Tuesday, September 29, 2009


Check another one off of my "Restaurants in the Neighborhood" list. We recently dined at Mio located on Vermont, south of Thomas Circle. One of my co-workers tipped me off to the Tastings Journal group which arranges prix fixe menus at different Washington restaurants (more on them in a later post). For $45 you get a tasting menu plus a glass of wine. This month, the Tastings Journal chose Mio and we decided to check it out.

The experience left me a bit confused and it's not all Mio's fault. For some reason, I had it stuck in my head that Mio was an Italian restaurant. When we got there and looked at the menu, it was such a mixture of cuisine that I really couldn't tell what the "theme" was. After I ate there, I still didn't know how to describe it, so I checked Mio's website and it says it features "modern American cuisine with Latin-American accents." Really? It must have been a subtle accent because I didn't pick up on it.

Mio's accent may be quiet but it's noise level is not. This is definitely not a good place to bring your grandparents because Mio is LOUD. One recent Yelp reviewer wrote that Mio was as loud as "a junior high school cafeteria on pizza day." Well said.

Our experience started off on an odd foot when we arrived on time for our 8:30pm reservation and were told it "would be a few minutes." We sat down right next to the hostess stand and waited. We were literally two feet from the hostesses as they stood there and chatted with each other with empty tables behind them. After probably 10 minutes the hostess said "Oh! We didn't seat you yet?" Uh no. She walked us to our table and said "you were so quiet we thought we already sat you." A word to the wise: if you want to be seated at Mio, it seems you should do a modern interpretive dance (a la Mia Michaels) right in front of the hostess and make lots of noise so you don't get accused of being too quiet.

Even our table was a bit off. It was one of those two tops where one person is seated on a banquette and the other is on a chair. The problem was that the banquette seat was positioned right next to a giant column so I was stuck in the timeout corner while B (seated on the chair) could see around the column to the tables next to us.

Our waiter came over and confirmed that we wanted the Tastings Journal menu and asked if we wanted red or white wine. He then disappeared for a long time, and the amuse bouche came out before our orders had been taken. Even with the tasting menu you have to choose between a couple of options for each course. So, with menus still on the table in front of us, we shrugged it off and tried the chilled cucumber soup. It was pretty tasty if you like chilled soups and cucumbers. I'm not a fan of either but that's just my issue, not Mio's.

Once the disappearing waiter returned, we placed our orders and the first course came. B had the Arugula Salad (hand torn arugula, fresh chopped fennel with white anchovies in a lemon citronette dressing). It was fresh-tasting and packed quite a pucker with the lemon dressing. At this point, I still thought Mio was an Italian restaurant.

I started with the Coconut Shrimp (shrimp served with a coconut milk and simjobel chili puree on a bed of sliced plantains). This dish had excellent spicy sweet flavor but it felt a bit disjointed from the soup and my next course. This must be one of Mio's latin accents. If the dish is any indication, Mio should crank up the Latin flair.

Next I had the penne pasta with a goat cheese and sundried tomato sauce. See why I was confused? The Latin shrimp dish and this classic Italian dish back to back? This one was pretty non-descript and the pasta was really al dente. I will give them credit for not skimping on the portion sizes. It was a hefty serving of pasta for an early course.

B opted for the roasted calamari which is not going to win any awards for prettiest blog photo. The calamari was, as calamari tends to be, very, very chewy. It also had a similar lemon sauce to B's arugula salad, which is odd because the description says "shaved sweet garlic with oyster mushrooms finished with fresh basil leaves."

The main courses were where Mio shined. My beef tenderloin with summer vegetables was cooked to perfection and the veggies added a nice punch.

B's roasted atlantic salmon with fennel slaw was also cooked nicely and served with a very flavorful, but not overpowering sauce. The slaw was flavored with that same familiar lemon dressing. Can you see a trend developing?

The dessert won't be making my top 10 list for the year. It was a pedestrian bread pudding that the menu billed as chocolate sherry bread pudding with blueberries and chocolate mousse. Eh, I've had better.

B's mojito sorbet was a great example of why presentation is important. The sorbet was a spinach-like green color served in a clear glass. When it started to melt it resembled baby food. Even if this was the best sorbet on the planet (it wasn't), it looked pretty scary.

It's not that I didn't like Mio because there were some highlights, and the $45 per person price tag was a bargain. I just felt like the whole experience was "off." We had strange service with lots of different waiters and busboys rushing around grabbing stuff off of our table before we could tell them whether we were finished with it. The hostess situation was weird and we nearly went hoarse trying to speak to each other.

I might give Mio another shot when it's not a "special menu" time, but with so many fantastic restaurants nearby it's probably going to be awhile.

