Counter Intelligence

Take Me Home, Country Road

Posted in General Interest by melissamccart on September 29, 2007

The real Oktoberfest just outside Munich ends in a week and a half, on October 10th.  When I went a couple of years ago, I thought it would be a nightmarish mix of mullets, bad teeth, and ridiculous Americans– not unlike the crowd at a football game.  Though there was plenty of that, it was really fun. What struck me were the number of families that camped out before the 9 am opening hour, secured tables, and wore traditional Bavarian attire. Even kids can tag along, including those under 6, who are allowed in but have to leave tents by 8 pm.

On the official German Oktoberfest site, it says that the first fest was in 1810, ” in honor of the Bavarian Crown Prince Ludwig’s marriage to Princess Therese von Sachsen-Hildburghausen.” Future celebrations were moved into September since the weather is warmer.

One thing that any first-timer is likely to remember about the fest is the hourly John Denver tribute to Take Me Home, Country Road.  What’s up with that?

Here in Washington, Oktoberfest celebrations are all month long, between today’s on Barracks Row, the huge Blocktoberfest at RFK, Capitol City’s Oktoberfest next Saturday, and Rustico’s “Don’t Hassle the Hof” Brau Fest on the 16th. 

Traditionalists can hit up Old Europe any Thursday through Sunday night through the end of the month, and mid-week drinkers who work downtown may want to detour to Cafe Mozart on the 10th and the 24th from 6-9pm for the option to drink the boot.

Homebodies can pick up a Dogfish Head Punkin Ale or a Victory Moonglow Weizenbock six-pack at Whole Foods and play these ridiculous games on the Oktoberfest site: 1) shoot the milkmaid or 2) milk the cow before their udders become so engorged they fall over.


Friday Playlist

Posted in General Interest by melissamccart on September 28, 2007

Check out this Friday playlist from Sauce on the Side, an interesting new blog to add to your feed brought to you by Michael Birchenall, editor of Foodservice Monthly


For past tasty playlists featured on this site and compiled by chefs, bloggers, etcetera, click on the links.

They’ve arrived.

Posted in General Interest by melissamccart on September 27, 2007

wine.jpgIn July ’06, I wrote a post wishing for wine bars in DC:

. . .. 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.

A year and a half later, they’re arriving in the form of Veritas, Cork, and Vinoteca, among others.   What took us so long?  Places like Philly and New York opened wine bars back in 2003. Have we been so unstylish and conservative in our tastes that we embrace trends years after they take off elsewhere? 

Perhaps bigger restaurants had to pave the way to encourage people to be more daring in their drinking– and dining, for that matter.  Regardless. I’m  excited restauranteurs are opening a slew of ambitious, smaller neighborhood places in Alexandria, Arlington, and the District so diners can expect more interesting things than quesadillas and chicken caesar salads. It’s nice to finally have a choice of casual restaurants that fall in between chains and  fancy fine dining: places like chip shops and wine bars.  It will be interesting to see what’s next.  A real Izakaya? A ramen shop? a cured meat emporium-slash-butcher?  We’ll soon find out.

Five on Food: Articles from the Wednesday Dining Pages

Posted in Blogroll by melissamccart on September 26, 2007

tea.jpg1) Washington Post does its own bovinity with Bliss on a Bun, for fancy burgers only.  Central and Palena win out at number one and two based on this criteria.

Which one should you have? To find out, we ordered burgers from 13 upscale Washington area restaurants, testing for juiciness, beefy flavor, char and the all-important bun-to-burger ratio. Even with prices reaching as high as $18, not all made the grade. We gave extra points for thoughtful toppings such as house-made ketchup and pickles and ripe tomatoes. (An unripe tomato has no place in a good restaurant, even atop a hamburger.) And we subtracted points when the kitchen failed to cook the burger to our desired medium-rare; only half passed that basic test.

There’s also a piece on Gillian Clark’s Out of the Frying Pan that was mentioned here this summer.

2) The New York Times food section focuses on the front of the house, in Out in Front but Often Overlooked.  There’s also this Fabio Tribocchi article: A Chef to Watch Finds a New York Niche.

3) Speaking of testosterone, the Boston Globe does its own version of adventure eating in A Day of Eating Dangerously.

4) An ode to harissa in the Los Angeles Times:

It’s replaced my ketchup, my salsa picante, even (gasp) my Louisiana hot sauce. I put it on everything. Well, not exactly everything, but the potent North African chile sauce goes into my bean soups and sandwiches, it spikes my aioli and tops my pizzas. I even take it on road trips, as a kind of food insurance, where it’s done wonders for roadside hamburgers and omelets, even stadium Dodger dogs.

