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  1. What is the story behind reservations at this restaurant? Phenomenal popularity? A secret? For the next month, they show availability for only a handful of weekdays, for seatings near closing time. I have encountered a similar roadblock at Woodberry Kitchen in Baltimore, though at the opening bell it is not that difficult to find something in the bar area. It's discouraging, though. (And making the journey to Spike Gjerde's award-winning kitchen is expensive and not always quite as transporting as it used to be.)
  2. I would think twice before committing to the multi-course meal. This is hardly the place to go looking for value options. What's on the menu is the cost of admission to a spectacularly bustling double-stacked dining room, a supper club straight out of a Cecil B. DeMille melodrama without the billowing tobacco smoke. What's on your plate is nothing terrible, but maybe a bit beside the point. There is ample showing off here, but the food is designed to be so broadly appealing, it is bland. What the kitchen can pride itself on is how expeditiously it sends orders flying to the table. No one I know can beat it. This does create a certain tension among the busy crew scouring the floor for plates to clear, or snatch, and parties that are winding down. Turning tables commands attention at Succotash, and who can blame them. Keeping up with the hungry hordes is the name of the game. Chaos, even a total crash, are easily imaginable alternatives in this sprawling enterprise. And the mechanisms that have been put in place to safeguard against calamity, to keep the Corinthian columns climbing the restaurant walls from raining their leaves on the tables below is reassuring. When it comes to eating here, don't count on the fusion lighting up some excitement from a menu that leans to the commonplace. Allusions to the chef's Korean culinary roots speckle the menu and to his indebtedness to U.S. Southern cooking even more so, but this is largely hype. I had read something about the care that has been taken in the local sourcing of the catfish. But it doesn't really matter how muddy runs the water from which they are taken when their flavor is half battered out of them. Like other fried dishes ladening the menu, the fish is crisp but a bit greasy and somewhat lost in a jacket that slips off more than it should. Sauces at Succotash are slathered on, or mottle the food, and in the case of the fish don't deliver the mint and jalapeño promised in the aioli. The accompaniment of burnt lemon sounds intriguing, but a lemon wedge is a lemon wedge, and hardly uncustomary. Lettuce slaw is also overly familiar. Where I come from, we call it shredded lettuce and often leave it in the serving box. Rounds of scuppernong grapes are the most exotic ingredient but they aren't much more than little sweet kisses that are harmless but not necessary. Duck for schnitzel sounds a bit novel, and maybe Chinese, but it doesn't respond to pounding quite as obligingly as chicken or veal. Mounding it over with a gloppy brown gravy of who knows what is a bit of a premature burial though perhaps a missed opportunity for demonstrating the glories of cornstarch. There's treasure below -- a celery root purée (at least I think it was celery root though it might as well and probably should have been eggplant) clings to the belly of the cutlet, gumming the crust, a classic error. There is also purported to be ham (the South) in this plate, but who knows where. Invisible ham? Chicken wings didn't seem smoky but maybe they weren't supposed to be. They come in a spice rub, which is about what you would expect to find on a nice barbecued potato chip. The white sauce on the chicken is thick, flavorless and does little to alleviate the dry poultry. Fried oysters were the best dish of the night, the only one with a hint of heat (Korean), and I liked that they were mounted on bread, but does it matter that the bread is Sally Lunn? (My guess is here comes the South again.) We took home a heavy slab of hummingbird cake -- a spice batter production with raisins and nuts baked until arid and drowning in sweet cream cheese lotion.This is a dessert to share, but you also may share waking up in the middle of the night with gastric distress. (This is only a guess, it could have been anything.) I apologize for having some undue fun with the descriptions of the food at Succotash, which I reiterate is adequate, say, for the Canadian family member visitors you have dragged here to impress them with our booming city. I doubt the food here was designed to be held to the highest standards. It probably would come out someplace in the middle of one of those grueling television cooking competitions, but at least for now looks like it is reigning supreme when it comes to bringing money to the bank, as its surroundings would suggest. Walking through Penn Quarter yesterday on my way to a triple feature at the National Gallery of Art, I passed restaurants of every stripe and was amazed to see them packed for lunch. Diners were literally spilling out of them into the streets.It made me wonder if the local restaurant business isn't reaching record heights. Business was not quite so swift even with free seats at the theater, though I can understand the attraction of a prolonged lunch on a beautiful day over several hours in the dark pondering classics from the early days of Czechoslovakian and Russian movie making. All three featured loutish husbands and persevering wives, one of whom attempted suicide by pistol, and two of whom perished -- from spilling scalding laundry water and getting trampled by horses and mares while waving a red flag (Pudovkin's "Mother"). We completed a fairly full meal at Succotash in about an hour, so my overall impressions of the place are fleeting. The bar might be a better alternative. You will be there all night waiting for the drinks to kick in. For hearty drinkers, the alcohol is on the temperate side. (All I can say of the Hellfire Habanero Shrub at the bottom of my Waaaaay South was that maybe it was red.) I would work through the impressive list of bourbons instead, keeping in mind that drinking at this spot will cost you the rent.
