December 21, 2007

Cafe du Parc ~ Salty and Sweet

Pour mon anniversaire, je suis allee' au Cafe du Parc. Cafe du Parc is a French bistro located inside the Willard Hotel in Washington, DC. I'd heard about it from a French friend, who said it's probably not for everyone, but if you're looking for an authentic French bistro, it comes pretty close.

It was a little tricky to find parking. There is no street parking near the entrance, and the Willard's garage is actually on the street behind the building (F St/Penn Ave). But once we figured it out, we were on the elevator on our way up to the lobby and the restaurant.

I decided to order a glass of Dubonnet as an aperitif. It is similar to vermouth, slightly sweet but leaving a hint of bitterness in the aftertaste. It was served in a tiny glass. Here you can see the dubonnet next to a regular water glass.

For appetizers we ordered pumpkin soup (le soupe du jour), French country soup which was served with a thick slice of hearty French bread, and I had the assiette de petits plats, or the small plates sampler. The pumpkin soup was very good, poured at the table over small fresh croutons. It was creamy but not too rich, yet strangely enough did not have much pumpkin flavor. I did not taste the French country soup, but apparently it was delicious and hearty without being heavy. It had a lot of cabbage and onion, and I saw some pretty enormous pieces of cabbage, which had to be cut with a knife. I guess I'd attribute large leaves of cabbage to the fact that it's supposed to be from the country?

And the sampler had egg florentine, a mix of small pickled veggies, fried flounder strips with tartar sauce, and a piece of "Greek-style" beet. The egg and spinach was delicious, served in a small oven dish with spinach on the bottom, a soft boiled egg on top, and then a poached egg (or rather just egg white) on the top. Absolutely delicious. The pickled veggies were... well, pickled veggies. They were good. The flounder was also very tasty, and I loved how it was served: three strips standing up in a container that held the tartar sauce on the bottom. The beet seemed placed there just to add a bit of color. There was nothing exciting about it, although I happened to have a bit of it after eating a bite of the egg florentine, and wow! What a combination. If you order this, please don't eat the beet first.

For the main course, we ordered the Cocotte de legumes braises (sauteed vegetables with olive oil, garlic and Guerande salt), the Endive salad with roquefort, walnuts and scallops, and I ordered St. Jacques roties au beurre persille' (roasted scallops with parsley and garlic butter) with a side of Gratin de choux fleur (cauliflower au gratin). The cocotte was served with fresh chicory on top, which made us think at first that they had brought a salad by mistake, but it was in fact a warm dish full of vegetables.

The Endive salad was reportedly delicious, even though the consumer in general does not like roquefort cheese. And my scallops, well, I could tell that the scallops themselves were delicious and fresh, but the parsley and garlic butter on top was SO salty that I could not force myself to finish them. And there were only four! They were served with baby endive leaves and walnuts, a delicious companion to the scallops.

The cauliflower gratin was delicious, and very creamy (not thick and gooey), but it was just too rich. I think that it could suffice on its own as a meal, because I'm not sure how many people could actually eat that and something else. Highly recommended but not if you have a small appetite.

The highlight by far was the dessert. It was a struggle to make the decision because we were all so full, but since we were celebrating two birthdays, it was just inconceivable not to order at least one dessert. So we ordered the Parfait glace' Grand Marnier et ses oranges confites (Grand Marnier parfait with candied orange) ~ although I'm remembering now that the menu actually read souffle', not parfait. Hmmm. Anyhow, it was a delicious dessert, and the presentation was stunning. Unfortunately I only had my cell phone camera with me last night so please excuse the quality of the photos, but I think you will still be able to appreciate the presentation. The combination of chocolate and orange is a time-tested favorite.

All in all I enjoyed my dining experience and would return to Cafe du Parc. In general the food was quite salty, so as they say, the chef must have been in love. Hopefully his heart will settle down and he'll stop double salting the food. Dessert was wonderful and there were so many interesting choices that I would suggest definitely saving room for it on your next visit.

The maitre d' was fabulous, funny, and not too hard on the eyes either. Everyone I saw there was French, which gives the place an even more authentic atmosphere. Our waiter seemed somewhat new at the job, but hopefully given another month or so he'll be up to speed with the demands of the job. The tables are upstairs but for those who cannot climb stairs, there is an "elevator." Well, I think it used to be an elevator about 100 years ago. But it does do the trick of transporting someone up to the second floor. The bar downstairs is very cute and chic and they have a separate menu of small plates. I would definitely love to return just to the bar some evening for a glass of wine and a petit plat. The restrooms were single-person, and they had nice sinks and faucets, nice soap, and very nice towels. Very clean and I love the little sign on the outside that changes from "vacant" to "occupied" when you lock the door.

November 27, 2007

White Card Rocks at Legal

I am fortunate to have someone "on the inside" of Legal Sea Foods, and therefore I am in possession of a coveted and highly secret weapon, a "white card." When friends were in town a couple of weeks ago, we put it to the test. Upon arrival at the Crystal City location, we were told there would be a 30-40 minute wait for our party of 3. I flashed the white card, and everything changed. We were seated immediately.

My friend and I remembered ordering wine flights on a previous visit, but we couldn't find them on the menu. I asked the waitress if they still did them, and she said no. But a couple of minutes later, she came back to the table to inform us that she had spoken to the manager, and he said that even though it was no longer a menu item, we could choose 3 wines (offered by the glass) and they would create a flight for us. We were very excited.

We shared the shrimp cocktail as an appetizer, which as a shrimp lover I could have easily eaten by myself. The cocktail sauce is delicious, just the right amount of horseradish. The shrimp were very good and fresh, but served atop the crushed ice, they were almost too cold to taste. My friend ordered their famous clam chowder, and loved it (as usual).

Since it was like 3 weeks ago, I can't exactly remember what we ordered. For my entree I ordered a special off the menu, which I think was haddock covered with crab, with rice pilaf and snap peas in oyster sauce. My friend ordered the Signature Crabcakes that are served with greens sauteed with fall fruits and nuts. My other friend ordered what I think was the yellowtail flounder stuffed with crabmeat. I actually have pictures so maybe you can discern better than I what it was we ordered. In the picture of my entree, you can see the flight of 3 white wines behind the plate.
Another cool thing about Legal is that they offer a Celiac menu - a menu for people who suffer from Celiac disease, or in plain words, who can't eat gluten.

The bathroom was clean, had nice soap, and an automatic paper towel dispenser (love that). There could be a trash can closer to the door because when I open the door with the paper towel, it's always a toss-up whether I'll make the shot into the wastebasket. No pun intended. Ok maybe a little...

If you have never eaten here, it is worth the trip just for the clam chowder. Be sure to ask for extra oyster crackers, and just dump them in your bowl. Yum!

Also, they have delicious cranberry puree martini - I think it's a seasonal item, so hurry up and try it if you're thinking it sounds good.

November 4, 2007

Good Deals at Red Mei in Old Town

Yesterday I stopped into Red Mei on King Street in Old Town, Alexandria, for lunch with some friends. I've passed by the place numerous times but was always just a little wary since they advertise every entree just $5.99. I know it's a great deal, but that's just it: I thought it might be too good to be true. It's a sort of Thai-Chinese fusion restaurant. It was clean inside with an open kitchen, so you can watch what's being done to your food. You have the option to sit either on stools at a counter (try to sit by the window, it makes for great people-watching!) or at tables further in the back. You go to the counter and order from the menu hanging above the kitchen, and then they call you when your food is ready.

There are a couple of articles on the wall about the place, and after reading them I decided to order the Shrimp Garden Rolls (or were they called summer rolls?) for an appetizer and then the Shrimp Pad Thai for my entree. The reviewer was right about the summer rolls - they seemed to be rolled too loosely so it felt like the filling was going to fall out. But I ordered them because I love that fresh taste of shrimp and lettuce and cilantro. They were not served with a peanut sauce as I have usually seen them, but instead with a spicy chili sauce - an interesting change. The Pad Thai was "tangy" just like it said in the article, but I enjoyed it. The shrimp were not particularly flavorful but not fishy either, so I shouldn't complain considering it was under $6!

My friends ordered the Kung Pao Shrimp and the Mongolian Beef. Both of them thought there was too much sauce on the dishes, but the nice thing about this place is that if you have a special request, (i.e. "give me half the usual amount of sauce") you can tell them when you order and they'll accomodate you. I tasted both the Kung Pao Shrimp and the Mongolian Beef, and I thought they were both pretty tasty. The Beef had plenty of sliced mushrooms, and both dishes come with rice. They both actually seemed a little too salty for me, whereas the Pad Thai did not. I asked when ordering if they use MSG in their food, and they said no, so I think it's just the sauces that might be a little heavy on salt.

They have a decent selection of drinks - Two of us got bottled water, my other friend got a Snapple. I didn't see any alcoholic drinks, but there were several other choices for soft drinks. The service was really friendly and quick, even though their cash register had apparently just broken and they were calculating the checks by hand. The bathrooms were ok - kind of what you expect for a small place that's a mix between a restaurant and fast food carryout - only one bathroom per gender, and yet again, MORE PINK SOAP! One negative we noticed was the trashcan near the fountain drink machine was kind of overflowing.

Speaking of carryout, they have a great carryout/curbside service option: You call ahead and place your order, you pull up outside the restaurant, and THEY BRING YOUR FOOD TO YOUR CAR! Which is really great considering it's on King Street in Old Town, and finding a place to park for even 5 minutes can be a real hassle, especially around dinnertime.

All in all, a great deal, a cute spot, and several meal choices that could keep you interested.

October 29, 2007

It's just not Monday without Cafe Deluxe

So I returned for the 3rd Monday in a row to Cafe Deluxe in Tysons Corner for dinner. It seemed a little noisier than usual, but I have to admit, I like the kind of fun and crowded atmosphere in there. We were greeted by the hostess and shown to a table (a 2-top) on the edge of the bar and the walkway between tables - aka out in the open - and when we asked to have a table that was a little more set away, she brought us to the back to a 4-top where if we sat "on the inside" - that's my quote, not anyone else's - we weren't going to have our backs being constantly brushed by passing waiters, so we agreed and sat down.

My co-diner ordered the goat cheese, teardrop tomato, pine nut and mixed green salad for an appetizer. I just ate the yummy bread and butter. For an entree, my co-diner got the plate of 4 sides: chosen were Gruyere mac and cheese, potatoes au gratin, asparagus, and sauteed spinach. All in all a very bland meal. The mac and cheese was a huge disappointment and there was just so much of it that it became almost unappetizing. I like the potatoes but the other diner said they were a little too salty, perhaps due to the accompanying cheese. The spinach was pretty tasteless, and the asparagus was quite good. Just a note that a $4 side of asparagus gets you 3 stalks. That's $1.33 per stalk, assuming that the individual side order of asparagus is the same as the portion that's given in the 4-side plate. I'm not sure.

