Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Top Ten of 2011....#9 Holiday Wine Tasting Party

The best thing about the holidays is the free pass to get hammered and pass out on the carpet.  Wait, you don't get that?  But you must serve alcohol, and plenty of it, so maybe thinking while you're drinking is a measured way to steadily increase the buzz while maintaining awareness.  I help my guests (and myself) to remain alert by serving several different wines and asking everyone to join in a tasting.  'Tasting' sounds a lot classier than 'swigging', and everyone seems to get into the spirit of the game.  So instead of twelve bottles of the same old thing, I buy a case of different bottles, and make sure everyone gets a taste of each, and I get a comment about each wine.  Just tell them it's for a school project.

Starting with the bubbly, the favorite this year was Albrecht's Rose.  It is a Cremant from Alsace, which means they use the Champagne method but are not from Champagne.  Translation?  French, but cheap.  About $16, and they also do a Blanc de Blancs, which is a little less festive, but also a little crispier.  You will need at least two bottles anyway, so at these prices, why not buy both for New Year's Eve and 'compare'?  Get the picture?

The three wines that stood out the most, i.e., that anyone remembered, were a Malbec, a Chianti, and a Bourdeaux.  Starting from #3, from the Baron de Rothschild Collection, from the grand year of 2009, a 'special reserve' that started the evening but still left an impression after all the wine (and guests) was drunk.  An earthy taste, that opened up (got better) as it got some air, and paired well with some Marlboro Lights.  And some beer nuts. Classy crowd.

At #2, an Argentinian Malbec from Rutini, that we all agreed would go best with a steak (when I say 'all agreed', I mean that is what I thought, and then I belligerently badgered everyone until they all just agreed with me to shut me up-happens more than you would think.  I mean, everyone knows I'm a pussycat.  I answer politely when someone asks directions to the White House, and even demonstrate to tourists how to pluck their Metro card from the slot when they go through the 'handicap' turnstile-Just pull it out where you shoved it in!  Now walk through.  Walk, dammit!  Jeez, some of us have jobs to get to.  And hold on to your snotty kid.  But I digest.)  The Malbec was good, as I was saying, a real meaty food wine but also went down nice with some pumpkin pie and some cake from the neighbor (who happens to be from Argentina-coincidence?  Perhaps...)

Tops was an awesome Chianti Classico that everyone loved (don't get me started).  'La Vendemmia' from Dievole (2007-I only mention the years, by the way, to annoy people-don't worry, no one knows what they mean).  Classico means it is better than regular Chianti, and really worth the step up in price-just a few dollars more.  The wine is made mostly from Sangiovese, a grape that the Italians have made love to insistently for years, until it has become their mistress.  Not literally, of course.  This wine was drunk with dinner, which consisted of cheesy potatoes, green bean casserole, pork loin, and a classic jello treat.  Classed up the place to no end, and started us all on the 'classico' family story-telling that a few bottles of good wine can only help.

For example, there was the time this past October that my brother and I drove up to New York to see our mother, Minnie, for her birthday.  We got stuck in traffic and arrived about 1:30AM.  Luckily my brother had brought several bottles of wine, but of course my mom had no corkscrew.  "You brought wine but no corkscrew?" I shrieked.  "I thought Minnie would have a corkscrew," he cried. " No one named Minnie has a corkscrew!" I replied, and began to sob.  Stuck on Long Island in the middle of the night...sober?  We both sobbed.  Then we steeled ourselves, and headed into the finished basement where our father's ancient workbench held all manner of tools.  This is what we found (pictured below), and after we got the bottle open with just a minimum of spillage onto the floor (it mostly ended up, miraculously, on our shirts), we toasted to family, and to The Mothers of Invention, as we slammed down that first, satisfying, jelly-glass full of wine.  A perfect holiday story, and we also learned something important, kids-how to open a wine bottle with a hatchet.  Cheers!

Hatchet and mysterious drill/boring tool...

Ooh look, bras are on sale...

