Talk about your great week for food blogging. I am in blogger heaven, and if this week doesn’t inspire me to write, then I don’t know what will!

First, I attended the Washingtonian ‘Best of Washington’ Party this past Wednesday night, which I will get to here in a minute, tomorrow I am attending a culinary throw-down sponsored by Cadillac (because fine food and fine vehicles go together like peas and carrots), and on Sunday, I have the unique privileged of attending the filming of the Cooking Channel’s ‘Unique Eats’ program as they applaud hot, local eatery Toki Underground, and where I also get to sit with my compadre, and the resident chef’s leading lady, Alexis, no less! GASP…deep breath. That was a loaded sentence!

So, let me kick off this self-indulgent, eating Ramadan with some notes, from my humble perspective, on the latest Washingtonian event. What is better than stuffing your face full of delicious food and then writing about it, I ask you?! (a rhetorical question, but in case you were wondering…the answer is nothing.)

Undoubtedly, this event packed a powerhouse of Washington eateries lauded for their tasty cuisine. I got there pretty much as the doors opened, as instructed, at 7:00pm because if we have learned one thing from the formidable Kim Zolciak, it’s that you never want to be tardy for the party…especially when good food and hobnobbing are involved.

BEAUTIFUL desserts courtesy of Bastille.

So, to begin, the event was held at the cusp of Chinatown in the National Building Museum, which I found to be quite an enchanting venue. I have been there many times before, but usually at 6:00am lined up around the block with a bunch of sweaty runners to pick up my Cherry Blossom Run race packets. Incidentally, it was here that I witnessed a suburban house Mom verbally assaulting and chasing down a youngster for not being polite enough in his sidewalk etiquette. So, when comparing my experience to that, I suppose it would have to appear charming, but I really do mean it when I say they did a nice job with the decor.

I really enjoyed the addition of the social elements scattered about as well, no doubt schemed up by the sponsor, LivingSocial. It would only be natural. There were putting contests, mini golf stations, bocce ball courts, sketch artists, and a photo booth. In general it had the feel of a sophisticated carnival, like the kind that you used to attend in your hometown during the high school years, only all growns up.

As I made my grand entrance, the room paused for a moment, a fan appeared to blow my hair back, and onlookers stood in complete awe. That would be nice, wouldn’t it. Anyhow, let’s snap back to reality.

My first visit was with Urbana, a chic little Italian wine bar that happens to be located just up the street from my dwelling. They are just the friendliest guys. I met the same fellas at the DC Lamb Jam back in May. I always enjoy their food and their perpetually smiling faces.

From there, I wound my way through the room, hitting up BGR for a greek slider topped with feta cheese and a cucumber slice. Sounds a little off, and I will admit that I was skeptical, but it was SOOO darned yummy and proof that you should always just give things a try. Just like Mikey from the old Life cereal commercials…try it…you might like it!

I found that cucumber was a quickly becoming a recurring theme for many of the dishes throughout the night, as I sashayed on to Villa Mozart for a refreshing cucumber gazpacho adorned with a tasty shrimp on top. It was light and breezy…the perfect summer treat.

Next, I moved to Bistro Bis & Vidalia Restaurant, both owned by Jeffrey Buben. The name Vidalia instantly made me laugh, because I had a step grandmother who was wild about this particular breed of onion. She used to say, “them ain’t onions, thems are VIDALIA onions.” Ah yes, rather irritating woman she was, but I digress. This memory did not manage to jade my experience at the party in the least. Why you ask? Well…I will point out that if there is one lightening-fast way to win this girl over…throw a potato of any kind into the mix (the Irish in me).

So, needless to say, I thoroughly enjoyed the Vidalia Onion Vichyssoise with the tasty chive and bacon accoutrements sprinkled on top. It also made me happy that Chef Buben was not only ladling out the scrumptious soup and pleasing the crowd with his candor, but he also shared recipe cards for a Baked Onion, as well as a Sweet Onion and Crab Souffle as a take away. This appealed greatly to the bonafide recipe collector in me and, well, caring is just sharing, plain and simple….so now I pass them on to you, young grasshoppers. Use the power wisely!

