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Thursday, December 30, 2010

DCWD End of the Year Lists

I love lists. I've said as much already; I think they give life structure and that everyone should be able to list their Top 5 anything (something I probably picked up from High Fidelity, I guess). So of course, why wouldn't I apply this to the blog?

In our completely unscientific way, we've decided to try and measure a few things here as a thought exercise. Here's our 2010 End of the Year Lists!

1) Which restaurants stack up to the hype they receive, and which ones are completely underrated?

First, how do you measure restaurant hype? Well we've taken three separate metrics: the Washingtonian Top 100 lists from 2008-2010 (we wrote this entry before Washingtonian released their latest list), the Washington City Paper's Young and Hungry Top 50 from the last two years, and the Washington Post Dining Guide for the last two years.

Our methodology is this: we weighted the Washingtonian ranks by date (so 2010 was three times as important as 2008), and averaged out the scores. Where restaurants didn't have a score for a year, if it was a later year, we ignored the score, so as to not penalize newer restaurants, but if it happened in a more recent year, we gave them a rank of 101.

Lastly, we subtracted that total from 101 so that a restaurant who always places 1st (so Komi), would score 100. For the other two lists, we gave a restaurant 50 points for each year it was named (both lists have 50 restaurants). From there, we have three scores of a possible 100; I weighted the Washingtonian list by 3 (wider readership, and frankly, I like it the best), for a total of a possible 500 points.

Problems with this metric: The lists measure slightly different things: Washingtonian is purely a best of the best, but Y&H admittedly does not include the Komis of the world because it doesn't think there's value in mentioning them; it instead aims to find the 50 most interesting restaurants and intentionally does not name the obvious restaurants. Washingtonian also is released in January, so no new 2010 restaurants, which often receive considerable buzz are used in that metric.

Still, here's what our unscientific science gives us:

Top 10 Most Hyped Restaurants in DC:
1) Rasika
2) Obelisk
3) 2941
4) Palena
5) Komi
6) J&G Steakhouse
7) Minibar
8) Citronelle
9) The Source
10) Restaurant Eve

Now let's start talking about restaurants that were underrated. Essentially we divided our arbitrary food scores and date scores into the hype rating. Eliminating restaurants that scored less than a 4 (excellent), here are, in our humble opinion, the Most Underrated Restaurants in DC:

by Food:
1) Granville Moore's (tied)
1) Northside Social (tied)
3) Hook
4) Art and Soul
5) Equinox
6) Kushi
7) Brasserie Beck
8) 1789
9) Cedar
10) Blue Duck Tavern

Special note should also be given to Ray's Hell Burger, Matchbox, Good Stuff, and Agora, who all also scored 4s, and just did not appear on any of the lists (and therefore did not have a hype score).

Also, remember that these ranks are based on relative hype; no one's saying people don't know about Equinox or Blue Duck, it's just that they are proportionately that much better than places with similar hype.

2) Now let's get to more concrete lists, using three of our arbitrary metrics: our stars, hearts, and cost.

Where Would You Go If Money Were No Object? Restaurants That Scored at Least a Combined 8 in Stars and Hearts
1) Minibar
2) 2941, Blue Duck Tavern (tied)
4) Rasika
5) The Source, J&G Steakhouse, Corduroy, Proof, 701, Cork, Eventide, Northside Social (tied)
13) Citronelle, Palena, Poste, Sushi-Ko, Adour, Vermilion, Art and Soul (tied)

What's The Best Food for Your Money?
1) Northside Social
2) Kramerbooks/Afterwords
3) Ray's Hell Burger
4) El Pollo Rico
5) Kotobuki
6) Pete's New Haven Style Apizza
7) BGR: The Burger Joint
8) Amsterdam Falafel Shop
9) Eamonn's
10) Pho 14

Sit Down Edition:
1) Kotobuki
2) Zaytinya
3) 2 Amy's
4) Four Sisters
5) Jaleo
6) Sushi-Ko
7) Nava Thai Noodle
8) Granville Moore's
9) Kushi
10) Matchbox

