Monday, April 30, 2007

The historic Capitol Hill market and gathering place Eastern Market was severely damaged by fire early this morning. Nobody was injured, but all of the vendor space - the butcher, seafood, bread, snack shops - are all destroyed. At this point, the fire department and police are investigating the blaze as possible arson.

Here are links to coverage from the Post and Mark Fisher commentary. Here's a quick story and pictures from DCist.

While Mayor Adrian Fenty is vowing to repair the damage quickly, and Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton is requesting Federal dollars to help, the immediate question for the community is what will happen to the vendors and surrounding businesses who make a large portion of income from the foot traffic generated by the market? Where will they be placed? How quickly can they (or are they even willing) to rebuild? Mayor Fenty says he'll get them new spaces, which is admirable...and also eerily similar to what the City of Annapolis told the vendors of the historic Market House when that building was flooded by Hurricane Isabel in 2003. Much like Eastern Market, the City-owned Market House was mostly full of locally-owned tenants - a couple of sandwich shops, seafood, bakery, produce, pizza, cheeses - a favorite of locals and tourists alike, and the building practically dripped with history. It was the worst-kept secret that the Annapolis City Council and Mayor Ellen Moyer had offered up the Market House to high-end grocery store Dean and Deluca before the hurricane, and the subsequent flood damage merely heightened the rumors and animosity between the tenants and the Council. The existing tenants were still wringing out their flooded inventories when they were booted out by the City, many closing family businesses that had existed for decades.

After a long, drawn-out leasing battle with the Annapolis City Council and Mayor, Dean and Deluca pulled out. While no official explanation came from Dean and Deluca, it became a black eye for the City to have such historic, highly valuable real estate essentially vacant during the prime tourist season and annual boat shows.

It doesn't take an advanced degree in Urban Planning or Macroeconomic Theory to know that Eastern Market is sitting in a similar prime real estate area. Metro access, established neighborhood, nearby parking, mere steps to the Capitol - every chain in America itching to enter the D.C. market would want that. It will be Fenty and the City Council's job to heed the lessons learned from the bitter romance and divorce in Annapolis, that the well-heeled suitor is not always the best choice for marriage.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

The Five Paragraph Bitter Food Critic vs. Fogo De Chao

Few phrases can evoke the body into unconscious acts, rendering us less human and more automaton, operating on pure emotion. Of these phrases, most invoke love and major life announcements. "Will you marry me?" "I'm pregnant." "All-you-can-eat Brazilian steakhouse."

I have done my best to avoid hearing two of those phrases and the accompanying emotional response, but "All-you-can-eat Brazilian steakhouse" spoke to my soul like a classic Spenserian sonnet or a well-edited blooper compilation on YouTube. I took the Five Paragraph Bitter Food Family to Fogo de Chao recently, reveling in the poetry that only fire-grilled meat can write.

After perusing a wine list specializing in South American malbecs, diners are given a disc, one side red and the other green. If you don't want any meat, keep the disk showing red. Flipping that disk to the green side gives the serving gauchos carte blanche to bring out scores of skewers of perfectly-charred meats to your table, and you're free to take as much or as little as you'd like, and at your desired level of doneness. Prime rib, various types of sirloins, bacon-wrapped filets, chicken, pork ribs, lamb chops, each bite perfectly seasoned and prepared. It's like Dr. Atkins' dream restaurant - all meat, all the time, with none of those pesky starches to get in the way.

That disk, with the red and green, reminded me of the Omni from the early `80s TV show Voyagers - the green side was good, red was bad. All that was missing was Jon-Erik Hexum as Phineas Bogg saying "Great job, kid!" The green side meant the meat kept coming, and like a lonely man in the presence of a beautiful woman, I couldn't say no. I started to revert to primal instincts. I couldn't pronounce polysyllabic words. The gauchos brought out pincanha, a salt-seasoned sirloin. I ate that with glee. Bacon-wrapped chicken medallions. I pointed and grunted in approval. Alcatra, another form or sirloin? I am told by my mother than I actually drooled. Linguica, a type of sausage - by that point in the evening, things were becoming cloudy, fuzzy. I must have blacked out. I vaguely remember somebody at the table offering me a bite of cheesecake, and somebody shoving a piece delicious key lime pie in my mouth while I looked at the skewer of beef ribs like Mark Foley at a Congressional Page.

The veritable orgy of meats does not diminish the surprisingly good salad bar, featuring not only the usual lettuce and carrot mixes, but a mix of local and South American vegetables, peppers , chilies and dressings. The salad bar also has more meat, thinly sliced prosciutto and smoked salmon served cold, as though you didn't get enough dead animal already. Once I awoke from my food coma, I found the desserts were efficient and tasty, and the coffee - usually a weak spot in many restaurants - was incredibly delicious. I can't imagine eating there too often; it's easily 70 dollars or more per person for dinner between drinks, the meal, dessert and DC tax, while lunch is about half that. But, somewhere in that Big Diet Book in the Sky, Dr. Atkins is looking down, smiling at Fogo de Chao.

