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).


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