Mini Reviews: Recent Restaurant Recaps

30 September 2009

Yes, I know that I owe you all Part II to this story, but I’ve been a bit too lazy busy to finish writing it.  Until that happens, I am cleaning taking this post from the drafts and making it live.  Mini Restaurant Reviews and a couple of updates:

I have previously written that The Reef offers food that is “better than it has to be” given the fact that most people consider this a great place for consuming copious amounts of high quality beer.  That assumption changed with my two most recent visits.  The always dependable bison burger was grossly over cooked and generally lacking in juiciness.  The mac n’ cheese that accompanied the burger was simply bad on every level.  I know The Reef is committed to using high quality ingredients, but this cheese tasted like it could have come from a can.  Salt was conspicuously absent, as was an appropriate amount of cream.  Two bites seemed to be calories and cash wasted.

The muscles were even more problematic.  The first bowl arrived with five of eleven shellfish closed.  I sent it back, and they graciously prepared another – with a shocking four of eleven closed.  The fact that a bowl of muscles arrives with less than a dozen is problematic in and of itself, when better than a third are closed is a food safety issue and one that anyone who gets paid to serve food to the public should notice… especially the second time.  Still atop my list for beer, Sunday-Funday, and casual rooftop dining, but the Reef is off the food list.

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Speaking of dining in Adams Morgan, there are many factors which make that neighborhood’s culinary landscape difficult for restaurants to navigate, most notably is the general and normally accurate perception that good food is not easily found there and even when it is discovered, that it doesn’t rise to a level that compensates for the congestion, limited parking, and weekend party goers.  Evolve may not shatter that perception but they certainly challenge it.  I have dined there three times in recent months and each time found very satisfying and homey dishes.  The lamb burger was perfectly cooked, densely packed, and has a bun that sops and shines.  The French Fries are clearly dusted with some illicit and addictive substance because I couldn’t stop eating them and in what may be the highest compliment given to a French Fry – they’re really tasty even when cold.  Calamari comes with a crispy shell and tender interior with just the right amount of chewy.

Evolve may not be a place worthy of destination designation, but if you’re in the area, want a place to have a couple of drinks and nosh, it does that very well.

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Frank Ruta is a James Beard Award Winning Chef, Palena is a top five choice in the Washingtonian Best of List, and both may somehow still be underrated.  All of this makes me extremely conflicted when I dine there and order the Roast Chicken and the Truffled Cheeseburger, but that conflict didn’t stop me a couple of weeks ago.  Add the fry plate, and a delightfully cheeky rosé and it was a perfect late summer dinner.

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Some restaurants may find it a backhanded compliment to refer to them as a “light” version of another place, but when I refer to New Heights as Palena-Light I mean that in the most flattering sense of the phrase.  Chef Logan Cox is serving intricate and very precise food without pretense or affectation.  On my latest visit, I constructed a meal of three small plates and each was more delicious than the one it preceded.   House Smoked Salmon with a red onion chutney was silken in texture and a lovely foil for my glass of sparkling rosé.  The Fried Risotto Cake was creamy, cheesy, Arborio perfection.  I was a bit hesitant to order the Braised Pork Belly, Mussels & Octopus soup as that dish seemed more appropriate for cold weather dining, but the bartender gave me a knowing look when I mentioned this dish. I was not disappointed.  It was rich without being heavy.  The fat of the pork was nicely rendered, and the whole thing was balanced with a broth that had its share of smoke.  Finishing my meal with a five cheese board (for a preposterously low price of eleven dollars) that was served at the right temperature made me want to do my happy dance.

My one complaint: The option to order half glasses of wine would have been really nice.


That’s What Old Friends are for? – part I

28 September 2009

The rain kept me in the house on Saturday.  It was a blissfully unproductive day in which I mainlined college football – props to USF, Stanford, VaTech, and a few other squads that made the day especially interesting – and generally ignored all manner of adult responsibilities.

About the time that I finally accepted that this would be that rare Saturday evening when I would stay in the house, my phone rang with a blocked number.  As is my custom when receiving such calls, I let it go to voicemail. It rang again and was ignored again.  The third ring in three minutes made answering an annoying imperative.

“Good evening, this is Refugee” I said with a hint of annoyance.  I could barely hear the voice on the other end, the caller clearly at a party with loud music in the background.

“[garbled, garbled, garbled] what’s your 20” the voice commanded.

“I can’t hear you, who is this?”

“Moving outside, stand by” my mystery caller said and suddenly became less mysterious.  It almost had to be an old grad school friend, Dave, who else do I know that consistently speaks in clipped borderline militaristic commands.  Dave and I met on the first day of our MBA program – we argued about the practical implications of the financial principle of Opportunity Cost in Advanced corporate finance class.  Our argument continued after class, escalated to a bit of yelling and we became fast friends.  He was a 29 year old former Lieutenant Commander in Navy Special Forces but only threatened to kill me with his pinky finger a couple of times.

“You can hear me know, right” he asked without bothering to wait for an answer before continuing “I expected to see you at this dinner; where are you?” Dave was referencing the gala that concludes the week of partying under the color of politics otherwise known as Congressional Black Caucus week.  He and I routinely catch up on this night when he flies in from the left coast and I mosey down the street to see and be watch the scene with the Black glitterati of politics and entertainment.

