Sunday, May 27, 2012

Toki Underground Revisited - It ain't just soup.

1234 H St. N.E.
Washington, DC 20002
(202) 388-3085
More than just Ramen.  Toki chef Erik Bruner-Yang is flavor master.  He takes some fairly humble ingredients and creates magic at his tiny restaurant in the Atlas District.  The picture above is the pan-fried dumpling dish that was recommended in the Washingtonian Cheap Eats 2012 that just came out.

Three very satisfied diners.  L to R me, Cheryl Bolen aka my wife, and Chef Jayson Lewellyn.

Don't skip the sake!  They have a very nice selection and John behind the bar was happy to discuss the finer points of each with us.
Here is a bowl of beauty. The flavors he coaxes out of bones, beaks, and whatever else he's throwing in his stock pots is amazing.  I went with the Miso base, while Cheryl got the original and Jayson got the Curry.
They had a couple of specials Saturday.  This was the first one we tried:  Pork Cheek.  Perfect and tender, served with some pickled veg and bbq sauce.

This was a special they were running that the guy sitting next to me had.  He saw me taking pictures and offered up his bowl.  Lots of crawfish in a steamy, fragrant sauce.  It looked great too. 
Crispy, perfect pork belly.
The finishing touch to the evening was the dessert.  Cheryl absolutely LOVED this.  It was coconut ice cream with shortbread, strawberries and raspberries.  She licked the bowl....not really, but almost.  This night was special for another reason:  There was enough light for me to take pictures!  Sweet.

Some notes about this restaurant.  It's small, but it is absolutely worth the wait.
This restaurant is unique and one of the best bargains in the city. 
They could charge twice what they do and I would say the same thing. 
 They have engaged CityEats to do their seating coordination and reservations, so  you stand a better chance of getting a seat these days.  Good news for everyone.
If you go, tell Joe, John, Erik and crew you read about it here.
Happy dining.

Toki Underground on Urbanspoon

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Home Cookin'....Jayson Lewellyn puts my kitchen to use

Chef Jayson Lewellyn came over with a shopping bag full of tasty vittles.  The menu for the evening was seared scallops with a buttermilk spinach sauce, mussels, and poached peaches with creme fraich and candied walnuts.
Here Jayson is setting up the scallops to dry out a bit, keeping them tight and supported so they don't turn into mush.  They sat this way for a few hours while we worked on the rest of the prep.
Here is the fennel for the mussels.  Cross-cutting at an alternating angle allows the fennel to disperse flavor evenly over a period of time.
These candied walnuts were like popcorn!  He boiled them in simple syrup for a few minutes, then deep fried and salted them.  These were great for the ladies to nosh on while we got the rest of the dinner put together.  They also made it onto our dessert.
Here Jayson is working on the sauce for the scallops, which involved spinach, buttermilk, herbs de provence, white wine, and a few other things.
Here Jayson is pitting the peaches that had been poached in the same simple syrup as the walnuts.
Garlic, white balsamic, basil, safflower oil, fennel and onions were blended together for our vinaigrette.
Listening for the change in pitch that signals proper emulsification.
Here are the first batch of scallops hitting the pan.
The scallops and some cauliflower getting ready for plating.
The mussels were first tossed with a little oil, white wine, fennel, and fresh chopped herbs de provence before hitting the pre-heated Dutch oven.
The scallops and cauliflower with buttermilk spinach sauce and split peas.  The texture of the scallops was perfect and the sauce had an herby/earthy tone that played well with the sweetness of them.
The mussels were plump and fantastic.  He topped them with a little grated parm and served with crusty slices of baguette for dipping.

The peaches were served chilled with creme fraiche we started making at the beginning of the prep, candied walnuts, and lemon zest.
The texture of the peaches was perfect. They retained just enough bite so that you could tell it was a peach.  I love poached pears, but they always seem to lose their texture.

A great meal was had by all.  It was a lot of fun to be Jayson's sous and help put it together as well.  Moving forward you will likely see more posts like this as we test more recipes and refine them for locally available ingredients.  Hope you enjoy the pictures...too bad you can't taste them!

Monday, May 7, 2012

The Source - Explain to me why I waited so long to go?

