Table Manners: Crimes in Eating and Dining...Oh The Humanity! 01.14.2012

We all have a list of them.  Whether it's inappropriate conversation at a dinner table or hosts who apologize too much for the food, crimes in eating and dining are annoying.  

I could spend an enormous amount of time discussing dining horrors.  I've committed them, and I am victim to them on a daily basis.  They happen in your home, other people's homes, at restaurants, even on your commute to and from work.

I felt compelled to write about these atrocities after a discussion at a recent dinner party about people who bring food your home and then take the leftovers back to their home.  So let us begin there...

Crime No. 1:  Do You Take Home the Food You Brought?  No.

That's right -- the answer to that question is "no".  It's rude.  Don't do it.  Look, we've all showed up at dinner parties thinking the food we brought over was so wickedly delicious that whatever was left over had to come home with us.  Or perhaps you thought your host wasn't deserving of your precious leftovers?  Resist the temptation and walk away.

If you bring over ingredients such as spices and what-not to make a course, you take the spices and what-not home: NOT the food.  And as far as booze is concerned, wine and champagne no; the special vodka or scotch you brought to make a drink, yes, unless the the bottle is a gift for the host/hostess.

Crime No. 2:  Eating With Your Mouth Open Is Wrong.  And So Is Talking with Food In Your Mouth

This should be a universal rule.  Possibly a law with grave consequences when broken.  But it's not. There are cultures in which eating with your mouth open is perfectly acceptable, as is belching.  But I am incredibly uptight about these sounds.  They're disgusting.  The people in my life who are so close to me and who I so dearly love often receive the stink eye from me if they make food sounds.  

Take note of how you eat and drink, and if there are sounds coming out of your month, cut it out.  And there is no need to talk and chew at the same time.  Everyone knows you can multitask.

Crime No. 3:  Life is Too Short Not to Split the Check Down the Middle

Years ago I was dining with someone who explained why I should pay more for the check by informing me:  "Well, you ordered an ice tea and I had water."  Had I ordered and consumed a bottle of 1970 Chateau Latour, I would have insisted on splitting the bill to reflect my indulgence, but iced tea?   

Split the bill down the middle; especially if you are with good friends.  It all comes out in the wash.

Crime No. 4:  Don't You Know There Are People Who Don't Have Enough to Eat?   

One of my New Year's resolutions is to shop carefully:  don't buy too much food, only what we are able to consume.  When I'm walking around in the grocery store, I see certain foods and think, "I should stock up on this."  Or I'm lured by delightful ingredients that are going to be no short of thrilling in whatever recipe I use them.  But it's not necessary unless I know I'm going to be trapped in my house for a long period of time.  And even when I have been trapped in my home for such things as snow storms and hurricanes, we've never finished all the things we bought that we thought we would need to survive.  

Throwing away food that has gone bad is a culinary experience wasted.  

Crime No. 5:  People Who Never Offer to Help 

Look, I get it.  I too want to come to your house for a meal, find a comfortable place to sit, and consume your good wine for the rest of the evening.  But I don't.  My mother would be horrified.  I know this for a fact because I have gone to my mother's house on numerous occasions, found a comfortable place to sit, and waited while she prepared some extraordinary Indian meal while I should have been chopping cilantro or some such thing.  But I revert to my 8-year-old self at my mother's house and an 8-year-old should not be handling sharp knives.  That's my excuse.  But at your house?  At your house, I will hear my mother nudging me to at least ask if I can help with anything.  

Always offer to help the host/hostess.  Even if they've got help, even if they look like they've got everything under control, even if you know they are going to say no.  And once the host/hostess does decline your help and insists you relax and enjoy yourself, do just that.  And be sure to loiter a little to chat with the host/hostess.  Ignoring the host/hostess is right up there with ignoring a guest.  Not cool.  And if the host/hostess is right there with you partaking in food, drink and conversation, be sure to comment how beautifully the meal is going.

In the next edition of Table Manners, I'll share my thoughts on dinner-table inebriation and dealing with grownups who refuse to deal with their very excited children in your home.  Sigh.

Happy Eating!

Graffiato! America Eats! Masala Art! Rogue 24! Oh My! 01.04.2012

You know how people who keep journals sometimes have lapses of time when there are no entries?  I've always sensed they are doing something terribly fascinating to which their attention is completely and passionately drawn.  And such is the case with my lapse in blogging about my dining interests since August 31, 2011 (!) .  Well, okay, in addition to passionate eating, I’ve also been consumed with work and family, and various other things that tend to come up in life.  But rest assured, lots of fabulous dining has been experienced.

Case in point:  about a month ago, I found myself out of the following:  ground cumin; whole cumin; ground coriander; turmeric; and curry leaves.  In addition to a lot of Indian cooking at home, I’ve eaten at some new restaurants, discovered and enjoyed new items at old favorites, and have kept a list on small pieces of paper carefully assembled on my desk of favorite things in the kitchen.  I am so excited to tell you what they are, but today, I want to recap some fabulous dining.  Here we go!


For my birthday, I wanted to try something new and consulted my friend David.  He raved about Graffiato, which opened in summer 2011 by Top Chef All Stars Runner Up Mike Isabella.  Graffiato is a two-story restaurant with a bar and some seating on the first level, and all seating with a view of the kitchen on the second level.  When we walked in, we were greeted with extremely loud, metal-grunge music.  The place was packed both downstairs and upstairs; not such loud music upstairs.

