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Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Gay Camping & #Zoodles...

So I am going Gay-camping this weekend. No, not glamping, and certainly not the real rustic stuff so many bearded and Teva wearing folks engage in during the summer months. This is truly Gay-camping. Generally defined as sleeping in a tent at a resort with all or some of the following features; a pool, restaurants, cocktail bar, a place likely clothing optional, but definitely scandalous Speedo friendly…Think of it as beach-bar meets night-club meets the forest... I've already packed five of my smallest and brightest pieces of swimwear for the next two days (guilty). 

Naturally, I am panicking about my body. Should I decide to wear one of my briefest briefs, I don’t want to be cavorting in the woods having to wonder from what angle I might be seen. I mean, I’m not super concerned about the judgment of my friends nor the central Pennsylvania public I may encounter, but I hold certain aspects of my vanity close to my heart. I just want to be prepared.

Like any sane person, I have responded to my last minute realization of this (and lack of physical preparation), by attempting to crash diet. My general disdain for the minutia of the work week and the need to maintain civility at home, eliminate starvation as an option because the #hanger is real.

So, as I poll my family for donations of tents and other camping supplies in preparation, I have decided to give my cooking a more extreme health slant in the days leading up to the trip (see preview pic).

You’ve all seen the stop-motionesque 30-second Facebook videos from Tasty, or received the Pinterest recipe board notification from someone in whom (ironically) you are not interested at all,  espousing the incredible versatility of a Spiralizer, the glory of guilt-free zucchini pasta, and the picture perfect creation you can whip up with your eyes closed (riiiiiggghhhttt). 
#zoodles #whatisthat

Needless to say I am not a fan, for many reasons. Not least of which is the trend factor. I honestly do not want to hear about another “fast and fresh” dinner where you swap out something good (pasta) for something nutritionally void and infuriatingly bland (squash in general).  I especially don’t want to see your poorly lit, badly composed, over-filtered picture of soggy squash and some indistinguishable sauce captioned with the hash tag #zucchininoodes #lowcarb #cleaneating or the absolute worst - #zoodles. Honestly, #zoodles is unforgivable, it’s like tagging #broccolicheddar and posting a sad picture of soup. Only #zoodles is worse because it's unnecessarily abbreviated. I can’t with #zoodles, I’ll just be over here reposting your gram as #uglyfood.

Anyway, in case that rant wasn’t clear, I’m not into Zoodles, at least not until last night.

So last Saturday my fiancé and I took a trip to Williams Sonoma, and among other artifacts of our particular brand of consumerism, we picked up some European made Swissmar vegetable peelers. Kind of like a hand-held mandolin. Completely unnecessary, but like most things, they came home with us anyway.

#broccolicheddar #uglyfood
I had never even thought about making zucchini noodles until I first experimented with this new tool by shaving some carrot into a salad recently. The pieces came out long, and very thin, like orange spaghetti. I should have known it then, but Zoodles were undoubtedly in my future (ugh, I can’t believe I am typing that).

Flash forward to my current impending woodland Speedo sporting body panic phase, and the timing was perfect.

I picked up a basket of four large summer squash at the Sunday farmers market, mixed variety with a good diversity of color, bright yellows and greens would be perfect for my dish (and the photo to follow). I decided something simple, like a basic Bolognese Ragu would be ideal for this first foray into the world of alternative noodles. I started my onions and mushrooms for the sauce, and browned some lean ground beef to begin. After I deglazed with red wine, added tomato puree, seasonings and turned it down to simmer, turned to the squash. The process of making the Zoodles is likely easier with a Spiralizer, but I think my tool actually results in a finer cut, one more delicate and akin to angel hair than say a bulky Bucatini. I cooked the Zoodles very briefly in some olive oil, garlic powder, and too much salt. Too much salt turned out to be a life saver, as I was forced to rinse the Zoodles very briefly under cold water, which stopped their cooking and prevented them from getting too soggy. I returned them to my large pot and added the meat to my simmering sauce. I plated like I would any spaghetti dish and begrudgingly admitted to myself that the Zoodles looked brilliant under the light on a stark white plate. I topped with the Ragu and finished with a generous pinch of shaved parimigano for a rustic effect.  Needless to say the picture was flawless, and fortunately the flavor the same (but I mean, who’s shocked?).

In reality, I don’t know if it was due to the texture from my slicing tool, or the error I made over salting then rinsing, but the Zoodles were absolutely delicious. I know my sauce is delicious, so I was starting from a good place, but I was pleasantly surprised at how satisfying the Zoodles were in flavor, texture, and as a vehicle for the Bolognese. They definitely, and could not possibly, offer the chew or olfactory pleasure of real pasta, but for my current dietary predicament, they really fit the bill. In fact, my fiancé’s reviews were even stronger, and if you know how picky he can be, that is the proof in the pudding.

So, am I am fan of Zoodles? No, never will be, Zoodles isn’t going to happen, it will fade like Acai berries and Greek yogurt, and live on only in the most basic of kitchens and Instagrams.
But, if faced with less than a week until I have to be in Speedo shape, and if done just right, they are a wonderful stand-in for pasta. 

Enjoy, my one and probably only #Zoodles…because Gay-Camping.

Zoodles Bolognese

  • 4 Large Summer Squash
  • 16oz Lean Ground Beef
  • 1 medium White Onion – diced
  • 4 oz Cremini Mushrooms – Sliced and cleaned
  • 28 oz Tomato Puree
  • 1 Small Can Tomato Paste
  • 2 Tablespoons Garlic Powder – Divided
  • 1 Cup Red Wine
  • Dried Herbs to Taste: Bay, Basil, Oregano, Thyme
  • Salt and Pepper to Taste
  • 3 Tablespoon EVOO – Divided
  • Shaved Parmigiano Reggiano to Taste


In a large sauté pan, over medium heat, sweat the onion in the evoo until begins to be transparent, about 5 minutes. Add the mushrooms and stir occasionally to keep form sticking as they brown. Turn the heat up and add the red wine, as it sizzles it will pull all the tasty pieces sticking to the pan into the liquid to add flavor to the sauce. Turn heat back to low and add the so tomato puree and seasonings stirring until completely incorporated. Allow to simmer on low while you cook the meat.
In another pan over medium heat, brown the ground beef and add the tomato paste about half way through, 8 minutes total. Drain excess fat and add to the simmering sauce.
While sauce simmers, use a Swissmar peeler, Spiralizer or mandolin to make long thing slices of the squash. Once all 4 are sliced into thin spaghetti- like noodles, toss in a hot pan with evoo and top with garlic powder and some salt. Just allow them to warm and get coated with oil, if they actually cook they can get soggy. Remove from heat and use a utensil to place Zoodles on a plate. Top with a ladle of you warm sauce and finish with shaved parmigiano reggiano.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

The Fourth is For Fish Tacos

It was the Fourth of July, so naturally I was in the mood for Mexican food…Before you judge me for my patriotic short comings let me justify this by explaining that I have been in Mexico for the Fourth for the last two years making great memories and frankly, this Monday just  did not lend itself to a hot-dog eating frame of mind.

