Friday, December 27, 2013

Union Market DC

Hidden away in a less-traveled corner of DC is the Union Maket, a Mecca of foodie goodness.  Similar to Cleveland's Westside Market, it has a farm stand and a couple meat counters, but with an emphasis on prepared foods and plenty of places to sit down and eat.

We celebrated the feast of the seven fishes prior to Christmas Eve with a dozen Virginia oysters from Rappahannock Oyster Bar and a Vietnamese sour fish soup with tamarind from the Toki Underground pop-up.

Toki Underground sets up shop serving one soup every day from 8 am until they run out.  They also had some delicious BBQ pork bao.

Red Apron Butcher, of last week's burger fame, has their home store here with a slightly different menu and a bar with draft beers and draft cocktails. The glorious meat case has the same intimidatingly huge cuts of meat, housemade charcuterie, and sausages as the Merrifield location.

A lot of places were closed for the holiday; we went on the Monday before Christmas and the market is ordinarily closed on Mondays: notably DC Empanada and Takorean (both of which have food trucks), and Buffalo&Bergen which boasts of cocktails and phosphates with a new school touch. I'll have to go back to check those out.

The market has non-edible foodie stuff: Salt&Sundry, which carries tableware, cookbooks, bar tools, and other giftables. There's also the amazing knife store, DC Sharp, but more on that later...

Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Best Burger in the 'Burbs

I like my burgers how I like my coffee: freshly ground.

No, I obviously haven't had every single burger in the DMV (DC-Maryland-Virginia, so named for its perpetual car-park-style traffic). But I have had the best burgers Chicago has to offer (Edzo's and Au Cheval), and it is by those standards that I judge future burger greatness.

I bestow the honorific upon Red Apron Butcher, a boutique butcher shop located in the Mosaic Center in Merrifield, VA, for its attention to detail, simplicity, and quality meat. I apologize for the horrendous picture, but pictured above is their bacon burger ($10) made from ground beef and ground bacon. It's topped with boozy, beer-braised onions, American cheese, and the genius "island sauce". Though I kind of hate the name - "island sauce" conjures up images of crusty old salad dressing bottles loitering in the door of the fridge - it's actually a means of controlling the proportions of mayonnaise, ketchup, pickles, and possibly onion for swift and exact burger dressing; one condiment that hits all necessary notes in one fell swoop. The bun is pillowy and yeasty and unlike any other. If I had one criticism it'd be a lack of texture; everything is decadently gooey.

Their Red Apron Original ($10) is topped with cheddar instead of American cheese. They let the cheese melt over the patty and begin to crisp up on the griddle, resulting in deliciously crunchy edges (no issue with texture in this burger). It's then topped with the same island sauce, shredded iceberg (more texture), onions, tomato, and pickles. All their meat is sourced "from animals that are sustainably raised, without antibiotics or horomones and certified humanely treated." I also assume that since they are a butcher that they grind their meat as as freshly as possible. No gimmicks. No fried eggs (as good as those may be).

You can order fries separately ($3) and while they don't showcase the creativity that the fries at Edzo's do, they are fried in aged beef fat .

If you think that $10 is too much for a burger sans frites, check out this blog on the argument for the $10 bowl of pho and make the appropriate transpositions.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013


Welcome to my re-branding party!

Just kidding. There's no party. I just decided that it was time for a change and to create an outlet for myself that was less riddled with privilege and pretension. Or at least one that was less homey, and a bit more professional.

I thought I'd represent my edgier new look (pun intended) with a fantastic video I found about the man behind Cut Brooklyn knives. This video is from a series called Obsessives, which highlights artisans who are exceedingly passionate and knowledgeable about their crafts. This is my favorite video from the series with the St. George Absinthe video coming in at a close second.

As an oboist I work with knives on a regular basis, but the thing that struck me most about the interview was the language Bukiewicz uses to talk about knife-making and how similar that is to how oboists talk about reeds.
"I remember every knife that I've made...I mean 'cause they're all a little bit different. Like you had, 'Oh yeah, I remember I had to struggle with the tip on this one...' They all have a little bit of story behind them."
Although oboe reeds don't have the lifespan that knives do, they receive an insane amount of care and attention from conception to the day they become so lifeless you have to retire them. I remember each reed in my reed case: how the texture of the cane felt when I scraped it, the size of the opening, its strengths and weaknesses, how it played in its prime, and for what major performances I used it. All oboists are obsessives. It comes with the job description.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

FEW Malort Mule

Right after I left Chicago back in 2011, I started hearing about this wormwood liquor called Jeppson's Malort, that could only be found in Chicago. Due to its unique (and to some, off-putting) flavor, a shot of Malort is considered a right of passage for "true" Chicagoans. Challenge accepted! I knew I had to get back and try it.

