Counter Intelligence

Five on Food: Articles from the Wednesday Dining Pages

Posted in General Interest by melissamccart on July 30, 2008

1) Let the Meals Begin: Finding Beijing in Flushing. New York Times. “The dumplings are juicier here, the noodles springier, the butter cookies flavored with a bit of salty green seaweed, as a cookie at a French bakery might be sprinkled with fleur de sel.”

2) West Coast Brewers Pick Up the Distilling Spirit. LA Times. “Ballast Point is one of a handful of craft breweries and former brewers on the West Coast, including pioneer Anchor Brewing in San Francisco and Sub Rosa Spirits in Dundee, Ore., that have taken up distilling.” One brewer says, “The alchemy of changing malt into beer is essentially one step away from making spirits. . . . Distilling is really a form of advanced brewing.”

3) How to Pickle Peppers, Plums, and More. San Francisco Chronicle. Slow Food Nation participants pickle up for the Labor Day event. With recipes.

4) Beer Leads Wine as America’s Favorite. Chicago Tribune. “A new Gallup poll reveals beer has gained a double-digit lead over wine as America’s favorite alcoholic drink.”

5) Tall Drink of Agua. Boston Globe. From boiled hibiscus flowers. (The only place locally that I know to get a hibiscus drink is Cork. Any others?)


Eel Appeal

Posted in District of Columbia, General Interest, New York City by melissamccart on July 27, 2008

When I lived in New York, I liked spending summers working at this Taiwanese cram school Monday to Thursdays. It paid well and was close to Shea. I was a Mets fan, so I went to a ton of weekday games. And since I couldn’t afford to travel, it was the next best thing. 

Once off the Roosevelt Avenue stop in Flushing, Queens, the walk to school was a sensory trip: crabs scurried against each other in bushels on morning sidewalks. The smell of Korean barbeque wafted from doors propped open on side streets. Vendors shouted in Mandarin, passing out leaflets about green cards and schools.  Hordes amassed around walk-up windows for bubble tea and red bean buns. The calm austerity of the Flushing Library juxtaposed the street’s mayhem.

Kids sent to this school by their parents were sweet and charming, despite that “summer camp” for 11-year olds meant studying 9th grade English.  Not to mention, some of them could barely speak English, and would sit next to someone who’d allegedly translate my lesson for the whole class. 

Some of the younger ones didn’t even know how to explain their neighborhood or where they lived. They just knew how to get home. By the end of the summer, some would have come so far they’d have outperformed the high school freshmen I was scheduled to teach that fall.

Incidentally, my birthday is in August. The owners of the school would tell my students and they’d bring thoughtful gifts. One girl brought in an old fashioned Coca-Cola bottle, inside of which were hundreds of mini origami animals. A boy brought me a gift certificate to East, an insanely huge Asian buffet where offerings include shark fin soup, a zillion kinds of sushi, 30 types of dim sum, and roast suckling pig.

But the most unusual gifts were watermelons, a gift that’s synonymous with good fortune.  As much as I appreciated them, it was a feat trying to trek them home. I felt weird cutting them up in front of the kids, so inevitably I’d haul them from the 7 to the F train, these melons bigger than some small dogs. They were conversation pieces, to say the least.

The week before we finished, when it was so hot it felt as if my clothes would melt off as I waited on the platform, the owners of the school brought teachers thank you gifts of fileted eel that was marinated and cryovaced. I always wondered if there was any significance to the timing of their gift. Is seafood a weird gift? Why eel in summer? Is it like soft shell crabs in spring– a seasonal thing? I didn’t know, but I loved it.

Then in Time Out this week I read how Japanese combat natsubate– heat-related summer fatigue– with eel, because it’s high in vitamin B, and is thought to be a source of strength and stamina. I wonder if the belief in eel’s restorative powers crossed cultures, or if the gift was just coincidence.

In any event, as we amble into the languid month of August, I’d like to test whether there really is something to eel in summer–or at the very least, satiate my craving.  Off the top, I’m thinking Sushi Ko for any variation on an unagi handroll, or Sushi Taro for unadon— broiled eel over rice. Any other suggestions?

Attention IPhoners.

