24 October 2012

Staff lunch #1: Fiola, Washington DC

I was in Washington early in October on just an overnight trip. I owed my DC staff a celebration in appreciation for the hard work on all of the fly-ins we conducted this year. So I set something up for after my meetings. I wanted to try someplace new, and came across Fiola. I made a reservation, and it was the perfect choice. 2012-10-24T19-53-49_0

It was a quiet, relaxing, somewhat elegant venue. The service was friendly, knowledgeable, attentive, but not intrusive. And the food …

So often my reviews of an Italian restaurant in DC begin with the words: “Why can’t we have Italian restaurants like this in Minnesota?” I didn’t want to do that again. So I tried to think of a different reason to rave about Fiola’s food. Then I had a revelation. It was sort of like the dog that didn’t bark. (Sorry if the literary reference isn’t obvious. Click here to read about a Sherlock Holmes story where the clue that solved the murder was the dog that didn’t bark.)

When you look at Fiola’s web site, there’s no hyperbole about “local” or “organic.” Instead, the emphasis is on “freshness” and “quality.” Despite the passionate claims of locavores and organic evangelists, they’re not the same thing.2012-10-24T19-53-49_1

I felt our lunch at Fiola was great because of the careful attention to high quality ingredients expertly prepared and matched to the customer’s preferences. We started by sharing two appetizers, a burrata with roasted tomatoes and pesto and a plate of prosciutto with figs and balsamic vinegar. Since ‘discovering’ burrata at a DC restaurant earlier this year, I’ve become a shameless devotee and order it as often as I can.

Then we went on to the entrées. I had risotto with two beautiful, tenderly prepared scallops. The al dente rice was flavored with a shockingly brilliant green pesto sauce. I’m a pretty good risotto maker. But this was exceptional.

One co-worker had fettuccini ‘carbonara.’ It looked beautiful, and she said it was delicious. I don’t often order carbonara, so I don’t know if this is common, but hers was served with a fried egg on top. I thought it was unusual but visually very interesting. (Perhaps my only quibble about the lunch – her egg was overcooked, and the yolk didn’t flow over the pasta when she cut into it.)2012-10-24T19-53-49_3

Another co-worker had lobster ravioli. The fresh, tender ravioli were served in a rich creamy sauce with two generous pieces of lobster meat.

My third co-worker was having trouble deciding. She wanted pasta, but couldn’t decide what to order. The server casually asked what she wanted on her pasta. She said a simple marinara sauce. He said that would be no problem. She amended her request and asked for a meat sauce. Again, no problem. But it’s not on the menu, she commented. No problem. Now that’s the kind of nonchalant commitment to customer wishes that is so impressive.

Since it was a celebration lunch, we did have desserts – chocolate mousse (Tartufo di Cioccolato), almond gelato, pear sorbet, and apple pie. 2012-10-24T19-53-49_4

Alright, the menu called it an apple almond tort, but it was close enough to apple pie for me.

Fabulous, fabulous, fabulous. I would love to try Fiola for dinner sometime.

03 October 2012

Recipe: Tomato Jam

I mentioned in an earlier post that I went to the Minneapolis Farmers Market at the end of September and bought a bunch of tomatoes. It’s part of an annual end-of-summer tradition. This year, I bought a basket full of tomatoes. It might have been more than we usually get. It was a lot of tomatoes. But they were right at their vine-ripened peak and perfect for the combination of recipes that I usually use.

One recipe is for oven roasted tomatoes. Click here for my previous blog post on that.TomatoJam

The other recipe is for tomato jam. I’m kind of surprised I haven’t posted it previously. It’s really delicious. I got it from the New York Times, back when Mark Bittman was the food editor. (When Bittman was the Minimalist. That was before he became the Opinionator (which he is now) and became shrill, shallow, and tedious.)

So here’s the link to the recipe.

Tomato Jam (NYTimes, August 20, 2008)

1 1/2 pounds good ripe tomatoes (Roma are best), cored and coarsely chopped

1 cup sugar

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice

1 tablespoon fresh grated or minced ginger

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

1 teaspoon salt

1 jalapeño or other peppers, stemmed, seeded and minced, or red pepper flakes or cayenne to taste.

1. Combine all ingredients in a heavy medium saucepan, Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring often.

2. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until mixture has consistency of thick jam, about 1 hour 15 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning, then cool and refrigerate until ready to use; this will keep at least a week.

Yield: About 1 pint.

Krik’s tips: I have to admit I don’t follow the quantities very closely. I probably use double the tomatoes, only a little more sugar, and the rest of the seasonings vary from batch to batch. It doesn’t seem to make a lot of difference. However, the last batch I made was particularly large, and I think I should have cooked it longer. The jam seems more runny. More like a sweet salsa than jam. Good flavor but the texture is different.

I like to use this instead of ketchup (or catsup) on burgers and grilled meat. My wife and I also like to serve it on crackers as an appetizer.