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Top Ten of 2011....#10 Recipes: Sweet Magic

It's Automatic...

I never planned to move back to DC from Miami, and still view it as a temporary upheaval, necessitated by, as they say, these economic times. It's cold here, and drab as hell, with not a grain of sand or a palm tree in sight. You could swing a dead cat all day and never hit anything. But I'll count my blessings-a job, a local bar where you can still smoke, a cheap apartment, a walk to the Metro, a decent library, and a neighborhood Target. (Still waiting for all those Giada and Rachael and Paula Deen products to go on sale, guys.) I also have superstar-chef Michel Richard's Central four Metro stops from my apartment (for Miamians, a Metro is like a subway that works), and feel compelled to swing by for a Plymouth Gin Martini or a glass of Priorat and a mac and cheese about once a week. Little Mickey Richards got his start as a pastry chef, of course, and he has just released 'Sweet Magic: Easy Recipes for Delectable Desserts'. I had already started baking (it keeps the apartment warm), so when I heard that he had created a recipe for a flan with an 'automatic crust', I was intrigued. Turns out the 'automatic crust' is Israeli couscous, which I just happened to have on hand. You butter a baking pan and coat it with the couscous (which is also called pearl pasta), then put the pan in the freezer for 30 minutes. Then after you add the eggs, milk, etc., and bake it in the oven like a regular flan, the couscous somehow magically rises to the top of the pan while baking, and forms a crust on top. Exclamation point. I was skeptical, but then there it was, all crunchy and automatic-like. Here's a link to the recipe.

Now if I just had a cortadito to go with that flan, I could slip on my Havaianas, turn up the heater, and dream of those many long, lazy afternoons in the tropical sun. And of the many to come. Querida, espera para mí....

[I buy Israeli couscous at my local health food store (also within walking distance), where I also purchase my Bragg's and my Dr. Bronner's (a little inside baseball for my crunchy brethren).]

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Arise Chicken

Red Velvet Cupcakes with Coconut Pecan Frosting

Long time listener, first time cupcake baker....

They rise a lot. Chanting 'Arise Chicken' (see above) seems to help but is optional....

They somehow remind me of the Neon Meate Dream of a Octafish.

To Dan Barber: No blood was spilled in making of these vegan cupcakes. Tool.

Tropical Hotdog Night: Beefheart no longer here...

At a show I attended at the Bottom Line in the '70's, there was a problem with the sound, and CB and the Magic Band had to stop playing. As the roadies were trying to straighten it out, someone in the crowd yelled, "Why don't you read some poetry!" Beefheart said, "What, poetry doesn't have to sound good?" He also played a mean harp. You never forget a Beefheart gig.

Lester Bangs' 1970 cover story in Rolling Stone from 1970 says it all.

Rest in Peace, brother.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Best Thanksgiving Wine, pronounced #$@%#$@%

Charming the ladies...

Hit the weekly wine-tasting last Saturday at Calvert-Woodley (DC) to help plan my Thanksgiving wine-buying, and, luckily, Steve Rowland from Pasternack Wine Imports was in charge. He was working hard, in fact, to explain Gewürztraminer to a group of bewildered punters, who had wandered in for a free sniff. He had gotten everyone going with a sparkling Rosé-a fizzy and ripe strawberry-tasting treat from Alsace, France winery Lucien Albrecht. The winery, established in 1425, makes this crémant (French non-champagne sparkling wine) from Pinot Noir grapes. (They also have a blanc be blancs made from 100% Pinot Blanc). This bottle, at around $17, is a great celebration wine, and a real value, especially when compared to Champagne. Albrecht pioneered the special designation for crémant wines, which are made using the exact same methods as Champagne (méthode champenoise).

This was followed by the Gewürztraminer Réserve, which has a spicy, smoky, and slightly off-dry, easy-going taste, making it perfect for a long holiday meal with many different (and usually rich) dishes. I would glady start the evening (or afternoon), with the sparkler, and head into the meal with the Gewürz (pronounced Guh-VIRTZ). At about $16 a bottle (both wines are currently on sale at CW in DC, and may be available at your local wine stores), this is a nice mid-level entry for a special holiday meal. And the sparkler is even good enough for New Year's, when people tend to overspend on wine that, in the end, doesn't seem so special for the price.

