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

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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#283576 CityZen, at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel - 2008 James Beard Award Winner Eric...

Posted by Waitman on 08 December 2014 - 05:36 PM

I admit we had the inside track from the get-go. But there was always something more.


Stephanie and I met Eric at a boozy Thanksgiving dinner hosted by Jarad Slipp and his charming and exceptionally tolerant wife Anna – a dinner highlighted (for me, if not for the impressionable teenagers I had in tow) by a loud and often obscene discussion of the personal and professional proclivities of a number of industry leaders – a discussion led by a certain food website host and joined by a couple of industry vets and regular high-end diners.


Eric largely abstained from this free and frank exchange of views, but was charming and polite – no hint of the hot-shot chef showed through.  We had coincidentally made a reservation to celebrate Stephanie’s birthday at CityZen two days later and we always appreciated the chance to meet and suck up to someone whose restaurant we had on the agenda.  But Stephanie’s major takeaway seemed to be: “that Eric Ziebold, he's such a cutie-pie.”


The subsequent meal (“Spain gave us Dali, Surrealism and Jose Andres, who took clam chowder apart and spun cotton candy around foie gras. France gave us Monet, Impressionism and Michelle Richard, who puts tradition in the sous-vide and brings it back with brighter colors and softer edges…. And Iowa gave us Grant Wood, Prairie Style and Eric Ziebold, who serves pizza and boiled beef on his $120 tasting menu”) goddam near killed us with the extra stuff Eric sent out but we were awed and charmed by the chef and the food – maybe more charmed than awed, much to Eric’s credit --  and CityZen became the go-to for major life events for many years.


It wasn’t just the food, though the food always impressed and occasionally astounded -- even the lowly bar menu. 


Especially when she was working at home, I was working in jeans, the kids were still around, and money was tighter, we enjoyed the fuss and circumstance – the last minute pressing of critical garments for the Big Night Out, fighting for mirror space, bumping into each other as I tried to hop into my trousers and she wrestled with her hose….  It seemed that all the frantic preparations followed by the anxious dash for the cab actually heightened the endorphin-stroking elegant calm we encountered as crossed the threshold (late) handing off coats, bags, cares en route to a chilled martini or crisp Champagne.


There were celebrity sightings, too: Thomas Keller at the next table (and Don Rockwell at the bar); sitting with HillValley when Harvey Keitel and family picked up something for their room and his buddy Bobby D. looking in to see when he’d be back upstairs; a certain famous ice cream socialist (and friend of a friend) who arrive stoned and tieless and flirted shamelessly with Stephanie all night, which she hated not at all. 


And always the food – dishes you never forget, especially the odd ones:  the chili consumee or the truffle pizza or those weird, deli-inspired treats that kept showing up on the bar menu, pickled lamb flank or some such thing. 


Of course, we got schmoozed.  We knew Eric, kind of.  And when Jarad came on as Majordomo, it wasn’t just the Rolling Stones bringing in Mick Taylor for the best albums ever by the best rock and roll band ever, was CityZen bringing on a guy who’d had had dinner at my house and had fed me at his. 


And I’ll take that.  A couple of middle class kids who loved dining walking into the best restaurant in town and being coddled by people who enjoyed seeing you – it felt like million bucks.  And sometimes if there wasn't a place at the bar they'd stick the flowers somewhere else and make room.  And we got the Parker House Rolls even if we sat in the cheap seats.


It felt like a million bucks, and it didn’t cost nearly that much. 


We mostly ate at the bar – though our bar tabs were pretty impressive. 


And I could never understand why Andy so damn nice to us. We spent a tiny fraction of what we could have spent on that carefully-curated wine card.  And then, every time, I'd get too drunk to remember what the hell he was pouring anyway.  His genius was lost on (or washed out of) me. And yet bottles and glasses were always appearing at the table and occasionally disappearing from the check.  I can still see Andy coming through the crowd with a broad grin and a bottle of red held high, like a shark fin cutting through the waters off Martha’s Vineyard and announcing “it’s been a long night, your palates are tired so you need this Pinot.  It’s utterly lacking in subtlety and completely delicious.” He could have poured us anything – it almost didn’t seem like dinner if we weren’t drinking something that was introduced with “you’ve probably never heard of this before, but….” 


