Saturday, April 23, 2011

Himalayan Heritage

If ever a restaurant had a signature dish, it is the Gobi Manchurian at Himalayan Heritage in Adams Morgan. Its description on the menu -- "tempura cauliflower stir fried with bell-peppers, red onion and green chilly served with hot and sweet sauce" -- sounds pedestrian enough, but believe me, this is no ordinary dish. The lightness of the tempura wins over the tempura doubters, and the spiciness of the cauliflower breaks through the defenses of the cauliflower critics. (By now I have introduced the dish to so many people that I am speaking from empirical research; I have names to back up these claims!). As the reference to Manchuria indicates, the Chinese influence in the Himalayan region is evident, and if you like the sweet, sour, and hot flavors of General Tso's chicken, you will like this too, only more so. 

Himalayas mountain range. Source: Wikipedia

There is only one problem: the dish is so flavorful that anything that follows it tastes bland by comparison. And since it is an appetizer, ordering a worthy entree becomes a challenge. After many attempts, the only thing that has come close is the goat curry, which is one of the Nepalese dishes under the Chef's Recommendations. The day I ordered it, the dish happened to have a disproportionate ratio of bones to meat, but otherwise this was a good choice. Wash it down with a mango lassi and you are on your way to foodie heaven.

Dish To Die For: Gobi Manchurian

Himalayan Heritage on Urbanspoon

Monday, April 18, 2011

Buz and Ned's Real Barbeque: Richmond Bucket List #3*

Buz and Ned's is a must-go place in Richmond, a local place that came to national attention when Buz beat Bobby Flay in a Throwdown back in Season 2. (I thought this was a bigger deal until I found out that Flay loses more throwdowns than he wins. This makes sense given that he challenges chefs on their home turf on their signature dishes. A New Yorker, his record against southern chefs is particularly poor. ) The episode loops endlessly on a wall-mounted tv screen, beside which are autographed photos of Buz and Bobby and a sample "Flay Slayer" t-shirt. 

But all this hype is unnecessary. The food speaks for itself, as do the customers who line up to order at the counter even during off-hours. I mean this last bit literally. I had forgotten my reading glasses that day, and Chris was reading the menu to me as we stood in line at around 2pm on a Saturday afternoon. The guy in front of us, impatient with my indecisiveness about whether to choose pork, beef, or chicken barbeque, turned around to face us and said one word: "pork".   Okay, I was up for taking a local's advice. Then I further exasperated him by dithering over which pork ribs to get: spare ribs or baby back. "Baby back," he pronounced, now almost pitying my ignorance. Alrighty, then. Chris, a local herself, was not cowed (pigged?) so easily. She opted for the hand pulled bbq pork sandwich. Between us, we got fries, hush puppies, cole slaw, and cinnamon bourbon apples as sides.

Our order placed, we settled in at a booth to wait. "This is not fast-food," a sign at the counter had warned. Since it was a rainy day, we opted for the indoor seating, which is somewhere between a dive and a diner, a cozy place that we were happy to relax in for the fifteen minutes or so until our name was called.

My first surprise was that my ribs did not come with sauce, though it was readily provided upon request. In retrospect, I understand that Buz and Ned's prefers not to smother the flavor that they have worked so hard to get just right, which is what inevitably happens when you pour on generous amounts of red sauce. I learned that, for some, good barbecue is determined by how much the flavor of the meat is allowed to shine through the preparation. But at the time, I had recently come to the conclusion that I do not like vinegar-based North Carolina bbq, and I was hankering for the red stuff. Next time, I will give the ribs "desnuda" a chance, but this time, I thoroughly enjoyed them  "vestida".

Baby back ribs "desnuda" (without sauce)
Baby back ribs "vestida" (with sauce)
Hand pulled BBQ pork sandwich with sides

My second surprise was that the sides were pretty mediocre, though Chris disagreed. Our opinons split especially over the hush puppies. Not that it mattered very much; my half rack was keeping me thoroughly busy and satisfied -- the kind of satisfied where you don't talk much -- and even ignoring the side dishes, I could not finish the whole plate. 

My belly full and my face and hands in need of a wet-nap, I was surprised for a third time: no wet naps here. Buz and Ned's insists on a sustainable supply chain, and all of the products they use are compostable or biodegradable. Meaning, if a product cannot be broken down naturally by microrganisms, or if a managed process cannot produce compost from it in about 180 days, they will not carry it. So far, there are no wet-naps that meet these criteria. (Unlike the flatware that is made from potato flour, the cups that are made from corn and the to-go containers that are made from sugar cane, for example). So, if you need to wash up, you must go to the rest room and use (presumably biodegradable) soap and water. Quite civilized, I thought.

