Washington, DC: Esencias Panameñas–A New Panamanian Restaurant


I was excited to find out that a restaurant showcasing Panamanian food would open in Washington, DC. My boyfriend and I were just in Panama in early July, and we immediately set a date to visit this new DC restaurant.

Panamanian food is based on a few staples: rice, corn, and beans/legumes. Many dishes use sofrito as a base. Sofrito is made of tomato, onion, garlic, and culantro (Eryngium foetidum). In the proteins department, there is a lot of seafood, cured beef known as tasajo, many chicken dishes, and a few types of chorizos. In my effort to be succinct, I may be oversimplifying a bit.

Esencias Panameñas opened in July 2015, and it is located at 3322 Georgia Avenue, NW in the Petworth neighborhood. It is evident that great care was taken to renovate and decorate the space. My first impression was positive; the restaurant is immaculately clean and welcoming. The hostess/waitress was friendly and welcomed us in in Spanish.


I opened the menu, and I was a bit surprised to see the somewhat high prices. I understand the dynamics behind opening a restaurant and setting a price, but these prices seemed outrageous for food that uses basic staple ingredients and very few, if any, expensive specialty ingredients. In addition, I was sitting in an establishment located in a mostly empty block of Petworth. In my head, I kept thinking about all the excellent local joints in my AU Park neighborhood that I could have visited instead, and gotten a solid meal at much lower prices: a sushi place that serves fresh crab, a Neapolitan pizza joint that makes one of the best pies in DC, a dive bar with the best bacon grilled cheese sandwich I’ve had… Sticker shock aside, we proceeded to order.

The restaurant has not obtained a liquor license yet, so alcoholic beverages were out of the question. There are a few traditional Panamanian non-alcoholic beverages available, but at $6-7 each, I decided against ordering one.

For an appetizer, we ordered the carimañolas—fried yucca dough encasing a ground meat filling. It took 30 minutes for us to get our appetizer, but the carimañolas were worth the wait. They were perfect. The yucca dough had a great consistency. Since carimañolas are fried, a lot of times they can be really greasy. These were not greasy at all. The filling was savory and succulent.

Carimañolas 

For my main dish I got the Plato Tipico which, according to the menu, included: saffron rice with chicken, olives, capers, peas & carrots—arroz con pollo in Spanish, potato salad with beets, ground corn chicken tamal, fried sweet plantains, and microgreens. The rice was good, despite the fact that it included not one thread or taste of saffron. And my chopped iceberg and red cabbage salad with non-descript dressing could hardly qualify as micro greens. The potato salad had a mushy consistency, but was flavorful. The tamal and fried sweet plantains were really good and comparable to their counterparts in Panama.

Plato Tipico
Tamal de Hoja de Pollo
My boyfriend ordered the fried “corvina” fish fillet in garlic and butter sauce over yucca and sautéed spinach. Corvina is seabass, which is plentiful and inexpensive in Panama, when compared to US prices. I found it odd that it was only $21 when other things on the menu seemed overpriced, since most of the seabass in the US comes from Chile and is quite expensive. I asked whether the corvina was indeed seabass, and our waitress stated that “despite the fact that the internet may say that corvina translates to seabass, that is not the case in Panama. The fish served at the restaurant is another very good type of fish that the owner imports directly from Panama.” Despite my efforts to find out what kind of fish it was, I received no concrete answer. The mystery fish arrived, sautéed and not fried. I’m still unsure of what it was–tilapia? Perhaps cobia? It was flavorful and the garlic butter sauce was silky and delicious. We also had fried patacones–green plantains, which were golden brown and crisp (not pictured).

Filete de Covina al Ajillo Con Espinaca y Yuca al Mojo

Some of the food did not quite meet my expectations, but I think that the restaurant is on the right track. Many Panamanians, myself included, will be happy to visit a local restaurant to satisfy their Panamanian food cravings. My recommendation: go on Saturdays when they offer a variety of traditional fried foods.

I hope that Esencias Panameñas updates their menu to reflect exactly what is being put on the plate, and irons out the few kinks that any new restaurant is bound to have. I’m eager to go back and try more of their dishes.

Here are some pages from the menu:


Summer Rosé

  
I can’t believe that we are in August already. Summer will be a distant memory sooner than expected. 

I have been making a lot of cocktails this summer, and now I feel like I have been missing out on rosé. I have been collecting rosé wines all summer long and now it’s time to start drinking them.

This is not a formal wine review. These are just some of the wines that I’m looking forward to drinking. These are all blends and under $20.

