02 November 2010

Belgian in the District

Washington, D.C. is a melting pot, which aptly applies to all of the District's moving parts. From the people on the Metro, to the neighborhoods and restaurants, to the open air markets, our nation's capital provides a plethora of some of the best and most diverse eats and treats in the country.

If you crave it, you can find it. We wanted a hearty brunch, and Belga had it. Located on Barracks Row in Capitol Hill, I am not sure I could have named a famous Belgian food other than chocolate and waffles before eating at Belga. But who needs more than chocolate and waffles? Stuffed pastry cigars, mussels, duck confit, lamb burgers and more served in a style that is both old and new world. Belga is true to its roots, while infusing enough creativity to keep things interesting.

I had a chicken pita with garlic sauce that was extraordinary. That is rare to say about a chicken pita. For one, the presentation was gorgeous and the flavors were multi-dimensional. How? I'm still not sure. I tasted lots of fresh garlic and hints of nutmeg though. It was served with a yogurt-cucumber sauce. Other menu hits included a Croque Madame and a savory cornbread waffle with pulled pork and a poached egg. And of course, strong European coffee helps every hangover... =) They were slammed due to the Rally to Restore Sanity at the National Mall, but it was well worth the wait. It should also be noted that despite the fact they had been swamped all morning, our service was excellent. 

We also strolled through the Eastern Market in Capitol Hill near where my friend Anna lives. I am so jealous of cities that have farmers markets open daily. So, so much amazing stuff all in one place including fresh cheeses, meats, seafood, pasta, produce, flowers and on the weekends, handmade wares and local artisans. City of Charleston, this is my plea. 

We ate at We, the Pizza too, which is a favorite of the First Family and owned by Top Cheffer, Spike Mendelsohn. His burger joint next door is also a local favorite. I can't wait to venture back. Roaming the streets of Washington makes me want to try it all!
Belga Cafe
tin can art at Eastern Market

Country Funk (love)
Blowfish at Eastern Market (also on the menu at Hominy Grill!)
Belga Café on Urbanspoon

20 October 2010

Fall Farmers Market

Summer's come and gone, even in the Lowcountry! I strolled through the local Farmers Market this past Saturday and was impressed with all the goodness that was still available from local farms. I wanted to share my finds. Be sure to take advantage one Saturday before it closes for the season. You have between now and December 19th!

06 July 2010

Closed for Business Combines Traditional Pub Food with Light and Local Summer Fare

Closed for Business, the sister restaurant of Monza, Taco Boy and Poe's Tavern, is located in the former Raval at 453 King Street, and serves up traditional pub fare, along with an extensive beer selection. Owned by proprietors, Revolutionary Eating Venture, and led by Partner and Chef Kevin Johnson, the REV group's distinct flair and unique interiors make the neighborhood bar stand out from its competition. 

I recently hosted a surprise birthday party there and chose based on its pub appeal, ordering high gravity pale ales and wheat beers from a long table facing the busy kitchen, with an illuminated sign that reads, 'EAT'. For the party, I ordered appetizers including crispy fried green beans, loaded potato skins and spicy BBQ pork rinds, which were all a hit with my guests.

The CFB menu epitomizes classic pub fare. If you are looking for a pork sandwich or Chicago-style hot dog, this is your place. I imagine the popular fried pork cutlet loaded with ham, Swiss cheese and green tomato chutney on a bun, could satiate the heartiest of appetites. Read a recent review by local resident food reviewer, Jeff Allen, of the CFB Pork Slap in Charleston City Paper - Slap Happy.

But, last week I revisited CFB for lunch and was really looking for something on the lighter side. I did not even hesitate about what to order upon hearing the day's specials. A fresh, local salad of arugula, watermelon and ricotta salata tossed with an herb vinaigrette. Soups of the day included a chilled cucumber soup with basil and shrimp, as well as a cantaloupe soup that was also served cold. 

The ladies and I all ordered the salad and cold soups. Turned out that the cucumber soup was accidentally spilled on the floor as it was being taken out of the refrigerator. Poor guys, I am sure that was a bloomin' mess to clean up. We all obliged and chose the cold cantaloupe soup instead, which turned out to be absolutely delicious. Cantaloupe soup was a first for me, but infused with basil, mint and honey, it turned out to be refreshing and deeply layered in flavor. 

