Sunday, September 23, 2007

Review: Perry's Drag Brunch

I learned about Perry's a couple years ago and have since associated it w/sushi. So imagine my surprise when my cousin invited me to Perry's drag brunch one Sunday.

And imagine my surprise when a very pretty tranny in pasties proceeded to grab my hooters.

But more on that later!

Perry's drag brunch is a Sunday-only event, and apparently it's a popular one. My cousin's g/f and one of her friends arrived at the restaurant about 45 minutes before the rest of us got there. Luckily that meant I didn't have to wait (haha!), as the two girls did the hard part for us.

The hostess took our party of five to the worst table in the place. The table was shoved into the far back corner under a large speaker, which, from the time we arrived, blared tranny-liciouis standards like Shakira's "Hips Don't Lie" and Aretha Franklin's "Respect." In addition to instant deafness, there was also instant blindness--and not because of spotlights hitting sequins. Instead, a wall in the restaurant all but blocked our view of the majority of the restaurant. Not until a performer was five feet away from us could we actually see any of the fantastic dancing. Again, more on that later...

Once we were seated, my four companions ordered a pitcher of Bloody Mary. We were a little confused about whether or not we could go right up to the buffet ($24.95, I believe), so we took a random waitress aside and asked. She told us to go right ahead.

At that particular moment, the line at the buffet was rather short. Score! It was probably short because a good number of the dishes needed to be replaced: some of the bread baskets contained only crumbs, for example. The selection in front of me was not lacking, although there was no sense of cohesiveness or theme to the buffet: breads (scones, muffins, pastry, waffles, etc.), cold dishes (pasta salad, bowtie salad, caprese, cold carved meats, the aforementioned sushi, fresh fruit, etc.), and hot dishes (bacon and sausage, soup, eggs, potstickers, appetizery things, etc.). I loaded up a plate w/some random stuff and took it back to the table.

I had snagged the last scone of a particular flavor from a basket. From what I could tell, it was cheddar and bacon. From what I could taste, it was nice. I would have preferred for it to be a tad moister, but I think scones are, by definition, supposed to be dry and crumbly and sandy. The bacon itself, though, was great. It was not: limp, soggy, floppy, oily, chewy, undercooked, overcooked. It was: crisp, salty, porky, yummy. This bacon even outdid Wonderland Ballroom's Bottomless Bacon!

I didn't try the sushi, but I grabbed some of the other little Asian appetizers. Honestly, I don't even remember what I ate--that is how memorable that stuff was. I think I had a potsticker and maybe something resembling crab Rangoon.

As the afternoon pressed on, the buffet was refreshed w/more lunch food: more meats, more salads, less pastry. Dessert was also put out: some little tartlets and cakes and stuff.

Well, I'm now realizing, three weeks later, that I don't remember anything else I ate. I have a few theories as to why this may be the case: 1) it was three weeks ago, after all; 2) the food just wasn't that good; 3) see below.

Sorry to the unwilling dude who has now been blackmailed on my blog

It's really no wonder that I recall next to nothing about the food. I was too distracted by this:

And this:

Who's prettier?

And this:

Have you ever watched your cousin feel up a 6'3" drag queen?

These women--there's no denying these are women--are truly beautiful! And the outfits, oh, the outfits. Unfortunately, I didn't get a good picture of the chick in the pasties--she who went for my boobs like were her own. I was caught pretty off guard by that, but it makes for a good story! Some outfits were sheer (like the one on the big girl above), while others were just tight. What they all had in common, however, was that they were all WAY over-the-top. And awesome.

I mentioned earlier that there were "tranny-licious staples." Well, sure, these songs were playing, but what was so much fun was that the ladies were lip syncing to the music. They faked singing, danced all over, looked beautiful, and posed for pictures. People generally tipped the girls when they posed for photos. I was so glad I had about $5 in singles, as I was able to pay many a dancer to pose w/my cousin. After one performer's song ended, she walked out of the room, and for the next few minutes, I waited impatiently to see who would come out next. That anticipation was fantastic. But because our table was set back in Nepal, we had to wait until half a minute or so into the song until we saw who was performing. Around 1 or so, there was a 45-minute long break, which gave the performers enough time to change outfits and prep for the second act. They were just as flamboyant and fun as they were during the first act.

After I grabbed my plate of brunch, I actually stopped our waitress on my way back to the table. I noticed that a party sitting at a prime table was getting up to leave. I asked the waitress if our group could switch to that table in order to get a better view. She explained to me that the table I'd been eying was being attended to by another server, so we would not be able to switch. She said we could pull the table out of the corner--which we already did--so our view was generally obstructed the entire time.

I think most of the people in my group were satisfied, although there was one damper on the afternoon: the pitcher of Bloody Mary. I'm really not a drinker, so I'd never even tasted a Bloody Mary. Everyone said the drink was gross, though, so I tasted it. Sure enough, it was really strong. And it tasted like tomato-based rectum. They thought maybe it needed some more tomato juice, so my cousin had the waitress bring over a glass. Unfortunately, the tomato juice did nothing to fix the drink that tasted like the inside of one's lower gastrointestinal track. My cousin's g/f told the waitress that the drink tasted like cocktail sauce, and everyone explained that it was pretty much undrinkable. The waitress said she'd have the manager come over (which we hadn't even requested!), but as it turned out, the waitress just removed the pitcher of vileness from the tab.

We were a table of five, but when our bill arrived, we noticed that gratuity had been tacked on already. Hmmm... I didn't recall seeing anything about that on the menu. Regardless, we paid our bill and went on our way.

Had I know about the drag brunch any earlier during my time in DC, I would have taken all of my out-of-town visitors there. The food wasn't memorable, nor was the service very serviceable, but the entertainment alone is worth the price of admission.

1811 Columbia Rd., NW
Washington, DC 20009

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Review: Wonderland Ballroom

For months, my coworker Evan had been talking about what is probably the best menu item ever: Bottomless Bacon at Wonderland Ballroom. I've heard of bottomless drinks of all varieties and all-you-can-eat whatnot, but bacon bacon bacon 'til you can bacon no more? That's something special.

On my last Saturday in Washington, Evan and I went to Wonderland Ballroom to gorge ourselves silly w/bacon. I met Evan at the Columbia Hts. Metro stop, which is a 6-8 min. walk to the restaurant. It was the first day of September, and not at all sticky and gross outside.

From the outside, Wonderland Ballroom is completely nondescript. You actually have to look rather hard to find the sign. Inside, the place is a complete dive. A fairly long bar lines one side of the place, while some tables and booths fill out the rest of the small space. When we walked in, we said to the guy behind the bar that we were there for brunch, then asked him if we could sit outside. He explained that we couldn't have drinks outside. And by drinks, he meant anything that wasn't a solid or a gas. Apparently they got in trouble for having patrons outside--obviously drinking liquor, not orange juice or milk--making too much noise. So, instead of enjoying the first day of September outside, Evan and I sat at a two-top inside the small, dark restaurant. Atop each table was a vase filled w/fake flowers. The corner booth actually had the removable seats from vans used as the bench seats. It looked comfy!

