After a very long winter, we’re overjoyed to see all the spring produce flooding farmers markets and grocery aisles. And yet, much like the season itself, the veggies aren’t all as easy-going as their summer cousins. Ever wondered what do with nettles or ramps, or how best to shell fava beans? Then read on for tips, recipes, and more.
1) Spring turnips
Spring turnips are different from their larger, tougher winter brethren. The pale bulbs are smaller, more tender, and sweeter, and the greens are far more delicate. Contrary to popular preparation, you can eat both raw.
Best uses: Thinly slice the bulbs—and if you’re a root-to-top eater, the greens as well—and add to salads for a clean crunch, similar to radishes; I’m a fan of sweet-spicy Asian preparations, as in this recipe for shredded turnip-and-carrot slaw. They can also withstand a light braise.
Storing/cleaning: Like radishes, your turnips will last longer if you cut the greens immediately and store the bulbs and stems separately, preferably in loosely sealed bags in the crisper. Rinse to use—they’ll get soggy and mealy otherwise.
These young fern fronds look interesting, and also tricky to prepare. They take a little effort, but the springy flavor—think asparagus and a little artichoke—is worth it, as is the dose of antioxidants and omega-3s. Just don’t eat them raw; the flavor isn’t pleasant, and neither is the upset stomach.
Best uses: Go simple. Gently sauté them in butter or olive oil with garlic for about five minutes, then sprinkle lemon zest on top. Alternatively you can boil or steam them to add an attractive garnish to Bloodys, or serve atop smoked-salmon crostini with fresh goat cheese.
Storing/cleaning: Peel off the thin, brownish exterior and rinse with several changes of water to get out grit. They don’t have a long shelf life, but keep them sealed in the fridge if need be. They can also be frozen.
There’s a reason chefs covet these bunches of wild onions: Like Matt Damon in EuroTrip, their appearance is brief but oh so good.
They tend to smell more pungent than they taste, though the flavor—like a cross between leeks and garlic—adds oomph to a variety of dishes.
Best uses: Ramps are incredibly versatile. Blend them into pesto, grill them alongside steaks, or toss them in pasta (I tried this ramp carbonara recipe recently, to rave reviews). If you love the flavor, try pickling them for later use.
Storing/cleaning: Wrap the bulbs in damp paper towels and keep them stored in the fridge in a plastic bag; this should keep them fresh for about three days. When you’re ready to cook them, rinse in a colander under cold water, trim off the roots, and peel off any slimy translucent skin around the bulbs.
Stinging nettles are typically avoided, so why should you buy them? Health benefits, to start. The leafy plants lose their sting after a quick blanch, but impart a nice dose of iron and vitamins, and are used in everything from arthritis treatments to dandruff control. Thankfully, the taste isn’t medical; use them in dishes to add earthy, vegetal notes.
Best uses: Blend them with ricotta for filling ravioli, make nettle soup, or chop the blanched leaves and mix them with feta for a verdant dip.
Storing/cleaning: Handle nettles with care. Wear thick gloves while rinsing them under several changes of cold water, and while separating the leaves from the tough stem. Store in a sealed bag in the crisper.
5) Beets and their greens
Like the aforementioned turnips, spring beets and their greens are less tough than their winter cousins. Even if you’re suffering root-vegetable fatigue from winter, there are plenty of springy preparations for these healthful veggies. Remember not to toss the leaves, as they’re rich in flavor and antioxidants.
Best uses: Sauté the greens with bacon and garlic, shave the raw bulbs for carpaccio, or soak chunks in gin for three days to make vibrant, naturally sweet spring cocktails.
Storing/cleaning: As with turnips, separate the stems from the bulbs and store them separately in sealed bags in the crisper.
6) Fava beans
The toughest thing about favas is extracting the fat beans from their pods. The effort is worth it: Their flavor is rich and faintly sweet, and can enhance any number of dishes. If you’re really feeling lazy, certain specialty stores sell frozen favas (best for more heavy-handed preparations, such as dips).
