Thursday, September 30, 2010

Screwtop Wine Bar Is A Neighborhood Gem

Last night I checked out a small wine bar in Clarendon with a few friends.  It's tucked away on Fillmore Street, and not close to the restaurant row on Wilson and Clarendon Boulevards.  Perhaps that's part of its charm.  Screwtop Wine Bar has a lovely selection of cheese and bottles of wine for purchase as well as to enjoy in their wine bar.
  truffled popcorn 
 Small and cozy with a row of tables for four next to the windows. 
Tables are seat yourself, and luckily one of our group arrived early enough to find an empty one. 
 Small bar with stools for smaller groups.
We tried a Pinot Grigio and a lovely Spanish Albarino.
 Bread basket for the cheese plate. The nutty flatbread was my favorite.
 3 Cheese Platter ($17).  Tillamook Cheddar from Oregon, Taleggio from Italy and a Danish Blue from Denmark.  The plum chutney from Virginia Chutney Company really complemented the blue cheese ($3.50) and is a highly recommended add-on.
 Selection of cheese for purchase.
 They also have a wide selection of charcuterie.
Retail wall of wine.
Screwtop has a monthly wine club that I'm very tempted to join.  $39.99 per month for 2 bottles and a cheese pairing with additional discounts.  The owner stopped by our table and was very helpful in suggesting a third bottle.  We ended up enjoying a lovely South American red with a lightness of body akin to a pinot noir.  If you haven't tried out this wine bar in Clarendon yet, you definitely should. 

Valentino's Take-Out

Takeout from Valentino's which solved the no-beer issue from dining in.  Nice thin crust, the sauce had good flavor and the pie was sliced into 8 massive slices that needed to be folded in half to eat by hand. 
 20" large olive, mushroom, cheese pizza ($21.95).
A little perspective. 
The pie was massive and easily fed 4 people, plus the olive salad ($8.95) and garlic knots ($2.75).

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Diner food at Denny's

My boyfriend is a Southern boy at heart, and he loves breakfast.  Before we started dating, I had never been to a Waffle House or a Denny's.  It's a good thing we like to hike and exercise a lot, because the meals at Denny's are huge. 
Vegetable omelette with spinach, mushrooms, red and green peppers, onions, tomatoes and Cheddar cheese and a side of hash browns.
 Lumberjack Slam with two strips of bacon, ham, 2 sausage links, 2 eggs sunny side up, hashbrowns, English Muffin, 2 pancakes and a side of grits.
 Vegetable omelette with a side of roasted potatoes.
Lumberjack Slam with a bowl of grits, 2 pancakes, 2 sausage links, 2 strips of bacon, grilled ham, 2 eggs sunny side up, hash browns and toast.

Lunchtime Bentos

When I lived in Japan, I heard that you could see how much a mother cared about her child by the bento she made for school lunch.  The artistry involved astounded me.  There are people who can create super cute bentos with apples cut like rabbits, mini-sausage octopi and panda face onigiri.  I am not one of those people.  I'm more focused on packing a lunchtime meal for my boyfriend that incorporates nutritious elements that taste good and travel well. 
 Korean bibimbap-inspired bento. 
Kochujang, cherry tomato, sliced tamagoyaki, sauteed spinach, mushrooms and carrots to be placed ontop of the rice in its separate compartment.
Sesame-soy baby bok choy, rice, bundles of grilled seasoned pork belly wrapped around kimchi.
The first lunch bento I made for him.

Ramen Omiyage

I love ramen.  Not the cup ramen from college days, but the really good stuff.  The type where the noodles are fresh and the soup broth has simmered for hours.  Since Japan's a 12 hour flight, NYC's a 4 hour drive, and DC lacks a ramen shop, my ramen cravings usually go unassuaged.  Luckily my coworkers know my favorite type and they bring back fantastic omiyage for me.
Nagahama ramen is from Kyushu.  Nagahama and Hakata are districts in Fukuoka that created their own style of ramen.  The noodles are thin and straight, and  the tonkotsu broth is made from pork bones cooked over high heat for a long time.  My boyfriend's favorite type of ramen is shoyu flavored, and luckily this ramen set had a tonkotsu-shoyu flavor soup, a little something for both of us.
 On the right side of the box is a Mikoshi, which reminds me of Aki Matsuri (Fall Festivals) in Japan.
 We didn't have beni shouga (pickled ginger) or moyashi (bean sprouts) on hand, so I improvised with carrots, spinach, corn, hanjuku tamago (egg cooked just long enough for the white part to be firm and egg yolk still runny), sesame-soy pork and sesame seeds.
Fresh ramen noodles cook very quickly. 
The tonkotsu-shoyu broth was much lighter than normal tonkotsu and very enjoyable.  