Believe me, I did my fare share of burger eating and flag waving having finally found myself in the states this year, but I did all that on Sunday night when conspicuous consumption of patriotic beverages (sangria is American right?) and subsequent the use of bunting as fashion accessory was more appropriate (or at least didn’t negatively impact my professional life).

The actual 4th was very un-4thy this year in Baltimore; humid, dreary, featuring a constant and unpleasantly warm breeze, it was a day made for the comforts of air conditioning not BBQ’s and fireworks. As if trolling Instagram full of pictures of friends in other sunny locales, in tiny American flag bathing suits with various spirited beverages  weren’t bad enough, the fact I had to work a half day just added insult to injury.  By the time I finally wrapped work and started to think about dinner and the rest of my evening I was in no kind of celebratory mood.

Mark and I, both exhausted from the weekend which featured a 6+ hour wedding and a drive back and forth to Philadelphia, decided to honor independence day by binge watching the John Adams miniseries on HBO. What this really boiled down to was mark transfixed to the television and me hiding in the bathroom googling Whitney Houston, Jennifer Hudson and other diva’s national anthem renditions so as not to compete with the audio…We all fly our flags in different ways right?

Turns out, you can only watch Whitney’s 1991 Star Spangled Banner performance 4 times before your tear ducts run dry, so pretty soon I was in need of other amusement. You see, I was already lost on John Adams and to Mark’s chagrin I began asking incessant and historically ignorant questions about our founding fathers and their role in the American Revolution. To avoid provoking his ire, and risk revealing the extent of the holes in my recollection of American history, I turned my focus, not surprisingly, to food.

Gray day, gray mood, I decided to make something colorful with bright and strong flavors to counter the prevailing sentiment. As I reminisced on my 4th’s on the sand in Cabo and Sayulita of the years past, I knew that Mexican cuisine was going to be the inspiration, and specifically the flavors of the beach. I immediately started craving fish tacos, and fortunately I had some Mahi Mahi on hand. I picked up some bright red cabbage, a jar of chipotles in adobo, carrots, and a few crunchy serranos to make up my technicolor palette.

I started out by making a chipotle-carrot-red cabbage slaw. The cabbage provides the deep base color and crunch, the carrots brighten visually and sweeten the taste, and the chipotles in adobo lend creeping heat and seductive smoke. I added a bit of sugar to the slaw once mixed to counter the heat and help the cabbage break down while I prepared the fish.

One of my favorite seafood preparations in Mexican cuisine is anything “Al Aijillo” which is essentially garlic, oil, and hot red chiles as a sauce or coating for shrimp, octopus, calamari etc. I love the savory and unctuous flavor of the garlic mixing with the heat of the chiles, however, with my slaw already delivering significant heat, I couldn’t go with this preparation for my fish. Instead, I decided to rub the Mahi Mahi in a healthy coating of garlic powder and rather than add heat, I added cumin powder to deepen the flavor and make the dish more fragrant and earthy. Then, I heated butter in a pan and seared the fish until golden brown. About half way through, I added the juice of a lime to cut the garlic and brighten the flavors.

Now, usually when I do tacos, I will fry the filled tacos in vegetable oil imparting a chewy yet crunchy aspect to the shells. I suspected this would be overwhelming to the naturally more mild flavor of fish as opposed to the usual pork or beef. So instead, I “grilled” the tortillas by briefly laying them on my cook-top on top of the flame. I crisped them slightly, letting them puff up, and gave the edges a smoky char and somehow managed not to burn my fingers. I served the tacos with fresh slices of serrano peppers for the contrast of color and a final spicy crunch. We washed dinner down with a cold and inexpensive Torrontes that was the perfect counterpoint to the heat and savory fish tacos.

The night ended as they usually do, me sated and on the sofa, slowly falling asleep while muttering commentary to make it look like I’m paying attention to the TV, and Mark patiently explaining (insert any scenario here) why Ben Franklin was a much better diplomat and politician than John Adams could have ever hoped to be…we headed to bed to the sounds of the fireworks in Fells…Can’t get much better than that.

Happy Fourth of July!
Garlic-Cumin-Lime Mahi-Mahi Tacos with Chipotle Slaw

  • 12 oz Mahi Mahi fillet (or other white fish)
  • 6 Corn tortillas
  • 1 Small head of red cabbage -  finely chopped for slaw
  • 2 Medium serrano peppers – sliced into rounds
  • 2 Large carrots – grated finely
  • ½ Cup Mayonnaise
  • 1 Teaspoon sugar
  • 1 Can La Costena Chipotle Peppers in Adobo Sauce (or similar brand)
  • 2 Tablespoons garlic powder
  • 1 Tablespoon ground cumin
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 Lime
  • 3 Tablespoons salted butter (you can use oil if you prefer)

In a large bowl, combine cabbage, carrots, mayo, and sugar and incorporate well. Cut the Chipotles into thins strips and add them, with their sauce to the slaw mixture – combine evenly. You can add a bit of vinegar if you find the flavor to rich or prefer a less crunchy slaw, but in this case I did not use any. Set the slaw in aside or in the refrigerator if planning to wait to serve.

Pat your fish dry, and rub all sides with the garlic powder and cumin. Heat the butter in a large pan, but do not brown. Once hot, add your fish and sear until golden. Add a pinch of salt to taste and flip after about 4 minutes on medium heat. After another 4 minutes, add the juice of the lime and turn up the heat to cook of the liquid. I usually break up the pieces of the fish to get more charred surface area.

When ready to serve, carefully, grill your tortillas on your stove top by resting on the grate over the flame and flipping as they puff, crisp, and get a light char.
Place the fish in the center of the tortilla, add a generous serving of the slaw, and finish with the serrano peppers – serve immediately.


Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Mother's Day

Mother's Day Dinner

This past weekend I was hired to prepare a private dinner for a young woman’s first Mother’s Day. I was contacted by a new father and eager husband who wanted to do something special for his wife, but was somewhat stymied in traditional brunch or dining options due to the care needs of their very young daughter. He explained his desire to hit the ball out of the park for this inaugural event and had idea the to hire a private chef in order to do so. Ideally, this would allow his wife and baby to remain in the comfort of home yet enjoy the luxury and indulgence of a meal out. Add to the equation the presence of his wife’s parents, who were in town for their daughter’s day, I was immediately on board. As excited as I was to be ask to execute this feat, all this sentimentality brought a lot of pressure. I felt like it was imperative to deliver a superlative experience  - And so I began the process with all the feelings and all the anxiety…


I worked with the husband to plan the menu according to his wife’s preferences. What started out as “isn’t very picky and likes a lot of things” took a more complicated turn when white meats, healthy components , no fried, thick or creamy components, and a sensitivity to spice were added to the requirements. If you are at all familiar with my blog you’ll know that fat  = flavor and nothing can ever be too spicy in my book. I would baste cheese in hot sauce and butter if I could… Immediately I knew this meal was going to be a bit of a departure, but would be a great opportunity to challenge my style and abilities. To be honest, while I was initially averse to the “nothing unhealthy” notion, I quickly grew to enjoy the challenge when thinking about various dishes to interpret or adapt in healthy ways.

