Friday, May 13, 2011

My Ochazuke

OMG.  I was recently impressed by Girl Meets Food’s post on ochazuke. Ochazuke, she tells us, means “submerged in tea” in Japanese, and is really a way to use up leftover rice by “slapping some hot tea over it.”

Inspired by her suggestions of additional ingredients that could make the dish more substantial, and in need of a quick meal last night, I decided to give it a go at home. This is how it turned out:

I started by brewing some Aveda “Reconfortant” tea (the last teabag of a box ), pouring that over leftover brown rice, and stirring in a teaspoonful of tamarind concentrate (purchased from the Thai Market in Silver Spring when I was on an Asian food kick some months ago.) To that I added cooked shrimp (I keep Trader Joe’s in the freezer), sliced roasted beets, slices of pickled garlic and pearl onions, and chopped scallion. Stuck it in the microwave for a couple of minutes, and had a fantastic  meal. I love the way the red of the beets leached into the tea.
To do this, I used only leftover bits and pieces I had on hand, so I encourage you to go with your instincts and use whatever is lying around waiting to be used up. This was a great thing to be able to throw together on the eve of my vacation, frantic as I am trying to get last minute things done, so thanks, Mary!

From tomorrow, I’ll be offline for two whole weeks.  See you in June!

Update December 18, 2011: Many months after my original post, I stopped by Teaism in Dupont Circle, and spied ochazuke on the menu. Since Girl Meets Food had mentioned Teaism in her post, I decided to try it out at the source.

To my surprise, the dish comes served as a pot of green tea and a bowlful of dry ingredients. I admit I was intimidated at the prospect of pouring tea over my food in a restaurant! But that is what I did, as strange as it felt.

Salmon ochazuke

Teaism's version was blander than mine, and definitely needed the crunchy seaweed toppings to perk it up. I think it is safe for you to continue trying this at home.

Teaism on Urbanspoon

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Petits Plats

Dishes To Die For: Belgian endive salad with roquefort; baguette; Lalande de Pomerol

My friend Michael was back in DC after a two year posting in Nepal, and we were looking for a place to reconnect. "The food is not that important to me," he said, "let's just find a cozy place where we can be comfortable and talk." I knew what he meant. It's not that he is indifferent to food. But celebrity chefs, designer dining rooms, and innovative cuisine would be a distraction. We needed a place where good food could be taken for granted and not be the star, a place where where we could enjoy a meal together rather than have the food as a third character at our table.

We opted for Petits Plats, located in a townhouse at the north end of Woodley Park's restaurant row.  Worn wooden floors and pale yellow walls greeted us as we entered. Although it was a weekday night, each of the rooms was packed and we definitely needed the reservation that Michael had made. We were ushered past what used to be the front parlor on the left (now hosting a private dinner party), the small but seductive bar in the lobby, and the living room beyond (where guests in formal wear stood chatting near the fireplace), up the staircase to a second floor room at the back of the house.

Despite its name, Petits Plats predates the deluge of small plates restaurants and offers traditional French food. In fact, "petits plats" in the French sense, does not mean small plates at all, but rather is a term of endearment for simple but good dishes that have the potential to be "mastered into exquisiteness". And that is exactly what I felt about the food on that particular night.

The wine list started with a 2005 Bordeaux for $25 and a Pomerol for $45 (and went up from there). This immediately told me that the selection was designed to offer quality wines within human reach, that the management would rather make good wine affordable than allow mediocre wine to ruin a meal, even if it meant cutting in to their own margins. We chose the Pomerol, which although not the finest of this designation, I knew to be good value. And it was perfect, the kind of wine that makes you understand why the French drink wine on a daily basis, and why, therefore, it must be affordable (adjusting for DC prices, that is!)

To start I ordered the belgian endive salad with roquefort, walnut, and apple.  I worried a little when the salad arrived seemingly drenched in dressing. (I had imagined chunks of cheese rather than a creamy dressing). But upon first bite, I found that the creamy part was very light, just enough to coat the leaves, and the chunky parts were solid enough to impart the depth of sensation that you want from good cheese. Paired with one of the best crusty baguettes I have ever had, I could not have asked for anything more.

All of this basic perfection put us at ease, lifted our spirits, and launched us into getting reacquainted. By the time the entrees arrived we were deep in conversation. If my venison was a bit on the dry side, well, by now I was feeling quite tolerant....especially because Michael's beef bourguignon was a stand out, an old standard taken to a level I did not know existed. "Mastered into exquisiteness" really is the only way to describe it.

Since we were not ready for the evening to end, we decided to order dessert. The waiter nodded approvingly at our choice of tarte tatin. I wouldn't say this was the best dessert I have ever had, but it did give me a new insight. The sweetness finished off the meal in a way that suddenly seemed indispensable to its completeness. Leaving those savory notes to linger in the air would have been like stopping a musical performance before the finale. I often waver about whether to have dessert, but now I think I will adopt a new criterion: if the meal is that good, it deserves to be finished properly. If not, well I have been known to walk of out a show before its conclusion...

Finally, sated, we got up from the table to leave. As we reached the bottom of the staircase, Michael turned halfway round and gazed up at it. "You can almost imagine when people lived in this house," he said. Yes, the interior of Petits Plats still feels like the home it once was, an apt setting for the bon petits plats, the simple dishes it does so well. And it was the perfect place to welcome Michael home.

Petits Plats on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Tasting Notes Brazil: Caipirinha Catalog

A belated posting from my March trip to Brazil. A notable addition to my caipirinha catalog: served with a lime juice popsicle in Bier Fass restaurant on the shores of Lake Paranoa in Brasilia. A thrilling moment -- my need to share it overrides the grainy cell phone picture. Thanks to Taryn for sharing these with me!