Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Founding Farmers

I think an appropriate way to ring out the year is with a review from one of the most recognized and covered restaurant in Washington - Founding Farmers. Go out with the old, and start the new year fresh with a new restaurant (that's coming). Ever since I knew I was moving to DC, I couldn't go more than a few conversations without people asking or telling me to get to Founding Farmers as a pillar of the best available in the city. It took me a little while to make it happen (and only thanks to a friend from Chicago no less), but I did, and now I continue to favor by taking months to actually write about it. Happy New Year and cheers to more good eating in 2014!

Overall my experience at FF matched the expectations, but more appropriately matched MY expectations of a "fantastic" DC restaurant experience. Our service was top notch, very helpful, friendly, nice, etc. We even received a very nice and unexpected touch of a free dessert because our server like US so much. It's been a while since that happened. The drinks and cocktails were great and timely - we were well served. The entire theme and menu is really fun and refreshing. A menu crafted with sustainability and locally sourced ingredients is always a plus and variety of choices also welcoming. 

From the small plate section to start our meal we went with the trio of Devil-ish Eggs Combo (Maine Lobster, Crab and Smoked Salmon). I don't remember which one I like the most, probably the crab with bay seasoning, because all were great and fun. I haven't had fun eating deviled eggs since childhood. That was joined by the fried green tomatoes and the skillet corn bread (with sea salt and honey butter). 




Monday, December 16, 2013

Doi Moi


It doesn't take a rocket scientist to realize I've had less interest and time to devote to eating out and blogging about the DC food scene. Hopefully that changes eventually but can't make any promises anytime soon. There are two posts I'd like to get done with before the New Year and start fresh. 

Taking the place of trying new restaurants all the time, I've spent more effort in just getting to know a few places I enjoy and can rely on. Doi Moi arrived on the 14th corridor with good buzz and has been quite busy since the doors first opened. Somehow I've managed to not only eat dinner twice, but I've also spent an evening in the cocktail lounge Two Birds, One Stone directly underneath. 

I would say Doi Moi is exactly what I expect from an above average fun DC restaurant. It doesn't blow my socks off, but there are plenty of interesting dishes to enjoy. The ambiance is great with lots of people, not too noisy, a long bar for dining on right when you walk in, but also a drinking bar further down. The mostly white theme is also fun and clean. I don't love the floor to ceiling windows surrounding the restaurant. I personally would want to have more control over what diners see than just whatever madness is occurring on the streets and sidewalks. Plus, on top of that you feel like you're in a fish bowl as every passerby on the sidewalk gets to see what you're doing and what you're eating. Maybe I'm over reacting compared to others but I am rarely a fan of large expansive windows on restaurants. 

The menu is plenty large for a variety of tastes and options. They let you know everything is share plate size (of course, right?!) - which is fun because you can order a lot of different things - but also not fun when you get the check. It's not cheap to eat there. Share plate size with full plate pricing it felt like. 



Corner Bakery Catering Experience - Sponsored Post

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of sampling a (free) catered lunch from Corner Bakery. I have always enjoyed my lunch breaks at Corner Bakery no matter if I was in Chicago, Washington or anywhere else because the menu and quality are always consistent. For all the years though I had never experience or even looked into their catering business (frankly I never had the need). I am glad to have had the chance and make some co-workers extra happy.

The actual catering options are quite extensive for all meals and occasions. The website is also very helpful and easy to navigate to place an order. I was offered a Medium Corner Classic that includes the following:








































Monday, September 30, 2013

Kapnos

I admit, I used to be a huge Top Chef junkie. And it all started back on season 6 with Mike Isabella. Who would have figured four years ago watching a foodie TV show that I would later move to DC and then eventually eat at a new opening restaurant of a previous contestant. I know, maybe it’s not that crazy, especially given how many contestants there are now running around (especially in Chicago with Stephanie Izard), but just the DC location and way back memory of my Top Chef viewership makes it interesting. Haley and I showed up at 7pm with reservations but at that time the place was pretty empty. It’s a cool space with a neat bar area to the left of the main door, an open kitchen view with bar style seating for a front row action seat (Chef’s seats they call them? – not special reserved either), and plenty of large tables for groups or regular dining. And yes, Chef Isabella was in the house and working hard. I liked the extensive use of dark wood all around and the lighting felt good, even though we were sitting in the kitchen (practically) so was facing the large rotating spits and not the dining room.