Dinner was three courses, two savory and dessert. As the farmer’s market is finally starting to show signs of life with the best of the spring vegetables starting to appear, I figured a composed and substantial salad would be the perfect opening note for a meal with an eye to health. As far as the main course goes, the mention of white meat immediately brought to mind chicken and the subsequent eye roll. Chicken as a main course is something I would never order out, and rarely, and I mean rarely rarely, prepare at home. With most of my favorite pork preparations on the richer side or at least requiring some kind of spice, the other white meat was definitely out of the question. So I reluctantly started to think about birds again. I love duck, and love to cook duck, but talk about fatty, sadly, a no go. Turkey is nearly as bad as chicken, when it comes to flavorless misery, shudder. Then I thought of Cornish Game Hens. Small, cute, great vehicles for a baste or spice rub, the hens would be a richer, and slightly nuttier nod to characteristics of chicken, but with much more pleasing aesthetics and flavors. I was inspired!

Dessert, a word that strikes fear in my heart. It's arguably my Achilles heel. The reason being, I almost never measure when I cook, and almost all desserts, whether its cookies, cakes, pies, tarts, meringue etc, ALL require measurement and adherence to a recipe. The rigidity in preparation is in direct juxtaposition with my style and what I love about being creative in cooking. Perhaps one day I will enhance my skills to the point I can be both creative and successful in the endeavor, but until then, I will maintain my aversion to dessert.

That all said, I have enjoyed some considerable successes in the sweet course. One of my favorites was a salted caramel custard I prepared for a holiday party. While moderately complex in preparation, I managed to successfully produce it several times one winter season, and it has remained in my repertoire since then. When thinking about dessert for this dinner, I decided that it needed to be something small, due to the naturally rich and unhealthy nature of the course. Additionally, I wanted it to be something I could prepare in advance, that way it would be immediately ready after the main course and allow me time to clean up while the client finished out their meal. This would custard fit the bill perfectly.

With that, the menu, or at least the skeleton, was made. I sent my ideas to the client and quickly got approval, I was off!


As I said, I wanted to prepare the dessert ahead of time. Since, I was also most nervous about the success of this course I decided to make it early in the day the Saturday prior to dinner, just in case it failed and I needed to re-plan. I found my old recipe, as well as some others and decided to try a hybrid. I also wanted to work in some deeper flavors and added some bourbon to the caramel base as I prepared. I almost ruined the custard when, in a panic during the thickening stage, I impulsively added a bit of cornstarch at a stage that in hindsight was far too late. Fortunately, a quick pass through a strainer solved the lumpy issue, and moments later my custard was complete. My taste test confirmed it was delicious and I was about to pat myself on the back until I started to pour it into the serving dishes. To my horror, what had been loosely a recipe for 4, didn’t even come close to filling the 4 white soufflé cups I had chosen. I nearly melted down, as the image of a disappointed look and ruined Mother’s Day dinner filled my head, but then I got a grip. I remembered my trip to the farmers market the previous Sunday, where I had seen beautiful local strawberries. Problem solved! I would hit the market the next morning for my other ingredients, and pick up some strawberries. I would cook the strawberries down with sugar, a vanilla bean and some homemade vanilla extract, almost making a preserve, though when chilled not quite so chunky. I’d layer it on top of the insufficient custard, filling the cup and offering a nice sweet juxtaposition to the savory custard notes. Top it all off with some fresh white chocolate whipped cream (made by dissolving white hot chocolate mix in the cream before whipping) and finish with some black sea salt (just for contrast) and I had the perfect, self-contained, make ahead dessert displaying the best of the season and a delicious sweet and savory, decadent yet fruity, juxtaposition. Slowly, but surely I will get good at dessert.

Sunday morning arrived and I was at the farmers market by 8, partially out of nerves and partially because I fell asleep at 9 the night before. The sun was finally shining after a week of rain, and the hoards had yet to arrive, it was perfect. I figured I would let the market tell me what was going to be in the salad. I found beets, and immediately thought, when roasted, they would be the ideal base, sliced thin and laid out on a chilled plate. I would smear a dollop of goat cheese on top to add a bit of restrained richness. Its nearly the end of asparagus season, but there was still some beautiful options, so I decided I would shave the bases, blanch the stalks and lay a few across the top of the beets and goat cheese to create a hearty foundation for the greens to come. I had decision anxiety when it came to greens. I wanted something pretty and delicate, but something with large leaves like butter or bibb would totally overwhelm the composed foundation components in scale. I couldn’t let bright red beets and glowing green asparagus get covered. Ultimately I stumbled across some local arugula. This would work well, I would bruise it slightly to make it malleable, and when dressed, able to be formed into an appropriately scaled nest of greens that played well with the other ingredients. I thought I was done, but when I pictured the plate in my head, it just seemed underwhelming and incomplete. Radishes are very “spring” and they do add a nice color aspect, but I am very over radishes by the time may rolls around, so that was out. I had almost given up when I spotted some brilliant yellow kale flowers. They look a bit like forsythias, long plumes of tiny yellow flowers, and can be enjoyed roasted with a bit of garlic and olive oil. I did not want to cook them, I decided I wanted the fresh flowers for the pop of color they would add as a final garnish to the plate. Luckily, the farmer was kind enough to give me a single frond for free rather than purchasing a whole bunch, so I didn’t have to munch on flowers for the week to come.  With my components decided, and plating planned, I turned to the dressing. Mark recently shared what looked to be a delicious lemon poppy seed dressing recipe. From the ingredients it looks a little strong and savory for the dish I was hoping to prepare. Mark also recently gave me a jar of honey from his school’s apiary. So I decided to combine the two sources of inspiration. I made a sherry, lemon, honey and poppy seed vinaigrette. It had just the right amount of tempered sweetness, bite of citrus, and subtly nutty yet fruity notes of poppy seeds. I outdid myself on that one,  if I am being honest.

