Counter Intelligence


Posted in General Interest by melissamccart on October 31, 2007

Thanks to Gourmet and Bon Appetit’s Epicurious as well as Regina Schrambling for today’s link in the LA Times. . .


Five on Food: Articles from the Wednesday Dining Pages

Posted in General Interest by melissamccart on October 31, 2007

1090.jpg1) In For Barhoppers, a True Tapas Bar. New York Times’ Peter Meehan suggests that El Quinto Pino might be the only true tapas bar in the city. 

Granted, it takes no reservations and has no tables, just a bar and a narrow counter that rings the room. Its 16 stools are perpetually occupied, so you will probably have to eat on your feet. It won’t make a bid for your entire night: you will snack at El Quinto Pino and almost inevitably eat more somewhere else.

But those restrictions, which may be off-putting to some diners, should be counted as points in its favor. Along with some dead simple and riotously flavorful dishes, they add up to El Quinto Pino’s being New York’s best, and maybe only, true tapas bar.

That criteria would rule out every single one in D.C. wouldn’t it?  The District doesn’t do 16 seater, standing-up places. As much as I like the small plates, I miss the small places.

2) From last week in the Boston Globe, 1080 Recipes, the Spanish cooking bible, is finally available in English.

3) In the Los Angeles Times, readers add to the list of last week’s Diners’ Rights, The fantastic Regina Schrambling talks about how to write a food blog— albeit one that’s less cryptic and political than her own–and salt-roasting is white magic.

4) Jason Wilson writes, “Don’t Fear the Egg White” in the Washington Post, echoing bartenders such as Dino’s Chris Cunningham, who have been making Pisco Sours and other frothy drinks for several years now. Instead of the pasteurized version, Wilson advocates using super fresh, organic eggs.

5) As if it hasn’t been on your minds already, Thanksgiving is around the corner. The Atlanta Journal Constitution offers their version of a holiday planning guide.

Butterfield 9’s Chef Michael Harr: Pumpkin Soup

Posted in General Interest by melissamccart on October 27, 2007

b9pumpkinsoupphoto1.jpgI had people over last night, a couple of whom are in town for the Marine Corp. marathon.  Since I didn’t know when they’d arrive with the weather being what it was, I wanted to make something that didn’t need too much work.  The menu: pumpkin soup for the first course, my mom’s Virginia barbecue and Melissa Clark’s brussel sprout slaw with walnuts and grated machengo cheese for dinner. Dessert was carmel apples.

I tried this soup a couple of weeks ago with Dusty Lockhart, Amanda McClements and Erin Zimmer at a dinner on a similarly rainy night. It was so damned good. I’ve had three or four other pumpkin soups at restaurants since, and still enjoyed this one the most. We were convinced there was a ton of butter and cream.  There isn’t.  And it’s relatively easy.  Needless to say, thanks, Chef Harr.  My guests freaked out over it and everyone had seconds. Some even wiped the bowl clean with bread.


Five on Food: Articles from the Wednesday Dining Pages.

Posted in General Interest by melissamccart on October 25, 2007

chicken.jpg1) Service That’ll Play in LA.  Los Angeles Times.  LA claims its patrons demand more accessible, relaxed staff than New Yorkers do of the front of the house.

Colicchio says his restaurants always take a few months “to jell,” but that he misjudged how important service issues would be at the L.A. outpost of his flagship restaurant. He and other New York City chefs venturing west to open in L.A. (Mario Batali was first, Laurent Tourondel is next) are finding there is a difference between the right service for L.A. and great service in New York.

. . . . Ask Wolfgang Puck, owner of Spago and Cut (and many other restaurants), what defines great service in L.A., and “approachable” gets top billing; polish is not as important. “Good service is service that makes you feel comfortable,” Puck says. “People at our restaurants expect service that is more relaxed.”

2) Imbibing Izikaya style.  San Francisco Chronicle.  Izikayas are up and running all around San Francisco. 

Izakayas’ appeal is seasonal foods cooked correctly and uniquely garnished, and their popularity in Japan and other regions where they’re taking hold stems from a wide selection of inexpensive food and drink, and a casual communal atmosphere. Formats range from tiny, six-seat locations filled with neighborhood locals to corporate chains, train station quick stops and multi-floor emporiums pulsing with music. Drinking is the unifying theme, with the food as a complement.

When will we see more in Washington, aside from the one at Whole Foods that doesn’t even serve booze?!


