This afternoon, I was out running a few errands, and was super psyched to find that my neighborhood Yes! Organic Market is now stocking Yogi Kava tea. Kava root has long been prized for its ability to relax the mind and induce sleep, and the stuff is no joke. I'd tried some a little while ago at my sister's recommendation, and about a half hour after drinking a cup, I found myself in a totally blissful relaxed state. Not unpleasantly groggy - just extremely calm. I fell asleep easily, slept straight through until morning (which is unusual for me), and awoke feeling more deeply refreshed than I had in a long while. This is some seriously awesome tea. If you don't live near Yes! Organic Market, you can purchase the tea from Yogi's website, or, in bulk, from Amazon. (I'm not sure if Whole Foods is carrying it at this time. I've checked a few Whole Foods stores and haven't seen it.) Photo taken from Yogi's web site.
This past Friday, Jason and I were on a quest to find a place where we could take advantage of the balmy weather by dining al fresco. We decided to park ourselves on the outdoor patio of Mama Ayesha's, the little Middle Eastern restaurant which sits on Calvert Street right between Adams Morgan and Woodley Park - perfect for people watching on a Friday night. I'm surprised I hadn't been to Mama Ayesha's before, given its proximity to my apartment, but it's one of those places that I always seem to pass by on my way to somewhere else.
I'm glad we decided to give it a try because, if Friday's meal is any indication, Mama Ayesha's is definitely a strong contender for my short list of neighborhood favorites. With such a great location and gorgeous decor, Mama's could probably get away with serving so-so food, but there were no signs of laziness coming out of this kitchen, now run by the nephews and great nephews of its namesake chef, "Mama" Ayesha Abraham. Almaza, a light and refreshing Lebanese beer, proved a perfect accompaniment to the warm weather and low-key vibe. An appetizer of Foole M'damas (fava beans blended with fresh lemon juice, cumin, and a hint of fresh garlic topped with fresh tomatoes and red onions) provided an earthy counterpoint to crispy triangles of pita bread, and paired perfectly with an order of Sujok, densely flavored spicy beef sausages.
The yummy appetizers were a fitting prelude to our wonderful entrees. I had the Mouzat, a lamb shank baked in a tomato stew with "secret spices," served with rice and green beans. Our server informed me that the lamb is cooked for three hours, and judging by the way the tender meat fell effortlessly away from the bone, I'm inclined to believe him. Jason had the Mixed Grill, a combination of shish kabab (marinated lamb), kifta kabab (marinated beef), and shish taouk (marinated chicken breast) served with rice and grilled vegetables. The bite, ok, bites I pilfered yielded more delicious tenderness.
Alas, we were too full for dessert, though the Arabian Rice Pudding made with rose water sounded like a great way to end a great meal. I'll definitely have to make a return trip to see for myself.
Good to know: Mama Ayesha's is located at 1967 Calvert Street, a quick walk from the Woodley Park Metro stop (Red line). Upon exiting the Metro, walk south on Connecticut and take a left on Calvert. Mama Ayesha's will be on the left hand side after you cross the bridge. Atmosphere is casual.
Last night, Jason and I attended a lecture by acclaimed chefs Jose Andres (above, left) and Wylie Dufresne (above, right) at the Smithsonian Museum of American History. Jose Andres directs ThinkFood Group, the team behind DC's Café Atlántico, Jaleo, Zaytinya, Oyamel, and critically acclaimed MiniBar, as well as L.A.'s new The Bazaar restaurant, which was just granted an almost-unprecedented four-star review by the L.A. Times, while Wylie Dufresne heads up his eponymous WD-50 restaurant in NYC, and is widely considered to be a leader of the molecular cuisine movement in the U.S. It wasn't so much a lecture as a discussion between the two chefs, moderated by Colman Andrews, an expert on Spanish cuisine, founder of Saveur magazine and columnist for Gourmet. The conversation focused mostly on the emergence of Spanish Vanguard Cuisine and its influence in the United States and the world, as personally experienced by Andres and Dufresne, both of whom have been heavily influenced by the Spanish avant garde approach to dining.
The story begins, of course, with El Bulli restaurant in Roses on the Costa Brava. Adria is the well-known creator of such inventions as "culinary foam" which he employs, among other techniques, in his brilliant deconstructivist dishes. His approach (which is dished out in a 30-course predetermined tasting menu) can be defined by his subversion of familiar dishes, which he accomplishes by toying with the molecular composition of the ingredients. For example, he might serve a "tapioca" of Iberico ham, the flavor of the ham distilled in tiny, liquid spheres, or a dish of frozen polenta shavings. Sound hokey? Check out this photo gallery. I think it's easier to visually comprehend the nuance and beauty of his dishes, which are difficult to describe in words.
