Friday, June 29, 2007

Spanish lessons

I've never studied Spanish, but the other night I found myself helping out at a Spanish immersion institute dinner run in part by a couple of women from the Spanish embassy. (this is for my summer job, where I've been assisting with summer language teaching institutes for foreign language teachers). I think I would have been completely lost, were it not for my prior experiences studying French and Italian.

Aside from muddling through with Spanish, half the fun was eating! They brought some wonderful chorizo, cheeses, and bread, and the group learned how to make gazpacho and tortilla espanola.

The "Spanish lesson" of the title came when I tried to say "I'm hot" (as in, It's really hot in the kitchen with all of these helpful bodies!) and, drawing on my Italian knowledge, I tried "Tengo caldo." In response, I got admonished (well, I was talking with a language teacher).

Hmm. I guess I hadn't looked at our bilingual packs of chicken bouillon cubes enough.

Stupid false friends. Cognates can only help you so much...

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Washingtonian Cheap Eats 2007: A Commentary

Here are the Washingtonian's 100 best cheap eats for the DC area in 2007. Thought I'd pull from their list in order to document, to date, places we've been and places we want to go. Will jot some notes down for a few and leave the others for embellishment later. I'm sure at least a few will turn up on this blog sooner or later in more tantalizing detail...'till then:

Fish addendum

After I posted about Marlin the other day I belatedly thought to do a little research, since I didn't want to be promoting fish that had safety concerns or were over-fished, etcetera.

A quick Google search yielded this article.

The article is also a useful starting point to learn more about different types of fish and various concerns related to the catching and eating of them.

According to this article, Marlin poses both a health risk (due to Mercury levels) and is over-fished, like swordfish. However, I think like everything else it would be fine in moderation (and who knows the next time I will eat it), though probably better consumed in areas close to where it is fished.

29 Diner

Yesterday I had the good fortune of taking my car to get looked at about a half a block from this neat looking old diner of the 1950s variety called the 29 Diner (Open 24 hours) on Lee Highway/Fairfax Blvd (it's around the corner from Bombay Bistro on Chain bridge). Since I hadn't eaten yet, I figured it was the perfect place to get breakfast.

Of course, as soon as I saw "Country ham" on the menu I knew what I was going to order! I didn't grow up with the stuff, but I can't resist a salty, chewy slab of ham. I ordered a plate with two eggs over-easy, home fries and rye toast. This particular piece reminded me of lap cheung (Chinese cured sausage). The other items were just normal (and the potatoes even a little underdone) but the atmosphere made it all worth it. It was a curious mix of modern and "vintage" (in quotes for fear of overuse), with tabletop jukeboxes (that played rap and 'The devil came down to Georgia') and a customer who sat ensconced in his own booth working on his laptop in the corner.

While I was up at the counter paying my bill, I started chatting with my waitress about where to catch the nearest bus (since I was stranded without a car). She sympathized with my car trouble, then pointed me down the road "It's over in front of the Denny's, unfortunately..." and then grimaced. I laughed, and she followed up with "Well, the stuff we serve here you can't get at Denny's."

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Fish tip

Since it's grilling season, we were in the mood for grilling fish out on our visit to M's cousins in Virginia earlier this evening. Tip: If you're in the mood for swordfish but unwilling/unable to shell out over $16 a pound, try marlin. At Wegman's the marlin was about $5 per pound cheaper than swordfish and had the consistency of a cross between tuna and swordfish. I believe this was my first time having marlin. It was rubbed with a mixture of Old Bay, dry mustard, marjoram, dill and lemon pepper (courtesy Chard, I can't take credit for that), grilled briefly, and served with grilled zucchini, a salad, and a rigatoni side (that would be me): rigatoni tossed with minced garlic, quartered grape tomatoes, fresh basil, salt, pepper, a little olive oil and white wine. The wine was chosen by one of the staff at Wegman's- a New Zealand sauvignon blanc that was very complex as whites go.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Lunch at Nirvana

Though I had promised myself that I wasn't going to eat out this week (given our series of meals out with our guests the other week), today, after a hectic morning, Nirvana (on K between 18th and 19th) was the perfect place to de-stress over lunch, at M's suggestion. Their menu is entirely vegetarian (Indian), and they have an $11.99 lunch buffet (apparently the price was jacked up recently but it was still packed when we went; we had to sit at the bar because there wasn't any room for a party of two at the tables!). Although I wouldn't say that it's the best value (unless you have time to wait in line twice, which we didn't), there were a couple stand-outs in the buffet line up that I would go back for. One of them was a dal that had thick, probably homemade square noodles in it; the dal was spiked with a bit of fresh ginger and had a slightly smoky flavor. I think it's a staple of their buffet because M said they had it last time he was there for lunch. The other was a pakora korma (a first for me); the sauce was decadently creamy and just spicy enough. I got some lemon pickle on the side (can't pass up lemon pickle if they're offering it!) but to be honest I think I still prefer the Priya jarred lime ginger pickle that we used to buy in Seattle at the India-Pak grocery on the Ave before they discontinued it...(that was sad). They also had a biryani that tasted like it was seasoned with 5-spice (so it had kind of a Chinese flavor to it) and contained lima beans, golden raisins, and these hot dog-like veggie things that M liked, to my surprise (he remembered them from the last time he went; this was my first time to Nirvana). We realized too late that the idea was to put all the curries in their own separate containers, thali-style, instead of just using one for the dal. That way, you have more room on your plate for rice! We just dumped everything on the plate and it was a (delicious) mess of raita, palak/saag (spinach), a veg curry, the korma, and several pieces of what looked and tasted like chapathi.