 

Equinox

I’m a lucky guy that has nice friends. In this particular example I was the beneficiary of a work-gift to Kelly for a meal at Equinox – an upscale American restaurant serving downtown DC’s working professionals (i.e. not a place most 20 somethings hang out). The restaurant is relatively small but there is a side/private room that can add a bunch of seats if not booked. The décor is elegant and clean, and the menu reflects this desire with expensive pastas (~$30 each), “meat and game”, seafood choices and sides. There is also an extensive wine list to pair perfectly with your duck, yellow fin tuna or saffron papparadelle angus beef Bolognese.

Since we were in a celebratory mood (free food does that) we ordered a healthy amount: truffle risotto fritters, salmon, beef strip loin, fried green tomatoes and truffled macaroni and cheese.  They also serve a small amuse bouche of tuna pate that was actually quite interesting. We were also expecting the risotto fritters as an appetizer but something went wrong and they brought us the mac and cheese instead. We didn’t really to eat that first but it was strange and our server noticed shortly after it came out as a mistake. No harm no foul. It’s deliciously rich and after we finished the entire side, realized we might not have as much room for the rest of the meal as intended. I’m not that upset though since it might have been the best thing I tasted all night.


Monday, September 23, 2013

Quick Takes - Ghibellina & B Too

When I first moved to Washington and I told people I was living near 14th St., the first reaction was always, “there are so many new places opening there.” I obviously didn’t have much of a concept of what “14th St.” was or what scale “so many” really meant. Now that I’ve been here a few months I have a much better picture of both phrases. I thought Chicago did a good job of opening new places, but I think this section of DC might take the cake. It seems every week you walk down the street there are not one, but MANY new spots to check out. It’s moderately ridiculous, and from what I’ve heard it’s not slowing down. If this was rappeats circa 2010 I would be in heaven and overwhelmed. Unfortunately the reality of full-time employment and a few years of wisdom (debatable) yield less available time to explore the local dining scene at the same pace as previous times would have allowed (maybe that can change when winter arrives and there will be less competing distractions??). In any event, I have managed to briefly check out two new-ish spots on 14th for happy-hour and/or snacks – Ghibellina and B Too.

Ghibellina
This was the choice for a Friday evening happy hour. And it was a good choice because the vibe is great, the bar is exquisite and the food (pizza) perfect for the time/place.  You can only eat if you have a seat in or at the bar area which can be a challenge but since the bar is 30 yards long (literally) there is a lot of turnover. From what I remember the happy hour (ends at 6:30) is half off beer and pizza. It’s a good deal when beer is usually $7 and pizza $15. Of course we stayed long past the happy and made up for the savings with $7 Peroni, but c’est la vie. The two pizzas we tried were the sausage and Bianca (veggie with rapini, mozzarella, garlic, calabrian chilies, fennel seed and pecorino romano). Both were quite tasty, particularly when fresh, hot and firm crust. The Bianca had a nice spice kick to it and I enjoyed the combo of ingredients used. The sausage was equally nice and devoured. I’m not sure which on I would order again first. So from a taste of two pizzas and a lot of beer, and a good value for part of the evening I really don’t have any complaints. The rest of the menu looks nice too and a fun place to dine with great décor and a high energy atmosphere. I would definitely go back for happy hour and hope to get a chance for a full meal.




Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Rasika

Rasika was definitely my best meal in DC thus far. Maybe it's a tourist trap? Or everyone has already been-there, done-that, but I guess that's the beauty of living in a new city: it's all new. Another comment off the bat though is Raskia is definitely not what I would consider to be traditional Indian cuisine either - fusion is the best description but they also use "modern" which would apply. But don't mistake 'modern' or 'fusion' for meaning not delicious - just have the proper expectations.

Luckily there were four of us at the table so we could order a lot of food and try many things. Because of this I will highlight my favorites and least favorites but otherwise let the pictures speak for themselves. The first dish was also the most anticipated - crispy baby spinach. We ordered two. It lives up to the hype and is worth ordering at every meal. The crisp is fun and tasty served with sweet yogurt, tamarind and date chutney. A nice balance of sweet and savory and green crunch.





