Sunday, December 25, 2005

Dreamin of a White Xmas...

THE WHITE HOUSE
CHRISTMAS DAY LUNCH

HERB ROASTED FREE RANGE TURKEY
CORN BREAD DRESSING
MASHED POTATOES
GIBLET GRAVY
PANCETTA GREEN BEANS
SWEET POTATO SOUFFLE
CRANBERRY SAUCE
CLOVER ROLLS W/ HONEY BUTTER
PUMPKIN AND PECAN PIES
RED VELVET CAKE

pie and cake?! now that's my kind of all-American family.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Diner for City Council?



This is about as close to roadstop grubby greasy goodness as Connecticut Ave. is gonna get: American City Diner. Every night at 8pm they show classic movies on their heated, covered back patio deck attached to the diner. For free! When's the last time you really had dinner and a movie with the one you love?

The wall facing a small parking lot outside is painted with a mural highlighting American legends like Elvis and Marilyn. And to add to the whimsical appeal, the retro-looking owner Jeffrey Gildenhorn is running for Ward 3 yet again. By the looks of the indoor decor, you would guess he's won before. "Gildenhorn for Mayor" signs are more prevalent than old-fashioned Coke ads or Blue Plate Specials. No joke, they exist. (the Blue Plate Specials that is, not his Mayor election)

Thursday calls for a Corned Beef and Cabbage at just $8.95. Monday's Brisket of Beef ($8.95) caught my eye. Actually, they're all just $8.95 except Friday's big hitter-- the Crab Cake Platter with Fries and Coleslaw ($15.95).

If the Blue Plate Special is just a little too 1950s throw-back for you, their wide selection of deli sandwiches and burgers are pretty decent for diner standards. The pulled Bar-B-Que Chicken sandwich is my favorite ($5.50) and the Black-and-White shake can be hard to come by in the District. Insert: No Jewish Delis in DC! here.

But back to the daily movies. I tried calling for a schedule since their website is never actually insync with the current week, but the groggy eighty-something on the other line had one too many chicken tender requests to spare me a few seconds. Clearly throwing up her menus in a frustrated senior rage, she rushed through the list insensitively, before hanging up on me. Here's what I got:

Dec 22: It's a Wonderful Life
Sometime between Dec 23 and Dec 28: A Bronx Tale
Dec 29: The Graduate
Dec 30: Rebel Without A Cause
Dec 31: The Godfather

Note: the accuracy of each is not up to journalistic standards. Call at your own risk.

Actually, I did call back for the hours of operation (strangely, they were not mentioned on the website) attempting to disguise my young, boppy voice. But immediately Granny knew. "Ma'am, I don't have time for you and your questions anymore. Call back some other time!" Click.

This is what I gathered: Normal weekday hours are 7am-11pm and weekends are 24 hours. This Sunday--the first night of Christmas, Hannukah and sure, why not Kwanzaa-- the diner is open until 4pm.

With festive good tidings I'm sure. (Not!) Granny wouldn't have any of that.

The theme here is definitely old-school nostalgic. Gildenhorn first opened the diner after graduating from Georgetown with Clinton in the 60s-- their class pictures are framed wistfully near the door. Along with his "Gildenhorn for Mayor" bumper stickers, circa 1998. My advice is that Gildenhorn stick to flipping burgers and hiring post-menopausal waitresses because Ward 3 is making way for someone a little less creepy-looking. Sam Brooks.

Brooks is bounding with enthusiasm and among education policy and a brand-new Idea Blog, he enjoys the shakes at Elevation Burger. One afternoon he even traveled out to Falls Church just to down two in one sitting. Young burger joint making waves, young voice of the future changing DC? Coincidence?

But the time-warped ambiance of American City Diner is still sitting pretty on Connecticut Ave-- thePacMan video games, Blue Plate Specials and cranky grannies aren't going anywhere. The ambiance is fitting for watching backyard patio movies in pigtails and sipping Black and White shakes, but maybe not for DC Ward 3 City Council ballots.

The American City Diner is located at 5532 Connecticut Avenue, NW, next to french neighbors Bread and Chocolate.





