Short-rib frankfurter at Lyon Hall
Hot dogs are great. And one of the things that’s great about them—for me, at least—is that I don’t have to think about them.
I spend so much of my life analyzing and assessing what I eat that having something I can just eat like a normal person is a relief.
This is not that kind of hot dog.
It’s better than that kind of dog.
So much better, in fact, that you probably shouldn’t even think of it as a hot dog—as a bar snack, as junk food—and instead think of it as a core component of a meal.
I don’t mind that it makes me stop and think. What’s inside? Short ribs. And the spicing! It puts you in mind of a great artisanal sausage, it’s that subtle and that complex. The roll: homemade, sprinkled with poppyseeds. Which all by itself would be great, but then the kitchen swabs it with butter and gives it some time on the griddle.
I ordered it for my 21-month-old son, but, alas, ended up eating most of it myself.
At least I had the decency to do it when he wasn’t looking.
Ensaimada at Fiola
Endless server monologues that seem straight out of Portlandia (“Here is the chicken you’ll be enjoying tonight . . . his name was Colin; these are his papers”) have become commonplace these days. But that doesn’t mean they’re not annoying. And if the waiter a friend and I had this week at Fiola hadn’t been so sweet and knowledgeable, it might have been aggravating that he detailed the provenance of the ingredients and the inspiration behind pretty much every carpaccio, pasta, and roast on the menu. His slyly earnest pitches worked, however, and we gorged ourselves silly. (When did the portions there become so Olive Garden-y? I guess that explains why a tomato-and-burrata salad is now $22.)
The flowery descriptions didn’t stop when he set two leather-bound dessert menus in front of us. Curiously, the one sweet he didn’t mention was a take on a Mallorcan pastry called an ensaimada. We ended up ordering one, despite his warning that it was heavy and bready and wait, wouldn’t we prefer something light, like the fig-leaf gelato? What landed on the table looked like a big, round, swirled croissant, sliced into quarters. Crunchy shards flaked off the top, and there was more crackle when I pressed my fork into it. Why? Because the inside held the thing that turned the dessert magical—a layer of brûléed pastry cream. We thought we’d have a few bites, but ended up housing three-quarters of the thing. I haven’t had a cronut, but I’m pretty sure there should be a line snaking out the door at Fiola for these, and a Craigslist black market too.
Tempura sea beans at Minibar
The Minibar experience is a divisive one. I’ve talked to people who are absolutely enthralled by its Willy Wonka-esque charm, and others who think it’s all smoke and mirrors. And expensive smoke and mirrors at that—add in tax and tip, and a meal for two at José Andrés’s little lab of culinary creativity costs about as much as a round-trip ticket to somewhere wonderful.
To be perfectly honest, I’m still mulling the place over. But I will say this: There was this moment. I was sitting there at the bar watching some of the world’s best kitchen talent do things like carve a luge shape out of a snow-white meringue and gently place a frozen disk of liquefied Marcona almond onto a bed of real rocks. And I just thought: How lucky am I to be here? To get to see this whole thing in action? It really did feel like a once in a lifetime thing—like the moment you walk up to the “Mona Lisa” and think, “Okay, there she is.”
And weirdly, of all the insane things I ate that night, the dish that I loved the most consisted of two wee sprigs of sea bean that had been fried, tempura-style, coated in coconut powder, and carefully decorated in tamarind reduction. I tell you, the whole warm world was in those few bites: the salty, sea-grown vegetable, the sweet, sun-cultivated coconut, the fecund, earthy tamarind. Is getting to eat something like that a vacation in itself? I don’t know. But for a moment there, my mind traveled to a faraway island. I could feel the warmth of sand, hear the gentle splash of wave. And it was, I have to say, magical.
North Carolina-style pulled pork barbecue from the Barn Door BBQ Catering Company
One of my favorite fall day trips is exploring Virginia hunt country. The trip is quick, just over an hour, but it feels like you’ve gone hundreds of miles as suburban sprawl gives way to open fields bordered by stacked stone walls and horses grazing in their pastures. Of course it’s not all about the scenery. There are plenty of destination restaurants in the area, and I’ve spent many Sundays brunching on the Ashby Inn’s picturesque back porch or sipping a Guinness alongside a platter of Rappahannock River oysters at Hunter’s Head Tavern. I was just a block away from the latter when the smell of smoked meat drifted into the car’s open window, and I turned into Upperville Country Store instead. A large sign outside advertises the Barn Door BBQ Catering Company, but you don’t have to be part of a large party to try it. I wandered into the market and found a small side cafe with orders for ribs, chicken, pulled pork, and “hawg wings” (smoked pork shanks) scrawled on a whiteboard above the counter. Most of the items are only available Friday through Sunday, but the Texas-style beef and North Carolina pulled pork were ready to go. I grabbed both for an impromptu picnic at a nearby park. Both were delicious, especially alongside the creamy homestyle mac and cheese, crunchy slaw, and baked beans perked up with slices of bacon and diced jalapeño. Still, I’m partial to the pork*. Vinegary NC-style sauce can sometimes overtake the flavor of the barbecue, but Barn Door’s tender, smoky meat is delicately dressed with just the right amount of tang. I wish I could claim to have discovered a hole in the wall, but the company’s website proves otherwise. Apparently Nicole Richie got there first.
*The Carolina-style is best for eating on the spot. If you’re taking quart containers to go for later eating—which you should, even if you’re getting a sandwich—the saucy, tomato-based Texas beef keeps better for the next day.