5) It’s a few days late, but here’s a terrifc John T. piece on Sweet Tea: A Southern Icon in the Atlanta Journal Constitution, with recipes and sidebars.

It’s still the gather-around-the-table drink for Sunday afternoon re-enactments of farmhand feasts past. But sweet tea drinkers are no longer a regional sect. If they ever were. The rest of the nation is catching up.

The difference nowadays is the method of delivering tea to thirsty drinkers. In the South, beehived waitresses, double-fisting pitchers of sweet tea, still bob and weave through lunchtime throngs, pouring endless refills as they go. And half-gallon containers of home-brewed tea are, no matter the season, still front-and-center in well-stocked Southern refrigerators.

But just as wallop-and-bake refrigerator case biscuits are omnipresent and boxes of colonel-cooked fried chicken are no longer the source of family reunion scandal, bottles and cans of iced and sweetened tea are gaining in popularity. Gallon jugs, too.


State Fare Potential

Posted in General Interest by melissamccart on September 25, 2007

Via Serious Eats: National Geographic has posted a regional foods map, which addresses the history of dishes and recipes.  DC’s half smoke, Buffalo’s beef on Weck, and St. Louis’ toasted ravioli are up, but where is the rest?  Regional barbeques? Fish tacos? Deep dish, Chicago-style pizza?  What regional and local fare would you add to the map?

(Buffalo’s Beef on Weck)

Required Reading, Web Edition

Posted in General Interest by melissamccart on September 24, 2007

1) New York Magazine’s Gael Greene dishes on the new Fiamma.  Here’s the opener:

Lured from his five-diamond (AAA) cocoon at the Ritz-Carlton in Tysons Corner, new chef-partner Fabio Trabocchi delivers complex dazzle at Stephen Hanson’s Fiamma. Movie-star handsome, he reinterprets Italian classics, sights set high above the honky-tonk of Spring Street.

2) Author of The Making of a Chef,Charcuterie, and Co-Author of The French Laundry Cookbook, Michael Ruhlman talks about why he wrote his latest, The Elements of Cooking:

 I wanted to write a book that would have told me, ten years ago, everything I needed to know in order to learn the rest. In order to put good food on the table for my family, in order to make it through a night of service on the line without having my ass handed to me. The Elements of Cooking is a glossary of cooking terms. It is opinionated but it is not dogmatic–I tell you what defines a braise, and I’m right, but people will argue with me, and I want them to. The Elements of Cooking is a reference book, but it also describes a way of thinking about food, describes a way to be aware in the kitchen, how to see.

3) Ruhlman also flags Paul Levy’s Slate essay on opting out of the testosterone injected food writing that’s so right now.

4) Also check out the terrific website, Cork and Knife, as well as this interview with Washington City Paper’s Tim Carman.

Five on Food: Articles from the Wednesday Dining Pages

Posted in General Interest by melissamccart on September 20, 2007

aquavit.jpg1) Full Moon Feast. San Francisco Chronicle. Tuesday marks both Korean Chusok (Thanksiving) and Chinese Full Moon Feast.  In San Francisco, families, “. . . congregate outdoors for moonrise as they pour tea and pass around the iconic moon cakes, dense fruit- and nut-paste disks – about the shape and size of a hand-held pie–,. . . ” which are served through Sunday. As is the case with Thanksgiving, the focus is on the meal, not the cakes.

2)The Talk of Thai Town. Los Angeles Times. LA’s Thai food goes regional, flaunting such dishes as khao yam, a southern specialty of, “slivered green mango, sliced lemon grass, finely cut green beans, bean sprouts, cucumbers and shredded carrots and cabbage. It’s sprinkled with julienned kaffir lime leaves, ground dried shrimp and chile powder and served with a small bowl of sweet-salty budu sauce and a wedge of lime.” The article explores characteristics of each region, but diners interested in regional specialties have to go off menu, or ask for the “real” one.  I wonder if DC’s Thai restaurants offer similar options.

3) It’s Fish Taco Palooza. Chicago Tribune.  Kevin Pang is pissed that fish tacos are non-existent in his town, so he’s on a campaign to bring them to menus and tables.  Here, he interviews people about their history and favorites.  In Washington, Hank’s has fantastic fish tacos made with tilapia, Tuesdays only.

4) Lunch with Alice Waters, Food Revolutionary. New York Times. Kim Severson shops at the Union Square Greenmarket with Alice Waters, who comes over for lunch to discuss her new book geared for novices, “The Art of Simple Food: Notes, Lessons, and Recipes from a Delicious Revolution.”