The service was fantastic, the food delicious.  There were four of us and to start, we ordered gnocchi, ceasar salad with goat cheese croutons, cured meats, and cheeses.

For our main course we ordered several pizzas, which were outstanding:  not too heavy on the ingredients, all of which tasted fresh.  I got Porky’s Revenge, which is topped with sopressata, pepperoni, sausage, tomato, and stracciatella.  Fantastic.

For dessert we shared the warm pistachio cake, which was fine, but what was worth writing home about was the chocolate tart. I am not a huge fan of chocolate, but I appreciate good chocolate.  This was very good chocolate. 

To drink with my meal I had Cock Bull Ginger Beer.  Wow.  It tasted as if I had stuck my head into a vat of ginger.  Ginger beer is my drink of choice these days and I have yet to drink anything that tastes as intense as Cock Bull.  I’ll be writing about my favorite ginger beers and welcome recommendations.

I went back to Graffiato a week later with some girlfriends, the fabulousness repeated.  What should you do?  You should go to Graffiato.

707 6th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20001

America Eats Tavern

America Eats is in the space that for many years occupied Café Atlantico.  It’s a pop-up restaurant that will disassemble on July 4, 2012.  Jose Andreas designed the concept of the restaurant and menu in conjunction with a National Archives exhibit titled “What’s Cooking Uncle Sam? The Government’s Effect on the American Diet”, which ended this week.

I have memories of Café Atlantico being dark, and America Eats is quite the opposite.  It was a bright, sunny day and light seemed to be pouring in from everywhere.  My friend Andrew and I got a seat by the window. 

There is very little on the America Eats menu that sounds healthy, but I knew that Jose Andreas would make it worth my while. 

I saw hush puppies with corn butter on the menu and convinced Andrew to share them with me.  What’s not to love about hush puppies?  I probably should have stopped at one, but I didn’t.  Despite their bready, heavy nature, I could not stop. 

For my main course I had the lobster roll.  When it arrived, I almost fell out of my chair at the sight of a thick layer of what appeared to be mayonnaise on top of the lobster meat, but was in fact, foam.  If you’ve ever had the pleasure of dining at Jose Andreas’ Mini Bar, you’ve partaken of foam.  I go back and forth on foam.  Like anything else I suppose, it’s good if done well.  Sometimes foam can be too foamy and the flavor of the food being foamed is lost to frothy texture.  The foam on top of the lobster roll was perfect mayonnaise foam.

While I enjoyed America Eats, it didn’t knock my socks off.  And yes, I do expect my socks to be knocked off.  Why wouldn’t I?   And if you go to America Eats, make sure to go during lunch to enjoy the fabulous light pouring in through all the windows.

America Eats Tavern
405 8th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20004


Masala Art

There is nothing like a good Indian lunch buffet.  Now, now…I know some people think about buffets, but please put those thoughts away. 

I met my friend Padma at Masala Art several months ago   It is an inviting space and the lunch crowd during the week is from nearby businesses in the Tenleytown neighborhood.  The vast buffet selection is spread out in the back of the restaurant, where we sat:  access is key.

Masala Art offers a selection of Indian street food (chat puri, etc.) and some burning-hot chutneys.    I am a creature of habit and I immediately go for chicken curry and rice, which as you know is The Best Food Ever.  I thoroughly enjoyed everything I ate at Masala Art.  My only disappointment being that I have not found time or occasion to go back.

On my list of New Year's Resolutions to Really Keep:  dine at Masala Art for dinner.

Masala Art
4441 B Wisconsin Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20016


Rogue 24

Everything about Rogue 24 is cool.  It's located in Blagden Alley off of N Street; there is graffiti on the front outside wall of the restaurant reflecting tattoos adorned by the staff; the space is severely spare and elegant with the kitchen right in the middle of the restaurant; most of the food is incredible; and the service is fantastic.  

Rogue 24 offers a 24-course tasting menu, with and without wine parings.  I chose to do the tasting without the pairing, which was a mistake.  If you're having a meatloaf dinner at home -- however extraordinary your meatloaf may be -- paring a wine with it is not going to significantly change the experience of the meatloaf.  A glass or two of wine with the tasting at Rogue 24 would have been sufficient to fully taste and appreciate the food.

There was, for example, hare soup.  I'm not a fan of dining on rabbit, but this soup was delicious and wildly intense.  A sip of wine would have been a good compliment.  I also could have tasted the snails with a sip of wine.  It was my first time and I did not enjoy it.

If you're headed to Rogue 24, get there a little early and have a cocktail in the lounge.  The tasting runs on a tight schedule and it makes a difference to have the courses spaced as RJ Cooper envisioned them.  We were a tad late and some of the courses ran into each other -- some breathing room would have been nice.  

The Rogue 24 menu is extraordinary.  I wouldn't mind going back there to have a cocktail in the lounge area, but I don't know when I'll be ready for another large tasting like that.  

There are some great photos of our meal at my friend David's blog (click HERE).  

Rogue 24
922 N Street, NW
(rear / Blagden Alley)
Washington, DC 20001