Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Great DC Cupcake Taste Test

Last year, the Washington Post capitalized on the DC cupcake craze and did a "Cupcake Wars" taste comparison. In a showing of true dedication and sacrifice to our loyal readers, B and I decided to perform our own scientific analysis of four of the area's most popular cupcake joints. The shops we chose are all located within the District, were high on our list from previous visits, and have received high marks on the Washington Post and other DC cupcake reviews. Three of them have opened in the last year (Hello Cupcake, Georgetown Cupcake, and Red Velvet Cupcakery) and only serve cupcakes. The fourth, Baked and Wired, has been serving up an assortment of baked treats since 2001.

On a sunny Saturday morning, B drove me around town so I could collect our cupcake samples. Rather than having our own personal preferences bias our review, we decided to call each store ahead of time and ask them to name their "best" cupcake, and thereby, decide their own fate.

Left to right: Red Velvet's Southern Belle, Hello's Peanut Butter Blossom, Georgetown's Chocolate Ganache, Baked and Wired's Fresh Strawberry

Red Velvet Cupcakery

This tiny Penn Quarter shop serves up eight different flavors of cupcakes for $3.25 each. The price is fairly steep considering that the cupcakes aren't all that large. There is no seating in the store but a sign on the counter lets you know that you're welcome to sit at TangySweet, the yogurt shop next door owned by the brother of Red Velvet's owner. Red Velvet also loses a couple of points for service. The guy getting my cupcake was less than enthusiastic and placed the cupcake on a napkin for me to take to go. When I asked for a bag, he set a plain paper bag down on the counter and stuck out his hand for my money. As I attempted to put the cupcake in the bag I ended up getting frosting on my hand and accidentally scraped some of the frosting off of the cupcake and onto the side of the bag. Not a good beginning for Red Velvet.

Luckily, the cupcake was better than the person serving it. We tried the Southern Belle, which is a red velvet cupcake (dyed red chocolate cake) with cream cheese frosting. The cake was moist but had little flavor. The frosting was excellent and had a sharp cream cheese tang. The consistency of the frosting was unlike any I've tasted before. It was perfectly smooth without the gritty taste that is common in many frostings.

Second Thoughts from B

As J said, the consistency of the frosting was like nothing I've ever tasted. I've spent the last couple of minutes trying to compare it to something and I'm drawing a blank. It was extremely light and smooth, almost fluffy. It was so unique, it was almost disorienting and I'm still not quite sure if I liked it more than the traditional texture of frosting. As for the flavor, the frosting was true to it's cream cheese base and again, absolutely unique. Did I like it? Again, I'm undecided but I certainly appreciated it. Unfortunately, the cake itself served no other purpose other than to shuttle the frosting into my mouth...
Red Velvet Cupcakery on Urbanspoon

Hello Cupcake

If this was a store naming or interior design competition, Hello would win hands down. I love the cheeky name and the beautifully designed Dupont Circle shop. The aroma of baking cupcakes surrounds you as you enter and the cupcakes are displayed on labeled shelves behind glass. I've been to Hello a couple of times and the service has never been particularly notable. It's a bit annoying that they won't give you a box unless you order three cupcakes. Two or less? You're stuck with a plain white paper bag.

Hello's staff recommended the Peanut Butter Blossom: chocolate cake with peanut butter frosting topped with a chocolate kiss.

This one was a winner. The cake was moist and a bit denser than the others. The frosting was outstanding. It was like eating the creamiest peanut butter straight from the jar. Hello Cupcake also gets high marks for making the cupcake so pretty to look at. The cupcake was priced at $3.

Second Thoughts from B

This was probably my favorite cupcake of the bunch. I don't think I would have ordered it because I'm not a huge fan of chocolate cake, but as far as execution, this was top notch. I don't think there's a thing I can criticize. It was a decent size, the frosting was rich and flavorful with a smooth texture, and the cake was moist and tasty. Well done!
Hello Cupcake on Urbanspoon

Georgetown Cupcake

According to the Post, this is the crown jewel of the DC cupcake scene. Based on this one visit, I'd have to disagree. The shop, tucked on a side street in Georgetown, is so tiny that a line is almost always formed outside. They had a variety of very interesting looking flavors beautifully presented on tiered stands. The cupcake was the least expensive at $2.75 but it was pretty tiny as you can see from the first picture.

Georgetown Cupcake reminded me a lot of Sprinkles in Beverly Hills. It has the same sort of People Magazine-style buzz and similar clientele. As far as ambiance, this isn't a good thing in my book.