But back to Thanksgiving. I'm really excited to cook the two different kinds of blood pudding I am making for the family (more on that another time), and can't wait to open that first bottle of sparkling Rosé at about, oh, 11AM. Thanksgiving, remember, is a long day, especially for the cooks, so drink early, drink often. And don't forget to take a nap before the Jets game at 8:20-I would recommend a long snooze during the Dallas game-you don't want to peak too soon. Have a great holiday, turkeys.

Get 'em drinking with both hands...

Closing the sale...

Calvert Woodley
4339 Connecticut Avenue Northwest
Washington D.C., DC 20008
(202) 966-4400

Sunday, November 07, 2010

The Color Purple

Mazamorra morada-purple corn and fruit, and
Arroz con Leche-rice pudding

Giant niblets...

More tripe?

Si, more tripe por favor

'Caballo Viejo'



Black sausage, chicharrones, a side of spaghetti...

....and a little more tripe

The Peruvian festival that winds through DC's Adams Morgan neighborhood every year is a reminder of the diversity that makes this community so endearing; and a personal reminder to me that my Spanish really needs work. There is a parade up Columbia Road, with the men carrying the enormous altar, the elegiac lament of a 15-piece band, and rows of robed women swinging heavily smoking thuribles, bringing an ethereal air to this gray stretch of low-rises and neighborhood mom-and-pops. This goes on for hours, as the parade stops every block or two for everyone to catch their breath, and for the occasional performance of cowboy on horseback dancing with girl who is not on horseback (you have to see it). During a lull, I dropped into the park to sample some of the food-there were over fifty vendors, almost all selling homemade Peruvian dishes-my favorites are the freshly fried donuts called picarones, and the rice pudding (arroz con leche) served with the purple corn pudding called mazamorra morada. Also tried the leche asada (baked flan), bread pudding (budin), another kind of flan, and a new favorite, keke de coco. I just love the name.

As one can see, I'm big on desserts these days, although of course there was plenty of tripe, beef heart, giant corn, potato dishes, and ceviches, that together make Peruvian cuisine one of the most multifaceted and underrated ethnic foods in this hemisphere. So I raise my flan to Hermandad del Señor De Los Milagros, and to the purple corn and potatoes of Peru.

Inhaling grill smoke, and the proper way to top picarones

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Rum, Sodomy, and the Lash

Met up with the some of the more interesting personalities working the NYC craft cocktail scene last week at a sponsored rum tasting at the new Lani Kai, which reworks the old Tailor space. Lots more light, and also a lighthearted take on Tiki rather than chef Sam Mason's more serious grub. No solid cocktails, either, sadly, although former barman Eben Freeman, who tried to make them work, with differing degrees of success, was present and creating his 'Five Spice Daiquiri'. All the drinks were made with 'Banks 5 Island Rum', which has a certain distinctiveness to it, a funky character. It mixed very well in the daiquiri, as well as in Jim Meehan's 'Chairman's Refresher'. Meehan, from well-respected PDT, is a brand rep for Banks, and this cocktail, which combines rum, coconut water, Frangelico, and cucumber, was refreshing, yes, and also very potent. There was also 'The Last Luau Swizzle (rum, house-made falernum,cinnamon syrup, lime, and ginger beer; garnished with grilled pineapple) and a Jersey Punch#2 (rum, Laird's apple brandy, EO lime cordial, and bitters) from bartenders Joseph Swifka and Dushan Zaric, respectively. I wasn't able to try any food, but then I was heading to Otto afterward for some pizza and pasta to soak up the booze. Expectations for Lani Kai? Expect to get very, very, drunk.
(Pictured above, from left to right, blogger weinoo, bartender Prini, Don Lee (PDT/David Chang/something of his own opening soon!), and Eben Freeman-formerly of Tailor, now the beverage director for Chef Michael White's Altamarea Group)

