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Thursday, March 12, 2009

Thing 145: Ray's Hell Burger

They love it when you order B.I.G Poppa.

Luckily, B.I.G Poppa is a black pepper crusted burger, with a thick slice of aged Danish blue cheese, cognac and sherry sauteed mushrooms and grilled red onions served on a buttery poppy seed brioche roll. I loved it when I ordered B.I.G Poppa, too.

I was at Ray's Hell Burger, where the burgers are enormous, they don't make fries, and they clearly love horror movies and hip hop music (and word play, too).

I wish I'd remembered my camera. I'm not sure words can do these burgers justice. They are massive. And meaty. They drip beefy juice all over your hands and mouth and plate when you bite into them. They require a bit of tactical planning to ensure a little taste of everything stacked onto them ends up in every bite, and they are salty, sweet, juicy, fatty, rich and beefy in every bite.

The store itself is small, an open kitchen at the back that is little more than a line with griddle, three registers for your order, and two dozen tables crammed in side by side at the front of the store. Framed posters for B-horror movies line the walls of the restaurant, along with the rules of the establishment -- don't hold a table, don't dawdle, etc. Soul, hip hop and funk music play over the constant din of diners and short order cooks and I saw at least three people burst into spontaneous dance moves as they got up from their tables after eating.

You can create your own burger combination from the list of toppings and cheeses, but it's so much fun order their pre-decided combinations, why wouldn't you? In addition to the B.I.G Poppa, you can order the Big Punisher -- round here they call me Big Pun -- with spicy chipotle marinade, pepper jack cheese, charred jalapenos, grilled red onions and piranha sauce, the Dogcatcher -- bow wow wow yippie yo yippie yay -- with roasted bone marrow and persillade; Let's Get it On -- we're all sensitive burgers, with so much to give -- bacon, swiss and Vermont white cheddar, cognac and sherry sauteed mushrooms, grilled red onions, sauteed peppers, roasted garlic, lettuce and tomato; and of course, Fat Joe, with a fat slice of seared fois gras with a balsamic glaze, white truffle oil, crispy shallots and vine-ripened tomato.

Incidentally, they offer one of my very favorite cheeses of all time, Rogue Creamery Smokey Bleu -- as an option for the build-you-own burger, as well as a cheese that I think might be illegal in the states, the epoisse de Bourgogne.

They don't serve fries, which is surprising but fine, since the burgers are big enough to fill you up plenty without the extra starch. If you really need something fried to accompany your meal, you can order fried cheese and potato balls, or what appeared to mac 'n' cheese (although at that point I was so consumed with burger bliss that I only vaguely noticed what the people to my left were eating). They also have root beer on tap. And for dessert, a larger thermos of rich hot chocolate sits at the back of the store, and you can pour yourself a tiny cup for free. A small taste of something sweet, perfect for the very small amount of room left in your belly.

Be warned -- Ray's is cash only. And your meal, unless you're ordering the Fat Joe, will be around $12.

Two years ago: I learned nine things about the St. Patrick's Day parade.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Movie: Burn After Reading

One from a very occasional series on books and movies in or about DC:

Remember way back when to my first annual city-wide scavenger hunt when "the real, live George Clooney" was worth 150 points, the same value as a U.S. Senator? That was because rumor had it that Clooney was in town, on the Mall and in Georgetown, filming a Coen brothers movie. About a year later, Burn After Reading came out, and then about six months after that, I finally got around to Netflixing the darn thing.

I know I'm a bit late to this party, but I really liked it! Granted, I pretty much love anything that comes from the dark and twisted brains of Joel and Ethan Coen, but this dark, dark comedy had the Boyfriend and I laughing out loud. Brad Pitt in particular steals the show, but I loved John Malkovitch, Richard Jenkins and Frances McDormand as well (Clooney, for all his high point value, left me kind of cold). And the Langley suits, well, I liked them best of all, with all their abrupt, clipped, sweep-it-under-the-rug efficiency.

As a DC-phile, of course I loved our beautiful city's central role in the film -- Frances and George meeting in the park benches along the Mall, George running along the Potomac, Georgetown's stately townhouses and the towering Russian embassy in Ward 3. But mostly I loved how perfectly the Coen's got our number -- capturing in their trademarked way how nerdy and self-important we all are. Oh sure, I know that "official" Washington and "real" Washington are very different, but there is some overlap, and surely we've all been to parties like the one hosted by SWINTON, in which plenty of self-important people tout their self-importance.

I loved that two of the characters worked at a gym and were not much to look at, highlighting DC's failed attempts to be cool or beautiful. In reality, we're all just a bunch of regular people who think we're in the know, but really, we're just along for the ride.

Of course, it's all exaggerated and extra dark, but I really enjoyed it. What did you think?

Two years ago: I was disappointed by Tonic.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Cupcake Madness Finals: The Tasty Two

It's Cupcake Madness! Click here for the bracket and the judging sheet. Check out the contenders Red Velvet, Couture Cupcakes, Cakelove, Hello Cupcake, Baked & Wired and Georgetown Cupcake.

Two weeks after the initial cupcake crawl (we gave ourselves a bye week, to both rest up and stave off diabetes) my team reassembled for the final showdown: Baked & Wired v. Hello Cupcake.  Only one cupcakery would take home the title: CUPCAKE CHAMPION.

The rules were a little bit different for the final round.  We abandoned the "control cupcake" and let each person decide what flavor they wanted.  We explained what we were doing at both cupcakeries, and told the people behind the counter to wow us with their best cakes.  

