Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family!

I'm in the process of moving a bunch of hours up the road.  I'll likely continue blogging my new food/farm/grocery/cooking adventures there, but first I'll need things like a) a permanent place to live, b) internet service, and c) time. 

I'm looking forward to hopefully making pumpkin challah and cakeballs between tonight and tomorrow afternoon.  It's ambitious, and my success will be traffic-dependent. 

I'm thankful for my family, my friends (including you), my health, and for the delicious Ray's Hellburger I ate last week--probably my last for a while.  Blackened, Heck sauce, lettuce, tomato, pickle, cooked "recommended."  I forgot the grilled onions, but didn't notice at the time.


Postcard from Charlottesville - Wine Edition

 A trip to Charlottesville wouldn't be complete without some winetasting.  For me, it's as much about the view as it is about the wine.  It might even be more about the view.  A glass of something tasty along with a picnic and a sunny day and I am the happiest girl I know.

My favorite: King Family Vineyards.  The grounds were huge and beautiful.  The staff member in the tasting room was very friendly (but not fake or patronizing) and knowledgable.  They had cheese/bread/etc for sale, which was not around at the other wineries.  Also, there were plenty of tables and grass space for picnicking and enjoying the faboosh views (something the others lacked--which is shocking, since picnic space is all the rage in NoVa wineries).  And on summer weekends they host polo matches and tons of people come to watch and picnic and stomp the divots (a la Pretty Woman).  They had lovely banquet space too--not too big, but a smaller wedding would be perfection there.

At Horton Vineyards, you can try as much as you want.  We didn't get much information, but it was late in the day.  Nothing about what is grown/made on-site, or really any chit chat at all.  We bought a bottle for our parents and scooted along.  

We also went to Keswick Vineyards (nice people, nice wines, they gave the rec to go to King Family, actually) and Barboursville. Barboursville was pretty busy for a Monday afternoon, and for $5 you try 17 wines.  SEVENTEEN!  We didn't have any meaningful snacks during the Monday afternoon winetasting, and we got up for sunrise that morning.  That meant an early evening nap and headaches all around. 

If a taste is 2 oz and we had 27 tastes total on Monday, and "one drink" of wine is 5 oz, then we drank 10 glasses of wine.  I think the tastes must have been smaller,  because that would be ridiculous.  Even cut in half, that's a lot for me.  Hence the headache.

Best bets:
Barboursville: bang for buck at tasting ($5 for keepsake glass, taste of all wines, even reserves and their award-winning Octagon, $30/bottle).  Watch a video with their Italian winemaker Luca Paschina here
King Family: beautiful grounds, friendly staff, tasty wines. We bought their dessert wine, because we like it but never have any.  It was not too syrupy sweet or anything, and we'd already bought bottles of red and white at others that we liked.


Postcard from Charlottesville

We recently went down to Charlottesville and its environs to check out some local scenery.

Our first stop was Gordonsville Deli. Yelp led me here, and I was happy it did.  The proprietor was coolly sitting at a tiny bistro table in his tiny deli with an impossibly minuscule netbook when we walked in.  Then he made us delicious, fresh sandwiches (chicken salad and roast beef, respectively) and panini pressed 'em into grill-mark perfection.  The side options were chips, slaw, or potato salad.  The slaw wasn't from a industrial container of slaw, it was freshly shredded cabbage lovingly seasoned and tossed in a vinaigrette, not drowning in a mayo mess.  It was crunchy and clean-tasting, maybe the best cole slaw I've ever had.  J and I preferred our respective sandwiches.  His had a horseradish bite that took me by surprise.  *Disclaimer: everything tastes better on a ridiculously cloudless sunshiny day on the Blue Ridge Parkway, which is where we ate these sandwiches.

Damn.  Is there ANYTHING better than a delicious, fresh sandwich?!

