Friday, October 30, 2009

Lunch at Kellari

I blogged a few days ago about a new, upscale Greek restaurant that has opened in downtown Washington, D.C. It's called Kellari. There are three Kellari locations in New York City, and I ate lunch at the new D.C. outpost yesterday.

The menu at Kellari is seafood-centered menu, and several fresh fish are available (grilled) each day. The grilled Dover sole was excellent, very flaky. Yet, at the price that I paid ($40) for it, there should have been some roasted potatoes or frites served alongside it.

I started my meal with a bowl of the classic Greek soup called Avgolemono, and it was fine but not impressive. I'd give it a grade of a B.

I was told that Kellari's baklava was exceptional, but it was one of more bland baklavas that I've ever eaten -- not as flaky as baklava typically is, and the sweetness seemed to smack more of sugar, not honey. The flavor lacked sophistication.

I really liked the dish of diced radish, hummus and olives that was served gratis as a kind of antipasta-appetizer. The hummus tasted great on the grilled bread that was served with it. There is a good, diverse selection of wines by the glass, including a few Greek wines.

Although Kellari is a very nice space, the price point is going to be a stretch for anyone who isn't on an expense-account lunch. Those kinds of lunches are still had in the K Street corridor, but it's a limited market. And the food I ate didn't "wow" me enough to make the price point seem reasonable.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Rudnick's Halloween Diet

In a newly released book, playwright-screenwriter Paul Rudnick reveals his unconventional diet. According to the N.Y. Times:

... (Rudnick's new book) reveals a horrible truth no parent wants published: It is possible, it seems, to live on candy.

Mr. Rudnick is the living proof. At 51, 5-foot-10 and an enviably lean 150 pounds, Mr. Rudnick does not square with the inevitable mental image of a man who has barely touched a vegetable other than candy corn in nearly a half-century.

“People always assume I’m lying,” said Mr. Rudnick earlier this month in his West Village apartment packed from ceiling to floor with Gothic ornamentation. “They always say: ‘That can’t be true. You’d be dead. Or huge.’"

... He doesn’t like gelato; he likes ice cream. He doesn’t like Maison du Chocolat or Godiva. He likes Kit Kats.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Tinkering With a French Classic

Cassoulet is one of my favorite dishes, especially this time of the year. It's the quintessential French "peasant entree." Leftovers from larger meals -- usually pork shoulder and duck legs -- are combined with white beans, chopped tomato and garlic in a large crock, which is covered with bread crumbs and baked.

Cassoulet originates from the southwest region of France, where three cities claim to be the sites where the dish was first prepared. Does it contain lamb sausage or not? Should it contain mutton or even partridge? It seems that every restauranteur or family in this part of France has a strong opinion on such questions.

As much as I like the food at La Chaumiere in D.C.'s Georgetown, I was disappointed by the cassoulet that I ate there a month or so ago. The beans were overcooked and they got skimpy on the meat. On the other hand, the cassoulet that I had last week at Bistrot d'Oc in downtown was superb.

Cassoulet is a labor-intensive meal to prepare. There's a lot of cooking, cutting, dicing and assembling. This recipe for cassoulet from Food & Wine magazine looks good, but I doubt that I will ever go to the trouble of trying to cook this at home.

If you'd like to make cassoulet at home, you're better off relying on this recipe that Adam Roberts adapted and posted on his blog, The Amateur Gourmet.

If you really want to simplify the recipe, then try this one from the N.Y. Times' Mark Bittman, although even he calls it a "heresy" compared to the original restaurant version of cassoulet.

I even found this recipe for chicken cassoulet. Knowledge of its existence would probably cause convulsions at a Cordon Bleu cooking school. Using an Italian cheese in a French entree? Incroyable!

Monday, October 26, 2009

This Cookie Crumbles

In the past few years, a few diet gurus have gained traction by pushing a new weight-loss concept based around eating cookies.

One of those diets, Dr. Siegal's Cookie Diet, has been around since the 1970s. His website touts a "secret amino acid protein blend" as the vehicle for weight loss.

This recent N.Y. Times article examined these diets and their claims. The theory behind these diets is that high-protein foods curb hunger. Yet, according to the Times, none of these cookie diets is supported by a clinical study. No surprise there.

