Friday, August 28, 2009

Restaurant Review: Art and Soul

DC Restaurant Week is losing a bit of excitement for me. When I was new to the city several years ago, the prospect of trying out restaurants outside of my price range was pretty appealing. I liked getting dressed up, trekking to different parts of the city, and splurging a little. As the years have worn on and my opportunity to patronize "fancy" restaurants regularly has increased, the prices have gone up and reports of mediocre food and service abound, so the week doesn't hold quite the same appeal.

That said, Restaurant Week fatigue or not, any excuse to leave work for a few hours for a lingering August lunch is one I will always jump at! After becoming a little bit smitten with his fawning attitude and delicious southern food through Top Chef Masters, my boyfriend and I decided to spend our Restaurant Week lunch at Art and Soul, chef Art Smith's restaurant on Capitol Hill.

We settled into a white leather banquette, cozier than it sounds, and dug in to a tiny skillet of pull apart rolls. Dusted with butter and salt and light as a feather, the bread was a wonderful first note to begin our meal. First courses were a Caesar salad, with a fluffy deviled egg on the side, and a creamy baked potato soup. August in DC isn't typically "soup weather" but this was the best course of the day. The soup was pureed smooth, and filled with big hunks of smoky bacon. Too bad licking the bowl is generally frowned upon!

For the main part of our meal, I enjoyed the fried chicken with mashed potatoes and my boyfriend, who misses his time in the South desperately, opted for the catfish with crawfish etoufee. Both entrees were tasty and well executed- but a bit of a letdown after the delicious soup. We finished our meal with two satisfying desserts - a seasonal peach crumble and a decadent chocolate cheesecake. Both came in relatively small portions, which was exactly what we were looking for at this point of the meal.

We emerged from the dark, sultry Capitol Hill Liaison Hotel into the bight afternoon sunshine and went our separate ways back to work, filled to the brim with Chef Smith's southern food, with just a touch of soul.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Three Cheese Pasta Bake

Since the weather outside is frightful, here is a great recipe for staying in! A simple green salad, a buttery slice of garlic bread and a big glass of red wine and you will forget all about the freezing temperatures just beyond your door... (Leftovers are perfect to take in tomorrow's lunch!)

Three Cheese Pasta Bake
1 lb. tube-shaped pasta, such as penne, ziti or rigatoni
1 c. ricotta cheese
1/2 c. parmesan cheese
1 25 oz. jar pasta sauce
2 T. basil, chopped
1 c. shredded mozzarella cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cook pasta according to package directions. Meanwhile, combine 1 1/2 c. pasta sauce, ricotta, parmesan and basil in a bowl. Toss pasta with sauce. Spread 1/2 c. pasta sauce in the bottom of a baking dish to fully cover the bottom. Pour pasta mixture into the dish and drizzle additional sauce over the top. Sprinkle with mozzarella cheese. Bake for 30 minutes, until cheese bubbles and lightly browns.

Ricotta Cranberry Muffins

These dense, cake-like muffins bursting with tangy cranberries are perfect this time of year! Split them in half, lightly toast, and spread with a small pat of butter. Yummmm!

Ricotta Cranberry Muffins
Adapted from a recipe in Dorie Greenspan's 'Baking'

3/4 c. ricotta
1/2 t. vanilla
2 large eggs
1 stick butter, melted and cooled
2 c. flour
2/3 c. sugar
2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. salt
1/4 t. baking soda
1 c. walnuts, in pieces
1 1/2 c. fresh cranberries

Whisk ricotta, eggs and vanilla. Stir in melted butter. Add sugar, flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt to the bowl. Using a rubber spatula, combine the wet and dry ingredients until just blended. The batter will be thick and heavy. Stir in the nuts and cranberries.

Divide batter evenly among muffin tins. Bake 20-25 minutes at 400 degrees until muffin tops are golden brown. Carefully life each muffin out of its mold and onto a rack to cool.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Sunday Supper

Last fall Andrew and I attended a wedding at the Kedron Valley Inn in beautiful Woodstock, Vermont. In between enjoying the fall foliage and catching up with old friends, we managed to visit quite a few local cheese shops. One of our stops was the Sugarbush Farm, a small, working cheese and maple sugar farm at the end of a long winding road. We sampled almost all of these cheeses offered and I managed to snag a recipe for Vermont Cheddar Cheese Soup. The soup is incredibly creamy and cheesy and perfect for those nights when you want to hibernate from the cold outside! I served the soup with roasted asparagus and an incredibly easy quick bread!