The person who answered the phone at Georgetown Cupcake said that the Red Velvet flavor was the most popular but the Chocolate Ganache was the one that won the Washington Post's top honors. I have a feeling that I would have ranked Georgetown Cupcake higher if I had been able to sample one of the more unique flavors such as Cherry Blossom or Lemon Berry. The Chocolate Ganache was just ok. The cake was pretty bland, tasted very cake mix-like, and while the ganache was rich, it was a very thin layer. I did like the cute sugar flower that topped the cupcake. It receives high marks for looks but low marks for overall taste.

Second Thoughts from B

Like I said, chocolate cake isn't my first choice but I feel like I still can tell good chocolate cake from not as good. Maybe I'm fooling myself because I can't tell what the Washington Post was so excited about. To be honest, aside from the beautiful presentation, you could have told me that you got this at Safeway and I might have believed you.
Georgetown Cupcake on Urbanspoon

Baked and Wired

Baked and Wired is the only store in our taste test that does more than just cupcakes. If their cupcakes are any indication of the quality of the rest of their baked goodies, I can't wait to go back and try other things. This is also the only place that has ample seating in a cafe-like atmosphere. The staff were very friendly and they gave me a box for my lonely cupcake. The price ($3.50) was the steepest of the group but this cupcake was HUGE compared to the others (see first picture). We lovingly dubbed it "Monster Cupcake."

The Baked and Wired staff recommended the Fresh Strawberry cupcake: vanilla cake with chunks of fresh strawberry topped with strawberry frosting and little pink sugar sprinkles. This was my favorite cupcake. I thought the cake was incredibly moist and loved the fresh strawberry taste. Baked and Wired may have had a bit of an unfair advantage because I like vanilla cupcakes better than chocolate.

Second Thoughts from B

So this would be a cupcake I would order. I really enjoyed both the cake, especially the mixed in pieces of strawberry, and the frosting. I also couldn't help but be impressed by the size (I think that the cupcake from Georgetown Cupcake may have been intimidated when they were side by side). However, something seemed off and I can't put my finger on it. Maybe I was just thrown off by the natural favoring, which is such a sad statement that I would be so used to artificial flavoring that it would seem to be the norm. This is something that I look forward to figuring out on future visits.
Baked & Wired on Urbanspoon

Two Conclude

While this review may indicate some clear cut winners, these four shops were carefully chosen to be among the best of DC, so you really can't go wrong with any of them. Obviously your favorite will be determined by your own personal tastes, but it is fair to say that the DC cupcake craze is as "healthy" as anywhere. Also, in our experience, Washington's best certainly matches up well with those around the country, including the ever popular Magnolia (NYC) and Sprinkles (LA).

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Adam Express

As we continue to train for the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer, we have been killing two birds with one stone by taking "training" walks in the evenings while also exploring new neighborhoods. On this particular evening, we walked up 14th Street to Columbia Heights to meet a friend for dinner. B had heard rumors of a Korean BBQ restaurant in the area, which we eventually stumbled across in the Mt. Pleasant neighborhood.

Since we didn't have a restaurant name or address, we weren't sure we were in the right place at first. The "Korean Japanese Food" and "Sushi" signs in the window weren't promising as we've often found that places that try to capture all of Asia in one menu end up serving mediocre cuisine. Once we entered, we saw "Best of DC" newspaper articles plastered on the walls and figured we had found the place we were seeking (we later realized that it was actually one newspaper article that had been photocopied and placed all over the place...).

Adam Express is a "hole-in-the-wall" in every sense. It's a tiny place with the seating area consisting of a small counter with four stools. It's not very clean and you wouldn't notice it if you were driving down the street. We knew we were either in for: A) an amazing authentic Korean food experience or B) a case of indigestion. Luckily, Option A won out.

The restaurant is run by a sweet older Korean couple who are eager to please. They giggled as B took photos of his food and even sang Korean hymns for us after other diners said that they had just come from choir practice. Amazing Grace in Korean and Bi Bim Bap? It was, as Barnabus Stinson would say, Legen ....wait for it....dary.

I ordered the Bi Bim Bap, which is rice, veggies, beef, and a fried egg served in a ceramic pot. The rice continues to cook as you eat it, leaving crispy grains to scrape off the side of the pot. Despite my unappetizing description, it's actually really good. I added a generous amount of Adam Express' hot sauce and I was in Bi Bim Bap heaven.

B ordered the Bulgogi which is thinly sliced and marinated beef, served with steamed rice and veggies. As is often the case with very thin cuts of meat, it was a bit dry. Next time we'll stick to the Bi Bim Bap or try one of the other signature Korean dishes that offers a bit more spice.

