Wednesday, April 29, 2009
I was sitting on this very deck at Bua Thai in Dupont Circle last night with some good friends. The sun was shining, the two-dollar drinks (yes, I said TWO-DOLLAR DRINKS) were flowing, and the spicy puffs were salty, sweet and crunchy. It was a lovely scene. As the sun went down, we made our way through the happy hour menu, sampling the small-but-flavorful spring rolls, limey beef salad, oniony larb gai, and refreshing shredded papaya salad. Each appetizer costs four dollars and house wines, mixed drinks, and a handful of beers are two dollars a pop. All of this wonderfulness is available from 5:00 until 7:00 pm, when happy hour ends. But even during normal hours you still can't possibly spend too much at Bua.
Last night my friend Eric cautioned me at first not to write about this sweet little secret, for fear that too many people would come and make getting a seat impossible. But then with a wave of his hand he said, "Oh actually it's probably fine. It's not like that many people read your blog." EXCUSE ME? He quickly backpedaled but I told him he'd have to backpedal to Thailand to make up for that comment. So you guys, check this place out next time you're in Dupont Circle and tell them Dear Dave Lieberman sent you. Bua deserves our business, and Eric deserves to be smacked upside the head. Well, ok, not really...
Photo from Bua's website
Tuesday, April 28, 2009
If you live on the East Coast, you're likely sporting bare arms and possibly even sunscreen today. It's going to be 90 degrees this afternoon here in DC. Most people love this kind of early summer weather--I happen to hate it. My allergies make me feel crazy, my sandal selection hasn't been updated, and oh yes, this weather is a total tomato tease.
That's right. You heard me. It's hot enough to be August and I'm craving fresh tomatoes.
But the fact is, it's April, and no matter how many flip-flopped walkers I see on the streets today and no matter how many people invite me to have margaritas outside, that fact will not change. There are no good tomatoes to be had in April. This is asparagus and fava bean time, and baby lettuce and rhubarb time. Those are all perfectly good foods for spring but today feels like summer and I've got tomatoes on the brain, dangit!
Mercifully, Muir Glen Organic exists. This is my go-to tomato nine months of the year. While obviously not fresh off the vine, Muir Glen tomatoes have a firm texture and bright taste. I prefer the classic diced variety, but they offer fire-roasted and herb-laced kinds, too. My friend Katherine and I used a can of these babies recently to make Pappa Al Pomodoro, a chunky Italian soup that traditionally calls for fresh tomatoes. Our out-of-the-can version was pretty rockin', though, and I think you should give it a try. And yes, I realize that soup isn't really "hot weather food," but since the air conditioning is blasting you might as well just go for it.
Katherine and Catherine's (Canned) Tomato Bread Soup
Serves two or three
One large shallot, minced
Two garlic cloves, minced
One 28-ounce can Muir Glen Organic diced tomatoes
One small loaf stale Italian bread, cubed (about four cups)
Fresh basil (optional)
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese
In a large pot, saute shallot and garlic in olive oil over medium heat for about four minutes. Add tomatoes and bread and stir until everything is combined. If mixture seems dry, add a little water and about a teaspoon of tomato paste. The soup should be mushy and thick--not thin and runny. Cook over medium-low heat for about ten minutes, adding salt and pepper to taste. Feel free to throw in some hot red pepper flakes if you like a little heat. Stir in fresh basil (which ok, is also a summertime food but you can buy it pretty much any time of year, and I do). Ladle soup into bowls and serve with freshly grated Parmesan.
Friday, April 24, 2009
Restaurant tips and warm-weather recipes are coming, I promise, but for today we must focus on a Very Important Occasion: My nephew's first birthday.
As you can see, I'm not lying when I tell people that Jack is the cutest crawling thing in the world. It's hard to tell from the photo, but you should believe me when I say that he also has a sense of humor, and a remarkable interest in washing dishes. He's already quirky!
It's hard to grasp the fact that at this time last year I was in a hospital room with my sister and her husband, holding this teeny bundle in my arms. Sure, it was a bigger moment for the parents, but I felt pretty proud, too, since it was my first official day of Aunthood.
A year later, Jack and I are pals and I'm happy to report that he seems to like all foods. This bodes well for his future girlfriends, since dating a guy who's a picky eater is a drag (I'm sorry but it's true). And speaking of Jack's future, I fully intend buy him his first case of beer. But we have at least ten years to go before that happens.
