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A Tale of Two Meals July 31, 2006

Posted by KG in Food, FS Life.
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For the last few days I’ve been occupied with saying goodbye to MC, who’s headed to Seoul after long stint at FSI learning Korean. The question on my mind (obvious) was what restaurant would be appropriate for a sendoff? She’s headed to a land of kimchee and soju, and thus we decided that Asian food, in general, was out. Being our usual indecisive selves, we ended up doing two dinners, each very different yet at the same time very DC.

Thursday, clad in a sportscoat and a cocktail dress (respectively) we headed off to 1789, the venerable Georgetown institution housed in a converted townhouse. A particularly long packout delayed us by a day, but the good folks at the restaurant were more than accomodating. The restaurant was extremely traditional, but not in a stuffy way. It reminded me of having dinner at someone’s rich Aunt’s house, with full knowledge that everyone was going to have plenty to drink. We were probably the youngest couple in the restaurant, but the staff didn’t seem to notice. The menu was a bit overwhelming, but at the end we decided that the five course tasting menu was the way to go.

The first two courses were excellent. An arugula salad with blue cheese, roasted figs, and speck was wonderfully balanced, with the figs lending a sweetness that offset the strong flavors of the cheese and the ham. The second course, salmon served with roasted tomatoes, fava beans, and potato, was equally good — MC, who knows salmon fairly well, was quick to point out that it was one of the better pieces of salmon she’s had in DC. The last two courses were also delicious — goat cheese with cherry compote and a galette of peach and cherry with bergamot ice cream. The menu had advertised that the cheese course would feature Point Reyes Blue, and I was glad that it was different than advertised. We’d had quite a bit of blue with the first course. The dessert course took a rather long time to come out, and when I cut into the pastry I realized why. The galette was baked to order and was piping hot. The ice cream was only slightly sweet and, again, a good balance to the other elements of the plate.

I skipped the third course intentionally. That’s because it was possibly the best lamb chop I’ve ever had. The potato gratin, the creamed spinach… well, I could wax rhapsodic about it for days on end. Everything about the course was delicious, from the perfect, buttery, medium rare lamb to the crisp gratin served on mashed potatoes. There really aren’t many adequate adjectives I can provide.

Friday, in denim and light fabrics, we walked to Etete for some Ethiopian. It was about as hot and humid as it could get, and the restaurant was completely packed. We bellied up to the bar, next to an impossibly drunk Ethiopian gentleman spouting off fascinating theories on the state of music (“the music is dead, man!”) and what I presume was something about the waitress’ breasts in Amharic. The dining room provided a nice sense of verisimilitude, as the temperature was about as hot as I suspect Addis Ababa to be nowadays. Our service was, as has been in the past at Etete, slow — though I suspect it was because we were next to a drunk gentleman who may or may not have had wandering hands with the staff. When we did get to order, we went a little crazy, getting a vegetarian order of Fastening food (six or seven vegetarian sides around the plate of injera), and order of kitfo medium rare, and a dish I don’t remember but was called “lamb stew” by the waitress. The food (sensing a pattern?) took a fairly long time to come out, worrying me at first, but we had a steady stream of interesting conversation (see drunk Ethiopian guy) to overhear.

When the food came we realized that we’d ordered more food than should be allowed. The order of lamb alone was huge, and the kitfo (cooked very, very rare — in other words, just right) was about half a cow. But we soldiered on and took down as much as we possibly could. Exactly how much did we eat? Well, I didn’t need any sustenance until about 5 PM the next day, and even then it was more out of impulse than necessity. And all the food was fantastic. Going course by course seems a little much, since we basically mushed many of the courses together, but it was well worth the wait. I was particularly pleased that the spice level was hot enough so as not to be boring, but not overwhelming for my plus one.

I don’t know what the availability of amazing traditional American cuisine or quality Ethiopian food is in Seoul, but in the case of the latter I suspect its slim to nil. So the right choices as far as sendoff meals were probably made. Packing out and moving to Post are probably the most stressful parts of this job, and I’m glad I got to send MC away with, at the very least, memories of good meals that she probably wouldn’t be able to repeat outside of DC.

(It has been way too long since I’ve written about food, and I suspect I’m a bit out of practice. And yes, no pictures, as I still can’t get used to the idea of taking pictures of food at a restaurant. I should get over that.)

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