Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Restaurant Review: Rogue 24

On Saturday night, despite Hurricane Irene barreling towards us, Scott and I got on the metro and went to dinner at Rogue 24.  If you follow the Washington, D.C. restaurant scene, you know that Rogue 24 has had some controversy since opening a few weeks ago regarding their reservation contract.  Due to the concept of Rogue 24, which is a small space that only serves two tasting menus, they implemented a “strict” cancellation policy in order to prevent last minute cancellations and empty tables.  It isn’t exactly a restaurant you would walk into without a reservation.  Personally, I had no problem with the contract, especially because it also asked for information regarding allergies and food preferences (vegetarian, vegan, etc) so that RJ Cooper, the chef, can make sure everyone has an amazing meal.
I had been looking forward to this meal for weeks, and was not going to let a little hurricane ruin my time.  So maybe I was a little soaked because an umbrella doesn’t help much when it is raining sideways, and my hair may have been a mess.  (For anyone considering getting bangs- they SUCK in the rain because there is pretty much no way to keep them from looking like a mess!)  Now, you also have to imagine the location: it is a few blocks from the convention center, off of N St.  You have to turn down a really sketchy looking alley.  Scott loves to talk about all the random places I make him go in the name of food and drink.
 We arrived for our reservations a little early, so we had cocktails in the lounge.  Naturally, I had the “Irene” in honor of the lovely weather, which was a take on the classic hurricane. It was delicious and clearly well thought out and hand made.  Scott had something with bourbon (I think) and smoked cola, which he loved.   Before we headed into the main part of the restaurant for dinner, we were also given a small non-alcoholic cocktail.  It was about the size of a shot glass, and tasted like watermelon.   If you are ever in the neighborhood, I recommend stopping into the lounge for a drink.  The space is very nice, with a little bit of a retro feel.
Then we were brought into the main part of the restaurant.  The kitchen is smack in the middle, with tables on either side.  Right when you walk in is a little four-seat bar that butts up against the dessert station.  We got to sit there, and it was really cool to watch the pastry Chef, Chris Ford, work his magic.  I had tried really hard to avoid learning what exactly was on the menu, although it was pretty impossible not to hear about a few of the bites.  Scott and I had the 24 course menu with the pairings, which included a small cocktail, several wines, a cider, and a beer.  They also offer a 16 course tasting.
When Scott and I were discussing the meal early on, I said that it was probably not necessarily going to be the best food we have ever had, but it would certainly be food we had NEVER had before, and my assessment turned out to be spot on.  Of course, if you find molecular gastronomy pretentious and hipster-y, Rogue 24 is not for you.  If you want to try a place that has taken food to a different level, and used techniques that are not done every day, and that you probably (unless you have a lot of specialized tools and ingredients) could never make at home, then you would probably enjoy Rogue 24.
I don’t want to go into every single course, because there were just so many, so I will tell you a little about some of my favorites, and some of my least favorites (which makes me kind of feel like a judge on Top Chef).  Before I do that, I just want to make a note about the service: it was impeccable.  Every single time I got up to use the restroom, which if you know me is pretty often, I came back to my napkin folded nicely and someone to pull out my chair and push it back in.  Plates were removed promptly, but I never felt rushed.  We had clean silverware for every course. The sommelier was entertaining and explained every pairing clearly, and engaged in conversation.  RJ Cooper was a jovial presence in the dining room.  I wish every restaurant had service like Rogue 24.  Also, I want someone at work to pull out my chair for me all the time.
As far as the things I didn’t like go, most of them are on that list because I don’t like olives.  Scott thought everything with the olives was good, and I’m sure they were, but I just couldn’t get past the olive-ness of them.  It is actually sort of hard to put anything else in the category of “didn’t like” because there really wasn’t anything else that I didn’t like.  Some of the things were less memorable than others, but with 24 courses that is understandable.  I wasn’t a huge fan of the foie gras, but I think that is because it was served very cold and shaved, and I prefer room temperature or warm foie gras.  The desserts were good at the time, but not particularly memorable, which may also have to do with the amount of alcohol consumed by the time you get to those courses.  My favorite of the three was the Tennessee, which had chocolate, shaved cream, and “wood and dirt”. 
On the other hand, my favorite courses were pretty varied.  I really enjoyed the cracklins with kimchi, sesame and soy, the “What’s up Doc”, with rabbit, carrots and a sauce made out of the carrot tops, and the Garden Mosaic with green goddess ice cream.  But my absolute favorites have a four way tie going on.  One of the things I loved was the caprese salad.  Of course this was no ordinary caprese salad.  The tomatoes were perfect specimens, and they were served with balsamic power and balsamic soaked roe. The next one I loved was the “Hail Buben”- a fried ball of grits that was crunchy on the outside and liquid on the inside, with shrimp that was made into a kind of chorizo and sliced thinly. The “Fowl Play”, which came out in a little glass domed dish, was made of edible hay topped with chicken gizzards and a partridge egg.  When you open the dome, a smoky vapor is released that has lightly permeated the entire dish.  Finally, the “Hog Jowl”, which was most definitely Scott’s favorite part of the meal and one of my top dishes, was just divine.  From the perfectly cooked pork, to the caramelized onion gelato, it was a perfect symphony of pork-yness. 
If you are adventurous, and have some money to spend, Rogue 24 is definitely worth the trip.  I hope that the menu changes enough in the future that a return trip is worth it. 

