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#263830 Palena, 2007 James Beard Award Winner Frank Ruta Rocks Cleveland Park - Final...

Posted by Poivrot Farci on 28 April 2014 - 02:02 AM

Thank you Frank.  And to the stranger at Tonic in Mt. Pleasant who, in January of 2006, upon overhearing my conversation of where to work next, kindly urged, without hesitation, “go to Palena.  It’s the best place in the city.”


I just re-read the first 10 pages of the Palena thread and with the exception of the Pojarski detractor (a dish you will have trouble finding anywhere else, in this century, and is representative of Frank’s scorchingly low heat classical repertoire) and grumbles of service, long waits for a table (for a damn burger) and other bullshit white whines there was near universal and effuse praise for the food, on a weekly basis.  We all misfire from time to time but on Frank’s watch those fumbles were rare exceptions.  


Frank’s tenet #1.  Anything worth fucking up once is worth fucking up twice.


Jonathan and I (Logan, Brian, Sarah, Carl (now CdC at Craigie on Main)) and quite a few more are fortunate to have fallen through that door to culinary Narnia and been able to work at Palena.  After 8 years cooking for grand fromages Laurent Manrique, Charlie Palmer, Gerry Hayden, Buben, Cathal and Bryan Voltaggio I thought I knew a bit, as most young-ish cocky cooks are wont to do, but all the while we were playing brash checkers to Frank’s brass chess. We unlearned some clumsy, bastardized -though standard- practices and were exposed to an entirely new reality of deliberate discipline, finesse, proper technique, sound theory, resourcefulness, professionalism, practicality, humility, layering of flavors and elegant compositions that highlighted traditional techniques of yesteryear, seasonality, regions and well established combinations that made sense and had exceptional flavor.  Never anything that was purposely random or conceived because of the pervasive “it sounds cool” variety of insecure ideas.  Decadent, but no gimmicks. Nothing left out in the sun to softly spoil and call it our own clever sleight of hand.  We learned to make everything that was worth the while.


Tenet #2: Anything worth doing is worth doing right.


We were treated to premium, tippy-top shelf products.  We had the privilege of cutting up and cooking wild Atlantic loup de mer, glass eels, abalone, live urchins, live snails, periwinkles, crayfish, turbot, Dover sole, shiimaji, fresh anchovies, the Kraken, fresh Alaskan king crab, all types of things with wings, cockscombs, wild game, the best beans, olive oils, grains, luxury mushrooms, truffles, all sizes of animals all in raw state and then all the stuff from his garden which you can’t really make out from Google Earth, but probably rivaled Le Potager du Roi.


We learned a better way to make pasta (a well made dough never, ever needs eggwash for sealing ravioli), a better way to make stocks and sauces, a better way to cook rice and grains (stirring risotto is folksy and romantic but totally unnecessary if you do it how he learned in Italy), the proper way to butcher, season, cure, brine, marinate, sear, grill, simmer, roast, poach, braise; to turn vegetables and glaze them; to taste, test, feel, smell, and cook until tender; to be patient, to make breading, doughs, condiments, soups and an ethereal consommé; assemble stews and ragouts;  to be efficient, be professional, make use of everything and waste nothing, to stuff things, to better use collagen, fats and proteins to thicken or emulsify; to use recipes, proportions, percentages, formulas, to measure, calculate, take notes, to write recipes and be remarkably consistent without sacrificing soulful cookery.  Seeing how the butter was cubed on the stations was the first of  5 ½ years of revelation and immeasurable inspiration.


Frank is said to have learned from stalwart Olympic heavyweights at that White House during the gilded salad years (Messrs. Haller, Raffert, Flay, Messier), bonafide masters of the trade who knew how to do everything better, faster and slicker than the rest.  A flabbergasting  amount of skill and craftsmanship to be exposed to, and 50 ways to cook a potato.  He regaled us one day with some pictures from his White House tenure (needlessly apologizing for the barely distressed 20 year-old photos).  Drive-in theatre sized glasses, an unruly soup strainer under the nose and one of those unfortunate mini-aprons that wouldn’t conceal one of those random workplace erections.  There was a nougat cauldron with sherbet flowers courtesy special pastry tips from the WH engineers, lobster Bellevue, elaborate centerpieces with stuffed this and jellied that, monkfish ballotines, booties on crown roasts, a dozen of hundreds of sweet potatoes whittled into Santa’s boots for the Christmas party… “L’Art Culinaire Moderne” and Escoffier’s whimsical highlight reel revisited by Kodak.  I sucked up that inspiration like a depraved tick.


Palena was DC’s premier seminary for learning crucial fundamentals and essential practicum (then go to Cityzen for a proper polishing) and I’ll never know another chef personally that so heavily influenced my passion and who’s style was in my immediate, hopelessly dated orbit. I helped in a retrospective dinner that celebrated the White House years back in 2010 and Frank made the following salmon bavarois with stuffed artichokes.  There aren’t many others, if any, who have the diligent digits and formidable mind to fabricate such a professional old timey composition, these days.  Frank can do it all;  baking the breads (all antique starter based, naturally), butchering, curing, puff pastry, vinegar, mostarda, donuts, savory tarts, occasional plumbing, pies, even torrone nougat petit-fours.  And all the fancy napkin folds cradling the even fancier canapés.  This a working chef who cooked something every day for almost 14 years gracefully, with composure and absolute pleasure.


Tenet #3: Perfection doesn’t happen by accident.




I am eternally grateful for Frank’s particular flavor of tutelage and congratulate his remarkably quiet reign. Palena’s untimely expiration is a legitimate bummer. That’s life.

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#233569 Grapeseed, Cordell Avenue in Bethesda - Chef Jeff Heineman's Cafe and Win...

Posted by Jeff Heineman on 12 July 2013 - 04:40 PM

Okay, time for a new spin on an old favorite. I know this is late for this week, but we will be doing this every week until we change it.


The Dr.com tasting menu Discount Edition II.


Now, the tasting Menu every Friday and Saturday Night, regularly $55 for the unclean masses, will be $40 for Dr.com types AND we will donate $10 per purchased dinner to the Yellow Ribbon Fund (YRF is also the Charity we and other Bethesda restaurants are supporting During Restaurant Week from July 29th to Aug 4th)


I will post, at the end of the month, the total that is donated.. So we will see in three weeks how much you all care about our injured soldiers.


We will still do the wine pairings for 1/2 price as well.


Menu without wine pairings:

Amuse Bouche

Shrimp Etouffee, Rice

Fried Chicken , Waffle, BBQ Sauce

Hanger Steak Frites

Choice of Dessert

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#263510 A Giant Is Falling

Posted by Bart on 24 April 2014 - 10:14 AM

I started writing this response 3 different times and then deleting it, but everytime I come back to this thread I get annoyed and start it again.  So here I go..........


Although I understand the newsworthiness of Rocks post,


I don't.


What's the point of this thread? 


Are we playing "I've got a secret"?


Is the whole point of it to be able to brag about being first to break the story once there is an actual story?


So far here's what we know (excluding the post about Palena which everyone seems to be ignoring):  "Something is about to happen somewhere around here to someplace that some of us like.  And it's probably not good news since grieving will be involved."  


I guess my issue/point/complaint is: Either tell us or don't tell us!   Don't dance around in tease-ville!!


Thank you, I feel better now.

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#248545 Rogue 24, Blagden Alley in Mount Vernon Square - 2007 James Beard Winner RJ C...

Posted by lackadaisi on 26 November 2013 - 09:16 PM

Again we used his criticism as a tool and change a policy the rest is opinion and ambiguous meh? why? what part? give me some depth of thought.