Monday, August 12, 2013

Thai X-ing

If you have ever dined at Thai X-ing and didn't have a good time, please call me or call a doctor to find out if you have any unknown health issues. Maybe a better way of saying this is that Thai X-ing is a very fun, affordable, unique and delicious place to have a meal. I've only lived in DC for less than three months and I've been twice. Before you even try the food, the fun begins (with reservations) with BYOB service, a super fun but hard to find walk-up house turned restaurant and a COZY (romantic even) eating environment (it's practically communal style depending on where they seat you). The next best part is that the entire meal is prix-fixe and a set menu family style - so you don't have to think about what you're going to eat and you know the bill (CHEAP! $30-$40/pp depending on day) before you sit down. The menu choice is determined by the day of the week - check it out - and they can easily accommodate vegetarian or other dietary restrictions. Once you sit down the food just starts coming - and really doesn't stop. You get a soup and salad (papaya) to start before the main dishes arrive. I wish I wrote down what we had because this post is long over due, but I know we had the standard pumpkin curry, an eggplant dish, a chicken dish and a tofu dish for the main course. Everything is authentic and tasty, with a good hint of spice depending on the plate. There was one flavor I really like and ate myself to pain to finish it but I don't really remember. It's also not that important because you can't order it anyway! 




Friday, August 9, 2013

Teddy and the Bully Bar

It's been a while since my previous post (almost a month) and that's mainly because I've been traveling a lot on the weekends, and having a full time job (shocker!) really cramps my ability to write during the week. So with that lame excuse out of the way I'll quickly recap a forgettable meal (though with great company!) at a newer place called Teddy and Bully Bear (from the same folks at Lincoln - just went there for the first time this week). My first impression was that I couldn't quite figure out what the atmosphere they were trying to capture. Was it hunting lodge? Casual small plates? Upscale dining? It kind of catered to all of that, but not really deciding which one. The decor was simple and nice, and the space is very large. I was also surprised with such a large space that the pricing was as high (for the size of the food) as it was. 

The bread basket (first one free....a little strange) was very tasty and came with three choices of butter/spread. The cocktails that Chris and Allie ordered were very mediocre, and Chris even had to send his first one back. Regardless, we went on to order the grilled romaine, melon salad, crab & avocado salad, sausage and pepper flat bread, mac and cheese and the braised pork (full MENU). 




Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Lauriol Plaza

I didn’t realize, when my friends booked a dinner at Lauriol Plaza, that I had already been there once upon a time during my many visits to DC during the spring. I guess that shows the popularity of a no reservation establishment consistently packed most nights of the week. And I was happy to return to get a full dinner service run down of this very fun and boisterous Mexican institution. The occasion was a fun friend dinner with locals Jed and Kelly, with out of town guest of honor Annie. What better way to get Saturday night off to a good start with pitchers of margaritas, bottomless chips and salsa, queso and sizzling fajitas?

In fact, that was the entirety of our dining selections, because honestly, what more do you need? The pitchers of margs were great and go down easy. I also have a love/hate relationship with endless chips and salsa. I simple cannot stop eating the chips, which tends to leave me full for my main course. Oh well. The chips are tasty, restaurant style, large and covered in addicting salt. And just to make sure we over did it, the order of queso (i.e. melted nacho cheese in a bowl), was not necessary but hard to stop eating. That was surprising because it really wasn’t that interesting of a queso dish and seemed rather low budget, but tasty none the less. A Kelly favorite.



Saturday, July 13, 2013

Smoke & Barrel

One reason I love eating barbecue– besides that fact that I can’t get enough of good sauce – is that you can order these massive platters and literally try everything on the menu in one sitting; all the while sharing those many varieties of smoked meats and chicken with a group of people.  BBQ is meant to be a social experience, a shared experience and an experience served with a lot of sauce and a lot of booze. Smoke hit on all cylinders with a very fun and casual atmosphere (downstairs – no wait service but they do have games!), coupled with tasty bbq options, great sauces, a healthy bar selection AND even a very robust VEGETARIAN/VEGAN menu so EVERYONE can participate in the fun.  It’s really a great idea that I wish I thought of, and Smoke executes it well.

