Monday, November 19, 2012

Buffalo and Bergen at Union Market

After our tasty DC Empanadas at Union Market, we were in need of something to drink.  We grabbed a stool at the counter of master mixologist Gina Chersevani's Buffalo and Bergen soda fountain.  The soda fountain wasn't 100% open when we visited.  They were serving a limited menu of sodas and knishes, and had a ways to go in the decorating department.  However, the two sodas we tasted are a promising sign of things to come.

We tried one pineapple soda and one cherry soda.  At $5 a pop (no pun intended), we were pleased that these were not your run-of-the-mill sodas.  Each had a complex and completely unexpected progression of flavors.  Is that cardamom in my cherry soda?  What's that firey kick at the back end of my pineapple soda?  Gina proudly explained the wild amalgamation of ingredients (including bay leaf and cardamom) that go into her creations.  These are ingredients that sound terrible on their own, but she makes them work.

People on Yelp are freaking out about the use of Harris Teeter soda water in the sodas.  I agree that it would be preferable to have olde timey soda fountain equipment to complete the experience and I can only assume that the H-Teet water is a temporary thing during this "pop up" phase.  So give them a chance to fully open before you get your panties in a bunch, people. 

Gina Chersevani has proven herself a legend in the DC drink scene with stints at Rasika, PS 7s and Hank's on the Hill.  I have no doubt she'll shine just as brightly with Buffalo and Bergen.

Second Thoughts from B

Whether it is sports or politics, the strategy is always the same during an interview.  When in doubt, use a cliche, just like Crash Davis taught you.  Every player and manager will tell you that they are taking it "one game at a time," just like every press secretary these days will tell you how their boss cares about the people on Main Street rather than those on Wall Street.

The food industry is no different.  I've not been to culinary school but I'm convinced that at some point between saute and sous vide, a veteran chef pulls each student aside and says, "Always tell people that you put love into your dishes."

As we were about to leave Buffalo and Bergen for a pre-Superstorm Sandy evening, Gina Chersevani asked if we'd like to take home some of her short rib with maple jus knishes.  It didn't take long for us to accept such a kind offer (and add something to the tip jar).  Gina explained that she put so much love into these knishes that she'd rather give them away than see them in the trash.  It sounded like a cliche but was straight from the heart.

As the storm blew through the city, we were both stuck working from home in the warmth and safety of our condo.  We also got to indulge in these not-so-little balls of love.  I didn't grow up with knishes but they tasted, no... felt, like home.  You know you've found comfort food at its best when you have to describe it with feelings rather than flavors.

As for the sodas, you could tell that they were made by someone who understands flavor because they had the same level of complexity as a well-executed entree.  Still, I had a bit of a hard time shelling out $5 for a soda.  I don't know why, but $7 for a fancy ice cream soda seems more sensible.  So I guess next time I'll have my knish and soda a la mode.
Buffalo & Bergen on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

DC Empanadas at Union Market

It took us a couple of months to make our way to the new (or newly revitalized and reopened) Union Market in Northeast DC, but it won't take us long to go back.  The bright and airy space isn't completely finished (more vendors are on their way), but there is a lot to love there now.

After cruising around the market and picking up some lamb sausage from Border Springs Farm and bison steaks from another purveyor, we followed our rumbling stomachs to DC Empanadas.  The duo behind DC Empanadas has been rolling the streets of DC in their blue food truck for a while but have now put down roots in Union Market.

The menu features an assortment of freshly fried empanadas for $3.50 each or 3 for $9.00.  These are bigger than the mini-emps at Panas and perhaps a tiny bit smaller than the jumbo-emps at Julia's.  I think they are the perfect size for tasting a couple of different flavors.

We tried the Speedy Gonzalez (a mild Cheese Empanada filled with Queso Blanco, Asadero Cheese and Mozzarella Cheese), El Matador (Chorizo, Potatoes and Spices) and the Daily Special "Pollo de Don Carlo" chicken in white wine sauce empanada.

Though they provide hot sauces for dipping, we found the empanadas to be stars on their own.  The crust is perfectly flaky and you can tell that a lot of love and effort goes into developing the flavors of the filling.   DC Empanadas just took first place in our empanada-loving hearts.

Second Thoughts from B

Who doesn't like fried food other than our doctors and our waistlines?  Seriously, who?  I feel like Jimmy Fallon asking that baby who doesn't like more cash in the Capital One commercials...  Unfortunately, unlike more cash, having more fried food has some serious downsides (so says the guy who works at the National Institutes of Health).  So if you're going to do it, do it right.

DC Empanadas makes it worth your while.  Not only are they beautiful on the inside, they are beautiful on the outside too.  Unlike other empanadas that treat their casing as a convenient transporter of meats and veggies, these golden pockets of joy could be eaten empty.  They are buttery and light and just the right thickness.  Of course it helps that they are fried to order and delivered piping hot (again, unlike other empanada vendors who choose the reheat or hot lamp routes).

I don't know if the food truck version of DC Empanadas can live up to the Union Market offering.  My stomach hopes so (and my waistline is worried).
DC Empanadas on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Fast Gourmet

A few years ago we told you that the best fried chicken in the area is in a former gas station in Maryland.  Now we're here to tell you that some of the best sandwiches we've had are at a gas station in DC.

Fast Gourmet is tucked behind the service counter at the gas station at 14th and W streets NW.  You can't tell from the outside, but inside is an actual restaurant with lots of tables.

The menu runs the gamut from empanadas to rotisserie chicken to sandwiches.  I was eying the fish tacos special but they were sold out by the time we placed our late afternoon lunch takeout order. I scrambled to come up with something else and settled on a meatball sandwich with sweet potato fries and a steak and cheese sandwich with regular fries.

We were blown away by how much we enjoyed these sandwiches.  The bread was the perfect balance of toasty and moist, and the fillings tasted like someone put a lot of time and effort into seasoning the high-quality ingredients.  Our only complaint was that the sweet potato fries were really far on the sweet side.  Stick with the regular fries and you'll be happy.

Don't let the gas station exterior fool you.  Fast Gourmet is legitimately fast and gourmet.

Second Thoughts from B

I feel that locals are going to read this post and have one of two very different reactions:  "Duh!" and  "Huh?"

Some of you are familiar with, and therefore, probably frequent patrons of Fast Gourmet.  Our rave review will not come as a surprise.  You've known about this gem for years and while you like being in the know and seeing Fast Gourmet get a little love, you'd probably prefer it stay a relative secret.  After all, once the masses (or worse, the President) discover it, things usually change for the worse (see: Ray's Hell Burger).

On the other hand, you could be in the "Huh?" category.  Gas station food is usually a last resort of Slim Jims and bad coffee.  Sandwiches that aren't prepackaged mush are a revelation.  Sandwiches that are mouthwateringly good are mind blowing. 

So unless you reside in the White House, head over to the tastiest gas station in the District.  Regardless of which camp you come from, your "Duh!" or "Huh?" will quickly become an "Mmmmmm..."  On this election day, that's at least one thing that we can all agree on.
Fast Gourmet on Urbanspoon