Never mind you all enjoy have a fun weekend.

We relish criticism and learn from the good and the bad. Ambiguity is not a learning tool.


First, he didn't have an enjoyable experience, and that means a lot. Over the past 8 years that I have known him, I have read many of his reviews, spoken to him about many meals, even sharing some, i have learned a lot about his taste, so it means something to me. That doesn't mean that I would agree, as we dont always, but that is why it is good to have this kind of historical relationship.

Second, he loves the decor and thinks the kitchen in the center is cool (as do I). But some people want a visible kitchen so they can watch food prep, like at Rose's. If that is what you are looking for, this wouldn't be the right place. I agree with that completely.

Third, he likes fully composed dishes and didn't find that here. My step-father often has this complaint and would find it useful. I don't really, but whatever.

Fourth, he felt the wine pairings were not a good deal. He explained exactly why he felt that way. It seems he may not have had the standard service in this regard. He can't be blamed for that. But I know him well enough to know that he isn't some chump that thinks the glass should be filled to the rim.

Fifth, he listed the menu and described some dishes, which is very helpful to give people an idea of what to expect.

Sixth, he thought the oyster was overpowered by the cucumber. Clear criticism.

Seventh, he really liked the avocado dish and thought the presentation was cool.

Eight, he thought the potato and lime gel overpowered the sepia and smoke. Again, very clear criticism.

Ninth, he thought the urchin was good and creative. I certainly wouldn't have understood that the coffee was crumbled but not for his description. This one really piqued my interest.

Tenth, the pigtails were in springroll form and good. Although he liked it, I don't much care for spring rolls, and I seem to recall that he does, so this tells me it is probably very good but I doubt it would be my favorite as it is more his bailiwick.

Eleventh, although he had a predisposition against the snail dish, it was good and interesting enough for him to enjoy it at least moderately.

Sure there were a lot of words that weren't that descriptive, but he clearly wasn't trying to write a masterpiece. He was trying to give his impression and some take aways. I think he did that extremely well. It would be wonderful if all posts had this much detail and were written by people who have allowed us to have so much insight into thier tastes (note, I only know MDT though DR and DR-related events).

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#221161 Middle Eastern Food 101

Posted by Kibbee Nayee on 21 January 2013 - 08:54 PM

[My goals here are straightforward – First, I wanted to put together a primer on Middle Eastern food so that Rockwellians don’t walk into a Middle Eastern restaurant and scratch their head like I do when I walk into a Chinese or Korean or Thai or Martian restaurant.  May you all place your orders in a slightly more informed manner from this day forward.  Second, I wanted to encourage the rest of our experts to do the same in each of the cuisines they happen to be experts in, so that this site can have a respectable ethnic food guide.  Please pile on.]


The topic of Middle Eastern food is as broad as the topic of Asian food.  There are regions to be discussed, then countries within regions, and then localities within countries, all of which bring differences and nuances to the discussion.  To frame it properly, I’m going to focus on the 20 Arab countries across North Africa (the Magreb), the Levant and Mesopotamia, and the Arabian Peninsula or Gulf States.  I will also touch on but not dwell on the related cuisines of Iran and Turkey, although each has a sophistication and complexity that requires its own treatment.  In passing, I will touch on Kurdestan and Armenia, although they no longer exist as geopolitical entities.  I will generally avoid Israeli food except for Palestinian food and the food of Yemeni and Moroccan Jews who came to Israel in the past 70 years or so.  But the rest of Israeli food that was imported from Eastern Europe will not be addressed.


And up front, if you like pork you won’t be satisfied at most Middle Eastern restaurants.  Islamic Halal and Jewish Kosher laws prohibit pork.  And if you want alcohol with your meal, you can also avoid Halal restaurants like Mount of Lebanon.  However, a very good alcohol enjoyed by the Christians of the Middle East is Arak – Raki in Turkey, Ouzo in Greece.  The best Arak available to us is the Lebanese Al-Massaya, an almost artisanal version available on the Web (and in my liquor cabinet).


Next, consider the geography and history of the region.  It sits at the crossroads of Asia, Africa and Europe, and therefore has sent traders and conquering armies to all of those regions, and in return received traders and conquering armies from all of those regions.  As a result, refined cuisine like Lebanese reflects the influences of Byzantine raiders, Crusaders, Ottomans and French.  Similarly, the Turkish meat sandwich Doner is as prevalent in Germany as Bratwurst, and Couscous with a spicy sausage called Merguez was recently voted one of the most popular foods in France.


Any discussion has to begin with bread, the staple of the Middle East. The Arabs claim that they cannot taste other foods without bread and the bread types they have to choose from are numerous and varied. Arab bread comes in many textures, sizes, and shapes. Without question, the mother of all these Middle Eastern breads is pita — by far, the most popularly found in the Middle East. Called Khubz Arabee among the Arabs in that part of the world and once called flatbread or Syrian bread in the United States — until Syria became a country of dubious political behavior — it is now widely known as Pita Bread — a Greek name. Pita bread, like all types of Middle Eastern breads, is usually soft and pliable — perfect for the Arab way of eating. One of the greatest advantages of this type of bread is picking up meat, vegetables, and salads and as a scoop for sauces, dips, yogurt, and just about anything else. When the loaf is cut into two, the top and bottom of the loaf separate easily and the halves form pockets that can be filled with hot falafel, shawarma (barbecued meats), kafta (the Arab version of hamburgers), kebabs and/or salads to make delicious sandwiches.  There are other Middle Eastern breads as well – Yemeni bread, Bedouin bread (Chubab), Injera (more around the Horn of Africa) and Lavash.  The point is that you’ll have bread with every meal you order in a Middle Eastern restaurant and it will probably be fresh, warm and good.


For some regional distinction, consider that the northern African countries use Couscous, which is actually a pasta, as the most common carb.  In the Levant – Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine and what would be Armenia and part of Iraq – the common carb is cracked wheat, or Bulgur.  In the Arabian peninsula and around the Gulf, rice is the carb of choice.  Of course, that rule is general and you’ll find plenty of rice dishes in the Levant and plenty of Bulgur dishes in Egypt and Tunisia.  However, the spices will be different depending on the region.


Which brings me to a dish like Mujaddarah (Arabic for “smallpox” because it looks like the effects of smallpox).  It is the rice and legume dish of the Levant, with plenty of fried onions on top.  In Syria and Lebanon, brown lentils with rice is the base of the dish.  In Jordan and Palestine, red lentils with Bulgur define the dish.  And the version you’ll find in Egypt is Koshary, the national dish.  Mujaddarah and Koshary, in all of their variations, also reveal another feature of Middle Eastern cuisine – you can eat quite well on the Vegan side of the menu.


Speaking of national dishes, they are widely varied, and often differ within localities in the same country.  My grandparents were Syrian immigrants, and my moniker reflects the national dish of Syria and Lebanon, Kibbeh.  Kibbeh Nayeh (colloquially pronounced Kibbee Nayee in northern Syria) is the raw and most delicious version, my death row meal.  Our best on-the-menu versions around the DC area are at Mount of Lebanon and Me Jana.  The best order-ahead version is available from Mediterranean Gourmet Market, although Layalina has been known to prepare a very good version as well.  [My son gave me a Christmas present of 2 lbs. of Kibbeh Nayeh from Mediterranean Gourmet Market, and it was gone in about an hour!]