I finally made it back last week and tried not one but THREE brands of Malort! Jeppson's is the original, and what most people assume you're talking about when you say "malort." The front is herby and ever-so-slightly bitter, but gives way to a smooth and lingering after-taste reminiscent of bread and butter pickles. FEW's Malort is much milder. A little sweet and very herbaceous, it reminds me more of green chartreuse than anything else. The last I tried was Letherbee's Malort, which had the most anise flavor of all of them (Binny's categorizes it with the absinthes).

I ordered my very hearty pour of Jeppson's Malort from Headquarters Beercade, home also to all the free vintage arcade games you can imagine, and a delicious "Hop Scotch" cocktail [Buffalo Trace Bourbon, Monkey Shoulder Scotch, IPA, fresh lemon & Angostura]. You can get Letherbee's Malort and a $3 shot of Jeppson's from Scofflaw.

I don't pretend to be a cocktail expert, especially when it comes to making them at home. I just know I like drinking them! I also like that it seems to be an endless topic to learn about...the combinations are nearly infinite.

Usually you would name a variation on a Moscow Mule after another place, but narcissistically, I named this cocktail after myself. I trafficked a bottle of Malort to my friend in Cleveland. And so...the Malort Mule was born.

2 oz. FEW Malort
1 oz. fresh lime juice
ginger beer
lime peel to garnish

Fill a rocks glass with ice, add the malort and lime juice and stir. Fill the rest of the glass with ginger beer and garnish with the lime peel.

This recipe really only works with the FEW version of Malort. Jeppson's would be better suited for a Bloody Mary or something like that. Who knows, more skilled and creative individuals than myself have probably used it in many a delicious cocktail. But like I said, I'm a beginner, so this is a cocktail for beginners.

Challenge completed!

Monday, October 14, 2013

A Brunch Beer You Can Feel Good About

Quench your thirst next Sunday with a Steigl Radler. It's one part beer, one part grapefruit soda and clocks in at a mild 2.5% alcohol. I like to call it the Poor Man's Mimosa for its sparkling, juicy qualities. It's quickly growing in popularity, not just as a day-drink, but as a boozy mixer in cocktail joints everywhere.

I ordered mine at Northside Social in Arlington, VA and Firkin in Libertyville, IL.

Monday, September 23, 2013

What I've Been Up To

Here's a look at what I've been cooking lately:
Photo credit: Jacob Wade
Photo credit: Jacob Wade
Photo credit: Jacob Wade
Photo credit: Jacob Wade
Photo credit: Jacob Wade

And what I've been ordering lately:

Photo credit: Jacob Wade

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Risotto with Mussels

Since my sticky first attempt, I've mastered the technique of perfect risotto! The keys to my success: knowing what consistency properly cooked risotto should be, a heavy-bottomed pot (one that transfers heat evenly), and not over-stirring (thanks again, Fabio!).

The inspiration for a version of this dish came over the summer. One of my favorite things to eat when I'm home with my parents is lobster, especially since I can't really afford to make it for myself. I kept trying to get them to make lobster stock with the shells since they usually end up smelling up the garage. I didn't have anything particularly important to do this summer, so I decided to make it myself. I used the bodies of 4 lobsters, onion, carrot, celery, garlic, bay leaf, and peppercorns, covered with water, seasoned with salt, and simmered for about 2 hours.

I was left with about a quart of strained lobster stock I now had to find a use for. Visions (thats right, visions) of lobster and summer corn in a creamy risotto came to my head. I added steamed clams in case I ran out of stock.

At school without a surplus of time or lobster shells, I adapted the recipe to use store bought seafood stock (I like the Kitchen Basics brand, even though it smells pretty foul) and mussels, but you can substitute any kind of shellfish.

If you're new to risotto, you should probably read this article from Williams-Sonoma. It does a better job explaining the logic behind the process than I can. It can also serve as a template for you to design your own recipe with your own unique combination of flavors.

Risotto should have a creamy, saucy consistency that's not stiff.  It should spread out on a plate.

3 Tbsp butter, plus more for finishing
1 sweet onion, finely chopped
3 handfulls arborio rice
1 lb mussels
1 quart seafood stock
1 cup grated parmesan cheese
zest from 1 lemon
1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley

In a large pot, bring an inch of water to a boil and add the mussels. Cover and steam until mussels open, about 7 minutes. Reserve the cooked mussels, discarding any that haven't opened, and strain and return the cooking liquid to the pot and bring to a simmer.

In a saucepan, bring the stock to a simmer.

In a heavy-bottomed pot or pan, melt the butter and sauté the onion until translucent but not brown, adding a little salt. Add the rice and toss to coat. Stir until the outer edges of the rice grains become translucent and only a white dot in the center remains.

Then add enough of the warmed stock to just cover the rice. Let simmer (without stirring) until almost all of the liquid is absorbed. Stir and then add two more ladles full of stock. When stock is almost absorbed, repeat the process with either more stock or some of the cooking liquid from the mussels as necessary, until the rice is tender and surrounded with saucy creaminess.

Turn off the heat and stir in the cheese and 1 Tbsp of butter. Plate the risotto and top with the reserved mussels and garnish with lemon zest and parsley.