I ordered the Salmon Nicoise Salad, again, and it was good. I always think that the piece of salmon looks so small when it arrives, but then I always have a hard time finishing it. The greens were really delicious and fresh, and I like the vinaigrette. Once again, the green beans were just not cooked enough. Another minute or two in the boiling water or steamer and they would have actually had a taste.

The waitress, after clearing our plates, asked if we wanted dessert. I asked about the cobbler of the day - always a big curiosity for me - and it was Blackberry. Yum! I then asked if the berries were fresh or frozen, and she said, "I think they're freshly frozen, but I'll double check." "That would be great," I replied. And then a minute later she brought the check, with no further mention of blackberries, cobbler or anything else. Blame it on my soft voice, the noisy restaurant, the waitress' bad hearing or bad short-term memory... Either way, we decided we didn't need cobbler or coffee, and so we paid the check as it was, and skipped the cobbler.

Always a fun place to go, but skip the Plate of 4 Sides... unless you have no taste buds and don't care.

October 20, 2007

Brasserie Beck (and a note about TJ's)

Last night I had dinner at Brasserie Beck, one of the "hot" new places in DC. It opened in late April 2007, and has been doing very well. We arrived around 10pm I think, and there was an hour and a half wait for a table for 2! We got a drink at the bar - delicious cosmo - and then about 10 minutes later the host came and said he could seat us at a table for 2 in their "bistro" section - which is 3 tables just behind the host station and the bar. Actually it was a pretty good seat and great timing, thanks to the very friendly and hospitable host, Rick Nelson.

Our waiter, Rob, was very friendly, knowledgeable about both the dinner and beer menus, and good-looking to boot. We shared an Ahi Tuna Nicoise Salad for an appetizer, which had the most delicious tiny halved potatoes sauteed in pesto - a wonderful idea I will copy in my own kitchen. For an entree I had the mussels cooked with white wine, butter and garlic. They were good but there was just too much garlic. They came with delicious crispy fries and a mayo/sauce trio, which included a garlic mayo, a curry mayo (similar to fries and curry that you might have in Ireland ~ brings back wonderful memories), and a tomato-brandy mayo. My fellow diner had the lamb shank, which was served with a sort of white bean stew. He did not care for the beans, but I thought they were delicious. I didn't try the lamb but apparently it fell right off the bone it was so tender.

After my cosmo I had a bottle of Leffe Blonde, and I know nothing of beer but it was good. My co-diner had a bottle of Duchesse de Bourgogne, a Flemish ale, and then we split a bottle of St. Louis Framboise beer (raspberry beer). That was weird, and way too sweet for me. Well, to tell the truth, I ordered it with my meal, and then realized it really didn't go well with mussels and fries, so Rob (the waiter) offered to put the glass and bottle back in the fridge until after I was done eating. Thank you Rob! That was a nice touch.

The women's restroom was very nice. Clean, with great black and white geometric wallpaper, and really modern black and white sinks. The sinks were very shallow but amazingly didn't splash! I love the stall doors, which actually closed each stall from ceiling to floor. But the best part is the little sign that changes when the door is either open or locked. For unlocked, it reads "Vacant" and for locked, it reads "Engaged" - how great is that? The towels were of such a high-quality paper they almost seemed like cloth, and they were printed with the Beck logo. I like those towels but they are a huge waste of resources. The doors to leave the bathroom and to leave the little hallway outside of the bathrooms were both push-out, which is great because you don't have to dirty your hands right after you wash them. And on a later trip to the restroom, I noticed that the wastebasket had been emptied of all towel waste, so there wasn't an overflowing volcano of dirty towels. The only suggestion I'd have for the bathroom is no more pink soap. It makes me think of McDonald's.

All in all I would return, although I think it's a good idea to have a reservation, especially on a weekend night. I would definitely order the fries again, they really were delicious. And there are many other traditional Belgian menu items that peaked my curiosity. I think the waiters are able to help you choose something if you're not familiar with the dishes. And I didn't try this either, but the raw bar looked great.

NOW - my note on Trader Joe's - just an update... I tried the Calabacita and Cheese quesadilla (they are meatless) and they are really delicious. That's it.

October 17, 2007

I Heart Trader Joe's!

I love Trader Joe's. Many people have actually said that Trader Joe's should pay me for all of the positive "press" I give it. I love so many things at TJ's that I can't even begin to list them all, but I will list a few here. Just in case you've needed a reason to try TJ's but just haven't gotten around to it yet, here are some really good ones:

Frozen avocado - ok, my local TJ's doesn't carry it anymore, but if you can find it, get it! They are halved, peeled, pitted, and always perfectly ripe. And way cheaper than buying them fresh.

Dubliner cheese - an Irish cheddar-style cheese, DEE-licious! They have a low-fat version too, but it just can't compare to the original.

Irish oatmeal - I love the consistency when I cook it on the stove.

Great drinks including sparkling orange and lemon sodas, and refreshing pink lemonade.

Great wines at low prices - recently they've been advertising La Francesca wines - I love that name!

Fabulous frozen veggies, including Greens With Envy, Haricots Verts (green beans), broccoli, spinach, mixed veggies, roasted corn, and others...

Recently I spotted 2 newer items in the frozen section, the Southwest Chicken Quesadillas and the Calabacitas and Cheese Quesadillas. I decided to try both. I've had one of the SW ones already - you defrost it in the microwave and then heat it in a skillet. It was actually pretty good, and I ate it with Avocado's Number Guacamole (fun reference to Chem 101 and the mol) from the refrigerated section. YUM-O! Ok there was one bite of chewy gross chicken but only one, and I soon forgot about it. Ok I tried to forget about it. But really, I still recommend it. I'll keep you posted on the other Quesadilla.

