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Thursday, September 26, 2013

Quick Bites: 2 Birds, 1 Stone

For my bachelor party, Official Friends of DCWD Rajistan, MM, Lawyered, and Yupster took me out on a tour. The second stop in our travels was Doi Moi's new speakeasy bar, 2 Birds 1 Stone. It being a bachelor party, my memories of the drinks are a bit hazy, but a few things stand out. For one, for a speakeasy, it's not really hidden or exclusive, just unmarked. For a basement bar, it's earnestly bright: like it's upstairs parent restaurant, it's shiny and white. And much like the drinks at other Mark Kuller/Haidar Karoum collaborations, cocktails are clean and creative. Menus are handwritten each week; the day we went, ours was a topographical map; a second visit is a comic strip. The space is pretty cool: white painted brick backlit with swatches of blue and pink, an incredible variety of seating with all shapes and sizes of nooks with benches and full booths. It's the kind of place you can easily settle in with a date for a round of drinks.

On a return visit, the punch of the day is a housemade apple cider with bourbon, while I grab a classic Champs Elysees -  chartreuse, cognac, simple syrup. All are delicious, but especially the punch, a full sip with a hint of spice.

Bar Review: *** 1/2 (out of 5)
Date Rating: 5 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code:
Casual
Bar Rating:
Hipster Hangout
Vibe:
Energetic
Cost:
$$$
(out of 5) ($50-$75 for two)

Monday, September 23, 2013

Special Events: Grape Festival at Zaytinya

One of our favorite restaurants in the city, Zaytinya has gone through a number of changes since we last reviewed it, though its consistency hasn't waned. Case in point: the upcoming Grape Festival, lasting from September X to October X, which Official Sister of DCWD Caribou, Official Co-Writer/Fiancee of DCWD Texas, and I had the opportunity to try out. Below some of the featured dishes:

Salad of grapes, spiced walnuts, nasturtium, and manouri cheese

Kampachi Marinato, cured in agourido, champagne grapes, green chilis, lemon zest, pickled grapes.

Mutancene, lamb shoulder braised with grape vinegar, almonds, apricots, honey.

 Prawns Arak, white wine, butter, chives, parsley, tarragon

There's More than One Way to Skinos a Grape Cocktail

The festival also includes a number of special events:

Monday, September 30th, 7:15pm: Zaytinya Road Trips 2013: A family-style dinner inspired by a recent trip to Greece. Led by José’s Wine Director Lucas Payá. $65 per person plus tax and gratuity.

Saturday, October 5th, 12pm-4pm: Greek Harvest Patio Party: Grape Stomping and live music on the patio, $10 per person including a glass of wine and snacks.

Complimentary Wine Tastings, 5-7pm:
Wednesday September 25: Wines from Lebanon
Thursday September 26: Wines from Turkey
Wednesday October 2: Wines from Greece
Thursday October 3: Distilled spirits from grapes

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Mellow Mushroom

Plaudits: None
Neighborhood: Adams-Morgan

The Setup

With three of the four Official Parents of DCWD DV, MV, and MZ in town, a long day behind us, and a sure-to-be-great-but-costly reservation at MintwoodPlace ahead of us the day after, Official Co-Writer/Fiancee of DCWD Texas and I needed a quick and inexpensive dinner to finish off a good parents’ session. We settled on the food everyone could agree upon: pizza, at Adams-Morgan’s Mellow Mushroom.

The Vibe

Mellow Mushroom, a chain based out of Atlanta, is the latest in Adams-Morgan and pizza (the neighborhood, of course, being famous for the dual jumbo slice icons: Jumbo Slice and Pizza Mart). That being said, it aspires to be a wee bit classier than those two institutions, and the décor reflects that. Much like most of the establishments on that block, the space is long and segmented, starting with a patio out front; then a bar area with high-tops; then long communal tables and half-booths and full booths in the dining area in the back; and an upstairs patio up top. The space is portrays a feeling of dank-dark (as opposed to dim-dark), mostly a product of the exposed brick and dark and old wooden floors, with the occasional brightness coming from lights projecting onto painted circus sideshow-style posters. This isn’t to say that it’s uninviting, far from it. Just that the feel is like an Irish pub more than say, a Bertucci’s.

