Thursday, December 20, 2012

Izakaya Seki: A Japanese Gem

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Well DC, you have arrived. You have finally arrived. It has taken me 9 years of living in the District, but I have FINALLY found a great Japanese restaurant. Izakaya Seki is easily one of the most delicious Japanese meals I've had anywhere.

Let's set the record straight. Izakaya Seki is not a sushi restaurant. They serve some raw fish, but they also serve a large variety of grilled and fried meats, fish, and vegetables. I highly recommend you sample something from each of the different categories.

I met my friend at Izakaya Seki on a Monday night. The ground floor has a dining counter, which was entirely full, that overlooks the kitchen. There is also an upstairs dining room, but I didn't make it up there this time. We waited about 15 minutes for a seat at the counter, which I highly recommend, because watching the chefs is mesmerizing. I am also told - although did not witness - that the sushi chef sometimes passes samples to diners at the counter!

The menu, if you don't speak Japanese, can be a little intimidating. Many of the listed items were unfamiliar, but the patient waitress was happy to answer all of our questions and made great recommendations. We ordered a number of different small plates, but since the menu changes quite frequently, I'll just share the highlights!

First we ordered an octopus salad. The octopus was sliced very thin and marinated in a sauce that I can only compare to pesto. It was fresh, delicious, and not chewy at all. I'm honestly not always the biggest fan of octopus, but this was one of my favorite dishes.

Next, apologies to my cardiologist father, we ordered the deep-fried pork belly. It came out as a shish kabob - heavily breaded with panko breadcrumbs and served with a tangy sweet sauce to dip. Personally, I'm not a huge fan of breaded and fried items, and I wouldn't order this for myself again. But my friend really enjoyed it.

A moment ago I said I didn't like breaded and fried things. There's an exception - anything served in croquette form. Studying abroad in Spain got me hooked on "croquetas," so now I'll eat any creamy little nugget put in front of me. I was really surprised to see a corn croquette on a Japanese menu, and I had to try it. Crunchy fried outside and creamy corn inside- still not sure how authentic this is, but it was unreal!

To counter all this deep fried goodness, we ordered a trio of different vegetables. None were particularly notable, so I won't waste your time.

What was notable however, were the rice balls. Each rice ball is about the size of a baseball, loosely wrapped in a piece of nori, and stuffed with your choice of fish. I got the salmon rice ball - stuffed with with cooked salmon. Because it was wrapped in sticky rice, it was difficult to determine how the salmon was prepared, but it was delicious and very filling. My friend got the salted cod roe rice ball and found the rice balanced the saltiness of the roe. I liked this item because it was reminiscent of sushi, but I've never seen anything like it before!

Lastly we ordered a sashimi salmon plate, that although delicious, was probably a bit overboard after all the food we had already eaten! Neither one of us could bring ourselves to finish the last few pieces. Next time I'll try to control my eager appetite and pick a few select dishes. Needless to say, it won't be long before I'm back at the counter trying to snag free bites from the sushi chef!

Thanks so much for joining us on our culinary adventure through the District. As of today, fooDCrave is officially on vacation until January 3rd! We can't wait to share more recipes, dinner parties, and restaurant reviews with you in 2013!

Happy Holidays!

Friday, December 14, 2012

Pommes de Terre Braisées

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In case you're just catching up with us this week, this is the third recipe in our first Tiny Dinner Party. These are fooDCrave dinner parties designed to prove you can cook and entertain in tiny kitchens and apartments! 

Earlier this week, we gave you the recipes for the french onion soup we served as the appetizer and the beef bourguignon, which we served as the main course. As a side dish to our French-themed dinner, we made Braised Fingerling Potato Coins. Because the other courses were very time consuming, we wanted a side dish that would require few ingredients and little effort. These potatoes were the perfect compliment! 

At the grocery store we found these beautiful jewel-toned fingerling potatoes. They come in rich hues of purple, red, and gold and just begging to be photographed. Thankfully we had our celeb photographer of the night, Jason Leavy, to help us out!  

To make this dish, you'll need: 

2 pounds of fingerling potatoes 
2 cups of water 
3/4 stick of unsalted butter
Fresh chives 
Salt and Pepper 

First, slice the potatoes into thin coins. If you have a mandoline, this would be a great use for it. Neither of us own a mandoline, and frankly, a knife worked just fine! 

At the same time, cut up the butter into small cubes. 

Next, place the potatoes in a skillet or frying pan. Cover the potatoes with 2 cups of water. Arrange the pieces of butter across the top of the potatoes. 

Then cut a piece of parchment paper or alumimum foil to fit over the skillet. Butter one side of the foil. Place the foil over the skillet- butter side down. Then bring the water to a simmer and cook for 30-35 minutes.

