News & Politics

The Blogger Beat: DC Foodies

This week, we host a food fight (of sorts) with three of the writers behind DC Foodies.

DC Foodies Rob Rutledge, Jason Storch, and Drew Long (left to right) grilling up a storm. Photograph by Chris Leaman

Jason Storch started DC Foodies in 2003 as a way to pair his love of food and dining with his computer skills. “It was also a way to keep myself from going completely crazy at my job, which at the time was really boring,” says the software consultant. His wife, Amy, whom we’ve featured before, was having success with her blog, Amalah, so Storch wanted to give it a try.

Two years ago, he decided to bring on writers to bolster the site—with growing demands at work and home, Storch didn’t have much time to blog. “I wanted to keep donating the money I made on ads to DC hunger charities,” he says. “I took on additional writers and moved into more of an editor role.”

Rob Rutledge and Drew Long were two of those writers. Both had writing experience—Long was a food columnist for a newspaper in North Carolina, and Rutledge was an English major in college—and both were interested in the food-and-dining scene in Washington. Rutledge’s beat is wine and beer—it fits in nicely with his former job at the Wine Specialist near Foggy Bottom—while Long focuses on beer and grilling.

Today, DC Foodies has expanded from its dining roots to include posts on local food, farmers markets, home cooking, and more. Though it caters to a largely foodie audience, Long says he’s not a foodie . . . well, maybe just a little: “To the extent that I’m a food lover who spends too much of his time fixated on what he’s eating and drinking now or what he’s eating and drinking next, then yes, I’m a foodie,” he says.

We caught up with these three food lovers to find out what they like and dislike about the local dining scene. Read on to learn what trends they’re looking forward to for fall, what they’ve been cooking at home, and their biggest kitchen disasters.

Five words to describe Washington’s food scene:
Jason: “Diverse, underrated, pricey, local, political.”
Rob: “Surprisingly diverse for its size.”
Drew: “Underrated, and up-and-coming.”

Five words to describe the scene in your home kitchen:
Jason: “There’s never enough counter space.”
Rob: “Mostly local. Mostly not infested.”
Drew: “Busy but clean and functional.”

Last meal you ate out—and its total cost:
Jason: “That would be Chipotle, where I eat on a regular basis. It was about $9.”
Rob: “Thirsty Bernie’s, a Polish-themed sports bar in Arlington with a great draft selection and reasonable prices. Happy hour yielded me two Hofbrau draughts and an order of respectable onion rings for $14.”
Drew: “Blue Duck Tavern, $350. I took my mother, niece, and wife out for dinner. I've yet to find a dud on the menu.”

Most bizarre thing you’ve seen on a menu—and tried:
Jason: “I was eating at the bar at 2 Amys by myself one day, and they had head cheese. Having no clue what it really was, I ordered it. It was actually one of the worst things I’ve had at 2 Amys. I told the guy at the bar, and I haven’t seen it on the menu since.”
Rob: “That would probably be the Chapulines tacos at Oyamel, consisting of sautéed grasshoppers cooked with tequila. Never had eaten an insect before (at least not on purpose), so I was a bit apprehensive, expecting the texture to be all, I dunno, gooey and disturbingly nutty. In point of fact, they were actually just crunchy and a little bit bland, I’m afraid.”
Drew: “What’s bizarre anymore? I’ve seen, tried, and enjoyed beef tongue, calf’s liver, chicken hearts and gizzards, geoduck, oxtail, pig trotters, pig’s ears, haggis, blood sausages, crickets, corn smut, ketfo (Ethiopian raw-beef dish), alligator, frog legs, foie gras, sweetbreads, and head cheese (to name a few). Because we’re going through a period where these products are moving from ethnic markets and restaurants into more mainstream and high-end restaurants, I’m not sure whether they can be described as bizarre. Suffice to say I haven’t found a menu item too unusual to try.”

