News & Politics

The Blogger Beat: Capital Spice

This week, we’re dining out—and in—with Capital Spice bloggers Mike and Elizabeth Bober.

Elizabeth and Mike Bober at Hill's Kitchen in DC's Eastern Market neighborhood. Photograph by Chris Leaman

Capital Spice wasn’t Mike and Elizabeth Bober’s first name choice for their dining-and-cooking blog. They wanted to use Hill’s Kitchen, an ode to their neighborhood, but when the blog launched in 2008, the name had just been claimed by a local kitchen-supply store. “It’s become one of our favorite shops,” says Mike.

Nearly two years later, they’ve cultivated a following among Washingtonians who, like themselves, love to eat and cook, enjoy exploring Washington’s dining scene, and aren’t afraid to try new things. They write about everything from news and gossip about local chefs to their favorite recipes. They also post restaurant reviews, but they adhere to a simple rule: “If we don’t have primarily positive things to say about a restaurant experience, we don’t write about it,” says Mike. Why? Because restaurants have off nights. And since the Bobers don’t have a bottomless dining budget, they have to chalk up bad experiences to anomalies. Says Mike: “We don’t think it’s fair to slam a place on the basis of one meal.”

We caught up with the almost-trio—their first child is due in June—to check in on Washington’s dining scene and find out what they’ve been cooking at home lately. Read on for the Bobers’ favorite cheap eats and chefs, what they drink to keep warm in winter, and what they’re looking forward to, food-wise, for spring.

Five words to describe Washington’s food scene:
Mike: “Dear God, not another steakhouse!”
Elizabeth: “Ambitious, growing, hungry, cupcake overdrive.”

Five words to describe the scene in your home kitchen:
Mike: “Fridge full of tasty leftovers.”
Elizabeth: “Broken in, eclectic, too much tea.”

Last meal you ate out—and its total cost:
Mike: “Carryout sushi from Momo Sushi on Queen Street in Old Town. We had six rolls including a specialty roll that paired seaweed salad and spicy tuna.”
Elizabeth: “Momo is our new favorite neighborhood sushi place, although we still haven’t had a sit-down meal inside. I think the cost for both of us was about $45. It’s my fault; I always order too much, and the restaurant assumes there are three of us eating instead of two. It’s kind of embarrassing.”

Most bizarre thing you’ve seen on a menu—and tried:
Mike: “Lambs’ brains at Saffron in Minneapolis. They were surprisingly nutty-tasting.”
Elizabeth: “Guinea pig, or cuy, in Peru. It was kind of like duck—if the duck you’re served is greasy and tastes like crap. I had guinea pigs as pets as a child, so it was a conflicted meal for me. I’m glad I tried it, but I wouldn’t seek it out for a second round.”

Favorite local chef:
Mike: “Michael Landrum as much for the attitude as for the talent.”
Elizabeth: “It’s a tie between Katsuya Fukushima (of Minibar and José Andrés Catering With Ridgewells) and Johnny Monis (Komi). But Teddy Folkman did win our contest for DC’s most crushable chef . . .”

Favorite restaurant for a splurge:
Mike: “Komi. Great focus, great flavors, and well worth the effort to snag a reservation for a special occasion.”
Elizabeth: “Komi, no question. We’ve been lucky enough to dine in some of DC’s best restaurants, and we always walk away saying, ‘Good, but not Komi-good.’ ”

Favorite cheap eat:
Mike: “Risotto balls, sandwiches, and black-cherry soda at Taylor Gourmet on H Street, Northeast. I grew up in an Italian-American family in New Jersey, and their food totally brings me back.”
Elizabeth: “A giant bowl of steaming pho at Pho 75. Is there anything better on a bleak winter day?”

Best and worst foodie trends you’ve seen this winter:
Mike: “Best: neighborhood restaurants open during Snowpocalypse and Snowmageddon. It lessened the financial hit for the establishments and gave people places to get together and fight cabin fever at the same time. As for the worst, the hoarding mentality that emptied grocery-store shelves before each storm. What are you planning to do with all that milk, bread, and eggs, anyway?”
Elizabeth: “I’d say the best foodie trend is the Depression-era throwback to ‘put-ups,’ or canned food. It’s a great way for chefs and diners alike to eat local throughout the winter, and we’ve had some delicious meals as a result—especially an heirloom-tomato-and-tuna dish at Corduroy that I just adored. Worst trend? I wouldn’t call this a winter-specific trend, but I hate when people complain about the tiniest blips in service or a perceived slight at a restaurant. Relax! The staff is usually doing the best they can.”

