Saturday, October 27, 2007

That's Using Your Noodle

Here’s a great restaurant suggestion for the more adventurous among you. Da Rae Won Korean Restaurant in Beltsville, MD serves up the best hand-made noodles this is side of Seoul. The first thing you’ll notice upon being seated at Da Rae Won is the rather loud “thwacking” noise coming from the kitchen. That, my friends, is the sound of the chef preparing each noodle dish, by hand, to order. It doesn’t get any fresher than this.

There’s a small window so you can peek at the noodle making progress if you are so inclined. We never do. We’re too busy eating the small array of panchan, house made pickles. We love the pickled daikon radish with onions and black bean dipping sauce. The kimchi is wonderfully crisp and spicy with the effervescent tingle of fermentation.

For those of you familiar with Korean cuisine, you will not find Bulgogi, Bulkalbi or Be Bim Bop here. Da Rae Won is actually a Korean style Chinese restaurant and as such offers a wide range of dishes that could be found on any typical Chinese menu. The presentations however are decidedly Korean without being too unfamiliar. There are some exotic choices to be discovered, such as the shredded or braised sea cucumber and it’s anyone’s guess what you’ll get if the menu item says simply “seafood” . On our first visit to Da Rae Won, I ordered the Noodle with Spicy Seafood Soup and honestly, I could only identify about half of the what I ate.

There is really only one appetizer on the menu: Fried Dumpling ($6.95). It’s not listed as an appetizer; you find it under “Pork”. You definitely want to order it. Large thin wrappers are filled with ground pork and scallions then fried so that they are crisp and hot. The order comes with 8 pieces so there is plenty to share. Your table is equipped with soy sauce and vinegar so you can make your own dipping sauce. If you like a little kick you can add some sambal, garlic chili sauce, or ask the waitress to bring you some of the dried pepper if you really want some heat.

But the real reason to try Da Rae Won is the noodles. Nine different variations are offered and most of those come out as some sort of spicy soup with seafood. They all cost around nine dollars. Our favorite, is the Noodles with Fresh Black Bean Sauce ($8.95). A large bowl of noodles arrive with a side bowl of the black bean sauce. It is studded with a copious amount of sautéed onions, bits of barbecued pork and potato. The noodles are thick, chewy and delicious. The black sauce makes them silky and unctuous.

Service at Da Rae Won is friendly and efficient. The servers are more than happy to help you understand what you are ordering, but not are proficient in English. Ultimately, this is a Korean restaurant for Koreans. On our last visit, Steve, Carlos and I were the only non-Koreans in the place and the restaurant was hopping. Still, you won’t feel unwelcome and if you like good noodles, you won’t be disappointed.

Da Rae Won Korean Restaurant
5013 Garrett Ave
Beltsville, MD 20705

Friday, October 26, 2007

Let Them Eat Cake

My friend Rachel sent these pictures to me. I'm not sure whether to be impressed or horrified. Do you think they saved the top of the wedding cake to eat at their one year anniversary?

Yes, that is a cake.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Rubs Me the Right Way

Steve, Carlos and I decided to catch a late lunch one Saturday afternoon and since starting the blog, every dining experience is a potential essay. Being a bona fide barbecue fanatic, I had read about Rub and was anxious to give it a try. Until recently, Michael Marx, the chef and co-owner of Rub was the chef and owner of the Blue Agave restaurant in Baltimore, one of my former favorite Mexican places. Chef Marx sold the Blue Agave to open up Rub, and the Blue Agave suffers from his absence.

Rub, Authentic Texas Barbecue Restaurant is located in Baltimore on the farthest end of Federal Hill. So far in fact that it’s almost not on Federal Hill at all. In a semi-industrial neighborhood you can see the highway and the factories around the inner harbor from its doors. However, it is still close enough to action to be a draw for the Federal hill locals.

