Monthly Archives: July 2010

Extraordinary Ethiopian at Ethiopic

I started to panic as my birthday approached: not only about whether to book a reservation at Komi, but also whether to organize a celebratory dinner with friends (ah, the plight of being a foodie). What restaurant would be able to accommodate a big group? And what type of cuisine would be fun and interesting for everyone to try? And where would I get a birthday cake!??!? These were the questions racing through my mind.

Luckily, the Washingtonian Cheap Eats Guide saved the day once again. I’d heard a lot of buzz about Ethiopic when it opened a few months back, and a quick glance through the Washingtonian showed they recommend it for “big groups who like to share.” Perfect for a birthday party, I thought. The next day, I called the restaurant and booked a reservation.

Ethiopic’s shabby exterior belies its classy interior. Polished hardwood floors, dim lighting, and columns wrapped in tribal-designed fabric make the small dining room seem intimate and more inviting. The only drawback was the temperature–it was pretty toasty inside, but that could be due to the fact that it was over 100 degrees outside.

To start off, we ordered 3 appetizers to share (which unfortunately, I forgot to take photos of!): azifa (cold lentil salad), buticha (smashed chickpeas, almost like an Ethiopian version of hummus), and key sir (beets and potatoes). All 3 of the dishes were served cold and eaten with Etihopia’s ubiquitous spongey bread, injera. What surprised me most about these salads was the heat and spice they were able to pack into each bite. Even the beets were spicy! And yet, the spice didn’t overwhelm and the integrity of the ingredients remained in tact: the sweetness of the beets, heartiness of the lentils, and earthiness of the chickpeas. Each of these appetizers ranged from $5-7, and were a filling and flavorful start to the meal.

For our main courses, we ordered a vegetarian sampler (pictured left, above) and a beef and chicken sampler (pictured right above). Sampler platters cost $30-35 each and serve 3-4 people. Now, I’ll be quite honest: I wasn’t entirely sure what each dish on the platter was. All I knew was that everything tasted delicious–and very smoky and spicy. I may not have the most discerning palate when it comes to Ethiopian food, but I do know that my friends and I thoroughly enjoyed our food–and couldn’t stop ourselves from sopping up the different sauces with more and more injera bread. I also felt the flavors at Ethiopic were bolder and more pronounced than at other Ethiopian restaurants I’ve been to.

There was one dish that really stood out in my mind though: their signature lamb tibs ($16). Boneless leg of lamb is quickly sauteed with red onions, garlic, jalepenos, tomatoes, and rosemary, and served tableside in a sizzling pot. The lamb was tender and flavorful, and like all the other dishes, spicy as heck. But in contrast to the other meat dishes, the flavor of the meat really shined through and enhanced the dish.

Service was very accommodating, offering very helpful suggestions on what to order for a big group. We did have trouble getting our water refilled at times, but otherwise, I thought the wait staff was excellent. And, they were even nice enough to let us bring in a birthday cake! (Purchased from Whole Foods for $25.99–I highly recommend their strawberries and cream cake!)

Thanks to Ethiopic for a memorable birthday and a wonderful meal!

Ethiopic

401 H St NE

Washington, DC 20002

(202) 675-2066

Ethiopic Restaurant on Urbanspoon
Share/Bookmark

Advertisements

Komi: The Meal of a Lifetime

Words (or my words, at least) cannot do Komi the justice it deserves. How can I even attempt to describe the epic 19-course tasting menu (plus wine pairings) that, for once, left me speechless from its brilliance? I’ll try to keep this post short and sweet and keep my gushing to a minimum.

Komi chef and owner Johnny Monis has created a gastronomic temple to his native Meditteranean cuisine, putting his own flair and technique on a mesmerizing array of Greek-inspired dishes since the restaurant’s opening in 2004. At 7 years old, Monis knew he wanted to be a chef. His first taste of the industry was working at his parents’ pizza restaurant in Alexandria. He workes at the venerable McCrady’s Restaurant in Charleston, SC and headed the kitchen at Chef Geoff’s before venturing out on his own to open Komi.

At Komi, diners play entirely by Monis’ rules, which luckily, tends to be in the former’s favor. Monis offers one $125 set menu, which begins with a series of light mezzethakia (Greek for small plates) and progresses to heavier, more substantial main dishes. Of course, he will accomodate diners with dietary restrictions or allergies; but if it’s simply a matter of not wanting to try new ingredients, then take my advice and trust Monis. Adventurous eaters will be more than rewarded.

Unfortunately, another one of Monis’ rules is no photography allowed in the restaurant–which means I’ve got to rely on good old-fashioned writing to describe the meal. While every single one of the nineteen courses was fantastic, there are a few that really stood out to me:

  • Taramosalata: A bite-sized sphere of warm, toasted brioche topped with Greek yogurt, chives, and roe. The roe brought a salty brininess that was both enhanced and subdued by the cool, slightly tart yogurt.
  • Sorbet: Not your average palate-cleansing sorbet. Shiso leaf sorbet sat atop a bed of cold smoked salmon, with candied pine nuts interspersed. Beautiful interplay of textures and flavors: intense sweetness from the sorbet balanced by the salty salmon, with accents of crunchy pine nuts throughout.
  • Souvlaki: I mistakenly thought souvlaki could only be made out of chicken, but boy, was I wrong. Monis served his using pork belly–perfectly seared and crisp on the outside, luscious and fatty on the inside. My boyfriend and I wished we could have eaten 10 more of these.
  • Tagliatelle with sausage, mushrooms, and blueberries: An unlikely flavor combination that was breathtaking in its exquisiteness. Every element of this dish just worked: the handmade pasta melted in your mouth, the housemade sausage added gentle heat to the dish, and mushrooms and blueberries provided earthy notes that brought everything together.
  • Katsikaki: Komi’s infamous roasted goat shoulder. I’m not usually a fan of goat; I find it too gamey and stringey. But Komi’s rendition converted me. The meat was so tender, falling off the bone with a mere poke of the fork. The exterior also had a nice crust, full of zesty, salty flavor. Served with an aray of condiments (eggplant puree, oregano salt, hot sauce, pickled cabbage) and the best, doughiest, butter-laden pita bread I’ve ever had, it was certainly the most memorable and surprising dish of the evening. No wonder it’s one of their signature dishes.
  • Loukoumades: I became a devotee of these Greek donuts drizzled in honey after the Saint Sophia Greek Festival. Komi’s version stayed true to the original, pairing them with Greek yogurt gelato. A whimsical tribute to Monis’ ancestral home and a lovely way to end the meal.

That, my friends, was not even half of the meal! It was a truly epic evening of marathon eating.

We gilded the lily even more by opting for the wine pairing ($68). Sommelier Kathryn Bangs chose 5 wines for us, starting with a sparkling white and progressing from there. My favorites were the Refosco/Mavrodaphne Mercouri Estate, Ilia Greece 2004 and the Moscato Blend, “Bigaro” Elio Perrone, Italy 2009. The refosco was a pleasant red that tasted almost like it had tropical flavors–hints of banana even. And the Moscato was divine–a crisp, ambrosial effervescent dessert wine. This ruby-red dessert wine was truly a gem: floral, light, and refreshing.

The service and the decor made us feel right at home. Servers were always on hand to refill water glasses and answer any questions about the food, never doing so in a pretentious manner. And with only 12 tables in its spare yet inviting dining room, Komi provides one of the most intimate dining experiences in DC. It’s exclusive without being snobby, lavish without being over the top–traits seen far less often than they should be at restaurants of this caliber.

And now, the million dollar question (or more precisely, the $193+tax question): is Komi worth the hefty price tag? I will admit, I hesitated many times about making the reservation, and vacillated between ordering the wine pairing or not. It’s just so expensive, I thought, how could one meal be worth that much?

But after that revelatory 19-course meal, where every course was even more extraordinary than the last, I can wholeheartedly say…YES.  It’s worth it if you have the means or a special occasion to go. (Like the Obamas’ date night .  Or I went for my birthday! And it was truly a memorable birthday at that. Here’s to hoping Komi needs a poster girl in the near future!)

Komi

1509 17th St. NW

Washington, DC 20036

(202) 332-9200

Komi on Urbanspoon

Share/Bookmark

Shameless Plug #4

While some are wondering whether “Top Chef” is losing its edge, there is no doubt that some truly talented and motivated chefs have graced the show’s kitchens. Two of them–D.C. locals Carla Hall and Spike Mendelsohn–are putting their talent and cache toward a worthy cause: the battle against childhood obesity. Hall and Mendelsohn, along with 990 other chefs across the country, are joining First Lady Michelle Obama in her efforts to bring healthy food to the nation’s schools through her newest initiative, Chefs Move to Schools. Here’s an excerpt:

Life after “Top Chef” doesn’t always lead to fame or fortune (whatever happened to past winners Hung Huynh and Hosea Rosenberg?), but two former contestants are making a name for themselves on the school lunch front. Chefs Spike Mendelsohn and Carla Hall, finalists on “Top Chef” seasons four and five, are participating in Michelle Obama’s latest initiative to combat childhood obesity, Chefs Move to Schools.