Posted in District of Columbia by melissamccart on July 24, 2008

Anyone who knows me will attest that I have the world’s worst sense of direction. That’s why I’ve been loving the Washington Post’s City Guide application for iphone.  So far, it’s been pretty user-friendly in that I can browse restaurants, bars and clubs from wherever I’m standing, with google maps, numbers, address, and Washington Post profile. There’s room for favorites and the live map, which is my life-saver so far.

And while an equivalent such as UrbanSpoon is great since it features offerings from around the country, the shake for results is not.  Finding places to go out in Washington need not be the equivalent of a magic 8 ball, unless you’re into that.

“Sweet, Sweet Washington,” says Frank Bruni.

Posted in District of Columbia, New York City by melissamccart on July 23, 2008

From today’s Diner’s Journal:

I returned from a quick trip to Washington, D.C., recently with two happy eating memories, two suggestions to pass along. And that isn’t always the case with food and with Washington, which can delight and disappoint in pretty much equal measures.

Lucky us: Georgetown Cupcake beats the infamous Magnolia Bakery ‘s version “by miles and miles.”

UPDATE: Rasika is the second happy eating moment.


Five on Food: Articles From the Wednesday Dining Pages

Posted in General Interest by melissamccart on July 23, 2008

1) Roasting Raises the Coffee Bar. Washington Post. The city gets in on high end coffee bars, with most of them using Counter Culture beans.

2) The Return of a Lost Jersey Tomato. New York Times. Round, red tomatoes are still something to savor in Jersey, while others fawn over Green Zebras, Brandywines, and other heirlooms.

3)Los Angeles Chefs are Happy to Be in a Pickle. LA Times. Pickling trend hits LA’s fine dining scene.

4) Ice Cold Beer with a Difference. Chicago Tribune. Chicago does beer sorbet, though theirs sounds less interesting than Rustico’s brew pops.

5) Identifying and Cooking Field Peas. Atlanta Journal Constitution. Zippers, purples, black-eyed, butter beans, and pinks: your guide to summer peas.

(photo courtesy AJC)

Sip, Don’t Shoot

Posted in Niche by melissamccart on July 22, 2008

At Tales of the Cocktail,  I had an interesting tequila tutorial with Philadelphia’s David Suro-Pinera, owner of Tequilas and Los Catrines and project coordinator at Siembra Azul, a small batch tequila company in Mexico. 

Historically this Mexican spirit had been a poor person’s drink, while wealthier folks gravitated toward Cognac and whiskey, according to Suro. As its popularity rises and consumers become more informed, tequila’s reputation is changing for the better.

Though there are many kinds of agave, tequila comes from one, which takes around twelve years to grow. While other versions may yield terrific tequila, since the industry is heavily regulated and the growth cycle of other plants is longer, blue agave it is. 

Suro suggested I sip an 100% agave blanco for a brighter, unadulterated tequila (Many bottles of what we call tequila in the US hover closer to 51% blue agave). 

Our very own Oyamel carries his version, as well as an array of refined tequilas, whether they’re blanco, reposado, or anejo. Have a favorite? Leave it in the comments.

Happy Weekend

Posted in South by melissamccart on July 19, 2008

Good advice.

Tales of the Cocktail. . .

Posted in South by melissamccart on July 18, 2008

Though it’s only day one, I’ve learned a few things already down here in New Orleans at Tales of the Cocktail. Such as– apparently there’s an East Coast and a West Coast style of cocktail making. I can sample a dozen cocktails in a night and still be fresh the next morning. And there just isn’t enough time to taste and sip from every stop I’d want to in a weekend.

Last night, our very own Gina Chersevani did a terrific job pairing cocktails with the tasting menu at John Besh’s Restaurant AugustMetrocurean and I especially liked this cocktail:

Lavender and Cucumber Sour

1.5 oz. Hendrick’s Gin-1/4 oz. Domaine de Canton Ginger Liquor – 3/4 oz. Sonoma Lavender Syrup – 1/2 oz. lemon juice – 1/2 egg white – 2 slices cucumber – 2 dashes lavender bitters.

Muddle cucumber with lavender syrup. Add Hendrick’s and other ingredients, and shake well.  Serve over fresh ice in a rocks glass, and garnish with a cucumber slice and sprig of fresh lavender.

