Saturday, December 18, 2010

They say, "Nap when they nap."

I say, "TRAIN when they nap."

This is my new reality. I managed to get 20' in while Nora ate with mummy. But then mummy had to run off to yoga. Nora permitted me to ride for another 36' before the cold basement and Sufferfest techno soundtrack got the better of her and she broke down in a screaming fit. Looking forward to more sessions just like that!

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Celebrating the Bliss!

To celebrate two years of blissful legal union, SVR and I extracted ourselves from our comfort zone and tried two, that's right, TWO new dinner spots in one, that's right, ONE weekend.

Last October, we traveled to visit friends in the Hague and Belgium. It was a spectacular trip on so many fronts and, not surprisingly, food and drink were always front and center. With 'cross season just around the corner (this is supposed to be a cycling and food blog, yes?) and last fall's vacation on the mind, we decided to try Et Voila! (they deliberately add the '!,' just like Yahoo! and Jeopardy!), a Belgian bistro, for our anniversary celebration proper.

The restaurant is easy to miss, as it's tucked in among a barber shop (probably a salon, but I'm kinda old fashioned and prefer the imagery 'barber shop' provokes), a pet food store, and an antique shop. Et Voila! isn't in much of a 'destination' spot in DC. The space is long and narrow. Up front, the bar seats four and doesn't offer an ideal spot to linger while waiting for a table, but thankfully our table was ready and waiting when we arrived. Something about the interior design, the spacial layout, the lighting, the clientele, the staff, and the smells and sounds struck me and SVR as distinctly 'Euro.' It all came together in a certain je ne sais quoi kinda way to offer a near perfect transport back to some of the mid-range Belgian spots we tried in Bruges. Wanna get away? Screw Southwest. Try Et Voila!

With Belgian spots, and their corresponding beers, pretty much all the rage these days, I was eager to see how the beer list stacked up against some of the others around town. Disappointingly, there are no taps at Et Voila!, so all options are from the bottle. Though the list ran upwards of 25-30 choices, I've tried most of what I saw and thought I'd start a special occasion with special occasion libations. A $9 glass of Crémant De Bourgogne, Laurent Tripoz champagne was good stuff. And organic. Sparkling. Tasty. Light. Balanced.

For food, I started with a beef tartare paired with greens and SVR had a roasted beet salad. Both were pretty amazing. Conventional bistro items, but executed so well. My beef was uniformly chopped and mixed with the requisite savories. I tasted some mustard and shallot and capers. Much to my delight, I also caught a sliver of sweetness from, I think, some cornichons. No toast points. Just the well-dressed arugula and other spring greens. Though the lettuce was pretty heavily doused, I didn't mind at all. The dressing was tart and sour and spicy. The champagne worked well with that dish. SVR's beets disappeared quickly, but I did snag one bite. I can't say anything was particularly unusual about the preparation, but can say the flavors were nice and stout and the beets were cooked perfectly. Just a super solid rendition of a beet salad with some goat cheese and nuts. Supposedly the beets were heirloom beets, but I can't say that mattered much to the taste.

Mains were also basic fare. Despite the hot weather, SVR had the Flemish stew. A classic rendition, it was rich and meaty. Stewed in beer, there wasn't much specific beer flavor, but I'm sure some of the subtle fruit in the sauce was leftover from whatever Belgian ale the chef used. SVR handed over the accompanying crouton garnish. It was toasted bread with a horseradish or mustard spread. I thought that spice bomb was great on its own and would've been good balance to the rich and slightly sweet stew. Her loss. My gain. The dish came with some fries. They were phenomenal. Plenty hot, really crispy, mediumly thin, and rightly salted, I had to battle to get my hands on more than just one. Entering her third trimester, SVR has been branching back out to the rare glass of wine. For this special occasion, she had a glass of Malbec and judged it, "Good and certainly good with the beef stew."

I opted for a chicken dish. Again, basic. Seared breast advertised as 'herb crusted' and accompanied by spinach, potato croquette, and red wine sauce. I'm back to challenging restaurants to cook chicken well. In skilled hands, chicken can be so frickin' good. For a while, I think chicken just played second fiddle. Often prepared safely and without much flare, I think chefs were getting away with serving dry, over cooked fowl. But spots like Palena treat their chicken with care. Firefly also does a killer roasted chicken. Those places offer hope and I'm kinda on a mission to test restaurants by seeing how they handle the lowly chicken. Et Voila! passed the test. The 'herb crusted' turns out to be 'herb topped.' A slug-like (I know, not an appetizing image) herb swath ran the length of the seared breast. I don't know what the base ingredient was, but the blob held together firmly and was packed with herbes de provence type flavors and some other, brighter, green flavors. My first cut into the breast left me wondering if I erred with my chicken choice. But a few cuts into the thicker piece of meat left me super happy with my decision. The chicken was moist and flavorful. The potato croquette were awesome. Consistently golden in color, they were crispity crunchity on the outside and positively fluffy on the inside. Spinach was not watery and peppered with noticeable diced garlic. The real highlight was the glassy, rich, deep, tart, luscious red wine sauce. I coulda had a bowl of this stuff for soup. The spinach provided the perfect vehicle for mopping up and absorbing all remaining sauce. Card carrying member of the clean plate club. Right here. I paired this dish with a Mardesous Brune, knowing the deep, slightly fruity, 8% brown ale would stand up to the savory herbs and the rich wine sauce.