Lani Kai
525 Broome St, btw Thompson and Sullivan

BELOW...Eben Freeman gives it the 'hard shake'-WARNING-VERY LOUD!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Galileo Three, Minus, Minus,

Woody Allen had a wonderful lament in the movie 'Annie Hall': as his character Alvy Singer is flying back from L.A. after a disastrous trip with his girlfriend, Annie, played by Diane Keaton, he talks about their future as a couple. "A relationship is like a shark, you know? It has to constantly move forward or it dies." A restaurant is in many ways like a relationship. It can delight and surprise, or make you fall head over heels, objectivity be damned. It can make you tell tall tales and lie to your friends. But ultimately, there is the cold hard truth. And that is hard to face when one realizes that yes, you have stopped moving forward and it is time, in spite of your loving memories and experiences, to move on.

Entering Galileo is like encountering an old girlfriend from the distant past. There is something about her form and figure that you love, but you can't quite remember what it was that turned like, and lust, into love. And the disappointments start, as they always do, with the superficial. The design of the new Galileo is, in a word, boring. A tragic salmon color envelops the room and the colorfully outre snaking chandelier in the middle of the room only calls attention to the bland and insipid design of the place. It recalls the '80's, oddly. And the wan decor hints at the menu to follow, which contains some of the most timid and least adventurous Italian food being served in Washington, DC, today.

With all the advances Chef Roberto Donna made twenty years ago in the propagation of regional Italian cooking, one might think that he has updated his food or at least kept pace with the competition. Sadly, not one dish I tried brought back his former glory, and in fact made me doubt my own memories of his amazing risottos, among his other cutting edge dishes. Starting with the 'Budino di Parmigiano', a mess of cheese that has conflicting textures, from runny to rich to grainy, that never quite come together. The truffle flavors, which are deep and resonant, are lost in this souffle, or flan, or, in the end, nothing at all. The big slice of truffle on top is amazing of course, but it is too big for the dish and I ended up just picking it up with my fingers and tossing it in my mouth. Delicious. The rest is glop. The 'Speidino' is a weird meat-on-a-stick dish that tastes like a street festival mystery meat kabob, and it is served with exactly two tablespoons of too-thick polenta. Can't be generous with the polenta, my man? It is cornmeal, come on!

The spagheti cacio e pepe has got to be some kind of joke. Mr. Donna has said that while this dish is very simple (spaghetti, pecorino cheese, and pepper), it is difficult to prepare correctly. He enforces his own dictum by destroying the dish. Flavorless, mushy, tiny portion, expensive.

Chicken wings? How do you fuck up chicken wings? First, don't cook them all the way through so they are raw at the bone, then coat them with something that tastes like Progresso Italian flavored bread crumbs and send them out greasy and limp. They are so bad that only one-and-a-half out of four get eaten and the server kindly takes them off the bill, after recommending them highly.

The porcini appetizer is described beautifully, but on the plate it is mostly breading, and the 'truffle sauce' is more like truffle sweat, a mere drop or two. The green pasta with fonduta in a butter and sage sauce ought to be wonderful, as the chef is well-known for his butter/sage sauce; but it is wholly without distinction, and the filling barely registers on the palate. Again, the portion is microscopic, and considering the ingredients, vastly overpriced.

Perhaps Roberto Donna should have dealt with his history of screwing over countless poor busboys, dishwashers, and hostesses; and bouncing checks and declaring bankruptcy, hanging so many large and small suppliers out to dry. I believe in my heart in second chances-how many of us wouldn't be here today if we hadn't gotten a couple in our lifetimes? We all make mistakes and one day, if we get the chance, we all hope to correct them.