Once most of the water has evaporated, remove the foil and add salt and pepper to taste. Depending on the consistency you prefer, you can either serve the potatos as is, or crisp them up in the oven. We wanted a crispier potato, so we used the same piece of foil on a baking sheet, and placed the potato coins in the oven for 10 minutes. 

Sprinkle with finely diced fresh chives and serve! The simplicity of preparation of these potatoes should not underscore their flavor.  They were truly the perfect accompaniment to the rich beef stew.  Light, fluffy, and delicious.  Bon apetit!

Thanks for joining us in our first Tiny Dinner Party. We'd really love some feedback from you all! Did you like following the dinner party menu all week or would you prefer our original and varied approach to recipes? Please leave your feedback in the comments or e-mail us at


Thursday, December 13, 2012

Le plat principal: Beef Bourguignon

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When deciding what to prepare for the main course, Liz and I deliberated because French food is not something that either of us regularly prepares.  We ultimately agreed on Beef Bourguignon as a good first attempt because it wasn't incredibly complicated, and did not need many hours of preparation time (or so we thought . . . ).  We were also excited about this recipe because it meant that we'd get to try out Liz's new Dutch Oven.  Let's be honest, it does not take much to excite us in the kitchen! We adapted this recipe from Epicurious.

Thanks again to Jason Leavy for being our guest celebrity photographer!

For the beef bourguignon you will need:

8 ounces bacon, coarsely chopped
3 pounds well-trimmed boneless beef chuck, cut into 1 1/2-inch cubes (from 7-bone chuck roast)
1/3 cup all purpose flour
1 1/4 pounds boiling onions, peeled
3/4 pound large carrots, cut into 1-inch pieces
12 large garlic cloves, peeled (left whole)
3 cups canned beef broth
1/2 cup Cognac or brandy (we used the brandy from the french onion soup)
2 750-ml bottles red Burgundy wine
1 1/4 pounds mushrooms
1/3 cup chopped fresh thyme or 2 tablespoons dried
1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon tomato paste

First, saute the bacon in the dutch oven.  We used as much as we could fit in the bottom of the pan, which was about 2/3 of the package.  Once the bacon is cooked evenly on both sides, remove it from the pan and set aside.  

While the bacon was cooking, we prepared the beef by trimming it into small 1 1/2 inch cubes.  We then lightly rolled the beef in flour and browned it in three batches over high heat, about five minutes per batch, until it was brown on all sides. Once the beef was cooked, we transferred it to a large glass bowl to rest.  

Then in the same pot, add the carrots and onions and cook for about six minutes, adding the garlic in for the final minute.  Once the veggies are cooked, add them to the bowl containing the meat.


Next, add one cup of the broth and 1/2 cup of brandy to the pot, and reduce it to a glaze.  This should take about 8 minutes.  When reducing, be sure to scrape the pot so that any bits of meat that stuck to the bottom are incorporated.  Once the liquid has been reduced to a glaze, return the meat and veggies to the pot.  This was no small feat!  Be careful and have someone assist you with this step, or you may have a major mess on your hands!

Then, into the pot, add the two bottles of wine (we went with two inexpensive bottles of Pinot Noir since we couldn't find Burgundy at our grocery store), sliced mushrooms, thyme, 2 cups of broth, sugar, and the tomato paste.  The original recipe did not mention adding the bacon back to the mix, but we went ahead and crumbled it up and threw it in as well.  Bacon can do no harm, right?? 

Bring the entire mixture to a boil--this took about 10 minutes, as it was a lot of food and liquid--stirring occasionally.  Then cover the pot and place it directly into the oven.  We recommend using a baking sheet to support the pot on the oven rack.  Our arms were definitely sore from lifting this thing in and out of the oven!

Let the stew cook in the oven for 1 hour and 20 minutes.  Afterwards, remove the pot from oven and ladle off the majority of the liquid from the stew into a large saucepan.  There will be a thin layer of fat on top of the liquid - ensure that you also spoon it off and toss it.  Boil the liquid for about 40 minutes on the stove until it has reduced.  Your dutch oven should be set aside during this time, do not return it to the oven.  Complete this meal by pouring the reduced liquid back over the stew, and serve! Voilà!  Along with the braised fingerling potatoes (recipe to come tomorrow) this was a hearty and delicious meal.  In fact, we shared leftovers with a number of friends who all raved about it!  It may have been even better served the next day!