After a few minutes of perusing the sadly sparse menu, Evan and I were ready to order. Our options were quite limited to a few breakfast items and a few more lunch items: eggs, breakfast meats on the side, toast, sandwiches... Yeah, that was about it. But when our waitress stopped by w/a couple glasses of water, Evan and I were ready to order. Evan ordered an egg and cheese sandwich on toast, while I went w/a grilled cheese sandwich. Evan asked the waitress if we could split the Bottomless Bacon ($6) and, much to my surprise, she said yes! We tacked on an order of bacon, too, w/which I fully intended on loading up my sandwich.

Good thing Evan's a good conversationalist, 'cause we waited about half an hour for our food to arrive. Only one or two other tables were taken, so it's not like there was a huge brunch rush. Anyway, everything but the bacon came out first. Both our plates had fries on them, too. I think fries are fine w/a lunch sandwich, but I would have preferred something more breakfasty w/my sandwich had I been Evan. After another five minutes or so, our first basket of six strips of bacon arrived. Pork, glorious pork, how I love thee! (Note the irony: today is Yom Kippur.)

Both sandwiches were served on white toast, and were not overly greasy from butter or oil or whatever else would have been used in the kitchen to grill the sandwiches. While Evan scarfed down his breakfast, I opened up my sandwich, grabbed a few slices of bacon from the basket, and inserted them into the warm cheesy center. The bacon was crisp, adding a great crunch to an otherwise blah sandwich; I am not a fan of limp, soggy, floppy bacon, so this was a plus. Only a matter of minutes after basket #1 arrived, it was empty. We pushed it to the side of the table in an attempt to make it obvious we wanted more strips of cured pig. We eventually got our waitress's attention, and not too long after that we got another basket of bacon.

We were both filling up as we neared the end of our meal, but I had one triangle of my sandwich left, and it was yearning for another couple slices of salty bacon. Evan said he could go for more bacon, too, so we let our waitress know. About 10 minutes later, she reappeared w/two baskets of bacon--apparently the kitchen made an oops. Gluttonous porcophiles we are, we took both baskets. Behold...

As you see, each basket contained a good number of crisp, wriggly strips--a fine accompaniment to any meal! Yes, I mean any meal.

By the time we were done, Evan and I had eaten more bacon than any cardiologist would recommend, but because we're young and stupid, so we'll clog our arteries while they're still fairly clean. Brunch for two, including a tip, was under $20. The food was nothing special, aside from the perfectly prepared bacon, whose bottomless status made it all the more spectacular.

I know lots of people love Wonderland Ballroom for the atmosphere and drinks and juke, but I think the food still leaves much to be desired.

Wonderland Ballroom
1101 Kenyon St., NW
Washington, DC 20009

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Review: Orange

Before I even arrived in Chicago to visit my brother, he had e-mailed me to let me know that one of the things he wanted to do together was go to Orange.

While I was in Chicago, I did indeed go to Orange. Twice. But neither time was w/my brother. Oops!

Jeff explained to me that Orange is a brunchy mini-chain of restaurants at which Dale from this season's Top Chef previously worked. I did a little research on my own, eventually finding the menu online. Orange doesn't have its own website, really, but rather a URL ( that redirect you to another website. Regardless, the menu is there, so I was able to peruse the creative dishes that would await me in the Windy City.

The original plan had been to go to Orange the morning after I arrived in Chicago, but due to some business traveling, that plan never happened. So, the day after that, my sister-in-law, Sara, and I walked to the Orange on Harrison.

The restaurant was not terribly busy when we walked in around 1 that Thursday afternoon. The back area, in front of the open kitchen, was blocked off, so customers were corralled into the front section, which still had many tables open. While Sara and I were at the hostess stand, someone came over to her and said "HI!!!" so excitedly. Sara hugged this perky stranger, who then proceeded to say, "Now I can tell you're pregnant!" Sara introduced me to the friendly waitress, whose name was Cat. My brother and Sara are somewhat frequent patrons at Orange, and Cat has often been their server. Cat knew Sara was pregnant months earlier, but because Sara has the best genes ever, she probably didn't start showing until she was five or six months along. Bitch.

Orange's decor is certainly funky. The atmosphere is very warehouse-y, which is pretty appropriate for that part of town. The ceilings are very high, giving the restaurant an industrial feel. Adorning the walls are all sorts of art for sale, most of them paintings in extremely vibrant colors. Although I'd never buy any of that stuff, I enjoyed looking at it.

Cat seated us and brought over two things: glasses of water w/a cucumber slice floating on top (you'd think they'd use orange, but no! The water had a hint of cucumber flavor, which was really quite refreshing) and a little card detailing the week's pancake flight, which teams up four different pancakes on one segmented plate. The week's theme was "Back to School," so each of the pancakes had a name like "After-School Snack." The one pancake out of the four that made me really curious was the "Cafeteria Lunch": pancakes topped w/popcorn chicken and tater tots. To some people, that would be vile. To people like me, however, that would be heavenly. Despite the call of Lunchlady Land, I looked at the rest of the menu.

Orange's menu is ridiculously creative but a tad limited. For example, they offer five types of omelets, and five types only ($7.95-8.95); custom orders can take a hike. In addition to your traditional Eggs Benedict, you can get Caprese Benedict and Steak and Eggs Benedict. Pancakes are available in a number of versions ($6.95-8.95), including cinnamon roll and jelly donut, and a particularly interesting take on French toast involves skewers, coconut, and fresh fruit ($8.95).

In addition to breakfast standards like eggs and oatmeal, Orange also serves some lunch items. For under $10, you can have your choice of soups, salad, and sandwiches, all served in hefty portions.

When I went to Orange w/Sara, we decided to split the pancake flight. Sara also ordered an egg or two on the side to supplement the flight. After about 20ish minutes of waiting, the pancake flight arrived. Hoooooooly shit.

The presentation of the flight was absolutely gorgeous. A square plate segmented into quadrants held each variety of pancake. The pancakes themselves were stacks of kiddie-sized cakes, which made perfect sense considering how many pancakes come in the flight (four or five per stack I think). Sara and I looked all over for that "Cafeteria Lunch" combo, but couldn't find it. Cat returned to the table, so we asked her what the deal was. As it turned out, people thought the combination of pancakes w/tater tots and popcorn chicken was gross (WTF?!), so they substituted that w/something else. Psh. I was disappointed.

Disappointment soon gave way to elation, though, as I dug into the pancakes. The one in the upper right corner was PB&J. A good bit of PB was drizzled artfully across the stack in Jackson Pollock fashion. I don't like J or anything w/a J-like texture, but I gave it a shot anyway. I was surprised to find that these pancakes were not saccharine sweet; the peanut butter and the jelly were definitely toned down as to not taste like pure sugar. I was expecting something a little sweeter, though, so I wasn't really into these pancakes. (It's like thinking you're going to be drinking water and then realizing you're drinking Sprite. Ugh!) PB lover that she is, Sara enjoyed these pancakes. She later revealed them to be her favorite of the bunch.

Beneath the PB&J was a very dessert-like pancake topped w/chocolate chips and condensed milk. The chocolate chips were a touch melty and the condensed milk was warm and syrupy. The sweet flavors here were not toned down, so it tasted just as sugary as I had expected. A good blend of flavors and textures overall.