The program pairs chefs with public schools across the nation in an effort to educate and excite students about food and nutrition. Chefs will work together with teachers, administrators and cafeteria workers to promote healthy eating through performing cooking demos, planting school gardens, and eventually revamping school cafeteria menus to include nutritionally balanced, cost-effective dishes. So far, 990 chefs and 448 schools across the country have signed on to participate.

Hundreds of chefs, including Hall, attended June’s inaugural Chefs Move to Schools event at the White House. “The event was nothing short of moving,” she said. “To see that many chef coats and toques in one place was quite special.” Michelle Obama told chefs they are in a unique position to change kids’ eating habits: “You’ll be elevating the role of food in our schools … You know more about food than almost anyone — other than the grandmas — and you’ve got the visibility and the enthusiasm to match that knowledge. That’s really what’s key.”

Read my full article over at Zester Daily. And many thanks to Carla and Spike for the interviews; it was a pleasure to meet you both!

Photo credit: Matthew Lyons/Micheline Mendelsohn

**In other news, tomorrow is The Unpaid Gourmet’s birthday! 🙂 I’ll be celebrating by, of course, eating. Reviews of the meals will follow next week!

**And for those of you looking for a way to beat the heat this weekend, head over to Pizzeria Paradiso for their IPA Festival! Click here for more details.

Share/Bookmark

Floriana: A Family Affair

Floriana is one of those places that I’ve walked past a thousand times, but never had the time nor the inclination to venture inside. That is, until this past Saturday night, when one of Floriana’s owners contacted me about trying out the restaurant. (Note: I paid for my own meal. Only drinks were comped, which I will not include in this review–though I will say that the sangria was delicious.)

Floriana has occupied its prime location on Dupont Circle’s 17th St. since 1979. For 31 years, Floriana’s handmade pastas and rustic Italian cuisine has built a loyal following, especially among the neighborhood’s gay community. The restaurant emphasizes its cozy and intimate ambiance, where regulars and newcomers alike are made to feel like they’re eating in someone’s house. Run by Floriana and her son and daughter-in-law, the restaurant is truly a family affair, with menu items even named after family members.

I was a big fan of the ambiance, especially the outdoor patio. It was inviting and pleasant, despite the muggy heat, and I loved the white twinkle lights strewn through the trees above. And on a busy, often flamboyant, corner of 17th St., the patio is an excellent spot for people watching and taking in the night scene.

I wish I could say I was as enthused about the food. We started off with the beet down salad ($9) and the shrimp and avocado appetizer ($12). The beet down consisted of roasted red and golden beets and Asian pears tossed with a honey ginger vinaigrette. I enjoyed the beets, but I found the pears lost a lot of their crunch from the dressing. I also wish the presentation had been a bit less rustic–perhaps a garnish on the plate would have helped. Otherwise, what arrives at the table really is a beet down–a haphazard pile of what could be, with a little more fine-tuning, a composed and elegant salad.

The shrimp and avocado appetizer was refreshing on a hot summer day. I liked the creamy ripeness of the avocado paired with the shrimp. And while I initially found the aioli on top to be too heavy, it eventually grew on me and brought all of the components of the dish together.

For our entrees, we ordered the two pastas that Floriana handmakes: tortelloni mignon ($19) and ravioli di zucca ($16). The tortelloni mignon are tortellini-shaped pasta stuffed with herb seasoned beef tenderloin, topped off with a cream tomato sauce. This was by far my favorite pasta dish out of the two; it reminded me of Chef Boyardee ravioli, but with better and fresher ingredients (and clearly, not out of a can). However, I’m not sure it was good enough to justify the $19 price tag, especially considering the on-the-small-side portion.

The ravioli di zucca was also tasty: pockets of handmade ravioli filled with pureed butternut squash and cheese, served with a sage butter sauce.  I appreciated that the ravioli weren’t swimming in butter and cheese, as I’ve been dismayed to find at other restaurants. But at the same time, the pasta tasted a bit dry and could have used a tad more sauce. The flavor of the butternut squash also seemed muted.

Everything considered, my meal at Floriana was decent. I’m a fan of the location and warm atmosphere; both the patio and the interior are adorable. It’s a great option if you’re in Dupont and looking for a homey spot to people watch and have a drink. But otherwise, judging only from the limited part of the menu I sampled, I’d head elsewhere for Italian food.