More Than Mussels

Mention "Prince Edward Island" to anyone who loves shellfish, and the first thing they'll think about is mussels. And for good reason. PEI mussels are the most tender and tasty.

Yet, the blogger at Traveler's Lunch Box has identified a few other culinary treats if you ever happen to visit PEI.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Dreaming of Avgolemono

Just yesterday, I passed a newly opened Greek restaurant at 17th and K Streets in Washington, D.C. It's called Kellari Taverna, and here's a Zagat interview of Kellari's owner. It's an upscale restaurant with a virtually all-seafood menu (which, combined with the recession, may pose a challenge to its success).

Anyway, I stopped to peek inside. Very handsome decor. Then I read the restaurant's menu, which was posted outside.

My eyes immediately stopped at the word Avgolemono, a pale yellow soup made with lemon and chicken stock that sure warms you up on a chilly evening. I've always enjoyed eating that soup, but it is not an item that every Greek restaurant prepares. As far as I'm concerned, Avgolemono is Greek for "comfort food." I still have fond memories of the first time I ordered Avgolemono. It was at a Greek restaurant in Chicago.

Once I got home, I went online and started looking for Avgolemono recipes. They aren't easy to find.

I found this article on the website Serious Eats, which is accompanied by a recipe. The egg yolk addition looks a bit tricky. I've made Bearnaise sauce before so I know I'm capable of doing it, but there's simply no margin for error when it comes to incorporating egg yolks into a hot dish.

Maybe I'll try it sometime. Better yet, maybe I'll just let the chef at Kellari make it for me.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

An Enticing Donut Recipe

Check out the cover of the latest edition of the magazine Edible Chesapeake. (No, not the cover pictured to the right.) Yes, that wonderful photo on the cover is of apple cider donuts.

Anyone who reads my blog knows that I adore apple cider donuts. A friend who has the October issue informs me that the donut recipe is inside.

Hmmm . . . considering that the forecast calls for a rainy Saturday, this could be an ideal weekend to park myself in the kitchen and give that recipe a try.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

That Ain't No Starbucks

Mention the country of Rwanda, and most anyone who hears it will immediately think of the 1994 genocide in which 800,000 people were killed.

As the Rwandan people have restored peace and civility in their land, they are banking on coffee to bring in much-needed revenue and a stable prosperity. Most coffee in the East African nation is grown and harvested by families or small cooperatives.

Today's Washington Post reports on Bourbon, a newly opened coffee shop in downtown D.C. -- the first U.S. outlet of a Rwandan coffee chain.
"If done right, it could be the platform to re-brand the country," says (Bourbon owner Arthur) Karuletwa, former chief executive and now a shareholder in the company. Coffee can "create awareness that there's recovery, there's trade, there's investment opportunities, there's tourism. There's life after death."

After opening three stores in Kigali, Rwanda, over the past three years, Bourbon expanded operations to Washington in July, taking over a converted Starbucks at 21st and L streets NW. The cafe is furnished with dark wood tables and red-leather-upholstered chairs; the walls are painted gold, moss green and burnt orange; woven baskets and traditional African motifs decorate the shelves and walls.

... Plans call for Bourbon to open a cafe in Boston at the end of the year, and later a New York location. Unlike the D.C. shop, those stores will offer on-site roasting and daily cuppings.

... "Rwanda is a very wanted origin," says Susie Spindler, executive director of the Alliance for Coffee Excellence, which runs the Cup of Excellence competition. She says coffee traders and roasters visiting Rwanda are discovering unusual flavor profiles they never knew existed.

"It mixes a lot of regular characteristics that you usually only find in one area," agrees Stacey Manley, Bourbon's barista. "Latin American coffees tend to be lighter-bodied and kind of nutty with cocoa. But you almost never find an earthy, really heavy-bodied Latin American coffee. Those are typically Indonesian characteristics. And in Indonesia, coffee is very rarely bright. So the weird thing about Rwandan coffee is it'll have all these different characteristics in one coffee."

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Not So Locally Sourced

From the N.Y. Times:
Restaurants (in the San Francisco Bay area) that so prominently credit their local food purveyors on their menus no doubt feature local wines loudly and proudly, right?