Other diners in the DC-area include:

The Diner
2453 18th St NW, Washington, DC
(202) 232-8800

Silver Diner
many, many locations

Tastee Diner
8601 Cameron Street
Silver Spring, MD 20910
301-589-8171

7731 Woodmont Avenue
Bethesda, MD 20814
301-652-3970

118 Washington Boulevard South
Laurel, MD 20707
301-953-7567

Friday, December 16, 2005

Salty Peppermint Bark



Ever had Saltine Crackers in your dessert?
Two words define the "Cookie Craze" spread in the Food section of Wednesday's Washington Post: pretty amazing. However, I don't think any of their recipes mentioned "saltine crackers." And only one word would define that concept: amazing. They did feature a Chocolate Peppermint Crunch Cookie Bark which is getting closer...

...................................................................

the Kitchenette's Salty Peppermint Bark
(Think Salty Oat cookie from Teaism or the sweet-meets-salty Kettle Korn philosophy)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees
1 stick of butter
1 cup of sugar
About 20 Saltine Crackers (told you so)
1 bag of White Chocolate Chips (on sale 2 for $4 at Safeway right now)
Peppermint/Candy Canes

Layer the bottom of a non-stick cookie sheet or glassware baking pan with saltine crackers, until the crackers cover the surface. Let rest.

Cook the butter and sugar on stovetop until boiling. Be sure to avoid burning (easier than you think!) Once the mixture is bubbling and becomes a tawny color, STOP. Remove from heat and layer this liquid on top of saltine crackers. Bake this double layered (almost bark) in oven for about 5-6 minutes.

Once done, spread out white chocolate chips on top to create third layer, and let melt for 4 minutes until chips are smooth. (Use fork to evenly distribute white chocolate after melting time). Break pieces of peppermint with various objects (hammers, cookie sheets, heavy encyclopedias) and sprinkle on top.


How's that for Chip Chip Hooray? (the Post's Wednesday story on chocolate chips with a make-over)

Cha-chiiiiing


"To overtip is to appear an ass: To undertip is to appear an even greater ass."

The wise words of Ben Franklin were echoed in the Post last Sunday in a piece on tipping etiquette, which reappeared in yesterday's Philadelphia Inquirer.

What really got me going was the quote by Murky Coffee barista Stacey Garrett, who said, "most customers do tip every time" but it is a "little disheartening" when they don't drop their change in the jar.

Stacey attests that the Capitol Hill establishment works really hard "to give great service and be friendly." I can veryify that truism (it is one of my last stops before I leave Washington DC for Prague and never return until June!) But Stacey even says, "When people don't tip, it feels like a reflection of the service." Sadly, Stacey, it's usually because I need that extra change for the soy milk shot.

Here's some tipping guidelines, according to Joe Heim's article:

Bartender: $1 to $2 per drink is customary, or 15 to 20 percent if you run a tab.

Coffee shops:This one is highly contentious. Some customers won't tip at chains, but will at independent establishments. Others tip only for drinks made by a barista, not for just an ordinary cup of joe. Tips range from change to $1 per beverage.

Delivery people: Varies according to what is being delivered. A few dollars should be enough for a small food order, while movers delivering furniture might earn a $20 to $30 tip.

Dining: A 15 to 20 percent tip is the going rate for meals, and the tip should be on the pretax total.

For me tipping relies heavily on mood, recent overspending, how much change I magically find in my pocket and oh yeah, the server's performance. Once again, Murky Coffee proves to hit national media wavelengths and I am proud. Check out Murky's site for buzz on their brand-new dairy-free Pacific soy blenders... and the Wi-Fi drama.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Sticky Fingers has Soul




Turns out Washington's favorite vegan bakery Sticky Fingers has a franchise in Seoul, Korea. Rewind to almost two years ago when Korea TV broadcasted a documentary starring Miyun Park, the president of the DC-based nonprofit animal advocacy group, Compassion over Killing. A Korean native and Sticky Fingers fan, Miyun filmed some of her interviews at the underground (literally, you have to walk down steps) Sticky Fingers location.

That's all it took for a few Korean guys to watch the piece, fall in love with the story and call up owners Doron and Kirsten. With that, downtown Seoul made room for Sticky Fingers.


Depending on the ingredients available, the Seoul location features many of the same egg-less/dairy-less cookies and brownies; but the cheesecake is only in America. According to the DC bakery, the location "over there is beautiful."