Mansaf is the national dish of Jordan, made of lamb cooked in fermented and dried yogurt, served over flatbread, and topped with rice and pine nuts.  A variation is Mansaf made with fish in the southern part of Jordan around Aqaba.  The national dish of Saudi Arabia is Kabsa, which is a hodge-podge of rice, beef, chicken, vegetables, raisins and nuts – the Saudis eat more chicken per capita than just about any place in the world.  Maqluba is the national dish of Palestine, an upside down rice and eggplant casserole with lamb and lots of yogurt.  Machboos is the national dish of Kuwait, which is nicely flavored mutton, chicken, and/or fish (variations depend on whether you live near the gulf or inland towards the desert), over rice.  The Egyptian national dish is Koshary, a hearty carb-loaded dish of chick peas, lentils, rice, macaroni, tomato sauce and fried onion, followed closely by Ful Madames, which is fava beans in olive oil with parsley, garlic, onions and lemon juice.  Cairo Café in Lincolnia provides some of the better Egyptian dishes in our area.  Iraq’s national dish is Maskuf, which is an impaled trout dish.  Across northern Africa, the national dish is each country’s version of Couscous, although Tagine and Pidgeon Pastilla share the honor in Morocco.  Tagine is named for the conical clay braising pot that produces tender, juicy stews.  The Moroccan version of Coucous is “Fez style” with seven vegetables plus lamb shanks.  Tunisian Couscous is considered the best, cooked in a couscoussiere and consisting of a mound of Couscous covered in steamed onions, garlic, potatoes, tomatoes, chickpeas, chili pepper, harissa, celery, cinnamon, black peppercorn, carrots, turnips and squash, then topped with meat such as mutton or chicken. But in the areas close to the Mediterranean, bass or red snapper is used.


And if you’re thinking about having 100 Bedouins over for dinner, the Arab version of turducken is a whole camel stuffed with four lambs and 20 chickens!  I’m not making that up!


Now I’ll focus in on the Middle Eastern foods and restaurants in our area and what to order when you step into one.  The sequence generally flows from Mezze to Mains to Sweets, with detours to sandwiches and pizzas or tarts along the way.


Mezze – You can either fill your table up with an assortment of these small plates – consider them the Tapas of the Middle East – or you can order a few as appetizers before the rest of the meal.  Remember, it all starts with Pita Bread, sometimes with olive oil and za’atar as a dipping sauce.  The vegan side of the menu is an incredible combination of flavor, satisfaction and good health.  Try Tabouleh (parsley salad), Hummus (chick pea and tahini dip), Baba Ghanouj (eggplant and tahini dip), stuffed grape leaves (the vegan version has rice and pine nuts or chick peas in them, and the meat version has a nicely flavored rice and meat stuffing), Labneh (strained yogurt with olive oil and garlic), Lubieh (green beans) bil Zeit and Bamieh (okra) bil Zeit (either one, stewed in garlic and tomatoes), Ful Madames (fava beans) and Fattoush (salad served over toasted Pita Bread).  The meat dishes include some amazing flavors and textures.  Try Hummus topped with Shawarma and Pine Nuts, Soujouk (spicy sausage), Ma’anek (mild beef and lamb sausage), Kibbeh (shaped like footballs, stuffed with meat and nuts and then fried, or if you’re lucky, raw Kibbeh Nayeh), and Warak Enab (grape leaves stuffed with rice and meat). Also, most places offer combination Mezze Platters, which are usually good deals. Don’t forget accompaniments like olives and pickled turnips, which are standard. The Lebanese serve a whipped paste of garlic with dishes like Kibbeh Nayeh. These are the highlights – pay attention to any daily specials, because they are likely to be good. And at places with their own butcher connections like Mount of Lebanon, try the Lamb Brains or the Lamb Testicles.  Trust me.


Mains – Here is where the dilemma lies.  I can easily order Mezze and be satisfied at just about any Middle Eastern restaurant.  Alternatively, I can go with a sandwich or a few meat pies.  But the main courses in Middle Eastern restaurants are rib-sticking comfort food with incredible flavors.  You can start with Shish (“skewer” in Turkish) Kebab (“meat” in Turkish), flavorful grilled meats – lamb, beef, chicken, or mixed – over rice pilaf.  You can argue all day long over whose Kebabs are best between the Arabs, Turks, Persians, Afghanis and Pakistanis, but they’re all good.  Kafta is the ground meat version, formed over the skewers and grilled the same way, considered the hamburger of the Middle East.  Lamb is probably the most common meat in the Middle East, so ordering it in any of a variety of ways – Lamb Shish Kebab, Lamb Chops, Lamb Shanks (braised), Lamb Shawarma (see sandwiches, below), Lamb Ouzi (rice and lamb platter), Lamb Stew, Lamb Feteh (lamb with yogurt sauce), and on and on.  Also, the Arabs are damned good at stuffing things (“mahshi” in Arabic and “dolmas” in Turkish), so when you see stuffed grape leaves, stuffed squash or stuffed cabbage/eggplant/peppers/onions, just order it and you will also be stuffed!  Stuffed Cabbage, or Malfouf Mahshi, was my father’s favorite.  The closest I’ve found to it in this area was at Kazan, the Turkish restaurant in McLean.


Sandwiches, Pies and Pizzas – Think about it, if Pita Bread is the staple of the Middle East, and if they’ve been making it for many millennia, you would think they have developed a few tricks to turn it into a meal, right?  Shawarma is by far the most popular (“Doner” in Turkish), similar to the Greek Gyro (but with different seasonings and bread).  It’s strips of lamb, skewered with seasonings and herbs in between layers, and then placed on a skewer to rotate upright against a heat source.  The best version I ever had in my life was in East Jerusalem about 20 years ago.  And then there’s anything you can stuff into a Pita, including Soujok, Ma’anek, Kafta and Falafel.  Yes, Falafel is Arabic street food, and probably originated in Egypt.  All of these Pita sandwiches include lots of veggies and usually a tahini or yogurt sauce, and are served wrapped in foil to keep the yummy juices in.  As for Pies, meat, spinach, yogurt and cheese, mixed with spices or vegetables, are variously baked inside small open-face pastries or closed dumplings.  If you see Sambousik, it’s a fried Lebanese lamb dumpling.  The Mediterranean Gourmet Market makes the best and most varied versions, as they do Lebanese Pizza – Lahmeh B’Ajeen (baked with beef, onions, tomatoes and herbs), Manakish bel Za’atar (my favorite pizza on the planet!), Spinach Manakish, Manakish bil Jibneh (various cheeses). 


Sweets – You probably didn’t know that Syria consumes more sugar per capita then any other country.  This part of the meal starts with Turkish coffee – the Ottomans ruled the Middle East for four centuries, until World War I – and almost always includes Baklava.  In this case, the Greek version is far inferior, too heavy-laden with honey.  The Syrian and Lebanese versions are washed in a simple syrup cut with cinnamon and rose water, and it is the perfect end to the feast. Kataifi is a shredded wheat version of Baklava, and Ma’amoul is a nice shortbread and almond cookie stuffed with dates, pistachios and/or walnuts.