  3. Heritage was the mothership for accomplished Indian cooking at outposts in Bethesda, Rockville and up the street in Tenleytown. Unfortunately, its business dwindled steadily over the past several years, and I'm surprised it survived as long as it did considering the size of the place. I don't think they used the sumptuous back dining room for years. Fit for a raj, it used to fill up on weekends. We watched the food drift downhill. Sometimes it was still worthy of the reputation the kitchen set in its golden era, but often it was not -- down to nan gone to flab. The Southern inspired Malgudi downstairs failed to turn the tide, and it too turned inconsistent, although it usually provided the best parts of the meal when it was sent upstairs to mingle with the Heritage menu. Blame it also on the service? Maybe. This place had a reputation for being mean, and you didn't dare cross the medical student whose family had forced him into servitude for his summer vacation. But that had mostly been ironed out, although I did occasionally overhear heated conversations. I suppose you have it coming when you make a simple request for white chicken meat only and try to send the dish back because you received a thigh. You may end up arguing half the night over what is considered dark. Heritage did, however, accomplish something new when they sent in the clowns to tend the tables at the new Malgudi. I wonder if the servers told Tom Sietsema that they only had beer and wine in order to avoid having to ascend a flight of steep stairs to avoid the bar where mixed drinks were being concocted. Or laughed scoffingly behind his back when he had to leave the table to find a clean plate. Heritage is now at the corner of Wisconsin and Macomb in the old Zebra Room, where it seems to be better suited to the snugger space. Week after week, I have been meaning to drop in and find out if it has managed to rekindle its flair for cooking -- in a market where Indian cuisine is a decidedly harder sell than burgers just about everywhere and the exhausted Tex-Mex at the Cactus C. My problem is it's just too hard to pass up 2 Amy's only steps away. I try to make it there almost every week. And believe me, last week among the little things was a crab salad that stood taller than anything I encountered the night before at Woodberry Kitchen, one of the many reasons for traveling the 50 miles to Baltimore, and for a much lower tab. (The competition continues to heat up near the National Cathedral -- at least if you are counting the number of openings and fairly new spots, and my guess is that the days of Cafe Deluxe may be numbered unless it starts to take stock of what it is doing.) Tonight, unfortunately, I will miss another opportunity to revisit Heritage. I am finding it difficult to break from my habitual dinners at Masala Art, where the cooking continues to hold merit.
  4. Looks like a promising place, but we didn't make it past ordering drinks. At my age, it is ludicrous to be carded but our server said she came from Gaithersburg where it is the law. In this area, I have not been asked for identification for decades, including Gaithersburg roughly a month ago. Management pointed out that the law requires a patron to provide identification when asked, so I was out of luck. Sorry, I am not providing documentation to enjoy myself in their restaurant. Achtung!
  5. James Beard would heartily approve of this bread and maybe even soak it buttered in warm milk. Returning from a three-day drive through fast accumulating, persistent, blowing and blinding lake effect snow in upstate New York and west of Toronto, only to be greeted at home by evening havoc on local roads encumbered by comparatively gentle precip, I was happy the next morning to find just around the corner from the rental car return a bakery up to providing the kind of sustenance I was looking for. There is much more on the shelves these days than when the store first opened, including whole cakes from which you can purchase thick wedges. The coconut cake is solid and in places turns creamy enough to feed a baby (the antithesis of the bone-dry slice I recently took home from the downtown place with the hard descending steps and reputation for the best fried chicken in town that turned into a bad joke when it arrived at the table). Sesame bagels are equally sturdy but so thin that you should ask for them sliced in half and watch when toasting them that they don't burn in their crustiest sections. I also asked for a loaf of olive levain to be sliced, not what I would usually order, but unless you have a lethally sharp knife you risk tearing the bread. The downside is that the bread will dry out faster, but keeping it in the fridge seems to work. Everyone by now should know what to expect from a Furstenberg loaf. You know from the crust it has gone through blistering fire. The crumb is nicely open and chewy, suffused in this case not just with the pronounced flavor of wheat but perfume in the ripened fruit, a generous amount of which has been added to the dough. The loaves these days seem to be normal-sized, but maybe I just haven't noticed the availability of the king-sized bread from earlier times that were sawed in half or smaller and sold by the pound. I mourn their absence, assuming they have departed. Their size, texture and depth of brown crust suggested something a Catholic boy might find in the pew, kneel down upon, and deem worthy of transubstantiation.
