Whaley’s Revisited: Just as Good in the Dining Room as at the Bar

It has been over a year since our post on our experience at the bar at Whaley’s, so we were ready to give it a fresh look, this time in the dining room. We had been back to the bar a few times in the interim and found the drinks to be good but the oysters to be a bit hit-or-miss. Mainly too gritty for our liking. On this visit, however, Whaley’s excelled in all aspects – food, service and atmosphere.

Whaley’s oysters from the Chesapeake region of Virginia and from Maine

Whaley’s is known for its raw seafood, so we started our meal with oysters. For variety, we ordered four from the Chesapeake region of Virginia and two from Maine. The oysters were superlative—all six were the right temperature, well-shucked and a nice mix between melony and briny. To complement the oysters, we ordered a bottle of Sancerre from Whaley’s reasonably priced wine list. Many bottles are under $50, which is a (welcome) trend that I am starting to see.

Marnay at Whaley's in DC

The big-eye tuna crudo was also stellar, one of the best examples of salty, sweet, spicy and sour that I have ever had. The cool-but-not-cold, perfectly and uniformly salted slices of tuna came with Seckel pears (sweet), aji amarillo consumme (spicy) and calamansi vinegar (sour). If we had the chance, we would have ordered three of these.

Whaley’s big-eye tuna crudo

It’s tempting to just get the cold dishes at Whaley’s, but it is a well-rounded restaurant and the hot plates are also very good. The best of the two hot dishes that we got were the seared day-boat scallops from Maine with Anson Mills farro, butternut squash, Cipollini onions and huckleberry jus. The huckleberry jus in particular was a great foil for the buttery yet sweet scallops. I could have done without the farro, as I did not think it brought a lot to the dish. Still, we would order the scallops again.

Whaley’s seared day-boat scallops from Maine with Anson Mills farro, butternut squash, Cipollini onions and huckleberry jus

The oyster stew, made with Benton’s ham dashi instead of the traditional cream, was inventive and tasty. My favorite part was getting a spoonful of at least one crispy ham piece and one oyster, along with that flavorful dashi. While the dish did not blow us away, I am glad that we got it. Plus, the kitchen served it in a miniature Dutch oven, so the portion was big enough to allow us a taste but not much more.

Whaley’s oyster stew made with Benton’s ham dashi

Throughout the evening, the service was professional and attentive yet not intrusive. Whaley’s showed that it is a restaurant that has hit its stride and is really coming into its own — I think that Whaley’s has taken its place among our favorite restaurants.

Best Bite
Paul: Tuna Crudo
Marnay: Oysters

Address
Whaley’s: 301 Water Street, SE #115 Washington, DC 20003
Closest Metro: Navy Yard

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Winter in Philadelphia

Between Christmas and New Year’s, Marnay and I spent a brutally cold 36 hours in Philadelphia exploring as much of the dining scene as we possibly could. We took Amtrak after work on Wednesday and then kicked things off with dinner at a.kitchen.

visit

a.kitchen

a.kitchen (that’s really how it’s spelled) is a cozy restaurant inside of the AKA Hotel, located at the ritzy Rittenhouse Square. Marnay and I shared the choucrute garnie, a platter of Alsatian pork done four ways—sausage, pork chop, pork shoulder and French pork belly, or what our server described as “French Super Bacon”. All this pork goodness sat on top of addictive Riesling-braised sauerkraut that had sopped up the pork drippings. The best pork items were the sausage and the pork belly, which tasted like a really thick piece of perfectly crispy bacon.

a.kitchen 2016 Domaine Schoffit Chasselas, an Alsatian white wine

Our server smartly recommended that we pair all this pork with a 2016 Domaine Schoffit Chasselas, an Alsatian white wine with a creamy mouthfeel that effortlessly cut through the meal’s richness. All of our servers (and it truly was server-by-committee) were professional, knowledgeable and enthusiastic.

Hungry Pigeon

We started our Thursday morning at Hungry Pigeon, an all-day café in the Queen Village neighborhood of South Philly. All-day cafes are a concept that has yet to gain traction in the DC-area but which has exploded in Philadelphia. At its most basic form, an all-day café as a restaurant that’s open for breakfast, lunch, dinner and for after dinner drinks. It seems like a lot of work for the restaurants, requiring many employees with different specialties, so I think that is why you do not see it that often.

Hungry Pigeon all-day cafe in Philadelphia

The chocolate croissant at Hungry Pigeon showed the marks of a great baker, with its dark golden brown skin that was crispy and flaky—sort of like the fried chicken of pastries. After our huge dinner the night before, I took it easy and ordered a vegan breakfast bowl, a really unique creation that had a brown rice porridge base, along with vegetables, avocados and kimchi. Marnay’s eggs and toast came with a crispy, square hash brown that I swear was created to try to replicate the McDonald’s hash brown. It tasted exactly like one! Eating it brought back happy memories of going to McDonald’s for breakfast and playing the McDonald’s Monopoly game.

Hungry Pigeon breakfast in Philadelphia

Walnut Street Cafe

After a few hours of truly frigid walking and exploring, we headed into Walnut Street Café, our second all-day café. Walnut Street Café is on the ground floor of a brand new skyscraper, one block south of 30th Street Station. The restaurant has floor to ceiling glass windows, great for looking out on Walnut Street towards the Schuykill River below.