The décor is rustic and fun and what you would expect from a BBQ joint. The place is furnished with chunky wooden tables and brick walls with corrugated metal accents. The tables are set with a Corona Beer six pack container filled with sauces and condiments, and a horseshoe footed paper towel holder for you messy eaters. We were seated upstairs and had the place to ourselves due to the odd timing of our meal.

The menu is peppered with kitschy names for everything. Steve and Carlos ordered off the “Tween the Buns” section of the menu and I ordered from the “Big Plates” section. Steve got the “Trail Boss” sandwich ($11.00), a trio of smoked turkey, beef brisket and sausage served on a bun with pickles, cole slaw and cheese. Carlos ordered the Smoked Bologna sandwich ($8.00) and I ordered the “Lone Star Sampler” ($19.00) a sampling of all of their meats. The sandwiches each came with a selection of one of their “Damn Good Sides” and the platter came with two sides. We did order one additional side just for good measure.

So let’s talk about the bad stuff first. Rub should rename their “Damn Good Sides” to “Just kinda alright Sides”. The baked beans were watery and flavorless. I had to add barbecue sauce to them to pump up the experience. The Mac n’ Cheese sounds good, but I found it disappointing. A good Mac n’ Cheese needs some bite. These were creamy and fairly bland. I would have appreciated a nice crust on top that gave way to the creamy goodness below (Side note: Steven loved the Mac n’ Cheese, so maybe it’s just me). The “skin on” fries with garlic and cumin, had no hint of cumin or skin. The one exception with the sides was the corn pudding with Serrano peppers. It was “Damn Good”! A rich egg custard studded with Serrano peppers and bright corn. It could have taken a little more heat, but overall, that was the best of the “Damn Good Sides” that we tried.

I ordered the house brewed root beer and Carlos had the house brewed cream soda. The root beer was wan and unexciting while the cream soda was so damn sweet it was nearly undrinkable.

So much for the bad stuff… let’s talk about the good stuff. First, the portion sizes are incredible. Steve’s sandwich was HUGE, as was Carlos’s. My sampler platter was ridiculous; a mound of beef brisket, a quarter chicken, a full sausage, sliced turkey and three pork ribs. Please don’t ask me how much was left on my plate because I would hate to admit that I ate every damn bit of it.
This is a Texas barbecue joint and as such, beef brisket is the house specialty. Rub’s brisket is slow roasted for 12-14 hours and it is the juiciest and tenderest brisket I’ve ever tasted. At my first bite, I could swear I heard angels singing. The sausage was equally juicy and robust with a great smoke flavor that permeated the meat and casing. The sliced turkey held a dark skin from its time in the smoker and the white meat was moist and chewy. The chicken had a nice rub on the outside and like everything else was near perfection. The ribs were the weakest item on the plate, but that’s not a critiscism… in many other restaurants they would be considered the best thing on the menu.

Steve’s sandwich was piled high with brisket and slice of turkey and one sausage. The crisp cole slaw added the perfect amount of crunch and sweetness. Carlos smoked bologna was stacked high with smoked and griddled bologna that had a great dense and meaty texture. All plates were attractively presented with large cut dill pickle chips and a pickled Serrano pepper.

Rub offers three sauces: a mild and smoky sauce, a spicy and smoky sauce and finally a sweet mustard style sauce. I wasn’t overwhelmed by any of them, but I preferred the mild and smoky sauce finding the other two to be too sweet for my liking. I’m a Kansas City boy and Kansas City barbecue is all about the sauce, which is why it feels strange for me to tell you, that I didn’t want to put sauce on this meat. It was too good for sauce.

One of Texas’ great barbecue joints is a restaurant called the Kreuz Market located in Lockhart, Texas. It has been in operation since 1900. Lockhart, Texas lies out in the country somewhere between Austin and San Antonio. There isn’t much reason to go to Lockhart except to go to Kreuz Market, and people come. They come in droves. People drive for miles and hours to get there, just to sample their barbecue.

