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Ballpark — Mina Belly Dancer — American entrepreneurs

By Jordan Wright
Published – Local Kicks [dot] com – Nibbles & Sips
August 17th, 2009

In American Express’s new ad featuring American entrepreneurs, sexy savvy Warren Brown of CakeLove gets all the attention. In this sleek 60-second spot he tallies six individual shots while talking on the phone, overseeing the frosting of one of his yummy cakes and hanging with his staff.

I caught up with Brown this morning in the midst of a shoot for his website. When I congratulated him on the Amex ad he said it had brought in a lot of new business.

“We’re creating a “welcome” video for newcomers to our website. We want to spread the gospel of CakeLove,” he cheerily offered. But the gospel he had most on his mind was that he and wife, Pam, are expecting their first child in January.

Now that Restaurant Eve is serving Gadino Cellars wines we won’t have to drive all the way out to the Inn at Little Washington for a glass with our supper. And speaking of Eve, Chef Cathal Armstrong will be the American Horticultural Society’s Honorary Chair for their September gala at River Farm along the Potomac. That’s the kind of favor you can call up if one of the restaurant partner’s wives steers the gala event committee. So very helpful…

Today’s ballparks have become strike zones with batting and pitching cages, food destinations, Build-A-Bear Workshops, sports arenas, PlayStation pavilions and baseball venues all in one. Did I mention baseball? Yes, they have that too. If you haven’t been to a game lately I highly recommend it. Sports fan or not, you’ll be a convert by the time the game’s over. It’s great for a family (very unlike the rowdy and often R-rated crowds at a football game) or whiling away an evening with a date.

I had a chance to sample the food at Nationals Park last week and it was a real eye opener. Professional chefs are creating some wonderful and imaginative stadium food…so delicious that people are showing up at the ticket office and buying the cheap seats ($5.00), just to get into the park, for some of this mouth-wateringly smokin’ food.

If you’re accustomed to the greasy $7 slices of Domino’s pizza at FedEx Field you are in for a complete overhaul of your sports venue mind-set. Unlike FedEx Field, which has private high-end ticket holder restaurants within the stadium for their club seat and sky-box patrons only, Nationals Park has fabulous choices for food all over the stadium. Most of these spots even have a direct view of the game with outdoor awning-covered seating or indoor and air-conditioned with a sight line enjoyed through sliding glass panels. While FedEx offers in-seat service for their pricey club seat ticket holders, Nationals Park encourages all its guests to walk around and enjoy the game from a number of different viewing areas and to eat your way around the park. With so much to choose from it’s great fun to get there early and eat at your leisure.

Since it is necessary to have kid approval for ballpark food, my grandson, Jacob, a perpetually hungry 11 year-old, was recruited for the sake of this review.

Our first stop was Teddy’s Barbeque, where all the meats are hickory smoked. Pulled pork, pulled chicken and beef brisket sandwiches compete with “The Rough Rider Rib”, a monster beef short rib prepared in true Carolina style…brined for 12 hours and then slow-smoked for another 12 hours. I am challenging all readers to let me know if they have ever had better anywhere. Did I mention the smoked corn on the husk, baked beans, slaw and potato salad sides? We are just getting started here.

In earnest we approached the foot-long Crab Louie. At $18 a pop it may seem a little pricey until you realize that it’s all lump crabmeat (Try making this at home. I priced a pound of lump at $33 today!), and four people could share this for a lovely lunch. Comes with extra crispy Old Bay seasoned french fries too.

Next we tried a Cuban sandwich that fit right into my “foodcation” concept. Skip the flight to Miami and cab to Calle Ocho, you can enjoy a “medianoche” right here.

We continued our street fair approach to dining with a stop at a recent addition, The Kosher Grill. Along with kosher hot dogs it features falafel, knishes and Middle Eastern shwarma. Are you still with me?

If you’re wistful for the annual summer Feast of San Gennaro, now in its 90th year, in New York City’s Little Italy (the sentiment always floods over me at this time of year), you couldn’t do better than to have the Italian Sausage sandwich here. It is one of my all-time favorites and they hit it out of the park…fennel-infused sausage, sautéed red peppers and onions, soft Italian roll and all.

In case you thought ballpark food was all hotdogs and peanuts, at this hip stadium they have healthy snack alternatives like veggie burgers, shrimp burgers, boxes of carrot and celery sticks, fresh fruit bowls, fruit smoothies and more. Makes a parent feel almost nutritionally religious taking the little ones to see a game.

