Counter Intelligence

A Long Way from Local

Posted in District of Columbia by melissamccart on September 29, 2008

Today’s post about exotic ingredients is over on Washingtonian’s Best Bites.


Power Breakfast

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

What do Washingtonians such as Andrew Sullivan, Maureen Dowd and Cokie Roberts eat for breakfast? Check it out in Saveur’s Breakfast of Champions.  Speaking of, this month’s issue on the meal is pretty interesting.

Five on Food: Articles From the Wednesday Dining Pages

Posted in District of Columbia, General Interest by melissamccart on September 24, 2008

1) Crunch Time. Washington Post. David Hagedorn’s Chef on Call, for which the Grays help a family create kid-friendly, healthful meals.

2) Modest Luxuries for Lean Times. New York Times. Says Asimov, “It’s much easier to find cheap wine from Bordeaux than Burgundy, but I didn’t find a lot to recommend. The real treasures lie in areas thought to be of lesser status.”

3) Jose Andres Comes to Conquer LA with The Bazaar. LA Times. “It’s an exuberant experiment in dining, located in the public space of the 11,500-square-foot hotel lobby, with several whimsical dining areas: a cocktail bar and raw bar, a space featuring his tapas as well as cured meats and cheeses, a “patisserie” with a display kitchen and a roving “street food” cart. “Who needs one more chef in one more building with four walls and a kitchen?” Andrés asks.”

3) The Breadmaker’s Guru. San Francisco Chronicle. “From local outfits like Acme, Grace Baking and Semifreddi’s to La Brea Bakery in Los Angeles and Balthazar in New York, Suas has done everything from developing formulas for the perfect loaf to streamlining baking processes to designing bakeries worldwide.”

4) Odds Are, You Can Find Good Food at Foxwoods. Boston Globe. 50 chefs head to Foxwoods for the Food and Wine Festival.

  5) Food Dictionary. Chicago Tribune. Gewurtztraminer is wine made from sausages, comfort food is the fortifying, satisfying fare that killed the grandparents, and other absurdities from a food obsessed Seattle writer.

(photo courtesy Heather Freeman)

Shuck It

Posted in District of Columbia, New York City by melissamccart on September 22, 2008

From Alan Wong’s to Le Bernardin, to right here at Equinox and Vidalia, local Chesapeake oysters have sloughed off their dubious reputation and are making an appearance on fine dining menus because of guys like Travis and Ryan Croxton at Rapphannock River Oysters down in Topping, Virginia.

Several years ago, the cousins decided to revive their great grandfather’s business by working with scientists to grow their own local oysters in several locations around the bay. “The Chesapeake Bay has been a powerhouse for oysters,” says Ryan, “But its reputation had been compromised for a number of years because of environmentally damaging harvest methods and an emphasis on quanity over quality. We wanted to change the practices and the perception.” 

Today, they’re offering super briny Olde Salts, mild and buttery Rappahannocks, the moderately salty Stingrays, and York River oysters.

Thinking about having an oyster roast? In addition to finding them on menus around town, you can also order Rappahannocks direct. They’ll arrive within 24 hours of harvesting.

Five on Food: Articles From the Wednesday Dining Pages

Posted in District of Columbia, General Interest by melissamccart on September 17, 2008

1) They Heart DC. Washington Post. Why celeb chefs are (finally) flocking to Washington.

2) Instead of Eating to Diet, Eating to Enjoy. New York Times. “Consumers and nutritionists say they are seeing a shift toward “positive eating” — shunning deprivation diets and instead focusing on adding seasonal vegetables, nuts, berries and other healthful foods to their plates. ”

3) Soda Fountain Favorites Go Uptown. LA Times. “Lately (maybe it’s goodbye-to-summer nostalgia), soda fountain standards — sundaes, shakes, floats, ice cream sandwiches — have sparked the imaginations of ice cream-minded pastry chefs.”

4) Fat is Back. San Francisco Chronicle. We’ve missed you, Lard.

5) New Variations on an Old Theme. Atlanta Journal Constitution. Similiar to David Hagedorn’s piece, AJC notes the comeback of aspic.

A Conversation with Cindy Wolf of Baltimore’s Charleston

Posted in General Interest, Regional by melissamccart on September 11, 2008

Chef Cindy Wolf and partner/husband Tony Foreman have defined Baltimore dining through their restaurants: Charleston, Petit Louis Bistro, Cinghiale, and Pazo.  Recently I had a chance to meet this two time James Beard nominee for Best Chef, Mid- Atlantic at her flagship restaurant.


How has your cooking evolved since you lived in Charleston, South Carolina?
I lived in Charleston at the beginning of my career.  Since then,  I’ve traveled a great deal. I’ve been to France many times and Italy several times in sixteen years. I went to Spain in April– those are the biggest influences. 

My guests also influence me. They have allowed me to do whatever I have wanted to do in my evolution as a chef.
Do you ever want to open a place in DC?
I’m very happy in the market I’m in. I’m very happy with my purveyors. My husband Tony has developed relations with local people, local farmers. We’ve been doing the local thing for at least five years. That was also the way I was raised in North Carolina.
Biggest challenge?
Three years ago, we gutted Charleston, remodeled, and changed the menu to a tasting menu format. Guests can choose any item from several categories for a three, four, five, or six course tasting. We felt like this was the best thing for our guests.  This is what makes our guests happy.


