Last weekend Kristi, Janet and I headed to Washington D.C. to visit our friends Lenny and Shelley (yes all of my friend’s names end in y). We got back yesterday and as I write this I am on a flight to Las Vegas for a tradeshow. So, lots of restaurant eating and not much cooking lately. I described my feelings on writing about restaurants about a year ago but in case you missed it:
“Aside from my Philly post, I generally avoid giving any kind of restaurant reviews on this blog. There are 200,000 active restaurant blogs with over 95% of them located in the 25 biggest cities in the U.S. Pretty crazy right? Well, I made most of that up but I’m guessing it’s relatively accurate, and what I am trying to say is that area of blogging is pretty well covered. Who needs another blog that tries to sound like Bourdain while they give the millionth opinion posted online of a Best of Boston restaurant’s seared scallops. I’ll save you some time: they tasted good and were cooked well.”
I still feel that way, but in the interest of writing something this week, and because we did some pretty dece grubbin’ between our late night arrival Friday and our exit on Sunday, here’s my recap of 36 hours in DC.
After Janet woke up in the 7s on Saturday we went for a walk to the Dupont Circle Farmers Market and discovered it is only open on Sunday. At which point we headed home hungry, researched the new Union Market and drove out there. I was immediately reminded of Reading Terminal Market in Philly except it was newer, cleaner, and everything just looked nicer.
Every food stand had a cool name and ornate signage. In Philly all of the restaurants look like this, but you get to Reading Terminal market and most of the signage is handwritten on the bottom of a previously used paper plate. I’m exaggerating, but the truth isn’t too far off
To continue Lenny and my longstanding pattern of arriving at restaurants before they start serving, we got to Union Market 15 minutes before most of the restaurants opened. Which brought us to Buffalo Bergen, the only establishment open for breakfast and serving authentic NY style boiled bagels and a few unique knish options.
I will eat any bagel but I also understand that most of them are crap. They can never hold up to the NJ and NY bagels that I grew up eating, but the bagel with cream cheese and scallions at Buffalo Bergen was one of the best I’ve had outside NJ. And because I was extremely hungry, I got a braised short rib knish as well.
This knish was great, but while it cooked/cooled I annoyed everyone within earshot gushing about how brilliant it was that instead of scallion cream cheese, the bagel was served with cream cheese and a handful of crunchy fresh chopped scallions pressed into the cream cheese. I was probably a little over the top, but it made a big difference
Since there were potatoes mixed in with the shredded short rib, this knish was basically like an entire dinner surrounded by flaky pastry. And that’s a good thing. The short rib was tender and had the traditional pot roast-like flavor I associate with slow cooked short ribs. I was surprised that the Dijon mustard they served on the side actually went really well with it, but, that’s why they do this professionally and I just play make believe.
When the other food establishments started opening we noticed that Red Apron butcher served Bells Two Hearted Ale, my fav thing and brewed near where Shell grew up in Michigan. We stopped in for a pint (I’m really happy I haven’t admitted what time stuff opened) and while there I stared at their class case of house made charcuterie. After being asked to leave multiple times due to the nose grease smudges and knish breath fog I was applying to the glass, I ordered a couple ounces of their liverwurst and morel mushroom & pork terrine.
A Jack Ryan favorite, and also one of mine. I have been loudly mocked by sassy deli counter workers twice in my life when ordering liverwurst, and my fear of that experience keeps me from ordering it more than once or twice a year. Soooo, yeah, I fully believe mocking and humiliation can lead to better health
The consistency of terrines keeps me away from them a lot of the time, but mushrooms make everything better for me. That may be the most Bates College thing I have ever said in my life
Liverwust is cheap food; usually it is the lowest priced deli meat in the case because it’s made with a lot of cheap cuts. I’d never had an artisanal version of it and couldn’t imagine that it would be as different as it actually was. The flavor was rich, distinctly porky and didn’t have the strong liver flavor that hits you right away with the cheaper stuff. However, you did get a pretty sharp liver aftertaste at the end which I didn’t mind but made Lenny not enjoy his sample much. You know who did enjoy it?
Not to get too sappy but we often talk about how much Janet reminds us of Pop Ryan when she smiles and how she’s like a little Jack Ryan. As stupid as her enjoying scrapple, liverwurst, and other weird Dad foods seems, it makes me smile more than any normal food could. Keep grubbin’ like the greats ‘lil gal!
The terrine was also pretty tasty and I found it more enjoyable than most terrines. The pork meat was so well blended with fat that it had a creamy texture you normally would associate with a mousse but still with some of the meat grain. The mushroom flavor wasn’t as strong as I was hoping but added a nice texture contrast along the way.
Since I was momentarily stuffed on meat products we all headed off to explore the other offerings in the market like oysters at Rappahannock.
Kristi enjoyed her half dozen sampler though she’s become accustomed to the incredibly briny ones in New England so she was slightly disappointed. She will likely be more disappointed that I used this picture of her
Or the first shop that we were drawn to upon arrival, TaKorean. The tacos looked ridiculous but Len ended up going with some sort of enormous mixed meat bowl with chicken, shredded beef, lots of sauces, herbs, and greens.
