Monday, March 27, 2006


Receive a Random App while giving Kindness

Now in its 19th year, Taste of the Nation is the ultimate Random App of Kindness. The concept is simple: bring together the finest wineries and local restaurants for one night and hold a gala tasting. For the cost of a meal out, you can sample random appetizers from 50 local restaurants and sip wine from around the globe. Taste of the Nation is the preeminent culinary fundraiser supporting the fight to end hunger. One hundred percent of ticket sales go directly towards ending hunger locally and globally.

The event supports one of Julia's favorite charities, Share Our Strength, and it's coming to Boston on April 6, and to many other cities throughout the year. Even if you can't attend, you can always donate or volunteer for Share or Strength or other hunger-fighting organizations in your area. Perhaps we'll see you there.

Thursday, March 23, 2006


A Thought Experiment

Brasserie Poste, the latest in the trendy D.C. dining scene, takes its name from the landmark building that houses it: the old General Post Office Building. With grand columns, marble floors and high ceiling, the main bar is dramatic, but a smaller dining room in the back offers a cozier ambiance.

I arrived several minutes earlier, which was good since the cab dropped my off by the side entrance. Through a regal doorway, into a courtyard that would provide extra seating in the warmer months, I approached a door. Peering in, I saw three women sitting at a table right inside the door. It seemed this could not be the main door, yet walking around I saw no other options. So I entered, and apologized for the draft I created. Immediately, one woman noticed my shoes: Luc Berjen, sold in Boston at my favorite shoe store, Cuoio. She had bought the same pair in London. And so the conversation began. They cleared off a seat and suggested I join them for a drink. Of course, I obliged since it was clear we already had so much in common. My new friends epitomized the diversity of Washington: a black, divorced woman approaching her 60th birthday, a single white woman, probably in her mid-thirties and a married, child-free woman in her mid-50s, married to an Indian man. They know each other through work, as research librarians for AARP. And as it turns out, they also know the one librarian I know. Many stories later, my dining companions arrive and I left my new friends. I had hoped to send them a Random App of Kindness, but by the time I had a chance to sneak away to read a menu they had gone.

I would have sent them the Hamachi with Grapefruit. Thin slices of perfectly fresh yellowtail topped with sweet grapefruit and cilantro sprouts. The soup of the day was Jerusalem Artichoke with American Caviar. Our server, with cherub cheeks that suggested he may still be in high school, did not know the difference between a Jerusalem artichoke and a plain artichoke and decided it was not important to clarify (a Jerusalem artichoke, also called sunchoke, has no genetic relation to the later. It is the root of the sunflower). The soup did not know the difference between cream and soup: it was thin and bland, and the caviar was not able to create enough sparkle. As my dining companion said, “it’s subtle.”

The Truffle Frite more than made up for the soup. So much so, that we ordered a second basket of the crispy fries perfectly seasoned with truffle oil and salt. The ketchup served on the side was superfluous. The Goat Cheese and Beet Salad was stylishly served with perfectly round slices of red and golden beets, nestled under crisp frisee. The goat cheese created the classic pairing. The Arugula salad was uncomplicated with roasted figs and parmesan.

The Poppy seed Tagliatelle was clearly homemade, but the chef forgot the poppy seeds and also to toss the pasta with sauce or olive oil. It clumped underneath the dry, but flavorful, red wine braised rabbit. The caramelized fennel that accompanied the dish was sweet and chewy, but almost seemed an afterthought. Overall the dish was good, but the execution needed refinement. The Crispy Striped Bass (also called Rockfish to native Washingtonians) was fresh and sweet with briny, crisp capers garnishing. The red wine poached egg created a bistro style dish.

Monday, March 06, 2006


Bordeaux to go

Well, not exactly, but I was pleased to note that last week the House and Senate overturned the Governor's veto on a bill that - among other things - allows restaurants to re-cork wine so that diners can take unfinished bottles home.

