Restaurant Review: Taqueria Nacional

January 28, 2010 § 4 Comments

So, having been sick yesterday (and still fighting it off), I was a little groggy when I left the house this morning and failed to pack myself anything for lunch. 

For most people, this just means going to the local deli and grabbing a sandwich (Like Taylor Gourmet… mmm… it’s my mission to get them to buy local, sustainable meats. Then I will eat there EVERY DAY).  But of course, I cannot do this (yet).  BUT, after a little searching around DCCK’s Union Station to Penn Quarter neighborhood… I found an even BETTER solution than a sandwich.  PORK TACOS.

Taqueria Nacional, the now famous little taco stand hidden behind Johnny’s Half Shell and owned by the always sustainable-friendly Ann Cashion, uses Bev’s pork from EcoFriendly Foods!  I had heard this rumor before, but to be sure, I called Bev to verify.  Yep, all in the clear.  I couldn’t believe my luck!

I’ve been eating at the Taqueria since I started here at DCCK almost 2 years ago, but I had no idea until now that they source sustainable meats.  I don’t know where everything comes from (pollack for fish tacos…?) but I can at least know I am good with the pork. And the pork is soooooo good.

I normally get their Hibiscus aqua fresca to go with my tacos, but skipped it this time because I have no idea what’s in it.  To get the same effect, I drank a Black Forest Berry organic tisane, made in Pennsylvania by the very socially responsible Bethesda, MD- based Honest Tea company.  It is only very lightly sweetened with pure organic cane sugar, and even uses organic Fair Trade Certified hibiscus… I actyally just realized this a hibiscus based drink- I can’t believe I had it in my office all this time and never drank it until now, it’s like it was waiting for these tacos! 🙂

Where did the corn tortillas and green salsa come from? I don’t know.  But I’m betting that if they go to all the trouble and expense to buy sustainable meats, they probably care about where the rest of their food comes from.  When eating sustainably, the priority goes to meat/poultry/fish, then dairy and eggs, then produce and the rest.  Other important factors are additives like preservatives, or high fructose corn syrup.  So since I couldn’t be sure their Hibiscus aqua fresca didn’t have HFCS… I went with the Honest Tea (and I’m so glad I did, this stuff is awesome…).

It’s all about choices. Especially when you forget your lunch and start to freak out.  Good food is all around, it just takes a little more effort to find.  But then, most things that are worth it do.


Sustainable in the OTHER City (New York, that is)

January 18, 2010 § 6 Comments

I feel like it’s been ages since I put a real post up… my apologies, it’s been an insane week. 

I did, however, have a fantastic weekend in New York City with 2 of my best girlfriends, Tara and Laura.  We have known each other since we were about 10 years old, and we live all spread out across the East Coast, so it’s very rare that we are all in the same room anymore.  Trying to explain my fairly recent devotion to eating all local foods was a bit daunting at first, but as only the best of friends can do, they immediately accepted it and we all went foraging for food I could eat.

Lucky for us, we only had to go about 14 steps out Tara’s front door and into the Union Square Greenmarket.  I proceeded to buy waaay too much food to take home, thus making my train trip rather cumbersome. But it was totally worth it, because among the many delightful things I bought, one is far more exciting than the rest.   

POPCORN!!!  I am holding in my hand a 2lb bag of local popcorn kernels, and I’m just not sure I could be any more excited.  I love popcorn far more than the average person, and not having it for the past 2 weeks has been torture (ok I’m being slightly overdramatic but you get the point).

I was convinced I’d be able to find it in Virginia with all the corn they grow there, but apparently not.  I had to go all the way to New York City to find some freaking sustainable popcorn.  But it was worth it. Oh yeah and I got to see my best friends. And get POPCORN!

Other fun purchases were maple yogurt (good, but runnier than I like it. I’m sticking with Blue Ridge Dairy.), kefir, cow’s milk mozzarella cheese, real maple syrup, whole wheat flour, and fresh whole wheat fettucine and tri-color penne pastas. 

After a strenuous morning shopping, we headed to Union Square Cafe for lunch- a place I’ve been dying to go for years.  They change their menu very frequently (I think daily) based on what is available in season locally.  I had a gorgeous bibb and red leaf lettuce salad and a small portion of Berkshire pork lasagna (I clearly feel the need to tell you it was the SMALL portion, lest you think I am a pig myself. Feel free to judge me. It was delicious.)

We were feeling very “Housewives of New York City” with our wine lunch at USC… and then realized we were showing our Florida roots when we took off our coats to reveal a veritable sorbet selection of cardigans.  I swear we are not that lame in real life.

Oh wait, yes we are. (see below: Laura and I crocheting at 10:30pm on Saturday night in NYC. Super lame.  But so happy. The drunken dress up dance party followed. )



As far as food (and everything else) goes, it was a pretty stellar weekend. 

Friday night Dinner at Tribeca Grill– had Long Island Grilled Duck and localish oysters

Saturday morning- Union Square Market

Saturday Lunch at Union Square Cafe– bibb and red leaf salad, Berkshire pork lasagna

Saturday dinner- poking around house eating market food

Saturday drinks- Jack Daniels (TN isn’t THAT far) and Boylan’s Root Beer (made in New Jersey with cane sugar! I found one lurking in the back of their fridge, really lucked out on that one.)

Sunday brunch at Craftbar- delicious Eggs Benedict with local farm eggs and bacon.  And a Bloody Maria (made with tequila. I’m sorry. I can’t give it up.)

I learned a good lesson this weekend- eating local food while you are staying at other people’s houses is really hard. But I think I did an OK job.  I brought some of my own food, hit up the local farmers market, and chose restaurants that buy from local farmers.  Sometimes it’s not all or nothing, you just do the best you can.