All in all, this meal was not incredibly complicated to prepare.  That being said, from start to finish, it probably took us four hours, which was far beyond our expectations.  That may or may not have been the result of not studying the recipe properly . . . lesson learned!  One thing we've definitely come to realize is that cooking takes time!  You should always budget in some extra time as compared to what the recipe may suggest.  Do any of our fellow cooks out there feel the same way?  Or, maybe we are just slowpokes in the kitchen! 


Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Vous êtes cordialement invités au premier dîner du fooDCrave

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We love living and entertaining in DC, but, due to the size of our apartments, we have felt constricted in our ability to throw lavish dinner parties. We know that many of our readers also live in tiny apartments and cook in tiny kitchens. So we've set out on a new project to prove that you can host fabulous dinner parties whether you've got a mansion or a studio apartment. We're calling them 'Tiny Dinner Parties'. 

In her book, My Life In France, Julia Child wrote, "The best way to execute French cooking is to get good and loaded and whack the hell out of a chicken. Bon appétit.” With this quote in mind, Amanda and I decided a French dinner would make for an excellent first Tiny Dinner Party.

We were lucky enough to have a guest photographer, Jason Leavy, do a proper photo shoot of the whole dinner party and (hopefully) leave us with a few photo tips! 

First, we selected a menu:

First Course

French Onion Soup with a Gruyere Crouton

Second Course

Beef Bourguignon

Side Dish

Braised Jewel Fingerling Potato Coins

Wine Pairing

Boujoulais Nouveau

Throughout the week, we will be sharing these recipes with you. First up is the French Onion Soup. 

We used a recipe from 2011 Bon Apetit magazine that received high reviews on Epicurious. We only doctored it up a little this time.  

Here's what you'll need for 4 bowls of French Onion Soup:

3 medium vidalia or yellow onions
2 Tbsp of extra virgin olive oil 
4 cups of beef stock
1 Tbsp of unsalted butter
1 Tbsp of brandy 
A baguette
1 1/2 cups of Gruyere cheese- grated 
Onion Powder
Kosher Salt
Ground Black Pepper
4 oven safe bowls (Ramekins or Crocks

The first step is to caramelize the onions. Begin by cutting the onions into thin slivers. Then, in a large pot that you plan to use for the soup, coat the bottom of the pan with extra virgin olive oil and the butter. Heat over a medium flame until the butter is melted and the oil is warm. Add the onions and stir to coat. Cook for 10-15 minutes, until the onions are a light brown (caramel) color and are soft.

While the onions are cooking, preheat your oven to 450 degrees. Once the onions are caramelized, add 1 Tbsp of Brandy to the pot and give the onions a good stir. Cook for an additional 30 seconds, or until the brandy is absorbed. 

Then, add the 4 cups of beef stock to the pot and bring to a simmer. Season the broth to taste with salt, pepper, and onion powder. 

Next, place 4 ramekins or crocks onto a baking sheet. Evenly divide the soup among the ramekins. 

Then, grate the gruyere. You can adjust the amount based on how much cheese you like, but we liked our onion soup pretty cheesy so we grated about 1 1/2 cups of cheese. Then cut your baguette into 1/2 inch slices. Place 2 slices of bread on top each ramekin.  This time, we did not toast our bread prior to placing it in the ramekins.  We learned our lesson, and felt the bread would have benefited from a bit of crunch by toasting prior to placing the ramekins in the oven.

Top each with the shredded gruyere cheese. 

Place the tray of ramekins into the oven and bake for 4 minutes or until the cheese is bubbling and brown. Then serve the soup as your first course! The rest of the baguette can be served alongside for extra dunking! 

We were a little impatient with the soup and pulled it out before it fully browned. 

Come back tomorrow for the real star of the meal: beef bourguignon! 


Thursday, December 6, 2012

DC Pho Down: Hanoi House v. Pho 14

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The challenge: To determine the best Pho on or near the 14th Street Corridor.

The details: Last week, the guys behind Marvin opened a new Vietnamese restaurant Hanoi House on 14th and U Street. I visited the new spot three days after it opened. I was immediately impressed with the decor and the vibe, and I enjoyed my Vermicelli Bowl and the Pho. After I left, however, I began to wonder whether the cool ambiance detracted from the authenticity or quality of the food. I wondered how Hanoi House compared to Pho 14, a "hole in the wall" Vietnamese place in Columbia Heights that has been widely touted as one of the best Pho joints in the city. I decided to put the two restaurants to the test, and find out which should be my go-to spot for Pho.

