Slushie at Shoo-fly Diner
Imagine a Slurpee. Only with a smoother, more sophisticated texture that delivers the wetness, coldness, and density but not the spiky crunch of pulverized ice.
And instead of Coke or that candy-tasting cherry—101-proof bourbon.
And to balance the booze, a generous pour of fresh pear cider from Reid’s Orchard in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.
I’ve had a lot of terrific cocktails in 2013, and I think DC has pretty well staked its claim to being called the Cocktail Capital of America. But I can’t think of another drink I had this year that was better, or more fun, than this amazingly simple twist on the trashiest treat of summer.
Only problem is, it disappears as fast as a Slurpee on a brutally hot day, and you immediately feel the need for another—until the buzz overtakes you and you realize it’s an hour-plus drive back home.
What to do? Order another, then head downstairs to the playroom to sober up with a few games of pinball.
Vongole Pizza at 2 Amys
At my first magazine job in New York, I worked with a guy who had grown up in DC and by his late twenties had become a caricature of the droll, jaded New York editor. He rarely had a non-snarky word to say about, well, anything. So it surprised me one day when he a) smiled, and b) asked the following question: “Have you had the pizza at 2 Amys with the cockles? It’s amazing!”
I made a point of trying it on my next trip to DC, and since then I’ve been hooked. I can’t go to the place without ordering the Vongole, with its stretchy crust, slightly caramelized layer of Grana Padano cheese, and tiny, briny-sweet cockles baked in their shells. Unlike many sauceless clam pies, it isn’t inundated with garlic, and it has just the right amount of chili-flake burn. I had it the night before Thanksgiving (the restaurant was packed and the Blue’s Clues set was out in full force, per usual), cramming it onto a whole tableful of small plates. A decade later, it still has the power to make even the most sullen of folks talk in exclamation points.
Bún bò huế (Vietnamese noodle soup) in the Maketto pop-up at Union Market
It’s officially soup weather. If your weekend plans involve heading to the Eden Center for pho or slurping noodles at Daikaya, consider one more possibility: the Maketto pop-up at Union Market, which serves as a testing ground and preview for Erik Bruner-Yang’s upcoming H Street restaurant/market.
The recently ended Maketto “residency” at Hanoi House was a comparative commitment: $30 for a six-course meal, which had to be reserved in advance. Now you can now drop by Maketto’s temporary stall at the NoMa market, sit at one of two one-sided tables, and order whatever chef de cuisine James Wozniuk is able to produce with two induction burners. I hate to draw comparisons, having visited the residency in its first week, but let’s just say I’m left craving Woznuik’s version of the Vietnamese soup, bun bò huế. The steaming, aromatic bowl swims with noodles, brisket, pork knuckles sourced from Harvey’s Market across the aisle, and “blood cake”—essentially a house-made mixture of pork blood, sugar, and fish sauce that enriches the dish. A scattering of fresh herbs and bean sprouts adds brightness to the complex broth, a spicy-sour brew that draws flavor from simmered beef bones and a mixture of fried garlic and lemongrass, shrimp paste, and chilies. So yes, vegetarians won’t be pleased, but don’t be scared off by the odd bits. None are potently flavored, and even if you push aside the “cake,” the heady broth is worth an order itself. If you’re intrigued, hurry—the pop-up is over at the end of December, and soups change frequently.
Tamer eaters, take note: Freshly steamed cha siu bao, buns stuffed with barbecue pork, are also on offer and make a good side dish. Snag one literally steaming and redolent of yeast and sweet meat.
See also: Previous Best Things I Ate
When it comes to gelato, being freshly made isn’t necessarily a requirement—unlike, say, bread. It’s frozen regardless, right? But once you’ve tasted the cold stuff right out of the spinner—especially in flavors such as pomegranate, salted caramel, and local Honeycrisp apple—opinions change.
“It’s so much better than what you get at the shop, which is still good,” says Robb Duncan, co-owner of Dolcezza. “We taste it multiple times a day and say, ‘If only people could eat this.’”
Now people can. Duncan and wife/business partner Violeta have moved Dolcezza’s home base from a Georgetown shoebox to a 4,000-square-foot factory, tasting room, and Stumptown Coffee Roasters lab tucked behind Union Market. The facility will serve the four Dolcezza shops, as well as the restaurants and retailers who carry the line. The business will open to the public this Saturday between 2 and 6 for complimentary samples of gelato and coffee. Come March, the space will officially open, meaning guests can drop by for behind-the-scenes tours and perch in the 20-person bar to sip espressos and taste whatever cold sweets Duncan and his team are making from a variety of locally grown fruits, vegetables, nuts, and herbs.