Here you’ll find so many different locations to pause, eat, drink and watch the game you needn’t sit in your seat at all and some fans never do. At the Red Porch, a restaurant open to all ticket holders, they carry beer on tap from around the country…like Dogfish from Delaware, Bell’s Kalamazoo Stout from Michigan and Flying Dog Old Scratch Amber from Maryland to mention a few. With different food from the rest of the park, this sit-down menu has everything from Bacon Blue Cheese Burgers and Quesadillas to Chinese Chicken Salad and Jerk Chicken Wings.

Not to miss dessert our adventure took us onward to two DC faves, Gifford’s Ice Cream and Edy’s Grand Ice Cream stands for a sweet treat. We both loved the park’s, made in Italy and shipped over fresh, Italian gelati. “One mocha chocolate chip, one strawberry, please.” Later we kept our cool with frozen lemonade. It just couldn’t get any better.

Kid verdict: a lot of lip-smacking, barbeque sauce finger licking, more than a few “Oh yeah, that’s what I’m talking about!” responses, juicy-cool refreshing fruit snack smiles and a big thumbs up for all the food. By the way, the Nats crushed their opponents that day…9-2.

A big gear change, later in the week, had me dining at Raw Silk, a new King Street Indian restaurant, which I have mentioned here before, but not with a review of the food. Although I wouldn’t describe this as cutting-edge Indian cuisine it has all the requisite dishes plus a few surprises done very nicely and I do recommend you try it.

We were off to a rousing start with the best Samosas I have ever had and a simple Paneer Pakora, a rennet-free cheese that is dipped in chickpea batter and fried. Perfect with cocktails. Papri Chat, a sort of bread salad made with chick peas, potatoes, tomatoes and Indian spices and laced with a homemade chutney was crunchy, lemony, spicy and very refreshing. You can get the starters in a threesome combination and that way you can try out a few different ones.

I asked for chutneys to be served with our dinner and they brought a lovely selection but reluctantly. I have never worked out why Indian restaurants don’t promote their chutneys more. They are the most intriguing and complex condiments whose ingredients and preparations vary greatly, in a nice way, from place to place. This evening featured a Cilantro Chutney, cool, tart and refreshing and a spicy Tamarind Chutney that was sweet, slightly smoky tasting and well balanced. A bit of refreshing cucumber, mint and cilantro Raita was offered too.

Belly Dancer Mina at Raw Silk

Belly Dancer Mina at Raw Silk

Curries arrived along with belly dancer, Mina, who performed her traditional gyrations intoxicatingly up and down the aisles while swathed in red silk and jingling seductively. We enjoyed a brilliant Lamb Korma (we nearly came to blows over sharing this one…so fabulous was it), Chicken Tikka Masala with its haunting garam masala, and Shahi Paneer, the smooth cheese in a cream and tomato curry sauce. All were served in charming copper pails with brass handles and with rice on the side.

Shrimp Biryani, however, was very disappointing. As my favorite Indian entrée I have had this dish prepared all over the Washington Metro area, yet never in this fashion. In a dish where the rice is traditionally cooked separately from the other ingredients, I was unprepared for what was an uninteresting and thoughtless mash of rice, cooked with tomato sauce or paste, with some vegetables thrown in and a few small un-spiced flavorless shrimp. Where were the cloves, cinnamon, bay leaves, saffron, black cardamom seeds and other bright, lively flavors this dish is noted for? Why was the rice stuck together, soft and mushy, instead of individual grains separated by what should have been a pre-saute with ghee and finished with a golden crackling crust of rice to top it off? I hope they better this dish soon.

I always order Onion Kulcha but here, this too, was a disappointment as it lacked the smoky flame-cooked finish of the fiery clay oven and seemed merely warmed, the onions tasting nearly raw.

The desserts are typical teeth-shattering Indian sweets. The Gulab Jamun is a shock to the system. Diabetics stay away. This is an ambulance call. Mango Kulfi, I was assured is made from fresh mangoes. Nonetheless it did not in any way taste as though it had met a fresh fruit and came off like a bad Creamsicle. The Rice Pudding, “kheer” as you may know it, was tasty enough, but with a soupy consistency, a new style of preparation for me, and I sorely missed the creamy version with a rosewater infusion and chopped pistachio nut topping I am more familiar with.

There is, however, much else to commend in this exotic setting with its entertainment, cozy lounge area, late night service and pretty décor. If a few small changes could be made and a bit more confidence and creativity come out of the kitchen, this restaurant would be better rounded. But in its first few months of operation it is still a welcome addition to the King Street scene.

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