Walnut Street Café in Philadelphia

On this cold day, butternut squash soup was an ideal start to the meal. The velvety soup is made richer with a drizzle of crème fraiche. Toasted seeds and diced squash add some welcome crunch. Marnay and I also shared the fried porgy, which arrived on our plate in the form of fish and chips. It was a bit of a surprise, since the menu just says “fried porgy”, but a delicious one! The batter was light and crispy but not oily and the porgy had a better, less bland (in my opinion) flavor than the traditional cod. Walnut Street Café also has an exemplary wine list, and Marnay enjoyed a glass of a white blend from a notable natural wine producer in the Finger Lakes.

Walnut Street Café fried porgy

Vernick Food & Drink

It seems to be nearly impossible to get a reservation at Vernick these days. Luckily, we were able to grab a high top table in the walk-in bar area, along with Marnay’s Mom. (A tip: The bar area opens at 4:30pm while the rest of the restaurant opens at 5:00pm.)

toast

The crab toast and roasted chicken were as incredible as they were during our last visit, impressive, since it had been almost two years. Still, the one thing that was not consistent was the service – this time it was a bit pushy, our server trying to get us to order more than we wanted. I am willing to give it a pass, if only because the food was so good, but it may be a while before we go back to Vernick.

We had so much fun with our winter adventure in Philadelphia! The all-day-café trend really needs to take off in the DC area, or we are going to be making more trips to Philly. In fact, we are returning in a few weeks. Stay tuned for more adventures!

Paul and Marnay Meyer in Philadelphia

Best Bite
Paul: Roasted chicken at Vernick
Marnay: Sausage at a.kitchen

Address
a.kitchen: 135 S 18th Street Philadelphia, PA 19103
Hungry Pigeon: 743 S 4th Street Philadelphia, PA 19147
Walnut Street Café: 2929 Walnut Street Philadelphia, PA 19104
Vernick Food & Drink: 2031 Walnut Street Philadelphia, PA 19103

Two Dinners in One Night – Richmond

We are going to start a new feature on the blog called “Two Dinners in One Night”. We recently stayed overnight in Richmond, VA but only had one night for dinner. Since we had so many places we wanted to try, we decided to eat two dinners. There was a theme, though: both restaurants are owned by Chef Brittany Anderson, one of Richmond’s finest chefs.

Metzger Bar & Butchery

Dinner 1: Metzger Bar & Butchery

The small, intimate Metzger Bar & Butchery is the chef’s first restaurant, located in the quiet residential neighborhood of Church Hill. “Metzger” is German for butcher, and the restaurant specializes in German cuisine with an emphasis on meats. Marnay started the meal with a dry Riesling-based cocktail, that iconic German wine. Our first course was Chesapeake oysters: three Ruby Salts and three Moratticos. The Ruby Salts were all briny deliciousness, however the Moratticos were simply bland.

Metzger Bar & Butchery cocktail

A slightly inauspicious start, but Metzger more than made up for it with the next two dishes, both showstoppers. The night’s special was steak tartare, hand-chopped sirloin with shallots, capers and either turmeric or paprika topped with a fabulously runny egg yolk. The mouthfeel of the perfectly salted, chewy-yet-tender raw beef was out-of-this world. It was even better when scooped onto crusty grilled garlic toast. The last time we were at Metzger, their striped bass crudo was our favorite dish. A lesson: Metzger does raw really well.

As good as the steak tartare was, the restaurant topped it with their chicken schnitzel, so crispy yet so tender to be almost airy. We have no idea how they get the chicken to taste like this, but if we did we would be making a lot more chicken at home.

Metzger Bar & Butchery steak tartare

Dinner 2: Brenner Pass

After getting the check at Metgzer, we hopped in a Lyft and headed across town to Brenner Pass, the chef’s second restaurant located in the red-hot Scott’s Addition neighborhood. The scene at the restaurant was hopping, full of 20-somethings at the bar, the total opposite of the sedate Metzger. In DC terms, it was like going from Cleveland Park to Shaw.

Brenner Pass bar

We talked to the bartender as soon as we arrived, since going in we knew we wanted a bottle of wine. He gave us an option each for sparkling, white and red. The one he got most excited about was a bottle from the Lombardy region of Italy, so that’s what we went with. It was actually off-menu; we felt like such insiders! The wine had some weight to it, so the bartended suggested decanting it. Good choice, as letting it breathe really opened it up.

Brenner Pass wine from Lombardy

Since the last thing we ate was the schnitzel, we chose the Shaved Fall Vegetables, a lighter option. The salad was resplendent with ribbons of parsnips and carrots and topped with a cracked pepper ricotta, along with golden raisins. I don’t think that parsnips get enough respect, but I love their sweet but not too-sweet flavor, complemented by the rich ricotta.

For dessert, we ordered the Mont Blanc, which gets my award for the prettiest dessert ever. It was almost too pretty to eat! Mont Blanc is the tallest mountain in Western Europe, located in the Alps at the border of France and Italy. Our Mont Blanc was an almond cake with a snowy base of vanilla barvarian cream and “icebergs” of citrus meringue. The mountain was then topped off with a dusting of “snow” –powdered sugar.

