Favorite things in the latest Runcible Spoon

(Get your issue here.)

1. How Malaka mailed it in a gold envelope.

2. How much, while reading James Ringwald’s “Hot Dog for Breakfast,” I want to eat a Lazy Corndog, which sounds awful but great. “Alternate bites of cooked hot dog and light cornbread. Mix in mouth, swallow, repeat.”

3. How, in Wesley Tashir-Rodriguez’s “It’s Always Morning Somewhere,” I learned in Italy people eat gelato on brioche. New life goal for me.

4. How in Claire’s “Illustrated Guide to Rube Goldberg Breakfast Machinery” the machine in Pee Wee’s Big Adventure gets notes of confusion on how it works, confirming my suspicions as I saw it this winter for the first time.

5. How Lori’s “What’s for Breakfast?” cut-me-out paper fortune-teller (go Community!) included on one panel just a bananas sticker.

Great winter meals, so far

After all of the fall’s travel wound down, the first chunk of this winter has proven a good time for good eating, both in and out. For recommendation purposes, I’ve tried to capture the latter below, with one exception. What also makes me happy is that most meals eaten in, not on this list, were pretty healthy, offsetting… nearly everything here. On to meatball subs…

Seasonal Pantry put out a tweet: a rare midday opening to serve meatball sandwiches with smoked turkey on top. We practically ran up the street. The sandwich was the best meatball sandwich I’ve ever had in my entire life. It likely took a year off the entirety of that life. But still. It was great.

At Lori’s friend Laura’s house down in Falmouth, I tasted pomegranate for the first time. I’m not sure how I hadn’t tried it before, considering it has gone everywhere  in the past few years. I liked it. Doing none of the work in preparing it might have helped. I thank those who did (thank you, Lori). The demonstration of the wacky way to cut it was worth admission alone.

No travel to Fredericksburg is complete without a meal at Foode. That meal usually turns out to be an enormous brunch. Not pictured: a fantastic bowl of grits and biscuits with different types of butter, too quickly consumed.

I briefly got back in the food-truck game in early December. Boring results. I miss the days when you knew all the trucks and all of them were good.

Luke’s Lobster wins sandwich of the winter, hands-down: the lobster grilled cheese sandwich. Gruyere works perfectly with the lobster, and instead of one overpowering the other, they all win. I don’t know why no one’s made this before. It’s only on a winter menu, but I hope it stays for a long time.

Green Pig, Arlington. What you’re seeing is pork belly and pork shank on a mix of andouille sausage, grits and green. It was stellar. Unfortunately, we didn’t realize the appetizer courses were enormous. A kale Caesar, some of the best cornbread I’ve ever had in my life (I am not kidding you) and the risotto of smoked duck, pumpkin and egg — as good as it reads — knocked us over before we even got to the main. We took a lot to go. So worth it.

The exception: My mom is great. So are her Christmas cookies.


Other great meals this winter that I’ve forgotten to photograph

Kushi. We went with Becky and Kyle, and we ordered a bunch of dishes we had either seen in Jiro Dreams of Sushi or been inspired to eat because of it. Egg, in particular! Egg and mint rolls were a surprising winner. Seared fatty salmon also was stunning. I’m forgetting several wins — Lori, Becky, Kyle, any memory? — because there were a lot of winners. Only one dish qualified as a tad less-than-great, and I don’t remember that one either.

Honey Pig. Lauren and Steve joined us, and we were lucky to get a quiet table in the way back. Every meal there has a meat revelation or two. This time the revelations were the seasoned boneless rib and Lauren’s find of letting some pieces sit on the grill long after cooking intensifying the flavor.

Dangerously Delicious. I’d never had their Baltimore Bomb pie before. We went with Adam and Erin, and they recommended it strongly. I will have it again. And again. From the DD site: “This pie has quickly climbed to a top selling position. Created especially for Baltimore by one mean Dangerously Delicious Pie slinger, it’s loaded with Berger Cookies (a local specialty) that melt down and swirl into a sweet vanilla chess filling.” The mix is amazing.

Screwtop. Went for lunch during the week off — the even-unplugging-work-email week off — last week. Ordered the funky cheese plate. Liked it. Ordered the Swiss Turkey Melt with a bowl of tomato bisque. Loved it.