C & O Restaurant
When we left C&O, J summed it up:  this is a great, nice place to take your (nonadventurous eater-type) parents when they visit you at UVa.  Agree.  It's the Old Man Rafferty's of Charlottesville.  Same old American stuff.  It's fine.  It's ok.  But even things that sound interesting end up being...fine. We sat in the charming courtyard on this cool fall night, and I left my camera in the car.  I had the assortment of vegetarian items, mostly because it was something I could choose where I could actually have 4 or so things at the same time.  I think the soup was parsnip (and I didn't care for it), there was a slice of quiche/tarte of some sort, some raviolis that were good, and a slice of grilled haloumi on watermelon.  Probably a salad with the watermelon and haloumi on it would have been a better choice for me, even as an appetizer!  C&O is popular for the Steak Chinoise, which is what J got.  He liked it.  We shared a warm artichoke spread with pita that was pretty good,  but nothing out of the ordinary

C & O Restaurant on Urbanspoon

The Local
Now here is some food.  We ended up here by accident when Tavola was closed.  Sunday and Monday are tricky nights for eating in C-ville.  It was late, we took an awkward late afternoon nap, and we were a bit hung over from an afternoon of intense winetasting (without enough spitting out the wine).  We needed warm, comforting, and delicious.  Unfortunately, we also had to sit outside on this cool night because we also needed quiet.  And it was loud in there.  Gnocchi Bolognese, short ribs, and lots of water later, we were happy.  I'd definitely go back to The Local.

The Local on Urbanspoon

La Taza Coffeehouse was a big crowdpleaser.  Yummy, hot breakfast sandwiches and a list of teas and coffees rivaling any urban caffeination station.  I had an enormous, delicious, steamy hot chai latte with an egg, sausage, pesto, tomato breakfast sandwich on a crusty (in a good way) French baguette.  J had a croissant!

La Taza Coffee House on Urbanspoon

Bodos bagels is a local favorite, you should definitely stop by.  The bagels aren't Brooklyn or even Bethesda, but it's a quirky place, and definitely a cheap bite.  They have a bagel with honey and butter ON THE MENU, and excellent avocado spread.

Marco & Lucas Dumplings:  Mmmm dumplings.  For $3, share a snack with somebody.  You won't regret it.  There are two locations--fun fact is that I took the picture of the sign at one (the Corner) and ate dumplings from the other (Downtown).  If there was one nearby it would be my go-to cheap, hot snack, undoubtedly.

Marco & Lucas on Urbanspoon

Bluegrass Grill & Bakery was closed when we first wanted to go--La Taza to the rescue!  But we went back, and we're so glad we did.  It's sort of a hole-in-the-wall greasy spoon establishment, with all mismatching mugs that make you feel like you're at your great-aunt's house. 

Obviously I had an enormous omelet filled with my favorite fixins and J had the corned beef hash.  Each came with an enormous whole wheat biscuit.  The CBH was more like the one at Art & Soul than any other I'd had because of the big pieces of corned beef.  Not quite cubes though!

Go to Charlottesville.  Take a campus tour.  Eat at delicious places.  Support local running shops


StarChefs.Com Rising Stars Event, Washington, DC

On a humid, way-too-warm (compared to recent days) October evening, we headed up to the penthouse floor of 101 Constitution Ave NW.  We were happy to attend the StarChefs.com Rising Stars Gala.  We were guests of Highland Park Scotch, which I felt like wasn't a conflict of interest because...it's not food!  Thank you, Highland Park (and Rebecca from M Booth)!   It was such a fun night--just eating, drinking, and then rinse, repeat.

The place was culinary star-studded, including past Top Chef contestants Brian Voltaggio from Volt and Mike Isabella, formerly of Zaytinya and future at Graffiato. Our pals from Town House were there, or maybe they just feel like friends because their intimate restaurant is in the quite-intimate setting of  population 1,827, only slightly larger than our high school.

I tried almost everything, and here were the standouts: 

Nick Stefanelli, Bibiana, Hay smoked veal sweetbreads, Jerusalem artichokes, and black truffle-anchovy dressing.  I dare you to find me sweetbreads I won't like. Also, we went to Bibiana a few months ago and it was outstanding.

Benjamin Lambert, Restaurant Nora, Hawaiian hearts of palm salad, Thai basil, cucumber, mango, coriander berries, basil seeds, heirloom tomato water, and hearts of palm sorbet:  OK, so usually we aren't the savory sorbet type (or even the sorbet-type to begin with).  This dish just worked, it was awesome.  It was cool, crunchy, and, pardon my Top Chef judgeness, it had the right amount of acid to keep it interesting (and from being dessert).  
Rubén García, minibar by josé andrés and ThinkFoodGroup, cotton candy eel:  I've never been to minibar--tear--so this is as close as I've come.

Jason Alley, Comfort, Braised Australian Beef Cheeks, Juniper, Ginger Beer, Stone Ground Grits, and Arugula: To me, the beef cheeks weren't amazingly flavorful, but the grits were outstanding.  So the one bite together really sung.