When you walk into Kreuz Market you will see a big sign that says, No Sauce, No Sides, No Silverware, and they mean it. You will not find any barbecue sauce, they offer no side dishes and they don’t even have a plastic spoon on the premises. If I owned Rub, Authentic Texas Barbecue restaurant, I would be tempted to make my own sign that said exactly the same thing.
1843 Light Street
Baltimore, MD 21230

A Barbecue Primer

It’s hard to imagine a more hotly debated culinary subject than Barbecue. Countless barbecue joints across the country have developed a rabid fan base, all staking claim to having the best, the truest, the meatiest or the ultimate in barbecue standards. Essentially, there are 4 major barbecue regions in the country. These regions have established their own particular style of barbecue and for their constituents that style has become more than cuisine, it’s a philosophy and almost a religion.

Kansas City
The Meat: Beef Brisket, Pulled Pork, Ribs and Chicken.
Kansas City is all about the sauce, which is rich, spicy and not too sweet. (KC Masterpiece is NOT a representation of true KC barbecue. It’s a shame they opened a restaurant on the Country Club Plaza under the KC Masterpiece moniker, because unsuspecting tourists go there thinking they have had the best KC has to offer, when they most definitely have not… but I digress)

Signature dish: Crispy Burnt Ends. The outer layer of the brisket or pork shoulder is cut away and doused in sauce. It’s all the smoke, meat, sauce and fat one person can stand. It’s just about two bites from heaven.

The Meat: Beef Brisket, Pork, Ribs, Chicken, Sausage and Turkey.
Beef is king here, but in Texas anything goes. They are the “smoke if you got em” region of the BBQ world. Texas is all about the meat and not the sauce. Texas sauces do exist and are typically sweeter than KC style sauce, but true Texans swear that putting sauce on a good barbecue destroys the flavor.

Signature Dish: Beef Brisket. Piled high, moist, fork tender slices of brisket that need nothing else.

The Meat: Pork, Ribs, Beef, Chicken and Sausage
Memphis goes both ways. They believe in dry rubs and sauce. Memphis prides itself on its extra smoke flavored Pork products. Oink! Oink! Oink! There sauce is spicy and sweet.

Signature dish: Pork ribs. Mouth watering, fall off the bone, succulent pork ribs.

North Carolina
The Meat: Pork
There are two schools of thought in North Carolina. The first is Eastern NC Barbecue. A whole pig is roasted and the meat is pulled and chopped and served with a spicy vinegar sauce, with no tomato product. The Lexington NC Barbecuers cook shoulder meat and apply a vinegar based sauce that is also laced with copious amounts of ketchup and sugar. Some say this the actual cause of the Civil war and not that whole slavery thing. I don’t know if that’s true, but don’t try to serve Eastern NC Barbecue to a Lexington native, that’s all I’m saying.

Signature dish: Chopped Pork with hush puppies.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

2Amys are better than one

Don’t you hate being the last person to arrive at a party? The party is in full swing and everyone wants to know where you’ve been. What took you so long to get there? They let you know all the fun you’ve already missed. Such is my experience with the much lauded Neapolitan Pizzeria, 2Amys.

I’ve known about 2Amys for a few years now. Friends have told me that it is there favorite pizza place in the city. Countless reviews and food blogs have supported that claim, and still, I hadn’t gotten there yet. When you also consider that Steve and I can eat a pizza like two men on death row, it’s even more implausible that we hadn’t made the pilgrimage to Washington DC’s pizza Mecca.

Our good friend Mickey called me one afternoon while I was at work. He was looking for a good but reasonable place to eat in the city. He and Carlos had visitors in from out of town and they wanted to finish their day of sightseeing in the capital with a fun meal. I instantly suggested 2Amys, deviously adding, “and if you go there, let me know, Steve and I will join you.” Unfortunately, the timing didn’t really work out and it seemed that we were going to miss, yet again, another opportunity to eat at 2Amys. Then, as luck would have it, Mickey called again, because Carlos had left something in my car that he desperately needed. 2Amys is very close to where I work and I was more than happy to oblige by dropping the item by the restaurant. (You can see the wheels turning in my head, can’t you?) I called Steven immediately and told him to get his butt in a cab and go to 2Amys. Right now.

