Blinded by Stars

A stylized DC flag with three red stars on the top and 2 red stripes on the bottom. It's u.

Oh, my babies, let’s act like we been somewhere, okay?

There was much anticipation when Michelin announced that it would bring it’s food judgement crewe to D.C. to let us know if we have good food. By awarding stars. One, two or three. Or maybe none. This anxiety started in May.

After Bon Appétit named D.C. it’s restaurant city of the year, the opening up of a series of highly priced and highly sought after dining rooms, and the encroaching hipterization of our fair city (like where do they find all those guys with the well trimmed oil groomed beards–some with black boxy framed glasses and all with plaid shirts–to wait on our tables at the laid back fine-dining halls?) you’d think people would feel confident that D.C. had made it in the foodie category.

D.C. dining is longer an afterthought of stuffy steak houses and seafood restaurants that did the fish version of those steakhouses–side of creamed spinach, anyone? The variety and quality of D.C. fare and the range of locations have definitely been kicked up a notch. Fine dining on First near Rhode Island Ave? Petworth? Brookland? And the former streetwalker circuit near Logan Circle with dozens of fun, interesting and, in some cases, delicious bistros and taverns and counters and bars?

So this morning there was even more anticipation and some anticipatory handwringing. Today was the day that we’d know who “won.” Whatever that means.

And it hit with much hoopla. One chef proudly tweeted his honor early–TWO stars! The rest seemed to appropriately hold off until the official announcement of a dozen restaurants that were deemed high enough on the spectacular scale to be included in a thin blue book. [The Doc has dined at four of these, in full disclosure.]

Some thought that the list was wrong either by exclusion, inclusion or delusion. That the secret society of inspectors just don’t get us and who we are.

But seriously, ain’t no Stay-Puft Marshmallow looking quink can put my knickers in a knot. Let’s maintain our pride. We are a town that is more than the marble buildings on Pennsylvania Avenue.

We are Washingtonians with a baseball team on the way to the World Series (fingers crossed), a football team with an embarrassing name, awesome public libraries, beer and whiskey dive bars, theatre, dance, sixteen art museums, ten colleges and universities (seriously!), a zoo with pandas and a malfunctioning subway system. Also a ton of named neighborhoods where real people garden, have cookouts, argue and fight, walk their dogs, prep for marathons, go to church and make and raise babies.

Eat where you want. Respect yourself. There’s plenty good food in town. All stars!

Mumbo’s The Word


The D.C. corner carry out. This one has been most recently named Sammy, but it used to be Sammy’s. Before that it was Granny’s, and before that, Granny’s was Granny’s BBQ. I forget what it was the time before or the time before that. But Carry Out was always part of the sign.

The carry out menu features “Chinese and American food, seafood and sub.” I guess, given the new big sign on the top of the building, pizza, too.

Before the exterior bricks were painted red, it was white. And before it was painted white, it was blue and maybe green. Different names, different facade, same food.

No matter its name or color, the food is always Chinese chicken/beef/pork/veggies that are indistinguishable from each other with rice and a sauce, subs, gyros (for some odd reason, maybe because it’s on the menu generator template that all the carry outs seem to use), fried fish, fried chicken, wings and pizza. Most everything is less than $10 and you can get a 2-liter soda, to boot. They’ll deliver for a fee, but the driver won’t leave his car. You need to come and get your food from the curb.

The carry out takes care of people who don’t usually cook or usually cook but are pressed for time or ingredients. The food itself is filling if not healthy. There is congealed sauce on many of the Asian entrees. The sub rolls are thick and chewy, but without taste. Same with the fried catfish and fries, taste free, if you discount the fat and the salt.

That’s why they have mumbo sauce.

Mumbo sauce is the mainstay of D.C. carry outs. It’s squeezed on the fried fare–french fries, fried chicken and fried fish. It’s an amazing shade of fluorescent orange with more than a little hint of pink. It is not spicy. It’s sweet. If you want to punch it up a firey notch, there’s Texas Pete’s or, increasingly, sriracha.  If you ask me, I’d tell you it was sweet and sour sauce mixed with ketchup. But there are folks who would dispute my cynical recipe.

