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Showing posts with label Arlington. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Arlington. Show all posts

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Willow

Plaudits: Washingtonian 2010 #39, Washingtonian 2008 #54, 2009 RAMMY Winner - Kate Jansen, Pastry Chef of the Year
Neighborhood: Ballston

The Setup


With an expiring Groupon in hand, and a need for a restaurant before our movie date, Official Girlfriend of DCWD Texas and I headed out to Ballston to have dinner at Willow.

The Vibe

Willow sits in the side of a office complex on Fairfax Drive, in an otherwise nondescript section of Ballston. As a high-end restaurant in an otherwise restaurant-barren part of the suburbs, Willow tries to be many things at once. Walking in, you approach the patio, then a bar/lounge, with a few couches, a ten-seat bar, and a row of half-booth two- and four-tops. The walls are crimson red, with maple brown and black accents, lit barely by track lighting and some large red globular light fixtures, which produce a soft orange glow.

But walk further, and a whole new vibe emerges. The restaurant becomes much more white cloth and much more conventional, with sunlight streaming in from the large windows to the courtyard. Still, some common themes emerge: iron work on the walls, shelves with candles, and dark grey accent walls. In general, there's a mild buzz to the space which ebbs and flows but never fully dies down. Service was slow and inattentive at some points; the server was quick to get our orders in, but otherwise impossible to find as the meal went on.

The Food


To start, Texas and I split an appetizer: the duo of soft shell crab and jumbo lump crab cake, set atop a corn pancake and a bed of peas, corn, radish, and corn sauce. The overwhelming feeling from the two of us was one of "meh." To wit, it wasn't horrible, but it didn't inspire anything other than the feeling of eating. The crab was rendered without any flavor but itself; if I had to pick a singularly memorable flavor from the dish, it would be the corn pancake. All things considered, sort of a disappointment.

For the main course, I indulged in the gluttonous sausage-crusted rack of pork, which came flanked by a potato and smoked gouda tart, and broccolini caramellized onions, all in a ham hock jus. Here was the promise of meat and it delivered, a generous two ribs of pork meat encased in a layer of sausage and ultimately resulting in a dish that would make Scooby envious. All the same, it seemed like a bit much and came across like that, a mix of flavors that was more interesting in name than in combination. It was tasty, but never got past the sort of carnival appeal that sandwiching meat in more meat projects.

Texas went with the roasted Norwegian salmon, paired with butter poached lobster agnolotti, and a ragout of corn, peas, fava beans, and roasted tomato. This dish, much like the others, was fine but with almost no flashes of brilliance. The lobster was blah, more mushy than buttery and therefore stripped of any flavor to make it remarkable. The salmon was good, but not anything that couldn't be recreated by an experienced home chef. So, on some level, if the job of the restaurant is to add value, it wasn't clear if this dish did it.

Dessert was the place where we thought the restaurant would shine, based on the well-advertised bags of cookies to go we saw passed around. We ordered the passionfruit cheesecake, which definitely wasn't mis-sold; the passionfruit flavor came across strongly, with a clear tartness to the whole dish. Somewhat enjoyable, but definitely a flavor that got tired. Still, those cookies did look good.

The Verdict


A few missteps, and considering the plaudits and the distance necessary to get there, probably not somewhere I'd find myself again.

Food Rating: ** 1/2
(out of 5)
Date Rating: 3 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code:
Casual
Bar Rating:
Classy Crowd
Vibe:
Energetic to Noisy
Cost:
$$$$
(out of 5) ($75-$100 for two)
Pairing
: Jump into the Ballston Commons mall, or grab a movie at the Ballston Common Cinema 12.

Willow on Urbanspoon

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Northside Social

Plaudits: Washington City Paper's Young and Hungry's 2010 Top 50 Restaurants
Neighborhood: Clarendon

The Setup


Most of the meals that we've had for this blog have been deliberate trips. But every once in a while, we stumble on a place that we love; in this case, it was on the walk home from El Pollo Rico, that Official Friend of DCWD Rebel, craving ice cream, decided to stop by Northside Social.

The Vibe

I probably wouldn't have given Northside Social any other thought other than the passing "hmm, that looks like an interesting place" if not for Rebel's ice cream craving. That being said, even at first glance, it was something intriguing. Here's an obviously redecorated townhouse in the middle of an otherwise nondescript block of Clarendon, with a spacious triangular patio out front. And then there's the sign that tells you what Northside Social is: coffee bar/wine bar. Hmm.

