About JillianLaffrey

Listen - Harmonize - Execute. Communicator with a love of good food, typography, and song. Making a fuss in DC since 2010.

Et tu, B Too?

B TooLike all mothers, mine believes emphatically that she doesn’t see me often enough. So two and a half months after coming for a week in March, she was back for a repeat visit at the beginning of June. I was able to take a few days off, and we enjoyed a thoroughly relaxing weekend. Forced inside by some monstrous downpours, we contented ourselves by watching Netflix, doing crossword puzzles, and baking. Although the visit was ultimately lovely and successful, it didn’t start out that way. 14th Street beckoned, and our curiosity was piqued by the new Belgian restaurant from the owners of Belga in Eastern Market, B Too. B Too is in good company for newcomer restaurants–it joins Le Diplomate, Etto, and Ghibellina as all very recent additions to 14th. With Belga being a consistent favorite, we entered with high hopes, and even higher expectations.

Although we were about 15 minutes early for our reservation, the staff seated us immediately, and tried to make us comfortable with drinks and a paper bag of crusty (and I mean, crusty) bread to dip in olive oil. The trouble started when I asked our server what kind of oil they use for frying. It’s common for upscale restaurants to use peanut oil for frites, and the server confirmed that yes, B Too uses peanut oil for their frites. Disappointed, but not yet discouraged, we asked about ordering the hangar steak and roasted root vegetables with something other than frites. The server’s response was a bit shocking: “No, we don’t do any substitutions here.” Incredulous, I asked, “No substitutions? Not even for an allergy?” He then left to confer with the chef. His return was very positive–they would certainly accommodate my request and substitute a different side. We settled on the potato mousse, and also ordered the monk fish, and an asparagus dish to start. Before he left, he urged that he would put a large “No nut” warning on our entire order, and that the restaurant would use vegetable/canola oil for any of our dishes.

My suspicions started to grow when we were given our first dish: white and green asparagus with chopped egg and butter sauce. The dish was topped with a rice cracker that looked like it had been flash fried. A little nervous, I asked him again to confirm that the kitchen hadn’t used peanut oil. After another trip to the chef, he confirmed that they had used canola oil. Still, I decided to set aside the cracker, and just focus on the asparagus. Unfortunately, they didn’t hold my attention for long. Well cooked, but lacking in flavor and literally drowning in a tasteless, oily sauce, the asparagus had few redeeming qualities.

B Too AsparagusWe were served our main dishes, which we planned to split between us: Kraaie Biefstuk met Vergeten Groente (Josper grilled hanger steak with root vegetables, and our subbed side of Potato mousse with roasted garlic), and Roulade van Zeeduivel met Bloemkool (Monkfish roulade with cauliflower risotto, fried capers and parsley). It all looked delectable, but looks can be deceiving. I tried the hangar steak first–ordered medium rare, but served almost well done–and was dismayed to find the steak had little flavor, and gained little even when completely dunked in the hot pepper sauce. The root vegetables were equally lackluster, and though sprinkled generously with herbs, were obviously not roasted with them. Finally, the potato mousse was not the fluffy, garlicky masterpiece I had expected. It resembled a thick cheese soup, and was so buttery and rich you could barely eat a bite without your arteries clogging. But then, it got worse.

B Too Hangar steakWe switched plates, and I started in on the monkfish. While the fish itself was properly cooked, and sat on a bed of cauliflower “risotto” (although I hardly think pats of rice mixed with various vegetables can be called risotto), I found the presentation, with the strange foam and giant okra pods a bit disconcerting and pretentious. A few bites in, I had…well…a moment. Others with food allergies may know what I’m talking about. It’s the tiny seed of panic, lodged only in your subconscious, that you might have a big problem on your hands. I realized that the capers in the dish had been fried. I know enough about kitchen practices to assume that my capers would not have gotten special treatment, and, more likely, were made in bulk in a fryer, to be tossed into the various dishes when necessary. I immediately feared that they had been fried in peanut oil, and I was about to face a serious allergic reaction.

