Wednesday, June 13, 2007

that's amore

"When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie..."
-Dean Martin
Confession: I'm terrible at making pizza. I can make a mean tagine. I can make a burger that will knock your socks off. I can craft a sauce you'll dream about for a year; but ever since I can remember pizza has been impossible.
Maybe it's because I have such high expectations for my pizza, having lived in Rome and in Boston. Or that I know the best pizza comes from il forno al legno (a wood-fired oven), and that I could never, ever recreate that effect. Maybe because I fell in love with the pizza in Boston's Upper Crust ( Maybe all my aspirations have stunted my talent...
I have tried dough from a box. I have tried buying dough from a pizza store. Once, I admit, I even caved and bought a Tombstone pizza and put my own toppings on it. Gross, gross, gross. I had a thought once, stewing over my inability to make pizza, and blaming it all on faulty dough; that someone like Kraft ought to make a product (much like the cookie dough tubes) -- that would be pizza dough inside, instead. Keeping in mind this may violate the spirit of the art for the connoisseurs, I sure would enjoy taking credit for a chewy, salty crust.
Giving up on my million dollar Kraft dough idea, I wandered down the Italian foods aisle in the grocery store last night. Bombarded with a nearly infinite selection of sauce, I rebelled in my head, opting instead for fresh tomatoes. Fresh basil. Fresh mozzarella. Reluctantly, I chose a Boboli thin crust pre-made pizza crust as my canvass. And then, I had a beautiful idea and created what would be one of the more epic pizzas I've sunk my teeth into. Here's how:
Serves: 2
Cook time: 15 minutes
You'll need:
  • Boboli "thin crust" pre-made pizza crust
  • 1 container of small cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 container of fresh mozzarella, sliced
  • 5 basil leaves, chopped
  • 2-3 T. salted butter, melted
  • 3 cloves garlic, pressed
  • Olive oil, salt, and pepper

1) Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

2) Melt the 2-3 T butter in the microwave.

3) Press 2 cloves of garlic into the melted butter. Stir well.

4) Spread garlic butter all over the crust.

5) Bake crust with butter for 5 minutes in a 400 degree oven. (You should place the crust directly on the rack. Crust may bubble up when heated).

6) Slice mozzarella into 1/4 to 1/2 inch slices. You'll want enough to cover the whole pizza.

7) Halve 1 cup of small tomatoes.

8) Chop basil.

9) Remove crust from oven.
10) Top pizza with mozzarella, tomatoes, and basil. LIGHTLY drizzle olive oil over the top. Salt and pepper the pizza.
11) Bake pizza in the 400 degree oven for 10 minutes, or until cheese is melted and starting to bubble.
The secret, in case you haven't discovered, is the garlic butter. Enjoy with a glass or so of a nice red wine, like Montepulciano d'Abruzzo, and your sweetie. Because when this pie hits your lips...that's amore!

Monday, June 11, 2007

lebanese blonde

I've touched this place before
Somewhere in another time
Now I can hear the sun
The clouds drifting through the blinds
A half a million thoughts
Are flowing through my mind
-Theivery Corporation, "Lebanese Blonde"

3206 N Street, NW

Around the corner and tucked behind Billy Martin's tavern in Georgetown, you'll find a most wonderful oasis in Neyla, a Lebanese grill filled with posh people-about-town, pundits, and other pols. Save the politics for later, and enjoy what they have to offer your appetites.

Brightly colored chiffon drapes from one end of the ceiling to another for a truly exotic feel inside this place. Sip one of their "house mojitos" (they're citrus, not mint), but watch out to have too many. At $9 a pop, you'll be lucky to have enough dough for dinner.

When you arrive, they'll give you a nice plate of homemade yoghurt, olives, and bread with zataar (a traditional Lebanese mixture of herbs...notable for it's desirable effect on the brain and memory--or so they say). I could be happy with this alone, but don't stop there. Indulge your senses, and proceed to the menu, and the mezze.

At first glance, their menu may seem dizzying. If you're not familiar with Lebanese food (or even if you are, for that matter), don't miss their "Lebanese Tasting" for two -- which for $30 includes a hearty array of their favorite mezze -- including tabbouleh, hummus, baba ganouj, stuffed grape leaves, chicken schwarma, beef kibbeh, and for the extra naughty...cheese rolls (manchego cheese rolled in filo dough and baked).

Don't order yet. Finish your Tasting...then ask to see a menu again. At this point, I'm guessing you're feeling fat, happy, but ready to keep eating the wonderful flavors of Lebanon. Don't miss their beef kafta -- it is truly something else. Split an order of that with your date, then each of you should pick another mezza to eat for dinner. You'll save a couple dollars, and you won't want to explode at the end of it all. After eating there literally half a dozen times, I promise that this is the best and smartest way to order. Your waiter might look at you quizically, but smile kindly and ... trust me.

When you dine there, you may be visited by the flower peddler. He has been around to sell me flowers each and every visit I have been there, no doubt he is as perennial as the grass. Smile at him and politely decline his offer, though, unless you're ready to fork over a couple of Franklins for some half-dead flowers for your honey. It might seem sweet in the moment, but resist if you can.

In'sh'allah, you'll enjoy this spot as much as I have.

napoleon complex

"An army marches on its stomach."
-Napoleon Bonaparte

Cafe Bonaparte
1522 Wisconsin Avenue, NW

A taste of Europe right here in quaint little Georgetown...what could be nicer for a weekend brunch? Omelets are named after was love at first bite.

Not once, but twice, this weekend I enjoyed brunch at Cafe Bonaparte (it was really that good). The silver coiffered ceiling...the crimson walls...the tiny tables and perfectly portioned omelets and crepes could not have made for a nicer experience.

We started with a bloody mary--peppery, tart, thick, and boozy, these bloody marys were a step above the rest. They use a british mix, then add their own touch with fresh cracked pepper, lime juice, and an olive garnish...shaken once, before poured into a perfectly cyllindrical glass that makes drinking them purely delightful. At $7 apiece...go ahead and have two.

In addition to their wet bar, they've got one doozy of a cafe staff (in the old European sense). For your sweet tooth, they'll spoon Nutella into an espresso cup, top it with a single shot of espresso and some whipped cream. Dining like this on a Sunday morning is both heavenly and sinful.

For brunch, take note of all of their artistically crafted omelets and crepes...there is one for every appetite on the menu. My recommendation, though, is to listen carefully for their special of the day. Each weekend day, they craft an omelet of several carefully selected ingredients into a wonderful, savory, piece of breakfast that is almost too good looking to eat.

Turn the page from their brunch menu, and you will find a dizzying array of savory crepes and other entrees. They have an entirely separate menu for their sweet crepes and other patisserie.

I'll let you discover the rest on your won't be disappointed. Cafe Bonaparte is truly Napoleon, dynamite.