Tuesday, August 9, 2011

hot town, summer in the city

In the summer, Washington D.C. is sort of miserably hot. This has been particularly true lately, where heat indexes have exceeded 115 degrees (sometime I’ll tell the hilarious story how I ended up on a bus full of 40 children that was pulled over by the police for driving too close to the Capitol building, sitting on the hottest day of the year in no air conditioning while bomb-sniffing dogs inspected our vehicle).

Anyway, Washingtonians manage to cope because

1. Our museums are air conditioned and free and
2. Life sorta begins after sun sets.

Last Friday night (<<<eurgh I hate that song) consisted of a series of fortuitous and free events. A sold out movie resulted in a quick, highly necessary visit to Ben and Jerry’s (where I wolfed down a kid’s size of Late Night Snack, which is as brilliant as everyone’s been telling me it is). Then we strolled to Dupont, where a FANTASTIC jazz combo with seemingly limitless energy was rocking out at everything from James Brown to Gnarls Barkley. Mad dancing ensued, during which at one point a Fox cameraman started FILMING US. Oi. Don’t think we made it on tv :D Then strolling along, I spotted a sign for karaoke where we ended up at a bar with the NICEST group of people EVER who thought we were REALLY REALLY TALENTED. Which was just part of the evening’s hilarity. Then monuments by moonlight. Then home!

The next day continued to be disgustingly hot, demoralizingly hot, so I kind of lay around on my nice cool floor for most of the day then went to this museum with this girl:


It’s been ages since mom and sis and I did city. Lovely!

Highlight of awesome exhibit, What’s Cooking Uncle Sam, going til January at National Archives:

-Thomas Jefferson smuggled rice from Italy in his pocket. Perhaps he loves risotto as much as I do.
-During World War Two, things that were done to improve things for the troops included Meatless Monday but also Wheatless Wednesday (eat corn/rice/etc. so soldiers could have wheat). Farmers were also encouraged to grow beets for sugar. Finally, the school lunch program DRAMATICALLY expanded because kids with poor nutrition become poor soldiers.
- The FDA hired people (dubbed “The Poison Squad”) to eat large quantities of the additives then in processed food to demonstrate their harmfulness to humans. Back when the FDA cared what people consumed.
- Eisenhower was an awesome cook (I want to make his vegetable soup recipe!). And on the subject of politics, Martin Van Buren lost to Benjamin Harrison because Van Buren was acused of being a snob who ate French food while Harrison lived on “raw beef and salt”.

So then we were hungry, and went to Merzi, this hot new place in Penn Quarter that’s like Chipotle except they have Indian influenced food (and, uh, I like Merzi… so that’s different too)

You choose:


Merzi is terribly cool right now. I think part of it is that it’s in Penn Quarter but doesn’t rapidly and alarmingly increase in cost (like Jose Andres’ empire of tapas places, where the food is great but to get enough of it you drop some serious dough) but it’s also a lot nicer than the McDonalds and whatnots by the Verizon Center. Anyway, you just get the coolness vibe. Creative light fixtures, long line…


Your choice of proteins ‘n toppings (I’m kicking myself for only photographing the brown things. There was a plethora of fresh, vibrant and colorful toppers in addition to the proteins)


Sriracha with the forks! I approve.


This meal was grand, a colorful (and vegetarian!) extravaganza.


I started with a salad base of crunchy Romaine lettuce, then the vegetarian option (roasted potatoes, curried chickpeas, and grilled onions and red pepper),


then tangy sweet tamarind-date chutney (which I could’ve eaten with a ladle),


then cucumber and corn spicy salads. Mmm mm!


My one complaint was that the onions and peppers were more than a little oily (as is typical at this kind of place). That’s why while I appreciate them posting the nutrition facts for those who follow such things, I also take them with a grain of salt. That stuff is so subjective to who is cooking that day (fat content) and who is serving that day (portion size).

All that being said, it’s cheaper than Chipotle and actually tastes good. And has nice pops of flavor.

My sister got the EXACT SAME THING except with tikka masala sauce (for which she has a great passion)


And my mom got lamb which was FANTASTIC! Wow it was so good. Awesome flavor, super tender. Question: they boasted of their “grass fed New Zealand lamb”. Is grass fed standard for lamb or is that something to merit bragging?