Thursday, August 25, 2011

My Journey to this Point

Me and Scott in December 2010

I have noticed while watching TV and shopping that it seems that boot cut and flare jeans are in this fall and winter.  This makes me a very happy camper, because a few years ago when I had lost some weight I bought several pairs of jeans that have not fit in a long time and are practically brand-new.   But now they fit again!  YAY! Which brings me to my pain point: this isn’t my first time at the weight loss rodeo.   
Like most people who have struggled with weight loss, I have gained and lost a pretty significant amount of weight several times in my life.   The first time was the summer between freshman and sophomore year of college.  At that point, my weight loss was done in a really unhealthy way.  I would pretty much only eat one meal a day and was spending a lot of time at the gym, plus I was teaching tennis outside that summer.    So while I may have looked great by the end of the summer, I had gained a really unhealthy obsession with not eating.  And of course the minute I went back to school where most of my life revolved around eating and drinking beer (and occasionally doing some homework and going to class), I of course gained the weight back.  It was a slow gain, and took about a year, and while it was disappointing, why did I magically think that anything different would happen. 
The second major time I lost weight was right after I graduated from college.  At that point I decided to do weight watchers at home.  The plan worked, and once again I lost weight, but once I had gotten to a point where I was comfortable, I pretty much stopped paying attention and went back to my old habits.  And once again, I gained the weight I had lost back.  Between then and the summer of 2010, I had kept a steady weight that was between 10 and 15 pounds less than my highest weight.  But this past fall, for some reason I became even lazier at watching my portions, and not cooking with a ton of butter and oil, eating a lot of take out and fast food at work, and the pounds packed on, resulting in a very upsetting step onto the scale.
Me this past May
This is why in January, after Scott and I got home from our holiday trip to Cape Cod, we joined Weight Watchers again.  This time we are doing it online.  So, what makes me think that this time losing weight will be different for me?  While I can’t and won’t make any guarantees that I won’t slip back into old habits, I do feel like some of the changes I have made so far this time around are the kind that will stick with me.  First, I am not trying to lose as much weight as possible in the shortest amount of time possible.  If takes me a year, or 18 months, or two years to get to my goal weight, that is fine.  This time I also plan on not quitting when I get into the maintenance phase.  Yes, I am learning how much I need to eat to lose weight, but I will need to learn how much I need to eat to maintain my weight when I get there.  And to be honest, if maintaining my weight loss involves paying Weight Watchers a monthly fee, I am okay with that.  So this is me, laying out my goals and hopes for this time around.  Thank you for your support and wish me luck!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Portion Control