Moving to the left were that pancakes that substituted the "Cafeteria Lunch." Sitting atop these cakes were very thin slices of pineapple and watermelon--two fruits I'd never seen paired w/pancakes. Topping the mound was whipped cream, and a there was a rosette of whipped cream in each corner of the quadrant. A little upset that there was no chicken, I bitterly forked off a piece of these pancakes. But sweet Jesus, I saw the light! The pairing of the two fruits worked so amazingly w/the pancakes. The thinly sliced fruits added a heartier texture to the pancakes, which made for a great mouthfeel. The whipped cream made everything lighter and not too sweet. So, while Sara devoured the PB&J pancakes, I inhaled the fruity ones.

The last set in the flight consisted of pancakes layered w/applesauce and topped w/slices of apple and some cinnamon. I'm not really an applesauce kinda girl, but I happily gave these beautiful golden disks a chance. I did not find the apple flavor overwhelming, but rather complementary to the cakes. The crisp Granny Smith apples provided just the right tartness to balance the sweetness of the applesauce and the richness of the cinnamon.

The pancake flight set us back $10.95, but it was soooo worth it. Plus, it fed two of us handily, so it was a rather good bargain.

A couple days later, I was still thinking about Orange. So, my best friend, Michael, and I ended up going right back to the Orange on Harrison around noon on a Saturday. When Michael walked in, he said, "Whoa, this one's a lot bigger than the one by me." So, apparently the location in/near Wrigleyville is small. Well, I can say the location is small enough, because when we drove by it around 11:30 that morning, it was packed, w/a substantial crowd waiting outside to be seated.

But not at the big location! The hostess seated us immediately at the table next to the one I had sat in just a couple days earlier. While Michael and I perused the menu, I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned around to see Cat, who had recognized me. I felt kinda special. :o) It was nice to be remembered.

I told Michael that my brother loved the kid-sized Fruity Pebble pancakes ($4.95), which, appropriate, appear under the kids' section of the menu. Despite being on the kids' menu, the pancakes made enough of an impression on my brother that he actually called me one day to tell me about them. This was enough to sell Michael on ordering those w/a side of eggs. I ordered the grilled cheese sandwich (which comes w/caramelized onions and roasted tomatoes; $6.95), then topped it w/some pesto, as recommended by the waitress, for a buck extra.

Orange has an orange-squeezing machine behind the bar which is in constant production. In addition to orange juice, the restaurant has a make-your-own-fresh-juice menu. Check off your main juice (orange, apple, etc.), add a second flavor (watermelon, mango, carrot, etc.), and throw something else in there (ginger, etc.) for a bit more panache if you're feeling sassy. For $3-4, you can have a custom-squeezed juice to enjoy w/your brunch. Michael, boring fellow he is, ordered a straight orange juice.

About 20 minutes after ordering, our meals arrived. Michael's pancakes consisted of about five Fruity-Pebbly cakes topped w/a blob of Fruity Pebble butter. Sprinkled on the plate like confetti was--you guessed it!--more of the colorful cereal. Michael took a bite of the pancakes and looked very happy. He told me I had to share in the joy, so I forked off just a bit. The original combination was so unique, so faux-fruity, and so truly tasty. Fantastic presentation aside, these cakes are winners, with just the right amount of fluff and just the right size pat of butter.

Sara told me that Jeff loves the grilled cheese at Orange, although she described it as being greasy. When my grilled cheese arrived, however, it was not the least bit greasy, as I had feared it might be. Two thick slices of bread had been topped w/cheese, onions, tomato, and pesto, and then thrown under a broiler; thus, no butter, margarine, oil, or mayo had been used to lube up the bread. The bread was crisp and golden, the filling melty and warm. The heartiest grilled cheese I've eaten, I had to use a fork and a knife to tackle the monster. There may have been a bit more cheese on there than my arteries would have preferred, but what good is a grilled cheese sandwich if there's hardly any cheese on it? Served alongside the sandwich was Orange's potatoes, which seem to me like roughly mashed potatoes thrown briefly onto a griddle to crisp up the outside. I think this is a great concept, one that is effectively used at my favorite brunch place near where I went to college. What these potatoes needed was a good dash of S&P, so I took the liberty of giving them this myself. I would have preferred French fries w/this sandwich instead of underseasoned mashers.

When I go back to Chicago in the next week or so for the birth of my nephew, I'll be eating at Orange. Maybe even twice. It's hard to find an original breakfast place that serves quality food at good prices. But with friendly, personal service, nice-sized portions, a completely bitchin' menu, and damn tasty food, I know Orange is a winner. Places like that make me sad that I don't have a reliable brunch place near me to fall back on.

75 W. Harrison St.
Chicago, IL 60605

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Review: Les Halles

Yelp folks are cool. After meeting me once or twice, they organized a little going-away party for me. (Cue "awwww"ing.) So, on a cool late August evening, a bunch of DC Yelpers met at Les Halles for what were supposedly the best French fries in the city.

The restaurant's website describes Les Halles as "is a typical Parisian Brasserie bustling and lively serving the fresh and simple dishes of France's everyday cuisine, in a relaxed environment." The menu is full of things our surrender monkey friends across the Pond eat: mussels, steak frites, escargot, and twice-fried French fries. Anthony Bourdain, he of Kitchen Confidential and general smartassiness, is the restaurant's "chef-at-large," stepping down in sorts as full-time chef du cuisine in order to pursue a career in TV and traveling. Lucky bastard.

About 10 of us showed up at Les Halles over the course of an hour or so. The restaurant was accommodating of our large group, even taking a reservation for a large table al fresco on the patio. Although unnecessary for that night, there were large oscillating fan hanging from the roof, making balmy DC nights just a touch more bearable. The patio had a view of busy Pennsylvania Ave., but it was set back far enough from the street to drown out the honking and screeching of passing cars. (I didn't go inside the restaurant, so I cannot comment on the interior decor.)

Outside, we started off w/two or three orders of the famous Les Halles frites. Fifteen minutes or so after we ordered them, they arrived at the table, piping hot. Golden and steaming, the fries looked great. I have a weakness for fries w/the skins on, which these did not have, but that didn't take away from the magnetic connection between my fingers and the plate. I tried a fry, which was crisp on the outside and soft and fluffy on the inside. The fries had a slight salty taste, but there were no grains of salt on the outside.

Not shoestring and not steak fries, these spuds were somewhere in between, standing up to condiments. Although ketchup was on the table, the Euros in us felt the need to ask for some mayo. Our waitress brought out small tins of mayo in a matter of minutes for dipping purposes. As a fan of Thousand Island dressing, I mixed together some ketchup and mayo, creating a rose-colored dip worthy of a good fry. (No, I did not have relish available. And no, I did not miss it.)

After pigging out on some fries, we placed our entree orders. I ended up going w/the French dip, while others around me ended up w/steak frites or mussels or other French bistro classics. I know we were a big party, but it seemed like forever until our entrees arrived. As a matter of fact, by the time they arrived, I was no longer hungry: the French fries had settled and I was full. Sitting in front of me, though, was an 8" or so French roll topped w/sliced steak and sauteed onions. The steak was medium, as I had ordered, so it had just a touch of pink inside. Another heap of French fries, a mini salad of mixed greens, and black peppercorn dipping sauce filled out the rest of the plate.

