Pinch Me… I’m Cooking with Kristen Kish

When I say that I’m a food blogger, most people assume this means I can cook.  I have to clarify that I’m a restaurant review blogger, and much more interested in consuming as opposed to preparing food. I do enjoy watching people cook, however, and make no secret of my devotion to Bravo’s “Top Chef.”  When Living Social offers a chance to cook with ‘Top Chef’ Season 10 winner Kristen Kish, I seize the opportunity.

There aren’t many things that can get me out of the house on a snowy Sunday evening. But anyone who knows me can’t be surprised when I venture out alone on a dark and frigid night.  Even I question my sanity when I realize I’m the sole passenger in my Metro car.  My concerns melt away as I enter the appealing Living Social space at 918 F Street in the District.

We are led to the third floor of the historic building. Cooking stations are set up in rows with two people at each station.  Before us is a mise en place (set up) with ingredients for our first dish.  I am paired with a young man who is also on his own.  I’m not sure how much skill is going to be required, but I’m hoping he’s up to the task.  The thought of making pasta particularly petrifies me.  I’ve been there, done that.  And I’ve failed.

Chef Kish takes her place in front of the room, and asks politely if anyone minds if her language gets salty.  She is breathtakingly beautiful, and at the same time seems totally approachable.  The excitement in the room is palpable with the realization that we are about to cook with this impressive “Top Chef” winner.  I am silently congratulating myself on my decision to brave the elements, and the class hasn’t even started.

For the next two and a half hours, the chef takes us through the preparation of a three course menu that includes red snapper and glaceed oyster mushrooms, semolina pasta and braised lamb ragu with Chinese eggplant, and olive oil cake with passion fruit curd.  The best part of the class is when Kish comes around to each station to check on our progress.  She brings along a sample of her own dish, so we can see how it’s supposed to taste and feel.  Some class members ask her about the “Top Chef” competition as she circulates, but I have more fun asking her if my sauce is the right consistency. Because really, how often do you get to ask a “Top Chef” winner that question?

Kristen Kish with pasta
Kish is not a fan of recipes, and her cooking advice is simple.  “Trust your instinct.  If it tastes like shit, you did it wrong.  And…it’s just food.”  My favorite tip is how to add a pinch of salt.  “Use three fingers, like you are pinching someone’s ass,” she says.  Ass-pinching and salting are now forever entwined in my brain.

I appreciate that all ingredients are pre-cut, and we can spend our time perfecting techniques such as de-glazing, searing fish, and making pasta shapes.  I am an absolute failure on the fish (way overdone) and the pasta (the shapes I make are thick and clumsy).  Still, the recipes are simple and even with my errors, everything tastes great.

Seriously, have you ever seen pasta shaped like this?

Seriously, have you ever seen pasta shaped like this?

At the end of the class we are offered the opportunity to take a photo with Chef Kish.  I hesitate, but I can’t resist adding to my archive of photos with “celebrity chefs.”

 Kristen Kish and me

I wander out of the Living Social space back into the icy streets of DC, and smile contentedly as I reflect on the delightful experience.  I recall a snowy night a few years ago when I took a cooking class with Carla Hall of “Top Chef” and now ABC’s “The Chew.”  My car got stuck in the parking lot, and Carla helped push it out into the street.  I still apply some of the lessons learned on salting and seasoning.

I sense a pattern here.  If I can find a few more “Top Chef” cooking classes to take on snowy nights, one day I really may become a well-seasoned food blogger.

 

Blog post:  The Night I Was Pushed by Carla Hall

 

Paris: Elevated Kosher at Yayin

When my husband tells me that he has only one dining request in Paris, my heart sinks just a little.  I know he wants to visit a kosher restaurant.  It’s not an unfair request, as he only eats fish or vegetarian cuisine in non-kosher restaurants. But we only have four nights in Paris, and I am reluctant to give one up for a meal I am predisposed to believe will not live up to my expectations.  I am controlling when it comes to dining out, but I cannot begrudge him this one wish on our ten day vacation… Can I?

Why the reluctance?  Hebrew National’s longtime advertising campaign convinced millions of Americans that their kosher hot dogs are best because “we answer to a higher authority.”  It makes for a great campaign slogan. But I am not sure that the “higher authority” is all that interested in food, judging from some of the dishes I’ve eaten in kosher restaurants.  All too often I find myself saying “not bad, considering its kosher.”

I set out to find a restaurant that will appease my desire for creative French cuisine, and my husband’s for a kosher meal.  I am intrigued by the menu at Yayin which seems to fit the bill.  According to their website:  Yayin offers a very modern approach to kosher cuisine. What makes Yayin a unique place is the pairing of wine and food, from hors d’œuvres to dessert, with systematic wine suggestions for every item on the menu. 

Yayin, which means wine in Hebrew, is in a quiet residential neighborhood.  Dining here necessitates a thirty minute subway ride from where we are staying in the St. Germain area.  We arrive at  7:45 pm.  This is early for dining in Paris, but perfect for our travel-weary selves.  The restaurant is completely empty, save for a lone employee who is mopping the floor. Uh oh.

There is no record of our reservation, which clearly doesn’t matter.  I’m wondering if it really is too early for other patrons, or have I made a terrible mistake.  An empty restaurant is not a good sign.

Once I get past the disappointment of dining without an accompanying buzz, I can soak in the cozy decor.  It’s nothing fancy, but has appeal as a neighborhood bistro.  Our young waiter recommends wine while we peruse the menu.  I immediately fixate on foie gras, not for myself but for my husband, who is foie gras deprived. Kosher foie gras is not something you see every day.

Yayin Interior

The thickly cut foie is enhanced by a small “dish” of diced fruit served in a hollowed-out pomegranate.  We are served a basket of bread, which is on par with the other excellent loaves we’ve devoured throughout the city.

Yayin Foie Gras

I am sorry to hear that they are out of the appetizer that piqued my interest initially- gefilte fish is poached in coconut milk and lemongrass and wrapped in a banana leaf.  I skip the appetizer and go right to a Moroccan tagine featuring chicken thighs in a soupy broth. The dish is mild for my palate, but well prepared.  I am not wowed but I’m satisfied, despite the fact that I have to sift through far too many unexpected – and unwelcome- slivered almonds.