CityZen was allegedly a formal dining room but Eric’s food was never effete, our servers – though sometimes mystified – never distant and Andy and Jared brought a barely concealed and slightly deranged glee to the whole show.  It wasn’t just good, it was fuckin’ rock and roll and we liked it. And I guess they liked us.


Three days after Stephanie’s funeral, just before dawn, I was alone in my house when someone woke me up by shoving a pistol in my face and yelling “where’s the fucking money?” I poured Stephanie’s jewelry into a pillow case and poured myself a pre-dawn vodka and thanked the Lord (with whom I don’t much chat) that the kids weren’t home and that they weren’t orphans and reflected on a pretty tough week. By sunset I was surprisingly sober and feeling pretty kicked around and my son had come into town and we needed to go to ground – I needed a drink and a decent meal and somewhere very, very civilized where I could hide from life for a couple of calming hours.  I called Jared and promised a great story if he’d break the rules and hold the last two seats that I knew were open at the bar – shamelessly playing both the regular cards and the death card in the same sentence – and he said he would.


Dylan and I sat down and Jarad dropped both the dining room and the bar menu in front of us and said not to worry about anything.  Andy dropped by to let us know that we were in her hands.  And, of course, Eric came by when he had a chance.  For a little while we ate and drank well, and talked about every damn thing in the world except what we didn’t want to talk about any more --with friends. We left the restaurant that nigh warmed and nourished and grateful.


I was back again the other night -- back to good friends, with good friends.


The dinner was delicious – as a friend says, playing chords rather than notes on the palate.  I was pleased and surprised to see Sharon back for the wind-down, she was part of many great meals and used to make Stephanie a little jealous (not that Stephanie didn’t have a huge mom crush on EZ). It was great to see Michael, who was our waiter for that first birthday dinner, in charge. Dave (whose first week was, a faulty memory suggests, that tough week that I was talking about) was running the wine cellar and sold us some excellent Riesling and a stellar Spanish whose name I drank too much to remember.  Plus ça change... This new dynamic duo doesn’t yet bring a deranged glee to their jobs – I told Dave that he could pick up a lot of credibility points if he’d just take a few cheap shots at Andy’s wine list, and he wouldn’t take the bait.  But they have their own style and they’ll have their own dining rooms and cellars and clippings soon enough and they’ll see me strolling through the door and say, “I thought I ditched that guy.”


I’m pretty sure Eric doesn’t tell me anything he doesn’t tell everybody else, but I was reassured to hear that he hopes to keep doing what he does well, and there won’t be any gourmet burgers or faux gras in his future.  Nothing wrong with Michel Richard’s Centrale.  It was just never nearly as good as Citronelle.


I suppose everybody knew that Eric would move on someday. I’m just glad he’s not going to New York.


And I guess I’ve moved on in some ways too.  Not everybody loves the pomp and elegant excess of fine dining.  Nothing is more tedious than retreating into the good old days, chasing a moment that won’t and shouldn’t ever be cast in amber.  There are new things to discover that you can’t find sitting around a table saying “remember when…?”


But it was a moment. And am glad I was there.


When Stephanie was angry at the kids --who each rotated through a couple of years when their job was to set the places for dinner -- for flinging the silver and the napkins and the glasses into random sullen arrangements, she would scold: “LaLa [grandma] always said that you should set the table with love.” Eric’s team, the team he created, trained and led, loved what they did.  And you felt it whenever you sat down to dine at their table.

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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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#281533 The Shack, Chef Ian Boden's New American "Shack" in Staunton with...

Posted by IanBoden on 06 November 2014 - 09:40 AM

I've been moiling over the last hand full of post this week for the last couple days trying to organize my thoughts and figure out how to say what I'd like to say, as a lot of what's been said has been on my mind for sometime now, and I think this might be the perfect forum to say it.  Instead of pre righting and reading over it several times I'm just going to go for it, so please excuses my terrible spelling and grammar as I'm a cook not a writer….


