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A Belated Blogiversary Best of 2010

*Post by Mark & Angela.

One whole year. A year since we started this little experiment of a blog, a year since we took our food game to the next level. Loyal followers of the blog have stuck with us since our ugly layout over at blogspot, and may have noticed a slight evolution in picture-taking (we're still figuring out how this thing works). With this post, we'll have put up 100 recipe posts and a 150 restaurant posts. Not too shabby for our first year.

In that year, we've switched coasts, moving from DC to LA. We've also made a lot of really good friends through blogging, and had a handful of mind-blowing meals, some great ones, some good ones... and a few duds.

But today, as we look back on 2010 - our first year of blogging - let's focus on what was great (like this seared foie gras from Proof in DC, below). Ready?



Best Unblogged Meals

Not every meal lends itself to being blogged. Sometimes toting a camera is inappropriate. Sometimes, you - err... forget said camera at home. 

The former was the case when Angela toured through Chef Keller's 9-course menu at Per Se, and the latter was true when we found ourselves at DC's classy cafe Palena, sans camera. The fried marrow at Per Se blew Angela's mind and the Roast Chicken (crappy iPhone picture below) at Palena was arguably the best Mark had ever tasted.



Everyone knows the old adage, "If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?" Well, if you're a food-blogger and you don't take a picture of it... did you even eat it at all? When it's become your hobby to obsessively take pictures of everything you eat, the answer is sadly not as obvious as you might think.

Best Pizza

Ah... a subject very dear to our hearts. Let's start with the runner-ups - our two favorite DC-area pizzerias: Taking the DC crown by a thin slice of pepperoni is 2 Amys (also unblogged) whose Neapolitan pies are almost perfect. Pizzeria Orso wasn't that far off, (Orso's meat-heavy Giamette below) with their volcanic brick-oven churning out pizzas almost identical to 2 Amys. 



A New York trip enabled us to check out the pies (and super long lines) at Grimaldi's, but the real winner in 2010 comes from the birthplace of 'Apizza': New Haven, CT. At Pepe's we were treated to some of the finest, most perfect pizza we'd ever tasted. It wasn't just the best pizza we'd eaten in 2010, it was probably the best pizza we've ever eaten.

Best Cheesesteak

This section exists only because we were lucky enough to make a few summer trips to sunny Philadelphia in 2010. Mark posted not one but two extensive reviews of the best cheesesteaks in town. The winner turned out to be John's Roast Pork (below), whose steak sandwich is even better then the pork it built its namesake on.



Earning points for creativity is Jose Andres with Minibar's "Philly cheesesteak" (below), which has a clever and delicious spin on the Philly classic (the 'whiz' is in the middle!).


Hottest Food

You can't have a 'hottest' section without a hat tip to the Thais. At Pa-Ord, Angela found out the hard way just how much spice can go into dish. The boat noodles at Pa-Ord were an easy choice for runner-up. More on them in a minute.

The winner was a concoction of our own, in which we loaded a curry with Ghost Pepper. The best part was that video-taped our friend eating an entire plate of the hot-as-lava curry:



Best Burger

While we have to give a nostalgic mention to our favorite DC burger franchise, Ray's Hell Burger, the winner was an easy choice. Oaks Gourmet's burger (below) comes stacked with black forest bacon, taleggio cheese, red onion, arugula and a jalapeno-pineapple compote. Burger chains, take note - this is how a burger should be done.



Best Sandwich

Our Los Angeles adventures have already made us huge fans of the sandwich shop around the corner, All About the Bread and its fresh baked, crispy-on-the-outside bread. But, aside from all the delicious burgers and cheesesteaks we've eaten this year, the best thing we ate between two slices of bread were the amazing Italian sandwiches (below) at Di Pasquales in Baltimore.



Best Cheap Eats

Nothing beats a great meal that doesn't break the bank. Any short list would have to include Vietnamese sandwich at the DC-area Bánh Mì DC Sandwich, the mouth-numbing mapo tofu at DC's Great Wall, the aforementioned sandwiches from Charm City's Di Pasquales, Ethiopian delicacies from Lalibela, a Luchador-themed taco shop in San Diego and delicious new-wave tacos from Los Angeles' very own Tinga Buena (below)... which, truth be told, aren't even that cheap compared to most taquerias. But this is our list, so be quiet.



