Live-Tweeting Dinner at Topolobampo

Friday, August 7, 2009

First of all--I know, I know. I've been noticeably absent on all forms of social media recently. No blogs, very few tweets, the rare facebook update. This time it's a combination of things. I got totally enthralled with the post-election unrest in Iran and stopped caring about anything for a few weeks. I had a quick stint of gaming where me and Roommate Nirmal sped through Gears of War 1 and 2 and all three Halo games. Virginia State Elections are heating up, so there's been a lot of travel and work on that. And friends have been in from out of town all summer.

I know. Poor excuses all. But I do what I want.

Last night, I attempted to live-tweet a dinner at Topolobampo, one of the most well-renowned Mexican restaurants in the country. Twitter is having a fit, though, so exactly none of my texts came through. Luckily, they're all still in the outbox of my phone, so I can recreate the dinner here.

8:58pm-Tweeps, it migt be time to hit unfollow. About to live-tweet dinner at Rick Bayless' Topolobampo in Chicago. Why? Here alone for work, no one to eat with.

9:10pm-Reservation is for 9:15 on Thursday and this place is packed with no sign of letting up. Decor=decidedly mexican despite prices for entrees in the high 30s.

9:18pm-Btw did this morning's hackerattack break twitterberry? Haven't been able to use it all day.

9:29pm-Packed indeed. 15 min post-reservation and table still isn't ready! I could use a cocktail. But then again, when couldn't I?

9:46pm-Finally sat. Mighttt have lied and said I was in Chicago just to try restaurants. What?? I'm a little salty about the wait, so sue me.

9:48pm-Ordered a nice classic margarita, served in a martini glass. @marksamburg would love this.

9:52pm-A nice treat-some guac brought to the table with cuke and jicama chips. Didn't know guac could be this good. Unbelievable balance of acid, salty, and sweet.

9:55pm-Guac has just a bit of lingering heat and crumbled almonds. First course is already out-suddenly my experience here has gotten much much better.

10:00pm-Ordered trio of ceviches for app. Hawaiian sunfish w/tomatoes, olives, jicama seems most classic. Steamed shrimp and calamari a bit more acidic.

10:03pm-I wish the shrimp were diced. Whole shrimp hard to eat bite by bite. 3rd is ahi tuna w/apricot chimoy salsa. Sweet, bit of spicy kick. All three expertly done

10:04pm-Also, more of the crumbled almond on the ahi tuna. Chips with the ceviche are nice, but taste just a brought? No....

10:19pm-This hawaiian sunfish tastes a lot like escolar....what a great combo of flavors. Never would have thought to put crushed almonds on a ceviche.

10:23pm-Also, the manager has now dropped by to chat me up twice, hehe. I should do this more often...

10:27pm-Entree is out. Cochinta pibil-overnight braised big foot fried in croquettes with kohlrabi mashed potato, braised greens, sour organce sauce, habanero salsa.

10:29pm-Served with a tempranillo that is wonderfully fruity-blackberry, oak, very smooth, very round, lots of tannins. Great choice by server.

10:32pm-Habanero salso is hottt. Even for me. Hats off to them for being gutsy enough to serve something with real heat, most restaurants shy away.

10:34pm-They give you option of dish without the salsa. I find woefully underseasoned without, but excellent with. Pork feet are wonderfully tender.

10:35pm-Did I just use "wonderfully" two tweets in a row? (Editor's note--upon review, it appears I did not.) This wine may be getting to me. (Editor's note--upon review, it was.)

10:39pm-Sour orange gets totally lost in all the broth. A was good.

10:41pm-I've been corrected. I have both pigs feet coated in breadcrumbs and lightly fried or sauteed braised pig shoulder. The shoulder is better. (Editor's note--the flavor of that shoulder stuck with me all night. It was definitely the best thing I ate there, and that's saying something.)

10:50pm-Main Course grew on me as I ate it. Super satisfied at this point. Do I have room for dessert?

10:59pm-Ordered mexican hot chocolate, great nutty, spicy aroma. Nutmeg is freshly ground. Nice...