Makes sense that the Koreans would jump on a vegan franchise. Think about the last time you had an Asian dish with cheese or any dairy product for that matter. About 90% of Asians are lactose-intolerant, so other than fried rice, many dishes are naturally vegan.


Perhaps the Koreans also have a half-price basket near their cash register. Only a day old, the left-over Cowvin Cookies (a bit hard), Little Devils (perfectly moist) and saran-wrapped Old-Fashioned Cookies (Pecan and Chocolate Chip) were worth the trip alone.

Sadly, the festive Peppermint Brownies weren't in the basket. The new menu item ($3) features a brownie (fudgier than the Little Devil) topped with a whipped frosting and peppermint chunks.



For me, the Cowvin Cookies still take the cake (pardon the pun). Similar to the Little Devils, two grainy oatmeal bars (instead of brownies) act as "sandwich" ends to a vegan frosting center. Despite the half-price appeal of yesterday's left-overs, those Cowvins felt hard, so I splurged for the fresh batch.

The couch, occupying a majority of the tiny indoor space, spoke to me. The red heart pillow was too much to ignore, so I washed down my treats with a large cup of organic coffee ($1.75) and soy creamer, from the couch-- spying on the cashier, who got a few phonecalls regarding holiday cake orders.

Need an alternative holiday gift? Their homemade cards on display are crafted by two local girls (much like the bakery itself). The fair-trade travel cups are also friendly at $5, and include unlimited $1 coffee refills.

The Seoul-ful bakery is saving the world, one Little Devil at a time.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Vie de Viridian


Vi'ridian
n. Veronese green. b. adj. Of or pertaining to this colour.

The four-week old Viridian finally received a long overdue visit from the Kitchenette. Make that four weeks and fifty minutes overdue. Before we go anywhere, let's talk about getting there. Vegan-friendly maybe, but parking-friendly is not in 14th Street's vocabulary. Even on a Tuesday evening, the Logan Circle neighborhood was packed. Not a parking space in sight within a four-block radius.

What happened next is almost too wrong to post-- a walk of shame from the P Street Whole Foods. Yes, we were not customers, but we parked there. The "2 Hour Customer Only" warning signs were intimidating. So was the secruity guard wearing a Whole Foods hat, glaring at cars as they parked in the lot at prime dinner time. To be honest, I was scared. Already feeling like a criminal, I avoided eye contact with him at all costs-- there's no way I could let him recognize what I consider an unforgettable face. Once I crossed the street to Studio Theatre, I knew I was safe.

We flashed one of those "don't ask" looks to the Viridian hostess. But first we stood out front, questioning if this warehouse-looking space was the right place. The sea-foam green paint and metallic sign whispering "Viridian," was so minimalist, we literally missed it four times while driving. Here we were in front of the place, and still squinting to find a clue.

"Parking problems?" the hostess asked. After making sure we didn't settle for the shady, abandoned lot next door (she insinuated a scandalous history), she asked where we finally parked. Ha, like we were going to reveal our secret. My dinner date (and cherished old soul) giggled devilishly and with that, we were at our table making up for lost time.

The urban photography covering the stark, white walls were snapshots a photojournalist would take-- each long print depicted raw emotions in black, white and sepia tones. The cardboard menus (straight from a storage box) somehow matched the theme-- everything was sleek and posh, but real. Each menu (in this case, single sheet of cardstock) was affixed to the cardboard by a fancy black rubberband. Yet again, stylish but functional.

Talk about making up for lost time, our starters were there before my date could even return from the bathroom. The amuse bouche-- a sign of a first-class eatery-- was a triangular bite of portabello mushroom topped with roasted onions and stabbed with a silver toothpick. Only to be coupled with yet another artisan freebie-- bread and wait, that's not butter.

Rosemary focaccia and whole-grain bread (nice texture and slightly sweet) were accessorized with a white bean puree and walnut pesto. Let's just say, I was still munching on both well after dessert was an issue. The white bean paste was warm and smooth, and a nice comfort food to revisit in between tastes.

Viridian cares about details. Kinda like my three-accessory rule before I leave the house-- each plate had a multi-dimensional appeal. My Beet and Horseradish Salad ($6) included hunks of both golden and red beets to serve as the salad's ruffage, topped with horseradish shoestrings. (Not enough to clear the sinuses, but enough to get my attention)

As a beets enthusiast, I'm always excited to see the underdog root veggie hit the mainstream. They remind me of the last kid to get picked for dodgeball, but they always turn around and surprise the jocks (the tomatoes and lettuce heads of the world) with a game-saving catch. Served with a tangy dressing, this salad was that catch.

