Costa Rica: The Preferred Gallo Pinto?

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In graduate school I lived in Costa Rica for a year. I told Matt not to even bother researching cuisines of Costa Rica. I knew exactly what we would make – gallo pinto (or painted rooster).

Gallo pinto is a dish made with black beans and white rice. What’s different about this black beans and rice and other black beans and rice? Well not much, but there is one key difference and I’ll get to that in a minute.

First, some history.

Neighboring Costa Rica to the north is Nicaragua, another beautiful Central American country. These two countries, however, have quite a passionate history of disagreements, conflicts, and rivals. One the biggest rivals is over which country is the true origin of the dish gallo pinto. I’m fortunate enough to have tried the dish in both countries; it was always delicious, but distinctly different.

Now that you’re on the edge of your seat waiting to hear the secret ingredient that makes Costa Rican gallo pinto distinctly different from Nicaraguan gallo pinto. It really just comes down to one ingredient: Salsa Lizano. Salsa Lizano is a dark sauce similar Worcestershire sauce but different. I can’t really explain it but for you DC folks head on over to the Best Way in Mt Pleasant and pick yourself up a bottle to try it. Oh and it’s only made in Costa Rica, so that makes it even more Costa Rican.

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I got accustomed to eating gallo pinto in Costa Rica with eggs and queso blanco (or squeaky cheese – yes that’s a direct translation). We researched a few recipes and none of them called for egg but I insisted.

I also fried some plantain chips to go on the side because, well, fried plantains go with everything!

We are 4-0 with Latin American countries. I’m starting to see a trend here.

-Bridget

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Iran: No White Whale at Moby Dick’s

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It’s no secret to those who know me – I’m a ridiculously picky eater. I don’t eat seafood, meat-on-the-bone, duck, or goat and I’ve never been an ‘adventurous’ eater like Matt and Bridget.

I moved to Washington, D.C. in 2008, but I have no idea when I first tried the DMV’s “number one” Persian Kabob chain, Moby Dick – and more importantly I have no idea why I would have tried something so exotic.

That said, Moby Dick wasn’t my first Persian cuisine experience. I’ve always felt a strong kindred with Iranian-Americans and count some of my best-friends among them. One of the many perks of being friends with Iranian-American’s in the Phoenix area –is getting taken to dinner at The Persian Room. All this to say a couple basic facts: I love Iranian-Americans and am surprisingly fond of their cuisine.

Second-generation Iranian-Americans (aka the kids of Iranians who immigrated to the U.S.) are one of the most successful cultural groups in the U.S. I know this because I actually wrote a paper on the performance of second-generation Iranian-Americans for a class on modern Iranian history I took at Tulane. This high-level of performance is clearly passed on – as this abbreviated version of the story of Moby Dick’s founder Mike Daryoush clearly shows.

Iranian-born Mark Daryoush emigrated to the United States in 1975 and twelve years later opened a small sandwich shop in Bethesda. Wikipedia says that the restaurant served both American and Persian Middle Eastern dishes, but according to the full ‘creation story’ on MB’s website it was ‘tradish’ American cuisine only. Actually the website’s version of the story parallels your typical ‘the American-dream business story). So they say that for the first few years Mike’s restaurant struggled financially because the owners “insisted on using the highest-quality products they could source.” The website story-tellers add that “cutting corners was not in their belief system.” Then, one miraculous day Mike was inspired to put in a clay oven – so the restaurant could offer diners “freshly baked pita bread….just like the ones he used to eat growing up in Iran.” (Apparently, Mike was one of the first “pioneers’ to use a clay oven in the Washington Metro area).

Zing! The rest is history as they say. Moby Dick’s House of Kabob (named after a restaurant in Tehran) has been serving the hard-working members of Congress, government servants, lobbyists, dirty-tricksters, energy-efficiency suppliers, non-profit do-gooders, ambassadors, juvenile-detention guards, soccer-moms, and interns of the DC-MD-VA metro area ‘authentic,’ reasonably-priced Persian cuisine from it’s sixteen franchises.

Back when I lived in DC, I’d often get take-out from Moby Dick – and in had dragged Bridget there on multiple occasions in grad school. While visiting the lovely Bridget and Matt – I heard Matt complain about needing to make more blog posts on multiple occasions. And it quickly became clear that I wouldn’t make it through the weekend visit without paying my dues to my favorite couple’s food blog. Moby Dick’s was an easy choice since it’s basically the only ‘exotic’ restaurant in the DMV that I’ll eat at – and Bridget and Matt hadn’t checked ‘Iran’ off their list.