Bayou Bakery. It’s up the street from my apartment, and I continue to be so glad it’s there. Just about everything is good. The people are nice. It wakes up a boring corner and connects the neighborhood in a way that previously didn’t seem possible. And it mixes grits and meat gloriously.

Four Courts. Three words: Hogan’s Breakfast Sandwich. “A gooey ham and Dubliner cheddar sandwich topped with béchamel and a fried egg. Served with O’Brien potatoes.” I didn’t know what béchamel was then. I do now.

The Wharf. The Alexandria restaurant claimed to have the best crab-cake sandwiches in the city. I don’t think they’re wrong. Cool that a restaurant my parents visited when they were dating is still open and cooking so well.

Any recommendations for the rest of winter?

Send them along.

Speaking truth to Donkey Sauce

The greatest New York Times restaurant review ever.

What accounts for the vast difference between the Donkey Sauce recipe you’ve published and the Donkey Sauce in your restaurant? Why has the hearty, rustic appeal of roasted-garlic mayonnaise been replaced by something that tastes like Miracle Whip with minced raw garlic?

And when we hear the words Donkey Sauce, which part of the donkey are we supposed to think about?

Is the entire restaurant a very expensive piece of conceptual art? Is the shapeless, structureless baked alaska that droops and slumps and collapses while you eat it, or don’t eat it, supposed to be a representation in sugar and eggs of the experience of going insane?

Why did the toasted marshmallow taste like fish?

Always be smelling

On the way out of Bayou Bakery the other night last week, Jeremy, Greg and I smelled bacon. Strongly. The smell wasn’t inside the restaurant. But outside, immediately out the side door, bacon consumed you. We walked down the ramp. The smell disappeared. We poked back inside. No bacon.

But then the Bayou owner walked by and like any good journalists, we asked him. The cooks were indeed preparing the bacon, and the vent was behind a nearby tree. You could smell it three levels down in the parking garage, he said. They couldn’t cook it during the day because managers from the high-rise above didn’t like it. Distracting workers, we surmised.

Saturday morning, I went back and got a bacon, egg and cheese biscuit sandwich to go (and maybe a chocolate croissant too). Once at home, I unwrapped the sandwich and tasted what we had smelled. Bacon in the doorway became bacon on the tongue, and that is this post’s only point.

‘The croissant section alone is nine pages’

I wish I’d taken a picture of the croissants I bought this week. I wish I’d taken a picture of how they smelled. I wish the technology were available for one to take a picture of a smell. I apologize to those next to me on the Metro. I wish I could have taken a picture of your smiling, smelling faces.

But while I have no photos, I’m here to tell you they smelled and looked and tasted delicious. Friends, knowing my love of croissants, have told me how well Leonora Bakery in Clarendon makes them. I can now confirm they’re some of the best I’ve ever had. Flaky and sturdy mix perfectly.

This week in the L.A. Times, there’s a book review, “Bouchon Bakery, fighting the fear of croissants.” The book turns out to be an indulgently explanatory Thomas Keller baking guide, not the pro-croissant treatise America needs to feel comfortable eating them beyond special occasions. But this disappointment only shows how such a book still needs writing.

Let me help your M&M’s find perfection

You’re so close. I’m no candy-maker, no chocolatier, no sweet savant. But I fashion myself an amateur advice-giver, an interested observer, a taste transcriptionist, translator and bud. I can be a reliable reactor to your chocolate offerings, a snack-taker and a market-placer. I can tell you how your candy can, man.

And, with your M&M’s Dark Chocolate Snack Mix, you’re so close.

On the salty side, you advertise pretzels and roasted almonds. On the sweet side, you tout raisins and dark chocolate M&Ms. When I first see the bag, I think what you have — along with the surprisingly rare dark chocolate M&M’s — are pretzel M&M’s, almond M&M’s and a new, amazing kind of Raisinet challenger, raisin M&M’s. Opening the bag, I find the pretzels, almonds and raisins are straight-up pretzel, almond and raisins. Fine. My expectations for candy are always too high. I apologize to my beloved Raisinets for my distraction.

But I accept the new sweet reality and adjust. What we have here is not the something I expect, but it is surely something. The right handful from the bag is a pointedly neutral saltiness leading into a bright and rich sweetness. The pretzels aren’t too salty — more subtle than salty, toasted dough as foundation. The almonds are barely salty either, working as a bridge. The dark chocolate and the raisins then take off. If you’re not one to rhapsodize about candy, I’m sorry.  Have some more candy.

