Thursday, July 31, 2008

Hands Off the Hamburger

A truly disturbing trend is afoot — and the hamburger (right up there with apple pie as a symbol of America) is at risk of being trivialized or refined to death.

The following recipes are a case in point:

First, I give you the chicken cobb burger, a recipe with no fewer than 19 ingredients. It's posted on the They actually direct you to make a "vinaigrette" specifically for the romaine lettuce that will be placed on the burger.

Second, I give you the turkey burger with tapenade aoli. It's a recipe that includes such ingredients as capers, honey and chipotle pepper puree. Enough already.

Dressing up a hamburger with lots of exotic ingredients is like putting your beagle in a designer doggie outfit — it's plain ridiculous.

Yet some new-fangled burger recipes actually sound more exotic than they really are. Take the southeast asian style turkey burgers with pickled cucumbers, a recipe from Gourmet magazine. Why didn't they just say "with homemade pickles"? After all, isn't "pickled cucumbers" just a fancy-pants term for pickles?

Simplicity is underrated. When it comes to the great American hamburger, chefs (amateur or real) should tread lightly and quit devising all of these time-consuming, over-the-top recipes.

Making a hamburger according to a recipe with more than a dozen ingredients seems a little silly.

If you use the right beef and you fire up the grill, it's pretty hard not to make a good burger. It's a hamburger for crissakes — stop the fussing.

Do You Spin Your Salads?

If so, you might want to read this article by Emily Dwass in the L.A. Times. She writes about the latest salad spinners that are arriving for sale at food shops around the country.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Pharaoh's Favorite Fruit

Some facts from a N.Y. Times primer on the watermelon:

Watermelons were being harvested 5,000 years ago in Egypt and can be seen in hieroglyphics. They were placed in burial tombs to nourish the dead in the afterlife.

In the 10th century, this fruit spread to China and all of Asia. The Moors were taking the watermelon, along with tiles and algebra, through Europe in the 13th century. It was in Central America by 1516. The American colonies were growing watermelons from seeds in the early 1600's.

The watermelon was always an important fruit because it traveled well in its own oblong or round ''container,'' and it would keep for weeks.

Oh . . . My . . . God

That's the only way to describe the lobster and roasted corn beignets at La Cote Brasserie in New Orleans' Warehouse District. Absolutely amazing.

They were so good tonight that I decided after eating them that trying to eat a dessert would be superfluous.

Here's the info on La Cote Brasserie. You can book it at

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Sundae School

From the August issue of MSP (Minneapolis-St. Paul) magazine:
Two American towns hotly debate the right to claim the distinction of being the birthplace of the sundae: Ithaca, New York, and Two Rivers, Wisconsin.

Each has marvelously well-documented tales involving someone sitting at a counter and ordering a dish of ice cream, over which someone else spontaneously decided to pour syrup (chocolate in Wisconsin, cherry in New York).

Whether or not the dae ending was in response to "blue laws" against enjoying yourself on the Sabbath is a whole other story. All we know for sure is that there is nothing quite like a dish of cold ice cream gobbled up with syrupy goodness.
It's ironic that the cherry syrup was used in New York, considering that Wisconsin is a big cherry-growing state.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Food and Drink in N.H.

The Portsmouth Brewery

I just returned from a long weekend in New Hampshire, and I have a few food adventures to share. Portsmouth is a lovely city, and my food memories from there have been pretty positive up to now. Unfortunately, the Dolphin Striker was only a shadow of the restaurant I had experienced two years earlier.

The Dolphin Striker advertises itself as "refined New England cuisine," but it is in need of much more refining. My friend Vince felt the pappardelle with lobster — one of Saturday night's menu specials — was bland. My main course, the "tasting of lamb," was very uneven. The ragout of shoulder was excellent, but the roast leg was uninspired.

I started with the foie gras, which was simply okay — below the expectations for a $15 starter. The berry and honey confiture that accompanied it fell flat.