Second Thoughts From B

The devil is in the details, and for me, it will be the details that will shape my memory of our time at Mio. To be fair, my salmon was cooked so perfectly that it produced a memorably goofy grin on my face after the first bite. Also, I can still remember the unique flavor of the calamari (this is a good thing). And while we've had many chili-coconut sauced dishes, I loved Mio's version, especially with the addition of the plantain.

But unfortunately, I still am hung up on the steady stream of events that were sprinkled throughout the meal. Whether it was service that didn't match the quality of the restaurant or the just disjointed, unimaginative, or less than perfectly executed dishes, Mio missed the mark. It is too bad too, because whether it is Italian, Latin, or American, there is potential here. Now if they could just add a little polish so I could tell if it is a diamond or another piece of coal...Mio on Urbanspoon

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Bulgogi Cart

Before you eat another boiled hot dog for lunch and lament DC's lack of unique street food options, pay a visit to the Bulgogi Cart located during lunch hours at the intersection of 14th and L streets northwest. It will change your mind.

The sweet mom and son duo that run this little yellow cart serve up chicken and beef bulgogi (marinated, bbq'd meat) and bibimbap. Huge portions for reasonable prices can lead to a line down the street and cause them to run out of food. Go early (noon was ok, but I hear 1pm is bad) to beat the crowds.

I've heard many tales of the magical yellow cart and its tasty food, but I don't work in the neighborhood and just haven't made the trek over to check it out. Luckily, B gets every other Monday off (lucky government workers!). One such Monday he picked me up at work and whisked me over to 14th and L so I could have a slice of Korean street food heaven. We ordered and paid for our food (cash only), and went back home to eat. On a nice day you could head up to Thomas Circle or down to Franklin Square to eat outside.

I ordered the bibimbap with spicy beef. Bibimbap is often served in a hot stone pot which allows the rice and egg to keep cooking while you eat. For logistical reasons, the Bulgogi Cart's bibimbap is served in a styrofoam container. I did miss the crunchy bits of rice that stick to the bowl in a serving of stone pot bibimbap, but for street food this was outstanding! The plate consists of carrots, sauteed greens, bean sprouts, kimchee, an egg (over medium, I think), spicy beef, and steamed rice. It comes with a side of Korean bbq sauce, but the meat is so flavorful you won't need much of it. Bibimbap tastes best if you mix it all together and pierce the egg to allow the yolk to mix in with the rice. It's a party in your mouth as the spicy meat and kimchee battle it out with the smooth rice and egg. This ain't your boring brown bag lunch.

B doesn't do eggs so he opted for the spicy beef bulgogi. It's served with lettuce, kimchee, and steamed rice. It's the same awesome spicy beef that was in my bibimbap and the portion is so large you won't be headed to the office vending machine at 3pm. For me, the bibimbap was enough for two large lunches.

Fear not if you don't like spicy food. They also offer a mild version of their chicken and beef.

Having a "case of the Mondays" at work? Get away from that computer and head over to the Bulgogi Cart for something different. You'll never look at those hot dog carts the same way again.

Second Thoughts from B

At its core, it is beef on rice in styrofoam. So what's the big deal, right? Wrong. To confuse the 14th and L Bulgogi Cart for run-of-the-mill street food is like confusing Chef Boyardee for Chef Mario Batali. Ok, maybe that's an exaggeration, but you get the point.

We recently returned from a wedding in Oregon and while there, we got a chance to sample the street food carts of Portland shortly after they were featured in Bon Appetit magazine. Using that as a frame of reference (The Original Schnitzelwich from Monika and Karel Vitek's Tábor street cart was the real deal!), I can unequivocally say that DC's best stack up quite nicely with others from around the country (Exhibit A: the fojol bros. of merlindia which you can read about here). Please note that I said "DC's best" because many of DC's other carts are rather pedestrian.

So yes, it is still is beef on rice in styrofoam but it is also fresh cooked ethnic food that is served with a smile. Add in the fact that it is quick and huge ($15 got us enough food for 3 meals) and maybe this is like the Iron Chef of street vendors.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Steak 'n Egg Kitchen

We first stumbled upon this lovely little gem while visiting our favorite picture framer way up on Wisconsin Avenue in Tenleytown. Steak 'n Egg Kitchen consists of a tiny counter inside and a large patio outside. Though it was a beautiful Sunday afternoon, we opted for the inside seats because the host warned us that there were bees on the patio. Somebody I know is allergic to those little buggers.

We were not at all disappointed in our counter seats because it is the best place to sit and soak up the true character of the place. I like watching the cooks flip pancakes and cook eggs on the old griddle. The service here is efficient and friendly enough, but not overwhelmingly warm. It's a true diner in every sense of the word. The owners (Osman and Joe) came to the U.S. from civil war-torn Sierra Leone and they learned how to cook up a mean breakfast.

