Counter Intelligence

Counter Intelligence is moving.

Posted in District of Columbia by melissamccart on March 16, 2010

Here is the new address. Thanks for following me.


Five on Food: Articles From the Wednesday Dining Pages

Posted in District of Columbia by melissamccart on October 14, 2009

1) Now I Wanna Serve Some Sausage. New York Times. Sam Stifton opens his first review– of Boulud’s DBGB– with The Ramones.

2) Vegetarian Cookbook Author Anna Thomas Ladles Out Love Soup.  LA Times. Love soup? No meat? It may be nice, but it’s not love.

3) Some Foods to Steer Clear of While Driving. Boston Globe. It’s kind of a punch drunk list, though coffee tops it and I’d concur: my car is the aftermath of coffee tsunami. What’s missing from the list– aside from spaghetti?

4)  Eat Smaller Fish for their Healthful Properties. Chicago Tribune. Sardines, herring, anchovies.

5) In New Orleans, Six Days of Non-Competitive Eating. Washington Post. Check out Joe Yonan’s impressive list of eats.

Odysseus is My Bag

Posted in District of Columbia by melissamccart on October 13, 2009

It’s a good thing I got to know Wine Director John Wabeck when he moved to Tysons Corner–far from me– or I fear I’d be sampling 19 wines every time I visited, which I have no business doing. I really like his palate and like being led around to try things I wouldn’t otherwise. On my last visit to INOX, Wabeck poured two wines I’d never have chosen:  a fall rose named Odysseus and a rind-scented Chablis.

Odysseus bugged me at the start. Not to mention, I’m teaching all twenty four chapters to freshman this quarter. And while the real deal is super rich and complex, naming a wine after the hero reminds me of Music Is My Bagdom in Meghan Daum’s collection of essays, My Misspent Youth. Not to be confused with the slur, there are all kinds of bagdom: Dogs are My Bag. Harleys are My Bag. Where I Went to College is My Bag. “Having a Bag connotes the state of being overly interested in something, and yet, in a certain way, not interested enough.” A defining characteristic of people who embrace bagdom is that they’re slightly dorky in their enthusiasm for whatever it is they love. They wear it on their shirts, cars, screensavers, keychains, on tote bags, in frames around their homes. Think Halloween earrings, I Brake for Jazz Hands car signs and piano keyboard scarves.

So here I was at a lovely dinner drinking wine from someone for whom Literature is Their Bag. The name and the cutesy label made me want to club someone.

Except this was a rose. For fall. And it was really good.  As in– four people who drink a-lot of wines oohed and ahhed over it– good. And whatever I thought of the name and the label, it’s the only name I remembered of the night.  Paired with the halibut with lobster mushrooms,baby turnips, cippolini onions and a ginger bouillon, the rose was medium bodied and balanced– not the ephemeral summer renditions that are either bone dry or very strawberry. Despite the name, Odysseus Rosado is now my favorite rose.

I’ve also been craving an interesting Chablis Wabeck poured that smelled like cheese rind.  It’s a winning combination with the crispy skate wing and day boat scallops.

I’m not sure I’d order it on a date, since that nose is super-funky, though Wabeck says it’s a fairly common characteristic for a Chablis. On the palate, it was beautiful–subtle and gradual:  like the delayed realization a striking woman is a stunner.

Other things of interest going on at Inox. One, Jonathan Krinn has moved from the kitchen to the front of the house, while Mathieson is helming the line. Two, if you have not been, the INOX lunch is a delicious deal: three courses, $28. I’m a fan of beef carpaccio, and short ribs ravioli or fish and chips as the main. I think I’ve been something like eight times, half of them solo. In Tysons, way far away.

In the wind down to our dinner last week, it was fun to talk with three Jo(h)ns about the restaurant, their James Beard dinner and food related news. Some trivia from chatting: I’m a Budweiser fan, but was surprised to learn Wabeck and Jon Mathieson drink Bud. And two, Mathieson calls his kids every night to find out what they’d like for breakfast, so he can mise en place before they wake, be it for waffles with fruit, an omlette or a frittata. How cute is that? Cuter than the horse on the Odysseus label.

My Favorite Things

Posted in District of Columbia by melissamccart on October 12, 2009

A more casual Bernbach poses for Darrow Montgomery, Washington City Paper

A decidedly more casual Bernbach poses for Darrow Montgomery, Washington City Paper

On one of the first cool nights of the season, the Coltrane version of My Favorite Things was playing at Proof as I walked into the bar early last week.  “It’s not on our usual playlist,” said Bar Manager and cocktail maven Adam Bernbach, who was wearing a fabulous tie, half-windsor–which I did not know right off, though recognized it wasn’t a four in hand. “Full-windsor is triangular. Big. Like as big as your head,” he joked, admitting he didn’t yet know how to tie full-, though others on staff don the formal knot.