Brenner Pass Mont Blanc dessert

Once we finished our wine, we were definitely ready to go home and go to sleep. I don’t think we will be doing many more of these Two Dinners in One Night events, but it was a lot of fun! In terms of food, Metzger Bar & Butchery was our favorite. As far as atmosphere, Brenner Pass was the clear winner. Both places offer reasons for us to go back.

Best Bite
Marnay and Paul: Schnitzel

Address
Metzger Bar & Butchery: 801 N. 23rd Street Richmond, VA 23223
Brenner Pass: 3220 Rockbridge Street #100 Richmond, VA 23230

2017 Year in Review

2017 has been a great year for us. We have been to many places, both near and far, and had so many delicious meals. Marnay and I asked each other questions about our favorites of 2017. We did not consult each other on the answers, we came up with them on our own. Any similarities are pure coincidence!

What was your favorite meal of 2017?

Paul – My favorite meal was our second visit to Tail Up Goat. The service was perfection, the wine was incredible and the food was superb.

Marnay – One of my favorite parts about dining out is the full experience – the decor of the restaurant, the friendliness of the staff, the level of detail the chef puts on the food they are preparing. All of these elements came together to perfection during our second trip to Tail Up Goat this past spring. The service was incredible, the food was delicious and we got some special treatment from the sommelier which is always a plus!

Tail Up Goat

What was your favorite bar of 2017?

Paul – I love everything about Clavel, the mezcal and taco restaurant in Baltimore. It is my happy place.

Marnay – Clavel. This bar made me fall in love with mezcal, especially when paired with some of their incredible cochinita pibil tacos.

Clavel mezcal in Baltimore

Which restaurant do you want to visit again in 2018?

Paul – Tail Up Goat. At this point, it’s my favorite all around restaurant.

Marnay – Woodberry Kitchen, in Baltimore. We haven’t been there in over a year, but I am excited to go back. We always have a great meal and I love that they only use local ingredients.

Woodberry Kitchen

What was your favorite food/restaurant-related experience?

Paul – My favorite food experience was eating tacos al pastor from the streetside counter at Antojitos la Chiapaneca in Tulum, Mexico. Can’t get any more authentic than that.

Marnay – We have been searching for the best tacos in the DC-area for years and have found some gems (Clavel, Taqueria Habanero). But we were fortunate enough to eat tacos in Mexico at a local spot in Tulum, and it was an out-of-this-world experience. Tacos will never be the same – until our next trip to Mexico!

Antojitos la Chiapaneca tacos

Which restaurant surprised you the most?

Paul – Q by Peter Chang. We really like Peter Chang Bistro in Rockville, but Q is noticeably more polished than Peter Chang, in all aspects.

Marnay – Q by Peter Chang. We’ve stopped by for their dim sum brunch at least 4 times over the past few months and I can’t get over how fresh and flavorful every dish is. I have never had a bite I didn’t like!

Q by Peter Chang dim sum

What was your favorite meal in Silver Spring?

Paul – My favorite meal in Silver Spring was at the casual noodle and dumpling shop NaiNai’s. Although we mainly use it for takeout, it was so much fun to actually sit down and drink a glass of wine with our bao and noodles.

Marnay – We are lucky to live in walking distance to some incredible and diverse restaurants. It’s hard to pick one favorite meal, but the meal I keep thinking about is the chicken buss-up-shut at Teddy’s Roti Shop, just over the DC border in Shepherd Park. But it’s so close it’s basically Silver Spring.

NaiNai's in Silver Spring, Maryland

What was your favorite meal outside of the DC-area?

Paul – Our meal at Metzger Bar & Butchery in Richmond back in February. We were introduced to their schnitzel, which is now one of our favorite restaurant dishes of all-time.

Marnay – There is something magical about eating a nice, long, relaxing lunch while on vacation in a new city. This year, that leisurely lunch took place at Maurice in Portland, Oregon. It’s hard to beat sipping on some wine while sitting at the counter watching the chef prepare some incredible French-Danish dishes right in front of you.

Tail Up Goat

What is your favorite recipe to make at home?

Paul – Avocado toast with cumin oil and a fried egg: this is one of our go-to dinners and it’s just so good! The creamy avocado, the spice from the cumin and the richness of the runny egg yolk.

Marnay – Spaghetti with bacon, capers and mint: it’s a great year-round dish and we always have plenty of leftovers for lunch the next day.

Spaghetti with bacon, capers and mint recipe

Here’s a list of our favorites. Go ahead and give them a try!

Clavel – 225 West 23rd Street Baltimore, MD 21211
Woodberry Kitchen – 2010 Clipper Park Road Baltimore, MD 21211
Tail Up Goat – 1827 Adams Mill Road, NW Washington, DC 20009
NaiNai’s Noodle and Dumpling Bar – 1200 East-West Highway Silver Spring, MD 20910
Teddys Roti Shop – 7304 Georgia Avenue, NW Washington, DC 20012
Metzger Bar & Butchery – 801 N 23rd Street Richmond, VA 23223
Maurice – 921 SW Oak Street Portland, OR 97205
Q by Peter Chang – 4500 East-West Highway, #100 Bethesda, MD 20814

Tacos in Tulum

We spent four days over Thanksgiving at Dreams Tulum Resort in Tulum, Mexico. The resort is actually in Tulum Municipality, which appears to be the Mexican version of a county. But for this post we are going to focus on a magical few hours when we visited Tulum Pueblo (the downtown) and had the best tacos of our lives.

