Monday, March 13, 2006

A Capital Delite

A road-trip to D.C. to see Beth Orton play at the 9:30 club was a good excuse to take in some of the cultural and culinary landmarks of Washington. We arrived at high noon famished and as our first stop was the National Galleryto see the DADA show, we decided to try the cafeteria. A pleasant surprise awaited, and I have to say that the choices were amazing for this type of fare. Sushi and noodles, salads and panini, soups and pizza. I decided to try the regional French specialties that accompanied the Cezanne show- braised fennel and a gratin of courgettes were both palatable and a far cry from the soggy french fries of days past.

As good as lunch was, we were saving ourselves for dinner, and had been talking about it all week. Mexican fare in Richmond is pretty average, just north of slop, and not very interesting. Lauriol Plaza is a real treat. As we relaxed in the cavernous two level restaurant, heaving with people and buzzing with noise, we started the night with margaritas, frozen and on the rocks. The chips are thinner than most, and perfectly salted. The salsa, a warm combination of tomatoes, cilantro and spice. A bowl of queso is studded with real peppers and is a far cry from melted velveeta that is often the poor excuse for queso. My entree was one of the best I have ever had- "Masitas de Puerco"- Cuban style morsels of pork, marinated in criollo sauce, roasted in Sevillas' bitter oranges. Slightly crispy and tender at the same time. Slightly spicy but sweet at the same time. An enigma. A thing of beauty. More than just "the other white meat."

“He was a bold man that first eat an oyster”- Jonathan Swift

The night could not get much better- a birthday cookout with normal fare became extra-special with the surprise arrival of some oysters from Chincoteague courtesy of Zac and Amber. Lightly steamed over a fire to just take off the chill rendered these sweet oysters heavenly- a mouthful of the sea with every bite. And the work that it takes to get one open makes the reward that much sweeter.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Hog Jowls

One of my favorite Italian dishes is the spicy amatriciana sauce- a perfect blend of crispy pork (more on that later), tomatoes, hot red pepper flakes, and pecorino and parmesan cheeses. Mama Zu makes an outstanding version in Richmond, rivaling any of Mario Batali's New York creations.

So when I started to make some sauce at home, the recipe lamented that most folks can't make a truly authentic version at home because its so hard to find "pork jowls" or as the Italians say, "guanciale." Pancetta is a nice substitute, and it has become rather easy to find. Lo and behold, I was happy to remember that a fall purchase at the Richmond Farmer's Market had included smoked hog jowls from a local farmer. I wasn't sure exactly what I was going to use them for at the time, but you just never know when hog jowls will come in handy.