I know this blog appears to be more serialized than weekly--the periodicity of blog publishing these days seems quarterly, I know--but as you can imagine, I have been eating. A lot of good food. And cooking! Things that stink up kitchens, in really delightful ways! The man friend and I have caramelized a lot of onions lately, a home flavor that Glade should consider adding to its repertoire.
A few weeks ago, we also were more motivated to tackle outstanding uncrossed-off-restaurants from the top 100 list, including a lovely Turkish place in Frederick, Maryland. The service was mediocre, bordering on strange, but the food was both heavy and citrusy, spice-ful, and tangy: very Mediterranean and mostly very tasty. Since then, though, our culinary exploits have meandered across cuisines, delightful adventures that have taken us far from top 100s in ways that have been, at times, more satisfying, more unique, and (perhaps most importantly for people like us) cheaper and more rife with light beer.
I'm hoping to reel you in with dinner Friday night. After a field trip to pick up beer (including one called "Palate Wrecker") we thought we'd seek out the glories of suburban dining. Korean BBQ? Tex Mex? The fusion place next door to the rental car place? No. Shooter McGee's, which boded well for basketball watching, greasy floors, and light beer? Absolutely.
Almost to our disappointment, it wasn't divey and a legitimately good local place. But I had my first Budweiser Black Crown, a fancily-bottled but disappointing counterpart to Bud Light. It was like having truffled beef jerky: a totally unnecessary accompaniment to something already satisfying in its simplicity.
Since Ayse, we've also had foods at restaurants we expected to be simple. An afternoon for burgers at Holy Cow in Del Ray was met with truffle creamed spinach, a cabernet reduction, bleu cheese, onion straws, and the actual burger, on a toasted brioche bun. It was called the Steakhouse, after all, and I certainly welcomed the truffledness here.
I've really loved eating this past month.
We had more down-home-turned-fancy at Churchkey, with a layer of meat syrup on top (I'm not joking). We had brunch with my man friend's cousin and husband and they all opted for The Luther, an off-menu item where a brioche donut is split, squeezed around fried chicken and bacon in the middle, and topped with baked pecans and a maple-chicken jus. Oh, and a side of fries, also with the jus on top.
It seemed a heretical take (see what I did there?) on chicken and waffles, which I had. After all that, though, I think the fries--salty and sweet with the maple-chicken jus--were the winners.
I ate better in Miami, where a girl couldn't help but order the prolific amounts of fish on menus. I sat outside on Lincoln Road and ate a SushiSamba, sporting my Birkenstocks, while I watched all sorts of fancy shoes, toy puppies, and glamorous couples go by while I delightedly ate raw things and shishito peppers. And then shopped.
I also couldn't resist trying Jose Andres' restaurant in Miami, The Bazaar (or take an early morning photo outside the hotel), even though I used to hold his foams and smokes and liquids in such contempt. It was at the fancy (shmancy) SLS Hotel South Beach, replete with ladies with red lipstick, strategically valeted cars out front, and a modern but elegant interior. My very knowledgeable waitress steered me toward a fancy cocktail with a full sprig of rosemary.
True to Jose Andres form, he served crazy liquids and foams and I tried them. I had dragon fruit ceviche: tuna and pecans were stuffed into the fruit shell of a dragon fruit, with a hibiscus foam on top. The foam was overly sweet, but provided a shock of color. For dinner, I had scallops with a pine nut crumble on top, encircled by a praline sauce, Pedro Ximenez sherry reduction, and sherry-soaked raisins.
Oh, and I also had sea urchin atop a seaweed leaf, next to a liquified mango juice (the part that looks like egg yolk). It may already be clear, but sea urchin looks like tongue, which I'll admit is pretty unnerving, but true to the waitress' description, was "the foie gras of the sea."
I also had fun with bathroom mirrors, which were cleverly decorated with mustaches. I had trouble aligning my face with a mustache, for which I apologize.
We also ate fancy in DC: Valentine's Day at a fancy French joint (check out the plastic champagne flutes!) and two-toned chocolate mousse with real flutes of bubbly at Le Refuge.
We also went to Le Diplomate again, indulging in all manner of meat: venison pate and hangar steak, and then of course, a deliciously-accessorized cheese plate. The service was sort of spotty, my man friend continued to get bumped by careless waiters as our table was near a main server thoroughfare, and I preferred my own beef bourgignon to theirs (quelle surprise!), but it was still a beautiful dinner.
We also had a full array of dessert wines at Central, a Frenchy place on Pennsylvania (and a top 10 restaurant in the top 100), sampling amaretto, sherry, port, and moscato, collectively drinking our dessert. I hope to explore the vicissitudes of fortified wine later, but will just offer that wine served chilled in little glasses holds a tremendous draw for me now.
As I alluded, we also made a lot of caramelized onions: we turned cheap, offensive vegetables into a rich and delicate side dish. Well, we did so after a bit of Calvados and ratcheting up the heat on cold things sitting raw in their cast iron skiller.
Caramelized onions made an appearance with a delicious, thick medium rare steak and some sausages too.
...And then a redux with broccolini. And a heck of a rauchbier, a smoky German brew
And then there's that Turkish place, the whole point of your reading this rather than my recounting my root vegetable consumption. Ayse (eye-shuh) is tucked into a corner building of Frederick, set apart slightly from the very dense drag of the main shopping strip. We had a lovely table by the window, and munched on flatbread and olive oil with zaatar to start.
One waiter came to explain the specials and take our drink order. Another waiter came over to tell us the specials too. We thought maybe the service was very thorough. One of them came back after we received waters (that we ordered) and asked us if we wanted something to drink. Finally, one waiter came back to ask if we were ready to order (after we were pretty ready to order, even after wading through a very dense menu) and the man friend asked if we should order from her or our other waiter. This was the first she had heard of our unintended waiter two-timing. The waiters sorted it out in the back--I think one was not too happy--but we really didn't need more than one, despite our anticipated extensive ordering.
We started with an array of dips, the "Istanbul spread sampler," a really interesting way to sample a variety of flavors we would enjoy later in the meal. It featured an olive/hot pepper/tomato/feta dip in the top left and a feta/yogurt/jalapeno dip right below that, two of the standouts, and what I liked as well, muhammara, a walnut/bell pepper/pomegranate spread. There was also tzatziki, hummus, and babaganoush.
Next, we had some outrageously good Brussels sprouts, fried up and served with walnuts, currants, and honey.
The freshness of the dishes peaked here, but our other dishes were still tasty. We had the garides saganaki, shrimp sitting in a sauce of feta, oregano, tomato, garlic, and brandy. It was significantly heavier than expected, but was a good sopping-up sauce.
The next one was heavy too, but that was our fault. It was a special: mozzarella cheese and something like soppresatta were wrapped up and then deep fried, served atop an exquisite tomato sauce made with more soppresatta in it. It looked and smelled so delicious that my man friend got a piece before my photo shoot was done (an extremely rare but completely understandable circumstance in this case).
We concluded with "lahmacun," a cheese-less Turkish pizza cooked in a 630-degree wood-fired oven. The standout component was the spiced lamb mixture, flattened on the cracker-thin crust, but it was also topped with s small arugula salad (which we were uncertain what to do with). We really didn't need it, but were glad to have tried it--it tasted of garlic and green spices and we ate more than our full bellies would have recommended.
But, it was charming: a Turkish lunch in a bright dining room, an afternoon stroll through Frederick (where we almost saw two factions of homeless men throw down), and a visit to a candy shop, where my man friend insisted on picking up a pound and a half of fresh fudge, a perfect way to pretend it wasn't the dead of winter.