Tuesday, July 27, 2010

urban(a) boho chic

A dollar an oyster during happy hour? Um, yes please!

Rotating selection and quite good -- this deal might be unbeatable (and even not at happy hour, it's only $16/dozen) at Urbana on P Street. Tonight they had lovely, briny malpeques from PEI, something ginormous and flavorful from Long Island, and vaguely tasteless mid-size bivalves from Virginia. Still, this is kind of a killer deal, particularly given its proximity to my office.

The lamb meatballs over polenta were tasty, with a shard of parmigiano each and served over a good deal of nice grits (labeled polenta but with more bite and texture). The brandade-stuffed piquillos leaned on the potato but still had some good flavor. Both of the above would probably read as undersalted to most palates; I'm rather salt sensitive and have had more than my fair share in the past two days, so I appreciated a slight undersalination to allow me to taste the lamb flavor and the well-prepared peppers, although I can see that the brandade could play as primarily potato to some (I got some good cod flavor, but there was also a chunk of cod that hadn't made it through the puree filter, and that helped). The falafels were tiny but delicious, sweet and savory, over some tahini and with pickled onions to offset the creaminess -- I totally want these again. All the small plates are $5, and the portions are great for sharing -- or for wolfing down with some similarly-priced happy hour drink specials.

The margherita pizza had some good chew to the crust, an even-handed application of cheese, and was to my eye downright large for $8 (a full dinner plate diameter). I honestly got out of there totally stuffed, with solicitous service and only a bit of techno in the background as the lights dimmed.

Props to my friend Todd for the notification of the oyster deal, which will draw me back  -- and would have done had the small plates not been even passable-to-good and instead totally sucked. I mean, come on, a buck an oyster? Months with 'r's be damned.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

i think those new droids are gonna work out just fine

Recipe for a successful* Sunday:
1) Take shoes ordered online back to DSW.
  • 1a) Spend a long time finding other shoes instead of just returning ill-fitting pairs ordered online.
2) Feel pleased how "little" final bill is, wilfully ignoring you already paid a certain amount and are just exchanging, more or less
3) Head over to Bed Bath and Beyond for new mattress pad. 
  • 3a) Acquire two new pillows as well. Splurge on what is essentially a ShamWow to dry the dog (because you're tired of sacrificing real towels), and a cast-iron grill pan to replace warped nonstick grill pan you've had for years. 
4) Once again, feel inordinately pleased with yourself for, really, just spending a lot of money. 
5) Lug large bags of stuff home and immediately fill ginormous plastic BB&B bags with trash and recycling.
  • 5a) Feel suddenly bad about consumerism. Soothe soul by washing dirty sheets for remaking bed with new mattress pad. Refuse to admit this is nonsensical.
6) Spend way too much time finding recipe to use friend's homemade Argentine chorizo. Settle on "shrimp and chorizo pizza with escarole and manchego" because you like all those ingredients, even though you have no pizza stone and no longer have time to make dough. 
  • 6a) Buy all other ingredients at store, including dough. Assume you will magically figure out how to bake it.
  • 6b) You're right.

My pizza totally 
looked exactly like 
this one. 
Except for how 
it didn't.
7) Consume dinner. Get stupidly full; actually save last piece of pizza for leftovers. Begin plotting when to make pizza again with other two chorizo links.
8) Throw in a disc of Star Trek: The Next Generation and finish your wine.
9) Put new mattress pad on bed. Remake bed. Consider climbing into bed. Decide to postpone until at least 9 p.m. for appearance's sake.
10) Seriously contemplate eating the leftover pizza. 
  • 10a) Resist. 
11) More TNG. More wine. Feel inordinately pleased with (self-described) witty blog post.


*"successful": "resulting or terminating in success"; incredibly boring to the entire rest of the world.

Saturday, July 17, 2010


When was the last time I went out for sushi or Japanese izakaya? For the first, I've lost track and for the second, um, that would be never. Oops! Luckily, the situation was easily remedied by heading over to Mt. Vernon Square and trying Kushi tonight.

Word on the street is that the kushiyaki and robata items from Kushi are excellent, but the draw is sushi, and the best of that is whatever's fresh on the menu for the day. We stuck to the specials tonight and were so not disappointed. The snapper (so good as nigiri we got an extra order as sashimi), chu-toro sashimi special, and maguro temaki were good enough that I would go back knowing I could get them (a toss-up given that two of the three were specials). However, due to a bit of a service snafu we didn't get our seared beef and scallion temaki in time, so we got a free pork belly and watercress temaki. These were dueling hand rolls and almost stunningly flavorful, with the pork having a slight edge over the beef; the rice was good, neither too vinegared nor with an edge of formed-in-advance staleness; and I honestly want to eat both of them again, right now, despite the fact that -- as much as I am a bottomless pit when it comes to awesome sushi -- I am so stuffed.

I've heard others who talked about mushrooms earlier, but I have to say that the grilled maitake and eringi, with an extra dish of the grilled Japanese eggplant, were outstanding tonight, and a fantastic value for the money -- these were huge as small plates go, and personally I could eat mushrooms every meal of my life and be happy, so it was a win-win. The maitake might have been my favorite: woodsy without being woody, earthy without tasting dirty, and enhanced by a brief dip in soy, they were both comforting and exciting. The grilled squid was also actually a massive plate of food, but the squid had both a lovely char and a great marinade. This dish is honestly too much squid at a time, even if you're sharing it, but the flavor and technique are there, so it's not a bad option, particularly if you're hungry.