Is Buz and Ned's the best bbq in Richmond, as claimed?  Well, I enjoyed my meal, and I will happily go again, but I have a ways to go eating my way through all the contenders. Famous Dave's is definitely up there, though it is a chain. Alamo has been highly recommended. Bill's BBQ is ruled out (they do the North Carolina, vinegary, kind, but even so, the food there has a processed, inconsequential feel to it). Where else should I go?

*Note: As a result of "On Fumes Alone", Chris created a bucket list of Richmond restaurants for us to visit. This is the third of such visits. For a full list of visits, click here.

Photo credits: Chris Svoboda

Buz and Ned's Real Barbeque on Urbanspoon

Letter from Linguino (3): Guest Post from San Francisco

A Foodie's Stroll Down Union Street

My dear Antoinette -

My memories of my week's sojourn in SF have faded a bit, but my tastebuds seem to be having no trouble remembering what they experienced there. On Sunday afternoon, we took a stroll down Union Street, where our first stop was Tartine's Bakery and Cafe. Tartine's is located at Union and Guerrero Streets, and is always crowded, according to my SF friends. It won the James Beard Award for Outstanding Pastry Chef in 2008 and has been among the nominees just about every other year in this decade. The cakes and tarts all looked incredibly tempting, but we were hungry and, with some difficulty passed up the sweets.

People also line up here in the late afternoon for a loaf of their legendary bread, which was fortunately just coming out of the oven when we stopped in. So, in addition to the delicious grilled Idiazabal goat cheese and membrillo sandwich we ordered to go, we took home a warm bouley of country bread, which we promptly deposited in the trunk of the car so that we would not be tempted to eat it all before we got it home. The yeasty aroma greeted us later when we all piled in, and probably tortured the poor dog, Toby, who patiently waited in the car while we made our rounds. Fortunately, too, the sandwich we ordered was made on the same bread, so we didn't have to feel too deprived. It was the perfect combination of savory goat cheese and sweet quince paste on a carbohydrate-lover's dream: a slab of the most wonderful, warm, chewy peasant bread with the most nutty, perfectly-baked crust you could ever ask for. If only lunch could be like this every day!

Turns out that it was just as well we didn't pig out on Tartine's pastries, because having room for dessert prompted us to stop in at a new corner shop at 2201 Union St. called "Pacific Puffs", that sells nothing but cream puffs, a niche which San Franciscans probably didn't realize existed until this shop opened last Fall. Two brothers, escapees from lucrative but soul-crushing jobs on Wall Street, opened this bright new blue-and-white tiled shop, using their mother's cream puff recipe, and are making a go of it. One bite of the heavenly cream-filled, chocolate-covered delights and we were hooked! The custard was rich and smooth, the pastry like a perfectly done popover, and the chocolate just the right bittersweet flavor to compliment the rest. We started with the basic vanilla custard, but the sweet almond flavor or the amaretto cream made our eyes pop. Oh, my! I had to buy two more to take home for later!

Next stop was Le Marcel, a doggie bakery where I had to personally check out the goodies that Toby sent to my dog, Marmalade, as a holiday present this year. You have to see these confections to believe them. The cookies and pastries look so appetizing and human that we had to grab a black and white cookie out of grandpa Leroy's hand when they arrived to stop him from eating one. They have names like "Terriermisu", "Border Collie Bliss", "Peanut Mutter Cookie", and "Beagle Bagel", and are made of wholesome ingredients that most of the world's human population can only dream off. Again, we couldn't resist taking a pound of assorted cookies home for Marmalade and friends.

By this time, we needed another little pick-me-up, and just happened to be passing by CocoaBella  at 2102 Union St., one of SF's many artisanal chocolate shops that sells a dazzling variety of gourmet chocolates. CocoaBella is also known for its exotic hot chocolates, which sounded like just the thing on a chilly afternoon. Ordering hot chocolate at CocoaBella is a two-step process, in which you first pick the kind of chocolate you want - milk, dark, bittersweet, or white - and then choose what flavor you want in it, and your hot chocolate is then made-to-order. There is everything from peanut butter to mint, hazelnut, raspberry, caramel, cinnamon, and hot pepper. I was feeling a little overwhelmed, as was my blood-sugar, so ended up with a delicious mochacchino, half cappuccino and half hot chocolate, which we shared, by-passing the jalapeno hot chocolate and other chocolate temptations for another time.

