Food Porn: America Eats Tavern

We are, to put it mildly, kinda hermit-like. Or maybe it’s more accurate to say we’re homebodies. We like to spend our time at home, with each other and Petunia – as sad as that sounds.

Our idea of a rocking good time on a Friday night is grilling some meat, cracking open a nice bottle of red and cleaning off the DVR or working our way through the pile of magazines we subscribe to.

To whit: we’ve lived in adorable Old Town for a year now, and I can count on one hand how many times we’ve walked over to King Street for dinner or even drinks. I honestly can’t remember the last time we went to a movie in a theater. It might have been Transformers II. I don’t know.

What I’m saying is: We’re happy little hermit crabs when we have nowhere to go.

However, last Saturday was an exception. We actually got dressed in nice clothes, left the house, and went to dinner. WITH people! But not just any people—two of our favorite people, Matt and Melissa. They’re pretty much the only folks that can get us out and into the wild city of Washington DC on a Saturday night.

We were all pretty excited because we had 7:30 dinner reservations at Jose Andres’ new pop-up concept restaurant, America Eats Tavern. Here’s a description from the website:

“America Eats offers a new take on American classics and celebrate native ingredients and some long forgotten dishes, from burgoo to oysters Rockefeller. With recipes and stories collected through extensive research, and with help from the National Archives and a culinary advisory council of chefs and scholars, the menu showcases the fascinating history of our nation one plate at a time, whether it’s the origins of New England clam chowder or the introduction of grapefruit to America.”

It’s a cool concept and a well-done space covering multiple floors (I think 3?) and featuring a very cool wood window frame and black and white photo centerpiece-mobile-chandelier installation running up through the staircase. Bad description. Here’s a picture:  

We got to the restaurant a bit early to get some drinks at the bar – and because we were ridiculously excited to be out and mingling with other people. At the bar, I had a Southside, which is gin, mint, and lemon, and let me tell you, it was, to quote Martyn Lawrence Bullard of Million Dollar Decorator’s fame, deeeelishous. And they were served in the most adorable green raised relief glasses. If my purse had been bigger, I would swiped a few.

It was a teensy bit dark in there.

Our table was a bit delayed. OK, more than a bit delayed. And the hostess really got our hopes up when she came over to seat us at the downstairs casual dining section, only to realize that we had reservations at the upstairs portion of the restaurant. Upon realizing her mistake, she had to send us back to the bar to keep waiting. And drinking delicious Southsides.

We were finally seated and raring to order. Because we had waited so long for our table, the hostess immediately sent over a bread basket and an order of hush puppies while we began reviewing the history tome that is the menu. I gotta say, as a history geek, I really liked the details and stories on the menu. And our waitress was very knowledgeable and helpful. However, I found it odd (and in the case of the oysters Rockefeller AND the chicken potpie, very disappointing) that a lot of the listed dishes were only available one or two nights a week.

We ordered a dozen oysters to start and they were great. They came with a couple of different types of infused vinegars, but no other sauces or accompaniments. We then ordered appetizers for the table – specifically the boneless buffalo wings and shrimp remoulade and fried green tomatoes. They were both so, so good, but teeny, teeny tiny. Definitely just one bite a piece. I really wish I hadn’t shared them with anyone.

Need about 10 more of these, please.

Things got a bit complicated from here. Two people ordered the she-crab soup, which we wanted after the appetizers, but the waiters delivering the soup were quite insistent that the soup was also an appetizer and should be served at the same time. We explained that we knew that, but we wanted it separately, perhaps even with the main courses. Mass confusion resulted. Much internal consultation amongst the staff and bewildered glances our way. They tried to deliver the soup to the table again, and were sent away again, hands heavy with soup while we finished our tiny appetizers. In defense of the odd timing, we had oysters as well, but no one tried to serve those at the same time as the appetizers. Weird.