The carry out condiments are not an accompaniment as much as they are the entire flavor. But between the fat and the salt and the sweet + sour and the spicy all of your natural tastebuds are covered. And you will be full. That’s what a carry out is for.

Strange Brew

A cup of coffee in a white cup on a white saucer. I bet it's not decaf.

Nice event this evening. People were dressed very fancy. Sparkles and beads, bow ties and cufflinks. Little bitty bags with long metal chains and shiny shoes, too.

The room was filled with dozens of nicely sized rounds. Not so big that you couldn’t introduce yourself to the person sitting on the other side of your diameter but too big to have a conversation across the centerpiece. The chairs were that light metal that was welded–or maybe strongly glued–together to look like bamboo. Bamboo that was sprayed a golden color. The biggest surprise was the tablecloth. It was a fancy print–a creamy, almost yellow, background with a somewhat Asian design of small red flowers, maybe poppies, with thin green vines dispersed almost in balance to the ecru. The fabric felt more like upholstery or a heavy drape than a tablecloth and, when you put your wine glass down, the embroidery or a seam or some unevenness would make you steady the stem to find a flatter spot.

There was a big water glass and a medium sized wine glass, but if your brought your pinot noir from the reception, you would notice that the cocktail wines were much smaller. That seems like a good decision by central catering.

The seats were fairly deeply padded, but after a few sets of remarks and videos and jokes and applause you wanted to stand and stretch. The planners were smart, too. They broke the program up around the courses to allow for standing and milling and visiting. Greetings from the dais, a catalogue of grateful thank you’s that may have been commercials, then a few segments accompanied by a salad. Main course and then more videos, emcee schtick and more segments. Dessert and coffee followed by the final two segments.

But, let me get back to that dessert thing. Really, to the coffee. There was only decaffeinated coffee served. Only decaf. What is up with that? It’s like seeing a soda machine that only has diet soda or walking up to a bar to find they only have 3.2 beer on tap or looking into your Halloween bag to see only apples, boxes of raisins and pennies lined up on a piece of tape.

It’s flipping the idea of coffee on its head. Coffee is coffee and decaf is a disarmed cup of coffee. Someone decided that all coffee served after dinner would be incapacitated. What? Caffeine been bothering you? Makes me wonder what the world is coming to. What kind of monsters serve strictly decaf? Where is my choice?

So I drank my impotent brew and then took to the huge chocolate thing on my plate. And I know that there was caffeine in that chocolate thing–along with maybe nutella. It was creamy and almost gloopy. And I ate too much of it. Now I’m too full of rich food to sleep.

Seriously, if those people were looking to take care of me, they would have served much smaller dessert portions. And some real coffee. I think I’m going to have to find some fizzy water. Damn nanny state.


The Pit of Despair

Olives for snacking. Different kinds. All pitted. We hope.

Got a text from The Spouse who has been pulling in long days for a grand opening. Another late evening. Another late dinner.

I got home and was so hungry. Like so hungry. So hungry that all I can think of is my stomach. Every song coming through this 90s channel has a secret message about food. Green Day? Singing messages about vegetables, and maybe pesto. Mmmm, pesto. Semi-charmed Life? Yeah, I want something else, or at least somethingI Like Big Butts? Definitely about ham. I hear the drum intro from Smells Like Teen Spirit and I substitute my own nonsense lyrics–“Here we are now, gotta feed us! A potato. Alfredo. A burrito. Cappuccino, yeah.”

Well, I guess I could easily just fend for myself and grab some cheese and crackers and a glass of wine. Or warm up the leftover pasta from yesterday–there’s not enough to share. There is enough fendable grub for two. I could take the high road and leave the best of the odds and ends for the straggler.

I know that someone will be tired and even hungrier than me when they drag themselves in the house.  I also know that someone worked hard all day–and yesterday and yesterday’s yesterday and tomorrow and tomorrow’s tomorrow, too. Someone who has stuff to share and would like some company.