So in the meantime I will bake him a cake.
I've been told that watching a baby eat his or her first piece of cake is one of life's greatest pleasures. It's too soon to tell what flavor he likes best, so we'll just go with my favorite flavor: chocolate. This cake has been in my family for centuries (ok, maybe not "centuries" but that sounds so much cooler than "years"). The recipe is simple and you'll see that I recommend Betty Crocker frosting to make things even simpler. You can knock yourself out with your own homemade icing, but I'm a girl who appreciates things that come in cans. For now that would be Jack's birthday cake frosting--years from now it will be his birthday Bud Light.
Black Devil's Food Cake
2 cups flour
1 and 3/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp baking soda
1/2 cup cocoa
2/3 cup vegetable oil
1 cup buttermilk
1 cup strong coffee
1 can Betty Crocker Dark Chocolate frosting
Preheat oven to 350 degrees
Combine flour, sugar, salt, baking soda, and cocoa together. Add oil and buttermilk, stir until well blended. Bring coffee to a boil and stir into batter.
Pour into a greased and floured 9 x 13 pan and bake for 35-40 minutes. Allow cake to cool before frosting.
Friday, April 17, 2009
If you've never heard of Charlie and Lola, you need to go here immediately. It's an absolutely brilliant creation and you do not have to be a kid to enjoy it. I love these two rascals so much that I'm tempted to buy a couple of hamsters just so I can name them Charlie and Lola.
Anyway, the show is smart on several levels, but one of the things I love most is how quirky little Lola is. She has an aversion to numerous foods and describes herself as "A Ver-ay Fuss-ay Eat-ah." It's not so much the taste of certain things (tinned to-MAH-toes, fish FING-gahs) that bothers her, but rather how those things look or feel. I can relate to this--certain foods freaked me out when I was a child, too. For example, I was not fond of the way Kraft American Cheese Singles melted into a rubbery, circus-tent-orange mass and oozed out from the side of my grilled cheese sandwich. It was an upsetting sight so I'd pull off tiny pieces of sandwich and chuck them under the kitchen table, hoping my mom would think I'd eaten them. Yellow wax beans also weirded me out and made me think of dead worms.
My friend Katherine introduced me to Charlie and Lola, and since I'm off to visit her for a few days, I thought it fitting to write this post today. Incidentally, Katherine is also a bit of a fuss-ay eat-ah, but that's just one more reason to love her.
Have a happy weekend, everybody!
Sunday, April 12, 2009
Happy Easter, everybody. Happy Passover, too. I didn't get my gelfite fish this year, but oh well. That's what happens when you stop dating Jewish boys, I guess.
Anyway, back to Easter. I think it's pretty solid, as holidays go. You have your miracle, the promise of spring and new life, and of course an abundance of sugary treats. When I was a child, we went further upstate to Glens Falls every year for a big buffet brunch with my grandparents. The restaurant looked out on Lake George and I can't remember the name but I do remember that they had the most awesome hash browns ever. My mom gave us tons of candy and overall made the Easters of my youth wonderful. I used to love Easter.
Until high school. And the skunk.
It was 1991 and I was fourteen years old. It was about 9:00 pm and we'd just gotten home from Glens Falls. My mom sent me and my older sister out to walk Molly, our Lhasa Apso. I had the leash as we walked along and then paused at the corner so she could sniff a patch of earth. The next thing I know, her ears go up and she bolts across the street and dives under the bushes in front of someone's house. We run over there, shouting her name and trying to find the leash so we can pull her out. I'm right up in the bushes, desperately calling to my beloved pet, when suddenly I hear a spraying sound. Then a whimper. Ellen is several yards away but hears the sound and shrieks. "Was that a skunk!?" The smell is descending upon me and my dog, who is now by my side with her tail way down. I begin to cry. Ellen starts laughing and turns around to run home, saying she's going to tell mom what happened. Molly and I trail after her, leaving a pungent waft in our wake. When we arrive home, the door has been locked because nobody wants the skunk odor in the house. Have I mentioned that I'm sobbing? My sister, on the other hand, is inside, hysterically laughing. My dad is laughing, too. So Molly and I sit on the porch while the family figures out what to do with us. My brother John is sent to CVS, because the emergency hotline vet said we would need to take a bath of tomato juice and douche. Yes, DOUCHE. If you think that's funny, picture my 18-year-old brother going to CVS at 10 pm to buy it. He may be as traumatized as I am by the whole experience.