I also question whether the Dolphin Striker is storing its red wines properly. Both varieties I tasted were unacceptably warm.

We capped the evening by going to an excellent coffee house that's near the city's historic center. The coffee house is called Breaking New Grounds, and it always seems to do much more business than the Starbuck's that is half a block away. One of the reviews of BNG at CitySearch complains about rude staff, but I've been there several times, and I've never found staff to be difficult.

For artisanal beer lovers, a "must" stop is the Portsmouth Brewery, located on Market St. The brewery has a nice selection of beers, from stout to lager.

I spent most of Friday in Hanover (home of Dartmouth), and here is my quick summary of food experiences there. I was pleased with the coffee and baked goods at the Dirty Cowboy Cafe, but Murphy's Pub (a couple of doors down) was very disappointing — a great space with lots of character, but the food was distinctly blah. If you're stopping at Murphy's for a beer, give it a try. Otherwise, caveat emptor. Both establishments are located right near the Green.

To be honest, the food highlight of the whole weekend was when Vince prepared homemade lobster rolls for lunch. God were they good!

It isn't as much work as I thought it would be. Having watched him prepare them made me feel confident enough to give it a try sometime.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

New WS Poll on Wine Service

I have often complained about the pricing, storage and other aspects of restaurant wine service. Apparently, I have plenty of company.

A poll in the latest issue of Wine Spectator (Aug. 31) issues “a wake-up call to restauranteurs and sommeliers.” According to the WS article:

Our (survey) respondents are serious about wine, but they are disappointed by the wine service they receive in restaurants.

In their experience, sommeliers are too often under-educated and over-opinionated, pushing wines because of personal preference or higher markups. Often wine-savvy themselves, these customers simply don’t trust their server’s advice.

. . . An overwhelming 93 percent (of survey respondents) declared that the quality of a wine list was very (47 percent) or somewhat (46 percent) important when choosing a restaurant.

. . . While 52 percent prefer to see 100 or fewer selections on a list, just 3 percent want more than 500 selections. Diversity rather than size is key for many . . .

This latter finding is in sync with my own feelings. I get the sense that some restaurants want to impress you by providing you with a wine list that's absolutely over-the-top exhaustive. But I'm not interested in browsing through a list that's nearly as thick as the local yellow pages.

A classy restaurant should provide diverse choices without overwhelming the diner. Even in the case of an Italian restaurant, what's the point of offering more than four different bottles of Amarone della Valpolicella?

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Nimble With a Knife

Slate's Sara Dickerman recently wondered if there is a book that can teach her husband how to handle a knife deftly in the kitchen. She writes:

Just as no figure skater ever won a gold medal solely for executing perfect figure eights, no one will become a great chef simply on the elegance of his brunoise. Show too much focus on juliennes and chiffonades, and you can be dismissed as a technician without soul. But without sharp knife skills, food cooks unevenly, expensive meat and fish turn raggedy, and lots of time and ingredients are wasted.

. . . there is a certain pride of blade — more often than not, a masculine pride — that goes with elegant handling. The kitchen knife is the domestic stand-in for the sword, and men who might otherwise show little interest in cookery can be quick to volunteer when it comes to cutting up whatever beast is for dinner.

In his 1808 Host's Manual, the great French gourmand Grimod de la Reynière shamed gentlemen who did not know how to cut up a roast: "The host who does not
know how to carve, nor to serve is like someone who has a fine library and cannot read. The one is almost as shameful as the other."

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The 2 Keys to Great French Toast

I have always enjoyed eating French Toast. To me, it's the centerpiece of an ideal weekend breakfast or brunch. But there are two components that can separate mediocre French Toast from sublime French Toast.

1. The first key is using the right bread. Like this one, most recipes for French Toast call for standard white sandwich bread. But this kind of bread doesn't soak up the egg-and-milk batter as well as other breads. Standard white bread is also so flimsy that it doesn't hold up as well as other breads. It is prone to get soggy unless you eat it immediately.