What's The Best Date for Your Money?
1) Northside Social
2) Kramerbooks/ Afterwords
3) Sushi-Ko
4) Teakwood
5) Zaytinya
6) Tabard Inn
7) 2 Amys
8) Four Sisters
9) Jaleo
10) Kushi

(editor's note: throughout the entry, we've put a bunch of our pictures of our favorite dishes and drinks over the year. They are as follows: poached salmon at Zaytinya, oysters at Hank's, sangria at Jaleo, gnome's water and citrus smash at PS7's, duck salad at Corduroy, oyster pan roast at Cedar, lobster roll at Red Hook Lobster Pound truck, roast chicken at Palena, soft serve at Northside Social, stuffed pepper at Oyamel, foie gras burger at Ray's Hell Burger, gelato at Dolcezza, stuffed tomatoes at Vermilion, mussels at Granville Moore's, Thai ice tea and coffee at Nava Thai Noodle, pizza at 2 Amy's, and milkshakes at Good Stuff.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Ba Bay

UPDATE: THIS RESTAURANT IS NOW CLOSED. 

Plaudits: None
Neighborhood: Capitol Hill

The Setup


A fairly hyped restaurant with a modernized take on Vietnamese food opening up actually inside the city limits? How could I not rush over there immediately? After a failed attempt to bring Official Dad of DCWD DV there, I rallied fellow Viet and Official Friend of DCWD Chi as well as Official Friend of DCWD Wills along for a lunch date.

The Vibe
Probably half because of its location, and half because of its concept, Ba Bay eschews the normal conventions of Asian restaurants (thank God) in favor of a more modern, let's call it post-industrial vibe. The space sits on the newly gentrified row of Pennsylvania Avenue in SE, and matches the rest of the neighborhood; open windows that bring natural light into the faux warehouse space, and a color scheme of dark brown, beige, and sage green. The furnishings are best described as austere, simple wood and metal tables and chairs, with half-booth seating along one wall, where the two-tops are, leading into the small wooden bar in the back. The rest of the decor is best described as elegant touches out of a Pottery Barn catalog: wooden slats along the walls and ceilings, light bulbs in woven picnic baskets serving as lanterns above each table, and a leafless ornamented tree on a butcher's table in the center of the dining area. It's a clean and clear space, without being overly cute.

The Food


Here is what we need to establish before anything else, what will become a central theme to this review: this isn't authentic Vietnamese and it isn't pretending to be. This restaurant is attempting to take traditional domestic and street food and morph those flavors into something a little more refined. So as much as the two Vietnamese diners at our table wanted it to be home cooking, we had to keep in mind that it wasn't trying to be.

What was Vietnamese about the whole experience was the sheer mass of food we ordered. Round one brought out three starter dishes, along with a cinnamon-plum tea that the waitress talked me into (pleasantly sweet and worth ordering, though expensive). The first was a chicken liver mousse with sweet mustard and toast, served on a charcuterie board. This was smooth, without being overly aggressive, and both Wills and I thought the mustard was a pretty inspired addition, as the sweetness balanced out the liver's natural salt and grittiness.

With this also came the first course of Chi's prix fixe: a purple cabbage and carrot salad with peanuts and herbs with a soy dressing. A pretty traditional rendering of every Vietnamese goi I've had (including one my mom made over Thanksgiving) minus the meat, except that the soy-based dressing was surprisingly sweet. Combined with the generous size of the portion, it was a good surprise.

The last of the first courses was the chili-glazed wings with scallions, a dish that the owner was so proud of that he decided, during our short conversation, to send out an order for us (possibly because he was happy to see two Vietnamese people in his place, possibly because he saw my notebook). I can definitely see why people like the dish; the glaze has all the piquant of traditional nuoc cham and the chicken is cooked well. For me, it just missed that wow factor of being unique. Maybe if you've only been eating regular BBQ wings, but if you're used to Viet flavors, it's par for the course.