When B finished his Bulgogi he noticed this lovely Christmas scene on his plate. Even in April Adam Express is showing the holiday spirit.

The Bi Bim Bap is enough reason to walk several miles to Adam Express. I also love the homey atmosphere and the fact that they take credit cards (a rare occurrence for places like this). This is a neighborhood that is still "in transition," so I wouldn't recommended walking there alone at night.

Second Thoughts from B

Quirky, charming, and cheap. Finding places like Adam Express is what makes exploring a new city so much fun. Sure, most people know the expensive, Top 10 list, places to be seen with the celebrity chefs but knowledge of hidden neighborhood gems is what makes you a local. Well, that and building a healthy resentment for tourists who stand on the left side of the Metro's escalators.

My bulgogi was good, albeit not the big hit of the evening (that would belong to J's bi bim bap), but the whole experience was what will keep bringing us back. Smiling hosts and a good, solid meal... sometimes getting it right can be so simple.
Adams Express on Urbanspoon

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Sticky Fingers Bakery

Sticky Fingers Bakery is a unique find in DC. It is a vegan bakery that serves up fresh vegan cupcakes, pastries, and cakes in its Columbia Heights storefront. I'm not a vegan or a vegetarian, but I do appreciate places that strive to use natural ingredients and look for ways to cut down the saturated fat.

The interior of Sticky Fingers is overwhelmingly pink. There is a small seating area with wi-fi and a few tables scattered outside for the warmer days. In addition to the pastry case featuring cupcakes and sticky buns, there is a refrigerated section that has vegan snacks and meals. Sticky Fingers takes its vegan-ness (veganosity?) seriously and displays a small sign near the cash register asking patrons not to wear fur in the store.

I had to try the signature item: the Sticky Fingers Sticky Bun. The website advertises the buns as sticky sweet cinnamon buns that are cholesterol-free and low in saturated fat.

The sticky bun was deliciously light and non-greasy. It was like a Cinnabon without the 8.423 million pounds of butter and mystery grease. I loved the tiny chopped nuts on top and the light dusting of frosting. Yum!

B got an Everything Bagel that was so flavorful and interesting. I think it even had garlic on it. Sticky Fingers is a bare bones operation so you have to do the toasting yourself using the toaster on the counter near the silverware. I'm fine with that because you get to control the toastiness level.

Second Thoughts from B

I had heard rave reviews from some of my vegetarian friends about Sticky Fingers, but to be honest, how good could a bakery be without the use of butter, milk, or eggs? The answer to that question can be found here.

OK, so I cheated and got a bagel, which is inherently vegan. That being said, it might have been the best bagel I've ever had. When they say it is an everything bagel, they mean everything, especially the fresh garlic. For some it would be too strong but I loved it.

However, the true measure of this bakery's skills was through their sticky bun. Like I said, I was initially skeptical but after the first bite, I was sold. It was extremely light and doughy (maybe too doughy for some) with just enough flavor. It was the perfect sweet treat without the guilt.
Sticky Fingers Bakery on Urbanspoon

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Corcoran - Maya Lin Exhibit

The Corcoran Gallery of Art is located about a block or two southwest of the White House and in our experience, is one of the better private art museums in a town that is certainly not lacking for them. J and I were given an annual pass last year and have visited on several occasions, usually taking advantage of special exhibits and functions. However, we recently went back and paid for the honor. With so many free world-class art exhibits available, it says a lot that we'd seek out one that requires purchasing a ticket. We were not disappointed.

Maya Lin is the artist/architect who is best known for her design of the Vietnam Memorial. At the time, she was only 21 years old but has since developed an impressive portfolio. Her most recent projects have featured large scale representations of naturally occurring shapes and structures that are presented in three-dimensional pieces and are intended to be interacted and/or lived with.

Unfortunately, the exhibit did not allow us to take pictures, which was regrettable because Maya Lin is a master of creating objects that feature subtle details that can only be appreciated by moving around them. These seemingly simple compositions are a photographer's (I use that title very loosely) paradise and I found myself lamenting the missed opportunities to play with light, form, and perspective. Fortunately, Maya Lin's website is chock full o' pictures and I would encourage anyone to explore it (look for the Systematic Landscapes gallery). Despite the virtual access, there is certainly something to be said about being able to see this exhibit in person where you can walk in, around, and under each piece.

