Notes from a Champagne Tasting 02.24.2013

Pouring the good stuff at the Pol Roger tasting at MacArthur Beverages

Shortly after I met Eric, he introduced me to what I now think is the best champagne:  Pol Roger.  He was quite insistent that Pol Roger was the way to go, and he was right.  That first sip to the last of Pol Roger, the crisp cut of the white grapes mixed with the tiniest bit of sweetness, is pure happiness.  It's not surprising that Winston Churchilll loved this champagne so much.

The label from our 1997 Churchill
Shortly after we were engaged, we received a vintage 1997 Pol Roger Brut Cuvee Winston Churchill.  We waited to drink it at our wedding reception and enjoyed every single sip.  And you know every time there is an impending natural disaster or national security threat, I run out and get a bottle or two of Pol Roger just in case the world does end.  And when it doesn’t end, I celebrate by drinking Pol Roger champagne.  It’s really a win-win.

MacArthur Beverages yesterday held a tasting of four varieties of Pol Roger champagne, and it did not take much convincing for me to go.  One was the 1999 Winston Churchill ($199).  There also was a 2004 Rose ($99), a 1999 Blanc de Chardonnay ($109), and the Brut Reserve (what I call the “plain Jane” Pol Roger) for $44.99.  (All of the prices noted are sale prices.)  My favorite was the plain Jane, followed by the Blanc de Chardonnay.  I was surprised not to be blown over by the Churchill, but there it is.  I also really enjoyed the Rose and would drink that again.  But if forced to choose one, definitely the Brut Reserve.  Simple and spectacular.

One of my dream house fantasies involves a rather large wine fridge stocked – every single slot – with Pol Roger Brut Reserve.  Do I want a wall of champagne more than a walk-in closet?  Why yes I do.

Cita Stelzer speaking with champagne tasters next to her book

The tasting yesterday was combined with a book signing by Cita Stelzer, who wrote Dinner with Churchill:  Policy-Making at the Dinner Table.  Stelzer also talked about the book on The Splendid Table yesterday, and I recommend you listen to that conversation.  You can find the show on iTunes under podcasts. Churchill was a gourmand and consumed food and drink with great vigor.  He is known for using the dinner table for international relations, and passionately (and quite effectively) used the table stage as a on which to accomplish his goals .

I’m excited to read this book for a number of reasons, but primarily because the idea of being at the table with people – whether friends or world leaders – is not an insignificant thing.  Aside from the food, there is the conversation, and the building, sustaining, or falling apart of relationships that happens.  The manner in which all of that unfolds is unique at the table because it requires pacing and time.  The placing of plates, silverware, napkins, and glasses – you could not do that without the prospect of time, and time is required for any relationship.

Shall we toast to long, interesting dinners?
MacArthur Beverages
4877 MacArthur Blvd, NW
Washington, DC 20007


Holy Cow 02.18.2013

I think that's a perfectly fine headline for this piece on Indian whiskey -- yes?

And I know what you're thinking:  you had no idea I was a Scotch whiskey lady.  Well, I am, and getting increasingly selective.

My favorite Scotch is Glenrothes, which I now purchase every time there is a major weather incident that portends to knock out power in my neighborhood for more than 12 hours, especially during the colder months.  Sitting by the fire nursing a glass of Scotch for a few hours is a sane way to get through a blackout.

We had dinner yesterday with our friends Amal and Darcy, and Amal (who also appreciates Scotch) brought out Amrut fusion single malt whiskey which is produced and bottled in India by Amrut Distillers.  The subcontinent loves its Scotch whiskey and is the world's largest whiskey market.

And while I am increasingly selective, I love trying new whiskeys  -- single malts or blends.  But really mostly single malts.  Because of goodness.

Amrut fusion is intense:  from the first smell to the finish, there is no messing around.  I kept commenting that it was smoky -- in both scent and taste.  The first taste hits hard, but it gets smoother over time.  And by "time" I mean an hour or so for a teeny, tiny bit of Scotch.