Part two of the meal brought our main courses. Wills stuck with what he knew, and ordered a bowl of pho tai gan sach, traditional Vietnamese Tonkinese noodle soup with rare ribeye, tripe, and soft tendon. I've said before that pho from places without pho in the name are usually not good, owing to the fact that the same level of care isn't paid to the broth. This was a welcome exception. The broth was strong, and the closest anyone's come to the combination of oil, anise, and beef that my mom uses. The local sourcing and higher quality of the ribeye gave the tai a great taste, and the chilis in the broth gave it a nice kick. Overall, surprisingly good.

Chi's second dish was a rice congee (or what we know as chao) with almond milk poached rockfish, fermented black bean, and cilantro. I've said before that chao reminds me of home, as it's one of the food panaceas that Vietnamese grandmothers use to cure all ailments. This one was definitely not traditional; there was a creaminess to it that I just couldn't place, something that just made it feel a little off. Not necessarily worse, just not up my alley. That being said, the rockfish was great here, so in totality it was a good bite.

The two of them also ordered a side of brussel sprouts in sweet chili butter. This was okay; we all wished they'd cooked the brussel sprouts just a little bit longer so that it could become softer and thus more buttery.

For my part, I ordered two main courses: pork belly with clams and Thai basil in a Thai chili broth, and a turmeric crepe of tamarind trout, bean sprouts and Viet herbs with a ginger dipping sauce. The first course was an interesting combination, and definitely one I'd never seen before. But pork belly is a core part of Vietnamese cuisine and the broth brought out more of the umami flavors of the meat. The dish definitely got the crisp right, though missed a little on the butteriness that usually accompanies eating the fatty portions, and the clams were fairly insignificant.

I was definitely much more impressed by my second entree, which I correctly guessed as an interpretation of the Vietnamese banh xeo (the menu uses little if any Vietnamese words, so it was a guessing game ordering). Instead of the traditional pork or shrimp is a filet of trout, and the dish replaces the usual globs of soy beans for a much thinner, much crispier crepe. Here is the best example of where the restaurant's attempt to modernize Vietnamese food is a success. It gets rid of my least favorite part of banh xeo, the clusterbombs of soy beans you get once in a while, and adds in an interesting flavor and texture with the trout, along with the a kick from the ginger in the nuoc cham. There are a few drawbacks (I love cilantro and mint, but if you don't, it's loaded with a lot of those two herbs; the thinner crepe means it gets soggy and mushy faster), but otherwise a very enjoyable bite.
The last round was Chi's dessert, a banana cake with curried chocolate and peanut brittle. The cake was fine, typical Vietnamese dessert, but the curried chocolate was too aggressive, reminiscent of coffee and overpowered the subtlety of the cake. Wish we had gone with some other desserts.

The Verdict


For authenticity, I'd still make the trek out to Falls Church and Eden Center. But if I'm craving something both Vietnamese and a little more mainstream, Ba Bay is a great choice. In and of itself, I don't love it; but for it's location, and combination of Viet flavors and American culinary sensibilities, it's definitely recommended. On some level, based on it's freshman appearance, it soon might even challenge Four Sisters for the high-end Viet food crown.

Food Rating: ****
(out of 5)
Date Rating: 3.5 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code:
Casual
Bar Rating:
Quiet Drinks
Vibe:
Chatty
Cost:
$$$
(out of 5) ($50-$75 for two)
Pairing
: Eastern Market. Need I say more? So good, that we might make it the next DC Date Idea...

Ba Bay on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Yuraku

Plaudits: None
Neighborhood: Germantown

The Setup


Hungover like nobody's business, more than anything I needed food in my stomach. Luckily, Official Friends of DCWD G and Baboon had planned a road trip to Germantown's Yuraku, home of an all-you-can-eat sushi buffet. I dragged myself, with the help of Official Friend of DCWD HR Intern, to get up there.

The Vibe

Yuraku is set in a strip mall, and is apparently the most well known best-kept secret, in that I had never heard of it, but apparently everyone else in Maryland had, since even on this lazy Sunday, there was a sizable wait outside the restaurant. The inside is sparse, decorated like a Japanese house with the square paper windows in wooden frames, except that they're covered by Polaroids of customers dating back four years. In the back of the restaurant is the buffet, a mish mash of various Japanese stir-fries, salads, and tempuras, and of course, sushi.