Yayin chicken

My husband follows the foie gras appetizer with duck encrusted in charoset.  He enjoys the flavor, but the meat is a bit too chewy. Still, he’s appreciative of the opportunity to be eating meat. I’m happy that he’s happy.

I am concerned that for at least  forty-five minutes, we are lone diners. Finally, a party of four arrives and I am relieved. I have a thing about kosher restaurants and survival. Even if they aren’t that great, I take comfort in their existence.  When I ask our server if they usually draw a crowd, he assures us it’s an abnormally slow night.

It’s difficult to make a real assessment of Yayin, as the experience feels incomplete with so few people in the restaurant.  But I admire the concept, and the menu is an enticing marriage of French, Asian, and Jewish cuisine.  It is an excellent option for someone seeking a creative kosher meal accompanied by a nice glass of wine.  If dining at Yayin didn’t require a commute to France, I could see myself returning.

Yayin — 33, rue Cardinet 75017 Paris

*For more about my views on kosher dining, read “It’s Difficult To Be a Foodie When You Can Eat Only at Kosher Restaurants” published by Tablet

Central…Ifs and Thens

If I’m going to see Idina Menzel inIf/Then” at the National Theater, then there is no question I’m going to dine at Central beforehand.  If I’m dining at Central, then I’m going to have to order the goat cheese Caesar salad.  And, if I’m eating goat cheese Caesar salad, then I am definitely pairing it with a burger.  There are some things in life where the path is undeniable.  This is opposed to the theme of the new musical “If/Then” which explores “the intersection of choice and chance.”

The only uncertainty when it comes to my pre-theater meal at Central is should I order a burger with tuna, lamb, lobster, or beef?

The fact that I haven’t written about Central before now is nothing more than a serious oversight.  I’ve been a fan since the early days, when Chef Cedric Maupiller (now of Mintwood Place) ran the kitchen of this Michel Richard restaurant.  Central (the emphasis is on the last syllable and not the first) is notable as a bistro that can be counted on for quality and consistency.  I consider it a great go-to in my DC dining repertoire.

What I like most about Central can be described in one word: CRISP. Crisp french fries. A burger with a crisp potato tuile for extra crunch. A salad with a crispy crouton. If a food is meant to be crispy, then I consider it a failure when it doesn’t deliver.  If the crispy element is a surprise (i.e. the tuile), then I consider it a happy one. Central does crisp often, and it does it well.

I am usually more of an adventurous diner, but after multiple visits to Central I have learned to succumb to the burger.  (Although once I did veer off course and ordered the crispy fried chicken.)  On this particular evening, the lamb burger is calling to me. But first, a shared order of goat cheese Caesar salad, which is one of my favorite dishes in town.  Part of the attraction is the crisp wedge of lettuce, generously coated with a creamy goat cheese dressing.  A touch more dressing could result in disaster, but this is perfectly apportioned.

Central goat cheese salad

Central goat cheese salad

There are multiple reasons for the success of Central’s lamb burger.  The meat is juicy and well-seasoned.  The buttery bun holds together, never giving in to the drippings of the succulent meat.  But the potato tuile is the distinguishing factor, adding texture and a satisfying crunch.  If this isn’t one of the best ways to accentuate a burger, then I don’t know what is.  Hot, perfectly salted fries are an absolute necessity as an accompaniment.

    central lamb burger

Central has been a hit for some time, playing to sold out audiences with its crisp cuisine. “If/Then” is headed for Broadway in the Spring.  There are some kinks in the show still to be worked out, as Peter Marks of The Washington Post points out in his review.    If the musical can be retooled to make it a little more crisp , then it has potential for a long-lasting run.

Central, 1001 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC

Washington Post 2012 Dining Guide review

Central Michel Richard on Urbanspoon

Rose’s Luxury: Love in Bloom

I don’t fall in love all that easily, and I tend to be fickle.  But there are certain traits I find irresistible.  Looks are important, but they are not everything.  I like to be surprised, and playfulness is a plus. Good taste is a must.

I found true love recently.  The object  of my affection nourishes me in every way, and makes me feel special. And now, I am compelled to profess my feelings in a public forum.

Rose’s Luxury…I’m talking about you.  And it’s okay…my husband knows how I feel.

There has been a great deal of hype about Rose’s Luxury since it opened on Capitol Hill a little less than two months ago.  I feel like I am in love with the most popular person in school.  If i want a date, particularly on a Saturday night, I’m going to have to work for it.

I find the no-reservations policy at Rose’s Luxury initially off-putting, since getting to Capitol Hill is a shlep. But it’s not a deal-breaker. However, knowing that my husband and the friends we are dining with are not going to stand for a long wait, we arrive at 5:20 on a Saturday night. There are about a dozen people in front of us. I am not thrilled to be dining so early, but as the night progresses and customers begin to pour in, the decision proves to be a good one. By 7:00 pm there is a two hour wait for a table.

From the moment we are seated, we are determined to savor the experience by taking it nice and slow.  I soak in the atmosphere.  When it comes to looks Rose”s Luxury has it going on, but in an easy, not trying too hard kind of way. I’m attracted to the white exposed brick, the open kitchen, and the homey, eclectic feel.

Rose’s Luxury shines in the personality department.  Daniel, our server and a self-described food geek, possesses an unbridled enthusiasm for his place of employment that’s infectious. He’s describing ingredients at a brisk pace, and we actually can’t keep up with everything he is saying.  But I don’t need to retain every word, and I find his knowledge and respect for his employer endearing.  When he says that the popcorn soup with grilled lobster is so much fun that it’s kind of like “Orville Redenbacher meets Dr. Suess,” I am sold.  Smoked brisket with white bread, horseradish, and slaw is described as “Eastern European meets Texas.” Sold again.

Then there’s Elizabeth, another server, who expresses her passion for the restaurant on Twitter.  I can’t help but seek her out, and she checks in throughout the night to see how we’re faring.  Staff are frequently checking in with diners, fulfilling Chef/Owner Aaron Silverman’s desire for the restaurant to be hospitable and fun.

