Friday, September 30, 2005

Celebrating Mediterranean Cuisine

The Greeks and Turks under one roof?

They have battled over foreign aid, the World Cup title and Cyprus, but what about the best cultural festival in Washington?

This weekend, two rival countries —Greek and Turkey— will host all-day festivals in downtown DC. Forget their historical differences, who will offer the best food?

The 3rd Annual Turkish Festival (located on Pennsylvania Ave., between 12th and 14th streets) promises kabobs, vegetable dishes, and other sweet and savory cuisine from Washington's best Turkish restaurants. Lasting all-day Sunday from 10AM- 6PM, this event kicks off the "Discover the Treasures of Turkey" series scheduled through November. If phyllo dough, grape leaves and kofte gets you going, this is your match.

But mediterranean food is mediterrean food, so either way you'll go home with a stomach full of baklava. If you're feeling up to an adventure across the Aegean Sea to visit the Greeks as well, conveniently just a few Metro stops away, then head to Saint Sophia's Greek Orthodox Cathedral (located on the corner of Massachusetts and 36th, NW). Gorge on feta this or olive that in your roomy toga at the annual Fall festival, which will take place on both Saturday, Oct. 1st and Sunday, Oct. 2nd.

If Greece seems too far down Mass Ave. on Sunday, then fear not. You'll get another go at the Greeks next weekend at the annual St. Katherine Fall Greek Festival in Falls Church (located at 3149 Glen Carlyn Road, Falls Church, Virginia). The festival promises "homemade Greek food and pastries," which is a little vague and the blurred images on the website don't offer much. At least people will be breaking plates and yelling Opa? Check out Katherine next Friday, Oct. 7th from 11AM-10PM; Saturday, Oct. 8th from 11 AM -10 PM; and Sunday, Oct. 9th from noon-9 PM.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Peanut Envy

It all started last year when peanut butter-and-jelly-addict and full-time tech worker Colin decided that his daily average of 1.5 sandwiches could be transformed into a catering side-project. Along with his wife Mary, the head baker at Cake Love, the two collected imported jams and gourmet nut spreads from all over and perfected the art of PB&JPeanut Envy was born.

Before long, Colin and Mary were catering Bar Mitzvahs, children’s birthday parties and even a wedding. (The bride wanted a snack break in between her make-up appointment and the ceremony. Each of the bridesmaids recieved a logoed Peanut Envy hat to accessorize their gowns.)

If this original Peanut Butter and Jelly catering service (soon-to-be Bar) was quiet or unknown to Washingtonians before, all of this changed a couple weeks ago on Adams Morgan Day. Rows of jams, preserves, crunchy (and smooth) peanut butters, almond butters, even cashew butter made the booth stand out in the midst of Ethiopian cuisine and mixed fruit cups.

Similar to barbecue sauce at Old Glory, each region and family recipe is represented. Mary's motto is simple, "if people want Skippy chunky, well then they deserve the Skippy chunky." She wants her customers to have the dead-on carbon copy of the sandwich grandma once made, so the two have gone to great lengths to find every possible nut or fruity spread.

The set-up reminds me of the growing Cereality chain— an alternative "bar" in Philly, Chicago and Tempe serving well, cereal, a simple childhood snack that can breed umpteen possibilities. Hot or cold, fruity or oaty, with soy milk or whole. The same diversity goes for peanut butter, a genre expanding and constantly opening its doors to more convenient and more international counterparts.

Make way for Smucker's Goober Grape, Marshmallow Fluff and what almost seems an American household name now, Nutella. The peanut butter aisle is growing fast, faster than we can say Got Milk?

On Adams Morgan Day, the booth offered five customized creations (ranging in price from $4-5) including my pick, the Banana Butter Krunch-- "wholesome banana bread with creamy peanut butter and animal crackers, served open face. "

Whether the animal cracker is a cookie or cracker is still under debate, but one thing is for sure, this town needs some bars other than Third Edition and Smith's Point.

The Adams Morgan Day menu also offered combos with Coco Puffs and Cinnamon Sugared Potato Bread, and of course Nutella (Mary's favorite). The Peanut Envy catering menu has equally creative masterpieces, like Lemony Snickers— A Series of Fortunate Sandwiches. Needless to say, the husband-and-wife team has spent many restless nights (these kind are in the kitchen), slaving away at potential Colin-and-Mary originals.

But never feel restricted by the menu — Peanut Envy encourages customers to be creative. Feel free to let the PB&J permutations go on longer than pi ever dreamed.

Cereality's motto said it best: "Introducing a brand new place with absolutely nothing new." Nothing about Peanut Envy is too serious (or new), but the craft of locating every possible imported jam or nut spread is serious, seriously nuts. They've done the hard work, now it's your turn to be a kid.