All-in-all, they savory part of the meal was a smashing success.

I'm not a huge fan of chocolate desserts, particularly mousse. My advanced research promised this spot's chocolate mousse would be off the hook. We ordered one. Solid choice. It was not painfully sweet. It is made with a pretty deep and dark chocolate, so it had a bit more complexity than a Hershey's milk chocolate bar. Best of all, there was a little crunchy texture added by way of some cocoa nibs on top.

I rounded it all out with an espresso (a much appreciated heavy crema on that one) and judged the spot a near perfect semi-casual spot to celebrate a joyous day.

I shouldn't ignore the service. It was decidedly fine. The waiter wasn't exactly warm, but that doesn't bug me. We received everything we asked for, had ample opportunity to provide feedback, and didn't feel intruded on. Can't complain about any of that.

It's also good to know Et Voila! offers enough stuff on the menu, including the expected mussels and fries, to make it appropriate for a non-special occasion. It ain't cheap, but I suspect you could get in and out for $35 a head (shared starter, two orders of mussels or burgers, a shared dessert, and two drinks). We'll be back.

Clearly, I went all 'NOT TODAY' on this post, so I'll have to save thoughts about Estadio, the other new try, for another day.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

2Amys and Pizzeria Orso Matchup

It is no surprise that we are big fans of 2Amys, but when friends suggested we hit up Pizzeria Orso last night we were excited to get a taste of Edan MacQuaid's pizza making skills.

Both restaurants are pizzerias, but it is also clear that they are restaurants with different aims, so it is probably unfair to compare the two. Orso feels firmly focused on the pizza and 2Amys, where pizza is the main attraction, is also interested in exploring other flavors of Italy through its charcuterie
and ever changing small plates. Even if it isn't fair to do this comparison...I will shall embark upon it anyway, in what I hope is a just the facts approach. I also caveat this entry by noting that I have only been to Orso once and have been to 2Amys more times than I can count.

Ambiance: Orso has a nice new space with a great looking bar area. I appreciated that they didn't seem to cram too many tables into the space. If the wait gets too long at Orso they seem to have some good overflow space, unlike 2Amys which can get crowded around the bar if the weather is bad. Like 2Amys, Orso is loud and for our party of 6 it was a bit hard to hear what was going on at the other end of the table.

Service: Service at Orso was appropriately attentive and friendly. It was also nice to see some old 2Amys faces there who recognized us and were friendly. We are always treated right at 2Amys so obviously no complaints there either.

Wine/Beer Selection: The wine menu at Orso is significantly truncated in comparison to 2Amys, but it has the appropriate Italian standbys. JFW thought the beer selection was fair, but perhaps not as ambitious as it should be given the large number of restaurants in the area with solid beer programs.

Antipasti/Small Plates: As noted above, this doesn't seem to be the focus at Orso, and I thought it showed, or maybe I have just undergone full indoctrination at 2Amys. We tried the suppli (fried risotto rice balls) at Orso and they just didn't have a strong tomato and cheese flavor and one of JFW's was missing the cheese inside. Don't get me wrong the suppli wasn't bad, it just wasn't as good as 2Amys' offering. Another favorite of ours is the crositini at 2Amys (english pea and prosciutto), and here again Orso came close but didn't quite hit the mark. The morel mushroom crostini should have been a slam dunk for us, but the bread felt overly saturated with olive oil making it a little unappetizing to me.

Pizza: Here I think Orso and 2Amys are well matched. Our table ordered some of Orso's special stuffed pizzas and a more traditional pizza and we were all pleased. Of course, one has to like traditional Italian style crust at both places or one risks disappointment. So congrats to Orso for going toe to toe with 2Amys on this front. My one caution here is the price. The most expensive pizza at 2Amys is $13.95, whereas the Vesuvius stuffed pizza at Orso ran $19.00. While the cost of ingredients might justify the upcharge, I think this is something they'll need to watch.

So that's the run down. No surprise I still prefer 2Amys since one of my favorite things about going there is the small plates, but I think Orso made a solid showing and wish the MacQuaid's success.

Tastes of Montana

JFW is taking a break for the summer from his blog...actually he has taken a break for a long time and I thought it was high time to reinvigorate things. So I am trying my hand at a few food related entries.