The exhibit is small, containing three major pieces that each take up an entire room, as well as a dozen or so supporting works. The limited numbers is actually an asset, as it allows people to immerse themselves in each piece. 2x4 Landscape is the signature element and is a massive hill or wave made of vertical 2x4s of various heights. In a similar effort, Blue Lake Pass is a mountain range made up of a series of 3 foot by 3 foot plywood cross-sections that you can walk through. Water Line is a wire sculpture suspended from the ceiling that mimics the ocean floor that surrounds one of the world's most remote islands.

What I loved about the exhibit was the drama of each piece, both large and small. Having that all of the shapes were natural, each felt familiar and organic, which evoked memory and emotion. While they all were certainly aesthetically beautiful and interesting, the ability to interact and feel connected to the art was memorable.

J's Perspective

B is definitely the artist of the family. He took art classes as a kid and has a natural eye and appreciation for art. My artistic talent is limited to stick figures and my knowledge of art is fairly limited. Due to this rift in our artistic capabilities and awareness, we don't always enjoy the same art exhibits. Often, I'm wandering toward the gift shop while B is still looking at the same painting from the 43rd angle.

Maya Lin's exhibit was one we both really enjoyed. For me, it was the perfect size and I found her work to be interesting and thought provoking. I loved the natural elements of her pieces and the fact that you could walk in and around them. I highly recommend Systematic Landscapes for those who shy away from traditional art exhibits.

Thursday, April 23, 2009


We love getting in the car and just driving. Since we're new to DC, there are plenty of suburbs left to explore. On one particular Saturday we were in McLean, Virginia looking for a place to eat dinner after a trip to Great Falls. We wanted something "non-chain" and "unique to the neighborhood" and we definitely found it at Pulcinella. One look at the mural was all it took to know that we had hit the jackpot.

As we waited to be seated, we noticed a table with lots of cold vegetable dishes on it. We were pretty confused as to why they just left veggies sitting around, but once we got our menus we saw that they have Contorni as an appetizer, which is "side dishes of marinated vegetables." I still don't know why they're sitting out on a table by the entrance, but they sure were tasty!

I opted to keep it simple and ordered the classic spaghetti and meatballs. The dish consisted of plain spaghetti with a giant meatball and plenty of hearty red sauce. The pasta was advertised as homemade but I thought it tasted pretty ordinary. The meatball, on the other hand, was the star of the dish and I was able to cut it into enough small pieces that I could enjoy a bit of meatball with every bite. Overall, it was a solid execution of a timeless Italian dish.

B ordered the Festa del Mare (shrimp, mussels, clams, and squid in red sauce over linguine). Every time the word "mare" (meaning "ocean" in Italian) is mentioned at an Italian restaurant, B will tell the same story about the first time he had this seafood pasta dish in an Italian alley. No, he wasn't digging in the trash... it sounds better when he tells it. See below.

I liked Pulcinella probably as much for the quaint atmosphere as for the food. I delight in finding kitschy out-of-the-way restaurants and this one was pretty awesome. I'd love to go back on "opera night" when one of the owners sings opera tunes and leads a sing-along.

Second Thoughts From B

Before we get to the storytelling part of this post, I wanted to say that the Contorni was very good. Each veggie had a unique flavor (tart bite of vinegar on the artichoke, savory garlic mushrooms, salty roasted zucchini, etc.) but each element also blended well into a single, complimentary dish. As for my Festa del Mare, I've yet to find a dish on this side of the pond that is comparable with my first experience in Naples, but this was the closest attempt yet (and for the record, that's a good thing).

While I was in undergrad, I had the opportunity to study in Rome for 5 weeks. One weekend, our group ventured south to Pompeii which allowed for some of us to take a side trip to Naples and the island of Capri. Newsflash: it is not advisable to seek out a dinner reservation for 12 at 11pm on a Friday night in a strange, foreign city. Nevertheless, after wandering aimlessly around the port district and soliciting help from the locals in broken Italian, we found a restaurant off a side alley that was literally a hole in the wall. The place could barely hold the 12 of us standing up, much less sitting at a table. However, across the alley they had set up plastic tables which could accommodate us. Despite the severe slope of the alley, the cars that periodically drove in between the restaurant and our table, and the rain storm that struck midway through our dinner, it was one of the best meals I've ever had.

Pulcinella Ristorante on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Peacock Cafe

After our disastrous brunch at 14K, we were desperate to find a nice brunch spot to take two California visitors. B found Peacock Cafe in Georgetown and was able to get a reservation for Saturday morning. The cafe is on a quiet (relatively) street in Georgetown about a block removed from the hustle and bustle of M Street. I love that they call their brunch the "Happy Day Brunch." It was a nice way to start the day and a good spot for catching up with our friends.

