The DC 100

DC Omni 100: #12 Pho

Photo courtesy of
‘Pho’
courtesy of ‘adie reed’

It’s time for another edition of the DC Omnivore 100, where we explore the top one hundred foods every good omnivore should try at least once in their lives.

One night when my friends and I were sitting in Pho 75 in Arlington (on Wilson Blvd. in the same shopping center as Ray’s Hellburger), we pondered why so many pho restaurants have numbers in their names. We imagined a syndicate (we called it La Pho-sa Nostra) full of Vietnamese men in fancy suits, tasting each entrepreneur’s humbly-presented, steaming bowl of pho, and giving it a rating. “This pho is very tasty. You can be… Pho 75!”

Of course, the truth is nowhere near as entertaining. The number is usually either a lucky number (8s and repetition are considered especially auspicious), or a number significant to the owner: his or year birth year, the year the family left Vietnam, etc.

Pho itself originated in the late 19th/early 20th century in Vietnam. There are some regional variations, but the basic idea is a very clear, anise-scented broth with onions, rice noodles, and thin cuts of meat. It’s served with a variety of additions and condiments- at Pho 75, considered by many to be the best pho in the DC area, your pho comes Southern Vietnam-style, with a plate of bean sprouts, limes, chili peppers, and basil to stir in, as well as hoisin and Sriracha. It’s commonly eaten at all times of the day, including breakfast, but being a fan of my Western food traditions, I tend to prefer it at lunch or dinner.

If you’ve never had it, there are a few things you need to know:   Continue reading

The DC 100

DC Omni 100: #88 Flowers

Photo courtesy of
‘Naturally Wild’
courtesy of ‘Sandy Austin’

This week’s installment of the Omnivore 100, a list of foods all omnivores should try at least once.

The Omnivore 100 list entry #88 is kind of cryptic. “Flowers.” Which gave me pause- some flowers are quite toxic. And I don’t know about you, but rose-infused anything just tastes like a grandmother’s perfume to me. (Imagine my disappointment when I tried Turkish Delight, the thing Edmund sold out the other Pevensie children for, only to discover that it tasted like an old lady. Bleh.) So this week, I’m going to talk Nasturtiums.

I first tried Nasturtium flowers at the Courthouse Farmers Market, when one of the many vegetable/tomato purveyors was selling small bags of them and offering samples. I was hesitant, remembering my horrible experience with Turkish Delight, but to my very great surprise, the petals tasted peppery, like a strong arugula. And they’re prettier than arugula, so if you’re trying to impress someone with a nice meal, Nasturtium blossoms in the salad are a good place to start.   Continue reading

Food and Drink, The DC 100

DC Omni 100: #71 Gazpacho

Photo courtesy of
‘Chilled Soup, Hot Summer’
courtesy of ‘LaTur’

It’s time for another item on the DC Omnivore 100 list of the top one hundred foods every good omnivore should try at least once in their lives.

With warm weather hitting the area, palates and appetites turn from stews and comfort food to lighter, refreshing dishes in an effort to cool off during the summer. Gazpacho, a cold liquid salad, originating from Andalusia, the southern most region of Spain, is a thirst-quenching option that should definitely be on everyone’s mind.

Typically, Gazpacho includes hard bread, tomato, cucumber, bell pepper, garlic, olive oil, vinegar of wine, onion and salt. However, there are many modern variations of gazpacho, often in different colors and omitting the tomatoes and bread in favor of avocados, cucumbers, parsley, watermelon, grapes, meat stock, seafood, and other ingredients.

A good gazpacho’s viscosity should be a tad short of a thick tomato sauce and the ingredients should be completely blended. And in my opinion, there’s nothing worse than getting a gazpacho that’s watery and filled with cubed peppers.  This should be a substantive, cold soup. Continue reading

Food and Drink, The DC 100, The Features

DC Omni 100: #20 Pistachio Ice Cream

courtesy of flickr user StudioGabe

It’s time for another item on the DC Omnivore 100 list of the top one hundred foods every good omnivore should try at least once in their lives.