And now, Kibbee Nayee’s first-ever ranking of Middle Eastern restaurants in the Washington DC Metropolitan area:


  1. Mediterranean Gourmet Market in Franconia – More of a mini grocery with a few tables, but George and Lilian turn out the best Lebanese dishes in the area. This is my go-to Lebanese restaurant.
  2. Me Jana – Climbing my list because of consistent quality. The food is good, but they reach for general patronage with Calamari, Chilean Sea Bass, and Crab Cakes, but they deserve special credit for Potato Kibbeh, a Lenten version of Kibbeh.
  3. Mount of Lebanon – No alcohol, but the best Kibbee Nayee at the best price in the DC area. Whenever I’m missing, you can probably find me here.
  4. Lebanese Taverna – The original on Washington Blvd. in Arlington is still turning out quality food, but the rest of the kitchens are lagging behind.  However, I had a few good meals at the Tysons Corner location in the past year.
  5. Mediterranean Bakery in Alexandria – A nice but over-priced grocery, with the area’s best Pita breads fresh out of the oven, and the best selection of olives anywhere in the DC area.  The food that comes out of the back is good, and the Za’atar Bread is first-class.
  6. Jerusalem Restaurant in Falls Church – Frustrating service, but pretty good food with somewhat of an emphasis on Palestine.
  7. Layalina – The only place that actually advertises that it serves Syrian food, with the area’s best selection of Hummus (Hummus bil Flay-Flay is a spicy version with Aleppo peppers, and it’s really good) and some of the best lamb shanks in the area.
  8. Cairo Café in Lincolnia – One of the only places where you can get real Koshary, so it has to be on the list by default.
  9. Shamshiry – I don’t want to ignore the Iranians here.  Their food is really good, but just a little bit different than some of the Arabic dishes.
  10. Zaytinya – Lower on the list because it lacks some authenticity and throws in Greek and Turkish to make it seem like “Middle Eastern fusion” cuisine, but let’s face it, this is a good restaurant.
  11. Mama Ayesha’s – This place has its ups and downs, but it’s been around for a long time and its daily specials are damned good.
  12. Cedar Café in Burke – Serviceable neighborhood Middle Eastern lunch counter.

Consider this a once-over, to be updated as the mood or new information strikes me.  Hopefully, the members of our community who shy away from Middle Eastern food because they don't understand it will now partake with some confidence.  May you have your meal with gladness and health! (bil-hanā' wa ash-shifā') بالهناء والشفاء / بالهنا والشفا


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#261689 Ted's Bulletin, Americana-Themed From the Owners of Matchbox in Several A...

Posted by LauraB on 05 April 2014 - 11:49 AM

I would like to acknowledge the class act that Ted’s Bulletin on 14th Street was this morning. My husband’s son is visiting from Germany and he took him to Ted’s for breakfast. Mark is a Green Beret who was seriously wounded a year ago in Afghanistan and still wears a sling and leg brace. Mark ordered 3 things off the menu: the breakfast burrito, 3 eggs and 2 pancakes. He asked that the eggs be put on top of the burrito. The server returned and said that the chef would like to know if it’s ok if he gets ‘creative’ with the dish. Sure. The chef himself delivered the finished dish to the table and struck up a lengthy conversation with Mark about the Wounded Warrior project. When the check came, it was for $0.00. My husband left a generous tip. Thank you so much to the chef and server (whose names I unfortunately do not know) – you are a credit to the Matchbox group and you really made a wounded veteran’s day today!
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#258112 Eat The Rich, 7th and T Street in Shaw - Chef Julien Shapiro Comes from Range

Posted by Poivrot Farci on 03 March 2014 - 06:13 PM

where was the shad from this early in the season?


These came from Tar river North Carolina.  I saw plenty of shad at Reading Terminal in late January, not sure where they came from.  Provençal culinary folklore makes charming, though disputed, claims that slow cooking the shad for 6-12 hours stuffed with sorrel  (oxalic acid) and in brandy melts the bird’s nest of 400+ tiny secondary bones (much like pickling softens herring bones) but the results were discouraging and left discomfort in the craw.  The “y” shaped pin bones are as remarkable a choking hazard as they are irritatingly baffling. 


One set of roe doesn’t have a practical yield so the sacks were opened up,  the eggs cured like caviar and used to baste the garnish.  The flesh was picked through and fish cakes were made; a somewhat common practice in Virginia 50+ years ago when canned shad roe was still available and the shad still plentiful.


The second shad was butterflied through the stomach and entirely deboned.  Deboning shad is an enterprise in another reality of fish butchering and the handful of old timers that still know how to do it cleanly and efficiently deserve a comfy repose somewhere between the Smithsonian’s American History and Folk Art Department. 






It was stuffed with the roe and a forcemeat of shad trimmings, scallops and sorrel which, without contact to the air or too high of a poaching temperature stayed green after cooking.  It will be treated as a ballotine; seared in lard and served with cured pork belly and a sorrel sauce thickened with onions and rice.

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#230554 Growing a Pineapple - A Three Year Project Reaches Fruition

Posted by Tweaked on 04 June 2013 - 01:24 PM

Three years ago, I lopped off the top of a grocery store pineapple, trimmed off the remaining fruit and stuck the spiny top into a glass of water.  Several weeks later roots sprouted, so I planted the thing to see what would happen.  Now I am fortunate to live in a big old DC apartment building with a lovely sunroom.  We are above the tree line so even though it is Northeast facing we receive abundant sunlight.  In fact we joke that the growing climate in the sunroom is such that it is several growing zones south of DC.  We can't grow herbs to save our lives, but citrus no problem. 


The pineapple took right away.  Soon new spiny growth was shooting up.  Soon we had spines that were 3-4 feet long.  It was almost becoming a health hazard...watch out for your eyes when watering, you might get poked.


Fast forward three years to January 2013.  I was watering the pineapple plant one morning and saw the most curious thing...




Why I think we have a baby pineapple!  And the baby pineapple grew and grew...




By March we had what was looking like a real pineapple...




This past weekend it was time to harvest.






So what does an a DC apartment grown pineapple taste like?  The best damn pineapple ever.  Super fragrant, a long lush pineapple flavor that washes over your tongue.  None of that harsh acid one gets with an unripe supermarket pineapple.  I suppose like most fruits and vegetable, one that is grown on plant and harvested at full ripeness just tastes better than one that has been picked early and shipped across the country. 


So now we are starting again.  Maybe in three years we will have another pineapple to enjoy.



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#280216 Tallula, Washington Blvd in South Clarendon - Chef Rob Rubba Replaces Nate Wa...

Posted by Josh Radigan on 20 October 2014 - 11:01 AM

Don't know where to begin but I will start at the beginning of my time at 2761 Washington Blvd. I was young, 15 years old, and I had snuck into the back through a door left propped open by a dishwasher. It smelled of smoke and stale beer but it was awesome. Whitey's was named after the original owner who in fact had a long white beard. My father eventually became the second owners lawyer, a guy named Calvin Seville who went by the nickname of Fuzzy. That's not the whole story of my experience. Life's not that short. I had my first real bar experience at Whitey's which included a stale domestic beer served in a frosted mug, Onion Rings doused with Blue Cheese dressing and a celebratory cigarette while playing darts in the back room. The years went by and Whitey's became less of what it originally started out as, a bar. Calvin did everything to bring in business but there were no takers. He installed a $200K kitchen to cook $7 hamburgers. Times were not kind to Calvin and Whitey's in its last years, the building just felt empty because it was in fact empty. The good times of listening to Bill Kirchen and other local musicians quickly faded to large TV's, game boards and lousy food. Something that I always remembered about Whiteys in the early days was the fact that the food was always good, even in a dive. Whitey's used to have lines wrapped around the corner to get in, but no more in its final days. The neighborhood rallied around to get the liquor license revoked by the County board because too many times mailboxes were smashed or lawns were pissed on. Guess what? They won and the dagger went right to the heart of Whitey's. They closed the doors and the Eat sign went dark.