One of the biggest struggles I have when trying to lose weight is portion control.  You know those family-sized containers of fresh ravioli they sell at the grocery store?  I can, and have, eaten the entire thing by myself.  Even while doing it, I was aware that is not healthy and that when I am done I will not feel well, or good about myself.
This time around on Weight Watchers, I have really taken the whole concept of portion control seriously, and have found that what used to be a struggle has started to come naturally.  A kitchen scale is a great tool for this, because it is way more precise than measuring cups.  I always weigh out my pasta now, and after six months really do feel like 2 or 3 ounces of pasta is enough. 
On Sunday night, Scott and I wanted to grill up lamb chops.  We bought four double cut rib chops, which is 4 chops per person.  BWW (Before Weight Watchers) I would have probably gotten at least one and a half times that much meat, if not twice as much.  We coated the chops in a mixture of garam masala and oregano.  Garam masala is one of Scott’s favorite spice mixtures, and it was perfect for the chops because the heat of the grill made the spices all toasty, which is important.  We also had a grilled ear of corn each and couscous with feta, almonds and dried fruit.  It was a perfect Sunday night dinner- a little indulgent, but still relatively healthy and really, really delicious. 
One of the things I worry about when I get to my goal weight and stop following Weight Watchers closely is that I will slowly go back to my old habits of eating large portions.  This will definitely be a struggle for me, and I need to really concentrate on keeping my portions in check.  I hope that the time I have spent on WW will make weighing and measuring my food a life-long habit.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Fresh Summer Pasta

For the past few summers, Scott and I have been trying to grow food.  We tried planting stuff in the backyard, but the dogs just trampled it and we didn’t get enough sunlight.  Then we tried to grow a couple of things in pots, still in the backyard.  We eventually ended up with beets the size of a gumball and nothing else.  Finally this year we figured that we needed a place with more sunlight, so we bought a couple of tomato plants, some mind, rosemary, thyme, and basil, and planted them in pots on the side of our house.  Well, for the first time ever, we have successfully grown something we can eat! 
Our tomatoes are ripening beautifully, and we had about four that would be ready for dinner, so we decided to throw together a simple pasta dish.  Have you ever picked a tomato right from the  vine?  They are warm and fragrant, and just slightly heavenly.   This is another recipe that is PERFECT for a weeknight because everything can be tossed together while the pasta cooks.

Fresh tomato pasta (serves 2)

6 ounces of your favorite pasta, though small pieces are better than long in this case

Boil the pasta according the direction on the package

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, put:

4 ripe tomatoes, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced finely
Herb of your choice (I used rosemary), minced
Drizzle of balsamic syrup (I prefer balsamic syrup if I am not making an emulsion out of it.  It has better  mouth feel and makes a thicker sauce)
Raw egg yolk (can be omitted, but helps make the balsamic into a thicker sauce)
Salt and pepper to taste

Once the pasta is done boiling, drain and throw on top of the other ingredients.  Mix up.  Nom.

This was just the perfect combination of summer flavors, and light enough to not bog me down after yoga.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Challenges: Weekends Away

This summer I have spent several weekends away, visiting friends and family.  I find that these types of mini-trips are one of the biggest challenges I face on my weight loss journey.  This weekend I am going to the beach in Delaware to a bachelorette party.  This will of course mean drinking and eating out. 
                The trouble comes with trying to make the right choices.  Of course, I want to eat the deep-fried foods and the sugary, frozen adult beverages.  But I know that doing that will throw me off course.  On the other hand, I don’t want to completely deprive myself, and be downer.  So the focus has to be on balance.  Would I rather have the decedent entrĂ©e, or an extra glass of champagne?  Rationally, I know the answer is to make wise choices, pick healthy foods, and only drink a little.  But faced with the reality of the situation I often find myself making the wrong choices. 
                After a few months of being on Weight Watchers, I do feel that I am making better choices consistently.  For example, a couple of weekends ago on the way to Wildwood, Scott and I stopped at a rest stop and we were both getting hungry.  Despite the fact that in my mind a road-trip=excuse for junk food (Combo’s are my weakness), I choose to get a fresh fruit cup.  It was great that they even had that option and that I was able to make a good choice.
                So hopefully this weekend I can put some of the lessons I have learned into practice and make the best choices for me.  Ones that will leave me satisfied, but still able to have fun!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Recipe: Green Spaghetti

I am a carboholic.  I am pretty sure that if I lived alone I would just eat a giant bowl of pasta every night.  I might mix up the sauces, but it would be all pasta all the time.  And the “serving size” of pasta?  HA!  I could probably eat an entire 1 lb box of pasta if I really set my mind to it.  Serving size is one of those things I have to really watch in order to lose or maintain my weight.  So now I diligently measure out my pasta on my food scale.  And by diligently, I mean I usually have a serving and a half of pasta, because even on a diet, one serving won’t be satisfying.

