Friday, July 25, 2008

Cubanos...comfort food for the rest of us

Adolfo Mendez, owner of the locals-only joint known as Cubano's in Silver Spring, is a dear friend of mine. We've been through a lot together.

My wife and I have an annual Cinqo de Mayo party which is catered exclusively by Adolfo and his crew, though they're all Cuban and Venezuelan and have no ties to Mexico. It just seems appropriate considering the fact that he was such an integral part of our lives while we were living in Silver Spring. We were married on 5/5/00 and he was involved in everything (well, not everything) that took place after that. My son loves spending time with Adolfo and often asks me to repeat the tricks that Adolfo performs for him, though sometimes I'm left lacking. Alex's nickname at Cubano's was Beanboy, because he used to just grab hand-fulls of the black beans and smear them into his face.

To get to the point, I had some time after attending a very special event at Jaleo on Monday. The whole crew was there, but I was attending for business purposes, so I wasn't part of the party. I called Adolfo and asked if he was free for dinner as I'd already arranged for Cheryl to pick up Alex and I had a few free hours. He said he'd whip something up for me.

I love it when he says that.
We started out with some glasses of sherry that were sweating profusely. We then stepped into some sausage sliced up and broiled in garlic and some camarones in white wine and garlic. After that, it was onto my favorite dish, Lechon Assada. NO ONE makes it like him. This was his grandmothers recipe and he is stead-fast. We switched to beer during dinner, then followed up with my favorite after-dinner drink, the Cuban Coffee. I'm not sure of the parts or composition, but it is this in my mind: Creamy espresso poured into a cup that already has about 2 packs of Sugar In The Raw in it, then for good measure they add one ounce of Ouzo.
That was served as an accompaniement to my Tres Leches dessert, which has become less sweet, but just as enjoyable, since I last dined with my friend.

For a good meal with no pretense and people who truly want nothing other than for you to return and enjoy their hospitality again, I couldn't recommend this place any higher.

Adolfo, if you're reading this, I love you like a brother.
See you soon.

Next up: revisiting Redwood. These guys are the next big thing in Bethesda. Really.
When I'm back from Mexico I'll spill the beans.

Until then, keep eatin'. I'll keep bloggin.
Passiones de Amores.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Alison & Andrew's new kitchen..

So this is what a kitchen looks like when you have someone competent redo it.
The picture doesn't do it justice. There is a Wolf range with a very nice Wolf dual oven. Both ovens have a convection or conventional option with a soft-touch self-hiding control panel. Very nice. There are also dual opposing sinks. You can't see both in the picture.
Anyhow, she invited me over to cook dinner on Sunday. While our kids were playing in the pile of dirt in their backyard that the landscapers have yet to spread, we whipped up some good stuff.
We started with a spinach and artichoke heart dip with fresh Parmiggiano.

Artichoke/Spinach Dip

We had a composed salad with strawberries, some very creamy goat cheese, and some home-made balsamic dressing that Alison Made.

Composed Salad A la'Alison

We followed that up with a perfectly roasted chicken. It was only perfect because I used Tony Bourdain's recipe from the Les Halle cook book.

Making the pan gravy

Tony's Pan Gravy (finished product). Note the veggies. Don't neglect the pyramid!

For dessert, it was a fresh Mango, Peach, Nectarine and Blueberry Cobbler.

So we finished dinner and had the cobbler on the front porch while the kids caught fire flies. Now that's a slice of Americana.

Thanks for reading. My next post, which I hope to finish before I go on vacation this weekend, will be about an un-planned dinner with a good friend of mine, Adolfo Mendez, owner of Cubano's in Silver Spring and Nellie's in the District.

Keep eatin'.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

It's not fancy food, it's home cookin'

Dry-rubbed pork loin roast on the grill. The other package is Balducci's many of you have had grilled lasagna? Please feel free to comment on technique and contents at your whim. Thanks! Comment on anything! I've done 10 posts and have 5 comments, 4 of which are from the same person. Don't be afraid! I'll answer your questions and maybe give you some insight aout cooking and/or eating out that you didn't have before. All this at no charge!

'05 Bordeaux Lussac St. Emilion.

Previously Frozen u20's with loads of horse radish...courtesy of Mike Palmer.

Me in my usual repose for blogging, laptop and Corona. Tech Questions? Feel free to ask.

