Category Archives: Media Pass

American Spirits Bartender Competition

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Last month, I had the pleasure of attending the American Spirits Bartender Competition, hosted by the National Constitution Center and the Hotel Monaco. The event was, in part, to celebrate the National Constitution Center’s exhibit, American Spirits: The Rise and Fall of the Prohibition, which perfectly portrays the dynamic history, trends, and sprit of the Roaring 20s.

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The competition took place at the Hotel Monaco’s Stratus Rooftop Lounge, a posh yet cozy venue with terrific views of the city.

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The competition featured bartenders from XIX, 10 Arts, Square 1682, and the Stratus Lounge, all showcasing a different Prohibition-themed cocktail.  Nate Churchill of XIX (pictured above) won the competition with his Orange Blossom cocktail, featuring Bluecoat gin, fresh lemon and orange juice, honey, and bitters, served up in a mason jar.

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Chauncey Scates, of Square 1682, offered the Powder Room Punch, which mixed Bluecoat gin, cointreau, Jasmine Tea, lemon, grenadine, and dashes of Peychauds and Angostura bitters on the rocks.  The cocktail was very earthy and fruity, with a pretty coral color.

Bess Gulliver (pictured at top) represented the Stratus Lounge with the Jazz Baby, made with Bluecoat gin, Carpano Antica Formula Vermouth, Pierre Ferrand Dry Orange Curacao, and Averna Amaro, garnished with a flamed orange peel.  The drink reminded me of an Old Fashioned, but with gin instead of whisky.

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Stephen Diaz of 10 Arts served my personal favorite cocktail of the evening.  Featuring Bluecoat gin, St. Germaine, fresh raspberry syrup, and a splash of Dry Brut champagne, the drink tasted like an effervescent raspberry sorbet.  The St. Germaine, an elderflower liquor, added a lovely floral finish.

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The competition was certainly a success.  Thanks to the National Constitution Center for inviting me.  And be sure to check out their exhibit, American Spirits: The Rise and Fall of the Prohibition, where you can learn all about the history and culture of the Prohibition era and channel your inner flapper!  The exhibit runs through April 28, and admission is free on Sundays.

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Guinness Believer Tasting Lands in Philly

My friend Tarun and I were lucky enough to attend the Guinness Believer Tasting last night at the World Cafe in Philly.  When I first received the press release for the event, I have to admit that I was a bit skeptical.  Described as a “unique multi-media event led by a Guinness ambassador,” I wasn’t sure what to expect.  But after attending the packed  event, I can wholeheartedly say Guinness has made a believer out of me.

The evening began with a lesson in pouring, in which the audience got to pour their own pints of Guinness Draught.  We learned that it takes one minute and 19 seconds to pour the perfect pint.  For the perfect pint, tilt the glass at a 45 degree angle and fill the glass about halfway, pulling the handle towards you.  Once the foam settles, straighten the glass and fill it to the top, pushing the handle away from you, until the head is proud of the rim (meaning that the foam curves just over the glass, but doesn’t spill over).

Following the pouring lesson, our Guinness ambassador came out to start the show.  Both he, and the show, were quite entertaining and informative.  We raised (several) pints, chanted slàinte!, and learned about the history of Guinness.  Some interesting facts: Arthur Guinness, the founder, signed a 9000 year lease for the brewery at St. James Gate in Ireland, which is still the location of the Guinness brewery today.  And to those who’ve heard that Guinness is like a meal in a glass, apparently 12 oz of Guinness only has 125 calories.

We also sampled 2 other Guinness brews.  The Guinness Foreign Extra Stout was rich with a decadent chocolate flavor, reminding me of a more refined version of chocolate sodas from an old-fashioned soda fountain.  The Guinness Black Lager was lighter, with a heavy coffee flavor and slight bitterness from the hops.  Both were new reincarnations of the classic Guinness Draughts that I’d never tasted before, and I really enjoyed both brews.

The Guinness Believer Tasting was certainly a success in Philly, and it may be coming to a city near you soon!  Next week, they will be heading to Washington, DC, and to Chicago the following week.  Best of all, this event is free to all; just make sure to RSVP in advance.  Join Guinness enthusiasts and rookies alike to raise a pint in your city–slàinte!

Beaujolais & Burgers Really Are A Perfect Pair

I was lucky enough to attend the press tasting for last week’s Beaujolais & Burgers event, hosted by renowned wine merchant Georges DuBoeuf and wine writer Mark Oldman.  The event was quite a success, proving that Beaujolais and burgers really are a fantastic pairing.

The press tasting was very comprehensive, as we sampled 6 varieties of Beaujolais, paired with burgers from 4 excellent Philly restaurants: Alfa, 500 Degrees, Rouge, and Spiga.

Mark Oldman began the tasting by explaining Beaujolais’ flavor profile, describing it as  a white wine straddling a red, meaning it has a lighter mouthfeel than most reds because it has less tannins. Beaujolais also tends to be very fruit forward, with notes of raspberry, cherry, strawberry, and black currant.  Unlike most reds, Oldman also recommends serving Beaujolais chilled, further highlighting its similarity to whites.

Of the 6 wines we tried, my favorites were the Georges Duboeuf Brouilly 2011 (pronounced broo-ey, $14.99) and the Georges Duboeuf Morgon Domaine Jean Descombes 2011 ($15.99).  Both are examples of affordable yet high quality wine.  The Brouilly was on the lighter, refreshing side, while the Morgon was full to medium bodied, with more pronounced red and black fruit flavors.  Both the Brouiily and Morgon paired nicely with the burgers, cutting through the richness of the meat.

