Good morning, chatters!
At least, those of you who are still in town and not on the road out, heading off to the relatives'.
A lot of you have been asking for some names of restaurants that will be serving Thanksgiving dinner this year. Well, we've got 'em. Take a look at the T-Day guide that Catherine Andrews and Erin Zimmer compiled.
Meantime, for those of you who are staying around and cooking, I'd love to get two things from you today.
One is some great family recipes. I'll be cooking on Thursday and although I have most of the meal all planned, I'm looking for … something. Something different. Something that catches my eye. So — hit me.
The second is some great Thanksgiving stories. You know the kind — spectacular kitchen disasters … epic embarrassments around the table … the spilling of family secrets. We've all got 'em.
When I was a little kid, we used to spend the day with my aunt, my father's sister. They didn't particularly get along. And things at her house always ran late, in part because she wasn't a skilled cook (something she never really did, otherwise) and in part because she didn't want to start the meal until after the football game. Football was sacrosanct. Nothing must come before football. Including dinner. Including family. So, we would all spend six and seven hours gorging on Fritos and dip.
Well, one year, I wasn't feeling so hot to begin with, and I'd just had an afternoon of junk food. The others were all on one couch, taking in the game. I was sitting on my aunt's nice couch (you can sense it coming now, can't you?) with my parents, watching "Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory." I had been waiting all day for this, and so had my father (he'd directed one of the actors and wanted to see how she'd do). But all that candy, and all that chocolate — and all that not real food — did something violent inside me, and just as my aunt brought over more Fritos and dip …
All over her nice couch. The deed was not dismissed, politely. My aunt talked about it. And returned to it, over and over again. It was a pretty glum meal after that. …
Well, I've had the very same thing happen to me, so I can tell you you're not alone.
Restaurateurs will probably tell you it's because of a shallow talent pool of servers in the city. But I wonder if part of it has to do with the restaurateurs' attitudes about these places. A happy, chaotic, bustling place like Oyamel isn't meant to be fine dining (even if the food can be really good). In an atmosphere like that, maybe things are forgiven that are not forgiven elsewhere. Maybe the attitude is that the dishes are relatively inexpensive (albeit small), and so because of that, and because of the buzzing environment, the diner should not expect certain niceties that would drive up the cost.
This is speculation on my part, obviously; no restaurateur would ever admit such a thing.
Places like Oyamel are interesting, too, because regular folks I talk to (non-foodies, non-industry sorts) consider them pretty expensive nights out, while the restaurateurs and managers and industry folk tend to consider them pretty reasonable. Those small plates add up fast. It's a deceptive environment.
Thanks — I appreciate your backing.
I do know that it's a lot more laborious for me than it used to be, before I wasn't my own producer. There are times I feel as if I'm doing twice as much work as I used to for the same result.
But no complaints — this is one of the highlights of my week. I love it.
Wow, what a report card, DC. Did you leave anything out? : )
I wouldn't write off Nark Kara. Maybe the thing to do is to dig deeper into the menu. I've had good luck with their curries, and I love their drunken noodles, which have a wonderful street food quality to them, lots of good char, and good chewiness, too.
(Bear in mind, also, that places tend to go through a change in the months immediately after a review. Some never recover.)
Interesting for me to hear the less-than-adoring takes on Bombay these last couple of weeks. Service is surly, to be sure, and I'm not always enamored of every single thing I've eaten there. But the curries are terrific — probably the best in the area.
Ah, so you can then come back and fill in the missing dishes … Excellent.
The bird is going to be a heritage turkey (same as last year). I'll probably rub butter and sage under the skin. Over the skin, butter and maple syrup. Worked out beautifully last year. Heritage turkeys have beautiful, thick skin, and it comes out like crackling when it's done. And the sweetness of the maple syrup not only enhances the taste of the skin, it also makes for an interesting gravy.
Beyond that … whipped potatoes (put through a ricer, for extra fine fluffiness) … a cranberry relish I do with orange zest and candied ginger … either roasted asparagus or fresh green beans blanched and then sauteed in bacon fat, with shallots and a bit of good mustard mixed in … my wife's homemade rolls … maybe a corn pudding cooked in bacon fat (we've got a theme, don't we?). My sister-in-law is bringing what I call the sweet potatoe sundae — sweet potatoes topped with marshmallows and chocolate sauce. Nah, I'm kidding — no chocolate sauce. But it looks like it oughta be there.
