Category Archives: Eating Adventures

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Hoppers and Other Goodies at the Asian Food Festival

Last Sunday, three friends and I loaded into my car for a drive to the Washington Buddhist Vihara on 16th St. — the location of the Asian Food Festival, sponsored by the Embassy of Sri Lanka. The vihara (monastery) is essentially a house in a residential neighborhood, and the festival was an intimate gathering in the front yard.

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We beelined over to the far right tent, where several women were manning trays of Sri Lankan dishes. The word that popped up a lot was “fish”;  there were fish items of all kinds: fish balls, fish sticks, fish pastries… as well as vegetarian pastries, spring rolls, dal, and desserts. It all looked tempting.

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I picked up an assortment of items, as you can see in this picture of half-eaten food. The fish balls were my favorite.

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My friends shared this platter of dal over noodles. When the noodles became a little dry, a nice man came over and poured on a fresh batch of dal. Now that’s good service!

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This spicy vegetarian pastry reminded me of an Indian samosa.

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Over in the left tent, a man was busily chopping up chicken, veggies and sauce for the chicken/vegetable kottu.

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On the doorway of the vihara, there was this sign:

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I’d seen it earlier and had no idea what it meant.  I’ve gotten back into tennis lately, and thought the sign was a reference to ball hoppers, the large baskets used to collect tennis balls. So shopping baskets? My friend Fay had another take — “I thought they meant ‘Shoppers’ but forgot the S.”

We were both way off. Hoppers are something else entirely, a Sri Lankan pancake. They’re super thin, like a cross between a pancake and a crepe. Down in the basement, people were eagerly snapping up the freshly made hoppers coming out of the kitchen.

Some hoppers were being served with an egg on top. Other people were dipping them into what looked like a red chili sambal.

“That’s too hot for you,” the server told us.

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Ahh, we may not be Sri Lankan, but she underestimated our tolerance for spice! We split an order of hoppers, and went back for the spicy chili mix, called lunu miris.

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It was certainly fiery, but nothing we couldn’t handle. Went beautifully with the paper-thin hoppers.

Once outside again, we indulged in a final treat with a crumbly dessert cookie.

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And that concluded our sampling of Sri Lankan cuisine. We had fun; it was an afternoon of good food, friendly people and a few firsts for all of us. Most importantly, I learned that in Sri Lanka, hoppers are not for tennis balls.

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First Lobster Roll of the Summer

As a person of the same name, I felt a certain obligation to patronize the Doug the Food Dude truck. How could I not? We Dougs have to stick together.

Doug the Food Dude was conveniently parked at Truckeroo on Friday.

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Here’s the lobster roll I ordered. (The line at the Red Hook Lobster Pound truck was just too long, so we gave Doug’s rolls a shot.)

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It was a decent attempt that didn’t quite come together. I could have gone without the spinach, sliced cucumber and diced onion, though they did add some nice crunch. The mushy and cold hot dog bun wasn’t ideal; maybe I’ve been spoiled by too many toasted and buttered buns. And the lobster itself was super salty. Not sure why it was necessary to add extra seasoning to naturally salty lobster meat.

Still, I appreciated the big chunks of fresh lobster and light touch of mayo. If Doug can refine his lobster roll with a few small tweaks, he’s got something.

All in all not a bad first lobster roll for the summer. And hopefully not the last!

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Food Truck Nirvana: Truckeroo

Truckeroo, DC’s monthly food truck festival, combines everything you’d want from a summer activity: outdoor venue, cool breeze coming off the water, live music, beer and mucho food options. That’s pretty much all I need out of a Friday evening.

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The hard part is figuring out what to get. If there’s one thing about food trucks, it’s that they all sound appealing. And with 20+ trucks forming a ring inside the Fairgrounds (right across from the Navy Yard Metro, next to Nationals Stadium), tempting food literally beckons in every direction.

I learned a few things from my first Truckeroo experience.  First, I learned that you should get there early.  I met my friends at 6pm, when the Fairgrounds were just beginning to fill up. It was the ideal time — there was still available seating and many people were wandering around getting situated, keeping the lines at the trucks short.

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Second, take a few laps around before committing. Don’t make that impulse order at the first truck that catches your eye.  Survey the scene and consider your options.

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I was being drawn to the banh mi, lobster rolls (never had one off a truck), tapas, and barbecue.

There was also a truck called “Doug the Food Dude.” I almost went there out of principle. I mean, we share the same name and all.

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Third, just because food’s coming off a truck doesn’t necessarily qualify it as a cheap eat. Food truck prices vary. For example, a banh mi at Eden Center will run you around $5. Off a truck, expect to pay $8 and upward. You’re paying for the novelty and variety, but don’t expect a bargain.

It’d be nice if the trucks offered an option for small portions — a single taco, say, or slider-sized sandwiches. That way you could graze from multiple trucks. But I suppose the trucks can’t alter their menu and system for a once-a-month event.

After considering my choices — it came down to a lobster roll from Red Hook Lobster Pound or barbecue from BBQ Bus — I went with barbecue. This lovely platter was loaded with beans, cole slaw, pulled pork, pulled chicken, brisket and ribs.

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I know I made the right choice, not only because of how much I enjoyed the food, but because my friend Tim and I both got the BBQ, and three times we were approached by people asking, “Excuse me, where’d you get that?” Lemme tell you, people were eyeing our platters.