Once again, a little Thai hole-in-the-wall just outside of Hollywood has stolen our hearts and left us our wallets. Not only did those spicy boat noodles (below) at Pa-Ord make an impression on us heat-wise, but entrees at this authentic Thai eatery are mostly $6 or $7. 



Best Dessert

A few desserts stand out above the rest. Osteria Mozza's trio of gelatos, the Tre Gelati Misti nearly stole the show from an already amazing dinner. The 'Kit Kat Bar' (below, left) was a memorable meal-ender at Michel Richard's Central in DC. And that's olive oil ice cream melting over the Chocolate Cream dessert (below, right) at DC's Equinox, but it's the chocolate and coffee granules that made it a textural treat...



But the big winner was a subtle dessert that achieved the impossible. This one got Angela, a notorious dessert-skipper with no sweet tooth, to fall in love with dessert. The bacon-seared pound cake at Eola combines an artful presentation with subtle savory flavors. Served over a delicious bacon anglaise, the pound cake is topped with berries, herbs and a cucumber-basil ice cream.


Best Meal At Home 

We love to cook, too. And by 'we,' we mean 'Angela.' Mark has been on the receiving end of more home-cooked food then he deserves. They can't all be winners, but some meals have stuck in our minds longer then others. Take for instance Angela's Chicken Adobo (below), or that one time that the gnocchi turned out the way it was supposed to. 



Angela's Beer Can Chicken (below) combined two things we're passionate about (poultry and beer) to great effect. And we may be trying to forget the finale of the show 'Lost,' but we won't soon forget the dorky-as-all-get-out 'Lost'-Themed Dinner we prepared for the final season's premiere.



But the most memorable meal may have to be our first foray into homemade pasta making, when Angela magically turned hours of frustrating labor into some of the best pasta we've ever had. Angela's Butternut Squash Ravioli with Butter and Sage (below) melted in our mouths. Sure, things tend to taste better when you've slaved over them yourself, but this is a dish I'd be happy ordering anywhere.



Favorite Restaurant Experience

Because it's not just about the food, sometimes service and atmosphere can contribute as much or more to the overall experience. It was pretty awe-inspiring just to be in the house that Ripert built at Le Bernardin and to experience seamless three-Michelin star service. At Baltimore's Woodberry Kitchen (below) we discovered just how far a concept and environment could take an already great meal. 



We left San Diego unable to talk about anything besides the fantastic food, service and experience we'd had at Whisknladdle, and had memorable experiences at Chef Byron Brown's Artisa Kitchen in DC and Thursday night Big Fat Greek Supper at LA's Papa Cristos.

But the ultimate dining experience this year was our trip to Jose Andres' Minibar in DC - a six-seat bar where a team of chefs concoct a series of dishes before your eyes with mind-blowing molecular technique. We enjoyed thirty courses in all, like the maki-style, rolled 'Guacamole' (below, left) or the 'Tzatziki' (below, right) created by dropping greek yogurt in liquid nitrogen.



Best Food

Experience-wise nothing tops Minibar, whose food was still amongst some of the best we've tasted over the course of 2010. We also can't leave out Le Bernardin or Per Se. Other close-to-perfect meals, like our memorable trip to DC's Eola, just seemed to have the food-ordering gods looking out for us. We can't leave out our new favorite LA restaurant, Fraiche (Chef Ben Bailly's veal tartare below) after an incredible Christmas evening dinner with family.



But the big grand prize winner of the year goes to Komi, DC's top-rated restaurant for very good reason. Weeks of busy signals finally yielded a reservation, and our treat was a 20-course Greek-inspired menu, crafted by the masterful hands of Chef Johnny Monis. Komi doesn't allow pictures, but we still vividly recall every dish that - arranged in a journey that culminated with homemade pastas and a feast of slow-roasted goat shoulder - is still something we dream about. 

Thank you all for sticking with us this year! We're looking forward to another year of eating great food and meeting wonderful people. 2011 is sure to be even better then 2010.


Ulah Bistro: Brunch

*Post by Mark.

Ulah Bistro, located in the heart of DC's U Street district is a place I've never been able to try for dinner, but has been a trusted brunch depot ever since my first trip there. There's an upstairs, a bar, and a see-and-be-seen patio. Every time I've been, we've sat near the bar in the main dining room (below, right). It's been near-empty every time, because Ulah is one of a few places in town that starts serving their brunch at ten and us two early birds show up right as they open the doors. 