Chef Silverman has impressive cooking credentials, having worked for award-winners such as New York’s David Chang and Marco Canora, and Charleston’s Sean Brock.  Perhaps this is why the menu reflects an eclectic mix of Asian meets Italian, meets Southern, meets Jewish.

When it comes down to it Rose’s Luxury is receiving rave reviews because the dishes are exciting, and just plain delicious. Just as we are  tiring of small plates, Rose’s Luxury does it again.  But somehow it’s okay.  Besides, there are two offerings on the menu that are served family style.

First up is a complimentary loaf of warm and wonderful potato bread, dusted with potato skin crumbs and chives. It’s served on a plate that looks almost exactly like my mother-in-law’s china.  This is a restaurant that’s consciously trying to make customers feel at home, and they can’t do much better than that!

Rose's Luxury Bread

Vietnamese pâté with herbs and garlic bread is like a deconstructed banh mi.  It also reminds me of my grandmother’s chopped liver and our recent trip to France, all in the same bite. Good memories are being stirred up all over the place, and the night has just begun.

My husband and one of our friends doesn’t eat meat, so they have joined forces to order nearly everything they possibly can on the menu.  This gives them tastes of six different dishes. They are happy with the variety, but comment on the lack of a fish option.

Burnt romaine with avocado poblano and cotija cheese is their first dish, and I can’t resist taking a bite of this and every one of their dishes that follows.  I want what they’re having every time, but not instead of my dishes…in addition to them.

Rose's Luxury burnt romaine

Rose’s Luxury burnt romaine

Popcorn soup with lobster is creamy and buttery, and fantastic.  My friend and I split a portion, and it’s an adequate serving to share.  A touch more lobster would have made us love it even more.

A sausage, habanero, and lychee salad is available with vegetarian sausage.  It’s packed with flavor, and I can’t imagine it tasting any better with the intended pork . This is the first of many dishes that has us uttering “OMG.” This will continue at a rapid pace as the meal progresses.

There are three pasta dishes on the menu, all vegetarian.  We declare the fennel-stuffed gnocchi with toasted breadcrumbs the best dish of the night.  Until we meet the strawberry pasta with ricotta and black pepper.  I go absolutely nuts over this dish.  I love the little bits of onion and the back of the mouth burn from the pepper. The flavors are so surprisingly luxurious that I think this should be the restaurant’s signature dish.  I am tempted to order another portion, it’s that good.  I regret my effort to exercise restraint.

Rose's Luxury Strawberry Pasta

Rose’s Luxury Strawberry Pasta

Cacio e pepe, is a classic pasta with olive oil and pecorino cheese.  It’s the simplest of the three pastas, but charming nonetheless.

There are only two of us sharing the family style smoked brisket, which is clearly meant for more people with larger appetites. The horseradish has just the right amount of burn, and the tangy slaw brings it all together. The scent of the smoke permeates to the other side of the table, and it’s the non-meat eaters turn for dish envy.

 

Rose's Luxury Smoked Brisket

Rose’s Luxury Smoked Brisket

They console themselves with caramelized cauliflower with Greek yogurt, and it only takes them a bite before they get over their FOMO (fear of missing out).

Rose's Luxury Caramelized Cauliflower

Rose’s Luxury Caramelized Cauliflower

As we continue our meal we are causing a bit of a scene.  Each time someone comes to remove a plate from the table we shoo them away, sometimes vociferously. To the naked eye it appears that we’re done with a dish.  However, as long as there is a molecule of food left, we are determined to enjoy it.  Ultimately, we ask for more bread to soak up the errant bits.

I am not as enamored by dessert as I am by the rest of the meal.  Vanilla ice cream with grilled olive oil cake and sea salt is texturally interesting.  I like the first bite, but somehow I can’t bring myself to go back into the pool of olive oil for more.

Rose's Luxury Grilled Olive Oil Cake

Rose’s Luxury Grilled Olive Oil Cake

I enjoy the lighter dessert of poached seckel pear with smoked mascarpone and honey.  I may be expressing a more enthusiastic sentiment, however, had we sampled the more intriguing and decadent-sounding foie gras french toast with cinnamon toast ice cream. Next time?

At this point, nothing can take the bloom off the rose.  I am swooning over the entire experience.  Now I am longing for a second date, and hoping that the popularity of Rose’s Luxury doesn’t make this difficult. Because in the end, what I am really looking for from Rose’s is a long-lasting relationship.

 

Rose’s Luxury, 717 8th Street, SE, Washington, DC

City Paper review by Jessica Sidman

Washington Post review by Tom Sietsema

Update:  An anniversary dinner in March 2014 has me just as enthusiastic as ever about Rose’s.  While I wasn’t a huge fan of the desserts the first time around, and skipped dessert the second, my third visit has me enthralled with sourdough donuts with apple cider, vanilla ice cream and cheddar cheese. I’m told it won’t be on the menu much longer, so catch it if you can.

 

sourdough donuts with apple cider

sourdough donuts with apple cider

Rose's Luxury on Urbanspoon

Capital Food Fight- Everybody Wins

As 75 restaurants and four chef’s battled against hunger in this week’s Capital Food Fight, the DC Central Kitchen came out the winner.  More than 1,500 attendees supported the fundraising event.  DC Central Kitchen is America’s leader in reducing hunger with recycled food, training unemployed adults for culinary careers, serving healthy school meals, and rebuilding urban food systems through social enterprise.

Baltimore Chef Spike Gjerde, Executive Chef and Co-Owner of Woodberry Kitchen & Artifact Coffee came out on top as the winner of the food fight, which must have pleased Duff Goldman of Charm City Cakes and host of the Food Network’s “Ace of Cakes.”  Earlier in the evening he teased the audience that “you think you need a passport to go to Baltimore.”

Duff Goldman and José Andrés

Duff Goldman and José Andrés

Guests sampled tasty bites from 75 local restaurants, who cooked to impress.  The stage lit up for battles between local chefs including Erik Bruner-Yang of Toki Underground and Maketto; Bertrand Chemel of 2941 Restaurant; Anthony Lombardo of 1789, and Spike Gjerde.