Anyway, Jose Andres worked in the kitchen at El Bulli for some time and was an apprentice of sorts to Ferran Adria. During last night's discussion, he joked "he hired me because there was no one else around!" (A pretty modest proclamation for a chef dubbed "the boy wonder of the culinary world" by the New York Times!) So now Andres is bringing Spanish molecular cuisine to American palates; all of his restaurants either focus on or employ its techniques. What really struck me about Jose Andres was how evident it is that he views cuisine as an art form, and as such, a mode of communication amongst diverse people. Throughout the discussion, he referenced Matisse several times, as well as Jackson Pollock, and compared the restaurant experience to a gallery. He talked about how, by employing familiar flavors (which provide a common cultural reference point) in unfamiliar ways, we create a new cultural synthesis with the familiar in dialogue with the unfamiliar. For example, his version of clam chowder (pictured above at right) consists of bowl containing a single raw clam next to a puff of clam juice mousse, potato foam, a drizzle of chive oil, and smears of onion jam and bacon cream. It's all of the flavors of a traditional clam chowder presented in a way that totally subverts our understanding of what clam chowder is and can be. A sort of thesis/anti-thesis that could be compared to modernism/post-modernism in art, except with food.
Wylie, for his part, talked mainly about how he visited El Bulli in the mid-90's and was totally blown away by the way Ferran Adria's food "smashed preconceptions of what a dining experience should be." By this, he meant the destruction of the appetizer-first course-second course-dessert structure so typical of French cuisine (in which he was classically trained). He talked about how Ferran Adria really paved the way for chefs to experiment with many small plates (as opposed to one large entree) that keep the palate in a state of constant curiousity and stimulation. I must say that although Wylie is well-spoken, he was totally upstaged by the charming and outgoing Jose, who was really hamming it up, cracking self-deprecating jokes and generally having a good time with the audience. Jose seemed to sort of dominate the conversation.
It was really an interesting discussion, and I think, a good example of how museums can serve as forums for conversations about relevant, contemporary issues, and move beyond the outdated object repository model. So, thumbs up to NMAH for an awesome event. The place was absolutely packed, and everyone seemed really excited to be there. (This event, by the way, is the first event in an ongoing series called Preview Spain: Arts and Culture, sponsored by the Embassy of Spain, the National Museum of American History, and the Smithsonian Latino Center. Check here for other upcoming events.)
Today, the Web site Civil Eats published the following blurb:
"Alice Waters’ office today confirmed reports that the doyenne of sustainable food has partnered with Dean and Deluca on a new line of frozen foods that, in a statement released to the press today, her office described as “a crossover product making sustainability accessible to a wider audience”. The “Simple Perfection” entrees, which consist of a oven-ready terra-cotta plate rubbed with garlic and sprinkled with salt are designed to be laden with seasonal vegetables by the user.
The small bottle of olive oil included in each entrée can be used to dress the raw salad or to prepare your own seasonal vegetables for the oven. Planned for a May ’09 release, the harissa-rubbed bazaar entrée and evocative finocchio, which will be scented with burnt fennel pollen, will widen the line. A descriptive brochure included in each package describes suitable ways of procuring food for the entrees, including farmers’ markets, foraging, and growing or killing animals yourself. Asked why the entrees were frozen given that they consist mostly of a few condiments, Ms. Waters’ office stated “the vision was to fully replicate the simple convenience of frozen food – down to the last detail.” Priced at $19.99 per entree."
Ok, good one, Alice! You got me! Happy April Fool's, right? Right? *fingers crossed*
I was fortunate enough to dine at the Mandarin Oriental's Cafe MoZu for breakfast on Saturday morning. I've always loved Eggs Benedict, and Cafe MoZu's version doesn't disappoint. The eggs were perfectly poached, the hollandaise sauce enhanced by a drizzle of black truffle salsa. It was the first time I'd been to Cafe MoZu, and actually the first time I'd stepped foot in the Mandarin Oriental, which is dramatically decorated with majestic views of the Potomac and the Jefferson Memorial. It's easy to imagine the labyrinthine hotel and its two restaurants (in addition to MoZu, the hotel boasts Eric Ziebold's celebrated CityZen) playing host to power lunches and clandestine political dealings. It had a sort of clubby, privileged vibe without being overly stuffy. Very DC. Very good eggs. All in all, it was an absolutely lovely way to start the weekend.
Unfortunately, I've spent the better part of the weekend in bed, trying to kick a virus. The upside? I've had plenty of time to catch up on my Google Reader, and am finding myself totally inspired by some of the kitchens in the design blogs I frequent. I love looking at these pictures and imagining long, lazy Sunday afternoons preparing a roast with a glass of Malbec in hand, quiet mornings with the New York Times and a mug of freshly brewed coffee, and intimate dinner parties with family and friends.
I like the idea of having a table right in the kitchen (as the first photo illustrates), perfect for catching up with a friend while the homemade chocolate chip cookies are in the oven, or hanging out with a good book and some Chai tea, keeping an eye on the pot of chili on the stove. In the second photo, a versatile and mobile island boasts great storage. I'm digging the array of colorful cookbooks (I assume they're cookbooks anyway) in the third photo. And finally, I love the clean, contemporary lines in the fourth photo, and the way the room is warmed up with quirky cherry blossom-inspired touches.