Fogo De Chao earned 19 out of 20 possible Whammies! One Whammy! for each type of meat served (14 that day), one Whammy! for the coffee, two Whammies! for the salad bar that didn't suck, one Whammy! for the extensive wine list, one Whammy! for the Key Lime Pie, one Whammy! for the incredibly gracious service. One Whammy was not earned for them not allowing me to live there. I promised I'd be clean. Stupid health department.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The Five Paragraph Bitter Food Critic Falls Off The Wagon

The Five Paragraph Bitter Food Critic has been hitting the gym almost as hard as Presidential candidates are hitting the campaign trail. The past few weeks have been spent eating healthier foods, avoiding sweets, riding my bike to work, and getting to the weight room more often than I went to the buffet. The result? As of April 23rd, I weighed less than 200 pounds for the first time since moving back to Washington in mid-2005. Heart rate's lower, blood pressure's good, and only 10 more pounds to go before I'm back to "normal." I celebrated this wonderful occasion not with more sit-ups and cardio, but by eating an ungodly amount of sumptuous, decadent tortellini at La Perla, a gem nestled between Pennsylvania Avenue and the Rock Creek Parkway near Georgetown.

This was for a good reason - the fine folks of the Washington Post's Datelab series set me up on blind date at La Perla. While I won't spoil the surprise of the details of the date (check or buy the Sunday papers), I will gladly dish about the restaurant. Pictures of famous guests to the restaurant line the entrance, surrounding a formal document from Pope John Paul II. The dessert case then casts an enticing glare, chock full of pastry, tortes and cheesecakes. This sugar-laden minx rests in front of a wall of wine bottles, surrounded by flowers, Italian artifacts and plaster carvings, while a replication of Botticelli's Birth of Venus stands guard over the dining room.

I had been warned that the portions at La Perla were generous, and that leaving hungry would not be an option. Chef and owner Vittorio Testa did not disappoint - my plate of tortellini alla panna was full of delicious meat-stuffed shells covered in a glorious marscapone cream sauce, and my fellow Datelabber's Piatto Di Mastro Geppetto was a massive cornucopia of shellfish served over linguine. Every mussel, clam, scallop and shrimp at the Waterfront fish markets had been kidnapped and held for ransom on her plate. This dish will taste even better later this year as more fresh sea scallops are shipped down from the New England waters. Still, that tortellini was star of the show; each bite a reminder of why I love Italian cuisine. If I ever become the male Oprah, this dish gets prime billing on my "Favorite Things" list, somewhere between TiVo and world peace.

They brought out a slice of tiramisu with some lemonchello liqueur for us to share. Now, the restaurant knew who we were and who we were representing, so it is possible that's why we received special treatment. But while good service can be faked, a genuine spirit of hospitality can't. The server, the maitre'd, bus staff, even Chef Testa himself made sure we were welcome guests, and none of that felt like it was an act to get good press (and I doubt they knew I was a humble food blogger, either).

So, La Perla has earned a future visit from me. This meal was every bit as good as my usual standard for Italian in D.C., Al Tiramisu, and though Al Tiramisu's cozy interior could be considered more romantic, it's a fine line between "intimate" and "cramped." There's something to be said for elbow room. Palena is still my favorite Italian dining experience in the city, but these are not comparable restaurants. Chef Ruta's adventurous dishes at Palena win you over using non-traditional ingredients and inventive presentation whereas Chef Testa's La Perla is more of a classical spot that honors traditional fare and hospitality.

La Perla
2600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, DC 20037
Valet service available

La Perla earned 6 Whammies! out of a potential 7 Whammies!, the only deduction coming from the just-ever-so-slightly too salty sea scallops, which will quickly not be an issue later in the seafood season, and that they wouldn't let me swim in that marscapone cream sauce. Something about health code standards and sanitation. Hmph.

Felt French, Ate Italy

The fine folks at Datelab set us up at La Perla, a wonderful little Italian place nestled between the west end of DC and Georgetown, moments away from the Kennedy Center. I got to the place a few moments before my date Anne, and was also fortunate to find a parking space right of Pennsylvania Avenue.

I'm not allowed to give away the details of the date, but I'll simply say we had a nice time.

The meal, however, was bloody awesome. She had a seafood medley of scallops, mussels, shrimp, mussels served over a bed of linguine with more mussels. Anne likes mussels, so that worked out for her. I had a meat and cheese tortellini in a cream sauce with marscapone cheese.

Yeah, the same stuff used in tiramisu. The yummy stuff.

I just about died and went to heaven. As my former boss at Broadstreet Communications, Chris Preston, said - "you always seem to know how to order the best thing on the menu."

This stuff was as close to pasta perfection as I've ever had. Marscapone, you've been upgraded from dessert to entree'!

DCFud will get a much-needed update from me, both on my eating habits, my diet and my Datelab.

