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Friday, January 25, 2008

Thing 97: Duplex Diner

Today's episode is brought to you by the letter "M".

On Monday, I drank a margarita and ate macaroni and cheese and meatloaf and mashed potatoes.

Detecting a theme? On Mondays, the Duplex Diner marks all its 'm' items half price. So the margaritas, merlot, mashed potatoes, macaroni and meatloaf are half price! Here is our half priced mmmmeal:

MMMMMMeal from the Duplex DinerIt seems a hodgepodge of things, but in the end, it all came together deliciously. DC365 cannot dine on samosas, faux gras and raw bar alone, and sometimes I just want home cooking without the dishes piled up in the sink afterwards. The meatloaf was simple, beefy and juicy, and delicious topped with tomato sauce. The mashed potatoes were so creamy I had to verify that they didn't start out as flakes. The mac 'n' cheese was the real winner, in my opinion. It came served in a terrine enough to feed two people (though somehow I managed it on my own) -- penne in a thick, bubbling cheese sauce with crispy brown parmesan topping. Both entrees came with green beans, and we even ordered a salad on the side to try and counteract the onslaught of cheese fat, but we still left the table too full and overly satisfied.

The Duplex Diner is a little bit diner, a little bit bar, a little bit gay club. The service is friendly, and our host for the evening was smokin' hot (and dating GFD, with whom I was having dinner). Located at the crux where Adams Morgan, U Street and Dupont come crashing together, I highly recommend it for a bite to eat or a drink before going out, or some delicious home-cooked 'm' items on a cold Monday night.

Join me over at the Cork & Knife, where I've started writing a weekly food column! This week: Buttercup soup with black beans.

Meatloaf at the Duplex Diner

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Thing 96: Butterfield 9

The Boyfriend calls me a food snob.

And, let's be honest, he's right.

But I think there is also a level of cheapness to my snobbery as well. If I'm going to spend some of my hard, hard earned paycheck on a meal, I want it to really be worth it. My standards of great food are really different when my entree costs $28 than when it costs $6. This is what makes Restaurant Week such a conundrum.

I ate at Butterfield 9 on Friday night, and what we ate was totally great for a $30 prix fixe. But if that is the kind of food I'd be getting for a $30 entree, then no thanks.

I went with DCSarah, who is also a self-professed food snob. And we both agreed that our meals got gradually better, starting with a mediocre appetizer and progressing to a truly great dessert. We got our $30 worth, sure, but we will not be reserving there for our next full-price special occasion.

The food? We each were so excited about the oyster and scallop stew to start with that we both ordered it. Maybe we made the wrong choice? A big, white, high-walled bowl was delivered to each of us with a small ladling of stew. The effect was elegant, the stew was disappointing. In a dish who's components are oysters, scallops and beans, how do you manage to terribly over cook the scallops and oysters, and terribly under cook the beans? Although the creamy seafood sauce had all the right flavor notes, the textures of nearly crunchy kidney beans and rubbery scallops was no good at all.

For our main course, I went with the beef short rib braised in red wine, and DCSarah went for the risotto. My short rib was good -- the sauce was rich and thick, the short rib tender and easily falling apart. Sarah's risotto was good -- creamy, earthy with truffles, studded with pea shoots, though on the salty side. Finally, our dessert were delicious! A pistachio financier, a perfectly moist, buttery round of yellow cake studded with green pistachio crumbles. Now, if the entire meal had been of this quality, then yes, yes I would go back every day. But then I think of that stew.

DCSarah, besides being food snob, is a design professional, who will soon be a published author about such matters, in a real book with her name on the spine (oh, the jealousy!). She looked over the spacious, bustling restaurant from our perch near the top floor staircase and remarked that it was nice, but nothing extraordinary. There's not a whole lot of character to the place, and it reminded us a bit of Corduroy, though not nearly as bad. The color scheme is light oranges, beiges and golds, the sweeping staircase is quite dramatic and there are huge photographs of old timey stars and icons. The service was a bit rushed -- almost as soon as our cocktails arrived, so did our appetizer. Our entree was hot on its heels, and I had to ask for the wine list to get a glass of wine that would go with my short rib and the whole thing just felt rushed. Granted, we had a late reservation (9:45) and I understand that our wait staff wants to leave at some point, but we were in no danger of closing down the place.

I would love to hear from anyone who has been to Butterfield 9 not during Restaurant Week. I don't want to write off what I believe to be a good restaurant because of a poor R-week menu, so let's hear from the peanuts. At the very least, we know that it might be a nice place for coffee and dessert.

