Out & About

Crossing the DC Border for Good Liquor

Outside Schneider's of Capitol Hill. A great experience awaits within.

Outside Schneider’s of Capitol Hill. A great experience awaits within.

In preparation for an upcoming Tequila/Mezcal appreciation party, we needed to get our hands on some major Tequila – and we needed assistance is setting up a respectable Tequila buffet. I searched online for the best liquor store in DC and up popped Schneider’s of Capitol Hill. Easy!

The first thing you notice about Schneider’s is that it is small. Like REALLY small. And REALLY full of every liquor you could imagine. We were immediately greeted by Terry, who foolishly asked, “can I help you find something?” Well, 30 minutes later, poor Terry was still helping us. Not because he didn’t know anything, but because he knew everything about everything. He was a Tequila expert. He was a Lillet expert. He was an Absinthe expert. He was a Scotch expert. He helped me pick my new favorite Gin (Green Hat – from DC!), which made the perfect martini last night, and a new Vodka that he said would knock my socks off.

Let me put it this way – we went in for Tequila and walked out with a massive box of everything. A box that someone carried out and placed in our trunk! And we walked out with the most valuable thing of all… the memory of a GREAT experience.

Sadly, the whole time I was in Schneider’s, all I could think about was that it is impossible to have this kind of quality experience in Virginia. Simply walking into a state-run liquor store here is depressing. Trying to get any information is futile (unless you want “the Tequilas are over there” type of guidance). Schneider’s provides superior education and unique products so customers can’t imagine going anywhere else – and DC allows them to do that.

So, to sum up, Schneider’s = awesome experience.  Next time we need to stock up, this is where we’ll go. Oh – and state-run monopolies are bad.

Farm to Table Dinner with Smith Meadows’ Forrest Pritchard

Smith Meadow's farmer, Forrest Pritchard

Smith Meadow’s farmer, Forrest Pritchard

Last night, we attended a “Farm to Table” dinner at Bastille in Old Town, which focused on the amazing meats from Smith Meadows in Berryville, Virginia. Not only were the chicken, pork, beef, and lamb present and accounted for (and quickly filling my belly), but the farmer, Forrest Pritchard, was there to talk about the spirit of his operation. An actual English scholar, Mr. Pritchard had no problem speaking eloquently about what makes his agricultural heart go “pit-pat”. My favorite part was his explanation of how grass-fed meat better reflects “terroir” than corn-fed. This concept of terroir is something we spend a lot of time on at Cheesetique. Sure, everyone knows that wine reflects its environment, but they are often surprised to learn how important an animal’s surroundings, diet, and overall state of mind can be to the milk it produces (and the resulting cheese). Mr. Pritchard did a wonderful job of explaining this in terms of meat as well.

When I got to work this morning, I immediately had to check out the Smith Meadows website and happened upon their blog, which is hysterical – as only pooping goats can be – and also really inspirational. My favorite post so far: “What’s the Dumbest Farm Animal?” Please take a moment to read this – it will make you giggle (and also rethink how you deal with those around you).

In summary, the food was fantastic and the insights were… um… insightful. Hearing Mr. Pritchard talk about how farmers and customers are intrinsically connected was really heart-warming. You can feel this sensation yourself when shopping at our own Del Ray Farmers’ Market, where Smith Meadows just happens to have a booth. 

Tribute to delicious Alexandria Businesses: Willie Nelson thanks you

Yesterday, my husband and I hosted a “Happy Birthday Willie Nelson” party at our home. The red-headed stranger is turning 80 and what better tribute than to strut around in red bandanas, listen to Willie and his friends, inhale good old-fashioned American grub, and eat a huge cake decorated with Willie’s image?