I’m a pistachio ice cream lover, but I haven’t always been. As a kid I was a Mint Chocolate Chip (MCC) ice cream party hack.  I subscribed to the theories that MCC had to have a vibrant green hue, was it the only green ice cream allowed, that pistachio was simply some sort of mutant flavored only eaten by weirdo adults and that I would never dare to taste pistachio ice cream because that would have been the ultimate slap in the face to MCC. I also had no idea what a pistachio nut was, because what 7 year old  has a distinguished enough palate to explore beyond peanuts–more likely peanut butter. As far as I was concerned almonds were pushing the nut frontier. However, now at the ripe age of 28, pistachio has become a regular to go at the ice cream parlor and lucky for me, it’s a regular offering at most establishments.

According to the interwebz, the creation of pistachio ice cream is attributed to James W. Parkinson of Philadelphia, who was the son of George and Eleanor Parkinson, a couple that made Philadelphia ice cream famous in  the nineteenth century. As a professionally trained chef, Mr. Parkinson was exposed to a widening variety of cooking techniques and international spices, from which he probably developed the idea to make a pistachio nut flavored ice cream.  And what a fantastic idea it was. Continue reading

Food and Drink, The DC 100, The Features

DC Omnivore 100: #23, Foie Gras

Photo courtesy of
‘Seared duck foie gras’
courtesy of ‘yosoynuts’

It’s time for another item on the DC Omnivore 100 list of the top one hundred foods every good omnivore should try at least once in their lives.

Since the launch of this feature back in 2008, there have been a few items on the list that we knew could be controversial – horse, for example, is one of the more obvious ones (and I plan to write about it soon). Foie gras is another, falling in and out of favor depending on whether taste trumps compassion. Some seasons it seems like every restaurant in the city is serving it, others not so much. What’s the deal?

Foie gras is the liver of a duck or goose that has been fattened, either force-fed through a traditional French method known as “gavage” or naturally overfed in say, the American method known as “double bacon cheeseburger with fries.” Kidding. It’s an ancient practice going back to the Egyptians and is protected under French law as part of their cultural heritage. The U.S. is actually the something like the fourth-largest producer of foie gras in the world. Basically the fattening process is exploiting a physiological capacity of migratory birds to store large amounts of food in their expansive throats, to sustain them over long journeys. The birds are fed larger and larger amounts of food until their livers are roughly ten times their ordinary size. With gavage, in the last phase they are force-fed through a pneumatic pump.

Grossed out yet? Morally appalled? If you are, you should read about abattoirs and where burgers come from as well. Personally, I’m with Bourdain. There are humane ways for us to get our guilty pleasures.

The reason so many people are willing to overlook the process is the result, one of the most luxuriant tastes on earth. Continue reading

The DC 100, The Features

Omni 100: #15 The Street Cart Hotdog

Photo courtesy of
‘Hot Dog Stand, West St. and North Moore, Manhattan.’
courtesy of ‘New York Public Library’

The hotdog cart has a long and storied history in the United States, and DC is no exception to the hotdog cart culture. In fact, DC’s own epic street meat, the Half-Smoke, is part of that culture of hotdog carts in DC. Sadly, most of the standard vendor carts lack any sort of character, and most are pretty common denominator when it comes to the hotdog.
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Food and Drink, Special Events, The DC 100, The Features

DC Omnivore 100: #19 Steamed Pork Buns

Photo courtesy of
’04 Small Steamed Pork Buns’
courtesy of ‘jasonlam’

It’s time for another item on the DC Omnivore 100 list of the top one hundred foods every good omnivore should try at least once in their lives.

In the spirit of the recent Chinese Lunar New Year and the Year of the Tiger celebrations, let’s explore the sweet, doughy, BBQ-esque goodness of steamed pork buns. In China, these roll sized delights are regularly consumed street cart food and are also a staple of the traditional Chinese family gathering of dim sum.