11:00pm-Wow. Very rich but not overbearing. Not too sweet. Tastes like the red wine of hot chocolate. A great end to the meal.

11:05pm-Tab comes to $75. Special thanks to @taylorkline and @marksamburg for the book the bro code, which kept me occupied between tweets.

11:14pm-Oops, she forgot to charge me for wine. I reminded her but she left it off as a reward for honesty. They also leave me with a strawberry jelly candy and a house made chocolate truffle w/hints of mezcal.

11:15pm--Verdict: A+

That tweeting was rather prolific--as I had more time to think about it on the subway to Lincoln Park, I realized that this had to rank as one of the top three places I've ever been, and a bit more marinating on the meal could push it into the number 1 spot. The pork shoulder, trio of ceviches, and hot chocolate were the best I've ever had in each category. Lots of points for creativity, and the service was excellent after being sat a half hour after my reservation.

10 Bottles of Wine On the Wall...

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Isn't that a thing of beauty? A few weeks back, Metrocurean noted that a wine bar in Rosslyn, apparently just minutes from my house, was closing down and offering 40% off of full cases of wine. Nagzah and CLurie were in town, so they got a bottle apiece and I got...ten.  Combined with three bottles of Rosé I got at one of my oft-attended Food Matters wine tastings, I get the feeling I'll be set on wine for a few more days. I kid. ThirteenTwelve bottles of wine should last me at least another week or so.

In any case, I think I'll chronicle my trip through these wines.  There's a wide variety in country, region, grape, and price point here, so it sounds like fun. Let's start with this one.

This is a 2006 Chateau de Lascaux from the Coteaux du Languedoc region of France. It's a big wine, both in aroma and in the mouth, with strong notes of chocolate and cherry, very light acidity, and strong tannins.  It was listed at $18.99, which means I got it for about $12.  A very good wine, but one that pairs better with food than without.  I'd definitely pick it up again.

Wendy's Explained

Sunday, May 31, 2009

The shock in their voice is always completely genuine. Inevitably, we'll have just finished talking about the merits of fleur de sel or why I prefer Malbec to Merlot. Then, "Hey, do you want to pick up some Wendy's?"

For me, grabbing a Spicy Chicken Sandwich from Wendy's is as natural as logging into Facebook or shaving in the morning. It's not even something I think about anymore...just something I do. And yet, what is the source? Of all the foods and all the restaurants to be obsessed over--why this?

I've actually never really known. As other sandwiches and restaurants come and go, I can still remember riding my bike for 45 minutes across Peachtree City at the age of 15 (A DECADE AGO) with part of the $20 I got from mowing the lawn...all to get this unusually delicious sandwich. 10 years of this obsession and it has shown no signs of abating (even though I worked at Wendy's for about six months in high school, partially with the hope that I would tire of the food).

It seems David Kessler has stumbled onto something.
His resulting theory, described in his new book, "The End of Overeating," is startling. Foods high in fat, salt and sugar alter the brain's chemistry in ways that compel people to overeat. "Much of the scientific research around overeating has been physiology -- what's going on in our body," he said. "The real question is what's going on in our brain."


The labels showed the foods were bathed in salt, fat and sugars, beyond what a diner might expect by reading the menu, Kessler said. The ingredient list for Southwestern Eggrolls mentioned salt eight different times; sugars showed up five times. The "egg rolls," which are deep-fried in fat, contain chicken that has been chopped up like meatloaf to give it a "melt in the mouth" quality that also makes it faster to eat. By the time a diner has finished this appetizer, she has consumed 910 calories, 57 grams of fat and 1,960 milligrams of sodium.

Instead of satisfying hunger, the salt-fat-sugar combination will stimulate that diner's brain to crave more, Kessler said. For many, the come-on offered by Lay's Potato Chips -- "Betcha can't eat just one" -- is scientifically accurate. And the food industry manipulates this neurological response, designing foods to induce people to eat more than they should or even want, Kessler found.

This shouldn't actually be much of a surprise. After all, foods that taste good can release endorphins (especially sugary foods), and the body is just about always interested in the euphoria they create. But it's at least interesting to see that perhaps science can explain 10 years of Wendy's cravings.