For those of you who have never eaten Pho or Vietnamese food before, Pho (pronounced 'Fa') is a Vietnamese soup served with either beef or chicken, rice noodles, lime juice, and a variety of different vegetables, like green onion, bean sprouts, and herbs, like basil and cilantro. There are also seafood or vegetarian options. It is similar in style to Ramen, which you'll likely remember as the dried noodles that your college roommate alternated with Easy Mac for dinner options. Both Pho and Ramen, however, are actually incredibly complex, rich broths that incorporate fresh meat, homemade noodles, and fresh vegetables, baring no resemblance to your college experience. One of these days I will get back over to Toki Underground, and give you a review of proper Ramen. I digress. Back to the Pho Down.

At Hanoi House, image is everything. When you walk in, it's like you're stepping into a Pho brothel.
The entry and wait area at Hanoi House

The walls are lacquer black with red accents, the lighting is low, and the entire staff is dressed to a T. We arrived without a reservation and were immediately shuffled off to the side to wait - despite the fact that half of the tables were open. Allegedly, the tables were being held for reservations, but they were all still open when we were seated (at the bar) 20 minutes later.

Forgive the bad photography- this place was very dimly lit

The best part about Hanoi House was the drink list. The mixologists hail from The Gibson (D.C.'s acclaimed speakeasy) and have come up with an interesting bar menu that is sprinkled with delightful surprises like star anise vodka. Um, yes please. There were tons of drink combinations that I had never seen before and was excited to try. 

The bar at Hanoi House

I ordered the New Dynasty, which had red plum, lime, Thai basil, and star anise vodka. It was beautifully served with a sprig of basil as a garnish. The drink had a completely unique flavor- tangy but not sweet and very fresh from the basil. My friend,  Abby, ordered The Gold Star, which had mango, nutmeg, pineapple, lemon and pisco. She also loved the tropical creation.  

The New Dynasty

To eat, I ordered the Vermicelli Bowl with Chicken and Shrimp, and Abby ordered the Pho Ga (chicken). We wanted to get two different things to try out the menu. The Pho was definitely the winner between the two entrees, but both had their perks. The Vermicelli Bowl is more of a salad and had rice noodles, lettuce, basil, cilantro, bean sprouts, chicken and shrimp. The sauce, a sweet dressing, was served on the side. Although the bowl was pretty bland without the dressing, I appreciated that the sauce was served on the side so that I could decide how much to add. Truthfully the flavor was still a little lacking so I added chilli sauce and hoisin sauce to kick it up a notch. It was good, but not necessarily the most exciting Vietnamese food I've ever had.

Vermicelli Bowl
Bean sprouts, basil, jalepno, and lime were seved with both dishes

Abby really enjoyed her Pho Ga- served with chicken. She thought the noodles were very fresh and described the plate as simple and tasty. As is traditional, she added chilli sauce, hoisin, and sriracha and was pretty happy with her meal.

The only thing we weren't impressed by was the obvious layer of oil on top of Abby's Pho Ga

Atmosphere wise, Pho 14, is about as far as you can get from Hanoi House. It's right off 14th Street in Columbia Heights on a strip of Latin American restaurants that all seem to specialize in Pupusas. Their restaurant has almost no decor, except for a Tiki bar in the back which serves only soft drinks. We were immediately seated at a simple, unpresuming table in the small restaurant. But forget all of that. Diners don't come to Pho 14 for fancy cocktails or dimly lit booths. They come for the Pho.

To start, we ordered the Seafood Spring Rolls. The rice wrapper was filled with a variety of vegetables (celery, green beans, carrots) as well as calamari, shrimp and scallops.  It also came with fresh mango and was served cold with a homemade mix of fish sauce, sweet chili and tamarind sauce. It wasn't bad, but honestly, I'd skip that next time and go straight to the Pho.

I ordered the Chin Nam Ve Don Pho, which had well-done brisket and flank steak in the soup. This was, by far, the best Pho I've ever had. My date, far more adventurous than I, got the Tai Chin Gau Gan Sach Pho, which comprised of slices of eye-of-round steak, well-done brisket, fat brisket, soft tendon, and bible tripe. He is far more of a Pho expert than me and claims that the bible tripe is what really makes the dish. The meat was perfectly cooked and added in right before it is served, preventing it from getting soggy or overcooked in the broth. Though you can get Pho at a lot of places, the broth is what makes Pho 14 unique. We also added lime, jalepeno, chili sauce, sriracha, and hoisin to the soup and were practically licking the bowls clean!

THE WINNER: Ranking on food alone, Pho 14 is the clear winner. The broth is far more flavorful and complex and the meat is more expertly prepared. If you're looking for an authentic and truly delicious bowl of Pho, this is the place to go. The drink menu and ambiance at Hanoi House, however, are pretty tough to beat. It is the kind of place I'd go to sample the creative cocktails and schmooze in a sexy environment. And while I might not go there specifically for the food, I like knowing there are some tasty options.