For the main course, the Cornish game hens, I spent considerable time researching various preparations from cuisines around the world, finding it rather difficult to complete avoid spice or fat, my newly forbidden ingredients. Ultimately I decided to go a more traditional route. I would focus on herbs, specifically thyme, something I grow in my garden and one of my favorites with poultry, as the prominent flavoring agent. I conceded I would have to incorporate a little butter, mainly to deliver the flavor of the herbs and to achieve the crispy skin necessary for a successful hen. Despite being a step up from chicken on the complexity and fat content scale, Cornish hens can still often be bland and are easy to dry out. To avoid this, and elevate my herb flavors further, I decided to brine the birds in an herb base. I made the brine in the morning, incorporating thyme, tarragon, lavender, fennel seeds and garlic powder, and let the hens bath in it for two hours prior to being rinsed, dried, and packed for transport. While the birds brined, I made a compound butter with thyme and garlic that I would use to brush on the hens as they roasted, bringing out the desired golden hue and crispy texture. I took a few fresh sprigs with me, which I ultimately place on top of each hen half way through cooking, to serve as a rustic and perfumed garnish. To accompany the hens, I picked up some local rainbow carrots, Peruvian purple potatoes, and adorable cipollini onions, which I would roast simply and use round out the plating with their deep colors and gorgeous char.

I did most of my prep ahead, and having devised specific plating already, I arrived to the client’s home feeling quite well prepared. The entire family couldn’t have been nicer and we had some nice small talk about my passion for food and my current private catering endeavor. Their genuine interest and clear appreciation for food, had me overflowing with anticipation and a desire to succeed by the time I started cooking, a wonderful feeling to have.

Execution went off without a hitch, I even managed to time the somewhat dicey process of roasting game hens perfectly for the last bites of first course. Speaking of, the salad was a huge hit, the dressing itself eliciting repeated praise from the guest of honor.

The hens cooked up brilliantly and down to the garnish the plate looked Ina Garten chic, I was beside myself with pleasure and relief. Looks aside, the flavor was great (I had an extra hen as a doneness guide, taste test subject, and bonus Monday lunch for Mom), and when the clients cut into the meat, they all sung it’s juicy tender praises. Again, the mother of honor made specific mention that it was a juiciest poultry she had ever had (I thanked my instinct to brine).

Dessert brought a familiar feeling of tribulation, but I was confident in my planning. Plating was a cinch, and they hit the table perfectly following the main course. Rave reviews ensued. I think the custard, composition and combination of flavors were new to them, but this worked wonderfully in my favor. Who knew I was do good at dessert?!

In the end I could tell everyone was sated and happy, compliments aside, this was the greatest reward. I was so honored to have been able to provide this new mother, and her family, such a satisfying meal and pleasing experience, on what really was a rather landmark day in their lives. I was thanked profusely, though I could have done without, it was a truly fulfilling experience, menu challenges and all.

I could have left, written this post, and never heard from them again and still been just as satisfied. But, I got the ultimate stamp of approval this afternoon, when Mark, who knows the Mom from past jobs, ran into her and she told him it was “one of the most incredible meals I’ve ever had.” What else could I want? With that success in the bag, I am looking forward to the next one.

The Recipes

First Course: Local Arugula Salad, Roasted Beet Carpaccio, Goat Cheese, Blanched Asparagus with Lemon-Honey-Poppy Seed Vinaigrette
  • Ingredients:
  • 12 Thick Stalks Asparagus
  • 6 Large Beets (washed)
  • 8oz Goat Cheese (room temperature, not crumbles)
  • 1lb Fresh Arugula
  • 1 Tablespoon Poppy Seeds

2 tablespoons each:
  • EVOO
  • White Vinegar
  • Sherry
  • Honey


Roast beets, skin on, in 400F oven for about an hour or until tender when poked with a fork, then chill (this can be done the day before). Bring a bot of water to a boil and prepare another pot with ice water. While water heats, shave the tough skin off the base of the asparagus stalks and trim to uniform length. The stalks should be only tips, tender green skin, then have the white interior exposed. Once water is at a rolling boil, drop stalks in and cook for 3 minutes. Remove and immediately place in ice bath. Leave in ice bath 5-10 minutes, then remove and pat dry before plating. In a small bowl add poppy seeds, honey, evoo, sherry and half the vinegar and whisk until emulsified. Taste and add additional vinegar to your preference.
When ready to plate: In a large bowl, use your hands to lightly massage the arugula so it becomes “bruised”. Toss it with the dressing and ensure it can be formed into compact nests roughly the size of your fist. Slice beets very thin (you can use a mandolin) and place on chilled plate carpaccio style in a single layer. Spoon 2 oz of the smooth, room temp goat cheese onto the center. Place 3 asparagus stalks diagonally across the cheese and beets. Carefully place a nest of argula on the center, allowing the beets and asparagus to be visible from the top. Garnish with a nasturtium or kale flowers like I used. Serve immediately.

Main Course: Thyme Butter Roasted Cornish Game Hens with Roasted Carrots and Potatoes

  • 4 Cornish Game Hens (giblets removed)
  • 3 large yellow onions (peeled and quartered)
  • ½ pound cipollini onions (skins removed)
  • 2 lbs whole carrots (tops trimmed)
  • 1 lbs purple Peruvian or fingerling potatoes
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • ¼ cup EVOO
  • Brine:
  • 2 quarts cold water
  • ½ cup table salt
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • A few good pinches of dried: Thyme, Tarragon, Lavender, and fennel seeds
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • Thyme Butter:
  • 1 stick of salted butter (melted)
  • Handful of fresh thyme or thyme leaves
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder


Brine: Add salt, sugar, and herbs to water in a large pot. Bring to a boil and allow to steep for 5 minutes covered so as not to lose the water as steam. Allow to return to room temperature. Place hens in a large freezer bag , pour brine in and seal. Allow to brine in fridge for two hours. Remove from brine, rinse, and pat dry (important if you want the skin to crisp).  Do not over brine or you will have a salt bomb of a bird.

Compound Butter: Combine melted butter with thyme and garlic and chill until solid.

Carrots/Potatoes: Preheat oven to 450. Toss carrots and potatoes in evoo and garlic powder. Place on a baking sheet or in a roasting pan with cipollini and roast for 40 minutes or until the carrots and potatoes are tender, and everything in the pan has a nice golden char. At this heat, be careful not to burn. Ideally this would be done at a lower temp, but at 450 you can do the hens in the same oven at the same time.


In a large roasting pan, pull apart yellow onions and cover the bottom of the pan creating a bed for hens. This will flavor the meat as it cooks and help with sticking to the pan. Insert a quarter of the reserved onion into each hen’s cavity, again this will perfume the meat while it cooks. Take a spoon of compound butter and slather over skin of the hen, leaving a larger piece on the top of the breasts so it will melt as it cooks. Roast for 45 minutes at 450F. Every so often, brush or spoon on more of the compound butter onto the hens so the skin crisps and gets golden brown. When there are 15 minutes left, place a single sprig of fresh thyme on the top-center of each hen. This will crisp up nicely and perfume the dish for plating. Hens are done when the temperature is 170F at thickest parts, and the juices run clear when you pierce a thigh.


Place carrots cross hatch or log cabin style in center of place. Place a few potatoes and cipollini outside. Place hen in the center of the plate on top of the carrots but ensure that the slender tips are visible from above. Garnish with a grind of fresh pepper and a pinch of sea salt serve immediately.