In planning the party, I relied on three local Alexandria favorites to make sure the food was awesome (’cause I had a lot of red bandanas to fold):

1. Mama Reacer’s on Mt. Vernon Avenue: fried chicken, collards, yams. I ordered with Chef Chris on Friday and when I arrived to pick up on Saturday, there was such an impressive collection of hand-made foodstuffs, I almost cried. The love and care with which each item was prepared and packaged was amazing. I was shown each item and told exactly how to store then warm at home, putting extra emphasis on keeping that chicken crispy. Between the muffled grunts, lip smacking, and finger licking, I am sure that all of our guests fully enjoyed… they couldn’t believe I had access to this stuff a mere 4 blocks from my home. Just call me lucky.

2. Buzz Bakery on Slater’s Lane: enormous Willie Nelson-inspired birthday cake. When I first called and spoke to Kevin, I thought he would label me insane – “you’re having a party for whom?” I asked if his team could prepare a large sheet cake with an image of Willie. His response, “Wow – this is fun. Let me talk with our pastry chef and we’ll reference some images for inspiration. I’ll call you back soon with ideas.” My thoughts? “Is this guy for real?!?!” I soon heard back from Kevin, who told me that Alex was up to the challenge. They’d have it ready for me at 2:00, but they’d take it out of the fridge at the break of dawn so it was perfectly room temperature when we ate it. Nice!

3. Rockland’s BBQ on Quaker Lane: Mega helpings o’ BBQ. Poor Rocklands… I called them at 12:30 and asked in my nicest voice whether I could pick up 10 pounds of pulled pork (with buns), 4 quarts of coleslaw, and a quart of pickles in an hour. Their answer? Sure! When I picked up my order, the gentlemen behind the counter helped me pick some of their favorite hot sauces from the “Shelves of Fire”. I apologized for calling so late. Their response? “No problem at all! If you had called us 5 minutes ago, we still would have had it ready for you.” Um… can I bottle that Rockland’s hospitality please? Oh wait… they already have 🙂

Needless to say, the party was a huge success. Making a bunch of grown adults wear red bandanas ensures a fun afternoon. And giving their kids unlimited lollipops doesn’t hurt. Oh – and the weather was heavenly. But what really made the party memorable? The food! I have never seen guests take home so many leftovers – they were actually waiting in line to fill their to-go plates. Now that’s some good grub!

But what made me so super-duper proud was the collection of exceptional businesses right in our back yard. Each helped me plan, order, and execute and incredible spread. There was pride in every step, from Mama Reacer’s Chef Chris saying with a smile, “You made me work hard this morning“, to Buzz’s Alex laughing because after she put the cake photo online, her friends thought she actually knew Willie Nelson, to the kind folks at Rockland’s making sure I had three unique yet equally-complimentary sauces for both pulled pork and fried chicken. As a business owner, I know how hard it is to pull off the ultimate combo: great service and great product. It was great to see these folks in action.

Thank you all!

Oh – and check out that cake – it’s amazing what a gifted person can do with buttercream…


Bottomless Steak Frites? Yes, please!

Last night, we dined with friends who recommended a joint in Cleveland Park Called Medium Rare. I had never heard of it and upon arrival, noted that the vibe in the place was more hip/casual than a typical steakhouse. That’s because it’s not a typical steakhouse…

Our friends told us we would love the menu because there weren’t many choices to fret over. If by “not many choices” they meant “only one choice” then they were right on the money. The menu consists of… wait for it… Steak Frites. Only Steak Frites. With a starter salad and lots of fresh-warm-crusty-tender-airy-blissful bread and butter. Ordering for the table consisted of a simple “medium rare all around, please” and we were off to the races.

The salad was yummy, but really, who’s here for salad? Bring on the frites! The main dish arrived – slices of tender, flavorful culotte steak and fantabulous crispy fries. The steak was slathered in “secret sauce” which roughly translates to “makes your tongue happy”. When I had inhaled the contents of my plate, I was already scheming to steal my husband’s fries when lo and behold… who should come by but a man with MORE Steak Frites!!! Could such a place exist? All you can eat Steak Frites?!?! I considered myself one of the luckiest people on earth as I poured more secret sauce and dug in. I couldn’t finish this portion, but if I had, you know what? They would have brought me EVEN MORE Steak Frites!