“I couldn’t do it this year, my friend, something about them giving an award to that step-n-fetch-it clown Tyler Perry” I replied in a generally true but equally lame explanation.

“Fuck that, fuck him – you need to double time it down here because I need a wingman” Dave replied.  “Hold one” he said quickly.

I could hear him on his other phone but couldn’t decipher the words.  A minute later he returns to our call and states plainly “I’ve sent the car to your place; Tony is our driver and he has instructions to ring your bell every two minutes until you come downstairs in a tuxedo.” With barely a breath, he continued “and Tony is an old [Navy] Chief so he knows how to follow orders.”  The line goes quiet.

I know that every word of Dave’s entreaties is true.  Factoring the distance and traffic, I guesstimate that I have about 25minutes to shower and get dressed.   I swallow hard, strip off my pajamas and get in the shower.  Still affixing my cufflinks when I get the first ring, I indicate that I’ll be down in a minute.  I grab bowtie and cummerbund, pat my pockets for the wallet, cigars, handkerchiefs, business cards, Crackberry, lighter, and pen.  I emerge from my place not yet fully dressed and Tony is at the door of the limo.

“Good evening, Mr. Refugee, there’s champagne in the cooler, Coltrane on the stereo and a party waiting for you.”

To be continued…


Sunday Afternoon Soundtrack

25 September 2009

I received a most flattering email from the author of the Skrinkering Hearts blog.  My virtual friend and Good Hair connoisseur, Megabrooke, is looking for new music for the Fall and Winter.  I was assigned to make recommendations for a Sunday Afternoon Soundtrack that would move her a bit outside of her Indie comfort zone – ten songs or three albums. I went with music that I am guessing will be new to her if not the market place.  All of these songs are available as singles through Amazon, Kazaa, or one of the other music joints.  I included links to free versions though YouTube wherever possible.

  1. Tito Puente’s version of Lush Life is not the best version of the song – that can only be Coltrane & Hartman.  His version, however, is a most danceable and romantic rendition of the classic.
  2. Gil Scott Herron’s tribute to Billie Holiday and John Coltrane, Lady Day & John Coltrane, is perhaps overshadowed by the more famous and equally compelling The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.  But the homage is, to my way of thinking the best example of the spoken word/jazz hybrid movement.
  3. Not being from DC I doubt that you’ve had much exposure to my city’s homegrown musical genre, Go-Go.  The style was created by Chuck Brown who cobbled together the remains of discarded jazz and left over funk, infusing heavier percussions and horns and the music was born.  His rendition of the jazz standard Stormy Monday still rocks my world and makes me look for a dance floor.
  4. I know that I’ve mentioned my love of the movie The Thomas Crowne Affair and its soundtrack before.  If you missed the prior superlatives or I was insufficiently articulate to propel you to listen or purchase, I hope that repetition will tip the scales.  The first song on the album is Windmills of My Mind by Sting, a song which was never released on any other album and might be the sexiest song he has ever recorded…
  5. …the third song is Everything by Wasis Diop and words fail to explain the silken rhythms that will caress your ear.
  6. I fell in love with Cassandra Wilson’s music at a 1996 concert at the 9:30 Club.  She was awash in a faint blue light and played with a quintet that was equally compelling.  After listening to her version of Time After Time, you might fall in love with the richness of her voice too.
  7. Most jazz & hip-hop fusions tend to be dominated by one style or the other and create a generally shitty rendition of both.  Guru’s first Jazzmatazz album is an exception to that.  Listen to the track Trust Me and perhaps you will take the title’s advice about music.
  8. Prince & George Clinton did a duet.  Could it be called anything other than We Can Funk?  Does anything more need to be said?
  9. I once wrote in this space that it is one of the great mysteries of the world that Eva Cassidy dies at thirty-five but Sick (typo but I’m keeping it) Cheney lives.  Her version of Autumn Leaves is, in my mind, the definitive version of the classic.
  10. Montreal’s Jazz Festival is arguably the world’s best (sorry Nawlins, your festival is more blues these days) and George Benson’s recording of Take 5 at the festival is one of the most electrifying examples of jazz guitar ever recorded.

Ten Things I Would Have Tweeted This Week if I Twittered*

24 September 2009
  1. Red pumps with a black business suit = great; red pumps with black ball gown = hooker.
  2. Every man should have the experience of saying no to a woman who is unaccustomed to hearing the word.  It is an invigorating experience.
  3. The likelihood of a dude getting laid on Saturday night is inversely proportional to the degree of tooldom he displays to the bar staff.
  4. Every time I watch Top Chef it makes me want to drive to Zaytinya, find Mike I and repeatedly punch him in the face.
  5. I know that this is an inside joke, but LiLu did you invent this http://ninjaoffer.com/?
  6. Overheard at the bar: The only way she got into those pants was with a stick of butter and the grace of God.
  7. Get over to Little Miss Whiskey’s before it’s too cold to enjoy the best patio in the city.  Don’t expect Whiskey.
  8. You know you’re old when: you’re talking to a woman in a bar and realize that you once dated her mother.
  9. Why do fun size Snickers bars taste so much better than their full sized brethren?
  10. A woman sitting next to me on the train just quoted Pablo Neruda; I would have fallen if she wasn’t married.

