My coffee steak rub is awesome. I wanted to take it to the next level. So, when my buddies and I gathered recently for a “boys’ weekend” at Saule, our rental home in Little Compton, RI (http://www.sauleri.com. You can find it listed at Homeaway.com), it was time to put it to the test with a low-and-slow smoked beef brisket!

Depending on the size of the brisket, you might need to double the recipe.

 

 

Low and slow is the way to go! Deliciously smokey and juicy.

 

3 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon Kosher salt
1 tablespoon ground coffee (use your favorite)
1 teaspoon granulated garlic
1 teaspoon granulated onion
1 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder

If the brisket is frozen, I like to thaw it a couple of days ahead of cooking it, rubbing it down with the coffee rub, and placing it in the fridge for about 24 hours to rest. I bring it out about an hour before smoking, to let the meat come back to room temperature, and then I place it in the smoker for about 12 hours at 225 degrees, smoking it with hickory wood.

When it’s done, remove it from the smoker, and wrap in foil and let it rest at least 30 minutes before slicing diagonally against the grain of the meat.

The home garden is already showing signs of activity. Overwintered kale and arugula plants are springing back to life, enough for a quick salad. Cool weather seeds that I’ve sown early: peas, turnips, radishes, broccoli raab, and others are sprouting. But nothing says the gardening season is here like my patch of homegrown asparagus taking off!

asparagus2013

Asparagus is really easy to grow. You just need the space, and the plants practically do the rest. Space them about a foot apart, and before you know it, you will have a vast network of tasty stalks sprouting through the soil every spring. They are so much better than anything you can buy in a supermarket.
In the start of the growing season, the stalks don’t even make it into the house. I cut them and just eat them straight out of the garden. Eventually, they make the move to the kitchen, where I love to simply place them on a baking sheet and drizzle a little olive oil over them. Salt and pepper…and then in a 400-degree oven until they’ve caramelized.

Sometimes I toss some tasty chives with blossom buds on top of the asparagus and roast.

 

Midway through the season, I have so much asparagus that I just don’t know what to do with them all. My friends don’t want anymore and I can’t bear to throw them into the compost pile. So I pickle them…a really easy process that ensures I’ve got delicious asparagus year-round.

PICKLED ASPARAGUS
Several bunches of asparagus spears
2 cups white vinegar
1 cup cider vinegar
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 cups water
20 peppercorns
Garlic cloves, peeled
Salt (1 teaspoon per quart-sized Mason jar. Use less for smaller jars.)
Bring the vinegar, water, sugar and peppercorns to a boil. Set it aside.
Trim the bottom of the asparagus spears so that the spears are just slightly shorter than the height of the quart-sized Mason jar you will use. Or cut them into pieces that will fit smaller jars.
Pack the jars as tightly as you can with the asparagus spears. (They will shrink when processed.) Add the garlic clove and 1 teaspoon of salt to every quart-sized Mason jar…less for smaller jars.
Fill the jars with the vinegar mixture and seal.
Process the jars for 10 minutes. Let them cool before placing them in the refrigerator.

 WHY DOES YOUR PEE SMELL WHEN YOU EAT ASPARAGUS?

Asparagus contains a sulfur compound called mercaptan. It’s also found in onions, garlic, rotten eggs, and in the secretions of skunks. The signature smell occurs when this substance is broken down in your digestive system. Not all people have the gene for the enzyme that breaks down mercaptan, so some people can eat all the asparagus they want without stinking up the place. One study published in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology found that only 46 percent of British people tested produced the odor while 100 percent of French people tested did. (It has to do with your DNA.)

There’s something magical about a simple plate of spaghetti and meatballs. When my parents took me to an Italian restaurant as a child, a plate of spaghetti and meatballs made me feel like the luckiest kid on the planet. And even now, when I prepare a plate of spaghetti and meatballs for my daughter, she can’t wait to sit down at the dinner table. She’s so busy shoveling the food into her mouth, she can’t even speak. I just get a quick thumbs-up between bites…and breaths!