Just prior to opening The Shack I had been working for another company that more or less opened a restaurant for me.  As I did not see eye to eye with this group on vision or business I realized that working for someone else wouldn't be in my cards.  There was a restaurant down the street from our house in Staunton that I had done a pop up at and it was for rent.  My thought was to open a temporary restaurant in that space to have some income to support my family and myself while a wrote a business plan for a larger built to suit restaurant and hopefully entice some investors in the mean time.  Yes The Shack was supposed to be a temporary spot for 8 months, hence some of our issues with HV/AC which we didn't have at all, noise, limited work space in the kitchen and limited space for check out etc.  Things do change!  Our third service open we were excited and honored to have Joshua Ozersky dine with us, and everything changed!!!!!  Over the last nine months The Shack has gotten more media attention then I have gotten over the course of my 23 year restaurant career.  As you may or may not know this is a blessing and a curse.  


People speak of hype a hell of a lot when talking about The Shack.  The reality is that we did not create the hype, that was created by people whom have enjoyed there time with us and of course the media.  That's not to say that I'm not grateful for every thing that's been said.  I get a bit emotional about it quite honestly every time a read anything about it.  Especially because this place is such a personal restaurant to me and my wife.  It's named after the little shack that my wife's grandma Tissy's raised her 5 kids out in Swoope VA about 20 miles from here.  Unfortunatly I never got to meet her, but this place is an homage to this woman that meant so much to my wife and her family.  


Look I tell this to every reporter, food writer, blogger that every speaks with me, the press is great and I feel blessed, but it doesn't mean shit.  I still wake up every morning come to work and run a restaurant.  If i don't love what i do then non of this means a damn thing.  The attention is gravy but it's not what drives me on a daily bases.  I didn't open the shack to be on the cover of a magazine or wine awards or get recognized.  I did it to do what I love, which is cook food that makes people feel good and hopefully they connect to it.  Thats it!


Once again I feel very fortunate for all of the attention, but if it all went away I wouldn't be upset as long as I can run my business and support my family doing what I love then every thing is good in my book.


Some realities that we are currently dealing with.  We have already taken steps to fix our lack of HV/AC, so things will get better.  We are hoping to expand our kitchen in the next several months so we may deal with issues as far as timing of courses.  We hope to deal with some dinning room noise issues in the near future to help with the sounds as we are only 400 sqft and a brick building that's close to 100 years old.  And of course we strive every day to put to the best food we can.  Yes as a chef your only as good as your last plate, but everyone has an off day.


I hope this helps people understand what and who we are.  In the future if there are constructive things to say about what we do please do not hesitate to contact me, as I'm not an ego driven chef and will not disregard criticism.


Thanks for reading this.

Ian Boden


The Shack

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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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#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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#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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#282569 FishNook, Four-Seat Kitchen Table Inside Of Shaw's FishNet - $55 +...

