Ben Eats is Moving to Austin!

Folks – I needed a change in my day job, so I’ve moved to Austin, TX.  From what I can tell, this city is a foodie paradise, so I’m looking forward to eating my way through the area.  I’ve got a few more posts lined up from the around D.C. and elsewhere (namely Omaha, NE) to publish before the full switch.

For my D.C. area followers, thank you very much for watching, and please check back here if you ever find yourself in the area!

Cheers!

A Night in Boston, 23 NOV 2013

I was needing an escape from New Hampshire during my visit up there to visit family for the holidays, so I booked a hotel and some restaurant reservations in Boston.

The view from my window of the Boston Waterfront area.

The southeasterly view from my window at the Westin Boston Waterfront Hotel.

The first stop for me was Drink.  I had hit this fantastic, top-rated cocktail bar back in 2011 after a previous overseas tour (see here and here), and wanted to experience them again.

I started by asking for something with Green Chartreuse (a favorite of mine).  I was started off with a classic – The Last Word – with gin, lime juice, Maraschino liqueur, and Green Chartreuse.  Along with that, I had the very tasty (albeit tricky-to-eat) Sirloin Carpaccio.

Sirloin Carpaccio.  You have to pick it up to eat it, and it's too big for one bite.  I had some issues and was probably embarassing myself as I ate it, but it was delicious.

Sirloin Carpaccio. You have to pick it up to eat it, and it’s too big for one bite. I had some issues and was probably embarassing myself as I ate it, but it was delicious.

The Last Word.

The Last Word.

I followed The Last Word up with a Bijou (gin, Green Chartreuse, a sweet vermouth, and orange bitters) which provided more of the complex flavors of the Chartreuse.

Bijou.

Bijou.

To change things up, I asked for something with kümmel (previously mentioned here), an old, but hard-to-find liqueur which tastes of carraway, cumin, and fennel.  What I got was The Maiden’s Choice, which consisted of Plymouth Gin, dry vermouth, and kümmel.  This cocktail is great for showcasing the interesting flavors of the kümmel, although it’s a flavor that is probably an acquired taste.  Fortunately, I like it.

The Maiden's Choice.

The Maiden’s Choice.

The mixologists over at Drink have a thing for showmanship as well.  As I was enjoying my beverages, I watched them playing with fire.

Yep, that's fire he's pouring right there.

Yep, that’s fire he’s pouring right there.

I met up with some D.C. expatriates at the bar who endorsed Mockingbird Hill [Twitter/Facebook], the new Derek Brown sherry bar in Washington that I’m going to have to hit when I’m back in town.  A mixologist at Drink also recommended it.

After taking a short break after Drink (their drinks don’t want for alcohol content), I headed over to Empire Restaurant and Lounge for dinner.  Sporting a nightclub atmosphere (see – “Lounge”), I wasn’t sure what to expect the food to be like, although I’d seen high reviews for the joint.  I was happy to discover that their food program (namely the sushi, which was what I stuck to) was excellent.  Besides running Empire, Big Night Entertainment Group runs GEM, which has also received plaudits for their food.

I started off with the Hot Night in Bangkok (Avion Silver Tequila, plum infused sake, passion fruit, and Sriracha sauce), which provided a combination of sweet and spicy flavors.  It went well with the Sushi Cupcakes (broiled Maine lobster, spicy garlic butter, crispy pressed sushi rice, and marinated uni) of which I considered getting a second order.

My view of the Empire kitchen.

My view of the Empire kitchen.

The Sriracha goodness that is the Hot Night in Bangkok.

The Sriracha goodness that is the Hot Night in Bangkok.

Sushi Cupcakes.

Sushi Cupcakes.

Next up – the Hamachi Tartare Roll (with avocado, gobo [burdock root], cucumber, topped with spicy yellowtail tartare, and served in a ginger sauce) the fresh taste of the tartare went great with the ginger.

Also in this round – and one reason why I picked this location for dinner – was the ‘Fish & Chips’ Roll (with tempura cod, malt vinegar tartar sauce, and yukon potato chips).  I’m a big fan of the Fish and Chips Roll over at SEI in D.C., hence my interest in this menu item.  The Empire version adds in more of a vinegar flavor, which reminded me even more of the flavors you’d experience in a traditional fish and chips basket.

Empire's 'Fish & Chips' Roll

Empire’s ‘Fish & Chips’ Roll

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Hamachi Tartare Roll.

Hamachi Tartare Roll.

The final four dishes I went with were Nigiri-style – the Tuna ‘Hot Night’ gunkanmaki (spicy tuna, sliced chilies, sesame chili oil), Wagyu Beef Nigiri (with crispy shallots and a dark rum glaze – the beef replaced the nori as the wrap around the roll), Eel Nigiri Kabayaki (barbequed eel, sesame purée [reminiscent of peaut butter], and Granny Smith apple), and the Nigiri ‘Surf & Turf’ (more Wagyu beef, along with Sockeye salmon, scallion, ginger, and sweet miso vinegar).  Great rolls.