Best winter drink to keep warm:

Mike: “I’m a sucker for bourbon and hot cider, but the Divas at ACKC are tempting even without booze in them.”
Elizabeth: “Most winters it’s a hot buttered rum at Tabard Inn or a drink Mike makes at home with Wasmund’s applewood-smoked whiskey and hot apple cider. This winter it’s tea. Pregnancy = foodie buzzkill.”

Spring ingredient or flavor you’re most excited about:

Mike: “I love the rich, woodsy flavor of morels. We cook with dried morels throughout the year, but the ones you get fresh in season have a lot more flavor. If you’ve got a friend who goes foraging for mushrooms, now’s the time to get on their good side.”
Elizabeth: “Ramps! For all of the seven minutes that those garlicky wild onions are in season.”

Restaurant worth the drive to Maryland or Virginia:

Mike: “Urban Bar-B-Q in Rockville. I made it a point to hit Urban for the first night of DC Meat Week because they’ve got some of the best brisket and pulled pork in the entire Washington region.”
Elizabeth: “Blob’s Park—a traditional German beer hall complete with live polka music and dancing—is a sight to behold in Jessup, Maryland. In all honesty, the joys of Blob’s Park are 70 percent people-watching and 30 percent food, but it’s a guaranteed good time, and there’s no shortage of German beer. It’s a great place to take visiting parents who’ve already done the tourist thing in DC.”

Favorite dish to
make at home:

Mike: “I love to make gazpacho when heirloom tomatoes are in season. Last year, I must’ve made a batch a week for at least a month; we’ve even got a few servings frozen in case we crave a little taste of summer. So what if we were absolutely sick of tomatoes by the time September rolled around?”
Elizabeth: “Probably gougères. They feature basic ingredients, don’t take much time, taste amazing, and everyone thinks you’re made of magic when you bring them out of the oven.”

Most dog-eared cookbook in your collection:
Mike: “I really like Alice Waters’s narrative approach to recipes in The Art of Simple Food, but I think we turn to John Ash’s From the Earth to the Table more often than any other. And I’ve got a bit of a chef crush on Tom Colicchio, so I’ve tried several recipes from his Think Like a Chef.”
Elizabeth: “John Ash’s From the Earth to the Table. We’ve yet to find a bad recipe.”

Best recipe you’ve ever invented:
Mike: Endless Simmer ran a contest to find the most creative use of pine nuts, and I decided to enter. Inspired by José Andrés’s work with unexpected textures and flavors, I came up with a pine-nut-butter-and-gelée appetizer. I puréed the pine nuts and spread them over a crispy polenta cake with a square of opal-basil gelée. It had all the colors and textures of peanut-butter-and-jelly on a cracker, but it tasted like pesto.”
Elizabeth: “Mike is the inventor in our kitchen.”

Biggest kitchen disaster:
Mike: “I don’t know if you can call it a disaster when the recipe turns out exactly the way it’s supposed to, but we made a cold Russian soup during our June Cookbook Challenge that was absolutely disgusting. It blended the bitterness of sorrel with the acidic bite of lemon juice and vinegar and then threw in cold salmon to boot. The worst part? I insisted on taking some of the leftovers for lunch the next day before admitting the soup was an epic fail.”
Elizabeth: “There’s not one disaster per se, but we’ve learned some lessons the hard way. Like clean out your freezer or your ice cubes will taste like moldy boxes and this will be discovered mid-dinner party. And don’t put a croissant in the toaster.”

Favorite local foodie blog besides your own:
Both: Endless Simmer, DC Foodies, From Komi to Marvin, the Arugula Files, and So Good.

Next week, we go political with Cosmopolitan Conservative blogger Adrienne Royer. Check back Wednesday for her thoughts on everything from climate change to Meghan McCain to Olympic sports for Members of Congress (really!).

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