I think the best bread to use is brioche. That's what they use at the Boulevard Woodgrill in Arlington, Va., and it's enough to encourage me to drive across the Potomac to have brunch there.

Brioche produces a French Toast that is slightly crispy on the outside, but moist yet firm on the inside.

2. The second key to excellent French Toast is serving it with real maple syrup, not the gooey cane-sugar syrup that many restaurants opt for. Even if the restaurant doesn't use 100% maple syrup, it makes a big difference to use a syrup that is blended with maple syrup.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Rainier Cherries Are for the Birds

It's that time of year. Rainier cherries are now appearing at groceries and farmers' markets across America.

I love their creamy yellow flesh, but their relatively high price reflects the fact that up to one-third of the crop is eaten by birds each year.

This 2001 article from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer gives a nice overview of Rainier cherries, and I love this quote from an orchard owner: "Growing these cherries is like playing poker with God."

But I don't agree with this newspaper article's description of Rainiers as "the sweetest" of cherries. I'd say Rainier cherries have just a hint of tartness. I have never seen a cherry pie recipe that calls for Rainiers, and I'm guessing that's because other varieties simply bake better.

Only about 6% of all the cherries grown in Washington State are Rainier cherries.

Anyway, as long as I get my mid-summer fix of Rainier cherries, I'm more than willing to share some with birds.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Restaurant Searches Via iPhone

Users of the iPhone have automatic access to Urbanspoon, a restaurant-search software program that is supposed to recommend good restaurants in close proximity.

But, in this article a few days ago, the N.Y. Times' Frank Bruni reports that the recommendations he got via the iPhone seemed incomplete.

In the NYT article, Bruni writes:

If you were searching for a restaurant that would please almost anyone, Dressler, in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, might well be it. Good-looking? Definitely. Menu? Contemporary American, with a mix of fish, meat and meatless options. Its prices aren’t stratospheric, its vibe is relaxed and its reviews have been solid. It even picked up a Michelin star last year.

So why didn’t the new iPhone want me to go there? I was standing smack in front of Dressler, using the phone’s Urbanspoon restaurant-search application, which was supposed to pinpoint my location and recommend the best options nearby.

I shook the iPhone, which is how you activate a search. It directed me to a wine bar several blocks away.

I shook again. It directed me to an Italian restaurant all the way over the Williamsburg Bridge, in the East Village.

With another shake, a Williamsburg coffeehouse came up, and with yet another shake it was back to the East Village. Even when I specified “Williamsburg” as my preferred neighborhood and “American” as my preferred cuisine, Dressler didn’t come up right away.

It was a laggard, an afterthought, and thus revealed the foibles and limitations of the Internet dining guides to which more and more of us are turning for help.

Extorting Java

From the Associated Press:

An internal affairs report says a Daytona Beach police officer demanded free coffee and tea from a Starbucks and threatened employees with slower emergency response times if they refused.

Lt. Major Garvin, a 15-year veteran, was fired July 8. According to the Daytona Beach News-Journal, Chief Mike Chitwood says Garvin recently failed a polygraph test that he insisted on taking.

The coffeehouse's employees claim that since June 2007, Garvin had visited the store as many as six times a night while on duty. Besides demanding free drinks, workers complained that Garvin also cut in front of paying customers.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Those Other Names for Milkshakes

The term frappe is a new one for people who have never lived or spent time in New England.

So what's the difference between a frappe and a milkshake? According to the website for England's MicroCreamery in Haverhill, Mass.:
In Massachusetts, a "milk shake" does NOT have any ice cream in it. It is just syrup and milk blended together. Literally milk shaken. So a chocolate milk shake in Massachusetts is basically chocolate milk. It is a "frappe" that has the ice cream, milk and syrup all belnded together and is nice and thick. So what the rest of the country refers to as a milk shake, we in Massachusetts call a frappe. Incidentally, in Rhode Island it is called a "cabinet."
I don't know the history of the term cabinet, but I have read that the term frappe was used by the French Canadians who emigrated to New England. It is believed to derive from the French verb "frapper" — meaning "to strike, hit or knock." In other words, the ice cream and milk are struck or beaten to produce the final product.

