Saturday, March 3, 2012

Beauregard's Thai Room

Whitney Houston’s funeral was the weekend our groupon to Beauregard’s Thai Room was set to expire. Very inauspicious. I pooh-poohed Chris' suggestion of calling for a reservation, but when we got there, the only place we could be seated was in the tap room. I've never seen this at a Thai restaurant before, but Beauregard's has a sportsbar-like tap room, complete with a blaring TV. And so we were doomed to eat our meal while coverage of the funeral was going on...and on and on. We dined to the first bars of I Will Always Love You playing repeatedly. The couple next to us scarfed down their meal and got out of there are quickly as they could.

And here is our meal itself:

Thai Cellophane Noodles. Not too appetizing.

Pad Thai with chicken. Chris was unhappy.

Dear readers, this was not a good night, on so many levels. Since I had read that Beauregard's was more elegant and pricy than most Thai restaurants, we took a peak at the other dining rooms to see what all the fuss was about. Yes, the upstairs was a tad more upscale, in the way of a dowager fallen on hard times. It had a dingy colonial feel to it, the room the "better paying customers" may be shown to, as Chris put it. On the other hand, the outdoor patio, which has also had rave reviews, showed promise. So perhaps, Beauregard's, if I come back in the summer, I won't always hate you.


Beauregard's Thai Room on Urbanspoon

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Pig's Head for Dummies

When it comes to head-to-tail restaurants, I don't know my ass from my elbow. And if you're like me, neither do you. So here I am sharing what I have learned from my first encounter with pig's head, at Mike Isabella's Graffiato.

1. When you order pig's head in a tapas restaurant, it's not going to be the whole head.

This seems obvious now, but at the time I was thrown by the name" "pig's head".  I did try to get clarification from our server, by asking if the dish actually looked like a pig's head. He said yes. But of course, the answer to that question depends on what your notion of a pig's head looks like. The better question would have been: is it a whole pig's head?

Lesson learned: when it costs $10 and is expected to arrive within 10 minutes, it's not going to be the whole head.

This insight logically leads to the next point:

2. A pig's head has many parts. If you are not getting the whole head, you need to ask which part.

Pig's Head with Sausage and Braised Red Cabbage
(?)
Once the tapas-sized portion had arrived, I was too stunned to ask the server what it actually was. But as it turns out, there is an astonishing number of people out there writing passionately about the various parts of a pig's head. The next day, I skimmed through the tales of butchery -- accounts of home chefs disarticulating their first porcine skull, using boning knives and crap saws to cut through cartilage, sinew and bone -- to focus on the parts themselves. (These accounts really made me wonder: how desperate are we to rediscover where our food comes from? In their descriptions, the writers make an attempt at humor that is really the literary version of nervous laughter; then swear to leave butchering to a professional next time.)

First, there are the obvious parts:

Snout (pure skin and fat)
Tongue (must be scraped free of tastebuds)
Ears (hairy and need to be shaved, but then offer a nice crunch of cartilage)

But it was the insides of the head itself that interested me. It seems that this can be divided into three categories that need to be separated:

Pure meat: the largest pockets can be found in the cheeks, underneath the eye sockets, and near the brain at the base of the skull

Flesh mixed with collagen and fat: this is the part I think we were served at Graffiato. It corresponds perfectly with Chichi Wang's description: "the amorphous, somewhat undefinable mass of fatty tissue and gelatinous collagen that's holding everything together on the head." Although Wang writes fondly of a "softer, creamier texture that's pleasantly gooey and gummy," I beg to differ. Masses of fatty tissue is not my idea of pleasant.

Refuse: teeth, bones and rubbery bits.

Head cheese is another possible meaning of "pig's head": various parts of meat, fat, tissue and tongue from the head are braised and formed into a meatloaf. Some chefs use scraps, others mix in choice pieces of meat. Some recipes call for further slicing, breading and sauteeing of the loaf. Some come with delicious sounding sauces.

It seems the possibilities are endless, which is why, when you see "pig's head" on the menu, you really should not take it at face value. Whether you willingly plunge into the unknown, or try to press for more information, try not to be in the situation we were in, where your server arrives with pig's head for dummies.


Photo credit: Chris Svoboda


Graffiato on Urbanspoon

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Shophouse Southeast Asian Kitchen



Finally, I thought, a place to get decent banh mi in the District. The Southeast Asian version of Chipotle -- how could it be bad? But it was not to be. I ordered the chicken and pork meatball banh mi, with Asian greens (thai basil, cilantro and mint) and chopped peanuts, to go. Raced back to the office clutching my paper bag. And was profoundly disappointed.

The baguette (if you can call it that) was way too bready for banh mi, overwhelming what is supposed to be a delicate balance of flavors. Ditto for the meatballs, which were overspiced for this particular dish. No way the greens and peanuts could fulfil their task of complementing the main filling, if this is what they were up against. And that spicy meatball flavor lingered way too long after the meal, if you know what I mean....


But here's the thing. Those very meatballs get high marks from others, when served in the context of the noodle bowl. Tom Sietsema likes them. The server at Shophouse likes them. And yesterday, when I saw the line for Shophouse spilling on to the sidewalk and asked a couple of people what they liked, the answer was: the pork and chicken noodle bowl.

So, I  still want to like Shophouse, and am willing to believe that other dishes will live up to their reputation. It's quite possible that the disappointment of  the banh mi -- which seems to be particularly difficult to execute properly -- is not a good reflection on the other offerings. So perhaps, sometime in the not too distant future, Antoinette Ego will write something glowing about them.

ShopHouse Southeast Asian Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Choking it down on Lufthansa

Silly me. I thought airplane food was improving. Must have been those posts Antoinette Ego wrote about the meals on Korean Air and Tam. So thank you, Lufthansa, for bringing me back to reality. Over-peppered boiled chicken with nameless brown sauce? Now that's more like it. Limp vegetables? Yeah!