Cheddar Cheese Soup
Recipe from Sugarbush Farm

4 T. butter
2 c. milk
1 1/2 c. cheddar cheese, shredded
1/2 t. dry mustard
1/2 c. flour
2 c. stock

Melt butter in large stock pot - gradually stir in flour, making a paste. Cook mixture five minutes, while heating milk and stock. Add hot milk and stock to flour mixture and stir. When mixture is creamy, add dry mustard and cheese and cook over low heat until just melted. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Simple Beer Bread

3 c. self-rising flour
3 T. sugar
1 12oz. beer
Mix all ingredients in large bowl. Pour into buttered loaf pan and bake at 350 degrees until golden brown, approximately 45 minutes.

Monday, October 27, 2008

On the Road: Rock Chalk Jayhawk

When I was growing up and wanted to escape the "boring" monotony of suburban Kansas City, I would hop in my car with my sister or a few friends and head west to Lawrence, KS. Lawrence is home of the University of Kansas and is everything a good college town should be - relaxed, cheap, quirky and cool.

I've been spending more time in Lawrence recently as my ruby slippers frequently transport me from the Emerald (ok, marble) City of Washington, DC, back to my home (and my boyfriend) in Kansas. The old haunts I used to frequent when I was growing up are still there, but I have managed to uncover a lot of "new" favorites as well. The last time I clicked my heels three times and wound up in Lawrence, this is where I ate.

920 Massachusetts St.
Lawrence, KS 66044
The go-to place for breakfast. Smack in the middle of the main commercial street in Lawrence, Milton's is packed most weekend mornings with a good mix of students, families and locals. The food is fresh, delicious and cheap! There is usually a bit of a wait, but the time goes fast thanks to the piles of newspapers by the door and the fact that they give you a coffee mug when you walk in, so you can help yourself to some java until your name is called.

1035 Massachusetts St.
Lawrence, KS 66044
Lawrence is a great sports watching town, what with the powerhouse basketball team and the fairly (recently) successful football team. If you don't feel like braving the crowds at the stadium, relaxing at home with the game on TV and an open Papa Keno's box in front of you is a pretty close second. Try the Mama Keno, a deep dish pie with Roma tomatoes, spinach, feta and roasted garlic!
746 Massachusetts St.
Lawrence, KS 66044
My favorite place in all of Lawrence! Teller's is a gem of a restaurant housed in a beautiful old building that housed a bank in its former life. They retained some of the old touches when they converted it into a restaurant, including the old bank vault door, which you have to walk through to reach the restrooms. The space is airy and modern and awash in candlelight at night. It's a great place to grab an upscale lunch, catch up with girlfriends over a bottle of $20 wine, or enjoy a romantic meal for two.

DC Cheap Eats: Capitol Hill

Forget the long hours, the low pay and the demanding bosses, the real hardship associated with being a Capitol Hill staffer is the frustrating lack of good lunch options around our office buildings. Predictable sub sandwiches, overpriced "designer" salads and mediocre Mexican can only take a girl so far. I've managed to uncover a few gems during my time on the Hill, however, that I don't mind sharing with the class. Now that we've improved the lunch situation, how about we tackle the paycheck situation next? :)

210 2nd St. SE
Washington, DC 20003
A charming little cafe tucked just around the corner from the "main drag" of Pennsylvania Avenue, LeBon Cafe is a little slice of the City of Lights on Capitol Hill. The menu features French favorites like quiche and croque monsieur as well as hearty soups, fresh salads and tasty paninis. On nice days, they put out a bunch of sidewalk tables and you can enjoy your food while watching the action around the Hill. While not quite as good as wiling away your afternoon in a cafe on the Ile St. Louis, it isn't a bad way to pass the lunch hour.