Posted by Choirgirl21 on 18 November 2014 - 10:48 PM

When the chef asks for constructive feedback at the end of the meal and the best you can come up with is "charge more", you know the meal has been a success.
Our first course was a red snapper ceviche with corn & avocado. Chunks of snapper with avocado & just barely blanched Georgia corn, marinated for only about 30 minutes but with a pleasant abundance of acidity that was balanced by a touch of sweetness from a drizzle of cream of balsamic.
The second course was a parsnip soup with shitake mushrooms, the former of which was poured "tableside". As I dug in the questions started forming. First, what kind of stock did he use (a friend had noted a "meaty" flavor but I argued that was coming from a mushroom stock - the answer was dashi, aha). How did he manage such a smooth consistency to the soup? The answer, which became a sort of inside joke for the evening - a Vitamix. Honestly, this was one of the best soups I've ever had. The parsnips gave the soup a sweet but earthy flavor and the consistency was heavenly, incredibly smooth and creamy, but airy and light.
Third course was a large scallop, perfectly seared and served over squash puree and baby bok choy. The squash puree was pure concentrated squash flavor, again with an amazing consistency and the dish was finished with basil oil, which brightened the dish and lent a nice contrast to the sweetness of the squash
Fourth course was a risotto with Maine lobster, peas and parmesan cheese. There was a long wait for this course, but frankly it was needed as the meal in its entirety is a lot food. The risotto was well worth the wait. Not much for me to say about it except that it was excellent.
Final savory course was a salt baked dorado - even in his experiments, Ferhat excels (this was the first time he had tried salt baking the filets, rather than the whole fish and he let us know there was a back up if it didn't work out, but the back up wasn't needed). There is some tinkering to make this dish as flawless as the rest, but the fish, once extricated from its salt casing was perfectly cooked - moist and flaky - and seasoned well with the dill, garlic and lemon and served on top of a turnip (I believe) puree with cubes of kohlrabi and daikon that while leaving the dish lacking in color created a lovely contrast in flavor.
Dessert was a home made tiramisu. A delicious end to the meal, but with the major caveat that I am not a big dessert person, something that probably won't remain in my memory for long (I was also quite full at this point).
We like others also had a few courses not listed on the menu. We started with homemade waffle chips with local thyme. While waiting for the risotto we had the aforementioned shrimp on top of garlic mashed potatoes. The shrimp, which tasted of the ocean, was seared on a salt block and then seasoned to perfection (who knew a salt block wouldn't actually lend a salty flavor to the food cooked on it). We also had a pre-dessert - a beer float. Mocha ice cream floating in Port City porter with a drizzle of Nutella on top. Honestly, heaven in a cup and as with all of the savory dishes I found myself scrambling to empty out every last bit. I plan to make this at home, with any porter or stout I can get my hands on and some Talenti salted caramel gelato.
We all opted for the wine pairings, which went well and were generous. I was happy to start the night off with a glass of bubby. This was followed by an Albarino from the Rias Biaxas region of spain, a sauvignon blanc from France and a pinot noir from CA. Ferhat has a nice little list of scotch and bourbon available after dinner along with coffee and while I probably should have skipped it, I couldn't and ordered the Balvenie Doublewood 12 year. A relaxingly paced dinner along with the after dinner drink took close to 3 hours. 
At the end of the meal, Ferhat also asked what our favorite courses were. Again, a testament to how good the meal was that I honestly couldn't pick. 
This is a long ass post, with probably too much superfluous description. The bottom line is that I was scraping every last bit of each course from the plate or bowl and if there hadn't been a photographer from a local magazine there I probably would have been licking the plates clean. If you don't already have the pleasure of knowing Ferhat, he is warm, engaging and has a great sense of humor to boot and is happy to answer all of your questions. Add to all of that that the dinner is only $55 and as DanielK already said, if you aren't trying to get a reservation right now, you're making a huge mistake. Go. Now. Just don't make your reservations for the night I want to go back. :P

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#258112 Eat The Rich, 7th and T Street in Shaw - Chef Drew Trautmann Replaces Julien...

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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#285051 Marcel's, Robert Wiedmaier's Fine-Dining Flagship in West End

Posted by Choirgirl21 on 12 January 2015 - 04:13 PM

I don't even know where to begin. I don't feel I have the writing skills to do justice to my experience at Marcel's last night. 


First off, the food wowed me. The seared ahi tuna with togarashi, the revered skate dish, and the infamous boudin blanc were flawless. The muscadet paired with the skate was my favorite pairing of the night and the bordeaux that Adnane chose for the boudin blanc a close second. The langostine and sweetbread dish was excellent as well - those perfectly crispy on the outside, melt in your mouth on the inside sweetbreads are something I could eat daily although I wasn't sure about the cook on one of the pieces of langoustine. I only wish the white burgundy paired with it would have been a bit warmer, but I have a bit of a pet peeve about the temps at which most restaurants serve their white wines, especially chardonnays (and I did not feel this way about the muscadet). The venison satisfied my craving to finish off the meal with red meat. Unfortunately the cube of sausage on the side of the dish was dry and heavily salted (I mean to the point that I found it inedible and I like salt) but the rest of the dish was excellent.


Too often lately I've had beautifully plated, well executed dishes, that while I could find no flaws with them left me feeling less than enthused (my recent meal at Cityzen comes to mind). These dishes were not that. They were of course beautifully plated and well executed, but they were also generous, packed big flavor punches and really took me to a place where I was happy to sit quietly and relish every incredible bite. These dishes were, for the most part, more than the sum of their parts.