Apparently DC Foodies rated Nirvana's dinner as sub-par in 2004; you can read the review here. It could be that the lunch buffet is the way to go. In the realm of Indian restaurants, that wouldn't be unprecedented...

Friday, June 15, 2007

A whirlwind week

So we have guests visiting from Seattle for the week, which means that we've been taking them out to dinner at some of our favorite places. What follows is a brief review of each. It was my second time eating at Dukem and Pasta Mia and one of a handful at Mixtec and Ben's.

Dukem on U Street (MUCH better than the overrated Meskerem on 18th)
-It was mid-afternoon on a Sunday; the place was fairly packed considering it was between 2-3 in the afternoon. A woman was circulating with a tray of bread cubes, followed by a tray of strong Ethiopian coffee (espresso-style). Incense floated in the air. We ordered our perennial favorite, kitfo (raw freshly ground beef mixed with spiced melted butter and served with fresh cheese), along with a lamb wot and a veggie sampler (misser wot, chickpea fritters in a thick, dark, slightly bitter sauce reminiscent of mole, if you can forgive me for mixing cuisine metaphors; a milder lentil wot and the tomato-onion-green pepper salad). The lamb wot, a new dish for us, had a well-blended sauce with just enough spice that was a pleasant surprise.

Saturday, June 9, 2007


Empanadas are something that I never really ate before moving here; now they are one of my favorite snacks/meals on the go, and luckily the Julia's in Adams Morgan is only a few blocks from our apartment building.

Yesterday the heat index was supposed to hit 100 (I never checked to see if it actually made it) and around 4:30 in the afternoon it probably wasn't much cooler. Since I was hungry I stopped at Julia's, hoping for a spinach empanada. (I usually get the saltenas or chilean beef but lately have been craving veggie stuff when I'm out). To my disappointment, the spinach tray was empty, but then just as I was in the midst of ordering one of the veggie daily specials I noticed the woman behind the counter refilling the spinach tray with plump freshly-baked ones, so I changed my order. At $3 they're not cheap by every regional standard but they're reasonable for D.C. Even eaten in the heat out in front of SunTrust bank it was delicious--I felt very lucky to have arrived in such a timely manner. The filling- spinach mixed with ricotta and muenster, lemon juice and pinenuts (according to the menu, although I did not detect any pinenuts in my filling) was tangy and well-mixed, the pastry just the right mix of crustiness and doughiness, and I ate it carefully so as to not waste any of the juices gushing out. It was surprisingly satisfying in the heat.

Whether as empanadas, jiaozi, pasties, tamales, zongzi, chimichangas, eggrolls, spring rolls, or whatever a culture chooses to concoct, handheld packet foods rarely disappoint.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Li Ho

On Wednesday we decided to dine in Chinatown for dinner before going to see Killer of Sheep at the E Street Cinema. Although DC's Chinatown is nothing compared to its more famous counterparts in Vancouver, San Francisco, and even Seattle where I used to live, I had heard that Li Ho's noodles were tasty and wanted to check it out.

Current favorite summer salad

Like all salads, this is subject to your own tastes and the availability of ingredients. Made this last weekend after the season's first trip to the farmer's market with farmer's market romaine and my first batch of home grown sprouts. We ate it with whole wheat pitas that I had baked earlier in the week. To me, this was one of the most satisfying and refreshing salads that I had consumed in a long time. Pick from the list at will, but I think the essentials are definitely greens (duh), apple, mint, radish sprouts, sesame seeds, and feta.

Summer Salad

Romaine lettuce, torn into chunks
carrots, sliced into thin matchsticks
celery, sliced crosswise
half a cup fresh radish sprouts-- they're spicy like horseradish!
handful of herbs (mint, basil, parsley, what have you), finely chopped
about a half a cup of feta cheese (for 2), crumbled
sliced red apple (okay, so apples aren't exactly summery)
about a quarter cup of red onion, minced/finely chopped (could also use shallot)
sesame seeds
Diced cucumber
freshly ground black pepper to taste
olive oil and red vinegar, mixed in equal parts to make a dressing (I use Koon Chun Chinese red vinegar 大紅浙醋)
cured black olives on the side

Layer starting with the romaine and building from there in whatever manner you choose. Drizzle with dressing and serve with olives and whole wheat pita bread if you have it.


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