Best uses: I’m a big fan of Yotam Ottolenghi’s recipe for fava-bean salad with mint and goat cheese. Other possibilities are endless: sautés, soups, hummus, you name it. Saveur has a great lineup of ideas.
Storing/cleaning: Keep the beans in a sealed bag in the fridge. Once you’re ready to get peeling, watch this handy video.
7) Rainbow chard
This eye-catching breed of chard is too pretty to pass up at the farmers market, but it’s not all show—the robust green is both good for you and tasty, like a more delicate spinach.
Best uses: You’ll lose some of the vibrant color in cooking, so if you want visual oomph, toss the leaves in salad or use the stems to add pop to a crudité platter. Chard and eggs also go hand in hand, from frittatas to baked eggs on a bed of garlic-sautéed leaves.
Storing/cleaning: Store it unwashed in a bag in the crisper. Rinse to clean, and dry well before use.
President Obama and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe claimed two of the ten seats at the world-famous Sukiyabashi Jiro in Tokyo on April 23, along with US Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy and National Security Adviser Susan Rice. The eatery, considered to be one of the top sushi destinations on the planet, was the subject of the 2011 hit documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi.
So did it garner the presidential seal of approval?
“That’s some good sushi right there,” said Obama as he emerged from the restaurant, according to a pool report.
The three-star Michelin eatery, owned by 89-year-old sushi master Jiro Ono, is tucked in a basement attached to the Ginza Metro Station. Though traditional multi-course meal typically lasts just half an hour—much less time than Obama spent perched at José Andrés’s similarly exclusive and pricey Minibar last Valentine’s Day—the President and his party left the restaurant after an hour and a half. Obama is the master of culinary diplomacy, after all.
At first glance, Compass Rose doesn’t scream Washington: No stars and bars line the walls, no half-smokes appear on the menu. But in less traditional ways it’s one of the more locally leaning spots to open in the 14th Street corridor of late. A small, eclectic menu of international street eats reflects the global nature—and well-traveled background—of many in the city. Chef John Paul Damato, a veteran of José Andrés’s empire, joins a group of owners who also have roots in the area; husband-and-wife duo Rose Previte and David Greene met years ago at the soon-to-close Pour House—he’s now an NPR Morning Edition cohost—and partner Mike Schuster co-owns Trusty’s, Star and Shamrock, and other Capitol Hill spots. Here’s what to look for in the funky 65-seat space, now open on T Street.
Street fare from Argentina to Tunisia
Damato’s kitchen may be small, but it turns out a globe-trotting assortment of dishes inspired by street food and travel. You could start with Georgian khachapuri, a rich cheese bread that Previte and Greene fell in love with during a three-year stint in Russia, then move on to Brazilian red shrimp spiced with pink peppercorns and pineapple or, closer to home, mini sausage corn dogs. A section of snacks provides sustenance for drinkers, but you’re not limited to grazing. Many plates are meal-size, such as the Chilean lomito sandwich stuffed with roast pork, avocado, and spicy nduja sausage.
Georgian “black wine” and house rosewater
The beverage lineup is just as eclectic as the food, with even more unusual finds. Need a date-night conversation starter? Try ordering Lebanese 961 Red Ale from the only microbrewery in the Middle East, or the Georgian house red, nicknamed “black wine” for its deep color and robust taste. On warmer nights you may want to opt for interesting cocktails such as the Summer Night in Beirut, made with Hangar 1 blueberry vodka, fresh lemonade, and house-made rosewater.
The outdoors inside
The cozy space mixes urban and outdoor touches. A large skylight illuminates brick walls lined with potted plants, repurposed wood surfaces, and a blue ceiling meant to evoke the sky. For true al fresco dining, a front patio is set to open this week with about ten seats.
Late-night eats and hours
Two dining rooms and a bar may give the appearance of a restaurant, but Previte says the space was equally designed for snacking and drinking. Stop in for a happy-hour libation, or drop by post-dinner to spend the night sipping Czechvar beers. A late-night menu—a condensed version of the regular offerings—is currently in the works.