But the folks at England's MicroCreamery are not entirely correct in their explanation. The "rest of the country" does not uniformly use the term "milkshake." My own visits to Rhode Island revealed that in several R.I. cities and towns, you will find dairy stores or drugstore fountains that sell what is called an awful-awful.

It's essentially what most of us call a milkshake, although slightly thicker than the consistency of most milkshakes. This bizarre term threw me, and (of course) I immediately identified myself as an outsider when I asked an employee at one R.I. dairy store what the heck an awful-awful is.

I have not read any explanation for the origin of the term awful-awful. It may originate from the slogan that Newport Creamery developed: "Awful Big! Awful Good!"

Le Nouvel Hamburger

From Wednesday's N.Y. Times:

Beginning a few years ago but picking up momentum in the past nine months, hamburgers and cheeseburgers have invaded the city. Anywhere tourists are likely to go this summer — in St.-Germain cafes, in fashion-world hangouts, even in restaurants run by three-star chefs — they are likely to find a juicy beef patty, almost invariably on a sesame seed bun.

. . . It is a startling turnaround in a country where a chef once sued McDonald’s for $2.7 million in damages over a poster that suggested he was dreaming of a Big Mac. Hamburgers were everything that French dining is not: informal, messy, fast and foreign.

But as French chefs have embraced the quintessentially American food, they have also made it their own, incorporating Gallic flourishes like cornichons, fleur de sel and fresh thyme. These attempts to translate the burger, or maybe even improve it, strongly suggest that it is here to stay.

“It’s not just a fad,” said Frédérick Grasser-Hermé, who, as consulting chef at the Champs-Élysées boîte Black Calvados, developed a burger made with wagyu beef and seasoned with what she calls a black ketchup of blackberries and black currants. “It’s more than that. The burger has become gastronomic.”

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

A Huge Seafood Gap

En route to the Mississippi Gulf Coast, I was thumbing through Continental's in-flight magazine when I came to a two-page section called "The Guide to Sushi." Which is where I saw this interesting comparison:

Annual per capita consumption of fish in the U.S. . . . 16.5 lbs.

Annual per capita consumption of fish in Japan . . . . . . 154 lbs.
I would have guessed that Japan's per-capita fish consumption was 4 or 5 times higher, but 9 times higher than ours? Reading that stat definitely surprised me a little.

It was also rather eye-opening to learn that Tokyo is the top-ranked city when it comes to earning Michelin stars. A grand total of 191 stars were awarded this year by Michelin to restaurants in the Japanese capital, compared to 97 stars in Paris, 54 in New York and 34 in San Francisco.

Jailhouse Chicken

I read this story in a recent N.Y. Times, and I thought it was a nice article. The Times' Pam Belluck writes:
. . . some defunct diners are getting a new lease on life from an unlikely source: young people in jail.

Behind the razor wire at Rhode Island’s juvenile detention center, teenage offenders are restoring four vintage diners that have been brought there by preservationists for the New Hope Diner Project.

This fall, the first restored diner, Hickey’s, should open in Rhode Island, with some of the teenagers working the griddles and the cash register, and even preparing to manage the restaurant someday.

. . . “Building birdhouses like a traditional high school program is not what these kids need,” [community liaison John] Scott said. “We’re actually preparing them for all kinds of skills: there’s ceramic tile in these diners, sheet metal work, plumbing, electrical. You always meet people who want these kids to be locked away, and I respect their ill-informed opinion. But I look at the training school as kind of like Home Depot of the correctional system. We give them the tools, and when they’re ready to use it, they’ll use it.”