For my friends and family, it's all about the grill, wine, and things the kids can do that don't require stitches. Last night we had a little fridge-clearing party as we're leaving for Mexico next week. My photog, Mike, lives down the street and has kids roughly the same age as mine. He happens to be a crazy I'll-try-anything-once food freak too.....this makes my dinner adventures all the better. is his blog. He's the guy who said "Dude, start a blog. You rock in the kitchen and no one knows about it!".
Below is one of his pix...BTW, he does family portraits and food/restaurant pix too.
This is Olivia (Liver). I call her Liver because I want to eat her up! She's adorable.

At home it's not about foams and baths, it's about "what can we get the kids to eat before they melt down?". At home it's about taking something from Trader Joe's and making it better. Last night we had Kielbasa, Pork Loin w/rub, Lasagna, Shrimp Cocktail, Broccoli w/Water Chestnuts, Pasta w/Sesame and Sate, Potato Salad, and French Red. It's not fancy, it's what we had to share. Get to know your neighbors. Really. Mike and Julia live two houses down and have two kids near the age of my one. They play, swim, eat, flirt, fight, fart together. I wouldn't change a thing.

This type of relationship is something that is missing, all too often, in the suburbs. Seriously. Buy a bouquet at Balducci's and leave it on your neighbor's front step w/a card that says "Hi, I'm you neighbor and I hope you have a fantastic day. Let me know if you'd like to get together later over some wine and a grill. We're both from the same planet so I suppose we eat roughly the same things. Let's break bread and call it a plan. Do it now.

Tomorrow's Post: Alison and Andrew have a new kitchen: Cry Havoc! And let slip the dogs of war!

Alison & Andrew are on the right side of the table here...

What damage you do when you invite the devil into your house. I told them I'm happy to come and scorch, scratch, and defile their new kitchen, and cook them a chicken using Tony Bourdain's recipe for simple roasted chicken w/pan jus. Andrew is a principal of ASAA and Alison is an Attorney with AP. We've known them for years and have used them as Guinea Pigs for many culinary adventures. They will generally try anything I've made once. They dined with us at the Chef's Table at Citronelle in '06, My Chef's Table for New Year's '08, and most recently The Inn At Little Washington. Yum. Stay tuned. There will be blood.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Go south of the border...or at least South of East Capitol St.

You'll find a lot of restaurants down by the Marine Barracks. Some are bound to be better than others of course, but they are, for the most part, unique. This is a bonus in a town filled with corporate sandwich joints.

My chosen restaurant on this particular day in SE DC was Banana Cafe. It's a mish mash of Mexican, Puerto Rican, and Cuban fare. The building is nice, colorful, and comfortable. There's a great patio outside (too hot to sit there the day I was out) and a piano bar upstairs. The restaurant is decorated with the artwork of the owner, Jorge Zamorano. Interesting Cuban/Southwest/Catholic motif and colorful walls abound.

Jorge's Neon Cow Skull

Interesting stuff...but on to the food.

Carnitas Cubanas

I ordered Carnitas Cubanas, which is marinated pork roasted with oranges and onions. It was tender and flavorfull. This was obiously shoulder, whereas you normally see this done with pork loin. It's got more of a greasy texture than the loin, but it was good. The yucca was still firm, and the black beans and rice on the side were better than the average.

Service here is above the average as well. We were never left waiting for long when we made eye contact with anyone even though most of the tables were full.

The cocktails I saw going out looked good, though I couldn't imbibe at the time. Maybe I will next time.

Bottom line? Thumbs up. I'd go again. If you go, tell Grant the manager you read about it on Pleasures of the Table!

Monday, July 14, 2008

Chef's Table at the Inn at Little Washington.

The Menu

Have a special occasion coming up? Getting married? Divorced (and have the better attorney?) Found oil on your suburban 1/4 acre? I've got the perfect place to celebrate. It's called the Inn at Little Washington.
Some of you may have heard of it. Some maybe not. It has been a Mecca-like destination for the Gastrotourista since the late 70's. Owner and Chef Patrick O'Connell has been called the Pope of American Cuisine, and with good reason. The place is astounding. For the overall effect, it gets 5 stars...not that I've figured out a rating system yet, but that's how I feel about it.
I won't bore you with all of the details, but I can tell you this: It is the pinnacle of American cuisine as I've experienced it. Just eating there wasn't enough for me, so I talked several of my friends into dining at the chef's table with me and my wife. Sooner or later I KNOW they're going to stop answering my e-mails when I ask them if they have dinner plans six months out. This was actually number two for one of the couples, who joined us for a previous outrageous dinner at the Chef's Table @ Citronelle in '06, so they should have known better.
We started at the Foster-Harris Inn, which is about 1/8th mile from the Inn at Little Washington. This place is obviously fed by I@LW traffic, but it's a destination in it's own right. The house is supremely comfortable. They have a great yard, complimentary beverages, and an endless supply of hot water for their well-appointed bathrooms. We started with a nice bottle of Veuve there (provided by us, not the FHI), then walked up to the I@LW.
Once at the I@LW we were greeted by some of the most gracious and intuitive servers/sommeliers/chefs I've ever had the pleasure of eating with. Sure, there were a few less-experienced folks wandering around, but they kept them away from us for the most part.