The mix is winning but, as noted above, not perfect. One food blogger notes this mix isn’t about candy, and she’s right. The mix is about the mix, the taste spectrum that meshes in your mouth, not your hand. Where this offering can improve is in its balance. The pretzel is too dominant. Small already, the twist needs to get tinier, so it doesn’t wrap around the sweetness too tightly. After setting the table, you have to let the arrived brightness run.

I hope the Mars Company can make some use of these thoughts. Or, more realistically, friends, you can coordinate your handfuls appropriately. This blog is looking out for you. And your candy. Especially your candy.

The best FAQ may be a cheese FAQ

After reading about my recent cheese journey, my brother sent me a gift card to Murrays’ Cheese Shop for my birthday. The card came with a FAQ that was enjoyably straightforward.

Q: My box arrived, and the delivery person fled because it smells so bad. Is the cheese rotten?

A: No! Cheese in a box for a day or more can start to smell. Here in New York we’ve been known to clear a subway car with a bag of cheese cut 15 minutes ago. Plus, some cheeses just, well, stink. We recommend unpacking it and getting it into the fridge. It will be fine, and your delivery person will be as well.

Ever have an entire cheese plate to yourself?

Goat, buffalo, sheep, cow, cow, cow. Paired with rosé, rosé, rosé. Yes, Pretty Pink rode again, but the reason for the evening was the cheese.

The cheese! Six kinds, three ages. Soft, newborn, runny under a rind. A middle road with snap and flavor. A funkier, full-grown set, one salty, one blue. Fromager Carolyn Stromberg got into cheese at Palena, got serious with it at Cowgirl Creamery, fed the city’s restaurant market at Cheesetique, took over a cheese cave (I imagine it’s like the Bat Cave) at National Harbor, and then went into business for herself — teaching cheese — with The Cheese Course, which is how she fed us Monday.

Every once in a while, Stromberg does classes at Seasonal Pantry, the amazing handmade-food shop and supper-club spot in NPR’s hood. (I ate one of my favorite meals of 2011 there.) Lori snagged tickets to a class, and we went after work. I could’ve eaten the cheeses all night. The pairings were spot on, too. Beyond the wines, it was cool to hear the craft explained in depth, to hear the complexities of beasts, food, science, market, and work, and to taste how well they came together.

If you get a chance to go to a Cheese Course, especially at Seasonal Pantry, go. There is cheese, and there is cheese. Going italic with my food is still a strange adventure for me. See any number of posts in this blog. But the italics turn out to be flavor: crisp, real and exciting.

The marrow of life and dinner

Sunday night, after an afternoon adventure at Mount Vernon (pictures to come in a subsequent post, tomorrow we can hope), Lori, Kyle and I ended up at Virtue Feed and Grain in Alexandria. The restaurant had a stretch of windows open to the evening breeze, and the menu topped decent expectations. The quirkiness made me think about how tastes eventually grew up. The food made me happy for it. I was thankful for everyone who helped grow mine, all the years through Sunday night.

Things I ate for dinner Sunday that I would have eaten 10 years ago:

1. Deviled eggs.

Things I ate for dinner Sunday that I would not have eaten 10 years ago:

1. Fried mushrooms with aioli. (Because mushrooms scared me.)

2. Irish pigs in a blanket. (I wouldn’t have known/asked what it was.)

3. A chili cheese dog. (Because I was a picky eater.)

4. Potato skins. (A very picky eater.)

5. Bone marrow, in the bone. (Because I was not yet a full-grown man who exercised his dominion over the beasts of the field and drank the marrow of life! … And once got marrow on his Hell Burger and liked it.)

Notes: The mushrooms were balled and rolled. I could have eaten the whole basket, and they won over the entire table at first taste. The potato skins were also amazing — laden with braised short ribs — but we ordered them after we were full and couldn’t appreciate them fully.

The bone marrow was as much of a trip as we’d hoped. We received a thin half-spear, half-spoon to root the marrow from the bone. In total, we didn’t get more than a few teaspoons out. But the taste and sheer entertainment value made it more than worth the $6 we paid for it.