Again, it was good we did, because this left room for one last treat: a scoop of Bi-Rite ice cream, arguably the best in the city. The Bi-Rite Creamery and Bake Shop is located just around the corner from the Bi-Rite Market (a great place for foodies like us to shop, by the way) on 18th and Dolores. The Creamery makes small batches of hand-crafted ice creams and sorbets, using local, organic ingredients, including Straus Family Dairy milk - which is milk from grass-fed cows. I had the salted caramel on a sugar cone, mostly because this is the flavor that my friends had been raving about since we didn't have a chance to go last year when I visited. They apparently often drive the 20 minutes from their house in Diamond Heights to wait another 20-30 minutes on the Bi-Rite line that on balmy nights stretches around the block just for a scoop of their salted caramel ice cream - and one lick told me why. The sweet, creamy caramel flavor hits you first, but then the salt kicks in and sends you over the moon! Good thing I don't live in SF, or I would be there every night! Mmmmm! I can taste it now!

Your friend and correspondent,


Tartine Bakery on Urbanspoon

Pacific Puffs  on Urbanspoon

Bi-Rite Creamery and Bake Shop on Urbanspoon

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Letter from Linguino (2): Guest Post from San Francisco

My dear Antoinette,

At long last, I am able to return to describing some of the other gastronomic delights that I encountered on my recent trip to SF. As I wrote in my first installment, despite having made an ambitious number of reservations at area restaurants, we ended up eating out only two other nights. One of those nights, we tried another new entry in the SF restaurant scene, Local Mission Eatery, which George had heard good things about. It is a small storefront place on 24th Street in, you guessed it, the Mission District, where something of a restaurant renaissance is in progress. We liked its rustic modern decor and youthful edginess immediately. It was lively and packed even though we were there in the middle of the week and early in the evening, which we took to be another good sign. We were escorted to the back, past thick wood shelves with cookbooks and plants in sconces (I think they are called "hipsters" now) decorating the brick wall on one side and past the open kitchen, bustling with activity on the other. We were seated at a high table on bar chairs, which afforded a view into the kitchen, as well as the back of the restaurant, which contained what appeared to be a shop or cafe and, behind a glass window, a bakery. The space, it turns out, is shared with the Knead Patisserie, closed when we were there, which produces the desserts for the Local and the pastries for the brunch offered on weekends.

All of the food, as it says on the menu, is "entirely local, humane, and homemade", and the various farms that produce the ingredients for all of the dishes are also listed on the menu (available on line). The menu is limited, but changes daily, depending on what is available from suppliers, and the food is all very fresh. We may have ordered the wrong dishes the night we were there, but we were slightly disappointed in the blandness of the farfalle with wild mushrooms and nettles, the squid, served with tiny cubes of butternut squash, black rice, fennel, and blood orange, and even the lamb meatballs, served with heirloom beans, chard, and goat cheese. Sounds like it should have knocked our socks off, right? But didn't. We did love the asparagus soup, the chocolate pain perdu for dessert, and a local beer from Napa (Napa Smith) that was sweet and nutty and a better value than the wines by the glass from the same area. Sadly, the much-touted Four Barrel french press coffee also only seemed to be firing on two barrels that night, so we went home a little disappointed and not sure we would go back.

Not to worry, though. The next night we went for pizza which, as you know, is one of the major food groups as far as my friend George is concerned. He has been known to fly clear across the country for a slice of his favorite pizza (which used to be Ray's when we were in grad school, now "Ray's Famous" with several locations in Manhattan and not quite the same). But this time, George's favorite pizza had flown across the country to him! George had been telling me about a place that had opened in SF just after my previous visit last year called Una Pizza Napoletano, which had actually first opened in 2004 in the East Village in NYC but had moved to SF last year to George's delight. It is located in the warehouse district of SF at 11th and Howard Streets in an industrial-looking, high-ceilinged room, devoid of decoration and devoted entirely to the pizza.

You MUST check out the website and watch the videos to get the real flavor of the experience. The whole place is like entering a shrine or cathedral to the purity and perfection of pizza, with Anthony Mangieri, the proprietor and master pizza-maker, the pizza priest. As you walk in, there is Tony (as his devout followers affectionately call him), behind the marble-top altar, separated by a metal railing from his flock (who regularly form a line out the door, waiting for a table), lost in concentration, with every visible inch of his skin covered in tatoos, expertly shaping the crust and assembling the 12-inch pies that he then carefully places one at a time in the blue-tiled, beehive-shaped wood-fired oven behind him. Tony has dedicated his life to pizza-making, and imports all of his ingredients (and I do mean ALL) from Naples (Italy). From the flour for the dough to the olive oil and buffalo mozzarella, he says that he has been unable to find anything up to his standards anywhere else. He is such a perfectionist that, as he tells the story in the video entitled "Obsessives: Pizza", he actually tore down the first brick pizza oven he had built in his NYC location because it wasn't heating evenly enough and rebuilt the whole thing from scratch. The first video, entitled "Naturally Risen", (with obvious allusions to the religious atmosphere that Una Pizza evokes), shows the meticulous method by which Tony makes his pizza, all set to appropriately spiritual-sounding music. But the other two videos available on his website, "Pure & Simple" and "Obsessives Pizza", tell his story in his own words and give you a real appreciation for what this guy puts into his pizza-making.

So, what about the pizza itself? Well, I have to say that the crust, which is the real focus of Tony's craft, is the best I have ever tasted. It was substantial and chewy, but light enough that one person can easily consume an entire 12 inch pie without regreting it. There was a delicious and distinctive, but not over-powering, wood oven flavor to it, and the crust was crunchy and stood up to the sauce without being either sogged or brittle. Tony is a minimalist and, as he explains in his videos, does not believe in a lot of fancy toppings. So, he has only four pies on the menu, all with essentially the same ingredients in varying combinations. The sauce, cheese, olive oil, tomatoes, arugula, and salt were all fresh and blended together perfectly. It was like a gastronomic version of a great performance of a Mozart or Haydn symphony, in which you can hear each instrument distinctly but the total effect is both balanced and perfectly blended and nuanced. Ironically, though, Tony's extra-ordinary crust is one of the few that really could stand up to a greater variety of toppings with even stronger flavors, so I was a bit sorry, after sampling the four pies that we ordered for four of us, that there wasn't more choice on the menu. However, that was my only complaint, and I am longing, as I write this, for another of Tony's perfect pies right now!

That's it for this installment. I will send my third and final one later. But first I need to eat something!

Regards from your faithful correspondent and friend,


Local: Mission Eatery on Urbanspoon

Una Pizza Napoletana on Urbanspoon

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Parting Gestures

The little things are important, food bloggers have been saying lately. They can make a good meal great, a great meal sublime, or sometimes they are just notable in their own right. This post is dedicated to two restaurants where the parting gestures were the most memorable aspects of the experience: Can Can Brasserie in Richmond, VA, and Corduroy in Washington, DC.

Pay them a visit; Orbitz promotional codes are available if you are out of state.

Can Can Brasserie

After seeing the movie Julie and Julia, which I happened to see in Richmond, I proceeded directly to dine at Can Can Brasserie. I could think of no better place to prolong the illusion of being in 1920's Paris. Can Can, after all, is all about illusion: it is a copy of Balthazar in New York, which in turn is a replica of countless Parisian brasseries. In the heart of the simulacrum, I could pretend that I was in a world in which dining was a significant cultural event, and in which the highest culinary standards were maintained. Can Can recreates the setting so well that it is hard to claim that the food is mediocre and overpriced. Under the spell of Meryl Streep's Julia, I was unable to do so, but after a second, more clear-eyed, visit, that was my regrettable conclusion.

Yet there was one unusual standard that was maintained. I had once been told that the mark of a superior restaurant was that if a diner requested that left-overs be packed up to take home, a "doggy bag" should not be delivered directly to the table. This would force the diners to contend with an inelegant plastic bag while they were trying to enjoy their coffee and dessert. Even the by now hackneyed silverfoil swan is considered to be an intrusion on the procession of the meal. Rather, diners should be given their to-go bag once the meal is concluded, the check paid, and they are ready to depart the restaurant.  Since hearing of this standard, however, I had only ever found one restaurant which upheld it, and that was Babbo's in New York. So I was surprised and impressed when I found that Can Can, too, eschewed the doggy-bag for a discreet claim check, to be presented to the hostess on the way out. If appearance is everything, then Can Can takes this very seriously indeed.


I visited Corduroy in the dog days of summer, a time when the D.C. political class empties out for vacation, the traffic calms down, and restaurant reservations are unnecessary. The good part about this lull is that we year-round residents finally have the place to ourselves, including easy access to usually brimming restaurants. But is it worth it if the top chefs similarly decamp? This is what I found myself wondering at Corduroy, which on that August evening seemed sleepily formal and lacking in verve. I don't know for a fact that the kitchen had been handed over to the farm team, but  the signature cuisine that has been praised as exciting yet simple never materialized. Like the elderly clientele, the food was well turned out but subdued.

On the other hand, the waitstaff was as attentive and knowledgable as could be. And at the end of the evening, the edge was taken off our disappointment about the food when our waitperson escorted us to the street, hailed a cab, and gently saw us into the waiting vehicle. Apparantly this cradle-to-grave attention is a routine part of the service: Tom Sietsema reports that a waiter insisted on escorting one in his party to the restroom. While that seems a little stifling to me, the cab service was a nice touch, a parting gesture that sent us on our way on a sweet rather than sour note.

Can Can Brasserie on Urbanspoon

Corduroy on Urbanspoon