On to main entrees. The "salmon trout" was confusing in print. No details about the hermaphroditic fish. Just "salmon trout."

Was this like a hyphenated last name? The product of an old college fling under the sea? Or had the fusion restaurant craze penetrated marine life? Can't a girl just order some fish these days! I may sound upset, but the intrigue had me aroused.

According to our server Emmako, the "pinky flesh" gives the nickname "salmon trout," but the fish itself is trout and not salmon, not the other way around. A brand-new menu item, she explained how challenging it is to serve fish these days. After New Orleans, it has become really hard to buy fresh, sustainable fish. The trout just came in a few nights ago from Oregon. Another organic product to add to the list.

(Side Note: The wine list is written en francais.)

As a sharing duo, we ordered the Squash Tart for the second entree.
A layer of winter squashes (including acorn and spaghetti squash) topped with nuts and feta cheese filled the tasty vegan crust, and finished with chantrelle mushrooms. (The same garnish 1789 uses in their trademark pumpkin ravioli)

Vidrian had me yet again intrigued, this time with the spunky tart. Once again, they were sleek and posh, but real. Squash is a real food. The pilgrims ate it for crying out loud. But Viridian made squash sexy. (They also served a Squash Soup ($6) under the Starters)

Garnished with salty green olives, my freakish Salmon Trout still wore its scaly, skin back. If they dropped the "trout" part, I never would have questioned. Long and slim, and as salmon-reminiscent as non-salmon fishes come, the "trout" still remains a mystery.

The restaurant's space was equally strange. Perhaps Viridian was a bank in another lifetime? Turns out it was an automobile showroom at one point and upstairs sits the owner's art galleries, where much of the photography on the walls originates.

All of this came as a surprise to me, as none of the reviews have captured Viridian's mystique. Listing just the address and phone number, the website defines minimalism at its best. And the reviews left out every eccentricity that had me enamored. No one ever mentioned the cardboard menus.

Dessert was entirely vegan-friendly, except for the cheese platter. Each $7 dish had appeal:

Warm Gingerbread with Cranberry compote
Apple Tart with Fruit salad and Dairyless Creme Fraiche
Chocolate Cake with a poached pear
And the house favorite (the restaurant's first dessert), Carrot Cake.

Emmako gave us the cold-hard facts-- the chocolate cake is dry. Blame it on the lack of butter or eggs, but regardless, dry is dry. Her face lit up when describing the apple tart; but "the creme fraiche tastes like sour cream." She promised to replace it with a scoop of chocolate or coconut sorbet instead.

The Warm Gingerbread was served at an in-house private party a few nights ago, and numerous compliments later, was promoted to menu status. Emmako made a face, "but that cranberry compote is way too tart." Apparently the original white chocolate garnish was better, and this cranberry "just ruins it."

Wow. Talk about brutal honesty. Emmako and her convincing disclaimers took control. She liked the Carrot Cake best, and we didn't waste any time ordering it.

Coconut sorbet and finely chopped carrots topped the triangular-shaped cake, alongside a carrot puree and vegan whipped cream. The cake had me considering veganhood if I could eat this all day. And somehow the Apple Tart's crust was flakey (a product of butter). Once again, Viridian worked its dairy-less magic.

Usually the fruit salad takes a backseat to just about anything-- apples brown tragically, textures become soggy, people opt for the non fat-free desserts. But picture crisp, diced apples, kumquats and pomengranate seeds swimming in a light calvados (apple liqueur) and try to tell me that is a disappointment.

Lost in an epicurean translation (I just read the Harper's Bazaar with Kate Winslet that morning), we looked at the time--only a few minutes before 10pm! Would the car survive rude glares from real Whole Foods customers?

Just as we signed on the dotted line, ready to flee, another artisan freebie came our way. Chocolate ginger biscotti topped with a fresh espresso cream. The car could wait. How did a vegan espresso cream taste that good? And how did Viridian have so many free perks? It was like a backwards amuse bouche right before our eyes.

Leaving surprisingly full from a vegan place, we sprinted the two blocks to the car, only to find another well-dressed twenty-something shamefully approaching Whole Foods. Immediately, the three of us were allies, banging on glass windows, begging cashiers to grant us pity.