Dessert: Bourbon-Salted Caramel & Strawberry Trifle with White Chocolate Whipped Cream

  • 4 tablespoons salted butter
  • 1 1/2  cup sugar (1 cup and ½ cup divided)
  • 1 + 1 pint cup heavy cream (divided)
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • ½ cup bourbon
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • Sea salt
  • ½ pound strawberries
  • Vanilla bean (seeded)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ½ Cup white chocolate powder (hot chocolate mix works)
  • ½ cup powdered sugar
  • Black sea salt for garnish


Custard: In a nonreactive sauce pan (stainless steel) cook sugar until completely dissolved, golden brown and begins to smell like burnt marshmallows. Add the bourbon and butter and mix until melted, reduce heat to low. Slowly add the cream, caramel will seize and bubble and become lumpy. Cook with heat low stirring until the lumps dissolve, remove from heat. Stir in the milk and a pinch of sea salt and mix well. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg yolks together. Add about a cup of the caramel mixture and mix well. Add the remaining caramel mixture whisking until blended. Put back on medium heat and cook, whisking constantly until it thickens. It is done when it coats the back of a spoon and the spoon leaves a trail (this can take a while be prepared). Pour until 4 ramekins and cover with plastic wrap, pressing directly onto the surface to prevent it from forming a skin. Chill overnight.

Strawberries and Whipped Cream: In a sauce pan, combine strawberries, ½ cup sugar, vanilla bean and vanilla extract and cook until strawberries are falling apart. Place in a glassbowl and chill. For whipped cream, place 1 pint cream in bowl and combine with white chocolate powder and powdered sugar until dry ingredients are dissolved. Using a hand mixer, whip until soft peaks form, chill.

When ready to serve. Remove plastic from custard, spoon in strawberries until ramekins are full. Place a quenelle or pipe on whipped cream and finish with a pinch of black sea salt for color contrast. Enjoy!

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Buffalo Beach Bodies - Gluten Free Buffalo Chicken Fingers withHomemade Sauce - American - Dinner 7

So one of our guilty pleasures on nights when we are feeling particularly lazy and cavalier about our calorie consumption, is to OrderUp Buffalo Chicken Wraps from Dog Watch, a local tavern in Fell’s Point. What makes this particularly bad, is not the gluttony of the wrap itself, but the sloth we exhibit in not even walking the 5 blocks it would take to pick up in person. Recently, we had been doing this far more often than I am willing to admit in writing. With summer approaching, and having just booked a trip to Puerto Vallarta for about a month out, this habit quickly became priority number one to break. Couch ordering cheat food is not conducive to beach body goals no matter how you slice it.

The trouble with beach diets are that, at least for me, they involve systematically depriving myself of nearly everything I love for inconsistent stints of time from February to May, that snowballs into sporadic hangry episodes that damages my relationships, after which I relapse with late night pizza or worse, resulting in little to no progress toward my goals. This year I have preemptively improved my approach by joining a gym and actually attending it daily. This has helped me adjust my frame a bit and fostered better regular exercise habits. I have to note, Mark has most certainly not taken up this measure. Physical activity is a major allergen to him, and he’ll attest he doesn’t need it. I could fault him for it, but as much as it pains my jealous heart to admit, I have to concede he’s beach ready 12 months out of the year (a wax and a tan not withstanding).

With exercise as momentum, I have decided to try to avoid the yearly 2 week, extended hypoglycemia crash diet I usually do in the two weeks before Memorial Day. To do this, I have been working to identify the foods that typically bring the highest emotional and hormonal satisfaction and interpret them in new ways that lend themselves to restraint, weight control, and benefit to overall health. My main strategy is to avoid starches (grains, potatoes) as much as possible. This not only reduces high calorie and bulky foods (potatoes cause bloat which is not a look my bathing suit choices permit) but also forces me to get creative when I want something filling and satisfying.
Since Buffalo Chicken Wraps have been our winter go-to, I figured I would try my hand at re-engineering those first. If successful, it would reduce calories, expenses and overall sloth in one fell swoop.

Now I LOVE buffalo sauce in any medium, so that is where I started my experiment.  In its simplest form, Buffalo sauce is hot sauce & butter. Say what you will about butter, but I am never going to let anyone cut it out of my diet. The way I see it, the health benefits of the capsaicin in the hot sauce directly offsets the fat in the butter that goes into making a finger-licking delicious, hot, tangy, and brightly hued red-orange Buffalo sauce. In addition to my love of Buffalo sauce, I also have a penchant for hot sauce itself. In my travels around the country and to Mexico , I have amassed a rather large and diverse collection spanning the spectrum in color and heat. For my sauce I wanted to ensure I had three things, moderate sustaining heat, a noticeable tang, and a bright red color. I didn’t want burn your mouth flavor, or anything smoky, I need that vinegary tang and I wanted to ensure the dish looked good for my Instagram. The next time I do this, I am going to make my own hot sauce, but as this process can take weeks to ferment the peppers etc, this time I used some from my collection.

The first sauce I chose is called “Hot Mess”. Tongue in cheek name aside, this sauce is a favorite. It comes from Chicago’s famous Lillie’s BBQ, is bright and biting on the palate, and has a nice vinegar nose with hints of garlic, it’s my favorite for fried chicken. The second sauce I chose was the “Lagniappe” from Zombie Cajun Hot Sauce company. I chose this sauce for the staying power of its heat (it really lingers), the noticeable viscosity (a thicker sauce coats better) and the deep red color (a contrast to the bright red of Hot Mess). 

Selections made, I melted a stick (ok a little more than a stick) of Kerry Gold Salted butter in a sauce pan. Once melted, I added equal parts of the hot sauce and whisked it together. The vinegar was immediately noticeable on the nose, but soon dissipated. I added a little white vinegar to pump it back up then turned to my other additions. I think the sauce would have been fine as is, but I wanted to see if I could coax out a but more depth of flavor. I hit it will some white pepper, chosen for flavor and color as it will not show as black specks in the sauce. Then I added a little garlic powder, a touch of cayenne, and finally a little bit of Worcestershire sauce, just to give it some base and bring the color down a bit. I whisked the ingredients together, then brought it all to a boil briefly. You don’t need to cook it too long, and I certainly didn’t want to brown the butter, so a few seconds boiling is all it needs. While the sauce cooled I turned to the chicken.