But there is absolutely no reason to return to the overblown, overpriced restaurant food of the past. We are all so much wiser now. But, apparently, Roberto Donna never got the memo. On the wall near the bathrooms there is a photo from days long gone of Mr. Donna and Chef Michel Richard enjoying a happy moment. With Galileo III, Mr. Donna is trying to evoke his glorious past, seemingly without understanding that his contemporaries have left him in the dust.

To echo Woody Allen's great dialogue, A restaurant is like a shark, you know? It has to constantly move forward or it dies. Sadly, in the case of the new Galileo, what we got on our hands, ladies and gentlemen, is a dead shark.

Galileo III
600 14th St, NW
Washington, DC 20005

Sunday, July 04, 2010


RISK... Triple digits on the heat index, and thousands of tourists, here for the Independence Day extravaganzas, are clogging the Metro and the sidewalks.  With their huge fold-out maps and what often seems like four generations in tow, it can get a bit sticky out there, especially on the Mall.  Unfortunately, you forgot to plan accordingly and are stuck in the hell we call summer in Washington.  They say the best way to solve problems is to hit them head on, , so shoot down to the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, the epicenter of the summer tourist walkabout. 
REWARD... The featured foods of Mexico, Asia/Pacific Islands, and the American South are everywhere, as are the appropriate beers like Pacifico, Chang, and Rolling Rock(!), to wash it all down.  Try the Bhelpuri-an Indian street food made fresh to order from puffed rice, fried noodle-like crisps, and tomatoes and chutneys.  Wash it down with an icy mango lassi.  Or, if you need to simmer down a bit, the Indian beer Kingfisher.  That should cool you back down to 98.6.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Leaving So Soon?

Need an excuse to duck out of work early today? Brazil is playing Chile in the World Cup at 2:30, and at Bossa in Adams Morgan, part-owned by Brazilian-born Wagner DePinho, the crowd starts loud, gets louder, and after Brazil wins (and they will), there is dancing to a live samba band. Everyone is decked out in Brazil's yellow colors, and munching on Brazilian 'tapas' like Frango a Passarinho (crispy fried chicken pieces), and Bolinho de Bacalau (codfish fritters). Three dollar Tecates or a couple of caipirinhas will have you dancing every time a goal is scored. Maybe you should start coughing right now!

Friday, May 14, 2010

Free Bacon Gelato Next Up?

Dupont Circle Official Hipster gathering this past Sunday around a 340-pound smoked pig courtesy some robust and ripped dude with the unlikely name of Beverly (from Eco-Friendly); and sweet Sunday vibe by Dolcezzo Gelato....Free pork, free seconds, group around the magic smoker, and slurp. End it with a churro or two and, they also have great coffee... Next to some weird joint that serves coffee for bohos, also. Not like we haven't smoked a whole pig at Daily Cocaine before (a wee 80 pounder). But ironic gelato?

Dolcezza storefront looks innocent enough for caped persons...

Beverly tenderly tears....

DC Go-Go Pig Rip...

Monday, May 10, 2010

Johnny Rotten and PIL Eat DC

I love Perry's and so does PIL. Sushi, including Udikon, some fish eggs, and then it turned into a real Adams Morgan moment. Shooting a documentary and previewing their Wednesday gig at the 930 Club.
John enjoying a smooch with local artists...

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Passenger is not...

...named after a shitty art film.
...bubbling with fedora-topped hipsters.
...home to a two-page cocktail menu.
...somewhere where ordering a "gin martini" gets you a dirty/quizzical look.

Yes, you have the 'Pork Slap' beer in cans, 'kimchee' hot dogs, and beef jerky, all nods to several hipster trends. But they seem unforced here, and somehow the fluid soundtrack of what might be called Hipster-Plus music is a relaxed musical background, with Roky Erickson's 'You're Gonna Miss Me' and the Velvet's 'Pale Blue Eyes' in rotation. The bartender, Tom Brown, is a slow-walkin', slow-talkin' kind of guy-evoking the stolid John Wayne character in 'The Quiet Man'. You will rarely see him rush, but he also never languishes, and the gin martini gets a nice stir and an artful twist. He is a reservoir of drinks info, but doesn't seem to dwell on the ephemera that sometimes makes ordering a cocktail in a 'cocktail bar' such a chore. When one orders a gin martini, one doesn't get a questionnaire to fill out-gin? vermouth? olives? Brown makes the drink simply and with purpose-Beefeater, Dolin vermouth, orange bitters. The lemon twist is freshly shaved and spiraled into the glass.

