Overcoming a Frat Party Reputation. New York Times.  An interview with the Beer Advocate guys on why beers deserve more respect. 

4) Chinese and Indian Cultures Mix. Boston Globe.  According to the writer, Indian-Chinese is one of the most popular styles of cooking in India.

5) Cupboard Cuisine.  San Francisco Chronicle. Use this article for the shelf life list for common pantry items.

Free homemade cookies taste even better.

Posted in District of Columbia by melissamccart on March 25, 2007

img_1696_edited.jpgOn my way back from buying that delicious Greek-style honey yogurt from the Blue Ridge farmers at Dupont Market Sunday morning, I noticed that Chris of Chris’ Marketplace was selling crawfish pastries, stuffed with bugs from Louisiana, rather than Vietnam, apparently.  They were amazing.

Behind him, Chris had a tray of thick-crust pizza that he’d made to share with the other vendors, and a selection of cookies, each as big as a face.  “How much are the cookies?”  I asked. “They’re free,” he said. Free?

Apparently, Chris has an item every week that he gives away, provided that the customer shares it with a person she’s never met before.  This isn’t just during winter market– it’s year round.  Today, my new acquaintence Laura and I shared an Everything Cookie, made with chocolate chips, walnuts, cherries, and espresso. 

I do hope he’ll have them again next week. Regardless, I’m looking forward to picking up some of his New England clam chowder and those crawfish patries anyway. 

Dupont Farmers’ Market.  Sundays from 9am-1pm at the metro on the Kramerbooks’ side.

On the lookout for. . .Spring’s Wild Vegetables

Posted in District of Columbia by melissamccart on March 22, 2007

While I think I’m jumping the gun a little– it’ s not yet April, after all–I’m looking forward to early spring’s wild vegetables the way some people anticipate D.C.’s cherry blossoms. Which ones?

fiddleheads.jpg1) Fiddleheads 

 In years’ past, Gothamist reported to finding them in markets the last week of March and early April.  Like anything else, these slightly bitter fronds are delicious sauteed with bacon and dressed with fresh squeezed lemon and a dash of pepper.  I usually eat them alone or added to salad. 

Seen last year at: Sonoma

p2a.jpg2) Ramps

 These pungent wild onions that taste and smell like a cross between garlic and scallions can be found in mounds at Dupont Farmers’ Market around mid-April, right around the same time and place you’ll find the bushels of lilacs. I like them on pizza, though a little goes a long way.

Seen last year at: CityZen, Bucks Fishing and Camping

3) Morels

These earthy, meaty mushrooms usually debut just after ramps season and are more treasured than the greens above.  The feature of an interesting piece in Washington City Paper, morels can be foraged for locally and are found on menus all over the region during the season.morels.jpg

Seen last year at: Vidalia, Komi

Have you seen these vegetables on menus around town? When you do, please report in the comments.

Five on Food: Articles from the Wednesday Dining Pages

Posted in General Interest by melissamccart on March 21, 2007

240px-flowering_kudzu.jpg1) Cocktails 101.  Los Angeles Times.  Play Todd Thrasher at home by shaking, stirring, mottling, and garnishing drinks made with fresh ingredients in your own bar.

2) A Master Class, in Secret.  Washington Post. Michel Richard helps two girls throw a surprise dinner for their father.  A must read for today.

3) Maple Syrup Makers Go with the Flow.  Boston Globe.  In Vermont, it’s maple syrup, not shad roe, that’s the first sign of spring.

4) Turn tables on kudzu: eat some.  Atlanta Journal Constitution.  Kudzu isn’t necessarily the worst pest.  Kudzu honey and early shoots make for good eatin’.

5) Tortillas like Mama’s, but this is no bodega.  New York Times.  Upscale grocery stores whose target customers are from Latin, Central, and South America are providing interesting alternatives for affluent immigrants.