Colin and Mary plan to open their "flagship store" in 2006. Location is still being researched—Silver Spring and Chinatown area are two possibilities. For now, the two will stick to catering local Washington events including the Merryfield Fall Festival on October 22, and the Turkey Chase 10K Race in Bethesda on Thanksgiving Day. In the meantime, there are plenty of private parties begging for crustless or diagonally-sliced sandwiches and besides, Colin and Mary still have full-time jobs, one of them at the most acclaimed bakery in the District.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

in the mags: martinis

Step aside Washingtonian..check out what your little brothers and sisters have to say about grown-up drinks.

We've read the papers—Roberts was sworn in and DeLay indicted, now let's get to the real juice: martinis. The District welcomes three new lifestyle magazines and each has their own take on the city's best martini.

Capitol File, the "fattest and glossiest" of the new mags (and notorious for its excessive but gorgeous ads) features local bartender Derek Brown and his favorite cocktail, the Old Thyme Martini. I searched high and low for a recipe online and finally, after spending a bit of thyme and energy, grabbed ahold of this one.

DC Style— the prudish one that refuses to run any negative restaurant reviews— highlights the almost-martini cocktail at Taberna del Alabardero, a rum drink called the Sangritini. Side note, DC Style's online dining guide is weak with restaurant reviews only a few sentences long and coverage sticking to the bland basics, like location and ethnicity. However! the Mie N Yu review offers a Style Club perk (the mag's twenty buck membership deal which includes a one-year subscription and "exclusive" invites to the area's "most fashionable establishments"): Mie N Yu created the "Social Butterfly" martini exclusively for Style Club members. The fusion combines Strawberry & Rhubarb-infused vodka with fruit juices and sparkly wine, at only $8! (Their normal martinis run from $12-14). Sadly, I was seduced by the bio of the Indian Rose ($12) once, "as delicate as the treasured roses of Mughal Garden in India." I'd like to call myself a fan of gin, apricot brandy and rose water (and treasured Indian roses), but the tri-combo, absolute ick.

And lastly, DC, the most superficial and least publicized of them all, offers nothing substantive just substance-abusing DC socialite buzz, along with bartender Michael Brown's tini choice —the Ritz's signature Fahrenheit Five Martini.

martini preferences based on the Post's report by Peter Carlson.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Snap hits the Post!

yay for Margarita and her snappy crepes making it big! i knew it was only a matter of time before the world smelled her crepe batter.

read the Washington Post's review of snap from yesterday's Food section. and refer back to my first posting !

Tom gets sarcastic

my favorite bit from yesterday's Ask Tom.


Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C.: Tom--Do your ID cards carry your real picture or that little illustration at the top of the chat page?

Tom Sietsema: Take a guess.


Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Bethesda's Union Jack

The British Are Coming!

It’s been an up-and-down year for the British—an American buys Manchester United, London wins the bid for the 2012 Olympics and now the disappointment of Union Jack, their “first authentic pub” this side of the Atlantic which opened last month in Bethesda.

Named after the flag of the United Kingdom, the new restaurant is meant to mimic an old, stuffy bar in its décor, hospitality and hearty pub fare, but the word “mimic” is key. Artificial ivy vines scallop the exposed brick walls, overlapping plastic nouveau signs pointing to Piccadilly Square. There are glossy crests, but with their fake veneer they reflect mirror images of ale drinkers behind the bar counter, not the generations of a noble family history.

The menu is expansive and can be overwhelming. Detailed dishes span six pages, and most are named after British celebs, political figures and downtown landmarks, described with quirky wit and spunk, characteristic of British humor. (At least they scored on authenticity here.)

Take the Pink Floyd oven fresh pizza ($8.95) - covered in mushrooms since naturally, “these boys prefer the shrooms.” Or the Boy George Sandwich ($7.50), made with grilled portabellas because “George is definitely a salad guy.” Harry Potter’s Menu is “for the kiddies” and each of the Jack burgers are named after a Beatle, with John, Paul, George and Ringo all in attendance.

The waiter admitted it was his first day and his frequent, nervous check-ups on the table proved his inexperience. But faults aside, the man was the spitting image of Britain’s greatest hip hopper Ali G. Another, perhaps unexpected, point for authenticity.

The Ali look-alike immediately recommended the Shepherds Pie and went over the extensive “Serems and Potions” list, which included everything from Bass Ale to Guinness on tap to British imported Woodpecker Apple Cider.

Everything about the bar wants so badly to be traditionally British. The wood panels want to be old; the leather booths wish they could be upholstered and dark crimson, stained with the scent of pipes. But they aren’t, and the pub cuisine is just as uncomfortable.