XFE also saw a nearby table being served a dish of abalone, which we were initially told was not available. When we asked about the other table getting one, it was explained that they were friends of the chef and were doing a special tasting menu. But our waitress, who again, was very sweet, went back and brought one to our table, no charge, which I thought was more than a little nice. And, it was excellent. It was delicious and chewy and served with a pepper and smoke foam.

Our mains soon arrived. I had the lobster Newberg which was pretty much great. The sauce was to die for. Again, that sherry! Gotta love it.

Best thing of the night.

 M&M split the shrimp and pork jambalaya for two. The presentation was adorable – it was served out of a little cast iron pot. I had a few bites, but wasn’t too impressed with the flavors, in part because they put the trinity of celery, onion and bell pepper on the side (served cold), which to me, is just sacrilege. How you gonna make a roux without the trinity?? (In my best Cajun accent) Plus, there was no kick in it. Although the sausage was very good. XFE had a good-looking Cobb salad and a few bites of everybody elses’ mains.

We decided to split a couple of deserts—the real disappointment of the evening. We ordered a pineapple upside down cake (it was bad– very dry, the opposite of what a pineapple upside down cake should be) and a head-scratching New York cheesecake.

We had played with the idea of the key lime pie (deconstructed), but since I hate citrusy desserts, we abandoned that option. We were told that the New York cheesecake was very different than a regular cheesecake and we should expect a light fluffy filling with a hint of lemon, not the dense fillings we’re used to. Fine, I can deal with a hint of lemon, and I generally love cheesecake.

Well, the filling we got tasted suspiciously like key lime mousse. Not “hint of lemon,”—but straight up lime. As a citrus dessert hater, I know the difference and I can taste/distinguish the two a mile away. And comparing it to another table’s key lime pie, it was hard to see any physical difference between the two whipped fillings.

When we pointed it out to the waitress, she said that she had warned us it was different than what we’re used to. That was it. No offer to take it back to the kitchen and question it, or taste it, even.

We all suspect that the filling foam cans got mixed up and we did not at all have a cheesecake filling. As someone who hates key lime pie, I’m pretty certain that’s exactly what we got.

So all and all it was a good meal, foodwise, except the desserts, and some of the appetizer portion sizes. The service was pretty hit or miss, some really excellent moments (mmm, abalone), and some weird ones (complete dessert misfire). We won’t be making another trip to America Eats Tavern, however. We’ll try to come back when the new, expanded Minibar reopens. (By the way, how fun would it be to work for Jose Andres’ company, ThinkFoodTank? It’s a culinary think tank that where Andres and his creative team develop new ideas. Hello? Dream job? Me calling.)

All and all, the company really made the night. Any night with Matt and Melissa, and of course, XFE, is worth curling my eyelashes for.  

What about you dear readers? What gets you out of the house? Any good meals recently? I think we’re on a bit of a bad streak lately, what with Alinea and now America Eats – or maybe we’re just way too finicky and should keep our butts at home!

Food Porn: Eating South of the Border in Old Town

I was going to do a Food Porn post on my brunch at the Breslin in New York last weekend, but the food that XFE has churned out over this past weekend, has put that post on hold. I’ll probably write up the Breslin tomorrow, but today, it’s all XFE all the time.

We’re actually celebrating the end of a major work project for XFE. Basically, over the last month, thanks to our travel and work schedules, we have not seen each other. He was gone by the time I got back from my morning run at 6:30, and came home after I went to bed at 10:30 or so. Weekends included.

Since XFE is the big chef around these parts, home-cooked meals were pretty scarce over the last month. So, I’m very glad to have my personal chef for eternity back in the saddle. And his return was quite triumphant.

It started on Friday with a simple dinner. We tend to rely on this a lot. Peel and eat shrimp boiled in Old Bay, french bread and Irish butter, and a side salad. Since we’ve got tomatoes and basil growing in the front, we go with caprese this time of year.

