Food News and Gossip


Congratulations to the chef of two of our favorite DC restaurants!

You can check out the full list of winners here.

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Got a sneak taste of Astro Doughnut’s wares today. More to come but, needless to say, they were a hit!

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James Beard finalists were announced today. Though we’re bummed DC didn’t garner any national restaurant nominations, we’re pumped for local chefs Johnny Monis, Cathal Armstrong, and Vikram Sunderam.

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Last week, we stopped by Suna, Chef Johnny Spero’s technique-driven restaurant above Acqua al Due in Eastern Market.  We were there to see if they could provide us with a list of the dishes we enjoyed at a birthday dinner back in December.  As it turns out, our timing couldn’t have been worse.

On Friday, Tom Sietsema broke the news that Suna would close after Saturday’s dinner service.  Just today, he released his much-less-than-positive review that had already gone to print before the restaurant announced its closure.  While it doesn’t look like Tom will be shedding any tears over the closure, we’re sorry to see Suna go.

Considering the fact that Sietsema’s dinners and ours seemed to include many of the same dishes, how did we come away with such a different opinion?  Some thoughts after the jump. (more…)

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We’ve been meaning to taste Bryan Voltaggio’s cooking for years now. Even before his turn on Top Chef, we were hearing rave reviews about the techniques and the ingredients on display at VOLT in Frederick, Maryland.  But it’s just far enough from DC that we didn’t want to take on a tasting menu and then have to drive home after an evening of food and drink.

Although VOLT still holds a place on our “must visit” list, it has become much easier for Washingtonians to have a Voltaggio experience.  His new restaurant, Range, is Metro accessible (Friendship Heights station on the Red Line) and serving up brunch, lunch and dinner throughout the week.

Earlier this week, Tom Sietsema published his three-star review of Range based on four impressive dinner visits.  That kind of scrutiny can be tough on a restaurant, but we put them to a different kind of stress test: a Saturday brunch with a toddler in tow.  Would their reputation for service and attention show through mid-day Saturday?

Find out after the jump. (more…)

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It’s that time again – for the fourth straight year, Meat Week beckons DC’s barbecue lovers with eight great reasons to celebrate low-and-slow cooking.  And this year, our host restaurants have come up with some of the biggest and best specials we’ve ever seen.  I can’t even begin to imagine someone making it to all eight this year…and I don’t know that I want to see the results if anyone does!

If you’ve joined us over the past three years, you know that your DC Meat Week Team is committed to bringing something new to the picnic table each year.  We’ve rotated our leadership again – David Gootzit  (the Bacon Terrorist) is now our Captain, and Jenelle Dennis (Babeque) joins me as First Mate.  This year, we’ve expanded Meat Week in TWO big ways – adding a Food Truck Face-Off to determine which of four local food trucks serves the best barbecue in town and helping one of our hosts introduce a new extreme eating challenge.

Let’s start with that second bit of news. As they have in the past, Pork Barrel BBQ is using Meat Week to launch something new.  This year, it’s the “High on the Hog” Eating Challenge.  Entrants have 45 minutes to eat ALL of the following:

  • 1 Smackin’ Big Daddy Sandwich (the Smackin’ Big Daddy is an oversized sandwich with ½ pound of pulled pork and a Texas Brisket Sausage, topped with Monster Cheese Sauce, Cole Slaw and BBQ Sauce.
  • 1 Slab of Ribs
  • 2 Texas Brisket Sausages
  • 1 Side of Monster Mac & Cheese
  • 1 Side of Baked Beans
  • 1 Side of Cole Slaw

Finish them all in time, and you will be covered with glory (and barbecue sauce).  You will receive a t-shirt, a $50 Pork Barrel BBQ gift card, and your name in the “High on the Hog Challenge” Hall of Fame.  Fall short, and you’re on the hook for $49.95.  The guys at Pork Barrel have said that they’ll open the challenge to as many people as want to try it on Thursday, January 31, but they need everyone’s name no later than Tuesday, January 29 to make sure they prepare enough food.  Email us or contact the restaurant directly if interested.

Generally speaking, Meat Week is meant to be a casual, come-as-you-are festival that will take place this year from Sunday, January 27th to Sunday, February 3rd.  Want to see what we’re doing each day?  Check out the calendar after the jump.
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Gather round, children, and listen to a tale of a forgotten age.  In those days, young professionals who wanted to expand their circles of friends beyond their former classmates and coworkers had few choices.  From this confusion emerged a few enterprising souls who attempted to bring order: operating list-servs that provided a rundown of upcoming activities, turning to the Style section and its blogs for a calendar of events, even going so far as to create websites and companies dedicated to organizing activities and events that individuals and small groups could attend.

With the opening of LivingSocial’s new space at 918 F Street, NW, those dark days are all but a thing of the past.  Want to impress a date with a multi-course dinner from one of the hottest chefs in town? Check.  Looking for a chill night out with some friends, some wine, and some art? Check again.  Want to expand your wardrobe with a one-off sample sale or a local merchants’ showcase? Yeah, they’ve got those, too.

Full Disclosure: We were invited to check out a recent pop-up beer pairing dinner from the team at Birch & Barley as an opportunity to see 918 F Street for ourselves.

