Unum review, cupcakes, T's new machine

This afternoon while I was in my recipe-writing class, T fulfilled a recently realized dream of building a sous vide machine. For MUCH less than anything commercial, we now own this coffee-urn-aquarium-tubing-incubator-thermometer-bomb-resembling sous vide contraption. As always, I am impressed with T's technical prowess but after watching him spend two hours cooking the "perfect egg", I can't say I'm a convert. The egg was good but two flipping hours? He was thrilled and good for him. But seriously. Tom's sous vide machine



I showered (having left yoga feeling rather like an eel) and then started a new book, 1 Dead in Attic: After Katrina, which, so far, is excellent and which I hope -but am not overly optimistic about given my track record- will not end up in my "in progress" pile at my bedside. That pile is now two, both of which loom precariously and call to me sadly.

And then to dinner at Unum, a newish spot in Georgetown (in the old Mendocino Wine Bar for you locals) nearer the Four Seasons than the University. It's a small, intimate spot; longer than it is wide, plate-glass windows that front onto M St, a welcoming bar, a neighborhood feel. The menu was intriguing, and we felt excited. I ordered a Kyoto Cherry Blossom cocktail (Morello cherry puree, vodka, elderflower and Prosecco), T a local IPA -Port City- and the bread arrived warm, which, as you may recall from previous reviews, is a must in my book.

Unfortunately, nothing really lived up to expectations, starting with my cocktail which looked like fruit punch and tasted rather like it too. For $12, I want to be wowed! I want something memorable, unique, a taste experience that I will want to try and replicate at home. Such was not the case with the Cherry Blossom, nor with the glass of Pinot I ordered afterwards. Another way-overpriced glass (I know because I've bought the exact wine many times before) that, frankly, tasted a couple days old. T was extremely impressed with the head on his beer which was superbly meringue-like for an American brew, but overall, we felt the wine and beer lists were uninspired, typical and pricey.

Shortly, our appetizers arrived. T opted for the chorizo-stuffed squid atop a saffron-lemon risotto and accompanied by fried calamari legs and a honey-chipotle sauce. He enjoyed it in the way one does when something is totally fine but when pressed for several adjectives to further describe it, your mind draws a blank. The honey-chipotle sauce was too sweet, tasted very amateur, and I'm just not sure how it fit into the recipe concept overall.

Unum's Caesar Salad sounded really creative, a modern twist on an old classic: gently dressed Little Gem lettuce leaves topped with shaved sunchokes, sunchoke chips and Parmesan with toasted bread rounds and an artichoke-Parmesan custard alongside. Doesn't that sound cool? Once again, it just didn't deliver on its promise. There were two teensy sunchoke chips, maybe two small chips of Parm and the custard -itself flavorful- was topped with a disk of something unidentifiable. Was it an artichoke heart? Was it a random potato round? I don't know, but it was hard to break and made eating the custard infinitely harder than it should have been. A Parmesan brûlée would have been a much better fit as it'd have been lighter, provided nice textural variety and mapped well with the critically important role Parmesan should play in a Caesar.

One aspect of Unum's menu that I really appreciate and think many more restaurants should adopt is the option to order half-size portions of entrees. We took advantage of this as T wanted the braised short-rib pasta but worried a full order would be too heavy, and I wanted a side of truffled mac-and-cheese so chose a half portion of salmon. These demi-plates were still generous, are fairly priced, and I hope this option sticks.

Tom thought his pasta was terrific and definitely the best dish either of us ordered. He's a sucker for braised meat of any kind, and really, if you're a meat eater, you probably are too. The tender factor is off the charts. I was generally pleased with my truffled mushroom cavatappi and thankful I ordered it because my salmon dish - grilled salmon atop a minted pea puree, drizzled with a verjus agrodolce and accompanied by a saute of oyster mushrooms and pea tendrils- was seriously disappointing; I don't think I ate more than three bites. The pea puree was a beautiful spring green but was totally one-dimensional in flavor. It needed a zing of umami, perhaps lemon or grated Pecorino or both! Salt would have helped too. The salmon was well-cooked but the verjus was almost cloying and overall, the sweet-flat combo just didn't go down well. Like I said, I didn't go on. The side saute of mushrooms and pea tendrils was the tastiest thing I had so I was sad that the portion was so small. What it had in flavor though, it lacked in style; kinda looked like tangled hair which is obviously not optimal.

The service was fine and the dessert options looked solid, but we decided to check out and walk down the street to Baked & Wired, home of the best cupcakes in DC (by a mile). The line was snaking down the block but at that point I'd already started tasting the strawberry and Texas sheetcake cupcakes I intended to order so I told T to go get the car while I waited. I'm glad I did; added a carrot cake cupcake to my list and we headed home for glasses of milk and PJs to go with these goodies. As usual, they were perfect.

Baked & Wired cupcake trio: Texas sheetcake; strawberry; carrot cake.