I am also a big fan of watermelon salad, complemented with salty cheeses, such as feta and ricotta salata. The CFB watermelon salad stood up well to others that I have tried, and is also a simple, summer salad that anyone can make. Sweet fruit, combined with a pungent-tasting cheese, is a personal favorite for me. Depending on the season, I really like strawberries and cranberries with goat or blue cheese, as well as mandarin oranges (strained) with crumbled feta. All of these salads are best with mixed greens and a vinaigrette (Balsamic dressing is my go-to.)

I have included a watermelon-feta salad recipe below that I have tried myself, as well as an original balsamic dressing. Let me know what you try and how yours turns out! Be sure to try Closed for Business soon, too. The entire menu is filled with options that won't disappoint.

Bon Appetit!

Watermelon and Feta Salad:
(courtesy of Margot Bowers)

1 1/2 C. Diced, Seedless Watermelon
3/4 C. Diced Cucumber
1/4 C. Kalamata Olives (optional)
1/4 C. Diced Red Onion
1/2 C. Crumbled Feta 

3 T. Lemon Juice
3 T. Veg. Oil (May cut in half, depending on juiciness of watermelon)
1/4 C. Chopped Parsley
1 t. Dried Oregano
3/4 t. Salt
1/2 t. Ground Cumin
1/2 t. Black Pepper

Balsamic Vinaigrette:
1/4 C. Balsamic Vinegar
3/4 C. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 T. Dijon Mustard
1 T. Minced Garlic
Salt & Pepper

- Whisk vinegar, oil and mustard together, adding garlic and spices, until blended. The dressing should lightly coat the back of the spoon. 

Closed for Business on Urbanspoon

07 April 2010

Lana Restaurant & Bar

Mediterranean-inspired Lana Restaurant, located at 210 Rutledge Ave., brings together all of my favorite flavors. If I had to pick one region's cooking to eat for the rest of my life, Mediterranean it would be. But Lana surprises even devotees like me with original dishes that pop with familiar, yet decadent and delicious flavors.

I visited Lana last weekend to avoid Bridge Run madness in more touristy neighborhoods, and as always I was torn about what to order. Previously I have visited and been inclined to order more appetizers and small plates. Their best are the daily risotto, lamb spanakopita and cheese plate (truly satisfying to any serious cheese lover, like myself). I also really love and appreciate the Greek influence - the lamb spanakopita includes ground lamb, spinach, goat and feta cheeses wrapped in phyllo and served with tomatoes and a thick, garlicky and creamy tzatziki sauce, along side a mint relish. Truth be told I could eat the sauce alone. I consider Greek food some of the hardest dishes to perfect.

I went with a more traditional approach this last visit, ordering first the Arugula salad that includes granny smith apples, prosciutto, goat cheese and a port vinaigrette. Delicious. For my main course, I had to try the house-made Gnocchi Brasato al Barolo, which consists of red wine braised beef, pearl onions, arugula, parmesan broth and tender gnocchi. It was so delicate and yet the meat was so rich and tender. Mouth-watering even thinking of it again now at 9:05am. My family raved about their dishes as well, which included the pan-roasted Basque-style Chicken with prosciutto, peppers and potato croquettes, as well as the Halibut special. 

We were assured by the waiter that everything that can be sourced locally is indeed found in the Lowcountry, and the notations on the menu of their membership with the Sustainable Seafood Initiative reassured me that they do indeed talk the talk and walk the walk. The Vegetable Plate is next on my list to try, as the Chef's selection is impromptu and serves up generous portions of locally grown produce. I give them huge kudos just for this effort and commitment alone. 

So, if you haven't tried Lana it's your lucky day. I heard word of a certain Guerrilla Cuisine dinner coming up at the end of April that will feature Lana's chef and part-owner, John Ondo. A Charleston native, Chef Ondo has honed his skills at some of the peninsula's best restaurants including McCrady's, Fulton Five and Carolina's before opening Lana in 2005. In the words of Liz Lemon, "I want to go to there!"

Lana Restaurant & Bar on Urbanspoon

26 January 2010

Rita's Roots to leave Lowcountry - First Local CSA Program

Unfortunate foodie news today that Rita's Roots, organic vegetable farm located on Wadmalaw Island, SC, will be taking their produce North to Richmond,VA. Hard to believe that only three years ago, Rita Buchmann established the Lowcountry's first Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) Program* on Johns Island, bringing locally-grown organic product directly to consumers. Now one of ten CSA programs, Rita's product has also been readily available at area farmer's markets and found on the menus of local restaurants. See the whole article at Charleston City Paper.

You can also find a listing of all local CSA programs and how to get involved at LowcountryLocalFirst.org. Support your local agriculture!