We already had our story mapped out--the organic shopping spree called for a Starbucks visit across the street. Believable, right? But they shook their heads as if to say, "it's time for you to pay." One angelic security guard poked his head out and pointed to a side garage door.

There the hatchback sat, bravely in an empty parking lot. Something tells me we weren't the first Viridian customers to get away with this crime.

This is a public apology to my dearest Whole Foods, please don't give me bad samples karma. I really am sorry.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Elevation Updates



Finally have those photos up for Elevation Burger! The status of Hans's newborn daughter Ellie: alive and kickin'. The Kitchenette's newest hobby is officially baby-naming.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

holiday treats in District

Soho Tea&Coffee baristas may not have the Starbucks red cups (not to mention, wouldn’t dare offending Edward Gorey) but their Sausalito Spice Tea—kinda tastes like Chai—is festive enough for their standards at $2.45 a mug. In a couple weeks, they’ll have cold Egg Nog shots (65¢ each) to mix into any drink. Not bad for a coffeehouse run by two Jewish ladies who “don’t get too into the holiday spirit.”

CakeLove founder and owner Warren Brown has been getting enough press lately for his new Food Network series “Sugar Rush” and “Serve@Room Temp” campaign, but he still had time to whip together a Sweet Potato Cake for his U Street neighbors Polly’s Café. The basement bar will serve the root vegetable cake topped with a cream cheese frosting at $4.50 a slice.

For those addicted to the shopping bag look, come on over to my neck of the woods. Georgetown has everything you could ever want to wrap up in a big, red bow. Try the fresh-baked Gingerbread at Tombs (a Georgetown establishment, right next to 1789 on 36th Street), topped with whipped cream at $5.25 a slice. Or make the trek to Clyde’s (on M St.) and sink your two front teeth (remember when Santa gave you those?) into their Peppermint Chocolate Cake ($6.95 a slice). Starting mid-December, they’ll also have eggnog in the fridge, ready to serve.

Maybe you’re in the mood for something in a cup or waffle cone, perhaps made from a cow? Thomas Sweet will scoop you some Peppermint Stick Ice Cream—perfect for dates involving mistletoe for the after-dessert dessert. (No need for awkward searching through purse for gum.) Rumors have it that T.Sweet also has an Eggnog ice cream in the works.

Go a little farther up Wisconsin Ave. and Max (of Max’s Ice Cream) might just have his homemade Ginger Snap recipe on the menu. (He rotates the flavor with other cookie-inspired ice creams in his "cookie genre," so keep your fingers crossed.)

If your sweet tooth is lost somewhere in the tooth fairy’s junk drawer, you’re basically out of luck this season. The closest thing to a yuletide non-dessert is the butternut squash—the official squash of the winter season. With deep-orange flesh, perhaps the butternut will be a comfort for pumpkin addicts dealing with bereavement issues.

Afterwords Café at Kramerbooks in Dupont Circle serves a bowl of Butternut Squash Soup to bookies who need an intellectual snack—a bowl is $4.75. Something tells me Santa will be delivering plenty of elliptical machines this year— in other words, bring on the calories.

For the record, I have yet to find a place that serves Christmas plum pudding.

the Devilish Red Cup.




It's official. I am dangerously OBSESSED with TheRedCup.com, Starbucks's daily source of festive procrastination. We're talking incredibly cute, like Butterstick status-cute (Six more days until his public unveiling!) It all started when I was googling the red cups, investigating the deal with those Edward Gorey-esque drawings. Somehow they capture Gorey’s haunting illustrating style, minus the haunting part. Turns out they're not Gorey..but more imporantly, this genius site exists and has saved my life.

The red cup people have been updating since November 1st. Who knew?! Everyday, you'll find a different Holiday 101 tip or short feature film (only on Fridays! my fav!) complete with even MORE Gorey-esque images.

