Friday, August 31, 2007

Those Poisonous Tomatoes

Or so the British suspected, for many years. According to wikipedia:

"The tomato plant was not grown in England until the 1590s . . . . One of the earliest cultivators was John Gerard, a barber-surgeon. Gerard's Herbal, published in 1597 and largely plagiarized from continental sources, is also one of the earliest discussions of the tomato in England.

"Gerard knew that the tomato was eaten in both Spain and Italy. Nonetheless, he believed that it was poisonous (tomato leaves and stems contain poisonous glycoalkaloids, but the fruit is safe). Gerard's views were influential, and the tomato was considered unfit for eating (though not necessarily poisonous) for many years in Britain and its North American colonies."

Coming from the land whose culinary heritage reached its height with such dishes as steak and kidney pie, I can't say I'm the least bit surprised. But we do owe the Brits for popularizing the marvelous ritual of afternoon tea (although it is increasingly enjoyed by mostly tourists and elderly women).

The Typical (Sigh) Diet of Americans

Drew, a cartoonist with a wry sense of humor, maintains a gallery of his drawings at Toothpaste for Dinner. This is one of his recent cartoons . . . .

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Culinary Stop #2 in New Orleans . . .

The charming architecture on Magazine Street in New Orleans

. . . was Lilette on Wednesday night. Located on a charming block of Magazine Street, Lilette's chef de cuisine, John Harris, was named one of Food and Wine's best new chefs in 2002.

I had good food there, and the ambience was pleasant. Lilette has a nice selection of wines by the glass.

My wild salmon was served atop a mound of flageolet beans, which are so de rigeur these days. I mean, you just haven't arrived as a chef unless one of your entrees is accompanied by flageolet beans. This food website even calls flageolets the "caviar of beans."

I am a bean lover, but I simply don't get what all the fuss is about. Flageolets are perfectly okay, but I'll take navy beans or canellini beans over them on any day of the week.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The Big Easy: Food Heaven

This week, I'm working in New Orleans, a great city for food. Last night, dinner at Cochon in the warehouse district was wonderful from start to finish. Cochon's menu is basically Southern-Cajun. I ordered the alligator appetizer and enjoyed it.

What does alligator taste like? No, I won't say "chicken," but I will say a cross between chicken and catfish.

A Major Detail Omitted

Yesterday's N.Y. Times had this story in its business section:

After nearly 14,000 people joined “bring back Wispa” groups on Facebook, the food conglomerate Cadbury Schweppes announced on Aug. 17 that it would reintroduce the candy bar in October.

... As Cadbury deals with the aftermath of a scare over salmonella contamination of some of its chocolate bars, and struggles with a plan to sell or split off its United States soft drink business, Wispa gives the company a feel-good public relations diversion.

A 21-paragraph story like this should have included a sentence describing what's in the damn candy bar, but the Times gave no such info. For those of us who have never eaten this candy bar, it might have been worth mentioning.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Belgian Brews

In this article, the N.Y. Times' Eric Asimov walks us through a tasting of 23 Belgian beers. Reading this article makes me want to grab a taxi and go to Belga Cafe for lunch.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

The World Discovers My New Fave Eatery

Or at least so it seems. On Wednesday evening, I went to Tallula in Arlington, Va. (just a few minutes across the Potomac) with my significant other. The restaurant was packed at 8:30 p.m. A Wednesday night in late August, with Congress in recess, is usually a time when most Washington-area restaurants are at least half empty.

(Sigh) I could do without the validation of knowing that the rest of the world agrees with me that Tallula is a wonderful restaurant. It's not hard to understand why. It's a nice space with excellent, cutting-edge food -- consistently.

BTW, the ahi tuna starter is to die for.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Eating in Pittsburgh

If you happen to be in Pittsburgh anytime soon, I have a few quick thoughts to share. If you're near either of the sports stadiums (Heinz Field or PNC Park) or the Warhol Museum, I can strongly recommend Max's Allegheny Tavern, which is convenient from any of those venues. Excellent German food -- schnitzel, potato pancakes, etc. They have very good beers too.

Near PNC Park and looking for pizza? Don't. Pizza Parma and the other place near the Roberto Clemente Bridge (I have tried to purge its name from my memory) serve pizza that is less than edible.

