Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Eaten: Dragon Fruit

Tonight I had a hot date with dragon fruit. I got it at H-Mart, a Korean grocery in Gaithersburg, MD, and I paid a $6.50 for it. For an individual piece of fruit it was pricey, yes. But for an eater who has, in a moment of weakness, paid $4-plus for one fresh passion fruit, the decision was not subject to budgetary consideration or rationale.

Besides, look at it. It's one of the freakiest looking fruits that you can eat. And you should eat it.

Dragon fruit is a variety of pitaya so it grows on cacti. It grows in arid places like Mexico, central, and south America - where it originated - Israel, Australia and all over southeast Asia. It is known to offer health benefits, too, such as vitamins A, B1, 2, and 3 along with come C for good measure. Anti-oxidants, too!

But that wasn't the point. The point was the flavor and the adventure. I grabbed my big knife and made one cut from top to bottom, unveiling seed-speckled, creamy-looking flesh. Some dragon fruit has red flesh. Mine was white and the satiny appearance was just a show. As I ran a big spoon between the flesh and the skin - the way you would an avocado - there was a nice crispness and plenty of juice.

This dragon fruit's texture had the crispness of an Asian pear or fresh watermelon with the added pop of tiny, crispy seeds - like a kiwi's. The flavor was light with a bright, clean citrus tone. One could argue that, flavor-wise, it is a cucumber's sweet and tropical analog. It was nice and sweet with just a bit of tang. I think it tasted like a pear-kiwi hybrid which is cool because I love those fruits individually, too.

Dragon fruit is easy to prepare and great fun to eat. You can probably find it at a nearby Asian or Latin grocery. It might be pricey, but the flavor and the experience are well worth it. Find someone to share it with and enjoy.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Russia in Rockville - Blichniki and Beer

Bistro Nostalgie, in Kingfarm across Rockville Pike from the Shady Grove Metro stop, is one of a very few Russian restaurants in the Metro DC area. The restaurant's food is an interesting mix of proper Russian favorites as well as some other more Mediterranean/Ottoman dishes. The menu acts as a road map of the chef's career - from Russia, through Eastern Europe, to Italy then to us here, in Rockville- without sacrificing the authenticity, quality or traditional value of the food he serves.

At 7:30pm on a Thursday all of the restaurant's 15-to-20 tables sat empty as we approached, looking through the big glass windows into the sparse and contemporary dining room. Seeing an empty restaurant is usually a turn off but we were going for the adventure and the flavor...not for the popularity. Those who were there (staff and patrons) were honest-to-goodness Russians, Georgians, Ukrainians, etc. This immediately canceled any remaining trepidation.

Our waitress, a Ukrainian, was friendly and attentive. She told us that she was a skilled home cook and that we were in for a treat..."the food here is just like home. Mine is good too!" We ordered beers – maybe Baltika - and some honey pepper vodka which was the Happy Hour Special at $4 a shot down from the normal $9. The beer was nice and hoppy and the vodka was strange, even startlingly so. The first shot was smooth and fragrant with a strong pepper spice. As the night wore on, I found the following shots to be cloying and overly pungent, but by then I was drunk so that opinion may not be as valid as others.

The menu had apps ranging from $6 for potatoes fried with mushrooms and onions to $99 for Osetra Caviar on blini or toast points "as you wish." The entrees ranged from $18 to $30 and featured healthy portions and interesting accompaniments.

There were three of us and we treated the apps like tapas, starting with those delectable fried potatoes which were silky-soft with wonderfully crisp and caramelized bits which were still sizzling hot with oil. The mushrooms in the dish were a Trumpet-variety and they lent a wonderful earthy flavor to the dish.

Veal tongue with mustard and horseradish had exceptionally deep flavor. The texture was soft with almost new resistance to the tooth and after some proper chewing it became like butter - molten, viscous, and sensuous. It was the most complex and challenging flavor of the night...surely not for those who aren't fans of intense meaty flavors.

Showing a touch of his experience in the Aegean, the next dish to hit the table was grilled octopus. It tasted exceptionally fresh and was served topped with a lemon herb vinaigrette. The flesh was tender, easily cut with a fork, and the dressing was piquant and bright.

Next came the lamb chops. They were grilled to medium-rare perfection and seasoned with salt, pepper and what tasted like a standard spice mix with oregano and thyme as well as other usual suspects. While the meat took center stage, the plethora of pickles that resided on the plate with the meat really made the dish unique and memorable. There was pickled cabbage, beets, and tomatoes; each with its own unique zing. With the pickles there was a tomato, red onion and cucumber salad with cilantro which was refreshing and light. My favorite part of the plate was the little pita bread that was hiding under the grilled lamb. It was soaked in the fat from the meat but still quite crisp and toasty. All together it was one of the best-thought-out plates I've ever had.

With the last shot of vodka, we ordered blinchniki, or blintzes, or stuffed crepes, or whatever - they're delicious! We had two varieties of blinchniki at Bistro Nostalgie: meat and mushroom. Both are served with sour cream and both are absolutely splendid. The crepe wrapping was tender and sweet and the fillings were intense in flavor without being offensive.

Deserts were a Napoleon Cake which was sweet and tender and a crème brulee, which was a crème brulee.

For the three of us - with 4 apps, the lamb entree, 2 deserts, 5 big beers and 12 shots - the bill came to $150, which isn't too terrible considering that we got stuffed to bursting and very, very drunk.

While I don't have much experience with Russian food in the DC area I do know what tastes good. With that in mind I'm excited to go back to Bistro Nostalgie for more...and I suggest you try it out too!

Friday, February 19, 2010

We're at Sushi Damo in Rockville and I'm perplexed...then delighted

We sat at the sushi bar at Sushi Damo in Rockville Town Center so that we could get to know the chef. Strangely, we were served by a waitress instead of the guys behind the bar. Sure, for drinks, maybe, but I like to talk to the dude who's cutting my fish. This was confusing...then the food came.

The head chef delivered - with a nod that showed he remembered us from a tasting a few months back - the first round of fish, which was delicious and the technique showed great attention to detail in its presentation and the preparation of the rice and the fish. We ate silken, ruby-colored tuna; buttery yellow tail; mild and clean striped bass; smoky, delicate Spanish mackerel; heavy and dull fluke, and terrific fresh water eel...and others. The Mango-something roll (sorry) was great too. It was the best use of fish and fruit I've tried.

The second round of food was prepared by a chef who was right in front of us. Perplexingly, he put it at the pick-up where it sat waiting for a waitress - shimmering at us - until Kat pointed it out. When it did hit the bar I was in for a big treat: the best salmon skin handroll I've had in a long, long time. my very favorite - I use it as my benchmark, along with tamago - and theirs was exceptional. The nori was crisp and fragrant. The little bit of fish was cooked just right - juicy with fat - and the skin was an ideal balance between crispness and chew. I can't emphasize this enough. I'm going back just for that.

Dessert, which was house made chocolate mousse with black pepper, was the most fun I've had with food since my trip to MiniBar. It was a great combination of diverse flavors, sensations and textures. Extra A+ for the gold leaf.

The bill was steep. Edamame for 6 bucks is rediculous...we were silly not to look, but still. Miso soup is too salty and could also stand a pass.

Without the booze and the above skip-ables we spent about $60 before tip for 15 peices and a roll.

The bottom line is that for flavor, inventive and modern use of technically-excellent traditional preparation, and great quality of fish, Sushi Damo is a safe bet for a great sushi in Rockville, MD.