Go to Trader Joe's! It is an awesome grocery store! People who work there wear Hawaiian shirts and ring ship bells and shout things like Ahoy!

But PLEASE, Trader Joe: Open an express lane for people with 3 items or less! I've been in there buying 1-2 things and had to wait behind someone with a cart full of groceries.

October 15, 2007

Cafe Deluxe - Tysons

Tonight I went to one of my favorite local places, Cafe Deluxe. I love both the Tysons location and the DC location, mostly because they remind me of a dear friend who used to dine with me there on a regular basis when she lived in the area.

Their cosmos are still delicious, not too pink and sweet, and not pure alcohol, but still clear enough that you know it's worth your while. Also tasted the Columbia Crest Chardonnay, which can be ordered by the glass. Very crisp and refreshing. The bread was also tasty as usual, and fresh. My only complaint was that the water poured at the beginning had a terrible aftertaste, like it had been sitting close to rotting vegetables. When I said something, the waiter brought me a new glass with water (and sans ice, since I thought maybe it was the ice that tasted bad) but it still had the same taste. Very weird.

For dinner my friend and I both ordered salads - I had the Nicoise Salad with grilled salmon, and she had the Caesar Salad with steak. My salad was quite delicious, although the green beans needed to be cooked a little longer. (What is it with uncooked vegetables these days?) It had fresh lettuce, tasty tomatoes, fresh hard-boiled egg, green beans, black olives (two, to be exact), and perfectly cooked little new potatoes. The dressing was also delicious, but became too strong only at the very end when I was finishing every last bite of salad in the bowl.

For dessert we shared the brownie a la mode. It was a really appealing presentation: the little round brownie, warm and soft on the inside but with a lovely lighter brown crust, served with 3 sweet raspberries and mint on top, alongside a big scoop of vanilla ice cream. Yum.

The waiter seemed totally out of it the whole night, and kept trying to give us the check so he could leave. He was ok I guess, and was happy to bring me a 2nd cosmo and then dessert at the end. All in all a fun evening at CD, with some great music playing in the background, including a slow hit by Everything But the Girl, a bittersweet favorite of mine.

Did not visit the restroom but they are usually ok. And free parking alongside/underneath Crate & Barrel is a big plus.

October 14, 2007

Silver Diner - Always Fun

Last night I ended my evening at the Silver Diner on Wilson Blvd in Arlington. A favorite place of mine, it was the perfect spot for late-night eats. On Friday and Saturday nights it gets so packed in there - the later it gets, the more people come in (and the drunker they are).

I wasn't that hungry so I ordered the Greek Salad. I'd never had it before, but I enjoyed it, and I would get it again. Then for dessert, I got the Health Shake. Sucking it up through that fat straw made me think of fun times that I miss. Sometimes you get big chunks of banana or strawberry that pop up out of the straw. It's a real treat.

SS and SD - 2 classics that I'm always thinking of.

October 12, 2007

CUA Crabfest

Today was the annual grad student Crabfest at CUA in DC. Of course I had to attend, if only to see how bad it would be this year, but also to spend some QT with my friends that, due to the fact that we're all done with coursework, I never see. Is that a run-on sentence or what? Maybe not. There was one person missing from Crabfest, but I still had to make an appearance.

Impressed by the beer selection, there was a choice on tap of Bud Light, some Pumpkin Spice Ale, and Beck's. You did have to stand in a long line, but the plastic cups they gave us at the entrance were pretty big.

Crabs - I just can't get into them. I love crabcakes, and every time I go to the Crabfest I'm reminded why crab meat is just that expensive. Because it's a pain in the butt to remove from the crab! I just gave up after attempting to get meat out of 2 claws, and I'm sad to say it but I threw away 2 perfectly good crabs, who apparently died for nothing. Sorry crabs!

Corn on the cob - ran out of it for like 2 hours, but then it came back - soggy...

Coleslaw - good, and that's coming from a person who doesn't even like coleslaw...

Pulled pork sandwiches - also disappeared for a good 2 hours and then reappeared only to disappear within a matter of minutes again...

Hamburgers - did not resemble meat in the slightest, I heard someone say they were "inedible"...

Hot dogs - splotchy color but still tasty, with mustard and relish and ketchup, oh my!

Veggie burgers - looked really similar to the hamburgers, did not try them...

And lots of cookies and fruit salad. As soon as the sun went down, in the shadow of the Basilica, it became FREEZING outside! Thanks Toni for bringing us a blanket to sit on, because otherwise our butts would have frozen to the ground!

And boo to the people who managed to hit my friend in the head TWICE with a football before finally realizing that maybe they shouldn't be playing ball so close to people sitting down eating with their backs to them. Hope her head is ok!

Long live Crabfest! (Only next year, could we make it something different, like Crabcakefest? Or BBQfest? Or Shrimpfest? Shrimp are much easier to peel!)

October 11, 2007

Thai Silver Spring

Tonight I ate at Thai Silver Spring. I think that's the name of it. It's in a neat area of downtown Silver Spring that I have never seen before, near the Discovery building. There's a cool colorful fountain outside the building and Thai is up a pretty tall set of stairs. I'm guessing there's an elevator to get up there as well, but I didn't see it or look for it. There are a bunch of restaurants in the same building, including Romano's Macaroni Grille, Lebanese Taverna Cafe (more casual version of the well-known restaurant), Austin Grille, and Ceviche, which I've heard is pretty yummy.