Not quite. A surprising number of Bay Area restaurants, including many dedicated to cooking with local ingredients, offer wine lists dominated by European bottles.

... “Though I love a lot of California winemakers and try to support them wherever possible,” (said Chris Deegan, sommelier of the restaurant Nopa). “I find myself drinking European wines most of the time and pairing European wines more successfully with the food.”
I totally understand what he means. For example, most pinot noirs produced in California and Oregon taste thin and lack structure -- too heavy to work well with pasta or seafood, but not enough backbone to make a good fit with beef or pork.

Monday, October 19, 2009

The Gender Gap of Cooking

In this amusing column, Washington Post columnist John Kelly exposes the gender divide in the kitchen. One spouse or partner generally cooks the day-in, day-out meals, while the other one cooks only when he or she is in the mood to dabble.

But that may not be the only difference. Does the kitchen also feed men's addiction to gadgets? Apparently.

Kelly writes:
... most men approach cooking as though it was a hobby, not an obligation. To us, cooking -- just like golf or woodworking or photography -- involves getting to buy stuff -- not stuff you can eat, but stuff you can play with. Tools.

Sometimes, I'll want to cook something but am stymied by the lack of proper equipment. I'll sigh loudly as I open drawers and cupboards, searching in vain for the exotic device I saw on TV. I think I might cook more often if only I had a ceramic ginger grater, a stainless-steel cream-whipper and my own collection of brining bags. And I'll never understand how we've lived all these years without a salad spinner. All that wet lettuce. . . . The horror!

For the family's main mealmaker, however, cooking isn't a hobby. It's a relentless grind. It's the perpetual acquisition of ingredients, the unceasing sweep of the minute hand as dinner time draws near, the constant reminder that not every person likes every thing.

This is why My Lovely Wife gives me the looks. I'm a dabbler, a poseur. I can painstakingly create the occasional meal but I can't be depended upon to regularly feed my family. And yet I want extra validation for my feeble efforts.

Last year, I bought the largest Dutch oven Le Creuset makes. This was ostensibly a gift for my wife, but really it was something I lusted after. This was the apotheosis of my tool lust: expensive, heavy, hewn from the virgin iron escarpments of France. It was so big a circus family could live inside.
The entire column is worth reading. For what it's worth, I take issue with one of Kelly's observations: everyone does not add vanilla extract to pancake batter.

Quick and Tasty

"Even the best cooks have a handful of meals they can whip up on automatic pilot."

So writes the N.Y. Times' Melissa Clark. In this article, Clark offers one example of her own: a recipe for Sauteed Wild Salmon with Brown Butter Cucumbers. I like wild salmon so this recipe may be worth a try.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

A Worthy Choice?

Esquire magazine has named Barton Seaver as its 2009 chef of the year. Seaver is the chef at Blue Ridge, a restaurant in the Glover Park neighborhood of Washington, D.C. After eating two meals at Blue Ridge, this decision makes me shrug my shoulders.

Did Esquire's critic ever eat at Seaver's Blue Ridge? Don't get me wrong. I had good meals there, but they were far from exceptional. Far from what you'd expect from the chef of the year.

Although I think Tom Sietsema's 1.5 star rating (out of 4 stars) for Blue Ridge may be a little low, I share some of his observations about Blue Ridge.

The housemade potato chips with charred onion dip were excellent. My trout was good, but the burger I ordered the next time was totally blah. The sweet potato fritters were okay, but they were misnamed. They were more like dumplings than fritters. And the apple pie turned out to be more of a crumble and was mediocre -- especially considering how much our server praised that dessert.

I will probably dine at Blue Ridge again at some point, but it won't be a "destination restaurant" for me. And if Seaver is as talented as they say he is, then he must not be a regular presence in Blue Ridge's kitchen. Anyway, I'm not the only one who's raining on Seaver's parade.

Cutting Costs in a Recession

Across the country, many restaurants have taken a financial beating during this recession. It stands to reason that their owners would be looking for new ways to economize.

Sure, you could replace the cloth napkins with paper ones, but patrons will notice that right away. Moreover, it's the kind of switch that risks cheapening your restaurant's image.