Today I had one of those hangovers that can only be treated with excessive amounts of food at regular increments. Matt and Bridget tricked me into writing this by tempting me with an offer to eat at Moby Dick’s. I suggested getting the food to go – since I generally feel the need to drink wine with dinner (particularly before long bus rides), but Matt wouldn’t have it and was certain that the food would be much better consumed ‘fresh’ even if the chain isn’t known for their charming atmosphere. After a failed attempt to eat at the Dupont Circle location (closed on Sundays – FYI), we decided to make the trek to the Arlington Moby Dick.

Moby Dick’s is pretty straight-forward – you go in you read dish description’s on the menu since the dish-names mean nothing to you (unless you speak Farsi), then pay, grab your food, and sit down at a table. Our meal started out with two well-stuffed baskets of fresh Naan (from the famous clay oven) and several servings of Must-O-Kheyer – a tangy yogurt sauce with cucumber, onion, and stuff.
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After demolishing one of the two baskets of Naan are food was over and the serious face-stuffing began. Plain-Paige here stuck with what my standard order – the Kabob Joohjeh rice platter with charred onions instead of tomatoes (that come standard) and extra Naan and Must-O-Kheyer. True to the creation story on their website – this local chain didn’t was consistent and my chicken kabob tasted exactly like it did the last time I ate there – which is more than a year ago. Matt and Bridget had some combo platters that included Chejeh (beef of sorts) goat chunks, and the same Joojeh chicken. They also enjoyed their Persian delights and we all ate a bit more than necessary.

Now as I sit on the bus several hours and reflect on the tasty meal, I can’t help but admire and appreciate Mike Daryoush’s boldness and Iranian-American ingenuity. Just think – if he hadn’t taken the clay-oven leap years ago, I’d be stuck on this bus, hungry and bored. Luckily Daryoush took a risk and ventured that maybe Americans wanted something new – and decided to start serving Iranian cuisine in DC. The End.

-Paige Knappenberger

Denmark: Christmas in April

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When I think of Nordic cuisine it usually has fish involved.  I came to learn after eating this Denmark cuisine that they have so much more with such intense flavors.  With the meal ending on a sweet note of something I kept pronouncing Dumbledorfs but saying the real thing, Aebleskivers, is fun too.

I was sad this day was to be Denmark and not the Netherlands due to the 4/20 holiday.  By the time it was time to prepare the meal I realized too late.  We would celebrate this 4/20 in the most old couple boring way possible, soberly eating food not from Amsterdam.

After reading the ingredients I realized we would basically have a heart attack when done.  I think overall we used about 2 sticks of butter and no rich dessert was made by hand.  The meal we ended up making is traditionally eaten on Christmas day in Denmark; however, until recent history these food were eaten more often than just as a holiday treat.

The main entree of this dish is called: Flæskesteg.   Now not only is that fun to say over and over, they smash letters together confusing the hell out of me.  The Flaeksteg is a roast pork with crackling.  Sadly I went for the pork at the last second and couldn’t find a butcher that had a pork tenderloin with the rind still on, so no crackling.  I was okay with this and dressed the pork tenderloin as needed.  Using whole cloves, bay leaves and a whole bunch of salt, this pork was dressed to the nines.

The side dishes were fun to make and were very different than any recipe directions I’ve made before.  The first side I made was called Brunede Kartofler (another fun bunch of words.)  I boiled some baby potatoes and then peeled them, which seemed dumb as I burned my hand many times doing it.  Obviously, I didn’t have the patience to let them cool.  I carmalized the potatoes in sugar and butter, that is all.  They were rich as hell and tasted like a dessert.

The other dish for this meal was a red cabbage called Rodkal.  Rodkal is a red cabbage that is stewed to taste sweet and sour.  The directions gave you a few liquids to stew it in and of course we took the pickle juice option, because I mean who wouldn’t.  The cabbage was different than most but was delicious and went great with the other dishes.

The pork roast came out in no time and smelled amazing.  After managing to pick out the cloves and bay leaves I sliced up the meat.  The meat was tender and had amazing flavor.  Nothing could of made this meal better for a Dane Christmas.

But I then realized we had the Dumbledorfs or Æbleskiver, whatever.   As I write this I realize the A & E is always smashed together in their language.  But I regress.

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The Aebleskivers are basically spherical pancakes with the light and fluffiness of a popover.  Usually you make your aebleskivers in a fun pan that is specially made for them.  Sadly, we bought dessert already made at Trader Joes.  We baked a bunch of these pastries and put out some raspberry jam and chocolate spread.  We sprinkled some powdered sugar and ate them in about 30 seconds.

