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Thursday
Jan072010

Lawson's: A Simple Idea Done Well

Yesterday, a couple of friends and I visited Lawson's, a soup, salad, sandwich, and sushi joint in Dupont Circle. (If the latter offering seems somewhat out of place, that's because it kind of is.)


RLK, LPG and I were in the mood for something new. Having all worked in the Dupont Circle neighborhood for about five months, we'd found a few consistent and excellent options in that neck of the woods and had been lazily enjoying these standbys without much thought to branching out. With a great effort, we overcame our sloth and ventured a few blocks further than our regular restaurant radius, to some success.

Though pretty crowded at noon, Lawson's has three or four distinct ordering counters and two registers spaced out down the axis of the interior, the effect of which is efficient crowd management. Drinks and pre-made stuff in a cooler along the back wall, ordering and assembly stations along the front, place your order, get a number, etc etc. Not really breaking new ground, but you've got to appreciate it when a basic model is just executed well.

Actually, that's pretty much the theme of the place. The menu is generous without venturing too far into wild creativity and includes the basic deli meats, clubs, and BLTs; the salad ingredients were again the basics but everything looked fresh and appetizing. A pair of soups (MD crab and a split pea) graced the menu and appeared to rotate daily. I didn't get a good look at the sushi, but all seemed well in the land of Americanized Japanese food. The prices were all about $5-7, perhaps some of the cheapest eats in the area.

I ordered Lawson's version of the best sandwich I've ever had -- a California Turkey Club. In my hometown there's a ridiculous little deli which is pretty much never open for business, but if you're lucky enough to catch them and smart enough to order a California Turkey Club, you'll find the toasted rye stacked high with a basic turkey club PLUS avocado and brie. Damn. Well, Lawson's used the more mundane swiss rather
than brie but the club was tasty, the bacon offered a good crunch and flavor, the sprouts and avocado were fresh and the turkey thick-sliced from a roasted breast resting on a cutting board. Add in the price (about $7) and I declared sandwich victory.

RLK seemed to enjoy her jerk chicken salad, noting that they grilled up the chicken then and there (in contrast to several other Dupont salad joints which just toss in pre-cooked cold meat). LPG, however, is unlikely to return; her tuna melt had bacon and she doesn't do non-swiming animals. I ate it, it was tasty. I declared sandwich victory x2.

Lawson's
Service - 4/5 (great)
Price - 4/5 (great)
Options - 3/5 (fine/average)
Tastiness - 3/5 (fine/average)
How likely I am to return - 5/5 (XTREME!!1!11)

Tuesday
Jan052010

Wicked Good Milk

Most Americans are a reflection of or a reaction to their parents in three key respects: in religious belief, in political orientation, and in milk-fat-content preference.

I am a skim milk guy, having been raised on it. The weight and density of whole milk, in my opinion, make it suitable only for making sugar cereal decadent or for perfecting coffee. 2% is an acceptable compromise, particularly for coffee, but I'd still rather be drinking skim milk.

I know the complaints - skim milk is too watery, too thin, too whatever. I suppose that really just amounts to one complaint. It's not that I don't concede the point, it's more that I don't care, and lower density milk is probably ideal for a guy who drinks at least a gallon a week.

At least, I used to concede the point, but then I tried Real Skim Milk. Fresh skim milk, milk from cows that only ate grass and hay (NOT corn), from cows situated just a few miles away. Milk milked that very day. Now, I wasn't seeking this milk out; I was semi-desperate coming home from work - the three convenience stores on my walk were out of skim. So I tried this bodega on the corner of my street, a little store which only sells things no one ever needs. Except, apparently, milk.

They sell this local milk, skim included, in big, half-gallon glass jugs with plastic covers. It was expensive - more on that - but I eat oatmeal made with milk every morning, snack on milk and cereal, and drink a glass of milk or more pretty much every time I sit down at my table. So ain't no mountain high enough.

And wow. This skim milk was identifiably not as creamy as whole, but it had such flavor! Such character! as to differentiate it quite entirely from the rest of the skim family. Frothier, smoother, deeper, and much more complex than supermarket milk, I'm actually not even using it for oatmeal and use it only stingily for cereal. It's that good to drink. This skim milk is to that other skim as FDR was to Grover Cleveland, as a Cadillac is to a Daewoo, as the Sun is to other stars: clearly the same elemental stuff, but so, so much better.

A final note: including a two dollar deposit for the bottle, this half-gallon cost $6.75. Damn - I'm not made of money, and at nearly 3 times the rate of the crappy stuff, this milk will have to be an infrequent treat. Good thing I can return the bottle...

Monday
Jan042010

Mom's Chicken Parmesan

Hi everyone. I'm Sam, and I'm hungry. We can explore that thought later and in greater detail (just try and stop me) but for this fleeting moment, I want to say a few words about my mom's chicken parmesan.

Listen -- this is it, kids. Gather round. This is the one you want, the dish that with every individual forkful sears the memory of its flavor into your shamefully unprepared taste buds. It's good.

My mom's chicken parmesan is the dish I have requested for my birthday meal for as long as I've been able to articulate a request. If I ever even had a different birthday meal, that pale un-memory has clearly been eclipsed by the shining supernovae of chicken parms past. After I began to attend college, it became the special meal for my too-infrequent returns home and it remains to this very hour and day the object of flights of my epicurean fancy.


I can't tell you, really, what sets this recipe apart because I'm more than a little fearful (ok, maybe dismissive) of other attempts. I can and will tell you the breasts are beaten flat with a tenderizer rather than butterflied, the breading is spiced with oregano and basil and we pan fry, we don't deep fry. We bake the cutlets enveloped in the sauce, simmering the meat in a ripe, red, tomatoey blanket, adding the cheese at the last moment. We serve over pasta, which if it could talk is saying "I gotta follow THIS act?" (I frequently anthropomorphize my food).

The first bite, every time, makes me chew slowly and gently, just enough to keep getting all the flavor. I think my eyes close a little. It's just that delicious, so savory that my primitive cortices stage a coup and higher function is temporarily non-existant. Finally, there's some sadness at the inevitably clean plate but it's overtaken and overwhelmed by satisfaction.

********

The way I feel about my mom's chicken parmesan is the most extreme example of how I feel about food as an aspect of my life. For me, meals aren't just about sustenance, they're an opportunity to have an adventure. I don't need fancy, expensive, or rare dishes to elicit one, either. I just need creativity, passion, interest, and a little knowledge about food and cooking.

This blog is going to be an opportunity for me to share my adventures with anyone interested in reading them. Sometimes I'll review a restaurant or eatery I've enjoyed and other times I'll share a recipe I've made or a friend has made. The same predilections that allow me to imbue my food with this ridiculous, childlike wonder do the same for other elements of my life, and every now and again I'll share those. Comment, ask for recipes, whatever; feel free to join in the fun.

-Hungry Sam

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