B ordered the Extra Thick Malt Waffle with a side of hashbrowns. It was the right combo of dense and fluffy and had a great vanilla flavor.

I had to try the pancakes with Reese's Pieces and also got an egg over medium on the side. The pancakes were just as I hoped they would be: peanut buttery and fluffy with an interesting crunch added by the candy coating of the Reese's Pieces. You can also get chocolate chips or M&Ms if you are (seriously weird and) not into the peanut butter thing. Now I know you are probably thinking that this is about the most unhealthy thing one could order for breakfast. To that I say it was Sunday brunch, I rode 27 miles on my (new!) bike the day before, and I drink spinach smoothies for breakfast during the week. The Reeses Pancake splurge was sooooo worth it.

If you're looking for a cheap and satisfying bite to eat at any hour of the day (they serve lunch and dinner, too!), pay Osman and Joe a visit at the Steak 'n Egg Kitchen. Fine dining it isn't but who needs $18 french toast when you can get $5 Reese's Pancakes?

Second Thoughts from B

Now that we're finally sharing meals together again, I'm happy to report one of the greatest hole-in-the-walls (actually it is a free standing building) that we've found in DC. The menu is extensive yet there's not one item on it that you couldn't make at home with 5 or so basic ingredients. There's something comforting about that. Nothing exotic, just real good eatin'.

It is true our "breakfast" was more like dessert but just like J is a sucker for anything with peanut butter, I can't lay off vanilla. You can be sure I'll double - if not triple - any recipe's allotment of vanilla extract... Knowing that, you can bet I was thrilled to taste all the vanilla-ey goodness of the Malt Waffle.

As a counterpoint to the sweetness of the waffle, I also enjoyed some hashbrowns. Starch + Oil + Heat = smiles all around. Add a little salt and pepper and... oops, I think I just drooled on my keyboard. All I can say is thank goodness we don't live closer to the Steak 'n Egg Kitchen because I wouldn't want my stomach to match the size of my cravings...
Osman & Joe's Steak 'n Egg Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Business Travel

Where oh where can my baby be?
Her job took her away from me...

"Are you traveling for business or pleasure?" Isn't it interesting that this is an either/or type of question? To take it one step further, isn't it almost unthinkable to consider answering, "Both. Business travel is pleasure."

Of course there's much to like about traveling on the company dime. Per diem, generally nice hotels, frequent flier miles, and free trips to new places. Yes, there was even a time when I actively positioned myself to go on as many trips as I possibly could. In fact, I've enjoyed Maui, Paris, and THE Oktoberfest in Munich, all for free... So what could I possibly be complaining about, right?

Aside from wreaking havoc on our blog-posting schedule - after all, what can we say when one of the "two" is not in DC? - business travel has become more of a duty than a vacation. Maybe it has to do with increased responsibility at work or having more of a settled home life. Or maybe I'm getting old and can't as easily change timezones as often as I change my socks. Or maybe I just don't like living out of a suitcase and eating alone. The point is, I like my job and I love vacation, but I'd prefer to take them separately.

But aside from my mini-rant, here's a few helpful hints I've picked up along the way:

Bose Nose Canceling Headphones. You know those giant headphones that everyone in first class seems to have on flights now? What else have you noticed? How about contented, peaceful grins on the faces of everyone wearing them. Sure they cost a pretty penny (~$300) but if you spend a lot of time on the plane, having a little serenity amidst the security lines and crying babies is worth it. The only downside, other than the cost, is the fact that it makes sleeping difficult if you like leaning your head on something.

Earn Those Rewards. You probably already put in to receive frequent flier miles but don't forget to sign up to receive points at the hotel. Also, if you have to pay up front and will be reimbursed later for your travel expenses, sign up for credit cards that will give you points or cash back... because the only thing better than vacation, is a vacation with free airfare, a free hotel, and a little cash you earned while traveling for work.

I've Got Friends in Far Off Places. I'm not a huge fan of traveling on my own - and by traveling, I mean exploring new places - because I like to share my experiences with other people. Combine that with a laundry list of good friends scattered around the world, and you'll usually find that I try and squeeze some friend-time into my work trips.

Catch up on your reading
. I read a lot for my job so when I'm home, I tend to not have the desire, much less the time, to work my way through a good book. And are you really expecting me to work on the plane and at night in my hotel room?

Catching Up with Life. As a couple that actually enjoys one another, business travel for one of us affects both of us. Nevertheless, a little alone time is always needed. Whether that is day-to-day household chores that we never have a chance to do, working a little later on a overdue project, or just catching up on that "bad TV" that our better halves can't stand...

