a top chef birthday

For my birthday (the  big 2 – 9) on Tuesday, the husband treated me to dinner at Art and Soul owned by former Top Chef Masters contestant, Art Smith.  If you’ll remember, Art was a former chef to Oprah and has hosted the Obamas in his Chicago eatery.   We had a cute little booth at the back of the restaurant which stayed pretty hoppin’ for a Tuesday night.  

We started off with some fresh-baked buttery rolls from the kitchen.  The husband was a huge fan and pretty much scarfed them all up save the one small piece that I managed to grab before he could get it.  Now Chef Art has presented a pretty informal atmosphere in Art and Soul as far the food goes.  The sides are served family-style and our waitress mentioned that all of the appetizers and desserts were big enough to share.  This is southern home-cookin’ based haute cuisine, ya’ll.  

With this in mind, the husband and I started by sharing the Salmon and Caviar Hoecake.  (For those unfamiliar with hoecakes, they’re kind of like cornbread pancakes.) It was pretty good.  The husband enjoyed the smokiness of the salmon and I loved the caviar.  As this point, I feel the need to apologize.  I am bad/new at the whole restaurant meal blogging thing, and it did not even occur to me to get a pic of the appetizer until our entrees came out… so you get to use your imagination when it comes to some (ok, most) of the meal. Again, sorry.  I promise I will try to be better in future! 

After the app, came the entrees.   The husband had a pecan-crusted chicken with apple and sage stuffing, and roasted veggies in a bourbon-glaze.  I had the braised pork shank with greens and black eyed pea stew.  We split a side of mac and cheese.  Now, I do actually have photos of these!   Albeit, not great ones… 🙂 

pecan-crusted chicken

pecan-crusted chicken

 

braised pork shank

braised pork shank

 

Both entrees were delicious.  The husband loved the stuffing and chicken.  My pork was falling off the bone and the greens were cooked perfectly.  I think the best part was the mac and cheese.  Everyone knows that this dish is what makes or breaks you as a southern chef.  And Chef Art hit a home run with his creamy cheese concoction.  

Now dessert… almost always my most favorite course of any meal.  I have a terrible sweet tooth… actually a mouth full of sweet teeth.  For dessert, the husband ordered apple fritters, which were actually more like cinnamon doughnuts with apples inside.  But he seemed pleased.   I ordered the babycakes, which was a chef’s selection of 5 mini cupcakes.  The five cupcake flavors I was got the chance to sample that night were applecake with brown sugar icing, carrot cake with cream cheese icing, lemon cake, chocolate crumble, and … heaven on a plate, er, an orange-flavored cupcake with chocolate ganache.  my god, that orange cake was a culinary orgasm. seriously it was the best thing i’ve eaten in a while.  the husband wanted to sample the cakes, but he said he saw the look on my face when i bit into that one and decided he wouldn’t chance even asking for a crumb of the orange cake, ha.   Again, I have to apologize on the picture front.  When I remembered to take a pic of the cute little desserts this was all that remained… 

cupcake carnage

cupcake carnage--- what remained of the orange cake before the last glorious bite.

 

All in all we really enjoyed Art and Soul.  It’s not place to go to see super fancy presentations or foams, but the food is cooked to perfection with great flavors and a nod to the stick-to-your-ribs cooking that your grandmother used to do.  We had a great meal and I would certainly return next time I’m in the area. 

NOW-  a birthday dinner was not the only meal my beloved graced me with this week.  I was also treated to a post-birthday lunch on Wednesday at Volt, the restaurant of last season’s Top Chef runner-up Bryan Voltaggio.  I was super psyched to go here!  His restaurant is in Frederick, MD about an hour or so out from D.C.  It’s located in a cute brick building central to several antique shops and right across the street from a wine store.  The interior is really gorgeous.  It’s light, bright, and white.  Very Bryan to me, at least from what I gathered on the show.  The husband and I did chuckle over the apparent uniform of the servers in Volt.  There seemed to be some differences depending on your job, but for the most part, everyone sported a grey suit, brown button down shirts, and brown converse all-stars.   Another fun note- our sommelier has a wine bottle opener tattooed on his hand. 

For lunch, we both decided on the three-course menu with wine pairings.   For munchies before eating, we were given a handful of cracker sticks and a choice of fresh baked rolls.  I went with the french bread roll which went well with the cheese butter spread.   As an appetizer, both the husband and I ordered the potato-leek soup.  I’m a huge potato-leek lover and the husband loves scallops (did i mention the soup feature one perfect sea scallop in the bottom of the bowl?)  The soup was absolutely delicious and the husband was not disappointed by the scallop. 

potato-leek soup

potato-leek soup with sea scallop

 

For our entrees, the husband went with the pork tenderloin served with swiss chard.   I had a taste of the pork which was pretty moist.  He loved the chard and the accompanying garlic sauce.  

pork tenderloin

pork tenderloin

 

I, on the other hand, order the beef strip loin, served with creamy mashed potatoes with a medley of sauces.  Each pile of potatoes had a different sauce to accompany it.  One was a spicy red pepper sauce, one a parsley sauce, and one a chickpea sauce.  Each served with a flake of garlic sheeting.  Scrumptious.  The glaze on the steak was seriously delicious.  The husband had one bite and was ready to leave me for Bryan, I believe.   Honestly, my entree was phe.nom.e.nal. 

beef strip loin

beef strip loin

 

Finally for dessert, the husband ordered the textures of chocolate dish which involved a white chocolate ganache with various cocoa flavorings added to the plate.  He seemed pleased with the dessert and I didn’t get a bite, so that should tell you something. 

chocolate dessert

the textures of chocolate dessert

 

For dessert, I order the coconut and passion fruit plate.  This included a sous-vide pineapple chunk with caramel ice cream, coconut sauce, passion fruit sauce and meringue, and a coconut foam.  It was a light way to end a slightly heavy meal and I was pretty satisfied with it.  It was no orange cupcake, but still a good ending to a delicious meal.  

coconut and passion fruit

the coconut and passion fruit dessert

 

Unfortunately there was no appearance of Chef Bryan, but we still has a wonderful meal.  I would definitely return and try other artful creations.  Volt has solidly delicious food with a whimsical plating.  The service was excellent and I would highly recommend it to anyone in the area.

a weekend in d.c.

so the husband had to be in d.c. for work last weekend. since it was over my birthday, i decided to tag along for fun!

we stayed at the embassy suites on 22nd. it’s an ok hotel– more for the business traveller than for a leisure tourist. we had some issues with our toilet and the remote controls for the tv don’t work very well. you have to pay (thru the nose) for internet service in the room and the in-house gym was (i swear to god) 80 degrees when i went in to work out. it’s clean tho and there is free breakfast plus drinks in the evening. so while it might not be my first choice, it works for a moderate hotel.

for my birthday, the husband surprised me tickets to see the washington capitals play on saturday night against the phoenix coyotes. we had awesome seats, and i had a really great time. especially since the caps won 4 – 2!

as far as sight seeing this time around, while the husband was off to work during the day i wandered over to georgetown to look around. i love taking a book to the park behind the old stone house and reading in nice weather, and this weekend was pretty lovely as far as winter weather in d.c. goes. georgetown is mostly shopping and eating. i really didn’t do much in way of shopping as i can’t really afford the higher end stuff which is what you’ll find here. i did peek in a couple of antique shops. again looking at things i couldn’t afford, but i do love old furniture and artwork.

for dinner, we did try martin’s tavern one night. this a small bar/restaurant on wisconsin ave. that serves typical pub food in a quaint atmosphere. it’s claim to fame is that it’s been around for over 75 years and has served every president since truman. supposedly jfk proposed to jackie o. in one of the booths there as well. dinner was pretty good. i had the shepard’s pie and the husband had the chicken parmesan. both tasted pretty good and the price wasn’t terrible for d.c. dining.

on the husband’s day off, we headed to the national geographic museum to see the terra cotta warriors exhibit from china. that was really neat. they have about a dozen or so of the (possibly) 7,000 warriors on view. i learned some interesting information and really enjoyed seeing the exhibit. afterwards we headed over the national archives since neither of us had ever been. we really only visited the rotunda, but again, we enjoyed the exhibit. i had no idea that the u.s. had an original copy of england’s magna carta. it was really interesting to read some of the information regarding the declaration of independence and the constitution, as well. the great thing about visiting on a tuesday afternoon in january too was that there were very few people in the archives, so we could really take our time visiting. after that, we still had some time to kill before heading back to the hotel, so we headed over to the national museum of the american indian which i had been asking to visit for a few months. honestly, i was a little disappointed with the american indian museum though. the layout of exhibits is somewhat confused and odd. also while they have a large collection of artifacts from different eras and areas, the artifacts are often poorly labeled and lumped together with too many items. in the one area i was probably most interested in, one that showcased carvings and arts from various tribes and times, everything (and i mean everything) is placed in a huge glass showcase and they have two flip books on either side of the case where you can look up the artifacts to see when and where they came from. that’s just far too difficult. you spend so much time trying to figure out which artifact is which and it’s really just frustrating. it’s unfortunate that a museum that has such interesting stories to tell doesn’t have them displayed in a more accessible manner.

now my favorite part of this trip were my birthday dinner and post-birthday lunch, both at restaurants by top chef contestants! for dinner, we went to art and soul, owned by top chef masters contestant art smith and for lunch the following day, we drove to frederick, md to eat at volt run by this season’s top chef runner up, bryan. i’ll post reviews about both in the next post!