Women Chefs: NY v. DC

Posted in General Interest by melissamccart on October 22, 2007

There’s a facinating article in New York Magazine in which seven women chefs are asked why there are so few of them at the helm in New York kitchens.  The interviewees:

April Bloomfield (The Spotted Pig), Rebecca Charles (Pearl Oyster Bar), Alex Guarnaschelli (Butter), Sara Jenkins (formerly of 50 Carmine), Anita Lo (Annisa), Jody Williams (Morandi), and Patricia Yeo (formerly of Monkey Bar and Sapa)

Why there aren’t more women chefs in New York:

Why aren’t there more women chefs in New York? Is it harder to raise money as a woman?
Anita Lo: I kind of get the feeling that there are boys out there who have people running after them giving them money.
Patricia Yeo: Because they play golf together or they play poker together. Maybe we should go play poker with them, I don’t know.
RC: It’s the boys’ club. It’s incredible, and I never used to buy into stuff like that.
AG: I have colleagues—male colleagues—who say to me, “Yeah, I just met with a big group of investors to open a restaurant.” I’m looking at them, trying to sip my coffee, like, “Yeah, bro, that must be rough.” And I go home and trade in the coffee for tequila. Did I do something wrong?

Why don’t women get the money?
PY: I think men aren’t as nervous about asking. They seem to be able to say, “Listen, this is what I want, give it to me.” Women, I think, have a harder time with it.

RC: Women are more unsure of themselves, no question, especially in terms of asking for money.
Sara Jenkins: It’s like a pride thing, too; you fought so hard to be in a certain place. And now to have to turn around and say, “Oh, but wait, excuse me, I need a million dollars, please.”
RC: Also, I’ve found that landlords will listen politely and then lease their space to a man with a track record. I had a long track record at the time I started Pearl Oyster Bar—twenty years as a chef, but not as a business owner. And that was the kind of track record they were looking for. I was lucky to find the guy that I found.

On competition:

Are there “women’s jobs” in professional kitchens?
RC: Pastry chef has always been the traditional one, and I think that’s still true today.
April Bloomfield: It’s an easy option for the girls to go into pastry.
RC: You’re not on the hot line.
SJ: You don’t have to compete with everybody else.

On whether men and women cook differently:

Do women and men cook differently?
SJ: I think women cook different food, and I think women cook better food. It’s more from the heart and more from the soul. I look at this whole molecular-gastronomy thing, and I’m like, “Boys with toys.” They’re just fascinated with technology and chemistry sets. I think we make better-tasting food. I’m sorry, I know that’s politically incorrect.
RC: I have to agree. Women’s food is, for the most part, more accessible, it’s easier to understand, it’s friendlier, it’s more comforting, and it doesn’t get bogged down in all these nutty freaking trends.
SJ: I find there’s a lot of technique in male food.
AB: I have a friend from England who’s a cook, and he said the food that’s most moved him has always been cooked by a woman. Maybe because it’s comfort food or it’s very nurturing. JW: Or maybe he just liked the idea of a woman cooking for him.

And finally,

What else keeps women from running kitchens?
RC: Some women seem to say that it’s too hot, it’s too much work. You have to give up a lot. That’s what’s hard for a lot of young women to understand. There are very few women who can have children and continue to operate restaurants, whether they’re owners or chefs.

(I would have expected to see that last answer in 1987, not 2007.)

Since DC doesn’t yet have the same cache as its northern neighbor, is a little less competitive or expensive, and has a serious mentoring network, it seems like women chefs are more embraced in Washington than in New York.  Is this true or am I off base?

Poste Brasserie’s Chef Robert Weland: Kabocha Crepes

Posted in General Interest by melissamccart on October 20, 2007

picture-222.jpgpicture-222.jpgI’m writing a piece on chefs’ seasonal pumpkin dishes and decided I wanted to make a pumpkin recipe myself. I’d actually like to work in a local chef’s recipe on a semi-regular basis, provided they don’t requirepicture-220.jpg super complicated processes like hanging charcuterie in my basement or grinding my own burgers.  How often do you get to meet the chef who concocted recipes you’ve actually made?  It’s relatively new for me. 

Home cooks like the Eating In team would embrace this assignment in stride.  I’m a bit of a spaz, so I’ll try to be realistic to account for the disaster factor. If I were to rank myself as a home cook on a scale of one to ten– one being someone who doesn’t know how to fry an egg and ten being the Zora Margolises of the world– I’m probably about a three or four: good at a few things, crazily inept more often than not.  (more…)

Story Times

Posted in General Interest by melissamccart on October 17, 2007

A couple of Saturdays ago, I went to Timberlake’s with a friend who’s leaving town. She’s super attractive, worked for Covington, and generally, doesn’t seem like the type who’d be a regular at Timberlake’s. She looks high maintenance, though she’s far from it.  It wasn’t even near her work or home. 

After an hour or so and several Budweisers, I can see why she had made it her local.  For one, it’s pretty old school.  And, I kinda like the Magnificent Seven painting behind the bar. I also liked the buybacks. Hel-lo.  Not that many places do it in DC. I also really enjoyed Mr. Timberlake.  Once he got talking, he told plenty of stories about how the neighborhood has changed since 1978, when he first opened.  I also learned that his son went to CIA and is the chef at DC Coast–Travis Timberlake.  Seems incredibly obvious, but I missed it.