Isn't it Romantic. Thanks to 9/11, the ever-romantic and over-played scene of a reunion at an airport gate now must take place at the baggage claim. Still, there's nothing like a little distance to remind you of what you left at home. People always talk about keeping a relationship "fresh." Here's a great opportunity to find that spark...

J Says

I've traveled a lot for work this year and have a couple of tips to add to B's list:

Pack and Snack Healthy. Let's face it, if you're eating in an airport or at the hotel, chances are you're going to blow a weeks worth of calories on one meal. I get really hungry when I travel so I try to plan ahead by packing healthy snacks such as dried fruit, unsalted nuts, kashi bars, and packs of Emergen-C. I travel to New Orleans often and these healthy snacks in my purse have saved me many times when all that's available to eat when I arrive at midnight is a fried shrimp po boy.

Bring Your Street Smarts. As a female, it's not always easy to travel alone. Be smart about walking in unfamiliar neighborhoods alone and only use cab companies that are recommended by the hotel or are part of an approved airport taxi line. It's also a good idea to get the cab number. This can save you if you leave something in the cab and can be used for reporting purposes if something goes wrong. Most importantly, listen to your instincts. If you don't feel comfortable going out of your hotel alone to get dinner, try room service or talk to the hotel concierge about delivery options.

Always Pack an Extra Pair of Shoes. If you're like me and wear heels for business, it's a good idea to throw an extra pair in your bag just in case. Heels break, straps come loose, and blisters pop up and you don't want to be stuck limping into the courtroom or boardroom in a busted pair of shoes. It's probably a good idea to pack at least one sensible pair of shoes just in case. Remind me some day to tell you about the time I wobbled through a gravel railroad yard in a pair of Kate Spade heels while interviewing witnesses for a trial....

Safe travels!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Capital Fashion

When we moved from LA to DC, we quickly realized that our wardrobes were woefully inadequate. Not only were our closets full of "student clothes" that wouldn't cut it at the workplace, but we also had clothes fit for California weather. Since California lacks seasons, people wear pretty much the same thing year round. The biggest decision is whether to throw a hoodie over your t-shirt. Once in DC, it didn't take many walks to work in October or the months that followed to realize that we had some shopping to do.

Clothes Encounters

DC, like all big cities, provides easy access to shopping malls (Pentagon City is metro accessible but Tysons Corner offers a much larger selection of stores) and outlets (we like the outlets in Leesburg). Georgetown's M Street features many of the big fashion chains in a unique outdoor setting. Also, if you're looking for deck shoes, pink polos, and whale belts, you can't miss in Georgetown. For the high rollers out there, Chevy Chase and the Mazza Gallerie is the place for you.

There are a couple of regional stores that were new to us and are worth pointing out to new residents. Filene's Basement is a discount store (think Nordstrom Rack) where great deals can be found if you don't mind a little digging around. I found a great pair of Coach heels for 75% off once and B routinely finds great deals on dress shirts and ties. The company recently filed for bankruptcy which has impacted the volume of merchandise, but now under new management, the DC stores are again up and running.

If you are in need of a suit for a job interview, Jos. A. Bank has several locations in downtown DC and calls itself the "expert" in menswear. While you're not going to get Armani quality here, you can find decent suits at low prices and its a good place to get your first post-grad school suit. Try to take advantage of their frequent sales.

DC is not known as a fashion mecca and, as a consequence, does not have a booming boutique industry. There are some cute stores scattered about town that are worth a visit if you're looking for something different than the mega chains can provide. Try Caramel on U Street or Sugar in Georgetown.

DeeDee Dresses DC

Do you ever walk into a store and feel overwhelmed by the options? Don't know the difference between Savvy, t.b.d., The Rail, and Individualist? Frustrated because you spent all of this time in the mall and came home with nothing? It might be time to test out a personal shopper.

Last winter, B and I decided to treat ourselves to a visit to a personal shopper. What most people don't realize is: (A) most large department stores have personal shoppers and (B) they are usually free to use. B did some research and found the wonderful DeeDee McPhaul at Nordstrom Tysons Corner. I must admit I was hesitant to go because I've had some bad service experiences when I'm shopping. Often, salespeople think I'm too young to spend any real money and they ignore me. Luckily, DeeDee made us feel comfortable instantly.

Before our first appointment, she called B and I individually to ask about our personal style and sizes. Don't worry if you don't have a "style" - she'll guide you through the process by asking what your favorite kinds of clothes are and what types of items you're looking for. When you arrive for your appointment DeeDee will have pre-selected outfits that she thinks you might like. Then the process of trying on clothes begins. As you go, you'll tell DeeDee things you love and those you hate and she'll keep bringing in new things until you're satisfied or completely exhausted. Exhaustion is a real possibility as our first trip lasted nearly four hours. I don't recommend making appointments during peak traffic times (or huge sales) because she can get really busy and the level of personal service can suffer a bit. But even on a day when she was balancing us and Beyonce's mom (seriously, she was in town for the inauguration!), we still felt like rock stars.

As I mentioned above, this service doesn't cost you anything but be forewarned: you'll probably end up liking a lot of the clothes she finds for you, so you should work out your budget before stepping into the dressing room. I thought it was a nice touch that she brought us sale items to try on and didn't flinch in the slightest when we suggested that some things might be a bit out of our price range. We also took advantage of opening a Nordstrom credit card and have received lots of Nordstrom Notes (gift certificates) as a result.

Another benefit of using a personal shopper is that it will help you to expand your horizons and find clothes that actually fit you. You may learn you've been wearing the wrong size clothing or that your favorite suit cut doesn't actually flatter your body. DeeDee has encouraged me to embrace color and patterns in a way that I never would have done on my own. I'm not saying that I want to look like a bad 60's flashback, but it has been nice to spend some time away from my best friend: the basic black sweater.

Second Thoughts From B

I'll admit it, shopping for clothes isn't my favorite thing in the world. Shocker, right? Hey, I'm a guy and some stereotypes are true. We all like to look good but it is the process that is a pain.

That said, I probably enjoy/tolerate clothes shopping more than most... But wherever you fall on the spectrum, you can't not love a good personal shopper. For us, DeeDee eliminates all of the exhausting and frustrating elements of a trip to the mall. No hunting for the right size, no debating if this goes with that, no waiting in dressing room lines with a maximum of 5 items. All you do is show up, try a bunch of stuff on (beware of chafing after 4 hours), and determine if you like how you look. It doesn't get much easier.

I know nothing about fashion but I think I have a decent sense of what looks good and what doesn't. After 4 hours and probably 100 different items, there were exactly zero things that I tried on and didn't like. And if I was undecided about something, I had an expert and J to give me their two cents. In truth, it was a fun thing to do together.

So to you ladies out there who are always complaining that your man dresses like a slob, take him to DeeDee. You might not ever get him to love shopping but this is about as close as you'll get. And let me say it again, it is all free! Count me as one of the converted because I'm not afraid to say that I'm looking forward to my next trip.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

DC Noodles

As fall descends upon DC and college football season kicks into high gear, we resume our Saturday tradition of grabbing a bite to eat with our old friend from college and watching our UCLA Bruins play on some obscure cable channel at some ungodly hour (love that 3 hour time difference). For the first game, we asked our friend to pick a place for dinner and he suggested DC Noodles.

DC Noodles is located on U Street and was formerly known as Simply Home, a combo thai restaurant and home furnishings store. Over the winter, the owners closed Simply Home and reimagined the space into a noodle house (and fashion accessories store next door).

The decor is minimalist and modern (note the curved water glass in the photo below) and the menu is divided into Starters, Noodles from the Wok, Noodles Salad, Noodles in Soup (Clear, Spicy, or Soy soup), Noodles in Coconut Curry, and a small assortment of "special" noodle and dumpling dishes.

We started off with the Thai Iced Tea (above) and the Pumpkin Empanadas (below). The iced tea was a perfect balance of creamy sweetness and bitter black tea. I'm glad we shared the drink because it is a lot of condensed milk for one person to have with a meal.

We love empanadas, Julia's empanadas in particular, so had to try the pumpkin version at DC Noodles. The crust was flaky, very pastry-like, and the pumpkin filling was very sweet. The tangy dipping sauce offset the sweetness somewhat, but it still felt more like dessert than an appetizer. Depending on your fondness for dessert, this could be an excellent thing.

I adore noodle dishes so I had a hard time deciding what to order. Honestly, I looked up the menu in the morning and thought about it all day long. I finally settled on the Drunken Noodles with chicken. I wanted something spicy and that featured the wide, flat noodles that I love so much. Normally I'd order this dish with tofu but the waitress said it was crispy tofu and I'm a bigger fan of soft, unadulterated tofu. The chicken was a fine substitute and really absorbed the spicy flavors of the dish. This isn't a dish for the spice-averse as it featured sliced jalapenos that gave it a delicious kick.

B asked the waitress to recommend her favorite dish (do you see a trend developing with him?) and she suggested the Green Curry with Shrimp. The curry was served with mixed veggies atop squid ink spaghetti. The jet black pasta helped this dish to soar above and beyond the run-of-the-mill green curry you can get at any Thai place. (Time Out, Zack Morris Style: did you ever notice that Thai places often have the cheesiest names. Thaitanic or Thaiphoon anyone? Ok Time In...) The creamy coconut milk curry was jazzed up with the right amount of spice and was a great texture contrast to the firmer squid ink pasta. We also liked that the dishes were served in giant bowls. Something about eating dinner out of a huge bowl makes me happy.