Tulum Mexico ocean

It all started with a taxi ride. The taxi ferried us from the resort and down the main road into Tulum. We asked the driver to drop us off somewhere in the middle of town, nowhere in particular. The ride cost 290 pesos, about $15. When he let us out, he gave us a nice description of where things are.

Step 1: Wandering

We did our research and knew that Tulum is not as well-known as Cancun, but it is a burgeoning tourist destination. I will admit, though, it was less touristy than we imagined and more of an authentic Mexican small town. We took some time walking up and down, back and forth along the main street (Avenida Tulum) to get adjusted to the scenery. The stray dogs wandering around were a major hint that we’re not at the resort anymore.

Tulum Pueblo Avenida Tulum in Mexico

Step 2: Adjusting

After about ten minutes of zigzagging through town, we felt confident enough to go into a souvenir shop. Of course, they are very used to tourists as tourists are their reason for existence. We needed something tangible to remember the trip. Marnay picked out a beautiful white dreamcatcher with a wooden frame that we are going to hang on our wall. We chatted with the proprietor and learned that two Mayan families make the dreamcatchers. As we chatted, we could hear chickens squawking in the rear of the store that we think doubled as the family home.

Step 3: Gaining Confidence

During the “Adjusting” phase, we noticed a bar that didn’t look too touristy, so we headed back that way. The thing that really drew us in, though, was the four bar “swings” (instead of stools) that had their back to the sidewalk. The entire restaurant was open-air with a thatched roof, a familiar sight in Tulum. It was a calming experience, swinging in the swings, drinking some mezcal and Tecate and just taking it all in. Mezcal in Mexico!

Drinking Mezcal and Tecate at El Mariachi Loco in Tulum, Mexico

Drinking Mezcal and Tecate at El Mariachi Loco in Tulum, Mexico

Step 4: It’s Taco Time

We did our research and knew where to find the best tacos places in Tulum, so there was no wandering this time. Interestingly, most of the taquerias are only open after 5pm and stay open late at night. We headed straight for Los Antojitos la Chiapaneca and pulled up seats at the street side counter, perched right in front of the cooks. Tacos were 8 pesos – less than 50 cents each. Los Antojitos la Chiapaneca is known for al pastor tacos, and we did not hold back, getting three each.

Los Antojitos la Chiapaneca taqueria in Tulum, Mexico

We got to watch the magic happen right in front of us – one woman would grab masa and flatten it with a press, a second worked the flattop grill heating-up meats and melting cheese and a third person worked the trompo of al pastor. He was wielding a sword-like object and had a brick of pineapple above the meat. With a tortilla in his left hand and the knife in his right, he would slice off pineapple and meat and catch it with the tortilla.

Los Antojitos la Chiapaneca in Tulum, Mexico

The tacos themselves were so incredibly rich and juicy on their own, not dried out at all. To ratchet up the flavor, I headed to the “salsa bar” to get some salsa picante to top it off. The heat from the salsa brought out even more of the richness in the meat, plus some beneficial moisture.

Al Pastor tacos at Los Antojitos la Chiapaneca in Tulum, Mexico

The tacos al pastor from Los Antojitos la Chiapaneca were transformative, the best tacos we have ever eaten. But we weren’t ready to head back yet. We walked two storefronts down to Taqueria el Nero. Taqueria el Nero is known for lengua tacos – tongue. I will admit, the tongue on my tacos looked very “real”. That’s OK though, because they were still delicious, especially when topped with tomatillo salsa.

Taqueria el Nero in Tulum, Mexico

Al Pastor tacos at Taqueria el Nero in Tulum, Mexico

The picante salsa at el Nero was so hot that I was coughing! Admittedly, el Nero was not as memorable because we did not get to watch the tacos made right in front of us. That was the best part about Los Antojitos la Chiapaneca.

Stuffed to the gills with tacos, we jumped in a taxi and headed back to the resort. I do not think that we will ever top the taco experience at Los Antojitos la Chiapaneca – until our next trip to Mexico!

Marnay and Paul Meyer with family in Tulum, Mexico

Happy Early Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving! We made a quick getaway over Veterans’ Day weekend to visit my parents in North Carolina. They live along the southeastern coast, north of Myrtle Beach and south of Wilmington. Since we will be traveling over Thanksgiving this year, we decided to celebrate two weeks early.

Ingredients:
Other than the turkey, there was no clear theme to our meal, as is the case for most people’s Thanksgivings. We purchased many of the ingredients from a local farm stand and a local Italian butcher. The collards, peppers, gourds and country ham came from the farm stand. The turkey, charcuterie and bread came from the butcher.