On this trip, I decided to start my morning off with an Irish Coffee, dashed with a splash of festive green dye in the whip cream- surely, a true Irishman wouldn't drink it any other way. 



We split an order of the Breakfast Pizza (below), with basil tomato sauce, prosciutto, and three sunny-side up eggs. The pizza is what's brought me back to Ulah for repeat visits. The rest of the food could be completely forgettable, but the inclusion of prosciutto and three - count 'em, three - eggs on top make this pie the ultimate hangover indulgence. What I appreciate most about the pizza is that the crust is just thick and chewy enough to shoulder the burden of bacon and eggs without caving in.



The pizza could've been enough to feed the both of us, but we each opted for more. Angela got the classic Eggs Benedict, which came with a slice of watermelon and home fries (below, left). I went with the Breakfast Bacon, Egg & Cheese sandwich, which heaped scrambled eggs, bacon, gorgonzola, lettuce, and tomato, between two hefty pieces of mini braided challah bread (below, right). I wasn't particularly excited about the gorgonzola combination in the sandwich, but Angela seemed satisfied with her passable Eggs Benedict.



Neither of the entrees quite tickled our fancies, but that merely saved each of us more room to go back for seconds on that amazing breakfast pizza - it is, after all, the thing that keeps me going back. 


Ulah Bistro on Urbanspoon


Cashion's Eat Place

*Post by Angela.

I will admit, I'm an addict. Or at least I was - everytime I'd see a Living Social deal or Groupon for a DC restaurant, any restaurant, I'd snatch it up like it was the last piece of sopressata on a charcuterie plate. Now that Mark and I will be leaving the District soon, I've had to hold my coupon-buying impulses in check and even more pressing, use up the coupons I've already purchased. I'd been carrying around a Living Social coupon for Cashion's Eat Place for several months now. After enjoying a very social night at a Tweetup at Eden, we headed to dinner at the Adams Morgan establishment with the charismatic and entertaining @BlaketheMega.



The inside of the restaurant is much more elegant than its almost diner-like exterior sign would lead you to believe, with a beautiful raised bar dominating the center of the room. The decor in the surrounding dining area is simple and relaxed, with nice, clean lines, and an upscale, neighborhood-y feel. Service-wise, we scored a home run - our server was incredibly friendly, helpful, and knowledgeable, and ready with suggestions upon our request.



The first dish we ordered was the seared Hudson Valley foie gras with peach gastrique (below).  I don't often like fruit in savory dishes, but this was an exception - the sweetness and brightness of the peaches and the gastrique (fancy for "thick reduction/sauce") paired singingly with the rich and fatty foie gras.



The next appetizer was the lamb sweetbreads with Catalan spinach (below). The sweetbreads were very nicely cooked and seasoned, and the cornmeal crust gave way to a creamy interior - Mark deemed them his favorite sweetbreads this side of Zaytinya - although the accompanying spinach was slightly over-salty (a criticism we've actually heard from others regarding the food at Cashion's).



Our final appetizer was a Virginia field chucker (a small game bird) with bacon, frisse, grapes, walnuts and grilled halloumi (below). There were really great things about this dish - the meat was really juicy and tender, and the halloumi was delicious. It did seem a little scattered, concept-wise, though, and again, suffered just a tad from oversalting.



For his entree, Blake went with the stuffed leg of young rabbit with mushroom duxelle, lasagna with rabbit bolognese, broccoli rabe and tomato coulis (below).  This was a very busy dish, but judging from the bite or two I had, all the components were really well-executed.



Mark had the EcoFriendly Foods pork shoulder with oregano, onions and chilies with a black-eyed pea salad, house-made flatbread and tzatsiki (below). The plating was kind of a mess, but we didn't mind, because the meat was tender and juicy. While the pork itself was a little heavy, it got a nice lift from the fresh-tasting and slightly spicy accompaniments.



I ordered the wild Pacific halibut with lemony breadcrumbs over a risotto of wild mushrooms and truffle oil (below). The halibut was flaky and well-seasoned, just as it should be, and rested on a bed of very lush, very thick, very heavy risotto. While I think the risotto might fit better on a cooler-weather menu, I thought it was really enjoyable.



The guys both opted for dessert, and Mark selected the chocolate almond chiffon tarte with Kahlua cream and fudge sauce (below).  For a dish with the words "chocolate" and "fudge" in the title, it was not as heavy as I had feared, and I loved the velvety texture of the chiffon tarte.



