Spring’s bounty brings with it the morel mushroom, which DC chefs are showcasing in scrumptious ways.
Pocketful of Gold
You’ve never had pasta like this. Matt Adler, executive chef at Osteria Morini (301 Water St. SE, Ste. 109, 202-484-0660), pockets a single raw yolk inside one giant raviolo ($25). “If you’ve cooked it perfectly, the egg runs out when you cut into it,” he says. The yellow tide mixes with slightly caramelized morels, crispy sweetbreads, and rich veal sauce. “The mushrooms add a deep, earthy richness,” says Adler. “They taste like spring.”
It took me years to work up the courage to tackle one of my grandmother’s most memorable and well-loved creations: fastnachts. Every year, the night before Shrove Tuesday—also known as Fat Tuesday—she would stay up late prepping big batches of the potato-based doughnuts. The next morning, she would rise before dawn to fry the puffy orbs to a deep mahogany, then shower them in confectioners’ sugar while they were still hot.
I made a point of getting up early those days, too, so I could gorge myself on the yeasty treats. By the time my parents joined us, splashes of sugar spotted my pajamas and my fingers were sticky.
Where to Get It: Thip Khao; 3462 14th St. NW; (202) 387-5426; thipkhao.com
What It Is: “I call it Laos caviar,” says chef Seng Luangrath. The white pill-shaped pods don’t come from the sea though. Known as kai mod daeng in Laotian, they’re actually tree ant eggs. A commonly eaten protein in the Southeast Asian country and neighboring Thailand, the ova are hand-harvested from nests often built on the leaves of mango trees. One method of obtaining them is to shake the nests over a bucket of water. The eggs sink to the bottom, while the insects either drown or crawl out. It’s tough work, because the fierce bugs will bite. Though Luangrath remembers painfully procuring the eggs as a child, she now imports frozen eggs when they’re available from January through March. You may not find them on the menu every day.
There’s no sign outside Matchbox restaurant’s test kitchen. It’s tucked away in a stretch of personality-free warehouses in Silver Spring. The compact room features everything you’d find in the full-scale kitchens of the popular D.C.-based chain best known for its pizzas and mini burgers. There’s a brick pizza oven, glass door refrigerator, deep-fryer, flattop stove, grill, range, a pair of counters and a sink. A window on the far end looks into the Matchbox man cave — well, conference room — outfitted with a small artificial-turf putting green and an impressive flat-screen TV mounted on a wall of reclaimed barn wood.
Stephen Lyons, vice president of culinary operations for Matchbox Food Group, is moving around the tight kitchen space with a quick, studied efficiency. He’s preparing a selection of new dishes for a tasting, but he has more than Washington on his mind. Matchbox Food Group is about to launch a national expansion.
My son was just an hour old and I had just become a proud first-time father. Guess what I was doing. Cradling him, while singing him his first lullaby? Nope. Showing him off to gathered relatives? Try again. Triumphantly posting a picture to Facebook? Sorry, wrong.
Actually, I was in line at Shake Shack. I was waiting to get the Shack Burger and cheese-sauce-covered fries my wife, Indira, had been craving for nearly 10 months. As a patient of Wisdom Midwifery at George Washington University Hospital, she had been on a strict diet. No undercooked meats, no processed foods and no sugar. (Being an empathetic fellow, I made sure to eat at least twice as much of those banned substances while she was pregnant.)
Browsing the shelves of the children’s section at bookstores can be a depressing experience for the parent of an interracial youngster. I’m a mutt mixture Caucasian with roots going back to Western Europe and beyond, while my wife is from Ghana. We are constantly on the lookout for stories featuring characters with whom our interracial son can visually identify. It would just be nice for him to pick up a book and think to himself, “Hey, that little guy looks like me.” Sadly, he doesn’t get to do that very often.
Though there is a growing number of racially diverse characters popping up on picture book pages – and the passionate social media campaign #WeNeedDiverseBooks hopes to inspire even more of them – there is a depressing dearth of interracial ones. This is somewhat surprising given how many families are interracial these days. According to the United States Census Bureau, “interracial or interethnic opposite-sex married couple households grew by 28 percent over the decade from 7 percent in 2000 to 10 percent in 2010.” Additionally, there were 275,500 interracial marriages in 2010 out of a total of 2,096,000. Heck, there’s even a TV show about an interracial family and it’s on a major network – ABC’s “The Fosters.”
2013 was supposed to be Sharon Jones’s year. She and The Dap-Kings had just finished recording their fifth album, a stirring amalgam of soul, funk, blues and torch balladry entitled Give the People What They Want. It was a decidedly uplifting album, a reaction to a brutal period of emotional bruising in her life. She had lost her mother to cancer two years earlier, while Dap-Kings tenor saxophonist Neal Sugarman’s brother had passed around the same time, so both musicians were hoping to put their pain behind them. Though Jones didn’t know it, there was still more suffering to come.
In early May of 2013, the then-57-year-old singer was diagnosed with a pre-cancerous tumor. After doctors removed it in June using an arduous seven-hour Whipple procedure surgery, they had more bad news for her: she had stage II pancreatic cancer. Jones immediately began a vigorous chemotherapy regimen. “When I went to sleep that night, I thought I was going to die,” she says. “I thought people would never get to hear me play live again.”
Then, with a guttural laugh, she adds morbidly, “On the upside, I’d probably then sell a million albums.”
Amble into Washington, D.C.’s Slipstream during the morning hours and you’ll be met with a small army of baristas lined up behind the dark wood bar, ready to pull an espresso or fire up the Seraphin automatic pour-over machine. The menu features a few surprises—a house-made soda flavored with dried coffee cherries and an espresso tonic—but the place offers everything you’d expect from a craft coffeehouse. That is, until you notice the shelving behind the countertop. Instead of neatly arrayed bags of MadCap beans, there are rows of liquor bottles—a not-so-subtle clue that the coffee shop enjoys something of a double life.
Slipstream is one of a growing number of hybrid coffee-cocktail bars across the country—from the Octane micro-chain in Atlanta and Birmingham, Alabama to Phoenix’s Lux Central and NYC’s The Randolph at Broome—where you can do shots of espresso at breakfast and come back for a Manhattan during happy hour.
The duality of concepts leads to an unusual mixture of customers. “We’ll have a room full of high schoolers in study groups and adults by the fireplace drinking cocktails,” says Lori Chandler, owner of Take Five Coffee + Bar in the Kansas City suburb of Overland Park. “From a social aspect, this has been going on forever in Europe. I’m surprised it didn’t happen over here sooner.”