Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Fancy Food Show Report

This summer's Fancy Food Show is being held in Washington DC, while the Jacob Javits in NYC is being renovated/enlarged.  We generally use every excuse we can get to make a trip to Manhattan; D.C., not so much.  However, back in March, going anywhere seemed like a great idea, so we registered for the show and booked our hotel.  We drove to the Greenbelt metro station on Sunday, and left the car at the "multi-day parking", which we could only hope was a good idea, and took the train downtown.  We used our noggins and got off at the Convention Center stop, rather than traveling on to the stop by our hotel and then returning to the show.  Saved probably two hours that way, what with the speed of the shuttles to and from the Show.

Trends we spotted at the show?  People are eating a lot of cheese, cured meats and chocolate.  A lot of cheese.  Local, organic and sustainable are hot, (who knew?) and whole grain snacks are good for you.  We decided that it is very difficult to make a pie that has been frozen and reheated to also taste good.  We didn't let anyone scan our badges - don't know how we managed that, given it was many huge rooms full of sales people.  We cruised the Italian aisles, basking in the Italian being spoken all around us.  (Although in Washington, having foreign voices all around is not really unusual, is it?)  We tried a lot of chips - our favorite being a brand from Canada, Covered Bridge Chips.  They were right up there with Route 11, my personal favorite after Utz.  You can purchase them through their website, if you aren't in Philadelphia, where they are available at DiBruno's.  Anyone want to go in on a case with me?

We tasted a lot of ham and salami, from Spain and Iowa and Virgina.  Samples of coffee, soft drinks and beer, chocolate, cookies and peanuts, salsas, ice cream and popcorn were all over the place - we tried them all.  It was one big nosh, for about five hours.

Luckily we didn't spoil our appetite for dinner in D.C., believe it or not - all those small bites didn't add up to enough to do any harm - and by 6PM we were out on the blocks around our hotel, which was very conveniently located near Logan Circle, and a lot of happening restaurants. 

First stop: Hank's Oyster Bar.  This is a place I have wanted to go to for a long time, and our timing was perfect - we scored a table out on the sidewalk, under the huge umbrellas.  (We were seated next to a young mother and her maybe 6/7 year old son, who ordered the swordfish...and ate everything, including the accompanying kale - which Mom told him was spinach - with his hands.  But he ate it, with gusto, when he wasn't sitting in Mom's lap or fussing with his IPhone...)

Hank's is known for their lobster roll, which we weren't going to order because we were doing the small plate thing - we had a lot of ground to cover in one short evening - so we started with a dozen middle neck clams on the half shell and the seafood ceviche with lime and jalapeno.  The clams were fine, and the ceviche was too, although it was long on calamari and short on anything else.  The jalapeno kept it hopping; overall it was refreshing and tasty.  I had already spied the fried Ipswich clams on the large plate menu, so I asked the waiter - who was great - if we could get an order as an appetizer.  It was a $26 entree, so I knew it wouldn't be cheap, but I really wanted them.  He said he'd try, and sure enough, he delivered.  They were really good, not even remotely like the so-called fried clams you normally see.  Fat and sweet, with tender bellies and chewy snouts, and a tartar sauce that was the perfect dipper.  And they only cost us $16! ha!

From here we traveled over to 14th Street to Posto and Estadio, both only a block away from our hotel.  Posto was huge, and crowded, and extremely loud inside, so we were happy to sit out on the sidewalk again.  The first thing we wanted on the very Italian menu was the "polipetti", which translated to grilled baby octopus with saffron potatoes, chickpeas and frisee.  They were unfortunately out of that very popular dish.  Instead we went with the "capesanta" - scallop tartare, buffalo mozzarella, baby carrots, fried capers, and fresh thyme - and "venini" - green bean, fingerling potato, dry apricot, shaved ricotta salata, and sun dried tomato dressing.  Both were "per cominciare", both were $12 and both left something to be desired.  There were not enough capers in the scallop dish; more would have added a bit of zip to the mellow scallops and the teeny amount of buffalo mozzarella that comprised the main ingredients.  The shaved carrots were a nice crunch.  My problem with the green bean salad was mostly the strong olive oil the dressing was made with - just not to my taste.  But the green beans themselves were a pale center piece, with little flavor, and the potatoes were sliced so thin they just got lost.  While there was only two or three pieces of dried apricot, it didn't matter because it had absolutely no flavor, just chew.  Pretty disappointing for a middle of summer salad.  Maybe we just ordered wrong - the place was packed.

Our last stop was a relatively new tapas joint just across the street from Posto. Estadio has been open for about a year, and it also was quite busy when we arrived at around 8:30 - we were seated at what appeared to be the only open seat, aside from a few spots at the communal tables.  We really wanted to like this place - both of us had heard a lot about it, and we love Spanish tapas.  Only one dish totally let us down - the classic shrimp with garlic was seriously overcooked.  We started with two "pintxos" - skewers of chorizo, manchego and pistachio crusted quince - which were some very mouth happy bites.  I love the idea of a mouthful of goodness on a skewer, to pop in all at one time, and it was a terrific combination of texture and flavor.  We followed this with squid grilled a la plancha - meaning grilled on a metal plate - and this was also really tasty.  Tender and smoky, with nothing but the garlic and parsley to interfere with the flavor of the seafood.  This was probably the number two dish of the evening, after the fried clams at Hank's.  Our vegetable course at Estadio consisted of croquettes of wild mushrooms.  This dish didn't do much for me, mostly on texture - a little gummy.  Kevin's comment was that they had a good mushroom-y flavor and were nicely creamy - one man's gum is another man's cream, eh? 

We had dessert at this last stop - a cherry gallette with almond ice cream.  The little tart was just okay: a very nice crust, which was good, because the cherries were sort of bland - they needed a little flavor enhancer, like kirsch or Cherry Heering.  Kevin said it was as though they had taken dried cherries, boiled them and then thrown out the liquid, where all the flavor had been.  The so-called ice cream, however, probably shouldn't have even been served - and when our waiter told us that this was the first pastry chef job for the cook who made it, we had no comment.  It was like an almond/sherry granita,  tasting mostly of alcohol, with no cream - texture or flavor - what so ever.  We scraped it off the tart.

No doubt about it, we are hard to please.  And did we mention any of our "disappointments" to anyone?  No, of course not, since most were our personal tastes more than professional execution.  We did mention the over cooked shrimp and icy ice cream at Estadio - the runner told us that he got a lot of those comments about the shrimp...

Anyone who is terribly unhappy with the increase in the alcohol tax in Maryland should not dine in DC if they don't want to pay the 10% sales tax on restaurant meals...although that does make it very easy to figure out the tip! (pre-tax, of course!)  And despite the hit-or-miss results in our  adventures with food, we loved being in such a walkable city, with so many dining options on every corner.  We will be back to give it another try, and soon.

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