Years later a young restaurant group tinkered with the idea of a wine bar that served a little bit of everything from Shortribs to Baby Burgers. Small plates meeting for the first time grown up food. But where? The paper went up in the windows, the old bar ripped out, walls came down, and the old often never used $200K kitchen was cleaned up, over and over again. Whitey's was getting a facelift, but no longer Whitey's, yet Tallula. The neighborhood of course was nervous that the old habits of young adults pried with the right amount of booze would soon be back to smashing mailboxes and peeing on lawns. The owners assured them something different was about to happen and it was in the form of wine. This wasn't going to be a place to pound shots of Jager, or crush 24 ounce Miller Lites, but instead a place to sip a glass of Viognier, or enjoy a bottle of Gigondas. This was an adult restaurant where adult behavior would be the norm, and the chugging history of Whitey's past was long gone.


The day before Thanksgiving in 2004 Tallula opened its doors, albeit 4 months behind schedule. Maybe a sign of its future would be on that same very night the restaurant lost power. Guess what, only half of it did because the building is supplied by two power sources. The left side, restaurant, is powered by a grid that sits next to Mr. Days. The right side, the original Whitey's, is powered from behind the building. So on that night the restaurant closed halfway through, but the bar stayed opened. How do I know? I was behind the bar that evening as I was so fortunate to be a part of the opening team at Tallula.


Over the year I left the bar and became the GM and Wine Director, something that to this day I take great pride in and realize how incredibly lucky I was to be in that position. I worked with some fantastic people and talent. When I think back to Tallula during the early years I fondly remember the place being packed on any given night, the hum of the kitchen under Nathan Anda's control, the clinking of Wine Bottles left and right, and a building that once again was breathing life after years of dormancy and neglect. I left Tallula in May of 2007 for a decision that sometimes I regret, but because of a greater influence, my family and the hopes of an easier life. Kids will do that to you.


Tallula ushered in new blood, not just in my place but everywhere. The kitchen was turned over while Nate created his new passion with Red Apron, congrats Nate, job well done if I never told you that before. Some fantastic chefs came through the door including Andrew Market, Barry Koslow and now Robert Rubba. Matt Moleski took over the reins and seemed to be the leader for the FOH and from my interaction did a great job.


The years passed by Tallula much like Whitey's as people change and grow older, sometimes the place they used to frequent becomes a distant memory. Tallula never stopped caring.


I, along with 5 others last night, sat in the dining room talking about days past at Tallula. I stared at the fountain in the middle of the restaurant remembering the days of having to scrub the tiles and cursing at it. The six of us ordered food and from what I can remember it was just as Tallula had delivered on its first day of business, solid. The six of us all met at Tallula, and as one could imagine with the boys on one side and the girls on the other side we were perfectly matched up with our wives. You see I met my wife at Tallula. Granted we did not have a romantic involvement while we worked together at Tallula, that was way down the road, we initially met there as she worked as a cocktailer, and I as the GM. to be honest we didn't really get along that well with each other when we did work together. The guy I share an office with today, who has worked with me side by side for the last 10 years, also met his wife while working at Tallula. She was a waitress, and he a Bartender. The other couple met there as well and had their first date at Tallula. You know the phrase, small world.


We laughed into the night but I couldn't stop thinking about Tallula. Where did it go wrong? I may never know that answer but I do hope that while we see the last week bring this version of Tallula to an end that some of you find it in your heart to give that old building one last send off. The 'Eat' sign will again go dark, but the memories for the six of us, who remain best of friends, will always be very clear to what Tallula means to us and hopefully to many others who enjoyed its passion over the years.

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#273355 Gypsy Soul, Casual Upscale in Merrifield's Mosaic District with Chef John...

Posted by Waitman on 28 July 2014 - 11:55 AM

Due to bad planning and fatigue, we did not make it out to Annandale to Kogiya until the waitlist was about three hours long, and  a drive-by at Yechon revealed hungry Korean families spilling into the parking lot.  So we pulled into the 7-11 next door trying to figure out if there was a Koream joint nearby that was lousy enough not to be crowded but good enough to eat at, when when the proverbial light bulb appeared overhead and we said "Isn't RJ's new place opening this weekend?  And, where the fuck is 'Northern Virginia's Mosaic District, anyway?' (And, ultimately, "since when does 'mosaic' mean a 'soulless [except for...] fake 'urban' district composed of mass-produced chain stores?'")


Turns out that the MD is six minutes by iPhone from the 7-11 next to Yechon, or twenty minutes via the more creative route we selected after we missed our exit on the Beltway, and just around the corner from Great Wall.


Whoever had answered the phone at Gypsy Soul wasn't entirely encouraging, promising only appetizers, so we entered with limited expectations.  The place is large, sleek without being cold (and further warmed as the night went by, by exceptional service) and centered on a truncated U-shaped bar (think long base and short arms) that embraces an open kitchen.  The tables were virtually empty, the bar was virtually full, and behind the line in what I remember as being a slightly elevated cooking space, rogue maestro RJ Cooper was conducting a staff that seemed almost to outnumber the patrons.


Turns out that his bad luck was our good luck: an errant coffee station installer had drilled through a water line, forcing cancellation of a friends and family dinner (my invitation to which had apparently been lost in the mail).  So, when the water came back on at 8PM, the riff-raff was allowed in and we parked ourselves at the bar, scored a couple of glasses of Cali Viogner and looked over an abbreviated menu that did, despite small expectations, guide us into the land of the large plates.

Briefly, the could-have-been-boring Bibb salad was curiously refreshing, tarted up just enough to be interesting without obscuring the chlorophyllic goodness that's often lost in the mix.  I quite enjoyed the steak tartar, sort of a heavier-than-usual mustard prep (I'm sure RJ will correct me if I get this wrong) served with a bit of grilled romaine that had been lightly Caesared and garnished with a couple of high-end anchovies and a little Parm.  Made me wonder why steak tartar isn't served with a Caesar Salad all the time, instead of those frites? Get that rich-tart thing going.


Shrimp and grits were awesome. One suspects that RJ cheated by adding a stick of butter to every cup of grits, but it was hard do object as I was trying to steal as much crustacean-candy as possible from my friend's plate and she was trying to fend me off with a fork. 


Kudos to her -- despite her selfishness -- for pulling out  "Frogmore Stew" to describe the what the menu at that time described as "Grouper Cheeks with Stuff" (or something like that)  (btw, I note that the menu now actually calls it "Frogmore Stew") and what I thought was localized Bouillabaisse variation.  It was, of course, not so much a Frogmore  reproduction as a riff on that traditional recipe, which marries corn and potatoes to a spicy broth and shrimp (thank you, Mr. Google).  Here it was a dish that came out of the Low Country via Marseilles, picked up grouper cheeks, saffron and clams (and toast with a killer rouille) without losing its New World starches, and landed in front of me topped by a metal dome which released a captivating vapor upon its removal.  Spicy but refined, French and 'merican,  I would kill for a bowl of it right now.


I should mention that Rogue's frighteningly intense pastry chef is also helming the cold kitchen at GS, and I ate all of my milk chocolate pudding with caramelized bananas and rosemary peanuts and half of my friend's, so there's that, too.


For a menu whipped up on the spot after the water came on, it was immensely satisfying.  RJ looked a little beat up, but he and his crew turned in an outstanding effort under challenging conditions.  Our meal was "simple," probably deceptively so; the menu on line now looks both longer an more elaborate.  But a first glance suggests food that -- like ours, Saturday night -- is almost "hearty," but enhanced by the deft touch, unexpected ingredients (marrow with sea urchin) and attention to detail that marks R24. 


There's no question that I'm already in RJ's camp, so add grains of salt as you will.  But I'd head over now -- even if the bar, coffee station and other less vital bits and pieces haven't quite congealed -- before half of Northern Virginia is trying to eat there. In two weeks, people are going to be staring at the lines out the door and saying, "damn, we should have gotten here earlier.  I guess we'll just have to grab some Korean instead." 