303 Pennsylvania Ave. SE
Washington, DC 20003
(202) 543-8222

A relative newcomer to the Capitol Hill lunch scene, Good Stuff Eatery caused quite a stir in the Halls of Congress when it opened this summer, promising good, fresh burgers fast. It didn't hurt that semi-celebrity chef Spike Mendelsohn, of Top Chef fame, was at the helm. With the help of my always willing taste tester, I checked out Good Stuff last week. We sampled the turkey burger with cheddar, a regular burger loaded down with cheese, bacon, bbq sauce and onion rings and the handcut "Spike's Fries", generously doused with cracked pepper and herbs. Not exactly health food, but delicious nonetheless! I'm still on cloud 9 from the dellllllicious Milky Way shake that we split, on a whim, at the end of our meal. Handspun when you order using house-churned ice cream, it was out of this world (Get it? Milky Way...out of this world... ok, sorry, bad pun ;)). Get the mini size...because even though it is tasty, it is really rich, and you'll likely lapse into sugar shock if you finish a large size by yourself! It was worth every delicious sip...

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

On the Road: Michigan's West Coast

My idea of summer vacation was shaped by many trips over the years to Cape Cod, MA. To me, summer just isn't summer unless you spend copious amounts of time lounging in the sand, overdosing on fresh seafood, plowing through stacks of fluffy beach books and eating ice cream for dessert every night. We got our summer fix this year by a side trip to the West Coast of Michigan after our Chicago visit. I hadn't spent much time in that part of the country before, and I found it delightful. The towns we visited were quaint and picturesque, the days relaxed and the people friendly. We ate plenty of fresh Michigan blueberries, visited a few farm stands to check out local produce, and had some enjoyable meals while exploring a few of the quaint towns dotting the coastline. What more could you ask for in a vacation? A few of our food highlights are outlined below!

Marro's Restaurant
147 Water Street
Saugatuck, MI 49453
(269) 857-4248

Saugatuck is one of the most charming towns I have stumbled upon in a long while. A quaint artists community situated in the heart of Michigan's Western Coast, we were delighted wile away an afternoon browsing through the many art galleries and gift shops in the area. As far as food is concerned, nestled among the myriad sweet shops hawking homemade fudge, ice cream and caramel corn, you'll find Marro's Restaurant. Operated by the Marro family since 1971, this is the kind of authentic place where you expect to find a little Italian grandmother wander out of the kitchen at the end of your meal, wagging her finger in your face and chastising you for not cleaning your plate. The place was packed for a weekday, so they must have had a whole team of Italian grandmothers in the kitchen, churning out classic Caesar salads, pillowy ravioli and decadent Alfredo. We ate enough to feed a small country (and avoid a clean plate club lecture!!), but that didn't prevent us from sampling one of Saugatuck's ice cream shops on the way out of town...

K2 Pizzeria
2 Washington St.
Grand Haven, MI 49417
(616) 846-3299

Our home base in Michigan was the charming Boyden House Bed and Breakfast in Grand Haven. The town's claim to fame is their musical fountain...a large fountain placed at the top of a hill that "performs" water and light shows nightly, all set to music. Never ones to shun local traditions, we decided to participate in the nightly pilgrimage down to the lakefront for the festivities. We enjoyed some pre-dinner drinks at The Grand, right on the main drag, and then ventured down to the waterfront for a little dinner before the show. I never met a white pizza I didn't like, and K2's version was more than acceptable. Our pie contained a generous amount of asiago cream in place of tomato sauce and was topped with feta cheese, grilled chicken, bacon, spinach and sun-dried tomatoes. Fortuitously, the rooftop balcony of K2 had an excellent view of the fountain, so we didn't even have to leave the comfort of our seats, and, umm, our beers, to enjoy the display.

Everyday People Cafe
11 Center St.
Douglas, MI 49406
(269) 857-4240

Douglas is Saugatuck's next door neighbor. While we didn't get as much of an opportunity to explore this town, we did stop at the highly recommended Everyday People Cafe on our way back to Chicago. We wanted a light but delicious lunch and this fit the bill perfectly. We sat in the garden on a sunny afternoon, tucked away from the (relative) hustle of the main street in Douglas and feasted on a fresh Caprese Salad and a tangy Greek Pita sandwich. Perfect fuel for our journey back to Chicago!