Second Thoughts From B

Don't you just hate it when your wife is always right about things? She pretty much nailed the description of our experience at DC Noodles, leaving me very little to add. Big portions, great selection, and fresh noodles to fill your stomach and soothe the soul. Ok, that may be hyperbole but this is our type of comfort food.

If the two dishes described here are any indication, I don't know that you'll discover any new flavors that you couldn't find at a number of other Asian noodle places around town. If anything, the sauces tended to be a little on the sweet side of things (we should have known after the emps - not that I'm complaining). However, the noodle textures were particularly noteworthy, which seems appropriate for a place called DC Noodles. The prices were indicative of freshly made ingredients and a chic interior in a cool part of town... that is, they were a tad on the pricey side (entrees $10-14). But what's an extra dollar or two for noodles served in bowls that are so big they could double for a motorcycle helmet?
DC Noodles on Urbanspoon

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Grocery Stores

Though it may be hard to believe, we do eat at home fairly frequently. But since we live downtown, grocery shopping isn't quite as easy as it might be in the suburbs where there seems to be a store on every corner. To help our fellow city dwellers (or those new to DC who aren't familiar with local grocery chains) we've put together a list of the local stores and our experiences at each.

You'll notice that this list focuses on large chains. If I had unlimited time and money, I would stay away from all of these stores and shop strictly at farmer's markets and local bodegas. Unfortunately, our reality doesn't line up with this ideal. We work long hours and sometimes need the convenience of our neighborhood 24-hour Safeway. For information on local farmer's markets and Community Supported Agriculture programs, click here and here.


This DC, Maryland, Virginia, and Delaware chain that we call "Gigante" can be hit or miss depending on the location. Some, like the one closest to our house on 8th Street, are a bit run down and the selection can be frustrating. One day we were in search of boneless-skinless chicken breasts and they didn't carry them. Also, the bacon and processed meats section takes up an entire aisle but they stock only a few varieties of yogurt. I'll save the rant on the obesity epidemic in America for another day.

To be fair to Gigante, there are some jewels in their crown. The Super Giant in Columbia Heights has a much larger selection and a wider variety of natural food brands. Giant also features Peapod, a grocery delivery service. We've never used Peapod but know neighbors who have and swear by it.


I don't need to say much about Safeway since you probably are familiar with this mega-chain. For our West Coast readers, Safeway = Vons and for our Chicago readers, Safeway = Dominick's. For some reason, DC has a thing with giving each Safeway a cutesy name. Here are a few:

The Social Safeway: This Safeway, on the outskirts of Georgetown, is apparently the place for single people to go if they're looking for a date. You'll find lots of Georgetown students there trying to buy their beer before the 10pm alcohol sales cutoff. The clientele is young and chatty. Don't go running over to Wisconsin Avenue now though - this location is closed for a major renovation.

The Soviet Safeway: Empty shelves and long checkout lines give this Dupont Circle Safeway its name. It's a very small store in a crowded neighborhood with no parking lot, so not the best place to go for a serene shopping experience. The chances of them having everything on your list are slim. Luckily, there is a big Whole Foods just a few blocks away.

The Sexy Safeway: Mayor Fenty named this brand new Safeway located at 5th and L in DC. It's bright, big, and new, and corners the market on strange gimmicky features: a fancy bakery that will bake you bread in the shape of a crab (yeah, I don't know either) and a make-your-own nut butter station. While I love the free underground parking and the fact that it is open late, I think a better name for this place is the Surly Safeway. Want to see what I mean? Just try giving the cashier your reusable grocery bags. The number of eye rolls and sighs I've gotten when I hand over my bags are too numerous to count. Come on cashiers, it's not like I'm giving you homemade canvas bags that don't stay open. These are huge, insulated bags that stand straight up on their own for ease of loading. Do these people have a secret pact with plastic bag manufacturers? Anyway, if you can take a bit of 'tude with your turkey breast and Total cereal, this place is for you.

Harris Teeter

We first discovered H-Teet when B lived in Virginia. It operates in 8 states and DC, and is our favorite of the regular grocery chains. It has the best selection of produce and healthier foods, and is generally clean, fully stocked, and staffed with friendly people. The DC location is on the small side, so we recommend making the trek out to Pentagon City. They also have free cookies for kids by the checkout lanes and I may have liberally interpreted the meaning of "kid" on a couple of occasions. Shhhh.....

Whole Foods

People in DC like to call this store "Whole Paycheck" but I think it is worth paying more for their gorgeous (and often locally grown) produce. It's also one of the few places I can find all of the ingredients for my favorite Green Monster smoothies and maintain my quest to eliminate highly-processed foods from our pantry. They are conveniently located on P Street in Logan Circle, but it's better to shop early in the day because it gets really crowded on the weekends.

Trader Joe's

I have lots of nice things to say about Trader Joe's but B's love for this store shines so brightly that I wouldn't want to deny him the opportunity to tell you about it. Before I pass it off to him, I'll say that our Foggy Bottom location is the second most visited in the U.S. (behind Manhattan). But, as you stand in the long (but quickly moving) line, make sure to look around because Sonia Sotomayor was seen shopping there recently.

B here. That was quite a build-up but I must confess that it is true. Among the local grocery store chains, Trader Joe's is far and away my favorite. It seems to combine interesting international products with local and fresh ingredients, all while keeping their prices mysteriously low. Seriously, I don't think I've ever left without being pleasantly surprised at how affordable it is. Like many of you, we have our own favorite items. Of particular note, take a long look at their frozen food aisle, the 99 cent pizza dough, and of course, all the free samples. I can't tell you how many interesting homemade meals have been inspired by a curious jar of who-knows-what found at Trader Joe's. Despite all this praise, TJ's does lack some necessities which forces us to other stores. If they didn't, I'd never stray but since that's the case, I do get the opportunity to be reminded how much I love great service at low prices. How's that for making lemonade out of lemons?

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Bicycle! Bicycle!

I want to ride my bicycle, I want to ride my bike...

Let's start with a few disclaimers:
  1. J and I aren't die-hard bicyclists. We don't have matching spandex outfits and we can't talk shop about your $3,000 carbon frame road bike. Rather, taking our bikes out is no more than a great way to explore the city, enjoy a beautiful day, and get some exercise. Both of us love sports and one way to bridge the gap in skill, strength, and ACLs (J has had multiple knee surgeries), is through biking.
  2. Both J and I are still in our mourning period, having had our bikes stolen out of our garage just recently. On the other hand, J and I have just begun our honeymoon stage, having just purchased a pair of Cannondale Quicks.

So rather than rant about how bike thievery is far too common in DC (I've yet to talk to someone who seemed at all surprised that our locked bikes were stolen from our locked garage) or pretend to know more about cycling than we do, here are a few places we've enjoyed on our dearly departed bikes, and look forward to exploring again on our latest purchases.

Mt. Vernon Trail. This is my favorite bike path, not only in DC, but probably anywhere. It has just about everything, including unfortunately, lots of other cyclists. Starting from Georgetown, it winds along the Virginia side of the Potomac, yielding incredible views across the river. The trail is almost completely flat over the almost 20 miles to George Washington's home at Mt. Vernon (an excellent place to walk around after your ride). But as they say in life, the journey is often an even bigger payoff than the destination. In addition to the literally monumental views of DC, the path winds through historic Old Town Alexandria (great place for a snack break!) and wooded areas that feel quite removed from the city. J would say that the wooden bridges through swampy areas look like Tom Sawyer's Island at Disneyland. If you knew how much she loves that place, you'd know that's a huge compliment - although I'd still argue that Disneyland looks like the Mt. Vernon trail as opposed to the other way around... The point is that this path reminds us of the "Happiest Place on Earth." Finally, don't forget to pause at Gravelly Point where you can do your best imitation of Wayne and Garth, and watch the planes fly right over your head on their way into, and out of, DCA.

The Mall/Monuments. Visitors of Casa de B&J are often lucky (or unlucky) enough to enjoy the infamous "march around the monuments" walking tour of downtown. I'm a big believer that those people who drive by, take their generic postcard snapshot, and move on are missing out. There is something so majestic about walking in and around these wonderful structures, but I do understand that a 10 mile death march isn't everyone's idea of a great time. If you're in that camp, a bike ride around the Mall is perfect. You can avoid the traffic and the parking nightmares by being on your bike... just make sure you can avoid the tourists too.

J here to report on a few more of our favorite bike rides. I'll spare you the monumental rant about getting my bike stolen and cut to the chase....

Capital Crescent Trail/Bethesda. The Capital Crescent Trail (or CCT as we serious bikers call it) is a trail from Georgetown to Silver Spring, Maryland. The CCT was built upon the abandoned railbed of the Georgetown Branch of the B&O Railroad. You'll see remnants of the railroad as you pedal under the Rock Creek Trestle, an old rickety-looking railroad bridge. The path winds near the Potomac as you make your way from Georgetown to Bethesda. I'm sure you won't be shocked to hear that I plan my bike rides around restaurants and meals. For example, when B told me we were going to ride to Bethesda, my mind filled with all of the restaurant possibilities in that far off land that some refer to as Maryland. I highly recommend riding up to Bethesda for brunch. Remember, you can burn off the calories from your french toast as you ride the 10 miles back to Georgetown.