All in all, this was a good day. Something to cherish.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

feeling California, looking Colorado

I had my pre-date interview today for the Datelab piece. The reporter, Christina Antoniades, and I had a quick pre-date conversation. It's amazing - as a former media dude, journalism major and sometime-writer, I was immediately second-guessing what I told her for fear of a misinterpretation of the quote. My attempt to compliment the Post for the interesting use of a wheelchair-bound man in the last edition was pretty clumsy, at best, and could EASILY be turned around to make me sound like I wouldn't want to date a disabled woman.

Amazing how quickly the concrete I was walking on turned to eggshells.

Still, I'm looking forward to tonight. I'll post about the date when I get home...

Friday, April 20, 2007

whatta week

As a rule, I hate "weekly wrap-up" posts. It's lazy, like "here's what I couldn't be bothered to write about this week."

However, given the events at VA Tech this week, I've been lax to weigh in. Not because of any reluctance to share an opinion, just merely trying to find a unique voice to mine. Nothing can possibly forgive the actions of Cho Seung Hui - murder is murder is murder - but it's obvious this kid had issues from childhood on through his violent end. Neighbors, classmates - hell, even RELATIVES - have called this kid a loner, sullen. I will admit that I was not a terribly social youth. I was small for my age, picked on in school and not especially popular. The bike became my outlet; I rode to exercise, to get away from my family, to get away from my town...sometimes to get away from my own thoughts. The physical pain of riding up a mountain made me forget about any emotional pain. I can't imagine making it through middle and high school without the bike.

Catharsis, clearly. Something it doesn't appear this young man could get anywhere. While I feel horribly for the parents, friends and families for those who have lost loved ones, I feel as bad for the Cho family - if not worse. The parents raised two other children who have had some success in life; what must go through their minds every day for the rest of their lives would be every single moment they saw their youngest in trouble, and couldn't save him. Knowing that maybe if they had punished him more, or got him into counseling, or took away his video game, or hell - even gave him a HUG - that it might have saved those other peoples' lives.

That, my readers, is the definition of living through Hell.

Which makes the rest of the week seem to miniscule. The AG is fighting for his job, and appears to be half the public speaker President Bush is. If you thought the Ellen DeGeneres fish in "Finding Nemo" had a bad memory, just look at his testimony. He recalls less than a broken hard drive.

And I heard from the Post today. My Datelab date is next week at Ristorante Del Perla. Hopefully the food and company is as good as the artwork!

Thursday, April 12, 2007

DateLab Date of Date

Looks like it will probably be sometime before the end of May. I'm not going to divuldge the exact date because:

1) if it's going to be a blind date, some mystery would be cool. Too easy to Googlestalk nowadays.

2) if I know what restaurant we're going to, I'd check it out in advance and write a food review.

3) if I know where we're going, then my friends would know where we're going, and they'd try to embarass me.

I trust try to screw it up.

In other Datelab news, looks like the guy wasn't into her, she wasn't into him, and there was zero chemistry from the beginning.

Yet, as always, he rated it "4 out of 5."

DUDES!! Stand UP for yourselves! If you didn't have a good time, or didn't feel a spark, don't demean yourself by ranking it so high. She's NOT going to suddenly want to sleep with you because you THOUGHT you had a good time. Take a stand. Tell her "I wasn't feeling any spark/chemistry/it/whatever" or what have you. Just don't be condescending to her. Especially if she seems like a pill from the get-go.

Guys have no balls.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Excuse Me Sir, There's a Sebring in My Fajita...

My former place of employment during the economic crapstorm of the early `00s, Chili's of Annapolis, just got hit by a Sebring.

According to NBC 4, the car hit the restaurant at the height of lunch rush, 12:30pm. 3 people are in the hospital with non-life threatening injuries.

Having lived and worked there for so long, I can safely say that the intersection of Forest Drive and Riva Road is awful. It's at an acute angle - they had a chance to make it a perpendicular intersection for years, and have sat on it. It's a long light, and people generally gun their engines to make those last precious seconds of green and yellow lights. Plus, since it's 2 turn lanes in a roughly 80 degree turn, most people take a lousy approach and have to adjust in the middle of their steer. I've had numerous close calls of cars nearly hitting me on that transition to Forest Drive.

Still...that driver had to be cruising to miss that turn so badly. Follow the tire tracks on the NBC Chopper pictures - that's not even an attempt to steer.

I have to wonder if the manager on duty comped their meals...ole' Jeff White probably would have, but Joyce might have comped their appetizers.

Quick Hits

Hope everybody had a nice Easter. I had one FANTASTIC meal Sunday night with my Mom, friends Bart and Diana at Fogo De Chao downtown. It was pricy, Worth it. Check the upcoming review on - should be up today or tomorrow.

I'll also have a review of Saint-Ex where I dined last week.

I received an email from the folks at the Post's Datelab. My date could be as early as tomorrow night. Guessing it's too late for a last minute face lift, huh?

Nice for the Orioles to win their home opener. That'll give the doomsday crowd a couple of hours of happiness.