Best dishes of the night in my humble opinion:  ::drumroll::

Dean Maupin, Keswick Hall, Duck confit and ricotta gnocchi with butternut squash, arugula, Cracklin's, and grated Wisconsin SarVecchio Parmesan: I mean. Do I have to explain why? Totally stay at the hotel when you do dinner!  It's only $500/night in the cheapest room!  Can you say bargain?   [sarcasm]  But really, go to the restaurant.  Priceline Negotiate yourself something reasonable a few miles away.

Tiffany MacIsaac, Birch & Barley (Washington, DC), Chocolate peanut butter tart, malted milk sorbet, and whiskey vanilla shake: The PB tart was unbelievable.  It wasn't super sweet, it was rich and perfect.  The peanut butter tasted like peanuts, smashed up, not candy.

Click to see what EatMore DrinkMore had to say on the matter (and in a much more timely fashion, I might add).

Definitely check out the restaurants and look for a spin of the winning dishes.  


Last Two CSA Weeks

The last two weeks of our CSA.  Wow, 8 weeks really flies by when you're looking forward to fresh and local produce. 

Green beans, tomatoes, pears, yams/sweet potatoes, pepper, apples, spaghetti squash, butternut squash.  We had a weekend guest and some friends over for dinner, so we used our haul for entertaining, mostly.  J&G butternut squash soup, sweet potato enchiladas, braised short ribs with a side of spaghetti squash with pesto and tomatoes--yes, mostly we ate orange food.  But the people did not complain!

This week the only tomatoes left were truly sad, so I let them be.  Instead I grabbed pumpkin butter, apples, a spaghetti squash, an acorn squash, and some peppers (that are in the fridge).

Said short ribs, during searing...

Oh yeah, and the pumpkin challah.  This beaut expanded in the oven and got misshapen, it wanted to crack in half.  But it was still delicious.  The smaller loaf and little rolls came out splendidly in appearance.

Overall I'm really happy we did the CSA.  Like I said last week, I'm not sure if I'd be as psyched if I didn't pick my own stuff.  But I think we'll try again, especially in the spring/summer. 

Hope everyone had a great week!


Dino - A last minute dinner

Where should we go?  We just got out of a work happy hour in Cleveland Park.  2 Amys?  Palena?  On this day, Dino.  Late summer.  I really like Dino.  It's been good to me. Dean Gold shops at the farmers' market for lots of fresh & local, and I'm down with it.  Plus their before 7pm $27 3-course deal is pretty much the best in town.  I hope my memory hasn't foresaken me, this was a few months back...

Artichokes.  Crispy and zesty and begging for me to squeeze that lemon wedge all over 'em. 

Prosciutto rolled peaches.  Whaaaaaat?!

Cheesy warm gooey cannelloni.  Beautiful color, too.

Tubular pasta with duck leg confit.  And greens.  I want it again, now.

3435 Connecticut Ave NW
Metro: Cleveland Park

Dino on Urbanspoon


Lunch at Franklin's

Back to Franklin's.  A celebratory (but kind of sad) lunch.  But there was nothing sad about The Vulcan Mind Meld -- Primanti Bros. Style.  Pastrami, corned beef, pickle slices, Swiss, provolone, slaw, skinny fries, hots, tomatoes, and Thousand Island dressing on toasted marble (rye/pumpernickel).  For $12 I got this enormous sandwich that I somehow managed to finish.  And then I wanted so so badly to take a nap.

I almost got the Cherry Glen Goat Cheese salad, which had DUCK.  Apples and walnuts and other stuff too, but duck confit?  Puhleeez people.  I just didn't feel much like lettuce today.  More like slaw.

EGM didn't want to stray far from her ordinary course--merguez mini burgers with tzatziki.  Service was great, as per usual, and our sodas were kept super filled.  Like our bellies.

5121 Baltimore Ave
Hyattsville, MD
Metro: Red line to Rhode Island Ave or Green Line to College Park, then a Metrobus that gets you to Franklin's on Route 1.  There's gotta be a few.  Or drive!  Parking in the lot next door is 25 cents per hour--major bargain compared to the meters in Arlington.

Franklin's on Urbanspoon


Restaurant Eve

Restaurant Eve is a special occasion place that was on my radar, along with The Inn at Little Washington, Minibar, and CityZen.  All we needed was a special occasionAnd we got one.  I love engagements, weddings, showers, babies...pretty much anything involving parties, presents, and food.  Although I left the idea open-ended, merely suggesting Eve among a worthy crowd, I basically steered us to the Tasting Room.  It's a risky move to take people out somewhere you've never been, but I felt like we really couldn't go wrong. 