The Food

We went for two pizzas between the five of us: the known quantity Holy Shiitake, and the new-to-us Magical Mystery Tour. The former is an olive oil and garlic-based pizza covered in shiitake, button and portobello mushrooms, caramelized onions, and mozzarella, parmesan, and Montamore cheeses, and drizzled with garlic aioli, black truffle oil, and chives. What I love most about Mellow Mushroom pizzas is that their crusts are very breadstick-like, and while that leads to a little bit of a chewy undercrust, the ending is just as delicious as the beginning. This pizza is as decadent as it sounds, and definitely is sumptuous with each bite. The latter was a pesto-based pizza with button and portobello mushrooms, mozzarella and feta cheese, and spinach and jalapenos to top it all off. Some decent heat, some good flavor, and a nice pizza.

The Verdict

Fills that not-drunk-pizza void in Adams-Morgan quite ably.

Food Rating: ***
(out of 5)
Date Rating: 2.5 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code:
Casual
Bar Rating:
Quiet Drinks
Vibe:
Chatty
Cost:
$$
(out of 5) ($25-$50 for two)
Pairing:
Grab two rackets and hit up the tennis courts at the bottom of the hill. Get there early though; they're super popular in the summertime at all times of day.

Mellow Mushroom Pizza Bakers on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Locolat

Plaudits: None
Neighborhood: U Street/Dupont Circle/Adams-Morgan

The Setup

After circling it for years, it took some simple prodding by Official Friends of DCWD Flo and Burgh to drag Official Co-Writer/Fiancee of DCWD Texas and I out to neighborhood anchor Locolat.

The Vibe

Locolat sits at the nexus of three neighborhoods on the corner of 18th, Florida, and U Streets. It’s also a restaurant that sits at the nexus of a few ideas: a Belgian restaurant, a coffee shop, a patisserie. Despite these concepts, the building that Locolat sits in is decidedly modern, with clean stainless steel and silver accents all over a curved seating area that wraps around the pastry display, composed of two-tops in combination. A small kitchen peaks out beyond a door behind the counter, and the whole space is decorated with Belgian bottles, beer caps, and beer posters. A sizable patio wraps around the front, with metal furniture that matches the space.

The Food

There are certain things that you almost have to order when you head to a Belgian place: waffles, escargot, beer, mussels. On this trip, we ticked off all but one of those. I ordered the waffle sliders: three different savory waffles (potato and chive, green herb, and pesto) topped respectively with beef stew, a burger, and grilled asparagus. All of the sliders fell within the category of interesting and above average. All three waffles made for intriguing flavors not normally associated with your typical sweet morning breakfast, and definitely added an element of “and now for something different.” The burger, covered by a melted Belgian cheese, was quite pungent-in-a-good-way, while the beef stew was hearty and thick, albeit a tad bit overcooked and thus a bit chewy for my tastes. The asparagus was the lone true meh, a nod to vegetarianism that I felt could have been done a bit better.

To this, I tacked on a beer float, a bottle of Gouden Carolus mixed with vanilla ice cream. It may go without saying, but something about a beer float is just a little more bitter than any other float, so there was something fun, but ultimately disquieting about the mixture. One of those quirky “ooh I’m glad I tried it, but I will not be ordering that next time” things.

The other dishes around the table also followed a similar pattern. Flo saw her waffle topped with escargot petit gris with garlic butter, with the snails also a bit chewier than I would have liked, but with a waffle just as enjoyable as my own. Texas ordered a trio of quiches picked by our server, a plate of two-inch squares that were definitely more cheese than anything else, the sort of melty goodness that oozed right before it hit you with a little ham or spinach. Burgh ordered a puff pastry stuffed with spinach and ham and swiss, which was crusty and delicious.

The Verdict

Straight Belgian food with interesting flavors, and a lot of variety in what you can do there (coffee, drinks, dinner, desserts, pick-up). Not a bad neighborhood choice.

Food Rating: ***
(out of 5)
Date Rating: 3.5 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code:
Casual
Bar Rating:
N/A
Vibe:
Calm
Cost:
$$
(out of 5) ($25-$50 for two)
Pairing:
Take a walk down U Street and check out some of the old and new shops that have opened up: Joint Custody record shop, Ginger Root Design, and the about-to-expand Foundry.

Locolat on Urbanspoon

Friday, September 6, 2013

Quick Bites: Al Dente, Part Deux

Our first trip to Al Dente was a perfectly lovely dinner marred by some uncertain service. A return trip to the Roberto Donna restaurant showed us why professional critics often take three or more visits before reviewing an eatery, since the quality of the service was much better. To be fair, this dinner was at the invitation of the restaurant, in response to the glass-in-the-drink incident in our  aforementioned visit, and so the attentiveness bordered on insistent at times, but we did appreciate how receptive the staff were to our feedback.