Congealed cheddar cheese covered mashed potatoes that blanketed bits of ground beef and mixed veggie mush. Easily passing for a microwaveable Lean Cuisine, the Shepherds Pie tasted straight from a can or out of a box. In the Pie’s defense, a Princess Di house salad came on the side. (She’s the small, the Fergy is the next size up)

The Fish n’ Chips tasted like Gorton’s—think yellow box in the frozen food aisle. Even more unfortunate, the plate was served sans vinegar. Ouch. A British tradition completely ignored.

The Welsh Rarebit ($5.95), a Wales-inspired blend of cheeses seasoned with beer, mustard and spices atop rye toast and garnished with tomatoes, was basically a grilled cheese sandwich with a very fancy name (and a grilled cheese sandwich that would have embarrassed even the Queen Mum.)

Union Jack did score a few points for the creative menu, which bragged a range of British imported brews and the Brit tradition of Chicken Curry, imported from the colonies. Free pool on Sunday nights is another major plus. Local minors can leave fakes at home; anyone can be a pool shark at Union Jack.

Needless to say, the Brits are known for their scandalous royalty, Buckingham Palace and the Spice Girls, not their food. Regardless, British pub fare should be comforting—thick, hearty and always hitting the spot with a mug of on-tap brew. The pub ambiance is one of dark wood, familiarity and camaraderie; Union Jack is still plastic.

Bar food should not be gourmet – greasy and fried are two crucial components, but with the size of Union Jack’s menu and dining room, it would sure make sense to have food that’s at least bloody decent.

Read the DCist's take on Union Jack for a second opinion.

New Orleans Cafe

Supporting N'awlins.

today's Washington Post headlined Bush's dropping approval ratings in the wake of the floods, but where does Hurricane Katrina leave
New Orleans Cafe in Adams Morgan?

owner Bardia Ferdousi, a Baton Rouge native, has already donated $500 from restaurant sales and $500 of his own money to Katrina relief efforts.

Ferdousi says business hasn't picked up in response to the devastation of New Orleans, but on Adams Morgan Day however, the place was particularly hopping.

the street festival was a chance for pedestrians to notice a sign in the Cafe's window, encouraging contributions to the Red Cross and other efforts to rebuild New Orleans-- and treat themselves to a beignet or two.

also known as a French Quarter doughnut, beignets (pronounced ben-yays) are deep-fried pastries dusted with powdered sugar and traditionally eaten in the 1830's with a strong brew of cafe au lait, by all social classes in New Orleans.

conveniently enough, a northern Louisana native was waiting in line outside the New Orleans Cafe and shared her positive feedback on the "just like home" cuisine. she called the po' boy sandwiches "a great deal" at around six bucks and when raving of the etouffee, even closed her eyes emphatically, calling it "perfect."

To find out about DC restaurants and local organizations hosting benefits for Hurricane Katrina, check this out, compliments of The List.

New Orleans Cafe is located at 2412 18th St. NW, across the street from Madam's Organ Blues Bar.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Old Glory

old-fashioned American barbecue food, in all its glory.

grab a toothpick on your way in, roll up your sleeves and use the wide-mouthed sink to wash up…no frills, no fuss, it’s barbecue time at Old Glory..

you know how good it feels to go out for Mexican food and find an all-you-can-eat basket of tortilla chips with salsa waiting for you to get a head start on the meal as you go over the menu? well think that, multiply it by barbeque and you’ve got the basket of just-baked cornbread (with real kernel chunks) and biscuits welcoming you within minutes at Old Glory. both are great when slathered with the partnering honey butter, but the glory is in the barbecue sauce.

if you've never soaked the two in barbecue sauce, be prepared to start now. the dipping game takes place throughout dinner, from the ordering phase through the last nibbles as you're paying the check. try to figure out which of the six region-specific sauces speaks to you.

they take their sauce seriously here -- every table is covered in white butcher paper (stamped with a navy blue Old Glory seal upon arrival), an ode to the mess about to splatter everywhere. the six sauces sit confidently in a wooden rack already on each table.

from East Carolina (a spicy vinegar-based sauce) to Savannah (a thicker mustard one), the flavors are named after Southern cities and regions known for their unique art of barbecue. handy descriptions of each sauce are located on chalkboards on the surrounding brick walls (my personal favorite is Memphis).

let's get down to business, the ordering. the Georgetown combo under the "True Q" category dons the MVPs of BBQ-- a generous plate of chicken and ribs. for best results, replace the "quarter of a Roasted Bar-B-Que Chicken" with "Glorious Pulled Chicken;" it'll save the fuss of spitting out fat and de-boning. the meat is all there for you, conveniently sliced in bite-sized tender strips.