Co-hosts José Andrés and Carla Hall bantered throughout the battles, keeping the audience amused.

Capital Food Fight Carla and Jose 3

Carla Hall and José Andrés

The chefs faced a judges panel of savvy celebrity chefs including  Tom Colicchio,  Todd English, Rick Bayless,  and Art Smith.

apital food fight Carla Carla Hall, Jose Andres, Tom Colicchio, Rick Bayless and Art Smith

Art Smith, Todd English, Rick Bayless, Tom Colicchio, Carla Hall and Jose Andres take a moment to pay tribute to Charlie Trotter

The event also featured a High Stakes Cakes competition.  Padua Player, Executive Pastry Chef and owner of Suga Chef Desserts, was the winner.

The best news of the night?  $600,000 was raised for DC Central Kitchen!

For more information about DC Central Kitchen, visit http://www.dccentralkitchen.org/

 

About DC Central Kitchen
For more than 20 years, DC Central Kitchen has pioneered a new model of using food as a tool to change lives. We provide nutritious meals to our neighbors in need, equip unemployed men andwomen to begin culinary careers, and engineer successful social enterprises that advance ourmission while creating good jobs for the people we serve. Through job training, healthy food distribution, and local small business partnerships, DC Central Kitchen offers path-breaking solutions to poverty, hunger, and poor health.

Supremely Flavorful Food at Doi Moi

When I judge a restaurant, many factors are taken into account.  There’s the décor, the service, the concept, the noise level, and obviously the food. I weigh all of these elements, as I ponder what to write after two recent visits to Doi Moi (read Doy Moy).

Doi Moi  is another new restaurant on the burgeoning 14th Street corridor in Northwest DC. And it’s another (when-is-it-going-to-stop) restaurant featuring small plates. Doi Moi is brought to us from Chef Haidar Karoum, and the successful team behind Estadio and Proof. I end up dining here twice in four days, which is a first in my very long history of restaurant-going.

Visit number one is a little hectic, and therefore I have a difficult time formulating a verdict. I am here with eight friends, who are all simultaneously trying to convey what they want from the menu featuring Asian street food.  If I close my eyes I can still hear the dissonance, with the cries of “not too spicy” ringing loudest. The spice lover in me is deflated, as I am hoping to fully experience the flavors at Doi Moi.

I shouldn’t have to remind myself that small plates dining is not meant for nine people. I settle in with the menu and a pen, trying to work through the frenzy. Some dishes will be ordered in duplicate, and others only appeal to a few of my dining companions. Meanwhile, our server is quietly witnessing the scene. He is nonplussed, but he is also offering little guidance.  We ask him a few questions, but he doles out his responses sparingly.

Once our food begins to arrive, the primary concern is making sure that everyone gets enough to eat, and that the spice doesn’t overwhelm anyone.

Relief washes over me as the crowd is satisfied with our first bites of Kanom Pak Gadd- crispy cakes of radish, wild mushrooms, peanuts, and a mushroom soy dipping sauce.

Doi Moi radish cakes

Doi Moi radish cakes

 

Goong yang are beautifully grilled head on prawns, which we dip into a tangy sauce. The presentation is appealing, but we don’t quite get that some of what’s on the plate is for show and not for consumption. Hello, server?  Some interaction would be helpful.

Doi Moi grilled prawns

Doi Moi grilled prawns

Kai Dao- fried duck egg atop jasmine rice, with garlic, red chilies, and fish sauce is a little too spicy for some of my spice-sensitive friends.  I find it a satisfying accompaniment to other more complex dishes.

 

Doi Moi fried duck egg

Doi Moi fried duck egg

Gui chai is a great dish for the non-meat eaters, featuring pan fried garlic chive and mushroom dumplings, with a wonderful sweet soy-black vinegar dipping sauce.

Each dish has been accompanied with its own dipping sauce, and no two sauces have been the same. Each one is a satisfying mix of popular Southeast Asian ingredients including Thai chilies, cilantro, peppercorns, peanuts, citrus, ginger and garlic. The sauces served on the side enables the diner to determine just how much extra flavor to impart.

We move to the curries section of the menu with Gaeng Par Hed- house made tofu with wild mushroom curry.  This is identified on the menu as “phet Mak” which means very spicy.  I don’t find it overly hot, but after trying it again on my second visit, I find it a little too soupy. This makes rice, which is available for a $2 extra, a necessity for a dish like this one.

 

Doi Moi Gaeng Par Hed Tofu & Wild Mushroom Curry

Doi Moi Gaeng Par Hed Tofu & Wild Mushroom Curry

 

The next section of the menu is labeled “share.” I am not clear what distinguishes these items from the other parts of the menu that are also shareable.  But these are dishes not to be missed. We order two of each, which is a very good thing.

Sablefish with dill and tumeric rests on vermicelli noodles, scallions, dill, peanuts, crispy garlic, nouc cham, chilies, and fragrant herbs. This is the dish that satisfies the non-meat eaters, the non-spicy eaters, and the full-flavor seekers like me.  It’s a winner all around.

Doi Moi sable fish

Doi Moi sable fish

 

Crispy whole fried fish with ginger dipping sauce is superb.  It’s critical to pull the fish apart and get every last bit of meat off the bones.  I enjoy picking at the bones while others are deeply immersed in conversation. Yay, a few extra bites for me!

Doi Moi crispy whole fried fish

Doi Moi crispy whole fried fish

 

The noodles/rice section of the Doi Moi menu has something for everyone.  Stir fried lemongrass beef on vermicelli noodles is one of my favorite Vietnamese dishes, and this version is prepared with finesse, bringing together classic notes of heat and sweet.

Doi Moi stir fried lemongrass beef

Doi Moi stir fried lemongrass beef

I am grateful there are a few crab-eaters in this group.  Khao Phat Puu- blue crab fried rice is brimming with pieces of lumb crab. To complete the meal, I insist we try the peanut butter soft serve, which has come highly recommended. I don’t have to twist arms. The creamy intense ice cream makes for a great refreshing finish. It’s on the menu to help tone down the spicy flavors, and it works like a charm.