My final verdict is that I enjoyed Amrut's fusion.  In a way, it is not surprising that I grew to appreciate Scotch:  the image of Indian men sitting around sipping Scotch whiskey is a part of my memory.  And I have thought it unfair that women (at least in my family) were not offered a glass. 

The last time Eric and I were in India, there were numerous occasions when we visited friends and relatives, and in more than one living room, Eric was offered a glass of whiskey, and I was not.  And I really could have used a glass.  

Anyone who comes into my living room can drink whatever he or she wants.


Amal purchased Amrut fusion at:

Paul's of Chevy Chase
5205 Wisconsin Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20015


The Unforgettable Hostess Gift: Habanero Tequila 02.17.2013

This is not something I learned from Johnny Knoxville.

A few years ago, Eric found a simple recipe for habanero tequila:  chop up three habanero peppers and slip them into a bottle of tequila.  Chill for at least three hours and enjoy. That's it.  Even if you don't like it when your mouth feels as if massive flames of fire are being emitted, taking this to a party will be far more memorable than a 2009 Argentinian Malbec.  (Note:  I will not be offended if you bring a 2009 Argentinian Malbec to my next party.)

A warning:  if you have one shot, you will want another.  Once you stop feeling as if your head may pop off your body, a seemingly reasonable thought will occur to you:  I could really go for another shot.  Despite the irrationality of this thought, you will do it:  you will have another shot because the tequila and habanero mixed together is just that good.

As for choosing a tequila, I have found using a good tequila rather than a cheap/subpar tequila is the better way to go.  My favorite these days is el Jimador (blanco).

And when you are at your grocery picking up habanero peppers, make absolutely sure they are habanero peppers.  There are some sweet peppers that look like habaneros and you do not want to put them in tequila.  Because if you do and you tell your close friends that their mouths will be on fire, they will be disappointed and possibly never trust you again.  It's not a risk you should take.  Life is short and close friends are hard to come by.  Do your research, get the right peppers.  For you, for your friends.

Happy (and responsible) drinking all!

I Love Murasaki. And You Will Too. 02.16.2013

When we walked into Murasaki in Tenleytown on Thursday night, it was practically empty.  And when we left a few hours later?  Not an empty seat in the house.  Always nice to have a little affirmation of one's restaurant choice.  We've never eaten at Murasak; I was craving Japanese and we both wanted to try a new place.

We were there for Valentine's dinner and arrived about 10 minutes early for our reservation and decided to sit at the sushi bar.  My preference is to sit at the bar -- sushi or otherwise -- to eat.  There were four sushi chefs working away through the evening, and as the place filled up, the wait staff and the chefs moved faster, moving and carrying plates of beautifully orchestrated sushi.  

The space is simple -- nothing fancy, but that's not at all true of the food.  The Japanese flavors are there in full force, and every morsel was satisfying.  The restaurant is located near American University and we had several small groups of students sitting next to us throughout our meal -- quick sushi dinners and they were out the door; and then the next group of students took their place.  And it being Valentine's Day, couples everywhere. 

I started off with warm sake (Eric had cold), followed by seaweed salad and miso soup.  Seaweed salad in my experience can be dicey (well, okay, everything can be dicey).  My favorite seaweed salad have been had at Matuba (Bethesda) and now Murasaki.  Sushi Ko's (Chevy Chase) seaweed salad is surprisingly bland. 

I then ate the Screaming Spicy Roll which is tuna, yellowtail, cilantro, cucumber, and spicy sauce.  Oh the cilantro was so intense mixed in with all those flavors.  Lovely.  I also ate the Spicy Lover Roll (how appropriate for Valentine's Day), which is yellowtail, asparagus, cucumber, and special red pepper sauce. Oh boy...both of these rolls sound so alike, and yet they were not.  All very, very delicious.  (I don't like to use the word "very" unless it's absolutely necessary and right now it is.)  

Both of these items are listed under the "Designer Rolls", and the word designer could be used to describe so much on the Murasaki menu.  We were able to see much of what the chef in front of us put together and truly it was enticing:  gorgeous, fresh ingredients, assembled puzzle-style on large and small plates.  