On this trip, we decided to partake in the tasting menu, a four-course adventure for $35 that depicted the range in Al Dente's meals. To start, a fried zucchini flower stuffed with ricotta on a pea puree with diced tomatoes. The batter was a little different from what we were envisioning, a crustier deep fry than the normal soft flour batter that usually adorns squash blossoms. The middle bites for this dish were by far the best, when the ricotta blended everything together. Otherwise, other bites left you craving for more cheesiness.

Our second course was a gnocchi in basil pesto, with string beans, pine nuts, and parmesan. This was by far the best course of the night, and one of the better courses of the year. We've noted Chef Donna's skill with pasta before, and this was no exception. I regret every other time I've ever called gnocchi pillowy before this meal, because these were the very definition of pillowy: a soft gooey chewy melty piece of pasta that was absolutely delightful. Saucing was excellent and flavory; about the only thing that made you even a little head-scratchy was the inclusion of the string beans.

The main course consisted of two pizzaiola dishes, a rockfish with capers, black olives and basil for Official Co-Writer/Fiancee of DCWD Texas, and beef steak with fingerling potato for me. Both of us felt this entree was good, though nothing quite incredible. The sauce was straightforward, the dishes cooked well and consistently.

To finish, dessert was a roasted apricot stuffed with almond paste, topped with honey kataifi over pineapple, honey ice cream, and vanilla salt. The dessert here was good, though the apricot left a bit to be desired, with a flat aftertaste on the first bite. That being said, the combination of almond and honey here is luxuriant, and the bit of crunch from the kataifi is pleasant.

The Verdict


Once again, the pasta here is by far the best we've ever had. That alone is worth a visit.

Food Rating: *** 1/2
(out of 5)

***Getting to and from Al Dente is a bit of a hike for us city folk. In partnership with Lyft, we're offering our readers a $20 credit for Lyft to get to and from those far off restaurants, including Al Dente. See below for details.

"Lyft is an on-demand ride service app that's new to the DC area. We just passed 1 million rides in the US, and we're excited to keep that number growing in the DC! The service is cheaper and more fun than a cab. At the click of a button on your phone, you can request a ride and watch on the screen as your driver approaches. You even get to see a photo of your driver and their car before they arrive. You'll know your Lyft has arrived when you see the pink mustache adorning the front of their car!

Lyft is like having a friend with a car whenever you need one. Lyft is less expensive and more fun than a cab - you can hop right in the front seat and make friends with your driver. To try it out free, download the Lyft app for iOS here or Android here and use the code DCWrapped on the payment menu for $20 credit on your first rides!
So, how does it work? 
Once you open the app, Lyft will find your location and show you the nearest available drivers. Click 'Request Lyft' and you'll see a picture of your friendly driver and their car. Then, just wait a few minutes for them to arrive - you'll recognize your Lyft by the pink mustache adorning the front of the car! At the end of your ride, say a friendly goodbye to your driver and pay directly through the app after leaving the car - simple, easy, and no cash involved!"***

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Thai X-ing

Plaudits: Washingtonian Best Cheap Eats 2010, numerous Washington City Paper Best of DC Readers' Choice Awards
Neighborhood: Bloomingdale/Ledroit Park

The Setup


I've written before about why I love Restaurant Week. In my salad days, I used to try and cram as many Restaurant Week dinners as possible. These days, with more budget constraints and less "haven't-tried-yet" restaurants on my bucket list, the twice-annual circus has whittled down to one group meal per RW with Official Friends of DCWD Baboon, HR Intern, and G, and Official Co-Writer/Fiancee of DCWD Texas. Yet, our last few Restaurant Weeks had left us feeling pretty meh: at best, we'd get a Rasika West End, a good meal that probably would have been a lot better every other week of the year; at worst, we'd get a Belga Cafe, an uninspired mess of a dinner. So this year, we took the cue of Official Co-Writer of DCWD CC and used Restaurant Week as an opportunity to get into an otherwise booked up spot: Thai X-ing.

The Vibe

We all came at Thai X-ing with different ideas of what to expect. On one end, Texas and I had passed it on the 90 buses numerous times and knew its facade well; on the other, G and Baboon knew only that it was in a townhouse. Still, all of us were surprised at the interior of the restaurant we walked in.