My biggest knock on the entire gourmet food court/truck experience is that they still use plastic cutlery that has the structural integrity of pipe cleaner and seems to start melting at exactly 100F. Yet Wendys has soup spoons that could double as a professional quality tennis racket. Step it up Union Market!
This meat bowl was freaking ridiculous and I would definitely make TaKorean my first stop on a return visit. A ton of different strong flavors coming together with a lot of cilantro and greens making the whole thing taste fresh and crunchy. You know who else enjoyed it?
Depending on your definition of adorable this competes with the earlier shot of Janet. Sure she is a cute toddler, but she was eating liverwurst, and look how sick Lenny’s coif looks!
The flavors in the bowl gave me a little second wind to try out one last establishment: DC Empanadas.
These things were hot and extremely crispy. Not sure why I thought that this completely uninsightful picture was a better idea than taking a bite and showing the contents of these dough pockets. Well, they both had stuff inside
I went a little boring on the my filling (three cheese) compared to Kristi’s (some sorta crazy teriyaki thing) mainly because the salsa verde looked like something I would want to use lots of. I was correct in that assumption since it was most similar to a cross between creamed spinach and salsa verde but with cilantro as the strongest flavor. I would use that stuff on every taco I eat for the rest of my life and I wish I had purchased some to take home.
As we wrapped up the savory portion of our “lunch” we all looked for the dessert we would finish our time at Union Market with. I chose poorly with baklava stuffed with rose cream, which was much closer to an eggy custard than a cream. Not bad, just not my thing. Shell on the other hand walked away with the holy grail of Union Market desserts: Dulce De Leche Pudding from DC Empanadas.
A naturally lit shot without Pete’s kitchen radiator cover in the background? The hell you say! That’s right, I actually photographed a piece of food outdoors for once. Real sun and everything
This stuff was absurd. Very creamy, sweet and rich but not so much that it made you want to stop eating. Instead, it made it completely addictive and impossible to stop eating. Handing the spoon back to Shelley felt like I was Samwise Gamgee handing the ring back to Frodo. Lord of the Rings references! Just in case you forgot I didn’t have a girlfriend until college.
After Union Market we headed home for naps (I drove everyone out of the room by snoring on the living room floor) and then a walk to the zoo (Janet loves her some monkeys). We had dinner at Firefly, which offered some pretty awesome food but incredibly awful lighting for fotos.
I would rather scream curses at someone else’s child in a quiet restaurant than ever take a picture of my food with a flash. I am embarrassed for other people when they take pictures of their food in nice restaurants. Act like you’ve been there before! I pretended I was texting our babysitter something important while I shot this one
My tartare was pretty solid; well seasoned and I appreciated that they didn’t add capers or pickles, just let the meat stand on its own. I really can’t speak highly enough of my entrée, though: smoked lamb shoulder with leaks, feta, and mint served over pappardelle with watercress pesto. The type of meal that I immediately started making plans with Brother Tim to smoke some lamb and replicate in the future.
After a couple Guinness we headed home for the night and looked forward to packing in more eating the following morning before our flight. As it turned out, the Dupont Circle Farmers Market that wasn’t open on Saturday because it’s open on Sundays was indeed open on Sunday. So we went there and I made it two booths into our opening lap before stopping to buy grub. In this case, empanadas from Chris’ Marketplace.
I tried to stealthily take this picture the first time and this nice woman photobombed it. She was blinking so I gave her a second shot, which came out much better. Look at those empanada fillings!
Given my love of smoked fish, I had to go with the smoked bluefish empanada, which I correctly assumed would be more like a pate than solid pieces.
For the fourth or fifth time during the weekend Kristi excitedly asked me, “what’d you get?” hoping it would be something she could have a bite of, only to groan in disappointment when I told her
Awesome filling for an empanada. The flavor wasn’t overly rich, smoky or fishy so you didn’t mind a big bite of it and the outside was light and flaky. The range of options for fillings was overwhelming and I could have spent a whole day there sampling each variety. My only knock was that the temperature was closer to lukewarm than hot, but the flavor was still great. I would get a mushroom one a few minutes later, but I had heard a lot about the fresh baked pizzas at the market.
The breakfast pizza, a concept I wholeheartedly support and think is crucial to our evolution as a species. We’re really learning people, we’re starting to get it
Considering that a runny egg yolk is one of the few foods I’ve found that can actually upset my iron (not on the outside) stomach, it’s pretty stupid that featuring an egg on top of any food item is a surefire way to get me to order it
I didn’t actually taste the breakfast pizza since I was reaching my full food sampling capacity at this point, but I had a couple slices of the ricotta, asparagus, and bacon pizza. I will admit that I was slightly bummed out since I had such high hopes for the pizza and the combination of flavors, which were good. In the end it just needed something to tie it all together, like the vinaigrette mentioned on the menu that I didn’t actually taste on the pizza, or possibly a little salt. Overall, it didn’t have the punch I was expecting but definitely made me want to experiment with asparagus on pizza moving forward.
Ending on a dag, but a really fun and delicious weekend. Big ups to Len and Shell for being awesome hosts (they slept in the living room so we could have their room with Janet!) and feeding me lots of awesome food. Thanks again duders!