No natural light = crappy picture. And that hand? Well, Lauren just couldn't resist fries.

Just looking at it all, however, reminded me of just how unhungry I was. That 45 minute wait for our entrees was not only unexpected, but--as I saw it--inappropriate. I told the girl next to me, who hadn't ordered anything, to eat some of the sandwich, so she proceeded to grab one of the halves. I think she ate it all, so it must've been good. :o) I had the other half of the sandwich and the fries packed up to go.

Our service was generally unattentive. My water glass wasn't refilled, plus the 45-minute wait due to some lack-of-hustle in the kitchen was rather offputting. For a $15-20 entree, I expect better service. Frankly, I got better service last week from the folks at the Chick-Fil-A by my parents' house. Oh, and the waffle fries there? Lovely.

So, are Les Halles's the best fries in DC? Well, I think that's debatable. I liked the combination of a golden, crusty exterior w/a soft, hot interior, but something about the flavor seemed off. It didn't really taste potatoey, but I can't put my finger on what it was. As I mentioned earlier, I tend to prefer skin-on fries, as the skin contains so much of the flavor that makes a potato taste like a potato. I think I also prefer thinner fries over thicker ones, as a general rule. But in my two years in DC, did I taste a better fry? No, I don't think so, but that may only be because I didn't have fries in many other places. But I'm good w/Great Steak and Potato/Fry fries, so I'm obviously not a fry snob.

I wouldn't run back to Les Halles, but if I wanted a good, consistent fry, I'd know where to go.

Les Halles
1201 Pennsylvania Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20004

Monday, September 17, 2007

Thai one on

While visiting my brother and sister-in-law, Jeff and Sara, in Chicago, I made a point of eating good food. When I arrived in Chicago, my brother had a hot spinach pizza from Edwardo's waiting in the car. My last night there, we had our Iron Chef rematch. And somewhere in the middle of it all, we decided to make Thai food.

The inspiration for Thai came from a stop in a random Asian grocery store. Whenever I find one of these, I go inside to see if they sell frozen roti. Sure enough, this particular store had the brand of Roti I used to buy back in Arlington. (Note: Jeff--let me know what that brand is. There's still a bag in your freezer.) I bought two packages of roti for, like, $1.50 apiece, each package containing six roti.

For those who aren't in the know, Roti is an Asian flatbread. I've had it at Thai restaurants and even used to go to FlatTop just to get it. Roti is divinely flaky, meaning it's most likely loaded w/butter and/or other fats. I always sopped up yellow Thai curry sauce w/roti at FlatTop, so I associate it w/Thai food. Once I had the frozen packages of roti in hand, I automatically felt required to make some curry.

Now, I've never made Thai curry from scratch before. I bought some bags of yellow and massaman curry at a food show last year, and they function as simmer sauces; really easy, really quick, really delicious. (CurrySimple is good stuff. I froze it in little portioned off bags and was then able to make about six portions of Thai food over the course of a few months.) But since I didn't have lazy man's curry, I had no choice but to make it from scratch.

Even before I got to Chicago, my brother was like, "Yooooo. I want to make larb." I don't know when he'd first tried larb, but I get the impression it was recent enough that he was still reveling in the joy one feels upon eating it for the first time. An ex introduced me to larb, which I took for ground chicken, red onion, cilantro, and mint. After reading a recipe, though, I found out there was much more to it than just that handful of ingredients.

Given that Jeff didn't have fish sauce in the house, nor did he have lemongrass or Thai chilis or galangal or shrimp paste or most of the necessary produce, we decided to find a nearby Asian market to scrap up the ingredients we needed. We were mostly successful, apart from not being able to find shrimp paste or galangal (whatever that is). But we did find any number of fermented bean products in cans, 'cause, ya know, those are pantry staples.

Back in the apartment, preparation for our Thai feast began. Sara planted herself at the dining room table, surrounded by a lush garden of cilantro, mint, and scallions. As if she wasn't cute enough, check her out chopping up the green in her sunglasses. She said the herbs (maybe she was cutting onions, too?) were making her tear up!

Back in the kitchen, Jeff and I prepared our respective dishes. Wielding a Wusthof knife, Jeff minced up all sorts of stuff for his larb. Observe his superior knife skills:

I was in charge of the raw chicken. For Jeff's larb, I chopped two chicken breasts up rather finely. Ground chicken takes on a funky texture, so Jeff wanted to have hand-chopped chicken. When the breasts are slightly frozen, they're very easy to chop. Regardless, this was my least favorite part of the prep work. I got some sort poultry-induced repetitive motion injury, but it abated a few hours later.

Jeff's recipe involved lots of chopping, while mine involved throwing a handful of ingredients into the Cuisinart, giving it a whir, and ending up w/curry paste. Curry paste is surprisingly easy to make, as you'll see in the recipe below. Add it to some coconut milk and splash it w/some fish sauce, and you have a fine curry sauce.

Once the chicken had simmered in its sauce for a lengthy 1 hr. and 15 min., Jeff began throwing all the ingredients into the wok to make the larb. Like Alton Brown said in his pad thai episode, Asian cooking commonly involves a LOT of prep, but only a very short amount of cooking time. Sure enough, the larb was ready about five minutes after Jeff threw the first ingredient into the wok.

Accompanying our Thai feast would be the roti--of course--and some jasmine rice. I tend to think of larb as an appetizer, but that's probably only because I see it on the appetizer menu at every Thai restaurant. Regardless of what larb really is, we treated it as an entree that evening.

The best line of the night came out of Jeff's mouth: "I don't want to talk to you guys right now 'cause I want to keep eating." Sara oohed and aahed, and I couldn't believe I made a curry sauce that tasted like the stuff I got at that food show. We were all extremely impressed w/our labor.

See why?

Larb Gai (recipe courtesy of Shiok)

Chicken breast meat (boneless), ground (minced) very coarsely - 200 gm
Chicken stock - 90 ml (6 tablespoons)
Peanut oil - 2 teaspoons
Galangal (finely chopped) - 2 teaspoons (substitute young ginger if you can't find this)
Lemongrass (finely chopped) - 1 tablespoon (Use only the tender heart and not the fibrous outer layer. Substitute 1 teaspoon lemon rind if you can't find this)
Fresh red chillies - from 1 teaspoon to 2 tablespoons depending on your tolerance - very finely sliced
Shallots (sliced) - 4 (Substitute with quarter of a medium purple onion if you can't find this)
Fresh mint leaves (chopped) - 1/2 cup
Fresh coriander (cilantro) leaves (chopped) - 1/2 cup
Spring onions (scallions for the Americans) - finely chopped - 2 tablespoons
4 tablespoons raw rice (we're gonna make toasted ground rice with this)

2 tablespoons lime juice
2 tablespoons fish sauce
1/2 teaspoon red chilli powder
1/2 teaspoon sugar

First, we're going to make our special ingredient - toasted ground rice. This gives the salad a nutty flavour.

