The next two weeks were a bit of a frenzy.
In DC it wasn't uncommon to go to two delicatessens for lunch, or to invent new meals: a quick sandwich between brunch and lunch, pre-appetizers, after dinner tacos.
The few notes I took were ecstatic to the point of incoherence. Most of the pictures were rushed and blurred, taken with smeared mayonnaise sfumato or through a kind of sepia-toned barbecue sauce filter, or just remembered too late. I have a lot of very nice pictures of crumbs on plates.
Still, if the goal was to find Washington DC's best sandwiches, I think I succeeded.
Mind you, I didn't only eat sandwiches. I had perfectly nice tacos all over the place, excellent modern Indian food at Rasika (where the Palak Chaat of Crispy baby spinach, sweet yogurt, tamarind, and date chutney might be the single best dish I have had all year) and most of all I had the full sampler platter at Zenebech Injera one of the best Ethiopian restaurants outside of Africa and my one must-visit-pilgrimage-spot every time I'm in DC.
Zenebech is an Ethiopian Restaurant's Ethiopian Restaurant; almost all of the best Ethiopian restaurants in DC get their injera from the bakers at Zenebech (note to the brand newy: injera is an unrisen sour dough flat bread that is a staple of Ethiopian cuisine, and often the literal plate that the cuisine is served on).
The restaurant itself is basically a hole in the wall, with linoleum floors, some casual outdoor seating, and a big fridge of cold Ethiopian beers. But, there is nothing stripped-down about the food. It is the best of its kind, spiced to the point of madness, fresh, bright and fiery. Get the meat combo and make sure to specify you want your kifto (ground beef) raw--pregnant women should order double. The doro wat (chicken stew with egg), and greens are especially excellent.
OK, back to the sandwiches.
Even though every sandwich I had in DC was better than any I had ever had in Hong Kong, three sandwiches were on a different level entirely, the kind of sandwiches you eat silently with tears in your eyes.
The first is another example of an Italian sandwich, just across the street from A. Litteri at Red Apron in Union Market.
"The Italian" put me in a bit of a quandary. The "4 Red Apron Meats, Aged Provolone, Herb Vinaigrette, Pickled Peppers, Iceberg, Onion" sounded close enough to a classic Italian sub on paper but as soon as they brought it out I could see that something was amiss: it was visibly over-seasoned, the lettuce was still in leafs and not shredded, and worst of all the ingredients were served jammed into a soft, top-loading bun. Everything, in a word, was wrong.
Then how do I explain that the sandwich was sublime: punchy, chewy, lip-smacking, a perfect balance of salt, and acid, fresh liveliness from the greens, and deep funk from the thicker cut cured meats. I don't know. I just know it was very, very good.
Here then is a commonality between poets and sandwich craftsmen: you must first master the form in order to break it, and sometimes only in breaking the form can something of transcendent beauty be born. Or something like that. The student submarine sandwich becomes the teacher submarine sandwich etc. etc.
The next sensational sandwich I had in DC came from one of the most unexpected places.
In fact we were trying to take a break from eating sandwiches when we got in line at Rose's Luxury nearly two hours before they opened for dinner.
Rose's Luxury has been described (by google I think) as an eclectic New American tapas restaurant. It is famous, and it is trendy. I believe it was named America's best restaurant by GQ Magazine last year and it surpassed all of my expectations.
A different blogger might take this opportunity to walk through their full, delicious, multi-course meal (pork sausage, habanero, peanuts, and lychee salad holla at me!), but I'm going to focus instead on something magical that happened after the dinner was, for all intents and purposes, over.
We had just decided we were too full for dessert, ordered a sherry, and asked for the check when we saw the chefs in the back of the open kitchen assembling a sandwich and serving it to a duo of self-satisfied foodie-hipsters.
An off-menu secret dinner sandwich. I almost peed my pants.
We ordered one immediately and what came out was a sandwichized version of their popular smoked brisket entree. Perfect pink brisket shiny with fat, piled under a glistening thatch of tart and crispy slaw, all served with a generous slather of horseradish on a brioche bun so buttery it threatened to melt. This was a meal sandwich to be sure. A fatty, filling, stew of a sandwich, the kind that has you lying in bed hours later perspiring suet into your eyes. I loved it.
I may have some of the details wrong here, I was deep in the throes of sandwich induced ecstasy (what my parents have learned to call "tripping sammies").
Now, to what I think was the best sandwich of my two weeks in Washington, the Spiced Baby Goat sandwich from G by Mike Isabella (yes, the guy from Top Chef).
I have no notes about this sandwich and not a single picture. I do not feel bad about this; nobody is paying me to blog.
My memories of the sandwich are... well memories are tricky things.
I do remember I'd never had anything like it. It was like Isabella managed to cram all of the depth and complexity of Moroccan cuisine into a bun; if the Rose's Luxury sandwich was a stew, the spiced baby goat was a tajine.
I'm looking at the menu description for the sandwich online now: harissa, lemon potatoes, and oregano and that hardly does what really was a watershed sandwich for me justice. Firstly it doesn't really explain the goat itself, which I remember as slow cooked in what must have been a heavily-spice broth until it was deeply flavored and falling apart, then it must have been put on the griddle, or under the broiler for a bit because in my mind it was still nicely browned and chewy. The potatoes were almost as moving as the goat, they were little bright yellow fingerling and marble potatoes but cooked until soft and creamy, and when you would take a bite they would basically take on the roll of a thick sauce, redolent of preserved lemon, the smokey heat of the harissa, and the savory slightly astringent oregano.
It was (I think) one of the best sandwich I (might) have ever had.
Just a quick note: It has been brought to my attention that so far this blog is a bit sandwich-centric so if you're not a sandwich fan (read foreigner) or are gluten intolerant or something (read asshole) don't fear, from here we'll be going down the rabbit hole of American regional barbecue. Next stop the Carolinas!