JFW and I just got back from vacation in Montana. While the food scene in Montana might not be what it is here in DC, we had some amazing meals.

First, let me say that hands down I continue to think that Red Bird Restaurant in Missoula, MT has the best creme brulee I have ever had. Thanks to chef Jim Tracey for cooking it up special for me since it is no longer regularly on the menu. Red Bird is also remarkable for their amazing beer list. JFW found an Belgian oude gueze that we last had on vacation in Belgium and haven't seen since. The food of course was also remarkable the highlights including some Alaskan spot prawns, a morel mushroom and asparagus soup, and the bison filet.

We also headed up to Holland Lake, which is situated between the Bob Marshall Wilderness to the east and the Mission Mountains to the west. It was beautiful and a great few days away. While the scenery, I think, made everything taste good, the food at Holland Lake Lodge stood on its own and was worth the trip. Most notable were the dinners. My favorite meal was our first dinner. I started with a black bean soup with a mango salsa, followed by the beef filet for my main, and finished it off with a homemade coconut cake. JFW had a roasted beet salad, pistachio encrusted halibut, and frozen key lime pie for dessert. As a native Floridian, JFW was impressed that the key lime pie flavors were spot on, but I think he was less enthusiastic about the frozen pie format. What was most impressive about the food at Holland Lake was the consistency. All meals are eaten in the main Lodge because there really is no where else for miles around to eat, so the consistency in the kitchen was greatly appreciated.

Finally, the kitchen at my sister's place shouldn't be overlooked. Thanks to their enormous garden we enjoyed some amazing fresh produce - most notably the lettuce.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Fried Anchovy Bones

Not your typical bar snack. Better than salted peanuts. The lemon adds
a really nice touch of flavor, but takes away from the extreme crunch
of the fried breading and bones. Try 'em!

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Snow-body Gonna Break My Stride

Had to try to find a different play on 'snow' for this post. Not really sure it works, but...whatevs.

So...the past 24 hours have been a pretty serious blast. It all started innocently enough. Late afternoon hours yesterday looked something like this:
Not bad, right? By dinner time, it was also snow angel time. The epitome of a pure angel! (Said angel lost her phone during that maneuver! Don't worry, we went back and I found it right away.)

Morning came and things were looking both beautiful and a bit daunting. SVR got out for a run on the treadmill and I putzed and readied breakfast. This simple meal would prove even more fulfilling later in the day. Friday night, hEllicott and I exchanged a text or two about possible mountain biking in the snow Saturday. It was all conditions dependent. Also an option? Hooking up with MattyD. in RCP. He was planning a ski adventure. Around 10:30AM, Evan stepped up and decided to play sacrificial lamb. Willing to test the waters (and knowing my propensity to, er, wimp out of such climatically challenging events), he set out and I stood by awaiting word of conditions on the ground. The call eventually came in and word was things 'weren't so bad' down on Beach Drive. With SVR's urging, I dropped trou' immediately, as any thinking about what I was about to do was sure to derail my less than best laid plan. I was out the door in about a half hour (with a backpack full of beers, no less) and set out into some redonk conditions. As I gingerly scooted down Porter towards the Park, I was hearing many "nice job"s, "good work"s, and "brave soul"s as I progressed towards Connecticut Ave., NW. There were a fair number of people just messin' around in and along the street. I made it to Connecticut, but not really recognizing where I was (and also distracted by several cargo vans fish-tailing their way up Connecticut), I over shot Tilden and doubled back to continue my descent into the abyss. Tilden was amazing. Some sort of vehicle or 'device' had plowed a narrow (4' wide) chute and also threw enough pow' pow' on the cars lining the street to turn them into 8' tall cotton balls. Amazing. Once I hit Beach, Evan's report actually made sense. Beach was variably passable. Some spots were thick and others were rutted out. Mostly, 99% of everything was ride-able. Hard to say how much of the three hour outing was actually spent riding, but my legs are now telling me I did more work than it felt like at the time. Ready to exit the Park, Evan and I stopped at The Gate for a ceremonial brewski. Matty and Chris Clarke showed (as did a WaPo reporter, so look for mention of us in Sunday's paper) and we all had a wee nip (pourin' one out for Il Nessie with that one).
Headed back up Tilden (a total mess going uphill) and found Porter very ride-able. Usually a pain in rump of a way to finish of a ride, it was particularly painful on the Ruffian and in the friction-inducing snow. Awaiting me? Waffles left over from the morning meal, some pumpkin butter, and a nice cup of strong coffee (I've decided Illy is worth the premium price). I think this scene might even make a Belgian proud.
Energized once more and feeling in the right frame of mind to do some diggin' out, I sought the condo's communal snow shovel to try to clear a path for the car. Good thing I am young, big, strong man. It was not easy to get to this:
So here we are...warm, hungry, and feeling like we got a bunch done for a day with no auto availability and when most were holed up inside. But it don't stop there. This, along with a cheap bottle of Pepperwood Pinot Noir, awaits us:

Let it snow!!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

2010 Training Kick-Off!!!

My PowerAgent 7.4.5 software indicates the last time I rode my bicycle was Dec. 20th. Whiga-what???!!! Bad news. Bad news.