The reason newly spun gelato excels over the packaged version has to do with temperature and texture. Tasting food at extreme temperatures, whether hot or cold, tends to mask the flavor. The samples of Valrhona chocolate, ginger-cardamom-pistachio, and Honeycrisp apple are more robustly flavored as well as airier pre-deep freeze. (We could have eaten multiple scoops of the creamy pomegranate gelato made minutes earlier during our visit.) Once the operation is fully open in the spring, guests will be able to order bowls for $5.25, along with a variety of Stumptown pour-over coffees, specialty blends, and espresso drinks mixed with the same Perrydell Farm Dairy milk from Pennsylvania used to make the gelato.
Dolcezza factory. 500 Penn St., NE.
Happy Friday, food truck followers! It might be rainy out, but some trucks are still hitting the streets with specials such as flame-broiled chicken from Ooh Dat Chicken, apple cider doughnut bites from Mama's Donut Bites, and three empanadas for $7 from DC Empanadas.
In a situation that’s more lease revival than lease renewal, Georgetown’s venerable La Chaumière restaurant announced it will serve its loyal patrons their beloved cassoulet, quenelles, and calf’s liver for another ten years. The co-owner of the French restaurant, Martin Lumet, said he’s not kidding about the cassoulet. “If one day I am out of cassoulet, I get phone calls, e-mails,” he says. “They want to know, ‘How could you be out of cassoulet?’”
La Chaumière was opened in 1976 by Gerard Pain, who sold it to Lumet and chef Patrick Orange in 2006. They renewed the lease in 2011, but then had to deal with tax issues that arose between the building’s owner and the city. The restaurant’s fate was in doubt. Now, Lumet says, the landlord has resolved the issues with the DC Office of Tax and Revenue, and it’s all clear for the next decade.
In the list of Georgetown restaurants, La Chaumière is the quiet power spot, the hangout of the cave dwellers and old guard. It’s one of the last of the white-tablecloth bistros, where provenance is more important than flash. On any given night, sitting at one of the choice tables near the fireplace might be Secretary of State John Kerry, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, lawyers Brendan Sullivan, Bob Bennett, or Tommy Boggs, architect Hugh Jacobsen, or Ben Bradlee and Sally Quinn. One famous night, Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones walked in and settled in a banquette in the back.
Now that Lumet is assured of his lease for another ten years, we wondered whether he plans any changes. Lumet is adamant: No. He says his customers know what they like. “It’s true. My clientele doesn’t like change. I’ve received very severe warnings from them. I guess we won’t be serving sushi anytime soon.”
Takoma Park is about to get a new neighborhood—and possibly destination—restaurant. Restaurateur Jeff Black, who’s behind BlackSalt and Pearl Dive, among others, has teamed up with longtime chef and Takoma Park native Danny Wells for a seventh venture. Here’s what to look for in the funky space.
A collaborative menu
You’ll find influences from both Black and Wells on the menu. As at every Black Restaurant Group spot, the kitchen houses a wood-burning grill, local bivalves star on the raw bar, and Addie’s mussels are a mainstay. Wells started as a line cook at the now-closed Rockville restaurant and worked his way up through the ranks at BlackSalt, eventually becoming executive chef at Pearl Dive. Signatures from each stop are present, including Pearl Dive’s wood-grilled oysters with garlic-red-chili butter. Wells says his own style is influenced by ten years with the company, meaning robustly flavored dishes such as whole black bass with pancetta and smoked greens, Portuguese-style fish stew with roasted shellfish and chilies, and citrus-brined brick chicken.
Vegetarian and vegan offerings
Fitting for the neighborhood—and a time when “meat as garnish” is a culinary trend—you’ll find plenty of ways to eat your vegetables. Options change seasonally. You may find roasted acorn squash with chestnuts and brown butter, a smoked-vegetable-studded johnnycake with poblano cream, or an ancient-grain salad tossed with pomegranate seeds and pistachios. Certain veggie items may look like they’re better suited for omnivores—say, braised kale and garbanzo beans with Surryano ham—but Wells says the dishes can be ordered sans meat and/or dairy to taste.
Takoma Park style and a Cash bathroom
One of Washington’s funkier neighborhoods calls for a restaurant with a similar aesthetic. Designer Molly Allen and the team traveled about the East Coast, hunting for vintage finds and salvaged wood. To that end you’ll find (slightly) unlevel floors of North Carolina reclaimed pine, banquets fashioned from reupholstered Victorian sofas, and a classic stereo filled with vintage toys, which Black happens to collect. Johnny Cash fans should head to the unisex bathroom—which isn’t as weird as it sounds—where the musician’s image is plastered on the walls and his music plays exclusively.
