Monday, June 30, 2008

Vace Italian Deli

In need of some great sandwiches for a picnic lunch last weekend, I stopped by Vace, the surprisingly authentic, 30-year-old Italian market in Cleveland Park. Vace reminds me of the shops scattered throughout the Italian Market section of South Philly, and much like those stores – and pretty much all specialty food shops I browse – I find it impossible to walk out without a bagful of unexpected treasures in tow.

One of the best reasons to go to Vace, besides their monster subs and killer pizzas, is the homemade pastas that fill the coolers along the back wall of the store. You’ll run out of money before you run out of choices – frozen pastas include pumpkin-filled agnelloti, veal tortellini, cheese ravioli; fresh cut versions range from capellini to paparadelle. Our Italian subs, overflowing with salami, mortadella, ham and mozzarella, were great, but the fresh spinach pasta we had for dinner that night (see recipe below) was even better.

Quick Dish - Fresh Pasta with Mozzarella and Tomato-Zucchini "Sauce"

Fresh pasta is ideal for a quick dish because it literally cooks in about 3 minutes, if not less. Here’s a super easy summer pasta that’s a snap to make after a day of wandering through your local farmers’ market – and Vace Italian Deli (see above).

1 lb fresh pasta
Olive oil
2 cloves of garlic
4 tomatoes, chopped
1 tablespoon of tomato paste (optional)
1-2 zucchinis, depending on size, chopped
Fresh mozzarella, cut into cubes
A handful each of fresh basil and oregano, chopped

Set a pot of salted water on the stove to boil. Meanwhile, add a few swirls of olive oil to a large frying pan over medium heat and add a few cloves of chopped garlic. Let the garlic gently sauté for a minute or so, long enough to infuse the oil. Add the tomatoes and tomato paste, if using. After a few minutes add the zucchini to the pan. Toss the fresh pasta into the water and crank up the heat on the tomatoes. Once the pasta is done – it only takes a few minutes and should rise to the surface of the water; check often for your preferred level of doneness – drain and add directly to the tomatoes, which should be simmering by now. Add the fresh herbs and mozzarella, toss it all together, and enjoy!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

ENO Wine Bar to Take Flight

Good news for all you oenophiles still standing in line at Cork: the $35 million restoration program currently underway at DC’s Four Seasons Hotel in Georgetown, at right, will include – surprise! – a wine bar. Well, a wine, cheese, and chocolate bar, to be exact.

Attempting to capitalize on the current wine bar craze sweeping DC, ENO Wine Rooms (located in several high end hotels across the country), touts itself as “a sleek and sensual alternative to traditional wine bars…where you’ll experience a dazzling taste and sensory experience.” Wow, way to manage expectations.

ENO gives guests the option of choosing flights (i.e., sets of three) for each of these guilty pleasures. And it’s a good thing – with 300-500 types of wine, 35 types of cheese, and a multitude of chocolate selected from local chocolatiers being offered, getting through the menu will require a lot of, er, flight-ing.

No word yet on when ENO is slated for completion.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Colorado Kitchen to Close

It continues to be a sad day for DC food news. Read about CK's impending closure here. A saving grace? Chef Gillian Clark assures us that her style of cooking isn't leaving the District just because CK is. "We're not done with this town yet," she promises.

Where is Tom's chat when you need it?

Barton Seaver Leaves Hook

This just in...Chef/Hottie Barton Seaver has split with Pure Hospitality, the restaurant group that owns Hook and Tackle Box. Read Todd Kliman's breaking story here.

Adams Morgan is for Punks

H Street NE, aka the Atlas District, (aka the “new U Street” for all you hipsters), is fast becoming a destination spot for District diners hungry for low key, “homegrown” restaurants. Check out the write up and picture show from WP reporter Jane Black, which includes vignettes of the popular mussels-frites mecca Granville Moore’s, coffee/wine bar Sova and the newly opened Sticky Rice. Black also talks with DC nightlife maven Joe Englert (who, besides being the man behind much of H Street’s development was also one of the contributors to U Street’s resurgence), and dishes on a slew of new spots we can expect to see popping up on H Street in the coming months.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Great Dishes

I don’t know about you, but for me, visiting relatives = an excuse to eat myself silly. Below is a list of some great dishes I got to sample over the weekend, thanks to a welcome visit from Mom and Dad.

Foie Gras at Indebleu
Chef Michael Hartzer, formerly of Rays the Classics and the now defunct Viridian, has made a believer out of me. While I was skeptical that Indebleu, at right, could come back from the slippery slope of mediocrity it’s been descending for some time, the recently installed chef has created a strong yet playful menu that begs to be explored. While a coconut milk-poached halibut entrée and “spaghetti and meatballs” dessert (strands of saffron cardamom ice cream paired with gulab jamun) were memorable, several days later I still find myself thinking about the delicious appetizer I had – foie gras, resting on a lightly toasted slice of brioche, drizzled with a port wine reduction sauce and paired with “bruleed” oranges dusted with crushed pistachios. The smooth earthiness of the liver, the sweet citrus crackle of the bruleed orange segments…I know I'm supposed to feel guilty about eating this stuff but man was it good.

Strawberries at the Farmers Market
(Star Hollow Farm Farmers Market, held each Saturday from 9am-1pm at 18th and Columbia in Adams Morgan)
Intensely sweet and miles away from the carbon copies sold at your local grocery chain, these beauties were the perfect beginning to a casual brunch at home, mixed with some blueberries and peaches, sprinkled with some walnuts, and topped with a dollop of vanilla yogurt.

