Best Thing I Ate: Bacon Jerky, Vegetarian Tacos

Our favorite dishes from the past seven days of dining.

Photo by Anna Spiegel.

Todd Kliman

Snails Bourgogne at Central Michel Richard

I tend to think of escargot as a delivery system for butter. In this lush and wonderful new special on his summer menu, David Deshaies shows us that theyre even better as a vehicle for wine.

I mean, how perfect—Burgundy snails in Burgundy.

The first bite is not just rich from the butter, and lightly sweet from what (to this trained palate) tastes like shallots; it also has the complex tang of a textbook-perfect wine reduction, with a flavor so concentrated and intense that only, well, a sip of wine will wash it away.

I love the crowning touch of a coddled quail egg, the runny yolk of which is meant to mix into the sauce and soften it. My only quibble: The dish could use two of them.

Deshaies manned the kitchen for years at Citronelle, and his time there shows here. This is a dish from the old school, the kind you see so seldom anymore that it pops out immediately amid the burgers and fried chicken at Richard’s brilliant Franco-American diner. But it also stands apart from the vast majority of plates on the scene these days. No straining for cleverness, no juxtaposing of oddities, no bicep-flexing statement-making. Just expert cooking of great refinement and depth.

Ann Limpert

Bacon jerky at J&J Meats

I don’t have too many food phobias, but growing up, beef jerky was something I was always afraid of. I imagined a piece of jerky would have a texture somewhere between tree bark and penny loafer leather. Or a dog treat.

Then, a few years ago, I found myself inside Cleveland’s West Side Market (a food hall where each butcher stall seems to have more Flintstonian rib eyes, more hulking pork shoulders, and more sleepy-eyed pig’s heads than the next). I was lingering outside one of the butchers, when one of the guys behind the counter handed me a piece of beef jerky, which looked more like a dried hunk of hanger steak than anything labeled Slim Jim. I fell in love with its big kicks of spice and smoke and its surprisingly moist brisket chew. Once I got home, I started ordering both the spicy and “sweet heat” versions by the pound online.  

Fast forward a couple years to this past weekend, when, in the middle of a family reunion on Lake Erie, my husband and I broke away and drove an hour to West Side Market. Our first stop was at J&J Meats, for more jerky, and we found something even better than the beef version: bacon jerky. Imagine thick-cut bacon that tastes more like a fall-off-the-bone spare rib than fatty pork belly, slathered in thick, sweet barbecue sauce. It’s dangerous stuff—we walked away with three pounds of it, and I haven’t OD’d yet.

They don’t have the bacon jerky online yet, but here’s hoping they eventually will. And if you’re ever anywhere near Cleveland, take the detour to West Side Market.

Anna Spiegel

Farmer’s market tacos from Chaia

I’ve been a regular at the Dupont Circle Freshfarm Market, and not only for gorgeous summer produce. Chaia’s “farm to taco” stall is worth the trip itself.

Too often tacos are stuffed with mediocre meat, relying on salsas and garnishes to make up for the lack of flavor. Chaia’s vegetarian fare bests even the more flavorful fish or steak tacos I’ve tasted. Quality starts with the corn tortillas, freshly made and grilled to order. Fillings change with the season and what’s available at the market. My favorite of late: spears of zucchini with sweet summer tomatoes, and mushrooms with salsa roja and feta cheese. All arrive with a scattering of micro greens for added brightness. If you’re hungry, try the optional scrambled or fried local egg.

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 Petworth.

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.