As we step out into the cool autumn air, we peer back into the appealing expanse of white walls, tables, and chairs. (Blogger What Micky Eats compares the setting to an Apple Store). One of my friends notices Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan seated at a table right in the window.  If we had been feeling a little out of place as 50-somethings among a millennial crowd, we now feel as if we’ve dined in great company.

The food has been flavorful, and I leave with a favorable opinion of Doi Moi. But dining with so many people makes it difficult for me to focus, and I’m not certain I am going to write about the meal. Four days later a reservation snafu for a dinner out with my husband, son, and his fiancée leads me back to Doi Moi. I’m ready for more evidence to lead me to a favorable conclusion.  

This time my three dining companions are all pescetarians, and one is gluten free. When this reality sets in, I do the only thing I can do.  I insist on ordering one dish all to myself.  It is going to be spicy and it’s going to feature meat.  I select laab ped- ground duck and duck liver salad.   This divine dish with shallots, toasted rice powder, ground chilies, saw leaf herb, kaffir lime, and cilantro brings the heat I was seeking the first time around.  It brings tears to my eyes, and that’s the way I like it.

 

Doi Moi Laab Ped Ground Duck & Duck Liver

Doi Moi Laab Ped Ground Duck & Duck Liver

 

Doi Moi has a plentiful selection of vegetarian and fish dishes, as well as a special menu highlighting gluten free and vegan options.  We enjoy many of the same dishes from my first visit, along with a few more including well-seasoned stir fried rice noodles with onion and broccoli, and a bold som tam- green papaya with snake beans, peanuts, and dried shrimp.

 

Doi Moi Stir Fried Rice Noodles

Doi Moi Stir Fried Rice Noodles

We exit the restaurant with high praise for our meal. I’m telling my family about seeing Elena Kagan a few days earlier. And there, in almost the same spot as her colleague had been seated, is Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. If this isn’t evidence that Doi Moi is attracting a power crowd, I don’t know what is.

I find the decor at Doi Moi inviting, the noise level bearable (although it’s better when dining on the early side), and the service competent although restrained.  But it’s really the flavors here that reign supreme.  At least that’s my verdict.

 

Doi Moi, 1800 14th Street, NW, Washington, DC

 Washington Post, First Bit review

Doi Moi on Urbanspoon

France dining: When in Rhone

I am mystified by the dining habits of the French. They eat three course meals laden with calories twice daily, and no one is overweight. Small plates of food meant for sharing? Not an option. Vegetarian is a foreign concept, and the term “gluten free” doesn’t exist. Caffeine doesn’t affect the French, who drink coffee (not decaf!) after every meal. Most astonishing is the fact that no one is ever in a hurry.  When I finish dining, particularly at lunchtime, I want the check immediately so I can move on to the next thing.  Not the French. They sit for hours, luxuriating over coffee and conversation. How bizarre!

As our ten day France vacation continues through Dijon, Lyon, Marseilles, and Aix-en-Provence, I do my best to adapt to the dining customs.  However, wherever we dine I am a disappointment to servers, managers, and restaurant owners.  The problem: I can never finish the food on my plate, which they seem to take as a personal affront to the cooking.  The fact is that I have not trained properly for all of this marathon eating.

Here is a round-up of our meals on part two of our vacation, where I try my hardest to dine late, eat often, and not bemoan the fact that it is unacceptable here to take home leftovers.  (My Paris post can be found here.)

Ma Cuisine, Passage Sainte-Helene, 21200 Beaune, France.  We rent a car to visit the town of Beaune, which is 30 minutes from our hotel in Dijon. Ma Cuisine is well known in Burgundy for its regional cuisine and an impressive selection of wine.  This unassuming bistro in a quiet town is bustling, even at an early hour.  We have to drive back to Dijon on dark and unfamiliar roads, so my husband decides against drinking wine with dinner. This is a wise and practical decision, but it is also a shame.  The wine is divine, as is the earthy food. I start with a terrine of duck and veal, followed by a crisp duck confit with potatoes. Our overall experience suffers due to service that is rather cold.  I can’t help but think that service may have warmed up, had we only been able to drink more wine. Recommend (but don’t miss the wine).

Ma Cuisine Interior

Ma Cuisine

 

Ma Cuisine Terrine

Ma Cuisine Terrine

Le Potager des Halles.  3, rue de la Martinière – 69001 Lyon.  Lyon is the home of famed chef Paul Bocuse, whose name is synonymous with nouvelle cuisine.  My decision to not dine at one of his restaurants is a tough one.  Research leads me instead to Le Potager des Halles, which comes in at #2 in ranking our dining experiences in France. Chef Floriant Rémont has worked with Paul Bocuse, and the beautifully prepared French cuisine shows off his impressive skills. Our three course meal at this white tablecloth restaurant is simply exquisite.

Dinner here exemplifies just how important service is to an overall experience. A server is working hard to help translate the long and varied menu. She struggles to describes one dish, finally saying “it has to do with the movie ‘Bambi.’ ”  I cross it off my list of potential entrees.  She can’t think of the word for pumpkin, but is triumphant when she comes up with the word “Halloween.”  Add in the French accent, and we are completely charmed. A second server is paying close attention to our reactions to each dish, after my husband fails to eat an amuse bouche of ham and pig head with mustard. She has no cause for concern.

Fish soup has a rich and creamy broth, which is poured over crisp pieces of bread, and topped with a wonderfully aromatic cheese. Baby lamb with sweetbreads, sweet chunks of roasted squash and eggplant, and lemon, reflect the restaurant’s commitment to incorporate fresh local ingredients in their dishes.

le Potager des Halle lamb

le Potager des Halle lamb

Dessert is a work of art with an intense spoonful of rich chocolate, mini meringues, goat cheese and honey sorbet, and baked milk crumbs.  I love the interplay of textures.

