Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Jackie's: The Good, The Bad and the Ugly

Mickey, Carlos, Steve and Patrick

Carlos needed a ride to Silver Spring to meet his own darling chubby hubby, Mickey (a.k.a. Mickey-do) so we agreed to take him there after work. After picking up Carlos, we found that we had about an hour and half to kill so we decided that we should go ahead and have dinner. Steve had read about a restaurant that opened a couple of years back called Jackie’s. I don’t quite know how this place flew under my radar screen (Steve swears he told me about it), but it did.

So let’s talk about the good stuff first.

Jackie’s has been retrofitted into a restaurant from an old garage. It has a funky, upbeat interior that reflects a style of restaurant that Steve and I are always saying we don’t have enough of in Washington DC. I know there have been some changes to this genre recently, but it seems that you either have to go high end or low brow in DC for dining with not much choice in-between.

They have kept much of the dimensions of the original space with exposed brick walls, high ceilings, bright paned windows and they even dangle workers lights from extension cords overhead. We loved the open kitchen, and the opportunity to watch the chef’s in action. The seating is colorful with multi-patterned booths and varied colored plastic chairs with a serious 60’s feel. In the front of the restaurant by the bar hangs a large mobile of large pastel colored plastic disks. Very Fun.

The first courses were fantastic. We ordered the melon with proscuitto, one of my favorites. I love it when a chef has the balls to get out of the way of great food. The melon, cantaloupe in this case, was perfectly ripe, sweet and musky with a beautiful color. It was topped with generous portions of ultra-thin slices of a good quality proscuitto. Jackie’s prides itself on using high quality organic meats and vegetables and it truly showed in this dish. The whole affair was lightly sprinkled with a nice olive oil. Sublime.

Next was the Gazpacho. It was a true Gazpacho made in the Andalusian tradition with soaked bread, fresh tomatoes, garlic and sherry vinegar blended to create a creamy texture and rich tomato flavor. So often when you order Gazpacho these days you are served a watered down version of chunky vegetable salsa, which has very little to do with the actual dish or its origins. The Gazpacho had a nice garnish of chopped cucumbers and onions, and was finished with a golden thread of fine olive oil, visible on the surface of the cold soup. The dish was perfectly seasoned and the flavors were well-balanced. We were off to a great start, but alas, there were rocky moments ahead.

Carlos ordered the roast chicken breast. It was by far the best of the entrees. An airline chicken breast, a chicken breast with wing drummie attached, was perfectly cooked. It was very juicy and meaty with a crispy skin. It was served over a huge portion of mashed potatoes and green beans. The chicken was then topped with a creamed wild mushroom sauce. The dish was elegant, yet homey and comforting at the same time. What more could you ask for?

Oh, but here is where the trouble begins. I ordered the Flat Iron Steak with Chimichurri Sauce. It was accompanied by roasted shallots and a liberal portion of French fries. The steak was ordered medium rare, but the griddle grilling of the meat produced a steak which was unevenly cooked and frankly, a little overdone. I also couldn’t help but feel the portion size was a little small. The chimichurri sauce, however, was the major downfall of this dish and not like any chimichurri I have ever seen before.

Chimichurri Sauce, an Argentinean steakhouse staple, is a great condiment to grilled meats, with a pungent flavor of vinegar, garlic, olive oil and fresh herbs. Jackie’s chimichurri had a peculiar color and a flavor that was acrid and unpleasant. I suspect that they made it with Dende Oil, a Brazilian palm oil that has a light orangey-peach color, but I really can’t be sure. The herbs were all brown as if the sauce, which is traditionally always served at room temperature, had been heated, wilting any sense of "freshness" out of it.

The French fries were exactly as I liked them, thin swatches of potato fried to a delicate crisp and the roasted shallots were sweet and tender. Too bad they chose to drown the steak with sauce. If it had been served on the side I could salvaged my meal, but no such luck for me.

Poor Steven really got the raw deal with his meal. He ordered the house made linguini with meatballs off the daily specials menu. Jackie’s features a daily specials menu that is designed to present home-style comfort foods in a modern way.

First off, the portion size was the size of an appetizer and at $20; they could have thrown a few more noodles his way. The noodles were delicious, but they weren’t linguini, they were fettuccine. They were tossed with the most minimal amount of marinara sauce possible so that the noodles simply had a pinkish hue to them. Because the noodles were so minimally sauced, they clung together like a solitary "noodle cake" which could, literally be cut with a fork and knife into a wedge. The whole mess was topped with three small, dry, unadorned meatballs. I know that they were going for a modern interpretation, but did the chef grow up in an eastern block country? What was “comfort food” about this?

It was accompanied by sautéed spinach and garlic bread. The spinach was seasoned on the plate so it had a furious salty first bite then nothing else to carry through the rest of the side dish. The garlic bread was adequate.

Service was casual, friendly and really, really slow. I had to remind our waiter that we had ordered the Gazpacho. Service was so slow, in fact that we didn’t have time for dessert, as we were now a half an hour LATE in dropping off Carlos. That means we had been there for two hours for those of you who don't want to do the math.