This is a great recipe that I made last night. It look approximately 10 minutes to make, which is great for a weekday evening or when you don’t really feel like cooking.  I modified the recipe from one of my vegetarian cookbooks.

Recipe: Green Spaghetti (serves 2)
6 oz capellini or spaghetti
Frozen broccoli (I used about half a pound)
1/3 cup skim milk
Garlic clove, pressed or finely chopped
¼ cup Blue Cheese
Salt and pepper

Boil pasta for however long the box says to.  Meanwhile, use a steamer basket set over the pasta water to steam the broccoli for about 4 minutes.  Once the broccoli is steamed put in a blender or food processor with the rest of the ingredients.  Blend until smooth.  Mix with cooked pasta and serve hot.

This was surprisingly good for something so simple.  It had a fresh flavor from the broccoli, and the small amount of blue cheese added a great tanginess to the dish. 

Monday, August 1, 2011

recipe: grilled buffalo wings

For the last few weeks I have been craving buffalo wings. But I did not want all the butter and oil that usually comes with fried wings. I decided that it would be better to make them at home to get all the spicy goodness without the fried part. i picked up a pound and a half of wings at Whole Foods and looked up some grilled wing recipes. i decided to go with a Weight Watchers recipe with a few modifications. Here is the recipe:

3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
3 tablespoons Franks hot sauce
1/8th of a cup fat free chicken broth
red pepper flakes
salt to taste

Mix all the above ingredients in a plastic bag. Put wings in bag and marinate for at least an hour.
I let Scott, also known as the grillmaster, take care of the cooking. he cooked them for about 5-7 minutes per side and basted them with additional hot sauce. We also grilled up some mushrooms and asparagus. Serve with your favorite blue cheese or ranch dressing.

The wings came out nice and crispy and perfectly spicy. They definitely satisfied my wing craving.

Dinner at Graffiato

Me at trapeze class
On Saturday night, after trapeze class (yes, I said trapeze class. It is awesome and challenging and exhilarating), Scott and I went to Graffiato, the restaurant that Mike Isabella, a Top-Chef contestant, recently opened near the Verizon Center in Washington, DC.  I have met Mike once before, at Cochon 555, and had eaten at Zatinya when he was cooking there, so I was really excited to see what he was doing in his own space.

Mike Isabll and I
We had 7 p.m reservations, but got there a little early to have drink.  They have an interesting cocktail menu, and Scott was impressed with the beer selection.  They even make the "regular" beers a little different by offering them in pony bottles.  I had two cocktails: the Tony Starr (illegal mezcal, market fruit puree, solerno blood orange liquor, lime) and the Market Punch (seasonal flavors, booze).  Of the two, I preferred the Tony Starr.  The bartenders were using super-fresh ingredients, and everything was hand-made.  The Market Punch was a little dry for my taste, and kind of one-note.  Scott had the AleWerks Washington's Porter and the Staring at the Sun (basil hayden’s bourbon, apricot nectar, ginger, basil). 

After our drinks, we headed upstairs for dinner.  The whole place has the industrial vibe that is so popular right now.  I like that look, so that wasn't a problem for me.  Once upstairs, we were seated towards the front of the building, with large picture windows that let in a lot of light.  You can also see the open kitchen towards the back of the building.  Scott was a big fan of the meat cleavers hanging from above the kitchen. 

Our waiter came by, and explained the menu, and we decided to go with the chef's tasting. At $55, it seemed like a good deal, and we had more than enough food throughout the evening.  Our waiter made sure there was nothing we were allergic to, or didn't eat, because they do have some flexibility with the tasting menu.  I mentioned my disdain for olives, which was good because they are usually included. He also brought by a bowl of spice pistachios, which had an almost BBQ flavor to them.  They were an excellent hint to how the rest of the meal would go. We started off with a glass of the Montelvini prosecco on draft.  It was pretty good, especially for the price ($7 a glass).  Light and crisp, and it paired well with our first course of food. 