District FlatIron

Posted in District of Columbia by melissamccart on March 20, 2007

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A couple of weeks ago, when I shopped Eastern Market for Express, Bill Glasgow of Union Meat Company emphasized the value of flat iron cuts:

Flat iron steaks are lean, full-flavored, and boneless. They should be grilled rare and don’t need a marinade. This is the best value steak ($7.99 a pound) and it’s good steak.

Before talking to him, I don’t know that I had sought out the cut before.  But now, I’m noticing them on some menus around town.  At Firefly, I had a terrific rendition –the flat iron with mushroom crust and red wine sauce ($22). And, while Chef Wabeck wasn’t in last Friday, it’s clear he’s still heading the kitchen there. 

I’m fixated on the cut.  Can you recommend any other restaurants with a memorable version of flat iron steak?

More info on chef changes here, though Wabeck is to aid in the transition until early April.

Firefly. 1310 New Hampshire Avenue N.W.

Buyback, Washington

Posted in District of Columbia by melissamccart on March 19, 2007

smokey8ge.gifKnock, Knock.

Online, it’s the start of a corny joke. At the bar, it’s the sound of a free round.  Everyone loves the buyback.  The double knock indicates that you’re either liked, a good tipper, less of an amateur than others at the bar, or perhaps a little too loyal to the neighborhood watering hole.

This past week, Eater.com unveiled its Buyback Project.   Their rationale is to chronicle which bars are most generous in the practice, and to provide readers a service by sharing the information and saving them a couple of extra bucks.  As a teacher in my 20’s in New York, I sought out my favorite place for buybacks, the Ear Inn.  After all, in a city where it’s tough to afford dinner out, buybacks are part of New York’s going-out culture.

In Washington, I’ve had a few drinks on the house (before food writing), but I haven’t noticed the knock knock too often.  Is Washington a buyback kind of town or is expecting a buyback as absurd as expecting a free coffee from a barista or a free paper from the paper guy?

And if it’s a common practice here, are buybacks more frequent in dive bars or are they everywhere? 

Pig Trotters, Finally.

Posted in District of Columbia, General Interest by melissamccart on March 16, 2007

taps.jpgI finally found the lowly pigs’ feet on Frank Morales’ terrific new Mosaics menu at Rustico.  Served with crushed chick peas, trotters can be ordered individually ($6) or as part of the Pork Trio ($15).  The other dishes are a Virginia country ham and 18-month Bandage cheddar grilled cheese and fried pork belly grillades, served atop Nora Mills grits. 

Half the fun of the mosaics is the beer pairing. The trotters are paired with the spicy, hoppy Unibroue Maudite from Canada and the ham and cheese pairs with a Bell’s Two Hearted Ale.   The winner of the pairing goes with the pork belly, though: a Bluegrass Bourbon Barrel Stout.  Who wouldn’t like a stout aged in bourbon barrels? 

Pairing beer with food or using beer in cooking is on the rise, it seems.  In “Wine vs. Beer: Our Spirited Side to Both Sides of the Battle” Time Out New York features a couple of pieces on beer pairing.  And it was featured as an ingredient in chili in this month’s Bon Appetit.

Whether it’s here in D.C. or out of town, can you recommend anywhere else that does beer and food pairing, aside from Rustico and the special dinners at Paradiso in Georgetown?

Forbes Top Ten Tastemaking Chefs

Posted in General Interest by melissamccart on March 15, 2007

1_chefs.jpgEric Ziebold of CityZen joins the ranks of heavy hitters in Forbes’ “Ten Tastemaking Chefs.”  

Others include Mario Batali of Babbo, Thomas Keller of French Laundry, Dan Barber of Blue Hill, Johnny Luzzini of Jean-Georges, Wolfgang Puck, of. .  everywhere, Tom Colicchio of Craft, Joel Robuchon of L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon, Grant Achatz of Alinea, and Suzanne Goin of Lucques. 

Congrats!  Washingtonians have known he’s among the best all along.