Floriana

1602 17th St. NW

Washington, DC 20009

(202) 667-5937

Floriana Mercury Grill on Urbanspoon
Share/Bookmark

First-Class Wine Flights at the Tasting Room

One of the (many) perks of being a food blogger is that I am able to discover some of the city’s best kept dining secrets, ranging from an underground tasting menu to a greasy spoon diner going organic. And yesterday, I was treated to a blogger cocktail party at a newly opened wine bar in Friendship Heights, called The Tasting Room. Tucked into a discreet corner of The Shops at Wisconsin Place, The Tasting Room is a hidden gem boasting top-notch wine and high-tech service that will appeal to both serious wine aficionados and newcomers looking to for a fun way to taste several varieties of wine.

The Tasting Room is an extension of Boxwood Winery in Middleburg, VA. Owned by former president and owner of the NFL Washington Redskins, John Kent Cooke spared no expense on developing both the winery and the tasting room. (Fun fact: Jack Kent Cooke, John’s father, also used to own the LA Lakers and LA Kings!) Cooke installed state-of-the-art equipment at the winery, bought certified grapevines from France, and hired prominent winemaker Stephane Derenoncourt as a consultant. He hopes to put Virginia wine on the map with his Bordeaux-style blends.

Like the winery, The Tasting Room seems to be an expensive, technologically-impressive venture. It has a sleek, almost futuristic aesthetic, with dark walls, minimalist lighting, and a silver circular machine near the center of the room (pictured above). That machine, stocked with several bottles of wine, is an Enomatic, the latest wine dispenser system cropping up at bars across DC. But in contrast to other bars, The Tasting Room allows patrons to dispense the wine themselves, allowing for a more personalized process. Customers upload money to a card, and insert the card into the machine. Each wine can be poured by the taste ($2-4), half a glass ($5-9), or a full glass ($5-25). The simple press of a button results in a perfect pour.  

Whites and reds from all over the world are available for tasting. “We want customers to be able to compare Boxwood Wines with others and show that ours are just as good–or even better,” explained Sean Martin, who manages the site. Boxwood produces three wines: a dry rosé, Boxwood (a Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Petit Verdot blend), and Topiary (a Cabernet Franc and Merlot blend). To me, the appeal of the system is that you can try as many (or as little) wines as you’d like–without maxing out your credit card. I tried about 10 wines, and the total was only $18.

I don’t claim to be a wine expert by any means (though I did take Cornell’s infamous wine tasting course!), but I enjoyed several of the wines I tasted. In particular, the 2007 Brandborg Gewürztraminer and 2006 Brooks Riesling were my favorite whites. The Gewürz was spicy and aromatic, and the Riesling was floral and sweet. For the reds, I was a fan of 2008 Neudorf Pinot Noir, 2007 Finca Sandoval Syrah/Mourvedre/Bobal, and the Boxwood 2007  Topiary. The Pinot had nice tannins and cherry flavor; the syrah blend was smooth and light for a syrah; and the Topiary was fruity and round with soft tannins.

The Tasting Room’s food menu is a bit short, when compared to its long wine list. It consists of cheese plates, hummus, charcuterie, and a couple desserts. For the blogger cocktail party, though, The Tasting Room provided the cheese (photo above) while M Cafe, located just across the street, provided the rest of the refreshments.

Grilled Mediterranean lamb sausages with spicy black ketchup were absolutely delicious and packed a lot flavor into one small bite. Ahi tuna tartar with hass avocado, toasted sesame seeds and meyer lemon on toasted brioche tasted light and fresh, and paired well with a few of the white wines. Also on the menu were jumbo lump crab meat, english cucumbers, and manila mango in a parmesan crisp roll–a colorful dish, but not my favorite. I found the crab meat paired with the parmesan crisp overwhelmingly salty, which buried the flavor and freshness of the cucumber and mango.

My favorite dish of the night was the mini sliders with braised duck confit, mission figs, and aged balsamic syrup. The duck was braised to perfection: tender and not at all fatty or greasy like other versions I’ve had. And I will admit, I am a sucker for anything with figs–and these figs were fresh and ripe as can be. The dish paired nicely with the Boxwood Topiary as well.

The event was a success, and I am grateful to The Tasting Room for the invite. And while I wish some the dishes I tasted that night were on the regular menu (or more dishes in general, perhaps), I do think the serve-yourself idea is a fun and new concept that I haven’t seen in other wine bars. Next time you’re shopping in Friendship Heights and find yourself in dire need of a drink, head over to The Tasting Room and sample some of their fabulous wines!

The Tasting Room at Wisconsin Place

5330-A Western Ave.