Almost invariably when I cook chicken, I insist on chicken thighs. They just have more fat, and fat means flavor. I got some boneless and skinless thighs on sale at Whole Foods earlier in the week, and had dropped them in a Ziploc with cultured buttermilk to marinate for a few days. When it came time to prep, I drained most of the butter milk and took a knife to each thigh to try to make them more uniform in thickness and shape. So in non-beach body panic mode I wouldn’t think twice about throwing the chicken in some egg wash, club soda, and seasoned flour and frying up some crunchy and delicious fried chicken fingers, but alas, I am going be in my Andrew Christians in less than 40 days so this was not an acceptable option. Instead I used corn starch. While it does violate the no grain rule, for whatever unscientific or illogical reason, I find corn to be a less offensive ingredient when dieting (I am sure someone can look up the verity of this notion). I recently made General Tso’s chicken using the corn starch technique, so I knew it would lend the right crunch and be a perfect vehicle for the Buffalo sauce. Using the residual buttermilk as a base for a batter, I poured in generous amounts of cornstarch to the chicken thighs. I mixed them up while I heated my oil, ensuring the starch “batter” evenly coated them all. I could have seasoned the batter but thought I would let the Buffalo sauce do the talking this time around. I fried up them, each turning a satisfying golden brown, and allowed them to drain a cool a bit before hitting the sauce bath.

I tossed them in my big metal bowl, an act which reminded me of my days joking with the line cooks at one of my former restaurant jobs and staring longingly as they made their famous wings for paying customers. I decided to serve them simply, topped with crumbles of a delicious, earthy and unctuous blue cheese imported from Switzerland we had picked up at Bower’s Cheese in Eastern Market in DC a few weekends back. It was the perfect compliment. Rather than slathered in some creamy commercially produced dressing, the crispy “fingers” were perfectly complimented by the rich and tangy morsels of cheese. Admittedly, this was no Buffalo Wrap from Dog Watch, but if the speed with which Mark ate them is any clue (he is normally the SLOWEST eater I have ever met) then they were a hit. If this success is any indication, I think we may be on the road to Mexican beach bodies by way of Buffalo.

Gluten Free Buffalo Chicken Fingers with Homemade Sauce


  • 1 stick Salted Kerry Gold Butter
  • ¼ Cup Hot Sauce (plus more depending on taste and texture)
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground white pepper
  • 1 tablespoon white vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

  • 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs (cut into uniform pieces)
  • 2 Cups cultured buttermilk (you can substitute 1 cup beaten eggs)
  • ½ Cup Corn starch
  • 2 Cups high heat oil for frying


Melt butter in a small sauce pan. Once melted, add the hot sauce and whisk together. Add other ingredients stirring as you add. Once evenly incorporated, bring to a boil and whisk for 30 seconds. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Before tossing , you will want to whisk the sauce together again as the vinegar and butter will separate.

Marinate chicken in buttermilk overnight. Drain excess buttermilk. Add cornstarch and mix thoroughly to ensure the thighs are evenly coated in the buttermilk batter. Bring oil to temperature, will be ready when a pinch of corn starch sizzles. Fry the chicken, turning every few minutes, for about 10 minutes depending on the thickness of the thighs. Place on a cooling rack or paper towel for 2 minutes to cool. Place in a large mixing bowl, and pour sauce over top. Toss in bowl until evenly coated

Serve with crumbles of blue cheese as I did, or cut up some celery and use your favorite blue cheese dressing.


Friday, April 8, 2016

Feta & Dill Salad with Lemon Vinaigrette - Greek - Dinner 4

This is a simple,fresh salad, perfect to accompany nearly any meal or style of cuisine. The floral and fragrant dill is the star of show, enhanced by the rich and salty feta cheese. The crunchy romaine, shaved perfectly thin, plays perfectly with the peppery arugula. It’s all pulled together with the simple, citrusy and bright, lemon vinaigrette. This can be served as a main course by adding a protein like Shrimp or grilled calamari, or as a salad course as described in this recipe. This base is one of my go-to’s for everything from sit-down dinner parties, to large outdoor get-togethers, easy and appealing to the masses, what more is there to want in a salad? Enjoy!

6 oz Baby Arugula
3 Hearts of Romaine
6 oz Crumbled Feta Cheese
8 oz Fresh Dill (one bunch)
3 Tablespoons Lemon Juice (or the juice of two lemons)
2 Tablespoons EVOO
1 Tablespoon Red Wine Vinegar
Salt and Pepper to taste


With a good, sharp chef’s knife, shave the romaine very thin. The sharper the knife the better to avoid bruising the greens, this will allow the romaine to retain its crunch which achieving the small, easy to eat, pieces of lettuce. Combine with arugula and feta in a large bowl. Using your hands, remove the fronds from the stems of the dill. Give it a rough chop to achieve a consistent size. Toss in with the romaine mixture and incorporate evenly. When ready to serve, whisk together the lemon, vinegar, and evoo in a small bowl. Season the vinaigrette with salt and pepper to taste. Pour over romaine mix and toss gently until evening coated, serve immediately. 

Chocolate & Ricotta Phyllo Pies - Mediterranean - Dessert 1

So I am really not the best at dessert. I don’t love sweets and I refuse to measure for the most part which does not lend itself to success in baking (which is essentially chemistry if you ask me). That being said, what dinner party is complete without a sweet ending? I mean, I would normally be fine with cheese, a piece of chocolate or a fortified wine, but convention holds the meal should end with dessert. I recently cooked a dinner party for a group in the host’s home. I had prepared a varied meal drawing on culinary traditions from the Mediterranean, Middle East and North Africa, and was faced with the challenge of preparing dessert, and somehow remaining consistent in cultural context. I toyed with the idea of several more complicated desserts I had seen in magazines, using pomegranates or apricots whipped with cream cheeses and the like, but as the meal came together those ideas seemed a bit much. I decided to keep it simple, and using the buttery and delicious phyllo dough that is common in cuisine of those regions, I had a contextual base that would work. I found some beautiful berries in the market and decided I would do chocolate and ricotta stuffed phyllo pies, served them with a blackberry, pepper and red wine reduction. The preparation was harrowing (phyllo is much more delicate and prone to drying than I remembered) and involved a LOT of butter. There were some tense moments during baking when I just wasn’t seeing the golden hue or crispy ends and started to panic. In the end I took some deep breathes and like magic it all came together. The phyllo emerged a glowing gold, with the perfect airy crunch in perfect juxtaposition to the creamy, chocolately filling. The red-wine berry reduction was equal parts sweet, tart, tannic and rich, and with the hint of spice from the black pepper, an apt finishing touch. Even as someone who does not enjoy dessert (especially making it), I have to admit they were unexpectedly delicious. With this recipe I can confidently say I am getting (incrementally) better and more comfortable with preparing dessert.