Meyer family thanksgiving: charcuterie and bread

Wine and Prep:
Wine is one of the most important considerations for Thanksgiving, so we made sure to put some thought into it. We purchased the wine from a small beer and wine store in Wilmington, NC. Our first thought was something that would go well with turkey, and that was a 2015 Loire Valley Chenin Blanc (or Vouvray). I later learned that 2015 was a really good year for Vouvray! The medium to full-bodied white can easily stand up to the rich, buttery bird.

We also bought a 2015 dry Riesling from the Mosel Valley of Germany because it is so versatile it can go with anything, which is great since Thanksgiving is a buffet-style meal where you eat a little bit of everything. It also works well as an aperitif before a meal. Same thing can be said about the bottle of rosé that we bought, a 2016 rosé from the Willamette Valley. I picked this bottle in particular because I wanted to show people that not all rosés are that light pink color, some can be almost red due to extended skin contact. Finally, although we did not end up drinking it, we bought a bottle of red wine for those people who enjoy full-bodied reds, such as Cabernet Sauvignons. I wanted to change things up from the typical bottle of red, so I chose a 2016 Nero d’Avola from Sicily, another example of a full-bodied red.

Meyer family thanksgiving: 2015 Loire Valley Chenin Blanc, 2015 dry Riesling from the Mosel Valley of Germany, 2016 rosé from the Willamette Valley and 2016 Nero d’Avola from Sicily wine bottles

Our main contribution to the meal, other than selecting the wines, was roasted brussels sprouts with cranberries and brown butter. This recipe is a Marnay and Paul favorite that we have been cooking at holidays for years now. My Mom picked up the brussels sprouts on the stalk from a farm in New Jersey, so they were nice and fresh. We made a sauce from butter, cranberries (also from the New Jersey farm), maple syrup, ginger, orange zest and few other good things.

Meyer family thanksgiving: Paul cooking roasted brussels sprouts with cranberries and brown butter

Meal:
We kicked things off with a glass of the Riesling and it was bone dry, with only a slight amount of residual sugar. In my opinion, it’s the perfect wine for converting riesling skeptics into riesling fanatics (or at least non-haters). The turkey took a bit longer than expected, but that wasn’t an issue. We helped ourselves to the spread of charcuterie and drank some more wine. The Riesling went fast, which made me happy! Even my grandfather, who only drinks Chardonnays, asked for seconds of the riesling. I truly feel as though it is my mission in life to spread the gospel of riesling.

Meyer family thanksgiving: glass of 2015 dry Riesling from the Mosel Valley of Germany wine

The rosé was a little sweeter than I thought it would be, but it made an excellent aperitif. Interestingly enough, the riesling was the *least* sweet of the wines we drank (take that Riesling haters!)

Once the turkey was done, we poured ourselves some chenin blanc. As promised, it did go well with the turkey. It’s a high-acid wine with a good amount of residual sugar – lots of flavor. The wine’s high-acidity allowed it to stand up to not just the turkey but also the collard greens with hot pepper vinegar and the brussels sprouts. I would be interested in comparing this Loire Valley chenin blanc to a chenin blanc from South Africa, but let’s save that for another post.

Meyer family thanksgiving: turkey cooking in the oven

Time for dessert! We each had a slice of my Mom’s chocolate cream pie and her pumpkin pie, made with a real pumpkin from the farm stand. Our contribution was making bourbon whipped cream for topping the desserts – we did not go light on the bourbon!

It was fun to celebrate Thanksgiving early this year and we enjoyed picking out the selection of wines. When choosing wines for Thanksgiving, make sure that there is variety for those picky wine drinkers and focus on wines that are versatile and will go well with everything. You will also want to choose wines that work well as an aperitif, especially if you have to wait a bit for your meal. Looking forward to preparing for next year!

Meyer family thanksgiving: family meal table

Crispy Salmon with Wilted Chard and Oregon Pinot Noir

This blog is mainly about restaurant reviews, but most nights you can find us cooking at home. We love to cook, and we love it even more if there is a bottle of wine involved! When we were in Oregon last month, we visited the Domaine Drouhin winery and took home a bottle of the 2014 Domaine Drouhin Dundee Hills Pinot Noir. I was flipping through October’s Food and Wine magazine when I found the perfect dish to pair it with: Crispy Salmon with Wilted Chard.

Food & Wine Crispy Salmon with Wilted Chard recipe

Now, let’s step back. You may have heard that red wine and fish do not go together. Not so! Salmon is meaty and oily, so it can easily stand up to a medium-bodied red like pinot noir.

Before we started cooking, we had a glass (or two) of the wine. The wine has a ruby red appearance, with notes of vanilla, oak and baking spices. At 14.1% alcohol, it packs a punch, but is still well-balanced.

2014 Domaine Drouhin Dundee Hills Pinot Noir wine

The recipe we are presenting here serves four people. Since we were just making dinner for the two of us, we cut everything in half. The recipe is simple and can be broken down into three elements: making the vinaigrette, sautéing the chard and searing the salmon.

Vinaigrette:
Combine 2 tablespoons champagne vinegar, 2 tablespoons chopped tarragon, 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard and ¼ cup olive oil in a bowl and whisk away, then season with salt and pepper. The tarragon is important, since some of the most prominent flavors of the dish are going to be produced by the herb.