Five on Food: Articles from the Wednesday Dining Pages

Posted in District of Columbia by melissamccart on July 16, 2008

1) In Paris, Burgers Turn Chic. New York Times. Over the course of nine months, burgermania has hit Paris.

2) A Warning from the Sea. LA Times. Pacific oysters are plagued by bacteria:”Science has identified the culprit, a strain of bacteria called Vibrio tubiashii, which is harmless to humans but fatal to baby oysters. It attacks them in their vulnerable, free-swimming larval stage before they settle to the seafloor, latch onto rocks or other oysters and grow thick shells.”

3) Proof: Drinks are Getting Larger. San Francisco Chronicle. “”William C. Kerr, a senior scientist at the Alcohol Research Group of the Public Health Institute in Oakland, who authored a study that will appear in a scientific journal in September. He found that the average pour was 6.2 ounces and very few were as small as 4 ounces.”

4) Choose Your Shrimp Wisely. Atlanta Journal Constitution. Whether it’s wild or farm-raised in Asia or the US, the AJC offers a guide and a pair of articles.

5) French (Re) Connection. Chicago Tribune. “French is back, and that’s a good thing—not just for diners but also for home cooks interested in tackling the cuisine.”

A Conversation with Three Star Michelin Chef, Antoine Westermann

Posted in District of Columbia, General Interest by melissamccart on July 14, 2008

It’s not everyday you get to interview a three star Michelin chef such as Antoine Westermann.  I was nervous to meet him since he’s so accomplished and since my French is limited to “What time is the train leaving?” Yet the afternoon was lovely and he put my butterflies at ease.

The former chef at Le Buerehiesel in Strasbourg and currently at Drouant and Mon Vieil Ami in Paris, and Fortaleza do Guincho in Portugal, Westermann was in Washington last week to visit with chefs Nicolas Legret of The Willard Room and Christophe Marque of Cafe du Parc.

How did you decide to give up your Michelin Stars and turn your signature restaurant, Le Buerehiesel over to your son?

My son and I worked in the kitchen together for seven years. He’s 34 years old. Every day he said, ‘Yes, Papa.’ Ten times. Fifteen times. It’s not possible for a father to have a son say yes all the time. So two years ago, I put my stars in his pocket, and I stopped cooking there. I trust my son, so it was easier for me to say ‘Ciao.’

Today, I smile. But it took two and a half years to make this decision. It’s difficult to give up what you fight for. Now I am free like a bird and happy that my son has earned one star on his own.

How has dining changed in general and in the US in particular in the last twenty years?

I focus on three things in cuisine: taste, quality of the product, and  sophistication. . . The third, . . . this is now put aside among top chefs. . .

Now I know that Americans like eating in the manner that French people do. When I started 30, 35 years ago, American cuisine was an exception. Now, Americans not only like good eating but they like knowing about it. In the US, you have a lot of good restaurants. In a few years, you will have a lot of good products, too. Things are moving in this direction, as they have been France, where there there are many specialty shops. 

What are your most exciting challenges right now?

In the past, I worked 18 hours a day, every day in the kitchen with many cooks. Now I teach more. I tell my chefs they have to think about cooking, cooking. cooking. Twenty four hours a day. When they get up in the morning, when they’re bicycling, when they’re on a plane, they have to be in love with cooking. They have to love other people and love giving other people pleasure. When you are a cook, you have to think, ‘What can I do to make something the best?’ every day.

I say to my cooks now,  ‘It’s your time.’  This is a real pleasure. Today, I am astonished at what they can do. 

How did you connect with The Willard Room and Cafe du Parc?

The manager of the Willard asked me to come. Doing something for me here is a pleasure. There are bistros in Washington,  but making one that is different is a nice challenge. At these restaurants, the chefs find the best products– the best chickens, veggies, pork, etc. It’s not as easy here as it is in France to find it.  And, they create a signature style: not too much butter or fat. . . . . Use vegetables, think for health, flavor with herbs.

Anything else you would like to convey to readers?

A chef in France, Alain Chapel, wrote a book that translates to “Cooking is more than Recipes”. I like this headline. This is what I think. And what are the ways to make it better tomorrow.

(Photo: Nicolas Legret, Antoine Westermann, and Christophe Marque)