My Stuff List is a year in review of the various objects, arts, and… stuff… that I had opinions about in 2011. Join me on our vague, slightly behind the times journey this week and the next, won’t you?
Food I Got Most Hooked on in 2011: There’s one food that I don’t let a Thanksgiving pass without eating, and that’s my mom’s breaded, fried cauliflower. The problem with that dish is that if you do it right, it’s messy and a lot of work. Olive-oil drizzled, parmesan-topped roasted cauliflower with a little bit of black pepper, though? Easy peasy, and tasty as hell. There was a point where I was breaking a head of cauliflower down once a week to do it up. Just make sure you leave it in the oven a little longer than you think.
Biggest Personal Cooking Achievement of 2011: They were knocking on my door to pull my Guinea card, so this year I finally started screwing around with formulating my own tomato sauce. I haven’t gotten much further than the glorious base that is the classic Marcella Hazan butter-tomato-onion special, but hey: progress.
Best Pizza I Had In DC, Delivery Edition, in 2011: This was not the best pizza I had period (see below), and indeed I think there are better pies at Pizzeria Paradiso and Red Rocks. But: delivery pizza sucks a big fat one in Washington, so I was thrilled an Upper Crust migrated from Boston to DC this year. No more crappy Domino’s for me! They get the thickness right (thin!), the crust right (crunchy!), the cheese right (slathered!) and the toppings are quality. I’m a happy camper, at least until I move outside their delivery radius (sniffle, sob).
Restaurant that Got Me through 2011: I ate at Taylor Gourmet damn near every day I was on grand jury duty this summer, and I’m not sure I would have made it the five weeks had I not been able to take an hour each day to retreat to the comfort and safety of the Taylor on K St. I grabbed a seat at the counter, plowed through three or four books in a month, and alternated between the pork with broccoli rabe, the meatball, and the chicken cutlet with provolone (with the occasional classic Italian thrown in). Saved my life.
Best Cocktail I Had in 2011: I’m not a huge cocktail guy, but I had the “Swinekiller” at Cochon in New Orleans this spring and it blew my mind that it existed in the same city as yard-long neon green Hand Grenades. Take Citadelle gin (quite a bit), add a dash of rhubarb bitters, top with limeade, and float a cherry on top. Perfection in an Old Fashioned glass.
Gin I Loved in 2011: The Citadelle was nice and I have a bottle at home, but rediscovering the classic that is Plymouth will carry me into 2012, I think. Although I’ve heard damn good things about the Bluecoat American gin and may need to get a bottle to keep the English gins in line. No libation without representation, I say.
Best Sandwich I Ate in 2011: It took me until the next-to-last day of the year to get there, but a trip to the Russell House Tavern in Boston produced the One Sandwich: their PT Farms Meatloaf Melt. Start with juicy, flavorful, melt-in-your-mouth meatloaf; none of that dried up diner garbage. Top with super-fresh Berkshire Bleu Cheese, sprigs of lemony arugula, and a hearty dollop of caramelized onions to get a blend of tang and earthy flavors that complement the meat perfectly. Put it all on warm ciabatta bread and you’ve got a major winner. I wanted to order another one to-go when I left.
Gonna Be Big in DC Next Year in 2011: I’ve been to ShopHouse quite a few times since it’s opened – you know, the Asian Chipotle? And I think it hits the right blend of food quality and price to become a serious Thing in the next year or two. (The name’s still throwing me off, though, because I grew up surrounded by ShopRites in NJ.) The owners have already declared that this is a bit of a “test run”, and there are a few issues to work out, I think: the menu confuses people and needs better explanation (I’m constantly behind people who are totally lost) and some of the items suffer in the prep occasionally (I’ve had very dry noodles and some soaked green beans as well). But the food is good, lots of spice and flavor, and I see no reason why expansion shouldn’t be in the cards.
Best Meal I Had in 2011: There are three that really stand out for me. Establishing Perry St. as my beachhead into fine NYC cuisine was an altogether-excellent choice and leaves me wanting to get up North more and eat my way through a city I’ve really had no excuse not to nosh on. My trip to Cochon for Iracane’s bachelor party produced a spread of pig from snout to tail (to alligator!) that won’t be soon forgotten (and eating one table over from three legitimate stars of film and TV didn’t hurt the memorability either.) But the best meal I had in 2011 – and maybe ever – was my experience at Graffiato. Ride Isabella for his general celebritosity all you want, but if you live in DC, you were enjoying him when he was kicking ass at Zaytinya before the Top Chef thing ever rolled down the tracks. Set it aside because the food, ladies and gents, is f—ing GOOD there.