Antoinette Ego says: Forget about the food. Lufthansa was one of the only airlines to fly out of DC when everyone else shut down way before Hurricane Irene actually posed a problem. You got where you were going, didn't you? So stop whining.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Vinoteca

When your dining companion tells you that the highlight of her meal was the spiced pecans, you know that you have failed to impress. So, while Vinoteca, with its lovely decor and happening bar scene, is surely date-worthy, here are some menu items to avoid:

Duck Prosciutto was the main culprit. Readers will know that Antoinette Ego is a big fan of prosciutto, especially boar prosciutto, but duck is a different animal. Think about it for a moment. The wild boar is a lean old codger, what with all that running around foraging in the woods. Duck, on the other hand, is plump by nature, needing to be bouyant in the water. And farm raised duck, which are often force-fed (yes, with a funnel) to fatten them up for foie gras, are especially fatty. Nancy pronounced the duck prosicutto "too rich," which turned out to be a euphemism for "inedible". Whatever flavor the duck had to impart was lost in fatty tastelessness.

White wines by the glass: we sampled one from the lower end of the price spectrum (Seven Sisters Buketraube from South Africa,  $8) and one from the medium range (Louis Michel & Fils Chablis from France, $14), both of which were forgettable. You may have to splurge on the upper end ($16) to find something memorable.

The best dish was the ahi tuna appetizer. Sleek and fresh, I would say this was better than the average ahi tuna appetizer. Recommended.

I also spied some intriguing items on the menu that I would be tempted to try if I ever found myself back at Vinoteca. The cheese flights in particular. There is a "cow flight", a "sheep flight" and a "goat flight". If you can find the right wines to pair with these, you may have the makings of a good date.

Antoinette Id




Vinoteca on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Burger Bookends – a burger to die for and one to die from

Guest Post by Chris

Imagine, if you will, an Iron Chef-like bacon cheeseburger challenge. The ingredients: beef, cheese, onion, bacon, greens and tomatoes. The unknowing challengers: Bistro Bethem of Fredericksburg, VA and Cine Bistro of Richmond, VA. One is a good hour drive from my house and the other only 10 minutes. I will gladly drive the hour to have another burger at Bistro Bethem; the trip to Cine Bistro is not worth the gas.

Bethem’s creation was the most beautiful and greatest tasting burger EVER!!!! (and I’ve eaten QUITE a few). Their burger was made with Painted Hills Ranch all natural American Kobe beef, asiago, caramelized onions, bacon aioli, pea shoots, tomato and shoestring potatoes, all piled as high as a Jenga tower. The burger was thick, juicy and hot, the onions perfectly caramelized, the cheese not too soft and not too melted, the bun (aaah, the bun) toasted and branded on top with a “B”, nice touch. But what was a most wonderful surprise was the fresh crisp crunch of the pea shoots piled high on the burger complemented nicely by the crispy shoestring potatoes. YUM!






Words don’t exist to describe this burger. Which is why after pretty much every bite (with my mouth full) I mumbled “oh my god this is the best burger I’ve ever tasted”. By the fifth bite Davida said I either had to write a post about it or shut up. You can see how that ended.

Cine Bistro, a new take in the dining-while-watching-a-movie concept, is another story. I eagerly placed my order for their Double Feature Burger – Black Angus Beef, Smithfield bacon, cheddar cheese, red onions, lettuce, tomatoes, pickles and special sauce. What a perfect night this was going to be – a movie, a great burger, a Red Stripe and thick cozy chairs to sink into.

Moments after our order arrived, we discovered that there is something inherently wrong with the way they run their food operation. The overcooked burger appeared to have been pre-cooked and heated up prior to being served. The special sauce was non-existent. I requested ketchup and mustard because a burger as dry as this one needed something to make it edible (and the Red Stripe alone wasn’t going to cut it). I then waited, and waited, and waited. Then I asked a different waiter. And got to wait some more. By the time the condiments finally arrived, most diners had finished their meals and my burger was cold, the bun soggy and the cheese a limp gelatinous piece of rubber. At this point not even the condiments were going to save it. It should also be noted that this burger was so bad that I don’t even remember what movie we saw that night. The burger disaster far overshadowed the film.

They were both dealt the same hands, but for a mere 3 dollars more, Bistro Bethem’s $16 burger was hands down the winner.

Overall comments about the bistros:

Bistro Bethem: Bistro Bethem has never disappointed. Their ever-changing menu is always original and when coupled with perfection of preparation and presentation, is a guaranteed palate pleaser.

Cine Bistro: I now understand why patrons must pay their tab including 17% gratuity BEFORE being served. It’s so when you realize that it’s the worst service ever you have no recourse.


CinéBistro Stony Point Fashion Park on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Gloria Jean's Coffee -- Istanbul airport

Antoinette Ego has a lot of nice things to say about the food in Turkey, doesn't she?* Yadda, yadda, yadda. Whatever. But did you notice she didn't mention anything about the coffee? That's because the coffee in Turkey sucks!  What about Turkish coffee, you say? Surprisingly, Turkish coffee is not served that much anymore. After the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire and the loss of the Arabian countries, coffee fell from favor, and tea growing was subsidized in the Black Sea region. Today guests are more likely to be served tea than Turkish coffee. And at hotels, which feel obliged to offer coffee with breakfast, filter coffee is the norm. Bad filter coffee, that is. The very worst of the bad filter coffee can be found at airports.  Our departure from Istanbul featured a cup of Gloria Jean's coffee at Ataturk International. OMG.

Antoinette Id

* A. Ego's posts: