Sumo, Sushi, and Sake – 22 June 2012

I went to a great Sumo wrestling event that the LivingSocial 918 F Street team put together for their DC-based clientele.  Not only did we get to watch two giants battle it out, but we got a glimpse of YO! Sushi‘s new US-based operation.  YO! Sushi has been around in the UK since 1997 (I had the chance to eat at the one a couple of blocks from Bedford Square in London in the summer of 2003), and it has expanded to Ireland, Portugal, UAE, Bahrain, Norway, and other locations globally.  The first US location will be opening at Union Station in DC on 11 July 2012, and this was a great kickoff.

I have to say that when I tried YO! in 2003 I was not thoroughly impressed.  I was more a fan of the kaiten-style sushi bar than anything else there.  However, the quality has been stepped up based on what I tried, and I’ll definitely be stopping in to their new location once in opens to see if it continues to live up to my new expectations for it.  The nigiri sushi was especially fresh and tasty, and the California rolls (although atypical from the norm – I think mine was crab and avocado with no cucumber) were better than most I’ve tried – rather than using crab stick, it tasted like fresh crab (definite taste difference between the two).

My view of the Sumo ring.

The menu for the evening.

We started off with some edamame and sashimi.  The sashimi, fresh and delicious, came out drizzled with a yuzu salsa that made the dish tangy.  I was a fan of this course, and I’d get it again at the restaurant…maybe two of them.

Whitefish sashimi in yuzu salsa. Good starter.

While we dined, the director of the US Sumo Championships, Andrew Freund, went over some facts and information about Sumo in general, and US Sumo in particular.  We then met the evening’s challengers – Byambajav Ulambayar of Mongolia, seven-time winner of the US Sumo Open gold and three-time World Sumo Champion, and Kelly Gneiting of Arizona, winner of four US Sumo Open medals and three-time US Sumo Champion (340 and 415 lbs respectively).

Director of US Sumo Open, Andrew Freund, explaining Sumo to the audience.

Next up on the menu was Spicy Tuna Tartare on Crispy Rice, and Shrimp Tempura Glazed with Creamy Miso.  I’m not sure that I’ve had crispy rice sushi before, but this wasn’t bad.  The shrimp tempura with the somewhat sweet miso glaze was tasty…it reminded me a little of fried and glazed Chinese dishes.

Tuna tartare on the left, tempura shrimp on the right.

While enjoying the course, the match began in earnest.  There were five rounds total, with Ulambayar winning 3-2.  It’s pretty impressive seeing guys of this size throw each other around…I certainly wouldn’t want to see one of them charging at me.

Next up on the menu was the previously mentioned nigiri sushi (Albacore Sushi with Citrus Ponzu) and maki (California Roll).  Both were excellent.

A great California Roll. I don’t normally get these since they’re done everywhere, but I’d get this one again.

Fresh albacore – a favorite of mine – with a tangy citrus ponzu sauce.

The drinks for the evening were great too.  Everyone was provided three sakes during the courses, and there was also beer, wine, and a cocktail called “Sumo Smash” (vodka, St. Germain, Aperol, and citrus) available for a price.

The first and second sakes were filtered (thus, they were clear), and the third was unfiltered (and therefore appeared cloudy).  The first, Diamond Sake (probably Momokawa brand, but that wasn’t specified), was smooth and buttery.  The second, Rock Sake (possibly this one), had what I picked up in the taste as a hint of blackberry.  The third was Pearl Sake (probably also Momokawa, based on this review which picked up on the same tastes), and was tropical in nature…I definitely picked up on the taste of pineapple in this one.

The Sumo Smash was also a good punch-like cocktail…I’ll have to recreate that.

Sumo Smash cocktail.

For those in the audience who were brave enough (i.e. not the author), there was an opportunity to go head to head with a wrestler of his or her choice (yes, one female tried it out), adding some additional interactivity to the event.

Dessert was Mochi Ice Cream of various flavors.  I grabbed a vanilla one, although they also had green tea and strawberry available.  Essentially it is ice cream inside of a rice cake.  I’m not usually a fan of stuffed rice cakes, but with the ice cream it wasn’t bad…the shell was much less tough than the others I’ve had.