Sometimes restaurants seem like a converted townhouse; Thai X-ing clearly is a converted townhouse. Every nook and cranny has been turned into an eating space while retaining the same condo-ed layout: a front patio seats no more than eight underneath an awning, while three levels of dining area sit connected only by the main front-door staircase: an English basement serves as floor one of the dining area, while the second floor has a number of twos and fours inside various rooms along with one six in the bay window (where we sat for this meal), with a third floor sits upstairs. Everything is filled with Southeast Asian paraphernalia, reminding you of those houses of world travelers who came back from Nepal and just had to have their living room look like an ashram or their host family's home. The Buddha head on the wall, the painted lamp, the cushioned benches that serves as our seating, the ethnic curtains - everything about the space feels like an apartment which has replaced all of its furniture with tables.

None of this is to say that the space isn't up-to-snuff, quite the opposite actually. The spirit is familial and familiar, the service kind and straightforward, the atmosphere burden- and pretention-free. It's quite fun, all things considered.

The Food


Much like kindred-spirit Little Serow, Thai X-ing (which preceded the former by a number of years) serves meals family style for a prix fixe price, ranging from $30 to $50 a head depending on the night and your group size. Different days bring different rotations, some combination of veggies, and meat, and fish. There is no ordering and no menu, rather just a seating, some water, and the immediate presentation of dishes in rapid succession with a two or three-word description. Think of it like a supper club, but more established.

Our meal started with two appetizers: individual bowls of tom yum soup and a group plate of papaya salad, both of which were appropriately light and refreshing. The soup, rich with coconut milk, was also filled with shredded ginger, button mushrooms, tofu, and Thai basil, and was the harbinger of the deliciousness that is to come. Alternately lightly creamy and lightly piquant, the soup was pleasant and inviting and one of the better tom yums we've had. The shredded papaya salad, topped with cucumber slices, tomatoes, crushed peanuts, red peppers, and some green beans was similarly friendly, its sauce base was the kind that you spooned well after the salad was gone.

The family-style entrees come nearly all at once, and range in levels of hyperbole from "good and enjoyable" to "ZOMG, why is there not more of this? I would mainline this if I could." On the former side of the spectrum, a lime chicken salad, with hints of cilantro and spice, was balanced between heat and tart, and would otherwise have been decidedly noteworthy if not for its tablemates. The similarly spicy bean sprout salad with assorted peppers was also amusing (in a non-sarcastic way), the kind of likable side dish that takes nothing away from the more substantial plates on the table.
A chicken massaman curry is the likely middle ground, a meaty on-bone presentation that presented satisfying notes of tamarind and coconut milk, with a little heat to bind it all together. It's also worth noting that of all the dishes, this one was finished first.
The most incredible dishes however were the steamed pompano and the pumpkin curry, the latter of which has been deservedly feted throughout the district. The pompano, a flat whitefish served whole with distinct flavors of lime and chili, is beautiful with meaty chunks of flesh and skin melting together in your mouth with pleasant bursts of salt. Growing up with plenty of family-style meals at Chinese food restaurants where the steamed whole fish was always my favorite part, this dish compares quite favorably to those memories.
The pumpkin curry was by far the favorite of the table, the kind of dish that effortlessly blended the natural sugars of pumpkin and coconut, and somehow turned it into something sweet and milky and gooey but not saccharine. Each bite offered something new: that roasted flavor you get from something perfectly grilled, the creaminess of something that's been soaked in coconut milk. Incredible.
Much like the lime chicken and beansprout salad, the last hurrah of drunken noodles, which arrived after all of the other entrees, was probably something worthy of more compliments, with wide rice noodles generously covered with vegetables and sauce. Still, considering the immense flavors that came before it, this came as a bite of a letdown.

On the other hand, the dessert round triggered the sort of second-stomach desire that only a good dessert can manage. The offering was green tea sticky rice accompanied by sliced mango, strawberries, and blueberries. If the steamed fish was my fondest memory of Asian restaurants, then sticky rice is a close second; this version was perfectly mushy, perfectly sweet, and incredibly flavorful. This alone might have won the night for me.

The Verdict


An incredible meal through-and-through. Portions are generous, flavors are spot-on and powerful, and everything is thoroughly gratifying. Definitely one of the best meals this year.

Food Rating: **** 1/2
(out of 5)
Date Rating: 4 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code:
Casual
Bar Rating:
N/A
Vibe:
Energetic
Cost:
$$$
(out of 5) ($50-$75 for two)
Pairing
: Volunteer at the Common Good CityFarm in Ledroit Park, one of the best green projects in the city.

Thai X-Ing on Urbanspoon