The bun’s exterior and its steaming bamboo container might have you thinking that this is just another dumpling. And while you’d be right, this is a dumpling, the steamed pork bun offers a sticky, rich, doughy and savory experience that starkly differs from the clean and fresh taste of shumai and the nutty flavorings of potstickers. Continue reading

Food and Drink, The DC 100, The Features

DC Omnivore 100: #39, Gumbo

Photo courtesy of
‘mmm…gumbo’
courtesy of ‘jeffreyw’

It’s time for another item on the DC Omnivore 100 list of the top one hundred foods every good omnivore should try at least once in their lives.

Let’s see, everyone’s a bit chilly and in need of some rib-sticking stew to belly up before digging yourself out of all this snow, and hey didn’t someone tell me a certain football team from New Orleans won some big deal game last night? So yes, I think it’s time for some gumbo!

Gumbo’s one of those culinary dishes that gives literal meaning to the phrase “America’s melting pot.” A wide variety of influences – Cajun, Creole, Indian, African, French – all come together in a substantial and delicious stew. There are as many different versions of gumbo as there are cooks; even the name’s origins are varied. Is “gumbo” from the Angolan word for okra, or the Choctaw word for sassafras? Should the predominant color be red or green?

There are a few key ingredients that everyone seems to agree have to be present – beyond that, it’s a dish you can have fun experimenting with! And if you aren’t culinarily inclined, there are several restaurants in DC that you can snuggle up in with a pot of gumbo and pretend you’re in New Orleans… so let’s dive in. Continue reading

The DC 100

DC Omnivore 100: #90, Criollo Chocolate

Bars, beans and pods

Bars, beans and pods

It’s time for another item on the DC Omnivore 100 list of the top one hundred foods every good omnivore should try at least once in their lives.

Finding that the Omnivore 100 contained a chocolate I’d not met was a cause for celebration. After all, most any chocolate is good, right?

A quick search revealed that Criollo is a prized bean said by some to make the very best chocolate. It differs from its cousins Forastero, the most common bean from which the majority of the world’s chocolate is made, and Trinitario, a hybrid of the two.

Criollo is described as being aromatic, delicate, slightly astringent, slightly bitter, complex, noble, and comparable to the Arabica coffee bean. It’s also rare, making up approximately 5 percent of all cocoa beans grown, because the trees on which it’s grown have delicate constitutions themselves.

It sounded like something well worth trying — the crème de la crème of chocolate, perhaps — but tracking it down was the first order of business.
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The DC 100, The Features

DC Omni 100: #6 Black Pudding

Photo courtesy of
‘Black Pudding with kidney – The Botanical Breakfast – The Botanical AU19.50′
courtesy of ‘avlxyz’

It’s time for another item from the DC Omnivore 100 list of the top one hundred foods every good omnivore should try at least once in their lives.

Let’s get over the squeamishness now, and call a spade a spade. Black pudding is blood sausage. Ahhhh…I said BLOOD! Now we know what we’re eating and we can directly correlate it to a real live animal,  not some amorphous substance. So now that we’ve established that, freaked out a tad and gotten over it, let’s talk about how delicious black pudding is.

In its simplest form, black pudding is a combination of onions, a few herbs, barley, bread crumbs, meat, seasonal vegetables, or heavy spices and, typically, pork or cow blood. I supposed for some it’s the incorrect assumption that the only ingredient in black pudding is blood that makes it SO unappealing. However, the best black pudding does not use too much blood, and has an even mixture of the other ingredients. It’s this perfect combination that makes the flavor of black pudding to be so rich, complex and delicious.

Traditionally, black pudding is served as part of a full English breakfast, such as the one I recently enjoyed at Ireland’s Four Courts in Arlington, VA. A full English breakfast gets you a few slices of black pudding, eggs (cooked to your liking,) baked beans, fried tomatoes, hash browns, toast, bacon, white pudding (a relative of black pudding but sans blood) and perhaps a few other odds and ends depending on the cook and restaurant you’re at. If you’re new to black pudding, the small amount provided as part of the meal will be an excellent way to sample this iron rich, savory treat. And if you don’t like it, at least you’re left with plenty of “friendly” food. Continue reading

The DC 100, The Features

DC Omnivore 100: #49, Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut

Photo courtesy of
‘Waterfall of Sugar’
courtesy of ‘Kevin H.’