  • 1 Package Frozen Phyllo dough
  • 2 Bars Baking Chocolate (I used 1 dark and 1 semi-sweet)
  • 10 oz Whole Milk Ricotta Cheese
  • 1 Stick of Salted Butter (unsalted is fine too) - melted
  • 6 oz Blackberries (1 normal grocery package)
  • 1 ½ cups red wine
  • ½ cup sugar (plus more to taste)
  • 1 Teaspoon Fresh Ground Black Pepper


Remove dough from refrigerator a few hours before you plan to use it to allow it to defrost. You will want to keep a damp clean cloth on hand to cover the sheets of dough you are not using so as to avoid letting them dry out. Pre-heat oven to 400F.  Lay 2-3 sheets out and fold the sides in long ways, essentially tripling the thickness creating a long strip. Place 2 pieces of chocolate, and a large dollop of ricotta about 1 ½ inches from the bottom corner of the strip. Fold that corner up and across to the opposite side, so now the edge of the dough is a 45 degree angle. Take the opposite corner up and across to the other side in the same manner. Repeat like you are folding a flag until you have created a tri-angular pie. Place on a baking sheet and brush both sides with the melted butter. Repeat until you have used all your dough or all your filling, or both. Make sure they are evening spaced on a baking sheets and well coated with butter. Bake for 20 minutes or until golden brown and crispy. Meanwhile, in a small sauce-pan cook the blackberries, smashing with a fork, until they begin to reduce. Add the red wine, sugar, and pepper and cook down until it is a syrupy consistency. You can add sugar or wine as you go along according to taste. Drizzle the sauce over the top of the pies and serve immediately while the pie-filling is still warm.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Another Khachapuri Please - A Review of Compass Rose DC

So a few months ago Mark and I were in DC and wandering around the Guppie (Gay-yuppie) wonderland that is the 14th Street corridor in NW DC. Mark marveled at how much the area had changed; no longer a waste land punctuated by the Black Cat and the Elizabeth Taylor Center for Gay Men, but instead a posh and bustling pedestrian boulevard, replete with myriad dining and shopping options. As he gawked, I kept my eyes peeled for an acceptable brunch spot where we could enjoy the scene and a little sunshine. The over-abundance of choice was obviously making me crazy, as was the fear that as every second ticked by the likelihood of scoring an outdoor table was becoming slimmer and slimmer, so I was nearing meltdown by the time we approached the corner of 14th and T. 

We had almost resigned ourselves to brunch at a pizza chain when Mark spotted Compass Rose, tucked away in a brick town home, half in shadow a few hundred feet from the corner. He reminded me of his personal connection to the place, a colleague’s cousin opened the spot early in 2014, and he’d been wanting to check it out but wasn’t quite sure if they served brunch. Decision made we approached eagerly only to find out not only did they serve brunch, but this day was actually the inaugural service. We happily took a spot outside, and enjoyed one of the best, most interesting brunches we’d had together. I nearly licked the bowl on my Jok, a porridge based dish from Thailand featuring meat balls and snow peas, flavored with traditional fish sauce and soy, and finished with a runny quail egg, breakfast perfection. Mark, not normally the breakfast food type, made quick work of his Chivito, essentially a chimmichurri cheese-steak sandwich that is known as the national dish of Uruguay. We rounded out the meal with warm, delicate, and melt in your mouth Italian Zeppole, fried dough balls filled with ricotta and finished with cinnamon, sugar, and vanilla-lime syrup - literally finger-licking good. Despite a few service hiccups (which we forgave in the name of first brunch service ever) we soon realized this place was going to be a new favorite. The menu is a diverse array of authentic dishes from around the world. Inspired by the owner’s experiences traveling with her husband while he was a foreign correspondent for a national media organization (30 countries in 3 years according to her count), it offers up truly the best of global street-food derived cuisine in a straight forward and genuine manner. There is 0 affectation in the description and execution of the dishes and cross referencing my own travel experiences, I can say those of which I am personally familiar, are truly representative of the culinary traditions from which they come, so I have to believe the principle extends across the global menu.  We left raving and instagramming about the experience, determined to go back as soon as possible for dinner and the full Compass Rose experience.

We returned to DC one weekend recently and once again, due to the generosity of a good friend, found ourselves staying on 14th street. We checked out a few museums and reconnected with  several friends during the day, eventually making dinner plans with a college friend of Mark’s, and based on her mutual love of the place, decided this was the perfect opportunity for us to return to Compass Rose. Now, Compass Rose’s popularity and renown has continued to grow since our first brunch experience. Burgeoning coolness aside, it was a Saturday night and they do not take reservations, so I fully expected that getting a table might present a challenge. Due to this potential we planned to eat a little earlier than we might usually, and arrived at the restaurant at 6:15pm.

The place was a zoo, borderline chaotic. The door was slammed and the bar was no respite. The scene was somehow good, however, regulars planning on enjoying dinner at the bar and others simply happy to wait for their tables and enjoy the famous cocktails despite the clamor. Despite the good energy, my patience didn't last long. I was getting hangry and don’t generally have an appetite for waiting (just ask Mark). I tried my usual tricks of being pushy with the hostess and trying to trip her up by getting her to make impossible promises about seating order, but she was a professional and did not break, despite my best and most underhanded efforts. Truth be told, there was no injustice occurring, the place was legitimately packed. I have to give some credit to the kitchen, because it was apparent they were managing to turn tables quickly despite the lingering nature the foodie illuminati are prone to in places like these. Ultimately, the wait was over an hour and was excruciating, not just for me, but for those who had to deal with me, so consider this my apology. During the wait we’d called around and stopped in various nearby places, but as the hour had approached 7 and prime dining time, the other waits were even more abysmal. Eventually a large table got up, and our moment had come. As we took our seats, the question loomed; "Would it be worth the wait?".

By this time I was sufficiently buzzed, really just an attempt to prevent wait-rage, so I was eager to begin the feeding frenzy. I ordered a light red from Italy, a craft cocktail would have been lost on me by that point and any additional hard liquor on my empty stomach would have spelled disaster for Mark and my other company. The wine was good (I do not recall the maker or varietal), easy drinking, perfect for what was to be wide variety of dishes and flavors.

Once seated, the ambient noise level suddenly felt more tolerable (or maybe it was the promise of food to come). The restaurant’s aesthetic is at one time both part Bedouin tent and another part Parisian apartment. There are touches of metals and textiles that evoke the far reaching locales from which the menu comes, yet somehow it avoids the bohemian cliché. It’s not stunningly beautiful or breathtakingly unique, it’s pretty, comfortable and I imagine it’s evocative of the owner’s experiences living and collecting items from around the world. Perhaps it’s a cliché just to say it, but it feels authentic, there is no Pier 1 chintz factor or heavy handed design theme, it's sexy, understated and relaxed. The space, the lighting, it’s a nod to the true star of the show, the food and the culinary traditions from which it comes.