Mochi ice cream – enclosed in a rice cake. I broke mine open before I got the shot 😦

Great event overall…this one sold out faster than any I’ve seen on LivingSocial.  If they offer it again I’d highly encourage it as an option for a fantastic date night out.  Check out YO! Sushi when they open, and if you beat me to it let me know what you think.

The author with the champs. Man, I’m in good shape.

New Additions…

The latest additions to the collection, including a few more bitters.

Here are the latest additions…an extract, a few bitters, and some liqueurs.  Most of these acquisitions were chosen because of cocktails I’ve tried at The Passenger, so a hat tip to them.

Bittermens Orchard Street Celery Shrub – Celery, apples, and as it’s a shrub there’s vinegar as well (more on what shrubs are here).

Bittermens ‘Elemakule Tiki Bitters – I discovered this one in an unnamed cocktail at The Passenger that included Green Chartreuse, gin, aperitif wine, and said bitters…great cocktail.  I’m a fan of allspice dram, and the tiki bitters endeared themselves to me with their flavors of cinnamon, allspice, and other spices.  Besides “tiki” it also makes me think “Christmas” (a la mulled cider), so that opens up some other drink options.

Regans’ Orange Bitters No. 6 – Great orange bitters, and it’s pretty popular in the D.C. mixology scene.  The nose is heavy on the cardamom and carraway, which I’m definitely a fan of…the orange peel is in the taste combined with the cardamom.  This should definitely be in your collection as your go-to orange bitters.

The Bitter Truth Creole Bitters – Initial smell I get on this one is fruit with anise.  Major flavor in this one is definitely the anise.  This review mentions fennel as well, which I get at the finish.  Both that last review and this one mention it as a replacement for Peychaud’s, which I’d go along with.  I’ll probably save my bottles of Peychaud’s for drinks that call for large proportions of it, while using this one in dashes.

Ilegal Mexcal Añejo – I bought this one with a specific cocktail in mind (The Beety Bastard by Gina Chersevani), but they’ve got a few others on their website that sound promising.  This is a small batch production (I’ve got bottle #840 of 1350)…more on that here.  I haven’t cracked it open yet, but based on the review here this may also be good as a sipping mezcal (the price also lends itself to that at $100/bottle).

The Beety Bastard – this one calls for Ilegal Mezcal Anejo, red beet syrup, pineapple cardamom soda, citric acid, and heavy cream. Awesome drink with so many great flavors.

Luxardo Maraschino – A bittersweet, cherry-based liqueur.  I primarily bought this one to make the Aviation and Martinez, but there are many other good options.  Founding Farmers has one called “Nice Coat!” with Bluecoat Gin, Maraschino, basil, lemon, and orange bitters.

Amaro Averna and Gran Classico – I’d compare/contrast these two together and with Cynar (which has a sweet start and more bitter finish than Averna).  The Gran Classico starts more bitter and less sweet but ends slightly less bitter than the Cynar.  I’m not a huge fan of bitter for bitters sake, so I’d go with the Averna as my favorite of these three…when mixed right though, all three have great potential.  Recently, I had Averna at The Passenger in the “Mother of Dragons” (it was Game of Thrones night).  Averna, grapefruit, Canton, orange bitters, garnished with FIRE…tasty.

The Targaryens would be proud.

French Cooking Class, 27 May 2012

Not having much experience in the cooking arena, I have been spending some of my free time taking classes to improve my skills.  LivingSocial’s 918 F Street has held a few, and I’ve been attending as many as I can.

On 27 May, I went to a French cooking class at 918 F Street taught by Chef Bernard Henry.  French food sort of intimidated me – I was expecting it to be fairly difficult – but I was surprised at how easy our dishes were to make.

LivingSocial has a great setup for their cooking classes.  There is plenty of space for each group of two to get their cooking on, and you generally end up making enough food for dinner, as well as lunch the next day.  Everyone generally has a partner, which tends to remove some of the intimidation factor for those who don’t cook very often.  All of the ingredients are pre-measured by the kitchen team, and there are plenty of LivingSocial staff members available to assist in answering any questions or providing spare kitchen implements or ingredients.  Besides all that, either beer, wine, or cocktails are provided while cooking and eating (depending on the cuisine).  Additional drinks from the 918 F Street bar, staffed by Jon Arroyo‘s mixologists, are available for a fee (they’re good, so I’d recommend you try them).  The classes seem to be about 50/50 males and females, singles and couples…the courses are perfect for a date, and if you’re single they could be good opportunities to meet your future ex.

A shot of the kitchen space for LivingSocial’s cooking courses…

During this class, we learned to make Zucchini-Basil Soup.  Really tasty hot (as we made it in the class), but it would be a great summer-time soup when cold.  Again – it was so easy to make…after cooking onion, garlic, and zucchini in a saucepan for a short time, everything goes into the blender to be puréed.

Prepping soup ingredients…

…sweating the onions and garlic…

…and the finished product. Tasty Zucchini-Basil Soup.

We also made lamb skewers with a green olive and mint tapenade…so good, and again, really easy to make.  I could eat the tapanade by itself…it was that good.

Lamb getting its seasoning on…

…tapenade…so tasty. I was eating it right out of this bowl before it got plated…

…drinking wine while cooking helps the process…

The lamb skewers plated. They came out medium rare, and were excellent.

Entree number two was  was sautéed cod with asparagus sauce and fennel.  I don’t think I was a fan of fennel until I cooked my own…it goes very well with non-oily white fish.

Fennel cooking…

…Chef Bernard Henry demonstrating proper fish cooking technique…

…the final product.

For dessert we cooked up some rum raisin bread putting (from what I’ve learned at these cooking classes, dessert is what you make first, as they generally take longer to cook.  This one took 30-40 minutes to bake in the oven, for example).  I actually forgot to put milk in this (oops), but it was still good…just a different texture (perhaps a little less flavor?) than you’d normally get.

A good dessert to end our French meal.

This particular class went for $79.  I’d say that between the social interaction, education, and large quantity of food produced that the price was worth it..the price also seems less than some other cooking schools in the area.  If you enjoy cooking, or would like to start getting into it, I’d recommend you check them out.

Bitters Class, 13 June 2012

I just attended a great course on bitters mixology.  The class was put on by Jesse Dean of Libations Bar School and hosted by the Spice and Tea Exchange in Georgetown…both of which I would encourage you to check out.  The Libations Bar School has some interesting courses, including an advanced mixology and molecular mixology offerings (who wouldn’t want to try working with liquid nitrogen behind the bar??)

After going over some of the background behind tinctures, extracts, and bitters, teacher Jesse Dean had us put together our own mix of bitters from the stock of the Spice and Tea Exchange.  The concoctions will be steeping for the next several weeks, at which point we’ll be having a cocktail night with the better mixtures.

Some people may think that making bitters is too complicated for them, but it can be as easy as taking a small, sealed container of over-proof liquor, adding a small amount of fruits, herbs, or other flavorings, usually including one ingredient categorized as a bittering agent, then allowing it to steep for a couple of weeks.  Make a few of these at a time and figure out which recipes work best for you.  Just make sure you label the jars with what you used…that way it can be reproduced later in larger quantities.

I’m going to keep the recipe for my group’s bitters under wraps for now, but it included a spice, a flower, some pepper, and a bittering agent.

Here’s a couple of shots from the evening:

Cinnamon and Grains of Paradise…just to show how easy it is to develop bitters.

A few varieties of bitters developed by Libations Bar School. I was a fan of the second one from the left…reminded me of allspice dram (or Christmas).

I’ll provide an update when we have the cocktail night…I’m looking forward to trying out the winners.

Spice and Tea Exchange – Georgetown
1069 Wisconsin Ave, NW
Washington, DC 20007
(202) 333-4540
http://www.spiceandtea.com/dc-georgetown-ezp-31.html
Libations
1734 Wisconsin Ave, NW
Washington, DC 20006
(202) 642-1256
http://www.libationsbarschool.com/

Cocktails, Early June 2012

Sorry for the hiatus…was tied up with some professional stuff.