Love Noir Sultry Rosé 2014–Sometimes I pick up a bottle only because I like the color of the wine and the label. That’s what happened here. This is a fun inexpensive wine, and I’m hoping that it won’t dissapoint.

Vin de Pays Vaucluse Rosé, La Petite Caboche 2014–I was looking for a rosé to serve with BBQ and this was recommended and described as full bodied and spicy. 

MiMi en Provence Grand Reserve Rosé, 2014–I love this one, it is everything a rosé should be. Pairs great with food. I served it with a cheese plate.

  
Are you drinking rosé this summer? I would love to hear your favorites.

To do around DC: Taste of Studio–Studio Theatre’s Summer Benefit

TasteofStudio

Studio Theatre is hosting its summer benefit event, Taste of Studio, on Saturday August 1, 2015. It is a culinary celebration of the booming 14th Street food-savy neighborhood. Studio Theatre’s space will be transformed into a beer garden, there will be two floors with samples from local restaurants and bars, and a VIP Mixology suite.

In addition, there will be acting workshops led by teachers from the Studio Theatre Acting Conservatory.

For more information and to purchase tickets, please visit: https://www.studiotheatre.org/taste, or the Facebook page at: https://www.facebook.com/events/1617666458518628/

Hope to see you there!

Studio Theatre is located at 1501 14th St. NW, Washington DC, 20005

Disclaimer: I received an invitation for two to the event. I was not required to, or compensated for writing this post. All views are my own.

Lychee Soda and Change

Lychee Soda

Lychee Soda

June has been a really hectic month full of changes. I left a job where I had been at for 8 1/2 years, and I started a new job that I’m really thrilled about. As much as I’m super excited about this new opportunity, I am sad to leave my previous job and my work friends–many of them are like a second family. I don’t like change, it’s really difficult for me to get used to new things. Thankfully, the transition has been relatively easy. But I had never imagined how stressful the whole thing would be.

On a happier note, I’m off on vacation to Panama to spend time with friends and family. I’ve made zero plans. There is something liberating about having a completely open schedule. I’m usually a planner–I plan everything. However, all the other things in my life took precedence over planning a vacation.

It’s been really hot in DC in the past few weeks. I’m not a soda drinker, but sometimes I just want something carbonated and refreshing. I’ve been making this “lychee soda” with fresh lychees and sparkling water. It’s very easy: peel and pit lychees, place the flesh of the fruit in a food processor or blender and blend until smooth. Sometimes it’s nice to keep it a bit chunky so that you have pieces of lychee in the drink. I usually add about an inch of lychee puree to a glass, and then top it with sparkling water. Save some lychees to add as a garnish. If you can’t find fresh lychees, you can used canned. They come canned in syrup. The syrup is great for sweetening the drink if you like things a bit sweeter.

Substitute the sparkling water with  sparkling wine for a delicious brunch drink.

Lychee Soda

Lychee Soda

Book Shelf: Twenty Dinners

coverxxdinners

There is no greater joy than feeding your friends and family. I used to lose sight of what’s important: spending time with your guests. I would plan complicated menus with dishes that would take a lot of prep and cooking time. Over time, that has changed. Instead of making complicated appetizers, I just serve a gorgeous cheese plate with all sorts of accoutrements or crudités with unexpected dips. The main dish is usually a simply prepared protein, like a roasted chicken or quickly pan-seared fish. Since I can prepare dessert in advance, I might put most of my time and energy into that. And of course, there always has to be a cocktail. At my place, the cocktail is usually a bourbon sidecar.

That is my comfort zone when it comes to entertaining. I’m always looking for inspiration for easy menus, and when I saw the book Twenty Dinners by Ithai Schori and Chris Taylor, I immediately knew that it was my kind of book. What’s best about it is that it is separated into sections for each season: Fall, Winter, Spring, and Summer. It also has sections on wine and stocking your home bar. There are cocktail recipes and/or wine recommendations to go along with each dinner. The book is good not only for entertaining ideas, but also for simple family dinners. If you are looking for dinner menu inspiration, this is the book for you.

I’ve made shakshuka countless times, but I couldn’t resist making Ithai’s version from the book, which is flavored with za’atar and paprika. There are many other recipes that I want to try soon. The lemon verbena tart, and spiced red wine-poached pears are next on my list of things to make.

Ithai's Shakshuka

Ithai’s Shakshuka

Disclaimer: I received a copy of Twenty Dinners for review purposes. I was not compensated for writing this post. All views are my own.