A living-room vibe
“My husband and I live upstairs, so it’s kind of an extension of our living room,” says Previte. They searched for a space with an apartment attached, following in the tradition of Previte’s grandfather, who lived above his grocery store for many years. The aim is for a welcoming vibe, a continuation of their experience at the Pour House, where Previte was a server and Greene a regular. (Many in the bar’s extended family of staff and customers attended their wedding.) “With the Pour House is closing at the end of this month, I hope the neighborhood spirit comes over here,” says Previte.
Compass Rose. 1346 T St., NW; 202-506-4765. Open Monday through Thursday 5 to 2, Friday and Saturday 5 to 3, and Sunday 5 to 2.
Happy birthday, Del Campo: Chef Victor Albisu’s South American restaurant celebrates its first birthday with a tango dance party on Tuesday. Stop in between 7 and 10 for dancing, cocktails, snacks, and more. Tickets are $55 and can be ordered by calling 202-289-7377 or e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hot happy hour: Those looking to spice up their Tuesday evening can head to Right Proper Brewing Company for happy hour with locally made Glover’s Pepper Sauce. From 5 to 8 you’ll find wings made with the condiment, samples of hot sauce flavors from chef/producer Jamie Glover, and $1 off all house beers.
Brews and bacon: Love pork and beer? Belga Cafe has a special dinner for you on Tuesday at 6:30, centered on Belgian ales and bacon. Five courses include dishes such as bacon-wrapped oysters and roast pheasant with bacon shavings, each paired with a different beer ($59 per person).
Celebrity chef dinner: The first leg of the James Beard Celebrity Chef Tour dinner comes to Kapnos on Wednesday. Visiting toques including Zahav’s Michael Solomonov from Philadelphia join forces with local notables such as host Mike Isabella and Scott Drewno for the meal. Tickets can be reserved online for $200 per person.
Artistic happy hour: Logan Tavern hosts a “meet the artist” happy hour on Wednesday from 5 to 7, with complimentary snacks and discounted drinks celebrating an exhibit by local artist Heidi Phelps. Sip cocktails inspired by Phelps’s art, such as one made with gluten-free gin and house-made rosewater, as you listen to Phelps talk about her pieces.
Dine out for a cause: The Dining Out for Life campaign returns to local restaurants on Thursday, where participating eateries will donate anywhere from 25 to 100 percent of sales to Food & Friends’s efforts to assist those living with HIV/AIDS. See the full list and the contribution percentages online.
A chef’s charity returns: The eighth annual World Festival from chef Art Smith’s national nonprofit, Common Threads, resumes on Thursday after a two-year hiatus. The event, held from 6 to 9 at the Liaison Capitol Hill, brings together 20-plus chefs and mixologists who create a global spectrum of drinks and eats. Tickets ($150) are available online.
Rockfish roast: Chef Todd Gray and his team launch a seasonal grilling/roasting series at Equinox on Thursday. The theme of the first: a Chesapeake Bay rockfish roast, which begins at 6 with beers and local oysters before the family-style seated dinner. Reservations ($95, all-inclusive) are required.
French Market encore: Georgetown’s annual French Market returns to the Book Hill neighborhood on Friday and Saturday from 10 to 5. The area’s many galleries, salons, and shops will offer specials and sales, while restaurants and cafes offer Francophile fare such as macarons, grilled merguez sausages, crepes, and more.
Restaurant-hop in Bethesda: Restaurant Week returns to Bethesda Row Monday through Sunday. The 16 participating restaurants, including Jaleo and Luke’s Lobster, will offer three-course lunches for $15 and dinners for $30.
Eat more oysters: The seventh annual Oyster Fest returns to Hank’s Oyster Bar in Dupont Circle on Saturday from 11 to 3. The all-inclusive tickets ($80) allow access to all-you-can-eat raw, fried, and barbecued oysters, popcorn shrimp, bottomless draft beers, and more. Tickets are available online.