Marnay cooking Crispy Salmon with Wilted Chard

Chard:
Chard stems are thick and similar to celery. After thoroughly washing the chard, tear the leaves, leaving only the stems. Put the leaves aside and then cut the stems into 2-inch pieces. Next, prepare your aromatics: mince 2 cloves of garlic and 1 large shallot. Since the chard stems are thick, you will want to sauté them first. Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a saucepan and sauté the chard stems with the shallot and garlic for 5 minutes. Once your kitchen smells like garlic and the stems are softened, add the chard and cook for another 3 minutes. The final step is to add half of your vinaigrette to the saucepan plus salt and pepper. That vinaigrette is going to bring big flavor!

Salmon:
Last up is the centerpiece of the dish, the crisp-skinned salmon. You will want about 5 to 6 ounce of salmon per person. Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil to the pan and heat it up over medium high heat. A non-stick pan is best for this so that there are no concerns about losing the skin. Once it’s hot, add the salmon skin-side down. Make sure you press down on the salmon! You need to do this so that all of the skin touches the pan and has a chance to get crispy. And you want crispy skin, right?!? After 3 minutes, flip the salmon and cook for another 3 minutes until just cooked through. If your salmon is on the thicker side, cook for another minute.

Paul cooking Crispy Salmon with Wilted Chard

When it’s done, serve up the salmon with the chard and pour the rest of the vinaigrette over everything. You also could just pour the vinaigrette over the salmon, since the chard already received its vinaigrette. The earthy Oregon pinot noir pairs well with the salmon and does not overpower it with fruit. Pinot noirs from Oregon have more in common with the subtle pinot noirs from Burgundy, rather than the fruit bombs from Napa and Sonoma. There’s a time and place for the California pinot noir, it’s just not right now.

Homemade Crispy Salmon with Wilted Chard and Oregon Pinot Noir

If you aren’t able to find Domain Drouhin Pinot Noir, feel free to get another Williamette Valley Pinot Noir. If you can find one from the Dundee Hills subregion, even better. Doing a quick online search, I saw that this exact wine is available at Calvert Woodley, across from the Van Ness metro station, along with a few other Dundee Hills wines.

Now that you’ve finished cooking, all that’s left for you is to enjoy your meal and drink your wine. Cheers!

Looking for more recipe posts? Check out our Pinot Noir-Braised Pot Roast with Mashed Potatoes recipe.

Q by Peter Chang: Dim Sum

For two straight weekends, we had dim sum brunch at Q by Peter Chang, the famous chef’s first foray into fine dining. If our first two visits are any indication, this is going to become one of our go-to restaurants.

It’s hard not to compare Peter Chang Bistro and Q. For one, the service at Q seems to be much more polished than Peter Chang Bistro, at least the Rockville location. For example, water cups and tea pots are promptly filled and servers are knowledgeable and patient. The space at Q is large but inviting, full of these gorgeous bright green chairs. Large tables are outfitted with a lazy susan, making it easier to share dishes among a group. When you are at Q, you can easily forget that you are in the ground floor of an office building.

Q by Peter Chang restaurant interior

We tried to vary what we got at each visit, but the pork shumai were just too good. Our server suggested that we dip the pork and shrimp dumplings into his favorite sauce, the off-menu spicy garlic sauce. What a combination! If you visit Q, make sure to request the spicy garlic sauce with the shumai.

Q by Peter Chang Dim Sum pork shumai dumplings with spicy garlic sauce

The shrimp rice rolls were a surprise hit. We imagined they would be something like spring rolls, but it was actually sheets of thick steamed rice noodle dough wrapped around plump shrimp in a light soy sauce.

One of our favorite noodle dishes that we partook in was the stir-fried rice noodles and beef. The beef was really flavorful, which points towards the quality and attention to the meat.

Q by Peter Chang Dim Sum shrimp rice rolls and stir-fried rice noodles and beef

You can find Peter Chang’s trademark heat in the pork-filled hot and numbing wonton, covered in a generous slathering of Szechuan pepper spiced sauce and drizzled with chile oil.

Q by Peter Chang Dim Sum pork-filled hot and numbing wonton

It’s easy to stuff yourself full of noodles and dumplings, but it would be a serious mistake to miss out on dessert. Marnay and I are going to have to agree to disagree about which was our favorite, but the sesame balls and the egg yolk bun are both fantastic. The former are filled with decadent red bean paste and the latter oozes custard from its flaky, biscuit-like exterior.

Q by Peter Chang Dim Sum dessert sesame balls and the egg yolk bun

Both of our dim sum meals were less than $50 total. We plan on returning for dinner which will most likely be more expensive, but if you want fine-dining quality food for cheap eats prices, dim sum brunch at Q is the place to be!

Best Bite
Paul: Egg yolk bun
Marnay: Pork Shumai

Address
Q by Peter Chang: 4500 East-West Highway #100 Bethesda, MD 20814
Closest metro: Bethesda

Marta

We have been to many Italian restaurants in our lives, consuming many different varieties of pizzas. But I don’t think that we have ever been to one which focuses on Roman style pizza, that is, until we went to Marta in New York. When you take a laser-like focus on Roman pizza and Italian wine and combine it with Danny Meyer’s Union Square Group trademark hospitality, you get a winner.