I managed to make it around to several other booths, many of which made the most lasting impact on my night. Looking for a rundown? Like to hear it? Here it go…

Biggest Surprises

Michel by Michel Richard:

In case you didn’t know this about me, cause…well…why would you, dessert is just not my bag, but holy moly did this treat do the trick. Michel was serving up cups of pure deliciousness. This item was called a Cherry-Blanc Manger, or more lovingly a “Cherry Almond Shooter” (making good use of another seasonal fruit), and was a blend of warm cherry compote with a cinnamon-spiked, crunchy almond layer on top. Pure heaven…

Rangoli Restaurant:

This was by far the most pleasant culinary surprise of the night for yours truly. This featured entree was something I hadn’t tried before. The kind folks from Rangoli served up a bowl of spicy, flavorful goodness. Well, I like my name better, but they were calling it Chicken Tikka, and I could kick myself because it was my favorite dish of the night, and I was unable to find the details of the dish anywhere in the brochures afterward. I did manage to snap a picture of it, so here you go! I also managed to cheat and check out their website, which tells me this dish is made up of boneless cubes of chicken marinated with yogurt, ginger-garlic paste, saffron and spices and grilled. Definitely try this dish!!!

1789 Restaurant:

Well, this one takes the cake for possibly the most innovative idea, especially for a summer soiree. Our friends at this DC institution whipped up fried peach pies with peaches and cream in the form of push pops. And who doesn’t like a good push pop I ask you?! What other dessert beckons memories of chasing after the creepy ice cream man more than this yummy dessert? Nicely done and very creative!

Co Co Sala

This chocolate themed restaurant and boutique wins a prize for ingenuity. Now, I am not one for sweets as I mentioned previously…at all. This is a fact that most people choose not to believe, but true. Well, these guys served up a chocolate fritter that was so delicious. It paired an oddly satisfying mixture of  Roquefort, cheddar, Parmesan, and Gruyere cheeses with chipotle, tomato and a healthy dose of chocolate. In a word…YUM. The salty sweet combo was not lost on these taste buds. Not at all.

Biggest Highlights

Taylor Gourmet:

These guys were cranking out bite sized sammies made with love, Philly Style. I saw people walking around with them all night and was elated when I stumbled upon the booth. If you have never been, you MUST go…seriously some of the best sandwiches in DC…just don’t ask for mayo cause it’s a dirty word to those fellas. They kick it old school as a tribute to the traditional Philly dressings of oil and vinegar. Believe me, it’s worth the try. Eight thumbs up, if that were humanly possible. Another plus is the sleek, garage-like design of their brick and mortar stores. They serve Herr’s potato chips almost exclusively in about every flavor, which is just awesome, and even better…they have BOYLAN’S ON TAP!!!!! I will say that it can be intimidating going in around lunchtime as it is usually…um…quite the ‘sausage fest’ for lack of a better term, but I believe this is due to the fact that these are (as one of my co-workers so colorfully dubbed them)  “big stinky sandwiches,” which she assures me is the highest compliment a sandwich can achieve. Hey, I will trust her…she is from Pennsylvania after all. And remember, go there hungry!

Coastal Brewing:

As I was sauntering through the crowd, the friendly gentleman at Coastal Brewing chatted me up and started serving me copious amounts of delicious, powerful beers. Hey…wait a minute…this is beginning to sound like my typical Saturday night! I kid, I kid. Not about the friendly part though, and I was not served copious amounts, just perfectly sized tasters that allowed me to get a feel for each of the carefully crafted blends. I am not normally much of a beer drinker, but when I do have it, I like a real man’s beer, and this certainly falls under the category. Well, maybe scratch the manly part, cause that just seems sexist, but these were hearty and flavorful beers that I recommend giving a try for the beer connoisseurs in the crowd. I very much enjoyed the Stout, if you were wondering. Plus, why wouldn’t you want to drink beer served by nice people?!

Leukemia Lymphoma Society:

It was really nice to see that this event was held in support of this noble cause! Since its inception, LLS has invested more than a whopping $750 million in research, leading to key advances in understanding blood cancers and helping to produce new treatments to enhance and prolong the many lives afflicted with this form of cancer. To find out more about this organization, upcoming events, and how you can help through volunteering and donating, please visit the LLS website.