That night, I took a tomato-douche bath with my dog. My father took pictures. My sister never stopped teasing me, and perhaps worst of all, my mother made me go to school the next day! Can you grasp how awful that is? The day she made me go to class with a fat lip pales in comparison. All day after the skunk attack I wondered if people could smell me. Nobody ever said anything, but I still worry about it. To this day, I'm pretty preoccupied with how I smell and in fact I just realized that I subconsciously chose the colors of my favorite perfume for this blog. That's deep trauma, people.
So now Easter is inextricably linked to skunks for me. Nice, huh? Well, I'm off to celebrate the day with my sister. She has two dogs of her own now. I love them both dearly, but I will not be walking either one tonight.
Wednesday, April 8, 2009
This RW installment comes straight from the heart of my eloquent, cocktail-loving friend Katherine. I have yet to hit the places she suggests, but I'm going to Boston to see her next weekend and believe you me, there is a seat--right next to hers--at the Silhouette with my name on it. This is what's good about having friends who are fun and as cash-poor as you are. Cheers!
I'm not sure if you've heard about it, but we seem to be in the middle of a major fiscal crisis. As a result, many of my friends and I have started re-assessing our own financial situations. Now, I don't want you to get the impression that I was living in the lap of luxury before this economic recession. For one, I am a social worker, so money is not something that I see a lot of to begin with. I also live in Boston. I love this town, but it is pricey; Boston is apparently 48% more expensive than most other U.S. cities, at least according to my thirty second Google search. And finally, I may or may not have been a little absentminded in my twenties about how and when I spent. I was young. Sue me.
Anyway, now I'm in my thirties and trying to be a little more responsible about how I spend. I have recently put myself on a rather stringent budget, and most of my diminutive resources are allocated to necessities. And for a single girl living in a great city, one of those necessities is a night out once in a while. There are a lot of great places to go in Boston: Drink, a new cocktail bar where the bartenders ask what you like and then whip something up for you; Eastern Standard, for great food and vintage spirits; Bin 26, a cozy enoteca. But they, like Boston, tend to be a little on the costly side. Fortunately, there is a solution--it's called the Silhouette Lounge.
Now, if you're a beer snob, you're not going to like what I'm about to propose. But if you're willing to drink cheap beer, there are establishments in my fair city that will help you, and your wallet. Silhouette is a neighborhood dive, right near my house. It's on a dimly-lit corner and the crowd is definitely eclectic, but I like this. In a city of college students, Silhouette seems to get a smattering of everyone and yet no one is talking loudly, wearing Uggs, or talking on the iphone that daddy bought. Which is surprising because a beer only costs $2- the place should be overrun with co-eds. A pitcher of Miller Lite is $7, and get this: they hand out free popcorn! Sometimes even Oreos!
This little discovery has led my friend and me to explore other dives. We're even thinking of creating a rating system. Silhouette gets points for the popcorn. A place in Cambridge called The Cellar gets points because it's not really dive-y, and they have yummy looking pizza. They both get points for being close to our respective homes. We're planning on checking out other dives to see how they all stack up. For us, it's a fun plan and a relief to know that we can go out, be among the young and living, and not break the bank.
Something tells me, though, that no matter how many we check out, Silhouette will stay close to my heart. If you're in Boston and decide to check it out, be forewarned that it's cash only. You also pay the waitress (if you're at a table) as you go, which helps you to not go overboard if you've only got $6.75 to your name. If you're not in Boston, I urge you to find your own favorite cheap dive to call home. Oh, and did I mention that I just applied for financial aid because I'm planning to go back to school, thus getting myself into more debt? Yep, you'll be able to find me anytime at Silhouette, drinking my $2 beer and having free popcorn for dinner.
Like all legit dive bars, Silhouette doesn't have a website. But here's more info, and the source of the photo shown above.
Tuesday, April 7, 2009
Is it just me, or is demi-glace pretty much the best thing ever? First of all, it is French through and through. That's score number one in my book. Also, what's not to love about a rich reduction of aromatic vegetables, tomato, herbs, and veal bones? (Uh oh. I think I just felt all the vegetarians get up and walk away.)