En Fuego

Finally, I was curious about the spicy edamame and ordered it as my dessert.  I had one piece and had to stop because my mouth was en fuego.  Perhaps because my entire meal had been a vat of red hot pepper but I could not go on.  Water.  Where was the water?!?!

We thoroughly enjoyed our meal and will be going back.  The service is not overly-friendly, which can be both good and bad when the food is this good.  My one complaint is that when the restaurant started filling up, the service at the bar -- well, at least for us -- started getting slower.  I asked for a second warm sake and had to ask several servers and the sushi chef if they could fetch our waitress or just fortheloveofeverythingthatisholy get me my warm saki!  A lady does not like to be kept waiting for warm saki.  Everyone knows this.

The sushi chef in front of us made this (and below) concoction -- beautiful!

A view from outside the restaurant.
So, I know you're wondering what Eric got me for Valentine's Day. Well, I'll tell you:  a year's subscription to US Weekly.  Which I ordered.  On his behalf.  I didn't need any more Awesome Wife points, but here we are.

Happy eating all!

Japanese Cuisine & Sushi Bar
6620 Wisconsin Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20016


Warm Sunday Breakfast...And a Visit to Heaven & Hell 02.11.2013

Gorgeous, isn't it?  Baked creamed spinach and egg topped with salt, pepper, and paprika.  Imagine someone handing this to you after a long night of dancing and traipsing all over town.  That is exactly what I did and that is exactly what Eric handed me this morning.  A lady knows she is loved when her man asks her to sit down to this breakfast after she's been out until 3 a.m., leaving him to fend for the offspring.

The day before Eric made creamed spinach (fantastic!) and then used the leftover for this dish.  Crack the egg on top of the spinach, which has been spooned into the bowl, bake for 15 minutes at 400 degrees.  After it's out of the oven, sprinkle on salt, pepper, and paprika.  Eat. I also toasted a slice of bread to dip into to yolk; eggs without toast seems unnatural.  Oh, and a glass of orange juice on the side.

So, the traipsing all over town?  If you're familiar with the DC neighborhood of Adams Morgan, you know it has so much to offer.  Ethnic restaurants -- some of the best Ethiopian food -- coffee shops with extensive food menus, established restaurants like the always fabulous Cashion's Eat Place, some crappy restaurants, dance clubs, tattoo parlors, and dive bars.  And on a Saturday night:  the cross section of Adams Morgan (18th Street and Columbia Road) is teeming with people, a lot of scantily-clad women (not that there's anything wrong with that), and so so many interesting people doing -- how shall I put this? -- interesting things?  Yes.  I'll say that.

Mixing drinks at Club Heaven & Hell

A friend in my neighborhood was itching to go dancing so we first hit Club Heaven & Hell, and then Habana Village. This is where I tell you that I am not 22 years old.  I know.  Hard to believe, but I am not.  And it has been FOREVER since I have gone dancing in Adams Morgan.  And this is also where I tell you that my idea of a perfect Saturday night in February is a beautifully prepared meal, conversation with friends, good wine, a few rounds of Scrabble, and ending with reading by the fire while sipping scotch.  Soooo....going out to Adams Morgan?  Not normal operating procedure. 

A mural at Club Heaven & Hell

Heaven & Hell is three floors of dancing, each floor different music and a different vibe, although it looks the same decor-wise.  We spent most of our time in Heaven, as the middle and lower floors were, as the night went on, gradually reminiscent of that scene from "91/2 Weeks".  (Not judging.)  The dancing was fun but it was a little sparse.  If I am going out dance, I want a big crowd.  But perhaps we were too early?  Should we have arrived at 2 a.m. instead of 11 p.m.?  I am not going to go back to find out because I do not know when I will stop feeling tired from Saturday night.  Maybe never, and that's okay.  We edged out of Heaven & Hell and walked over to Habana Village for some salsa dancing.  But we needed to eat first.  The kitchen was about to close but they let us sit in the back, where the waitresses were chatting and rolling silverware for the next day.  I have to say, I really enjoyed the mood at Habana Village.  Lots of happy people conversing and drinking.  That was the first floor.  Dancing was on the second floor, and I'll get to that.

