Tag Archives: washington

An Exotic Dessert at The Oval Room

On yet another business lunch, we went to The Oval Room, located (and likely named after) near the White House.  As it was a rather formal outing, I tried to keep it professional, and restrained myself from taking photos of the meal.  Each dish was excellent and had an unexpected touch.  The white asaparagus soup ($11), for example, was smooth and creamy, punctuated with sharp, herbaceous notes from sorrel leaves.  The halibut ($23) was surprisingly earthy, served over a bed of fresh sugar snap peas, shimeji mushrooms, and a deep brown broth.   

But the most surprising, and beautiful, dish was the dessert–coconut custard with lemon-lime sherbert, mango lhassi, and candied mint ($10).  I was expecting a sweet, tropical dessert, but what arrived was much more sophisticated.  While the coconut custard had a subtle coconut flavor, it was more of a vehicle for the other components.  The mango lhassi had a sharp, spicy chile flavor, reminiscent of Southeast Asia.  The lemon-lime sherbert added strong acidity and complexity.  

I also loved the dessert’s gorgeous presentation, garnished with lovely violets and green mint leaves.  I (clearly) couldn’t resist taking a photo. Hopefully my professional career doesn’t suffer because of it, but such are the occasional perils of being a food blogger.

The Oval Room
800 Connecticut Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20006
(202) 463-8700
Oval Room on Urbanspoon

A Memorable Lunch at Blue Duck Tavern

As a summer associate at a law firm, I was lucky enough to go out to many fancy lunches over the past 2 months.  But at the end of it all, the one lunch that stands out most in my mind is Blue Duck Tavern, for its truly spectacular yet unpretentious American cuisine.

The interior is distinctively American, perhaps to reflect its cooking.  Old-fashioned rocking chairs and an open-style pantry greet guests at the front reception.  The expansive dining room features dark oak and wood paneling, and feels elegant without being stuffy or overly formal.

The meal began with the watermelon gazpacho, which I recently waxed poetic about in a previous post.  For my main dish, I  ordered the chilled lobster salad with frisee, avocado, grapefruit, and honey citrus vinaigrette ($15).  It was truly a delightful summer salad, featuring a substantial amount of lobster.  The honey citrus vinaigrette accented the sweetness of the lobster, and highlighted the citrus notes from the grapefruit.  Beautifully presented, and perfectly executed.

We shared a couple sides as well.  The roasted asparagus ($10), topped with bacon, a hard cheese (perhaps parmesan or grana padano), and egg was crisp and slightly charred on the outside, and perfectly seasoned.  Surprisingly, the daily harvest vegetables ($9) were also delicious.  I was expecting your typical boring sauteed vegetables (which is probably why I didn’t take a photo), but what arrived was a gorgeous plate of buttery sugar snap peas and carrots.  The simple preparation–butter, salt, pepper, and a sprinkling of fresh herbs–really highlighted the freshness of the vegetables.

Of course, we had to order the infamous hand cut BDT triple fries ($10), which are quite extravagantly fried in duck fat.  We felt a bit miffed when only a handful of fries arrived at the table, but be warned–a few fries are more than enough.  The fries are very thick-cut and rich, yet not greasy at all.  Definitely worth ordering if you have never tried duck fat fries, but not a dish for the faint of heart or calorie-counters.

I’ll admit we went a bit crazy on desserts.  But at $9 each for a sizeable, delectable portion, the desserts at Blue Duck Tavern seem to be a good deal.  Though I glanced over this at first, the milk chocolate banana s’mores ended up being my favorite of the three desserts.  It was more of a deconstructed interpretation of a s’more, with crumbled graham crackers on the bottom, a caramelized banana custard, and a homemade marshmallow on top.  The marshmallow was blowtorched just before arriving at our table, and had slightly smoky flavor, which accentuated the caramelized banana custard nicely.  Overall, it wasn’t an overly sweet dessert, which is what I normally think of when I think of s’mores.

The chocolate cake with sour cherries was quite decadent and fudgey, but nothing too memorable.  I did enjoy that it was served warm, along with the cold whipped cream on the side.

The apple pie was much larger than we expected, and easily could have been shared by 4 people.  I loved the caramelized sugar on the crust, which added a divine crispiness.  The apple filling was much tarter than usual, and in my opinion, a bit dry.  I like my apple pie filling gooey, or smothered in a bit of just-melted vanilla ice cream.

If you are looking for someplace to host a special meal, Blue Duck Tavern should certainly be your pick.