That might be best, though, because demi-glace is strictly for carnivores. And for this carnivore, it is the stuff of dreams. The problem is, cooking it takes forever. You have to reduce, reduce, skim, and reduce in order to get it just right. This can literally go on for days. I think you also have to have a little French guy sitting on your shoulder while you make it, telling you when to adjust ze salt and remoov ze bouquet garni. I don't know about you, but I don't have days to stand over a pot, or a little French man in a toque telling me what to do.
What I do have, however, is one full pound of frozen Natural Classics demi-glace. It came in the mail from Lakemoor, Illinois, and it is miraculous. (Ooh, I think I just felt all the carnivores draw in closer.)
My aunt Judy ordered a bunch after reading about it in Saveur and last weekend she gave some to me. I'd gone to visit her and my uncle and cousins in Philadelphia because my mother was visiting and also because I really love going to their house. They always serve good wine and really good food. On Saturday night my uncle pan-seared filets mignons in butter but instead of his usual cognac sauce, he topped each tender piece of beef with a spoonful of the mail-order demi-glace (which he had punched up with a bit of shallot and mustard). It was glossy and delicious. I may have swabbed the last of it off my plate with my index finger.
True, I didn't have to order my sauce and in this sense I am lucky. I didn't have to pay for it and I don't have any idea how much it costs. But even if it's thirty bucks a pound I still recommend it. In fact, if you think you have to eat at a French bistro to get demi-glace, I insist you buy this. I sleep better at night just knowing a tub of it waits patiently for me in my freezer. But what about you? Yeah, I didn't think so. Now go order some and thank me later. And if you happen to live in Lakemoor, I need to know if you've been to the restaurant because I might have to make a pilgrimage. It's a lot closer than Paris, after all.
Rooster from Le Vichyssois website
Wednesday, April 1, 2009
Fine. I admit it. Trying to post a review of a different restaurant in a different town every Wednesday was a lofty plan. So today I figured I'd switch gears and just talk about pizza. I used my traditional "Restaurant Wednesday" headline because I feel guilty (see previous post) and am trying to hang on to my promise. But after today, I will only use it when it legitimately applies.
Now onto pondering pizza. It's one of my favorite things to eat, and I'm guessing it's one of yours, too.
I grew up in the Northeast, where good takeout pies are relatively easy to come by. But I moved to DC when I was 21 and quickly discovered how lacking this city is in decent pizza purveyors. Domino's? Um, I don't think so. Armand's? I'd rather eat my thumb, thanks. For several years I complained about DC: Awful humidity, slow grocery store checkouts, and terrible takeout pizza. But as time passed I gradually quit my grumbling. I think it ceased completely when I discovered Vace.
I guess this does sort of fall under my wanna-be regular Wednesday rubric, but not really, because Vace is a deli, not a restaurant. It's a damn good deli, though, and I think it's the only place in my fair city where you can get decent pizza to go. The Vace sauce is vibrant but not too sweet, the mozzarella soft and not heavily applied, the toppings respectable--homemade meatballs, freshly sliced onions, etc--and the crust chewy yet crisp. People who know good pizza understand what I mean. You can buy it by the slice or whole pie at Vace and believe me, you should buy it by the whole pie. (Bonus tip: Atomic Billiards, a mellow but merry bar a few doors away, welcomes patrons to bring in food from outside. A pizza from Vace goes great with their draft beer, awesome jukebox, and billiards. I am just saying.)
Anyway, Vace is my choice for takeout pizza in DC. Any fellow residents care to chime in? And we might as well discuss the more refined eat-in places while we're at it. Of course we have Paradiso and 2Amys but I want to hear about Pete's New Haven Style Apizza in Columbia Heights. Has anybody been there? How is it? What is New Haven-style pizza, anyway? Even my best friend from Connecticut doesn't know!
I also want to hear from the far-flung contingent: Where do you get your pizza? What kind of crust do you think is better: thick or thin? Why? I've heard that you haven't had a real slice of pizza until you've been to Naples, Italy. I've never been there but I did have remarkable pizza in Siena--it was topped with potatoes and crushed rosemary. What's the ideal topping, in your opinion? Does anybody have an easy recipe to share? Drop your pizza knowledge in the comments!
PS: Photo from Vace's charming website (Tell me that music doesn't make you want to dance a little bit.)