Late night snacks at Habana Village
After a quick scan of the menu, I chose the beef empanadas ($7) and the Spanish tortilla with chorizo ($10).  Let me just say this:  I will be going back to Habana Village to eat.  Soon.  The empanadas were out of this world -- so delicious.  And the tortilla omelette was perfectly satisfying for a late night of dancing.  And aces for the customer service.  Very friendly and accommodating.  For my drink I had a caipirinha, which was possibly the strongest caipirinha I have ever had.  Ever.

We then went upstairs for the dancing.  I am not a salsa dancer, but I can fake it to the point where everyone knows I'm faking it.  It's okay -- salsa dancing is not a personal life goal and I am at peace with the fact that I suck at it.  Anyway, it was great fun watching everyone dance.  I was even approached by a gentleman to dance and I'm pretty sure he figured out within five seconds that I had no idea what I was doing.  But, he was a gentleman:  he smiled, danced an entire song, very graciously thanked me, and went on his way.

We made our way back home and many hours later, Eric presented me with baked creamed spinach and eggs.  Peace, quiet, happiness.  Anyone up for Scrabble next week?

A mural at Habana Village

Club Heaven & Hell
2327 18th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20009

Habana Village
1834 Columbia Road N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20009

A Moment of Vacation 02.04.2013

My favorite comedian, Louis CK, has this bit about the little vacations parents take.  An example he points out is the time between strapping the kids into their car seats and walking around the car to get into the driver’s seat.  I know about this vacation because I take it everyday, sometimes several times a day.  It’s roughly 3-4 seconds – I can stretch it out to 5 or 6 seconds if I look at the sky as if just noticing it.  Whatever it is, I make the most of it.  I take a breath and pretend I’m meditating on a beach and only moments away from a cocktail.  I then get in the driver’s seat and the vacation is over.

And these vacations are priceless, aren’t they?  My favorite daily vacation though, is a cup of tea.  You know I love tea.  I was born in India; tea is part of my genetic makeup. 

I’ve been drinking tea since I was 10 years old and didn’t view it as a vacation until a few years ago.  I was quickly reading a series of books by Alexander McCall Smith about a woman who starts a detective agency in Botswana called The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency, which is also the title of the first book.  All of the books have a comforting quality as lead detective and business owner Precious Ramotswe winds her way through each mystery, using her top-notch instincts and common sense.  It’s no “Law & Order” or “CSI” but each case weighs heavily on her.  And when the day becomes too much or she just needs to sit down and take a break, what does she do?  She has a cup of red bush tea. 

And she doesn’t just go to the coffee/tea machine in her office and press a button.  No.  Her able secretary Grace Makutsi with great ritual brews the tea, which the two women sit and drink in peace.  And this is what I get from my cup of tea.  There’s the taste, of course, but there also is peacefulness that only tea provides.

The set-up:  Tea, small blue tea pot, tea cup, and (of course) linen napkin and
a small vase of flowers.  
Two years ago, I invested in a small brew pot from Capital Teas (although you can get it anywhere, including Amazon) and have started venturing outside strong black teas to more aromatic and some therapeutic teas. Although, some tea fanatics may argue that all teas are therapeutic. 

My friend Lucy gave me a bag of jasmine flower tea and a red and gold Japanese tea tin.  It’s one of those things that is too beautiful to touch or use.  The jasmine flowering tea is so enjoyable and calm-inducing that it may become a staple in my tea cabinet.

If you’re not familiar with flowering teas, they are gorgeous.  And talk about a vacation:  you must wait for the tea to flower before drinking, and even then a few minutes to brew.  And while you wait, the scent of jasmine makes its way to your brain and it’s just lovely. 

 I use 10 – 12 jasmine flowers for a small pot (makes about two cups).  Then, I fill the pot with hot water (175 degrees for green teas) and let it sit for 2-3 minutes.  And then, vacation.  I sip, savor.  It’s a perfect vacation in the middle of the day, especially a busy one. 

Don't forget the flowers.  It adds that extra touch of, "I'm on vacation."