Chevy Chase, MD 20850

(301) 664-9494

Other locations in Reston Town Center and Downtown Middleburg

The Tasting Room Wine Bar on Urbanspoon

M Cafe

The Collection at Chevy Chase

5471 Wisconsin Ave.

Chevy Chase, MD 20815

(301) 986-4818

M Cafe on Urbanspoon

Share/Bookmark

Photos courtesy of Catherine Coughlin and The Tasting Room

Wagshal’s Brisket Sandwich: The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of

I’d read several positive reviews of Wagshal’s Delicatessen in Spring Valley, particularly about its brisket sandwich. The Washington Post described it as “so packed with complex, intense flavor that the result is one of the best sandwiches” in the city. The article went on to describe the painstaking process that Bill Fuchs, the owner since 1990, goes through to prepare his famous brisket: seven weeks of dry-aging, curing, and smoking to procure a mere five pounds of that magnificent meat.

After reading positive reviews like that, sometimes my expectations get set way too high and I end up disappointed with the actual dish. But that wasn’t the case at Wagshal’s; the sandwich ($7.00) more than lived up to the hype. It is a thing of beauty: simultaneously simple and sophisticated. Thin slices of that tender brisket are sandwiched between rye bread, generously spread with yellow mustard. Layers of bold flavors emerge from every bite: smoky, salty, briny, meaty, peppery, tangy–a symphony of sensations that leave your taste buds wanting more. Wash it all down with a bottle of Boylans root beer and trust me, you’ve got yourself a match made in heaven.

I couldn’t resist the delectable dessert case filled with tempting treats such as mini key lime pies, fruit tarts topped with berries and kiwis, and dainty cakes of all flavors. I decided to go with an apricot hamantaschen (the triangular pastry in the far upper right corner of the photo), one of my favorite Jewish pastries. Wagshal’s version was sweet and doughy–not as flaky as my favorite one from Canters in Los Angeles, but still tasty.

Wagshal’s has been a Washington institution for more than 80 years. It’s definitely a local place, where servers know customers’ names and sandwich orders by heart. The deli offers a ton of other hot food and sandwiches as well, including a TBLT (marinated tilapia with bacon, lettuce, tomato, American, and Caribbean mayo on grilled sourdough) and a Sicilian Sandwich (Italian sausage, parmesan and mozzarella, herbs, marinara, sauteed mushrooms) that both sound delicious. The shop also stocks a variety of gourmet goodies, such as tiny jars of jam from France, locally made cookies, and a well-stocked wine section. I had fun poking around the store and perusing the inventory while waiting for my sandwich.

But even with the wealth of other options, I’d still go back to Wagshal’s just for that brisket sandwich.

Wagshal’s Delicatessen

4855 Massachusetts Ave. NW

Washington, DC 20016

(202) 363-5698

Wagshal's Delicatessen on Urbanspoon

Share/Bookmark

Weekend Round-Up

This edition of Weekend Round-Up is dedicated to Bastille Day! Here’s a couple events celebrating La Fête Nationale:

Saturday

France v. USA Sample Day: Biagio Fine Chocolates gets into the spirit of Bastille Day with a face-off between French-made chocolates and American-made chocolates. On Saturday from 3-6 p.m., attendees can sample a variety of delectable chocolates and vote for their favorite. French and American wines and beer will also be provided by DeVinos Wine. And best of all, the event is complimentary–no RSVP required. Come and see which chocolate reigns supreme! Click here for more details.

French Restaurant Week: Check out which DC French restaurants will be offering special menus and deals for the holiday, courtesy of Girl Meets Food.  From July 9-15.

And in other news….today is Chick-fil-A’s Cow Appreciation Day! Dress up like a cow and head to your nearest Chick-fil-A for a free meal. Normally I’d say embarassing gimmicks liks these aren’t worth it, but I am seriously considering it for that tasty chicken sandwich and crispy waffle fries. Click here for more info.

And on Sunday at 11:30 a.m. (sorry for the disorderliness of this post), Wagshal’s Market hosts its annual D.C. Grill Master Series with Ramon Martinez, executive chef of Jaleo. Martinez will demonstrate how to prepare Spanish Iberico de Bellota pork–made from pigs fed on a diet of black acorns. Attendees will receive $5 Wagshal’s Market purchase, free sampling of entrees, complimentary bottled water and recipes, and a Q&A with the chef. Call (202) 363-0884 to reserve a space with a minimum $10 donation via credit card. All donations will go to the Lions Camp Merrick to fund camp scholarships for diabetic children.

Happy weekend and stay cool!

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Share/Bookmark