My favorites include (honestly, they're all so good):

Nov 3: Holiday Cookie Quiz (Guilty of ginger snap qualities)
Nov 4: Follow that Red Cup (I get so scared when the woman is crossing the street)
Nov 11: The Airport Pick-Up (How is Aunt Doris that cute? I've watched it on repeat four times straight)
Nov 16: The Red Cup Game (Tell me how far you get)
Nov 21: Holiday Travel 101 (Downloadable gift tags! With..I think Aunt Doris if I'm not mistaken!)
Nov 30: Ice Skating Game (I like making my skaters dizzy)
Dec 1: Famous Gingerbread Houses (Finally the Washington Monument multiplied by gingerbread)

Jacinda and Jerry of sirensong.com should know about this. Remember the ones who made it their goal back in October to visit every single Starbucks in the District? So far they have visited six. Apparently Jacinda lives near the cathedral and the Dupont South location had their few minutes of fame when an assistant to Donald Rumsfeld accidently left notes lying around inside. Oops.. As of today, J&J have gone through $65.53 dollars worth of red cups.

Even if Starbucks is knocking off Edward Gorey, you have to give them snaps for coming up with the Red Cup. If those darn cups don't make you want to wear reindeer sweaters (or convert so you could), nothing will. Here are the seasonal flavors, perfect inside any devilish red cup:

Gingerbread Latte
Peppermint Mocha or Hot Chocolate
Eggnog Latte
Christmas Blend Roast

And sure, why not throw in the sinful slice of Gingerbread or Cranberry Bliss Bar eyeing you from behind the glass. You'll work it off at the malls.


















Haunting, black and white illustrator?

Caffeine-soaked marketing material?

Thursday, December 01, 2005

1789 All-Access Behind-the-Scenes Pass.

1789 found their replacement to fill (or at least attempt to fill) Ris Lacoste's shoes, as reported by metrocurean today.

The last few weeks I've tried to capitalize on the little time 36th street has left with Ris. Every Sunday I walk a few blocks from my apartmant to eat family-style dinner with the 1789 chef staff, improve my dessert garnishing skills and burn myself at least twice from the intimidating power ovens.

It all started about a month ago when I sat in the empty dining room of '89 after class one afternoon with the Ris herself. We chatted about the expected topics— her demand for natural sunlight in her new restaurant (she hopes to open about a year from now), last week’s cauliflower selection at the outdoor Dupont market, the sixty pounds of stuffing 1789 will valiantly serve on Thanksgiving (and did!)—but then came the unexpected.

She offered me a job.

Who could say no to the golden opportunity to shadow one of the most prominent female foodsmiths in Washington? Certainly not someone who calls herself a food writer, and shamefully hasn’t actually taken a “real” cooking class. This was about as real as I could get.

In a place where every movement looks effortless and every plate appears hand-crafted by epicurean technicians positioning each rosemary sprig at just-the-right angle, you just assume the whole process is magical. But at other points, you just can’t help but ask, “how in the hell did they do that?”

It was time for one of us to find out.

Four Fridays ago, I wandered into the restaurant and in minutes became a novice in a white apron in charge of the dessert garnishes. If the edible glass was a bit off-centered on the Mexican Chocolate Cake or the pomegranate seeds were a tad over-sprinkled on the Tangerine Sorbet Sundae, please excuse the inconsistency.

Hardly anyone noticed my first few steps into the kitchen. Each pocket of the rectangular space was clearly focused on racing the clock. The salad chef was slicing forty red russet potatoes by a ten-minute deadline for Amanda the entrée chef and before I knew it, I was slicing crostini bread for the duck curry salad served as tonight’s amuse bouche.

Amuse bouche—(uh-MYUZ-boosh). Literally meaning, “mouth amuser,” it was my first 1789 vocab word. A tiny tidbit often served as a freebie appetizer, not to be confused with an hors d’oevure, the taste is just enough to keep diners happy while they wait for the first course. The amuse bouche allows the chef a range of flavors and textures with which to experiment—all in just a gulp, few licks or bite.

But back up a few steps. As soon as I got to the restaurant, Ris paused from her key duty – the authoritative check on all plates exiting the kitchen – and offered me a warm bear hug. “Everyone, this is Erin and she’s going to help us out tonight.”

The chef staff is divided into parts—hot appetizers, entrees, salads, cold appetizers and desserts. Each cook turned around, stopped flailing their heavy, sizzling pans and sai hello. Within seconds, it was back to business.

Ris tossed me a starched white apron still-creased from the iron and introduced me to Sue. For the next six hours I would learn from this five-foot-two L’Academie de Cuisine grad who immediately handed me a knife and loaf of bread. “Chop these into crostini,” my next vocab word for the night. Small, thin slices of toasted French or Italian bread.

