Saturday, August 25, 2007

The Rest of the Country, Volume 2: The Highlights

In my stumbles through the mid-Atlantic there were many many lowlights. Terrible wraps. Overcooked shrimp. Shitty beer. Shittier coffee. An awfully god-awful meal at King's Arms Tavern in Williamsburg.

But there were some high points. Here they are.

Vino Volo: Both girlfriend Charlie and I agree that this was the most interesting culinary stop on our travels. Located in Dulles Airport (and five other airports around the country), Vino Volo is a wine shop and wine bar that also features a short small plates menu. With liquid restrictions for carry-ons making transporting wine even more annoying, having a wine shop within the security checkpoint area fills an important void.

The wine selection is remarkably broad in scope for its limited size. Prices are also reasonable (especially by airport standards), with generous glasses as cheap as $6 (for the 2005 Casa Castillo Monastrell, a wine I've seen on lists around here for $8-$9 a glass). Wines are grouped into global flights and even provide for the opportunity to try a 1999 Caymus Cabernet and a 2000 Bordeaux Grand Cru Classe in one flight for $25 (the Caymus retails for $215 and the Bordeaux $125).

The food, while unremarkable, is tasty. Pretty simple heat and assemble food that was lacking in seasoning, but it hit the spot. And in the world of airport dining where you're so often limited to shitty Mexican food, spin-offs of local fast food chains, and bad pizza, having fresh and simple cuisine with a gourmet sensibility was nice. Options include smoked salmon rolls, pork soft tacos, and garbanzo bean "chili." Dishes are available in "taste" or "entree" sizes and many are paired with suggested wine flights. Food was also inexpensive, especially given the quality and the location. Vino Volo is set to expand into a dozen or so airports in the coming months, so keep watch. Right now you can find them in Dulles, Seattle, Sacramento, Boston, and JFK.

Crab Cakes: I'm about to say something that will get me strung up from my toenails and sodomized with a broken bottle by Alice Waters.:

California just doesn't get crab.

I like dungeness crab. It's fine. It's good size is nice, providing for some big chunks and nice meaty claws. But it's a little bit too sweet. And it makes a mediocre crab cake. Yet every restaurant in San Francisco is expected to offer this "signature" California treat. It's weird.

Give me blue crab any day of the week. The much smaller blue crabs, while much more work to crack and pick, have a more robust flavor and nice plump chunks of lump crab meat. The Maryland/Virginia crab cake is simply done with Old Bay seasoning, mayo, and saltines instead of being overly adulterated with bread crumbs, peppers, and excessive herbs. You'll usually get just one crab cake, but it'll be a big one. Makes for an excellent sandwich as well.

We get so excited by our dungeness crabs here but it's really an inferior crustacean for eating. Pretty though.

As an odd side note, I could not find fresh softshell crab in Virginia, despite the fact that restaurants in California are still getting fresh live softshells shipped from Chesapeake Bay.

Dunkin' Donuts: As ubiquitous on the east coast as tranny hookers are on the west, Dunkin' Donuts is one of the few remaining fast food chains that I would welcome gladly to my hometown. Krispy Kreme blows goats. Hardee's is Carl's Jr. with biscuits. Shoney's sounds like a dirty strip club. But Dunkin' Donuts offers something for everyone. If you like donuts. Which I do. Hence, Dunkin' Donuts is great. All the donuts that girlfriend Charlie and I tried were excellent, especially the cruller and the blueberry cake donut. The coffee lived up to the hype too. 'Twas tasty jet fuel, 'twas.

Penguin Isle: An Outer Banks restaurant with some class, Penguin Isle in Nags' Head offered little in the way of innovation, but the food was prepared very well. My tilefish oscar was delicious and moist, as was my crab cake appetizer. Impressive wine list as well.

Argyle's: Another Outer Banks restaurant where I encountered my first truly innovative dish in my travels. They called it oysters rockefeller, but other than being baked oysters with bacon their version shared nothing with the blue-hair favorite. Big James River oysters are baked with seaweed, bacon, and parmesan. Much lighter than most preparations and much appreciated.

Fresh Market: Sort of a Whole Foods type grocery store, seek this place out if you're in need for an array of organic produce, soy products, natural cereals, and (huzzah!) Peet's Coffee.

Harris Teeter: Food Lion got you down? Tired of grocery stores that smell like fish and cigarettes? Then go to Harris Teeter! Not as classy as Fresh Market, it's still pretty classy. Think $500 call girl to Food Lion's $25 back alley blowjob. Something in that range.


Zack said...

California just doesn't get crab.

Dude, there is a Chinatown in SF, and there is a Chinatown in Oakland. Pick one; educate yourself. Also, the good meat is in the body, not the claws.

David J.D. said...

Chinatown's not California, culinarily speaking.

Agreed. That's why I like blue crab, it's more about the body meat than the claws. The claws are tiny and irrelevant.