DC Wrapup

Oh, it’s good to be home. I do love traveling, but I love coming home, too.

The GMAC Professional Development Program (go PDP class of 2009!) in Washington DC (well, Georgetown) was outstanding. The presentations, information, and exchange of knowledge was truly inspiring (and, at times, a little daunting since we’re a small school). One of the most valuable aspects was the opportunity for networking presented by the conference – I got to meet lots of other folks in my profession from schools far and wide.

Beyond the conference, there was time for a several fun events…

Bens * A quick dash out to Best Buy with new-friend-and-fellow-conference-attendee (and local girl) Nicole to get cables (she forgot a cable for her iPod and I forgot a cable that allows me to tether my PDA to my laptop and avoid paying the high WiFi charge at the hotel), and the impromptu tour of the DC area she gave me, culminating in a visit to Ben’s Chili Bowl (the original location on U Street; not the satellite store). (Raymond: I agree – their dogs are too big, ratio-wise, and the “chili half-smoked” is the way to go.)

IMAG0070 * Running up and down the Exorcist stairs which are very close to the conference center (well, they’re too long & steep for me to actually run (the 75 steps and three landings are equivalent to a five-story building)), but I made it! Even Nicole, a very-fit aerobics instructor, was puffing a bit! They’re not nearly as scary as they were in the movie. Nor half as deadly. Interestingly, as Nicole and I were standing at the top of the stairs catching our breath, we saw not-one-but-two runners make their way up the stairs without breaking stride, collapsing, or dying. Nicole and I cheered them on as they climbed, but the best response they could muster was a grunted “thanks” as they made it to the top and ran on.

Source * My friend and fellow Pigall’s alum Raymond works at Wolfgang Puck’s The Source (I’ll refer to it as “The Source” in this article). I dined there on Tuesday, July 28, 2009 under Raymond’s care.

At the conference, I asked Ida, one of the conference staff, how long it should take me to get there by cab. Her eyes widened and she breathlessly exclaimed, “I love that place!”, so I invited her to dine with me. Thanks to flexibility from her co-workers, Ida was able to change around her schedule and go with me, and she was a great dinner companion who stuck in there for an epic meal. It was not her first time dining at The Source, but it was her first time dining under the direct care of the chef. I think she was impressed.

Our server did a great job of keeping track of what we ate and drank (thanks!), so here’s a full report.

  • Spicy Tuna Tartar in Sesame-Miso Cones with Shaved Bonito & Tobiko, Secco, Hillinger, Burganland, Austria, 2007. A great, elegant start to the meal. Nicely spiced tuna tartar (beautifully cut) in crisp, flavorful cones. The unexpected flavor came from the Bonito, which is unusual (but enjoyable) to American tastes.
  • Velvet Corn Soup, Gulf Shrimp, Roasted Corn, Smoked Oil *and* Heirloom Tomato Salad, Pickled Shallots, White Soy Vinaigrette, Albert Mann, Alsace, 2005 Pinot Blanc. The corn soup was a stand-out dish from this meal, for both me and Ida.
  • Tandoori Arctic Char, Pickled Japanese Cucumbers, Cardamom Raita, Tegernseerhof “Terassen”, Wachau, Austria, 2006. Gosh darn it, I loved pickled vegetables, and these were great. The char was perfectly cooked and very flavorful, all cooled by the raita. I thought the cardamom was an unusual flavor pair when the server described it, but it really worked nicely.
  • “Tiny Dumplings” three ways: Pork Belly with Black Vinegar, Chili Oil, Ginger, and Cilantro Leaves, Cuvee “Seawinkle” Austria, 2002, Steindorfer; Scallop and Shrimp Sui Mai with Shanghai Curry Lobster-Uni Emulsion, Commanderie de Peyrassol, Provence, 2008; Organic Chicken & Wild Mushroom Dumplings, Shishito Peppers, Sancerre, Reverdy-Oucrous, Loire, 2007. This was a beautiful presentation (on plates that reminded me of the “football” plates we used at Pigall’s) of three very distinctly-flavored tiny dumplings. My favorite was the Sui Mai because the textures of the seafood components were distinct, the flavors precise, and the lobster-uni emulsion added a wonderful unctuousness and richness. The presentation – a football plate with three piles of dumplings on each, with the corresponding glass of wine placed behind each – was elegant.
  • pig Crispy Suckling Pig, Black Plum Puree, Cipollini, Sweet Bean Sauce, Rex Hill, Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley Oregon, 2007. Another stand-out dish of the evening. The texture, flavor, and presentation of this dish was a home-run. Raymond detailed to me the multi-step, multi-day process for creating this dish, so I had an enhanced appreciation for the difficulty of the preparation. My one and only complaint about this dish was that the portions were rather small – but that’s more a statement of how delicious it was (and how I wanted to eat more more more of it!) than anything.
  • Mains: “Wok-Fried” Whole Sea Bass, Yuzu Ponzu, Thai-Chili & Fragrant Herbs, Viognier, Cuilleron “La Petite Cote”, Condrieu, 2007; “American Style” Kobe Short Ribs, Slow Cooked with Indian Spices and Saffron Raita, Corvina, Amorone Della Valpolicella Speri, Venetia, Italy, 2003. A beautiful, fried whole fish and a gigantic pile of Kobe Short Ribs made the table groan, but they both were delicious. The Indian spices complimented the ribs perfectly, and the raita provided a bit of cooling.
  • Intermezzo was Passion Fruit Sorbet
  • Desserts: Blueberry Almond Crumble with 50 bean Vanilla Ice Cream, and a beautiful and wonderful 15-layer carrot cake, Elderton Semmillon 2006.

