Saturday, May 28, 2011

Look Out Weekend Cuz Here I Come -- to a pool near you

After such an eventful couple of weeks, I am so grateful for a weekend to chillax – and a 3-day weekend at that. The highlight of which, amongst outdoor movies at my friends’ backyard and the Rolling Thunder motorcycle ride along the Mall, is the commencement of pool season.

Pool season is a whole new concept for me, in which swimming pools in the area (perhaps the East Coast in general) open between Memorial Day weekend and Labor Day weekend. Growing up on the West Coast, this was never a big deal. We always had the beach and which was a destination year-round. In Southern California, pools are open year-round and Northern California upward, pools are a rare luxury as are days warm enough to use them.

In DC, pools are a necessity. It’s May and friendly reminders that I live in a converted swamp are already starting to creep. The air-conditioning has been turned on (and it’s working this year!), I think I’ve found a good hair cream to control the way my hair apparently frizzes in the humidity, and I’ve been granted access to a pool in one of those gated communities in the suburbs. Opening day is today, and I cannot wait!

Before I take a dive, below are some highlights from the past couple of weeks, as a preview of a few more thoughtful posts I hope to write out over the weekend if my fingers don’t get too wrinkly:
  • Winning a blind wine-tasting party with my friends’ garagiste wine. OK, it’s a pretty exceptional and award-winning garage wine called Northwest Totem Cellars, but more heartfelt because I helped crush and bottle the wine. As the winner, I received a bottle of all the other contenders, and the honor to host the next party. Feel free to drop me a line if you'd like an invitation.
  • National Archivist David Ferriero & Chef
    Jose Andres discuss the new What's
    Cooking, Uncle Sam?
  • Attending a reception announcing the upcoming, What’s Cooking, Uncle Sam? exhibit at the National Archives, which will look at the history of the influence food has had on the country, and the influence the country has had on food.
  • Strolling and munching throughout the Smithsonian National Zoo at their annual Zoofari event, possibly one of the most exceptional and dizzying fundraisers I’ve ever been to, where it seemed a couple of hundred of DC’s restaurants and drink purveyors offered tastes of some of their finest bites and sips.
  • And if I didn’t get enough to eat at Zoofari, the very next day I got to work behind the scenes for the inaugural Eat, Write, Retreat, a conference for food writers/photographers/bloggers. I was lucky enough to get to work behind the scenes and get an interesting perspective on this unique type of conference that offered lots of hands-on workshops, tours, and lots and lots of eats. Oh, and received an extraodinary abundance of culinary schwag! I still have yet to pore over everything.
    My most favorite dip ever,
    taramasolata (aka Greek caviar)
  • If only it could have stopped there. After a day of “rest” at the office, I got to celebrate the first anniversary of Agora Restaurant with a truly phenomenal Greek/Turkish dinner. They even had my favorite dip, taramosolata, aka Greek caviar, which rivaled Kokkari’s in San Francisco. (This reminds me, I may have to plan a lunch while I’m there next month.) They also offered Turkish coffee after dinner and those that were willing to stay got to see me relive an old childhood talent.
  • The next evening, I got to join a hundred or so of Washington’s LGBT community’s most influential at the exclusive Cosmos Club where a party was held to welcome The Advocate’s new DC Bureau Chief, Andrew Harmon. Names and faces were a virtual who’s who of DC’s power-gays and supporters, including Health & Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, but the highlight for me was meeting NPR’s White House Correspondent (and sometimes Pink Martini guest singer), Ari Shapiro. I now understand the big crush Oprah feels for her designer Nate Berkus. I just couldn’t stop gushing over the guy. As for dining, the appetizers and wine were certainly plentiful, but I just couldn’t focus on them.
    With one of my celebrity crushes, Ari Shapiro.
    In case you're wondering, he's married -- to another man.
  • As if this weren’t enough, the following evening was spent at Medium Rare, a new kind of steakhouse with a new kind of prix fixe menu of salad and steak for $19.95. There is no choice, with the exception of how your steak is to be cooked, and despite the restaurant’s name, you don’t have to order it medium rare (although, optimally, you may want to). There is one kind of salad, with a subtle Dijon vinaigrette, and the steak comes with fries (no, I didn’t ask for them to be well done) and there is one kind of sauce – and you want it. You once you taste it, you will want to bathe in that sauce. It is that good and I am salivating from just the memory of it.
Is it no wonder why I am feeling quite intimidated to put on my bathing suit for the first time since Christmas? However, after spending a long hot and humid day visiting the expansive Mount Vernon Estate (yes, the one from the history books), there’s not much else I’d like to do than splash in a pool.

Tutoring technology over time at Mount Vernon.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Ardeo+Bardeo = One doubly-good reason to visit Cleveland Park

I have to admit that my heart sunk a bit when I found out some good friends were moving out of their conviently located (to me) U Street Corridor home to Cleveland Park. They may as well be moving all the way to Cleveland, Ohio, I feared, perhaps the same way Manhattanites feel when friends move to Brooklyn. I guess with their expanding family and having to steer the kids away from broken beer bottles from the night before, it makes sense.

I didn't know much about the neighborhood except, the Metro stop, Two Amy's Pizza and a mysterious place I kept hearing about called Ardeo+Bardeo. I'd probably heard about the Ardeo, the American bistro years before or even Bardeo, the wine bar, but I don't hear too many equations as restaurant names, so I was intrigued. Turns out this past fall, owner and well-known restaurateur, Ashok Bajaj, decided to not only renovate the two enterprises, but conjoin them into one.