575 Pennsylvania Avenue Northwest
  Washington, DC 20001
(202) 637-6100
 I knew Scott Drewno was one of the best chefs in town.  I knew the source was one of the top restaurants in town.  For the life of me, I can't explain why it took me so long to get here.
I know the first time I scheduled myself to go I got side tracked and didn't make it.  Naturally, I called and cancelled my reservation, but no one said, "Man, you screwed up.  Get back there."  I won't make the same mistake again.  So, on to the food.  Above you'll notice the perfectly formed cones filled with spicy tuna tartar and bonito.  These can be a bit tricky to eat, but the flavors combined in this crunchtastic creation are out of this world.  I've had them at charity events where Scott Drewno was a participant and they were great, but he saves fantastic for the restaurant.
This is the Arctic Char.The skin was crispy and the fish cooked to perfection.
The pork belly was full of porky goodness and topped with some thin and crispy skin.
This plate of various dumplings was masterful.  I'm ruined forever for all other dumplings.  Each had a unique flavor/texture/look and each was better than the previous.

We thought dinner was over after this one.  The softshells were perfect.
But then came some wide noodles with a single, perfect piece of pork belly.  My wife ate hers, turned to me and said, "Why can't you cook pork belly like this?" I answered that I wasn't Chef Drewno.  Way to talk to your husband on your anniversary aye?  It was the best piece of pork belly I've had in a long time...since Table 21 at Volt if I remember correctly.  It was so tender I have no idea how they kept it together long enough to plate it.  It literally melted in my mouth.
We were just about to ask them to stop bringing food out when they showed up with this.  Lacquered Duck with a steamed pork bun.  The bun was sweet and puffy with just enough substance to it to hold the filling.
The duck looked beautiful and the fat had been rendered just enough that it wasn't greasy, but the meat was still moist and tender.  The skin was crispy.  Awesome.

A wonderful way to spend an anniversary dinner.  It's pricey, but you've got to splurge once in a while to remind yourself why you work so hard! 
We did the wine pairings with dinner.  There were a couple of stand-outs and I highly recommend getting them.  The server was well-versed on them and explained what it was they were looking to achieve with each pairing.  Much appreciated.
A note on the service:  We were served by a gaggle of people, but our main guy was named Nick.  I would recommend that you go there and ask for him as he was perfect, but he's moving to the west coast with his significant other and will be taking a job at RN74.  If you make it out there, ask for him.  He's the kind of server that takes a great meal and completes a dining experience.
Well done Chefs Drewno and Puck. 

The Source on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Al Dente AKA La Forchetta–Roberto Donna Back in Action

Al Dente
3201 New Mexico Ave. N.W.
Washington, DC 20016
IMG_7202-2Roberto Donna is a true Washingtonian.  Much like many politicians around here, he can get beat up pretty good, sometimes deservedly, sometimes not, and then get right back into the fight.  I am very glad he’s back in town.
He’s always had some of the best Italian food in the city.  It’s not crazy modern stuff, it’s real, down to earth Italian that tastes like it’s supposed to taste and looks like what it’s supposed to look like.  His flavors are true, his ingredients are fresh, and everything is brought to a crescendo of balance.
This is what you see when you first come in.  A nice food-bar right in front of the cooking area.  The dining room is to the left.
I chose to sit at the food-bar and watch Roberto and his Sous Chef Fabio work.  I didn’t order off the menu. I was there with a friend who is also a chef but had never tried Roberto’s cooking, so I suggested that we just relax for a bit and have Roberto make what he felt like making.IMG_7189-2
The first course was burrata with a roasted tomato, some olive oil, salt, and pepper.  Simplicity of ingredients married with excellent execution.IMG_7194-2
Course number two was a date wrapped in prosciutto and broiled with butter.  Very nice flavor combinations.IMG_7198-2
The third course a a fruite de mer pasta.  The tomato sauce with sparse herbs was popping with flavor and the seafood was perfectly done.IMG_7202-2
Roberto knows how much I love his risotto and dished some of that up as our last course.  It was done as it should be, still al dente, and the asparagus was crisp and crunchy.  It was topped with sun dried tomatoes to bring some balance.  If you’ve never had his risotto, go in and give it a shot.
I can’t wait to get back there for dinner when I have time to sit and let the meal progress.  Some great desserts were coming out of the kitchen including a new play on Tira Misu which I’m dying to try.  You’ll see it here. 
Thanks for reading. La Forchetta on Urbanspoon