Wagyu Beef Nigiri (right), Tuna 'Hot Night' (left)

Wagyu Beef Nigiri (right), Tuna ‘Hot Night’ (left)

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Nigiri 'Surf & Turf'.

Nigiri ‘Surf & Turf’.

Closing out the evening, I made a stop over at Eastern Standard near Kenmore Square, and started off with a great Old Cuban (rum, lime juice, simple syrup, bitters, sparkling wine float, mint).

Old Cuban.

Old Cuban.

Eastern Standard also likes their sherries, as evidenced by the five sherry cocktails on their drink menu.  Asking for my bartender’s favorite, I got The Veil of Sanlúcar (La Gitana Manzanilla Sherry, chamomile mezcal, agave nectar, and bitters) – a great smokey cocktail.

The Veil of Sanlúcar.  Perfect way to finish the evening.

The Veil of Sanlúcar. Perfect way to finish the evening.

I’ll be back in the Boston-area every year around the holidays, and I’ll be making it a point to hit some new places every time.  If you’ve got any suggestions, please let me know!

What I’ve Been Eating, 12 Nov 2013

Sorry for the long hiatus.  I’ve been vacationing in southern Afghanistan, and now that I’m back, I figured I’d share some of my meals.

Bagram

Bagram. Mexican Food, Chicken Tenders, Cherry Cobbler

So Bagram wasn’t terrible for the limited amount of time I was there.

Maiwand1

This healthy breakfast was had in Maiwand district, Kandahar province.

Maiwand3

Significantly less healthy breakfast a couple days later, also in Maiwand.

So Maiwand didn’t score too high.  Still better than MREs, though.

Panjwai

Solid Army meal of taco meat and spaghetti. The spaghetti was spiced up with something that gave it a more exotic flavor. Hopefully it wasn’t the moon dust in Panjwa’i district, Kandahar province.

I wasn’t in Panjwa’i as long as I wanted to be, but the food on some bases wasn’t bad.  One in particular had made-to-order burgers every other week.  The one I had (sadly, no pictures) had a chipotle aioli with grilled onions, mushrooms. and jalapenos.  After the long trip to get there, it was phenomenal.

The winner for best DFAC (that’s Dining FACility for the rest of you) has to go to a location in Spin Boldak.  Consistently good meals for the time I was there, with a great dessert bar.  I had a strawberry smoothie there one day.

SpinBoldak1

Obviously, wearing your reflective belt is mandatory when you’re mixing up some fruit smoothies. Safety first, people. Spin Boldak district, Kandahar province.

SpinBoldak2

It tasted better than it looked. Note my strawberry smoothie.at 1100.

Obviously though, anyone who makes sushi at a combat outpost will win this competition.  Yes, this actually happened.

Spicy Salmon Roll, with water chestnuts and asparagus.  Senjaray, Zharay district Kandahar province.

Spicy Salmon Roll, with water chestnuts and asparagus. Senjaray, Zharay district, Kandahar province.

AfghanSushi2

The finished product. Simple, yet refined. The only sushi ever had at such a remote location? After 12 years of war…there are no firsts.

 

Tonight I’ll be having my first sushi since getting back.  I don’t know that I’ll appreciate it as much as I did with the sushi in Senjaray.  There’s something to be said for having a luxury like that out there…it becomes the best tasting thing you’ve ever had.

 

Other food that I had out there (besides all that wonderful DFAC food) included spicy chicken and lamb from a takeout joint in Kandahar City, some of the fantastic naan flat bread from Panjwa’i, Qabili Palao, and the cloyingly sweet chai (50/50 sugar-tea mix is how it usually tasted).

 

I’m glad to be back, and I’m looking forward to getting back into the food scene.  Suggestions welcome.

Gangnam Sushi House, February 2013

I’m sad to say that Osaka Sushi in Annandale has closed.  However, Gangnam Sushi House has opened in the same location…and they’ve got really good sushi.

Here’s a few photos of what I tried out when I went last week.

Monkey Brains - seaweed salad and spicy tuna wrapped in avocado and topped with roe.

Monkey Brains – seaweed salad and spicy tuna wrapped in avocado and topped with roe.

IMG_2651

Japanese Lasagna Roll

IMG_2649

Heart Attack Roll…with two big chunks of jalapeno per roll.

IMG_2650 IMG_2654

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Gangnam Sushi House
6669 Little River Tpke
Annandale, VA 22003

Kansas City Restaurant Recommendations

I had a request recently for a few Kansas City, MO restaurant recommendations.  In 2010, I spent six months there and was able to eat pretty well, so here’s what I’ve got:

Kato Sushi – I had an absolutely disgusting amount of sushi from this place…it was a once a week (at least) stop for me.  Lots of those chef’s special rolls that I’m a fan of.  There’s a few of them on their website, and more on their daily board at the restaurant.  Also good – KC Sushi, Moonlight Sushi, and Wasahi Sushi, but they were farther away from where I was living.

Kato Sushi Takeout.

Kato Sushi Takeout.

Bristol Seafood Grill – Something of a chain (four in the area, and two sister restaurants in seven other cities), but they have a huge brunch buffet, which includes a Bloody Mary bar.  Dinner there wasn’t bad either…especially their Seared Ahi Tuna.