According to the Wall Street Journal, many restaurants are being visited these days by "efficiency experts" who look for ways these establishments can cut costs. The WSJ says that these experts work
... by carefully pricing out a kitchen's every move — like making ranch dressing every three days instead of daily, which can shave prep time by 15 to 18 minutes. They help fine-tune recipes to economize on ingredients. (Taking olive oil out of the marinara sauce saved one chain $17,000 a year.) And they "engineer" menus to spotlight the highest-margin offerings. Forget soda; iced tea costs a restaurant as little as a nickel a glass.

... one tip comes with a spritz of controversy: Don't automatically serve patrons water, so they're more likely to order soda, beer or wine.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Humor With Your Hamburger

What's a restauranteur to do if he happens to live in Beirut, a city plagued with conflict and sectarian violence? Perhaps he just decides to go with the flow.

That explains how the restaurant Buns and Guns got its name. No kidding -- such a restaurant really exists in Lebanon. In fact, each sandwich on the restaurant's menu is named for a weapon of war.

Buns and Guns is one of many bizarre theme-restaurants that are operating in different areas of the world. Several others are profiled in this post at Web Urbanist. Check out the restaurant called Modern Toilet. What will they think of next?

Sweet Mistakes

We are not a nation of excellent spellers. In this amusing N.Y. Times article, David Hochman writes about a new book called Cake Wrecks and some of the errors that make their way into icing. Hochman writes:
Someone who decorates cakes for a living should possess certain skills. Spelling is an important one. For example, success is not quite as sweet when the inscription reads, “Contralulation’s Ronan.” An eye for color helps, too. Piped dark brown swirls are never a good idea on a cake dotted with plastic farm animals.

Finally, a few words about customer service: When someone requests that nothing be written on the cake, “NOTHING” should not be written on the cake.
It's a fun article.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Poison Au Gratin

In this recent blog post, the N.Y. Times identifies "ten common food poisoning risks." Some of the foods on this list were no surprise at all -- items such as oysters and eggs.

But a few items on the list did surprise me. Potatoes? Berries? Interesting.

The article has a lot of valuable stats and info about food poisoning from the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

Monday, October 12, 2009

RIP: Restauranteur Ben Ali

Washington, D.C.'s mayor calls it "one of the greatest treasures in the District of Columbia." And it's where ABC's Ted Koppel held his farewell-from-TV party. What is this place?

It's Ben's Chili Bowl, an atmospheric greasy-spoon diner that's located in Washington, D.C.'s diverse U Street neighborhood. It has been in business since 1958. I mention all of this in the context of noting that its owner-founder Ben Ali passed away last week at the age of 82.

This obituary appeared in the Washington Post. Read it all -- you'll enjoy it. The factoid in the last couple of paragraphs was pretty interesting to me.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Doubling Down With Your Health

At a time when America is debating obesity and its cost to the health care system, KFC is test-marketing a new sandwich that is sure to raise eyebrows. The N.Y. Daily News describes the new "Double Down" sandwich:
... it layers two kinds of cheese with bacon and oozes “Colonel’s sauce.” The twist? Instead of bread, two deep-fried chicken breasts round out the calorific concoction.

Dubbed the Double Down, the sandwich is in test markets so far, which means that only overeaters in Providence, Rhode Island, and Omaha, Nebraska, can get their greasy fill. The buzz is that it’s got more than an entire day’s worth of the recommended allowance for fat, cholesterol, sodium and protein, according to an analysis in the Vancouver Sun.

“Independent labs are estimating that it has around 1,200 calories and over 50 fat grams, based on what’s in the other KFC sandwiches,” says Men’s Health food and nutrition editor Matt Goulding, co-author of “Eat This, Not That: Best and Worst Foods in America.”
I certainly enjoy foods from time to time (doughnuts, foie gras, etc.) that is high in fat, but this new KFC sandwich seems so decadently over-the-top.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Add Milk, Subtract Health Benefits

All the buzz in recent years about the antioxidants in tea has seemed to encourage some people to shift their morning beverage from coffee to tea.

But are these tea converts really getting the antioxidant advantage that comes from drinking tea?

Not if they add milk to their tea.

