Monday, December 31, 2007

2007: The Year of Eating Deliciously

The life of an intrepid food blogger is one fraught with stolen moments at work or Saturday mornings and late weeknights at home on the PC typing furiously about the latest and greatest (or not so great) dining experience. As such, there are several memorable experiences this past year that, for one reason or another, did not make it into the HPR (not to mention that I’ve only been blogging for about 6 months). As I reflect back on the year, I wanted to make sure I mentioned some places that I have not had a chance to before.

Here are some “short takes” on several restaurants that definitely made an impression in 2007.

Le Paradou

Yannick Cam’s penultimate incarnation simply exudes modern elegance and high style. Oddly devoid of customers the day we went. I guess they didn’t know about the Roast “Maine” Lobster in Sauterne Butter with Grapefruit zest. If they had they would be busting down the doors to get in.

Le Paradou
678 Indiana Ave NW
Washington, DC


Like a trusted old friend, Kinkead’s consistently delivers high quality fresh seafood in a relaxed yet upscale environment. The menu changes daily to reflect the freshest selections and the presentations are simple and elegant. Service is always top-notch.

2000 Pennsylvania Ave, NW
Washington, DC

BLT Steak

NY hot-shot chef Laurent Tourondel’s spin on all things “beefy” gets high praise from many of my friends, but not from me. Overpriced and overrated is my take. Still, I know some that swear this is their favorite and I have to admit, the fresh-from-the-oven popovers delivered immediately to your table could warrant a visit all by themselves.

BLT Steak
1625 Eye Street, NW
Washington, DC


What would happen if you presented Southern Low Country Cuisine in a French tasting menu style? Add to that recipe a drop-dead gorgeous space in Baltimore’s hottest new neighborhood and you have the makings of Chef Cindy Wolf’s Charleston, possibly my favorite restaurant in the DC/Balto area. Choose the number of courses you wish to enjoy (3,4,5 or 6 courses) then order anything on the menu. All of the selections are smaller than a full entrée but larger than typical tapas. Listed in categories such as Hot, Cool, Fish & Shellfish, Meats etc… The Foie Gras is sublime. Shrimp and Grits are a revelation. The desserts are transcendent, especially anything with chocolate.

1000 Lancaster Street
Baltimore, MD


Michael Mina’s SeaBlue

The new Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa in Atlantic City feels a little like someone parked a
BMW 760Li in the middle of used Nissan car lot. The place is absolutely littered with original Chihuly glass and offers some of the finest shopping and dining opportunities AC has to offer. I implore you, please walk right past the glitz and fire of Bobby Flay’s Steak and sit your butt down in Michael Mina’s SeaBlue. What part of “Two Pound Lobster Pot Pie” didn’t you understand? If that’s not enough enticement, how about the cleanest and freshest raw oysters you ever tasted or the Tuna Tartare with Ancho Chili and Sesame Oil?
Miso-Glazed Chilean Sea Bass with shiitake consommé is also not to be missed. Seafood’s not your thing? Go for the American Kobe Short Rib. For a fish joint they sure know how to prepare beef. Service is impeccable, desserts are a celebration and the cheese course is one for the record books.

Michael Mina's SeaBlue
1 Borgata Way
Atlantic City, NJ 08401

Central Michel Richard

Michel Richard is having a little fun at our expense, and to our delight! The maestro behind world famous Citronelle has given us a "whimsy" of a place in his latest, down-market venture Central. Pronounced (Sen-trahl-with the accent over the "a" making it sound very snobby and French). Is it American comfort food gone upscale, or fine French Nouvelle gone downscale? It’s hard to tell, but then who cares? It sure tastes good. Try the “Faux” Gras, a chicken liver version of Foie Gras that doesn’t miss a beat. I found the much touted Lobster Burger to be a little fishy and frankly, not worth its $29 price tag, but the Fried Chicken with mustard sauce is a good example of why Michel Richard is considered to be one of the greatest chef’s working in our country today. Desserts are decadent and creative. Go for the Kit Kat Bar; a play on the popular candy bar that has to be eaten to be believed.

