Monthly Archives: April 2013

Q&A with Dave Seel of Bagby Restaurant Group

Source: Baltimore Eats

The Bagby Restaurant group was founded in 2011 and has been behind a variety of successful Baltimore-based restaurants, including Bagby Pizza Co., Ten Ten, Fleet Street Kitchen, and the upcoming Cunningham’s Kitchen. This week, the Bagby Restaurant Group announced that Fleet Street Kitchen will welcome Chef Chris Amendola as their new Executive Chef. I spoke to Dave Seel, Director of Marketing & Public Relations for Bagby Restaurant Group, about the exciting changes that their restaurants are undergoing now and in the future.

 

1.       Bagby Restaurant Group has undergone immense growth in the past couple years. There ...

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New Orleans Cajun Seafood, Seven Corners, VA

Source: DCDining

I was heading down Route 50 from Arlington Landromat picking up my $1/pound Wash-and-Fold, and thinking I’d find some Pho. Instead, I turned right into what I believe is Willston Center (please PM me if I’m wrong), thinking I’d find something Latino (posole) or Vietnamese (Pho) for a medium-heavy, late lunch after a workout. I saw New Orleans Cajun Seafood (in the same general area as Mark’s Duck House, and figured, well, why not?)

This is a stark operation, dominated by an extremely long counter, and a loquacious, friendly order-taker who seemed as excited about this business as she could possibly be. She explained to me that Orlando customers come up and give her hugs when they find out this is in Seven Corners, and that they serve the best Cajun food in Orlando – this being their second outlet (I’m not sure if it’s a branch or a franchise, but it might not really matter). 

I asked her what’s best, and she named about five things … oysters, shrimp, po boys, jambalaya, and a couple of others – this was enough for me: I combined two of them and ordered a Shrimp Po Boy ($8.50) and a Diet Coke ($1.00). I could tell the service is extremely anxious to get “the word” out, and my kind server was going out of her way to show me where everything was – the setup station, the hot sauces, the coffees for sale (which I may buy and try – how *is* Cafe du Monde?). When my sandwich arrived, she carried the foil-wrapped sub over to the setup station, grabbed me a fork and plate, and came over and served me. She could not have been more enthusiastic and wonderful – showing genuine excitement over this foray into Falls Church from Orlando. If only everyone in the industry was this enthusiastic!

The po boy was large, and cut in half for manageability. After one bite, I could see it needed hot sauce (the choices are Louisiana Hot Sauce and Sriracha), and I went with the former which woke up the sandwich quite a bit, previously consisting of surprisingly good French bread, frozen deep-fried shrimp, mayo, lettuce, decent tomato, onions, and pickle. While eating the second half of the sandwich, I noticed something was missing, and it’s because I forgot to add the Louisiana Hot Sauce, so there you have it.

I finished every crumb, and the bill, with tip and tax, came to exactly $10.00. I left happy, sated, but not necessarily ready to race back. However, in the local Cajun trend, New Orleans Cajun Seafood is holding its own, and I suspect it would benefit from some bulk weekend orders in order to survive this fickle market.

How was the po boy? It was a very good shrimp sub. It will be interesting to see if this place can survive, and if it does, I suspect they’ll be doing a great deal of on-the-go lunch and also bulk orders (there are lots of bulk options – blue crabs, clams, shrimp, etc.). I wish them well – they certainly are friendly.

Has anyone eaten at the original Orlando location? Prices seem to be about 5-10% lower there, but that’s of course to be expected. Would I come here again? Sure.

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Le Diplomate, 14UP

Source: DCDining

Is this really the only thread we have for Le Diplomate? (Well, it’s still relevant – they are trying to hire (get this) a total of FORTY servers.)

As I approached Le Diplomate from the south, two things struck me: 1) It is much more casual and unassuming from the outside than I expected from a Starr restaurant, and 2) Once you’re inside, you realize that it’s much larger than you thought it was going to be. The corner space is extremely deceiving, and there is outdoor seating both on 14th and Q Streets. Another first impression I got when I walked in is, “My goodness, there are a lot of people working in here.”

Do not let the aura of energy emitted by the staff fool you: they are exhausted from this opening, and if you go there, you’ll see why – despite its size, the place gets packed. For example, they just started weekend brunch last weekend, and it’s already fully booked. That is amazing, and speaks volumes for this community. Plans are in the works for an all-day brasserie which even includes breakfast – a neighborhood place where you can stop in anytime, open a book (when it’s not full!), and hang out. Other than Cork, this is the first restaurant to make me wish I lived in 14UP (well, okay, maybe ChurchKey too).

After taking a lap, I almost literally bumped into Celia Laurent-Ziebold, former GM of Sou’Wester, and one of the opening managers at Le Diplomate. Celia is one of my best friends, and she advised me to take a seat quickly because it was going to get full. I pulled up a stool at the communal partition in the bar area, and started to peruse the menus, and the French comic book she brought me to keep me entertained. 