5)  Fuel for Life, Not Rockets.  Washington Post.  Jason Wilson spreads the gospel on Aquavit, “a lovely, complex spirit” that’s not rocket fuel.  What can he do for the reputation of Pernod and Pastis? Please, do something. Soon. Also check out David Hagedorn’s Chef on Call, with Restaurant K’s Alison Swope and Bread for the City.

Like Kissing the Sea on the Lips

Posted in General Interest by melissamccart on September 18, 2007

oyster1.jpgIs how French poet Leon Paul Fargue described the taste of oysters, that inimitable delicacy we celebrate in months that end in -R, despite that they’re available year ’round.  

Author Rowan Jacobsen waxes his own poetic in his recently released book, A Geography of Oysters: A Connoiseur’s Guide to Eating Oysters in America, in which he likens the oyster conversion experience as akin to losing virginity, or at the very least casting off innocence.

You are in the company of adults, among whom you desperately want to be accepted. You are presented with an oyster, you overcome your initial fear or revulsion, take the plunge, and afterward feel brave and proud and relieved. You want to do it again. Many authors have told their own version of the experience, including Anne Sexton in her poem “Oysters”: “there was a death, the death of childhood / there at the Union Oyster House / for I was fifteen / and eating oysters / and the child was defeated. / The woman won.”

Whether you appreciate the ritual of eating oysters or hope to reap benefits of this aphrodisiac, there’s likely a favorite place you go to savor them. Old Ebbitt? Hank’s? Blacksalt?

(For more good reading on Jacobsen’s book, click here and here.)

“His tuna carpaccio is a poem.”

Posted in General Interest by melissamccart on September 17, 2007

Eater briefs readers on the reopening of New York’s Fiamma,”The biggest opening of the fall that we can’t muster the energy to care about.”  How’s it going?

eaterhq: And how about chef Fabio Trabocchi?
iheartchefs: dinner was lovely. not the A+ it was in DC, but that’s understandable. I ate in DC when he was solidly in the zone. He’s just getting into NYC.
got it
iheartchefs: but some of it is home run.
iheartchefs: he’ll end up one of NYC’s best.
eaterhq: outlandish prediction, check.
iheartchefs: : you want more?
eaterhq: : yes, please
iheartchefs: this may seem silly, but the plates and serving pieces are stunning. very italian, in terms of what the best chefs in italy are doing right now.
eaterhq: this was a friends and family?
iheartchefs: his tuna carpaccio is a poem. stupendous. bite-sized squares of ahi tuna topped with oysters.

Weekend Update

Posted in District of Columbia by melissamccart on September 16, 2007

colhts.jpgI had some teacher friends over for drinks and dinner before we went to a party on Newton Street Saturday. Needless to say, since I’m at the apex of gentrification in Columbia Heights, I was prepared for my guests– from 25 to 60 years old, from Reston, Fairfax, Alexandria, and Arlington– to be shell shocked when they came to visit, even if the place does have a spectacular 360 degree view of the city, particularly at sunset on a lovely fall evening. Most of these folks have only vaguely heard of Columbia Heights, let alone visited the neighborhood. Why would they? To see the memorial to the kid that was shot at the corner of my street, the abandon buildings across from the empty lot, or to get harassed by the kids who let the air out of my car tires every week?  I had a ton of booze on hand to make the goings easier, including Pyrat rum and Reed’s ginger beer for some Dark and Stormy’s. That rum is so smooth it’s almost a crime to use it in a cocktail, from what I remember.

Columbia Heights reminds residents that its status as a destination neighborhood could change soon enough.  The writers cite Erin Killian’s article on Jamie Leeds’ lease signing for her gastropub in a 3,000 square foot space at 14th and Irving that’s set to open this spring.  In addition, Royal Blue Mediterranean Bistro is set to open soon next to The Heights, while Julia’s Empanada’s will open near Rita’s on 14th and Park.  The site also notes the neighborhood’s abandonment of the Whole Foods to Columbia Heights campaign in hopes that Ellwood Thompson’s Local Market from Richmond moves into the DC USA space, also at 14th and Irving. What’s going to go into the retail space next to Busboys and Poets?

If all that’s still underwhelms you, maybe this won’t. Don Rockwell just ranked Red Rocks pizza second to Comet, above Two Amy’s, Paradiso, and Bebo.  As a fellow pizza lover, I’d vouch that on a good day, it’s terrific.