Vegetable of the Day: Scorzonera (Salsify)
This root vegetable is also known as oyster plant  because its taste resembles a delicately flavored oyster. The parsnip-shaped salsify can reach up to 12 inches in length and 2 1/2 inches in diameter. The most commonly found salsify has a white-fleshed root with grayish skin, though there are varieties with a pale golden skin, as well as one with a black skin (also called Scorzonera). Though salsify is more popular in Europe than in the United States, it can be found here from June through February, usually in Spanish, Italian and Greek markets. Choose well-formed roots that are heavy for their size and not too gnarled. Refrigerate, wrapped in a plastic bag, up to a week. Salsify is generally eaten plain as a vegetable, or used in savory pies and soups. 

*Community Supported Agriculture, or CSA, is a program that provides a direct connection between the farmer and the consumer.  CSA’s reconnect these relationships through maintaining open communication and distributing farming’s inherent risks.  Participants purchase a share of the season’s harvest, which ultimately supports the farm’s early season start up expenses such as seeds, irrigation, fuel, labor, and tractor maintenance.  In return, shareholders receive a weekly box of healthy, fresh, sustainably raised produce, fruits, meat, poultry or eggs throughout the season.

04 January 2010

My Charleston Gift-Giving Guide

Giving locally-bought gifts was my mission. What I found was that in buying locally, I was much more thoughtful with each gift purchase, all while providing Charleston businesses with my own micro-stimulus.

Below is a list of the places I shopped, and the establishments I most recommend for your own gift-giving. Happy Holidays!

The Backpacker (1440 Ben Sawyer Blvd., Mt. Pleasant, SC)
I sought the expertise and variety available at The Backpacker, but since moving to James Island, I wanted to be sure that they had what I wanted before going. Luckily, their website holds all of their available inventory. I was able to buy a number of gifts here, and was given great customer service. They appreciated that I went to their website and that I made the effort to shop with them again. It made me want to go back!

The Vegetable Bin (10 Society St., Charleston, SC) 
New packaged goodies including house-made buffalo nuts, banana nut chips, yogurt covered pretzels and more provided great stocking stuffers for my health conscious family members. The Vegetable Bin is my regular market for fresh, local and imported ingredients. I constantly find myself recommending it to people because you get the best of what's available, at the best price. I am no longer tempted to buy overpriced, out of season, tasteless fruits and veggies! When you think about it, what more could you want?

Charleston Cookie Co. (1750 Signal Point Rd., Charleston, SC)
I had the pleasure of trying the Candy Cane Brownies and White Chocolate Cranberry Cookies made for this holiday season by Charleston Cookie Co. I would highly recommend any purchase from local baker, Judith Moore, as it is obvious that she has more than a knack for baking and an acute taste for the classics. A perfect brownie really, the Candy Cane brownie was fudgy and moist, topped with a pink and white candy cane icing. I was worried it would be overwhelmingly minty, but was happy to find the taste as subtle as a Thin Mint. Her gifts arrived with a tasteful amount of Christmas flare and would provide a delicious solution to your gift-giving needs, from client gifts to hostess presents to supper club dessert. I am going to stay tuned to Judith's changing menu and will keep you posted with new offerings and information. Check it out at www.charlestoncookie.com. 

Monster Music and Movies (946 Orleans Rd., Charleston, SC)
Monster Music & Movies is a dying breed. It is truly one of the only music/dvd stores left in Charleston. Other than Best Buy, most national music store chains are gone as well. But in my effort to avoid online shopping, I ventured to the West Ashley establishment. I found not only what I was looking for (Inglorious Basterds), but also a heady second-hand music/movie shop, complete with well-versed, emo employees and an array of burning incense. Tacky stickers and key chains abound. As we enter this next decade, I can't help but think about the way we were all purchasing music ten years ago. What will another ten years bring? It was still nice to be able to enter a store, talk with a person, purchase a gift. That will never change. 

Gwynn's (916 Houston Northcutt Blvd., Mt. Pleasant, SC)
Gone are the days of locally-owned department stores, except for Gwynn's of Mt. Pleasant. What I love about Gwynn's is that it has all of the classics, with just a touch of the trends. Gwynn's selection includes cosmetics, clothing, shoes, and accessories for men & women. The customer service is part of the package, so you should take advantage of the knowledgeable sales associates. Whether it's for you or someone else, Gwynn's is a charming place to shop. 

"I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year." 
-A Christmas Carol