One last note -- have you guys heard of biodynamic wine? They have a special code for it on the Butterfield 9 wine list. I'd never heard of it before and when we asked our waiter, he proceeded to tell us that it involves harvesting your grapes, naked, at the full moon, while praying to Dionysus. Or something. Maybe I'm exaggerating, but it's like organic wine on (organic) steroids. Even for a self professed food snob, this seems extreme.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Thing 95: Lima

Am I losing my edge? Have I traded in wild nights at hip clubs for the comforts of Stoney's? Because last night I went to Lima, and I'm sorry to report that it is way too cool for me.

There were cubby holes of colored lights behind the bar. Candles burned in what appeared to be upscale bongs. And everyone, without fail, was better dressed than me (including my dining companions. Did I miss a memo?). Lima, the night club, is where Wyclef went to party after his concert with Shakira. Am I cool enough for this?

Well, thank goodness for Restaurant Week, where they expect poorly dressed amateurs to come out of the woodwork and ogle the shiny lights on the wall.

The food is Cuban -- not Peruvian, as the name might suggest. But unlike the decor, which is super sleek, expensive-looking and chic, the food is just fairly run-of-the-mill Latin food. Nothing to write home about -- and hard to blog. Grilled vegetables and steamed white rice are hard to get excited about, but I will point out some highlights:

  • I arrived ahead of the other three in our party, and so I sidled up to the (painfully hip) bar with the (impeccably dressed, smokin' hot) bar staff. Can we all guess what I ordered? Except that my champagne cocktail came with a rock candy lollipop in it. It was a funky little touch, and a new twist on a very classic cocktail. They had some other intriguing Latin-inspired cocktails, including a pisco lemonade, a caipirinha, and cilantro margarita (!?) which I may have to go back to try, but wearing high heels this time.

  • As I ooh'ed and aah'ed over the pretty pink "lima-politan" the bartender remarked that I seemed to like "pretty drinks." Boy, did he have my number.

  • The butter for the bread was a sweet, minty-lime butter. That's right, mojito butter.

  • The chimichurri on my steak was so good I kind of want to take a bath in it. Pale green with chilies and cream and so very much garlic, it really brought my otherwise normal flat iron steak to life.

  • My dessert flan came bathed in an orange-mango-rum sauce that totally outshined the flan and the fruit salad.

  • The service was really gracious, and the manager even checked in to make sure everything was going well, which was nice since we were pretty clearly Restaurant Week tourists.

The rest of the experience was just completely average -- average starters, average entrees, the vegetarian restaurant week option a sad amalgamation of the side dishes from everyone else's plates. A normal flan and a flourless chocolate cake that is like every other flourless chocolate cake.

So what's the verdict? I'd go back, but with my party game on, and probably only for cocktails (and only the pretty ones). But I do need to learn to replicate that chimichurri, and I see a rum/mango/orange cocktail in my immediate future. After all, it is Friday...

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Thing 94: Indebleu

Indebleu does fusion surprisingly well. Rather than other fusion restaurants that just have a bunch of different cuisines on a menu and slap a 'fusion' label to the end of their name, Indebleu takes Eastern spices and ingredients and cooks them in a Western way. The result is a true fusion of world cuisines, and hot damn is it delicious.

But first, let's take a trip on the 'metro' in the bar and lounge on the ground floor of the place. Because the cocktail menu at Indebleu is a faux-metro map of drunken delights. There's a 'bleu line' with specialty house cocktails (many of which incorporate garam masala and other Indian spices), 'shot line' with such dubious stops as pink, blue or green, a 'martini line', a 'short drinks line' and OH YES a 'champagne cocktail line'. You can see my excitement! (And my new haircut -- C, thank you for recommending Bang!!).

I think we all know by now, I like a champagne cocktail. I will ride that champagne cocktail line from Vienna to New Carrolton, baby. For last night, I ordered the "holy basil", located at Clarendon on the map, which was champagne with a heavy, basil-scented simple syrup. And oh, if you've never thought to combine basil with champagne, I urge you to think again. It is a delightful little pre-dinner drink.

Of course, it's Restaurant Week in DC, so once seated we were treated to a prix-fixe menu for $30. And while not all my Restaurant week experiences have been positive, most of them seem to pull it off with some style. Indebleu is a restaurant that does Restaurant Week right, and oh yes, we will be back and happy to pay full price. We were a party of four, and thus I was able to sample enough off the menu to be duly impressed.

For starters, I had a duet of samosas. Lamb and pecorino, meaty and intensely savory with a sweet, chutney-like red sauce was paired with a spinach and feta samosa on a bed of garlicy green sauce. Others at the table had a tuna and salmon tartare, with a creamy hot wasabi sauce and a touch of vibrant red fish roe, and celery root soup, creamy and rich but too salty for my taste.