Along with a simple ordering strategy (Platter for 2 shared by 3 people), there is only one picture since everything fit on the same plate. The platter for 2 (which could really serve 4 easy) includes a half rack of ribs, pulled pork, brisket, sausage, half chicken and choice of four sides (we went with sweet potato fires, grilled asparagus, cole slaw and cheddar jalapeño grits). The sauces available include a regular, spicy, special habanero and something else I can’t remember because I only used the spicy and habanero. They were all delicious and I especially appreciate a BBQ master that loves a good spice with the sauce. I really love good, thick, spicy bbq sauce and they did a tremendous job.


My favorite cuts of meat include the brisket and sausage (and I’m not normally a sausage guy). The pulled pork was also very nice and I had a few good bites of chicken. The ribs definitely disappointed and I only ate one. Way too tough for my likening and the wet rub wasn’t nearly as good as the bbq sauce available. Everyone agree the sweet potato fries were some of the best ever had, and I enjoyed my few bites of the cheddar grits – though they are so rich and dense I could only do a few. The asparagus and cole slaw were standard fare.


That sums up my experience downstairs with a nice group of seven friends enjoying a casual Friday night BBQ meal with drinks and awesome sauce. I don’t know what the dining experience is like upstairs but so long as the food tastes just as good, you can’t go wrong. Smoke and Barrel is definitely worth checking out, especially since you can bring both meat and non-meat eaters along for the ride. 

Smoke and Barrel on Urbanspoon

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Daikaya Izakaya

I’ve always had a mixed reaction to the latest trend that is Izakaya dining - at least when I was in Chicago. There was a new restaurant every month or week that was the ‘new Izakaya’ on the block, and each time I tried a new one I couldn't quite understand where the market was – particularly for them to keep coming. Maybe it’s different in DC and there are only a few and I've only been to one so far. What I’ve never particularly liked was the idea of exclusively only being able to order items that came on skewers, and particularly items that most people I know wouldn't be fond of eating (exotic choices from tongue to liver to skins to everything in between). I understand it might be more authentic Japanese than the typical neighborhood take-out sushi place, but I never caught on. So where does Daikaya fit in?

Daikaya does everything a little different than what I had experienced before, and this is mostly a good thing. What makes Daikaya successful and interesting is that they do a great job of really getting you out of your comfort zone and not be prepared for the expected outcome. This starts with the décor and surroundings, which are done extremely well and really fun. Tables are tight but the whole dark atmosphere, private lounges, dark woods and exotic patterns all work to transport to you another place. And then you sit down and can’t quite figure out why there is a Japanese style/culture magazine on your table where you would normally find a menu. Flip through the pages and maybe you’ll find the menu – but look hard – it’s just stapled to a few of the pages inside.  And then there is the menu itself. It’s divided into various sections including starters, fried, grilled, specialties, rice/noodles, etc. The entire experience is tapas like where each dish is very small, meant to be shared, and encouraged to order plenty. I like that part because we ended up with 13 different samples of food. Very few items are things that you would be able to recognize or predict the flavor profile, and that is probably a strength of the menu/experience because each bite is a new adventure no matter what the ingredient list suggests.



I won’t detail each and every dish as that would take too long and ruin some of the fun for first time experiences. Try everything that looks intriguing because it will be hard to understand what you’re in for until it hits your mouth. However, my favorite dishes are –fried garlic, chicken thigh, crab croquettes and the brussel sprouts. We finished our meal with the chocolate ice cream (delish! With chocolate pop rocks!) and accompanied our meal with the dry and crisp Chokara sake (very tasty and great value).

Sunday, June 30, 2013

La Madia - Chicago

Literally my last meal out before I drove out east was at a long time staple of the River North scene that for some reason had always evaded me. Perhaps that's my fault for always seeking out the new without spending as much time on the staples. Either way I was thrilled to try it out before leaving and having friends Kate and Jon show me the way with one of their neighborhood favs. The other awesome aspect of going with friends that know the place is that I could sit back and relax while they did the ordering. And they chose well. 