Getting dressed this morning, I went to put on my belt. Tried for the hole I used for the past ten, maybe fifteen, years. Couldn't quite get there without generating uncomfortable constriction. No biggie. I thought I could just back it out one hole. No dice. Still too tight. I had to step one hole further back and swallow my pride. So here I am, a month off the bike, experiencing my first significant weight gain since college.

SVR observed this whole ordeal and said, "You're going into work early and we're having leftovers for dinner so you don't have to cook this evening. Come home from work and get on your friggin' trainer!" Tough love. After that tongue lashing, I decided she was right. Let the games begin.

Home by 4:15PM, I was actually pretty amped to see where things see how far I'd really fallen. Last weekend's squash outing confirmed I'm pretty dang out of shape. I came away from that match with several things broken, my racket (see below) and my pride. Time for some redemption.

Twenty-four days without any attention tends to leave bicycle tires slightly deflated (kinda like my ego was after the ass whooping I received on the squash court), so step one in my comeback was to pump up the Cannondale's tires. Easier said than done. After the the Capital Cross Classic, I left my bicycle pump in Matty D.'s trunk. A bunch of random shit caused it to end up on Capitol Hill during the recent snow storm. Last time I was at Matt's, the pump was still on the Hill, so he loaned me his secondary pump to use in the meantime. So I set things up to pump up the tires and...pfffffffft. Something is totally effed with the head of the pump and it pretty much bled my rear tire of most air and won't assist with reinflation efforts. A case of stagflation? Maybe not. Anyhow...2010 training kick off? FAIL! I guess I coulda busted out some CO2 or the ol' mini-pump. I didn't.

I ate Belgian chocolate instead. Hey, at least it was Belgian.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Rapid Fire

Regular complaints from some folks closest to me have prompted the following uninspired, disorganized, apropos of nothing update.

On the cycling front: Boonen. Is it me or does he look like he's strung out on the stuff that got him in trouble the past two years. Hopefully none of the vampires were waiting in the wings at this photo shoot to collect blood or snip hair. Seems to me he would've come up positive for the nose candy.

Speaking of Belgium...nice score from a friend at our favorite watering hole.
Haven't really touched a bike since I hit the deck a few times over at Capital Cross Classic. As in years past and years past, this year I had to pull myself outta the season's closer. Always a disappointment. And seemingly always a guaranteed outcome! These wounds are just getting around to healing.

On the food front, some brief reports. Stopped in at EatBar this past Sunday around 1:30PM. Chose it over Tallula, as I expected they wouldn't be serving the same brunch menu. Wanted savory, non-breakfast items. Turns out, the two spots share the Sunday menu. Stuck around anyway.

Overall, a pretty lackluster dining experience. We sat for approx. twenty minutes before anyone acknowledged us. When the waiter did show, I was actually around the corner scoping Tallula to see if the waiter/waitress situation over there was any more robust. It was and I returned to the table to suggest our group move. But the bartender/waiter was finally attending to us and asking around for drink orders, so we stuck it out. I ordered a burger and asked for med.-rare. Burger came out brown, dry, and cooked well-done. Also, it was really, really salty. Not much flavor other than salt. It clearly sat under the heat lamp too long, as the lettuce was completely wilted, the tomato was petrified, and the onion was also dry as a bone. SVR said her burger also only tasted of salt. I sent mine back for a re-cook. It came back to me like a black and white cookie. Half the burger was 'blue' and stringy raw meat and the other half was just like the hockey puck I sent back. Also as with the first attempt, the only discernible flavor was salt. Blech. Pretty bummed to've paid $12 for such a bad burger. Garnish, even the second time around, was also woefully meh.

I've heard good things about the standard evening menu at EatBar (and even sampled a few 'snacks' about twelve months ago), so this unfortunate experience let me down.

The other recent culinary wild ride was at Honey Pig (Gooldaegee). It's Korean BBQ. Crazy stuff. Cheap. I hardly ever feel out of my element at a restaurant, but I felt very un-practiced here. I want to return having studied up a bit so I can order better and know what to expect and how to conduct myself. Dated WaPo review here. They no longer allow smoking, but that doesn't mean there isn't plenty of smokiness to go around. Wear clothes that are due for a trip through the washer. If you visit Honey Pig, you'll come home smelling like sweet, smokey meats. There are worse things!

Back to the cycling. Yes. Back to cycling. I expect to get back to it this weekend.