Blake ordered the fig and goat cheese tarte with sugared pine nuts and lavender honey (below). This was a lovely dessert, with the flavors melding together perfectly - I generally don't love lavender in dishes, but here it was subtle and worked well.



On the whole, it was a very enjoyable meal - the food ranged from solid to very, very good, the service was fantastic, and given our coupon, the price was pretty darned good. While I am sad to be saying goodbye to D.C. and its Living Social and Groupon deals, here's some advice: next time you see a deal for Cashion's, follow my example and buy, buy, buy!


Cashion's Eat Place on Urbanspoon



*Post by Angela.

I complain a lot about how high expectations can ruin a meal, but every once in awhile, I have an experience where those expectations are met and I walk away with such a sense of...fulfillment (like when I saw Sin City that one time!). I had been waiting for months to go to Equinox, #95 on Washingtonian's Top 100 list in 2010 - after suffering a serious fire in December 2009, owners Todd and Ellen Gray renovated and reopened this past June. We finally got a chance to visit the restaurant for dinner in its tucked-away little spot on Farragut Square with the lovely CC from DC-Wrapped Dates (disclosure: CC is an Equinox VIP. Well, she's just generally a VIP in our book, but she's specifically an Equinox VIP for purposes of this post). And it was definitely worth the wait.



The renovated interior is elegant and understated. I thought one of the walls looked a little like cubed tofu, but somehow the effect was pleasant. Despite the upscale decor, it didn't feel pretentious.



To go along with the handsome decor, we had wonderful service, friendly, knowledgeable and helpful. CC pointed out all the appetizers we had already tried at the Mid-Atlantic Red Fruit Festival Launch Party a few days prior, so Mark and I both started with the appetizer portions of the pasta dishes.

I ordered the saffron fettucine with sausage ragu, sweetbreads, anise hyssop (a slightly bitter minty herb), and parmesan reggiano (below), and it might have been my favorite of the night. The pasta was one of those great dishes in which all the ingredients bring something fantastic to the table and meld together perfectly - the fettucine was, as promised on the menu, silky, the sausage ragu was rich and complex, and the cornmeal-crusted sweetbreads added deliciously creamy bites.



Mark had the raviolini of sweet corn and Yukon potato, with chanterelle mushrooms, pickled scallion butter, and aged sheep's cheese (below). One surprise was the addition of actual popcorn, which added a great textural contrast. Mark liked the dish a lot, but I preferred my pasta and would go back for an entree-sized portion in a heartbeat.



CC had the roasted red pepper soup (below) off the vegetarian tasting menu, and it was deliciously lush and bright, with a depth of flavor I rarely taste in vegetarian soups. One thing of note about Equinox is that it's one of the few restaurants (that I know of) in the District that offers a full vegetarian tasting menu. While I've never tried it, one of our good vegetarian friends is a raving fan.



At CC's insistence, we ordered a side of the Macaroni and Cheese (below). There are no real bells and whistles here - this is your basic mac and cheese, but it's executed exactly right, rich, buttery and almost overwhelmingly cheesy.



For my entree, I ordered the jumbo lump crabcake, which rested on a bed of black bean/tortilla strip mixture (below). I didn't pay much attention to the black bean concoction, which was pretty good, with slices of bell pepper adding a nice crunchy sweetness. No, I was too busy reveling in the crabcake, which had virtually no filler (just capers, which added a great tanginess), just huge lumps of crab goodness. In fact, the crabcake seemed to be a little magical - I couldn't figure out how it stayed together. It was also perfectly seasoned and cooked.



Mark had the breast of Muscovy duck with slow-cooked confit (below). The dish was very good, a winning combination of juicy duck with sweet figs.



CC had the jumbo sea scallops and Hawaiian blue prawns, with a bouillabaisse jus, roasted baby fennel, and a saffron rouille crouton (below). I had just a bite of the dish, but the scallops were as perfectly cooked as I've ever had, and I loved how roasting the fennel had mellowed the sometimes overwhelming anise flavor.



Mark got the Equinox Chocolate Cream with olive oil ice cream, hazelnuts, and coffee "soil." Without being overly sweet, the dessert had the perfect crunch added by the hazelnuts and coffee/chocolate granules. While it bordered on being too rich for me, Mark found it close to perfection.



