Palace Bar and Grill

Palace Bar and Grill has become my favorite Korean BBQ place in the greater DC area. Going out to Annandale is a pain, but they have the best meat and banchan in the area I think. The glabee is always excellent (not too thin for one thing) and the banchan are many in number, if not always spot on. Woo Lae Oak in Tyson’s Corner is a little more predictable, but also less exciting and way more expensive.  Han Sang Oak is a pretty close runner-up, but too close to Light House Tofu to win out.  Lighthouse doesn’t really have BBQ, but the soondubu is enough to beat the meat craving. This isn’t really a review so much as an excuse to post this picture. Also if you do go, get the spicy pork.

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Summer Tomatoes

Summer means tomatoes. In everything! The other day I decided to make a sort of “sauce” to freeze so I can have summer tomatoes all year round. What I was looking to capture was that really tomato flavored essence that hot house tomatoes that you get during the winter just don’t really have. So all I did was blanch, skin and de-seed some tomatoes and cook them down with olive oil. A teeny bit of salt and some basil – that was it.  Into the freezer it went. I hope it makes for the base of a delightful sauce sometime in November.

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Another way I tried to freeze a bit of summer was to toss a batch of pesto trapanese in the freezer.  Basically cherry tomatoes, toasted blanched almonds, good extra virgin olive oil, basil and garlic go into the food processor. I plan to take it out on a chilly night cook some spaghetti add some more olive oil and pecorino for a quick dinner reminiscent of a balmy summer evening. Hopefully it freezes well.  It should look something like this.
 

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Any other ideas for good ways to freeze summer tomatoes (or any other vegetables for that matter)?

And finally I leave you with some tomato porn. I saw these beauties in a market in Florence last year.

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America Eats at Cafe Atlantico

In the space where the sort of uninspiring Cafe Atlantico used to be there’s the Jose Andres benefit pop-up restaurant America Eats, which coincides with the National Archives’ exhibit, What’s Cooking, Uncle Sam?  The restaurants website says it,offers a new take on American classics and celebrate[s] native ingredients and some long forgotten dishes, from burgoo to oysters Rockefeller. With recipes and stories collected through extensive research …”  The Bob and I had been very excited to try it and we had errands to run in Penn Quarter Saturday morning so we decided to pop in for brunch. Overall it was an exciting and pleasurable experience (though far from perfect) and I think we will try to make it back before the 6 months are out.
First, the cocktails were spectacular. A perfect (really the best I’ve had) French 75, an excellent milk punch and a light airy Ramos Gin Fizz that had been shaken enough to practically be an alcoholic foam.
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The starters also delivered. A she crab soup, didn’t have any roe, but it was full of sweet, tender crab and the broth was creamy, but not so creamy that the dairy overwhelmed the really crab-y essence of the soup.  If I had one minor complaint there were too many peppery micro-greens which looked pretty, but in that quantity detracted from the decadent soup.
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The donuts the Bob ordered were light and airy, but would have been better if they were served hot. Also, the sauce that accompanied them was so heavy on the cloves that I couldn’t really enjoy its other flavors. That said, I don’t really love cloves, so perhaps others wouldn’t feel the same way.
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My main was fried chicken.  I love fried chicken.  I really really love it. If I were super rich I would fly to Ad Hoc every other Monday.  So I was excited. And this chicken was tender and crispy, but sadly I was totally unfulfilled. It was bits of chicken pressed into rounds and breaded and fried. I like my fried chicken to have bones, skin and batter. So yeah, it was more like glorified kid food prepared really well. The yellow tomato catsup it came with made me eat more of it than I otherwise would have. Tart and salty it was a lovely sophisticated sauce that still, in some way, managed to evoke the slightest memory of good old Heinz. The blue berry catsup sadly had the same problem as the donut sauce — I think they shared the same base.
The Bob had the Johnny Cakes with butter foam. Of course there had to be foam! Overplayed, I know, but an Andres signature and frankly I could eat a bowl of that foam happily. The cakes were nicely cooked, fluffy and tasty. A really good brunch entree.
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We were pretty full at this point, but the menu was captivating and we were scared of being locked in for days when Irene finally arrived, so we ordered more. I had cheese.  A triple creme brie and something uninspired which came with excellent honeycomb, crunchy candied pecans and a pickled walnut. Cheese is good. This was no exception.
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The Bob had a beautifully presented pineapple upside down cake. He said it was excellent. It sure looked excellent. I love the flowers. We were watching a guy prep for the mini-bar service that night and there were many edible flowers involved in whatever he was doing. I really need to concentrate on finding an occasion to eat dinner there.
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A couple other details. The menu was really exciting to read. Tons of history about each dish, which is really neat and makes for interesting conversation starters. BUT, almost no descriptions of what you’re actually going to get – thus nuggets where one is expecting real chicken etc. Easily fixed though, next time I’m going to ask for descriptions of what I will be eating before I order.
Finally the service. It was just a little odd. Our waitress was nice, but the table behind us was monopolizing her attention and she wasn’t really doing anything to fix the situation. Every time she would head towards our table they would flag her down and she wouldn’t make it. to us.  Not necessarily her fault, but she could have at least come to us directly instead of walking away after speaking with them each time and then trying to comeback only to be waylaid again.  So we had to wait far too long to order both at first and each time drinks were empty.  Additionally, she kind of talked like butlers do in movies, a strange thing to notice, but it was obviously totally put-on so very off putting. She kept saying “right away,” which was particularly annoying because of the overall slowness of the service. Also, instead of just asking what we wanted to order she insisted on asking what we would enjoy. Well I hadn’t eaten it yet, so how was I to know if I would enjoy it? Also I asked her to find out where they sourced their excellent smoky bacon, but she never did.  After that she forgot a round of drinks which of course isn’t a big deal, but was irritating given the otherwise inattentive service. That said, I do think she was trying, so it was difficult to be too annoyed.
We’re hoping to see the Heir Apparent in the next couple weeks and I think we will try to have dinner at America Eats that night. I’m particularly intrigued by the table side absinthe service and some of the exciting dishes that are only on the dinner menu.