It was a little embarrassing watching the first course come out.  We had the bread basket, the spiced red beets, the roasted cauliflower, the ham plate, burrata with heirloom tomatoes, and tuna crudo with crushed pistachios.  Of these dishes, my favorite was the roasted cauliflower.  It was so simple, with pecorino cheese and a little mint, but the flavor was just explosive.  The ham plate and burrata were deliciously simple, and the red beets paired very well with the orange segments.  I couldn't detect the pork in the "pork fried almonds" that came with the beets, but they added a nice crunch. Of all the dishes of the night, the tuna was my least favorite.  It just seemed bland.  The tuna was fresh, but I could barely detect the balsamic vinegar, and it needed more acid, or maybe even more salt.  The bread basket had three types of bread, and a ricotta spread and an olive oil jam.  The olive oil jam was to die for, especially when spread on the polenta bread, which was like a softer corn bread.

The second course was the pizza and salad course. Our waiter suggested a great red wine.  I didn’t take note to what it was, but it was well balanced with fruit and earthiness, and went well with the rest of the meal. We had the Caesar salad and the "Choppin Broccoli" with sausage added.  The pizza was good.  I thought the crust could have been crispier, and was a little surprised since they use a real brick oven (we could see the cooks pulling coals out when we were at the bar). I did like the nice char that the crust had.  The cheese and broccoli rabe combo was very good though, and the sausage added a nice complement to the bitterness of the broccoli rabe. The highlight of this course was the "crouton" on the Caesar salad.  It was really a fried cube of cream cheese that just melted in your mouth.  The dressing on the salad was really flavorful, the lettuce crunchy and fresh.

The third course was the "main" course, and consisted of pastas and items from the brick oven.  We had the sweet corn agnolotti, the polenta with spicy pork meatballs, the octopus and the chicken thighs with Mike's famous pepperoni sauce. The polenta with the pork meatballs was very good, although it came with a soft egg, and while I love a good runny egg, this erred on the side of too runny for my taste.  The octopus was just okay.  A little bland, and a little rubbery.  The chicken thighs were moist and tender, with crispy skin, and the pepperoni sauce had a great zing to it.  Mike should bottle that and become a billionaire. The best part of the course, and really, best part of the meal was the agnolotti.  It was the part I will keep coming back to over and over in my mind.  The pasta was light, and the filling was rich. The taste of the corn was very strong and went perfectly with the chanterelle mushrooms and pine nuts.  A few weeks ago I made some homemade ravioli with a corn filling that were really good, but these blew mine out of the water.  I would go back just for the corn agnolotti.

Finally, we got to dessert.  I wasn’t sure I could eat any more at this point, but I managed to power through. We had the chocolate tart with sea salt gelato.  It was a great end to the meal: the chocolate tart was smooth and rich, and the gelato was light and airy, and the tartness was a perfect foil. 

Overall, I thought Graffiato was great.  I was a little worried it would not live up to the hype, but I was impressed.  One thing I really enjoyed was the atmosphere- I feel like I could stop in for a drink and a small bite to eat with no problem. I think that if Graffiato can weather the economic storm we are in, then it will be around for a long time.


My name is Kylie, and I am 27 years old.  At the end of 2010 I had a realization: I either had to lose weight, or buy new clothes.  I had been in total denial about how big I had gotten, and it was pretty embarassing when I stepped on the scale.  My hubsand and I decided to join Weight Watchers.  Since then I have lost almost 30 pounds (I am sooooo close!). 

Of course, all of this weight loss has been struggle, because one of my favorite things in life is food.  Eating it, cooking it, shopping for it, trying new restaurants.  This, combined with two of my other favorite things in life (wine and beer) made for an expanding waistline. 

I sort of have a love-hate relationship with exercise, which doesn't help matters. When I am into it, I am really into it, but when I am not, it is almost impossible to make myself do it.  Right now I am taking a yoga class once a week, which I love. I also bought a Groupon for Bikram yoga, which I hope to start using soon.

I hope to use this blog to review restaurants, post about great meals or recipes, and talk about weight loss.