Favorite local chef:
Jason: “That’s an easy one. Without a doubt it’s Johnny Monis.”
Rob: “I think Michael Landrum is doing some fantastic things with his ‘Ray’s the [insert premise here]’ chain. I’ve certainly never had a bad meal at any of his places, and they are always well priced. Probably my absolute favorite chef, though, is Kaz Okochi at Kaz Sushi Bistro. If you haven’t had the salmon belly there . . . holy God, and the tuna with foie gras . . . sorry, got a bit distracted. All the nigiri is kick-ass. Go!”
Drew: “José Andrés. Between the breadth, consistency, and quality of Andrés’s dishes at Café Atlántico, Oyamel, Jaleo, and Zaytinya and the whimsical creativity his chefs display at Minibar, I can think of no better chef in Washington. And it’s not just the food; the man pays equal attention to his bars.”

Favorite restaurant for a splurge:
Jason: “I’d say Komi except the place is so popular now that it’s difficult to call and get a reservation the same day. I’m horrible about planning things in advance. Otherwise, I think Palena is perfect because I can usually grab a table out front with little planning, and the food is by far some of the best in the city.”
Rob: “Since I’ve already mentioned Kaz (where I’ve easily eaten $80 worth of sushi by myself), I’ll go with Tosca for this one. Every dish at Tosca is fantastic, especially the grilled sardines or pretty much any of the homemade pastas. Tosca also has one of the best, most diverse Italian wine lists in the city, with most of the offerings being very well priced. If you’ve never been and don’t want to throw down too much cash on an unknown quantity, check them out during Restaurant Week, when they’re usually one of a handful of places offering the full menu.”
Drew:Blue Duck Tavern anytime and Minibar annually.”

Favorite cheap eat:
Jason: “I’ve loved 2 Amys for a few years now. I go more for the bar food and small plates than for the pizza, but I think they still have the best pizza in the city. (And our boys agree.)”
Rob:Minh’s in Courthouse. Congratulations, Washingtonian, you got it right putting them in your 100 Very Best Restaurants list. Minh’s has a phenomenal range of Vietnamese favorites, featuring a menu some 20 pages long—though I almost always order the clay-pot pork, which is one of my favorite dishes on the planet.”
Drew:Lost Dog Café in Arlington. If you’re planning a visit, the pizzas are great (as is the beer selection), but I’m a sucker for the surf-’n’-turf sandwich. I mean, how can you put roast beef, crabmeat, and Brie on a hot sandwich and not have it turn out good? I always get the sandwich with spinach and tomatoes on top. And just to guild the lily, I usually get a side of their seasoned Italian fries. Lately, I’ve been forcing myself to try other sandwiches, but it’s tough to resist the surf ’n’ turf.”

Best and worst foodie trends you’ve seen this summer:

Jason: “I think the best trend, other than certain grumpy chefs leaving Washington to do other things, is the abundance of burger joints, because I love a good burger. The worst would be organic fast-casual restaurants with overpriced salads and sandwiches.”
Rob: “I really have liked seeing all the local food sourcing that some of the area’s nicer eateries have been up to. Café Atlántico, Poste, and others have taken advantage of the wide range of meats and vegetables farmed in the immediate countryside and have created some really cool programs to go along with that. And for the worst? Definitely the recent trend of freakin’ politicians slumming it. First, the Republicans took over Pie-tanza, then the Obamas start annexing all the burger joints in town. Those are our places, dammit! You have your Charlie Palmers and your Caucus Rooms, so go eat there, and stop gumming up the works at places I can actually afford! So help me God, if you people go near the Italian Store . . . .”
Drew: “The best is free-range veal. Worst: breaking out the grill just for the summer. Grilling shouldn’t be seasonal.”

Favorite wine or beer for the summer:
Jason: “Years ago, a certain sommelier named Sebastian got me into Grüner-Veltliner on a visit to Komi, and it’s been a love affair ever since.”
Rob: “For wine, anything pink. I’m confident enough in my manhood to say that my heart gets all aflutter this time of year, when pink wines are fresh and plentiful. This is not to say I’m a fan of white Zinfandel or anything like that, but there are tons of quality French, South American, and domestic rosés on the market now, usually to be had for a song. Rosés combine all the flavor components of red wine with a light white’s frame—what’s not to love? Also, the food-pairing potential is phenomenal, as the right rosé will go with anything from salad to lamb. If you’re looking for a good all-purpose pink, try the Domaine Petite Cassagne Rose 2008 (about $10), brought in by local importer Robert Kacher Selections.”
Drew: “On the beer front, I go for Beer-Great Divide’s Titan IPA.”