For our main course, I had the tuna, seared fast and served virtually raw, on a bed of 'Indian street corn' mixed with toasted lentils that tasted like soy nuts. The plate was accented with creamy green avocado and the whole thing liberally doused in a chili-lime-cilantro dressing. Light and bright, reminiscent of ceviche but with a smokier, dustier Indian undercurrent, it was really a pleasure. Others at the table had the lamb chops, seared dark and still red inside, a Thai flavored halibut sweet with coconut and curry and topped with a tempura'ed shrimp, and finally a plate of paneer-stuffed ravioli with tomato-fenugreek sauce. Reminding me that sometimes restaurants do treat vegetarians like grown ups, this dish was one of the most satisfying, with the warmth of Indian food in a neat Italian package. "They're like samosas, but with pasta casing" my friend observed, and folks, she's been to India. So she knows her stuff.

Am I done swooning? Almost. The desserts were nice -- my opera cake was good, though the icing was a bit buttery, but it was served with pistachio ice cream on an almond-pistachio macaron, and I found myself wishing that I had a dessert comprised only of those two elements. Chocolate mousse with candied banana and caramel ice cream was another big hit at the table.

The service was a bit spotty -- the hostesses were snobby, but once seated we bonded with our waitress who was knowledgeable, clearly passionate about the food, and really funny. The soups came out before the spoons, and the appetizers arrived before our wine, but at Restaurant Week I'm inclined to cut a restaurant some slack for such minor goofs. The ambiance, like the food, is rich and warm, with deep red-orange walls and large modern canvasses thick with oil paint and dark reds.

Indebleu is extending its Restaurant Week menu for a second week, and if you can, go! And if you can't, go and pay full price! If this is what they're doing at $30 a head, I can only imagine what happens the other weeks of the year.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Thing 93: Tour the West Wing

The East Wing of the White House

Hi! Hey there! Sorry I've been gone for so long, but there were the holidays and then the new year, and then I got my wisdom teeth out and well, here I am, back on the blogging horse. And I believe that you were once promised a recap of my tour of the West Wing. In fact, just the other day Sam said to me "you have to write about it before there's a new administration in the White House!"

So, the first thing I have to say is, the actual West Wing of the White House looks nothing like the West Wing, the TV show. The West Wing in the show seemed rather large, with cubicles and desks and glass-walled offices. People were always walking, always on the move, TVs in every corner broadcasting world news.

The West Wing of the White House
The real West Wing is all thick carpets and priceless art work and framed color photographs. The real West Wing is teeny tiny -- the walk between the Oval Office and the Roosevelt Room wouldn't last even half a quip from CJ to Toby. The real West Wing isn't cold and steely, but instead is beautiful and luxurious and elegant.

First things first -- how did I even get in? Well, last month, I received a hurried email from Sam along the lines of "West Wing tour. Send me your social security number ASAP. Details to follow." And faster than you can say "identity theft," I had signed up for a tour led by his friend from church. The cool thing is though that anyone can tour the West Wing (except, you know, terrorists) because not only can executive staff lead tours for their friends and loved ones, but there are tours for the public throughout the week. For more information, click here.

Some day, Sam. Some day.
On our tour, we got to visit the press briefing room (!), the colonnade (!), the Roosevelt Room (!), the White House mess hall (!) and OH MY GOD THE SIT ROOM (!!!). Ok, so we weren't allowed to go into the Sit Room. But we did go into the mess hall, and then when we turned around, we were staring at the door of the Situation Room (!!!!!!). Of course, having not gone in, I am still imagining that there's a Big Board with flashing lights and a giant conference table, but whatever it really looks like, just being on the other side of the door was a thrill.

We were IN the WEST WING!!!!
We also got to peek across the threshold of the Cabinet Room (the President's chair is a couple inches taller than everyone else's) and the OVAL OFFICE (!!!!!!!!!!!). The Oval Office is yes, oval, and actually quite small. Also, we learned that each President gets to redecorate it, and this President has made some nice choices, with sunny yellows and sky blues to "symbolize the optimism he feels for the country." He may have missed his true calling as interior designer.

The whole tour took two hours, in part because we absolutely geeked out and took a ton of pictures in the places we were allowed to take them (no inside venues except the press briefing room) and to look at the priceless and magnificent art that is absolutely everywhere. It is a thrill to walk the same hallways as every president since Teddy Roosevelt, to breath in the history and the politics and the excitement, and and to pretend to be CJ Craig.

I have statement from the President...
Get your reservations for restaurant week next week! I should be back up to speed in time to blog Indebleu, Butterfield 9 and Lima. And maybe the Park at Fourteenth? Stay tuned.