Potager les Halles dessert

Le Potager des Halles dessert

At the end of the meal, we express our absolute delight to the staff, who seem visibly relieved.  “We weren’t sure you liked our food, because you didn’t finish the bite of pig head.”  One should never base my enjoyment of a meal solely on whether I finish the pig head.    Highly recommend.

Chez Fon Fon,  140, Vallon des Auffes – 13007, Marseille.  We are passing through Marseille on our way to Aix-en Provence. I decide that I absolutely must have the bouillabaisse at Chez Fon Fon.  The restaurant is touted as the place for the seafood stew, which originated in this port town. We make it to the restaurant just before they stop serving lunch. I am breathless and a bit out of sorts after a harrowing drive to get here. A bowl with croutons is placed before me, then broth is poured into a small bowl. Next I receive a bowl of garlic aioli and one with pink saffron sauce. I am puzzled by the small portion of soup, and the absence of any visible pieces of fish. Moments later a large plate heaped with assorted seafood is brought to the table.  Now I have a dilemma.  I stare at the bowl of broth, and then the plate of fish, wondering what to do next. I begin cutting pieces of fish and dipping it in the aioli. I alternate bites of fish with sips of broth. A restaurant employee rushes over, wildly gesturing for me to put the fish into the soup bowl.  I am an idiot. But in my defense, this is nothing like the bouillabaisse I had at Bistro Provence back home. The server brings me more broth, and I start again.  Once I get the hang of it, I like it.  I really like it. Chez Fon Fon is worth a visit for the traditional bouillabasse (who knew!) and a spectacular waterfront view. Recommend.

chez fon fon bouillabaisse

chez fon fon bouillabaisse

Mitch  26 Rue des Tanneurs, 13100 Aix-en-Provence. Friends highly recommend the restaurant Mitch in Aix-en-Provence.  It also gets a nod of approval from our hotel concierge.  Mitch is contemporary, cool, and creative.  I’ve already been wowed by food photos on the website, so I am here with heightened expectations. The white brick walls and dark wood furniture bring to mind some of DC’s buzz-worthy restaurants.  I’m temporarily nostalgic, but once I delve into my dishes I’m back in the moment. I start with marinated octopus with a chorizo emulsion. I am not usually a fan of octopus, but this is another one of my efforts to embrace the local cuisine. Duck breast wows me with fuller flavors than most other dishes I’ve had on the trip. My husband’s fish dish takes our breath away for its sheer beauty.   The food is magical, and this is one meal where I can almost make every bite disappear. Highly recommend.

Mitch Duck Breast

Mitch duck breast

Mitch Fish

Mitch Fish

Restaurant Côté Cour   19 Cours Mirabeau, 13100 Aix-en-Provence.  It’s our last night of vacation.  The restaurant we plan to dine at is just too far away for the weary travelers we have become.  I now must scramble to find a restaurant. It’s Saturday night and my top choices have no availability. The hotel concierge points us to Restaurant Côté Cour, just minutes away.  I scan the website, and there is the sign I need to confirm our dining decision.  Chef Ronan Kernen was a contestant on “Top Chef France” in 2011.  Regular readers will know how appealing this is to me. Suffice it to say I am a fan of the show.  And even though I have never heard of Chef Kernen, the thought of this makes me smile. 

ronan kernan top chef

Ronan Kernan “Top Chef”

The chef’s skills are impressive, and the meal is one of our favorites. I enjoy a salad with produce from the local market, an entree of guinea hen, and truffled ice cream. If there is any question regarding the importance of the show in France, the answer may lie in the glass case next to the kitchen.

Top Chef France

As our trip comes to an end, I take pride in my accomplishments. I’ve sipped espresso with no milk, dined at 10:00 pm, and never once did I ask for the uneaten food on my plate to be packed up to go.  Although my command of the French language improved just un peu (a little) on our vacation, I am pleased to say that I now find French food to be très très bon (very, very good).

 

 

Paris: Oh the Pain of It All

Poilane Bakery

Poilane Bakery

Pain, pain, pain. In French the word means bread, and it’s what I devour three times daily during my ten day vacation in France. It’s also what I feel after looking in the mirror following said vacation, and then imagining our credit card bill for food alone. But of course (read with French accent), the vacation is worth every pound and penny. And anyway, no one wants to hear me whine about ten days in France.

Generally speaking French food has never really been my thing. The flavors are a little subtle for my taste, and there are so many meat dishes that I frankly find unappealing.  Do I really want to eat carpaccio of veal head, suckling pig cheeks, or lamb sweetbreads? I spend weeks focusing on our restaurant itinerary, beginning with meals for four days in Paris.  I painstakingly select restaurants that represent a mix of both modern cuisine and traditional. Once I am faced with the actual task of deciding what to eat, I  wonder if I should navigate around the foods that I find off-putting or through them. My kosher-keeping husband encourages me to take risks, and delve into the cuisine whole hog.

On day six of our vacation, after dipping into multiple terrines of organ meats and munching on sausage in every shape and form, I am ready to swear off meat products for at least a month. However, my obsession with other facets of the cuisine grows exponentially.  I marvel at  the shops filled with gorgeous loaves of bread, endless hunks of white and yellow cheeses, stunning rows of pastries, and colorful cases of macarons. Oh mon dieu! I want to sample goods from each (in the name of research), but it’s an impossible goal.

I can’t help but wonder how the French eat like they do. In Paris, it is a common sight to see people walking or riding the subway while they are gnawing on a loaf of bread out of a brown paper bag.  Meanwhile, there isn’t a gym in sight.  I honestly don’t think the word carb enters a Parisian’s mind. This makes me envious beyond belief.

Here is my round-up of our dining experiences in Paris.  Scroll to the end of the post for some recommended resources that helped inform my dining decisions.

L’epigramme My first meal in Paris is at this small but lovely bistro, just down the street from our hotel in the Saint Germain district.  I am a teensy bit skeptical. Our concierge sends us here, and I have a mistrust of concierge restaurant recommendations based on previous experience. But the wonderful Sanjay of Artus Hotel knows his food.  My first bite of crab and avocado entree (which is initially confusing, because in France entree means appetizer), is shocking in a most pleasant way.  I am not expecting flavors that are so strong and fresh.  I know this is not a tourist trap, because almost no one in the place speaks English.  A wonderfully creamy pistachio crème brûlée seals the deal.  Bonjour, Paris. Recommend. 9 Rue de l’Éperon, 75006 Paris

Ze Kitchen Gallerie This modern French-Asian fusion restaurant features dishes that are artistic and innovative.  While the flavors tend to be delicate, the dishes are far from simple.  Hake with kalamensi and lemongrass is a stunner. Ravioli crevette with Thai crustacean jus has great texture and taste. My only regret is that this is my first dinner in Paris.  I would have had a greater appreciation for the meal if it was later in the trip, when I really yearned for lighter fare. Prices are on the high end, with first courses at 27 euros and main courses at 39 €. Recommend. 4, rue des Grands-Augustins – 75006 Paris

Ze Kitchen Gallery Fish

Ze Kitchen Gallerie Fish

Fuxia  We are on a crowded street filled with cafés and have no idea where to eat lunch. My desire to have every meal count has me temporarily flummoxed.  I decide that the cafe filled to the brim with 20-something hipster Parisians is our best bet.  Never mind that it’s an Italian restaurant and a chain. Fresh salads and pasta are just the thing to recharge our bodies, after a busy morning of seeing the sites.  Portions are huge, and we don’t come close to finishing salads and pasta.  Good for lunch if you are passing by. Multiple locations.

 L’ami Jean has the number three spot in my ranking of our meals in France.  It’s bustling, noisy, and crowded. Stephane Jégo, the chef, is a French version of Gordon Ramsey.  He barks orders out of a window in a semi-open kitchen, to a frantic staff who work up a sweat as they follow his commands.  Jégo’s intensity is entertaining, although I am grateful that I am not seated at the table directly adjacent to the kitchen.  The Americans sitting there seem to be annoyed by the chef’s bravado.  A communal game terrine is placed before us, along with some crusty bread to start.  My kosher-keeping husband isn’t game, but I am.  Braised veal cheeks are rich and earthy.  My husband has a cooked-to-perfection sea bream. The rice pudding is not to be missed. Seriously. I’m not sure the staff is thrilled when we offer some of our dessert to the lovely British couple sitting at the table next to us.  But it’s a generous portion, and this would be sinful to waste.  Despite the craziness, the staff is attentive and warm.  Everyone working here wants you to love the food, and we do. Don’t miss! 27 Rue Malar  75007 Paris

l'Ami Jean veal cheeks

l’Ami Jean veal cheeks

Paris by Mouth delivers a food tour of the Marais district that I consider the best spent euros of our entire trip. The streets of Paris are lined with tantalizing food shops.  It is daunting to determine where to stop, even armed as I am with the app “Paris Pastry” by David Lebovitz.  This guided three hour tour erases the angst, and introduces us to some incredible artisan edibles.  My favorite spot is Jacques Genin Chocolatier, where chocolates, fruit gels, and caramels are presented as if they are gleaming jewels. Goat cheese from Jouannault Pere et Fille  makes me realize that the white stuff I’ve been crumbling on my salads is a poor imitation of the real thing.  Our knowledgeable guide, Catherine Down, has spent time working in the DC food scene, which makes this tour all the more energizing for me.  It really is a small world. Highly recommended/Don’t miss!

Jacques Genin Chocolaterie

Jacques Genin Chocolaterie

L’as Du Fellafel  When I ask friends for restaurant recommendations in Paris, the most popular response is surprisingly L’as du Felafel.  I get it!   This carryout-only kosher joint in the Marais district is a fun scene and the felafel is light, crunchy, spicy, and a messy delight.  We had to squeeze it in as an afternoon snack, but it’s worth it for a meal or in between.  Warning…there will be a wait. 34 rue des Rosiers 75004 Paris Highly recommend.

 

l'as Du Fellafel

l’as Du Fellafel

Yayin  My husband requests that we eat in one kosher restaurant while in Paris.  Our stop at L’as du Fellafel doesn’t count as a full meal. We take two trains to Yayin, which is located in a quiet neighborhood in the 17th arrondissement.  This will be his only opportunity for kosher foie gras, and I encourage him to seize it.  It’s the kind if creative cuisine that I wish more kosher restaurants in the states would embrace.  Yayin has a cozy ambiance, a great wine list (obviously), and I hate to say it but … it’s good for kosher food.  Full blog post to follow. 33, rue Cardinet 75017 Paris

 

Yayin Fois Gras

Yayin Fois Gras

Septime.  It’s on Pellegrino’s list of the 50 best restaurants in the world.  A six course dinner is 55 euros, which I find to be a relative bargain given the quality of the farm-to-table food. Our experience begins with me in tears.  Septime is the kind of place you need to work at to secure a reservation.  Sanjay, our Artus Hotel concierge, has done this for us in advance. However, we are told there is no record of our reservation, and no table available.   The sympathetic manager tells us he will welcome us, but we will need to wait for a table to open up at the fully booked restaurant. (this is a restaurant error, as Sanjay sends me a copy of the email confirmation.)   We hunker down at the bar with wine and a plate of sausage, that I get to munch on all by myself.  We take in the simple decor, which includes a beat up mirror and bare light bulbs. It doesn’t take long for us to realize that it’s the food that takes center stage at Septime.  Food is creative but not over the top, relying on a skilled chef in Bertrand Grébaut and top-notch ingredients.  Dishes include: marinated scallops with pickled oysters, cucumber, shiitake mushrooms and gelee;  sausage with chervil, nasturtium, and smoked sabayon; hake with white beans, haricot beans, cider vinegar, cilantro, and coriander.  There are satisfying substitutions for each course to meet my husband’s dietary needs. This is our favorite dinner of the trip, despite the shaky start.