Other offenders here take culinary arts classes, receiving food-handling certificates.

Bill Tribelli, the culinary arts instructor, will help devise the diner menus, featuring some old standbys like corned beef and cabbage and “hot wieners,” but also recipes from his cookbook, “Jailhouse Cooking.” Those dishes include Jailhouse Chicken, Jailhouse-Style Macaroni and Cheese (made with WisPride or Velveeta), or Strawberry Mousse (Cool Whip and instant strawberry pudding).

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Those Cinnamon-Glazed Nuts

I don't know what it is about those cinnamon-sugar glazed nuts that you see served warm by street vendors or kiosk owners, but my nose always reacts the same way.

For the first 5 seconds, the aroma is sweet and alluring. Then, if I remain in close proximity to the nuts, I find that my preference for the smell quickly vanishes and the aroma actually starts to disgust me.

Clearly, the blogger at MyVeggieWorld doesn't share my reaction.

I wonder if anyone else has this same reaction. I like cinnamon a lot, but is it possible that this is a case of cinnamon overkill?

Monday, July 14, 2008

Chicago Eating: Quartino

Eating good, fresh food shouldn't break the bank, even in the heart of a city's downtown. But, all too often, it does. That's why I was pleased this weekend to discover an Italian restaurant in the River North area of Chicago.

There is better Italian food to found in Chicago, but, dollar for dollar, I believe Quartino may be the best value. Quartino has a tapas-style menu -- small dishes of charcuterie, cheese, cured fish, risotto, etc. They also offer a wide variety of good wines by the glass. They also make pizzas, which looked quite good.

It offers some outdoor seating, and it's close by the Michigan Avenue shopping district.

A Cafe Culture in Moscow?

Yes, at least for the two months or so that it's warm enough in Russia's capital city to sit outside. According to this N.Y. Times article:
“Summer in Moscow is only two months,” [local resident] Nargis Gulyamova said. “We don’t often get a chance to be outside.”

Finding a glimpse of human-scale beauty — a patch of green in a courtyard, a 19th-century gargoyle — can be a challenge in this city of monumental architecture and busy construction sites, especially during the winter when no one wants to linger on the street.

. . . With the temperature hovering in the low 60s on Friday and heavy rainstorms rolling across the city, the outdoor cafes that have become a Moscow summer tradition, built with awnings and roofs for just such contingencies, did brisk business.

When it comes to enjoying the outdoors, Russians have always been adept at taking what they can get: sunbathing standing up beside frozen rivers or growing a year’s worth of vegetables at their country houses during the short, bright summers.

But outdoor cafes have taken on a special importance in Moscow, where over the last decade people have slowly colonized street spaces that once offered little in the way of coziness.

Cafes have filled in the architectural nooks and crannies away from the city’s wide avenues — behind apartment houses, in park buildings. And, like New Yorkers willing to squeeze into tiny cafe tables next to dry cleaners or even garbage cans, some Moscow diners happily sit outdoors next to 10-lane boulevards.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

The History of the French Baguette . . .

. . . may actually begin in Austria. Is this really possible?

Perhaps. I was surfing online when I stumbled on this recent article from the Times of London in which the woman who is dubbed the "queen of French bread" contends that the baguette is distinctly un-French.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Key Lime Pie: The Yes-or-No Options

I love key lime pie. It not only tastes wonderful, but it is incredibly easy to make. But, when it comes to making a key lime pie, the variety of recipes I've seen present cooks with 3 yes-or-no options. At least 2 of these options significantly affect the taste and/or appearance of the pie.

Let's consider each of them.

Yes-or-No Option #1: Whether to use a homemade graham cracker crust. Some recipes call for preparing the crust by using a box of graham cracker crumbs. Others simplify it even more by calling for a pre-made graham cracker crust in an aluminum pie pan. I'm all for shortcuts if they don't affect taste, but my experience is that both of these alternatives do affect the taste of the crust. A homemade graham cracker crust always tasted much better. Buy your own graham crackers and put them in a food processor — trust me, you'll taste the difference.

