Pork gyro at Yia Yia’s Kitchen (Beltsville)
It was a holiday week, so my thoughts of food are inevitably skewed in that direction. But it’d be wrong to go with my mother’s brisket in a rich, oniony red sauce, or her light, sesame-encrusted challah, or her sour cream coffee cake, which, despite my vows to keep to one slice, always tempts me into three.
I mean, right? It’s not as if you’re going to be able to swing by her house and sample them, so why even mention them, except, perhaps, to tantalize you with what you can’t have? Well, except to say that that’s where my sentimental attachments lie.
But in a week dominated with family eating, I do want to single out for praise a very good gyro—a gyro so good I have no doubt whatsoever that I will be tortured with memories of it this Yom Kippur weekend, when I will be refraining from all food and drink for 26 hours.
At this point you may be thinking: Um, Todd, did you, in the very same sentence, tell us that you would be observing the Day of Atonement fast and confess your crazy lust for a pork gyro?
Look, a) that just gives me more to atone for, and 2) on such comical incongruities my complicated faith is founded.
You can order your gyro here with chicken or lamb and beef; I haven’t had those yet. Pork is what calls me. What has always called me.
To look at it on the vertical spit, you would guess that the meat had been charred, or even burnt. That’s the first sign that you’re in for something special. It looks nothing like the gray conical slabs of pressed meat you may be used to when you visit a gyro shop. The meat is sliced in not-too-thin strips and has a marvelous bark, reminiscent of the best ribs: crusty, smoky, slightly salty, and aromatic with what tastes, to this trained tongue, like oregano, olive oil, cinnamon, and maybe nutmeg. It’s stuffed inside a griddled round of pita, along with a thick smear of tzatziki, chopped tomatoes and onions, and a fistful of hot fries.
This is a gem of a new restaurant, about which I’ll be saying more on Tuesday. But first I need to get through a very rough weekend—made rougher by a sandwich I can’t stop thinking about.
Sablefish pho at the Old Angler’s Inn
Above are seven words I never thought I’d type. One, I’d imagined the throwback restaurant as a place where dowager countess types sipped Twinings, not pho. Two, the start to a weekend dinner there with my parents—though in the gorgeous and transporting front garden—was pretty dismal. A murky “dirty” mojito made with dark barrel-aged rum featured mint that looked like it was picked a decade ago. A Caesar salad, something I thought the kitchen might excel at, tasted like it came from a plastic clamshell at an airport kiosk.
Entrées are rarely the thing that elevate a meal—appetizers are more apt to show off bright ideas and tight execution—but all of a sudden, our dinner became very good, with plates of meaty, sweet scallops and ricotta cavatelli with well-crafted meatballs. Best of all was the sablefish pho. The dish, with a nicely seared cut of the tender and sweet fish, is a bit of a misnomer—the “pho” part translated to a shallow layer of vermicelli, tiny enoki mushrooms, and basil in a wonderful, lime-heavy broth. But no matter: It was as tasty as it was totally unexpected.
Organic roasted chicken at Westend Bistro
Sunday dinner, to me, is about roast chicken. When we were growing up, my dad would put a bird in the oven right as my mom was dragging my sister and me off to evening mass, and by the time we returned from that somber ceremony, the intense aroma of our dinner was detectable from the driveway. Over the years I’ve roasted chicken on many a Sunday and tried all the recipes: the Barefoot Contessa one with chunks of bread for soaking up juices, the classic Zuni Cafe production that so many people swear by, and my personal favorite, Thomas Keller’s salt-coated bird—the crystalline coating helps keep the meat super juicy.
So I had roast chicken on the brain when I settled in at the modern restaurant at the Ritz after a long, productive weekend, and chef Devin Bozkaya did not disappoint. The skin was puffy and crunchy, the meat impossibly tender and subtly seasoned. It’s served on top of a celery purée that’s maybe a touch too buttery but has a great vegetal earthiness and velvety texture. There are also cipollini onions and carrots that have just the right crunch and snappiness. Try it with the rich-and-gorgeous Hive Chardonnay from Ebony Wines in Oregon—one of the best by-the-glass selections I’ve had in recent memory, and the perfect complement to the ultimate comfort food.
Peking duck delivered from City Lights of China (Dupont area)
Let me preface this by saying I love delivery food. Part of the addiction is that I used to live in New York, which spoils you. Booze, cigarettes, Sushi of Gari; any craving can be brought stoop-side. I’ve dined out almost every night this week, and while I’m far from lacking indulgent meals, there’s something wantonly wonderful about putting on sweats, pouring a Manhattan, turning on Orange Is the New Black, and having a whole duck delivered to your door. You’ll find better Chinese duck dishes in Washington (the crisp-skinned birds at Peking Gourmet Inn come to mind). Still, I’d rather have my canard brought to the living room than carved tableside at the moment, and City Lights knows how to deliver—literally. The meat arrives tender, the skin relatively crispy—the transfer inevitably lessens the crackle—and the stack of pancakes warm. It’s up to you to spread them with hoisin and wrap them up with thin-sliced scallions, of which there are plenty. Don’t be daunted if a $35 whole duck seems like a tall online order; if you call, the friendly staff will serve you half for around $15.