Patient (thankfully), yet impressively quick-witted and giggly, Sue was a cross between mother hen and cool older aunt—just what I needed to feel welcome and inspired.

“Easy there on the duck curry, guys,” she warned the servers as they scooped the amuse bouche liberally. She would make sure last night’s remaining duck, the curry sauce, craisins and apples would last the evening. And when the servers complained of dryness while scooping, Sue was ready with a dollop of mayonnaise to make everyone’s life easier.

While starting to gab about my five month-old food blog and “deal” as English major, the shape and texture of the crostini began to suffer. For a moment, I forgot that my bread would be toasted and crunched by the finest of Washingtonians. Sue gently grabbed the knife and demonstrated a clean, crisp swipe, cautioning me from the “sawing” tactic. She had definitely refined the skill of chatting and slicing—clearly, I still had a long way to go.

After graduating from crostini cutting to “roughly” chopping the pistachio nuts, a garnish for both the Ice Cream Sundae and duck curry, the knife was temporarily retired. Now almost 6:30pm, dessert orders were being placed and Sue could feel the energy hitting her like clockwork. It was on to the real stuff.

The tangerine sorbet machine needed cleaning, the birthday and anniversary plate rims needed personalized calligraphy in chocolate frosting and we already had an order of Mexican Chocolate Cake printing.

Each of the desserts are made earlier that day by a pastry chef and heated each evening in daunting power ovens when ordered. Within seconds they are garnished with rare nuts, edible glasses, and one of the many eccentric flavors of ice cream or sorbet. Tonight was white chocolate, tangerine, an apple-liquor flavored ice cream, and the traditional vanilla and chocolate for the special (traditional) requests.

“Want some?” Sue scraped the freshly whipped tangerine sorbet into a white ceramic bowl. With one swallow, I tasted the apotheosis of fresh-squeezed orange juice. How could muster that much citrus out of one tiny honey tangerine? How could the sorbet be so deliciously feathery? So wonderfully icy?

At points I could hear Ris yelling in the background. She was sprinkling some dried sweet potatoes and nutmeg over the pumpkin ravioli – the one that wowed Iron Chef America judges early October – when I stopped to visit her in between Sue tasks.

Ris stood in front of the hot entrée chefs, surrounded by an easel of garnishes— plump raisins, bacon, chopped bell peppers, and sesame seeds. Then she asked something I never anticipated, “Have you decided what you want off the menu for dinner yet?”

Sampling the drunken Goat cheese from the appetizer platter or learning how to garnish tangerine sorbet with pistachios was one thing, but to have my pick at any of the entrees from the menu? That was a separate (heavenly) issue altogether.

Normally indecisive— especially when Washington’s premiere chef hands me the keys to her kitchen—the decision was surprisingly clear. Considering all the positive press of the seasonal pumpkin ravioli and my far-fetched wish to resurrect Halloween just once more before next year, I made my choice.

Peering over at Sue, I noticed her forming polka dots from cinnamon chocolate syrup in a semi-circle as she ripped off a freshly-printed receipt for another dessert order in her right hand.
Apologizing twice, I felt bad for leaving her stranded, but she didn’t think much of it. She placed a clean white ceramic plate in front of me, as if I was ready to graduate to the big leagues.

“Five dots on this side like so, then three on the other.” The chocolate cinnamon syrup alternated with the caramel syrup to envelop a flourless, warm-centered Mexican chocolate cake. With the help of a toothpick, the dots became layered hearts bleeding into one another. After polka dotting the dessert plates with syrups until it actually became “easy,” Ris brought over the bowl of my ordered pumpkin ravioli.

That’s right. My meal was just personally served to me by Ris Lacoste, and there I was, still with the residual tastes of aged cheeses in my mouth. I nibbled each part of the pasta separately at first, wanting to understand the complexities of each bite – the pumpkin puree, chanterelle mushrooms and dried sweet potatoes sprinkled on top.

There’s not much else that can top that. So I have decided to quit while I’m ahead.
Ris, Sue and the entire 1789 gang made this and all the other culinary-gymnastic mysteries that she would reveal throughout the night look like cake.

I’d say the pun was unintended, but there is not one thing that happens behind the swinging 1789 kitchen doors that falls into that category.