Some time off

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

You ever get so hungry that you order/make a ton of food/desserts and scarf the whole thing down without breathing?  The kind of scarfing where you don't realize you've eaten so quickly you've outpaced your "full" feeling by quite a bit, leaving your stomach to continue to expand for a half hour after you've finished loading the dishwasher in a misery that can only be relieved in a way that makes me feel like I have an eating disorder?

Anyway, that was all a metaphor for how I feel about my last run of cooking.  It was great, don't get me wrong...but after all that food for weeks on end, I had to get back to my roots (Wendy's and Chick-fil-A...don't hate).  And while there's been plenty to write about in politics, I didn't really feel like anything warranted a full post of my personal commentary.  So just a few notes to get me back into this cooking (and blogging) thing.

  • It hasn't JUST been Wendy's and Chick-fil-A.  It's also been chocolate chip cookies!  The New York Times ran an article a while back about the perfect chocolate chip cookie...including recipe.  It calls for chocolate "discs" rather than chips and letting the dough rest for an unreal 18 hours.  Aside from a pretty obvious typo in the amount of chocolate (1.25 POUNDS???) this recipe was just about perfect.  In my second batch I added the sea salt after baking and could find absolutely nothing wrong with these warm, moist, chewy, droooool.

  • Speaking of Chick-fil-A. Oh. My. Goodness.
  • I'm finally doing this twitter thing.  To pre-empt your arguments, I refuse to update about bathroom habits or what color pen I'm writing with--I'm only going to update things of substance or hilarity.  Tune in if you'd like!
  • Watching lots of NBA playoffs and sending tons of love to my hometown Hawks!  By the way, why does Doc Rivers sound like he has emphysema?
  • Wolverine was downright RE-DONK-ULOUS.  The critics are haters.  Seriously.
  • Arlen Specter switched parties, and promptly voted against everything the Democrats have put to a vote in the last few weeks, went on national TV to claim he wouldn't be loyal, and rooted for the Republican lost cause in the Senate in Minnesota.  Can we send this one back?  I think it's defective.  (Even better, maybe we can upgrade to the Sestak model.)
  • Are you reading 2birds1blog?  Start.
  • Look what I discovered at The Gibson.  New favorite EVER.
What y'all been up to?

Right now

Wednesday, April 29, 2009


Restaurant Weekend Returns

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

For those of you in the South/other places that don't do Restaurant Week (anywhere except NYC, Philly, Baltimore, and DC?), perhaps a clarification is in order.  Twice a year, restaurants around DC for a week offer three coures from their menu (or a smaller version thereof) for $35.  Some of these places typically charge upwards of $30 for a single course.  So on the bright side, you can find great deals if you get to some of the pricier restaurants before they're totally booked.  But on the downside, restaurants often offer limited menus, chefs use cheaper ingredients, the service and food preparation is more rushed and less careful, and you'll be packed like sardine in a can with tons of other diners.

Last year, Alyse and I decided that, with an equivalent monetary contribution from our friends, we could create a better dining experience than the vast majority of places that do Restaurant Week.  Restaurant Weekend was born, and we were right. But this year's Restaurant Week was different.  Dinners I enjoyed at Farrah Olivia and Rasika turned my impression of Restaurant Week upside down.  In one weekend, both restaurants vaulted into my top four restaurants of all time, along with Perilla in NYC and Corduroy here in DC.

But we were up for the challenge again.  That is, at least, until I lost Alyse to a bit of personnel shifting at Granville Moore's.  I managed to pick up the indispensable Jazmin as a sous chef for Sunday's seating, but I was totally on my own for Saturday.  This was going to be interesting....

By starting on Thursday, I managed to take a lot of pressure off the weekend.  That night I finished up the garlic aioli, basil oil, bleu cheese butter, shrimp marinade, and maple chili glaze. Friday I knocked out the tomato jam, asparagus puree, red pepper sauce, 15 spice blend, and cilantro oil.  So by Saturday, I felt pretty good about what I had left to do.