I tried a cucumber "saketini" that I asked to be made on the not-sweet side. Most of the summer cocktails include a distinct sugar component, which is just not my thing -- I want my drink to have a bite and not be a dessert in itself. The bar obligingly made this sans sugar and it was so nice with the sushi parts of the meal. I forgot to specify gin instead of vodka so it wasn't entirely what I wanted, but still, it more than held up.

(The women sitting next to us were discussing the menu and one of them told her companion, "Well, you know I don't eat fish." Honestly, not that I would try to convert an anti-fish-eater via raw fish, but -- really? Then again, someone didn't snatch the chu-toro special out from under me, so I guess I'm thankful for small favors.)

Oh -- I should note that I did this with the LivingSocial coupon ($25 for $50 of food and drink). I'd paid my $25 long ago so that was a sunk cost, and I tipped on the full bill plus the comped temaki that was totally unnecessary -- I expect things that are being run among a sushi bar, robata grill, and kushiyaki station to come at different times -- but even so, the full price was actually more than reasonable for the sheer amount of food. The staff were completely gracious about the coupon. If this is what Kushi is putting out on a Saturday night (they were packed to the gills [pun intended] by the time we left a little past 9), then I wish them all the good will in the world, and intend to go back if possible for a maki or two and some grilled eggplant at the very least.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

in media(s) res at J&G

I was lucky to get to attend a media dinner last night at J&G Steakhouse. Chef Philippe Reininger was debuting his new summer menu, and newly installed GM Steve Uhr (who came from Blue Duck Tavern) served as the gracious host.

Everything we sampled is on the regular menu, but this was of course a special event, so my noting that the service and execution were flawless has to be taken with a grain (or a sizeable pinch?) of salt. Also flawless? The weather on the patio -- thank goodness. And the patio is nice; surprisingly, it's a  quiet corner, probably because driving down 15th can be such a hassle, given that one has to do backflips to skirt the White House.

photo courtesy of fingerprint dc
Anyway, rather than focus too much on the details of an experience that isn't likely to be recreated on an average night -- I mean, how often does one find oneself seated next to Phil Suarez, aka Jean-Georges Vongerichten's business partner? -- I would like to highlight both Chef Reininger and Mr. Uhr.

Fairly often with "star chef" outposts, it's easy to focus on the name on the marquee and ascribe success or failure to that person and his/her participation (or lack thereof) in the restaurant. Sometimes that's warranted, but in this case, there is someone worth noticing in the kitchen. Chef Reininger is soft-spoken and appears to prefer to stay happily ensconced mostly behind the scenes, but his passion and commitment come through in his food. When he visited the table, it soon became apparent that he cares deeply about his craft; he opened up and was visibly more relaxed and gregarious when we engaged him in a conversation about the provenance of the yellow watermelon and the lamb he served. I hadn't had the chance to get to J&G before last night, but I very much want to return and see if, as was my impression last night, he's consistently putting out elegant, classic-with-hints-of-modern-twists food.

For his introduction as J&G's general manager, Mr. Uhr served as host and sommelier last night -- I believe he actually did the wine pairings with the dinner -- and was knowledgeable, gracious, friendly, and so completely on top of everything and in control that it was hard to believe he'd only been there a short time. The patio was fairly full last night, and it was amazing to watch him give the same level of attention to the customers scattered about as to our large party. A strong GM can contribute a lot to making a dining experience cross the line from good to great -- not that chefs and servers and the rest of the staff don't contribute, but a good GM, like a good stage manager, is the one responsible for the show, the one who makes sure the gears and cogs in the clock turn smoothly and with precision. 
Steve Uhr did an impressive job last night, and if this match lasts, it bodes well for J&G to continue to be a dining spot for people who care about service as much as food. 

For the curious, the menu was as follows:

  • Watermelon and Goat Cheese, Cracked White Pepper, Olive Oil with a 2009 Boxwood Cabernet Franc rosé
  • Tuna Tartare, Ginger Dressing, Fresh Radish (this is on the online summer menu as salmon tartare) with a 2008 Viñedos de Ithaca 'Odysseus' Pedro Ximenez
  • Maine Lobster, Basil Butter, Corn and Potatoes with a 2008 Rochioli Sauvignon Blanc  
  • Rack of Lamb, Green Chili and Mint, Sweet Pea Puree with a 2006 Duckhorn 'Goldeneye' Pinot Noir  
  • Strawberries, Mint, Lime and Meringue, Sour Cream-Poppy Seed Sorbet with a nonvintage Lucien Albrect Brut Crémant d'Alsace rosé
photo courtesy of fingerprint dc

All our courses were full-size, with the exception of the lobster (half instead of whole) and lamb (two chops instead of three). To that end,although the lobster and the lamb are the most expensive dishes on the menu, I can absolutely recommend the lamb (Australian, if you're wondering), cooked perfectly medium rare with a vibrant green chili and mint panko crust. The chops came out tender and flavorful without any gaminess, and the herbal, piquant crust hit all the right complementary and contrasting notes. The tartare was also lovely, with nice heat from the ginger and radish; I felt the lobster could have benefited from a more even application of the basil butter, and I would have liked more of the pea puree with the lamb, too. The Rochioli sauvignon blanc was one of my favorite pairings of the night, contrasting the butter on the lobster, and the butteriness of the lobster, with a nice acidity and minerality, but the pinot noir was definitely the wine of the evening, earthy (even mushroomy) without being tannic and harsh. I guess I like French rosés better than Virginian ones, though, because the Boxwood really didn't impress me much, and the goat cheese in the salad overwhelmed it.

Jim got to eat lunch at J&G not long after it opened when he was interviewing for summer jobs, and I was distinctly jealous (I'm pretty sure I brown-bagged leftover salad that day). Well, now we're even, so the next step will be to go back on our own dime, and find out if it holds up.