The result is two doors leading into a spacious establishment with an extensive zinc bar replacing the wall that originally separated Ardeo and Bardeo. The Ardeo/restaurant side on the left first greets diners with a long 14-seat community table with a mirrored wall and then expands into a more traditional dining area decorated with a mural of black & white 1950s-style diner photos accented by cocoa-colored walls and seating. The combination exudes an almost schizophrenic reaction between the elegant decor and the nostalgically casual art. The slightly smaller Bardeo/bar side on the right is decorated with those same cocoa-colored walls, but accented with smaller black & white photos along the same theme. My favorite decoration of that side is the stone pizza oven where Chef Nate Garyantes (formerly executive sous chef at Minibar) and his team toast up some divine pizzas and flatbreads that even Two Amys regulars would salivate for. Upstairs also has a nice-sized dining room and small bar that could be used for private parties. And just in time for spring, is the new patio to enjoy our wonderful spring weather.

Their savory snacks can turn a happy hour into an elated one. In particular, I enjoyed the sweet, salty, tangy and textured combination of the pork belly, pineapple and ham skewers, while the sundried cherry and garlic flatbread intrigued me to the wonders of that clay oven. The involtini of burrata with spring vegetables wasn't very steady, so a bit messy to eat, but realized later it was because the burrata is house-made and super-fresh (forgiven!). The steak on top of fingerling "crostini" was topped with a horseradish creme fraiche, that even a typical steak & potatoes Idahoan would salivate for, although anyone who dines with me would know I would have preferred my potatoes a bit more crostini-like (crispy). And while the menu offers a nice selection of charcuterie, the horseradish potato salad that accompanies the house-cured bresaola (air-dried beef) may steal the show. However, the one dish not to be missed, regardless of how warm it may be outside, is the new potato and parmesan soup. Perfectly balanced, seasoned, textured and tasty, all my taste-buds sang with happiness at every sip. I almost want winter to come back just so I could have some more to warm me up.

So, now on to that clay oven and those pizzas I've been hinting about. It's not surprising a Jose Andres alumnus would come up with some innovatively tasty takes on typical topping combinations. After the pork bell/ham/pineapple skewer, I was more than excited to try the duck ham, pineapple, fontina, foie gras pizza. The Shakey's Hawaiian pizza that I grew up with, it was not. While it was certainly as lush as it sounded, seeing the foie gras melted everywhere made me question if it was the best use of such a premium product. Perhaps next time I should do a comparison of bites with the foie and without. The wild mushrooms, black garlic, sottocenere, fontina pizza is an excellent choice for mushroom lovers and offers a similar full-palette sensation that the potato soup did. Devout meat-lovers pizza fans can rejoice with the soppresatta, pancetta, house bacon, bresaola pizza, a bouquet of the wonders of meat. New England pizza fans would think we flew north for the dinner with the rock shrimp, lemon, garlic, creme fraiche pizza. Of course, traditionalists will love their fresh and flavorful mozzarella, tomato, basil pizza.

If you want pizza and don't want to deal with the Two Amys crowd, Ardeo+Bardeo is a very worthy alternative. I, for one, now look forward to visiting my friends after their move, and can't wait to introduce them to this place.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Sentimental for Seattle -- One Year Later

A year ago today, I was scrambling around my apartment packing up the last of my belongings, while giving away as much as I could, prepping for my going away/birthday party and slipping in a lunch date at the Ballard Urban Picnic (BURP!) with an old friend.

Getting giddy w/ some gal pals
Having two weeks (not together, mind you), wasn't very much time to get it all together, especially considering I was still working full time. I couldn't really get organized to advertise, post and sell everything in the timing I wanted to and I ended up just giving most everything away. When I say most everything, I mean everything except books, kitchen supplies and clothes. It was time to let go and start a new life.
Toasting w/ my dear friend, Ross
Of course, I needed to celebrate
and offer gratitude to my old life, too, so I invited a few friends over. Since I was going rogue from Seattle, it was only appropriate that the man called "Seattle's Rogue Chef," Gabriel Claycamp, show off some of his culinary skill for a Filipino feast. It was nice not to have to cook, especially since most of my stuff was gone, and I'm grateful to him and his team for taking care of that for me . . . and that pineapple cake.

The party was so cool, we had to tweet about it
 It was so great to see people who've meant a lot to me over the years, like former colleagues, fellow entrepreneurs, walking buddies, classmates, students, and even an old friend I knew in college. New friends, came, too, who even took the time to brag about how cool the party was, on Twitter.

One last goodbye kiss from Sebastian
Words can't express all the love I still feel for my friends back in Seattle. (I almost want to say "back home," but it's not -- and it feels weird that it isn't.) For those that were able to make it and those that made it in Spirit, thank you. To Alyson, Phillip and David, thank you guys for helping me finish setting up. To Alyson, Inti and Rebecca, thanks for bringing the boys and young fun to the party. To Ross for representing one of my dearest families. And an extra special shout out to John, Patricia, Jenise, Mike, Keren and the lovely Miss Traca for sticking around until the wee hours of the evening (and morning) to help me finish up the clean-up and pack-up. T-Grrr and I would probably not have made the flight (or my deposit back) without you.

The next morning was surprisingly easy and even got captured in the New York Times.