I'll say this: I love coffee dates. I love independent neighborhood coffee shops. So maybe there's already a bias there, but the inside of Northside is just as charming as the outside. Cute white colonial furniture with interesting fabric seat cushions. Maroon red letter-board menus. Forest green couches. Light yellow walls with white trim and wood accenting that allow the natural light to brighten the whole space. And then the stairs up to the wine bar on the second floor (which I didn't get a chance to visit, but can only imagine how nice it is). Sometimes you just find a place where you can feel, "Hey, this would be a nice place to take someone." This was one of those places.

And then there's the little things about the service that make it even more charming. The small hourglasses they give you when you order tea, which comes in individual kettles. The care that the barista takes in pouring the milk into the latte to make beautiful patterns in the cup. That being said, it took an unreal amount of time to make my sandwich, as if they were butchering the meat in the back. The one downside in an otherwise lovely trip.

The Food

Then again, the most beautiful space can't make up for bad food. Luckily there wasn't any of that here. What was present was a lot of creativity in the menu, starting with the impressive diversity of the bottles of wine on sale by the counter. In fact, it was the imagination of the soft-serve ice cream flavors that drew us in: Nutella and honey. Served in a twist, it was an absolutely sublime combination, delicious without being overly sweet.

Reticent to proffer an opinion based on a single cup of ice cream, I ordered myself the most interesting sandwich on the menu: a crispy pork belly sandwich. Topped with sauteed broccoli rabe, crushed red pepper, and fresh mozzarella on panini bread, it was an absolute delight. Yes, maybe it's because it was playing with three of my favorite ingredients. But the combination was one I would have never thought of, and it was brilliantly executed (though since they grilled the pork belly on the panini press and sauteed the spinach separately, it took much longer than I expected).

The Verdict


Well-done, interesting food? Cute coffeehouse with the added bonus of a wine bar and a nice patio? Small charming touches? Sign me up.

Food Rating: ****
(out of 5)
Date Rating:
4.5 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code:
Casual
Bar Rating:
Classy Crowd
Vibe:
Calm
Cost:
$
(out of 5) (less than $25 for two)
Pairing
: This might reveal my nerdy side, or at least my love of them, but for me there's nothing better than doing a crossword outside, so bring a newspaper or a book there, and complete one together on the patio.

Northside Social on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

El Pollo Rico

Plaudits: Washington City Paper's Young and Hungry's 2009 Top 50 Restaurants
Neighborhood: Clarendon

The Setup


People's strong feelings on Peruvian chicken is something I find so baffling. I didn't even know that Peruvian chicken was an actual thing until I came to DC. And then I couldn't hear the end of it. That being said, I probably would have put off the experience for much longer except Official Friend of DCWD Rebel was in town. And having seen an episode of No Reservations where Anthony Bourdain raved about El Pollo Rico, we headed out to Clarendon.

The Vibe

El Pollo Rico is a lunch counter kind of place which enjoys massive popularity; at 2pm on a scorching Monday afternoon, the line was literally out the door. Granted it was a federal holiday, but still. It being a cafeteria-style establishment, the decor is correspondingly spartan (example: letterboard menus, like the kind you find in old pizza parlors), though certainly cleaner and brighter than the average contemporary. Brightly-colored walls in red, white, yellow, and green surround a room of nothing but four-tops. It's a surprisingly big space for a grab-and-go place though.

The Food

The menu is simple: four combinations of chicken - a quarter, half regular, half white, and a whole chicken. All plates come with cole slaw and steak cut fries and at least two sauces, a green jalapeno sauce and a slightly yellow mayo. The chicken is made in bulk, and the ordering moves with the efficiency of an assembly line. Place your order, hear the knowing sound of a cleaver meeting a cutting board, and thirty seconds later, here's your order on a tray.

The chicken was, in short, good. Well-spiced skin, tender, and fairly juicy. Not the best chicken I've had in DC, but for the price (less than $5 for a quarter platter), definitely the best bang for your buck. It's the kind of chicken you wouldn't mind eating with your hands.

The actual surprise for me was the steak fries. I normally hate steak fries; in the fry spectrum, I'm the guy who digs for the small crispy morsels and ignores the big potato-y ones. But these avoided the starchy mushiness I dislike in steak fries, and won big marks for me. Washed down with Inca Kola (a drink I had forgotten I liked so much), and it was all in all a pretty satisfying meal.