A Fascist Killer cocktail—and beer, of course
Noting that a bar stocks craft brews these days is like mentioning the soda on tap. Still, bar manager Brett Robison is more of an expert than most, having worked at a local brewery, written a beer blog (Divine Brew), and continued as an active home-brewer. Cocktail fans aren’t left dry, with a lineup of drinks named after the politically “free-spirited” nature of the neighborhood. Think along the lines of the Fascist Killer and former Takoma Park mayor Sammie Abbott.
Outdoor music and (fingers crossed), a double-decker food bus
While a December opening isn’t ideal for al fresco dining, Republic will debut with a back patio equipped with heat lamps that will eventually seat around 40 diners. Once dinner and the soon-to-come lunch and brunch services are running smoothly, you’ll find live music in the restaurant and outdoors. The patio looks out onto a spacious lot, and Black is currently plotting options for it. Among the considerations: a double-decker bus, a regular bus outfitted with a dining table, or a food truck that’ll hit the streets for lunch. Black is pretty tight-lipped about the concept (and no, it won’t be po’ boys), but says he’s currently partnering with two former college friends for a quick-service operation in his home state of Texas that could be adapted to street vending when it arrives in Washington. We’ll keep our fingers crossed for a wagon blasting Cash and serving Sammie Abbotts.
Happy Thursday, food truck followers! It’s snowing in some areas down South, so take advantage of this beautiful day in DC and enjoy specials such as stuffed meatballs with prosciutto and mozzarella from Ball or Nothing, smoky Angus brisket from BBQ Bus, or soft-baked gingerbread cookies with ginger-molasses glaze from Sweetbites Truck.
So there’s a Sriracha packet going for $10,000 on eBay. And no, it has never touched a celebrity hand. [Grub Street] —Anna Spiegel
Apparently there’s a Mystery Tipper—or tippers—giving away great gobs of money to waiters and waitresses across the country. Like, $3,000-a-pop gobs of money. And signing the bill—this is the creepy part, at least to me—“tips for Jesus.” There’s even a Twitter handle. Are we to believe that in an age of doctored photographs and crass and cynical Photoshopped stunts there is some do-gooding Claus out there, and that this is not just some desperate straining after virality? [Eater National] —Todd Kliman
More receipts: Some restaurants are now using them to guilt diners into eating better. Note to Fox: it’s not “eating healthier,” it’s “eating more healthfully” [Fox News] —TK
If you steal $26K of arguably the best bourbon made, don’t sell it. The joyous lifetime of drinking it is worth more than that. [The Wire] —Chris Campbell
Shameless plug: In time for holiday shopping, the excellent, award-winning blog the Gray Report has put together a list of books about wine—not a year’s best, since most of these books were published over the past decade, and not a compendium to help readers learn more about wine. Just “great, fun to read” books. Anyway, The Wild Vine is one of them. Thank you, Gray Report. I’m honored to be included. [The Gray Report] —TK
The culinary world lost a great member this week. Judy Rodgers of San Francisco’s Zuni Cafe passed at 57 after fighting cancer. The LA Times pays tribute to the influential chef. [LA Times] —AS
Eater National also takes a look at her beloved cookbook, and gathers reflections from fellow chefs and writers. [Eater National] —AS
Behold: amazing shadow art made of trash (and sometimes foodstuffs). [This Is Marvelous] —CC
Food or art? Jeff Gordinier takes a look at masterful plating (plus a slideshow for your afternoon entertainment). [New York Times] —AS
Millennials have even more backup to their whining: Research shows their terrible eating habits start before they’re born. [NYT] —CC
One thing that never ceases to blow my mind is the struggle for those on food stamps to eat a legitimate meal. It reminds me to not get hung up about the 75th restaurant to open on 14th Street. [Burlington Free Press] —CC
Happy Wednesday, food truck followers! Head to DC Ballers for some split-pea soup or Hungry Heart to spice things up with some katsu curry, and get into the holiday spirit with some rum and eggnog cupcakes from Sweetbites Truck.
Former White House chef John Moeller served three presidents during his stint in the kitchen at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue from 1992 to 2005: George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush. In that time he saw the expansion of American cuisine, the effects of 9/11, and the rising political role of chefs. All of that and more is detailed in his new memoir/cookbook, Dining at the White House. We spoke with the Lancaster, Pennsylvania, native about First Families’ likes and dislikes, cooking for picky foreign dignitaries, and the dish that won over both a Democratic and a Republican President.
What was the most challenging aspect of putting together this memoir/cookbook?
The most challenging part is laying it out and constructing a story and letting it flow. I was then able to throw in a lot of historical information, so I could combine historical facts with the story. Once we started doing that, the fun part was reliving the whole thing again.
George H.W. Bush banned broccoli from his menus. Were there ever other blacklisted foods?
Not really. We heard more about the favorites. As time went by, we incorporated a lot of vegetables into the menus. The ’90s were a fun time. We were going through a revolution in terms of cuisine, and there were a lot of new products. Chelsea [Clinton] didn’t like mushrooms, so we tried to stay away from those. The Clintons loved artichokes. Actually, all the families did.
You served both Bush administrations and the Clintons. Who had the most adventurous tastes?
I would probably say Bush Sr. They were very well-traveled, and we never wrote up menus ahead of time. We did that for the other Bushes and the Clintons. For Bush Sr., we just knew the parameters of things. There was the whole broccoli thing, but if you see everything they did eat, it outweighed everything else. I came from French kitchens and did everything I’d normally do—calf’s liver, oysters on the half shell, a Japanese-themed meal with sushi rolls and miso soup. When you’re cooking for the same people every day, you’re always looking for more things to work with.
How much creative license do you have as a White House chef, versus cooking from a canon of pre-approved recipes?
There’re two aspects of it. You’re basically a private chef cooking for the family. You learn what their likes and dislikes are, you write down notes, look at every plate that comes back; they push carrots to the side, they don’t like peas, etc. You try different things, but you have to know the parameters to work around. The other aspect is officially writing for state dinners and events. We’re officially a banquet house. There are no two menus that are exactly the same. I could work with local ingredients, seasonal ingredients. That’s the beauty of cooking—you look for inspiration everywhere.
What were the most interesting likes or dislikes you were told about?
Foreign dignitaries would come in, and I’d wait for their dietary restrictions, allergies, or preferences to start writing menus. The most unusual was the Prime Minister of Italy. He came in about ten years ago. The form said, “Does not like garlic, onions, and tomatoes.” I thought, “You have to be kidding! He can’t be Italian!” I think I made chicken-fried steak and mashed potatoes.
You have a section in the book dedicated to 9/11. How did you see security change when it came to food?
Security in the property changed, and that also affected the food. We have ways of getting food in there—there’re no trucks backing up to the White House on a daily basis—so we had to go pick things up. We had a meeting with the Secret Service and FBI in the weeks after 9/11 looking at everything we do. There’s no harm done now, but they basically said, “We have reason to believe they’ll try to deliver something through the food network.” We changed our way of procuring food and how we did things.
How do you think the role of the White House chef has changed in the past eight years?
From the time I went in and came out, it became more political. Do you remember what happened the day after president-elect Clinton became President Clinton? A letter was sent by Alice Waters, plus a petition signed by other chefs. It primarily said, “It’s time we have an American chef in the White House.” One of the reasons I was picked was that I was American with a French background.
You have a great story in the book about the adventures of finding fresh dover sole for Nancy Reagan when she visited. Did you field other interesting requests?
I wasn’t going to serve the former First Lady a frozen piece of sole! You just have to put out fires sometimes. There’ve been a number of times when I had to run out and pick things up just to make meals happen. Once the First Lady and President Clinton were heading out for church on a Sunday morning about 10:30, and she turns to the usher and says, “We’ll be back in an hour with about 20 for brunch.” I can’t remember half the things I did—an egg soufflé, maybe—but you just have produce it and make it happen. You need a wide range of cooking abilities so you can satisfy their needs.
Did you notice a difference in taste between Republicans and Democrats?
No, they’re all pretty hungry people. One winter day in ’96 I did a Pennsylvania Dutch-style chicken pot pie, where you cook the noodles into it. I love it, and it’s very flavorful. I made it for President Clinton, and found him over the bowl, wolfing it down. I could see the top of his eyeballs. He gave me the thumbs up and said, “This is the kind of food I like.” It became part of the rotation. Ironically, when George W. Bush came in, I made the same style of pot pie. I found him leaning over the bowl; he gave me a thumbs up and said almost the exact same thing: “John, this is the kind of food I like.”
Happy Tuesday, food truck followers! Keep on truckin’ through the week with specials such as bison burgers from Food for the Soul, fish and chips from Spitfire, or one of six lasagna options at Basil Thyme.