Our business meeting started out kind of rushed, so we all skipped on appetizers. I ordered sauteed beanthread cellophane noodles with chicken, tomato, onion (lots of onion), egg, and scallions. I asked for it spicy but when it first arrived it was bland, so I told the waitress and she whisked it away to the kitchen and it came back just a few minutes later, hot again from the pan and pretty hot from the chili too. It was pretty good. I love those noodles.

I drank water but tasted a Thai iced tea that my fellow diner ordered, which tasted like a milky and quite sweet version of Earl Grey, with an orange tint. Tasty but not really with dinner.

I was sorry to hear that they didn't have any mango for the mango with sticky rice for dessert, so instead I ordered the Almond Custard. On the menu it reads: Almond Custard with Fruit Salad. DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT order this dessert. The custard was neither creamy nor custardy, nor did it have but the faintest reminder of almond flavor. And you know what the fruit salad was??? I think it was a Dole fruit cup, 80% pineapple, dumped on top of this flavorless lump of "custard" in a bowl. I should have known something was up when I ordered the dessert. "It comes with fruit salad, right?" I asked the waitress, and she said, "OK." Almost as if she was saying, "if that's what you want to call it..."

The restaurant itself was open and clean, and smelled yummy upon entering. The bathrooms were also clean, and they get an A+ for automatic soap dispensers! That's not something I see very often. But why would they have automatic soap dispensers when they have manual paper towel dispensers - the kind that after you pull off a towel, you have to turn the wheel on the side to get the next one to pop out. Doesn't that kind of defeat the purpose???

I'd recommend Thai for some tasty Thai dishes, but I don't think they are offering anything amazing or unusual on the menu, and it's not worth leaving Northern VA when there are so many good Thai restaurants on that side of DC. And don't, I mean DON'T, order the almond custard.

October 8, 2007

Halloween Cookies

I have decided to make some Halloween cookies. After perusing the latest Martha Stewart Living magazine, with the cute Halloween cookies, I think I just have to do it. Maybe I'll bring them to share with my students - who are always appreciative of free food, especially when it's homemade. Once I make them, I'll take pictures and post them here... My first picture posts on this blog. It just never occured to me to put pics up, but now I think it's absolutely necessary. I'll have to research how to do it right away!

J'ai perdu mon appetit...

So I've lost my appetite, and I'm not sure when it might come back. Does this mean that I have lost my interest in food, restaurants, exciting combinations of flavors, and innovative cuisine? No. I just don't want to try any of it myself.

Oh la tristesse...

Don't worry, though. If I taste anything worth writing about, I will still mention it here, so all of my readers (is there even one?) can read all about it.

And bathrooms - well, I'll still be filling you in on any noteworthy ones that I encounter. Like the one in the Cosi' sandwich shop/bar in Courthouse (Arlington, VA) that just does not want to flush. I think the little handle would actually turn 360 degrees around if you really tried, and it just never got to the "flush" point. Hmm. It's tricky to flush a toilet with your foot anyway, but try it when the handle just keeps turning!

September 29, 2007

Bistro Un Deux Trois!

Bravo to Bistro 123 (un, deux, trois) in Tyson's Corner! I had dinner there a couple weeks ago and really enjoyed it. A cozy restaurant located in Tyson's I near the parking lot for Lord & Taylor, Bistro 123 can only be accessed from the outside. You almost forget you're in a mall because there are no shoppers walking by the window staring at you and your food.

The decor was nice, simple and intimate. Except for the large flowery curtain (that looked more like a bedsheet) hanging from the ceiling that separated our dining room from another room. The waiter/maitre d' (one and the same) was French, and was very friendly and knowledgeable. He was always attentive and would stop by our table if it looked like we needed something.

This restaurant has some great deals! I had the Pre-Theater menu, which actually does not have a time restriction, for $29.95. You get a choice of appetizer, entree, dessert, and coffee or tea. Considering the prices a la carte (not terrible but not cheap either), this is a steal! They also have a Prix Fixe menu for $39.95, where you still get a choice of appetizer, entree, dessert, and coffee or tea, but the choices are "better" than the Pre-Theater menu.

For my meal I had the Mesclun Green Salad with the house vinaigrette, delicious and very fresh, although there was almost a little too much dijon mustard for my taste. For my entree I had the Chicken Breast with dried plums, walnuts, apples and celery - DELICIOUS! And I don't even like chicken! The chicken was so moist and tender, and the combination of tastes with the plums, apples and walnuts was to die for. My only suggestion is that this dish is better for colder weather, and it was still hot that day. But I still loved it. And for dessert I had the Cherry Clafoutis with whipped cream, again, delicious. I think the drizzle of caramel sauce on top of the clafoutis and cream was almost too much. It would have been just as delicious, or perhaps even more so, without the caramel.

My co-diner ordered the Vermont Goat Cheese with beets, greens and chive vinaigrette for a salad, and it was wonderful. The goat cheese was very creamy but not too strong, and the salad was quite fresh. For her entree she ordered the Arborio Rizotto (for some reason they spell risotto there with a "z") with wild mushrooms, parmesan and white truffle oil. This was a tasty dish, however the mushrooms were very garlicky and almost burned. When I first put a bite into my mouth I got a hint of truffle, but it was not strong at all and did not leave an aftertaste. We shared the dessert.

The coffee was fresh and served with cold cream. Now, I usually prefer cold cream, because I like to cool down the coffee a little so I can drink it. My co-diner prefers the cream warmed up, and thinks that is a special touch that many restaurants miss. You decide...