We were completely stuffed and ready for Nisse, the mischievous Dane elf that has fun on Christmas, to arrive.

– Matt

Austria: Schnitzel in Georgetown

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Once again we didn’t really choose this country’s cuisine as this was a mystery shop.  We had dinner at an Austrian restaurant in the Georgetown area of DC, Kafe Leopold (www.Kafeleopolds.com).

This quaint restaurant is a hidden gem with an outside patio right off an alley in Georgetown.   We started at the bar and I ordered a Stiegl Goldbrau, an Austrian made lager.  I ordered Bridget’s drink when she went to use the bathroom.  Apparently my memory is fantastic (sarcasm) and disappears after about 20 seconds.  She got a Cucumber Fizz because this is what I thought she told me she wanted.

Now since this was a mystery shop and I had to write a “review” for this restaurant once, I am going to spare you the details of the service.  I will just let you know that it was slow and bad.  The one thing that always makes up for bad service, fantastic food.

We started the meal with an appetizer, Kleine gerostete Calamari.  When it finally reached our table it was heavenly.  I may not eat much seafood but I am a big fan of calamari and Kafe Leopold didn’t disappoint.

We were told by the server their two best dishes were the Schintzel and Spatzle.  Other than these two words being incredibly fun to say over and over, the dishes were classic Austrian cuisine.  The schnitzel were two huge pieces of veal and a bed of arugula on top.  On the side came a bowl of potato salad.  This place knew what they were doing with this potato salad.  Usually it has way too much mustard but the addition of pickles and dill made it worthy of devouring.

Bridget got the Käsespätzle, an Austrian dumpling dish with fried onions on top.  The spaetzle was delicious and went down well with an Austrian red wine.  After we were done helping eat each others entrees we prepared the best part of this country’s cuisine, dessert!

Now what I didn’t mention before was that we sat near the bakery display case and stared at it all meal.  In fact a few times I got up just to see what the pastries and chocolates looked like closer up.  The dessert menu was long and overwhelming so we went with again the server’s suggestions: Apfelstrudel & Mohr Im Head.

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The original picture of dinner was too small to enjoy how good these desserts were I had to post another solo shot.  Actually the pictures do not do justice of how amazing these desserts were.  The Apfelstrudel was a warm strudel with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.  The Mohr Im Head was basically a chocolate lava cake with coffee ice cream scooped on top.  I can’t stand coffee ice cream but that didn’t deter me from this dessert.  Even after being full from dinner we made sure to eat more than necessary because of how good these desserts were.

I came in thinking that Austrian cuisine was basically the same as Germany.  I couldn’t be more wrong after this dinner.  If I ever go to Austria I am just going to fatten myself on strudel and chocolates.

-Matt

New Zealand: Kiwi Kuisine

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I spent many days on the interwebs looking for cuisine in the local area from the land down under, Australia.  During these searches google kept showing me a small cafe in Arlington called Cassatt’s (www.cassattscafe.com)  I figured if I can’t have Australian then New Zealand is not far off.

We planned to go out to Alexandria later in the day for Top Golf.  But before heading to the best driving range ever we went for an early lunch (NOT BRUNCH!).  Why not start the day with what has to be the best combo of foods: meat and pie.

Bridget started her meal with a “flat white.”  Apparently there is a fight between Australia and New Zealand as to this drink’s origin.  Either way Cassatt’s claimed it was Kiwi, so we went with it.   A flat white is just latte art of steamed milk on top of an espresso.

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Bridget and I ordered two different meat pies for our meal.  I went with a shepherds meat pie.  It came as a meat pie with potatoes baked on top.  Bridget ordered the chicken curry meat pie for her meal.  Her pie was filling and tasted great.  The meat pies came with a side salad that went perfectly with the pies.  The one thing that were not too sure about was that red sauce side in the pictures.

First off, let me say that thanks to Bridget I try any type of food and my horizons have been enormously broadened.  I have found a few things I do not enjoy and this “red sauce” was definitely one of them.  Turns out after we both tried it and were not fans, the server let us know it was chutney.  It was a tomato chutney that looked to be raisins in it as well.  We tasted it, grimaced, and moved on.

The meat pies were great by themselves but of course I couldn’t pass on a fun side dish called: Bubble and Squeak Potatoes.  If you have read any past posts of mine you know I like foods with fun names.  What can be more fun than Bubble and Squeak?  They are basically a breakfast potatoes that are mush of veggies too.  It looks like leftovers mixed together with potatoes.  Look may not be great but the taste is excellent.

All you have to say is Bubble and Squeak and I’d take that 18 hour trip to Auckland.  (Learning capitals while you eat)

-Matt