And now, onto the burgers.  My two favorites of the night were 500 Degrees and Spiga.  500 Degrees cooked their burger to perfection, leaving the thick patty a lovely pink in the middle.  Topped with arugula, bacon, tomato, and a sunny side up egg, it was definitely very decadent and not for the faint of heart.  Spiga’s burger offered a completely burger experience.  With a much thinner patty, topped with herbed goat cheese, a sweet caramelized onion mostarda, applewood bacons, and sauteed spinach, Spiga’s burger was a success.  I was surprised that all of the accompaniments worked so well together, and did not overwhelm the flavor of the burger.  For more detailed descriptions of all the burgers, see Two Eat Philly and Burger Eaters‘ takes on the evening, who frankly, might be better qualified to evaluate these burgers than me!

Many thanks to Georges Duboeuf, and CRT/tanaka for organizing such a great event!  I definitely left with a much deeper knowledge of the wonders of burgers and Beaujolais

The Boilermaker Goes Beyond Beer & Shots

I suspect that many people will go to The Boilermaker for its extensive beer list and its namesake drink.  For the uninitiated (like myself before last Wednesday), a boilermaker is a shot paired with a beer.  But it’s not the pound-on-the-table-and-chug kind of drink you’d find at your local dive bar; rather, the shot and beer are meant to complement each other, and are best enjoyed sipped slowly.  I was intrigued by the concept, and admit that was a partial motivation for attending The Boilermaker’s VIP opening party last Wednesday night.  Though I enjoyed the drink, I was pleasantly surprised to find that The Boilermaker offers much more than beer and shots.

(Photo courtesy of The Boilermaker)

Headed by the folks at The Farmer’s CabinetThe Boilermaker also offers a small but appealing (and expanding) comfort food menu–think hand carved roasts, mac and cheese, and housemade kimchi-topped hot dogs.  Thanks to the management, I was able to try most of the menu at the party, and was very impressed with all of the dishes.  Favorites included the cheeseburger, served on a buttery brioche roll ($12); mac and cheese, a decadent dish lightened with a sprinkling of lemon zest ($8); and the roasted lamb shoulder ($11), which arrived at the table rosy and tender.  But the real standout, surprisingly, was the baked beans ($7).  Sweet and smoky, the beans had a pleasant bite to them, showing they were clearly not from a can.

There are currently no desserts on the menu, but we got to preview the freshly fried zeppoli, which should be making an appearance soon.  Zeppoli are Italian donuts, typically served in a paper bag and shaken up with powdered sugar.  The Boilermaker’s version stays true to the classic, and are as light and airy as can be.  They’ll definitely be a welcome addition to the menu.

While the food is definitely a draw for me, The Boilermaker, of course, is first and foremost a bar.  Featuring 28 rotating drafts and 12 local drafts, its beer list is quite extensive.  And for those who are not fans of beer or boilermakers, there is also a cocktail menu with “simple American cocktails”: Sazeracs, Cobblers, and Juleps.

I sampled the sherry cobbler, California boilermaker, and a classic mint julep (pictured above).  These drinks are definitely not for the faint-hearted, as the bartenders are certainly not stingy with their pours.  The cobbler, an old-style cocktail muddled with fresh fruit and sugar, was refreshing and garnished with a large straw, which was perfect for sucking up the fresh blueberries at the bottom of the glass.  The mint julep, topped with a bushel of fresh mint, was heavy on the bourbon and reminiscent of the Kentucky Derby.  And finally, the infamous boilermaker.  Though I can see the appeal, and the effort it takes to pair the liquors with the beer, I can’t say that I’m a fan.  I enjoyed the beer, light golden-colored Saison that lends itself well to springtime drinking.  I enjoyed the shot, a surprisingly fruity pear gin.  But I can’t say that I really enjoyed them together.

Nevertheless, I did enjoy my overall experience at The Boilermaker.  I will definitely be back for a mint julep, and perhaps a side of those delicious baked beans.  And with everything on the menu under $20, The Boilermaker seems to be a welcome and affordable addition to the Philly bar/restaurant scene.

The Boilermaker
216 S. 11th St.
Philadelphia, PA 19107
(215) 922-3247

Shameless Plug #5


In my latest column for Zester Daily, I attended the second annual Korean BBQ Cook-Off in Los Angeles and interviewed contestants and judges on Korean food’s sudden rise in popularity. Chef Ludo Lefebvre (of LudoBites fame), Pulitzer Prize-winning food critic Jonathan Gold, and award-winning actress Sandra Oh were on hand to offer their thoughts on the trend and answer this burning question: Is kimchi the new sushi?

Here’s an excerpt:

Diners aren’t the only ones embracing Korean cuisine. Chefs are also hopping on the bandwagon, with Korean ingredients and flavors showing up more and more at high-profile restaurants around L.A., including LudoBites, where Lefebvre frequently uses kimchi in his dishes. “Korean food is a big influence in America,” Lefebvre said. “I am French, and I cook a lot with kimchi at my restaurant. I’ve made kimchi foie gras, kimchi with cheese, and now I’m working on a kimchi dessert.”

Korean chefs are incorporating American influences into their native cuisine as well, perhaps playing off the success of Roy Choi’s Kogi tacos. At the Korean BBQ Cook-Off, visitors waited in line for half an hour to try Kalbi Burger and Seoul Sausage Company, which sold Korean-inspired burgers and hot dogs. But it was Choonchun Dakgalbi’s signature dish of chicken, rice cakes, yams and cheese in a spicy red sauce that won the attention of the judges. Cook-off judge Oh presented the restaurant with the award for best fusion dish. “I love the fact that Korean food, especially in LA, is moving forward,” she said. “I’m totally there with you guys to expand Korean flavors.”

Read the full article at Zester Daily. And please Tweet, Like, and forward to your friends!


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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
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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

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Photos courtesy of Catherine Coughlin and The Tasting Room