Fourth, some trucks are faster than others. Most of us had no problem, but my friend Amanda placed her order at one of the Vietnamese trucks, and then waited about 40 minutes for her food. That’s unacceptable even by restaurant standards.  A food truck that’s supposed to regularly deal in volume and quick turnover should really have its shit together. We were practically done eating by the time poor Amanda joined our table.

And fifth, there’s seating in a back area that you may not notice right away. If you walk past the porta-potties to the trucks at the far end of the Fairgrounds (it almost feels like you’re exiting), there are quite a few tables. We were able to snag one, which I much appreciated. Eating barbecue standing up with sauce dripping down my arms would have been a challenge.

A good time had by all. Truckeroo continues monthly through October.

Truckeroo
Fairgrounds at Half and M St. SE (across from Navy Yard Metro Station)
Washington, DC
info@truckeroodc.com

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Champagne and More at the Barracks Row Culinary Education Crawl

A blustery, cold afternoon didn’t dampen the fun at the recent Barracks Row Culinary Education Crawl.  In fact, I’d say the food and drink helped keep us warm. After a few glasses of champagne, you feel no pain.

The champagne was courtesy of the tasting class at Hill Center.

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The co-instructor was a Frenchman; as you can imagine, anything he said sounded legit purely based on the accent. He could have claimed champagne is made from Welch’s Grape Juice and I would have probably believed it.

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We learned about champagne vs. sparkling wines, dosage, the difference between “extra dry” and “Brut,” and how a glass can affect the abundance — or lack of — bubbles.

Here are some of my friends looking quite serious as they listen.

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Our four samples. From left to right:

Ca’dei Zago D.O.C. Prosecco Col Fondo 2010
Klein “Cremant d’Alsace” Chardonnay Extra Brut
N.V. Champagne Francois Diligent Rose
2006 Laherte Freres “Les Vignes d’Autrefois — A Chavot” Extra Brut

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The one glass I didn’t care for was the Prosecco, which I thought tasted flat and nondescript.  Much preferred the sharper and more interesting Chardonnay and Rose.

Six happy and slightly tipsy people after four glasses.

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After a short break, we were off to the pasta carbonara class at the restaurant, Zest.

I was a little disappointed, because I had thought we would be getting hands-on and making the pasta. It was more a demonstration and tasting.

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A look at the recipe.

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We each received a bowl to sample. Really nice — creamy from the egg and cheese, and punched up by the pork belly.

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I could have used another bowl (or two), and I think everyone else felt the same. Appetites firing, we made our way to Belga Cafe, where another class was going on — I think it had to do with beer.

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We weren’t signed up for this one though, so we stuck to sharing a few items off the menu.

Frites with a chipotle dipping sauce.

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A waffle stuffed with crabmeat and king crab legs in a saffron sauce. Odd sounding, but it worked, like chicken and waffles’ fancier cousin.

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The takeaways from the day?  That there’s a whole lot to learn about sparkling wines/champagne, that pork belly elevates any dish, that I need to spend more time exploring Barracks Row, and that culinary education crawls are a good way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

Belga Cafe
514 8t St. SE
Washington, DC
202-544-0100

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Seeing Tom, Gail and Giada at the Metro Cooking and Entertaining Show

I learned something at the recent Metropolitan Cooking and Entertaining Show: Tom Colicchio’s and Gail Simmons’s fans are into “Top Chef”; Giada De Laurentiis’s fans are a cross between Kathy Bates in “Misery” and Oprah’s audience.

First though, the show itself. Held at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, it featured exhibitors selling specialty foods, cooking demonstrations, celebrity chef appearances and samples to be had, provided you had the patience to systematically walk the exhibit floor.

My friend Liz and I had patience, making two walks, once when we first arrived, and once again near the end of the day. Much more success the second time around. The crowd had thinned some, and there seemed to be many more samples available.

We especially liked the mixes from Stone House Mixes.

And the soft pretzels from Hempzels. Yes, they’re hemp pretzels. Quite popular in Colorado, I hear.

The line for chorizo samples was long, as you’d expect. Finally made it the second time around.

This man was demonstrating a bowl that was also a built-in grater.

Most of all though, we were excited for the celebrity chef demonstrations. First up were Tom Colicchio and Gail Simmons.

Cute pair those two, making dishes like seared rabbit and whipping up a couple of cocktails. At one point Giada crashed the stage and came up to cook with them.

Tom and Gail took numerous questions from the audience, most of which focused on “Top Chef”: What were your favorite dishes, what it’s like being a judge… the usual stuff you’d expect. Interesting for all us fans.

An hour later, Giada did her thing. There she is in front of what looks like a raging inferno.

She’s tiny in person, I mean really small. Extremely perky like on TV. A bit more comfortable on stage than Tom and Gail, as if she does this sort of thing all the time.

The most amusing part of her demo was the audience questions.  Liz and I just looked at each other and laughed.  Some audience members were gooingly fawning (I’m your biggest fan!).  Others bordered on creepy, like the girl who asked if she could come onstage for a hug, or the adoring and hormonal thirteen-year-old boy who may have been kick-started into puberty just from seeing Giada in person.

(Note to the boy’s mom: check under his mattress for food magazines with Giada on the cover.)

The best though was the woman who concluded her fawning by asking Giada the secret to a happy marriage. Who did she think she was talking to, Dr. Phil?

Giada was nice about it and spoke about spouses being supportive of one another.  Meanwhile, she brought a few people up on stage to help cook a shrimp bruschetta and lamb dish. Smelled and looked good.

Fun time at the show — check it out when it comes back again next year. Who knows, you might get some solid relationship advice!