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Thursday, May 27, 2010

Kotobuki

Plaudits: Washingtonian 2010 #59, Washingtonian 2009 #52, Washingtonian 2008 #65
Neighborhood:
Palisades

The Setup


I'm not sure I've mentioned it in this space, but I'm currently training for a triathlon; as part of that, I find myself biking long distances all over the city. And since my attitude has always been make-a-food-event-out-of-everything, I decided to map my bike route to pass by restaurants that were a little more out-of-the-way. So it was that mindset that led me to Kotobuki.

The Vibe

Kotobuki is on the second floor of a townhouse, sitting on top of Makoto, another Japanese restaurant (one would think this positioning would have driven one of them out of business, but both have survived). As you walk in, you're met with a set of stairs cordoned off by short red curtain which brings you up to the small intimate dining area. My quick count noted six two-tops and a four-top, around a six-seat sushi bar, where I sat.

The decor is sparse, white walls painted with black calligraphy or brush strokes in black and red. Lighting is provided by some track lighting, and the background mix is an endless loop of The Beatles. The whole operation seems small but welcoming at the least, the kind of neighborhood place that doesn't mind who you are or what you're wearing; I wasn't even the only one in athletic clothing who stopped in.

The Food

I decided that I didn't want anything too elaborate, so I passed on some of the more complicated foods (like the kamemeshi). Instead I ordered a bunch of sushi and sashimi: pieces of octopus, white tuna, and toro, and a rainbow roll (salmon, tuna, tobiko, egg, and avocado). At first, they brought me out the wrong platter, and being as hungry as I was, I started eating the dish at right starting with the salmon nigiri, which was okay. Before I could too deep into it, I got my actual plate and started to dissect it.

The octopus was pretty decent, better than expected, and the white tuna was a dream; I haven't had too much white tuna, but this had a lot of pleasant flavor in it. The toro was actually a disappointment. After my positive experience with toro at Sushi-Ko, all I wanted was that butter, unctuous taste again. Unfortunately these pieces were just not as flavorful and left me wanting more.

As for the rainbow roll, it certainly lived up to its name, but it was sort of a monster to try and keep together when I picked it up. The egg was a new thing for me in terms of sushi, and overall the roll was good, but nothing to call home about. In fact, the roll was loaded with so much roe that it took away from the bite.

The Verdict


Was this good sushi? Absolutely. Was it inexpensive for the quality of the meal? Hands down. For a cheap but great sushi, this would be a solid choice. But given its location, and the other good sushi places I've been to within DC proper, unless I was up in the Palisades again, I probably won't be heading back.

Food Rating: ***
(out of 5)
Date Rating:
2 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code: Casual
Bar Rating:
N/A
Vibe: Calm
Cost: $ (out of 5) (less than $25 for two)
Pairing
: A little bit up Macarthur Blvd is the Palisades Playground, which is one of the nicer parks in DC. In honor of the World Cup, grab a soccer ball and play a game in the sunshine.

Kotobuki on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Silver Diner

Plaudits: None
Neighborhood:
Clarendon

The Setup

CC: This being another joint meal, Kim and I will take turns talking about this. A tasting event brought us out of the city and into Clarendon to the Silver Diner, conveniently about a block off the metro. We both came with the preconceptions that diners are only places to visit late at night either out of boredom or out of drunken hunger or for greasy breakfast to nurse those same hangovers or on mornings playing hooky from work/school.

The Vibe

CC: Having spent my later formative years on the coasts of California, diners were few and far between. The ones that you could find without venturing too far inland are kitschy and nostalgic of the heyday of the highway trucker. Not exactly my idea of good food. The folks at Silver Diner had set a menu and were anxious to change my mind, and I decided to give them the chance to.

K: On the opposite of the spectrum from CC is me. My entire life up until undergrad was spent in New Jersey, where diners are not only everywhere, but part of the state's identity and cultural fabric. Restless suburban youth with nothing to do, our nights of revelry would always invariably end up at a diner (or a Taco Bell or half-price appetizers at Applebee's, but that's neither here nor there). Because of that, my feelings on diners are rather strong. As such a huge part of my adolescence, I know what I want out of diners, just like I know what I want out of fine dining. For me, those two things should probably never cross streams, but I was willing to give it a chance.

As for the vibe, despite relabeling itself as "the next generation diner," Silver Diner is pretty much the typical diner set-up as expected. Lunch counter and several booths with some tables in the back, and a slight neon red glow over the whole place.

The Food

CC: With a generic chardonnay in a plastic cup in hand, I skeptically read the tableside bright, laminated literature on Chef Ype Von Hengst’s commitment to sourcing fresh and local ingredients. Outside of the white-tablecloth, farmers-market-frequenting sets, “local” and “fresh” are not words often seen at this price point for this target audience. Despite the stigma, integrated into the diner menu standbys (sliders, shakes, eggs, waffles, pancakes) are gluten-free pastas, hormone-free meats and 600-calorie dinners. Shooting way past just local, these guys have aimed for healthy.

Is this feasible in a diner setting? Maybe. This may be the generation of baby-boomer’s babies’ families whose fondness for diner food may distract from their decreasing carbon footprint, which can merge two seeming polar opposites to change the way America eats and lives. This may be the grassroots movement Jamie Oliver is hoping for (but really, have you seen the food that the Brits eat? Let’s talk hypocritical). This may be the obesity battle the Obamas are fighting in their own backyard. Or this may be wishful thinking. Let’s not let DCWD get too deep. We are, lest we forget, on a date.

K: Even so, let's just put it out on the table. As the proprietors of Silver Diner themselves admitted, this is not your normal diner conception. They are simply trying to put themselves on the cutting edge of what they see as the next big food trend: people caring about the health and sourcing of ingredients. Pretty heady stuff for a diner.

Still, I'd like to think of myself as a pretty educated diner, and I don't necessarily care about where an ingredient is from; as long as it's high quality and sustainable, it can be from Maryland or Madagascar. It's all the same to me. In fact, as Jose Andres once said in an interview, sometimes places overlook quality ingredients from abroad just for the sake of sourcing locally. Moreover, when I'm going to a diner, it's a time when I want something greasy, unhealthy, and cheap, three things you're just not going to get under this model. So perhaps I was just a tough sell on these points. But anyway, enough soapboxing for the two of us, on to the food...

CC: To start, the polo-ed, chipper servers offered passed black bean quesadillas and crab dip. While the tri-colored chips were a little stale (I guess not everything can be made fresh daily), the crab dip was familiar, though dumbed down with the grated cheese blend on top, and the quesadillas packed a little kick. I have to hold back my inner food snob here and remember my surroundings. I went back for second scoops of the dip, but the quesadillas didn’t need a repeat, as surprisingly flavorful as they were.

K: Frankly, I was a bit unimpressed with these. The quesadillas were fine, but the chips for the crab dip were stale. I mean come on, if we're trying to sell this meal as fresh and local, this was not the best start.

CC: The first course was a display of sliders, most notably what I assume to be a veggie sausage patty on pumpernickel. The cheeses and meats were fresh and the sandwiches tasty on the whole. I’m not one to judge by a sandwich (due to my own odd aversion to them), but these were quality sandwiches, on varied breads and with a scope of flavors. Bravo Silver Diner.

K: I also was at least semi-sold on the sliders, which were salmon, pesto turkey, and regular mini-burgers, along with tomato and mozzarella on mini-ciabatta. I have to give credit where it's due; the pesto turkey was actually nice. But still, this wasn't anything to call home about.

CC: There was also an assortment of salads, my favorite being a citrus salad with huge chunks of mango (don't worry faithful readers, this allergy was kept in check by cutting said chunks into smaller bites) and the reddest strawberries sourced from Delaware that I have ever seen. If you have never picked a fresh strawberry (and if you have the option to--go do it!), I don't think you can understand how sweet and really deeply red a berry can be. This description certainly doesn't do it justice. These strawberries were my favorite part of the meal. The dressing was good too.

K: I, unlike CC apparently, didn't know that strawberries can be red in the center (tells you how fresh the strawberries I've been eating are). I thought the citrus salad was nice enough, but I never understand "Asian salads" (no Asian person puts snap peas and lo mein in a bowl and calls it a salad).

CC: Entrees introduced us to a reduced calorie meatloaf (meatloaf not smothered in ketchup? NONSENSE) that didn't taste healthier thankfully, but took a few too many meatloaf liberties for my traditional taste.

K: Meanwhile, I've never had meatloaf, so I have no idea what it's even supposed to taste like. This is a fact I am grateful for.

CC: Silver Diner also served us a vegetarian stir fry, which was unmemorable, and a guacamole pepper jack burger, which won me over. I don't even like avocados and I still thought this was awesome. Surprisingly, my favorite dish here was the gluten-free shrimp scampi. While the brown rice-based pasta was a little gummy, the fresh goat cheese (from Firefly Farms, a name I am familiar with from the likes of Equinox) and asparagus were perfect. So good.

K: Of everything I had on this trip, I thought the pepper jack burger was the best, the avocado a nice shade of creamy and the pepper jack providing some good notes as well. I was fairly unimpressed with everything else, though I'll admit to being a tad fuller at this point.

CC: Dessert (as usual for me unfortunately), was a disappointment. The gluten free brownies were my favorite part (things that don't make sense if you know me at all), whereas the chocolate cake was fake-sweet and dry, which they masked with syrup and chocolate chips--I will not be fooled! The apple pie was fine, but I really only wanted to eat the fresh strawberrys granishing the plate, and the milkshake shots were just okay.

K: If I can say anything about this meal, it was that CC and I had opposite positions on just about everything. I thought the cake was terrific, until she pointed out the above masking, and then it actually hit me that that's what was happening. Thanks a lot for ruining it, CC (just kidding).

The Verdict

CC: I am wary of all things vegan, dietary-restricted, or healthy really, so the fact that my favorite pieces of this meal were gluten free is really disconcerting for me. Overall, I am encouraged by the giant steps the Silver Diner is taking to incorporate local, fresh and healthy food into their menu. The food is above the quality of your average diner, though the atmosphere is familiar. I'm uncertain of where this trend will take them and other diners, but I for one am pleased to see it. If I could afford to eat almost entirely locally and organically, I absolutely would. I love the idea of living with the seasons, the way nature intended us to, and I support any restaurants that refuse to reduce the quality of their ingredients for a larger profit margin.

That said, I love my pineapple out of season as much as the next kid, and when I go to a diner, I want waffles with ice cream. If they're whole grain and with homemade ice cream (with real vanilla beans), all the better. But I don't know that I would often go out of my way for that. Maybe it's a choice we shouldn't have to make. Maybe we won't have to think twice about healthy choices in the future. I don't know.

K: I'll admit to not coming into this experience with the most open mind. That being said, I feel like I was willing to be convinced, and I just don't know if this meal did it for me. The escape velocity for my conception of diner would have only been reached with an exceptional quality meal, and it just didn't get there for me. The ingredients were better than your average bear, but the issue just wasn't important enough to shake my desire for greasy breakfast food. That being said, there were some good things going on, so we'll just have to see how the market responds to this innovation.

Food Rating: ** (out of 5)
Date Rating: 2 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code:
Casual
Bar Rating:
N/A
Vibe: Calm
Cost: $$ (out of 5) ($25-$50 for two)
Pairing: It being a fresh food sort of date, on Wednesdays from 2-7pm, go to the year-round Clarendon Farmer's Market, to pick out some ingredients for your own fresh sourced home cooking.

Silver Diner on Urbanspoon

Monday, May 24, 2010

Monday Munchies: Sweetflow Mobile

Like most people I have certain loyalties when it comes to food. The same way people have that coffee shop or greasy spoon they love, there are certain places I will defend tooth and nail, Mr. Yogato being one of them. Because of that, I've pretty much avoided the other yogurt shops that popped up around the same time as Yogato. But my crusade to find the best in food trucks (see: Fojol, Sauca, Curbside) brought me head to head with the Sweetflow Mobile, Sweetgreen's food truck outpost. And since it frequently stops by the office, in combination with my need for unsolid food (had my wisdom teeth taken out the week before), I decided to take it for a test drive.