I pulled out the grilled chicken from Saturday and cooked up some quinoa. I brought the heirloom tomato salad to room temperature and blanched some green beans. I’ll assemble a warm bowl on top of the arugula and drizzle it with the sauciness from the tomatoes. I’ll pour two glasses of that fizzy wine and have dinner with The Spouse. That’s what we do. We take care of each other.

I’ll have a few olives to tide me over. It’s not the pit of despair. It’s twoo love.


The salt flew from her fingers. Some flakes coated her lips as she closed them on the krunchy kernels. 

For what is the purpose of popcorn if not as a salt delivery device?

The salt strayed on her fingers that would find their way into her mouth, the crystals only to be caught by her tongue in a moment. Her lips swelled from the salt. Is it a poison? Or an enhancement?

As she emptied the bowl, the last layer of popcorn flipped the balance of snack to brine. It almost became too much. No longer a condiment, but the main course. Too coarse. 

She left the last pieces of popcorn, but only for now. Tomorrow she would eat the salt-snack as if it was correctly proportioned. She could do that for twelve pieces. And then grab a tall glass of water. 

Curtain Down

Red mug and little bowl with chocolate.

The tea was black and flavored with milk and sugar. It was so dark that, even with the milk, it could visually pass for coffee. But it didn’t smell like coffee. More of the orange pekoe type.

The little bowl would be more honestly named bowle. It was just that cute. In that twee bowl were some little rectangle bites of chocolates. These bits were not filled with the richness of a creamy filling, nor were they solid chocolate.

Instead, each bite was a crunchy, flaky cookie bathed by milk chocolate. They could be popped into one’s mouth whole or dispatched in two bites.

You could do both.

And it was good.

Coconut Sorbet

A split coconut. That is all.

It was the last, albeit inadvertent, straw. I was walking down the hall—the one with the wood-lite, parquet floor versus the carpeted hall—to get a morning coffee. I think that my short, squat spiral notebook was in my hand. My phone was on top, but surely grasped by at least one finger. Until it jumped.

Like a squirrely, inelegant fish, it leapt from my pond. It somehow gained acceleration as it left my control. Maybe the wind from my gait? Regardless, it breached my hand and clattered to the floor and awkwardly slid, like that odd fish, along the floor. Poor fish. Poor phone.

It had been kinda cracked in a few places before, based on other unwitting tosses. Fissures on the edges, and just along those edges. Not a rupture in the main, and certainly nothing that interrupted function.

This time, it was different.

I picked it up. It had been on the ground many times. At least eighty. Perhaps as many as six-thousand, three-hundred and sixty-two. Somewhere in that range. So imagine my surprise, nay, my shock!, at seeing the sets of intermittent stripes and the faded Kodachrome reflection of what had been my wallpaper of my family affectionally giving me the finger. I swiped, and it seemed to work. I put my notebook and phone on the counter. I got my coffee.

After my minutes with the Keurig and the addition of milk, I retrieved my goods and saw that the phone was worse. Finger swiping had no effect. Pushing down on the screen made it a little brighter, but just a little, and it did not improve the capacitive response. When is the next iPhone release?

I was hoping to get another year from this device and the new ones aren’t due until late September. I need a working phone now. Like literally now. Screen replacement time.

Working downtown in a decently-sized, walking city means you are just scant blocks from a solution. I looked at the clock (not on the phone since that was a disaster) and the google and saw a solution within blocks and within the hour.

I dropped very carefully deposited my phone at the screen repair joint and was promised a fix in forty minutes. Great! I told the nice man, Jeff, who was jonesing for a transfer to this new store, I’d be back after lunch.

I very uncomfortably walked down the street. I would normally open an app on my phone to nudge my brain for food options. Instead I had to go naked. I headed south a block then east. The food trucks had good smelling fried chicken, but you know how I feel about them.

Lightbulb! It’s restaurant week and there is a famous chef restaurant that has a great riff on fried chicken and this was was the summer doldrums that spawned “restaurant week.” Three courses for a sweet prix fixe. I had the time and the price would be right. I was stuck using the DocThink GPS in my head, but fortunately it still worked. The dining room didn’t have a table for me, but there was a spot at the bar.