B Too MonkfishWe called the server over for the umpteenth time, and I hastily explained that I wasn’t feeling well, and that he needed to check on whether the kitchen had accidentally included capers from a peanut oil batch. A scuffle ensued, which ended up with the manager coming over to the table to look after my well-being. Then the most unbelievable thing happened. “We don’t use peanut oil for anything in the restaurant,” the manager said. Excuse me? He further explained that the restaurant doesn’t use peanut oil, but it does use Pinola oil, apparently a brand of vegetable oil. The server had apparently gotten very confused, and heard peanut, and not Pinola. I was shocked that such a miscommunication error could have happened, and I asked to speak with the chef personally. So out comes the chef, obviously harried, but exceedingly pleasant and goodnatured. Yes, he assured me, the only oil we use in the kitchen is Pinola. No peanuts anywhere. So I was safe. Sure. But not happy.

We never saw our server again–the manager stepped in to handle us. He admitted that it was the server’s first day without supervision, and offered to get us a dessert on the house. Uninterested in dessert after a veritable anxiety attack, I instead aired my frustration and dismay at the poor training this fellow had received. This was a most basic error in communication, and could have been totally preempted had the server had a more thorough knowledge of the restaurant’s menu and policies. Peanut allergies are everywhere. They are not obscure, and they’re entirely manageable. One would think that a restaurant would have trained their staff in how best to deal with food allergies, and would have required at least a basic understanding of food preparation (e.g., what kind of oil the restaurant uses, if they make desserts in-house, if the soups are made with chicken or vegetable stock, etc.).

Ultimately, the manager was sincerely apologetic, and after failing to tempt us with a free dessert, took the asparagus appetizer off the bill. Personally, I expected a bit more, but that’s neither here nor there. I was disappointed and still suffering the effects of my psychosomatic allergy symptoms when we left. I hope that B Too can improve and expand their training practices to better prepare for customers with food allergies, and to avoid these grievous miscommunication errors. With that said, I hope their food gets better too.

B Too | 324 14th Street NW 20005 | 202.627.2800

Je Voudrais…

Le Diplomate“Je voudrais…” was one of the first French phrases I was taught in my middle school French class. I vividly remember our teacher (“Madame,” of course) bringing in Coke and Orangina to our class so we could practice saying, “Je voudrais un Coca s’il vous plaît.” It was thrilling, I tell you. Of course, if I had used the phrase when placing my order at Le Diplomate last Sunday, I would’ve gotten some strange stares, both from the waiter and my dining partner. I’ll say, although I was slightly offended at the mangled French pronunciations used by my waiter, once the food came, it really didn’t matter. The food was rich but summery, meticulous but comforting. Having opened only a few months ago on the 14th street corridor, Le Diplomate has basked in an array of shining reviews. And with the sun peeping through bright red awnings and reflecting off the chummy yellow patio bistro chairs, it’s hard to imagine a more perfect place to enjoy brunch with a good friend.

Le Diplomate patioWe were seated after only about 20 minutes, preferring the short wait to eating inside or on the side patio (with a lot more foot traffic). We snagged a perfect table at the sweet spot between inside and out. With its towering ceilings, skylights and dining room completely open to the patio, Le Diplomate has completely mastered the dining “en plein air” effect. Entranced by the absolutely perfect weather, we were content to gaze lazily around at our fellow diners, slowly peruse the menu, and sip on the Mimosa Lorraine (Crème de Griotte, Crème de Pêche, Orange Juice, and Sparkling Wine) or Bloody Mary. More importantly, our servers were content to let us do just that.