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#227546 Foodshed Magazine (was Flavor Magazine), Founder, Publisher, and Editor-In-Ch...

Posted by zoramargolis on 14 April 2013 - 02:26 PM

I'm very pleased to announce that as of a few days ago, I am now Contributing Editor at Foodshed Magazine. Lots of exciting changes have happened, now that the re-boot from Flavor is complete. Foodshed is now a non-profit benefit corporation and is expanding its reach and coverage to the entire Mid-Atlantic foodshed, up through and including New York City and environs. Check out Foodshed's mission statement, and consider subscribing.


(My picture and bio aren't yet up on the site, and I haven't gotten business cards or an email account yet--it'll feel more official when I have those, but I attended my first staff meeting yesterday and I have to say that I am really looking forward to collaborating with such an energetic, erudite and talented group of people.)

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#266643 To Whom Are You Drinking Right Now?

Posted by dcandohio on 23 May 2014 - 03:31 PM

To my partner's father, who died peacefully but completely unexpectedly Wednesday. He was a relentless optimist who loved seafood and manning the grill and who married the girl (46 years ago) who hated the smell of fish and only let him cook it outdoors, on the grill. He was a Vietnam vet, an entreprenuer, a great handy-man, a reader of biographies. While he wasn't initially thrilled with the idea of his adored tomboy daughter officially coming out, he embraced me and always shared a private joke or snarky comment with me that he didn't share with anyone else.

After we finished with the initial funeral home visit (OMG caskets are expensive) his widow wanted us all to go out to lunch, and out of respect for her grief we accepted her choice of Red Lobster. In small town Ohio, there might not be a lot of better options but surely there must be some...I never had fish that had NO flavor. At all. It was just a warm textured wetness in my mouth. Gross. And those commercially-promoted cheddar bay biscuits were underbaked salt bombs laden with some kind of cheap fat.

After we arrived back to our place, my partner and I took a long walk and ended up at a tiny neighborhood restaurant with a lovely patio. The weather was perfect and the food was delicious and we both felt restored. The chef was running around watering various pots of herbs on the patio and stopped to chat with us. He asked about our day and we told him it had been tough, and when he heard about the death he sent a round of drinks to us. More importantly and appreciated, though, were his comments as we were leaving. He hugged my partner and said "I am honored that you chose to come to my restaurant today. I am glad that we could be a safe and comfortable place for you." Such kind words and gestures from someone we had never formally met.
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#263610 A Giant Is Falling

Posted by Antonio Burrell on 24 April 2014 - 10:23 PM

I hate to dwell on sad news, and this is really sad...so I will instead share with you all a few personal memories on Palena.


I and probably most chefs in town will probably back me up on this, have always left Palena having eaten great food but also having had something that is very rare for a chef to experience...inspiration in another. I've always had something at Palena that has made me question my own adequacy as a chef...something that always made me strive to become better at my craft...something that I knew and still know I could never do as good, not even close. Those ethereally clear consummes, that incredible, legendary, standard setting chicken...everything at times could click to create a perfect storm and those times were even more special.


I've also always loved Franks dedication to silent excellence. He always seems to have flown more under the radar than he should...he's probably the quietest James Beard award winner you'll ever meet. He's always been a chef as a monk. Quietly content in his single kitchen, striving for perfection.


I love Palena and am sorry to see it go but I AM thankful for 3 of some of my favorite memories of all time: my 32nd birthday, the day I asked my wife to marry me, and those consummes....oh those consummes.

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#256686 Rose's Luxury, Chef Aaron Silverman on 8th and G Street in Barracks Row

Posted by deangold on 18 February 2014 - 11:39 AM

I disagree with TSchaad.


There is another complication and that is their unwillingness to seat a group unless every member of the party is there.  Yes, I realize that a lot of restaurants do this but at Rose's there are people who stand in line before they open while waiting for a friend (s) to park a car and when the door opens they are not seated until the friend enters the restaurant.  There is no valet parking at Rose's and on street parking is very limited. On our last visit I spent almost a half hour before I found a place to park-four blocks away.  The real significance is that while waiting for another member to show up all of the tables are given away and despite getting there before they open you are still not seated..


So when we seat 1 of 4 people and the other 3 don't show up for 90 minutes and my waiter gets scrrewed out of a tip on a four top that COULD have turned.... what should I do??????  I had 5 no shows on Valentine's Day when I took credit cards.  Two parties of 6 last Saturday night at prime times.  Why is it my responsibility to take it in the shorts when some diners are. frankly, assholes?  


I get 2 to 6 no shows a night, every night.  I get partial seated parties that take an hour to complete on a more than several times a week basis.  Every Saturday night, we get cancellation calling in after 5, after 6, after their reservation times.  


Will this affect our reservation policy at the new place?  With 40% fewer dining tables, dang straight.  I wish it didn't., but it will have to.  


The sense of self entitlement these folks show is appalling.  And it screws not only my waiters, but the vast majority of folk who would never behave like that.  

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#232222 To Whom Are You Drinking Right Now?

Posted by Barbara on 26 June 2013 - 11:18 AM

To Texas State Senator Wendy Davis, who showed us what a filibuster should look like.

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#226038 Little Serow, East Dupont Circle - Isaan and Lanna (Northern Thai) Cuisine by...

Posted by Fishinnards on 24 March 2013 - 06:10 PM

A couple of weeks ago I finally made it here. Now seems like a good time to share some thoughts.


 Little Serow is serving a seven-course tasting menu based on northern Thai cuisine,

The “seven course tasting menu” is a clever way to get (non-Thai) Americans to eat this type of food (in its proper context, i.e several dishes with varying textures and flavors, lots of (sticky) rice and mounds of raw and blanched vegetables).  I realize everybody is hung up on courses, as it is Johnny Monis (and it’s next door to Komi). It is not “based upon” Thai food but actually is Thai food. Our menu was a mix of Northern Thai (Lanna) as well as some Northeast Thai (Issan) with one central Thai dish as well.


The normal eating arrangement for Thai food (and Southeast Asian food in general) is to have a large number of dishes all at once at room temperature. It is important to have many things to nibble with large helpings of rice. I imagine Chef Monis’ concept for Little Serow probably occurred while eating and drinking in Thailand at a restaurant and having food delivered to the table one dish at a time. This happens because a typical traditional Thai kitchen has only one or two burners. Since food is eaten at room temperature there is no need to have every dish ready at once so it’s not a problem to cook one thing at a time. Each item is sent to the table as it is ready. At home, everything would be put out on the table and then everyone would sit down to eat. At a restaurant dishes would come out as they are ready. There is no need to finish each dish before the next arrives. In fact, dishes can be mixed together on the plate by the individual diner to create novel flavors and textures (this mixing is called klook in Thai).


The brilliance of the tasting menu conceit is that you are not overwhelmed with a table of unfamiliar food and you don’t have to choose dishes off a menu yourself, dishes with strange names and unhelpful descriptions. Because they arrive in sequence you try everything.  Thai people would spend a large amount of time debating which dishes to get and would use their understanding of the food to decide which dishes to order. Considerations would include taste, but also texture and heat levels. Many dishes go together and there are broad categories (i.e. You don’t want too many Yum (salads) dishes unless you are drinking a lot of alcohol, you need a dense fried dish to offset the soupiness of a curry, you must have a nam prik with vegetables, but which nam prik will depend on which other dishes are selected). Little Serow takes the guesswork out of selecting unfamiliar food and gives you a properly composed set of Thai dishes.