Bernbach’s fall cocktails are fittingly stylish for this sartorialist. I loved the Mirrorball named for the Everything But The Girl song. Made with Riesling, Blume Apricot Eau-de Vie, honey syrup, lime juice, egg white and bitters–the acid from the Riesling delivers a “pinprick” on the tongue as opposed to the “stiletto” of a Sancerre. Another favorite of the group, which included Kelly Magyarics and Amanda McClements, was the yet to be named drink, now dubbed Apertivo Ambra– a Campari-soaked sugar cube, Dolin sweet vermouth and Botter Prosecco.

Leave it to Bernbach to create a cocktail that tastes like a less-sweet Tootsie Roll, a clever adult Halloween treat. It’s the Timba, made with Cirrus potato vodka, tamarind & black cardamom syrup, Assam tea, Fee Bros. chocolate bitters and soda water.

And then there’s the ass-kicking New England 1773–Rhum Neisson Ambre, maple syrup and Bittermen’s mole bitters. “What IS that?” I asked, flinching from and seduced by a sip. “It’s the booze,” suggested Amanda. Bernbach was nice and said the rhum was “wild” and “reedy” to make me feel like less of a lightweight. Crowd pleasers also include the Bees Knees, a favorite at Bar Pilar, Bernbach’s former haunt and the Hitachino Hi-Ball, served with Fever-Tree tonic water. I loved the drink, but miss the owl.

This past July, Bernbach joined Proof’s effortlessly stylish team, which includes chef Haidar Karoum, GM Michael James, Wine Director Sebastian Zutant and the inimitable Mark Kuller, proprietor.

The Week’s Eats

Posted in District of Columbia by melissamccart on October 9, 2009

This week’s eats included a Wednesday night at The Occidential, where I was smitten with Chef Scruggs’ fried chicken two ways. (It was on my mind following the day’s New York Times article, apparently.) Served with red sour cherries, candied orange peel and a chamomile tea glace, Rodney Scruggs says the dish really comes to life with The Saffron King’s orange peel and spices. For a Wednesday, the place was packed. Despite the economy, The Occidential has apparently about doubled its revenues this year. While the closing of the Willard Room may be a factor, it’s no secret Scruggs is a terrific chef, having worked under Jeffrey Buben, Roberto Donna and Francesco Ricchi. Impressive for a year when the economy is in the tank.

This week, Scruggs showcases his fall menu, which includes a white pumpkin soup. I loved that his wife Lisa’s group is making desserts via The Swiss Bakery. If I were opting for dessert for dinner, I might consider ordering The Crunch Bar or Chef Rodney’s Brown Cow– a very dark, house-made chocolate sorbet, served with Old Dominion Root beer in a float cup with an extra long spoon.

And then last night, CityZen sommelier Andy Myers informed us the Chef Ziebold was working the fish station. Needless to say, I was glad to have ordered the bass served with a beet reduction and beet greens served almost like dolmade, tightly packed, cigar shaped. One dish is better than another at CityZen, where last night’s entrees on the bar menu also included shoat shoulder: a rather large, caramelized, glistening, delicious pork brownie.

Ziebold joked he was slammed all night. “There were like two meat orders and the rest of the night was fish! They’re telling tables I was on the line.” Myers was full of stories about Ziebold, as well as his own late-night exploits, particularly when he was caught this past summer by sous chef Makoto Hamaura, crouched down in an abandoned lot near his house. When Makoto asked what he was doing, Myers said had found a stray squash plant there and had been helping himself to the blossoms.

Myers wasn’t just spinning tales and talking ink, though I encouraged tattoo talk, after complimenting his wife’s which I had seen while she was DJ’ing at the opening of Sou’Wester.  He was pouring lovely wines for fall, including two reds from the Tempranillo grape– one oaked, big and tannic, the second, from the coast, bright and acidic.

My favorite was when he led me to an elegant white Burgundy when I asked for an ideal fall white when we first arrived.

Five on Food: Articles from the Wednesday Dining Pages

Posted in District of Columbia by melissamccart on October 7, 2009

1) The Washington Post Food Section is terrific today. Between Jane’s article on David Chang, The Old Bay article, Jason Wilson’s Creme Yvette and Cooking for One with small veggies, it’s a cover to cover read.

2) Fried Chicken: A Migratory Bird. New York Times. How to pack flavor into fried chicken? Chefs use chiles, glazes, brines and buttermilk for starters. (The Lee Brothers taught me the Thai chile vinegar condiment, which is addictive.)

3) The Trick to Making Bao. LA Times. Chinese steamed buns go mainstream.

4) A Toast to Spaghetti Wines. Chicago Tribune. Chilean, Californian and Italian recs.

5) Burger King Hopes to Build Style, Traffic. Boston Globe. A sit-down vibe and “hip, urban, masculine elements” characterize the redesign.

Blue Duck Tavern on Obama Night

Posted in District of Columbia by melissamccart on October 5, 2009

Diners at Blue Duck Tavern didn’t seem to mind getting frisked at the entrance Saturday night, what with the Obamas in house for their 17th anniversary. The Tony Chi-designed restaurant in The Park Hyatt is farm to table family style, with square-cut, duck fat fries and seasoned marrow from bones as long as femurs among the crowd pleasers.

