Thursday, July 26, 2012

Review: El Chucho - Columbia Heights, DC

11th Street NW has been exploding lately – as has my never-ending list of places to check out, one of which was El Chucho which opened in late June.  They describe themselves as “a small neighborhood cantina serving modern Mexican food”.  The restaurant is managed in part by Jackie Greenbaum whom some of you may know from Jackie’s restaurant in Silver Spring, MD.  I went to Jackie’s years ago and remembered it fondly so I was curious to try her new venture. 

My trusty taste testers, Jermaine, Leon and Carburetor, were kind enough to give up a Tuesday night and try the place out with me.  Ummm yeah, those are most definitely aliases.  At any rate, Jermaine was particularly vocal about the experience right off the bat. “What’s with this menu?  I can’t even read it.”  “I thought it was going to be all Mexicans working here, I’m a little disappointed.”  And the comments continued….  To explain those comments – the menu was a little confusing aesthetically.  The font changed multiple times, it was divided into hard to distinguish sections, some words were bolded for no apparent reason, some were surrounded by shaded-in shapes, etc.  Definitely a little overwhelming at first glance.  We bombarded our waitress with questions and she was gracious enough to help us navigate everything and offer suggestions of her favorites, a few of which we did order.  As for the employees – well we had heard that this was an “authentic” Mexican restaurant, unlike many in DC, and most employees did not appear to be Mexican.  However, upon further research on the restaurant I’ve learned that the chef’s family is from Mexico and she herself had training there.  That’s good enough for me.

Let’s get down to the business of the food.  First and foremost was the corn on the cob.  I think this picture says it all – smoky grilled flavor, cheesy salty cilantro-y goodness, not at all overcooked (which definitely makes or breaks corn) – delicious!  Only problem?  The price tag.  I know there is an upcharge on everything when you eat out, but this time of year in the mid-Atlantic you can easily find local corn at the grocery store for about $0.25/ear – this was $4 – ouch!

After the corn, we just ordered a mish-mash of things and shared it all – here’s what we got:

-       Chips & Guac – nice flavor, good balance of chunky/creamy texture, could have used a pinch more salt & garlic, but that is my personal preference.  Complaint?  The pit.  Each order I saw go by including ours had the pit in the bowl.  I know it is supposed to help with the browning of the avocado, but honestly from what I have read, it is questionable that that actually works – what it really does is take up a lot of space in the bowl.  How about a couple squeezes of lime juice instead and fill up that bowl!
-         Chicken & Steak Tacos – the chicken had a nice smoky flavor at first bite, but with each subsequent bite they tasted a little bland…more salt!  We added some of the salsa that came with the guac and that definitely helped.  The steak was more flavorful and had grilled onions and avocado, but still was helped with a dash of salsa.  Smaller in size than most I’ve had.

Chicken Tacos
-        Flautas – lightly fried, not too greasy which can often be the case.  Good amount of chicken in them and topped with some queso fresco – tasty!
-         Torta Ahogada – this is basically a Mexican sloppy joe, and a good one.  It’s a nice soft roll, with pulled marinated pork and avocado.  The whole thing is smothered in spicy/slightly sweet chile de arbol sauce, and when I say smothered I mean it.  They serve it with a pair of plastic gloves, as evidenced in the action shot below.  This was definitely the most flavorful dish we got and one I would order again.  Complaint?  No fork!  You can’t serve something like this and assume that everyone will be ok with the glove method – some of us are classy ladies and like utensils!

LEON!  Why does it look like you could possibly be shirtless here??


Upon arrival there was a 30 minute wait.  They took my name and cell number and said feel free to wander, they’d call me when the table was ready.  Considering they are placed along a 2-3 block stretch of bars and restaurants and their own bar is quite small, I thought this was a nice touch.  We ended up getting seated within a couple minutes of their estimate.

The Juan Rose cocktail is delicious.  Fruity, tart, strong.  Don’t be afraid by the “apple shrub” listed in the ingredients – there are no plants in your drink.

