‘Plain Plate of Noodles’

It would be difficult to write a song that captures my childhood food life more than this one. Efforts from my parents and various significant others eventually worked. These days I eat everything. Even, when fatherhood demands it, my lifelong enemy, peanut butter. But for many years I was the boy in this song. And I still like a plain plate of noodles with a little bit of butter, and lots and lots of cheese.

Pasta science is a crazy thing

“Add 3 cups of cold water to a pot, add the pasta, turn the stove on high, then give the pasta 10 minutes with a perfunctory stir every now and then. As it cooks, the pasta absorbs the water, all of it, which is kind of nuts, but which also eliminates the need to drain the pasta.”

My brother sent me a link and video with the above. The subject of his email? “The devil’s pasta” and I think that’s about right.

But I’m interested.

A sentence with which to welcome Restaurant Week

Vermillion tonight, Dino’s on Tuesday, Birch and Barley on Thursday. But what’s making me the hungriest so far this week is a sentence from Tom Sietsema’s review of new Charlottesville restaurant Glass Haus Kitchen. He argues that chef Ian Boden’s lobster tagliatelle should stay on the menu.

Ready for this? “Boden makes his own long and supple noodles, which he scatters with sweet crumbles of blanched lobster, dusts with minced chives and finishes with sea urchin ‘froth’ that melts into the elegant mound as you eat it and becomes an enticing, richer-by-the-minute sauce.” I’m sold.

Mindful eating blisses me out

Even though taking 10 or 20 minutes between bites of a meal sounds incredibly hard, in this week’s New York Times article about silent, slow, Buddhist-based “mindful eating,” I think my stress levels are lower just reading this paragraph. I even like the random link to the pasta topic.

Today’s experiment in eating, however, involves becoming aware of that reflexive urge to plow through your meal like Cookie Monster on a shortbread bender. Resist it. Leave the fork on the table. Chew slowly. Stop talking. Tune in to the texture of the pasta, the flavor of the cheese, the bright color of the sauce in the bowl, the aroma of the rising steam.

Few things in writing relax the brain like a long sentence followed by a string of short sentences followed by another long and measured line.

In related news, did I buy tickets for Giada’s coming visit to Sixth and I? Of course. Blog-category love translates to tickets. This means I am seeing Giada and Springsteen back-to-back nights. My spring is made.

Also, first I get to see Tina Fey talk there, and now Giada? Sixth and I, thank you very much. Now get back to work on booking Maura Tierney.

Only one paragraph and one minute, but still

A year and a half ago, when I still worked at USA Today, I received a Tasting Table email about a new Capitol Hill restaurant called Acqua Al 2. My favorite paragraph about the Italian spot began, “The assaggio di primi ($13) presents five different plates of the house-made pastas.”

I bookmarked the page immediately.

Time passed. I jumped to NPR. Tasting Table started a to-do feature. I killed my bookmark and put Acqua on mine. The site’s editor became a friend. Her boyfriend became a fellow gunslinger. Colleagues became friends and more, and many of them turned out to live on Capitol Hill.

This story leads to the fact that I’ve now finally been to Acqua Al 2. For 11/11/11, Lori, Becky, the no-longer-elusive Kyle, and I dressed up and went for dinner. We wound up sitting below the mystery plate above.

A couple bottles of Montepulciano around the table, sizable tastings of five different vegetarian pastas (a pumpkin bowtie and the risotto with parsley, basil and rosemary were my favorites, but honorable mention to a simple vodka-sauced penne that was perfectly cooked), and then a dessert platter where the tiramisu was good but a berry cheesecake had immense flavor and surprised everyone at the table. Good service, low, warm lights and conversation volume, even with the place packed.

Didn’t realize until later: The pasta we ate was what Tasting Table had mentioned in that first, intriguing paragraph. Oh, the roads we travel…

Stops at the post-fire Tune Inn, the post-fire Argonaut, and the happily fire-free Smith Commons followed. Following taxi issues and bartender neighborhood fears, we celebrated 11:11 11/11/11 at the middle stop.

In the early morning hours, we saw the Sticky Rice police car. The sight made me happy. A year and a half ago, I had wanted something new.

Successful trip to the city’s first meatballs restaurant

You heard me right. Washington now has a meatballs restaurant. It’s called “Meatballs.” Colleagues Sondra, Lauren and I visited for lunch last week, after its opening. We left impressed and full of meatballs.

The place was packed when we arrived around 12:30, but tables grew easier to find over the hour. Music by the door was ear-splittingly loud.

But the volume was better further into the restaurant, and the menu distracted us from all else. For this first visit, I went the simple route: classic meatballs, inside sliders, with marinara and mozzarella slices added on. The pricing was odd: half the posted price for two sliders. Why not offer four sliders at regular price? I would have eaten four.

Continue reading Successful trip to the city’s first meatballs restaurant

10 wonderful things about ‘The Geometry of Pasta’

Not even counting how every recipe ends with Parmesan or Pecorino over everything. The book is part cookbook, part history, part design.

Inside the front cover:

1. Bigoli. “The recipe is nearly impossible to follow exactly, as it relies on the use of a bigolario — something resembling a gymnastics horse which you sit astride, with a brass hand-cranked press attached to one end. Given that probably only a very small minority of families in the Veneto (where bigoli come from) have such a device, it seems a fair assumption that even fewer of my readership will.”