Takito Kitchen - Chicago

Even though I now reside in Washington, there are a few lingering posts I forgot to do before leaving Chicago, particularly at the end when I was scrambling to get everything together. There are two places - one is a newer Mexican spot in Wicker Park, and the other is a classic Italian pizza palor in River North I never went to for some reason. 

I don't remember when Takito Kitchen opened but it wasn't too long ago. It joined the booming craving for Mexican tacos and street food that I didn't realize could last as long and as strong as it has (is it still happening??). The challenge for me is that how can you really attempt to top Big Star for that style of food and ambiance? AND is it smart to try and do it just a few blocks away when the comparisons will be rampant? Unfortunately the answer is no to all of the above, and particularly for Takito (as I've heard good things about Antique Taco just down the street). I like that the menu is simply and to the point with not an over abundance of options - and tacos taking the share. But I thought it was in contrast to the rest of the restaurant that had the feel and appearance of wanting to be more. And that also came through with non-traditional (read fancy and expensive) margaritas and other menu items. Example - who doesn't serve salsa with tortilla chips at a mexican restaurant? Or at least have them available? We were only given rice crackers and some other kind of cracker. Also, not a huge fan of their "take on guacamole", which was more like an avocado and pine nut spread with a LOT of lemon juice (also no chips). Strange. 




Monday, June 24, 2013

Room 11

I guess it should be no surprise I've had more than a few meals up in the Columbia Heights region - there's been a lot of growth and development recently (so I've been told). Add Room 11 to the list of places that always finds a crowd and a nice place to enjoy the glass of wine or beer outside on their patio. There were a few highlights from our meal, and a few things that were just ok. I really like the vibe of the place with the patio on the corner that feels like a front yard of suburban house right on the corner watching the cars and people go by. I didn't love that they extend the patio along the side of the building next to the sidewalk because the tables are against the wall and feels very cramped. Maybe it's ok for just a drink but it was an awkward dinner setting - especially on the cheap feeling metal wire chair and tables without any barrier to the sidewalk. It worked out, would have preferred the patio. Inside is cool and small with a long bar that encompasses two rooms. I enjoyed the menu layout - just one nice list of food to choose. No gimmicks, no breaks, no directions, just food and prices with plenty of variety (and very open/transparent about vegetarian/vegan options). 

We started with the heirloom tomato panzanella and the cauliflower salad - of the many salad choices available. The tomatoes were nice but we were sort of expecting cheese (maybe because panzanella sounds like mozzarella ) and the dish definitely needed salt to bring out the flavors. But summer refreshing none the less. The cauliflower was 'charred' and served with garlic and tahini dressing. Again, I don't think I was expecting whole heads of cauliflower blacked (more like roasted and sliced) - but that's my fault not theirs. I think they were slightly firmer than I would have liked but the garlic and sauce were a nice touch to round out the dish.










Sunday, June 16, 2013

Le Diplomate

Yes, everyone in the entire city is talking about this place. Good thing I live a few blocks away AND was able to grab a table for a birthday dinner with friends. I had to see this place for myself and what better way. I won’t go into great detail about what we all ate and what I think because frankly I wouldn’t remember that well aside from the photos. We had a very nice meal, I love the space (much larger than expected) and the food is good (but not the over the top greatness most people talk about). I was lucky and was able to enjoy a few bottles of champagne with the group curtsey of my sister – so I’m sure that didn’t hurt my ‘objective’ thoughts on the place (and might have kept the value component reasonable without everyone ordering cocktails…).

A real birthday dinner in my book starts with bubbles, oysters and crab legs (jk jk – sort of). Good thing we had all three to get our night going. The oysters were very nice and the king crab was fantastic as expected. They have a nice seafood program (though I can’t help but think that Bavette’s or Maude’s does a better job…J). We also couldn’t figure out why a French restaurant that bakes bread serves cold bread at the table. Maybe it’s the French way? Would have been better warm.



El Chucho

Who doesn’t like good Mexican fare in a very causal fun environment that has specialty margaritas, tacos, tortas and appetizers? I hate to make comparisons to what I know in Chicago, but that’s going to happen for a little bit I imagine. El Chucho reminds me of a cross between Big Star and XOCO. You can go there for a drink, a little food, some of both or whatnot. There’s a great roof top patio area that is nice on a summer evening (and that’s exactly what we did).