Rock Creek Park. The Rock Creek Trail system is a group of paved bike paths and on-road bike routes that weaves its way through beautiful Rock Creek Park in the heart of DC. On the weekends, sections of Beach Drive (the main drag) are closed to vehicles, creating a biker's paradise. On previous trips through the Park we've come face to face with deer, cruised past really old cemeteries, and wandered into the zoo to visit Merlin, my favorite sloth bear.

Eastern Market. I'd ride 50 miles to Eastern Market for blueberry pancakes. Lucky for us, it's just a short ride to pancake heaven. It's not the most leisurely ride because you have to contend with city traffic and lost tourist drivers, but we like to pedal past the Capitol and Supreme Court and check out the beautiful row homes on Capitol Hill. For more on Eastern Market, make sure to read our post here.

DC has a very active bike culture, coming from cyclists and from the city government. For more information, see the Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA) or this very informative site that details some of the major paths/trails. Also check out the news and resources provided by DC here. Of particular note, I would recommend this map, which you can download here or order a free printed copy by email here. It is something that is nice to keep in your bike bag... right next to the U-lock!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Pizza Autentica

It is one of my goals to try every restaurant near our house. I haven't scientifically defined the parameters of this quest, but I consider "near" to be within 3 blocks or so. Pizza Autentica recently opened on L Street and because it fell within the zone of my silly goal, I knew we'd be making a trip there. We had to pay a visit to our dry cleaner and this place was close by, so we decided to check it out for lunch.

The most accurate description I can provide is that Pizza Autentica is basically a Sbarro's Pizza sans the mall food court location. It's order-at-the-counter pizza that is pre-baked and popped into the oven for a quick reheat once you order it. I've put away quite a few slices of Sbarro's cheese pizza in my day so the Sbarro's reference is no knock against it. I just don't want you to be disappointed if you're expecting table service or fancy pies here.

To get the full experience, we (with assistance of the recommendations from the woman behind the counter) created our own tasting menu of different things. We started with the stuffed pizza (pepperoni and sausage) and the cheese pizza. The cheese was pretty standard and not particularly memorable. Well, on second thought, I can still remember it burning the roof of my mouth... Other than that, not so special. The stuffed pizza was memorable for its soft chewy crust and the fact that it was bursting at the seams with meat and cheese. This kind of food isn't going to be listed in any diet plan but if you're having a "I need some greasy pizza" day, this slice is for you.

The next segment of our "I hope we have Tums at home" lunch was the spinach and cheese stromboli and garlic knots. We'd probably come back here just for the stromboli. It had a great garlic-spinach flavor and wasn't dripping with grease. Kind of like a Hot Pocket if Hot Pockets tasted good and weren't packed with crazy preservatives.

The garlic knots were pretty disappointing. I was hoping they'd be like the incredibly addicting garlic knots at C&O's in Venice, CA but alas, they were just bland balls of carbs. As we like to say: not worth the calories. But they were fun to look at.

Entering Pizza Autentica you'll notice the gelato case. I don't know about you, but to me, gelato is kind of a tease. It sits in its shiny glass case, in this fancy little mound, topped with oreos or fruit or candy bars and begs you to have some "just this once." Then, you greedily dig your tiny little spoon into the gelato and it shouts "I got you again! I'm really not as good as ice cream but I tricked you into buying me!" Ok, ok, maybe that's a bit dramatic, but since I've never been to Italy to sample the gelato everyone raves about, I just don't really get the hype. However, since I burned my mouth on the cheese pizza and we really wanted to give our readers the full scoop on Pizza Autentica, we decided to share a small Oreo gelato.

While still not as good as ice cream, this was pretty tasty gelato. They were generous with the oreo chunks and it had a smooth texture.

Don't drop what you're doing to run to Pizza Autentica, but if you're visiting your friendly neighborhood dry cleaner or happen to be wandering down L street, stop on in for a stromboli or stuffed pizza. Oh, and they are open from 7am to 11pm most days. In this kind of neighborhood, those hours are very ambitious. We'll see how it goes. Maybe there is a big market for breakfast strombolis? Only time will tell.

Second Thoughts from B

What's the upside to having mall-quality pizza? Answer: Food court prices! Quick and convenient (for us anyway), Pizza Autentica isn't going to win any awards but it is a more than serviceable lunchtime choice for those who work in the area. Just one block from K St., the clean and welcoming storefront (including a very nice patio) must be quite a hit on weekdays. Will it be a hit with B and J on weekends? Not likely, but at least we can check it off J's list...
Pizza Autentica on Urbanspoon