A German research team has found that caseins, proteins which are found naturally in milk, interact with tea in a way that actually lowers the flavonoids in tea -- and flavonoids are the antioxidants that are believed to have anti-aging, heart-healthy effects.

So if you love drinking tea, keep enjoying it. But, if you're adding milk to your tea (as I do), realize that you're not getting all of the health benefits that have been ballyhooed in article after article.

Oliver's Latest Challenge

British celebrity chef Jamie Oliver has his work cut out for him. His challenge? To try to change the eating habits of the residents of Huntington, West Virginia.

According to the N.Y. Times, Oliver faces a daunting task:
Last year, an Associated Press article designated the Huntington-Ashland metropolitan area as the unhealthiest in America, based on its analysis of data collected in 2006 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Nearly half the adults in these five counties (two in West Virginia, two in Kentucky and one in Ohio) were obese, and the area led the nation in the incidence of heart disease and diabetes.

The poverty rate was 19 percent, much higher than the national average. It also had the highest percentage of people 65 and older who had lost their teeth — nearly 50 percent.
Oliver succeeded in getting British school children to change their eating ways. We'll see if he has the same luck in Huntington.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Jammin' in the Mornin'

I am a jam fiend. There's just no 12-step program for it. Spreading really good preserves on a warm piece of toast and then devouring it with a cup of coffee is probably the only sublime ritual of my morning.

I'm not crazy about the jams produced by the big national chains. My favorite brand is McCutcheon's, a small company based in Frederick, Maryland. Their apple butter is great, and their lemon-raspberry marmalade is out of this world.

Many years ago, I was pleased when Polaner came out with its "All Fruit" products -- jams sweetened with fruit juices instead of sugar. Sounded like a good plan to me. But two things happened.

First, along the way, I tasted preserves made by small producers that are much, much better.

Second, I've realized that the fruit-juice sweetening approach collides with the jam's flavor. Here's what I mean. If you buy Polaner All Fruit Peach, you want and expect it to taste like peaches, right? But the fact that it's sweetened by pear and grape juice means that those fruit flavors collide with the peach flavor.

Blake Lively Is One of Us

A foodie, that is. The actress Blake Lively, star of TV's "Gossip Girl," gave this brief interview to Esquire magazine recently. Among the revelations:
* She loves to cook.

* She likes ketchup and mayonnaise served with her french fries.

* She raves about having made french toast last December with egg nog, instead of milk -- and then topping it off with a bourbon-maple syrup.

Good looking and she knows how to cook. A very nice combo for Penn Badgley.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Grousing About Gourmet

As I noted in this recent post, Gourmet magazine is closing operations. It was a magazine that many foodies like me read from time to time.

In recent years, I'd been more likely to browse copies of Food & Wine or Bon Appetit because they seemed to have recipes and food ideas that were much less fussy and complicated.

Apparently, the Boston Globe agrees. In this snarky commentary, the Globe offers its "recipe" for the demise of Gourmet.

At the Huffington Post, author Maria Rodale has penned this pseudo-eulogy of Gourmet. In it, she writes that Gourmet seemed to be flying against the wind in an era in which the most popular restaurants tend to be no-nonsense bistros, wine bars and other places that tend to marry a casual ambience with comfort food. Rodale writes:
Gourmet didn't invent pretension, but it sure fed it.

. . . When I was done reading the (magazine's latest) issue, I felt this wasn't a relevant magazine anymore for today's world of food.

With Gourmet closed, I don't think it's a coincidence that the food magazine that's growing and succeeding in these times is Saveur, which, despite its stupid name, has a great editor who is grounded in real food from around the world.
I agree with Rodale. I understand that the economics of magazine publishing are much tougher today than they were 20 or 30 years ago, but we live in the era of "Top Chef" and the Food Network. There should have been a way for Gourmet to rethink its style, its perspective and its content to reflect the ways Americans are cooking, eating and talking about food.

Happy 70th to Old Bay

What's the best way to get a container of Old Bay seasoning through an airport security checkpoint? Believe it or not, someone has pondered this question.