Somehow, sitting at the blonde wood bar and looking at the special menu, the idea of fried chicken seemed better as an idea. The yellow gazpacho first course seemed to be begging me to have the rare and peppered tuna on some “pepedille.” I know that’s not a word or a food, but the word on the menu was unknown to me. It tasted good, though.

I didn’t chose dessert until after my entree. If there was key lime pie or lemon icebox pie, it would have so been that. Hot lava chocolate goop sounded gross. Something with grapefruit and basil sounded too adventurous. The shortbread cookie thing a bit too pedestrian. So I zeroed in on the coconut sorbet with chocolate and almonds and something I can’t remember.

I’m not generally a coconut fan. Baby Bear, on the other hand, hashtag loves coconut [#lovescoconut]. Maybe I was missing him when I ordered that and a coffee. And I thank you, Baby Bear, because it was good.

As the bartender took away my dessert plate, we both opined on the terrificness, or is that deliciousness?, of the coconut sorbet. He told me that the Boss-Chef ate lunch at the restaurant three or four times each week and always, always, always ordered the coconut sorbet.

He would order one scoop and finish it and always, always, always order a second, which he would also dispatch in it’s entirety. One time, the bartender ordered him a second scoop in anticipation. He was upbraided. The Boss-Chef wanted to order it himself.

We wondered, together, why he ordered first one scoop and then the second. I wondered if it was because he didn’t want to eat melted coconut sorbet? But the bartender didn’t think that was it. It was a pattern, and it was his control over that pattern. Maybe he teased himself to see if he could resist the second scoop? Maybe he wanted to make sure he had the time to finish what was in front of him? Maybe he made up a game that nobody else could play?

I wondered why I would order one, and then the other. I wouldn’t, but it was a decent mental explore. Because the only way I could understand the Boss-Chef was to try and think about what it would mean to me. What are my tics? My sport that only I play for only my known reasons?

He was always challenging his patrons and himself. He said “In cooking, as in love, you always have to try new things to keep it interesting.” I like it when things are interesting. In the kitchen, and in other rooms, too.

He will be missed. Maybe I will go back and order a scoop of coconut sorbet. And then another. For fun.

Peace to you, Michel Richard.  I hope that your gifts are appreciated in this next life as I appreciated them today.

Hobby on the Edge

A super yummy sushi dinner.

The Spouse has a new hobby. It’s not as much a hobby as a skill building process. You could even say he’s honing a new expertise.

He approaches his lessons with surgical precision. He’s carved out time to sharpen his approach. He steels himself against what seems like a stone wall. He’s not quite shaving time from his efforts, but that’s not the point. Getting better means getting sharper, not quicker.

He whets his implements across the strop. He uses water to give himself that extra edge. He polishes and finishes to bring out the best of his tools.

Okay, let me cut to the chase. He’s assembling a collection of the gadget and gizmos utensils and devices to bring the fineness to the blades of knives. He has spent hours sliding the steels agains the stones and then finishing with a leather barber’s strap.

It’s an odd accoutrement, but the craft means that our knives are sharp. Then he shows off by skillfully chopping and slicing food. Like the beautiful tuna, and the paper thin cucumbers. And he provided me with an extended bad pun for today.


A Dish of Tomatoes

Yellow and red+green heirloom tomatoes.

They were special tomatoes. Heirloom, as if they were passed down in the family. But it is actually an excellent ploy to extract more dollars per pound for tomatoes that look much less than perfect–in color, shape and demeanor. They are supposed to taste extra good, but in that way they are just like other tomatoes. Sometimes they taste good. Sometimes, not so much.

These were nicely ripe. They were heavy and felt fluid-filled. The tomato would give to pressure from a finger, but return to shape almost immediately. Holding it, it was heavy. Bringing it to the nose, it smelled of itself.

It put up some resistance when I put my knife to it’s skin. It swelled slightly under my hand and then ceded with almost a sigh. Gently sawing the surface, it soon gave way beneath the flesh to a wet, almost gelatin middle, flecked with seeds. After cutting in half, I removed the top of the core then went to work, sliding the knife again and again, making irregular cuts for the salad. The cutting board was filling with juice that I tried to capture by scooping the pieces onto the knife and dropping into the bowl.