We ordered dinner in several rounds, wanting to explore as much as what the small plates driven menu had to offer. Drawing on market-place and street-food traditions the world over, the selection is wildly diverse yet cohesive in inspiration. While waiting, we had seen several tables get the dish that Compass Rose has become famous for, serving over 10,000 in their first year by some accounts. What we witnessed is essentially a Georgian cheese pizza, a staple in the cuisine of former Soviet republic country nestled between the Caucasus mountains and the Black Sea, that goes by name of “Khachapuri”. By our initial observations we gathered that it is a shallow bread boat filled bubbling cheese and topped with an egg. We HAD to have it. When we ordered, however, the server suggested he bring it out last, as it tends to be heavy and he didn’t want to ruin our appetite. Now I appreciate the consideration, and his commercial interest in ensuring he didn’t temper his future sales potential, but this guy clearly didn’t know who he was dealing with. We thanked him for his concern and his implication of our delicacy as diners, but assured him it would be a non-issue and in fact the bread boat should come to the table as soon as possible. He obliged, and the table was soon full of half a dozen fragrant and enticing dishes. 

I’ll come back to the Khachapuri don’t worry, but for now on to the rest of the food. One of the first plates to hit the table was the grilled duck hearts in a Peruvian preparation called Anticuchos – essentially heart kabobs or brochette if you’re fancy. These were accompanied by Huacaina, boiled potatoes in a creamy sauce, a simple yet satisfying accouterments. The hearts, on the other hand, were intense and gamey in flavor, and perfectly cooked, no small feat, I must note, considering the potentially tough nature of the organ. Now I am a bit biased in that I love organ meat categorically. But this dish played on the qualities I prize in wonderful ways. The flavor was deep and “livery”, brought about through the char of the grill and a deliberate lack of seasoning. I could have snacked on those little tickers all night.

Another favorite dish was the Chincharron. Prevalent in many Latin American culinary traditions, and one of my favorite street foods and taco fillings from my time in Mexico, I had high expectations. As was becoming the trend at Compass Rose I would not be disappointed. These slabs of friend pork belly were melt in your mouth delicious, buttery fat layers and crispy skin heaven. They were served with fried yucca, a favorite amongst Mark and our friends, so clearly this dish didn’t last long in the table. Continuing the Latin theme, we also ordered some lamb Arepas. The masa base was a little soggier than I like, and that would be my ONLY criticism. The meat was tender and had a delicious, almost herbaceous, depth of flavor I didn't expect but found quite pleasing. I am not sure where they get their cotija chees, but it must have a high moisture or fat content, because it lent an incredible creamy mouth feel in additional to the savory flavor the cheese is known for. Needless to say, we ended up ordering several plates of these. In additional to our Central and South American inspired selections, we also enjoyed a fresh and bracing Fattoush salad punctuated by mint and a pomegranate-sumac vinaigrette, a welcome change among the richer dishes.

For the second round started with lip-smacking Korean ribs. They were straightforward, well seasoned and as someone who doesn’t typically love ribs, I'll admit I enjoyed them thoroughly. The smoky glaze was perfectly balanced, not too tart or sweet as this preparation can tend to be, and the berkshire pork ribs themselves were generously meaty. We tried a bright and citrusy squid salad that spoke perfectly to the seafood of the eastern Mediterranean, and like the earlier Fattoush, served as a refreshing interlude for the palette. We ordered their take on Currywurst, and to me this was the dish that fell most flat. Currywurst is the ubiquitous dish of Berlin, but it’s admittedly rather basic. Sausage served with ketchup infused with curry, decent foundation yes, but Compass Rose’s take didn’t accentuate or heighten the dish and it ended up just feeling very, well, basic. The twist, if you can call it one, was that the Flying Dog IPA brats were tossed in the curry ketchup, thereby forcing the incorporation of flavors. I am not sure what I expected, but I wanted something more, maybe some unexpected heat or a particularly flavorful wurst, but this was neither. They didn’t need to reinvent the wheel, just do it well and I was underwhelmed with what tasted like hot dogs in ketchup that smelled like curry - very concession standesque. That might be harsh, but sausage is one of my favorite things so I had high expectations and was disappointed.

What didn’t disappoint, however, was the Jamaican Goat curry. Served with rice and shado beni, an herb reminiscent of cilantro and a traditional ingredient in Caribbean cooking, the meat was once again perfectly cooked and fall apart tender. The best part was the incorporation of scotch bonnet peppers. This very hot variety could have easily overwhelmed the dish, but instead the heat was exactly what was needed to punctuate the dish and allow the curry and the gamey qualities of the goat shine through. I would love to try to make a version as a soup.

And now, the coup de gras, the Khachapuri. So picture an oblong pizza with the ends twisted into points and the sides rolled up slightly, making a kind of pizza boat. Then fill it with butter, feta, (mozzarella and ricotta I suspect), herbs and finish with a fresh farm egg. Baked until bubbling hot, then all the filling scrambled together and allowed to congeal just slightly once it hits the table. I don’t know if I am wooing you or not, but one bite and you lusting for more. The egg and butter takes the richness of the cheese to new heights (right up there with my cholesterol) and the edges of the crust have just the right chew and char to balance out the texture. Cut in into strips, the cheese is just dripping off the crust as you raise it to your mouth, it’s almost an erotic experience, the sexiest version of pizza I have ever had. Now, despite the server’s warnings, we made quick work of our Khachapuri and you guessed it….ordered two.

By the time we’d finished the smorgasbord we had perused nearly half the menu, leaving a few dishes to entice us to go back, but had absolutely no ability to attempt dessert. We were totally sated, service had been seamless, informative and un-intrusive. In the end we all decided dinner had been well worth the wait.

In writing this review I did take a moment to reflect on the overall experience and this is what I will say; Compass Rose is outstanding. The dining experience is satisfying, exciting, and intriguing, each bite leaving you wanting more and yet wanting to see what is to yet to come left to explore. The dishes themselves recreate that feeling during travel, that moment when you taste or see something new, unexpected, maybe even transcendent, something that imprints itself on your memory and you carry it with you for years to come. It is as if the proprietors and chef want to create that "best thing I ever tasted" moment, over and over and over again, recalling and sharing the experiences through the authentic interpretations of the global cuisine, a travelogue in food. In this, Compass Rose succeeds brilliantly. I left wanting to cook, to travel, and come back again next week to explore more of the menu and savor my new found favorites.

With an ever changing menu, and an uncharted dessert list, we are definitely looking forward to going back. In the mean time I will be recommending Compass Rose to anyone and everyone I deem worthy of such an epicurean adventure, the long wait notwithstanding.

Dinner: 5PM - 7 Days (til’ 11 MON-SAT, 10pm Sun)
Bar: 5pm- 2am 7 days
Brunch: YASSSS (Sunday only 11 – 3pm)
Price Point: With drinks ran about $55 with tax/tip (no dessert), most items between $8 and $20, small plates to share (2-3 per person)
Reservations: No reservations – Got busy on a Saturday around 6

You can eat at the bar and I would recommend it
Lots of gluten free options
Recently began offering a private dining menu in their garden courtyard called “The Bedouin Tent” – can someone please have a birthday dinner there?!?

Location: 1346 T STREET

Contact: INFO@COMPASSROSEDC.COM - – 202-506-4765

Photo copyright Tim Robison from Food & Wine: