Food

The Best Thing I Ate: Buttermilk Biscuits, Pasta With Ramps and Mushrooms

Our favorite dishes from the past seven days of dining.
Vinoteca’s linguine with ramps, mushrooms, and hazelnuts. Photograph by Anna Spiegel.

Todd Kliman

Canelé at Bread Furst

It looks like a shrunken bundt cake, and who the hell gets excited about a bundt cake?

But there’s so much more to a canelé than meets the eye.

A delicacy in Bordeaux, the canelé shares a number of traits with the region’s best-known export. Both are laboriously crafted. Both are sophisticated and full of concentrated flavor. Both are engineered to induce awe.

The outside of the canelé, dark and glazed, actually crunches, unlike a cake which has essentially the same texture inside and out. The interior is soft and almost custardy—a function of the batter, which is similar to that used in crepes.

This ingenious soft-crunch sleight of hand is not the only surprise.

Because the taste is really two distinct tastes in one. The first is of caramel—and the crew at Mark Furstenberg’s shop has obviously been instructed to cook the sugar to the almost-burning point. Almost burned—that’s a good thing, not a bad thing. It means the caramel has time to achieve a deep, rich flavor.

What you taste next, as outside yields to inside, is vanilla and rum, each flavor so intense that you might guess the treat had been spiked.

canelé does not come cheap. Four bucks per, for something that’s gone in maybe five bites.

But look at it this way: How often does four bucks bring this much pleasure?

Ann Limpert

Essie’s buttermilk biscuits at Macon Bistro & Larder

A deafening din, a packed bar with a lone free stool, and no tables available for two hours—on a Tuesday. No, I wasn’t at one of the usual suspects on 14th Street. I was at the new Macon Bistro & Larder, on a quiet stretch of Connecticut Avenue a few blocks from the Maryland border. I started to assume the narrow French/Southern bistro was simply an oasis in a neighborhood that, despite its affluence, was a restaurant desert. The kind of place that could get away with $26 entrées and a so-so kitchen.

Happily, I was wrong. The bartenders were affable and attentive, the cocktails went down easy (especially a mix of gin, lime, tamarind, and soda water), and the bar snacks we tried—including rich, bacon-showered deviled eggs and thick-cut fried green tomatoes with an addictive tomato aïoli—preserved the spirit of the South even as they were upscaled and served on a Carrera-marble bar.

The biggest standout for me—and this might just be a personal thing, since I love biscuits more than just about any breadstuff—were the warm buttermilk biscuits served with honey butter and runny pepper jelly. The recipe for the airy, flaky rounds, which leave the slightest sheen of butter on your fingertips, comes from chef/owner Tony Brown’s grandmother. As the weeknight dinner crowds attest, it’s an heirloom for good reason.

Anna Spiegel

Linguine with ramps, mushrooms, and hazelnuts at Vinoteca

Vinoteca is one of my favorite neighborhood bars. The happy hour is among the best in town, the vibe is relaxed, but you’ll still find an upbeat crowd most nights ready to mingle and play bocce on the back plaza. Chef Lonnie Zoeller’s wine-friendly menu is tasty, too, though it had been a long time since I’d put down the bocce ball and sat for a full meal. The house-made linguine ended up being a dish worth pausing for, if not lingering over, especially on the patio with a glass of rosé. The taste is pure late spring; an earthy toss of roasted mushrooms, ramps, and hazelnuts, with crumbles of fresh goat cheese that melt into the noodles as you eat. Get there before the season changes.

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Ann Limpert
Executive Food Editor/Critic

Ann Limpert joined Washingtonian in late 2003. She was previously an editorial assistant at Entertainment Weekly and a cook in New York restaurant kitchens, and she is a graduate of the Institute of Culinary Education. She lives in Logan Circle.

Anna Spiegel
Food Editor

Anna Spiegel covers the dining and drinking scene in her native DC. Prior to joining Washingtonian in 2010, she attended the French Culinary Institute and Columbia University’s MFA program in New York, and held various cooking and writing positions in NYC and in St. John, US Virgin Islands.