We were wowed.

At Baked & Wired, we focused on the chocolate with peanut butter frosting, the strawberry cupcake with fresh strawberries and strawberry frosting, the chocolate silk cupcake with vanilla cupake and chocolate ganache frosting and the Karen's Birthday Cake cupcake, the cupcake that made me fall in love with Baked & Wired in the first place.  Unfortunately, we'd eaten everything before I remembered to take a picture.

At Hello Cupcake, we re-ordered the 'you tart,' and desperately wanted another velvet Elvis, but had to settle for carrot cake with vanilla frosting.  We ordered the 'princess' cupcake -- chocolate cake with raspberry frosting -- the dulce de leche cupcake, and a chocolate cupcake with white chocolate frosting.

All of these cupcakes were so good, it was really hard to pick a winner.  The cake at Baked & Wired is perfect, and the frosting is a perfect counterbalance, rich and sweet but not overwhelming.  The cupcakes at Hello Cupcake fall over with the weight of their hefty icing, and their banana and carrot cakes in particular really shine.  The cupcakes at Hello Cupcake are prettier, and more creative, while the cupcakes at Baked & Wired rely fall back on perfecting the classics.

So what did we love the best?

Baked & Wired!!

In the final head to head vote, Baked & Wired beat Hello Cupcake 8 to 2!  

So what are you waiting for?  Go eat the winning cupcakes!  

One year ago: I took a cooking class at Whole Foods.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Thing 144: Georgetown Cupcake

It's Cupcake Madness! Click here for the bracket and the judging sheet. Check out previous contenders Red Velvet, Couture Cupcakes, Cakelove, Hello Cupcake and Baked & Wired.

Georgetown Cupcake?  More like Georgetown Fraudcake!*

People, it is time to stop the madness.  You are waiting in line for these...these...globs of sugar and artificial color that I can't even bring myself to call cupcakes.  Stop waiting in line!  Use that time to write a poem or stroll down by the canal.  Or if you want a cupcake, go to any of the other cupcakeries in this bracket!  Save yourselves!!

Ok, so I'm being a bit dramatic.  But only a bit.  These puppies ain't good.

We wanted to order a couple of the 'control' cupcakes -- vanilla cake with chocolate frosting -- that were sitting out on the counter, looking lovely, but they wouldn't let us.  The counter cupcakes were for show, not to be sold.  So, we waited in line for twenty minutes, weren't sold the cupcakes we wanted and then finally were granted the privilege of buying two chocolate cupcakes with vanilla frosting, one red velvet and one 'very berry' cupcake.

These cupcakes are very pretty.  I'll give them that.  But how do they taste?  Bad! The vanilla frosting was gloppy and the cake tasted like it came from a box.  But the most offensive part?  The dyed purple frosting of the very berry cupcake and its distinctly chemical, burn-the-back-of-your-throat aftertaste.  You know how you make berry frosting?  By putting berries in it.  Not by chemically dying it purple.

These cakes scored below average across the board, but especially in the icing category.  Overall score?  2.3!  .2 points less than Red Velvet!  Georgetown Cupcake decidedly does not make it into the Tasty Two.

So, for those of you playing along at home, you'll see that it's Hello Cupcake and Cakelove in the Tasty Two...But.  You know how I mentioned that the bracket was flawed?  The problem with the bracket is that the best match up came in the Sweet Six of Western Bracket.  Both Baked & Wired and Hello Cupcake could beat Cakelove pretty handily, and where's the drama in that? order to truly find the best cupcake, we revisited Baked & Wired and Hello Cupcake for the final round.  Who will win the final match up?  You'll have to stay tuned!!

*Thank you, Alan!

Two years ago: my review of the War Room.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Thing 101: Baked & Wired Revisited

It's Cupcake Madness! Click here for the bracket and the judging sheet. Check out previous contenders Red Velvet, Couture Cupcakes, Cakelove and Hello Cupcake.

It is no secret that I love Baked & Wired. When I visited it almost exactly a year ago I wrote:
This is one hell of a cupcake, the frosting sweet and flavorful without hurting my teeth, the cake moist and rich while still maintaining cake status and not veering into brownie territory.

I have been a fervent admirer ever since.

As per the bracket, we ordered two "control" cupcakes (vanilla cake with chocolate icing), and then a strawberry cupcake made with real strawberries, and a red velvet cupcake.

It's the cake. The cake on these guys is so incredibly good. I think oftentimes people focus on the icing, and don't get me wrong, I really love icing. But in the focus on the icing, people neglect the cake, and the cake is the hard part. Really good cake, dense, with a good crumb, flavorful and also moist -- it's really hard to pull off. And Baked & Wired pulls it off, and then some! The icing is really good too, but the magic is in the cake.

Did my team agree? Baked & Wired got the highest score for cake almost across the board, and scored above average on icing, amount of icing, value and size. The creativity scored average. Comments included "great cake, icing not so much, not so creative," "poor selection of flavors," "real strawberries, red velvet is amazing!!, it's the cake," "great control, rich flavors," and "like the strawberries."

The composite score: 4.1. 4.1!! 0.1 less than Hello Cupcake! What an exciting match up, a nail biter to the end! But Hello Cupcake squeaks by the the Fabulous Four, and will face off against Georgetown Cupcake next! Who will win the championship?

Two years ago: The Hawk 'N' Dove.