What trends do you think will endure?
 I’m not into trends.  I’m motivated by beautiful cuisine, not trends. Things that we’re seeing more of–charcuterie has been around for thousands of years. Cheese carts are not new.
Favorite ingredient?
I have to work with truffles. I like truffles with beef better than anything in the whole world. I also love foie gras. People have complimented me on our foie gras.
I also love to make shellfish bisque. I was doing a lunch for Robert Parker. It started off as she-crab soup– Charleston style. It was the first time I made it– for him, four or five years ago. It’s been on the menu ever since.
How would you describe your culinary style?
I like to preserve tradition.  I don’t believe in fusion anything. Biscuits should be made with lard, white flour, and buttermilk. That’s a perfect example of traditional, sticking with roots.
My mother has influenced me .  When something was in season– strawberries, for example– we’d have shortcake, pie, strawberry milk for breakfast. . . .  My mother was a great cook.
Personal cuisine. Local products. French, European influences. Argentine influences (a mentor in Charleston was Argentinian). Robert Parker said I had an old French chef living inside of me. But my cooking is very female. It’s about the food, not about me. 

Five on Food: Articles from the Wednesday Dining Pages

Posted in District of Columbia, General Interest by melissamccart on September 10, 2008

1) You Don’t Know Beans. Washington Post. Napa resident Steve Sando grows fifteen heirloom varieties of beans instead of grapes–“If he’s lucky, one will grow well enough and taste good enough to be sold commercially. ”

2) Flour That Has the Flavor of Home. New York Times. Local wheat: ““I stuck my hand in it and I said, oh boy,” Mr. Lewis recalled. “It felt different, it smelled different, it tasted different. It was intriguing.”

3) Mayo Clinic: Basic Homemade Mayonnaise. LA Times. Learn how delicious fifteen kinds of homemade mayo can be and you’ll never eat store bought again.

4) The Secrets of Squid. San Francisco Chronicle. It’s easy. “Three minutes or 30 minutes, but nothing in between,” writes Johnson. That’s a memorable guideline, if not strictly accurate. In most recipes that rely on fast cooking, such as boiling, three minutes is too long. The squid is done as soon as it turns white. And in braised dishes, it may take 45 minutes to an hour for squid to soften.”

5) Palate Initiative. Boston Globe. The Globe decides what to feed the candidates.  What to feed Sarah Palin? “eggs and reindeer sausage for breakfast, or a dish called halibut Olympia for dinner. Nothing Provencal here, just good old sour cream and mayo.”

Foods of the World

Posted in General Interest by melissamccart on September 9, 2008

When gastronomic travel isn’t in the schedule, National Geographic’s Foods of the World offers virtual travel. Browse recipes, read up on food culture, or shop for artisan products from every corner of the world.

From the release: “Foods of the World is designed as a shopping resource for consumers interested in receiving fresh, high-quality foods from around the world. While online, consumers can share recipes from their own travels or culture, participate in community discussions and delve deeper into the origin of the site’s food offerings by accessing maps and feature stories about their region of choice from the National Geographic archives. As the site evolves, consumers will also be able to post photos and videos of their own travels and favorite real-world culinary destinations.”

Farm Fresh: Tomato-Themed Dinner at Evening Star Cafe

Posted in District of Columbia by melissamccart on September 5, 2008

Although Labor Day has come and gone, we have a few days left to enjoy a taste of summer with heirloom tomatoes, plentiful at area farmers markets. For a decadent sendoff to these luscious fruits, join chef Will Artley and FRESHFARM Markets for a summer’s end, five-course, tomato-centric dinner on September 10th at 7pm.

Tomatoes from Three Way Farm, Eight Acres Farm, Smith Meadows Farm, and Dragon Creek Aqua Farm star in courses that include tomato salad with arugula pesto and garlic chips, sea scallops with tomato carpaccio, tenderloin with tomato and blue cheese gnocchi, and a sweet heirloom tomato tart with basil ice cream. Dinner is $75 per person with wine pairings. For reservations, call Evening Star Cafe: 703-549-5051.

Can’t make the meal? Chef Artley offers his crab tomato salad recipe for a smaller celebration:

Ingredients: 2 oz creme fraiche-.25 oz chives-.25 oz parsley-.25 oz tarragon-.25 oz chevril-1/2 lb jumbo lump crabmeat-1 minced shallot-zest of a lemon

Tomatoes: 5 large heirloom tomatoes-4 oz fresh basil-splash of Sherry vinegar-2 oz extra virgin olive oil

Instructions: Combine creme fraiche, herbs, shallot, and lemon zest in a bowl. Add crabmeat to mixture and set aside. 

Wash and dry tomatoes. Quarter into wedges.  Chiffonade basil, and place both into a medium sized mixing bowl.  Add vinegar, olive oil, sherry, and toss, finishing with salt and pepper.

Form crab salad into mound in center of a plate. Position tomatoes quarters around and serve.

Five on Food: Articles from the Wednesday Dining Pages

Posted in District of Columbia, General Interest by melissamccart on September 3, 2008

1) As Belts Tighten, Lobsters Shrink and Bar Menus Grow. New York Times. Look for hanger steaks, bar menus, less lobster, and more happy hour deals at mid-range restaurants in New York.

2) Claiming a Seat at the Slow Food Bar.  Washington Post. Green and sustainable cocktails were the choice beverages at Slow Food Nation in San Francisco.  “It’s taken us 75 years, since Prohibition, to reclaim the tradition of spirits and cocktails.”

3) Entertaining with an Entree Free Dinner. LA Times. “Rather than a full-frontal attack on hunger, it’s better in summer’s heat to overwhelm the enemy with lots of little bites. And if those dishes can be put together without heating up the kitchen or firing up the grill, so much the better.”

4) Budget Brown Bag. San Francisco Chronicle. A week’s worth of lunches for $20. (Really?)

5) Spread the Love. Chicago Tribune. Peanut butter beyond the traditional sandwich.