“Ah, we do it all the time,” quipped Blue Duck Tavern chef Bryan McBride about cooking for the President. The Obamas ordered oysters and crab cakes. Beyond that, it sounded like they didn’t order off the menu. “We sent lots of things out.”  Still, for this guest, dining with Obama in the house was beyond an already special Saturday night celebration.

Blue Duck Tavern is in my regular rotation. Last fall, I went with my friend Beth a couple times since were obsessed with the pumpkin custard, which isn’t yet on the menu this season. Here’s the recipe which is easy enough, albeit one that’s much easier if you happen to own a brulee torch:

6oz. Pumpkin puree-2 tbs amaretto liquor-3 whole eggs-2 egg yolks-2 cups heavy cream-pinch salt & pepper

Instructions: Mix eggs & yolks, add cream, puree and amaretto. Blend and pass through a strainer. Ladle 5 oz into a serving vessel making sure there are no bubbles, using a torch if needed to pop them. Cover with plastic and cook @ 198 F for 45 minutes until a 2/3 jiggle is achieved. Take off plastic and allow to cool.  Add sugar, torch until a crème brulee effect is achieved, top with praline, dried fruits, crispy sage, anything you have that is fall.

For more recipes, check out Blue Duck’s blog here.

A Top Chef on the Farm

Posted in District of Columbia by melissamccart on September 16, 2009

Top Chef contestant Bryan Voltaggio of Volt at Whitmore FarmDespite the rain in the District, last night’s Volt dinner at Whitmore Farm in Emmitsburg, Maryland could not have been more lovely. Storm clouds bypassed the goings-on outside the stunning, refurbished home from the 1700’s, where owner and farmer Will Morrow hosted a nine courses dinner for nearly 40 people prepared by Top Chef contestant, Bryan Voltaggio and his staff.

Bryan showcased a parade of canapes– including the avocado meringue that earned him a win earlier this season, though my favorite first bite was between a tempura sweetbread garnished with rice wine vinegar infused raisins, or the thinly sliced lamb heart served atop farro.

Morrow gave the green light for Voltaggio to set up as close to a professional kitchen as I’ve ever seen, in a workspace adjacent to the barn, with enough table space for two rows of 20 plates, industrial ovens, and a separate area for  dishwashing.  Framing the line were fun farm reminders, like the half dozen pairs of wellies hanging from the ceiling, stacks of hay in a corner, and a row of yellow slickers on hooks. Voltaggio tweeted the event, here.


Dining Magellans

Posted in District of Columbia by melissamccart on September 10, 2009

Something that’s often neglected in food writing is the importance of how we eat, not just what and where. I’m not talking about protein/carb/veggie or organic and local versus anything else. I’m talking more about an attitude, the way we approach a restaurant or a meal. When dining companions are milquetoast or less than enthusiastic, it affects everyone else’s dining experience at the table. It can change a restaurant experience from technicolor to grey.

I’m not saying to be insincere if something isn’t up to par. I’m celebrating people I’ve eaten with with whose joie de vivre makes an experience infinitely better. Their knowledge and enthusiasm helps transform a meal, a restaurant, and evening into something magical.

Two examples. After going to H Mart for an article with Scott Drewno of The Source, he suggested we hit up Four Sisters for lunch. Drewno hovered over his pho like a mad scientist, adjusting flavors with lime, Thai basil, salt, hot chilis, pepper, bean sprouts, and sriracha (Apparently it’s only lay people who call it rooster sauce or cock sauce.)  Even the waiter caught Drewno’s enthusiasm, shifting gears to recommend things he loved rather than dishes that were safe. Our dining adventure for three people was eight dishes long. I ate shrimp heads, burned my taste buds off with chilis, and I was introduced to new dishes I now love but would never have explored, despite that I’m an adventurous eater. Drewno’s enthusiasm and sense of adventure has infused in every trip I’ve made to Four Sisters since.

Another industry person whose attitude I admire from afar is Mark Kuller, owner of Proof. When I was at (–here we are again) The Source for a Chinese banquet lunch, Kuller showed up with a companion for a lunch stopover of Singapore street noodles and Thai noodles since, “they’re the best in town.” I love that he’s so tuned in to what the best dish is at his destination restaurant, be it noodles from Drewno or roast chicken at Palena. Dining with someone like Kuller is fun because you’re seeing the strengths of the chef and are bound to be pleased.  He, in particular, is a foodie Magellan.

My next craving is dim sum brunch or Korean with Kay and Dean Gold of Dino. They organize outings over on And their posts about their adventures are downright inspiring.

What do you look for in dining companions? And do they shape your experience or am I making too much of it?

Apple Season

Posted in District of Columbia by melissamccart on September 3, 2009

This morning’s poem on NPR’s Writer’s Almanac is Joyce Sutphen’s “Apple Season,” a reminder of fall along with the lovely cool mornings this week.

Is it apple season yet? I haven’t yet meandered toward anything apple at the farmer’s market yet, aside from Loic’s Feillet’s delicious apple turnovers at the 14th and U farmer’s market on Saturdays. 

For this weekend, anyway, I’m planning on enjoying the last days of summer’s bounty. What’s on your docket for Labor Day weekend eats?