Yes-or-No Option #2: Whether or not to cover the pie with whipped cream. Some recipes include whipped cream, while others declare this to be optional. I am definitely pro-whipped cream, especially the way I prepare it. To the heavy cream and sugar, I add a tablespoon of powdered ginger or (if you can find it at a gourmet shop) a teaspoon of crushed or minced ginger. Carefully spread the whipped cream over the top of the pie and chill. The whipped cream also balances out the acidity of the key lime juice.
Yes-or-No Option #3: Just today I discovered that there is another yes-or-no option I'd never heard of — whether to bake the key lime pie. Here is what the website Baking Bites had to say:

I don’t like baked key lime pies. Some people say that they taste the same (or very similar), but I still object. The pies are baked because of a fear of salmonella or other potentially egg-borne pathogens.

The fact of the matter is that the acid in the fresh lime juice that is used to make the pie actually “cooks” the eggs, thus destroying anything harmful that might have
been in them.

Skipping the baking step would save even more time, but I am skeptical of the claim that the acidic quality of lime juice is sufficient to kill salmonella and all other "pathogens" that might be present.

There's a pediatrician in my family. Maybe I'll ask her.

The Death of a Lobster

I love lobster. Apparently so does N.Y. Times blogger Jill Santopietro. Unfortunately, she is obsessed with knowing "the most humane way to kill a lobster."

And her blog post attests to her obsession.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

When Self-Promotion Crosses the Line

That can be a tough line to draw, but the issue came to mind when I was in the Napa Valley this past weekend. Stop #1 on our wine-tasting crawl was at Chimney Rock winery in Napa's Stags Leap District.

We opened the door to the tasting room, and immediately we noticed a dozen or so cloth banners that were dangling from the ceiling above us announcing ratings at or above 90 from The Wine Spectator or other wine-reviewing magazines.

It was a bit much. I almost thought I was in a Masonic or guild hall. I'm glad Robert Parker likes your wine, and I'd expect you to have some kind of promotional literature that notes the high ratings your estate wines have received, but don't let it go to your head — or the ceiling.

Stop #2 was at Provenance Vineyards, right next door to Grgich Hills, on the edge of the Rutherford district. The sheet with the tasting notes shared all of the high ratings that Provenance wines had received in recent years, which was enough. I didn't feel as though Provenance crossed the line.

SF Eating: Take 3

"Chinese food is among a handful of first-rate international cuisines. Unfortunately, as served in so many restaurants, this diverse, complex and inventive cuisine is rarely at its best, rarely even at second best. So clonelike have the (New York City) area's Chinese restaurants become, we rarely anticipate a new one. It is a sad admission . . ."
That is what the N.Y. Times' Patricia Brooks wrote about Chinese cuisine 14 years ago, and I think it's as true today as it was then. Moreover, it's probably true for Chinese restaurants in Boston, Washington, Chicago and a host of other cities.

The juxtaposition of ingredients — from bamboo shoots to chicken to lemon grass to pork — is an interesting start, but so many Chinese dishes seem to be created in a mass-production mode. Or at least they taste that way.

Spending the holiday weekend in San Fran, a city with a rich array of Chinese restaurants, I had high hopes that we would encounter a pleasant surprise. Friends recommended that we eat dim sum at Yank Sing, a Cantonese restaurant in San Fran's financial district.

Everything was decent, and most items were very good. But, except for the shrimp dumplings, nothing was stupendous.

With a final bill of $77.90 for two (no alcoholic beverages were ordered), more dishes should have been stupendous.

Don't get me wrong. You will eat well at Yank Sing, but not necessarily well enough to console your wallet.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

SF Eating: Take 2

San Francisco is a wonderful city for foodies, but many visitors never venture much farther west than Van Ness or Fillmore Street.