On earlier visits, several Negroni's were all differently, yet precisely prepared for different, yet precise reasons. The $3 beef jerky's not bad, actually, it goes well with the gin. And there are classy Marcona almonds ($3) to munch on while silently nodding post-hipster assent to the next 'nugget' scratching its way out of the sound system. On an early Saturday night, The Passenger, named after the 1977 Iggy Pop song, has the laid-back charisma of the mercurial singer, with its star-in-the-making, Tom Brown, looking like he just might stage-dive at any moment.

The Passenger
1021 7th Street, NW
Washington, D.C.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Chefs For Seals Benefit at The Moore Building

The Humane Society of the United States to Present ‘Chefs for Seals’ in Miami ’s Design District

Miami’s top chefs team up with The HSUS and Nigel Barker on Earth Day to end Canada ’s commercial seal slaughter

What: VIP cocktail party, photography exhibit and photo shoot sponsored by a veritable who’s who of Miami ’s culinary, cultural and hospitality luminaries. The event is a celebration of seals and the more than 70 compassionate restaurants in Miami who are working together with The Humane Society of the United States to encourage Canada to end its commercial seal slaughter. Celebrity photographer and Judge of America’s Next Top Model, Nigel Barker, will begin the festivities with a photo shoot of participating chefs.

Who: Appetizers will be prepared by:

Jonathan Eismann; Pacific Time, Fin, Q, and PizzaVolante and by Graspa Group; Mai Tardi, The News Lounge, Van Dyke, TiramesU, Spris and Segafredo on Lincoln Road

Other Miami chefs involved in the campaign include Douglas Rodriguez, Allen Susser, Michelle Bernstein, Michael Schwartz and Giancarla Bodoni.

When: Thursday, April 22

2:30 p.m.

(Exclusive media access to Nigel Barker’s photo shoot-RSVP required)

4:00 - 7:00 p.m.

Photo exhibit and cocktail party

Where: The Moore Building

4040 NE 2nd Ave
Miami , FL 33137

Background: The HSUS will be honoring the local chefs and restaurants who have joined the boycott of Canadian seafood and are working to put an end to Canada 's commercial seal kill. By shifting their seafood purchasing away from Canada , they are letting Canada 's fishing industry know that they – along with millions of Americans – think that the commercial seal hunt is inconsistent with responsible, humane marine stewardship. They are joined in this effort by thousands of restaurants and hundreds of thousands of individuals across North America and Europe . Nigel Barker, noted photographer and judge on " America 's Next Top Model," is a spokesperson for the campaign. Barker accompanied HSUS staff to the ice floes in spring 2008 to photograph the seal nursery and document the hunt.

For more information on The HSUS’ ProtectSeals campaign visit

Credentialed Media are invited to attend the event, RSVP requested.

Media Contact: Heather Sullivan, 240-477-2251,

The Humane Society of the United States is the nation's largest animal protection organization — backed by 11 million Americans, or one of every 28. For more than a half-century, The HSUS has been fighting for the protection of all animals through advocacy, education, and hands-on programs. Celebrating animals and confronting cruelty — On the web at

Chefs for Seals is an informal group of chefs whose passion for the seal issue has propelled us to host events designed to raise public awareness about the plight of seals targeted in Canada’s annual commercial seal hunt. Partnering with The HSUS, we are dedicated to spreading the word that by boycotting Canadian seafood we can enact change with pressure on the industry that orchestrates the hunt. The first Chefs for Seals event was organized by Meshelle and Cathal Armstrong (Restaurant Eve, Alexandria , Va. ) and hosted by chefs in Washington DC in July 2009 -