Here’s a few cocktails that I’ve made in the last couple of weeks:

El Diablo:

Ingredients for the El Diablo…

  • 1/2 lime
  • 1 oz tequila (I used 1800 Reposado.)
  • 1/2 oz crème de cassis
  • Ginger Beer (I used Fever-Tree, which is excellent.)

Squeeze the lime and drop the shell in the glass, then add the tequila and crème de cassis.  Stir, then top off with ginger beer.

(Based on recipes from The Webtender Wiki)

I tried this a couple weeks ago at The Passenger…thought I’d try making it myself.  Came out pretty well…I’d throw it together again.

El Diablo…

My version of Alex’s Sour from The Passenger:

The ingredients for my version of Alex’s Sour…

The Passenger’s version calls for white whiskey, lemon, and Yellow Chartreuse…I went off this and used the following:

  • 2 oz Johnnie Walker Black
  • 1 oz Yellow Chartreuse
  • 1/4 oz lemon juice (and being out of lemons, I used the type from concentrate…meh.)

Shook the ingredients together with ice, strained over fresh ice in a rocks glass.  Not bad.  I’d say it’s better than a whisk(e)y sour.

Alex’s Sour #2…

Bully Boy:

Ingredients for my take on the Bully Boy…

I was looking for some ideas for my brand new bottle of Fernet-Branca and came across this page.  Naturally I had to try out the award winner for best Fernet cocktail, so I threw together the Bully Boy.  From the site:

  • 1oz bourbon
  • 1/2oz Fernet Branca
  • 1/2oz Canton ginger liqueur
  • 1/2oz lemon juice
  • 2t simple syrup
  • lemon peel, for garnish

Select dodecahedron shaped ice cubes out of your freezer (be very selective, the shape is important), and bash them with a baseball bat. Now shake it all up and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Of course, I am not yet fancy enough to have dodecahedron-shaped ice cubes (nor a bar baseball bat), so I did not follow some of the directions.  I used Woodford Reserve bourbon, and swapped out the plain simple syrup for my homemade ginger-habanero variety.  Because of the new flavors that my simple syrup lends to this drink (and because I didn’t have any real lemons…) I garnished this with an orange twist.  This came out great…very tasty.  You don’t get much of the medicinal taste associated with Fernet, but you can still tell it’s in there.  This one was definitely a winner.

The Bully Boy. Good cocktail…

Consolation Prize:

The ingredients for Consolation Prize…

I was looking for a good Chartreuse cocktail for this evening, and came across Last Frontier at both cocktail virgin slut and The Passenger.  Using this as a base, I made the following:

  • 2 oz Hendrick’s Gin
  • 1.5 oz Yellow Chartreuse
  • 3 dashes Angostura Bitters

Shake and bruise all ingredients with ice, then strain into a martini glass (keep small ice shards) and garnish with orange peel.

The Passenger’s version called for unknown proportions of Tanqueray, Green Chartreuse, and (unknown) bitters, while cocktail virgin slut called for 3 parts Beefeater, 1 part Green Chartreuse, and lemon oil.

I blew an interview earlier in the day, so I’m naming this one Consolation Prize.  Cheers.

My Consolation Prize…

Vidalia, 6 June 2012

Having enjoyed RJ Cooper’s Rogue 24 a couple times in the past, I wanted to try Vidalia, where Cooper had been chef de cuisine from 2004 to 2010.  The chef and owner of Vidalia, Jeffrey Buben, is himself a James Beard Foundation award-winner, so I went into this dinner with high expectations.  Here’s some details and recommendations (spoiler:  everything I ordered was excellent).

When an amuse-bouche is good, you get excited for the rest of the meal. This one was rhubarb and orange on a parsnip purée.

Appetizers:

  • Seared Hudson Valley Foie Gras – “Rhubarb, spicy peanut praline, black pepper biscuit, cheerwine gelée.”  I love foie gras…if it’s on the menu I almost always get it.  This version didn’t let me down.  The savoriness of the foie gras went so well with the sweetness of the fruits and nuttiness of the praline.  Cheerwine is a cherry soda from North Carolina that has been around since 1917.  Great cherry flavor – reminds me of cherry pie.  Buy it online or at some grocery stores and restaurants.
  • Hamachi Crudo – Another good one…this was on the chef’s inspirations special menu.  Came with chilled watermelon, cranberry purée, cheese, and a vegetable sorbet.  The hamachi itself was fresh and tasty, without the fishiness you sometimes get with lower quality or poorly prepared yellowtail.
  • Crisp Berkshire Pork Trotter – “Sunny-side egg, black pepper grits, apple butter, béarnaise sauce.”  The pork trotter was by far my favorite appetizer….absolutely delicious.  So many flavors that work together in harmony.  This is no pickled pig’s foot, but rather some nice and tender leg meat.  If you only get one appetizer at Vidalia, this is the one you should be getting.