Oh – not that it could get much better than bottomless beef and fries, but dessert was excellent – an over-the-top hot fudge sundae with both sprinkles and jimmies. And a massive slab of multi-layered, multi-fudge, multi-yum cake. A fitting end to a decadent and yet delightfully simple dinner.

Our host, bartender, and server were really nice and laid-back. And of course, the steak was fantastic. And bottomless! What a great idea… Thanks, Medium Rare!

(And I’m sorry we were late… Cleveland Park is, like, REALLY far away. Thanks for being so cool about it.)

Filed in: Out & About

Live(ish) from the Fancy Food Show

Hello, food lovers! I tried to tweet photos live from the Fancy Food Show, but was thwarted at every turn by my arch-nemesis, Technology. So, you’ll have to settle for an update the day after. After a few years of attending, my trusty cohorts (Maud & Tommy) and I made it through the show in record time – practice makes perfect! We left fat, happy, and with a long list of new items soon to arrive at Cheesetique. Examples, you say? Read on to see just a few…

1. New salami, because nothing is better than new salami
This one hails from Creminelli and is flavored with Whiskey. Sadly, it won’t be available till later this year, but when it’s ready, you know we’ll be the first to have it. I was also reminded how super-delicious Creminelli’s Prosciutto Cotto (cooked ham) is. So much so that we’re already working on a new sandwich with this and Grafton’s new raw milk take on Leyden. Check out the photo – yes, that is a buffet of cured pork.

2. Who you callin’ a Jerky?
Ah… road trips. The reason beef jerky was invented (at least in my world). All it takes is a tall cup of coffee and a bag of jerky to make the miles fly by (and give you the greatest breath ever). Well, what’s old is new again with Field all-natural beef jerky. Super-tasty, super-chewy, and deliciously déclassé. This screams, “I’m gonna dry my beef and I don’t care who knows it, dog-gonnit!”

3. Me with a big Gruyere
No explanation required.

4. Funniest cheese label ever
We affectionately call this the “Dirty Old Man Cheese”. Who even cares what’s inside when the label looks like this? Older bearded gentleman. Pert young ladies hand-feeding him cheese. What’s not to smile about?

5. Chocolate with deliciously wacky ingredients
From one of our favorite producers, Vosges, comes a new line of “Wild Ophelia Road Trip Chocolate”. These ingenious creations feature the best chocolate filled with ingredients like BBQ Potato Chips, Peanut Butter & Banana, and even Beef Jerky.

Things we took away from this year’s show:
1. I officially declare 2012 the year of Jerky. It’s in chocolate. It’s in cheese. It’s free range and all-natural. Down with the Cupcake – long live Jerky!
2. Raw cheese is everywhere! I rank this right up there with the proliferation of free wi-fi and the invention of the deep-fried candy bar. It warms my heart. Thank you, brave cheese makers, for sticking to your guns and producing the best cheeses you can.
3. Entrepeneurship is alive and VERY well. There were pickle people (yeah Gordy’s!); there were chocolate people; there were milk straw people (don’t know what that is? you will soon!); there were cheese people (lots of ’em!); there were ham people; there were jam people. You name it, someone has thought of a way to eat it. It was inspiring to see them all at work (and play). Bravo, exhibitors, for bringing us your inventive and inspiring wares!

See you next year…

Filed in: Out & About

Calories, Shmalories

I once said that it makes no sense when restaurants display the calories of each item (people will eat what they want to eat, regardless). Well, while browsing in Au Bon Pain this morning, I naturally gravitated toward the muffin/croissant section. Then I saw it… 410 calories for a muffin!!! Needless to say, I left with a banana and an apple instead. So, I guess it works.

Cheese, anyone?