The Verdict


This being just the beginning of my Peruvian chicken experience, I can't yet join the fray and the flurry of opinions on DC poultry. But I can say that it was an enjoyable bite, and one I would totally return to (you know, if it was actually convenient for me to get to).

Food Rating: *** 1/2
(out of 5)
Date Rating:
1.5 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code:
Casual
Bar Rating:
N/A
Vibe:
Chatty
Cost:
$
(out of 5) (less than $25 for two)
Pairing
: Get your aggression out in an artistic way at Pev's Paintball. Located at 39835 New Road, you can find more details here.

El Pollo Rico on Urbanspoon

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Eventide

Plaudits: Washingtonian 2010 #78, Washington City Paper's Young and Hungry's 2009 Top 50 Restaurants, Washington Post's Top 50 Restaurants 2009, 2010 RAMMY Nominee - New Restaurant of the Year
Neighborhood:
Clarendon

The Setup


I'd been wanting to get out to Eventide anyway, but a Groupon made it even easier. And with Official Friend of DCWD Chi getting one as well, we organized a large group of people to head over to the Arlington spot for brunch. Today's roster included Official Friends of DCWD Bricycle, Wills, Chi, and MB at one table, and CC, HR Intern, Runner, and me at the other.

The Vibe


K: Eventide may not look it from the outside, but it is absolutely beautiful and enormous on the inside. The restaurant actually spans three levels, an informal seating and bar area on the first floor, the main dining area on the second floor, and a roof patio. Since we only really experienced the second floor that's what I'll describe here, though if the other two are anything matching that quality then Eventide is in good shape.

Upon exiting the staircase, you are met with a room with a decor very much unlike the host stand you just left. The room is strikingly blue, with floor-to-ceiling dark blue velvet curtains, probably used to separate the space should it be necessary. This fabric is used for the chairs and the couch booths, which themselves are strange since they have little knee height doors to get into them. The blue is continued on the floor, where the carpeting is a paisley cornflower blue pattern. This might be overwhelming, but the exposed bricks, exposed black ceiling and riveted silver columns, along with the light tan wood furniture do a good enough job of breaking up this color palette. The mood is further set by fairly large screen-print style paintings on the walls, while acoustic versions of popular songs play over the overhead. Add that onto individual lights over each table, and large old school chandeliers, and it's actually a beautiful space. The one drawback was the lack of two-tops from what I recall.

The only other thing of note was the service. Our server was pretty sassy but in a good way; on some level, a good server will pick up the vibe of the table and mirror it; so for this early Sunday brunch, lightly poking fun at HR Intern for the Xs still on his hands from the night before and me for ordering a cocktail was right in line for us, and super appropriate. Always nice to see.

CC: While I thought the curtains everywhere were a little heavy, lounge-y and random, there was a nice vibe going on. I wouldn't want to be a private party separated by a curtain though. While the muzak was appropriate for brunch, I always find restaurant music to be a little silly, especially as too many places use the same channels. Hangovers aside, our waitress was a welcome morning personality and had I not needed to rehydrate I would have let me talk me into a breakfast cocktail as well.

The Food

K: I started out with a cocktail, the Oaxacan Pineapple, which I featured on an earlier Friday Night Flight. The only other drink that our table had was a cup of Vienna cinnamon tea for Runner, that was the only thing she ordered for this meal. As I've mentioned before, she's sort of unfun to eat with, but on this instance it was totally worth it to see the amazing presentation of the tea. Beautiful.

I've previously commented before (Ris and Tabard Inn) on how brunch is sort of a fair but unfair way to judge a restaurant. On some level, if a brunch is good you know the kitchen is capable of great things, even with limited resources. But if a brunch is bad, you can't necessarily hold it against a restaurant.

That being said, this was one of the better brunches I've had. I ordered the corned pork belly and potato hash, served with two poached eggs, poblanos, onios, and hot sauce hollandaise. Now high on my list of answers to the "which dish would be your last meal?" question has always been eggs Benedict, so predictably this dish was right up my alley. Rich and creamy with just the right amount of chewiness for texture, this was just like eggs Benedict but with better ingredients, and hashbrowns already there. Wonderful.

For their part, CC and HR Intern got two dishes and split them: the BPLT, a sandwich of plantains and applewood smoked bacon (and obviously lettuce and tomato), with a mustard aioli.

The other dish they got was a Brioche French toast, served with berries, vanilla mascarpone, and a cinnamon maple syrup (which came pre-syruped, much to CC's dismay).