It’s time for another item on the DC Omnivore 100 list of the top one hundred foods every good omnivore should try at least once in their lives.

“Hot. Now.”

Once upon a time in my crazy clubkid life there would come a point in the night when the urge for a Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut would become incredibly intense. Friends would pack into cars and caravan down Route 1 to the old production plant in Alexandria with its eccentric diner storefront and sketchy late night patrons. Our eyes would light up like five-year-olds as the blazing neon sign came into view, confirming our desires – yes indeed, there would be hot glazed doughnuts fresh off the “ramp of love.”

Nowadays you can get Krispy Kremes almost everywhere, even overseas, but back when I came to DC from Connecticut the only doughnuts I was familiar with were Dunkin’s cake varieties. So my first bite of this yeast-raised doughnut coated in cracking sugar was nothing short of a sweetness revelation. And I’m not even much for sweets – BUT! A box of warm doughnuts in my lap on a late summer’s night, the delicate outer crunch of sugar followed by the soft dough inside… just heavenly (wow, was that a bit of drool hitting my keyboard?).
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The DC 100, The Features

DC Omni 100: #80 Bellini

Photo courtesy of
‘Bellini’
courtesy of ‘quinn.anya’

It’s time for another item from the DC Omnivore 100 list of the top one hundred foods every good omnivore should try at least once in their lives.

As a huge fan of champagne based drinks, I was super pumped to take on the Bellini for this week’s DC Omni 100. Invented by Giuseppe Cipriani in Venice Italy, the Bellini is a refined take on the brunch staple Mimosa (orange juice and champagne) whose main difference is swapping out the OJ for peach puree/juice. This sweet, but slightly acidic cocktail can be both a fantastic addition to brunch (and can help ease Friday night’s hangover) or can be a great night/dinner starter.

Originally the Bellini was a seasonal beverage of puréed white peaches and Prosecco, an Italian sparkling wine similar to France’s Champagne or Spain’s Cava. According to Cipriani sources, the original version could also include bits of raspberry or cherry in replacement of the seasonal peaches giving the drink a pink glow and making it a year round favorite.

When ordering a Bellini at a restaurant, it’s important to ask your server about the ingredients available behind the bar. If they have both Prosecco and peach puree, amazing! Order away. However, it can be a little difficult to find both ingredients at your local DC neighborhood bar. If you’re looking to enjoy a quality Bellini with the proper ingredients, then I suggest you try the bars at Urbana in Dupont, or Sonoma on Capitol Hill or Two Amy’s near the Washington Cathedral. At all these locations, they serve a fantastic Bellini made from top notch peaches and a high quality sparkling wine. Continue reading

Food and Drink, The DC 100

DC Omni 100: #24 Rice and Bean

Photo courtesy of
’161/365 Rice and Beans’
courtesy of ‘eiratansey’

It’s time for another item from the DC Omnivore 100 list of the top one hundred foods every good omnivore should try at least once in their lives.

After all the turkey, potatoes, gravy and stuffing from the past week, let’s take a flavor profile U-turn to explore the popular Latin American and Caribbean dish, rice and beans.

Prepared separately, rice and beans are usually served side by side, not mixed together, and can be both a main and side dish. Traditionally, the rice is usually of the white grain variety, but can be seasoned to take on a more creole or Spanish style flavor. In researching the dish, I was surprised to learn that rice is not a native grain to America, rather it was introduced to the continent by European colonists during the early 16th century. Rice provides an abundance of nutrients, like iron, protein, and vitamin B. As a starch, rice is also an excellent source of energy.

The beans is where you’ll find a lot of variety. Beans can black, red or brown, and can be cooked from in either dried and fresh forms. Like its rice counterpart, beans contain a wealth of iron, protein and other necessary vitamins. Continue reading

Food and Drink, The DC 100

DC Omni 100: #32 Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl

Photo courtesy of
‘Chowder in sourdough bread bowls from Boudin’
courtesy of ‘TheGirlsNY’

It’s time for another item from the DC Omnivore 100 list of the top one hundred foods every good omnivore should try at least once in their lives.