Heat a skillet over low heat and when it's hot enough, add the raw rice grains. Keep the heat low and stir from time to time. Keep toasting till the grains turn golden brown. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.

When it has cooled down, put it into a coffee grinder and grind till you have a coarse powder. You should not grind it till it's fine. It should still have some "bite".

Combine the salad dressing ingredients and set aside. Adjust to taste if something seems out of balance.

Heat a wok or large pan and when it's hot, add the peanut oil. Once the oil is hot, add the lemon grass, shallots, and galangal. Stir for 20 seconds, and add the stock. Turn the heat down to medium and add the minced chicken. Cook for another 3-4 minutes (about 30-60 seconds past the time that the chicken turns white completely and is no longer pink) Don't overcook the chicken or it will get tough. By the time you finish cooking, the stock would have evaporated.

There, the chicken is done. Turn off the heat. Add the salad dressing, the chillies, the toasted rice, spring onions, the mint and coriander leaves. Mix well.

Take a serving plate, arrange the lettuce leaves in the corners of the plate, and empty the chicken and its dressing on to the plate in between the leaves.

Ta da! Your salad is ready. Traditionally, it is served with plenty of veggies and herbs on the side. You can have the salad as an accompaniment to your main course, or wrap the chicken and some dressing in lettuce leaves and enjoy it as a hot n' sour package. Be adventurous and use more chilli than you'd normally use. The flavour of the fresh herbs will prevent any serious damage to your taste buds.

This salad can be served at room temperature, but I like to serve it warm. If you allow it to cool, the chilli flavour recedes and the salty flavour becomes more assertive. Try making the salad with beef too.

* * *

Thai Yellow Curry Paste and Chicken (recipe courtesy of

Curry Paste

12 dried thai chilis
2 tsp sea salt(or coarse salt)
2 shallots, peeled
4 cloves garlic, peeled
1 thick slice fresh galangal (or dried galangal soaked in water until softened) --> didn't have/use!
1 stalk lemongrass, sliced crosswise (discard tough outer leaves and the root end)
1 thick slice peeled ginger root
1 tbsp coriander seeds --> didn't have/use!
1 tsp cumin seeds --> didn't have/use!
2 tsp curry powder
1 tsp shrimp paste (kapee) --> didn't have/use!

Dry roast coriander seeds and cumin seeds until fragrant over low flame in a heavy bottom pan (be careful not to burn). Set aside. (See a more detailed explanation of dry roasting spices).

Pound in a mortar and pestle or process in a small blender/food processor container in the following order: dried chiles, sea salt, shallots, garlic, galangal, lemon grass, and ginger root. Process or pound until smooth but some small pieces can still be seen.

Now add the roasted spices and curry powder. Process or pound again until the seeds are completely broken up into powder and the paste is blended through. Last add the shrimp paste and gently blend in, using the mortar or processor.

Yellow Chicken Curry

3 tbsp yellow curry paste (either from the recipe above or from a can like MaeSri brand)
1 lb chicken, cut into 2 inch pieces (cut through the bones with a sharp cleaver if using chicken with bones) --> we used boneless, skinless breasts
2-3 small red potatoes, scrubbed and cut into 2 inch pieces --> left this out
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 can (16 oz.) coconut milk, shake before opening to mix separated milk
2 tbsp fried shallots (available ready-made in a plastic jar), optional
1 tsp fish sauce, to taste

In a small bowl mix the curry paste with 1 tbsp. of water to dilute. Add to the coconut milk in a medium sized sauce pan. Stir to mix. Add the chicken and potatoes, and 1/2 tsp of sea salt. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Cook until the meat and potatoes are cooked through, not simmering on low heat, but let the curry roll on a low boil.

At the end of cooking, taste and add fish sauce to adjust the saltiness. Cook a minute longer. Remove from heat. Garnish with fried shallots (available ready made in a plastic container), if desired. Serve with Thai jasmine rice.

Editor's note: because we didn't have/use a good number of ingredients, our finished product obviously didn't taste exactly as the recipe would have it. I'm not sure if galangal is sweet, but if it is, that definitely would have made a difference. I was unhappy w/the fact that my curry sauce wasn't sweet, so I asked Jeff and Sara whether or not I should add some sugar or honey. Sara was all over the honey idea, so I added about 2 tbsp. of it. I've gotta say, it was a perfect remedy. The sauce had just that added bit of sweetness that I like so much about Thai curries.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Crumb cake

Well, this post is going to be mostly pointless, except for the fact that I want to show off photos of one of the tastier cakes I have ever made.

Why pointless? Well, I can't share the recipe right now because the cookbook from which I took it is back in storage in Virginia, and I'm in Phoenix. (Editor's note, 12/2: No, I lied. This recipe is not from a cookbook. My bad! Anyway, you can find the recipe here.) This cake is SO bad, it's one of those recipes that you never want to bake yourself, lest you find out just how fatty it is. (My former coworker Evan actually said to me, while eating this crumb cake, "Mm, I can feel my arteries clogging!)

I made this cake for my last Monday at work. I had been cleaning out my fridge over the weekend, and I had a whole lotta butter that needed to be used. Of all recipes I know, this cake has the most butter--six or seven sticks, I think! But the cake cake make 30 servings, so when you break it down, it's not that bad. Regardless, I wouldn't dare give my cholesterol-challenged grandparents a crumb of it.

If you're interested in the recipe, leave a comment so I'll be reminded to input the recipe once I get my stuff out of storage. The more you nag me, the more likely I'll be to listen. :o)

In the meantime, here are some pictures to tempt your tastebuds. I forgot to sprinkle the top of the cake w/powdered sugar, which makes it look a little fancier, but that's not a make-or-break kinda thing. My cake was consumed, in full, in just a matter of hours at my office. And here's why...

Iron Chef: Burger Battle

In February last year, my brother and I arranged a particularly bitchin' fiftieth b-day surprise for our mom. We both flew into Phoenix w/our significant others, and our grandparents drove in from Vegas. My mom couldn't have been more surprised had she given birth to a baby dinosaur. It was great.

That weekend was filled w/other surprises: tickets to a concert, a new Coach purse, a big arrangement of flowers. But, to me, the most memorable part of the weekend was our Iron Chef battle. My mom had a big ass beef tenderloin hanging around the house, so she pulled it out, as it would feed eight of us easily. After some shopping and some chopping, the battle was on! My brother ended up winning Battle Tenderloin, which was basically a big slap in the face. Jeff? Won the cooking competition?! WTF?!?! He used to call me from college to ask how long to microwave things for. Slap. In. The face.

At my brother's suggestion, we had a rematch, this time featuring the mighty hamburger. During a weeklong stay in Chicago after packing up and leaving DC, the battle was on. Whose cuisine would reign supreme???

On a Monday evening, Jeff and I went to the grocery store, where he had the butcher blend up some sirloin and some chuck (maybe?): no standard ground beef for him! We didn't set a budget for ingredients nor did we really make any rules. We each grabbed a basket, walked around Whole Foods, picked out our ingredients, and met at the checkout line. $52 later (this included flowers for my sister-in-law, so we weren't completely retarded over ingredients), we walked out of the grocery store and headed back to the apartment.

