Category Archives: food

TV Review: DC Cupcakes: County Fair

The auction (Courtesy of TLC)

Article first published as TV Review: DC Cupcakes: County Fair on Blogcritics.

Critical ethics requires that I declare my bias before proceeding. I am a Washington native who has walked by the block-long lines at Georgetown Cupcakes and on more than one occasion directed would-be patrons to superior cupcake shops in walking distance (read: any other bakery in Georgetown).

Baked and Wired has been making pastries on Thomas Jefferson street since 2001. Their dense, generous cupcakes are my favorite in town, and if that much cakey goodness is too much for you, have a hand pie instead. Baked and Wired is just a five minute walk from the belles of the cupcake ball.

Sprinkles, which claims to have been the originator of the modern cupcake craze, opened their Georgetown store a stone’s throw from Baked and Wired a few years ago. They’re a solid second in the neighborhood cupcake wars. The most popular are my least favorite.

Which leaves us with Georgetown Cupcakes, who make tiny, cloying baubles whose popularity confounds me. I’ve always wondered what it is about their TLC reality show that draws so many people to their doors. I just watched DC Cupcakes for the first time, and I am still at a loss.

Sisters Sophie and Katherine quit high-paying jobs in finance and fashion to chase their dream of making cupcakes. It sounds like a good old fashioned American success story, but this is no rags-to-riches tale. TLC presents Georgetown Cupcakes as a small business done good, but forgive me if I’m not that compelled to follow entrepreneurs who can afford to rent space in Washington’s tony Georgetown district. This is not a classic American dream but the dream of Americans with the luxury to leave a cushy job to capitalize on a trend.

It would be one thing if the sisters were appealing, but as far as reality show likability factor is concerned, Sophie and Katherine, with a vapid factor off the charts, barely out perform Honey Boo Boo and family in personality.

Sure, conceptually it sounds like a no-brainer, in a good way. Imagine businesswoman sisters competing in a hay-bale throwing contest at a county fair. It could be the kind of fish out of water story that fuels a hundred sitcom episodes. But to paraphrase Sophie, “OMG!” it’s just painfully annoying.

This year DC Cupcakes have a special Valentine’s program on TLC: County Fair. There are two threads of Americana which lure in the sisters’ cupcake craft: the sisters are charged with creating a giant pig out of one thousand cupcakes for the Loudon County Fair; and with developing a historically inspired cupcake for an event in Colonial Williamsburg.

Spending an hour in either venue would make for a passable hour of fluffy semi-documentary television. Unfortunately, the presence of the sisters’ grating personality and questionable culinary design ideas (Daisy Duke jean shorts on a cupcake pig) ruins it. Their emphasis on fondant is a bad sign of a focus on looks over taste. Which is why theirs are the worst cupcake in Georgetown. Is the nation so starved for celebrity and sugar that they wait in Communist-length cupcake lines to pay homage to such scions of vanity? If only Werner Herzog would train his eye on Georgetown Cupcakes and frame the sisters’ fondant-frosted business as a losing battle against nature and true Americana.

Premieres Thursday, February 14 at 7 PM (ET/PT) on TLC

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twelve thirteen things I ate two weeks ago: part 3: Flushing

I go to New York regularly but I seldom venture out of Manhattan and even more seldom into Queens. I may complain about increasing gentrification of  the Lower East Side or the Sexandthecitification of The Bowery but I never run out of things to do there. Well for once I was at a loss for things to do, and maybe the few hours I spent in South Philly gave me a taste and yearning for a big city that was not losing its regional character. Forty-five minutes on the subway, to the eastern terminus of the 7 train, I found that character in Flushing, where the advetrtising was predominantly in Chinese even before I got out of the station.

Whenever I watch Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations,  I always salivate over at least some of the regional dishes he tries, and no less so than when he devoted a program to New York. Still, as I tend to do with things I see on tv, I forgot about it. But my friend G., whom I’ve run into in several different neighborhoods in New York over the years, strongly recommended The Golden Mall in Flushing, not just for the food but for the sensory overload. Thanks, G.

Xi’an Famous Foods, was easy to get to but not that easy to find – I saw at least four different entrances to Golden Mall, and couldn’t reproduce how I got there. There is basement entrance to 41-28 Main Street on the corner, and if you can find that, you’ll find the liang pi (cold noodles, $5, pictured) and the lamb burger ($2.50, not pictured – it looks like a sloppy joe, but, laced with green chilies and cumin,  it tastes much more fantastic), and have an outrageously good and spicy meal with change from a sawbuck.

About a block down and across the street from Golden Mall is the Tai Pan Bakery. Wouldn’t animal cupcakes be an intriguing variation on the cupcake craze? The mobile cupcake van could tweet that they’re running out of goat. This ram was made of two layers of tiny sponge cake with a creme filling. Not as sastifying to eat as it was to photograph.

See the sidebar on seltzer in part 2. This can of agua con gas is courtesy of the cafe at PS1, the Long Island City affiliate of the Museum of Modern Art, which are both currently exhibiting surveys of performance art – in general at PS1, and, specifically, Marina Abramovic‘s at Moma. Also recommended at Moma: the work of found poem/collagist/ Manhatan Project scientist Bern Porter, which I found more inspiring and much less crowded  (I was the only one  there) than the Cartier-Bresson show upstairs. Peppy, a performance artist in his own right who travels with me frequently, is courtesy of my homes. The patriotism is from one of the dollar stores (real cost $2.99) in one of the sensory-overloaded malls along Main Street in Flushing.

Finally, it took me years of visiting New York before I found a chocolate chip cookie to go back for.  Within stumbling distance of  Eisenberg’s is this chewy, vanilla-soaked answer to your cookie questions, from The City Bakery, which is home to an annual hot chocolate festival and the sippable cuppa cocoa you see here.

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twelve thirteen things I ate two weeks ago: part 2: Manhattan

My next stop was New York, where my usual first stop after getting off the bus or train is for the double katsu at Go-go curry, the sole American outlet of a Japanese chain that honors New York Yankees star Hideki Matsui with a gorilla mascot and an excellent roux-based curry. But I was heavy laden and saved my Japanese jones for the Tan Tan Men @ Menkui Tei in the East Village. I don’t know how many times I’d walked by this place before finally venturing in last year, but  since I’ve discovered it, I haven’t been to New York without stopping by. The ramen noodles and spicy ground pork are perfect for a cold winter night. The $4 Sapporo draft makes it fine for all seasons.
Depending on the browser you’re using to read this, about here you’ll see what layout designers call trapped white space. I learned about trapped white space, and that it was something to avoid, from, if memory serves,  Mr. John Bailey, the contracted liaison between the high school yearbook staff I worked with and whoever our publisher was. I never forgot the lesson, and in fact much of what I learned about photographic composition comes from cropping photos for the yearbook, even though I wouldn’t pick up a camera for some years after that. So if you happen upon a 1983 or 1984 Aetonian, and find a photo of my friend Jim waving from across the school library, his hands strategically, and unintentionally,  spread from a vortex formed at the base of a crucifix (thank you, Society of Jesus, for the strong education); well I didn’t mean to crop out the top part of the crucifix – it was an editorial decision made above us.

As this digression may have entirely negated the trapped white space I was  afeared of, let us continue apace.

New York hotels don’t often have the “continental breakfast” that many chain hotels offer guests, but The Mave (on Madison Ave) had good coffee and okay pastries available from 7-9 every morning. But getting up before 9 in the morning in New York isn’t something I normally do. So to fuel up for a morning of browsing in the Antiques Garage, I wracked my brain and then Google to find the name of the sandwich shop I’d seen written up in the blog Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York for their exemplary formulation of the iconic New York drink, the egg cream.

Eisenberg’s is the name, and at 22nd and 5th just south of the Flatiron Building it’s another of those places I’ve probably walked right by a few dozen times, blissfully unaware of the deliciousness within. When I found the place, I couldn’t even remember resting my eyes upon it for even a glance before. I had the pastrami and eggs: juicy, spicy, tender pastrami, the best I’ve ever had (and that include’s Katz’s Deli).

That’s the egg cream. I haven’t had enough egg creams to maneuver the nuances of seltzer-to-syrup proportions, but I can vouch for its tastiness.

Not pictured: the cortado from Joe’s the Art of Coffee on 23rd St. near 9th Ave; the best cuppa joe I’ve had since returning from a trip to South America last year. Which reminds me. Among the culinary discoveries I made in South America, besides the fantastic $9 steaks to be had in Buenos Aires and the revelatory bacon cheeseburger I had in, of all places, a Ruby Tuesday’s at the Santiago airport, was agua con gas. In restaurants, diners are offered the choice between agua con gas or sin gas, the latter being regular tap water and the former being the carbonated water known here by the brands Perrier or San Pellegrino, and the generic seltzer.

Me gusta!

In DC it’s easy to get Perrier or San Pellgrino or club soda in single-serving bottles. But seltzer is a rarer bubbly animal.  Merriam-Webster defines it, with endearing circularity, as water from the German town of Selters (what genius added the “z”?!), and if I am reading the wikipedia article correctly, there appears to be no real difference between seltzer and other carbonated water. But seltzer is a lot more fun to say and write, and hear, which you can do right now from the disembodied neutral voice of Merriam-Webster online. And it is part of the regional lore of New York, so much so that the city was abuzz when the last remaining seltzer-delivery man had to take time off to recover from an injury in 2009.

Which is a long way of saying I get seltzer, be it in egg cream or in its raw form, whenever I’m in New York. Your corner bodega chooses Canada Dry, but the seltzer syndicate is in completely different territory in Penn Station, where Hudson News proudly stocks only Seagram’s seltzer.

The foodstuffs pictured above and adjacent to these spring-watery passages are, first, what remained of the fish special at Cucina di Pesce. I never got what the name of the fish was, despite hearing it at least three times from my friendly waiter Sal; and the beginnings of a heavy night’s sleep brought on by the same restaurant’s tiramisu. I wish there were an Italian restaurant this good in DC, but I know that if there were, it would cost twice as much.

Apologies for the trapped white space.

Part three: Flushing and back again.

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twelve thirteen things I ate two weeks ago. part 1: Philadelphia

For my 1400th post on The Bloggy, Bloggy Dew, and by popular demand (two people asked!) I’ll tell you about a weekend that started out as a Timothy Carey tour and ended up a foodie tour of two cities – three if you count the concubine’s beef I had for lunch at Pete’s Diner back home the day before I left.
I was in Philadelphia for a limited amount of time and wanted to make sure I had one known quantity of cheesesteak before heading north. I’d been to Cosmi’s Deli in South Philly once before with my homes. Theirs was the highest rated sandwich in the “Ultimate Cheesesteak Taste Test,” conducted by Richard Rys of Philadelphia magazine for Frommer’s Philadelphia & The Amish Country, 2007 ed. To give you an idea of the reviewer’s local cred, he rated the most famous cheesteak stands, tourist-magnets Pat’s and Geno’s, at the very bottom of his list. I walked two miles to get there, from 14th and South Street, past a Little Vietnam in South Philly (I saw a couple of bahn mi joints) to get a cheesesteak with whiz, and it was worth the walk.
[Not pictured: a crappy late-night carry-out cheeseteak with scrambled eggs. It wasn’t even as good as the cheesteaks I can get at the corner Chinese carry-out back home.]
My hotel was close to the Reading Terminal Market. A sidebar in Frommer’s suggested DiNic’s as a decent purveyor of the Other Philly Sandwich, the roast pork (John’s Roast Pork, rated high in the Frommer’s cheesteak list, is reportedly The place to go) . I got one (right) with sharp provolone. It tasted healthier than a cheesesteak, but wasn’t *that* much less greasy. I’ll have to get broccoli rabe next time. Nice touch: The Thank You for Shopping Here bag.
I don’t remember the name of the place whose siren song called me with this display of the Drunken Orange, a rich nutella/whiskey/truffle topping – which made its home on what was, alas, a medicocre shortbread base. Proper shortbread would have made it worth the heavy feeling in my tum tum.
Next stop: New York.

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The Waffle Iron Stripped Bare


Welcome Prince of Petworth readers. Apart from occasional blogcritics reviews, I’ve been neglecting this blog in favor of my tumblr, but it behooves me to produce content of a more personal nature here, being that my work blog has lately been more fun than my so-called personal blog. But before I tell you about how I was born, and what makes me cry, and how my experiments with butterscotch pie turned out, I’d like to wish everyone in the Greater Washington Area and all across this great solar system of ours … a Happy International Waffle Day! The picture at left is from the web presentation Washington As It Was: Photographs by Theodor Horydczak, 1923-1959, where you can also find a series of views of the old Waffle House on 10th Street, across from Ford’s Theatre. You missed a spot!

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