Almost $7 million went into designing this restaurant, and it shows – I read an article today that said the wooden floors were made to creak on purpose. That may sound pretentious, but pretense will be the furthest thing from your mind when you come here – Le Diplomate is as comfortable as a silk robe in springtime. They really knocked the design out of the park, especially in making the corner space work so well to everyone’s advantage.

While I browsed the menus, I enjoyed a large pour of NV Marquis de la Tour “Vin Mousseux” Brut ($9) from the Loire Valley. No, it’s not champagne, but unlike a lot of sparkling whites, this had character of its own that made it worth drinking, then ordering a second, and then a third, glass. This can’t retail for much more than $15 a bottle, and I’m going to go on a hunt for it, and use it as a house sparkler for awhile.

Celia recommended several small plates, one of which was the Steak Tartare de Parc ($15.50), a hand-chopped cylinder of filet, served with capers, a quail egg, small side salad, and crunchy slices of baguette. This was a fine steak tartare, and I didn’t realize that the slight zing I was tasting was due to bit a red chili sauce (tabasco-like) that I noticed had left a reddish complexion on the white plate. For me, there was no need to even touch the crispy bread (which I tend not to love in general) because Le Diplomate has its own bakery, and offers a wonderful bread basket with three types of bread, including the best baguette you’ll find on 14th Street. 

I shunned Celia’s recommendation of the pommes-frites, and went instead with the Radish Crudité ($6.50) which lent the crunch needed to accompany the mushy texture of the tartare. I adore sliced radishes with sea-salt and butter, and that’s all this was, and all that I needed it to be.

For my final course, I stayed with another small plate, and ordered the Mushroom Tart ($11.50), a quartered circle of pioppini mushrooms and truffled pecorino. As beautiful as this looked, there was a heaviness to it that I didn’t care for. In particular, the crust had a shortbread-like aspect that (literally) weighed the dish down, and detracted from the toppings – you’d think that pioppini mushrooms and truffled pecorino could stand up to a heavier crust, but I think it will need to either lighten up, or become thinner, for this dish to survive the summer. I had met three charming gentlemen as I was dining, and shared this tart with them – one of them described the crust as being “pot-pie like,” and that’s exactly the texture it had (the difference being that a chicken pot pie soaks and moistens the crust; here, it remained dry and crumbly). I liked this dish well enough, but there’s way, way too much else on this menu to try for me to order it again anytime soon. 

Thank you to the magnanimous GM Patrick Desotelle, who came and introduced himself, and also to Steve Uhr, who was previously at Bandolero. I suspect that over the course of the next few years, I will see many, many people here that I recognize from other restaurants. Le Diplomate is a goldmine, both for the owners, and also for the residents of 14UP.

Initialized in Italic in the Dining Guide.

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Woodward Table, McPherson Square, Downtown

Source: DCDining

Luckily for me, Woodward Table is right across H Street from Nantucket, so I could walk right on over with my new X-treme do (I look like a combination of Ivan Drago and a pencil eraser).

It’s happy hour from 4-7, with draft beers and wines (they have four draft wines) all $5. My gregarious bartender, Fred, took care of me as I was an early bird, and one of the few people there when I arrived (it was packed when I left).

Woodward Table, despite its huge bar, has a very disappointing wine list, featuring lots of mass-produced, easy-to-source names at something slightly over double-retail. I could not find a single glass of wine I wanted to order, so I went instead with a happy-hour draft special, NxNW Riesling by Horse Heaven Hills in Washington State ($5, usually $9) which was decent, but without enough acidity to support its noticeable residual sugar. A second glass later into the meal was also a draft from Washington State, the Millbrandt Chardonnay ($5, usually $9), relatively pleasant for a cheap Chardonnay. About all I can say for these wines is that they were cheap at happy hour, and easily identifiable as Riesling and Chardonnay (which is better than you can say about some). I couldn’t quite finish my Chardonnay, and ended up surrendering to a Bombay and Tonic ($7.50). Ahhhh, crap. I just dug out my bill to find out the price of the drink, and now I realize I was undercharged for an item.

Sometimes as a gesture of respect, I will immediately put my credit card on top of the bill when it arrives, without checking it. In this instance, I wish I had looked at the itemized charges. My apologies to the restaurant, and also my outstanding bartender, Fred, for not noticing this and therefore shorting them both on the bill and the tip. I will remedy this the next time I go in. 

I wanted to get the drinks out of the way so I could focus on one particularly outstanding item. In fact, it may be the single best bagel-based dish I’ve ever eaten. On the bar menu, the most expensive item (except for the burger) is The Fishmonger’s Board ($15.50). If you like bagels, cream cheese, and smoked salmon, this is the platter of your dreams. Enough for two people to split, this wooden plank is a bounty of smoked, marinated, and house-cured fish and shellfish including two types of salmon, two types of scallops, two types of spreads, smoked trout, an array of wonderful pickled vegetables, and four mini-bagels, conveniently split. It is nothing short of astounding, wonderful, and I hope and pray for everyone that Woodward Table is featuring this on their new Brunch menu – they began serving brunch on March 31st. Do yourself a favor and get this, and be hungry when you do. It’s fantastic! And I finished every single crumb.

After this magnificent platter, I was pretty full even though I hadn’t eaten all day long, but it was early, and I knew I’d be hungry at midnight if I didn’t get something else. So I ordered off the regular menu, which had a little list of daily specials attached to it. How do you not order the Benton’s Own Flatbread ($12.50) with smoked ham hock, country ham, bacon marmalade, and aged cheddar? As good as it sounds, with deep flavors of country ham and baked, aged cheddar, it’s softened by a little arugula (I think it was arugula) and a squirt of balsamic, the sweetness of which counters the saltiness of the ham. It’s a wonderful flatbread, and although I couldn’t finish it, I made sure to rip off the toppings and not deny myself any ham or cheese. If this is on the specials menu, I highly recommend it as well.

On the way out, I realized that – wine list aside – I was going to be writing a glowing report of what is essentially “bagels and cream cheese” and “a pizza.” Such is the drift of DC-area dining in recent years, and as unfortunate as I find that, at least Woodward Table does it well. There are plenty of standard items here also (rockfish, arctic char, pork, etc.), but these two had hypnotized me with their siren song.

With the exceptionally talented Joe Harran as Chef de Cuisine, presumably while Woodward Table continues to get up and running, the time to go here is now, before he has a chance to go back to Bistro Bis.

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Gharer Khabar, Arlington, VA

Source: DCDining

It has been a long time since I’ve been in a full-service restaurant as inexpensive as Gharer Khabar. I phoned in an order (biryani, paratha, raita), and when I went to pick it up, the gentleman told me it was $9.

Huh?

I reached into my wallet and pulled out a $10 and a $1, and handed the bills to him. He handed the $1 back, and said “It’s $9.” I didn’t have any problem politely refusing the money.

 This is a bizarre restaurant, with a chalkboard-only menu (they don’t even have a carryout menu), and only one item priced over $7 (the goat biryani is $9).

 My Chicken Biryani ($7) is a lot of food for the money, and is essentially a mound of rice – blissfully unoiled – some of it tinted yellow, and containing a drumstick and a back. That’s all it is, save for a few green chilis. There’s nothing complex or intriguing about it at all, and yet it’s something that I would order again because it’s clean.

 The Paratha ($2, I assume) is very good, and also free of excessive oil (which is not always the case for this bread). The two dishes together were downright bland, but I have to emphasize that they’re also very clean, with nothing about them that would make you feel guilty.

The Raita – which I’m assuming was gratis – was two little tubs of greenish, herbed yogurt, way too sweet for me. The gentleman told me he made it just for me (this is definitely not standard northern Indian fare).

 Based on this one meal, I would highly recommended Gharer Khabar for a starving student that wants something more elevated and healthy than fast food. At this price, I’m a repeat customer. They’re going to have to get carryout menus in order to survive (there’s a fairly significant language barrier on the phone, enough so where I wasn’t even sure I had reached the restaurant).

 I’ll be curious to hear other opinions about this restaurant – I don’t think you’ll regret giving it a try because there’s so little to lose.

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Ramps

Source: Eat Buford Highway

Every year around this time, food bloggers breakout into sweats as ramps begin to make their way into local markets. Recipes for ramp jam, ramp butter, ramps and eggs, ramp pesto and pickled ramps proliferate. Newspapers print lists of ramp festivals throughout the Southeast and insist that you will like ramps if you can get past their stink.

Ramps

If you really want to get a taste for ramps, go simple. I simply toss them in a good olive oil and throw them on a hot grill. Keep them moving so they don’t burn – you’re looking to wilt them down ...

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Black Ankle Vineyards and Grilled Cheese & Co Wine Pairing

Source: Baltimore Eats

This weekend, I went to an event at Black Ankle Vineyard that had my two favorite things: wine and grilled cheese. That’s right, a wine & grilled cheese pairing! The sandwiches were provided by the mouthwatering Grilled Cheese & Co.

 

Black Ankle, like many local vineyards, holds various events throughout the year to bring in local wine lovers (and in this case, grilled cheese lovers) to try out their goods and to enjoy wine tastings, food pairings, live music, vineyard tours, and even a knitting workshop.

 

We received three glasses of wine and three grilled cheese pairings. The ...

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Baltimore Farmers’ Market & Bazaar Opens for 2013

Source: Baltimore Eats

The true onset of a Baltimore Spring isn’t whether or not Punxsutawney Phil sees his shadow, or even what temperature it is outside. Spring only truly comes to Charm City when the Baltimore Farmers’ Market & Bazaar opens. This year, that highly-awaited day falls on Sunday, April 7th and it is sure to be a great time. Everything from years past can be expected: hula hooping, hot fluffy doughnuts, fresh local produce, and vendors upon vendors hawking goods you came for and goods you didn’t even know you needed yet.

 

This year, the Farmers’ Market & Bazaar will ...

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