Mickey, Carlos and visitors had finished their meal when I arrived. We exchanged pleasantries and I gave Carlos the necessary item and off they went, just as Steven arrived at the restaurant.
Ahhhh bliss, joy and revelation. Everything about 2Amys screams quality. 2Amys is a celebration of food and a testament to how simple preparation using the finest ingredients can produce food that is sublime and transcendent.

The décor is very understated with simple wood topped tables and country wicker seat chairs. Light cream walls and a black and white checked floor evoke a retro sense while still remaining clean and contemporary. Not kitschy at all. As you enter the restaurant, you are greeted by an open kitchen, and the reason you are there, the wood burning oven. Black and white photos are evenly spaced on the walls and they add a simple yet elegant tone to the ambiance. The restaurant is filled with light and its noisy. 2Amys is a favorite for families in the city and is always filled with couples and children, so please don’t expect a quiet evening.
2Amys features a regular menu of appetizers, pizzas and salad. Additionally, they have a wine bar menu that features a listing of imported and house cured meats, cheeses, and what they call “small things“, a collection of Italian style “tapas” . Then there is the specials menu, which our server noted “was the reason people keep coming back to 2Amys. "

We started with the supli al telefono. Essentially, a deep fried risotto croquette studded with a dab of Mozzarella di Bufala. Supli al telefono, literally means “telephone wires” which becomes evident when you crack open one these gems and the Mozzarella oozes out in a long strand of melty cheese that looks just like an old telephone wire. 2Amys uses a tomato risotto and the balls are lightly crisp on the outside giving way to a soft starchy inside that is simple, delicious and very satisfying.

I also ordered the house cured anchovies with bread and butter. They come laid out on a plate drenched in olive oil with a rich glob of room temperature butter. Unlike their canned cousins, these anchovies have no hint of fishiness. Instead, they are nutty and salty and the perfect foil to the butter and the house made bread. The bread is unctuously dense and chewy and smacks of just baked freshness.

And now a word about Neapolitan pizza. This was lifted directly from 2Amys website.

“In 1998 the Italian government formally recognized Neapolitan pizza as a
traditional food worthy of preservation and granted it D.O.C (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) status, which specifies the legally permitted ingredients and methods of preparation necessary to produce authentic Neapolitan Pizza. Only soft-grain flour, fresh yeast, water, and sea salt may be used for the dough, and only Italian plum tomatoes, mozzarella di bufala, extra- virgin olive oil and fresh basil or dried oregano may be used for the toppings. Fresh garlic may only be used on the Pizza Marinara. All Neapolitan pizzas must be cooked in a wood-burning oven. The Verace Pizza Napoletana Association was established to protect and promote authentic Neapolitan pizza and defend its Neapolitan origins and traditions. As a member of the Association, we abide by these strict requirements and serve D.O.C. pizza.”

2Amys serves three D.O.C. pizzas, the Margherita (tomato, Mozzarella di Bufala and Basil), the Marinara (tomato, garlic and oregano) and the Margherita Extra (tomato, Mozzarella di Bufala, basil and cherry tomatoes). Additionally, they serve a variety of other pizzas that are made in the tradition of D.O.C, but offer other ingredients and toppings that are not considered true to the Neapolitan pizza tradition.