So how does the Sweetflow stack up? I won't comment on the Sweetgreen salads, since I didn't get any, not wanting to test the teeth just yet. But as for the frozen yogurt, it's tarter (even more so than Yogato's tangy) and more ice-y (rather than say creamy) than most frozen yogurt I've had. On the plus side, they have a cone option, which at $2 is the maybe the best cheap treat in the city. They are also the absolute most reliable food truck in terms of the veracity of their tweet location. On the negative side, it being a truck (and at that one committed to freshness and healthiness), there are fewer toppings than some of its contemporaries. So if I needed a cheap date treat and it was in the area, then perfect. But if I wanted frozen yogurt and I was willing to walk? I'd go elsewhere.

Taste Test
: 2 Forks (out of 5)
Perfect for
: Breaking up the work day, the best cheap treat in the city

Friday, May 21, 2010

Friday Night Flights: Birra Moretti

We're gonna keep this one simple. This series started as a way for us to talk about cocktail-oriented places without an extensive review, or as a way to highlight drinks we've had that we love. But how much does a scale really work when there are only good ratings? So in that vein, I'll bring up Birra Moretti lager, an imported Italian beer I tried on a recent trip to Bertucci's. In fact, I only tried it because it was the one beer on the menu I hadn't heard of or tried.

So how was it? Malty with some slight hops, and a dull metallic taste at the end. Decent with the mediocre Italian food, but on its own, just satisfactory. Better than your average lager, but we here at DCWD hold ourselves to higher beer standards.

Bar Review: 2 Cheers (out of 5)
Perfect for: To pair with Italian food, starch
Where to find it
: Bertucci's, most liquor stores

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Bread and Brew

Plaudits: None
Neighborhood:
Dupont Circle

The Setup

Is there anything scarier for a food lover than wisdom teeth removal? The informed consent video that I was shown mentioned that a potential rare complication was permanent loss of my sense of taste, which was unsettling. And then, of course there is the exceedingly more likely inability to eat solid food.

What to do then in the interim? For me, I used the opportunity to eat ice cream at all hours of the day (though really, like I have to make excuses for that normally), and to test out soups and frozen yogurts. Looking to stay close to home, along with Official Friend of DCWD Chi, I went to Bread and Brew for dinner.

The Vibe


As a restaurant I pass at least once a week if not more, I always thought I had a pretty good idea of what Bread and Brew was all about; from the outside, it looked like a place set up to meet the growing demand for fresh, healthy vegetarian/vegan food (read: granola for hippies), which explains why I invited recent-pescatarian convert Chi. I figured it would have some nice healthy soups, and it'd be just like eating at a quiet coffee house on an early Saturday night.

Nope.

Turns out I was wrong. Bread and Brew is maybe partially like that, but it can probably be best described as a restaurant without an identity; it's trying to wear so many hats, and can't quite figure out what it is. The main floor looks like a typical lunch counter place meets coffee house, brown and green decor with a pizza oven to your left as you walk in, and some sparse round tables here and there. The downstairs, however, is a completely different world, and represents the Brew part of Bread and Brew. Led down there because the guy at the door was super enthusiastic to give us table service, we sat down in the more bar-oriented area. The decor is motley: wicker furniture next to an upscale granite bar, and an odd selection of local artists' paintings on beige stucco walls. Three or four small flatscreen TVs play everything from Nickelodeon to NASCAR, while a mix of gangster rap and Jay-Z blare in the background. This in addition to our server, who (and I feel bad for saying this because he seemed genuinely nice) danced the line between friendly and pushy, made the whole experience real discombobulating.

The Food

At this point, it had been three days after the surgery, and had progressed to the "chewing with my front teeth in emergencies" method. That being said, I wasn't interested in taking too many chances so I went with two soups, a carrot ginger and the mushroom and brie. Unfortunately, despite being on the menu these two were out, so I went with the other options on the menu: a roasted chicken and rice and a ham and vegetable. The soups were pretty okay, the roasted chicken and rice favorably reminding me somewhat of Vietnamese chao (a rice soup panacea that all Viet grandmas seem to make). Still nothing to call home about. Chi's pizza was more of the same. A mix of wild shitake and oyster mushrooms on fontina cheese, it was chewy and was just okay. Nothing to call home about.

The Verdict

Definitely not just the vegan organic haven I thought it would be. The food was satisfactory, but the blaring music and the disconnect in identity were a little off (so the opposite of the good diversity of Potenza). Probably won't be back.

Food Rating: **
(out of 5)
Date Rating:
1.5 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code: Casual
Bar Rating:
Quiet Drinks
Vibe:
Energetic to Noisy
Cost:
$
(out of 5) (less than $25 for two)
Pairing: I always wondered what it was when I walked by, but there's a large reddish Victorian house on the corner of New Hampshire and 20th Sts NW. This is the Christian Heurich House, a "brewmaster's castle." Tours are Thursday, Friday, and September, and are a suggested donation of $5.

DC Bread and Brew on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Cashion's Eat Place

Plaudits: Washingtonian 2010 #53, Washingtonian 2009 #65, Washingtonian 2008 #31
Neighborhood: Adams-Morgan

The Setup

When the Living Social coupon came around for Cashion's Eat Place, it took me literally five seconds to buy it, but I always thought it would be used at brunch, as Cashion's Bison Burger (with poached egg and hollandaise!) sounded so tempting as to make me want to go there immediately. But Official Co-Writer of DCWD CC and I were up in Adams-Morgan already (we'l get to that part later), and since I always try to make a food situation out of every trip, we decided to have a dinner there. As is always the case with these meals, this is a co-written entry.

The Vibe

K: CC pointed out that she's sure a lot of restaurants are like this, but the vibe of Cashion's Eat Place is like the Cheers bar; it seemed like such a neighborhood place, and was a place where people certainly didn't mind bringing their dogs. This particular night being beautiful, we sat on the patio, which was decent sized and pleasant, but the inside was also pretty well decorated. The dining space was like a combination of Pottery Barn and Restoration Hardware, but not in a tacky way. More that it was that modern American decor style, with cushioned chairs striped with tan, salmon, and sage green. The walls are part light brown hardwood, part sandlewood, and dotted with old pictures of children and grandparents (maybe owner Ann Cashion's family?). With the weather so beautiful, the front wall was opened to allow the breeze to come in (a feature I always love about restaurants), and while the sunlight shone through, further light was provided by some low-hanging chandeliers and single box lights from the exposed ceiling. Like I said, like a Pottery Barn ad, but no in a cheesy way.

A quick note on the bar. Didn't get a good sight on the bar, but the bar area looked decently-sized, a well-stocked curved bar on a raised and separated part of the dining room with what looked like ten seats. Hard to say what kind of crowd it could draw, but I guess that's part of the nature of Adams-Morgan; depending on the street, it's an eclectic mix of people.

CC: The nice thing about Cashion's setup is how open everything is--and I know this is just because we were there on a nice warm day, but with the huge open windows in front, the indoors and outdoors kind of blended together, which was really nice. Even the bar was open, elevated as Kim mentioned, though set apart a bit.

The Food

K: With the liberty of the coupon, we decided to dig into a shared appetizer, and two entrees (and then obviously we were talked into dessert). I wasn't planning on the appetizer, but once we saw the restaurant's relatively small portions, I decided to order the ragu of wild mushrooms with rosemary, ramps, Tuscan liver sauce, and polenta. This all despite CC's apparent dislike of polenta (which couldn't be further from the truth for me; I was going to link all the times I've written about my love of polenta on the blog, but I think it's happened too often).

CC: I'm just not that into polenta, much like I'm not that into grits, but that doesn't mean that I haven't had good experiences too. This polenta was a good experience. The sauce helped, and who doesn't love mushrooms and ramps? I'm glad we got this because as Kim mentioned, the portions are a little small for the price. That said, almost everything on the menu looked good.

K: Anyway, I talked her into it, and it turned out pretty good. The polenta was wonderfully creamy, and I thought the whole dish worked pretty well, a nice amount of salty. Our server told us this meal had been on the menu for something like 11 years, and it was easy to see why; even as someone who doesn't like vegetarian meals too much, this was a pretty tasty one. I'll also take this opportunity to say, that I know foodies are very fad-oriented, but I just don't understand people's obsession of ramps; they're just like a smaller more bitter version of leeks (and I say this as someone who enjoyed the ramp jelly and ramp mustard his director bought him recently). Just like cupcakes and sustainable food, I just don't get the big deal (the former because of their weird ubiquity, the latter because I agree with Jose Andres that restaurants sometimes source locally at the expense of better ingredients just to say they sourced locally). But off the soapbox now.

K: For entrees, CC got the veal meatballs (which our server explained also had a mix of bison in it), served on top of polenta and broccoli rabe (CC actually ordered this first, which started our talk about polenta above). CC picked this over the whole roasted dorade, a dish she might have preferred but one she had had the week before, and so we went with variety. Anyway, the veal meatball in polenta was a close comparison to a dish I had at Bibiana. As a direct comparison, I thought this was one more "home-y" to Bibiana's refined presentation; but I thought this one was better; there was a nice spicy pepper kick at the end of the meatball, and I love rapini (my mom used to make us eat it at meals, so many times that it just got to the point where I actually started to love it).

CC: I love a good meatball, especially one made with not-your-typical ground beef. As soon as the server said bison, I was hooked. There was a little spiciness to the meatballs, but it was easily tempered by the tomatoes and the polenta, which combined to create a really creamy sauce that I was happy to slather the meat in. This was one of the more sizable portions, as the two meatballs presented were fist-sized. Generally I'm not a broccoli rabe fan--I find it is often too bitter and I'm not a huge fan of the shape (I know that's weird, but it's like all the bad parts of broccoli; I don't like the stringy toughness)--but this was a nice addition and went well with the rest of the dish. Overall this was a slightly more exciting version of something you'd want your mom to make, which was exactly what I wanted.

K: As for my entree, I immediately locked into the seafood sausage plate, served with a Madras curry, sweet potatoes, and a salad of savoy cabbage, golden raisins, pine nuts, and a jalapeno-scallion coulis. I don't know anything about where the coulis was, but the rest of this was exactly what I wanted when I ordered it. The sausage itself was delicious yet light, with surprising chunks of smoked salmon, crab, and lobster among other things. For my first seafood sausage, this was a great introduction. Add that onto a pleasant sweet potato paste, and my longtime favorite combination of golden raisins and nuts (though the cabbage was an interesting choice), and I would give my recommendation for this dish.

CC: I NEVER would have ordered this. It wasn't bad, but I am skeptical of combining seafoods, especially into a sausage form where nothing is recognizable. Seeing this on the menu screamed "we have leftover seafood and don't know what to to with it!", which is a scary thing for me.

K: I, unlike CC, have no qualms about this; after all, I love brunch which is a meal always full of, we have all this food we need to do something with.

CC: Sorry Kim, but nothing about this dish actually sounded appetizing in the least for me. The jalepenos and pine nuts are two things I am happy to live without, and the curry with the cabbage and the sweet potatoes just sounded confusing. The sausage was the only thing I tried on the plate, so I'll trust Kim's opinion that it all worked somehow. It was okay. I certainly wouldn't want to eat a whole plate of it. There was only one sausage on the plate and the presentation was horrible in my opinion, but other people ordered it as well so I guess there was demand. I'm all for interesting charcuterie, but when there's seafood involved, I want to recognize it, and I want it to be fresh.

K: As always, we were easily talked into dessert, and we settled on a mango claflouti served with frozen creme fraiche. My personal reasons for ordering this was both my failed attempt at making my own clafloutis (the reason I bought the small tins I used link here), and my dual love of mango and creme fraiche as flavors. With time to kill, we weren't deterred by the 20-25 minute wait time (but I thought I should note it for those trying to keep appointments afterwards). When it finally did come out, I was pleased with the dessert; I thought it was a little too charred on top, but the small chunks of mango in the claflouti were great, and the creme fraiche was a perfect complement. Solid ending to a good meal.

CC: I was pleased with this. I thought it was fresh and warm and satisfying, which is what dessert should be. I love mango, but because I have a ridiculous allergy to it, I have to be very careful how I eat it, so this dessert had to be dissected to some degree into tiny bites to avoid contact with any skin outside my mouth (TMI warning: it's a super weird reaction similar to the rashes from poison ivy contact, though not contagious, and afflicts people like me who are extremely susceptible to members of the poison ivy family--something to do with the chemical makeup). I loved the creme fraiche ice cream and it really complimented the tangyness of the mango, along with providing the hot/cold contrast. My only complaint is that the claflouti was a little burnt.