There was a big yellow tomato and a red tomato with green. I topped them with swirls of extra virgin olive oil, a scant tablespoon of sherry vinegar, a few turns from the pepper mill and coarse salt. I stirred and let it sit on the table to let the juices ooze out. The better to dip the crusty bread in and get every last drop.

Taking Stock

Guac and salsa and chips with a beer on the deck. Looking at the ocean. But you can't see the ocean in this pic.

We asked our friend, Chef, what she brings on vacation. If you rent a beach house—and are not in the demographic worried about having an appropriately sized table for beer pong—this is an important question.

If you’re tooling around Ireland, it’s about pubs along the way. If you’re vacationing in Italy your food questions are local wines and food, unless you rent a villa. Then you are renting a kitchen staff. My dream is to charm my way into nona’s kitchen and leave with both an appreciation and mastery of her techniques.

At the beach house, you find a blank canvas with unknown brushes, paints and palette. Actually, the paints are known. They are BYO.

The kitchen is supply free. There may be a filled salt and pepper shaker, and the salt may be sticking together, otherwise it’s empty cupboards. Last time I moved into a house and didn’t have a supply of mustards and vinegars, spices and sugars, and oil, flour and maple syrup was—let me think. Yup. It was the first time I moved as an adult. The second time, I packed up and moved my accumulated larder.

I’ve packed up the oregano and sage, rosemary and thyme, the cumin and chili powder, the cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg, and the 3 vinegars and two oils each move until I moved into this house a generation ago.

My current staples include the above plus capers, roasted red peppers, sun dried tomatoes, anchovies and anchovy paste, four or five different types of nuts, golden and Thompson raisins, dried cranberries, cans and cans of beans of various colors and sizes, artichokes, 4 more types of vinegars, additional grades of olive oil, yellow and brown and rustic country and Dijon mustards, horseradish, fish sauce, sriracha and Tabasco, and a hearty and hefty addition of jarred spices. There’s jasmine rice, sushi rice, abririo rice and rice rice. There is white flour, wheat flour, coconut flour and corn meal—both coarse and fine. There’s lentils—black and green; quinoa—regular and tricolored; some farro; and an I interesting grain mixture that I like. I’m sure this list, as long as it is, is very incomplete.

Even with cupboards filled, there’s frequently something I need. And, many other days, nothing to cook.

Rolling into the beach house is all about minimalist stocking for minimalist cooking. The eating out options are sparse, and somewhat gross, so eating in is big.

While some beach cooks are into disposable stocking—that is to throw out barely used jars of ketchup, mayo, pickles, salad dressing, and the specialty gourmet splurge-on-account-of, well, vacation—I just can’t. And The Spouse would secretly pack it all to bring back home where I will throw out the tiny jars of spoilt goods when he’s sleeping. I like that even less.

Bring more, you advise. I just can’t pack up my kitchen. See above re: the sisterhood of the traveling pantry. Not doing it. And I’d forget something and have to buy it and then end up with two at home. Or three. I’m still at a loss as to why I had 3 jars of paprika and 3 of that disgusting dried lemon peel at home.

So for my week of vaycay meals I settle on olive oil, red wine vinegar, Dijon, fresh cracked pepper, sea salt, garlic, onions and a few sprigs of fresh thyme from the produce section. Add some lemon and lime zest—those fruits are critical for drinks!—and I’m stocked.

So when I asked Chef what she brings, I was surprised to hear her say, a knife. A tool! But she is damn right. The knives—and most of the culinary tools in the rental
kitchen—are usually both plentiful and dull. And mostly serrated. Who has six serrated to one regular knife? Heathens!

Using the rental kitchen “sharps,” I suffer though trying to chop garlic fine. My knife sides off the side of the onion. Another knife pummels verses slices the tomato. Oh, for a good knife!

But the wine is good. The vegetables are fresh. The fish market—when you find the one with the local catch—is perfect. And the creative challenge of a meal for foodies with few staples is well worth the fun. Especially because the wine is good. Seriously, I’m on vacation, but not on a vacation from good food. And did I mention the wine? I did, didn’t I? It’s good. It’s all good.