Marta plate

Going in, we knew that we wanted a bottle of wine and we knew that we wanted to speak with the sommelier. Before we could ask, the sommelier came to us to see if we had any questions! I gave her a challenge: help us choose a bottle of white wine from either Fruili, in the northeastern corner of Italy bordering Slovenia, or Mt. Etna, in Sicily at the southern end of “The Boot”.

The sommelier gave us two options: a fruit forward wine from Friuli or a flinty, medium-bodied wine from Mt. Etna. We chose the 2015 Benati Etna Bianco, which complemented but did not overpower our food.

Joining us for dinner was Marnay’s sister, Cheray. We ordered two pizzas among the three of us as our main course, a suitable amount of food along with two other small bites. Both of our pizzas were on the simple side without an abundance of toppings so that we could get the true essence of the pizza. Roman pizza is very thin and has a cracker-like crust. The margherita was a textbook example of a crispy Roman pie. The ample basil leaves gave it a fresh, herbal vibe.

Marta roman pizza in New York

That aforementioned cracker-think crust couldn’t quite stand up to the housemade stracciatella in the stracciatella pizza, but it was delicious, maybe even better than the margherita. Structuaral issues aside, it was damn good.

good pizza

We took our time eating the pizza because we liked the first wine so much, we knew we wanted to order a second bottle. It took a while to flag down a sommelier, but she eventually came over and I gave her another challenge: we just had a bottle of wine from Siciliy, let’s travel as far away as possible to the other side of Italy. Let’s go to Valle d’Aosta, in the Italian Alps, bordering Switzerland and France. The sommelier steered us towards the 2015 Ottin Petite Arvine. She described it a big, bold, funky wine from a grape that had only recently been rediscovered in the region. All three of us absolutely loved the wine! When she came to check on us, the sommelier told us that she was personally excited that we ordered this bottle, since they rarely sell it. She said that it is one of her favorites. That made our night!

Marta 2015 Ottin Petite Arvine wine bottle in New York City

We rounded things out (because hey, we needed to eat something with this wine) with roasted carrots, cooked in the pizza oven, with pistachios, lemon and crispy sage. We also had an order of fried artichoke hearts, perfect finger food.

An extremely fun night thanks to the sommelier, the food and the company.

cheray

Best Bite
Paul and Marnay: Stracciatella pizza

Address
Marta: The Redbury Hotel, 29 E. 29th Street, New York, NY 10016

Chicago recap

During the long Columbus Day weekend, we took a train trip to Chicago! It was another overnight Amtrak trip, this time on Amtrak’s Capitol Limited.

Friday

Friday was a travel day. Our train left Union Station at 4:05pm with a scheduled arrival of 8:45am Saturday. The Capitol Limited starts in DC and then heads through Maryland, West Virginia, returns to western Maryland and then turns north through Pittsburgh and Cleveland. Finally, it takes a more direct route through northern Indiana before arriving in Chicago.

Paul sitting in the Capitol Limited train from Washington DC to Chicago

Our sleeping car was a little more modern than the Crescent, which we took to Greenville. The Capitol Limited is a double-decker train and our bedroom was on the top level, which made for some great views. We ate dinner in the dining car as we arrived in Martinsburg, WV. Even the food was better on the Capitol Limited. In particular, Marnay’s vegetarian pasta with soy chorizo was a hit.

Capitol Limited dining car

The Capitol Limited also has an observation car! It has huge floor to ceiling windows and seats which face outward. We watched the sunset there until we arrived in Cumberland, MD and then went back to our room. The last stop we saw before setting up our beds was Pittsburgh, at around 11:30pm. Time to call it a night! Unlike Greenville, we had the added bonus of getting a full night of sleep instead of waking up at 4:00am.

Saturday

Good Morning from Indiana! We woke up at 7:30am and pulled open the curtains to watch the farmland go by. It was so much fun to wake up on a train! We skipped the sit-down breakfast in the dining car and instead opted for the free coffee in the hallway of our sleeping car.

Capitol Limited Amtrak train stop in South Bend, IN

We arrived at Chicago Union Station around 9:15am and were ready to hit the ground running. We ran right to Firecakes Donuts, in fact! The donuts were delicious but not as good as Blue Star. It’s an unfair comparison but we had Blue Star so recently, we can’t help but make it.

donuts

We checked into our fantastic Airbnb, located just steps from the Logan Square L station. After resting and regrouping, we met our friend Rachel at Portillo’s, one of the most famous places for Chicago-style hot dogs. If you aren’t familiar with Chicago-style dogs, a true Chicago-dog has: all beef hot dog, yellow mustard, chopped raw onions, neon green relish, tomato slices, a dill pickle (spear), sport peppers and celery salt. In my opinion, the celery salt is what makes the hot dog so tasty.

hot dog

Our big plan for the afternoon was to take an architecture boat tour of the Chicago River, rightfully one of the most popular ways to see Chicago. One problem: it started to pour about 30 minutes before our boat was scheduled to leave! No worries, though, we found ponchos at Walgreens and were good to go! It was amazing to learn about the architecture and history of Chicago. The best views on the boat are from the top deck, but we took shelter from the rain on the indoor lower level for the first half of the 90-minute tour. During the second half the rain started to clear up and we made it to the top deck. We even saw a rainbow! There were so few people on the top deck that it was practically a private tour!