 

Grilled Vegetable Napoleons

Last week, with all the drama of Irene I tried to have a few things in the house that were pre-cooked and could be put together quickly in case we weren’t able to start the stove or oven. On Friday night while grilling up a skirt steak I decided to take advantage of the fact that I had the fire going. I sliced up some squash and eggplant tossed in olive oil and threw on the grill until cooked and put them in the fridge. We didn’t lose power, but they still made for a nice antipasto before some sausage pasta. The slight bitterness of the charred vegetables paired nicely with the creamy ricotta and the whole ensemble was cut perfectly by the peppery olive oil.

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All I did was mix fresh ricotta with a little bit of garlic which had been run through a press, basil mashed with salt and freshly ground pepper. I put it between layers of the grilled vegetables, surrounded with charred farm-fresh cherry tomatoes and topped with some excellent extra virgin olive oil. That was it. Even the Bob who doesn’t like eggplant or squash managed to eat the whole thing.

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Mr. Rain’s Funhouse at the American Visionary Art Museum

If you find yourself in Baltimore you really shouldn’t miss the American Visionary Art Museum (http://www.avam.org/).  It’s a couple of buildings of delightful quirky items, that may not be art in the most typical sense, but are a hoot to look at. You can tell from the outside that this isn’t going to be your usual museum experience.
 

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All of the artists on display are self-taught and displays range from a huge boat made from toothpicks to this guy.
 

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Once you reach the third floor of the main building you really should stop at Mr. Rain’s Fun House (http://www.mrrainsfunhouse.com/about). The menu looks spastic and disorganized. I mean seriously, banchan, hotdogs and gazpacho on the same menu? But the food is well executed and delicious and the cocktails are spot-on. We had to try the banchan to start.  A series of pickled vegetables, all of which were crisp and none of which were overpowered by the pickling process, except maybe the cauliflower. My companion had the Chef’s Salad, which was nothing like the diner nightmares those words usually evoke.  Nope, no day old iceberg lettuce and over processed ham here. Instead it was tender sweet crab on fresh greens with a delicate dressing. I had a burger with kimchi and avocado.  It was like biting into Korean BBQ in a bun. Meaty, succulent, umami-y. Strange combo, I know, but it was one of the best burgers I’ve had recently. That should be reason enough to visit.  We sat at the bar where service was attentive and knowledgeable. The folks who work at Mr. Rain’s seem excited about their funky but captivating little restaurant which makes eating there all the more alluring.  

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The dinner menu is more extensive and I think I will be trying out the odd sounding watermelon and scallop curry next time I’m in Baltimore. In case it’s as good as that burger …