Category Archives: Food Thoughts


What I’m Thankful for in 2012, and Wishes for 2013


Happy New Year! And so we begin a year the Mayans thought would never come, 2013.  As a general rule, I don’t make New Year’s resolutions. Resolutions are like fad diets — anyone can stick to them for a few weeks or so, but sooner or later you’re gonna find yourself frying up half a package of bacon or scarfing down a pint of Häagen Dazs at 1:30 in the morning.  Too easy to end up disappointing yourself. (i.e. Gyms that are packed in January become curiously less so in March.) So, no thanks, to resolutions.

I do, however, reflect on the year that’s passed. I think about what I’m thankful for and what I hope for in the coming year. It’s very deep stuff.

The reflections carry over to food, too.  Here’s what I’m thankful for in 2012, and a few hopes for 2013. In no particular order:

What I’m thankful for:

1) Hong Kong Pearl Seafood in Falls Church
Ate there twice with my family in 2012 and was impressed each time. We ordered the set menu for 8-10 people and everything was excellent, especially their slightly sweet, crispy chicken (we don’t know what it’s called in Chinese). Delicious. It’s become our reference point for Chinese fried chicken.

2) Tabard Inn’s bar
One of the best date spots in the District. The place oozes cozy. I think you can eat in the lounge, but for food purposes, the bar in the dining room is more fun. It’s intimate, making you sit closer to your date (provided that’s a good thing), and you can chat with the bartender while sampling unique drinks and tasty items from the menu. When the weather turns cold, the Tabard Inn is a must.

3) Greek Deli
Long known I’m sure to DC residents, but new to me. Holy cow. Great home-style food and ginormous portions. It’s a good thing I don’t work around Farragut North/Dupont, or I’d be eating at the Greek Deli so often you’d have to turn me sideways to squeeze me out of doorways.

4) Tea-smoked duck at Sichuan Pavilion
This smoky, crunchy-crusted duck served with shredded scallion and hoisin sauce is not to be missed. Actually, the side hoisin sauce is unnecessary; the flavor of the duck should be enjoyed on its own. Makes my mouth water just thinking about it.

5) Interesting restaurants popping up in Adams Morgan
In the coming weeks I plan on trying Sakuramen, Taan and Pho 14. Seems like something new is always appearing in Adams Morgan. So besides getting an aesthetic makeover, the neighborhood’s been infused with fresh new eateries. Do we need two ramen restaurants in AM? Unsure, but it’s sure more convenient than trekking over to H Street’s Toki Underground.  I don’t care how good ramen is, I’d like it to at least be within walking distance.

6) E Street Cinema
My favorite cinema also happens to show some great movies about food. This year I watched the documentaries “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” and “Step Up to the the Plate.”  And over the weekend at a showing of “The Impossible,” I saw that the concession stand now serves sweet potato tater tots. Much to be thankful for at E Street.

7) BonChon chicken
Had it for the first time in Boston (there’s a NOVA location in Annandale), and let’s just say I’ve spread the word ever since. Chicken that’s fried twice, isn’t greasy and miraculously stays crisp 20 minutes after it comes out of the kitchen. If you’re gonna go off the rails and indulge in fried chicken, BonChon’s a good place to be bad.

8) Bubble tea
I don’t think bubble tea has caught on yet as a mainstream drink, but it’s coming.  2013 will be the year of the bubble tea!! What’s not to love about a refreshing, fruity drink with chewy tapioca balls that you have to suck up through a giant straw? Many a hot summer afternoon I shuffled over to Kogibow Bakery in Adams Morgan for a bubble tea, then shuffled back home to Woodley Park. I’m sure passers-by wondered why I was sipping a drink but chewing.

9) Maine Avenue Fish Market
Another DC institution that was new for me in 2012. Touristy this place is not. It’s a lot of fun wandering around admiring the seafood smorgasbord, then standing at the pier with your food, while gazing out over the Potomac and listening to the thwak of mallets hitting steamed crabs. A few chairs would be nice, but I quibble.

10) Vegan milkshakes
Just kidding. Wanted to see if you were paying attention. That is one thing I am NOT thankful for.

Hopes for 2013:

1) Woodley/Cleveland Park bagel shop
I’ve heard of So’s Your Mom in Adams Morgan (haven’t been yet) and yes, Bethesda Bagel is in Dupont Circle, but wouldn’t a quality bagel store look nice between the 2600 and 3600 blocks of Connecticut Ave? Wouldn’t it??

2) WP/CP Jewish deli
Another no-brainer. The eyesore of a McDonald’s in Woodley Park is just begging to be smacked with a wrecking ball and replaced with an eatery serving pastrami sandwiches and matzo ball soup. Remember Ryan Gosling’s advice to Steve Carell in “Crazy Stupid Love” to “Be better than the Gap”?  Let’s be better than McDonald’s.

3) Local farmers market that sells Pimientos de Padron
There may already be one, but I haven’t discovered it yet. The Spanish peppers can be found on menus in tapas restaurants and are one of my absolute favorite things to cook up at home. Eating them at La Tasca a few weeks ago awoke my passion for these little peppers. I will not be denied. I will find them this summer.

4) A real DC Chinatown
I was in Boston for Christmas and spent last Friday walking the city like a tourist. Boston’s Chinatown gives me pangs of jealousy. It’s small compared to NYC or San Francisco, but contains all the requisite elements: Roast ducks hanging in windows, stooped, elderly Chinese ladies patrolling the streets, bakeries selling sesame balls and the smells and sounds (both good and bad) that only emanate from an honest-to-goodness Chinatown. What do we have here in DC? A block of mediocre restaurants with names like Wok and Roll. It’s embarrassing.