(note my mother’s attractively waist-cinching belt. She works the accessories much better than I)

Any restaurant that allows you to conclude your meal with mints instantly earns more of my love.


Next day: it was Living Earth Festival at the Museum of the American Indian. Confession: I’ve yet to go to that museum. And though I went for this… I really went for the food. The exhibits get mixed reviews but the food is what everyone talks about.

The cafe takes you on a tour through the Americas, with foods from tribes from all over North and South, East and West.

Everything from fried chicken to tacos, which makes you realize that many American culinary traditions, from soul food to Tex-Mex, owe a debt to Native American traditions.


Steve and I had a Sunday afternoon snack.

He got a plantain salsa (which, unfortunately like many of the items there, seemed less than fresh. It was mega mega dry).


This was cool and interesting and tasty: roasted radishes (!) in a cheesy sauce.


I got a serving of the Yucca, which according to the description contained chayote salad, cashews, queso blanco, yerba mate vinaigrette (!)

The yerba mate vinaigrette was what sold me. Mate is grand.

As for this stuff?


So-so. The yuca was a bit icky in texture, the dressing was super sour. But the chayote was fabulous.

I also got “fry bread” (just a beautiful phrase, eh?) which came with a blueberry topper.

This was fantastic. Best of anything we ate (so I gave a lot to Steve :D)


The idea of it I guess is comparable to a donut but it’s much lighter and fluffier and less greasy (and not sweet, though the berry topping was).


So what lured us to the museum? A COOKING COMPETITION!

We made our way outside to witness, per the press release,

Richard Hetzler, executive chef of the Mitsitam Native Foods Cafe and Don McClellan (Cherokee Nation), executive chef of Atria Vista del Rio in Albuquerque, New Mexico, face off to prepare appetizers, entrees, and desserts that incorporate fresh, local meats and the traditional Native Three Sisters: corn, beans, and squash. The final dishes will be judged by local chefs Scott Drewno of The Source; Brian Patterson, an instructor at L’Academie de Cuisine, and Pati Jinich, a cooking teacher at the Mexican Cultural Institute and star of the new show, “Pati’s Mexican Table.”

A big crowd had gathered around the pavilion, in sort of an amphitheater space.


We watched any number of beautifully prepared fresh ingredients go by, all including the three sisters (squash, beans, and corn!). The three sisters were grouped together in Native American cooking because they grew so well together: what one leached from the soil, the other restored.

The mise en place was so beautiful. So many fresh, beautiful vegetables. And the knife skills. Oh, the knife skills.


We watched chefs break everything down and prepare it. Those in the black jackets were from D.C. Central Kitchen, a really fantastic nonprofit. Google ‘em!


There were some intriguing tidbits of prep that I could guess what they would eventually become…



Fry bread! Me and fry bread, we’re gonna be friends.


We got to watch a few dishes from start to finish.

So the start was squash blossoms (which I LOVE and had to explain to Steve, who’d never had them.)


The chef made kind of a corn custard and stuff it inside of the squash blossoms…


Then deep fried ‘em!


Steve and I both got sort of flawed but cute pictures of the ultimate product with two of the respective judges.

finished dish 1DSC05288

Another dish ultimately wound up looking like an egg roll- it had long strips of squash in the middle kinda wrapped in stuff.


And then the chef plated it on top of a bean puree, with a corn guacamole on the side.


There was also a lovely looking summer ceviche.


I have to summon up the nerve to make ceviche myself sometime. It’s so delicious! I also need a reliable source for seafood in the D.C. area. I have made pretty hefty strides in buying dairy/meat/produce at the farmer’s market, but I want my surf to be as ethical as my turf. Any ideas?

Anyway, we didn’t get to taste ANYTHING, which was pretty lame. But one nice chef, in a concession to us, send out “corn shoots”.

Fascinating. Don’t really know what phase of the corn life cycle these are from. But they are sweet and delicious!


1 comment:

Steven Alexander Heathcliff Basil Bert said...

Merzi makes me mega-curzy. Sriracha is usually a pretty darn good barometer of delectable eats. I'm going to have to try that place.

Also, those squash blossoms came out looking so delicious in fried form. The hunt begins...