Plates.  With each dish that came out we indicated that we were sharing everything, yet we never got any plates.  Granted we didn’t specifically ask, but as a former waitress, I don’t think we should have to…

My tasters provided ratings based on a 0-100% scale, 100% being excellent:
Jermaine – 72%
Carburetor – 61%
Leon – 68-69% (if I remember correctly)

Trust these at your own risk; however I can attest to the fact that they all really like food, including mine, meaning they deserve at least 90% credibility.  J

Note - it doesn't appear that they have a website yet, but you can find El Chucho on Facebook.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Baking GALS Round 12 - Salted Espresso Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

Round 12?  Really?!  I can’t believe I’ve been doing this for a year already.  It’s definitely been one of the most fulfilling things I have done this past year.  And when something you do for fun because you love it ends up also being rewarding, that is one of the greatest feelings.  Enough about me though – thanks again to all the troops who are putting their lives on the line every day.  I hope the treats you’ve received from this organization bring you at least a small piece of the comforts of home.

On to the cookies.  Salted Espresso Oatmeal Chocolate Chip cookies – wow, now that’s a mouthful.  These cookies are pretty basic, but with a couple little touches to amp up the flavor.  Everyone has had oatmeal chocolate chip at some point in life, but with the addition of a little espresso powder to enhance the chocolate and some salt sprinkled on top to create a great salty-sweet balance, you get something super tasty.  Something new but familiar enough to comfort…perfect.

*I’m taking the lazy way out today – for the recipe check out Brown Eyed Baker -

Monday, July 9, 2012

Not Just Pie....Hand Pie

Its summer and that means its serious fruit season.  Stop eating the apples and citrus that have been in cold storage since they were actually in season months ago and move on to the good stuff – stone fruits and berries.  I eat fruit in some way shape or form almost every day – in a salad, in a smoothie (my blender is going to throw in the towel soon if I don’t cool it) or just straight up.  But it was high time for pie (say that with your best southern accent).

I usually go to my old neighborhood in Takoma Park for a block party on the 4th of July, and when I do I know I will get at least a slice or two of homemade pie from my friends’ mother.  This year, plans changed so I was left to my own devices.  A group of us cook together on Thursdays so last week I offered to make dessert – strawberry blueberry hand pies.  I’ve seen tons of recipes for hand pies recently and I like the idea of true single servings, because come on, who doesn’t cut their own slice just slightly bigger than everyone else’s…then go back for “just one more sliver”?  This is portion control at its finest.

This recipe actually calls for rhubarb rather than blueberries, but I am a berry fanatic lately so there was no question, the rhubarb was out this time.  A couple more pics, then the details:



Recipe adapted from Crepes of Wrath (

1 batch pie dough (recipe below)
5-6 stalks rhubarb, washed and thinly sliced (I substituted about 1 ½ pints fresh blueberries)
3 ½ cups strawberries (I used a one pound container)
¾ cup granulated sugar
½ cup brown sugar
¼ cup corn starch
2 Tbsp AP flour
½ tsp lemon zest (I zested a whole lemon)
½ tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp vanilla extract
¼ tsp coriander (I omitted)
½ tsp ground cardamom (my addition – just love it)
1 egg, lightly beaten
Sugar for sprinkling (I used coarse sparkling sugar for a little crunch)

Pie Dough
3 cups AP flour
1 Tbsp granulated sugar
1 tsp kosher salt
1 cup (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cubed
¾ cup ice water (give or take)
*Note – I generally like to do half shortening/half butter for a flakier crust, but since these are hand pies all butter works better – less mess!


  1. For the dough – mix flour, sugar and salt in a large bowl.  Cut in the butter with a pastry blender until well incorporated and texture is that of coarse crumbs.  Add ice water 1 Tbsp at a time until dough comes together in a ball.  Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for about an hour.
  2. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.  Thinly slice rhubarb (or just use blueberries) and dice strawberries.  Place them in a large bowl and toss with the sugars, cornstarch, flour, lemon zest, spices and vanilla.  Set aside.
  3. Remove pie dough from fridge and dust work surface with flour.  Roll the dough to about 1/8 inch thick (or however thick you prefer).  Using a round cutter, cut the dough into circles and place half of them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.  Place about 1 ½ tsp filling on top of each round.  Lightly brush the edges of the round with egg wash and cover the filling with the other half of the rounds.  Crimp the edges with a fork, brush with egg wash and sprinkle sugar over the top.  Poke small holes in the tops of each pie with a fork and bake for 20-25 min or until golden brown.
  4. Allow pies to cool completely before placing in an air tight container.  Can be stored for up to 2 days at room temperature, longer in the fridge and for up to 2 months in the freezer.
*Note – the recipe calls for using a 1 ½ inch cookie or biscuit cutter to make the rounds.  I opted to use a soup mug about 5 inches across and make half-moon shaped pies instead.  Either works fine.

 Serve with ice cream and enjoy the taste of summer!