and don't forget the chicken's partner in crime-- half a rack of the St. Louis Style spareribs. now is the perfect time for the pile of recycled-paper napkins to come into play.

the "Favorites of the House" and "True Q" menu items include two sides--decent, but the glory lies in the meat, bar none. when sopped up with one of the six sauces, the small portions (titled "Heapin' Helpins" and supposedly enough for two..) begin to taste the same after a while. point is, the gourmetless garnishes can go unnoticed, but go for the collard greens, mashed potatoes with gravy, BBQ red beans or corn on the cob.

and don't forget dessert-- a silver bucket of Tootsie Roll Pops gets passed around the table with every color present, proving that, once again, the meal is fun.

Old Glory knows how to keep everyone happy. the cornbread and biscuits, iced water, and napkins are always well-stocked, actually over-stocked (even better). speaking of napkins, the six-inch pile is not only functional but a reassuring reminder that leaving sauce in between teeth or underneath fingernails is not only normal but encouraged.

everything about the decor screams red-checkered picnic and southern hospitality. dangling metallic colanders serve as lamps and faded red bricks cover the walls. television sets are planted in each corner and play Nats games.

junior year is officially in session and Old Glory has the friendly Fourth of July ambiance a bewildered student needs to gradually get oriented back to campus life. forget delicate tablecloths or fancy hor d'oeuvres-- eating here is messy and fun. it's only a matter of time before i find remnants of the meal underneath fingernails while daydreaming in class tomorrow.

On Friday, September 16th from 5:00 – 9:00pm, Old Glory will join J. Paul’s, Paolo’s Ristorante and Neyla restaurants in Georgetown in donating 50% of their bar revenue to the American Red Cross to aid in their Hurricane Katrina Relief efforts.

Old Glory is located at 3139 M Street, NW , next to Georgetown's favorite back-to-school shopping source, Urban Outfitters.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Did Someone Say Pumpkin?

the Starbucks Pumpkin Spiced Latte.

the pumpkins must be approacing their third trimester and ready to face the world of carving knives and cornicopia because our favorite Medusa barista is finally serving them in latte form..

the Pumpkin Spiced Latte is now available for $4.19 a grande, kicking off the Starby's holiday season.

even though summer still has more than two weeks to go and the coats are still in storage, it's time to embrace the gourd fruit for all he's worth.

you know the pie, seeds and occassional bread or muffins, but it's time for the latte to join the pumpkin portfolio. sure, we all hate feeding into the Starbucks conglomerate, but let's face it, there are few other things as uplifting as the festive red cups dressed with snowflakes, reminding us that it's that time of the year again.

september until february-- the liberal Starbucks holiday window-- is a lucrative but beautiful season. the Eggnog and Gingerbread Spiced Latte appear on chalkboards behind the counter, and the soothsayer of them all, the one that announces the holiday season before the air turns even remotely frigid, the Pumpkin Spiced Latte.

and although it's not publicized, it can be served iced or blended as well.

the magic lies in the brown powder floating atop the whipped foam- when asked what ingredients make up the accoutrement, the M St. barista pointed to the red-capped plastic container-- it was closing time, she was tired and vulnerable and the secret topping was revealed.

it read, "Pumpkin Spice Seasoning: Cinnamon, Ginger, Nutmeg, Cloves."

judging by the almost rectangular shape and red twisty lid, it seemed to have Costco origins.

since it's too early for the red cups and the Christmas-centric flavors, the Pumpkin Spiced Latte serves as a nice holiday appetizer. splurge on the Pumpkin syrup at an extra 50 cents, it guarantees at least eight minutes of festive anticipation.

but the more important lesson here; embrace the spice mixture at home. my tip, make vats of the cinnamon-ginger-nutmeg-cloves combination at home. sprinkle it on everything from Folgers to vanilla ice cream.

nothing beats sticking your nose into the spiced sensation and remembering what it feels like to run through piles of leaves, escape to the fireplace from the the wintry outdoors and sneak a plate of Pumpkin Pie a la mode. feel no regrets, the holiday season is a no-dieting zone.

here's a recipe of a homemade version of the Pumpkin Spiced Latte.

3 Tbsp. canned pumpkin
2 Tbsp. pure vanilla
1/4 tsp. Pumpkin Pie Spice (see above)
1 cup of your choice of milk

stir pumpkin puree into milk in a small saucepan. add vanilla and top-secret pumpkin pie spice seasoning. heat gently, continuing to stir until steam and foam begins to appear.
pour mixture into a tall mug and pour espresso over. top with whipped milk and most importantly, sprinkle a few dashes of Pumpkin Pie Spice for the arresting scent and flavor.