Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Falafel Gone Global

Rock music bounces off brick walls and I bite into my falafel with equal ferocity. I am in Amsterdam Falafel in Adams Morgan, or is it Amsterdam? The street sign reads an address in Dutch. The white board feels the need to tell us that the brownies are virgin. And they take euros. But I am taken back to another place.

To tales of my mother, a sleepwalker as a child, munching on an imaginary falafel as she roamed the Tel Aviv house at night. Images of falafel stands in Haifa, with their displays of salads piled high, pickles and condiments that found their way into my dissertation. “The king of falafel,” they boast in Hebrew. But the icon of Israeli cuisine is a product of Palestinian businesses.

Amsterdam Falafel is falafel on steroids. The basic toppings at the Haifa stands explode into a profusion of varieties: smoky eggplant salad; pickled beets, pale pink turnips and shredded red cabbage, coriander flecked chickpeas, fried eggplant, three kinds of green hot sauce. Limitless tahini from the fountain. I crush the falafel balls inside the pita, the way the instructions on the board advise. This way I can fit more toppings in. After several visits, I hit on a perfect combination: the smoky eggplant plays beautifully off the sweet stringency of the pickled beets. Still, I cannot relinquish the classical diced cucumber and tomato salad; it’s part of the basic palette of falafel, just like the tahini. So those go in as well.

I take a seat at the counter by the wall and dig in to Led Zeppelin. As I eat my way through the falafel, I see I have perfected the art of creating a uniform sandwich all the way down. The texture of the deep fried garbanzos – the falafel itself -- is sturdy enough to hold its own against the toppings, so it tastes like a falafel and salad platter, only vertical.

Eventually, I start getting full. As I slow down my eating, the music changes to reggae. Bob Marley weeping for Zion.

Amsterdam Falafelshop on Urbanspoon

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Dishes to Die For Year-in-Review: The Best of the Best

This month is the one year anniversary of Dishes to Die For. To mark the occasion, I have compiled an overview of the DC-area restaurants where I have had my best meals in the past year. I've organized them by category, and indicated the specific dishes to die for in parentheses. You can read the original posts by clicking on the name of the restaurant.

Best Fine Dining: Ris (caesar salad, Autumn Woods Pasta, pecan carrot cake)

Best Casual Dining: Nando's (chicken peri-peri, coleslaw, Adega white wine)

Best Appetizer: Dino (prosciutto)

Best Dessert: Agora (Aegean Delight)

Best Ethnic: Huong Viet (lemongrass mussels, lychee bubble tea)

Best Sandwich: Fig's Fine Foods  (labneh and za'atar on Barbari bread)

Best Pizza: Casa Nonna (The Nonna)

Best Beer: Roscoe's (St. Peter's Organic Ale) 
Best Service: Zola

These were truly memorable experiences that have stayed with me the whole year. Thanks to those who created them!

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Frugal or Fru-Fru?

In the past month, I have twice been asked to reach out to readers. The first was a request from DC-365, who is doing a foodie survey. The survey seeks to learn more about who DC food bloggers and their readers are, and towards the end, it includes a very interesting question: do readers want bloggers to write more about frugal living?

The second request was from Big Fuel Communications, a social media agent that is promoting a "Culinary Campaign" for Cadillac. Cadillac's hypothesis is that people who like fine food also like fine cars. Their campaign involves events across the country where people can watch celebrity chefs face off against each other and then get to test-drive Cadillacs. And who better to reach this potential market than regional food bloggers? Which is why they invited bloggers like myself to be judges of the culinary challenge in Reston, VA.

So which is it? Are foodie readers frugal or fru-fru? Are they increasingly slimming down their lifestyles for health, economic, and sustainability reasons (which is what DC-365 would like to know), or are they high value consumers of luxury products (which is what Cadillac is betting on)?  Is it possible to be both?

Help us find out by taking DC-365's survey. Click here.
Want to learn more about the Cadillac Challenge in Reston? Click here

And feel free to leave additional comments in my comment box below.



Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Burger Bookends – a burger to die for and one to die from

Guest Post by Chris

Imagine, if you will, an Iron Chef-like bacon cheeseburger challenge. The ingredients: beef, cheese, onion, bacon, greens and tomatoes. The unknowing challengers: Bistro Bethem of Fredericksburg, VA and Cine Bistro of Richmond, VA. One is a good hour drive from my house and the other only 10 minutes. I will gladly drive the hour to have another burger at Bistro Bethem; the trip to Cine Bistro is not worth the gas.

Bethem’s creation was the most beautiful and greatest tasting burger EVER!!!! (and I’ve eaten QUITE a few). Their burger was made with Painted Hills Ranch all natural American Kobe beef, asiago, caramelized onions, bacon aioli, pea shoots, tomato and shoestring potatoes, all piled as high as a Jenga tower. The burger was thick, juicy and hot, the onions perfectly caramelized, the cheese not too soft and not too melted, the bun (aaah, the bun) toasted and branded on top with a “B”, nice touch. But what was a most wonderful surprise was the fresh crisp crunch of the pea shoots piled high on the burger complemented nicely by the crispy shoestring potatoes. YUM!


Words don’t exist to describe this burger. Which is why after pretty much every bite (with my mouth full) I mumbled “oh my god this is the best burger I’ve ever tasted”. By the fifth bite Davida said I either had to write a post about it or shut up. You can see how that ended.

Cine Bistro, a new take in the dining-while-watching-a-movie concept, is another story. I eagerly placed my order for their Double Feature Burger – Black Angus Beef, Smithfield bacon, cheddar cheese, red onions, lettuce, tomatoes, pickles and special sauce. What a perfect night this was going to be – a movie, a great burger, a Red Stripe and thick cozy chairs to sink into.

Moments after our order arrived, we discovered that there is something inherently wrong with the way they run their food operation. The overcooked burger appeared to have been pre-cooked and heated up prior to being served. The special sauce was non-existent. I requested ketchup and mustard because a burger as dry as this one needed something to make it edible (and the Red Stripe alone wasn’t going to cut it). I then waited, and waited, and waited. Then I asked a different waiter. And got to wait some more. By the time the condiments finally arrived, most diners had finished their meals and my burger was cold, the bun soggy and the cheese a limp gelatinous piece of rubber. At this point not even the condiments were going to save it. It should also be noted that this burger was so bad that I don’t even remember what movie we saw that night. The burger disaster far overshadowed the film.

They were both dealt the same hands, but for a mere 3 dollars more, Bistro Bethem’s $16 burger was hands down the winner.

Overall comments about the bistros:

Bistro Bethem: Bistro Bethem has never disappointed.  Their ever-changing menu is always original and when coupled with perfect preparation and presentation, is a guaranteed palate pleaser.

Cine Bistro: I now understand why patrons must pay their tab including 17% gratuity BEFORE being served.  It’s so when you realize that it’s the worst service ever, you have no recourse.

Bistro Bethem on Urbanspoon

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Summer BBQ Banh Mi Burgers

So, I am on this Vietnamese food kick (for context see my previous post), and I just happened to find this recipe for Banh Mi Burgers -- perfect for summer!  I tried it out, with great results. This recipe is for 4 people, but can be multiplied to fit the size of your bbq.

For the burgers:

1 1/2 lbs ground chuck
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper 
1 1/2 tsp curry powder

For the toppings

2 carrots, coarsely shredded
1/4 cup unseasoned rice vinegar
1 tbs sugar
2 pickled jalapenos, thinly sliced
12 cilantro sprigs

1 baguette, quartered and split

1. Mix carrots, rice vinegar and sugar, and let stand 10 minutes. Drain.
2. Mix curry power, salt and pepper and the chuck, and form into oval patties about an inch thick. Grill to taste.
3. Split the baguettes and fill with grilled burgers, marinated carrots, jalapenos and cilantro.


Toast the baguette on the grill
Add a smear of tabasco mayonnaise (whisk 2 tbs tabasco, 2 tsp tomato paste,  minced garlic clove and salt and pepper in 1/2 cup of mayonnaise)
Use fresh jalapenos instead of pickled
Fresh basil can be an additional topping


Pick up shredded carrots from the salad bar in your supermarket.

Recipe adapted from Food & Wine