I would return here without a doubt. It's a great place to dine with friends, or for that romantic dinner for 2. Bon appetit!

Trattoria Bebo: OK food, bad service

I'm back from my travels in Italy, and ready to start a new season of gourmandiaries!

Last night I ate at Bebo in Crystal City (Arlington), Roberto Donna's relatively new venture that he opened while Galileo is being renovated. It was probably the 4th time I've been there, and sorry to say, but I was disappointed. On every visit the service has been slow, to say the least, and not very attentive. And last night was no exception. They were quick to seat me in my party of 2 without a reservation, and they were quick to bring the bill. But everything in between took ages.

We started with insalata mista, or mixed salad, a very fresh green salad with a delicious and not overpowering vinaigrette. Highly recommended. We also shared mozzarella in carrozza, a large piece of mozzarella dipped in egg batter and fried, served with a tomato sauce and an anchovy sauce. It was ok. I actually preferred the anchovy sauce to the tomato sauce, but I felt like the mozzarella itself could have had more flavor. It is hard to find good mozzarella in the US.

Then, about 40 minutes later...

My linguine with clams arrived. It was al dente, but it was so spicy! There were so many hot pepper flakes that my mouth was on fire, and it was hard to taste anything else. It also seemed to be about 250 grams of pasta (a normal serving could be between 70-100 grams), and for that much pasta there were not enough clams. I would have preferred half the pasta with the same amount of clams. The clams were delicious and served in the shells, and the waiter brought a plate for the shells - a nice and necessary touch.

My co-diner ordered a trio of side dishes, and they arrived with my linguine. Polenta (with some cheese mixed in), broccoli di rape (rapini) and grilled vegetables. The polenta was very tasty, although a little buttery for my taste. The rapini were undercooked, but had potential, and were a nice accompaniment to the polenta. The grilled veggie plate had asparagus, onion, eggplant, and tomato. The asparagus and tomato were tasty, but the eggplant was left on the plate, soaked like a sponge in olive oil.

I was looking forward to dessert (the little fried doughnuts with the bicerin - a delicious chocolate coffee mixture) but got too chilly by the open window and decided to leave instead.

Bebo has great decor and a lively atmosphere. I didn't visit the bathrooms last night but don't remember them at all from previous visits, which must mean that they are fine. Chef Donna was nowhere to be seen last night, and I can't help but wonder if that made a difference in the food.

Pretty good food in general (stick to heartier dishes like meats and baked pasta), and fairly bad service.

July 17, 2007

Fabulous Foray into French Food

Last weekend I cohosted a Parisian party - cheesy French decor, French music and wines, and French food. I made a delicious chilled zucchini soup and a lentil salad with lardons (or pancetta). We also had tarragon chicken, salmon mousse, haricots verts, and a salade verte. Plus, for the aperitif, we had crudites, French olives and French-style salami (unfortunately the real French stuff is not available), and pate, which I suprisingly enjoyed.

This was my first foray into French cooking, except for many mornings of crepes over the last 15 years, and I'm proud to say it was a success! The trick of melting Boursin cheese into the soup created the perfect creamy texture without adding too much fat or heaviness. And my first try at making lentils produced the perfect consistency - not too hard or crunchy and not too soggy either. I added the vinaigrette to the lentils about 8 hours before the party, and they still had a bite to them at the table.

This was also my first time using thyme - and I love it! I actually had a shampoo scented with thyme (I didn't know it at the time) many years ago, made by Stardust, and I loved it too. So I used thyme in the lentil salad, and I also used it today when I sauteed one zucchini in olive oil with shallots, salt and pepper. It has such an amazing flavor, and almost a sweet smell.

I love thyme and lentils and chilled soups!

July 10, 2007

I'd like to make the perfect...

And the list gets longer...
beef wellington
brioche and biscuits
chocolate mousse

July 9, 2007

Va Piano needs some aiuto!

After reading an enthusiastic review online, I was eager to try Va Piano, an international chain of German-owned Italian fast food restaurants that recently opened its doors at a few DC area locations. I visited the new Ballston locale. Sadly, I was disappointed with my visit last Saturday night. The fact is, the place is confusing. Even after reading all about the process online, and then having it explained to me by a friendly hostess, it still took me several minutes to figure it out. It's clearly easier for a repeat visitor, but with the first trip causing so much confusion, I could see how people would not make a second attempt.

Here's how it works: upon entering, you are handed a menu and a credit-card like card. When you order your dish(es) at the different stations (pasta, salad, pizza and antipasti, dessert) you or the cook swipe the card and it records your order. At the end of the meal, you take your card up to the register, they scan it and see what you ordered, and you pay. There is no table service, although someone came by more than once just to see if everything was ok.

I think the main draw here is pizza, and if it's not, then it should be. They offer several pasta options. You can choose from about 12 types of pasta, made fresh on the premises, and there are probably about 15-20 different sauces you can choose for your pasta. I made the mistake of ordering pappardelle with a gorgonzola and walnut sauce, while my boyfriend ordered fusilli with fresh cherry tomatoes and basil. Probably any pasta dish will be a mistake until they make a few adjustments, so stick with the pizza.