Upon closer inspection of the menu, I think I would order differently from Jackie’s in the future. They definitely have their starters down, including one we didn’t order, but wish we had, the mini Elvis Burgers, at $3.00 a burger. We eyed a plateful as they were presented to a nearby table and felt the deep pang of "oops-I-ordered-the-wrong-thing" envy. Despite what were some big disappointments, I would definitely return to Jackie’s. There was enough good in the experience to warrant a second visit. Hopefully, this was just a bad first trip, so keep an eye out for a second review of this dining spot coming soon.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Farmers Market Tomatoes

If you are not buying your produce at your local farmer’s market right now, then you are missing the boat! Supermarket produce simply can’t compare to the freshness, quality and variety you are afforded at a farmer’s market.

Tomatoes are in season right now and they are fantastic. Yesterday, I picked up some yellow cherry tomatoes that were as sweet as candy. Try some heirloom tomatoes for something different with extraordinary flavor.

If you have a good pizzeria near you, here is a great trick for a quick and delicious summer meal. Try topping a simple white pizza with your own tomato salad. Order a white pizza of the best quality you can find. We have a great pizzeria near us that makes fantastic wood-burning oven pizzas. The true hallmark of a great pizza is the crust. The variations on this trick are endless, but here is my recipe:

Tomato/ Arugula Salad over White Pizza

1 Large White Pizza (from your local pizzeria)
2 Large Heirloom Tomatoes (Diced)
1 Bunch of Baby Arugula
1 TBSP Capers
2 Anchovies (Optional)
2 TBSP Olive Oil
1 TBSP Balsamic Vinegar
Salt and Pepper to taste

Dice your tomatoes and place in a colander to drain for two minutes. It’s important to drain the tomatoes or you salad will be too soggy when placed on the pizza. Place the drained tomatoes in a bowl and add the arugula, stems removed. If desired, dice the anchovies into very small pieces and add to the tomatoes. This will add a salty and nutty note to the salad but will not overpower the flavors of the tomatoes. Add capers. Top with the olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Add salt and pepper to taste. Mix well and spoon the salad on top your white pizza covering the pizza completely. Serve immediately.

This salad would also be fantastic as a topping for bruschetta, or even as a condiment to grilled swordfish or salmon.

See you at the market!


Wednesday, July 18, 2007

When I was a kid

When I was a kid, it was sort of a family joke. We didn’t eat out much, but we could count on it when we did, whether we had a reservation or not, the host or hostess would bellow out our name calling us to our table.

“Hardy party…Hardy party…Hardy party of 6”, invariably in some “sing-song” fashion.

I am acutely aware of this still, and at the age of 44, even though most restaurants don’t act that way anymore, I’ve learned to just leave just my first name: Patrick.

My name is Patrick Hardy. I am a foodie. I live to eat. I love talking about food. I love going out to eat. I love to cook. I love to read about food. I love to watch cooking shows on television. I love cookbooks. I love food magazines. I love restaurant reviews. I love to shop for food. Suffice to say “I LOVE FOOD”.

In my career, I have had the opportunity to work with and around food for the past 23 years. Currently, I am the Director of Sales and Marketing of a hotel and conference center and we do an inordinate amount of catering. I’ve also worked as a Banquet Server, Banquet Captain, Banquet Maitre D’, Lounge Manager, Restaurant Manager, Catering Sales Manager, Senior Catering Sales and Assistant Director of Banquet Operations.

The first job I ever held was a line cook at Taco Charley’s, a bad Taco Bell impersonator. Then I worked as a cook for the Country Kitchen Buffet.

Growing up, my mother would say, “We don’t go out to dinner often, but when we do, we go somewhere nice.” For the most part that was true. One of my first restaurant memories involves a crab louie salad in a seaside village, a dish I still crave to this day. I clearly have some emotional ties to food and I suppose it’s debatable if my personal obsession is a healthy one or not!

Do not call me a food snob. I can have lunch at Citronelle and dinner at Popeye’s. The experience at Citronelle may be more sublime and transcendent, but there is something deeply soul-satisfying about good ole Popeye’s fried chicken.

I don’t know if my experiences warrant yet another in the already crowded field of internet food blogs, but I do know that I know a good deal about food. I’m always up for a new experience with dining, whether I’m donning the cook’s apron that day or I’ve left that to someone else. Regardless, here goes: The Hardy Party Review, a collection of my musings on food, dining out and cooking. I hope to share with you some of the memorable moments in my life regarding food, be they good or bad. I hope you enjoy them.

Let me tell you about my partners in crime. First is my life-long partner in crime, my partner, Steve. Steve is not a foodie, but Steve likes to eat. I’ve introduced Steve to many culinary delights. Over the years, he has become quite adventurous, as if he had a choice living with me. Steve makes a great dinner companion, and is the light of my life. We have been together for 16 years now.

He was a much thinner man when I met him.

My other partner in crime is Carlos. Carlos is our “adopted son”. Hailing all the way from sunny Bogota, Colombia, Carlos is the technical guru of this endeavor. Carlos is thin now, but we’ll see how long that lasts hanging around us.

Carlos and Steve are my usual dining companions, and you will hear a lot about them in my writings.