If you're looking for food or just a nice drink in a pleasant atmosphere downtown, try the Sonoma Grille. They have a nice selection of beers and wines, and a full selection of spirits.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

A Donut Dissertation

I have a real weakness for donuts, but not just any donuts. I love good 'ole fashioned cake donuts.

Dunkin' Donuts are good, but not great. Krispy Kremes are just okay. (If I liked pastry donuts, maybe I'd have a better opinion of Krispy Kremes since pastry donuts are their specialty.) Y'see, I am a dunker, and that's why cake donuts are my fancy. Dipping pastry donuts in a nice, hot cup of java just doesn't work very well. To me, a glazed pastry donut is the Tang of the donut wonderful -- very easy to pass up. I know pastry donuts have a lot of devoted fans, but I'm definitely of the cake-donut persuasion.

My favorite donuts of all are apple-cider donuts. As the name suggests, real apple cider is added to the batter, and it produces a subtle, yet marvelous taste. You can get a very good apple-cider donut from Marker-Miller Orchards, which is near Winchester, Va. (about an 1 hour and 25 minutes from Washington, D.C.). I drive out there once or twice during the fall months. Marker-Miller has a great selection of apples and other produce, and they make their apple-cider donuts fresh on the weekends. They are slightly crispy with a soft, cakey texture inside. Very good.

My favorite apple-cider donuts are made by Delicious Orchards, which is located in the small New Jersey town of Colt's Neck. They are simply fantastic. Delicious Orchards makes apple-cider donuts in three forms: plain, cinnamon-sugar and powdered-sugar. All three are wonderful, although the plain work best for dunking purposes. Colt's Neck is just over an hour from New York City.

If you happen to be in southeastern Wisconsin, good apple cider donuts can be found at Awe's Apple Orchard in the town of Franklin, 30 minutes west of Milwaukee.

Inside Washington, the donut landscape is not very impressive. Yet there is hope for donut lovers who yearn for something beyond the Krispy Kreme-Dunkin' Donuts world. Excellent donuts can be found at the Fractured Prune, which is located on P Street -- just a few blocks west of Dupont Circle. The Fractured Prune is a chain in the mid-Atlantic region that produces a donut that is sort of a hybrid between cake and pastry donuts (but definitely closer to cake). Wonderful texture and taste. The French Toast icing is my favorite.

Whenever I happen to be in New Orleans, I try to stop by Cafe du Monde and try the beignets, a close cousin to the donut. With chicory coffee, of course.

By the way, I just stumbled across this post by a donut-obsessed blogger who has a (wonderfully) twisted sense of humor.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Thanks, Elizabeth

Does the name of Elizabeth Raffald mean anything to you?

Probably not. But, the next time you enjoy a scoop of Rocky Road or Cherries Garcia, you owe dear Elizabeth a debt of gratitude for helping to popularize ice cream. She wrote what is one of the oldest surviving English cookbooks (1769), entitled The Experienced English House-keeper.

Among the hundreds of recipes that Raffald included was this recipe for apricot ice cream. Raffald wisely cautioned her readers that "if it be Summer, you must not turn it out 'till the Moment you want it" -- lest it melt all too quickly.

I've never eaten apricot ice cream. But homemade peach ice cream is to-die-for, and I'm willing to bet that homemade apricot ice cream would be damn good too.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Blocking Hours on OpenTable

I like using It’s convenient, and (best of all) it allows users to earn dining certificates that make eating out more affordable. But I have a pet peeve. Why does allow some participating restaurants to withhold a large block of hours from online reservations?

For Washington D.C. users of OpenTable, one example of this practice is La Chaumiere, a French restaurant in Georgetown. For weeknight dinner reservations, La Chaumiere does not allow OpenTable users to book tables after 6:30 or before 9:00 p.m. That’s obnoxious. Not even Gerard’s Place (much better French cuisine, albeit at a higher price point) engages in this practice.

Although I like La Chaumiere, I refuse to book at ridiculous hours. (Hell, I rarely leave work before 6:30 p.m.) This annoys me so much that I’ve stopped going to the restaurant, period. If they want to disrespect their patrons, that’s fine — they can pay the price. I hope other OpenTable users vote with their feet and stop going to restaurants that behave like this.

Frankly, I don’t think OpenTable should let restaurants participate if they’re going to try (like La Chaumiere) to have it both ways.

Tilapia: Diners Smile, But Chefs Cringe

Restaurant diners seem to be fond of tilapia, but chefs are decidely of a different opinion when it comes to this rising star of the seafood world. More from the Wash Post's Walter Nicholls.

Bordelaise Doesn't Require a Fuss

I am usually a bit conflicted when it comes to deciding when it is worth sticking to a recipe, and when it is worth using a shortcut.

My significant other and I threw 2 T-bone steaks on the grill last night, and we wanted something (besides corn on the cob) to accompany them so I decided to make a bordelaise sauce.

Like most recipes for a bordelaise sauce, the one on Martha Stewart's website calls for a shallots, parsley, and a bouquet garni. The shallots are vital for flavoring the sauce, and the thyme that is part of the bouquet garni is also important (but I must say that I just don't get what the fuss is about parsley).

But I am not going to go to the trouble of purchasing cheesecloth, inserting parsley and thyme into it and then tying it all up with kitchen string. Dried thyme or fresh thyme work just fine. The fact that I could see small grains of thyme in my bordelaise didn't make the sauce any less wonderful with my steak. My significant other didn't seem to mind either.

When it comes to cooking, there are things worth fussing over, and cheesecloth isn't one of them.

If you're wondering, this is the red Tempranillo that we drank with our steak. It was earthy and full-bodied but soft on the finish -- so much so that I would have thought it had just a touch of Merlot in it. The blogger at WhatToDrinkTonight seems to like this wine too.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Cold Stone Creamery Just Doesn't Cut It

If you live in a medium- to large-sized metropolitan area, the odds are if you blinked, you'd miss the opening of another Cold Stone Creamery. Quite a few of these outlets have opened in Washington in the past few years -- one on U Street, the other in Cleveland Park. But I honestly can't get excited about it. It simply isn't good ice cream.

Cold Stone's marketing niche has been to introduce the notion of mashing Reese's pieces, M&M's and other morsels of candy into ice cream. This may explain the texture of Cold Stone's ice cream, which just isn't right. Ice cream shouldn't be chewy, but Cold Stone's is. And that smell that is in the air whenever you walk into a Cold Stone outlet is so artificial.

If you want candy, eat candy. If you want ice cream, eat ice cream. With the possible exception of pepermint-stick ice cream, I think combining the two is overrated.

Ben and Jerry's may not be God's gift to ice cream, but I think it's better than Cold Stone. But here's the real question: Why would anyone in Washington buy ice cream at a Cold Stone Creamery when they could buy amazing ice cream here?

Riesling: It Isn't Just a Synonym for White Zin

"Riesling" -- just saying it makes a lot of wine drinkers cringe, even people who think of themselves as serious wine drinkers.

I'm willing to bet the reason is that the only Riesling they've tasted is the overly sweet, bland variety of Riesling that tends to be produced by some California vintners. Some of the German Rieslings (at least those shipped to the U.S.) also tend to be of the Kool-Aid variety.

But I had a glass of Riesling with lunch today at Cafe 15 in downtown Washington that was so amazing. It was a French Riesling from Alsace, and the bouquet and flavor were superb.

So don't be afraid of Riesling -- at least not of all Riesling. Most of those produced in the French region of Alsace are marvelous. Trimbach and Hugel are a couple of vintners that you can't go wrong with. By the way, the villages where those vintners are located (Ribeauvillé and Riquewihr, respectively) are also cute places to visit if you happen to be traveling through that part of France.


Welcome to my blog. For me, food frequently produces euphoria -- hence the name.

Although I'm reasonably slim and trim, I have always had a love affair with food. I spend a lot of time thinking about great meals I've eaten at a restaurant, dishes I've made at home, or food I've had at other people's homes. And I suppose that's why I've started this blog -- as a repository for the random thoughts I have about those experiences.

Like millions of other Americans, I have been diagnosed with reflux. In spite of that and although the meds I'm on only mitigate the problem, I still adhere to the view expressed by Mark Twain when he wrote, "Part of the secret of success in life is to eat what you like and let the food fight it out inside."

For me, that "fight" is usually nothing more than a minor squabble.