Sticky Rice is so very H Street: Hip, Young, and Tasty!

I realize that I may be the only D.C. resident who did NOT have an awesome time over Inauguration weekend, but I probably overestimated my capacity for working my ass off at catering events while everyone else is having fun. Which is to say, it's my own damn fault. Whining aside, I've finally found time to write my review of D.C. sushi restaurant, Sticky Rice.

Sticky Rice is on H Street NE, in an area struggling to be known as The Atlas District as opposed to "you know, that stretch of town where cab drivers are too afraid to go." I have faith in H Street--any neighborhood with a rocking sushi bar, a New Orleans-style speakeasy, a fanciful burlesque theater, and a pirate-themed bar/restaurant offers a delightfully hip and decadent alternative to dive bars and Irish pubs, and is already attracting a loyal clientele.

The restaurant was packed on a Friday night, and the hostess quoted us a wait of over an hour. We sat at the bar instead, and though some Hill staffers decided to sing along with the Commodores at the top of their lungs over our shoulder during our entire meal, a little house sake numbed the pain.

Sticky Rice's menu shows restraint and creativity that's rarely seen at other sushi houses. (I often struggle at other places to discern the difference between a roll with eel, tempura, and green onion from another one with eel, crunchy, and scallion) And their specials are not to be missed. Mr. Luz, my dining partner for the evening and my lover for what I like to think will be life, started with an oyster shooter from the special menu. This "shooter" came in a rocks glass, filled to the brim with a large, shiny oyster layered with chilled vodka, sriracha, and roe. Mr. Luz was in heaven, and demanded to know how the bar made money giving drinks like that away for a mere $8.00. The special menu also listed Lamb "lollipops" with a cilantro crust, and a beef filet "sashimi" with sesame oil. Both looked and smelled amazing, and we're crossing our fingers that we can expect something similar on our next visit.

Also, Sticky Rice's vegetarian options are enough to make a "can I have your dry-aged Prime NY Strip steak medium rare" girl like myself consider turning to the dark side. I'm dying to try their South Roll (tempura fried sweet potato, drizzled with honey and sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds.) And even their miso soup is friendly to carnivores and veggies alike: it packs a complex, earthy flavor without the bonito flakes.

After consulting with the bartenders and sharing 2 large sakes, we ordered the Sticky Balls, the Chili Roll, the G.I. Joe Roll, and the Godzirra roll (I know it's not PC, but just TRY ordering that without doing the eyes-bulging TV show announcer voice..."God-zeeee-rahhhhhhh!!" I bet you can't). I'm not usually a fan of sushi rolls that are covered in tempura and then fried, but the Sticky Balls worked: the spicy acidity of the sriacha complemented the richness you expect from a crab and tuna roll with eel sauce. No surprises, it was rich, flaky, and yummy--but perhaps best for sharing.

The G.I. Joe roll was fun, with yellowtail, cream cheese, scallions and crispy wasabi peas. The peas could have been puliverized a bit more--imagine the texture disurbance they cause in a mouthfull of cream cheese and yellowtail--but I'd definitely eat it again. In both the Godzirra and the G.I. Joe, the chef spread the cream cheese with a delicate hand, which I appreciate. If I want lox, I'll head to Scarsdale, grab a bagel and some schmear, and get a mani-pedi at the shopping mall while I'm at it.

If you take anything from this review, it should be that you MUST ORDER THE CHILI ROLL. Oh dear Lord--it's everything a dish should be. It's got some zing to it, and all of the flavors blend together into an overall impression without getting lost. The Chili Roll is tuna, matchstick cucumbers and jalepenos, cilantro and grilled pineapple. I plan on taking the Sticky Rice Thirty Day Challenge*, and I'm going to eat the Chili Roll every day. At $9 a pop, it's cheaper than therapy and you leave feeling feeling more blissed-out than you can believe.

After dinner, while the wannabe Capitol Steps screamed the lyrics to "Brick House" approx. 1.5 inches behind us, the bartender sent us another large sake on her, and the chef sent us a green tea mochi dessert on him. It's still unclear whether these gifts were because a.) we were eating like crazy at a place where some people just order the tater-tot bucket b.) I'll never be able to listen to the Commodores again without weeping uncontrollably, or c.) the bartender had twice forgotten our sake in the microwave. But we were happy to have them, and were too blissed-out from the Chili Roll to notice much. The mochi cakes were fantastic...the two grass-green cakes were served in Japanese dumpling spoons, and were chewy and soothing on the outside and icy on the inside without being too sweet.

After dinner, the couple to our right and the bartenders wanted to know why weren't staying for the big bar crowd that was sure to show up later. All I can say is, until take the 30 Day Challenge (*meaning I eat there every day for 30 days in an attempt to name and design my own roll) I can't see myself showing the discipline necessary to avoid a food coma at a place as delicious as Sticky Rice. Any suggestions on the name/design for my Sticky Rice roll? I'm thinking of a New Orleans theme (crawfish w/jambalaya rice on the outside?) but I'm open to suggestions!

How to Make a Croquembouche

So, here I am, starting my trek into the Food Blog Wilderness with one of my crazier recipes. This bout of “stunt cooking” can serve as a metaphor for my expectations and hopes of becoming a successful (read: linked to on Tastespotting) blogger: it required a bit of ego and a LOT of experimenting, and successfully bounced back after disaster.