2. Busiati. “The version described and illustrated here looks and behaves like a coiled telephone wire.”

3. Capelli  D’Angelo – Pasta Souffle. “This recipe comes from my grandmother, who remembers the dish from Rome in the 1950s. We have had some interesting times cooking it together, since the original recipe went missing a few years ago. Here at last is a new working version, to avoid the dramas of impossible thick bechamel and collapsed dreams.”

4. Cavatelli. “Like a comma in cross-section.”

5. Dischi Volanti. “Named flying saucers (literally, “flying discs”), dischi volanti were designed shortly after the name was coined in 1947 following Kenneth Arnold’s sighting in the United States.”

6. Farfalle. I had no idea the word meant butterflies.

7. Gnocchi. “Their name may derive from gnocco (“idiot”), but seems more likely to stem from nodo (“node,” or “knot” as in wood).

8. Malfatti. “The dough is so soft you will never manage a sphere, but that is why they are called malfatti — ‘badly made.’ ”

9. Pappardelle. “In Tuscan dialect, papparisi means to gobble up or to stuff oneself.”

10. Tortellini. “There are various enchanting and similar tales of their origin. In one, Lucrezia Borgia stopped off at an inn in Castelfranco Emilia. Smitten by his guest’s beauty, the innkeeper crept up to her door in the night to sneak a peek through the keyhole. All he could see was Lucrezia’s navel, but what a navel it was!”

Inside the back cover:

Finally, we hit the mac-and-cheese truck

I’ve been following CapMacDC on Twitter for months. Even before the truck started rolling, I was following. When the owners asked for ideas on food containers, I suggested they pour the pasta right in my hands.

When CapMac did hit the D.C. streets, I waited for it to come by. The truck went to McPherson Square, Dupont, Farragut, even as close as Metro Center, but the truck never made it to Chinatown or Mt. Vernon Square. And my NPR coworkers were waiting too. When the Captain announced a Chinatown run yesterday, we were ready. As I told desk-neighbor Sondra about the truck’s glories, as she’d made a great mac-and-cheese recently for our cube fam, colleague Aly was planning with her desk-neighbor Nelson and shooting me an e-mail. Noon? Yeah.

Fellow neighbors Stephanie, Demian and Max joined us. We braved the brutal cold on 7th Street, found the line short but steady, took photos, hid in the warm Portrait Gallery atrium, and inhaled our food.

How was it? Completely lived up to high expectations. The mac was a familiar friend. The crumbled Cheez-Its on top put your friend in a top hat. While working the mac, I may have eaten my fork. We also tried the truck’s new soup: butternut squash with “brown butter croutons and whipped goatcheese.” On a frigid day, the soup tasted genius.

Nelson captures us at the truck:

Aly, along with documenting the mac, got us saluting the Captain:

(Should saluting the Captain become a thing for the truck’s followers? Yes. You think I’m kidding? Find the truck and get the mac and soup.)

 

The final meal at the beach is a good one

I’m not thrilled with the way this picture turned out, but I could not be happier with the way the dish and the rest of our meal went tonight at Blue Moon Beach Grille. We typically eat out the night before we leave the beach, and neither of our two favorite places from past years were available. One was hosting a wedding reception, and another location had changed hands. So, I was putting in charge of finding a new spot.

At the top of TripAdvisor’s Outer Banks rankings was Blue Moon. The reviews were numerous, recent and claimed it was the beach’s new best restaurant. High praise! And you can now us among the faithful.

All the reviews said the people there couldn’t have been nicer, and I’m now thinking science would agree. With rain closing the outside tables, the hostess took our number — first time we’ve ever seen that on the Outer Banks — and we killed time nearby at Kitty Hawk Kites, where my family has had fun killing time for about two-plus decades now. Not bad. After the call came and returned, the waiter was welcoming, hit every mark, was inquisitive about the dishes, and had me thinking about key lime pie all the drive home even though I had less than zero room for it. A Cooper man and his desserts… My dad guessed it was a family-run place, with the staff seemingly pros instead of summer help. He was right. Scott and Melissa Shields, so well done. And the food–

What you see here is Angel’s Delight. “Shrimp and blue crab, sautéed in a light white wine sauce, with vine-ripened tomatoes, fresh green onion, roasted red peppers, garlic, and basil. Finished with whole butter and served over angel hair pasta and topped with parmesan cheese.” Are there more ways to make me happy? (Only if I can fit in dessert…) Flavors bounced all the smart ways, and though I filled up, never felt heavy. The rest of the family said the same about theirs. A long way from the beach’s usual sea platters. Lead-ins had the same precision. The calamari was in a white wine, cherry pepper and lemon butter sauce. I’m not sure I’ve had better. Even the Caesar brought bacon and onion to the tastes. Among the dishes, not a wrong move.

I know the post sounds overly effusive. But when you’ve been going somewhere on vacation for two-plus decades and seen the island’s evolution, it’s thoroughly exciting to find the new best restaurant in a hidden strip mall facing neither the old main road nor the new one.

Glad to see business was bustling tonight. We’ll be back next year.