Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Verizon Center - Washington Capitals

Loyal readers will have noticed that we've had a recent string of bad luck when eating out. Fortunately (or unfortunately for those people would prefer our rants), we've also found a few pleasant surprises in unlikely places.

The Verizon Center is the home to the Wizards (NBA), Capitals (NHL), Mystics (WNBA), and countless other events. The complex features a fantastically central location that is surrounded by recent business growth that is largely due to the Verizon Center's completion 10 years ago. Sitting at the Metro's hub (at the Chinatown stop and walking distance of Metro Center), Verizon Center anchors a bustling area of downtown that drew us to the neighborhood. Within one block of the arena you can find restaurants, bars, shops, museums, a movie theatre, a bowling alley, a hotel, a playhouse, and just about anything else you can think of... While this urban revival has relegated DC's Chinatown to "Chinablock," in the end, it is a marquee win for the city.

Now that we've described the neighborhood, join us for a look inside theVerizon Center. Once inside, it is much like any other recently completed multi-use facility. There may be nothing iconic about it but if you go to an event primarily for the architecture, there is something amiss. Think of Verizon Center as a referee that is only noticed when he gets something wrong. This is to say that the arena gets out of the way and lets the experience dictate the quality of the event.

J is fortunate to work with people who have really great season tickets to the Caps. When they can't use their tickets, she is usually the first to volunteer to take them. While not a big hockey fan, she loves arenas/stadiums and sitting a few rows from the ice makes hockey come alive.

As for me, I was indoctrinated as a hockey fan 10-15 years ago in Los Angeles, which means two things. I'm a Kings fan and I must really like the sport since winning tends to not be in the cards. The Caps, on the other hand, have been Stanley Cup contenders for the last 2 years and should continue to be among the elite for a while considering their crop of young talent. Locals have taken notice, too. With the other major sport teams suffering through lean times (need I go through it?), the Verizon Center is consistently "Rocking the Red."

On this particular night, we were lucky enough to see the Caps vs. the Devils. I'll skip the game analysis but I will say that we can someday tell our kids that we saw Ovechkin vs. Brodeur in a shoot-out. And if that doesn't grab you, throw in a good ol' fashion brawl...

So that was the fighting for the night, what about the love you ask? Well, surprisingly, we loved the food (maybe not so surprising considering who we're talking about). But seriously, most arenas serve up overpriced bar food and for the most part, Verizon Center is not different. A couple of chain restaurants and generic grills offer the usual burgers, dogs, and chicken tenders. In short, grab a meal in the surrounding neighborhood before you enter. However, we recently uncovered a few hidden gems for those looking for a quick bite between periods.

J's Favorite Big League Eats

One of my favorite parts of a night out at the ballpark or arena is the food! There's something about grabbing a hotdog or soft pretzel, and eating it at a game that always makes me smile. As we explained in our Nationals Park posts (read here and here), stadium food has been called up to the majors with local restaurants opening up shop and supplementing the standard fare.

While the Verizon Center doesn't have as many interesting options, you can find some treats mixed in. We decided on the sampler platter approach and went to 3 different non-traditional stands.

First up was The BBQ Pit and Carvery, which dishes up a special hand-carved sandwich for each game. Tonight's pick was the carved BBQ beef topped with sharp cheddar cheese. Unfortunately, I got stuck on a conference call at work and arrived at the game late. By the time I got to the Carvery, I was left with the ends of the carved roast. Nevertheless, this was a tender and juicy sandwich. The bun and potato chips were kind of blah, so I recommend sticking to the meat.

B stopped by a different BBQ cart and picked up a pulled pork sandwich served with coleslaw. This didn't do much to stand out from typical pulled pork. Nothing amazing, but pretty solid for a sports arena.

As we made our way back to our seats, we saw that local Penn Quarter restaurant D'Acqua was serving up Italian fare. According to the Washington Business Journal, they opened up shop at the Verizon Center in April of this year. Though we've never been to the original D'Acqua, we thought that an Italian-style sandwich would be a nice supplement to our sampler platter. We chose the chicken parmigiana sandwich, which was much tastier than it looks in the photo. I recommend skipping the BBQ stands and heading over to D'Acqua for a little slice of Italy - arena style.

I think B is excited that I'm getting more interested in hockey. I don't know whether it's the hockey or the promise of fun food options that will keep me coming back. The energy of the Caps faithful is pretty contagious though. By the end of the game I was cheering for fights and found myself chanting "Let's .... go ..... