Sunday, January 29, 2012

Miriam's Kitchen Annual Gala: A Preview

It's only January, but already the planning for Miriam's Kitchen's annual gala is seriously underway. This year's theme is A Road Trip Across America, and the MK volunteers are practicing their submissions for the menu.

Yes, that's right: the food at this benefit for Miriam's Kitchen is all prepared by the volunteers, many of whom are dedicated foodies in their own right and who share MK's commitment to making fresh food from scratch. Take for example Tali Bar-Shalom, who is developing a dish to represent San Francisco's Chinatown. She started off with dan-dan noodles, a Chinatown staple of thin wheat noodles topped with spicy Szechuan peanut sauce. She makes the sauce starting with raw peanuts -- no peanut butter shortcuts here -- and toasts and grinds the peppercorns herself. Building from a basic recipe, next she reached for a fusion approach, replacing the noodles with jicama. I was lucky enough to get to sample this creation:

Dan-Dan Jicama Salad

This is an evolving dish, so there is no telling what its ultimate form will be, though Tali is currently experimenting with a nut-free version. All I can say is, if this is any indication of the quality of the food at the gala, this is going to be one good foodie event. Damn that was good dan-dan!

The gala will be held in May at the National Building Museum.
Watch the Miriam's Kitchen website for details about tickets, location and price.

Tali's Dan-Dan Noodles, with jicama variation

1/2 c shelled raw peanuts
1/4 c peanut oil
1 sm garlic clove, cut into a few pieces
1/2 medium jalapeno, minced (no seeds)
18g ginger after peeling (a big knuckle), minced (amount is a little flexible)
1/2 tsp szechuan peppercorns, toasted then ground
2.5 TB soy sauce
2 TB water
1.5 TB seasoned rice wine vinegar
1 TB sugar
1/2 to 1 TB sriracha sauce
1 tsp sesame oil
1/4 tsp kosher salt

1. Cook peanuts in oil about 5-7 min, they will begin to brown, let cool a little bit
2. Put peanuts/oil into food processor and pulse to coarse grind
3. Add ginger, garlic and jalapeno, pulse to mix well
4. Add all other ingredients and pulse to mix well, then taste

Boil thin noodles, rinse and shake dry, add peanut sauce and stir well. Top with toasted sesame seeds and slivers of chives.

Alternate serving: peel and slice jicama into matchsticks, put a dollop of warm peanut sauce and sprinkle on sesame seeds and chives.

Yields about half a pint -- easily four servings.

Adapted from Food and Wine

Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Wine Hussy: Finds of the Week (3)

In a small town in Virginia, in the heart of wine country, I discovered the perfect chardonnay. The French Restaurant Pomme's private label is made by the nearby White Hall Vineyards, where it is first aged in oak and then held in stainless steel for ten months, just the way I like it. Pomme could not sell me any retail bottles, so I am hoping that the chardonnay under White Hall's own label is just the same. I will update this post when I find out!

Restaurant Pomme, Gordonsville, VA

Fact-check: Yes! White Hall Vineyard's 2008 Chardonnay is superb. Clean as a basketball passing through the rim without touching the sides. Nothin' but wet.

Where to get it in DC: De Vino carries a rotating selection of White Hall wines. If they don't have the Chardonnay in stock, they will order it and have it available within two days.

Photo credit: Chris Svoboda

Restaurant Pomme on Urbanspoon

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Union Station: A Foodie's Picks

I've been working near Union Station for a little over four years now, and during that time, I have had lunch at just about every dining establishment in the area. Multiple times, in many cases. So here are my picks of the best food the Station and its immediate vicinity has to offer.

Restaurant: East Street Cafe, a Pan-Asian restaurant on the upper level of Union Station, has the best grilled veggies in the city, bar none.

Fast-Food: Chipotle's Burrito Basket is always satisfying. When I learned how many calories there are in a tortilla, I turned to this bread-free option and have never looked back. Awesome jasmine rice and corn salsa.

Sandwiches: If it's a plain ole sandwich you want,  you would do well to venture a block and half outside the station to Cafe Phillips, where you can get freshly roasted turkey, ham or roast beef carved off the bone. And the bread is so much better than at those chains in the station which present themselves as "bakeries" (you know which ones I mean). Don't expect any fancy combinations or trendy names for the sandwiches -- just quality ingredients. Turn right out of the main entrance of Union Station, and walk a short block down Massachusetts Avenue. At the intersection, continue half a block down F Street and you're there! Cash only.

East Street Cafe on Urbanspoon

Cafe Phillips on Urbanspoon

Food Court in Union Station on Urbanspoon

Sunday, January 8, 2012


It had been a while since we had gone to a nice restaurant, and I wrapped a silk scarf around my neck for the occasion. Fiola! I had missed the Maestro in his heyday at Tyson's Corner, and word had it that the food at Chef Fabio Trabocchi's new incarnation was more rustic. Still, I could tell by the pictures and some of the press that this was a fine dining establishment. Some critics had been disparaging of the attempt to fuse simplicity with sophistication, and many had pointed to the high prices charged for what was supposed to be a more accessible trattoria.

And so I was on my best dining behavior as we were led to our table in the beautifully appointed dining room. And remained so, as I savored the buttery dinner roll that was as delectable as it was reputed to be, and the salads that lived up to their exquisite reputations. But all of this changed abruptly with my first bite of the main course: branzino braised in olive oil, with leeks, malpeque oysters, and lemon-prosecco zabaglione.


I don't know if you can imagine how these contrasting flavors combined to inflame the passions, but before I knew it, I was ripping off that silk scarf and rolling up my sleeves. The mild fish flavor of the branzino was coyly dressed in the delicate zabaglione, with egg whites whipped as light and frothy as can be. But just as I was becoming attuned to this refined and mellow timbre, out popped a briny oyster, trumpeting its presence. That in turn gave courage to the prosecco, which revealed itself more with each bite. Every now and again, the leeks snuggled up close to the branzino, which could now no longer be described as coy. No, this was definitely not a dish to eat while wearing a prim scarf. I needed there to be as little between me and it as possible.

Perhaps it is the element of surprise -- a surprise planned by a mischievous mind -- that resonated so well with me. There was evidence of it as well in Chris' dessert, which was by turns hard and soft and sweet and creamy. Such food deserves to be eaten without awareness of time passing. Alas, the service at Fiola is rushed, and no matter how divine the food, it cannot transcend the feeling diners are given of being processed through the meal and ejected at the other side, the table vacated for the next reservation. In the end, Fiola felt neither refined nor rustic, but more like a corporate mill. An opera turned into an operation.

There is much talk of the bargain-priced power lunch served during the week at the bar. With no expectation of lingering, this might be the better way to enjoy Chef Fabio's genius.

Fiola on Urbanspoon