Rainy Day Respite

We went to Peacock Cafe on a rainy day but the restaurant's fresh-squeezed juice and classic brunch menu brightened our mood. To drink, I went out of my comfort zone and ordered the Red Zinger, a blend of apple, beet, carrot, and ginger. It was definitely interesting but the beets made it a little too "earthy" (a.k.a. dirt) tasting. The zing of the juice was softened by the sweetness of the multigrain pancakes, served with bananas, walnuts ,and warm maple syrup. I loved that the pancakes were thin and light.

B had the Sunrise which was a blend of fresh squeezed orange and strawberry juice. While the fruit was definitely fresh, the juice was served at room temperature. Next time he'll order the smoothie version which is blended with ice. For brunch B had the french toast with strawberries sauteed in butter, brown sugar, and finished with a touch of balsamic vinegar.

After a very pleasant "Happy Day" brunch experience, I look forward to returning to try Peacock Cafe for lunch or dinner.

Second Thoughts from B

There is something to be said for a simple, but well-done, brunch and this is it. No frills but every bit delicious, our morning was spent in a relaxed and friendly atmosphere. Besides the temperature of the juice (which does speak well for the freshness), my only criticism would be that it was a little pricey... but that's Georgetown, right? Putting those minor things aside, Peacock Cafe offers exactly what you'd expect for brunch... a comfortable, relaxing, sweet way to start a day.

Peacock Cafe on Urbanspoon

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Pizzeria Paradiso - Guest Post

B and J proudly present A Two DC production in association with Family-Visiting-From-Out-of-Town Studios: another guest blog post!

Pizzeria Paradiso
was packed. Pripsters (the awkward combo of prepsters and hipsters) in pirate-print pants snaked between students, parents, not-so-local locals, well-dressed security, and even a family or two in their quest for the door, dragging the strong smell of wood and basil out with them. The host, in a too-cool cap, quoted long waits to weary folks undeterred by the throng spilling into the small window seat. It seems only fitting that paradise would have a hellish waiting-room.

Sitting there, in my well-wrung seat in the window, after a brisk tour of the closing mall and surrounding stone-front shops, I realized that I really didn't know what to expect from a Georgetown pizzeria. Our waiting list pager spasmed to life and we pressed ourselves up to the host and followed diligently as a waitress, with dancing tatoos, encouraged us to squeeze past tables of pairs to reach our seat.

The beer list was certainly strong and inviting, New England and Western Europe in full force. I chose a medium bodied Belgian, which happily lasted me most of the meal. We dove into the garlic bread which arrived shortly, but I found it short of flavor and long of charcoal. Apparently wood isn't the only thing that burns in these ovens. There were moments when the sour dough was rich and flakey, but most of the time I felt the crust lacked in flavor and texture.

So what's the deal? Turns out its the toppings. I was the big winner, opting for their "Atomica" combination, whose sausage and pepper flakes kept my taste-buds at a sharp simmer for the duration of my meal. I wouldn't call it hot, but it did keep me returning to my beer. Others at my table were less fortunate, opting mostly for simpler pizzas which seemed bland by comparison.

For the most part, I was underwhelmed. The ambiance was hip, and the aromas and ales were enticing, but I have had pizzas that left me tasting them for days, and Paradiso was a distant memory by bedtime. Sorry Pripsters, not my style.

Second Thoughts from B and J

DC seems to have its fair share of really great pizzerias - 2 Amys, Matchbox, and Pete's, just to name a few - and most feature long waits that are worth it in the end. Despite several recommendations from fellow DCers, we found Pizzeria Paradiso to have that familar line but not the payoff at the end.

As mentioned, the scene was far more memorable than the pizza, and to be clear, "memorable" in this case is not a particularly good thing. The dough was bland and it unfortunately dominated these thick-crusted pies. Out of the four pizzas ordered that night, only one was "interesting" by our standards. However, that many people can't all be wrong, right? Maybe there is an appeal for less bold flavors and textures, but instead, I tend to think of an analogy that my father once told me about dog poop... "can 10,000 flies really be wrong?"
Pizzeria Paradiso (Georgetown) on Urbanspoon

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Great Falls

Few people think of DC as a city of natural beauty. Culture? Check. History? Check. But fun in the great outdoors? Not so much.

I'm not here to convince you that this idea is necessarily wrong, but I will say that there are a handful of hidden gems that are worth seeking out. Among them is Great Falls National Park which lies about 15 miles to the west of downtown. Great Falls, as you can see below, is a rocky patch of the Potomac River that can be described as anything between waterfall or extreme rapids, depending on the water level.