Boil more crawfish: The annual Crawfish Boil goes down on Saturday at Pearl Dive, offering an unlimited amount of crawfish and Abita beers. Two seatings—from noon to 2 and 2:30 to 4:30—are available; tickets are $65 for each.
Carb-loaders welcome: Running the Nike Women’s Half Marathon on Sunday, or just really love pasta? Stop by Urbana on Saturday evening for all-you-can-eat pastas made with power veggies such as kale and sweet potatoes ($20 per person). Choices include whole-wheat bucatini with roasted tomatoes and arugula pesto, sweet potato gnocchi with grilled salmon, and kale gemelli with cauliflower and capers.
Spring beer fest: Forget Oktoberfest—Capitol City Brewing Company throws its first spring beer festival on Saturday at the Village at Shirlington from noon to 7. Beer fans can try more than 200 styles of beer from 45 breweries, snack on food from local vendors, and more. Tickets are $30 for drinkers, which include a tasting glass and ten beverage tickets; additional tickets are available for $1 each. Entry is free for non-drinkers and kids.
Plenty of new pre-flight dining options are heading to Reagan National Airport. In addition to local chains including Ben’s Chili Bowl and Taylor Gourmet, big-name chefs such as Carla Hall are planning to establish their presence. The most recent: Robert Wiedmaier, who’s signed on for a restaurant in Terminal A. The veteran toque, who owns Marcel’s, Brasserie Beck, and Mussel Bar, among others, has teamed up with concessions company OTG for a French bistro, according to a news release.
“The menu will feature the flavors and textures of simple French country cooking with a focus on regionally sourced meats, fish, and produce that has become Chef Wiedmaier’s signature style,” says a representative for the project.
In addition to the menu, travelers can relax over iPads and power outlets built into each seat. The technology guests to track their flight without running to the departures board, or just browse the Web during their meal. Looks like Vino Volo will have some stiff competition for the Meet at the Airport member crowd. Stay tuned for more information closer to the opening.
Happy Monday, food truck followers! Satisfy your sweet tooth with sweet tea cookies and PB&J ice cream at Captain Cookie, chili mangos and watermelon from La Tingeria, and chocolate-dipped frozen bananas aboard Orange Cow.
Good news for pizza fans: Casey Patten and David Mazza, the owners of recently crowned Sandwich Smackdown champ Taylor Gourmet, are jumping into the pie game at their former H Street steak-and-cheese spot, Taylor Charles Steak & Ice. Taking over: Pizza Parts & Service*, which opens (surprise!) today at 11.
A YouTube video released by the team shows thin-crust rounds, which, according to the menu, can also be ordered “Nonna”-style: 18-inch rectangles reminiscent of Philly-style tomato pie. Specialty toppings on the red and white varieties range from local Logan’s sausage to house-made meatballs, Buffalo chicken and ranch, and vegetarian options topped with mushrooms and truffle oil or artichoke and spinach. Rounding out the lineup are six varieties of wings—including a Bon Chon-esque Sriracha-honey—as well as salads, calzones, and garlic knots. Coming soon: beer and wine by the glass and pitcher, and delivery for the carryout crowd.
In Taylor tradition, the shop plans to stay open late on the weekends, serving the H Street post-bar crowds until 3:30 on Friday and Saturday.
Pizza Parts & Service. 1320 H St., NE; 202-388-6880. Open Sunday through Thursday 11 to 10, and Friday and Saturday 11 to 3:30.
*Restaurant-name fun fact: There’s an official “Parts &” trend going on between Spike Gjerde’s newly opened Parts & Labor in Baltimore, and Michael Babin’s Partisan (initially also called Parts & Labor) in Penn Quarter.
Za’atar-seared tuna tataki with tabbouleh at Rappahannock Oyster Bar
Seats at the Union Market outpost of this Virginia oyster pioneer are a hot commodity on weekends, but the food is well worth it. On a recent Sunday afternoon visit, a tray of oysters, the white gazpacho, and this tuna dish were a perfect late brunch for spring.