But where I really want to give praise is Adnane. Waitman was right earlier to point out that he deserves high praise. I walked in and was immediately greeted by name and led to my seat at the bar, where there was a place setting already waiting for me despite the bar being empty (I had called earlier to check whether I needed to be concerned about getting a seat since the dining room was booked). That's just one of many little touches that add up to an exceptional experience. Throughout the night, I only needed to glance up and Adnane was there asking what I needed. I wanted to start the night off with a sparkling rose, but when I realized there wasn't one on the by the glass list anymore, I said no worries, just something bubbly. Adnane wouldn't settle for that and a bottle of brut rose was found and popped open. When I mentioned that I used to be a part of a blind tasting group, Adnane poured me a taste of a special wine to put my skills to the test. Later in the evening when he found out it was my birthday (I was purposely keeping that to myself as I didn't want special treatment) I was of course treated to a little dessert with "Happy birthday Jen" written across the plate. There were touches like this all evening, right up until I went to leave and I got a warm hug as if Adnane and I had been friends for years. And I think that's really where the exceptional experience comes from - that Adnane treats each guest like an old friend and has an amazing ability to read people and figure out what they need, when they want to engage, when they want to be left to their food, when something is off. The service too is more than the sum of its parts. 


And it's both of those things that leave me looking at my budget, trying to figure out how soon I can return. :)

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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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#287907 Cajun vs. Creole

Posted by dcandohio on 23 February 2015 - 02:20 PM

I grew up in New Orleans, spent years in baton Rouge, and consumed enough episodes of Chef Paul (Prudhomme) and Justin Wilson on PBS to have an opinion...The following borrows heavily from the intro to "Paul Prudhomme's Louisiana Kitchen," published in 1984, becuse it largely reflects what I'd always heard.

7 different flags flew over New Orleans, and each time a new nation took over, new cooks came in with their national influences. Lots of slaves or free black people did the cooking for the wealthy classes. Creole is the amalgamation of the cultures that populated New Orleans in the early days...African black people, Carribbean black people, Europeans (French, Spanish and later Germans and italians) and Native Americans, among others. African and Carribbean people brought spices, Europeans brought technique and everyone worked with local ingredients. Chicken, pork, veal, oysters, eggplant, fin fish, crabs were all available and/or raised nearby. More exotic ingredients came into the port, such as bananas and tomatoes. New Orleans is the geographical and emotional center for Creole cuisine.

Cajuns were southern French people who went to Nova Scotia in the1600's, and were driven out by the British in the 1700's. Many of them ended up in Louisiana, but rarely in New Orleans. The group that settled in what we call "Cajun Country" cooked with what they found and farmed...crayfish, chicken, pork, rice, pecans. They used the french style roux, made boudin sausages and things that had a "French" bent. They lived along the bayous West and south of New Orleans. Cities to visit for Cajun culture are Opelousas, Lafayette, Crowley, New Iberia, Thibodaux.

When I was a kid in the 60's, families who moved from these areas to New Orleans for jobs often still spoke French, but it was Cajun French. My mother's aunt and Grandma in New Orleans spoke French, but it was European French. So, just to say "French" is a source of confusion! Which French?

When you grow up with it, you absorb knowledge or beliefs about differences without explicitly thinking about it. Redfish stuffed with crabmeat? Creole. Crawfish etouffe? Cajun. Oyster stew? Creole. Jambalaya? Cajun. Of course, the cultures blended because so many cajuns came to the city for work. New Orleans is only approximately 2 hours from Lafayette, so lots of cross-pollination occurred. And as far as I know, the big man himself, Paul Prudhomme, did more than anyone else to make Cajun food sexy and popular in New Orleans and everywnere else.

Baton Rouge is (or was) sort of the bland buffer between Creole and Cajun, between the city and the bayous, between commerce and agriculture. As the capital and the home of a major university, Baton Rouge is an important city. Culinarily? Not so much...And north of Alexandria or so, up toward Shreveport, it's all very different. More like Texas (to the west ) or Mississippi (to the east).

