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
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
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)
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.