The Old Bay-through-the-airport challenge is one of several amusing anecdotes in this article from today's Washington Post. The Post's Jane Black explores people's intense devotion to Old Bay -- the Tabasco of the mid-Atlantic region:
Only a select group of foods can claim the cult status of Old Bay. As the spice celebrates its 70th anniversary, the retro-, primary-colored can is a visual icon as familiar to many as Campbell Soup.

. . . Old Bay Seasoning was the invention of Gustav Brunn, a German Jew who emigrated to Baltimore in 1938. An experienced spice merchant, Brunn soon landed a job at McCormick & Co., which wanted him to develop blends for meatpackers who were making products including sausages and hot dogs.

It was a short gig: Two days after being hired, he was let go because he was Jewish, says his son Ralph, now 84. (McCormick spokeswoman Laurie Harrsen says the company has no records of Brunn's firing and points to its "longstanding commitment to diversity.")
Can you say: "corporate damage control"?
If it weren't for the firing, Old Bay might never have come into being.

In September 1939, Brunn rented a second-floor office and opened the Baltimore Spice Co. across from the city's wholesale fish market. Seafood merchants would come in and buy a few pounds of black pepper, red pepper and celery seed, Ralph remembers: "He was curious what concoctions they were making. With his background and experience, he thought maybe he could improve on it."
Evidently, he did. You just can't make a crabcake without Old Bay.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

A Very Forbidding Fruit

I have never been to Singapore, but there's an exotic, spiny fruit native to the country called a durian. It's widely eaten by the masses. But one wonders if they hold their noses while they're munching away.

In this post last month, N.Y. Times blogger Matt Gross called the durian "the most wretched-smelling fruit in the world." In fact, this fruit gives off such an unpleasant odor that Singapore's mass-transit system posts signs urging passengers not to carry durians aboard its trains.

If you're curious what a durian looks like and just how smelly it is, check out this YouTube video.

This longtime Singapore resident loves durians but admits it's a "purely personal taste." And here's a N.Y. Times article from 1994 that closely examines this "forbidding fruit."

Monday, October 5, 2009

Gourmet Is Gone

The major slump in the print-magazine sector has claimed another casualty: Gourmet magazine. That's sad news.

I have enjoyed reading Gourmet through the years. Even so, I must admit that I think Food & Wine and Bon Appetit have been more interesting to read in recent years.

The decision to close Gourmet was a minor surprise. According to the N.Y. Times' blog Media DeCoder:
There was speculation that Condé Nast would close one of its food titles — Gourmet or Bon Appétit — but most bets were on the latter. Gourmet has a richer history than Bon Appétit, and its editor, Ruth Reichl, is powerful in the food world.

. . . Condé Nast tends to hold tight to its prestigious titles, making the Gourmet closing all the more startling.
Something tells me that Ruth Reichl will have a comfortable landing.

Dreaming of Chowder

I found this recipe for corn chowder at the food blog called Food o' del Mundo. It looks tasty, and it's a nice way to use the last of the corn crop.

What a great dish for fall.

Friday, October 2, 2009

What a Waste of Eagle Brand

My sister-in-law appreciates good food. When we're talking about dessert recipes, she has this saying that I've always agreed with:
"Anything with sweetened condensed milk in it is bound to be good."
I've always concurred with her, that is, until I stumbled on this weird recipe from the website iFood. Yeeccch! I love cherries, but candied cherries? No, thank you. It reminds me of fruitcake. And the ingredients just don't sound like they work well together -- butterscotch morsels, cherries and peanut butter?

Replace the butterscotch morsels with chocolate morsels and you might be on to something.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Expense-Account Lunches Live On

The Huffington Post writes that "one of the biggest casualties" of the Wall Street financial meltdown that occurred a year ago was the expense-account lunch.

But now some corrupt soul has developed a scheme to allow business execs to continue expensing those pricey meals by claiming them as non-food expenses. According to Huffington Post:
Maloney & Porcelli have created an "expense-report generator" that lets you take the total you spent on your meal (or essentially any figure that you choose) and creates fake cab, office supply, and cheap-o meal receipts so your boss won't know about the filet mignon and merlot you had on the company's tab.

The receipts come looking like they've been photocopied onto 8 1/2 x 11 paper, and are even perfectly wrinkled to look like they've been mussed while stuffed into a pocket.
The unscrupulous are creative, aren't they?