Central Michel Richard
1001 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20004


Eco-friendly and uber-fresh fish served in a modern yet casual space that typifies the definition of the word shibui. The crudos are a blast. Essentially small bites of raw fish paired with unique flavors and at $3 a pop, they are as accessible and as fun an indulgence as I can think of. Desserts here are nothing to write home about, but my Grilled Arctic Char over Mediterranean Cous Cous was one of the best entrées I sampled all year. I’ve heard the complaints that Hook’s portions are too small, but do what I do. Go with your boss and let him pay. That way you can order more food. We love you Peter.

3241 M St NW
Washington, DC 20007

Georgia Brown's

Georgia is looking a little rough around the edges these days. I think the grand dame of African American southern cuisine could use a face-lift, and at these prices, she can afford one. Service was terrible the day we went (near hostile) and the food wasn’t much better. A pity, when you consider that GB’s is one of the last bastions of upscale African American dining left in Washington DC.

Georgia Brown's
950 15th St NW
Washington, DC 20005

Swan Oyster Depot

The Swan Oyster Depot simply plucks at my heart strings. A San Francisco institution, the Swan opened in 1912 and has been serving simple fresh seafood ever since. Be prepared to wait in line, the Swan only has 19 stools at the long counter. However, the staff is unbelievably friendly and you can expect to be offered a soda or beer while you wait. Once seated, you can order some of the freshest cracked crab, raw oysters, or fresh fish this side of the Pacific Ocean, but remember, this is San Francisco and Crab Louie Salads are king. Iceburg lettuce, sweet Dungeness crab and Russian dressing served with lots of the Swan’s freshly baked sourdough bread make this the quintessential San Francisco lunch.

Swan Oyster Depot
1517 Polk St
(between California St & Sacramento St)
San Francisco, CA 94109

So there you have final entry of 2007. I guess you can consider this post the equivalent of blog leftovers. I always love leftovers. Thanks for reading and I am looking forward to sharing more dining adventures with you all in 2008!

Thursday, December 27, 2007

I Was Right

Just as I suspected… Urban Burger Company turns out a great product. After reading my review of Urban Bar-B-Que, yesterday, Steven said, well… we better go to the Burger place and see if it’s any good. In fact… it is fantastic.

Housed in a former Chicken Out Restaurant, Urban Burger has chosen a Navy theme, with Navy paraphernalia, plaques, hats and photos dotting the space. A clever idea, since all Chicken Outs are covered head to toe in “Navy Blue” tile. Life gives you lemons… why not decorate like you meant to have “Navy Blue” tiles on every flat exposed surface.

Simple fare here. I liked the menu choices and layout. Step One: Pick a meat. Step Two: Pick a Style. Step Three: Pick your extra stuff you want on your meat for $.50 more. Then you can order your sides, beverages and go sit down. Someone will call you when it’s ready.

We ordered the Black Angus Burger, "Franks Favorite" style cooked medium well, and Senator Ed’s Sausage, "Blazing Saddle" style. For sides we ordered the hand-cut French fries and the Onion Rings with spicy remoulade.

The burger came with swiss cheese and two onion rings. The sausage, made fresh by Binkert’s of Baltimore was studded with garlic, chiles and caraway seeds then topped with the homemade two alarm chili, cheddar cheese and green onions, served on a toasted hoagie roll.

Just like Urban Bar-B-Que, the sausage was the standout, but there was nothing wrong with that burger. It was perfectly cooked, meaty and juicy. The sausage was split-grilled with nice crispy edges and a snappy natural casing that seems to be so hard to find these days. The two-alarm chili lived up to it's two-alarm rating without being overly spicy.

Sides were good, although the fries could have been hotter. Still, they were quality fries, obviously produced in house from fresh spuds and fried in peanut oil. Scrummy. The onion rings were hot and crisp, not too greasy and tasted all the better when dipped in Urban's horseradish remoulade.

My final assessment, if you’re going to go Urban go Urban Burger and leave the barbecue to someone else.