As I’m a Northeasterner, when I hear “clam chowder” my mind immediately goes to the creamy, rich, hearty goodness that is New England Clam Chowder. This is the typical winter fare that keeps us Yankees warm on the ski slopes and sledding down snowy banks for hours and hours.  The chowder sticks to your ribs, keeps your core warm and makes you smile on -15 degree (including wind chill) days.

I’m also from Manhattan, so I’m well aware of New England Clam Chowder’s alterego, the red Manhattan Clam Chowder. As a kid, I was not a fan of this soup. It was the imposter of clam chowder. Definitely not the real deal. “Ewww…who eats red clam chowder?!!” However, as an adult, my palette has shifted and I really like the acidity and sharpness of this tomato-based version. And now that I don’t have the metabolism of a hypeactive 8 year old, it’s also a more health conscious choice.  For those DC-VA-MD folk, Manhattan Clam Chowder is farely similar to Maryland Clam Chowder, only the NYC version lacks corn and chicken (presumably these additions come from the Eastern shore of MD). Continue reading

Food and Drink, The DC 100, The Features

DC Omnivore 100: #37, Cream Tea

Scones, The Jefferson

"Scones, The Jefferson" by Jenn Larsen on Flickr

It’s time for another item from the DC Omnivore 100 list of the top one hundred foods every good omnivore should try at least once in their lives.

Cream tea, high tea, afternoon tea… what’s it all about? And why does the Omnivore 100 list have “cream tea” instead of one of the other terms? I just remembered seeing little signs for “cream tea” while wandering around cute villages in the Cotswolds, but have never seen it used around here. Then there’s the constant “high tea vs. afternoon tea” debates that erupt on food forums, everytime someone asks where to get “a proper high tea” in this town.

As luck would have it, last night at the Women’s Chef & Restaurateurs Awards gala, I had the pleasure of meeting an actual tea sommelier! Cynthia Gold explained the difference between these three terms, with some history to boot. Like so much food lore, the actual reasons were not at all what I expected.

It all comes down to table heights.

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Adventures, Food and Drink, The DC 100

DC Omnivore 100: #50 Sea Urchin

Photo courtesy of
‘Sea Urchin’
courtesy of ‘aslives’

It’s that time of week when WeLoveDC brings you another edition to our ever growing list of DC Omnivore 100. For this entry, let’s push the envelope and go beyond personal food comfort levels by trying Sea Urchin.

If you’ve watched any Jacques Cousteau-esque nature shows, you know what a sea urchin looks like–a purplish-black, spiked, baseball sized creature attached to the ocean bottom or coral.  And you know that stepping on them is a definite no-no. It’s also one of those peculiar food items, like lobster or snails, where some human was SO hungry and that he/she had no other option than taking on the time-consuming task of figuring out how/what parts of this creature they should/could eat.

Given the spiny, hard appearance of the sea urchin, it’s of no surprise that only a small portion of the creature, its roe (aka: gonads, ovaries, milt or eggs,) is edible.  “Uni,” as the Japanese call the eatable part of the sea urchin, is considered a culinary delicacy in many parts of the world. Sea urchins are often eaten raw, with a squeeze of lemon or used to flavor omelets,  soups and sauces, or used instead of butter. Continue reading

Food and Drink, Night Life, The DC 100, The Features

DC Omnivore 100: #58, Beer above 8% ABV

Photo courtesy of
‘the cask’
courtesy of ‘volcanojw’

It’s time for another item from the DC Omnivore 100 list of the top one hundred foods every good omnivore should try at least once in their lives.

Finding a beer above 8% alcohol by volume isn’t the challenge that it once was.  The emergence of the craft beer movement in the past few decades and American beer aficionados unquenchable thirst for unique and challenging brews has caused the market for strong beer to explode.  This is not to say that highly alcoholic beers are something new. In nearly every, beer-drinking country aside from the US, breweries and monasteries have been crafting batches of potent beer for centuries.  It’s only in America that the trend has recently come into vogue.