For dessert, pumpkin pie and apple pie. And to drink? A Riesling, a Viognier from Chrysalis, and I haven't picked out a red yet.
I wouldn't put much stock in the fact that some of the Salvadoreans you've talked to haven't heard of Irene's. This is one of those instances, I'd be willing to bet, where the Maryland-Virginia divide comes into play.
To wit: Marylanders don't go into Virginia, and Virginians don't go into Maryland. No different for pupusas than for anything else.
There are enough pupuserias and pupusa trucks on the Maryland side of the river to keep Marylanders happy, and enough pupuserias and pupusa trucks on the Virginia side to keep Virginians happy.
A pupusa is street food, and you don't need to go into a pupuseria to get a good one. In fact, a lot of great ones can be found in the trucks, on the street.
But back to Irene's. It doesn't just make the list because of its pupusas. It's a pretty good restaurant in its own right, with a full and varied menu. It's even got a few Honduran specialties, including a tasty Honduran taco.
But go light on the wine.
I'd take him to Faryab, in Bethesda (Cordell Ave.) for tasty Afghani cooking.
Look for the aushak, thin mint-filled dumpliings topped with a robust meat sauce and drizzled with a tangy yogurt. Also, the chalu, which is a sweet pumpkin dish — extremely satisfying and warming. I also like a stew of lamb, garlic and greens. It's very intense, very earthy.
Prices are good, and the environment is comfortable, although the dishes do tend to fly out of the kitchen at a rate that doesn't promote lingering. So, careful.
I haven't, no. I know about them, though. A few locations, right? Dominican, mostly take-out?
What do you like there?
There's a location about twenty blocks north of my brother's place. But in my brother's world, that's not in the neighborhood. Twenty blocks, that's out of the neighborhood. That's a new neighborhood. It's difficult getting him and my sister-in-law (different sister-in-law, by the way, from the sweet potato sundae bringer) to go out to restaurants.
"There's so much here in the neighborhood," they say, "why would you want to go anywhere else?"
The neighborhood is the Upper West Side, not exactly rolling in good restaurants. And it surely doesn't help any that their conception of the Upper West Side is about four blocks by six blocks.
Not only aren't there any good ones. There aren't any ones, period.
Sheesh. Can't we get through Thanksgiving first?
I was in a Starbucks a few days ago, and it was all done up in green and red, and the jingles were playing. I said to the woman behind the counter: It's a week til Thanksgiving. She said: People like to start getting ready; Christmas is only five weeks away.
Just curious, though — what exactly would constitute a classic Christmas lunch? I've never heard that expression, or request, before, and I'm intrigued.
Soba? You're not going to find anywhere in the area that does soba — at least not homemade soba. A number of Indian spots, however — including Saravana Palace and Woodlands — serve thalis.
The larger question is an interesting one, because it has to do with the idea of authenticity. I like places that serve dishes that I know are much the same as you would find if you were traveling in a particular country. At the same time, things change when people migrate. You get new mutations. In this country, two genres of cooking come to mind that evolved considerably from the countries of origin and are now widely dismissed by a lot of food snobs — Tex-Mex and Italian-American cooking.
Are these less-than cuisines? They're not authentic, no — if by authentic you mean hewing strictly to the culinary practices of their native lands. But within their own genres, yes, absolutely they are. The new genre creates new codes.
The important question, of course, is always, or should always be: Is the cooking any good? Good trumps authentic.
Ride? That's a walk, my friend. Them's short blocks, and there's lots to see. Here? Here, it might be a walk.
Place sounds good; my mouth's watering. Thanks for the heads-up.
Me, too. Always.
Problem is, what's your definition of cheap? And yummy? Cheap and yummy and downtown: sorry, one of them just doesn't fit.
Well, you say it's a task, which I'm guessing means you're not picking for just yourself, that you're planning some kind of outing for a group. In that case, I'd go with what I knew to be the sure thing — a place you've been to, a place you can feel secure about, a place you can guide others through.
As for Westend and Blue Duck Tavern, well, you can always hit them at your leisure when the pressure's not on. Sound good?
And happy Thanksgiving to you, too. And to all the rest of you, too.
Stuff yourselves, enjoy the time with your families, and let's meet back here next week at 11 for a special celery-stick-and-cubes-of-bouillion edition of the chat …