The Verdict

K: I thought the meal was going to be less expensive than it was, so the sticker shock compared to the portion size and my expectations for the level of the meal were little downsides. But it was a really solid meal, and just a slight touch above some 3-star restaurants on our scale, so that explains the half-star bump (I'll admit right now, that I am guilty of some major grade inflation).

CC: A solid, but not extraordinary meal. I wouldn't go out of my way to eat here, but it is a great spot and if you're in the neighborhood, it's a guaranteed good meal.

Food Rating: *** 1/2
(out of 5)
Date Rating:
3 1/2 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code:
Casual
Bar Rating:
Quiet Drinks to Classy Crowd
Vibe:
Chatty
Cost:
$$$$
(out of 5) ($75-$100 for two)
Pairing
: It's almost a silly pairing, because it's not really a true date idea, but the reason we were in Adams-Morgan to begin with was CC's day-of decision to get her oft-discussed tattoo; as a walk-in, we had hours to kill before they could pencil her in, so that's why we went to dinner. Both of us are fans of Adams-Morgan shop Tattoo Paradise, around the corner from Cashion's on 18th St next to The Reef (they recently moved across the street from their old location into a larger, much more simple and sterile though consequently less distinctive space). While we don't advocate getting matching tattoos on a date (as best friends, our own tattoos are not matching, differ greatly in size, and were gotten 5 months apart), we thought it was curious that a couple of people who did come in that night, looked like they were on dates, and were there just to look at the walls (which are covered top to bottom with framed pictures of sample tattoos) and people-watch. So we'll give that one our thumbs up too, haha.

Cashion's Eat Place on Urbanspoon

Monday, May 17, 2010

Monday Munchies: Curbside Cupcakes

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: I don't understand the cupcake trend. Trust me, I love cupcakes as much as the next guy. But their explosion into the DC food scene has been nothing short of inexplicable to me, especially given how the majority of the surge has sprouted as standalone boutique shops specializing in cupcakes not full bakeries. I just don't understand the hullabaloo (though I will admit that relationship-me appreciated the ease these shops gave me in picking up the occasional lone treat for my cupcake-loving now-ex).

All the same, I still like cupcakes, so despite my bewilderment, when Curbside Cupcakes was outside Farragut Square, I decided to forgo a real lunch in favor of some cupcakes at noon. The third installment of our Food Truck frenzy (after Fojol Bros and Sauca, respectively), Curbside Cupcakes is a food truck just as elusive if not more so than the other two, mostly because it seems to never spend more than 45 minutes in any given spot.

Serving a rotating menu of cupcakes (there were 5 when I went), like all the other food trucks, Curbside announces its arrival via Twitter. In this instance, I got myself a Red Velvet, and a Vanilla Mocha. How were they? Well my main dislike of the cupcake trend as it's manifested in DC is the overuse of icing; I understand you want to make it look pretty and people love icing, but my sweet tooth isn't as overdeveloped as others. By that metric, I'm not that into most DC cupcakes, but these as well. The Vanilla Mocha was disappointing in the sense that I didn't know it wasn't a vanilla mocha cupcake, but rather a vanilla cupcake with a mocha frosting. The red velvet was much better in the expectations vs. reality regard. I will say that both cupcakes were both pretty moist considering they were served out of the back of a truck, but certainly weren't the best cupcakes I've had in DC. All in all, satisfactory cupcakes in a more convenient than normal format.

Taste Test: 2 Forks (out of 5)
Perfect for
: The lazy cupcake fiend, a mid-day meal's dessert, sucking up to your boss (unless your boss doesn't like cupcakes like mine, haha)

Curbside Cupcakes on Urbanspoon

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Kramerbooks/Afterwords

Plaudits: None
Neighborhood:
Dupont Circle

The Setup


It's funny. When Official Co-Writer of DCWD CC and I came up with this blog, Kramerbooks was the example I would use; at least, when you first move here, it's exactly the kind of hidden place that is perfect for dates (then, you realize that everyone knows about it). I've been avoiding writing this entry for some time because, at the risk of overshare, my overt fondness for Kramerbooks led to some personal drama (as one friend mildly put it, "I feel like the word is out on you and Kramers"). To a certain point, I got so wary of going back to Kramers, like a catcher who has problems throwing the ball back to the pitcher (or as Yankees fans know it, "Chuck Knoblauch" Syndrome). But there are only so many places in DC open past 10pm on weekdays (one of the driving facts of my love of the place for late night dates), and so a little bit of luck, and a lot of hunger drove me back to Kramers on two occasions, once with Official Friends of DCWD Chi, Wills, and Runner, and once with Official Friend of DCWD Kelly, the meal which I'll use here.

The Vibe

Kramers is the shorthand for Kramerbooks/Afterwords, the former being an independently-owned bookstore, the latter the restaurant/cafe that sits in the back. I always find a certain creature comfort in small bookstores, and this is no different. I've never been in there when there's been less than twenty people perusing the pretty varied, and eclectic mix of books, even at two in the morning on a Tuesday.

As for Afterwords (which I will heretofor refer to as Kramers, because frankly that's what I call it), it's a little bit of everything in terms of seating. Regular four-tops right as you walk past the host stand, and above that a balcony of larger tables where live music plays occasionally. Beyond that is the main room which is basically different configurations of two-tops. The decor is simple, black everywhere, straight line furniture, with the accents of silver and red here and there, and the overarching motif of ampersands (also known as the bane of editors everywhere). On colder days, this room is enclosed, but as we move into spring and summertime, the walls are opened up and the whole area becomes a large patio. I'll even go ahead and say that Kramers has one of the best patios in DC to eat on.

There are some problematic aspects of Kramers for dates; the two-tops are pretty much right on top of one another, and there is the always annoying needing a token from your server to use the bathroom. Service is also here and there; the night I went with Chi, Wills, and Runner, service was great, but the night I went with Kelly, it took 10 minutes just to get us water, and it always took just a little bit longer to get everything (which adding up caused Kelly to miss her late night bus). To their credit, this was a Wednesday night after 11, so they were short-staffed, and I find that at Kramers, the staff make up for the wait time by being genuinely friendly. So there's that.

The Food

Kelly and I had just come back from a concert at 9:30 Club and were absolutely starving. And that's why, even though I would probably have never ordered it otherwise, she and I decided to split an appetizer of mussels, and a surf and turf entree.

I love mussels (see: Masa 14, Brasserie Beck, and Granville Moore's) and consequently have fairly high standards for them. These particular mussels were steamed fairly conventionally with shallots, garlic, white wine, basil, and butter. Despite my expectations, they were actually fairly good, something augmented by the focaccia bread they gave us to dip in the sauce.

I'm not someone who orders surf and turf regularly (if at all, actually) But we couldn't decide what we wanted, and we just wanted as much food as possible. So we went with the surf and turf, a half lobster stuffed with crabmeat with a center cut filet mignon, served with butternut squash, mac and cheese, corn and lima bean succotash, and asparagus. I guess I have to give credit to the fact that it was lobster and filet mignon; if the ingredients aren't terrible, it'll be a decent meal. But I was decently surprised by the kitchen, especially the mac and cheese, which was up there in terms of the high end mac and cheeses that I've had. I will say that the lima bean succotash was weird, and not something I would eat again, but as a whole, it was a good dish.

And then dessert. The main thing I love about Kramers is that it makes late night pie/cake dates possible. And frankly, this is what makes Kramers so good: the amazing dessert. I can't stress this enough: amazing desserts. For this particular dinner with Kelly, we split an almond cake with strawberries, which was so beyond delicious as to be to die for (though I have a soft spot for almonds in dessert). I think in the six years I've been in DC, I've had every single one of those desserts, and with few exceptions, they are all exceptional, especially the fruit crumb pie and the red velvet cake.

I guess the only other thing to rave about is the secretly versatile beer and wine selection. For a place not known for their beer, they have a great rotating selection, which includes my personal favorite Allagash White, as well as some other nice craft beers.

The Verdict


I can't oversell Kramers despite my love for it. While the meal was surprisingly good, objectively it wasn't anything crazy. But, if you're looking for a late night meal, or a cake date, this is the place, bar none. So this will be one of the few places that I'll give a split rating for. As for the date rating, I can't understate how much I love the bookstore, so the fact that by definition you're going there when you go to Kramers (thus making it sort of the pairing), it adds to the charm.

Food Rating: *** for dinner, **** for dessert (out of 5)
Date Rating:
4 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code:
Casual
Bar Rating:
Hipster Hangout
Vibe:
Chatty to energetic
Cost:
$$ for dinner
, $ for dessert (out of 5) ($75-$100 for two)
Pairing
: Like I said, because you're in the Kramerbooks' bookstore, and I LOVE bookstore dates, this'll be its own pairing. Especially because it's a particularly charming bookstore at that.

Kramerbooks & Afterwords Cafe on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Tabard Inn

Plaudits: Washingtonian 2008 #87, Washington Post's Top 50 Restaurants 2009
Neighborhood:
Dupont Circle

The Setup


After Official Friend of DCWD Olive unintentionally ditched us for our night at PS7's, she made it her goal to schedule something with me and Official Co-Writer of DCWD CC. After a round of mass texts, Olive decided on Saturday brunch at Tabard Inn. As a meal that both of us were at, as is now our pattern, we'll go the conversation route again.

The Vibe


K: The Tabard Inn is an actual inn, an old townhouse with a restaurant in the rear, one that upon entering recalls immediately something straight of the Smithsonian Museum of American History. The lounge where we waited to be seated has a distinct colonial vibe, with dark brown wood-paneled walls, low ceilings, and dim light around the room. A portrait of George Washington is one of the many on the walls, and the kitsch makes the whole lounge seem like a step into a time machine.

The restaurant itself though is more standard, small and intimate with a decent patio in the back (that I realized I had eaten in three summers earlier). The interior space is a smattering of table sizes, almost all on top of one another, lit in the daytime mostly by several skylights. The walls are a pleasant ecru color, and are covered by a bunch of random paintings, ranging from still lifes of fruit, to something vaguely resembling Bert from Sesame Street next to a cherry blossom. Overall, it's a cute and charming place, though a little sloppy around the edges, and a little cramped, and because of that almost impossible to hear your conversation if the place is full, especially at brunch.


CC: And despite being crammed in a random dark corner I still thought the space was kitschy and adorable, though dark on that rainy day.

The Food


K: I've previously expressed my disinclination to judge a place (Ris) based on the brunch. But when a place is so famous for its brunch, I feel that it's fair to make that kind of judgment (are we starting to show how arbitrary our scale is?) With a 2pm reservation (CC: too late for breakfast!!!), we were starving, so we got a lot of food. CC started with a coffee with Bailey's, a move I followed her on after fantasizing about her suggestion.

CC: Coffee with Bailey's is the perfect brunch drink on a rainy day! It's warm and satisfying with a nice little kick. And for someone who likes her coffee sweet and dliuted, I leave this as is and love it. It's also one of my more favorite casino drinks in the middle of the night (or what I assume is the middle of light--the lack of sunlight and clocks really start messing with you...) because it keeps you awake and and cozy and also provides that much-needed alcohol lubrication. Win. This could be a Friday Night Flight all on its own for the simplistic perfection. Mmmmmm.

K: For a first course, Olive got a halibut ceviche, served with plantains, avocado, orange, and pea shoots. Surprisingly, I've never had a white fish ceviche before, so this was a welcome change. The ceviche was good, light with the oranges providing a sweet note, and the avocados adding a welcome textural contrast.


CC: I have only ever had white fish ceviche, sometimes with some shrimp too, so this was pretty standard for me. I'm one to order ceviche any time I see it on a reputable menu so I was thrilled that Olive made this choice, despite my disdain for avocados. Loved the orange though--I'm so used to overwhelming lime in ceviche and I liked the variation. Maybe I can find/make some with grapefruit....

K: For us, CC and I decided to split an entree as an appetizer, the vanilla brioche french toast, served with a ginger blueberry compote. Let's be honest: I love brioche, I love the idea of brioche, I love every brioche anything I've ever had, and frankly I don't think I'll ever meet a brioche anything I won't immediately loved. But this was fantastic. Light and sweet, which was only augmented by the compote (which wasn't as gingery as I expected, but rather had just a pleasant tinge of the familiar ginger kick).