Just recently, J and I were out with a friend after a rainstorm and were looking for something random to see or do that was outside of the normal DC experience. Great Falls was it. Tucked in amongst the trees, the National Park provides a visitors center, picnic spots, and scenic outcroppings along the Virginia side. We've also spent some time on the Maryland side which features hiking trails and rock climbing (we joined a class led by Earth Treks which we would highly recommend for those looking to learn or advance their technique). Keep in mind that there are no bridges from one side to the other so plan wisely prior to making the trip.

Not surprisingly, Great Falls has some history behind it. In fact, George Washington was instrumental in the construction of a series of locks that were built in the late-1700's in hopes of developing a major shipping route from the Nation's Capitol and the Atlantic to Ohio. Much of the remains can be seen on the Maryland side of Great Falls.

However, the reason most people make the journey is for the falls themselves. OK, prepare yourself for a little nature blasphemy. Ready? I think I may like Great Falls better than Niagara Falls... Relax. Breathe. And let me explain. For sheer size and power, nothing holds a candle to Niagara but the thing is, it is almost too big to fully appreciate anything other than its size. While I'm already in this hole, I'll dig a little deeper and say it is analogous to liking something like Bryce Canyon over the Grand Canyon. Bigger, at least in my book, isn't always better and Great Falls is just the perfect blend. I seem to see something different about it every time. It is like a living organism that is always changing but each time I am awestruck by the beauty of the landscape and the intricacies and power of the various falls and rapids. You may disagree, but there is one thing I can guarantee; you won't find anything like this anywhere else in DC.

J's Perspective
While Great Falls is only a short drive from DC, it feels like a world away. I love standing above the falls and watching the kayakers who perform tricks on the rapids. Bring a picnic and a camera and enjoy a mini-vacation from life in the big city.

Monday, April 13, 2009


After reading Michael Pollan's book In Defense of Food, I became increasingly interested in finding local, organic food sources. Just about the time I finished the book, the Soupergirl (aka Sara Polon) came to my rescue.

The Soupergirl and her mom cook up two soups each week using fresh local ingredients. They offer a home delivery option (for a small fee) or you can pick up your soup at one of several local businesses that act as pick-up spots. We pick up our soup at our favorite yogurt shop Mr. Yogato. It's really a win-win for everyone. We get great soup and yogurt (can't go without getting fro-yo!), Mr. Yogato gets increased foot traffic, the Soupergirl sells soup, and local farmers benefit from her weekly ingredient purchases.

Soup, pita chips, and brownies can be ordered online each week. So far our favorite soup has been the "It's Amore Zuppa Barley Soup." I learn about the soup offerings in her Monday morning email and place my order by paying through PayPal. I appreciate that she lists out all of the ingredients so I can steer clear of my personal kryptonite (the dreaded cilantro - why must it be in everything!?). She also writes a witty paragraph explaining each soup.

The Soupergirl's slogan is "Fresh. Local. Good." Those are three words that I can get excited about and hope you can too. Happy slurping!

Second Thoughts from B

Some of the soup is very good and some is just ok, but all are a fantastically easy and cheap way to eat healthy, interesting meals on a weekly basis. That alone should be reason enough to give the Soupergirl a try.
Soupergirl on Urbanspoon

Sunday, April 12, 2009


My mom and grandmother were in town for a visit and we took them to Acadiana for dinner. Acadiana is a "contemporary interpretation of a Louisiana fish house" according to Chef Jeff Tunks (also of TenPenh, Ceiba, and DC Coast). We like Acadiana because it is very close to home and serves satisfying comfort food in a beautiful dining room. I've traveled to New Orleans seven times this year on business and have had my share of Louisiana comfort food. I think Acadiana compares favorably to the best I've had in New Orleans.

Bayou Blue

The dining room at Acadiana is decorated in soothing blue tones and dotted with sparkling chandeliers. The room has an almost underwater feel to it. I bet this is what the Little Mermaid's living room would look like if she hired the classiest of decorators.

The service has also been top notch on each of our visits. The last two times we had the pleasure of being served by Chuck who is charming and extremely knowledgeable about the menu. I highly recommend asking to be seated in his section.

You Had Me At Biscuits....

I often wonder why restaurants don't spend more time on their bread baskets. I'd rather not have anything on my table than be served cold hard bread with cold butter. When a restaurant actually puts some effort into the bread I remember it fondly. The biscuits that Acadiana serves before the main event are not only memorable, they keep me coming back again and again.

The biscuits are hot and flaky, and would be stellar on their own but are served with a pepper jelly/cream cheese concotion. A biscuit slathered with this cream cheesy-tangy goodness is my idea of perfection.

