Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Union Market

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Each time we travel, we seek out markets. Spice markets in India or the Grand Bazaar in Turkey. We love markets because they allow you to browse the culture anonymously. Of course, the thing we like best about the markets is the exposure to the local food scene. Here is where you can see what locals are craving and shopping for – the fruits and vegetables that are unique to the region, the spices that remind people of home, and the baked goods that families have perfected over generations.

DC has always had Eastern Market for local produce, home made pasta, and farm fresh dairy. To get a sense of some of the old DC culture, you can also line up for Market Lunch and get some of the best pancakes or fried fish sandwiches in town. Waiting in line at Market Lunch is like peeking into a window of our city, our culture, and our bellies.

For all these reasons, we were so excited to hear that DC was building a new market - Union Market - for specialty food items, up and coming chefs, and foodies, like us! To us, Union Market is more reminiscent of Chelsea Market in New York City than Pike Place Market in Seattle. Although it has a few produce and butcher stalls, Union Market is really a market for prepared food vendors.

We entered Union Market this past Sunday and our eyes widened in amazement. Instantly you are faced with Righteous Cheese and Buffalo & Bergen – two places we wish we’d had enough time to try! Buffalo & Bergen sells NY bagels for $1! Already regretting that we didn’t pick some up for breakfast….

Because there were so many good options, we started with a lap around the whole market. We didn’t have room to try all of the food, so we picked a couple of vendors and created a little food tour for ourselves.  

We first sat down at the bar of Rappahannock Oyster Bar.  The bar seats we were able to score were great for us because we got to watch the chefs behind the counter shucking oysters.  This was actually pretty cool, and seemed slightly scary at the same time--one miss and you could stab yourself in the hand!

It was hard to pick from all the amazing options, but we decided to share a crab cake--and let me tell you--this was the best crab cake by far that we've had in DC.  There was literally no breadcrumb filling--the entire cake was fresh crab meat.  The cake sat atop a slaw, which gave a great crunch to the tender crab meat.  We also loved sauce that covered the dish.  It was the perfect amount, and the flavor was zesty and cool.  We could have eaten five of these on our own, let's be honest. 

To end this portion of the food tour, we each decided to sample a grilled oyster. We have eaten oysters raw (not Amanda's favorite) and fried (not Liz's favorite), but we had never tried grilled oysters before.  We both were pleasantly surprised with the flavor and consistency of the grilled oyster- the whole oysters are placed on a grill, causing the oysters to steam inside the shell.  The saltiness of the oyster was preserved, but the sliminess associated with raw oysters disappeared as a result of the grilling.  The oysters came with a beurre blanc sauce, which was the perfect sweet and buttery compliment to the saltiness of the oyster.

Next we shared an empanada from DC Empanadas.  We picked the vegetarian option, the Tio Shawn, which was filled with black beans, rice, cheese, chipotle peppers, cilantro and green onions. The shell was flaky and not too thick. The stuffing was a rich and flavorful balance of all of the components. We liked that the the rice was not over powering, as can be the case in a lot of Latin food.  We topped the empanada with a hot sauce and a homemade cilantro dressing.   We tried to snag the recipe for the cilantro dressing--but were informed it is a DC Empanada secret! 
Lastly, we split a taco from Takorean.  Takorean started as a food truck, and recently got a stall at UnionMarket. As the name suggests, they make Korean-themed tacos. At their stall, you get to build your own tacos - choosing from various meat and vegetable options.

We stuck with a Korean classic - bulgogi beef. We topped it with napa slaw, lime crema, sriracha, and sesame seeds all in a double corn tortilla.  The beef was perfectly tender and sliced into thin strips. The napa slaw added crunchiness and acidity balanced by the lime crema sauce and the heat of the sriracha.  

Finish up your food tour at Salt & Sundry for gorgeous kitchen items.
Overall, we were so pleased with the food we sampled!  We can't wait to return to Union Market to test how authentic the NY the bagles really are, sip up the homemade sodas and have a tasting of artisinal cheeses.  Wait, that doesn't sound like a good combination.....

Have you been to any new markets lately?  If you're not in DC, how do the markets where you are from compare to Union Market?


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