Brie-and-tomato-jam sandwich at Bon Fresco
There are so many bad sandwiches out there.
I don’t mean the sandwiches that aren’t really trying, like those dreary triangle-cut, plastic-wrapped things in the refrigerated case at 7-11 or Sheetz.
I mean the ones that think they’re better than they are. Is it great that the bread is baked on the premises? It can be—but not if, as so often happens, it winds up being too much bread for the sandwich. I love it when I see an operation that roasts its own meats, especially when it’s interesting items such as goat and pork shoulder. But a sandwich, remember, is a chorus; all these disparate elements must mesh. A star turn can disrupt the essential sense of balance, and frequently does. Make the pickles in house, great—but is the spicing in the brine in the service of the sandwich? And why am I getting an acidic hit before I’ve ever taken my first bite of meat? And why is the Sriracha-spiked condiment slathered on the bread, making it soggy? Why do I feel that the sandwich-maker just piled things one atop another with little regard for how they interact? Why does the whole thing fall apart after four bites?
Now look at my favorite sandwich at Gerald Koh’s Bon Fresco.
Aside from the bread—a yeasty, crusty, phenomenally light baguette that Koh bakes himself—the individual elements would bore you on their own. Nothing is what you would call exquisite: thick wedges of Brie, a sundried-tomato jam, barely caramelized onions.
But a sandwich isn’t just a collection of high-quality sexy ingredients, as Koh knows. He tends to favor simple constructions, and builds with smart, dramatic contrasts—setting the rich, creamy Brie against the crunchy baguette, for instance, and using the tanginess of the tomato jam to pierce the intensity of the cheese. The caramelized onions bring a needed sweetness, as well as a little texture.
This is an almost-perfect sandwich, and it’s also almost perfectly made, layered with thought and care. It’s never the case that you bite into the Brie and don’t get a taste of tomato jam. Or that the ratio of jam or onions to cheese is out of whack. Or that there’s too much bread for the sandwich. Or that the whole thing collapses in your hands.
Beef-and-cheddar sandwich at Red Apron Butcher
Store-bought roast-beef sandwiches tend to be filled with dry, gray slices of meat that call to mind poor Oliver Twist (Pret, I’m looking at you). But leave it to Nate Anda to restore my faith in the often-maligned cold cut. At the Merrifield outpost of his hipster butcher shop, Red Apron, his roast beef tastes less like lunch meat and more like fresh slices of a juicy, rare, ruby-red steak. Slathers of house-made Cheez Whiz and ranch mayo make it sound like something only a frat boy could love, but they’re the perfect accents, along with a squishy, slightly sweet bun. I had it last weekend, and I haven’t stopped thinking about it since.
Sushi at Tachibana
Unlike many nostalgic cravings, my love of Tachibana’s sushi also appeals to my food-lover palate. I grew up in McLean, where my parents still live, and it was at the original Arlington location of this neighborhood Japanese spot where I fell in love with sushi (at age five), as well as tempura, teriyaki, and other dishes more suited to a kid’s taste. My family still visits on weekend afternoons, along with the many others packing around tables for generous bento boxes and pristine slices of fish arranged into artful sashimi and sushi platters. Besides owner Eiji Yahashi moving the 32-year-old operation to McLean in the mid-’90s, nothing much has changed. It’s a wonderful thing. Lunch for me always begins with a lemony bean-sprout salad, perhaps a soothing bowl of clam miso soup if it’s cold. Then it’s on to whatever fresh fish entices that day. A dry-erase board of daily specialties can hold unusual treasures such as seasonal red sweet shrimp served raw atop perfectly seasoned sushi rice, their heads fried and brought on a side plate for sucking the flavorful insides. But you don’t need to be adventurous for a good meal. Try a simple tuna roll or nigiri, the fat slices of ruby-hued fish cushioned by more of that perfect rice and tender—not dry or chewy—seaweed. The flavors are clean, and always leave me wishing every neighborhood sushi bar could be this good.
See also: Previous Best Things I Ate