Fried Bay Scallops at Tackle Box
I will admit, much as I love the adorable Barton Seaver (at left), Tackle Box, the site of his restaurant group's new, much dressed-down outpost for sustainable seafood in Georgetown, needs a lot of work. On a recent visit, there was much to grumble about - a few pieces of grilled fish we ordered were embarrassingly skimpy, some overcooked, some overpowered by the wood-grilled flavor; the grilled corn cobs had clearly left contact with their heat source long before we arrived, and the potato salad tasted more of mayonnaise than potato. I'm guessing the recent chef drama is taking its toll. However, lest you think this mini-review is becoming a mini-rant, I will say that the saving grace of my first visit to Hook’s younger, rougher sibling – and the reason for future return visits - was anything dunked in the fryer. Oysters, shrimp and particularly the bay scallops were all fresh and sweet, with a crisp batter so flavorful that the many house made sauces we ordered, though tasty, were mostly left untouched.

Eggs Benedict at Vermilion
At Vermilion in Old Town, Anthony Chittum continues to do what he does best, and that is cooking great, locally sourced food in simple yet unexpected ways. The Sunday brunch menu is no exception, and may just be one of the best kept secrets around. Guests expecting the “usual” brunch fare will be pleasantly surprised to find a substantial showcase of Chittum’s delicious and playful approach to his new American menu – and at a fraction of Vermilion's dinner prices. Delicious = a soft shell crab starter with a side of root veggie “crudo.” Playful = many of the main courses come with your choice of pork and latkes (rebellious Jews rejoice). My favorite entrée, though, has to be the eggs benedict. Sounds simple enough, but slip under the perfectly poached egg a seared shrimp cake, drape it with a spiced béarnaise sauce, and add to the plate a few of those addictive latkes and you’ve got yourself quite a sexy little dish for a Sunday morning.

Summer Berry Pie at The Majestic
For those of you that don’t know, Nana’s Sunday Dinner at The Majestic in Old Town is one heck of a delicious deal. For just $78, the culinary couple behind Alexandria’s Restaurant Eve, PX and Eamonn’s provides a party of four with a three course, family-style meal, the details of which change monthly. And while the centerpiece of this month's summer-inspired menu was a seafood feast of blue crabs, mussels, clams, oysters, shrimp, house made sausage, and corn on the cob, the dessert – a sublime summer berry pie – was the real star of the show. Rather than the berry-dense, lattice-topped confection I was expecting, this pie arrived on our table looking like a cheesecake-pie hybrid, with a buttery graham cracker crust, a sweet cream filling, and a handful of deep blue and purple berries sprinkled throughout. Light and refreshing, sweet and tart, it was summer in a spoon – and the perfect end to a delicious weekend.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Quick Dishes

You work late. You get home. You’re starving. We've all been there. But rather than waiting around for delivery or dragging your tired ass out to a restaurant, why not throw something together that’ll be ready in half the time and taste twice as good (and probably be a lot more healthy, too).

That’s the idea behind “Quick Dishes” – a regular series featuring weeknight dinner suggestions that take minimal effort but have a whole lotta taste. Not a ground breaking idea, I know, but hey, who can have too many good, simple recipes on hand? Enjoy!

Quick Dish: Greek Pizza
Note: This dish can be made with or without the chicken, but I highly recommend taking the extra 10 minutes – sooo worth it.

What you need:
Ready made pizza shell (These things are awesome, I use them all the time. For a shot of fiber, use the whole wheat ones - Trader Joe's carries a particularly good version).
Olive oil
Roasted red peppers sliced thin
Goat or feta cheese
Basil leaves
Powdered chicken (recipe below)

Preheat the oven to 450. Brush the edges of the pizza shell with olive oil. Shmear the hummus all over the pizza to about an inch from the edge, then arrange the peppers and olives on top. Sprinkle with your choice of cheese and some chopped basil. Top with the chicken and in the oven it goes. Lower the heat to 425 and bake for about 10 minutes til everything’s heated through.

Powdered Chicken

This chicken gets its name from all the different powdered spices that give it its bright color and flavor. It's versatile, too - make a big batch and try it in a wrap or as the base for a funky curry chicken salad.

What you need:
1 chicken breast, thawed and cut into small pieces
Chili powder, cayenne pepper, curry powder, and turmeric…basically any red/orange spice powders you have on hand
Salt and pepper

Cut the chicken breast into small pieces. Place in a bowl and add salt, pepper and the powders. (Maybe about a ½ teaspoon of each...sounds like a lot, but don’t be scared). Mix well to give the chicken a good coating, and in a HOT skillet, add a little olive oil and toss in the chicken. Cook for about 3-4 minutes, depending on how small you cut your chicken.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Benefit Dinner at Colorado Kitchen

Fried chicken AND a good cause? Sign me up.

Chef Gillian Clark (at right) of Brightwood’s delicious and quirky Colorado Kitchen will be hosting a Fried Chicken Benefit Dinner on Wednesday, June 25th. Similar to CK’s immensely popular Burger and Fried Chicken Night (which happens the first Tuesday of every month), for just $25 diners get a bowl of soup, that delicious fried chicken, bacon-laced collard greens, cornbread, and even a fancy beer.

Proceeds go to support mental health care for veterans, the Washington Peace Center and the Social Justice Scholarship Fund.

Doors open at 6. Make reservations by emailing

Colorado Kitchen
5515 Colorado Ave NW

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Hi there

Welcome to Dish-trict, your source for all things food-related in DC. Visit often for restaurant gossip and reviews, local food happenings and trends, cooking ideas, and whatever else comes across my plate.