Le Diplomate DiningWhen it did come time for ordering, I prattled off my list of allergies and asked if there would be anything problematic with my order. Although our server didn’t seem exceedingly informed, he was confident that the restaurant wouldn’t have any peanuts anywhere near my dishes. Peanuts aren’t really a thing in French cooking, thank goodness. mimosa and bloody maryI will note, however, that the bread basket brought over by another server did include a cranberry walnut bread. Although tree nuts are entirely safe for me, I still would have appreciated a head’s up. For many people I know, this would have been a big faux pas (see how I used the French, there?).

croissantOne buttery, crackly croissant later, the server brought our main dishes. I’m told that the egg white omelette with ratatouille was lovely, but I can only really speak for my dish: Eggs Boudin Noir. Baked “en cocotte” (in a vivid orange Le Creuset boat-like dish), my soft boiled eggs were surrounded by crispy, salty boudin noir (blood sausage) and roasted asparagus, with some crusty, grilled levain bread on the side. Outrageous. I assure you that this dish was responsible for my inability to move for several hours afterwards. Luckily, my afternoon consisted of lying on the grass in Meridian Hill Park people-watching and reflecting on my meal. And imagining a new one.

Eggs En CocotteYesterday, I decided to capitalize on the obviously genius combination of eggs, sausage and asparagus to make my own version of eggs en cocotte. IMG_1633With my CSA bounty at the ready, I made a delightful little frittata with scallions, chives, sharp cheddar, roasted asparagus, and chicken sausage. I may have then topped it with tabasco sauce. Not exactly French, but very delicious!

Le Diplomate | 1601 14th Street Washington DC 20005 | 202.332.3333

Greens of Plenty

Happy Memorial Day Weekend! First order of business, an apology. Turns blogging is like flossing – you really need to do it regularly to reap all the benefits. (Reminds me – I should really floss more). Anyway, it has been a while, but I’m so excited to be back! To ease myself in, this will be a non-traditional post. Don’t worry, I’m currently amassing a nice array of posts about actually dining out, but for now, I’m making a fuss about my new best friend: a weekly CSA!

My friend Michelle and I decided to go halfsies on a weekly CSA program from Smucker Farms of Lancaster County. The Smucker CSA is so fabulous because it brings together many different Amish and Mennonite farms working cooperatively. Although our CSA is only fruit and veggies, we can always pick up meats, cheeses, and other local items (like Gordy’s Pickles and chocolate chip cookies from Blind Dog Cafe) from their store on 14th street, which serves as the pickup spot. From now until November, we’ll pick up a box every Friday, and halve the bounty for the week! The price is right, as is the convenience factor (I love when other people shop for me!), but more than anything, we’re very excited about the thrill of new ingredients which we would never pick out ourselves. (I’m looking at you, bok choy!) So far we’ve been inundated with greens, but as the summer progresses, we’ll have a much bigger variety. So, without further ado, a week of CSA meals!

Obviously not too much effort went into this meal, but it was delicious all the same! Mixed green salad with radishes and scallions, with raisin challah toast!

Obviously not too much effort went into this meal, but it was delicious all the same! Mixed green salad with radishes and scallions, with raisin challah toast!

Absolutely gorgeous swiss chard (with stalk) sauteed with lots of garlic and scallions with  a simple olive oil and pecorino romano sauce over linguine.

Absolutely gorgeous swiss chard (with stalk) sauteed with lots of garlic and scallions with a simple olive oil and pecorino romano sauce over linguine.

Got over my fears of bok choy and sauteed it up with mushrooms, ginger and garlic in olive oil and butter. Add a roasted chicken thigh for some protein, and you've got a very comforting, filling meal!

Got over my fears of bok choy and sauteed it up with mushrooms, ginger and garlic in olive oil and butter. Add a roasted chicken thigh for some protein, and you’ve got the quintessential “comfort food” meal.

Finally, a luscious bibb lettuce salad with radishes, scallions, and roasted almonds, roasted asparagus, and topped with lemon juice, olive oil and a liberal dash of salt and pepper!

Finally, a luscious bibb lettuce salad with radishes, almonds, scallions, and roasted asparagus, and tossed with lemon juice, olive oil and a liberal dash of salt and pepper!

I’ll be back soon with a post about dining out in DC! Now, go floss, everyone!