Monday, September 27, 2010

Samos Restaurant in Baltimore's Greek Town

On our way to see a Japanese band named Envy in Baltimore, my boyfriend and I stopped by a Greek place recommended by a friend.  We both love Mediterranean flavors, so we had to try out Samos after my friend raved about the food.
I didn't even know that Baltimore had a Greek Town, but judging by the lines of people waiting for a table at 6 pm on a Saturday, this is a popular spot.  It is cash-only, but there is an ATM near the restrooms.

Trio of Homemade Greek Spreads $9.75
Olive tapenade, roasted red pepper hummus, Melitzanosalata (roasted eggplant with garlic, lemon and olive oil).  My favorite was the eggplant but my better half loved the hummus. 
 Hot pita wedges.  So good with all of the spreads.
 Small Greek Salad $6.50.  (There's a large size, but this was perfect to share.)
The famous salad dressing comes on the side in a bottle.
Spanikopita $5.75
The flaky phyllo dough encased a nice mixture of spinach and feta cheese. 
Gyro Pita Wrap with everything $5.50.
Samos is closed Sundays, has carryout and is BYOB.  They do not take reservations, and they do become busy, but the Greek food is worth the wait.

Ethiopian Food at Dukem

One of the nice things about living in the DC area is discovering how delicious, group-friendly and inexpensive Ethiopian restaurants are.   While Etete receives rave reviews from the Post, I thought the restaurant's tables were too close together and very loud.  Madjet had good tibs, but they looked closed when I walked by.  Recently a group of friends gathered to go to Dukem on U Street. While some reviews mentioned service issues, I thought our waitress was pleasant and the meatless options were flavorful.
Spinach Sambusa $2.50
Fried on the outside, it's a different recipe than their vegetable sambusas from previous visits. 
Reminded me of a cheese-less spanakopita.  Hot and delightful.
 Combination Platter (6)
Tibs, Lamb Wot, Doro Wot (chicken), Minchet Abesh (ground beef in ginger and garlic sauce)
cottage cheese, cabbage, collard greens, yellow lentils, tomato-jalapeno salad, red lentils ($31.95)
This was enough for 3 people.
 Special Vegetarian Combination (12) $19.95
Cabbage, collard greens, green lentils, yellow lentils, red lentils, tomato-jalapeno salad, potato salad, chickpeas in spicy sauce.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Taylors Gourmet Redux

Went to a Johnnie Walker tasting last night with some friends.  To prepare myself, I planned to have a substantial snack beforehand.  Since the tasting was held at Atlantic Video in Chinatown, I headed over to the City Vista Taylors Gourmet.  This location is only open until 10 pm, and they seemed to have a steady stream of customers placing mostly takeout orders.

Rocky's Risotto Balls aka Arancini served with spicy marinara sauce $4.50. 
These are much nicer than the mozzarella sticks. 
Inside the fried risotto ball is a nice bit of gooey cheese.
Wharton Street 6 inch hoagie with mozzarella, pesto, roasted red peppers, lettuce and tomato $6.50
While it was filling, the flavor combinations are a bit lacking for vegetarians.  I'd love to see an eggplant parmesan hoagie added to their menu with their spicy marinara and cheese.  The bread seems better suited for hot sandwiches too, like the Pattison or any of the grilled or fried chicken cutlet options.
The free Johhnie Walker tasting felt a bit like a rock show with the thumping music and lighting effects.  Compared to the Macallan tasting, the pours were much more conservative.  They served the Gold Label chilled and the Blue Label in a small snifter, which accentuated the bouquet.  The Red Label had a hint of chili peppers.  The Black Label was much more smokey, and the Green Label had an earthy flavor.  Definitely informative, and it's hard to beat the price.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