5) Asian grocery store within the District
While we’re on the subject of Chinatown….I’m lucky to have a car, which makes getting out to Falls Church for Asian groceries relatively painless. But oh do I wish we had something in the District — an H-Mart, a Super 88, anything. I think DC residents would appear in full force, I really do. Hell, I’ll buy six months worth of tofu gan and mochi ice cream if that’ll help get the store started.

It’s been a good year of eating. What are you thankful for?  And what do you wish for in 2013?


“Code four, code four, we’ve got a fruit preserve situation.”

Somewhere in the Boston area today, a lucky person probably enjoyed homemade raspberry jam and beach plum jelly from Martha’s Vineyard, courtesy of yours truly.

In my infinite wisdom, I packed the jellies in my bag for my flight home from Boston’s Logan Airport.  Thought nothing of it, until the bag screener security lady called out, “Bag check on #6,” followed by the sinking feeling that she was referring to my bag, followed by other passengers shooting me the death stare because my luggage was holding up the line.

Another security officer came over, unzipped my bag and pulled out the jars.

“You can’t take these on the plane.”

I pleaded my case, getting more and more bummed out, sighing a lot, and explaining that one of the jars was a gift (don’t know why I thought that would help the cause). It came down to this — jellies and jams are banned because they’re “spreadable.”

Alrighty then. My fault for not knowing the rules. I guess I’ve just never considered the security risks of fruit preserves.

Like from a scene in the old A&E series “Airline,” and with my jellies confiscated (No jellies for you!), I let out an audible “F#*&!” while walking away. I was pissed at the security officer, but mostly I was pissed at myself for being stupid.

The lesson: If you’re flying, leave the cream cheese, peanut butter, hummus, Nutella, jelly, mayo, or any other spreadable condiments at home. They will be taken. And I’m sure they will be eaten… just not by you.


A Documentary Worth Savoring: “Step Up to the Plate”

The documentaries “Step Up to the Plate” and “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” have a few things in common; both touch on the relationships between fathers and sons, the elusive pursuit of perfection and the idea of food as an art form. And both feature chefs operating twenty levels higher than the rest of us mortal home cooks. Make that thirty.

I loved “Step Up to the Plate,” but I realize it won’t be everybody’s cup of tea. The leisurely paced film takes place over the period of a year, as it follows chefs Michel Bras and his son Sebastien. Michel is a revered three-star Michelin chef, who’s preparing to retire and hand his renowned restaurant over to his son. As you can imagine, that’s a lot of pressure.

The movie makes you feel Sebastien’s strain. He doesn’t so much say it, but you can see the weight of it in his eyes. When you’re at the top, there’s nowhere to go but down. The transition is equally as hard on his father, who has a legacy to uphold and can’t imagine a life away from the kitchen. Both men come off as thoroughly decent, and you want them to succeed.

The whole movie is sort of quiet, subtle and beautiful. The chefs’ attention to the tiniest details are astonishing; they fuss about herbs and texture and plating. (Wait’ll you see the way these guys plate — there’s a sequence right at the top with a salad, and I’d never even heard of half the ingredients.)

Hands down my favorite scene — when Sebastien walks into the restaurant’s test kitchen alone and creates/tests a new recipe. No background music, no dialogue, barely any sound at all; just the hum of the kitchen and the sight of a chef in full concentration. If you’re really into food, this scene’s gonna hook you. It’s utterly fascinating — like observing an artist in his studio — only instead of watching a painter paint, you’re inside the mind of a chef.

Like “Jiro Dream of Sushi,” “Step Up to the Plate” affirms the values of hard work and dedication to a craft. These guys aren’t celebrity chef sellouts, they care. You get the feeling that even though Michel Bras is retiring, his restaurant is in good hands.

Damn do I love movies about food.

Watch the trailer here.


When Your Office Kitchen Smells Like a Fish Factory

Say hypothetically, a co-worker makes a habit of microwaving fish at lunch; and not relatively odorless fish like tilapia or catfish — I’m talking the stinky stuff. Say this co-worker has been napalming your office more enthusiastically than Robert Duvall in “Apocalypse Now,” with the noxious odors emanating from the kitchen and wafting down the floor. This makes everyone else gag and crinkle their nose. Hypothetically.

Of all office etiquette issues, the stinky food dilemma is one of the most delicate.  Food choices are intensely personal. Cultural and dietary differences come into play. And everyone reacts to odors differently — what smells bad to one person barely registers to another.

I think we can all agree though, not all microwave food smells are created equal. Pesto, Chinese food, lasagna, last night’s roast chicken — good. Oily fish — bad.

I assumed the fish rule was common knowledge… but apparently it’s not.

So what to do?  Here are a few options:

1) Approach the olfactory offender tactfully. “Excuse me, is it possible for you not to microwave fish for lunch? The odor is quite strong.” Somewhat gentle, but could still lead to confrontation and hurt feelings.
2) Approach the olfactory offender less tactfully. “Dude, you gotta stop microwaving fish. Your food reeks.” Direct and to the point.
3) Print out a list of office kitchen etiquette rules, highlight the section about no stinky fish, and tape it to the microwave door. A little passive-aggressive, but possibly effective.
4) Send out a department email with a reminder of kitchen etiquette.
5) Walk around the kitchen with a stink-face and a clothes pin on your nose, and pray that someone gets the hint.

Hypothetically, a fellow co-worker attempted tactic #3. And it may not have worked, because the day the list was taped up, fish may have been microwaved once again.

Should tactics #1, #2, and #4 fail, that leaves only one option.