Septime hake

Septime hake

Dessert at Septime is magnifique. Corn mousse with lemon caramel, toasted bread crumbs, and vanilla ice cream.  We’ve had our fill of Paris pastries, but this dessert is on another level,  blending textures and not-too-sweet flavors into something fun and interesting. There is also a pre-dessert featuring an intense peach sorbet, ricotta cheese, and citrus fruit.  Highly recommend. Septime,  80 Rue de Charonne  75011 Paris

Our restaurant experiences in Paris are varied.  Some of our meals are rich and hearty, others are comparable to the creative cuisine we favor at home.  The one constant is the bread.  It’s just the way I like it.  Crusty on the outside and chewy on the inside.  While fresh butter or jam is readily available, it’s rarely a necessity. It pains me to come back home to bread that is too soft, or too chewy, or even worse, non-existent as an accompaniment to a restaurant meal. I will yearn for the bread of Paris for a long time to come.  Oh, the pain of it all.

My Dining Resources

Chowhound (France board)

Paris by Mouth

Paris Pastry by David Lebovitz (iPhone app)

“Hungry for Paris:  The Ultimate Guide to the City’s 102 Best Restaurants” by Alexander Lobrano

Food and Wine Paris Restaurants:  Where to Go Next 2013″

Kosher Dining Almost Foils a Foodie

This week an essay I wrote was published by Tablet Magazine  “It’s Difficult to Be A Foodie When You Can Eat Only at Kosher Restaurants” is about my family and our dining journey.  The story begins here.  Follow the entire story on Tablet.

My family loved eating out together. But when my daughter became Orthodox, almost all our options got crossed off the menu.

Five years ago my daughter telephoned from college to inform me that she had made a decision about dining out: Now that she had become Orthodox, she was only going to eat in kosher restaurants.

Tears streamed down my face. I know there are many things that are far worse for a mother to hear. But for a restaurant-obsessed food blogger whose identity is strongly tied to dining out, this was very upsetting. Dining out was a shared passion in our family. I devoted hours of my free time to researching restaurants, as every meal out was an opportunity to be seized. I discovered online communities where restaurants were as hotly debated as politics. I kept a bulging file of reviews from the Washington Post and Washingtonian Magazine and made lengthy lists of restaurants I wanted to visit. My husband, daughter, and son had been the grateful beneficiaries of my efforts.

Until now.

…continued here.

TD Burger: Chef’s Burgers are Tops

A new burger restaurant in DC attracts my attention as any new restaurant does.  Well that’s not exactly true.  TD Burger is owned by Timothy Dean, a Season 7 “Top Chef” contestant, so my radar is on high alert. I can’t help myself.  Once I have invested my time in getting acquainted with a chef’s television persona, I want to taste their food.  And isn’t that the point of a chef taking time out of the kitchen to appear on a reality show?

Timothy Dean is no stranger to the DC area.  He worked with the famed Jean-Louis Palladin at Jean-Louis in the Watergate Hotel, and has owned restaurants in Baltimore.  He also has another location of TD Burger in nearby Largo, Maryland. This is his first DC venture, post “Top Chef.”

Before my arranged visit to TD Burger, I’m wondering how much “Top Chef” will actually play into the new restaurant. From what I’ve seen, not every former “cheftestant” capitalizes on their television appearance.  I plan to ask Chef Dean in a follow-up telephone interview, but there’s no need. The first thing I notice is a Timothy Dean poster plastered on the side of the building.  Dean tells me the poster is provided by the Bravo network.  He plans to remove it once TD burger meets a specific revenue goal he has set for the restaurant.  I don’t see the harm in leaving it up for fans of the show, and Dean admits its attracting attention.

 

Timothy Dean poster

 

The DC burger market is already crowded, and I ask Dean how he plans to compete. “It’s a few things,” he says.  “My 22 herbs and spices, a 1/2 pound burger that’s char-broiled, and a fresh brioche bun.  But it’s also about keeping prices down.”  This is important to Dean, as the slumping economy is what brought him from white tablecloth restaurants to burgers in the first place.

So how do the burgers stack up?  Very nicely indeed!  I have a chance to try the Loree Blue Burger and The Abe Lincoln, and they both impress me with the quality of ingredients and layered flavors.  The Loree Blue Burger (named for Loree Murray, a neighborhood activist who founded the Near Northeast Citizens Against Crime and Drugs) is distinguished by organic bleu cheese, lettuce, tomato, and a slice of crispy maple bacon that may have benefited from some slicing to better fit under the bun.  It’s my only complaint, as this burger is thick, juicy, and damn good.

TD Burger Loree Blue Burger

The Abe Lincoln is one of several burgers on the menu named for a U.S. president.  This one features Gouda cheese, coleslaw, Asian barbeque sauce, and a pickle.  I can’t decide which burger I like best, as they are both competitors for my very favorite burgers.  Lincoln may have an edge because of the combination of sweet barbecue sauce paired with the smoky Gouda cheese.

 TD Burger The Abe Lincoln

I have my eye on the decadent Jean-Louis burger with foie gras, rhubarb, mache, and black truffle aioli for a future visit.

TD Burger offers a variety of sides including fries, onion rings, sweet potato fries, and macaroni and cheese.  If you must pick just one, I recommend sweet potato fries. If burgers aren’t your thing there are also salads, fish sandwiches, and a variety of pizzas.  There’s also a full bar, making TD Burger a popular after-work option in the NoMa neighborhood.

As a “Top Chef” fan, I can’t help but ask Dean about any ongoing connections to the show.  He tells me that he is in touch with DC’s other cheftestants Carla Hall, Mike Isabella, and Spike Mendolsohn, as they regularly appear together at events.  He also chats frequently with other chefs from his season including  Angelo Sosa, Kenny Gilbert, and winner Kevin Sbraga. They support each others endeavors, most often through social media.  I enjoy hearing that the show has fostered these ongoing connections.

Does he currently follow the show? “I usually try to have at least one of the TVs in the restaurant tuned to “Top Chef” when its on.  But I’m usually too busy in the kitchen to watch.” It sounds like he’ll be too busy for the foreseeable future, as Dean has plans for further expansion of TD Burger.

Timothy Dean finished in the middle of the pack in the “Top Chef” competition.  But when it comes to burgers, he is a winner.

 

TD Burger, 250 K Street, NE, Washington, DC

 

TD Burger on Urbanspoon

Questions or comments?
Send an email to lorisue6@gmail.com