I love it all - from boudin sausage purchased at a gas station outside of Lafayette, to oysters bienville eaten in the fanciest of French Quarter landmarks - the food in that part of the world is glorious.
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#283482 Goodbye To An Icon

Posted by RJ Cooper on 05 December 2014 - 09:18 PM

I first met Eric Ziebold years ago at the Laundry, briefly over a beer and playing pool at a near by bar after service.


I then was reintroduced to him when he moved to town. I was just hired to be the chef de cuisine at Vidalia and he was in the final process of opening CityZen.


I as a cook have great memories of us growing in the same chef generation, he quietly led us to the growth of small farmers with connection to what we were doing as cooks in a fine dining atmosphere.


Eric is not dead, nor his passion and drive for excellence, however his stage must be changed.  


Here here to a great cook now starting on a new path. My your growth be fulfilled with success.

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#281079 CityZen, at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel - 2008 James Beard Award Winner Eric...

Posted by Bart on 31 October 2014 - 03:14 PM

My wife and I went to Cityzen last night (actually October 29th) for the first time and it lived up to, and surpassed all expectations. In fact, it blew them out of the water!

It was the exact date of our 20th anniversary and I put a little note in the Open Table reservation saying something like, “It’s our 20th anniversary to the day, so if EZ wants to go completely off the rails and make something crazy, we’re up for it”. I’m always looking for one of those Anthony Bourdain experiences where he goes into a place and just has the chef cook whatever he feels like cooking. No menus, no choices, just course after course of wonderfulness. Unfortunately, I’ve never had it happen before tonight.

When we got to the hostess stand, she wished us a happy anniversary and when we got to the table we were presented with a card signed by the entire staff. The first was sort of expected, but the card was certainly not expected. Very nice touch!

Our waiter (not really sure if waiter is the right term, but more on that later) came over with the with the menus and explained them: “On the left is the Chef’s 6 Course Tasting Menu, below that is the 6 Course Vegetarian Tasting Menu, and on the right is a 4 Course Menu where you can choose one dish in each of the four categories” and then he said, “Or if you like, the chef can make a special menu just for you”. I asked if that was because I put that little note in the Open Table reservation and he said yes it was. Naturally we jumped on that offer along with the wine pairings.

We later learned that we were the only ones that night that had that special meal/menu, but it’s something they offer all the time if someone asks. So my advice to anyone going there before they close is to ask for the special, secret, request-only menu. You won’t regret it!

A photo of the menu is attached. It lists 9 courses, but there were a couple more amuse bouche type things thrown in here and there. 5 courses appeared on either the 6 course tasting menu or the 4 course menu; the other 4 didn’t appear on any menu!

The regular 6 course tasting menu costs $120, but our extended menu was $165 each. Expensive, but worth it. We also got the wine pairings which on the 6 course menu are listed at $85/$135 for normal wines/vintage rare wines. We opted for the “normal” wine pairing but were charged $135 each, but I’m assuming the higher price was because we had the extended menu. Expensive but also worth it.

We started out with a glass of pomegranate infused champagne which may have been part of the wine pairings or may have just been an anniversary gift from the house. I’m not quite sure, but it is something I want to try to make at home. They told us they cook down pomegranate seeds into a syrup and then add it to the champagne.

The rest of the wines were all over the map and all were great. There was one glass (more like a half glass) per course, but I think there might have been an extra couple thrown in here and there. To the best of my recollection we had 4 whites, 4 reds, 2 dessert wines and finished up with port! Naturally each one of them came in a different shaped glass and most were things we wouldn’t order (but that’s why we did it) like a Riesling (very dry), a Gewurztraminer (also dry), a Chianti (huge and bold), not to mention the dessert wines and the port. My only regret is we didn’t get a list of the wines we had.

Back to the staff/servers…..there were a lot of them and they were all very professional, all dressed in suits, not snooty or stuffy, but ridiculously knowledgeable. We ended up having conversations with 3 or 4 of them and they all seemed to be long time employees. Our French waiter (he took our order) and wine pourer was there 8 years I think, the manager (?) was there 9 years, the guy pouring the water and clearing the plates has been there since day one! We talked to the manager (?) about growing up around here and eating scrapple, souse and head cheese that his grandmother used to make. After we asked our waiter where he was from (Provence), we talked about our mutual love of rosé. When we asked him why he thought it was so popular in the States now he said, “because ees sooo good!” We talked to the sommelier about where he was in Court of Master Sommeliers program, and what he thought of Virginia wines. He even hooked us up with a dessert wine from Linden Vineyards after we talked about how much we both loved that place.