Seating is composed of a six-seat sushi bar, and mostly two-tops pushed in various combinations, except for two long tables where our group of nine sat for dinner.

The Food


How do you describe a menu that has basically every kind of sushi imaginable? There's a menu that you can order from, but the preferred method is just to run through the buffet line where an ever-changing, ever-refilling series of trays are brought out and devoured.

There's a good diversity of rolls as well, from the simple sashimi to complex rolls the size of a baseball. Like many sushi buffets, there's a penalty if you leave food on your plate, in an attempt to discourage people from dismantling their rolls and eating only the fish. Unlike many buffets, the quality of the sushi was commendable, in particular the ratio of fish to rice, which was like a normal sushi restaurant, not one built for quantity.

People who know me know I live for otoro (fatty tuna), and here is where there was a little gap in quality. The otoro was fairly tendon-y which made it chewy instead of melt-in-your-mouth. But the other sushi and sides, including the very nice fried banana (yum), were pretty on point.

The Verdict


If this place were in the city, I'd probably be there every week. At $13 a head for a buffet and decent sushi, a pretty great stop.

Food Rating: ***
(out of 5)
Date Rating: 2.5 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code:
Casual
Bar Rating:
N/A
Vibe:
Chatty
Cost:
$$
(out of 5) ($25-$50 for two)
Pairing
: If you're going to be driving out that far anyway, why not make it a whole day trip and go skydiving? Check out Sky Diving Orange (recommended by a friend) in VA. Probably should do it before lunch though...

Yuraku Japanese Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Monday, December 27, 2010

Stuff My Mom Cooks

One day, my mother will force me to start a blog with the entry's title and detail all the crazy cooking she does, especially now that she's gotten into plating. Until then, pictorial proof of my mother's insanity:

Rack of lamb with cherries on a potato fritter

Bird in Nest: Coconut quail with roasted peppers, julienned mango, mint, and Vietnamese perilla on a taro nest

Pho ga (chicken pho) with lime-pickled celery, quail eggs, and greens

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Jackie's

Plaudits: Washingtonian 2010 #82, Washingtonian 2009 #78, Washingtonian 2008 #80
Neighborhood: Silver Spring

The Setup


Official Parent of DCWD DV was in town the day before Thanksgiving, and was staying up in Silver Spring. So I took him out to dinner to Jackie's.

The Vibe

Jackie's looks like an old warehouse, both on the inside and the outside, but in very different ways. The outside is faded brick and gives you the impression that you're walking into an abandoned tire factory, but for the bright neon lights that glow from the restaurants' facade. In fact, because of this the exterior belies in the inside decor, which recalls something out of an Andy Warhol workshop. An exposed ceiling with exposed brick, the room is lit by several hanging garage light bulbs and a slight pink glow from neon electric lights in the full booths that line the edge of the restaurant.

This gives the decor a decidedly funky feel, a fact emphasized by the hanging plastic dots in the lounge area/bar, 70s mod plastic furniture in the dining area, and a projection screen separating the two. Seating consists of a row of two-top half booths, some fours, and the aforementioned full booths.

The Food

DV wasn't feeling that hungry so he ordered two starter portions. First up: Thai marinated Laughing Bird shrimp skewers with herbed quinoa. The spice was good but I just felt the shrimp could have been cooked a little better; it was just a little too done and chewy. Still, the mix with the quinoa was inspired, and I generally liked it.

DV's second dish was piquillo peppers stuffed with hearts of palm and fennel salad, watercress, and garlic oil. I loved this flavor combination, the tart of the palm with a nice crisp off the fennel. It was a really refreshing dish, which was a welcome surprise.

For me, I ordered the hay roasted Meyer's strip loin with spaghetti squash and turnips in a date sauce. The hay was subtle, maybe a little too subtle for me; I was sold on the flavor and so when it didn't come, I was a little disappointed. The strip loin was also more tendon-y than I thought it was going to be which wasn't necessarily bad. The date sauce was actually the winner here, adding a sweetness to what smokiness there was from the hay to make for a nice bite once in a while. Not perfect, but definitely some good notes.

For dessert, we ordered a pumpkin creme brulee. It was okay, with a nice interesting taste to it. Just not something to write home about.