Food trend you hope to see on menus this fall:
Jason: “It’s not the most fun of answers, but my doctor would tell me that I want to see healthier meats like bison and ostrich.”
Rob: “I’d like to see more of what we have seen this summer—use of local ingredients by inventive chefs. Though the vegetable supply may dry up, there are still plenty of fantastic meats purveyed from local sources, and it’d be nice to see chefs avail themselves of that.”
Drew: “One word: offal. Offal is the innards and animal parts too often cast aside. Liver, heart, ears, stomach, skin, sweetbreads. For years, these products were largely relegated to sausages, hot dogs, and the poor, but they’re among the richest, most flavorful parts of an animal. Fortunately, American chefs are starting to utilize these products. The best tongue (which really is akin to tenderloin) in Washington can be found at Casa Fiesta in DC’s Tenleytown, but I wouldn’t be surprised to find it on Central’s menu this fall.”

Favorite dish to make at home:
Jason: “I make this recipe for salmon bulgogi pretty regularly, only I like to substitute arctic char for salmon sometimes because it has a nice buttery flavor.”
Rob: “I don’t remember where we first came across the stuff, but we cook a lot of quinoa at our place—we have it at least twice a week. Quinoa is this great grain from South America that (a) has tons of protein,
(b) has an interesting, slightly crunchy texture and nutty flavor, and (c) cooks up in like 15 minutes. We usually sauté some greens or roast some vegetables, toss it together, and bam—a complete meal. Though not universal, the stuff is available in bulk at a lot of grocery stores for only a couple bucks a pound, so check it out if you can find it.”
Drew: Gumbo.”

Worst kitchen disaster:
Jason: “Ah, yes . . . that would be the time I cut the tip of my thumb off with a mandoline. I was watching Amy use the mandoline and told her she was being too slow, so I pushed her aside. I really never slowed down as I got to the end of whatever I was slicing, and Amy blurted out, ‘Jase, slow dooowwww . . . . ’ Ouch! Too late. That hurt like a [insert favorite expletive here]. There was blood all over the place. A trip to the emergency room, a few stitches later, and the result is I am missing about a quarter inch of my right thumb.”
Rob: “Hell, I thought that our kitchen itself was going to be a disaster. It seemed to have all the proper accoutrements when we scoped out the place: Sink, check. Fridge, check. Oven, check. Drawer, check. Wait, drawer? Yes, drawer, in the singular—one drawer! Who on earth builds a kitchen with one friggin’ drawer, I ask you? We lived out of boxes for several weeks and eventually found a piece of furniture with an embarrassment of drawers. But the intervening weeks were a bit stressful.”
Drew: “Super Bowl chili. I have a recipe for a Guinness-based chili that calls for cooking it—lid on—over very low heat for 24 hours. Well, one year I had the heat a little too high and the lid was slightly off. The result, which I discovered on Super Bowl Sunday, was an evil, blackish paste that was nearly inedible. I say ‘nearly’ because a few friends decided to give it a go (with bad results) and have not let me forget it since.”

Favorite local foodie blog besides your own:
Jason: “I like reading Capital Spice. Mike Bober, who was also the first writer I brought into DC Foodies, runs this blog with his wife, Elizabeth.”
Rob: “Why, The Washingtonian’s Best Bites Blog, of course!”
Drew: The Washington City Paper’s Young & Hungry blog.”

Next week, we tackle home-design dilemmas with Annie Elliot from Bossy Color Blog. Check back for her tips on how to make a small space look bigger, the trendiest colors for accent walls, and do-it-yourself projects that can boost a home’s value.

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