  6. I don't know who deserves the blame, but the line was unusually long and early when we attempted this in December after arriving maybe 40 minutes early. It's can be disheartening watching the singles ahead of you in line morph into twos and fours as the opening hour approaches. The solution is more fish menus, I suppose, and that should narrow this discussion down to assigning credit. The orchestration of this place from the kitchen to the front of house still makes me feel I am inhabiting a beautiful scene from a favorite movie.
  7. No, it's not exactly expensive, but adds up to almost what you would pay for a better meal at Et Voila!, based on dinner only a week or two after it opened. The bartender didn't know how to make a martini, but by the end of the night maybe he did because people were ordering them. I'm not sold on the chalk board listings because it can be difficult to read them if you are sitting directly in front of one. An avocado and shrimp salad was good but pinchingly small. I thought the cassoulet was on the dry side without enough depth to keep from ending up feeling like a dull bowl of beans by the time I finished it. I had a better early meal at the restaurant formerly in this spot that Tom Sietsema inexplicably trashed. There's nothing wrong with a plain French restaurant, and this is the place if that's what you are in the mood for, but after walking about three blocks from home to get there for a second meal I just couldn't help crossing the street to 2 Amys instead. I am sure I eventually will return, but maybe not before hearing convincingly from those who have honed in on why this is a trip worth making at a time when there are so many more interesting places popping up all around town.
  8. giant shrimp

    The Truth About Cats and Dogs

    A sad story indeed, evidence of what a wild animal will do to escape from its inherent sense of becoming prey to humans. I say it is time to let the fawn go. I would call Et Voila and ask them to let you know the next time they are planning to serve venison stew as a special. There is no better winter meal I can imagine. It is served with mashed potatoes that are perfectly balanced with butter to mix with a gravy that is deeply flavored without being too rich or cloying. And the meat itself -- fresh and no wild notes about it -- is tender enough to eat with a spoon. This is the best meat I have eaten in a long, long time. It is better than chicken liver.
  9. I returned on a recernt night, not as a gut check, but because my financial prospects seem to have brightened significantly this week and we were in a tentatively celebratory mood. All around, without question I would say that this is our overall favorite local restaurant -- warts and all, and the imperfections have been popping up more often these days. The autumn consomme ($18) was as glorious as it has ever been. The clear amber broth draws you in with an invitation to delve beneath the surface into a small cosmos of seasonal ingredients that each play their individual roles to perfection in a chorus of shifting flavors and textures. A few rich parings of foie gras take the lead and could not taste better as they are washed by a slightly sour broth, which carries a hint of cloves and has always struck me as being just as mysterious as the chicken brine that over the years has kept people guessing about exactly how the kitchen accomplishes some of the seemingly simple things it does so well. The liver has little substance; its flavor melts on the tongue. A raviolini here and there is almost as soft while offering something to chew on; the filling provides a small burst of what feels like crumbling pebbles of whipped poultry. A few leaves of dark spinach obsure the bottom of the bowl, but are unwilted, offering surprising substance. And there are dabs of many other things: a floret of cauliflower, miniature turnip, bits of matsutake that for me carry woodlands and cedar into the mix, carrots. They all work together, nothing is overbearing or bold, and individual attention has been paid to each morsel. This soup stirs the imagination. It is best approached slowly, reverently, to appreciate its plaintive side with the knowledge that the reverie will be over soon enough. It ends with a flash of heat from the grounds of pepper that have gathered at the bottom. A roasted pork chop ($28) shaggy with a shreddded cabbage topping and served with sweet potatoes and a tumbleweed of lettuce is a thick, boneless pillow of pig. The temperature was not exactly nailed, with a few spots quite rare and the closest I have ever come to hog tartare. But even there it was delicious, just a little harder to cut through. The desserts at Palena have never let me down -- not once. These days they are small-scaled and magical. I was hesitant to order a maple panna cotta ($10) with a dollop of lemon yogurt because I am always waiting for anything here that has cake. In this instance, there were at least crumbles of unadvertised chocolate cookie almost hiding on the plate. The pudding serves as a floor, not unlike some of the structures I have encountered up the street at Ripple. Befitting one of the best panna cottas I have ever eaten in my life, it is bejeweled with sweet and sour cranberry beads. There are also some nuts.