Reservations for the Tasting Room can be made 2 months in advance.  For example, if it is October 15th, you can make a reservation as late as December 15th.  Within weeks of the good news, I booked us a table in October.  I called later to detail dietary restrictions and spell the names of the celebrated couple.  [That was the part where I referred to myself and J as "the garbage cans."  We'll try anything once, even "fluffy ocean."]

We did a 7-course menu, which was definitely perfect--I left full, but not pants-bursting stuffed.  The wine pairings seemed a little steep ($75, $85, and $95 to go with the 5, 7, or 9 course), and we ended up getting a bottle of Sauvignon Gris from Chile and later had a glass of champagne for a proper toast.  

I'll note that our pescatarian was served a lot of fish.  I was expecting at least a few more adventurous fishless vegetarian plates, but was surprised when yet another mini filet would appear.  Between us we ate all kinds of stuff, including pike, sturgeon, sashimi, lamb, sweetbreads, and the super amazing (maybe a table fan favorite) mushroom agnolotti.  The agnolotti was definitely my favorite, along with some of the tiny bites (more on that later). Three of us had beignets for dessert that were okay, but the chocolate-lover special requested the chocolate cake bar from the second menu above (actually, she just said "something with chocolate") and it was awesome.  Super rich, super chocolatey, and a large portion.  Made my beignets seem puny.  She shared, because she's wonderful.

The dining room was a bit warm, especially for a place noting that gentlemen will feel comfortable in ties & jackets.  Not without some air conditioning, they won't!  I'll also say that the service was pretty attentive, but kind of awkward.  With other tasting experiences, servers are coming and going, but usually the same person (or two) explains what each dish is when it comes out.  Swift, efficient, friendly, but unobtrusive (after all, you are likely celebrating).  We had different people coming and going, and it was just a little bit off.  Not bad, just not smooth and practiced. 

I liked everything.  Some things more than others; for example, I found the lamb to be meh.  It was very rare, but that's not a problem for me if the flavor is wow.  A palate cleansing red pepper sorbet was very interesting, in a good way.  The canapes and amouse bouche were also fun, but everything bigger than a bite lost that punch.  If I'm going out for a tasting menu, I want it to wow me.  Not confuse me, or interest me without being 100% delicious, but it should be delicious and intriguing.   It makes me think that Eve has the tasting menu for non-tasting menu people.  An adventure for the less adventurous.  Classic American cuisine, well-executed, yet not intimidating at all.  I didn't know I was so edgy, but I guess I am.  At least when it's going to be $100+ a person.

Overall, Eve is a great place to spoil someone.  The chocolate was printed with "Congratulations," and a little gift bag of take-home treats came out post-dessert.  The sunflower motif and gorgeous, colorful, patterned chargers make you just feel happy.  The pre-meal tastes and post-dessert cookies and bites were fun and welcome extras, and there were plenty.  Mini macarons, white chocolate clusters, and a chocolate/butterscotch/brittle-type triangle were on that final tiered serving tray.  I wanted them to be my end to every meal, forever.

My Totally Unscientific Tasting Menu Rankings
1. Komi
2. Citronelle
3. B&B Ristorante (does this count? It was all pasta...)
4. [Restaurant Eve, I think]
5. Volt
Town House

I liked and would recommend all of those Top 5, but it'll depend on the occasion and the audience.  I loved B&B for the great pastas and some truly interesting (and delicious) flavors.  My brother-in-law and sister had a less awesome B&B experience, where they felt like the pasta was the one thing they didn't love.  To which my response was:  WHAT?!? 

Citronelle is an institution, and Chef Richard is a genius.  It was also my first big tasting menu, so it has a special place in my heart.  Komi is hands-down the most incredible meal I've ever eaten. But if you're not too adventurous, you may be better off at Volt or Eve.  Not that Komi was so crazy, but  you're bound to have plates that truly surprise you.  I don't eat octopus and goat every day (but maybe I should).

Now I'll stop going on and on.  Restaurant Eve is a wonderful restaurant, and I'm glad that I went.  I just don't know how soon I'll be back.  If I had to pick one of the above to go to tomorrow, I'd choose Komi.

Restaurant Eve
110 South Pitt St
Alexandria, VA
Metro: Blue or Yellow Line to King Street Metro

Restaurant Eve on Urbanspoon