It was difficult to settle on only three firsts…many of them sounded great from the menu descriptions.  Next time I want to try the Oyster Pan Roast and the Sweetbreads & Waffles (right behind another dish of the pork trotter).

Pork, egg, béarnaise, apple butter, grits, pepper…so many flavors working so well together. This pork trotter was excellent.

Great foie gras. I’d get this one again.

Tasty hamachi dish…hit my fish fix.

Entrees and Sides:

  • Spiced Crusted Duck Breast – “Duck confit beignet, carrot purée, english peas, pearl onions, rhubarb, lavender jus.”  Duck two ways.  The duck breast was cooked perfectly…the restaurant recommends medium-rare.  The duck confit beignet was also tasty.  This was a very well prepared duck dish that I’d repeat.
  • Braised Barbecue Bison Short Ribs – “Zola’s cornbread purée, heirloom carrots, turnip greens, chanterelles, barbecue spiced jus.”  Although I loved the duck, I think this was the winner of the entrees.  The smokiness hit my mouth before the fork made it to my mouth.  Flavorful and perfectly cooked to fall off the bone…no knife needed.
  • Vidalia’s Baked Onion – “Country ham, red-eye gastrique, mushrooms.”  Being at a place called “Vidalia”, I couldn’t pass up getting this side dish.  A hefty vidalia onion came out and was cut up by the waiter into petals of sweet liquid.  This was a good choice…it went well with the entrees and lived up to the restaurant’s name.

Great duck…

Bison Short Ribs…so good…

The Vidalia Onion side dish…I don’t always eat all my side, but this time I did.

Cheese and Desserts:

  • 3-Cheese Plate – We went with a selection of cheese to start, one each from the sheep, goat, and cow varieties.  Vidalia has an extensive cheese menu (~25 options) which changes often.  The plating included three types of crackers and three jellies (apple, apricot, and plum) as accoutrements.
  • Georgia Pecan Pie – “Bourbon ice cream, praline lace crumble, caramel.”  The server’s recommendation…good call.  Paired well with the Boston Bual Madeira.
  • Peanut Butter S’More – “Guanaja-peanut butter mousse, toasted marshmallow, graham cracker ice cream.”  If you’re a peanut butter and chocolate fan, you need to get on this.  Paired very well with the Pedro Ximenez Toro Abala Don.

The Georgia Pecan Pie…

Peanut Butter S’more…

Cocktails:

  • Tobacco Road – “Firefly Sweet Tea Vodka, Boyd & Blaire Vodka, Peychaud’s bitters, Cheerwine.”  Another offering that includes the Cheerwine.  Sweet, but not overly so.  You definitely get that cherry pie flavor.
  • Wisteria – “Bluecoat Gin, crème de violette, cassis, soda, amaretti.”  Tasted flowery and was purplish, hence the name.  Good mix.
  • Ben Baker – “Rittenhouse Rye, lemon, sugar.”  Good one…if you’re looking for one a little less sweet than the above, this is a solid choice.
  • Mint Julep – “Wild Turkey, sugar, muddled mint.”  Tasty mint julep in a julep cup…it’s a southern restaurant, so it’s a good fit.

The Tobacco Road…it’s tough to tell but it’s slightly red…sort of looks like a Roy Rogers.

The Wisteria…I know it looks like the one above, but this one was more of a purple than a red, thanks to the crème de violette.

My high expectations for this dinner were met and exceeded.  If you haven’t been, I’d recommend you change that.

Buben has a second restaurant in DC, Bistro Bis, which serves French cuisine.  That one is on my list.