A word of warning to partial bottle drinkers: not every restaurant has yet acquired the necessary equipment for officially re-corking and sealing the bottle to prevent you getting busted for carrying an open container. Ask before you order that extra bottle for later!

Wednesday, March 01, 2006


"Serving up Kindness" in the Herald

Last week, we shared a fun evening - including a Random App, of course - with Mat Schafer of the Boston Herald, and he kindly wrote about it in today's Herald. See how all this kindness can be contagious?
Julia Shanks and David Karp are making the world happier, one plate at a time. Since October, the two friends have been surprising strangers at restaurants with the gift of a free appetizer. They chronicle these “Random Apps of Kindness” on their blog,

Shanks is chef/owner of Interactive Cuisine, a company that offers corporate team-building through cooking lessons; Karp is a software marketer. When the two go out to dine, they peruse both the menu and their fellow patrons.

To read more, you'll have to buy a copy (or several copies) of the Herald. Or just visit the link above where you can subscribe to Mat's food and dining column via RSS. And while you're at it, make dining out more interactive, break out of your New England shell, and share a Random App of Kindness with a stranger!


Cubans at Charles B. and Chez H.

Bukowski’s Tavern, named after the famed writer, has two locations: the original, classic hole in the wall in Boston’s Back Bay, and the more expansive in Inman Square Cambridge. The later serves very good bar food to accompany its 99 bottles of beer on the wall.

Late at night on a cold Tuesday, the bar is rather quiet. With friends Marcus and Jamie, we cozied into a booth. The large selection of beers makes a decision difficult, but the knowledgeable server guided me to the perfect wheat beer with a touch of sweetness.

Between bites of a Cuban Sandwich and a hamburger, we discussed Bukowski’s “Women” and “Men” and new business ideas surrounding music. The Cuban was crispy and pressed with just enough meat and pickles. Probably the best “classic” version this side of the Mason Dixon Line. (Chez Henri’s thicker, heartier and more interesting version bears little resemblance to the classic dish). The fries, perhaps not made in-house, had odd shapes with the skin still on, suggesting homemade.

With the article about Random Apps in the Herald, I shared the story of its beginning. Marcus and Jamie decided it was a fantastic idea, so we continued the tradition. We scanned the room, looking for likely recipients. The crowd was thin, and the only options were a table of two men and a woman, or two women. With a glint in his eyes, Marcus suggested we send the app to the ladies. I nixed the idea, fearful he would use this kind gesture to win a date for Saturday night.

After further discussion, we decided that the random app should be anonymous as well. After much contemplation as to potential food allergies and preferences - are they vegetarian? Lactose intolerant? - we ordered a cheese quesadilla for them. Since we never identified ourselves, we’ll never know for sure if they liked it, but as we cautiously peered over our booth, we could see them nibbling away.


Cuban Sandwiches (a la Chez Henri)

1 loaf French Baguette
½ cup mayonnaise
1-2 chipotle peppers (soaked in adobo), + 1 tsp. juice, chopped
½ cup diced red onion
2 tbs. fresh cilantro, chopped
1 lb. Pork butt (marinated overnight with juice of 1 orange, 1 lime and 2 cloves of garlic
¼ cup molasses
½ pound smoked ham
1 dill pickle, diced
¼ pound emmenthaler cheese (or gruyere or Swiss), sliced
1 tsp. oil.

1. Make chipotle aioli: Mix mayonnaise, chipotle, all but 2 tbs. red onion, and cilantro. Set aside.

2. Put pork in a roasting pan, and pour molasses on top. Roast pork butt at 325 for 2 hours.

3. Meanwhile, slice ham. Mix pickle with remaining red onion. Slice bread in half.

4. When pork is tender, remove from oven and slice.

5. To assemble: Slice bread in half, and spread mayonnaise on each side. Top with a few slices of pork, ham. Top with pickle mixture and cheese.

6. Put sandwich in a press and grill until the cheese is melted and the bread is crisp.

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