Restaurant Review: Cafe Saint-Ex

January 13, 2010 § Leave a comment

Sous Chef Jesse at Cafe Saint-Ex has very recently become one of my favorite chefs in DC.  Why? Because in the middle of Sunday Brunch (a notoriously horrific shift for chefs everywhere) I waltzed in to announce that I only eat local food, in the middle of January, and would like to know where every damn thing on the menu comes from (I still have a lot of guilt about doing this all the time, and really should start calling before I go out to eat anywhere).

Our waitress was nice about it, checking with nearly every person in sight to see if they knew where various food items were from.  The advertise on the front door that they source produce from Tuscarora, but I wasn’t sure which ones. Their menu currently isn’t terribly seasonal, but they regularly source their ground meat from Smith Meadows (the same farm that produces my beloved nutmeg squash pasta), so I figured I was safe with a burger.  But what to go on it?

After incessantly pestering our poor waitress about it, I finally said “you can just put anything remotely local you have in the kitchen on a plate and I’ll eat it.”  I wasn’t expecting much, but what came out was positively beautiful.

Jesse created this gorgeous salad from pea shoots and different kinds of radishes.  The larger white ones had been roasted and showed a little caramelization on the outside, and the brunoised pink ones were soft and sweet with that signature radish bite. 

I piled half the salad onto my burger and dug in. Amazing.  I’m doubting the bread is local (though might be from a local bakery?), and I’ll admit to having some chevre on top of unknown origin (very high quality and likely sustainable from somewhere, but probably France, not Maryland. Yes, I feel very bad about this. but I was desperate. and this was the lunch after the accidentally heavy night of  drinking and non-local food.)

Saint-Ex had an overhaul several years ago when a young(er) Barton Seaver, award winning chef and sustainability advocate (and new husband to the lovely and talented owner of Anemone Design Carrie Anne) took over as executive chef and brought his local food sensability to the table.  Local and sustainable food became part of Saint-Ex’s identity (something I LOVE to see happen) and they have continued with it long after he has moved on.   They do change their menu seasonally, and I look forward to going back in more favorable seasons when they will have more options for local food for order. 

In any case… as long as I can get a burger and salad, I really don’t care what else they have on the menu right now.  They treated me like a preferred customer instead of a picky-eater freak… and that kind of service deserves to be recognized.

Delicious food, locally sourced, and front to back stellar service. Especially in January, who could ask for anything more?

**Please patronize Cafe Saint-Ex and let them know you appreciate their committment to local, sustainable food sources!**

Restaurant Review: CommonWealth GastroPub

January 7, 2010 § 3 Comments

Local powerhouse chef/restauranteuse (and genius behind Hank’s Oyster Bar) Jamie Leeds’ newest venture, CommonWealth: The People’s GastroPub, has been up and running in Columbia Heights for almost a year now.  I’d been a couple times before and enjoyed it- a comfortable but lively atmosphere, a great beer list, and solid British-American food.

I went there again last night to hang out with some new friends (ok fine it was technically a TweetUp, god I’m a nerd).  I expected to have a localish beer, and head home to make dinner, figuring there was no way I’d be able to eat there and stick with this experiment.

As it turns out, I’m a daft arse.  It somehow had slipped my mind that Jamie Leeds is a badass (and clearly whomever the chef and beverage manager are at the pub, whom I now must meet).  

Their ENTIRE American bottle/can beer list is from PA/MD/VA (I had the Lancaster Milk Stout, which I just tried a few nights ago at The Wonder– so good, tastes like coffee and chocolate).  There is also a small note at the bottom of their menu that says which local farms they source from.  Being both excited and skeptical, I quizzed our darling, pink-haired waitress Robin about where practically everything on the menu came from.  I apologized for being so difficult, but it turns out she works at the Mt. Pleasant Farmers Market on the weekends, and was only too happy to find out the answers for me. 

And here’s where this local food experiment gets almost TOO easy.  I had a juicy grass-fed burger (beef from Groff’s Content Farm in MD) with local chevre and their seasonal, local vegetable of the day- roasted brussel sprouts.  The brussel sprouts were so delicious I actually felt bad for A, who got the burger with (probably not local) hand-cut fries (I am a notoriously awesome restaurant orderer.  It’s sort of my claim to fame.).  

And, because it was Wednesday Happy Hour (4-7pm), my glorious burger was $5.50.  FIVE DOLLARS AND FIFTY CENTS.  And my beer was $7.  I had a delicious, satisfying meal made with local food at a restaurant owned by a famous chef and my bill was $12.50.  I love DC. 

While not everything on CommonWealth’s menu is made with local food, their daily, seasonal side always is, they serve local, grass-fed beef, and have a variety of local cheese to chose from.  They get produce from the farmer-owned Tuscarora Co-Op (one of the few vendors of local food that is nearly as easy to buy from as Sysco, though significantly more expensive), and have a clear preference for all things local and sustainable. 

I have long adored Jamie Leeds (every time I see her I just want to hug her, I have the same reaction to Ris Lacoste), but now I am fully devoted to CommonWealth.  I never thought I’d be able to eat bar food again, much less a burger at a bona fide pub (complete with the occasional sketchy man lurking at the bar- what’s a good pub without its characters?). 

I’m adding CommonWealth to my list of Where To Eat, and I would encourage you to add it to your mental list.  Be sure to let them know you are there to eat their locally sourced food, they need that kind of feedback to continue to do the right thing, even though it may be more expensive. Supporting restaurants BECAUSE they support local farms is a big part of this fight.  

Do your part, stuff your face with a burger and beer. It may be the most important thing you eat this week.

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