Back in the apartment, we began to cook. We didn't have time limits like Kenichi and Sakai and Morimoto, so we went about things at whatever pace we damn well felt like. Both of us started off about two hours before ETE (estimated time of eating), Jeff preparing cabbage in red wine and me simmering down onions for some caramelized onions w/sherry.

But what were these low-heat-cooking, savory toppings going to garnish?

Jeff's burger: drunken goat cheese and bacon-stuffed burger w/red wine cabbage and basil yogurt sauce

Nic's burger: simple water burger w/caramelized sherry onions and herbed chevre, mozzarella thyme skewers, and four condiments: roasted red pepper and ginger relish, roasted yellow pepper w/chili relish, lemon herb aioli, and spicy balsamic ketchup

Jeff said his inspiration was the cabbage, which he created after tasting something similar at a restaurant in Alaska. What was my inspiration, you ask? Uhhhh...not making something that tastes like shit? Oh, that must not be the answer you're looking for. Well, then, I'd have to say the onions, which serve as a great for French onion soup.

The most interesting component of Jeff's burger was definitely the cabbage. From what I can tell, it was composed of half a head of purple cabbage, half an onion, and about half a bottle of red wine. Simmer, simmer, simmer, baby, and a couple hours later you have a deep reddish-purple concoction that tastes pretty damn good. It doesn't taste or smell like feet, which I think cabbage typically does.

The most interesting component of my burger wasn't actually on the burger: it was the mozzarella thyme skewer that accompanied my hunk of charred cow. My original plan was to thread the mini fresh mozzarella balls onto regular wooden skewers, but those had already been packed up, as Jeff and his wife, Sara, are getting ready to move. Instead of having them go through boxes of stuff, I improvised w/herbs. I found the heartiest herb in the kitchen, thyme, and poked stalks of that through the cheese. I dipped the skewers in seasoned flour, then an egg wash, then seasoned flour, then an egg wash, then seasoned flour, ensuring a thick enough coating to protect the cheese from the hot oil into which it was plunged. A few of the balls eviscerated, but most of them stayed inside their floury coating, getting oozy on the inside and crispy on the outside. And as it turned out, the thyme was soooo much better than wooden skewers. I think rosemary, an even heartier herb, would have imparted just as nice a flavor and would have also held up even better.

What I thought about the burgers didn't matter, through, because Sara and my best friend, Michael, were our judges. Oh, how I pitied them. A hard decision was in their hands. Thanks to some criteria, though, their job was made a bit easier. We used the same scoring as Iron Chef:

Taste: 10
Presentation: 5
Creativity: 5

Each judge saw a complete plating of each burger, and then each burger was cut in half so the four of us could taste both burgers. After about 10 minutes, all that was left was burger carnage: the remains that fell off the ciabatta buns. I genuinely preferred Jeff's burger: the meat held together better (I probably added too much water), it had a better sear, the top of the bun was crisper, the cheese and bacon lended a better flavor, and the cabbage was such a unique touch. Mine? Well, I had condiments a-gogo. And fried cheese.

The judges agreed that Jeff's burger was more creative, but they preferred my presentation. As for taste? Our judges were split. In the end, however, my burger reigned supreme--but half a point. The squelch Jeff made when he heard the results was music to my ears, though. :o)

So, Jeffrey-san, thank you for being a worthy competitor. The battle is tied at 1-1. I look forward to meeting again in Kitchen Stadium, where we will once again create amazing food and indulge in some healthy sibling rivalry.


Review: Citronelle

About two months ago, my (former) boss told me to start thinking about where I'd like to go for my goodbye lunch w/her. Frankly, I wasn't going to be picky: if she wanted to take me out, I would be happy to accompany her anywhere, even McDonald's. Almost immediately after asking me this question, she asked another: "Would you like to go to Citronelle?" I responded, "You're crazy!" And she said, "Well, that's what we're going to do."

And that's what we did.

Almost, at least, because Citronelle is only open for dinner.

Last night, my boss (henceforth referred to as "The Boss") took me to Citronelle for dinner. Ranked #12 on Gourmet's list of top 50 restaurants in the U.S., Citronelle is chef Michel Richard's flagship restaurant, located in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington. It's not a cheap restaurant by any means; it's definitely a very, very special occasion kind of place that I never thought I'd get to experience. Well, The Boss is awesomeness embodied. She'd been to Citronelle years earlier and wanted to return, so must've seen this as a perfect opportunity to do so. And who am I to turn down someone who wants to do something so nice for me?

After strolling around Georgetown for a couple of hours, The Boss and I arrived at Citronelle, which is nestled on a side street in quaint-yet-swanky Georgetown. We got there early, so the hostess seated us at a table at the upper-level bar. A couple of bar menus were on the table when we sat down, so The Boss suggested we peruse those. Food items on the menu ranged from fried chicken to a lobster burger to lamb to a cheese plate, and were priced from about $15 to $40. So, Citronelle is also accessible to people whose pockets aren't stuffed with Benjamins.

Once our table was ready, the hostess informed us in the bar, then showed us downstairs to a four-top table. Armless chairs were pulled out for us, and dinner menus were inserted into our hands. The two unused place settings were cleared as well. One of many waiters we would see that night explained to us what our options on the menu were: the three-course prix fixe ($95), the nine-course prix fixe ($155, I think), and the fifteen-course prix fixe ($225). The three-course version has full-sized portions, while the other two options have mini dishes, as to not overstuff restaurant patrons. Being sane people, we ordered the three-course menu, which provides diners w/at least 10 options per course.

The first courses are mostly seafood, with options like lobster, scallops, tuna, and the like. One of the first courses was called "surf and turf," while another was called "new vichyssoise." Given that I tend to prefer fish in bowls rather than on plates, I ordered the tomato tartare, fairly unsure of what I was going to get. The Boss ordered the tuna napoleon.

Main courses run the gamut from lamb to rockfish to salmon to beef to veal/sweetbreads to capon (I think it was capon, at least). Vegetarians can also order a four-veggie plate. I ended up ordering the chateaubriand, while The Boss opted for the salmon.

Between sitting down and ordering, The Boss asked the hostess if the chef was in the restaurant that night. A few minutes later, someone came up to us (the maitre d', I assume) to report that, alas, Michel Richard was on the West Coast. The Boss explained that I had a cookbook I'd like signed. The maitre d' said he could swap out my unsigned book for one that was presigned (and for sale at the restaurant). Well, hot damn! Works for me! The maitre d' brought the book over in a fancy little bag, replacing my Borders-purchased one. When I opened the book later that night, I saw the signature--AND a cute little caricature Michel Richard drew of himself! He looks like a mini Muppet in the sketch, but, eerily, it's a pretty accurate depiction...