The Verdict


I think my opinion of this meal was that it was pretty standard high end dining if it were in DC, but for Silver Spring, it's definitely on the better side.

Food Rating: ***
(out of 5)
Date Rating: 3 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code:
Casual
Bar Rating:
Classy Crowd
Vibe:
Chatty
Cost:
$$$$
(out of 5) ($75-$100 for two)
Pairing
: Head to the AFI Silver Theater, home of the eponymous group and to some truly great screenings over the next few months, including A Muppet Christmas Carol, and an Alfred Hitchcock Retrospective.

Jackie's on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Teakwood

Plaudits: None
Neighborhood: 14th Street, Logan Circle

The Setup


As we've mentioned a few times here, we received some Austrian wine to sample as part of a promotion emphasizing how well it paired with Asian food. When I asked oenophile and Official Friend of DCWD Madison if she wanted to try some; she suggested we invite some more people over (in this case Official Friends of DCWD JK, JB, Talia, and Manica) and hit up newly opened Teakwood for some takeout.

The Vibe

Granted, since we took out, I didn't actually eat there, but we spent 20 minutes sitting at the bar, so I'll use that.

Teakwood is one of those places that doesn't just use its name to catch your attention, but rather lives up to the theme it conveys. Walking in is like walking into wood shop in high school; it'd be a little absurd but sort of believable if someone told you the whole place was carved out of a single block of wood; case in point: the furniture is simple, tan, and glossy, and from what I've heard, homemade, and blends in effortlessly with the floor. Even the menus are wood books, beautifully painted.

The whole space is expansive, and has that mirrored effect (where restaurants put up a mirror which makes the space look twice as big as it is), except for the fact that it actually IS that big. Each wall has a few window boxes with carved Buddhas in them, as well as a number of other interesting statues around the dining area. Seating is mostly two-tops in combination with a sushi bar and a small regular bar in the back. The one downside is how dim the restaurant is, the only light being provided by a few lanterns.

The Food

With six of us, we definitely ordered a lot trying to cover as much of the Thai menu as we could. Among the food that we did order, the chicken drunken noodles, vegetarian pad see ew, and pad ginger beef. All of those were reportedly very good, though I didn't try it myself. You can see the accompanying pictures on either side.

What I did order was the pla muek tod, deep fried squid with sweet and sour sauce. I'm not sure what I expected but I was sort of disappointed that it was pretty standard calamari. In fact, this was like every sweet and sour chicken I've ever had at every Chinese restaurant. That was disappointing.

Luckily, the entree I ordered more than made up for it: the gang ped yang, roasted duck in a red curry sauce with basil, tomatoes, pineapple, and lychee. Mixed together with the rice, it was perfect in about a billion ways: tender duck immersed in a surprisingly creamy and mildly curry. In fact, the dish was tagged as a two out of three peppers spiciness, but as a group we found the spice labels on the menu to be over what the actual heat was.

But again, what a beautiful combination of flavors: the impact of the basil, and the sweetness of the lychee balancing out the piquant of the curry. Seriously, what a gamechanger.

The Verdict


Some blandness, but the hits are on point. Fantastic experience.

Food Rating: ****
(out of 5)
Date Rating: 3 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code:
Casual
Bar Rating:
Quiet Drinks
Vibe:
Chatty
Cost:
$$
(out of 5) ($25-$50 for two)
Pairing
: Maybe this presumes we'll have the Return of the Snowpocalypse, but with Logan Circle so close, wait for some snow, and have a good old fashioned snowball fight.

Teak Wood on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

2 Amy's

Plaudits: Washingtonian 2010 #28, Washingtonian 2009 #30, Washingtonian 2008 #30, Washington City Paper's Young and Hungry's Top 50 Restaurants 2009
Neighborhood: Cleveland Park

The Setup


Newly engaged Official Friend of DCWD Ruby and I hadn't seen each other in months since our last Italian dinner at Potenza. Looking to both catch up and to congratulate her on the great news, and with her craving pizza, we planned on a dinner at Cleveland Park icon 2 Amy's.