The good (or bad) part is that you can watch them cook the food right in front of you. The sauces are cooked behind glass in what appears to be a wok. The guy had the heat so high that he immediately burned the garlic and onion in the pasta dish with tomatoes and basil. It was boiling! The "gorgonzola" sauce, a flavorless creamy mixture, was poured into another incredibly hot wok and left to boil away with some chopped walnuts thrown in. They take the fresh pasta (already portioned out in containers along the back wall) and drop it into the boiling water when the sauce is almost ready. They then mix it all together and my guess is that they offer parmesan cheese on top no matter what. My pasta was flavorless, except for the fresh parsley sprinkled on the top as a garnish, what's more, it was so stretchy that I could stretch one of my noodles to about twice its original length before it snapped.

Some thoughts:
- Garlic should be dorato, or "golden," not charred brown and black
- Onion with tomato and basil, garlic with tomato and oregano or parsley
- Parmesan (or hopefully parmigiano) cheese does not belong on all types of pasta sauces. I read a great article highlighting some of the rules, and if I find it, I will post its link here
- When pasta is too stretchy or elastic, it means the dough was worked too much

Some plusses: I tasted a pizza with ham and mushrooms which was pretty good. The crust was ok and if I ever do decide to go back to Va Piano, I will definitely get a pizza. (Careful on translations: on the menu, prosciutto means regular ham, and prosciutto crudo means prosciutto - these are correct since the word prosciutto by itself in Italian just means ham, and crudo means raw, or in this case, cured). I also tasted 2 desserts: the tiramisu', which was not bad although the savoiardi (lady fingers) could have soaked a little more in espresso because they were dry; and panna cotta with a strawberry syrup on top. I love the way the panna cotta was served - in a mason jar with a bail-wire clamp. They just pop the top open and serve it in the jar on a plate. The panna cotta was good, and the strawberry provided a fresh sweetness to each bite. The restaurant has a modern look, a very open layout, and many seating options, from lounge chairs and low tables on the bar side, to hightop tables and stools on the kitchen side, to picnic tables and benches outside. Fresh herbs abound in tiny pots on the tables and in the restaurant's very own (indoor) greenhouse.

I hope that Va Piano can make some improvements in the kitchen, because with the great location, great decor, and interesting menu, it could become a neighborhood hotspot.

N.B. The bathrooms were great - very modern and quite clean. Only downside: they're tricky to find because the door that leads to them looks like an exit.

July 1, 2007

Mission Accomplished!

So I poached an egg successfully today! I learned that it doesn't matter if you use a more shallow saute pan or a deeper pot. I filled the pot with about 2 inches of water, and then added a splash of distilled white vinegar - I think this is truly the key. I broke an egg into a small dish, and after the water reached a boil, I removed it from the heat, gently slid the egg into the water, and put the lid on the pot. (Thanks Martha! You're the best!) A few minutes later, I had the perfect poached egg, with solid egg whites and a yolk that was firm on the outside but still slightly runny on the inside. Great!
So now that leaves Beef Wellington, and...souffles. I've decided that I need to learn to make different types of souffles, both sweet and savory. How can one feel prepared to host any sort of party without knowing souffle basics? I think it's simply not possible!
...Stay tuned for updates on my cooking technique adventures...

And another thing: apparently La Madeleine restaurant is now trying to serve French Toast that is neither dipped in an egg mixture or sauteed/fried in a pan. I received a report that a recent order of La Madeleine French Toast actually was a danish (which seemed old) cut in half with some fruit and syrup on top. If that's French Toast then I don't even know where to start. The manager supposedly said that they "changed the recipe," but Mr. Manager, a piece of advice: when you change a recipe so that it no longer even vaguely resembles its old self, then CHANGE THE NAME! French Toast is not and never will be an old danish doused in syrup and fruit. Why not try "Sickly Sweet and Fruity Day-Old Danish" to describe your new creation?

June 29, 2007

Poached Eggs and Other Goals

So I made my first attempt this morning at poaching an egg, just like I saw Martha do it on her show the other day with Martin Short. Ok, so maybe I didn't follow Martha's example to a tee. Which is probably why my egg did not come out looking like Martha's when it was done. Apparently it's not that easy. I think my first mistake was using a pot instead of a more shallow saute pan or skillet. I also vaguely remember hearing somewhere that a splash of vinegar in the water helps the egg stay together, which of course I did not do... I'll be on Martha's website researching this technique right away, as it is one I'd like to perfect.
My "other goal" is to learn to make Beef Wellington - something I've never eaten and probably would never order from a menu - but an important recipe nonetheless. The truth is, I've just started watching "Hell's Kitchen," the FOX reality show with chef Gordon Ramsay and wannabe chefs competing to run their own restaurant (this season it will be in Las Vegas). Ramsay yells and swears nonstop at the contestants, and sometimes there is so much bleeping from the censors that I actually cannot figure out what he's saying. Anyway, one of the main dishes at the competition restaurant is Beef Wellington, and from what I can see, it is not an easy dish to get right. So of course, I must master it!
Maybe I'll start a list of things I need to learn to do successfully:
poach an egg
make beef wellington
ok that's a start!

June 25, 2007

Save the lost dogs!