But this was nothing like last year.  Way more moving parts=way more things to go wrong.  Fortunately, a few of the dishes were replications of  the previous weekend's 7 course extravaganza.  Making second appearances were the amuse bouche of torched escolar, the shrimp and grits, the bleu cheese butter and pear stuffed pork tenderloin, and the apple fritters with cinnamon, caramel, and white bordeaux ice cream...with some notable changes in portion size and, in some cases, garnish and whatnot.

After the amuse bouche, we had two options for course 1.  First was a slight variation of the shrimp and grits Alyse and I served the previous week.  But instead of pancetta as a base of the red pepper sauce, we used it as a garnish (Jazmin doesn't eat pork).  The flavor of the sauce was definitely a bit off from last week, but the presence of the crispy pancetta was an awesome addition.

The other option was a trio of scallop sandwiches, each with their own fillings.  In the first was a simple puree of blanched asparagus, chicken stock, and a little ground ginger.  The asparagus puree was topped with diced mushrooms (day 1 got Oysters, day 2 got Shiitakes...I preferred the Shiitakes) that had been marinated and cooked in white wine, sherry, and worcestershire sauce until all the liquid had evaporated.  The second scallop was a spicy and sweet tomato jam of peppercorns, allspice, clove, mustard seeds, sugar, and crushed tomatoes cooked down until thickened and then hit with a little basil oil.  The final scallop was delicious delicious bacon topped with a double garlic aioli.  I dusted the scallops themselves in salt and paprika before searing them in bacon fat and slicing them in half.

I got the idea for these while driving to Richmond and daydreaming about dishes (it's also when I thought of the torched escolar amuse bouche) and I was incredibly happy about how it turned out.  The asparagus and ginger was a wonderfully fresh start to the dish, the classic tomato and basil really stood out in an unusual presentation, and garlic, bacon, and scallops should definitely get together and make delicious babies.

The first option for the main courses was the same pork tenderloin as last time around, except now I was much much better at butterflying the pork tenderloin.  Look!  Pretty!  And say hi to Jazmin in the background.

I roasted the pears a bit longer in the vinaigrette this week, and boy did it pay off.  A little bit of extra time left me with a vinaigrette that was much richer and developed in flavor.  On the other hand, my better butterflying skills actually left me with a piece of meat that was even less apt to stay together than last time.  Nonetheless, this is still a wonderfully well balanced, complex dish.

I made the same 15-spice ribeye this week, except paired it with a fianciere sauce.  A fianciere is a brown sauce derivative (just as was the chevreuil sauce) that employs mirepoix, madeira wine and truffle essence (instead of the chevreuil's bacon, white wine, red wine, mirepoix, and beef trim).  The fianciere sauce was a major hit...especially on Saturday, where there was licking of plates.  And we got some cheddar potato brioches that actually brioched!  The second day's plating, which is what this picture is of, is actually a bit comical because I ended up with too much meat.  This, the sort of mountain o' meat that is below.  Leftovers!

The apple fritters and ice cream were just as tasty as before, and even inspired Roommate Nirmal to make a little jim beam+coke+cinnamon ice cream float.  But especially exciting was the Spiced Chocolate Souffle:  just a traditional chocolate souffle with cumin, cayenne, and cinnamon.  On Day 2 I added a bit of the ice cream to the side.

And there we had it.  Huge huge thanks to Jazmin, who helped Day 2 go 1000 times more smoothly than Day 1.  And many thanks to all of my guests:  Coworkers Laura, Nora, and Maggie, Intern Monica, Roommates Nirmal and Shala, Friend Randall, Dancer Carena, and Soccer Hannah.  You are truly the cream of the crop and made this an even better experience than last year.

Maybe I won't wait a year to do this again.

Updated Blogroll and New Look

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Perhaps you care, perhaps you do not.

Kathleen and I go back years and years and, even though she has now changed her last name so I can never find her on facebook anymore, she has started up a delightful food blog filled with tasty treats.  Check her at Grits and Glory.

I stumbled across a local blog called the arugula files that's both politically conscious and interested in food.  Right up my alley!

Read them.  Love them.

Also, I went and found a template that wasn't quiiiiite so blah.  This is a bit more me, so I'm gonna stick with it for a little while.