Blue Duck Tavern
1201 24th St. NW
Washington, DC 20037
(202) 419-6755
Blue Duck Tavern on Urbanspoon

Best Summer Soups in DC

This summer has been exceptionally scortching in DC.  Yet even with 100-degree plus temps, I still found myself craving soup–the one dish that is certainly not desireable in this heat.  Luckily for me, several DC restaurants have adapted their menus for the summer, featuring an abundance of refreshing soups that highlight the season’s produce.  Here are three of my favorites:

Blue Duck Tavern’s Watermelon Gazpacho

Known for its rustic American cooking, Blue Duck Tavern manages to elevate even the simplest of dishes with its emphasis on fresh, local ingredients.  Its watermelon gazpacho ($12, photographed above), recently featured as the soup of the day, was emblematic of its refined culinary approach.  Each bite was utterly refreshing, with the sweetness of the watermelon tempered by a generous drizzle of olive oil, ultimately making the soup more of a savory dish.  Served chilled, with fresh baked croutons and minty, slightly licorice-flavored herbs on top, it was a terrific, unique take on the classic gazpacho.

1201 24th St. NW
Washington, DC 20037
(202) 419-6755
Blue Duck Tavern on Urbanspoon

Fiola’s Summer Corn Gazpacho

I look forward to corn on the cob every summer, and Fiola’s summer corn gazpacho captures that sweet corn flavor in every bite.  The soup arrived chilled over a bowl of ice, garnished with beautiful purple flowers.  The texture was thicker and smoother than your typical gazpacho, with kernels of fresh golden corn throughout.  Featured as a starter on their “Maria’s Light Menu” (which is a steal for $24), Fiola’s summer corn gazpacho was a light and cooling introduction to what would be a fabulous lunch.

601 Pennsylvania Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20004
(202) 628-2888
Fiola on Urbanspoon

Brasserie Beck’s English Pea Soup

Brasserie Beck’s English pea soup has the distinction of being the only hot soup to make this list.  Its temperature was not an issue at all, as the soup was possibly one of the most delicious dishes I ate all summer.  Creamy, pale green soup was poured over thick pieces of bacon, and topped with a perfectly poached egg and chives.  Despite the rich ingredients, the soup was incredibly light and left me wanting to lick my bowl for more.  It was creamy, earthy, savory, sweet, and slightly smoky all at once, but the fresh pea flavor definitely stood out above the rest.

1101 K. St. NW
Washington, DC 20005
(202) 408-1717
Brasserie Beck on Urbanspoon

Restaurant.com Giveaway!

The Unpaid Gourmet is happy to announce its first giveaway–all thanks to Restaurant.com!

For readers unfamiliar with the site, Restaurant.com offers discounts to over 15,000 restaurants across the country. From appetizers to dessert, from wine to dinner, Restaurant.com helps restaurant owners promote the new and unique aspects of their restaurants while providing diners with great value in a fun, new and cost effective way.

Personally, I’ve been perusing the Philadelphia, Washington DC, and Los Angeles sections of the site, and I’m happy to have found some of my favorite places listed on the site.

And now onto the most exciting part–the giveaway!  Two lucky readers will each win a $25 gift certificate to Restaurant.com.  To enter, answer the following question in the comments section below:

What dish or ingredient are you most looking forward to seeing on menus this spring?

(For me, I’ll have to go with asparagus risotto.  Mmmmm.)

The giveaway will close Sunday April 10 at 11 p.m. and winners will be contacted on Monday.  Bonus points to readers who sign up for RSS Feed!  (Well, not really, but please do sign up anyway!)

Good luck, and please thank Restaurant.com for their generosity.

**UPDATE: Congratulations to Susan Audrey and Ariste, winners of the contest! Thank you to everyone who entered.  Hopefully we’ll start seeing strawberries and artichokes on menus soon!

Goodbye, DC!

That’s right, folks. I am both sad and happy to announce that I will be leaving  DC in a few days and hopefully taking this blog with me. I’ll keep my destination a surprise for now, but here’s a hint: it’s always sunny there.

I can’t believe how fast the past 10 months flew by, and I’m eternally grateful to the friends, fellow food bloggers, dining companions, and readers who’ve made my time in DC so memorable. From discovering the best gyro ever, to surviving Smowmageddon, to hunting for Easter eggs at the White House, it’s truly been an amazing time in my life–and I’m so glad I could share it with all of you on this blog. I don’t think I’ll be able to tour the world in 1 day, bump into former Top Chef contestants, or top the meal of a lifetime in my next city, but hopefully I’ll be able to find a dining scene as vibrant and special as DC’s.

And with that, I’m signing off for the week. Til then, happy eating!

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

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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.

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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

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