Monday, March 28, 2011

smokie joe's cafe, hushpuppy bento

Hi bento pals! Sunday here was quite chilly--we awoke to a dusting of snow and decided it would be a good day for a drive for a cozy, warming meal in an interesting place. Our destination: Warrenton, a cute town about one hour west of us in the direction of the Shenandoah Mountains.

The  main attraction: Smokie Joe's Cafe, a restaurant we'd read rave reviews of. We were not disappointed! A high point of the visit was enjoying a relaxed conversation with proprietor Joe Carter, touching on food, travel, history and the importance following one's creative vision--in the kitchen and in life.

Mr. Carter is retired from a career in research and development and now pursues his lifelong passion for cooking full time. Growing up on a farm in Warrenton where everything was cooked with loving care, Joe learned the classics of southern home cooking and now enjoys sharing his own interpretation of dishes including barbecue, fried fish, hush puppies and a menu of other favorites.

Careful spicing and seasoning, never using shortcuts and a light hand with salt is his culinary philosophy. It shined through in the wonderful dishes we enjoyed, including hands down the best hushpuppies we've ever had (perfectly crisp, ethereally light, with a slight sweetness and pure corn flavor) and excellent, deeply flavored ribs.

Joe explained that every aspect of the food and its presentation is subject to the same creative rigour he brought to his former career--down to inventing a special serving container for the hush puppies and the sweet butter they arrive with!

He makes everything from scratch and all food is cooked to order, including singularly good homemade sausage with sage. It had a lingering, subtle delectableness...a true
 "Slow Food" regional specialty:

Celery leaves is one of the seasoning secrets of the excellent coleslaw, perfectly crisp and refreshing:

Jamison's combination platter (his photo of it, below) featured amazing ribs and fried chicken. Difficult to describe the lip-smacking mellow sweet savor of the ribs, but the house made BBQ sauce (we brought bottles of it home) offered some hints: its special blend includes white vinegar, hickory smoked habanero peppers, mustard, molasses, curry, honey and garlic. Quite delicious!

my pulled pork sandwich:

savory collards

We left with very full bellies and a deeper understanding of the complexities of a town where black and white history is inseparably intertwined in ways both bitter and sweet. Looking forward to visiting again to try the homemade biscuits and sausage gravy and continue the conversation with our new friend!

The building where Smokie Joe's is located has always been African-American owned, and hosts an active Mason's Lodge meeting of long standing:

We visited on a Sunday and found many shops lining Warrenton's quaint Old Town to be closed--great excuse to return on an upcoming Saturday! Here's one place whose window captured my interest:

Happily, just outside of the historic part of town Fox Antiques was open, offering an eclectic selection of interesting housewares from bygone decades.
Some fun items I spied: a kawaii apron...

spring fresh embroidered linens

vintage spice containers

and a pretty casserole in vibrant colors

Today's bento contains edible souvenirs of our visit, most especially one of the magic hushpuppies:

A crisp piece of fried chicken, baby lettuce greens, sweet corn, yummy coleslaw from Smokie Joe's, a golden tomato, blackberries, preserved peach and a mini vanilla cupcake also for lunch.

Have a great week and let's keep the bento4japan spirit going!
(my auction items can be seen here)

Thursday, March 24, 2011

french flavors bento

Hi bento pals! Today's bento was inspired by the bright colors and special kawaii of the "Palette's Sweet Street" San-X line. I recently found a set of Palette's Sweet Street stickers at Kinokuniya and fell in love with its adorable Parisian black kitten peeking out from an array of vibrantly colored desserts...

Cute food picks made with the sticker set:

Parisian p├ótisseries and the Eiffel Tower seem to be kitty's favorite I wondered, what might she enjoy in a Francophile bento lunch? How about arugula tossed with French walnut oil, French green lentil salad with walnuts and walnut oil, a heart shaped open faced sammie with chicken salad (diced chicken, artichokes, fines herbes, red onion, mayo and fresh dill)?

Little goat cheese rounds rolled in Herbes de Provence and spicy edible johnny jump-ups add bright and savory flair:

French Green Lentil Salad with Walnut Oil

To one cup of French green lentils (cooked until tender with salt and a bouquet garni) add walnut oil to taste, a teaspoon of Dijon mustard, a thin-sliced scallion, a grind of pepper, a handful of walnuts. Adjust seasonings and enjoy a healthy, earthy and elegant salad!

Bakery-made mini cheesecake, raspberries and coconut-dusted champagne mango for dessert, with French macaroon-kitty pick! Speaking of food picks, I'm crazy about these new "jewel" picks from Japan with their fun glamour-kawaii vibe:

Cool and rainy weather here, but at last flowers brightening the out of doors! Indigo blue twin hyacinths:

Watercolor pastel pansy

Magnolia in full bloom

The bento4japan fundraising effort is going strong! A growing collection of lovely bento stuffs to benefit the cause are available here. Thanks again to the organizers of this excellent effort, our friendship, prayers and best hopes to the people of Japan as they recover from this calamity.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

persian spring bento

Hello bento pals--happy spring! I've been exploring some wonderful Persian shops and restaurants this week, inspired by the Persian celebration of Nowruz marking the first day of spring. This holiday of spring renewal, healthy feasting and color offers a beautiful way to celebrate the new season of light and flowers.

Azita of Turmeric and Saffron has shared some amazing images, recipes and reflections on the Persian New Year celebration at her always lovely blog, do have a look!
Also highly recommended: two exciting resources for Persian baked goods, groceries and culinary inspiration in the Washington DC area: Nemooneh Bakery in Chantilly was a delight--bright, well organized and so fun to browse.
Bright green pistachios:

Jewel-like sweets including varieties of baklava that were new to me...

 Amazing rose-cashew baklava!
Very fresh almond scented marzipan in soft spring colors...

Meanwhile, at the newly opened Sauson and Kamron Market in Ashburn,Virginia an exciting assortment of baked treats and spices fill its cavernous space...


The charming owner of this shop offered us tea and cookies as we chatted about his visions for the shop and its future restaurant...
Jamison's birthday was on Friday, and we were excited to try Yetka, a Rockville, Maryland favorite for Persian dining. It was a wonderful experience: a leisurely late lunch with warm and articulate service and a bright assortment of beautiful dishes.

Nan-o Panir-o Sabzi

 A view of the feast by Jamison, including Shislick Kabob with tender grilled lamb chops
 Fresh herbs, walnuts, tangy cheese and lavash: a perfect pairing!
 Persian rice (chelow) with fresh herbs and saffron, grilled rockfish:
Aged garlic, sweet and full of deep flavor wowed us both:

 Heavenly house-made saffron-pistachio ice cream
 Yetka's lovely Haft-Sin arrangement
Next door, the Yetka Market...

In this same shopping center is the friendly and attractive housewares shop Dorsa, overflowing with flowers, sprouted wheat, hand painted eggs and other spring delights:

 Sabzeh, sprouted wheat grass

Exuberant colors and the sparkle of spring's arrival reflected in Dorsa's Haft-Sin display: 

Back home...pastries and sweets and a Persian inspired spring bento!

Yetka's lovely green herb and saffron rice is layered with fresh basil, dill, parsley, scallion, garlic blossoms. Grilled rockfish, lavash, goat cheese and radish also for lunch, along with sweet treats of marzipan, jam-heart cookie and green grapes:
Happy spring, bento friends!