"KFC" at Home

While KFC has secret spices, Korean fried chicken has a remarkable crispy coating and sweet and spicy sauce. The double-frying technique is key to creating fried chicken that has an audible crunch as you bite into it.
Bon Chon in Annandale has fried chicken with either a sweet and mild sauce, or a fiery hot sauce. You can also order a mix. If you run into the same problem we have, you'll discover they are so popular the phone is constantly busy when calling to place a take-out order, or they run out of wings on weekends.
We decided to take matters into our own hands and followed a recipe we found on with higher amounts of garlic and ginger. The sauce was delicious, although next time we'll add ground Korean red pepper for a spicier sauce.
Vine-ripened tomatoes with mixed greens and a ginger-lime salad dressing.
Fresh cucumber kimchee from Super H in Fairfax.
Freshly made kimchee from Super H. Cut that morning, it was crunchy and much nicer than kimchee that has fermented longer.
Green bean and shishito pepper tempura.
Tempura batter is simple to make: 1 egg yolk, 1 cup ice water, 1 cup flour, 1/4 cup corn starch
Baby bok choy with a soy sauce, chili pepper, sesame oil sauce.
For the chicken: mix the flour, cornstarch and water. Add the chicken pieces and toss to coat. Begin the first frying stage. Fry the chicken 6-8 minutes. Remove from oil and drain.
A helpful Japanese frying tip is spreading newspaper on the floor around the stove, this greatly helped our cleanup later.
Fry the chicken in 350F oil until crisp and brown in the second frying stage for 6-8 minutes.
Spicy sauce mixture of kochujang, honey, sesame oil, garlic, ginger, soy sauce and rice vinegar.
Toss the hot chicken pieces in the sauce after the second round of frying.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Taylor's Gourmet Hoagies

H Street NE is the new hot neighborhood for bars and restaurants. The Red and the Black and the Rock and Roll Hotel are fun places to go and watch some live music. My better half's band played a show over there, and we finally had a chance to try out Taylor's Gourmet afterwards.
Fried Mozzarella Sticks ($4.50)
Pretty salty breading and a little average tasting, but the marinara sauce was great.
Pattison Avenue 12-inch hoagie ($9.50).
Broccoli rabe, aged provolone cheese, slices of roast pork with a hot au jus on a Sarcone Bakery bread (premier Philly bakery). This hoagie has been widely talked about on various food forums, so I suggested he try it.
Very nice bread. Chewy and soft.
Decent amount of toppings but not quite the same as Tommy DiNic's in Philadelphia.
Juicy and flavorful.
Taylor's has an annoying flash website. There's a nice selection of hoagies for carnivores, but vegetarian hoagie options are somewhat of an afterthought.
They've expanded from their H St NE location to the new City Vista development at 4th and K St NW, and now to Bethesda. For people who live too far from the Italian Store, it's a pretty decent alternative.

Celebrating at Rays the Steaks

It was my better half's birthday recently. I thought long and hard about where to take him to celebrate. He's a pretty laidback guy, so I chose an old favorite with good food, great prices and a relaxed atmosphere. We went to Ray's the Steaks in Arlington, a nontraditional steakhouse.
Rosemary foccacia bread. Super soft and delicious.
Spicy cashew nuts.
Cup of Sherried Crab Bisque.
The cup is loaded with sweet lump crab meat, and the bisque is incredibly rich. It was so good I encouraged him to order his own, mostly because I was not capable of sharing.
We did share a light caesar salad.
Blackened Jumbo Scallops with carmelized onions and garlic.
These were sweet and spicy from the blackening seasoning, and cooked around medium-rare.
T-Bone steak special. The filet side was meltingly tender, while the strip side had a nice chew.
Along with our entrees came cast iron pans of creamed spinach and mashed potatoes that are free to every table. Both were very rich and creamy. Rays takes reservations for half of their tables, and they ask if you are celebrating a birthday or anniversary when you call to make a reservation. A nice gesture was the free dessert of his choice.
Our server was energetic and helpful, without hovering. The sommelier was very kind and suggested three options for a red wine that would suit both the scallops and the steak. I choose the Layer Cake shiraz from Australia, priced at $29. For wine lovers, Rays has an extensive list of interesting varietals at very reasonable prices.
One of the best things is the ABC recorking rule that you can take your bottle of wine home if you're unable to finish it at the restaurant. I feel this allows restaurants patrons to drink and drive more responsibly.