A little caprese and prosecco to kick things off.
We went shell-less this time. Made the eatin' easier.
On Saturday, XFE went big and ambitious — pork carnitas. Only, he wanted to smoke em on the Big Green Egg. And, if you’re going to do carnitas, you need pico de gallo and guacamole. So we did. It was a full day of cooking, with a few cocktails interspersed, including a cucumber-basil cocktail I came up with that, unfortunately, sucked. I was pretty disappointed. It was too sour and not at all refreshing.
Pork marinating in orange juice and garlic.
Soaking our pecan and mesquite wood chips.
Mixing a rub of coriander, cumin, garlic powder, cayenne, chili powder, black pepper, salt.
Big Green Egg time - for six hours. Drink time.
A little pico time. Where's that drink??
Ah, there it is! Annnnd, it sucked. So not as tasty and refreshing as I envisioned. Back to the drawing board.
Guacamole on my toe. Maybe that drink was better than I thought......
Six hours later, smoked carnitas. XFE stoking the fire.
Look how well everybody gets along! So, so amazing.
Then, to top it off, we had some awesome chorizo, cheese and egg breakfast tacos this morning. Does anything make me happier than a breakfast taco? I don’t think so.
Chorizo breakfast tacos. Yes, XFE styled and shot that while I was waiting upstairs in bed for my breakfast. He kills me.
So that’s it! A weekend of eatin’. We’re having leftovers tonight and for once, I’m excited for leftovers. Did you eat anything good this weekend?
Yeah, I don’t know what the hell is going on with my formatting. So weird.

Week One – Done

Tomorrow is the one week anniversary of this blog! Can you believe it? And people said I wouldn’t stick with it. Actually, that’s not true. That’s an example my tendencies toward “revisionist history.” People have actually been ridiculously supportive of my little endeavor. Like, scary supportive. I can’t figure out what they think they’ll gain from all this.

In case you missed it, here’s what we’ve covered so far: Petunia, tabloids, fair food, bachelorettes, drag queens. Honestly, I wouldn’t expect too much variation in the future.

Anyway, to celebrate our blogiversary (I just threw up a little), let’s talk summer cocktails!

Here are two that my lover/emergency contact and I are currently addicted to.

Watermelon Awesomeness

Watermelon Awesomeness

  • Cut up watermelon into chunks.
  • Throw a bunch of chunks into the blender with a teensy bit of water.
  • Add fresh mint and simple syrup. We have some mint that we planted in the spring that is taking over our side yard, so we’re using mint in everything these days. Mint and potatoes? Not so good. Mint and watermelon? BFFs 4eva.
  • Blend. Ta-da. You have agua fresca. You are practically a Tejano now. To be truly Mexicano, proceed to next step.
  • Add shot of white tequila.
  • Blend. Pour over crushed ice.
  • Proceed to beat the hell out of a piñata. Don’t spill your drink.

Some Fancy Drink We Adapted from Bon Appetit

  • Muddle cucumber slices, your old friend mint, and some simple syrup in the bottom of a shaker. Smoosh it real good. I mean it. Get some elbow in there. Use your piñata arm.
  • Add a shot of vodka.
  • Shake. Pour over crushed ice.
  • Add club soda to fill to the top.
  • Garnish with mint and cucumber slices. I’M KIDDING. We don’t do that! We just drink the damn things!
  • Grab some seersucker and a straw boater and sip your drink with your pinky up in the air while expounding on the themes in the Great Gatsby and how hard it is to rent a decent summer cottage on the Cape anymore. I don’t have any idea what I just said. I might have blacked out there for a minute.

Any good summer drink ideas out there? Who loves a good piñata? If you could have any candy inside a piñata, what kind would you want?

Yes, this is a pinata shaped like a margarita. And yes, it is awesome.

(funny sidenote: I found a piece of hot pink and black boa feather in my gum pack in a pocket in my purse today. Crazy.)