While there, we got a quick tour of the space and a media kit from Communications Director Maire Griffin.  All of the images used in this post (with the exception of the pop-up menu) come from that kit, which was stored on the world’s smallest USB drive.

Take a look around the 120 year-old space with us and watch your calendar fill up after the jump. (more…)

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As I mentioned in our Meat Week introduction yesterday, we’re just days away from the start of this year’s festivities.  We’ll be starting things off at Urban Bar-B-Que in their new Norbeck Road location (which is their old Urban Burger location).  And as much as we loved kicking off the first two Meat Weeks at their other Rockville spot, they’re going all out to welcome us to the new space.

For starters, they’re tempting us with food – free sides to go with our ‘cue.  As they put it, “Come for the meat, stay for the sides!”  Urban is also offering a free commemorative gift to everyone who joins us on Sunday night at 6.

And the cherry on the sundae is Happy Hour bar pricing   Oh…did we forget to mention that this Urban puts the “bar” in “barbecue?”  Add that to the extra space and their best Southern Pride smoker (brought over from the Silver Spring location), and we’ve got every indication that this will be the best kick-off event yet.

Need some more to whet your appetite?  We asked our Captain, Jenelle Dennis, and our First Mate, David Gootzit, a couple of questions about Meat Week.  These are their answers…and just to be fair, we’ve answered them as well.

1) What is it about barbecue that appeals to you most?

JD: Obviously, the taste.  There’s nothing that can match the complexity of flavors that infuse into meat after a low and slow experience in a smoky environment.

DG: Real barbecue requires a committment to craftsmanship and an
investment of time that is absent from many of modern life’s
day-to-day activities.  Throwing something on a charcoal grill and
cooking it quickly can be fun and, if done right, even tasty.
However, the amount of sweat (both literal and proverbial) that goes
into real barbecue reflects an attitude that the cook cares. It’s a beautiful thing.

MB: There’s something really impressive about the way barbecue turns some of the toughest, least desirable cuts of meat into something so tender and tasty.  There’s a lot of skill that goes into getting it just right, and the combination of smoke, spice and richness results in a flavor that you can’t get any other way.

2) As a KCBS Certified Barbecue Judge, what do you look for in GOOD barbecue?

JD: The KCBS judging standards, but with a personal twist when I’m not in a judging environment.  Taste:  Has to appeal to me personally.  I tend to prefer the sweet and tangier flavors.  Texture:  Has to come of the bone easily, but not completely fall off (for ribs),  pull apart easily (for brisket).  Nothing turns me off more than tough or dry meat.  As far as appearance, I’m pretty forgiving.  But a nice bark on a rib really turns me on.

DG: The three criteria in a KCBS-sanctioned contest are appearance, taste and tenderness.  In a restaurant, the barbecue shouldn’t be arranged in too fussy a fashion. It’s barbecue, not haute cuisine. Without the right degree of smoke, it isn’t good barbecue. You can go overboard on smoke and miss the mark, but overall there’s a window with degrees of smokiness, and anything in that window is “good.” Tenderness is tricky for many cooks. In my experience, if you find a good smoke ring, you are much more likely to find a tender piece of
barbecue.  I look for barbecue that gives a little resistance to my teeth, but even that once it yields still provides a touch of chew. To paraphrase the Supreme Court – good barbecue is like pornography – you know it when you taste it.

MB: I want my barbecue to taste like meat, first and foremost.  The smoke is important, and I definitely like a good sauce, but I want to be able to taste the pork or the brisket as soon as I bite into it.  As far as texture, I just can’t stand dried out barbecue.  I know that restaurants have to prepare their meat in advance to be able to handle crowds, but the way a place rests it ‘cue before serving can make all the difference.  I’m pretty forgiving in terms of appearance, but a nice crusty exterior always makes me smile.

3) How would you describe Meat Week to someone who has never heard of it before (and isn’t necessarily a barbecue junkie)?

JD: A gathering of energetic, friendly and hungry people with a love of BBQ or an interest in learning about BBQ.

DG: It’s a week of meat, what else do you need to know?    Seriously - I would say we’ve identified eight of the best barbecue restaurants in the DC-VA-MD metro area and all eight places are working to put their best foot forward for anyone who wants to stop by.

MB: It’s a low-key, week-long celebration of barbecue and you can attend as many or as few nights as you’d like.  I’m with Jim Shahin on the name, though.  If it were “Barbecue Week” people would know exactly what we were talking about as soon as we said it – Meat Week conjures up images of steak.

4) What’s the best barbecue you’ve ever had outside the DC area ?

JD: The best BBQ I’ve had is in competition.  I always think there are strong competitors in Pickin’ in the Panhandle and Smoketoberfest.

DG: It’s a tie between Smitty’s Market in Lockhart, Texas and Cooper’s BBQ in Lano, Texas. Both were incredible experiences and I’ll consider myself fortunate in life if I ever get to return to either.

MB: To me, the best barbecue in the country is in Kansas City.  And the best barbecue in Kansas City is at Oklahoma Joe’s (the original location, at the gas station).  Even Anthony Bourdain has acknowledged its superiority!