The Vibe

2 Amy's straddles the line between the downhome pizzeria and the decor of a restaurant that regularly finds itself in the Washingtonian Top 30. You walk into the fairly bare-bones front of the restaurant; the host stand is simply a wooden table, the hostess, and a clipboard. The walls are white paint and wood panels, the ceiling is white, the floor is white tiles. The tables and chairs are simple and brown, and all these things combine to give this front section an austere look resembling a classic Italian pizzeria, or at the least a really clean bathroom.

We thought that the lack of people milling about meant that the well-known wait at 2 Amy's was just a myth, but unfortunately we found a veritable army of would-be diners in the second section: the bar. Here is where the aesthetic becomes a little more vibrant and lively: the walls are a orange-yellow color, with a small six-seat wooden bar. Behind the bar are chalkboard menus, and hanging charcuterie and cheeses, hanging light bulbs, and a giant shelf of wine; it's all very clean and modern. Seating otherwise in this section consists of a few full service but first-come-first-serve high tables, which might well be your best to get a table quickly on a crowded night, but be ready to have to awkwardly stalk on people to get one, and to be surrounded by fellow vultures throughout your whole meal.

There's a second floor we didn't get a chance to see, but I assume it's more of the same, which can be accurately summarized by Ruby's words: "This place seems to work for both the after work crowd, couples, and family dinners."

The Food


We've hit a few of the "best pizza in DC" spots, with a pretty good results, so we had some pretty high expectations going in. Many of them have similar things going on: interesting pizza toppings, and the availability of craft or obscure beer. On this trip, I had a Ayinger brauweisse, whose cousin I sampled at Matchbox.

That being said, one of the key parts that intrigued me was 2 Amy's "Serenity Now!" menu, a collection of very interesting small plates that practically dared me to order them. After a bit of a struggle, I ordered two: smoked swordfish with olive and fennel, and pipe dreams goat bocconcino with fig jam.

I had two very different experiences with these two dishes. The swordfish was actually very good, the whole dish given a nice clarity by the olive oil the fish was in. In fact, the whole thing was much lighter than I thought it would be given that swordfish is a meatier fish. On the other hand was the goat cheese dish, which the waiter cautioned me was going to be a little bit firmer than most goat cheese I'd had. What he failed to mention was how aggressive this particular cheese was. Pungent like blue cheese, and really hit you in the face. Fig jam was good, but definitely not what I was expecting. Combined with the anise breadsticks, there were a lot of interesting strong flavors going on.

Anyway, on to the actual pizza. Ruby went fairly simple and ordered the Margherita, where I went a little more adventurous, going with a pizza off the specials menu (grilled eggplant, buffalo mozzarella, pine nuts, parsley).

Here's the key for these pizzas: they're Neapolitan style, so the pie is a thin crisp, but one where you can actual taste the brick oven, and specifically that light burnt taste that's oh-so-appealing. I can't emphasize how much this adds to the taste and the feel, the way some grillmasters swear by charcoal over propane for their barbecues. The crust is sort of blown out, which is a pretty nice touch as well. As for my pizza... oh where to begin? Divine? Mind-blowing? Holy-hell-why-hadn't-anyone-put-these-things-on-pizza-before? Just all-in-all, a great pie.

Sadly, dessert was sort of a letdown after it all. I ordered the Marsala custard and Ruby went with the cannolli.

Mine was fairly simplistic, basically tasting like cold cream, where Ruby's cannolli was marred by the inclusion of orange peel in the cream; a great idea but one where the flavor was just way too powerful and just made it bitter.

The Verdict


Some misses, but I keep going back to that pizza... we're once again shifting our crown for Best Pizza in DC. Hopefully this one stays great.

Food Rating: ****
(out of 5)
Date Rating: 3 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code:
Casual
Bar Rating:
Suits Scene
Vibe:
Energetic to Noisy
Cost:
$$
(out of 5) ($25-$50 for two)
Pairing
: No matter your religious affiliation, the National Cathedral is a beautiful space and grounds, and there are plenty of wonderful musical experiences, including a performance of Vivaldi's Four Seasons in January.

2 Amys on Urbanspoon