We started off with the roasted sweet corn and blue crab soup and the charbroiled oysters. The soup is hearty with just the right amount of spice.

The oysters are perfect for non-oyster people because they are covered in butter and cheese and charbroiled. They are served with flaky french bread that you can use to sop up the extra butter in the oyster pan. I suppose this would be a good time to mention that the food at Acadiana is very, very rich.

For my main course I had the pan crisp roasted duck (covered in a cane syrup pepper jelly glaze and served with dirty rice and collard greens). Honestly, I ordered the duck because I hoped the pepper jelly glaze would be as tasty as the pepper jelly sauce served with the biscuits. I was not disappointed as the duck was tender and the glaze caused the duck skin to bake to a crackling crisp. The only drawback was that I don't like eating a lot of skin and once I removed the skin the duck lost a lot of the flavor. The dirty rice and collard greens were traditional versions of these classic Louisiana side dishes.

On Chuck's recommendation B ordered the grilled gulf redfish (served with seafood jambalaya risotto and smoked red bell pepper sauce). Redfish is something that I've seen on most menus in New Orleans but is a rare find in D.C. Acadiana puts a modern spin on the classic dish with the addition of the jambalaya risotto. The dish received rave reviews from both B and my mom who also ordered it.

After all of this rich food we really didn't have room for dessert but couldn't turn down the pecan tart with praline caramel and milk chocolate ice cream. It wasn't the most memorable dessert I've ever had but the presentation was very nice. Acadiana also presents little rocky road squares with the check. It is the nice touches like these that make Acadiana such a warm and welcoming place to dine.

Second Thoughts from B

As J said, we've been to Acadiana a few times and they consistently deliver interesting and boldly favored dishes that we enjoy every time. There are quite a few very good modern restaurants in downtown and to be honest, they sometimes run together. What makes Acadiana stand out is the exceptional service and the biscuits that are easily the best bread dish in DC (Oya's might be a close second but aren't as distinct). Also of note is Acadiana's brunch which we tried last year and would recommend.

In addition to the biscuits, the charbroiled oysters are a very memorable dish and one that I look forward to whenever we make plans to go to Acadiana. I have a special weakness for anything with butter, garlic, and cheese, and these oysters have each in spades. As for the redfish, the risotto alone is worth a trip, but that is not to say that the fish isn't great as well. It is cooked with a homemade blend of 9 spices that proved so pleasing that we asked what it was made up of. Salt, paprika, white pepper, black pepper, some spices I don't remember, and like everything else at Acadiana, a pinch of Southern love.
Acadiana on Urbanspoon

Friday, April 10, 2009

Julia's Empanadas - Guest Post

When our party of two in DC expands to include friends and family who are willing, we'll add their thoughts and fresh perspectives to our own ramblings. In this case, a review of Julia's Empanadas comes from another West Coast transplant who has joined us in Washington. After reading his post you may abandon us in search of more of his witty prose. Fear not because it can be found here.

-B and J

Imagine your most beautiful, mysterious, and magical dream. Then wrap it in a pastry crust. And, ladies and gentlemen, you have Julia’s Empanadas.

Okay, so I might have stuffed my empanada description above with a bit too much hyperbole, but this little hole-in-the-wall place has become one of my favorite places in the entire District. Having spent some time in college to intern and do research in DC, I came in search of knowledge, but I think I may have notched as many visits to Julia’s (conveniently located about 3 blocks away from my dorm), as I did to the library.

For those of you waiting for your mouths to water, but unsure exactly what an empanada is, before you try to wikipedia it, the best description I can think of – and one I’ve used with my own friends – is to think of it as an “Argentinan hot-pocket.” Surely, Julia might take offense at this reference, but it really is your choice of filling surrounded by a buttery pasty shell.

Julia’s Empanadas offers seven different varieties – six standard ones, and a vegetarian/vegan option that rotates weekly. The most popular, it seems, is the Jamaican, which features beef, onion, potato, curry and spices. My personal favorite, though, is the simply prepared spinach one, which highlights spinach and multiple cheeses melted inside of a bulbous shell. Should these savory options leave your sweet-tooth hankering for something more, Julia’s also offers a series of dessert empanadas, including pineapple; strawberry-cream cheese; apple; and the ever-popular almond and pear empanada, with a tiny little string to untie before eating.

Want one of both? Julia’s has you covered with their “Good Meal Deal,” which provides you with your choice of one savory and one sweet empanada, and a beverage. Not good at math? No problem: the good meal deal is exactly $6 including tax. Though Julia’s also offers some soups and salads, no one goes there for anything but the empanadas – or “emps” as some people lovingly refer to them.

Julia’s has three locations in the district – Adams Morgan, Columbia Heights and Dupont Circle. The latter is wonderfully positioned among bars and clubs, and, thankfully, is open until 4AM on weekends. It’s right next to Lucky Bar, so if you girls are tired of creepers trying to dance with you, you can come hang out and mingle with Julia and her empanadas instead. Be forewarned though: there is only a tiny counter at which to eat, and it is increasingly usurped by stacks of napkins, plastic silverware, and bottles of water. The best thing to do is to grab your emps to go, and either take them up to the fountain at Dupont Circle, across the street to a small park, or to eat as you walk.

So, who is this mysterious Julia? It remains unclear, as virtually every time I visit, the person manning the store is not a beautiful woman lovingly cooking empanadas just for me, but rather, a mustached man shuffling around the small storefront. That said, while Julia’s Empanadas might not be the most authentic (after all I did refer to them as hotpockets), they are uniformly good, conveniently located, open late, and Julia’s has become a big part of my DC experience. The sign on the door proudly exclaims that Julia’s empanadas are baked with love, and I have to agree – Julia’s empanadas is unquestionably worth a try.

Second Thoughts from B and J

When J and I first moved to DC and were lost among the seemingly countless eateries, we were led to Julia's Empanadas by one of their biggest fans (could you tell from his post?). Needless to say, as one of our first DC dining experiences, it holds a special place in our hearts. However, it is more than nostalgia that keeps us going back. I may have had a better empanada in my life, but there will always be a place in DC and in our dining adventures for an inexpensive, always open, and unique "fast food."
Julia's Empanadas on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Taqueria Distrito Federal

I'm going to be blunt about this. We're from Southern California and we know our Mexican food. When I ask you where I can find good Mexican food in DC please don't tell me, as several others have, to go to Chipotle. Chipotle makes a tasty burrito but it's a far cry from "real Mexican food."

We finally found what we've been missing at Taqueria Distrito Federal in Columbia Heights. I knew we were off to a good start when the name was en español and the entrance was painted the colors of the Mexican flag. Then again, there were also reindeer on the roof so maybe they were Christmas colors, but whatever.

Taqueria Distrito Federal (or TDF) is a tiny place tucked on the ground floor of a rowhouse in Columbia Heights. If you've never ventured north of the Target/Bed Bath and Beyond Complex (DC USA) on 14th Street you're missing out on this little gem. The interior is colorfully decorated and has about a dozen small tables set in front of an open kitchen. TVs on the wall show broadcast news and sports (noticias y deportes para mis amigos del sur de California) en español. You can order takeout at the counter or take a seat and have a friendly waitress take your order.

B ordered the Alambre Mexicano (grilled chicken and beef, sauteed with jalapeño, tomatoes, onions, and melted cheese on top) served with rice and beans.

I had a combination with three tacos con barbacoa res (barbeque beef), a drink (horchata), and dessert (strawberry ice cream).

The tacos were exactly the type of Mexican street food that I had yet to find in DC. When I saw the radishes on the plate in lieu of the Americanized cheese and sour cream, I knew this was the real deal. The beef was tender and the sauce had just the right amount of spice. The sliced avocado on top cut some of the heat and provided a nice creamy texture.

The horchata was the best I've had outside Santa Ana (if you live near Santa Ana, CA you have to try the horchata at Tacos Mexico). It was served with a whole cinnamon stick in the cup adding a ton of cinnamon flavor. The meal was capped off with strawberry ice cream (I think it was Breyer's) served in a styrofoam cup.

If you're looking for run of the mill gringo Mexican food, this is not the place for you. Rather, TDF serves goat and tongue and tripe, and I love them for it. Gracias Taqueria Distrito Federal!

Second Thoughts From B

Legend has it that when Archimedes discovered buoyancy he leapt from his bath and ran naked through the streets of ancient Syracuse yelling "Eureka!" which means I've found it. While J and I may feel that we've finally reached the end of our quest to find authentic Mexican food in the District, I don't think there will be any naked romps in our future.

My Chinese grandmother had a saying about about good Chinese food restaurants. She said that if you feel a little uncomfortable putting your purse (that would be her purse not mine) on the ground, then you're in a good place. In my experience, this often applies to authentic Mexican food restaurants as well. Was it the best Mexican food I've ever had? No, and not even close. But it was the real deal and good enough that we'll be headed back any time we're in the mood for a little taste of home.

Taqueria Distrito Federal on Urbanspoon