2015 in Review…the Food

Yesterday I began a short series looking back on the best of 2015.  Between work and pleasure I took 25 overnight trips in 2015, so I started the series with travel.

Food is next!  With those trips came some really good food!  Conch salad in the Bahamas, sushi in San Francisco, it often has as much to do with the occasion as it does with what’s on the plate.

Back in January my wife and I made a weekend trip to Maryland’s eastern shore.  The weather was miserable, cold and raining, and we ducked into a quiet pub, the Character’s Bridge Restaurant near Tilghman’s Island.  Happy to be out of the rain, we took the bartender’s advice and ordered the Crab Pretzel.  The pretzel was good, but the experience was great!  I think it was because all of those elements were on the plate that day,  the weather, the place, the shelter from the elements.  In short, the whole experience!

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If you find yourself on Tilghman Island in Maryland, be sure and stop in at Character’s Bridge Restaurant and get the Crab Pretzel!

Here’s a look back at some of the memorable food that found its way into my 2015 photos.

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One Block West is a farm to table restaurant in Winchester, VA and served up this sublime dish of house-cured pork belly and balsamic glazed brussels sprouts

One Block West was a discovery in Winchester, VA.  This farm to table restaurant is a block off the main pedestrian mall and had a fantastic menu.  I order brussels sprouts all the time and you have to trust me when I say that this preparation was a standout!

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Seared pork belly with a trio of heirloom watermelons at Cedar Restaurant in Washington, DC

In mid-summer the family went out to celebrate my daughter’s birthday and we discovered Cedar Restaurant in Washington, DC.  This was one of the finest restaurants I ate at in all of 2015…and it is my good fortune to have eaten at a LOT of them!  Exotic menu items like wild boar, venison and elk made it interesting but a roof garden in downtown DC provided vegetables and herbs and the service turned the whole thing into an experience.  This restaurant was charming and intimate and paid such attention to details that we talked and reminisced about it for weeks!

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The Wok-Fried Noodles with Crispy Pork Belly at Maketto in Washington, DC

Maketto is an extremely hot restaurant in Washington, DC right now and this summer I ventured there with my daughter and her boyfriend.  The location is is DC’s up-and-coming H St. Corridor and it’s both more…and less…than a restaurant.  It bills itself as a “marketplace” which explains what appears to be a funky contemporary clothing store as you walk in.  The cafe in the back looks the most like a restaurant, but the restaurant for us was a long communal table outside.  The kitchen is beyond that and the menu appears to be minimalist.

It would be a mistake however, to discount the place based on any of that.  The dish pictured above, for example had a small, almost dismissive name like Wok Fried Noodles but when it came it was an epic dish that took you on a journey! It was hot…wonderfully aggressively hot and made us sweat in the outdoor summer heat.  It came accompanied by crispy pork belly (ok, I’ll admit it…I have a pork belly problem).  We also enjoyed a fermented garlic sausage, and some fresh raw lime-seasoned red snapper.  The menu is a combination of Taiwanese and Cambodian and is the brainchild of DC celebrity chef Erik Bruner-Yang and is a great experience.

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Sushi in San Franciso – as a guest of a Japanese party

Earlier this year I began working more closely with a group from Fujitsu.  Their US operations are based in Silicon Valley and their culture is still very Japanese.  We met in DC but I was unable to join them for lunch afterward and lamented that I had always wanted to eat sushi with people from Japan who could really show me around the menu.

I got that chance at a follow-up meeting in San Francisco.  We did a sake tasting and they ordered the sushi.  No English was spoken between my hosts and the restaurant staff and I had no idea what was coming out.  I had, however, told them I was up for anything.  As it turns out, the Japanese (at least the ones I was with) prefer a more traditional sashimi style of sushi and out came plate after plate of really gorgeous fresh fish.

I am hoping to visit Japan in 2016 and meet with them there.  Stay tuned, that will be a major blogpost!

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Fresh Conch Salad right from the boat. The Bahamians pronounce it “conk” and it has the consistency of calamari.

In the Bahamas the local fish is Conch.  The shell is the one used as a horn to call meetings and the giant snail within cooks up to the consistency of calamari.  “Conk” is used in nearly every meal there but far and away the most popular is Conch Salad.  Prepared at fine restaurants and dockside boats alike, it is a ceviche style preparation.

When you order Conch salad, you often hear a lot of subsequent chopping in the distance.  Fresh tomatoes, onions, peppers, cilantro, and the conch itself are all chopped fine, and mixed with fresh citrus juices.  The result is so fresh and delicious that we ordered it at nearly every meal!

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Not all the great food was out in restaurants! I made these braised short ribs with cheesy grits and a red wine sauce just recently.

Not all the food was out in restaurants either.  I took a lot of inspiration from my travels and created some excellent dishes at home.  From fresh morels, to “Flatbread Friday’s”, to braised short ribs, we ate very well at home!

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One Saturday the Farmers’ Market had fresh morels. These lasted about 10 minutes…the time it took to chop a clove of garlic, melt some butter and lightly sautee!

Not all of the food was high-end gourmet food either.  My “happy place” in Arlington, VA is El Pollo Rico.  This Peruvian rotisserie chicken place is a magical spot for the food, the people, and the overall vibe.  It is often one of my first stops after being away…and I’m not the only Tony who loves it.  Anthony Bourdain stopped in while filming his show “No Reservations” and judged it “the real deal”.

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El Pollo Rico is a legendary rotisserie chicken spot in Arlington, VA.

Over this final week of 2015 I am sharing some of the year’s highlights in 4 sections, travel, food, music, and a look ahead to what 2016 has in store.  Let me know which items you want to hear more about and I will create more detailed postings.

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