5566 Norbeck Rd
Rockville, MD 20853

Christmas Bragging Rights

Guess who got an autographed copy of Anthony Bourdain’s book No Reservations? That’s right…Yours truly. Not only autographed by “the Man” himself, but inscribed as well with the oh-so insightful words: “To Patrick, you are a true foodie”. A gift from my favorite Christmas elf, Carlos, who stood in line for 2 hours to get the book signed. At the start of the book signing session AB told the crowd, he would NOT be writing dedications, but Carlos smooth talked “His Holiness” and the rest is… history.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Vosges Haut Chocolat

Looking for a unique experience? May I recommend Mo’s Bacon Bar by Vosges Haut Chocolat? Yes, that’s right: Chocolate Bacon Bar. In fact… if you have not tried any of Vosges' Exotic Chocolates yet, you should drop what you are doing right now and run to your nearest
Whole Foods Market or, for those of you with no access to Whole Foods, go online and order anything this treasure of a company has to offer. But back to bacon… applewood smoked bacon bits are laced inside a 41% Cacao deep milk chocolate bar with alder smoked salt to complement.



Vosges Haut Chocolat

Surgeon General's Warning Taken Too Seriously

Steve and I needed to do some last minute Christmas shopping so I convinced him to "metro" up to Bethesda after work and we would brave the masses on Rockville Pike in search of those final gifts. Of course that meant dinner, as well, so I dutifully did my homework looking for a fun, yet inexpensive place to eat. After consulting Zagat and Yelp I discovered two sister restaurants online, Urban Bar-B-Que Company and Urban Burger Company that seemed to fit the bill. When Steven arrived, I gave him the choice and he selected Urban Bar-B-Que. As you probably already know Steve and I are barbecue fanatics and always on the hunt for the next great place.

Urban Bar-B-Que has all the trappings of a great barbecue restaurant. It's tucked away on a side street off Rockville Pike in a small strip of shops that seem more like an afterthought than an actual destination. The interior is small and kitschy with 50’s style dinettes for seating, chalkboard menus, counter service and even a homemade decoupaged Elvis Clock on the wall (Thank you, thank you very much). The cashier/manager, Tony was clad in cammie slacks and a garage attendant shirt with his name embroidered on the front. A lone guitarist strummed lively tunes while perched in the front corner of the restaurant. Overall the place has a warm and welcoming feeling that sets you in the mood for a down-home good time.

Too bad the food doesn’t match up. Not that anything is bad, it just doesn’t seem to pull through on its promise. Urban Bar-B-Que is like barbecue karaoke. It sure looks like it should be great, but ultimately, it’s just a second-rate version of the real thing.

I ordered the brisket and sausage. Steve ordered the brisket and pulled pork. We shared the “Redneck Fondue” which consists of seasoned tortilla chips with chili and queso sauce. Everything has the feeling that they need to turn up the volume. The brisket was too saucy and bland. The pulled pork was also too saucy and bland. I did enjoy the sausage which had a nice flavor and crisp casing snap.

Urban Bar-B-Que offers three sauces: a Memphis style, sweet and smokey, a mustard based sauce and a North Carolina, vinegar, tomato and spice sauce. They’re all sort of bland, but decidedly, it’s the meat that falls short at Urban. WHERE IS THE SMOKE? Good barbecue has depth of flavor and nuances that come from low and slow cooking over hard woods. Urban has the “low and slow” portion of that recipe down but it all ends there. They claim to use apple and hickory to smoke their meats but I simply couldn't taste it. Somebody, please light a cigarette or something.

Sides are decent. I had the Mac n’ Cheese which was obviously homemade and appropriately cheesey. Steve had the BBQ beans which were meaty and dense. The warm cornbread was a real stand out. Moist with a hint of sweetness and whole corn kernels.

I am anxious to try the Burger half of this restaurant duo. Following the same format with a product that is easier to execute, like hamburgers, they should have a real winner on their hands. More to come…

Urban Bar-B-Cue Company

2007 Chapman Ave. Rockville, MD 20852-1614

Friday, December 21, 2007

Colombian Breeze: Food for the Soul

The national dish of Colombia is a hearty soup made of chicken and four different types of potatoes. It’s a heady broth spiked with grassy herbs, chunks of chicken and corn on the cob. It comes with crema for garnish, along with ripe avocado and capers. Ajiaco hails from the nations capita, Bogota and is a true special occasion dish reserved for holidays and birthdays.

Another great Colombian dish is Bandeja Paisa. This is a dish that hails from Medellin, Colombia’s second city and is more of a plato tipico (literally translated: typical plate), then an actual dish. Bandeja Paisa consists of white rice, stewed beans, chicharron (a fried pork crackling) ½ a chorizo sausage, grilled carne asada (skirt steak), fried plantains, avocado, an arepa and one fried egg.