Shortly after we placed our orders, an amuse bouche arrived from the kitchen. The waiter explained the small bite we were about to savor. He described it as tuna sausage with blah-blah-blah-dee-blah (he noted every detail, which I obviously do not remember--plus, he had a French accent, making every little detail even more difficult to remember and understand). I had told The Boss that I was going to eat the amuse bouche no matter what it was, so I was relieved to see that it was tuna and not, say, paté of hornswoggle. The tuna sausage didn't appear to have any casing, so maybe "sausage" was a loosely used term. Regardless, the tuna was cooked rather than raw or rare, which seems to be very uncommon in restaurants these days. The fish was flaked and formed into a short cylinder, which was then topped w/cucumber and some sprout-like things, as well as a couple of marble-sized quail eggs. The tasty morsel was presented on a small, square, white plate. The unfishy fish was rather tasty, and the fact that it was fully cooked didn't do anything to take away from its moisture. The tuna was slightly pink in color, so something else was mixed into the "sausage." The sprouty stuff on top tasted like baby watercress, which added a pepperiness to the amuse that was fantastic. (At this point in the night, I didn't want to be one of those people obnoxiously taking pictures of food. But I got over that.)

Once we had finished the amuse, a waiter came by w/a basket, from which he plucked a crusty wedge of bread for each of us. A small plate with cold (gaaaah!), salted butter was also placed on the table. While we waited for our main course, The Boss and I tried the bread. It was light and airy with an extremely crisp crust. The Boss tasted hints of sourdough.

The first courses arrived a short time later. The Boss's tuna napoleon was visually stunning. The ruby slices of raw fish were layered between...well, I'm not sure what, but they looked crunchy! On top was a mini salad, and I think there may have been a quail egg or two up there, too. The plate was garnished w/what appeared to be some sort of greens-based sauce (arugula, maybe?) w/some creme fraiche. Towering plates are so cliche nowadays, but the height on the napoleon was just right: tall enough to catch your eye, but not so tall that it's unpractical and will make for clumsy eating.

I wasn't quite sure what to expect out of the tomato tartare. Frankly, I chose it because it was one of the few first courses that didn't contain ingredients that also starred in The Little Mermaid. What I got was a heaping circle of finely chopped tomatoes, paired w/other ingredients, that was almost like a creamy salsa. A really good creamy salsa. The plate was decorated w/a circle of green liquid--perhaps another greens-based coulis? Stuck inside the tartare were alternating pieces of crunchy fried potato and beet. Propped up on the tomato was a piece of "country bread," which was basically a piece of bread sliced so thinly that, when toasted, it was like a cracker. I broke off a couple bits of it, but it was pretty much unnecessary. I ate about 3/5 of the first course (I'm so exact) before deciding to save room for the main course.

About 30 min. after finishing our first courses, a flourish began in preparation for the arrival of our main courses. The silverware was changed out, the plates were shuffled, the bread plates were refreshed. Two waiters arrived at the table, each one carrying a main course. The Boss's salmon w/boudin blanc was presented first. The presentation was stunning. A filet of salmon sat diagonally in the middle of a square plate. Atop the salmon were five perfect circles of seared boudin blanc. A couple pieces of baby eggplant were on the plate, as was some sort of veggie medley. A nice bit of vibrant caviar decorated the veggies, brightening up the dish like confetti. The waiter asked The Boss if she would like sauce atop her meal. As you see below, The Boss obliged.

Now, I'm not a seafood lover by any means (see: The Little Mermaid reference above). But because I was at the #12 restaurant in the country, I was gonna eat whatever was in front of me. Plus, The Boss cut off a piece of her meal and slid it onto my plate, so could I really be like, "No, thanks, but I don't eat anything that lives underwater"? Nope. The Boss could have asked me to eat eyeballs or testicles or something and I would have not only eaten it, but also have asked for more. So, how was it? The salmon wasn't at all fishy, and it was moist. Score: entree 1, Nicole 0. The eggplant wasn't mushy and offensive. Score: entree 2, Nicole 0. The boudin blanc? Well, WTF is boudin blanc? In Spanish, a white sausagey thing is called "pudin blanco" and blood sausage is "pudin negro," so I could only imagine that boudin blanc would be a white sausagey pudding. Based on a bit of research, boudin blanc is a sausage made from chicken, veal, or pork (or any combination thereof) w/milk, and sometimes w/rice. Hm, that doesn't sound so bad. As a matter of fact, I really like Aidell's sausages w/chicken and turkey, so boudin blanc should theoretically be right up my alley! But it wasn't. I had no idea what I was getting into--was it seafood? was it congealed turkey testicles? was it fermented eggs and taro?--so my palette was tainted before I even took the first bite. The consistency of the boudin blanc was kinda squishy and spongy, and I'm not so sure I like those qualities in tubular meats. Also, there wasn't much flavor to it, which only added to the mystery. Had I know what I was eating before I ate it, I might have felt differently about the boudin blanc, but because I didn't the score rests: entree 2, Nicole 1.

But what do I know? The Boss commented on how incredible and perfectly cooked the salmon was, then proceeded to do everything but lick the plate clean.

I chose pretty safely in getting the chateaubriand. I typically order meat medium, as medium-rare meat at restaurants is often served more like rare, but this time around I got my steak medium-rare, putting all my trust in the kitchen. Smart move on my part, as I was soon to find out. The presentation of my entree was far simpler than The Boss's: on a similar square plate was a pool of dark wine reduction atop which was placed a crusty piece of beef. On the beef, like a crown of agricultural joy, were thick strips of carrot, rutabaga, and zucchini. On the other side of the plate was what looked like one of those coconut-crusted marshmallows that you eat only during Passover, 'cause you're so desperate for something sweet that you'd eat coconut-crusted roadkill. Luckily, that mysterious, spiny rectangle in the corner was NOT a Manischewitz-inspired side dish. Instead, it was potatoes au gratin inside of some sort of crunchy breadinig. As you can see, the breading wasn't breadcrumbs or panko or something traditional. It may have been very fine threads of potato, perhaps, or maybe some sort of extremely thin pasta. Whatever it was, it provided a crunch that complemented perfectly the creaminess of the potatoes and cheese inside. I could have eaten three or four of those things for dinner and nothing more. And I would have been happy.

But there was steak to eat, so who needs starch? The chauteaubriand had a crusty exterior speckled w/flecks of seasoning (like crushed peppercorn, I think). The meat was melt-in-your-mouth tender, and wouldn't have required more than a butter knife for slicing. The marbling of the meat ensured that it was moist throughout, so I encountered no rough, tough, dry spots. In addition, there was no gristle or cartilage or other unsavory morsels. The reduction (red wine? syrah? I don't remember) was smooth and syrupy, combining savory and sweet flavors. It coated the meat without being gloppy, but wasn't so thin that it dripped off. It was my ideal sauce in every way, and I wish I could make such a fine accompaniment for meat. Regardless, the meat didn't need a sauce; I just thought of it as an enhancement for an already superb dish.

Adjusted the lighting A LOT to show the outline of the meat

I couldn't finish my meal, which, initially, made me very sad (but I didn't wanna overdo it, as dessert is the real star at Citronelle). I figured the remaining half of my chateaubriand would be pitched, meaning half of that glorious cut of meat (and the sauce) would go unsavored. But when the waiter came to clear the table, he asked if I wanted to take the remaining food on my plate with me. CITRONELLE DOES DOGGY BAGS. But they don't do tinfoil swans.