Oval Room:

Cause I mean…look at this picture! How can you not give those happy faces a good old shout out?! Thanks for posing for me guys and gal, and being fantastic sports! Thumbs up right back at cha…

 

Most Interesting Booths

Rappahannock Oysters:

I was thoroughly impressed with the thought that went into making this booth look authentic. I felt like I was dockside talking to fishermen about their daily catch, minus the swooping seagulls. The booth had a rustic boat in the backdrop, and a whole array of creative artistry that made me want to get in my car and drive up to New England somewhere. And I am not just saying that because they gave me a koozie…and I am a known koozie collector…and said koozie had a slogan on it that read “Swallow the Competition.” No, that is all super cool, but well done on the decorations guys…it didn’t go unnoticed! (Sorry…this round of pics came out a bit fuzzy for some odd reason, but you get the gist.)

Red Hook Lobster Pound:

So apparently, all it takes is a good fishing theme to win me over, but I also have to give some big props to the folks at RHLP. Let me remind you, that they also won the Food Truck Showdown held a few months back from Washingtonian’s Best Bites Blog, allowing for DC natives to quite fittingly exercise their right to vote for their favorite trucks, narrowing down the competition each week to get the winner.  So congrats guys! They too were sporting a very colorful booth full of lobster nets and dockside scenery complete with wooden planks and replicas of dock pillars, that was as impressive as their killer lobster rolls! Nicely done guys and gals, and cheers to a fantastic year for you here in DC in 2011!

 

Biggest Gripes

Ravenous Attendees:

And the crowd goes wild! Usually a good thing, but in this case, not so much. I have been involved in trade shows and conferences for years, and it never ceases to amaze me what happens in the culture of crowds. Maybe just chalk it up to human nature, and this certainly was by no fault of the organizers, but people can just plain get nuts at these things and lose their sense of civility. There were definitely points when I felt like I was on an episode of Supermarket Sweep. People shoving pushily to get to the hot tables before the good food disappeared was one observation.

I also stepped up to throw my name in the hat to win a BMW, or some sort of BMW related prize (cause well, why not) upon which the kind folks from BMW were awarding  participants with a sleeve of high-end golf balls. Count me in! It was a really neat set-up actually and I appreciated the green approach, as no trees were harmed by the iPads used to register in the contest. The first time I approached the booth, there was a long line, so I moved on and decided to return later when it died down. I stood there patiently attempting to maneuver my way through the digital form (wait, what is my middle name again?…I blame the beer guy for that one). I can’t tell you how many people in that short span of time approached to ask for an extra sleeve of balls, some rather belligerently, and you could tell by the tone of response that the girl playing goalie over the box of prized giveaways had been shielding them and fighting people off all night. It’s not that they didn’t want to give them to folks, they just very reasonably asked that you fill out a form first.

My point here being, c’mon people. Why are you getting so crazy over a couple of golf balls that you would likely pitch into a course side lake first time out of the gate, people? Just a friendly public service announcement to keep it classy. But what do I know, I guess that is why that show Hoarders is so popular, cause there are a lot of people out there like that. But, all-in-all, this behavior wasn’t even close to prevalent enough to ruin the evening, just scattered about here and there.

Vacant Tables:

Every so often, and more than I would have liked, I left the hustle and bustle of a restaurant table and stumbled into a vacant no man’s land. All that I could see was an empty pop-up table, some remnants of food, a restaurant sign hanging askew as if these folks left town in a hurry…War of the Worlds style, minus the aliens…well…I take that back…there were a few folks I ran into after a few too many beers that seemed alien-esque. Anyhow, there I stood, unraveling the tumble weeds from my leg,  searching for sustenance, the song “Dust in the Wind” queued up in my head.

Ok, ok… so that is a little dramatic, but I AM a writer folks. What I am getting to is, there were a slew of restaurants that I hadn’t ever tried that I was excited to approach, and maybe my booth strategy failed, but I came upon several tables that were out of food or had since already left even. I will say, I think that the crowd, in the same vein as my last comment above stated, sort of bum rushed the big name booths, and likely knew the food to be amazing, and I somehow got iced out in the meantime. But, I suppose that means that I will just have to embark on more culinary journeys to try those that I missed!

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