Walking through Russian mazes

Ever since I was 13, there had been talk about my mother’s family having some Russian ancestry, but I only found concrete proof two years ago. I learned how to make the family’s version of Russian salad, but my reporting experiences on Russian small plates taught me that multiculturalism in the D.C. Metro area can still pack a punch, even for a local such as myself.

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Small Plate Recipes you can make at home!

By now you might’ve figured out that we at PetitePlatesDC (myself included) love small plates. It’s also not a surprise that we are a group on a budget – living the grad school life.

If you are in a similar financial situation or just like saving a few bucks, we feel your pain (no really, we do) but you don’t have to miss out on the great taste of tapas or the fresh, crisp flavors of mezze if you’re on a budget – just make your own! There’s literally nothing you can’t create with a trip to the grocery store and an hour in the kitchen.

So, I’ve collected a few recipes that are easy to make and delicious to eat – by yourself or with friends!

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Dissatisfied with French small plates

I grew up eating a lot of French food. Examples include quiches and Niçoise salads. When I learned recently from my mother that Bread and Chocolate has a small plates section on its menu, I was pleasantly surprised. I had never heard of French small plates before.

But I noticed many international elements in that section. In general, the restaurant has a lot of French food items, but it also covers other countries in its menu. The nagging question was, how French is this going to be? Going to Bread and Chocolate’s branch in the Foggy Bottom area, I got my answer. The menu is still a little disorganized, so if you want mesclun salad or some form of a quiche, general manager Eugene Kouadio said that those are still small plates. The audio interview is mostly in French, which you can listen to here. However, I also provided a translation of the interview: Translated interview for French small plates blog post.

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Small plates are for brunch, too

Sometimes, you can read all you want, but it doesn’t substitute experiences in the real world. Thanks to a Twitter response from @Ariel_Yong, I decided to go to Graffiato. I wrote about this celebrity chef’s Italian (mostly) small plates restaurant in an earlier post, but it was time for me to eat my words.

Entering on a Saturday at 1:00 p.m., I expected there to be a lunch menu, but it was only brunch, to my surprise. However, my server, Becca, told me that the menu still has small plates for brunch. I tried the broccolini, but the hanger steak wasn’t on the brunch menu. So I ordered the pumpkin bread pudding instead.

While I was waiting, I was sitting at the bar and watching the people in the kitchen do their work. I noticed a woman doing prep work. I know from previous experience that this task is something patrons don’t usually notice, so it was nice to see it again after many years. She was dicing a lot of fresh mozzarella, which I’m guessing is mostly for the multiple pizzas this restaurant offers.

The décor has sophisticated colors, mainly black and white. The napkins and the menus are the color of caramel cardboard. But the flat screen TV adds a more casual touch.

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The décor at Graffiato (Photo credit: Selma Khenissi)

A similar atmosphere pervades the food. The broccolini looked very festive, but crowded the serving plate. Even though a smaller square plate offered me the possibility to solve that problem, it would have felt odd to do so.

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Broccolini pasta (Photo credit: Selma Khenissi)

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What to look for when navigating some of D.C.’s famous spots

What experiences can people expect when eating out at small plates restaurants? Knowing what to look for when reading the menu is a start. This is not your typical listing of appetizers, entrées and desserts. Let’s look at some of the famous ones, shall we?

Jaleo

If you’ve lived in the D.C. Metro area for a while, then you have most likely heard about José Andrés showcasing tapas in his restaurant Jaleo.

This restaurant has multiple branches, including one in Las Vegas. The original is in D.C.’s Penn Quarter, so I think that’s the most relevant menu to look at here.

Most categories are listed in Spanish without any English translations, but the translated parts make it possible to understand. For example, “Verduras” emphasizes vegetables. However, the section “Conos, latas y más” can be confusing, even when the reader is pretty sure the title translates into “Cones, canned foods and more.”

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Twisted Vines Bottleshop & Bistro

This sophisticated wine bar serves up a heaping of tasty small plates, perfectly paired with a vast selection of libations. Opened in 2010 by husband-and-wife team Josh and Sybil Robinson, Twisted Vines offers small plates as dinner options and 100 plus wines from Spain, Uruguay and Australia, to name a few. If the Zagat rating isn’t enough to pique your interest, consider the tasty tidbits on the menu. I ordered the $6 Twisted Trio, which comes with roasted olives, Marcona almonds, and a sweet and zesty cranberry peanut mix.

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The Twisted Trio
Photo by Paulina Kosturos

When I asked the waiter, Eduardo, or self-dubbed “very handsome waiter,” what to pair with the trio, he responded by giving me a brief history of wine pairings. According to Eduardo, the French wanted to make more money on selling wines. So they began insisting that only certain foods be paired with certain wines.

And so the story goes, food and wine pairings were born.

While this remains debatable (Read up on the origins of food pairings here), the trio serves as the perfectly salty snack for the red wine drinker. According to Eduardo, a full to medium-bodied wine brings out the intense flavors of the food, making for a bolder taste.

“It’s like drinking beer and scotch,” he said.

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