I wasn't yet at the point of needing to switch into elastic-waisted pants, but I was moving in that direction. Our waiter gave us the dessert menu, a moment I had been excitedly anticipating since, like, 8 a.m. the day before. So many of the options looked good: a chocolate sampler, some sort of meringue thing (The Boss loves meringue), three vacherins, and a bunch of other stuff. I think I had my mind made up even before I saw the menu, though, as I'd heard that Breakfast at Citronelle (for a $5 supplement) was a showstopper. I decided that either The Boss or I had to get it, so I hopped on that one. The Boss opted for the Chocolate Flake.

But before dessert, The Boss and I were presented w/something of a pre-dessert dessert that I took for a palate cleanser. We were told it was a passion fruit mousse w/orange sauce. The Boss was first to grab her spoon and dig in. She blurted out, "Wow. This is so light. I've never had anything like it." After I sunk my spoon in, I understood what she meant. The dessert was somewhere between air and helium; I could imagine it floating right off the plate. When I dipped my spoon into the mousse, I sure as hell couldn't tell. It was as if there was no substance on the plate. But when I tasted the mousse, it was evident there was a lot more going on than just some lighter-than-air mini dessert. The flavor of the passion fruit was not overwhelming, but it was surprisingly evident for something that light and airy. The mousse, in a way similar to my bovine entree, melted in my mouth. I felt the mousse collapse between my tongue and the roof of my mouth; at first it was there, then it wasn't. It was one of the more bizarre textures I'd ever had the pleasure of experiencing. The small, sweet serving of mousse didn't cleanse the palate, but it definitely prepared the palate for what was to come.

About 10 min. after we downed our mousses, our desserts arrived. And hooooooly geez. Michel Richard was trained as a pastry chef, so desserts are his specialty. It is obvious that he takes great pride in his desserts especially, as they are works of art disguised as food. The Boss's Chocolate Flake was a scoop of bergamot ice cream w/flakes of chocolate (which I'd describe more as sails of chocolate). Tumbling around in the bottom of the bowl were little chocolatey balls which The Boss said tasted like Cocoa Puffs! She couldn't quite understand the waiter's description of what bergamot is ("ergrah-TEE" is what he said, which I took to mean "Earl Gray tea), but some later research revealed that it's citrus. I think The Boss would have been happier w/the chocolate orgy thing or the meringue, but she seemed pretty satisfied. I can only judge the Chocolate Flake based on looks, as I didn't taste it, but I can definitely say that it was HUGE.

Breakfast at Citronelle reveals Chef Richard's unfathomable creativity. Behold the following exhibits: French toast, egg, sausage, hash brown potatoes and ketchup, and cappuccino:

French toast


Sausage in syrup (or unfortunate visit to the dog park?)

Hash browns w/ketchup


So, they obviously didn't serve sausage and hash browns for dessert. That's where the creativity comes in. Breakfast at Citronelle is composed of five desserts cleverly masquerading and things you'd eat only before 10 a.m. The French toast? Banana bread pudding. The egg? A real egg shell filled w/lemon curd and topped w/a fluffy torched meringue. The sausage and syrup? Pears and chocolate in a pear syrup. The hash browns and ketchup? Lightly roasted apples w/raspberry sauce. And the cappuccino? A light coffee mousse topped w/sweet whipped cream and chocolate shavings. And I thought my bacon and egg cookies were creative...

The four "foods" (as opposed to the one "drink") were served in a large square dish sectioned into equal quadrants, each quadrant housing a different item. The presentation was quite impressive: clean, clever, concise. I don't like bananas (wanna see me gag? maybe even projectilel vomit?), so I left the French toast where it was. (The Boss took "just a taste," though, which turned into "a few bites shy of the whole thing.") The lemon curd filling the egg shell was dense and creamy, w/just the right balance of acidity, tartness, and sweetness. The texture of curd general weirds me out, though, so I limited my curd intake to just a few bites w/the small spoon provided for that part of the dessert. The sausage wasn't cake, and it wasn't candy, and I'm really not quite sure what it was. The pear was sweet, though, so it balanced out the dramatic flavor of the dark chocolate. After a couple bites of that, I moved on. The hash browns looked so realistic, I was expecting to taste starch and earthiness instead of crispiness and sweetness. The apples were lovely and sweet, so I would have preferred more of a tart flavor from the raspberry sauce. At first, I thought the cappuccino was just a cup full o' whipped cream to slather on top of the other items. To be sure of this, though, I dug my spoon down into the cup. When it came out brown, I licked it. (Wow. That's not a phrase I get to use very often!). I tasted coffee. Good, sweet, creamy, yummy coffee. Beneath a thick layer of whipped cream was a cappuccino-flavored mousse, which was surely my favorite part of the dessert. The mousse wasn't dense, but rather airy; I could feel the air bubbles collapsing in my mouth. A little mousse and a little whipped cream paired together made for an amazing cup of coffee.

As if The Boss and I weren't already stuffed to the gills, a waiter stopped by w/a silver platter adorned w/petit fours. There were two of each small bite, so The Boss and I didn't have to pull straws over who would eat what.

From the top down, there were chocolate cookies w/a fudgy chocolate button, lemon macarons, chocolate-covered grapes, and mini fruit tartlets. I told The Boss I thought the grapes were truffles, so she went right for those. Once she realized there was fruit in the middle, I said, "Ohhhh! Those are chocolate-covered grapes!" Richard is famous for making these, as I've read, so it only made sense that these were among the petit fours. The chocolate cookies were somewhere between a cookie and brownie, and a rich chocolate ganache button in the middle made the treat even more luxurious. I could only take half a bite! The macarons were absolutely perfect: they had lofty domes, frilly feet, and a smooth lemon filling. I haven't tried making macarons yet, but when I do, I know they won't turn out half as well--or as good--as these. The tartlet was basically pie crust w/a couple pieces of juicy fruit on top. Eh. Nothing to get moist over.

As the even wore down, I took in the final moments of my evening. The service was surprisingly unstuffy, as was the decor. Simple linens, simple furniture, simple lighting. (Although there was this color-changing wall thing that could have caused seizures in the young and the elderly. A tad '80s, in my opinion.) I worried that I'd feel out of place among DC's high and mighty, but I was actually comfortable, there in one of the best restaurants in the country.

I couldn't have asked for a better person than The Boss w/whom to share my experience at Citronelle. I won't soon forget it.

3000 M. St., NW
Washington, DC 20007

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Movin' out

This post has absolutely nothing to do w/food. So if you don't care about my personal life, stop reading!

This is just a little update to let my faithful readers know that I won't be posting for a period of time that is yet to be determined. My computer has been packed up and shipped off to a storage warehouse, so I am without personal computer, and thus feel like a fetus stripped of her umbilical cord. My computer access will be pretty limited over the next couple of weeks while I leave DC, visit a bunch of people in Chicago, and figure out what my next step is.

Things to look forward to, though, are reviews of...

  • Les Halles
  • Citronelle (!!!!!!!)
  • Wonderland Ballroom
  • Perry's Drag Brunch
In the meantime, if anyone has suggestions for where to eat during my week or so in Chicago, throw 'em at me!