I visited The Lost Dog Cafe last night in Arlington, VA. The original plan was to go to The Stray Cat Cafe (just a few doors down) but they were closed. So Lost Dog it was! And yes, you probably guessed that both places are owned by the same people. They help lost animals by helping them find homes. (See websites for details). When you enter the Lost Dog, the first room is full of beer and wine that you can purchase on the go, as well as a counter for party platters. Lost Dog is definitely more casual than its feline sister, but sometimes aren't you just in the mood for pizza or a sandwich? The "pizza-deli" serves basically just that - pizzas and sandwiches, and the menu is huge. There are many pre-designed pizzas and sandwiches, or of course you can design your own using their extensive list of ingredients. The beer selection is also HUGE, but they have other homemade drinks worth trying, like milkshakes, malts, root beer, and the delicious Clemson Tiger Tea (aka an Arnold Palmer). I had a Coke and we shared a basket of Dog Collars (tabasco onion rings) which were tasty but not as crispy as I would have liked. I did not order a pizza - OK I have to be honest, the pizzas did not look that good - but instead the San Diego sandwich: chicken salad (you can also get tuna salad) on a sub roll with guacamole, bacon, lettuce, tomato, and mayo. Now why you would need mayo on a sandwich with chicken salad (aka chicken with mayo) and guacamole is beyond me, but they held the mayo, no questions asked. It was ok - too much chicken salad, and way too many (red) onions in it, not enough guacamole for the guac lover that I am, but the bacon was crispy and the lettuce and tomatoes fresh. I tasted their banana fudge milkshake for dessert, yummy, full of bananas, but described by the bf as "an upscale Frosty from Wendy's" - it wasn't that banana-ey even with all the banana.
My overall impression: The service was fast and friendly, they do great work helping dogs (I am a dog lover), and the sandwiches are fresh. I would go elsewhere for pizza since the crust reminded me of bisquick crusts from yesteryear (see my post on 2 Amys for good pizza!) and the floors could have been cleaner, although in their defense, it was the very end of the night. Prices are reasonable, however, and for a quick bite in the neighborhood, especially with kids, it seems like a fun place to go.

N.B. One bathroom for men, one for women; women's was clean, had soap, towels (in the wonderful motion-sensor dispenser,) a step-on garbage can, and you could push your way out of the door, although it's hard to open the door with a paper towel and then reach with your foot to step on the can to throw it away while holding the door open :) I prefer garbage cans with no lid, which are much easier to toss the towel into as you ease out the door. and

June 22, 2007

Late-night sushi

So last night I went to Cafe Asia in Rosslyn (Arlington, VA) for a late bite to eat. I used to love that place, but maybe I'm getting too old for it. It is ridiculously loud in there, with music and TV blasting from the bar out to the dining room area. We were seated smack dab next to someone (I was actually sharing the bench with them) which would be understandable if they were busy, but it was 11pm and there were many empty tables... I had the sushi dinner which comes with 8 pieces of nigiri sushi (fish on top of rice) plus one roll (tuna) and a bowl of miso soup. I had to remind the waiter to bring the soup, and he almost seemed upset, as though he was hoping I would have forgotten about it and he could be done faster. Who knows? It might have just been my imagination. The soup was delicious when it arrived, however, and I loved the fresh scallions. The sushi plate was also very good and fresh. I made a special request (no crab because I'm allergic) and it wasn't a problem. I did not have dessert last night, but their mango with sticky rice is to die for. Plusses: big outdoor seating area, really delicious mango dessert, good martinis.

N.B. I did not visit the restroom last night either, but it can be a little scary, because it's right near the bar, and sometimes there is a faint reminder in the air of prayers to the porcelain god, if you know what I mean.

June 21, 2007

D.O.C. Pizza in DC

If you are in D.C. and looking for some good pizza, go straight to 2 Amys pizzeria on Macomb St., just north of the National Cathedral. I went there a few nights ago and had a pretty nice time. There was a wait, as usual, but as my boyfriend had just reminded me that there was outside seating, I asked if we might be seated more quickly on the patio. I had actually never sat outside there before, and I soon realized that it's better to wait for a table inside then to sit outside. It's quite dark ~ and I don't like eating in the dark ~ with only a few dim lights hanging over some of the tables, and just past the fence around the patio I could see two dumpsters. Needless to say, I quickly went in and asked the hostess if we could be put on the waiting list again for an inside table, and she was more than happy to oblige. It turns out we didn't have to wait at all, and we were quickly seated at a 2-top next to the wall. The bf ordered his usual appetizer, the suppli' al telefono, small rice balls filled with cheese, then fried. In my house we call them arancini. They bring 5 suppli' on a white plate, and they just kind of roll around on the plate in their own oil. This is not the first time that I've noticed that the plate could use a sprig of parsley or basil or something to create a nice presentation. I know the place is somewhat rustic, but would a little green be that difficult to place on the side? Anyhow, we both ordered the Margherita Extra - the traditional Neapolitan pizza but with halved cherry tomatoes (the "extra") in addition to the tomato sauce. The pizza was quite good, my only complaint being that the crust was slightly too salty. Also, on recent visits it seemed that the pizzas were getting smaller and smaller, but I'm happy to report that my pizza last weekend was of a healthy size. All in all I don't know another place in the area that does Neapolitan-style pizza better than 2 Amys. One last piece of advice: if you order the dried, cured meat plate (salame, coppa, etc.), ask them to slice it for you fresh. I ordered it once and the meat was so dried out it was unrecognizable. But in general, the service is good, the food is better, and the atmosphere is really fun and sometimes boisterous.

N.B. There are two single-person restrooms, one for men and one for women. The women's is always clean, has nice soap, and paper towels. Haven't seen the men's but haven't heard any complaints.


For years I have imagined how great it would be to write about food for a living. I love food. I love seeing it, smelling it, cooking it, eating it, and even reading about it. Although I will probably never be able to sustain myself on my food opinions alone ~ I am a classical musician, a much more lucrative profession to be sure ~ I am thrilled with the idea of creating a new blog where I can share my ideas on food, from restaurants to my home kitchen. I also tend to notice the quality of restrooms in restaurants that I visit, and where possible I will give information regarding the status of the facilities provided.