Vidalia
1990 M Street NW
Washington, D.C. 20036
(202) 659-1990
http://www.vidaliadc.com
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AGAINN, May-June 2012

I’ve hit Againn twice in the past month for some delicious , locally-sourced, gastropub food.  What makes it so endearing to me is the simple pub-fare food, classed-up, and somehow made lighter than one would typically expect of such eats.

Thus far all the dishes I’ve had at Againn (a Gaelic word meaning “with us“) have been excellent.  I’ll mention the details here.

Baked Camembert Cheese. Great starter.

Appetizers:

  • Baked Camembert Cheese – “Studded with garlic and rosemary, tomato chutney, garlic croutes.”  Really garlicky (especially the croutes, although there is plenty in the cheese).  I’m a fan of baked Brie, and Camembert has its similarities.  The tomato chutney went well with the rosemary and garlic flavors, adding tang and a mellowing out of the saltiness.
  • Salmon Fishcakes – “Lemongrass, chili, coriander, marinated cucumbers, sweet chili dip.”  As one would imagine from the description, there’s a hint of Thai in the taste…not a bad fusion, although not the typical UK pub grub flavors.
  • Oysters – Add a half or full dozen of the daily selection of oysters Againn has up for offer.  They came out with a half lemon (with a cloth filter to catch the pulp and seeds) and a tasty shallot vinegar.

Love me some oysters…

Good fishcakes appetizer…

Entrees:

  • Pork Belly and Crackling – “House made black pudding, apple mash, red wine jus.”  I’ve tried this twice, and every bit of the dish has been delicious.  The pork belly was tender and succulent, and the black pudding and apple mash were flavorful even without the jus.  The crackling was crunchy and went well with the rest of the entree.  If you’re a pork fan, get this one.
  • Grilled Lamb Rump – “Potato gratin, red wine sauce.”  Againn serves the lamb medium, although it appeared closer to medium rare to me.  I actually asked for medium rare, so this was great.  Keep it in mind if you prefer yours more cooked.  The red wine sauce went very well with the meat, and the gratin side was savory (I’m definitely a fan of the sides here – they’re not something that everyone gets right).

If pork belly is on the menu, I’m probably getting it…

Great lamb dish…

Desserts:

  • Cheesecake (special) – Againn was testing a new cheesecake recipe when I was visiting.  Baked cheesecake with an Oreo crust, topped with melted Mascarpone, and served with a berry sauce.  The Mascarpone could have had a little more sweetness, although it worked as a nice contrast with the taste of the rest of the dessert.
  • Sticky Toffee Pudding – served with vanilla ice cream.  Sweet and tasty…a good pub dessert.  I’d get this again.
  • Strawberry Eton Mess – “Pimm’s marinated strawberries, crushed meringue, whipped cream.”  I didn’t get this, but it sounded so good that I want it in the near future.

Againn’s test cheesecake…

Great ending…

Cocktails:

  • God of War – “Makers Mark bourbon, cherry herring, sweet vermouth, Peychauds bitters, house-made blood orange bitters.”
  • Pimm’s Cup No. 13 – “Pimm’s No. 1, choice of any spirit, english cucumber, mint, lemon, ginger syrup, Angostura bitters, ginger beer.”
  • Lady Macbeth – “Choice of vodka or gin, St. Germain elderflower liqueur, lemon, eggwhites.”

These were all good…they’re going up on my list for in-house mixology.

God of War…

Pimm’s Cup No. 13 (with gin)…

Lady Macbeth (with gin)…

If you’re a scotch fan, Againn has something for you.  Besides having an extensive scotch list, scotch lockers, and listed scotch flights, Againn will let you do your own custom flights.  I tried one with Islay scotches…all nice and peaty.

Flight of Islay scotch…Ardbeg 10, Bowmore 15, Caol Ila 12, Oban 14…

Againn has lower reviews on some sites than I would have expected.  As with any restaurants, I’d encourage folks to check places out for themselves before taking a restaurant off your list based on poor reviews – especially when the number of reviewers is low.  Keep Againn on your list.

AGAINN
1099 New York Ave NW
Washington, D.C. 20001
(202) 639-9830
http://www.againndc.com
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