If you’ve graduated from the typical grocery store, great American swill, you recognize that not all beer is created equal.  There are full bodied beers, crisp and refreshing beers, fruity beers, darker beers, and so on and so forth.  Each has something special that makes it unique, but each still has the same basic ingredients (barley, hops, water, and yeast) and each is created with variations on the same, basic brewing process.

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Food and Drink, The DC 100, The Features

DC Omnivore 100: #98, Polenta

Polenta

"Polenta" by Jenn Larsen, on Flickr

It’s time for another item from the DC Omnivore 100 list of the top one hundred foods every good omnivore should try at least once in their lives.

There’s something so comforting about polenta. Maybe it’s the mushiness. Last night, fighting off a fever, I had an intense craving for this cornmeal goo, so I dragged myself off to the store to rustle up a plate.

Polenta is one of the staple dishes of Northern Italy, though it also can be found throughout Eastern Europe and Turkey. Honestly, there’s not much to it – boiled cornmeal using either the yellow or white varieties, fine or coarse grained. But it’s a bit labor-intensive. Like risotto, it requires constant stirring as the cornmeal grain’s starch slowly gelatinizes. But once it does – oh happy day. You get a soft, creamy mixture, and that’s before adding any other delicious ingredients like butter or cheese! It’s also extremely economical, filling peasant food that can be prepared in so many ways, from breakfast to dinner.

If you see polenta on Italian restaurant menus around DC, chances are it’ll be paired with sausage – this is a pretty traditional mix of mild and spicy. Tosca takes it to another level, matching it with sea urchin ragu and caviar (for lunch!). But polenta doesn’t have to be served straight from the pot – you can also cool it and fry it up. Fried polenta has a more complex flavor than when just boiled – the taste of corn is more pronounced. I was inspired by the grilled polenta I recently tried at Vegetate to make an attempt at this style myself. Continue reading

The DC 100

DC Omnivore 100: #91, SPAM®

Photo courtesy of
‘Photo of Crispy Grilled Spam “Chips”‘
courtesy of ‘foodistablog’

Today, we’re trying another item from the DC Omnivore 100, which lists the top one hundred foods every good omnivore should try at least once in their lives.

You have to give credit to the fine makers of SPAM®–they sure do know how to make canned meat fun.

The bright blue and yellow packaging on the Spam Single Classic I picked up the other day at the supermarket in my quest to share with you, dear readers, the joys of this highly processed food, invited me to “Just rip and tear your way to CRAZY TASTY® town!” The back had a SPAM Idea O’Wheel with suggestions of what to do with my SPAM, which included making a necklace from the very pouch I held in my hands. (Okay, even I know that’s not fashion.)

A little alarmed by the prospect of eating nearly half a day’s saturated fat in a single slice, I considered buying the SPAM Lite instead, but was even more frightened that the package actually listed “mechanically separated chicken parts” as an ingredient. I’m sure the pork in the regular fared no better at the factory, but still….

This ain’t health food, folks, and I’m pretty sure it ain’t green, but indeed I grew up on the stuff and still have fond memories of it.
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The DC 100

DC Omnivore 100: #18, Fruit Wine

Photo courtesy of
‘Bluemont Dessert Wines’
courtesy of ‘tbridge’

It’s time for another edition of the DC Omnivore 100, where we explore the top one hundred foods every good omnivore should try at least once in their lives.

“Fruit wine made with something other than grapes,” to be precise. Tom and I were kicking around which part of the Omnivore 100 list we wanted to try, and remembered that our CSA farm, Great Country Farms, has an affiliated vineyard run by the same family just across the street. We remembered seeing on their tasting list some wines made with fruit from the farm. And since we’re out there picking up our CSA share every week, it would be pretty easy to just drop by and grab a couple of bottles to try.

So we did. We picked up “The Peach,” a 50/50 blend of peach wine and vidal blanc, and “The Strawberry,” a sweet dessert wine made with 90% strawberry wine and 10% red wine. We brought them along on our trip out of town this weekend so that we could share them around with family. You know, in the name of Science™. Continue reading