CC got the Coconut and Cantaloupe, with cantaloupe sorbet, candied almond, and coconut-lime cream. I didn't have any of this dish (allergic to cantaloupe), but it was a pretty plate and CC and Mark seemed to really enjoy it.



As excited as I was for this meal, I was even more excited afterwards that everything had lived up to my expectations. Chef Todd's seasonal take on Mid-Atlantic cuisine is creative and delicious, and the Grays have combined the wonderful food with a beautiful restaurant and top-notch staff. I'm so happy to welcome Equinox back to the D.C. dining scene after its hiatus, and hope it's around for years to come.


Equinox on Urbanspoon


Meridian Pint

*Post by Angela.

I love discovering new places with my friends. Last weekend, I met with some of my nearest and dearest (including Annie and Ross, who are enthusiastic eating adventure companions, and the famed Calypso) at Meridian Pint in Columbia Heights to celebrate the birthday of one of my favorite Washingtonians, my good friend Dan. Only open for about 2 months, Meridian Pint was "founded on the premise of environmental sustainability," with a focus on American craft beers. The establishment's commitment to the environment seems to be more than just lip service, as its energy source comes from wind mill farms in the way of green energy credits. Meridian Pint also offers vegan food and drink options.



The interior is interesting, with an industrial theme - exposed pipe, brick walls,  heavy wood, tables inlaid with blueprints, and cogs and gears everywhere. The website explains that much of the equipment, furniture, construction materials and design elements have been recycled or reclaimed. I spent a little time with Calypso in the basement level bar, which sports a couple of pool tables, a wide open space,  two booths at which patrons can pour their own beers, and a very casual atmosphere, before heading upstairs to meet with my friends for dinner in the dining area (below). The dining area is lit mostly by natural light streaming through the big panel windows; this meant that as it got later, the dining area got dimmer and dimmer until it became almost too dark to see down to the end of the table to where the birthday boy was seated.



It took some time for our group of 10 to get settled and order, so we started out with an order of fries with rarebit sauce (cheese, beer, and mustard) for the table. The fries were fine, nothing special, but the sauce was really tasty - the slight bitterness from the beer paired well with the tanginess of the mustard and the oh-so-yummy cheesiness.



In fact, the sauce was so good that we used it to dip our order of onion rings (below). Annie and I thought that they were some of the best rings we'd ever had, thick-cut, meaty with a perfect golden and crispy exterior. Ross thought there was a little too much batter, but still liked them. We loved them with the rarebit sauce, but they were served with a horseradish aioli, which was also great.



Annie and Ross opted for the cauliflower curry soup special, served warm (below). While Ross was a little unsettled by the temperature, they both appreciated the subtleness of the curry and really enjoyed it. Ross, who is a fairly particular eater, was impressed at our friendly and knowledgable server's efforts to accommodate his requests (no cilantro or yogurt on top), and she made sure to ask whether he was allergic to these ingredients. In fact, we were all pretty impressed with the way she deftly managed our big group.



I got an order of deviled eggs (below), which were okay, but lacked the textural contrast and bite that I've loved with more creative versions of this classic.



Ross got the pulled beef short rib sandwich (below), which he liked but didn't think was amazingly great - the meat could have been more tender, which is what I generally expect from a pulled meat dish.



I also opted for the short ribs, albeit in entree form. The meat was braised in porter, and served with macaroni and cheese and wilted spinach (below). The beer braise brought out a nice, rich and deep flavor in the meat, although I agreed with Ross that it was not as tender as I would have liked. The sides, however, had little to recommend them - both were in dire need of seasoning.



Annie got the double-cut brined pork chop with a rhubarb hard-cider sauce, served with roasted sweet potatoes and braised kale (below). The server warned us that it was a big portion, but we were not prepared for the MONSTER cut that soon arrived. If you're a hungry bug, this is the dish for you. The pork was very nice, having benefitted greatly from the brining, juicy and well-seasoned. The sweet potato wedges were okay, but the kale suffered the same defect as my sides - bland and a little bitter.



I think Meridian Pint has what it takes to be a neighborhood fixture for years to come - the food needs some work (mostly seasoning-wise), but they've got time, and I really like the fun atmosphere, great service, and sense of social responsibility that the newbie brings to the table. And any place that puts up with our merry band of miscreants is fine by me.

Meridian Pint on Urbanspoon