A croquembouche is a popular holiday dessert that doubles as a French wedding cake. If you’d like to wow the crap out of your in-laws or party guests, or get commissioned to cater some nuptials in Burgundy, I’m here to help. It's a tower of profiteroles, glued together and decorated with caramelized sugar that cools into a crackling, crunchy yum-fest.

Trust me; it’s all easier than it sounds.

Profiteroles (Yield: 90 golf-ball-ish puffs.)

2 cups flour, sifted
11 (yes, 11) large eggs
1/2 cup milk
1 1/2 cup water
1 teaspoon salt
1 stick unsalted butter, cut up

Preheat oven to 400 degrees and line several baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a large saucepan, bring the milk, water, salt, and butter to a boil over medium heat. When butter has melted, immediately add the sifted flour all at once, stirring vigorously with a wooden spoon until a stiff paste forms and comes together in a ball. Return to medium heat, stirring quickly for about 10 seconds to eliminate extra moisture. Transfer to a large mixing bowl and let cool for 2 minutes.

Using a wooden spoon, add the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition. This part sucks. The batter should resemble stiff, shiny, khaki-colored glue.

Fit a large pastry bag with a star tip, and fill it 1/2 way with batter. (The pastry bag takes some practice, and if I knew how to keep it from oozing out the top, I promise I’d tell you.) Pipe a sphere onto the prepared baking sheet about 1 and 1/2 inch in diameter, and space puffs out 1 inch apart. Be sure to pipe a true sphere, rather than a dome. When the sheet is full, wet a finger and lightly push down the point on the top of each puff where you stopped piping. (This will keep the tops from burning.)

Bake for 20-25 minutes, till golden brown.

Chocolate Amaretto Cheesecake Filling

6 oz. semi sweet chocolate
4 oz. almond paste (do NOT skip this part)
1/3 cup amaretto liqueur
1/4 cup sugar
1-1/2 lb. cream cheese, room temperature
4 lg. eggs
1 cup heavy cream

Preheat oven to 350°F. Follow instructions on chocolate package to melt. (I used my microwave). Cut the almond paste into small pieces and beat on low speed with an electric mixer while gradually adding the amaretto liqueur. Beat until thoroughly mixed.

In a large bowl, beat the cream cheese with an electric mixer until smooth. Beat in the following ingredients, one at a time until thoroughly mixed, in this order: Sugar, almond paste mixture, melted chocolate. Add the eggs one at a time, beating at low speed until they are incorporated. Add the heavy cream and beat until smooth.

Pour into small metal cake/loaf pans—you want them to be deeper, and you can fill them almost to the top. Bake in a water bath for 20-30 minutes, and check. You want it to be the consistency of thick icing throughout.

Break out the pastry bag again but fit it with a small round “precision” tip. Fill it 1/2 way with the cooled cheesecake cream. (This is when the oozing can get gross). Pipe the filling into the profiteroles—you’ll know when they’re full because they “puff” in your hand a little. You can also experiment with pressure/counting seconds to get the desired amount of filling. This means you get to eat some.

Construction (Here’s where I brought in the photographer)

Form a cone with poster board, shiny side in. Spray the inside of the cone with cooking spray, and set inside a vase for stability.

Arrange your profiteroles by size on a counter top close to the stove. Make your caramelized sugar (below). Start with the smaller profiteroles, and working quickly, dip the edge of one profiterole in the caramel and begin lining the inside of the cone with them, “puff side out.” Make sure that you dip the profiteroles so that there is caramel “glue” everywhere one touches another. (NOTE: OW! HOT! Do NOT put your hand in your mouth if you touch the caramel-3rd degree burns do not feel good in your mouth. Keep a towel nearby, instead.)

Continue gluing the puffs together, up the cone, in even rows. It’s like grown-up Legos. Occasionally, drizzle some of the caramelized sugar into the cone with a spoon to further cement the little boogers together. Try to create an even bottom for your croquembouche.

Once you run out of profiteroles, let the sugar cool for a few minutes, then upend onto your serving plate and carefully remove the posterboard.

Voila! You can then decorate your croquembouche with powdered sugar, spun sugar ribbons (fun to make with the caramelized sugar and a fork), or you can do like I did, and make a 5 lb. dome out of more sugar and dress it up like an ancient tower meant to wirelessly transmit electricity from U.S. to France.

Caramelized Sugar: 2 cups sugar 1/2 cup corn syrup 1/2 cup water

Combine all ingredients in heavy wide-mouthed sautee pan. Stir briefly, and then boil without stirring. The caramel is ready when it forms a hard ball when dropped into a cup of cold water. You want to err on the side of “caramel, but still light in color” because you may have to reheat several times as you work and you don’t want burnt sugar. Remove from heat, and begin construction.

Tips and Warnings:

You cannot put this sucker in the fridge…it’ll suck up the moisture and your glue will become caramel water. Also beware rainy days if you have to transport.

You can freeze the filled profiteroles for several days before assembling, just thaw and dry (I used a hair-dryer) before you assemble.

You can alter any cheesecake recipe to make your filling, just add a splash of milk and bake in a water bath for a shorter period of time. I use cheesecake filling instead of a cream because I feel better about the “no fridge” thing if the egg and dairy has been baked a little.