* Any of you should feel free to correct the conjugation of those verbs.


King of the Vangaurd

23 September 2009

I suck at birthdays.

Even back in the day, before the ubiquity of cell phones and elimination of the need to keep numbers in one’s head, I still could barely remember birthdays.  Nephew, Sister, Mom, Dad – those are the only birthdays I have committed to memory.  One old friend who shares a birthday with my old man doesn’t count.

Among the Birthday’s I should remember but don’t:

  • My dear friend, the Only Slightly Sleazy Lobbyist
  • Every ex-girlfriend
  • My ex-wife whose birthday I should remember only by virtue of the fact that we were married, but nope
  • A good friend with whom I had dinner on her birthday… a couple of months ago… I think
  • The most significant ex-girlfriend for whom I threw and hosted three birthday parties
  • Everyone on my speed dial
  • The woman whose birthday I used as a voicemail code
  • My closest friend since the ninth grade
  • All of the people who sent me good wishes last week on mine

Yet for some reason, I never forget the 23rd of September.  I will spend this day listening to Giant Steps, Blue Train, A Love Supreme among others of My Favorite Things.

Happy Birthday, John William Coltrane.

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By the by, are there any musicians, writers, or artists who made such a significant impact in your life that you celebrate their birthday’s every year?

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P.S. There is a new dish over at my Recipe Blog – Avocado & Tomato Salad with Crispy Pancetta


Dating – the Triumph of Optimism Over Experience

22 September 2009

Our start wasn’t exactly rousing, but there was some energy in the room.  Allison, my blind date or as my friend, who tends to date zygotes because of the comparative ease called her “my latest reason to tell a story at the bar,” and I acquitted ourselves well by reaching the one hour mark of a blind date before we had approached the quintessential DC question –  “what do you do?” It was a place we found organically in conversation.  When she said cryptically “I work on The Hill,” wattage was lowered by her obfuscating tone and I should have moved to another topic.

Due to an exceedingly high degree of political dorkdom, I enquired further until learning that she is “senior staff for [redacted name of one of the most conservative Senators.]”

“Do you find yourself politically aligned with your boss?” I asked without judgment.

“You’re a liberal aren’t you?  This happens to me all the time in this city – I meet someone, things are kinda going well and then we have the inevitable political conversation.  Suddenly what was going OK goes to hell in a hand basket because he’s on the left and I’m on the right.”

There was more venom in her words and tone than I had expected, especially considering that I thought the evening was still salvageable.  I tried to deflect – “So you mentioned that you’re thinking about moving Uptown; what areas are you considering?”

That dodge worked for a minute or three before Allison coolly stated “So what’s your problem with my boss?”

“I am not going to pretend that politics aren’t important to me.  I’m not going to sit here and suggest that whomever my ideal partner might be she wouldn’t lean more towards the left, but I don’t think that we need to have this conversation. I’m suspecting that we have some differences and they’re substantive in both of our minds.  Why don’t we change the subject… or call it a night.”

As much as I am always eager for a principled and civil political debate (stop laughing, I know who you are,) I wasn’t looking for one this night.

“Since you’ve obviously decided this is going nowhere, why not tell me the problems you have with my boss?” Allison asked again.

There were a couple of more attempts to change the subject, and a couple more insistences from her, until I eventually sacrifice optimism and respond:

“I could get into the hypocrisy of his lip service to smaller government, or his opposition to gay rights a.k.a. civil rights, or his insane opposition to health care reform when his state is in possession of some of the worst health outcomes in the union, but really if you need any other reason than the fact that he believes that people with penis’ have business telling people with vaginas what to do with them, then you’re really correct – we have nothing to discuss.”


I Know / I Wish

19 September 2009

I know your boyfriend is an asshole and I haven’t even met him yet.  I wish I knew you well enough to say.

I know you don’t like me and that I wouldn’t trust you to make oxygen into carbon dioxide.  I wish that you would stop pretending.

I know that we’re back on friendly terms, can bend an elbow together even, but I’ll never be with you again.  I do wish that I could bottle that look from the first time I rejected you.

I know that you and your fiancé are happily ensconced in your life and you know that I love both you and her.  I do wish that you and I still had our great friendship.

I know that you mostly mean well when you keep offering me that gig.  I wish that I could take you seriously.

I know that you’re married and I am no threat to you, your husband, or your marriage.  I do wish I didn’t enjoy being around you quite so much.

I know that you’ve loved me since before I was born.  I wish you didn’t have such a fucked up way of showing it.

I know you’ve been sober for five years now and your sobriety is more important than our friendship.  I wish the two weren’t mutually exclusive.

I know that you’re a gentleman and a stand up guy.  I wish you hadn’t placed me in a position that asked me not to be too.

I know that I am a deeply flawed man.  I wish I spent more time trying to fix the fixable flaws and made less excuses to place flaws in the non-fixable column.


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