 

meatballs

 

Great meatballs start with great meat. I always use 80/20 grass-fed beef. I don’t use a ton of breadcrumbs as filler. And the tomato sauce is homemade as well, from canned tomatoes. I start with the sauce…

 

B.F.I.M. SAUCE

Inspired by a lovely but large Italian lady I once knew, my Big Fat Italian Mama sauce works well with this hearty dish.

 

 

1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, through a press
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
10 cups ground and peeled tomatoes…or 3 cans (28 oz.) tomatoes pureed in food processor
2 teaspoons each: dried oregano, basil and parsley
3/4 teaspoon each anise seed and fennel seed
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 bay leaves
1 small can (6 oz.) tomato paste
1 teaspoon sugar (optional)

 

Heat the olive oil in a large pot and add the onions. Cook until the onions are translucent, then add the garlic. Stir for 10 seconds.

Add the tomatoes and cook on high until the orange foam disappears, stirring frequently. Don’t let it burn.

Add the oregano, basil, parsley, anise seed, fennel seed, salt and pepper, bay leaves and tomato paste. Allow the sauce to just come to a boil so that the tomato paste reaches optimum thickening power.

Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for at least an hour, until the sauce reaches the desired consistency. Stir often.

 

While the sauce is cooking, I start the meatballs…

 

 

2 lbs. grass-fed ground beef
1 cup plain breadcrumbs (gluten-free breadcrumbs work well, too)
2 tablespoons dried parsley
2 tablespoons dried oregano
1 tablespoon dried basil
1 tablespoon granulated garlic
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 teaspoon black pepper
2 teaspoons salt
2 eggs, cracked and scrambled
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

Mix all the ingredients, except the olive oil, thoroughly but gently in a large bowl. Don’t overwork it.

Pour some olive oil a medium-hot pan (don’t let it burn), make the meatballs, and sear them on all sides until brown.

When the meatballs are nice and brown, place them into the pot of sauce, making sure they are covered. Pour all the little bits and the olive oil from the pan into the sauce as well! Great flavor there.

Cover the pot and cook the meatballs in the sauce on low for a few hours.

Serve the meatballs and sauce over your favorite pasta, and sprinkle with freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano.

 

Making this dish gluten-free is easy: use gluten-free pasta (we love the products from Garofalo) and use GF breadcrumbs in the meatballs. I prefer to buy gluten-free loaves of bread, toasting them, letting the slices cool, then tossing them in a food processor to make breadcrumbs. The flavor is as good as regular breadcrumbs!

 

I love onion dip, and really good onion dip is hard to find…you’ve got to make it. It’s not difficult to do, and it’s worth the effort.

I recently hosted a boys’ weekend at Saule, our rental home in Little Compton, Rhode Island, (www.sauleri.com. It’s listed at Home Away.com), and made a massive amount of this onion dip. It vanished. Great with chips or veggies.

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 cups diced sweet onions
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups sour cream
3/4 cup mayonnaise
1/4 teaspoon granulated garlic
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
chopped chives, to garnish

 

In a saute pan over medium heat, salute the onions in the olive oil and salt until they are soft and barely caramelized, about 15 minutes. Remove them from the heat and set them aside to cool to room temperature.

In a bowl, combine the rest of the ingredients except the chives, then add the cooled onions and mix well.

Refrigerate the dip and stir again before serving. Sprinkle the chopped chives on top to garnish.

I recently hosted a “boys’ weekend” at Saule, our rental home in Little Compton, Rhode Island (http://www.sauleri.com. We’re listed at Homeaway.com.) Among the many meats I served, I cooked up a massive plate of these sweet, spicy and sticky Thai-inspired chicken wings and drumsticks.

 

 

6 lbs. chicken pieces
1 1/3 cups soy sauce
1 cup fresh cilantro
4 tablespoons canola or peanut oil
5 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
1 teaspoon white pepper
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup white vinegar
2 teaspoons red pepper flakes or crushed dried chiles
2 teaspoons salt

For the marinade, combine the soy sauce, cilantro, canola oil, garlic and white pepper in a food processor and let it run. Place the chicken pieces in a Ziploc bag and pour half of the marinade in. Save the other half for basting later. Seal the bag and let the chicken marinate overnight, or at least a few hours, squishing the bag around so that all the chicken gets marinated.

For the sauce: In a saucepan, combine the sugar, white vinegar, pepper flakes and salt. Bring it to a boil and make sure the sugar dissolves. Remove it from the heat and let it cool to room temperature.

After marinating overnight, discard the used marinade in the Ziploc bag. Place the chicken pieces over a hot hardwood fire or bake them in an oven at 350, basting them with the leftover marinade until fully cooked. If the coal fire gets too hot, move the chicken to a cooler part of the grill to prevent burning. If using the oven, switch to the broiler at the end to give the chicken a nice char.

Serve the chicken pieces with the sweet pepper sauce drizzled on top.

thai chicken LTL

Not only is this Saturday Cinco de Mayo, it’s also the 144th running of the Kentucky Derby! Margaritas and Mint Juleps are two drinks I don’t want to mix, so I’m sticking with the julep this Saturday.

The Mint Julep is such a perfect, classic and historic bourbon drink, it seems silly to wait until Derby day to have one. Of course, as any aficionado of spirits will tell you, there are as many right ways as wrong ways of making one.

The first step in my Mint Julep is making the simple syrup. I use the standard ratio of 1 cup of clean, filtered water to 1 cup of sugar, but I use an organic product like Woodstock Farms Organic Pure Cane Sugar. Place the sugar and water in a saucepan and heat until just boiling. I’ve found that it needs to reach this stage for the sugar to really dissolve. As soon as it starts to boil, remove the saucepan from the heat, and throw in a handful of freshly picked mint leaves. Stir to make sure the mint gets in there, and then leave the saucepan to cool to room temperature. Once it’s at room temp, strain the simple syrup into a bottle with a tight sealing lid, and place in the refrigerator to cool. It will keep for about a week.

The next step is the tough part: the battle of the bourbons! The recent explosion of choices on the bourbon market has made it all but impossible for the average imbiber to know which bourbon is best for their tastes. My suggestion for this is to go to a trusted bartender and explain that you’re new to the bourbon world, and could you have the tiniest of tastes and sniffs of what he’s got at his bar. Chances are, you’ll get a sampling of some of the better known brands: Maker’s Mark, Woodford Reserve, perhaps Buffalo Trace or Bulleit, and the standard Jim Beam. This is a very good start. If you have deeper pockets, go to the manager of a trusted higher end liquor store and explain that you’ve had all the rest, now what does he think is the best? Of course, hinting to wife and friends that “I’m trying new bourbons” around your birthday or Father’s Day inevitably gets you a few bottles as well!

My go-to bourbon for mint juleps is the very affordable Eagle Rare 10-year-old at $32.99 a bottle, or the classic Maker’s Mark.

Other ingredients for my perfect Mint Julep include crushed ice from clean, filtered water. Don’t even think of using tap water for any cocktail much less this one. Why ruin an expensive bottle of bourbon by going cheap on the ice? I make my own ice cubes, then put them in a canvas ice bag and bash them to the perfect crushed size.

And a Mint Julep needs a metal–not glass– Julep cup. Made of pewter or aluminum, it frosts on the outside as you stir your drink, keeping your beverage ice-cold on even the hottest of days. You simply need to have one to make the perfect Mint Julep.

 

So here’s my recipe…

 

 

3 oz. bourbon
1 oz. mint-infused simple syrup
crushed ice
Julep cup
Fresh mint for garnish

Crush the ice and pack it into the Julep cup, even letting it dome slightly over the top. Don’t worry…the alcohol will melt it.

I like to add 1.5 ounces of bourbon, then the ounce of simple syrup, then another 1.5 ounces of bourbon on top. Break off a few mint leaves from the stem and push into the ice. Using a long spoon, stir the drink well. A beautiful layer of frost will form on the outside of the cup. Add more ice, if necessary, and garnish with a sprig of mint.

 

This Saturday is Cinco de Mayo AND Derby Day! I don’t know about you, but I’m going to have to choose between a Mint Julep or this, my personal recipe for a margarita. Mixing is not an option!

I like a margarita that has a few, simple ingredients…and no sour mix. This is the one that hits the spot for me. My friends affectionately call it an “Algarita.”

 

3 oz. Patron silver tequila
1 oz. Cointreau orange liqueur
4 oz. pineapple juice
1/2 a fresh lime, squeezed

 

Place ice in a cocktail shaker and add Patron, Cointreau, pineapple juice and a good squeeze of lime juice from 1/2 a lime. Stir well, then pour it into a margarita glass (salt rim optional) and garnish with a lime wedge.

One tequila, two tequila, three tequila, FLOOR!

Like any major city, our nation’s capital has no shortage of restaurants. It’s always a challenge to go through a variety of lists, from Trip Advisor to Open Table to Yelp, trying to find the handful of restaurants that will take our vacation to the next level.

In my experience, I’ve found that many websites with reviews can really be tricky. A person that gets one bad dish may give a restaurant 1 star. Someone who loves Burger King can give it 5 stars. So how do you know which reviews are real and which ones have an agenda? You don’t. You have to read…and sometimes read a lot of them…before you can make a decision.

Of course, when I’m talking about restaurants, I’m not talking about where to get a breakfast sandwich–although I will have that for you in this blog as well. I’m talking about a true dining experience, something that might cost you a lot of bucks but will give you happy, lasting memories.

We had 8 dinners in Washington DC, and because we arrived late on a Friday night, we decided to go to the restaurant located at our own hotel, the Westin in Georgetown. The house restaurant is called the Caucus Room, and being a hotel restaurant, we weren’t expecting amazing food, but we were expecting some food. A week earlier, we made a reservation for dinner at 8:15PM, and when we arrived, the place was empty except for one server who was cleaning up, the strong smell of ammonia in the air. We never got a call that our reservation was cancelled. Just an empty “sorry” from the server before he went back to wiping tables.

The fact that the Caucus Room, and its sister restaurant on the premises, Boveda, were dead–and I mean dead–the entire weekend we arrived, we pretty much decided our hotel was not a food destination. (And when we tried room service, not only was the food overcooked and dry, but it came in a large paper take-out bag. No real plates or utensils. This was the Westin’s new idea of “room service.” They called it  “Fork, Knife, Spoon,” or something dumb like that.)

 

Room service at the Westin Georgetown.

 

So with the Caucus Room closed, we started to walk the neighborhood and soon found the West End Bistro a couple of blocks away. If you “check in” on Facebook, you’ll see they call themselves West End Bistro by Eric Ripert…and although it is connected to the Ritz-Carlton hotel, clearly chef Ripert (of NYC’s Le Bernardin fame) scooted outa there a long time ago. However, we were hungry and we left somewhat satisfied. (I gave it a 3 out of 5.)

Saving ourselves for a Saturday morning brunch our first morning, we were off to explore the city, with a stop at the Navy Yard, where the huge amount of new construction reminded us of Boston’s waterfront: massive apartment complexes, beautiful walkways by the water, and many restaurants to feed those moving into a very dog-friendly neighborhood.

Recommended by our friend, Sal Liotta, the owner of the Back Eddy restaurant in Westport, Massachusetts, we made reservations for brunch at Waley’s in the Yard, as they call it, and we were not disappointed. My daughter went for the straightforward order of pancakes (though she said they were the best she ever had), but my wife and I shared a beautiful seafood tower (with cocktails, of course.) Excellent food, excellent service, friendly staff, excellent first meal of the day: a solid 5 out of 5.

The fabulous seafood tower for 2 at Waley’s.

 

Fiola Mare: Chef Fabio Trabocchi is a big player in the DC restaurant scene, owner of a half a dozen restaurants. We chose Fiola Mare because of its location on the water in Georgetown, and its seafood menu. The food didn’t disappoint, but the service was something out of a bad comedy. To our waiter, Miguel (who looked more like a Mikey), every dish we asked about was “fabulous” or “dazzling.” My wife was handed the wine list and three separate sommeliers swooped down on her within five minutes, asking if she needed help. She barely had time to turn the first page. I saw my favorite vodka, Stoli elit, on the menu, but at $26 for a martini (in a very small glass, I might add) I settled for Belvedere at $16. I also ordered 2 Manhattans. The first one arrived perfectly poured. The second one looked and tasted like they left out the vermouth. The lack of consistency with bar drinks would become my number one pet peeve on this trip.

A rich and delicious half-portion of the lobster ravioli at Fiola Mare.

So the food was excellent, but the service a laugh. And they did everything they could to rush us through our meal. We spotted that nonsense a mile away and let them know we’d be sticking around for a while. A very noisy atmosphere, but the food made us happy. Expensive. I give this Trabocchi cash cow 3 out of 5.

 

We had our disastrous room service food the next morning (as mentioned above), so after that we searched the neighborhood for local breakfast joints. There were three: the Uptowner Cafe, located directly across the street from the Westin hotel (meh)…the Fabulous Market and Cafe walking toward the Foggy Bottom Metro station (also meh)…and Aroma Cafe, a small sandwich shop on 24th between the other two, run by a lovely Asian couple that became our buddies for a few days. Fresh sandwiches, good coffee. Nothing crazy, but just what you want: a fresh bite of food before you get on the train and start your day. Thumbs up to Aroma Cafe.

 

Sunday night’s dinner was a fun challenge. I had read good things about Tail Up Goat and simply made the reservation. (The name comes from islands where the goat and sheep populations are huge. As the saying goes: “Tail down, sheep. Tail up, goat.”)

Crudo and lamb ribs at Tail Up Goat.

 

A small, neighborhood eatery with loyal local customers, Tail Up Goat was fun, bright, and eclectic. Cocktails were again served in tiny glasses, but the food was interesting and challenging in a good way: bold flavors and spices on our lamb ribs with yogurt-za’atar onions on the side. The biggest negative was an extremely small menu. Two of the three main courses offered were for two people, so if you were dining alone, that gave you only one choice. 3 out of 5.

They put the “tini” in martini at Tail Up Goat.

 

We decided to go old school for dinner the next night, and by the recommendations of several friends, we dined at the very crowded, loud, and tourist-trappy Old Ebbitt Grill. Although the website talks a lot about the restaurant’s history dating back to 1856, and although the interior looks like a very cool old historic saloon, the fact of the matter is the Old Ebbitt Grill has only been in its current location since the 1980’s. So much for history!

But…the food was solid…straightforward roasted chicken, beef, pasta and sides. (Sadly, though, not one really good steak is offered on the menu.) However, I did finally get my first REAL martini of our trip!

A real martini filled to the brim at the Old Ebbitt Grill.

 

The Old Ebbitt Grill

I give the Old Ebbitt Grill a 3.5 out of 5.

We had our most disastrous dining experience the following night. Originally reserving a table at Le Diplomate, we made a last-minute change to dine at the highly rated Marcel’s by Robert Weidmaier. Expensive, snooty, and dripping with attitude.

There are very few restaurants where we’ve actually felt compelled to return a dish because it was so badly prepared. But my boneless quail didn’t look or taste like quail. In fact, the sausage-like roll they plated could have been any meat. And it was extremely salty. So…we had to say something and return the dish. Once we did that, our server took the plate away and didn’t come back–not to see if perhaps we’d like to try another dish, or if there was anything else he could do to make our experience better. No…he didn’t come back at all. Once we complained about the food, we were put on the proverbial sh*# list, and no one returned to our table until dessert was served. (We had ordered that in the beginning, so no contact needed to be made.) Only when my wife asked is she could have some tea did our server turn to me and ask if I’d like something to drink as well.

From the sommelier that kept telling my wife all of her wine choices were “dead,” to an expensive and very tough veal chop, to a fishy scallop plate and a disappointing foie gras appetizer, we stared at each other in total disbelief. How could this restaurant get such great reviews? If they were having a bad night, they were having a really bad night. And sadly, that meant so were we. A very expensive bad night. I really want to give zero out of 5.

 

On the menu at the Blue Duck Tavern.

 

Thank goodness we had what was probably our best dining experience the next night, at Michelin-star rated Blue Duck Tavern. Located in the Hyatt hotel that is literally across the street from our Westin hotel, the Blue Duck Tavern is huge, gorgeous, full of space and light, with a professional staff and knock-your-socks-off food.

 

 

The place was packed on a Wednesday night, and we were given a table right in the center of the party. Unfortunately, we struggled to hear each other and asked to be moved to a quieter table. They did so without hesitation and without attitude. Our server, Frank, was the pro you hope for when you come to a restaurant like this: knowledgeable about the entire menu, eager to recommend when asked, and offering tons of useful information to food fanatics like ourselves. He even gave us a tour of the restaurant and kitchen after we placed our order. This dude knew what we wanted!

 

Bone marrow with a pretzel crumble. OMG.

 

The foie gras creme brulee was an absolute knockout. The bone marrow with pretzel crumble was without a doubt the best I’ve ever had, and I’m a bone marrow freak. I have been spoiled for life. Of course, if you come to a place called the Blue Duck Tavern, you must have the Moulard duck breast…fabulous. And my wood oven roasted whole branzino in a sunchoke romesco sauce, all 1 1/2 pounds of it, was devoured by yours truly with only bones to show for it. My usually picky daughter had a feast with the charcuterie and cheese plate followed by a plate of rich ricotta gnudi.

 

Wood fire roasted whole branzino.

A great wine selection, wonderful house cocktails, assistance without attitude…it’s everything you want in a fine dining experience. I can’t give them another Michelin star, but I give the Blue Duck Tavern a solid 5 out of 5.

 

 

Washington DC is chef Jose Andres’ playground. Sure, he’s got restaurants all over the country, but he’s got a dozen of them in DC, all very different from one another. There’s his Michelin-star rated Mini-Bar, Peruvian with Asian and Spanish accents at China Chilcano, heavy-duty Eastern Mediterranean at Zaytinya, and more. I opted for his straightforward Spanish tapas restaurant called Jaleo. We were in Madrid just a few years ago and we loved everything we ate. We were hoping to rekindle some of that “foodie love” and Chef Andres did not disappoint!

 

 

Jaleo is a lot of fun. It’s loud in many ways: the crowd, the crazy, bright colors and architecture, and the bold flavors on the menu. This is a place you bring your friends. Small plates mean you can share or not…but you can try many, many dishes and flavors all night long. We devoured plates of jamon Iberico with Manchego cheese, as well as a salami made with the same jamon. Two types of calamari: fried in olive oil and garlic, and sauteed with white beans. Crazy “liquid olives” inspired by legendary chef Ferran Adria. Grilled asparagus. Chicken fritters. Shrimp fried in olive oil and garlic. Grilled quail with a rosemary sauce (done perfectly–are you listening, Marcel’s?) And an Iberico tenderloin with blue cheese sauce. Yes…we ate it ALL.

 

The Iberico ham, salami, and manchego cheese.

 

The mind-boggling “liquid olives.”

 

We love Spanish wines from Rioja, which made it an easy choice at Jaleo. And I went over the top with the best gin and tonics I’ve ever had. I will never drink it any other way than Jose’s Choice: Hendrick’s Gin, Fever Tree tonic, lime and lemon, juniper berries, and a verbena leaf.

Jaleo gets a 5 out of 5 for sheer fun, great food and atmosphere, super-casual.

 

Out last dinner was right before we hopped on our plane homeward. We had a late flight, so we stopped by Nobu, which happened to be just a block from our hotel, for their Friday happy hour.  This location was the newest in the vast Nobu empire, and the space was huge, clean, modern, classy. It was a good time to go: though the menu was small, there were plenty of tasty bites to choose from, including a Wagyu beef dumpling with foie gras. We were even able to choose a dish or two from the main menu. Tasty food beautifully prepared, and a perfect non-bloating dinner before getting on a plane.

The bar at Nobu.

 

Of course, we had more than just dinners in Washington, DC. Twice we dined in museum cafeterias. Both times, the food was mediocre at best…but we weren’t expecting much more than that at a museum anyway. Once we dined from a food truck. OK food, too.

We were craving Chinese food, so I did a little research and found a place called Chinatown Express. Although the name wasn’t inspiring (think Panda Express–gack!) the food was excellent. When we saw the lovely ladies making dumplings by hand in the front window (“on the spot,” as the sign says), we knew it was the perfect authentic Chinese restaurant we were looking for.

We feasted on roasted duck, fried and steamed dumplings, chicken fried rice, wonton soup, and lots more. 4 out of 5 for authenticity.

 

Just a few doors down, on a day when my daughter and I had lunch at the Hard Rock Cafe, my wife returned to 6th Street to slurp down ramen noodles at Daikaya. She said it was so good, she’s been spoiled for life. Walk in for the ramen, or go to their restaurant for everything but the ramen. And yes, they fly in their noodles from Japan every day! 5 out of 5 for the ramen.

Daikaya.

 

And speaking of the Hard Rock Cafe, I’ve created a monster. I took my daughter to her first Hard Rock last year, when we went to Universal Studios in Orlando. Since then, the big question wherever we went was: “Is there a Hard Rock here, Dad?” So this one was her fourth.

She’s also been to the Hard Rock in the Cayman Islands and the one in New York City, which is located in Times Square (but the original was on West 57th.) The food at every Hard Rock is the same, so no review for that. It’s what you’d expect. But we always tour the entire restaurant after our meal, talking about music, bands and videos. It’s one of the few times that Dad, being the rock jock full of information for almost 4 decades, is actually cool.

 

One last note on inconsistent drinks: I mentioned earlier that it’s a pet peeve of mine that was tested several times during our vacation. Our Westin hotel didn’t even have a lobby big enough for a bar, so a couple of nights we went across the street to the Fairmont hotel, which had a large, spacious lobby and plenty of seating around the bar to sit, relax, grab a bite or have a cocktail. I kept it simple both nights, requesting a Blanton’s on the rocks. The first night, my drink was properly served in a rocks glass with a nice, large cube…a good pour for the money.

The second night, I literally received 1/3 of the drink I got the night before. When I posted my complaint on Twitter, Fairmont Hotels quickly replied, offering me a free drink if I returned. Sadly, I was home by then.

 

 

All in all, a great trip to Washington DC, with some wonderful experiences and some disappointment. But like with any trip, you’ll always increase your chances for success with a little research!

 

 

 

Washington DC is an incredible city, and if you’re willing to walk–a lot–there’s a lot to see. In our 7 days, we visited 17 museums and 14 monuments. You could say we were on a mission: my wife, the artist, needing to visit every art museum in town, and my 11-year-old daughter, learning about history in school, needing to feed the brain with endless historical information.

 

The National Air and Space Museum

 

All of the museums associated with the Smithsonian are open every day of the year except Christmas, and admission to all of them is free. Once you realize how amazing that is, you don’t complain about the $15 fried chicken plate at the cafeteria. They have to make their money somehow!

 

The National Portrait Gallery holds the official portraits of all the Presidents of the United States, as well as some portraits of First Ladies. Most notably, they recently installed the official portraits of Barack and Michelle Obama. Incredible to see them in person!

 

Loved this piece…

 

The toughest ticket to get, by far, is getting into the National Museum of African American History and Culture. The reason is that, unlike all the other Smithsonian museums, there really is an actual ticket you must have to get in. They limit the number of people who can visit every day, and you have to work a bit to be one of the lucky ones. It’s worth the effort. An architectural marvel with three stories underground and three above, the museum starts with the first days of slavery and brings you to current times. Along the way, it’s an incredible emotional ride.

Lucky tickets!

So if you want to get into the National Museum of African American History and Culture, here’s how to do it: First, they offer tickets online months ahead of time. Go to their website:(https://nmaahc.si.edu/visit/passes) to find out more. Or…the day you want to go, get on your computer at 6:30AM! Tickets are distributed in half-hour time slots for the day. And they sell out FAST. Or…your third chance to get a ticket is to walk up to the museum entrance on Madison Drive and get on a special line every weekday at 1PM, where they hand out a limited amount of tickets for that day and time. (They don’t offer these tickets on weekends.) We missed out on the first two possibilities, so we walked up and stood on line at 12:15PM and were handed tickets almost immediately for that day. We got lucky.

 

The Capitol, at one end of the National Mall.

 

As for monuments, there are plenty of them to see as you walk the National Mall, and my daughter wanted to see them all! The weather wasn’t cooperating much on our spring trip, raining sideways at times, but we powered through and saw just about all of them!

One of the Presidential helicopters flying past the Washington Monument.

 

The Lincoln Memorial.

 

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

 

The Korean War Memorial…one for my Dad.

 

The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial. Awe-inspiring.

 

The words of FDR at his memorial.

 

If you’re interested in touring the White House, you can only get in with passes through your local Congressman’s office requesting passes way ahead of time. We were happy to simply see it from the outside. We just headed for Pennsylvania Avenue.

 

The National Zoo, a part of the Smithsonian, has free admission as well. Being a New York boy who grew up on the Bronx Zoo, I wasn’t hugely impressed by the National Zoo. But, I did see the pandas, and that made the trip worthwhile!

Tian Tian, the male, enjoying his bamboo snack.

 

 

Finally, when visiting Washington DC, skip the rental car and be sure to use the Metro.  It’s a great, cheap way to get around town. It sops close to most of the museums, though you’ll need to walk a bit for the monuments and memorials.

The Metro: super easy to use, super cheap.

 

At first, it seemed almost silly to try to make one…but the classic James Bond martini has always fascinated me. I’m not talking about the clichéd Sean Connery “vodka martini, shaken, not stirred.”  I’m talking about the real James Bond martini, which appeared in Ian Fleming’s first 007 novel “Casino Royale” and only appeared in the most recent “Casino Royale” motion picture starring Daniel Craig.
Bondtini
To quote the novel:
‘A dry martini,’ he said. ‘One. In a deep champagne goblet.’ ‘Oui, monsieur.’ ‘Just a moment. Three measures of Gordon’s (gin), one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet.  Shake it very well until it’s ice-cold, then add a large thin slice of lemon peel. Got it?’ ‘Certainly, monsieur.’ The barman seemed pleasant with the idea. ‘Gosh that’s certainly a drink,’ said Leiter. 
Bond laughed. ‘When I’m … er … concentrating.’ he explained, ‘I never have more than one drink before dinner. But I do like that one to be large and very strong and very cold and very well-made. I hate small portions of anything, particularly when they taste bad. This drink’s my own invention. I’m going to patent it when I can think of a good name.’ 
He watched carefully as the deep glass became frosted with the pale golden drink, slightly aerated by the bruising of the shaker. He reached for it and took a long sip. 
‘Excellent,’ he said to the barman, ‘but if you can get a vodka made with grain instead of potatoes, you will find it still better.’ 
Bond named this drink the Vesper martini, after the character Vesper Lynd, portrayed by Ursula Andress in the 1967 adaptation, and Eva Green in the 2006 adaptation of “Casino Royale.”
My version of this classic drink remains true to the original, though I’ve changed brands due to personal preference. In the novel, Bond just asks for “vodka.” (Of course, this was back in the 1950’s when we didn’t have 100 brands to choose from!) My choice for best-bang-for-the-buck grain vodka is Tito’s: it has just enough of an edge, which is what this drink needs.
Bond asks for Gordon’s gin. I’m partial to Hendrick’s for this application. Again, in the 50’s, what good British agent wouldn’t drink Gordon’s?
And the original Kina Lillet had its formula changed in the 1980’s to keep up with the times by reducing the quinine, which made it bitter. The French aperitif wine, Lillet, is today’s version: a blend of wine grapes, oranges, orange peels and quinine. Lillet is not a vermouth, though you’ll find it in the vermouth section of your favorite liquor store. Some aficionados claim the martini is just not the same without the original Kina Lillet formulation, but I find that the drink works just fine for me.
ingredients again
So…measurements true to Bond:
3 oz. Hendrick’s gin
1 oz. Tito’s vodka
1/2 oz. Lillet
I prefer combining these over ice in a cocktail shaker, and I stir, not shake. I strain it into a chilled martini glass and I skip the lemon peel. I prefer three olives instead…and stuffed with garlic, if my wife is away on a business trip!
Cheers!
Bondtini2
A side note: the correct pronunciation of Lillet is Lih-LAY. Grammatically in French, the double-l would make it sound like Lih-YAY. So to keep that from happening, they spelled it Lilet for a while until the French were used to the correct pronunciation, then they went back to Lillet on the bottle.