Thanks, Raymond! It was a great meal with a wonderful progression. Ida & I enjoyed hanging out with you after your shift, too.

BLT * Dining at BLT Steak – Bistro Laurent Tourondel (called “BLT” from here on out). On Wednesday, July 29, 2009, I dined at BLT Steak, a restaurant in DC where my friend and fellow Pigall’s alum Jonathan works. Because I prefer not to dine alone, and because I met Andy at the conference (he’s quite the foodie), I invited him along for the meal. I’m glad I did, too… Not only was Andy a good dinner companion, he also (unobtrusively) took photos of all the food we ate (and only hollered at me once for cutting into a dish before he photographed it!). The photo of me entering BLT Steak was taken by Andy.

Jonathan took extremely good care of us during our visit. Andy & I ordered the tasting menu and Jonathan supplemented each course, so we were fed in epic proportions. Here’s a partial list of what we ate (thanks Andy for the photographic reminders!):

  • truly amazing whipped chicken liver pate, served warm and spreadable from a tiny canning jar; a very nice hint at things to come
  • warm, soft bread covered with a blanket of melted cheese and herbs
  • a pickled vegetable salad with fennel and cucumber
  • a great charcuterie plate
  • tuna tartar with avocado and soy-lime dressing – the flavors of this large serving were spot-on – the fried shallot on top provided just a bit of crunch and set off the flavors of the tuna, avocado, and dressing very nicely. I loved the presentation of this dish… a large square of tuna tartar on a square plate atop another square plate with crushed ice, all atop yet another, larger, square plate. Served with crispy gaufrette potatoes for yet more crunch.
  • Gigantic, fresh popovers. These were very tender and light, slightly eggy, and had a great cheese taste. You don’t see popovers on menus very often any more. Popovers like this make you wonder why.
  • Andy ordered a crudo that was very nice – very fresh and slightly tart from the preserved lemons
  • Grilled sardines atop a puree of artichoke – nice briny flavor, offset nicely by the bitter green salad
  • Double-cut bacon that had been grilled topped with parsley, garlic, olive oil, and sherry vinegar. Astounding. This was a very hearty dish and the flavor and texture of the thick, chewy, slightly charred bacon was just great. This was a standout dish for bacon lovers only!

(It was at this point in the onslaught of food that I began to worry slightly about our capacity to finish it all! We’d had an impressive array of dishes, and mains hadn’t landed yet!)

  • Mains were large portions of Kobe Flank Steak with a delicious marinade made with soy, honey, lemongrass, cilantro, ginger, and garlic. The meat was very tender and perfectly grilled.
  • Sides with the steak were small boiled potatoes, creamed spinach, a wonderful risotto topped with a bounty of black truffles, and braised carrots (my favorite of the sides) – each served in a tiny cast iron pot.
  • Desserts were good, which pleasantly surprised me. A pineapple panna cotta; a pistachio cake with pistachio ice cream, tart cherries, and pistachio brittle; and a truly sublime Crepe Souffle Brulee with a Passionfruit sauce – so delicious! This was the dessert of the entire trip for me.

What a memorable meal… Thanks, Jonathan! We had a great time.

julia castle

* I took the train in to the Smithsonian station with one purpose in mind: to see Julia Child’s kitchen. My secondary goal was to see the newly-reopened Star Spangled Banner exhibit, and with my remaining time, do a whirlwind tour of a few Smithsonian museums. I accomplished both goals, but a new motivation was revealed as I hustled around the mall… I want to go back to DC for a long weekend and do nothing but visit the museums!

So, there you have it – a long report about my recent trip to DC!

Quotes of the Day

A few random quotes that resonated…

“Not a shred of evidence exists in favor of the idea that life is serious.” – Brendan Gill

“Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.” – Peter Drucker

“Idealism is what precedes experience; cynicism is what follows” – David T. Wolf

“There is a tragic flaw in our precious Constitution, and I don’t know what can be done to fix it. This is it: Only nut cases want to be president.” – Kurt Vonnegut