Pizzas can be ordered as meal for oneself or to be shared. They come in one size that would easily sate a hearty appetite if you were not ordering anything else. We chose to share a pizza from the specials menu so we could sample other items as well. Our pizza was topped with green tomatoes, Mozzarella di Bufala, Grana Padano cheese and an egg. The crust was perfectly cooked and had that almost magical quality of being crisp and chewy at the same time. A single egg was baked in the center of the pizza and was cooked to a perfect over easy doneness. The runny yolk made a lovely sauce to dredge the pizza dough in. The green tomatoes were lightly acidic and matched nicely against the rich and creamy Mozzarella cheese. Indeed, this was pizza heaven.

After our pizza we enjoyed a plate of Prosciutto di San Daniele. The ham is aged for over 12 months and has a much drier quality than typical proscuittos. Tender ribbons of pork fat run along the outside of the ham adding flavor and texture. A generous plate of ultra-thin sliced ham arrived with more of 2Amys excellent house made bread. It was gone in a matter of minutes.

Finally, for dessert Steven had the Marsala custard. Initially, I thought the Marsala custard would be more like a Zabaglione which is runny and saucy and typically served over berries. However, this was much more like an full set egg custard. It was served in a small coffee cup. The custard was dense and creamy and was permeated with the lovely aroma and taste of Marsala wine.

I had been advised to order the Cannolis, which I did with some reservation. Cannolis are, of course, a simple tubular pastry filled with a sweetened ricotta cheese mixture. Cannolis are the ubiquitous Italian dessert and suffer from two frequent maladies. Malady number one: the pastry gets soggy and rubbery because it can’t hold up to the moisture of the ricotta cheese filling. Malady number two: the sweetened ricotta cheese filling is so over processed and sickeningly sweet that it should be served with an insulin shot. Alas, I should have known by this time that 2Amys would not disappoint.

The pastry was cracker crisp and the filling was made with, what else, but house made ricotta cheese, delicately sweetened, lightly whipped and flavored with citrus zest. These are the finest Cannolis I have ever tasted. Leave it to 2Amys to take something so common and make it a revelation.

If you live in the Washington DC metropolitan region and for some reason you have not been to 2Amys yet, please stop what you are doing and go there right now. Yes, it’s noisy. Yes, it’s crowded. Yes, there may be a wait. There’s a reason for that. 2Amys isn’t just a great pizza place, it’s a great restaurant and I would venture to say, it’s one of the best restaurants in the city.
3715 Macomb Street, NW
Washington, DC 20016

Friday, October 5, 2007

Who You Calling Chicken?

My co-worker Maria is a Portuguese woman who hails from Goa, India who until recently was living in London. As such, she has quite the “cosmopolitan” taste in food. Some time ago, she brought me a Biryani spice blend to make with rice and chicken. I have to admit that I avoided it for a while, because I was afraid it would be too difficult, as I have heard that biryani is a very complex meal to make. Earlier this week, however, Maria and I were discussing our dinner plans and my thoughts turned to the biryani spice blend. She assured me that it was quite simple and that I should give it a go. The result was utterly spectacular and I can’t wait to make it again. This is not exactly what you might get in a proper Indian kitchen. I altered the recipe with some non-traditional items to suit the ready available ingredients I had on hand, (as well as my own taste) but I believe there was no disparity in the quality of the dish. Here is what I did.

"Frightless" Chicken Biryani

2 TBSP Olive Oil
½ Chopped Onion
2 Medium Chicken Breasts cubed
5-6 Yukon Gold Potatoes cut into quarters
1 TBSP Fresh grated Ginger
2 Cloves Garlic
6 TBSP Garam Masala or Biryani Spice Blend*
1 Cup Plain Yogurt
1 Cup Water
2 Medium Tomatoes cut into wedges
1 Cup Sour Cream
2 Chiles sliced thin (Optional)
2 cups cooked Basmati Rice

In a large sauce pan, heat olive oil over medium high heat and sweat the chopped onions. Add the chicken and potatoes and cook for approximately 10 minutes. Add the ginger, garlic and spice blend and toast the spices a bit before adding the yogurt and water. At this point, reduce the heat and cover, let the dish simmer until the chicken is cooked and the potatoes are fork tender, approximately 15 minutes. Add the tomatoes and the sour cream to help thicken the broth. Serve over cooked Basmati rice and top with cilantro and sliced chiles.