That's too bad because the city's Richmond district is an intriguing neighborhood with a host of Chinese restaurants, food and gift shops, as well as a smattering of bookstores and other shops.

Joe's Ice Cream is one of those step-back-in-time ice cream parlours that makes its flavors right on the premises so stopping here for an ice cream, sundae or shake is a very smart detour. The shop is located right at the corner of Geary Blvd. and 18th Avenue.

I have not tried Family Fortune Restaurant, but a few locals insisted that it was the best Chinese eatery in the area. It's located on Geary Blvd., the main east-west drag, between 14th and 15th Avenues.

Green Apple Books is a great place to waste an hour or two browsing through fiction and non-fictions.

Parallel to Geary Blvd., but just a block north is Clement Street, which this guide describes as the area's main dining-shopping drag where "you'll find great Burmese, Thai, Chinese, Vietnamese and Korean restaurants, Chinese bakeries that sell siu mai (steamed meat dumplings), BBQ pork buns and other dim sum for under a dollar ..." If you like to cook Chinese at home, Geary and Clement streets are good places to look for small Chinese groceries that are likely to have some of the harder-to-find ingredients that are part of Chinese cooking.

In reality, the inner Richmond district is the real Chinatown of San Francisco.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

SF Eating: Take 1

The co-owners of Salt House restaurant

I spent this past weekend in San Francisco, where the weather was delightful. We ate some excellent food. Here is a quick review of my culinary journeys:

Salt House — Housed in an old printing press building just south of Market Street, Salt House has a lot going for it. The vibe is pleasant from the moment you walk in the door. The exposed brick on the wall and the rustic surroundings are quite cozy, and the food is excellent. I started with four of the Kumamato oysters and then ordered the duck as my entree. Both were superb. My dining partner was equally pleased. But dessert for both of us was disappointing. The apricot-cherry tart that I ordered was lukewarm and tasted bland, and the ice cream atop it was also unappealing. But the wine list was diverse and interesting. I would go back, but I would probably ask a few more questions before diving into dessert.

Michael Mina — This restaurant at the Westin-St. Francis Hotel has been the star on the city's restaurant marquee, almost since it opened. I started with the trio of foie gras selections and followed with the trio of lamb (a chop, a shank and a saddle). Both dishes (or both trios) were absolutely marvelous. I skipped dessert, but my dining partner felt his berry medley was mediocre. The staff reacted the way they should have; they said they were sorry and promptly offered us each an excellent glass of dessert wine. Michael Mina is a class act. The wine list is priced in the stratosphere so beware.

Yield — This wine bar at 2490 3rd Street (the city's old Dog Patch neighborhood) is wonderfully relaxed and unpretentious. The wine list isn't huge, but it covers all the key bases, and I give Yield credit for having a Carmenere among its choice of red wines. Yield tries to feature selections from wineries that are family-owned and whose grapes are grown organically or biodynamically. I drank a small glass of Mourvedre that was lush and spicy. They offer cheeses, flat bread, olives and toasted almonds to accompany their wines.

Serpentine — This restaurant in an old warehouse just across the street from Yield, was a very pleasant experience. The heirloom tomatoes with an avocado puree were amazing, and the lamb entree I ordered was excellent. Desserts (is this a pattern?) were only so-so. We brought in a wine and paid the corkage fee so I can't comment much on the restaurant's wine list.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Banana-Sour Cream Pancakes

The Barefoot Contessa's recipe for Banana-Sour Cream Pancakes sounds positively yummy:
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

  • 3 tablespoons sugar

  • 2 teaspoons baking powder

  • 1-1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

  • 1/2 cup sour cream

  • 3/4 cup, plus 1 tablespoon of milk

  • 2 extra-large eggs

  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest

  • Unsalted butter

  • 2 ripe bananas, diced, plus extra for serving

  • Pure maple syrup


In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Whisk together the sour cream, milk, eggs, vanilla, and lemon zest. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ones, mixing only until combined.

Melt 1 tablespoon of butter in a large skillet over medium-low heat until it bubbles. Ladle the pancake batter into the pan.

Distribute a rounded tablespoon of bananas on each pancake.

Cook for 2 to 3 minutes, until bubbles appear on top and the underside is nicely browned.

Flip the pancakes and then cook for another minute, until browned. Wipe out the pan with a paper towel, add more butter to the pan, and continue cooking pancakes until all the batter is used.

Serve with sliced bananas, butter, and maple syrup.
That last part bears repeating — serve with real maple syrup, not Aunt Jemima's or one of those other brands of cane sugar syrup. Using cane sugar syrup for pancakes is like using garlic powder to make a pesto.

Barack Obama, But Hold the Fries

The Democratic National Convention in Denver this August is supposed to be a source of unity, not heartburn. But Sunday's N.Y. Times reports that DNC organizers are facing "costly setbacks and embarrassing delays."

And, believe it or not, one of the main trouble spots happens to be food.

According to the N.Y. Times:

A 28-page contract requested by Denver organizers (requires) that caterers provide food in “at least three of the following five colors: red, green, yellow, blue/purple and white.” Garnishes could not be counted toward the colors. No fried foods would be allowed. Organic and locally grown foods were mandated, and each plate had to be 50 percent fruits and vegetables.

. . . caterers, expected to feed the 40,000 people coming to town, are throwing up their hands over the food requirements.

“Everything that the Democrats did got off to a late start,” said Peggy Beck, a co-owner of Three Tomatoes Catering. “It was such an ordeal. We’ve jumped through hoops and hoops to bid on their stuff, and we had to have certain color food so the plates would be colorful . . . This was some of the silliest stuff ever,” she added.

Nick Agro, head of Whirled Peas Catering, questioned whether the requirement for local organic food could meet cost constraints.

“These were fantastic ideas, but I question who is willing to pay for these extra costs,” Mr. Agro said.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Rethinking the List

Fifteen minutes into my lunch yesterday at Bistro Bis, I began to realize that this restaurant on Capitol Hill probably belonged at #9 or #10 on the "10 Favorite Restaurants" list that I posted yesterday.

I started with a frisee salad with lardons, poached egg and a sherry vinaigrette. Superb. The grilled trout Grenobloise that followed was equally yummy.

Of course, adding Bistro Bis to the List of 10 Faves means I would have to take a restaurant off the current list. Time for more deliberating.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Today's Special: Chicken Without Sexual Life

At, Brian Palmer writes:
In preparation for this summer's Olympic Games, the Chinese government has recommended new English translations for more than 2,000 traditional Chinese
dishes to appeal to Western tourists.

The menu items in question include "bean curd made by a pockmarked woman," "ants climbing a tree," and "chicken without sexual life."
So where did these bizarre names come from? Palmer explores that question in the rest of his post.

What He's Into

One of the bloggers at Cookography has come out of the closet:

I like old people candy. There, I’ve said it. Don’t give me any sour flavored, blue colored, gummy candy treats. Instead give me black licorice or better yet some NECCO wafers.

And what, you may be pondering, is a "NECCO wafer"? If you're curious, read the rest of the post.

From the description, I kind of doubt that NECCO wafers would appeal to me, but black licorice is always nice.

My 10 Faves

Right now, these are Foodphoria's 10 favorite restaurants in the Washington, D.C. area:

1. Ten Penh (Penn Quarter)
2. Blue Duck Tavern (West End)
3. Citronelle (Georgetown)
4. Ceiba (Downtown)
5. Tosca (Downtown)
7. Tallula (Arlington, Va.)
8. Proof (Chinatown-Arts District)
9. Brasserie Beck (Downtown)
10. The Liberty Tavern (Arlington, Va.)
I have only been to Proof once so perhaps I am being presumptuous, but I thought it was fantastic -- setting the standard (for now, at least) for wine bars in this metro area.