  10. In at least one instance I noticed a thin line at the Dupont market on its requirement for what is being sold locally -- blankets made in Canada but of wool from Virginia sheep. If the animals had been Canadian and the blankets had been made by Virginia knitters, I assume they would not have qualified for the market. And that is exactly the predicament of local roasters of a product that cannot be cultivated here. But it doesn't strike me that this is exactly opening up the flood gates for an invasion of outsiders. Starbucks across the street is the business that profits the most from the current policy (although you can walk a couple of extra blocks to support roasters in Annapolis). Coming from upper Northwest, I find visiting Qualia on foot an interesting way of exploring different parts of the city -- i.e., you can come out of the Park at Carter Barron and then head over to Georgia Avenue; or you can go straight through Mount Pleasant and Columbia Heights, which is closer to Petworth than I realized. The other week I headed from Qualia to Park and then Rock Creek Church and Harewood. This leads to unexpectedly beautiful parts of the city -- the sprawling grounds of the Soldiers' and Airmen's Home and Rock Creek Cemetery. The elevations are higher than you might have expected, and you can take aromatic hits off your bag of Flores roasted earlier in the day to push you up the hill.
  11. Maybe it was an off night, when there was also a problem with the fritto misto. It was greasy and limp. But the ingredients in the soup -- served at room temperature -- were not quite the same and it was lacking the precision it used to have. In this case, at least, dining in my memories of Palena was more heavenly.
  12. giant shrimp

    The Truth About Cats and Dogs

    I was bitten by a cat at a really good restaurant in Tulum (at the German-owned hotel) -- outdoors, romantic with stars and the moon on a small bay. It was my fault for feeding it -- it would only accept lobster and was a bit overly enthusiastic about the piece I was holding out, and unintentionally caught my hand. I don't believe the skin was broken, but my wife is still waiting for the day I come down with rabies. Also in Tulum, the dining room floor at Ana y Jose's is sand, and when we were there two parrots were overhead on a perch. One night they started fighting over the swing. Feathers were certainly ruffled, until one of the birds went off in a huff back to the kitchen. In Mexico, dogs and cats seem to rely on the kindness of strangers for scraps of food. A dog came to our table at an inn in Puerto Rico. After my wife made the mistake of feeding part of her egg sandwich to the appreciative beast (she is squeamish about eggs), it returned quite aggressively for more. I used a technique I had learned on the "Dog Whisperer" -- grabbing its hind quarters. The dog was visibly surprised, but it stopped and then retreated. Actually, it could have bitten me just as easily. I am allergic to cats. We have been cat babysitters or weaners on and off for short periods of time (usually in violation of our lease). My eyes swell up and are glued shut when I wake up in the morning -- especially when the cat is dozing on top of my head. Not all of the cats have displayed impeccable deportment. One time we temporarily adopted a young black cat whose owner was afraid it would jump off her roof (over Benbow's Irish Pub on Connecticut Ave., a roof that no longer exists). Within a few days, it jumped out our window, through the screen. Fortunately, we lived on the first floor, but it was never seen again. It is difficult not forming an emotional attachment to cats even when they live with you for a fairly short period of time, and I would never (knowingly) eat one. The same goes for dogs. I am no historian, but my guess is that much of the squirrel population in Paris was eaten during the war. I frequently run across deer in the woods, usually young. Sometimes instead of running off, they stop and stare soulfully, and I wonder if they can intuit that I think they taste good.
  13. giant shrimp

    Boiling Dried Pasta in Red Wine

    The first time I heard of this was in the New York Times several years ago from Mark Bittman: http://www.nytimes.c...y-splendid.html He was recreating a dish he had discovered at a midtown Manhattan restaurant -- Osteria del Circo. You are required to sacrifice an entire bottle of wine -- Chianti Classico -- and it only works with spaghetti. It did sound intriguing, but I never got around to attempting it. And I later recall reading something from Bittman about this particular column not going over so well, so maybe there are some problems with it, or people just think it sounds weird. However, he raved about what he had eaten from chef Alessandro Giuntoli.
  14. The last time I ordered the autumn consomme, maybe two months ago, it was in a small bowl, not composed the way it used to be, missing the slivers of foie gras. A decent soup, but not the glorious experience I remember, and it cost $17.
  15. This sure sounds like a large format experience, the biggest opening since the Hamilton downtown, where I have never been and who knows if I will ever get there. Reminds me of the kind of supper clubs urban socialites spent their evenings at in 1930s Hollywood movies, only an updated version where the food and the physical restaurant itself provide sufficient entertainment. It is going to take a lot of money coming in. If they can pull it off with cupcakes in Georgetown, surely...though Friendship Heights is not exactly on the beaten path of the hordes of visitors the nation's capital receives. I can envision the presidential motorcade driving up.
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