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.

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