Chicago architecture boat tour skyline

For dinner, we had an Opentable gift card at the Publican, one of Chicago’s hottest restaurants. We enjoyed our time, but weren’t blown away. Best bite: the Iowa ham steak, smoked with hay and then flash fried.

Sunday

Sunday was biking and exploring day! We grabbed breakfast at Intelligentsia coffee and then walked through some tree-lined neighborhoods to pick up a Divvy bike, Chicago’s bikeshare system. The bikes are exactly the same as Capital bikeshare, so it didn’t take any getting used to.

Marnay biking on a Divvy bike in Chicago

We biked on the 606, a former elevated train line, now a biking and walking trail. It goes east-west from Logan Square to West Town. I would really classify it as more of a linear park than just a trail, as it was quite wide and there was lots of greenery and benches for hanging out.

The trail dropped us off under a freeway, so we walked through the Lincoln Park neighborhood and got lunch at Budlong Hot Chicken. I got “spicy” chicken and it was so hot I was tearing up! Marnay’s hot chicken tenders were also crazy hot! All and all, it was a delicious lunch and it gave us energy for the rest of the day.

Budlong Hot Chicken in the Lincoln Park neighborhood in Chicago

Post lunch, we made a beeline for North Avenue Beach and dipped our toes in Lake Michigan. The azure water was cold! It was like 80 degrees outside, though, so we didn’t mind. After drying off our feet, we walked along the Lakefront Trail and then biked back west into town, eventually taking the 74 bus back to our place.

Marnay and Paul on a pier in Lake Michigan in Chicago

Marnay found a place called Cruz Blanca, a Rick Bayliss creation that was a combination brewery and taqueria. It was a really cool concept: You order food at the counter, get your beer at the bar, seat yourself and they bring everything out to you. We got a particularly prime seat on the sidewalk patio. We shared an awesome Oaxacan-style taco plate with half chorizo, half carne asada, drank our beers and people-watched. I think this was one of our favorite memories of Chicago.

Cruz Blanca brewery and taqueria

We weren’t ready to call it a night, though. Instead, we headed back to Logan Square and to Lost Lake, a tiki bar. We love tiki bars!! Lost Lake had delicious tiki drinks and a very cool, laid back vibe. Despite being a well-known bar, it had the feeling of a neighborhood spot. Most important: Marnay’s drink came in a parrot glass!

Lost Lake tiki drinks in a parrot glass in Chicago

Lost Lake neon sign in Chicago

We had a nightcap of malort at Longman & Eagle. What is a malort? After Chicago-style dogs and deep dish pizza, it’s one of Chicago’s most famous culinary tradition. It’s an extremely bitter liquor made with wormwood. Ninety percent of all malort is consumed in Cook County, Illinois, which includes Chicago. We had never had it before and we felt that it was something we needed to try before leaving Chicago. It was BITTER, and I can’t say that it ever got less bitter or had a pleasant aftertaste. But it was a fun cultural experience!

Monday

Even though we were out late Sunday night, we woke up early so that we could appreciate our last few hours in Chicago. We got a small bite to eat at Intelligentsia and then took the L downtown.

One of the major tourist attractions that we had yet to do was Millennium Park and The Bean (aka Cloud Gate). It was very cool! Mainly, it was a nice day out and it was fun to get some walking in.

Millennium Park and The Bean (aka Cloud Gate) in Chicago

After walking for a while, we were hungry! Since we only had a few hours left in town, we decided to get another Chicago hot dog, this time from U.B. Dogs in the West Loop.

Besides the traditional Chicago-style dog described earlier, Chicago also has a traditional of Polish sausages, historically centered on Maxwell Street in what’s now University Village. I got a Polish sausage that was charred, placed on a poppy seed bun and topped with the traditional griddled onions, mustard and sport peppers. The flavor was just outrageous, easily one of my favorite bites of the trip.

U.B. Dogs Chicago-style hot dog and Polish sausage

After lunch, we took a stroll on the Riverwalk and then headed back to our Airbnb to relax for a bit before heading to the airport. What a trip!

Things we did and places we visited

Firecakes Donuts: 68 W. Hubbard Street Chicago, IL 60654

Portillo’s: 520 W. Taylor Street Chicago, IL 60607

Chicago Architecture Foundation Boat Tour

The Publican: 837 W. Fulton Market Chicago, IL 60607

Intelligentsia: Logan Square 2642 N. Milwaukee Avenue Chicago, IL 60647

The Budlong: 1008 W. Armitage Avenue Chicago, IL 60614

Cruz Blanca: 904 W. Randolph Street Chicago, IL 60607

Lost Lake: 3154 W. Diversey Avenue Chicago, IL 60647

Longman & Eagle: 2657 N. Kedzie Avenue Chicago, IL 60647

U.B. Dogs: 185 N. Franklin Street Chicago, IL 60606