CC: It's been two weeks, and I will still talk about this compote to anyone who will listen to me. My love for ginger cannot be fully put into words, and mixed with the tiny blueberries on top of one of my favorite breakfast foods was just perfection. That said, the brioche toast itself was ok. I've had better (is it wrong to want my pain perdu to be crispy on the outside and super moist on the inside, much like the perfect cookie? Check out The Cottage in La Jolla, CA for the best french toast you'll ever try). The vanilla was all in the whipped cream accompanying the french toast, and that I would have licked all of if I thought it prudent. But I was and am still all about that compote. Mmmmmm.

K: For main courses, Olive went with the salmon filet, served with baby bok choy, shitake mushrooms, braised daikon, and scallion oil. For me, the salmon was a yawn, a tad too crispy and overcooked, and frankly I was surprised when Olive ordered it. Cooked salmon? A brunch food? When there's plenty of light breakfast fare available? Sad city, population: Olive. But judge not lest ye be judged, I guess.

CC: This honestly just sounded boring on the menu. I love salmon and bok choy as much as the next person, even more than the next person but it's a fairly used combination and I don't like to order things I make at home.

K: CC got a jumbo lump crab cake, served on top of a mix of sweet potatoes, haricots verts, watercress, and a gribiche sauce (if you are as ignorant of what gribiche is as we were, it's a sauce of mayonnaise, hard-boiled eggs, capers, chopped gherkins, and herbs usually served with cold fish... at least that's what my handy-dandy food dictionary says). I thought this was a nice fresh mix, the sauce (which came across like a nicer version of tartar sauce) and the mixture giving the whole thing a very nice and refreshing feeling to it. I'll let CC go into more detail about it.

CC: I'm a sucker for crab cakes, in case I have failed to make that perfectly clear in entries past. But I prefer them not fried. I also love haricot verts so much that I have made entire meals out of them, so this was pretty much a winning combination for me. The sauce was great with it, and the sweetness of the sweet potato went well with the juicy crab and the crispy haricot verts. There was some fun texture going on; I just wish the crabcake hadn't been breaded and fried. My only complaint.

K: On my end, I hesitantly passed on the eggs Benedict, for something even grander: poached eggs over corned beef hash, served with bearnaise sauce. It's almost unfair for me to grade something with bearnaise. This was my mom's indulgence for me, and she knew it. If the bearnaise was on the table, I used to put it indiscriminately on anything. Just the rich creaminess of the sauce on meats or vegetables... this was the stuff of dreams. Honestly, I found this particular bearnaise a little too lemony, but the combination of poached eggs and the corned beef, with the coffee and Bailey's, was a perfect "I'm so tired for no reason" cure. Win.

CC: I don't think I even tasted Kim's but bearnaise is the way to win hearts and stomachs. Indulgence here we come.

The Verdict

K: I love brunch. This much is well-known; heck it's in my bio. But accordingly, I have high standards for brunch. And for me, in spite of its inherent anachronisms, Tabard Inn is a perfect brunch spot. If you can deal with the noise, the menu, with a few missteps, can definitely make it worth your while. Or at least it did on this occasion.

CC: Just make a reservation ahead of time and be prepared to wait if your dining companions aren't timely. Also, check out the big bathroom (on the right) if you have to go--it's covered in peacocks for one, but there's also a charming framed collage of notes and pictures from a vineyard owner whose English is adorably off. I just giggled when I read that his wine loved the customers instead of the other way around. Win. Great brunch, funky/cozy/eclectic place. Then go back to bed.

Food Rating: *** 1/2
(out of 5)
Date Rating:
3.5 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code: Casual
Bar Rating: Quiet Drinks
Vibe:
Energetic to noisy
Cost:
$$
(out of 5) ($20-$50 for two)
Pairing
: I would suggest moseying back to bed for those of you not on first dates. But if you're inclined to do something (you'll probably want some time to digest anyway) take a slow meander over to National Geographic and check out whatever exhibit they've got going. AND there's a photobooth in the back (little known fact) where you and your date can put yourself on the cover of the magazine.

Tabard Inn on Urbanspoon

Monday, May 10, 2010

Monday Munchies: Baked Polenta with Onions and Bacon

Unlike most people, when I go to a supermarket, my thought process isn't "What do I want to make?" or "What do I need?" but rather "What is on sale right now?" Because of that, my refrigerator is a pretty motley collection of ingredients, especially when some of the more regular food stuffs whittle down.

And so, on this particular Epicurious search, I was just trying to find something that might use the polenta and the bacon I had. What I came up with was this recipe.

Well sort of; I didn't follow this at all. I had the tubed polenta that Trader Joe's sells, so I took that and chopped it up and stuck it in a blender with some water until I got it down into a paste. I browned some diced onions, and tore up the bacon into little bits, and mixed it all together with some basil (I like basil more than sage). I put the mixture into some small tins I had bought to make frittatas, and topped it all with a shredded cheese blend.

The result? A pretty good dish, and the best polenta thing I've ever made.

Taste Test:
3 Forks (out of 5)
Perfect for:
Casserole for cold nights

Friday, May 7, 2010

Friday Night Flights: Cherry Sling

This week's Friday Night Flight is a drink I referred to in my review of Corduroy: the Cherry Sling.

This particular Cherry Sling is made from Bombay Sapphire, orange juice, lemon juice, and homemade cherry juice. It's nothing complicated or far outside the normal recipe (just some gin and fruit juices) but higher quality ingredients always makes for a nice mix. On some level, I expected it to be a little bit saccharine, but it was rather sweet and refreshing. It certainly wasn't just some gussied-up Shirley Temple, but it's own sort of tangy mixture. It was the perfect aperitif for me anyway.

Bar Review: 3 Cheers
Perfect for:
Relaxing cocktail at the bar while you wait for a table, summertime drink
Where to find it
: Corduroy

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Eamonn's

Plaudits: None
Neighborhood
: Alexandria

The Setup


Official Co-Writer of DCWD CC and I had some business to attend to in Alexandria, and like almost every situation I refused to go without making some food event out of it as well. Coming soon after our brunch at Tabard Inn (review coming soon), we decided it would have to be something small and cheap, which led us to Eamonn's. As yet another co-eaten meal, we'll rock the conversation.

The Vibe


K: Eamonn's is the product of Cathal Armstrong (of Restaurant Eve) and his desire to honor/acknowledge his Irish roots. A pub-style restaurant in every sense of the word, Eamonn's menu is simple and short, scrawled onto a chalkboard behind the counter where you order. Seating is limited to three picnic-table benches in the front and some bar seating against the wall. There might have been only ten other people in Eamonn's at the same time as us, but we barely found seats.

Otherwise, the restaurant is pub-typical. Wooden floor, tiled ceilings, with dark brown everywhere. As the sun sets, what little light there is, is provided by some old-school chandeliers, one of which annoyingly flickered our entire meal. This is certainly something to note; at nighttime, the people watching becomes less fun, and the light on the inside becomes dim at best. And the bar seating along the wall faces a giant mirrored vanity. Not exactly traditional date lovely, nor does it try to be. Conveniently travel-packaged, the brown bags and bottled beer seem to suggest that you take the meal to the waterfront instead.

One last note: Todd Thrasher's speakeasy PX is upstairs behind a velvet rope. We didn't go this time, but it's on the docket.

The Food

K: The food is pretty straightforward pub fare: fish and chips, interrupted only by other fried fare, including dessert, and the occasional burger. We decided to keep it to what Eamonn's does best: the fish and chips. So we each ordered a fish (her the cod, me the ray), and a large order of chips (I'm just gonna call them fries for the rest of the entry, thanks). Normally, we'd have gotten more, but CC wasn't exactly very hungry.

CC: I want to say that I had already been to Eamonn's so this wasn't an entirely new experience for me.

K: So the fish. It's no secret that I love the more adventurous foods. Add that to my good experience with skate (see: 1789), and the option of having ray? Yes, please. Ray, however, has bones. So not having the daring to eat them, it made for messy eating trying to separate flesh from bone. However, the fish was nice, and the fry was exactly what I needed, greasy and savory.

CC: I'm a traditionalist as far as pub fare goes (thanks to several months spent living in the UK and finally coming to terms with the idea that pub food is pub food and I shouldn't try to make it into anything it's not), thus I like to stick with the generic flaky white fish for my fry. The ray was a fun option, but honestly I didn't eat more than 2 bites of either, heavily doused in vinegar.

K: The other thing was the seven secret sauces, though as the menu even admits, they're not that secret. Tartar, Marie Rose (ketchup and mayonnaise), Chesapeake (Old Bay), hot chili, Kitty O'Shea (nicoise olives, tomatoes, capers), Fronch (Djion French), and Curry. We got six of the seven (you had the order the curry when you ordered, which we did not know), which the lady at the counter responded to with a "really?" look. Of those, I personally thought the chili and the Kitty O'Shea were the best, the former with a nice light kick at the end, and the latter going really well with the fish.

CC: I was also pleasantly surprised with the Kitty O'Shea--the capers really added the saltiness I wanted, but the tartar sauce was probably my favorite. Then again, as much as I love condiments, I was already a happy camper with a serving of malt vinegar. Sometimes I'm easy. But I like having options, and I was sadly disappointed by the Old Bay probably because the only thing I like it with is blue crab (thank you ex-bfs from DMV).

K: The one downside is that for a place that resembles a pub, it was very limited in the way of beer. I enjoyed my Guinness with my meal, but it's something to think about.

CC: On the other hand, there aren't that many places I've been to where I can order a Strongbow, so I'm all for that stomach-lining-killing hard cider when there's not some other alcoholic beverage I'd prefer. There's something about a giant can of it that reminds me of my time in Surrey drinking Snakebites (Strongbow, beer, and black current syrup similar to grenadine). Needless to say the nostalgia didn't get me through more than a quarter of the can, but I loved having it with the fish and chips.

The Verdict

K: Was this the best meal I've ever had? Not necessarily. But we have to consider what Eamonn's is and what it's trying to be: just a fish-and-chips place, but with higher quality ingredients. On that scale, this is a good and portable, albeit a little bit messy meal. I approve.

CC: Best fish and chips I've had stateside. And there's something about eating something greasy from a brown paper bag...

Food Rating: *** (out of 5)
Date Rating:
2 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code:
Casual
Bar Rating:
N/A
Vibe:
Calm to chatty
Cost:
$
(out of 5) (less than $25 for two)
Pairing: Take your meal to the square and people watch: Old Town Alexandria is too charming for its own good. Better yet, join one of the campy, in-costume ghost tours (more romantic and whimsical than scary). The office is just past the square on King Street, and for $10 you'll have a fun little walking tour, filled with puns. Tickets can be purchased in advance (suggested around Halloween!) or on a whim. Check it out: http://www.alexcolonialtours.com/

Eamonn's on Urbanspoon

Monday, May 3, 2010

Monday Munchies: Sâuçá

UPDATE: THIS FOOD TRUCK IS NOW RETIRED. 

Second in our Monday Munchies review of Washington area food trucks is the ever elusive Saucamobile. Sauca is a relative newcomer to the suddenly burgeoning DC food truck world, but has garnered a lot of buzz... and a lot of anxiety, since almost everyone I know, including myself, has had a hard time tracking them down. For a while, my relationship with Sauca was the epitome of Murphy's Law; I only saw them when I wasn't looking for food, but every time I wanted them to be by my office for the lunch break, they weren't there. Last Tuesday though was the breakthrough: finally the convergence of both a lunchtime craving, and the Saucamobile a block away from the office. So I recruited Official Friend of DCWD Anna to come with me.Sauca (which spells its name, perhaps to ethnicize itself, with the pronunciation hat on the first a, the hooked soft c, and an accent on the second a) serves a global variety of food in wrap sandwich form in pita bread. Like all food trucks, the menu changes daily, but may consist of fish tacos, butter chicken curry, or Vietnamese banh mi. Despite my own Vietnamese roots, I decided to pass on the banh mi, and Anna and I decided to get two saucas and split them: the beef shawarma (served with tahini) and the merguez frites (European sausages served with crispy potato strips). In addition, we each got a toffle (Belgian waffles) with nutella.

The verdict? A bit on the small side, and since this was my lunch, I needed to be filled for the price. But the taste? A seriously good divergence from the normal work day lunch. You know, if you can find it.


Taste Test:
3 Forks
(out of 5)
Perfect for: A work-day lunch every so often