I really enjoyed my meal here. The servers are extremely knowledgeable about the food and can speak about it in depth. We enjoyed a bottle of Brasserie Dupont Cervesia a really nice Belgian Saison. I appreciated the variety of raw herbs and vegetables (they refilled our basket three times) and the nam prik (nam prik narok i.e. chilli sauce from hell). I have had hotter versions of this nam prik but this was hot enough to be enjoyable. In my dreams I wish I could go to a Thai restaurant here in the U.S. and get nam prik and raw vegetables. I think Thai restaurants learned long ago that nam prik is too strong and hot for the western palette and that Americans don’t eat vegetables, so they don’t even put this on the menu. Andy Ricker made the observation that when Thai people eat at Pok Pok they eat all the veggies and ask for more, while (non-Thai) Americans leave them on the plate and eat everything else. I like that at Little Serow people are eating their veggies (and nam prik!). They are an important part of the meal. In fact, veggies, rice and nam prik are all you need for a Thai meal. Everything else is extra. Also, the grilled fish is ground to a paste with everything else in nam prik narok. The dishes at Little Serow were normal size, not tiny “tastings”. Incidentally, in Thailand at a shared meal, soup is generally served in one big bowl for all diners to share, even Tom Yum and Tom Kha . The Thai concept of “soup” is different, as the word for soup and curry is the same (gaeng). Soup is just another thing to put on rice (or dip rice into, in the case of sticky rice). That being said, my two companions and I were served the Tom Kha Het (coconut milk galangal mushroom soup) in individual serving bowls, one for each of us. 


Other highlights were green mango salad with snakehead fish (pla chawn lom kwan or yum mamuang sai pla chawn), and “slop on a plate :D” Nam ngeow. Nam ngeow is usually served with kanom jeen (thin rice noodles). It includes cubes of pork blood (blood tofu!) and pork ribs, ground pork, cherry tomatoes, garlic, shallots, shrimp paste and/or tua nuao (fermented soybean) lard or oil, with garnishes of bean sprouts, limes, chilli oil, and maybe mustard pickle. Here is a photo from photographer Austin Bush. 



The version at Little Serow was without the noodles and ribs and garnishes, but this does not mean it was inauthentic. This version was served to one of the chefs on their last visit to Northern Thailand, to be eaten with sticky rice as a curry. In this incarnation it is almost the same as Nam Prik Ong. I enjoyed it quite a bit. It was full of rich porkyness.

Chef Monis’s take on neam khao tord was interesting. The salad itself had great flavor. Naem is a type of fermented ground pork (sausage). It is cured with cooked sticky rice, garlic and julienned cooked pork skin for about 4 or five days. It usually congeals into a solid mass. For this salad it is broken up by hand (it looks like this).



It is eaten raw (usually). Little Serow’s naem was cubed cooked pork without any pork skin. The texture was crumbly, not dense. The fried rice balls (khao tord) were intact, instead of the usual crushed up. They had a texture similar to tater tots (and thus were awesome).


I made this salad for the last Don Rockwell picnic. Maybe you remember.



I have also had Duangrat’s version (takeout at the back of the grocery), but not Bangkok Golden’s (yet). While this version was interesting, I like mine the best so far, but it’s a matter of personal preference. I can cook it the way I like it. I have high expectations for Chef Seng’s version.


The stir-fry was good (radish cakes and bean sprouts). The ribs were tasty and meaty. Overall the food was about a 4 or 5 on the Thai heat scale of 1-10, nothing too serious, but hot enough to be traditional. It was fun and strange to eat Thai food in a restaurant the way I eat at home and the way I learned to eat at the Thai temple. We consumed much sticky rice (one basket each). I found the rice a little tacky, perhaps because it was steamed a little too long or because it was too warm when put into the baskets. It stuck to my hand a little when picked up. I prefer it to stay intact for easier forming and dipping (sorry to nitpick). The beer went great with the food. I drink mostly Belgian ales with my Thai food at home, so it was also very familiar, but I have not had the Cervesia before and I really enjoyed it. I am a fan of Brasserie Dupont.  

I have to commend what they are doing here. I’m glad people are enjoying the food. Chef Monis deserves credit for bringing this type of food here and creating a context that allows people to eat it properly (by tricking them into thinking of courses and tastings). The cooking was at very high level. This food, however, is not chef invented, but traditional everyday fare passed down through generations of Thai women (and men). This is Thai grandma food. I am biased in that I love this type of food so much that I eat this way at home almost daily. I also enjoy cooking more than eating, so there may be something wrong with me. Also, the pork rinds were nice and crisp and airy. I might go back soon because northern style laap is back on the menu. You won't find that anywhere else AFAIK.

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#263767 Palena, 2007 James Beard Award Winner Frank Ruta Rocks Cleveland Park - Final...

Posted by Pool Boy on 26 April 2014 - 10:29 AM

So, all of this change made me sit here and think of all of the great times I have had at Palena over the years. While this is my own intensely personal point of view, I hope you enjoy reading it, I am absolutely sure there are many of you that share many memories there as well.





Palena Stories - 
I cannot even remember how many times my wife and I have dined here over 13+ years. In the old Cafe, the new Cafe, brunch, donuts, and especially the back dining room, most often at the corner 2-top with the broad view of the dining room, the wall of cool black and white art (and the now missing statue). But I do remember the first time.
My wife had read about the place and, while everything was amazing, the standout dish was a first course Debbie had of heirloom tomatoes, sardines, a little oil and salt. It was a gobsmack moment. The dark caramels on the cookie plate at the end of the night also standout.
Palena became a regular in our rotation. Not just birthdays and anniversary, but also just when we needed a fix of the food and warmth of Palena, Frank, Kelli and all of the staff (some of who were there for the entire run that we know by face and grace, if not by name). The chicken, the burger, for those Cafe hits. Consomme or pot au feu or any variation of these were must orders for me. HAUNTINGLY amazing. Anything saying house made, house cured, our own thisorthat were must orders and basically became the whole menu over time. The fry plate. We made it to brunch. They even were open one Christmas Eve and we always go out for a nice meal and this one was great. The 'I need to catch up with my wife - it's been a crazy week' times. Sometimes just because. Other times because it had been too long.  Palena felt like home to me. So easy, so warm, so delicious and lovely.
I have always loved food, but our culinary awakening started to evolve in the mid 90s, got far more serious after California and trips to places like TIALW, and culminated in places like Palena. Truth be told, I love all food, high end, low end and everything in between. We've had the good fortune to dine at a  lot of really good restaurants over the years. Walking away from those experiences, though, we'd always comment 'That was good, really good. But not as good as Palena.' Truth.
I love the space. Simple and understated and nice. Warm. Great staff. Kelli was the best. I remember many of the servers over the years, know them by sight if not by name. I remember two guys what work as behind the scenes expediters that sometimes would bring the dishes out when the waitstaff were overwhelmed - I think they have been there for the full run. I love that wall of black & white art along the long side wall in the back dining room, especially the one that reminds me of Sarek from Star Trek. I love the statue that for many years watched over the diners in the back room. I remember that the restrooms were never quite up to the snuff of the rest of the restaurant, but not caring. We even ate outside once in front of the new front door facing the parking lot on a perfect summer evening with warmth but not heat, low humidity and a an occasional breeze all the while us chatting with Kelli about Italian wines.
I remember getting the one parking spot right out in front of Palena one time. I remember trolling for parking spaces along Ordway by the apartments, 27th (never got lucky), Macomb (once in a blue moon), a few times on Newark and the west side of Ordway in the pricy houses zone, but most often down the long hill of Porter Street and schlepping up the long hill, cutting through the gas station parking lot and in to Palena, our second home.
I remember the old front door and hovering right as you'd walk in trying to keep the door closed in the rain or winter while we waited to get seated (if it was super busy).
I remember Sidecars and Sazeracs. I remember trying the beef family style dinner we did with a few folks from donrockwell (the beef heart? The beef tongue? OMFG). I remember randomly getting a glass of wine from Don and Mark (slater), who happened to be dining across the room from us. I remember the guy dressed all in white with a super size tiara. I remember being seated right next to a table where Christopher Kimball was sitiing, I remember randomly seeing other friends dining right near us (or being there the same night, not seeing them and finding out later!). I remember taking so many friends and family there - my dad and his wife, my brother-in-law and his wife, my bro and partner, friends, friends and more friends, a group of folks that worked for me when we had a really good bit of work that deserved recognition but when there was no money for bonuses I convinced my boss to let me take them out to a kick ass dinner at Palena. 
I remember the food. The shrimp boudin. Everything done with fish. Corn. Tomato. That glorious consomme. The desserts (especially over the last few years). All those pates and terrines. That tomato risotto. The caramels. The bean salad. Hell all of his salads. Brodetto. The donuts. The burger. The chicken. All of the little fishies. The fry plate. The OCTOPUS. The pasta, how could I forget all of the delicate pastas often stuffed with goodies. The gnocchi! Namelakas and Napoleons. Shoat. I think even Dover Sole once or twice. My gosh.
Getting extra courses when we could not decide just because. The old menu where you could order 3, 4, or 5 courses and if you wanted them all to be appetizery? OK! All pasta? Fine! All mains? Sure!
Never being rushed, Never being in my face. Picking up on the fact that we loved the corner two-top table in the dining room and then almost always getting seated there for 10 years.
Ach. Such great memories and I am missing a million of them. And while we will have no more new memories there, they will live in my head forever. And I look so forward to making new ones when Frank ends up doing something new, hopefully sooner than later.
A great, great run.