CC: I am always on the hunt for ways to improve upon the classic BLT. I have such fond memories of grilled sourdough dripping in mayonnaise and fresh heirloom tomatoes between crunchy bacon for lunch on Saturdays growing up. In fact, come to think of it, I'm pretty sure they were just BT's--no room for lettuce in my family. Recently I had a pesto BLT with your basic lettuce and bacon accompanied by a fried green tomato and gooey mozzarella. I thought I had met lettered sandwich perfection. That is, until Eventide threw plantains into the mix. When are plantains NOT good? This was an awesome sandwich. I wish I had ordered it on my own and not had to share. I embraced the mess of the broken bread, the drip of the aioli and tomato juice, and loved those sweet sweet plantains. And I don't like savory brunches.

As for the french toast--brioche makes everything better. It was big and fluffy and moist, but the berries were too sparse and as Kim mentioned, the plate pre-syruped. What right does any chef have to decide how drenched I want my breakfast breads? This was really horrifying for me (editor's note: she was alone in this outrage), and the vanilla cream couldn't even get me past it (Co Co Sala does a more awesome vanilla white chocolate cream with their brunch). I have a indescribable passion for maple syrup, and felt abused as a customer. Yeah it was a good batch of french toast. But I'm still not over it. Tiny silver pouring cup. That's all I ask for. Please?

The Verdict

K: I, for one, actually really liked this brunch. That combined with my love of the decor will guarantee that I will go back for a regular meal. So I guess it's good they had that Groupon deal after all.

CC: That BPLT is something I keep dreaming about, and I am not even a sandwich lover. My 2 complaints are that there was only one sweet option on the menu (what are sugar fiends like me to do??) and that whole pre-poured syrup incident. I'd like to manage my own sogginess, thanks. But the place was fun, I LOVED the wall of mismatched mirrors downstairs, and I definitely want to try the dinner.

Food Rating: ****
(out of 5)
Date Rating:
4.5 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code:
Casual
Bar Rating:
Classy Crowd
Vibe: Calm to chatty
Cost:
$$$
(out of 5) ($50-$75 for two)
Pairing
: Clarendon itself is a pretty fun place, and one of my favorite places to sit and veg is there. Just a little down Clarendon Blvd is a wonderful shopping center with pretty cliche stores (Williams-Sonoma, Apple, B&N), but also some nice gazebos and benches in open space. Definitely recommended.

Eventide on Urbanspoon

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Viet Royale

Plaudits: Washingtonian 2008 #91
Neighborhood:
Falls Church

The Setup

I might have mentioned it a few times (okay, like multiple times, here and here and here to name a few) but I'm Vietnamese, so when fellow Viet and Official Friend of DCWD Chi suggested that I take a field trip with her and Official Friend of DCWD Wills to Eden Center one Saturday afternoon, I was more than game. Searching for a lunch spot, we ended up at Viet Royale.

The Vibe

Like all places in Eden Center, Viet Royale is nondescript with a vaguely confusing name, and a bare bones interior. The decor is simple, ecru walls with red bottoms, with paintings of bamboo, the occasional painting of Vietnamese life, and specials handwritten on posterboard bought from a party supplies store (you can tell from the cartoon balloon border). Simple furniture means that the place is nice but in a low key Asian restaurant kind of way. Any one who has ever been to one, knows what I mean.

The Food

To drink, Chi got herself sinh to mang cau (according to a translation, mang cau is a custard-apple... one of those moments where the Vietnamese is just better), a smoothie. I got my standard soda chanh (limeade with soda), and Wills ordered a cafe sua da. You know you're somewhere authentic when they give you the individual coffee strainer (I've been places where they don't, just saying).

As for our meals, on this trip we went the opposite route from our trip to Four Sisters and went with dishes we couldn't make ourselves (at least that's what I did and suggested for Wills). I got banh xeo tom thit, essentially a giant crepe/pancake made of rice flour and turmeric, filled with pork, shrimp, and bean sprouts, among other things. Like most things Vietnamese, it's served with a healthy serving of lettuce, Thai basil, cilantro, and lime (though in this case, the serving was more than healthy and bordering on ludicrously generous). Banh xeo is one of the most time intensive dishes, so much so that my mom only made it two or three times a year growing up, thus making it something that I crave and love and have high standards of. This banh xeo met those standards, crispy and light but without being too beany (they're not actually beans, but they feel/taste like beans).