Filed in: Out & About

A night at Sensorium… Cool and Savory Indeed

I laughed. I cried. Ok – I didn’t actually cry, but the pillow-esque mini clouds of deep-fried ricotta dough did make me a little misty. Combine that with the hot pepper fudge and berry and saffron crèmes and it was a little piece of heaven. But wait. It actually gets better… how, you ask? Well, imagine indulging in the aforementioned treat while a woman with a flower in her hair strums a ukulele and smokily sings “It’s so sweet what you’ve got” while a steam-punk-inspired man plays kazoo behind her. Huh?

Where is this place where culinary excellence is combined with synchronized performance art… and card tricks? The answer, my friends, is Sensorium.

Sensorium is a festival of the senses. The idea is to simultaneously engage all five of them (well, actually, six – there was a fantastic fortune-teller scene). As we ate, we were endlessly entertained by a collection of “hosts” who were fearless, energetic, and yet totally warm and approachable. The whole affair took place in a geodesic dome on the DC waterfront. Don’t know what a geodesic dome is? It’s a dome that’s geodesic. Duh.

Anyway, on to the food. I picked some of my favorite courses to tell you about, though there were twelve in all – and none disappointed.

The evening started with the amuse bouche, a liquid-filled “kir royale” sphere that we theatrically combined with the granules on the left. Only once you shoot it do you realize the granules are actually high-end pop rocks that frizzle in your mouth and serve as the ultimate palate cleanser (who knew?). It was both retro and progressive. And did I mention that as we were frizzling, the hosts were doing a lively imitation of human pop rocks? Yeah.

The most luxurious fennel salad I’ve ever tasted. The fennel was actually velvety, due to the addition of Gorgonzola (nice use of cheese, by the way!).

Pork belly on a chair. Yes, that is a little chair. And a little table. With a green onion on it. And the pork belly is SITTING IN THE CHAIR. It was delicious, but I don’t think the Chef would be surprised to hear that playing with the tiny furniture afterward was the highlight of this course.

I debated including this photo because I am betting that there is no other machine like this on earth and others would be dying to replicate it. But it was so amazingly cool and I couldn’t possible do it justice with only words. This is the before-dessert palate cleanser. Lemon pudding in tiny spoons is frozen solid using liquid nitrogen that is piped through copper valves table-side. Needless to say, after much wine and general merriment, each of us wanted to stick our tongues in the liquid nitrogen. We were cautioned against it, thankfully.

During courses, the hosts entertained in every possible way, from dancing… to reciting monologues… to wearing huge fish on their heads and “swimming” about… to doing card tricks. Here I am participating in one of these tricks. I totally SWEAR I have no idea how my seven of hearts ended up in his other hand. He was right next to me, as you can see. Guess I’m just that easy to distract.

Yes, this is a man with a huge woven fish on his head. His movements, the lights, and music would have you convinced you were under the sea. Behind him is part of the geodesic dome. As you can see, it’s geodesic.

When I saw Chef Bryon Brown at the end of the evening, I gushed. The performance artists mingled with the contented crowd and I just wanted to be near them in order to absorb their incredible energy. Each and every one had given their all. At first, you can’t believe they can do this without being embarrassed (strutting like chickens, jumping around in hysterics while yearning for something both “COOL" and "SAVORY"). Then, once you relax and embrace the experience, you wish you had the same ability. That is how wonderful they were.

Thank you to Bryon and his whole cast for giving us an evening we will not soon forget – and might never be able to replicate. Cool and savory indeed.

* For the sake of full disclosure, I should tell you that we are friends with Bryon Brown, the Chef and creator of Sensorium. We have dined at his roving supper club (Artisa Kitchen) and he is part of our personal supper club as well (yes, we’re lucky). As such, I was prepared to fake it, just like that friend whose kid is kinda homely but you ooh and ahh anyway (come on – you’ve all done it). Well, I very quickly realized that there would be no faking required.

Filed in: Out & About