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With that, we wish you a happy Meat Week and we hope to see you at one or more of our celebrations.  Look for the big red-and-white banner with our new DC flag-inspired logo and the crowd of smiling faces smeared with sauce.

And when you’ve finished with Meat Week, think about participating in DC Meat Free Week.  Also in their third year (they started in direct response to our inaugural Meat Week), they’ve put together a terrific lineup of meat-free menus to enjoy all over town from Monday, February 6th through Monday, February 13th.  They’ve convinced ten of the best local food trucks to offer special deals on vegan and vegetarian menu items on Wednesday, the 8th, and they’ve even got a book signing with John Schlimm, the Tipsy Vegan, on Thursday at Meridian Pint.

Trust us – after a full week of barbecue your body will thank  you for some down time.

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Can you imagine a Super Bowl watch party that doesn’t involve massive quantities of beef, pork or chicken?  Crazy talk, I know.  But if you make it through eight days of Meat Week, you may not just imagine it…you might actively crave it.

For the third year in a row, Washington will be celebrating “the holiday that time forgot” with a tour-de-carnivore that will highlight some of the best barbecue the area has to offer.  Beginning at Urban Bar-B-Que’s newest location on Sunday night and ending at long-time favorite Rocklands the following Sunday, we’re taking it to the next level for this year’s Meat Week.  We’ve got so much new talent on the DC barbecue scene, we just had to add an eighth day (finally bringing us in line with the national organizers’ recommendation).  And with one of those shiny new logos that plays off the DC flag, you know we’re ready.

If you’ve been following along from the beginning, you know that we started DC’s Meat Week chapter after an introduction to the event by the Washington City Paper’s Tim Carman.  I’m pleased to report that our Meat Week team from last year is back together again this year, with Jenelle Dennis (aka Babeque) as our Captain and David Gootzit as First Mate.  Both are KCBS-Certified Barbecue Judges, and they’re quick to extol the virtues of crisp bark and a well-defined smoke ring in quality ‘cue.  I asked each a few key questions about Meat Week and will be posting their answers tomorrow.

As befits a celebration of the best of the area’s barbecue offerings, we’ll be returning to several of our most popular venues from last year.  In addition to the two I mentioned above, we’ll be hitting up the PORC crew for a second response-requested buffet at Wilson’s in Shaw) and Mr. P’s Ribs and Fish for another round of parking lot barbecue.

We’re also proud to finally be able to visit the guys from Pork Barrel BBQ in their own space after two consecutive Meat Weeks featuring “coming soon” sneak peeks.  They’re rolling out the red carpet, with a Meat Week sampler special and the first official taste of their new Carolina Vinegar sauce.  It’s been a long time coming, but good barbecue is all about taking the time to get it right.

The rest of our Meat Week slots this year are given over to ‘cue joints that didn’t exist when Meat Week 2011 rolled around:

Hill Country’s DC outpost has been winning rave reviews since they opened, and their all-you-can-eat Monday night special seemed like the perfect way to welcome them to the lineup.  As it turns out, this Monday Hill Country offers a chance to do some good with your meal: they’re holding a charity concert to benefit the victims of the recent Texas wildfires.  Tickets are $20 and the restaurant is also donating 20% of their food and beverage sales for the night to the relief efforts, as well.  If you’re thinking about coming out Monday night, please consider making a donation.

Smoke & Barrel knows how to draw a crowd with their combination of barbecue and beverages (most notably bourbon).  Due to their limited size – at least until expansion is complete – they’re participating in Meat Week with a reservations-required.  That’s the good news.  The bad news?  Reservations are already completely booked.  If you’re not already on board, you’ll have to check them out another night.

Finally, Memphis Barbeque in Crystal City is doing its namesake city proud, smoking everything from pork to salmon (not to mention a few sides) in a massive sit-down space on 23rd Street.  What better way to celebrate the Friday night of Meat Week?  We had the privilege of taking a First Look when they were ready to open.

The official website features the schedule, addresses and special offers that will be available each night.  While you’re on the site, take a look around at some of the photos from last year and check out the Meat Week Hype that we’ve created for this year, too.  Like that flag logo?  You’re in luck – t-shirts will be available for sale each night (just find the Captain or First Mates).

Except where noted above, all events are come-as-you-are and everyone is free to order whatever they please.

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Neighborhood and community.

Since July of 1997, Evening Star Cafe has been an integral part of both for the residents of Del Ray.  It has been the site of first dates, proposals and countless other milestones in their lives.  So you can understand the level of interest caused by the restaurant’s recent remodel, and the pressure on the Neighborhood Restaurant Group to get it right.

The wait ends tonight at 5:30, when new chef Jim Jeffords and his team throw open the doors to welcome the neighborhood back for the first time.  Although there are plenty of changes to ooh and aah over, the regulars will be pleased to see that it’s still the same old Evening Star at heart.  And the fact that they can now make reservations throughout the evening via OpenTable will likely be a welcome addition, as well.

We stopped by yesterday for a quick look around and a chat with the staff.  Details, including some work-in-progress photos and a few new menu items to whet your appetite, after the jump. (more…)

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