Wills got banh cuon, the other time intensive dish but one that we actually used to drive 45 minutes to get. Banh cuon is rolls of rice paper, filled usually with ground pork and mushrooms. To say that banh cuon, when done well, is beyond delicious is an understatement. These fell apart as you ate them, a product of the fish sauce poured over them. These were actually some of the better banh cuon I've had in my life, so that's something.

For her part, Chi ordered goi du du do bien, green papaya salad with seafood, another time intensive dish solely because of the effort it takes to grate the papaya through a mandoline. The salad was nice and light, and the portions of the seafood (shrimp, scallops, octopus) were generous.

The nice thing about Viet Royale is that at the end of each meal, they give you some che, which is sort of like a Vietnamese porridge, though porridge isn't the right word for it either, because it connotes this whole Goldilocks rice-mush thing. Che is just the generalized word, describing more of the consistency than the content, and this one is a pretty common sweetened bean dessert variety. Trust me, it tastes way better than it looks.

The Verdict

I've admitted my bias towards Vietnamese restaurants, but also my high standards. Perhaps it's because of the long hiatus between my last stop, but this was a great wholly satisfying meal, and highly recommended for some simple Vietnamese pleasures.

Food Rating: *** 1/2
(out of 5)
Date Rating:
1.5 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code:
Casual
Bar Rating: N/A
Vibe:
Calm
Cost:
$$
(out of 5) ($25-$50 for two)
Pairing
: Eden Center is sort of a zoo in and of itself, so if you enjoy all things Asian, it would be worth a visit inside the east-side mall where any number of desserts, baked goods, and trinkets can be purchased. Sort of kitschy, sort of ethnic, and for me sort of my childhood.

Viet Royale 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

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Kora

Plaudits: None
Neighborhood: Crystal City

The Setup

Official Friend of DCWD Juli's birthday was coming up and we hadn't seen much of one another, so I promised her the next time something came up in Arlington, she would be first on my list. So when I got a coupon for Kora, the new restaurant that rose up in the old Oyamel/Bebo Trattoria space from the old chef/owners of Farrah Olivia, that's where we went.

The Vibe

The whole restaurant's decor is purple and brown and white, which gives it a nice pleasant feeling. The restaurant doorway opens up into a small lounge area and than the bar, which is rather sizable. A giant rectangular bar with a low hanging glass rack over top of it, the bar area is pretty expansive with twenty white high chairs. The main dining area is dominated by a large purple wall with silver diamond-shaped curlicue designs, and a second perpendicular wall with a giant Warhol-style portrait of the restaurant's namesake. The seating is mostly simple brown four-tops and six-top circular tables, and raised white booth cushion seating along the purple wall. The space itself is segmented partially with two thin and tall white screen door boxes with strings of lanterns inside.

With an open pizza kitchen as you walk in, clean lines, light purple and silver color scheme, and a reference to pop art, I really liked the vibe.

The Food

Appetizers

With the coupon, Juli and I had to order a prix fixe Sunday dinner (which I was totally fine with). It being still winter time, I went with the seafood corn chowder, and Juli got the Caesar salad. The salad was fine, nothing to write home about, though the addition of anchovies was nice (well I thought so at least, I was the one who ate them). The chowder was also pretty good; the shrimp in it was cooked nicely and who doesn't love bacon? That being said, again, not anything I'd call home about.

I'll throw it in here that the focaccia they gave us for the bread course was fantastic, perfectly light and well herbed. Plus it was presented in wax paper printed to mimic an Italian newspaper, which was both a weird gimmick, but also a decent way to pass the time.

Entrees

For the entrees, Juli got the angel hair pasta with pomodoro sauce and grilled shrimp, and I went with the honey roasted quail with polenta. The quail was very well cooked, and the stuffing of corn and spinach was great (though I will admit having to take it apart with my hands instead of utensils because of the way it was tucked). The polenta was also nice, though I thought the mushrooms in it were a little bit oversalted. A pretty quality entree.

The pasta was okay, with a decent sauce, and the shrimp pretty well cooked. Except for the shrimp, it's hard to imagine how you could mess this up too terribly. I didn't think anything too much about it either, though Juli at least thought it was good.

Desserts

For dessert, Juli ordered the gelato, which that night was blueberry, and I went with the creme brulee. The brulee was okay, but suffered again from the general theme of this dinner; it was okay, but certainly nothing out of the ordinary. The gelato was at the very least creative, and also had some good flavors to it. I preferred it, which is saying something given my love of creme brulee.