The food of course, was exquisite. Every dish was masterpiece of flavors, and layers, and textures and even temperatures. There were a couple of dishes that were mostly served cold (fish dishes), but also had a warm piece of vegetable (or some ingredient) included as well so you got this wonderful and surprising contrast. During one of those dishes, I said to my wife, “this is like that McDonalds dish where ‘the hot stays hot and the cool stays cool’”. Later near the end of the meal we got to thank Chef Ziebold for a wonderful meal and I mentioned the temperature contrast like the McDonalds meal “where the hot stays hot and the cool stays cool” and Eric immediately said, “Yeah, the McDLT!” Too funny he remembered that.

One of the warm/cold dishes was the amuse bouche we had that I think was called a Lobster Crepe. It wasn’t a traditional crepe shape at all but instead was like a compressed cylinder that was wider than it was tall. It was some sort of cool lobster wonderfulness in the middle wrapped in a warm crepe skin on the outside and topped with little crunchy things that were sort of a high end shoestring potatoes.

Some of our other favorites were:

Charred Sashimi of Skuna Bay Salmon” which came out looking like a miniature rectangular pizza but instead of having tomatoes and pepperoni on it, it salmon and mango and micro greens on it. The crust of the “pizza” was a super thin crispy layer of fried tofu.

Globe Artichoke Gratin” which is a funny name since the star of the dish a couple pieces of melt in your mouth sea urchin.

Poached Main Lobster Cassoulet”. Enough said! Except to say that the broth was so good it could have been served plain in a glass and we would have loved it.

Sautéed Moulard Duck Foie Gras” This was probably our favorite dish of the night. It was very nicely sized slab of seared foie gras on top of a “dumpling” of the most tender pulled pork you can imagine, and wrapped in a “dumpling wrapper” of cabbage. All of that was sitting in a little pool of broth that the menu describes as “Darden Ham Emulsion”. It might sound weird, or like too much meat but it was absolutely heavenly. I pity the poor vegetarians out there. ;-)

The duck breast and lamb dishes (2 separate dishes) were no slouches either but the four dishes above were our favorites.

I love root beer and have never had a more intense root beer taste than in the “Cityzen Root Beer Float”. I don’t know how they did it, but it’s like they took all the flavor in a 2 liter bottle of root beer and compressed down into a few bites in the dessert.

After that we got few more things that were not on the menu. One was a little plate some small cookies and little scoop of ice cream with “Happy Anniversary” written in chocolate calligraphy and the second was our fourth dessert(!) plate which had a tiny, airy vanilla milkshake and a “bar” of chocolate mousse with a few little brownie/cookie things here and there.

It was all too good for words. I now understand why Don and others rave about EZ and Cityzen. It’s on a whole other level.

At some point near the end of the meal, we saw Chef Ziebold (who was in the kitchen working all night) take off his blue apron and we were worried he was going to leave before we could thank him. We asked our waiter if he was leaving for the night, and he said, no he was just getting more comfortable. Then about 5 minutes later, who arrives at our table but the Chef himself. We of course gushed over the food, talked about the McDLT, talked about his new place, which if I remember correctly is going to be at least as formal as Cityzen. I think I asked if he was going to go more in the direction of Rose’s Luxury and he said it was going to be another formal place. He probably spent more than 5 minutes talking to us and couldn’t have been nicer and more gracious. It was the perfect cap to a perfect night.

On the way out we stopped by the kitchen to thank the rest of the chefs, thanked our waiter, thanked the water guy/plate clearer, thanked the sommelier and thanked the manager at the door. The experience was so perfect that we felt the need to thank them all personally. When I asked the manager if it was possible to get an email tomorrow with a list of the dishes we had, he handed me an 8X10 envelop and said, “why wait until tomorrow, you can have it right now”


The final perfect detail to a perfect meal.

Attached Thumbnails

  • cityzen menu.jpg

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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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