Blanc Burgers + Bottles – Wow…their burgers are so good (for example, the American Kobe, with port wine onions, truffle butter, mustard aioli, and watercress on a salt and pepper brioche bun).  They also have EIGHT different boozy shakes (like the Bananas Foster one – 99 Bananas, sauteed bananas, brown sugar, 151, and vanilla custard), and these excellent locally-made sodas called SodaVie (I was a huge fan of the Citrus Chili and Thai Basic Clove flavors) which they also add into cocktails.

Tannin Wine Bar and Kitchen – This place had a different name when I was there (JP Wine Bar and Bistro), but I get the impression that it’s probably the same place based on the look, the fact that it’s still a wine bar, and because JP’s URL sends me to Tannin’s site.  Tasty food and good wine (and scotch).

Oklahoma Joe’s – The award-winning barbeque place that you MUST visit.  In a gas station.  With what seems to be a never-ending line.  Look past both of those facts and order yourself a Z-Man Sandwich (slow-smoked beef brisket, smoked provolone cheese, crispy onion rings, all on a kaiser roll).

Really sad about this one…R Bar and Restaurant was hidden in West Bottoms in an industrial area…live jazz bands and excellent food (Bone Marrow Risotto comes to mind) and cocktails (I think I had my first Moscow Mule here, and they had a bunch of house inventions).  Apparently they closed.  If I owned a bar, this is what I’d want it to look like.

A few upscale places:

Bluestem – This place was excellent.  I got their ten course tasting menu with pairings when I was there (I was a fan of the torchon de foie gras with brandied apple butter, stout ice cream, and pecans, paired with a glass of Heinz Schmitt Riesling Auslese).

The American Restaurant – Top-notch fine dining by Executive Chef Debbie Gold, a James Beard award winner and Top Chef Master.  I had some amazing duck breast as a part of their seven-course tasting menu.

Duck Breast - part of my tasting menu at The American.

Duck Breast – part of my tasting menu at The American.

Michael Smith Restaurant – Michael Smith and Debbie Gold were the husband-and-wife chef team over at The American Restaurant.  In 2002, they left to open 40 Sardines, until they divorced in 2007.  Gold went back to The American, while Michael Smith went on to open his own restaurant.  This is another great spot if you’re looking to try a top tier tasting menu (best is Smith’s six-course, which was, naturally, the one that I got).

And also…

If you haven’t been to KC before, check out the Power & Light District‘s nightlife…it’s like a mall…of bars and clubs.  Also, check out the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.  The building itself is worth going to see.

Power & Light's nightlife scene during the day is much less exciting, but you can see what it offers.

Power & Light’s nightlife scene during the day is much less exciting, but you can see what it offers.

I'm not sure what this was supposed to be, but the rest of the Nelson-Atkin's Museum is more awesome.

I’m not sure what this was supposed to be, but the rest of the Nelson-Atkin’s Museum is much more awesome.

Cocktails, week of 10 December 2012

Cachaça Sour

Cachaça Sour

3 oz. Pitú Cachaça
1 oz. lime juice
1 oz. simple syrup
1 egg white

Shook everything but the cachaça without ice.  Added the ice and cachaça and shook, then strained.  Nice and smooth.

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Strawberry's Revivial

Strawberry’s Revivial

1  1/2 oz. Bulleit Rye
3/4 oz. lemon juice
1/2 oz. strawberry simple syrup
1/2 oz. Lucid Absinthe
2 dash Angostura bitters

Shook all but the bitters with ice.  Double strained into a glass.  I think I’d like this better with a little less absinthe, although it grew on me…anise taste at the front, finishes with the strawberry.

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Fresa Catrina

Fresa Catrina

2 oz. Grand Patron Platinum Tequila (this is overdoing it, but it was the only silver I had)
1/2 oz. lemon juice
3/4 oz strawberry simple syrup
10 black peppercorns

Muddled the strawberry simple syrup and the peppercorns, then added the rest of the ingredients and shook over ice.  The Fresa Catrina was tasty…the pepper and the sweetness went really well together.

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King Vittorio's Cobbler

King Vittorio’s Cobbler

2 oz. Averna Amaro
3/4 oz. lemon juice
3/4 oz. strawberry simple syrup

Shook all over ice, double strained into a glass.  The strawberries mellowed out the bitterness of the Averna (which is already relatively mellow as far as Italian bitter liqueurs go).  I liked this one.  Simple and tasty.

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Lion's Tail

Lion’s Tail

2 oz. Bulleit Bourbon
3/4 oz. St. Elizabeth Allspice Dram
1/2 oz. lime juice
1/2 spoonful of simple syrup
2 dash Angostura bitters

Shook all ingredients over ice, double strained into a glass.

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These cocktails were based on the recipes found at Cocktail Virgin:

Pisco Sour

Strawberry’s Revival

Fresa Catrina

King Vittorio’s Cobbler

The Lion’s Tail recipe was posted by Derek Brown of The Passenger and Columbia Room over at The Atlantic.