The Verdict

I had high hopes for the restaurant, given how much I liked the decor and the space. But the meal was otherwise forgettable (albeit decent), and with the price and the location, not someplace I'd go back to (though I can't write it off if I were looking specifically for a date restaurant in Crystal City). The quail/polenta dish was good, but everything else was just pretty typical.

Food Rating: ** 1/2 (out of 5)
Date Rating: 4 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code: Smart Casual
Bar Rating: Quiet Drinks to Classy Crowd
Vibe: Calm
Cost:
$$$
(out of 5) ($50-$75 for two)
Pairing: That part of Crystal Drive has a very nice walkable stretch of road, especially on a nice day, which contains a number of other restaurants, office buildings, and a wide variety of shopping in the Crystal City Shops, which span several blocks near Kora. Definitely a neighborhood and street on the upswing.

Kora Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Ray's Hell Burger

Plaudits: None
Neighborhood: Rosslyn

The Setup

For many, the quest for the best burger in DC begins and ends with Ray's Hell Burger, the upscale burger joint from Michael Landrum, he of Ray's the Steaks and Ray's the Classic (and soon Ray's the Catch, and a second Ray's the Steaks at East River). Always game for an adventure, Official Friends of DCWD Baboon, G, and Red joined me on what I was promised would be my last stop on the burger trail. The question at hand: could Ray's seize the burger crown from Good Stuff?

The Vibe

I was already starving after a day mostly without any food, when I left Dupont Circle for Ray's, located in a strip mall on Wilson Boulevard, equidistant from the Court House and Rosslyn Metro stations. This hunger was not helped by the fact that I temporarily forgot the reason that I always travel to Court House instead of Rosslyn when going there (the mall also houses Pho 75): it's a downhill walk from Court House, and uphill from Rosslyn. Wah wah.

The space that Ray's currently sits in is a hole-in-the-wall, which might be generous. This is through no fault of their own, but merely a byproduct of their own popularity; after getting the post-Obama visit bump, they've shuffled back and forth between their old space, and the one reserved for Ray's the Catch. The walls are bare white, with a cornflower blue trim, and the layout and setup of the restaurant is very much like a takeout lunch place. Orders are placed at the counter in the back of the store, and then you get a number. Adding the sheer amount of people that come into Ray's (it was pretty full when we went at 5 on a Sunday), and the messiness of eating a burger, and the result is that maybe the date vibe isn't exactly white table cloth romantic.

The Food

The burgers, though? Oh man. The size of the patty alone probably might have won me over. The burger was probably double the size of all my previous high-end burger stops, as if you were eating a 16 oz. steak on a bun. In fact, upon getting their orders, my conversation with my three dinner companions went like this:

"You guys don't have to wait for me to get my order to start eating."
"Oh, we're not waiting for you. We're just taking a moment to admire it."

I went with the Fat Joe, a burger topped with seared foie gras in a balsamic glaze, shallots, white truffle oil, and tomato (call me snobby, but really, how many times can you get foie on a burger?). The burger was perfectly cooked, though I was a little disappointed that the foie disappeared from time to time. When it did come though, it was an absolutely amazing combination, the smooth creaminess of the foie complementing the juicy burger perfectly. If we weren't in polite company, I might have licked the plate.

As for the others, Baboon and Red got the Big Poppa, a burger "au poivre," covered in black peppercorns, and served with a Danish bleu cheese, cognac and sherry sauteed mushrooms, and red onions. The bite I had of Red's was mesmerizing. G got the Big Punisher, a chipotle burger with a Spicy Green Diablo Piranha sauce, with grilled red onions, jalapenos, and pepper jack. It's unclear what was in the Spicy Green, though it was certainly cilantro, garlic, and olive oil. What is certain was that it was absolutely fantastic (and I'm not even a spicy food person).

The Verdict

Like I said, the size of the burgers alone might have won me over. But the quality cannot be understated. These burgers, especially mine, were heaven on a bun. Consider the title of best burger in the DC area effectively seized (though again, I'll give Good Stuff one more chance to win me back). As for the date vibe, well it's not exactly the prettiest place right now; of all the high-end burger places I've been, it's probably the worst (though they had just moved in there).

Food Rating: **** (out of 5)
Date Rating: 1.5 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code: Casual
Bar Rating: N/A
Vibe: Chatty
Cost:
$
(out of 5) (less than $25 for two)
Pairing: Take in the nearby Iwo Jima Marine Corps memorial at night, and enjoy the walk through downtown Rosslyn, especially as spring comes in.

Ray's Hell-Burger on Urbanspoon