Dino is another place I like to go for the stories, be it from Chris Cunningham or from Dean Gold himself.  Tonight, I went with my friend (who is also good looking but, alas– does not hang out at Timberlake’s) Meg to the bar and, when Dean came by, I asked him about the truffle dinner and got a couple of fun tangents. 

One was about what makes for a good truffle.Things I think I learned: big truffles are more expensive than small ones, but they taste the same, so don’t worry about the size.  The Mache (Acqualagna) region of Italy is the place to go for them, but good ones are tough to find.  (Dean corrected me on this.) And aside from terroir, oaks have something to do with what makes them so divine. 

There was also a story about his first truffle trip to Italy that involved an island with scores of cats, which followed him because he smelled like truffles and was travelling with truffle sausage. It’s more elaborate than that, but i’ll withhold the details. Seriously? I needed to write that down just to remember it. Dean, feel free to fill in the blanks in the comments should you choose.

When dining out in Jersey where I grew up, it didn’t matter who you were and where you went out to eat, it seemed that every other restaurant GM, chef, or server had some tale that drew diners into the fabric of the evening’s events.  It made the experience more personal, memorable, engaging, textured, entertaining, or whatever. Seems like it could be intrusive, but far from it.   These two Washington experiences reminded me of home.

Five on Food: Articles from the Wednesday Dining Pages

Posted in General Interest by melissamccart on October 17, 2007

peas.jpg1) Like the X-Games, but for Beer.  Los Angeles Times. The biggest beer tasting in the world is at Denver’s Great American Beer Festival, where the trend is Flemish sour beers.  Greg Engert at Rustico has been on it for awhile, if you’re interested in trying some.

But sour beer? It just sounds like a mistake. On the other hand, that’s what most of us would have said 20 years ago if somebody had described a beer as “insanely bitter.” This year American-style India pale ale, which is typically insanely bitter, was the largest category at the GABF.

Sour beer is another wild idea from Belgium. American brewers have been eagerly studying traditional Belgian ale styles, some of which are sour. Lambic and gueuze are the best known, but the sour Flemish red and brown ales are also attracting a lot of attention among craft brewers.

2) A Night in Hog Heaven with the Bacon Club.  Boston Globe.  Disturbingly facinating:

Megan Dickerson biked with her fruit-filled pig’s head cake all the way from Chinatown to her Bacon Club rendezvous in Roxbury. She had gone to Chinatown to get bacon, as befits an appearance at the club, but the cake stole her heart. Sadly, the time it spent in the basket of the bike was hard on the pig cake, which lost an ear and a snout and was badly bruised on its side

3)  Olives, Flavored by Time, Seasoned with Memories.  New York Times. Olives, from trees to table– with suggestions for home curing.

4) Even a Little Drinking Can Hurt.  Chicago Tribune.  Well, if it’s true, at least I know how I’m gonna go.

5) A Mother and Son, Minding Peas and Cues.  Washington Post.  So it’s not Wednesday’s edition, but this lovely piece warrants a read. And a reread.

News on U

Posted in General Interest by melissamccart on October 15, 2007

prelaunchpage1_03.pngOver around 11th and U Street, I saw that The Saloon is having a low-key Oktoberfest the next two Sundays from 6-9, featuring specials on beer and fest food, which means wurst and giant pretzels with mustard. Further down the street, I saw that Solly’s bar is open on Mondays and Tuesdays, but the  kitchen will be closed, which means bring over whatever takeout suits you: Thai X-ingEtete, and Oohs and Aahhs, for example.  In addition, every Monday is Doggie Happy Hour on the patio from 4-8pm. 

And last, two more weeks before the opening of Vinoteca, right next door to Solly’s. More information in this Thursday’s Express.

A Clean, Well-Lighted Place

Posted in General Interest by melissamccart on October 12, 2007

Last night at Colorado Kitchen, I was reminded how much I like the space: red diner stools, checked floors, tin ceilings, and  kitschy tshotcbeck.pnghkies. Even though a place steeped in diner-Americana seems like it would be ubiquituous, there are so few places like it in DC. I’d gravitate there no matter what’s on the menu, I think.

I’m also in love with Hank’s Oyster Bar for the exposed brick walls, high ceilings, patio, and  the New England-y vibe; cozy Veritas–despite that it’s loud– for the small lovely space and the big windows along the wall; Restaurant Eve– I’m charmed by the old warehouse and the serenity of the space; Coppi’s for the cycling photos, the narrow-hallway feel, the bar, and a ’40’s honeycomb tile floor; Brasserie Beck, for the tile work, clocks, and the train station reference, and The Source— for its sleek minimalism and the view.

Does a restaurant’s design influence your dining experience? Where are your favorite spaces to dine?

(photo by Washingtonian Magazine)