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#263655 A Giant Is Falling

Posted by turbogrrl on 25 April 2014 - 10:26 AM

Maybe beyond speculation or naming names, the lesson here is that we need to patronize the places we care about. Enjoy them while we can.


Just like people, if you consistently tell them you care-- it doesn't mean you won't lose them suddenly at some point. Just that you'll have fewer regrets if it happens.

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#257278 Dino, Dean Gold and Kay Zimmerman's Italian Enoteca in Cleveland Park wit...

Posted by deangold on 24 February 2014 - 07:26 AM

It's been a fun ride.  Thanks to all who have supported us for the last 8 and a half years.  

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#252215 A Cautionary Tale: Sabering Champagne

Posted by deangold on 05 January 2014 - 09:00 AM

The tale of Jim's bravery and derring~do brought to mind.... 


Many a year ago, I worked for a Hollywood Hotel as Food and Beverage director.  The owner of the hotel was a wine nut and we organized a Chaine des Rotisseurs dinner with the theme of large format bottles.  We had over 600 in attendance and all the wine was served from 6 liter bottles or larger.  I even managed to find a hand painted Perrier Jouet Flower Bottle in 12 liter format.  The wine was made in smaller bottles and then transferred to the large one after disgorging.  It was incredibly rare and expensive {as I recall adding it to the menu added $25 to the price per person!}  My boss and I were talking about what we could do to improve the spectacle and one of us came up with the idea of sabering the bottle and the other said "Let's get a Marine to saber the bottle for us."  


A call to Camp Pendleton revealed that they had just such a gentleman: a 21 year career Master Sergeant who would come in dress whites with all his insignias and medals, which formed an impressively large display on his impressively large chest.  He had a impressively large saber at his side in a scabbard impressively well worn from use.  He assured me he never injured anyone with the saber and he would put the cork where I wanted it.  Given the newly plastered and painted walls of the foyer where the attempted murder sabering would occur, we decided to aim the bottle to the open arch of the foyer and land the cork on the balcony of our atrium lobby. 


We paced off the required footage from the balcony edge so the cork would fall to the floor to be stopped by the half wall and not fly into the atrium below.  Two of my staff, in white tuxes with white gloves held the bottle while I was the idiot holding the neck.  Our Master Sergeant stood across from me, silent, strong, in intense concentration.  He moved his hand to the saber and whispered to me "don't move" so only I could hear it.  Why wasn’t this part of the equation revealed to me before I couldn't run screaming in fear????


The sword made a whoosh as he drew it straight from the scabbard to the neck of the bottle to fully extended like a statue, in a flash.  It was amazing. But, in the brief instant of movement, he also whispered "Fuck!"  Not what you want to hear from your surgeon in a delicate operation or from a man with a large moving sword. 


The reason for his expletive became clear as the cork and the sheared off end of the neck of the bottle flew off explosively.  Did they goose up the CO2 of the wine because of the transfer?  Or did he just deliver that much force?  Or did I move?...


He later, after we calmed our nerves appropriately, said "No, my aim was off” as he had never sobered anything larger than a 3 liter before.  It must have been moving very nearly the speed of light as we saw it in excruciating slow motion.  And we were the only two in position to really witness the flight. 


The missile cleared under the entry arch of the foyer and was clearly not going to hit gently at the base of the balcony wall.  In fact, it was still rising as it flew over the wall like a Rick Monday line shot to the cheap seats at Dodger Stadium.  I wish Vin Scully could have narrated the mighty blast. 


We turned our heads and could see into the atrium as the cork finally arced down, right in the direction of a group of harmless old ladies, sitting facing away from their impending doom, waiting to go to some Hollywood tourist trap for dinner before their evening at the Wax Museum.   One of the ladies had a halo of frizzy white hair.  Not white exactly, but blue.  I said she was old!  This was in the days before blue hair would indicate youth and not great age and bad judgment in hair care products. 


We shared the knowledge telepathically that we were about to kill her.  The cork was moving fairly fast and coming down from a great height.  The cork entered the frizz of hair.  We could see the parting of the blue sea as if Moses himself guided the path.  And then, in a second Mosaic level miracle, or was it third including his original trivial parting of the blue waters, it exited out the front, never touching the dear old thing.  Time returned to its normal speed.  Her only knowledge of the incident resulted in her brushing her hair wondering if a breeze or insect had disturbed it.    We later told the scared old lady that something fell off the ceiling of our brand spanking newly renovated hotel lobby. 


The cork hit a tile on the floor in front of her, cracking it with a loud retort.  Or it might have hit the far wall and then the floor, as there was a suspicious mark on the stucco plaster.  We never figured it out. The new floor tile, Catalina Pottery hand painted and glazed, cost $300 to replace.   As MasterCard so rightly says…. “The tile, $300, the old lady still alive, priceless!” 


{Please remember BEFORE CLICKING on this link: it is provided by me and is not only of dubious taste and little propriety, but it is, of course, NSFW} 


Or MasterCard  said something like that


The Master Sergeant turned to me when we realized that our fears had been avoided by a true hair's breath.  He said "21 years almost down the fucking drain"  I handed off the bottle to my assistant and he supervised the pouring of the champagne.  The Master Sergeant and I went to the lobby to check on the old lady, recovering from her fright at the cracking of a tile in front of her and wonderfully and blissfully ignorant of the real explanaition.  I can't honestly tell you how I did it.  


I am sure there are rules about Bourbon consumption in dress uniform while on duty, and I don't know if he was on duty or this was on his own time.  But we went to the lobby bar and hid in the storage closet behind it and both has stiff shots to calm our nerves.  I spoke to the old lady and rushed back to pour the 6 liter burgundies I had amassed.  

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