We began in the parlor, then were escorted in by the GM and a man dressed as an acolyte who was swinging an incense holder. He escorted us into the kitchen and we were introduced to the Pope, Chef Patrick.

Chef Patrick and Me.

The rest of the evening progressed at a good pace. My favorite dish was the second one out of the gate: The Tin of Sin. I know you're supposed to take the picture BEFORE you eat, but it looked so good...

American Ossetra caviar with crab and cucumber rillette, AKA Tin of Sin

That, along with the Andre Tissot Brut was almost worth the price of admission. After that the Duck Pekin was the most memorable.

We started around six and left around eleven. Dinner didn't take five hours. We went onto the patio and continued the party for a couple of hours. Did I mention they have a fine cigar selection?

I'm sure they were happy to see us go. I don't think we were the last customers there, but close to it. We walked back to the FHI down the middle of the two lane road that runs through Washington, the ladies with their beautiful, but painful shoes slung over bare shoulders, having to step to the side for only one car. Now THAT is peaceful.

The next day breakfast at the FHI was better than expected, though I guess the proprietor does have a tough act to follow. John and Diane at the Inn are good at what they do. I'd suggest them to anyone thinking about visiting the area.

The only unanswered question is, "How do you top that?"
I'm sure we'll find something, but I'm still basking in the glow for now.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Servers say the darndest things....

One of my employees and I were out to lunch at a chain in Arlington who's name rhymes with Bed, Rot & Glue. I will tell you that it was not a pleasant experience from the git go. Whew, did it go from mediocre to embarrassing quickly. I was wearing a shirt with the logo of my company and as soon as the server came up to us she said, and I quote, "Company X sucks!". Funny thing, this particular chain doesn't use my product and she later told me she'd last used it over 10 years ago. I immediately responded, "That's great! There goes your tip!"
She proceeded to fumble through the rest of the lunch. This was not a college student just learning the trade mind you, this was a 50 year old woman.
At the end of the ordeal my employee pulled out a coupon (the only reason we dined there) and she said to him, "Yeah, I thought you looked like a coupon guy."
Wow. I was expecting her to start doing the joke from The Aristocrats any second just to see if she could make the meal more memorable.
Always remember, you may have seen a lot of things, but you haven't seen a lot of things.
Until next time.....
BTW, before anyone asks, I did leave a tip. I'm sympathetic if nothing else.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

I'm a celebrity celebs, that is.

Tony Bourdain at the DC Central Kitchen Food Fight '07.Michel Richard in his kitchen at Citronelle in the Latham Hotel.

It's difficult to describe the experience of sitting at the chef's table in the kitchen being served by this man and his staff. Mark Slater, THE Sommelier, is a wizard in his own right. The hotel GM, Joe Giannino, is also a master of hospitality. I met him first at Cafe Milano, then worked with him at mCafe/Famoso in Chevy Chase.

Vikram Garg at his former restaurant, Inde Bleu.

Vikram is a huge talent and will be missed in the DC Metro area. I believe he'll miss the heat and humidity after spending a few years in San Francisco and will come back to us. He's working with a company named American Karma out there opening a few restaurants.

That's enough celebs for now. I've got more in the vault and try to add more every week.

Keep eatin'.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

American Tap Room in Reston Reopens

And what could possibly be more American than a guy on stilts dressed in traditional Uncle Sam garb?
I'm not sure.
Anywho, the menu, as well as the entire interior of the restaurant, has been redone. The restaurant is now owned by Thompson Hospitality and is being run by an ex-player from Greystone Grill.
I can't dish too much as they reopened less than a few days ago. I can say that the waiters and busboys have the proper spirit. I hope that spirit is shared by the kitchen staff soon.
Stay tuned for more.