Steve and Carlos (our resident Colombian) stumbled upon a jewel of a place in the fabulous Kentlands the other day as they were “galavanting” through the neighborhood.

Colombian Breeze is a quaint family run restaurant, featuring very authentic Colombian cuisine in a small, but cozy atmosphere.

One cold and grey Sunday afternoon we made a visit.

The service is friendly and suggestive, which I like. When we were about to order drinks, our server, the owner’s daughter interjected, "we have Passion Fruit and Blackberry juice today".
I ordered the Passion Fruit juice which was sweet and tart and very refreshing. Steven got the Blackberry Juice which was equally delicious.

We started with the Empanadas, again at our servers behest, and she was right to tell us to do so. Piping hot, crisp cornmeal pastries filled with creamy potato and ground beef are served with a spicy and herbaceous sauce, not unlike chimichurri sauce, but without the vinegar bite. I asked our server what was in the sauce and all she would tell me is that her mother makes it by hand, she closely guards the recipe (not even the daughter knows what’s in it) and that it is made with lots of love. You can definitely taste the love in both the empanadas and the sauce.

I ordered the Bandeja Paisa, Carlos got the Ajiaco and Steve orderd a breakfast dish which consisted of rice and beans, eggs and fried plantains. All I can say is that this place rocks! The food is fresh, tasty and soul satisfying. I loved the Bandeja Paisa which is like a mini tapas buffet on a plate, but the real star of the show was the Ajiaco.

Colombian Breeze only makes Ajiaco on Sundays and it is not listed on the menu. That doesn’t stop any one from ordering it though. There were several other Colombian nationals in the restaurant and I couldn’t help but notice that they all ordered the dish. Something like a cross between a stew and soup, the Ajiaco had a rich chicken flavor and a velvety texture supported by the pureed potatoes. A bowl of this stuff is like having your Mom wrap her arms around you after you've come in from the cold. This is the comfort food of the Gods.

Carlos has already been back to Colombian Breeze and we are planning another visit soon. I think my Sunday afternoons are going to be very busy for a while.

(240) 350-4217
348 Main St, Gaithersburg, MD 20878

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Nouvelle Slinger

In Saint Louis you can get a dish called a “Slinger”. Its origins are clouded in mystery and much debate, but it is likely that it started at O.T. Hodges Chili Parlor, a mainstay chili joint that has been serving Saint Louisans since 1904. It has certainly been on their menu for decades. Essentially a white trash version of Eggs Benedict, a slinger is composed of two cheeseburger patties, hash browns, topped with chili and two fried eggs.

You might as well take one of the burgers and lodge it directly in your aorta because the slinger has so much fat and cholesterol in it that it’s really just a heart attack on a plate. Oh, and be forewarned if the fat and cholesterol doesn’t get you, the gas and indigestion will. We’re talking Science Fiction Channel type gas and indigestion.

Needless to say, I love them, but haven’t had one in quite a while. Last night I realized that I had hamburger in the fridge but no buns for a proper sandwich. So I decided I would make a slinger. Unfortunately, I didn’t have any chili either, and I didn’t want to stop at the supermarket to pick some up. I decided to improvise. Here is what I did.

Chili Flavored Cheeseburgers with Fried Eggs and Salsa

¾ LB Ground Beef
4 TBSP Dried Chili Powder
3 TBSP Ground Cumin
2 Cloves Pressed Garlic
½ tsp Cinnamon
½ tsp Crushed Red Pepper
¼ tsp Sugar
Salt and Pepper to Taste
4 Slices American Cheese
4 Eggs
Salsa (Store-bought or Homemade)

In a large mixing bowl, thoroughly mix the ground beef with the chili powder, ground cumin, garlic, cinnamon, crushed red pepper, sugar, salt and pepper. Please note, you need a fair amount of salt to bring out the flavors of the chili. Fry the patties in a pan to desired doneness and top with the American Cheese. In a separate pan, fry the eggs to an over easy consistency. You want the yolks to be runny as that will create a sauce for the dish. Place fried eggs on top of burgers and top with salsa. Serve immediately.

“I don't reckon I got no reason to kill nobody” Billy Bob Thornton from the movie "Sling Blade'