Traditionally, you would serve this dish with Naan, or even pita, but since I had neither, I heated up some corn tortillas instead. Not traditional but it sure was tasty. If you need a little help "putting out the fire in your mouth" try a little Raita as a condiment on the side (Recipe follows).

*Garam Masala and Biryani spice blends are not available in most supermarkets. You can purchase Biryani spice blends over the internet or in a specialty market.


½ cup plain yogurt
¼ chopped cucumber
2 Tbsp Fresh Lemon Juice

Combine all ingredients in a bowl, mix well and serve chilled.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Food and Friends

Steve, Mickey, Patrick, Regina and Carlos

Referring to my Aunt Jeanne, my Mother always says, “You can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family.” I’m fortunate, because, apart from my Aunt Jeanne, I have a family that I would also count as my friends. They are people I love to be with.

Our friend Mickey has worked as a volunteer for the organization Food and Friends since 2003 here in the District of Columbia. Taken directly from their website, “The mission of Food & Friends is to foster a community caring for men, women, and children living with HIV/AIDS, cancer, and other life-challenging illnesses by preparing and delivering specialized meals and groceries in conjunction with nutrition counseling.” They serve 1300 meals a day, breakfast, lunch and dinner 7 days a week. Mickey works as a volunteer delivery person several times a week. He gets no reimbursement for gas, wear and tear on his car or the time he spends. Truly, it is a selfless act.

This past weekend we were invited to the Food and Friends Volunteer Appreciation Day, where Mickey was being honored with a special award, the Above and Beyond Volunteer of the Year Award. Of course there was lots of food, music and fun at the event. It didn’t hurt that it was a spectacular day, too.

Mickey belongs to an online “Yahoo Group” called “Freecycle”. “Freecyclers” give away stuff. The stuff they no longer need and just don’t have the heart to throw in the trash, and since one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, why not give it away? It is no less than AMAZING what gets posted to be given away on “Freecycle”. Bicycles, golf clubs, cars, beds, guitars have all been offered. So have things like a broken plastic decorative Kleenex box cover. What’s even more amazing is that almost all of it gets picked up!

So Mickey noticed a microwave being offered and thought, “hey that would be great to bring to Food and Friends for delivery to clients who may not have a working microwave’. As it turns out, people are always giving away their old microwaves and to date, Mickey has picked up 43 microwaves for clients of Food and Friends. He drives to the "Freecycler's" house, delivers their tax deduction receipt and then takes the microwave back the Food and Friends facility. He says he is going to stop at 50 microwaves, but we’ll see.

As a delivery driver Mickey gets to know many of his clients and for some it is their only contact with the outside world. They become family. That started me thinking about the power of food to unite. What could be better than sharing a meal with your friends? When you think back about the good times you’ve had with your family, aren’t they invariably centered around a meal? Thanksgiving, Christmas the family barbecue. Those special times when the most important thing is that you are all together.

Many years ago, my friend Jill’s mom came to visit and we all decided to go out for Chinese food. I had a close group of friends at the time and we had shared many meals together. About halfway through the meal, Jill’s mom said, almost incredulously, that we acted more like a family than mere friends. I realized at that time how we create extended families for ourselves out of our circle of friends.

So, it is true; you can choose your friends but you can’t choose your family but I would have to say that sometimes your friends become part of your family. After the event, Mickey, Carlos, Steve and Regina and I went to Franklins in Hyattsville to celebrate Mickey’s big award. We shared appetizers and laughed and talked about nothing in particular, because the important thing was that we were all together, one big (slightly dysfunctional) family.

If you would like to make a donation to Food and Friends, you can do so online at
Just $25 will provide enough food for one person for an entire week.