I really enjoyed whatever the margarita our server chose for me. It was tart and had a lite smoky flavor enhanced by the flavored salt on the rim. I’m sure they are known or want to be known for their tacos but they were the weakest link actually for a solid meal. Which is a little disappointing because they go to a limited menu later in the night that only features tacos and salsa. The vegetarian was by far the best between that, the chicken and al pastor. If there’s one huge difference between Chucho and Big Star it’s the tacos.
However, we started with chips and salsa, corn on the cob, shrimp and mushroom empanadas. The shrimp and corn were quite impressive and stand out dishes. The shrimp is served with onions and peppers and a spicy delicious green sauce. VERY GOOD and MUST TRY. If you find a way to bottle that sauce up please let me know. The corn on the cob (aka Elote Callejero) was also very good. The sauce and spices on the corn was great.



Cork Wine Bar

A good wine bar nearby is very much like having that get out of jail free card in your back pocket. Date night? Check. Family in town? Check.  Just need a drink a small bite? Check. We had a very nice meal at Cork and some tasty wines as well (kinda important). The plates are appropriately sized, some were outstanding and over all well-paced. Our server was very helpful and attentive.

We did two different ‘flights’ – three glasses of a similar style. We had a white burgundy flight and a rose flight. Needless to say the white burgundies were all very, very good. The roses were mostly average, but not bad. I don’t recall all of the dishes we had and for some reason forgot to take pictures of them (there were only 5 or 6 really). The avocado bruschetta was one of my favorites and would order again (must try). It’s thin sliced avocado on bread with toasted pistachio, sea salt and olive oil. We also really enjoyed the braised kale with roasted garlic and pecorino. It had the right amount of garlic and salt and cheese. A true standout with an ingredient hard to make awesome.  I also enjoyed the salt roasted local beet salad with pine nuts and feta and we also tried the grilled artichoke. We probably should have stopped there because the last dish we ordered was the grilled mackerel which was only mediocre. There are other things I would try but the menu is on the small side if you’re looking for a spot to return to often. We also didn’t try any of the cheese or charcuterie so that’s an entire section that they pair well with the wine.






We skipped the dessert but some things do look intriguing like strawberry short cake or warm apple crostada with bourbon ice cream (yum). I wouldn’t say the value is amazing and not a super cheap place but would you really want a wine bar to be the low cost provider? It was a nice meal with some highlights and some ok-lights. Great wine selection too. 

Cork Wine Bar on Urbanspoon

Commissary


Everyone needs a nice, local gastro pub with tvs, a bar, free wifi, lounge area and outdoor seating. Right? Well lucky for me Commissary fits the bill and is very close so that I may utilize many of these features. The menu is solid neighborhood joint with plenty of burgers, salads, sandwiches, bar food appetizers main course dishes, AND pizzas. Pretty much everything you need, right? And don’t forget the solid beer list, smoothie bar, coffee bar and some sweets for good measure. Nothing here is going to change your world but I do enjoy the idea of having a one stop shop for many of your local, quick, causal, or lazy needs.
The one meal I’ve had so far included some hard core nachos, a veggie burger and some bites of the mac n cheese (oh so wish it was a little better – but maybe my doctor doesn't…). We also tried the bread pudding because we couldn't resist, but that too was a minor bummer.

Everything is good, nothing is great but it does have EVERYTHING so that’s a win. 




Commissary on Urbanspoon

Jaleo

I went here a VERY long time ago (like January) but wanted to at least add my two cents to the world that already feels this place is very good – because it is. We only had a handful of plates and I would definitely want to return with a huge appetite and a larger group to really explore the expansive menu. The tapas is some of the best flavors I’ve had of that style. It might not be considered traditional and more of a modern/fusion take but the food is top notch. The space is fun and interesting and the service knows exactly what is going on.


It’s been so long I don’t know exactly what we ordered but I know we had the spicy potatoes, scallops, sausage and a spinach salad. All fantastic and worth ordering again. I’m sure you pay more for the name, location and chef, but from what I can tell it IS worth it and I do want to return in the near future. 





Jaleo on Urbanspoon

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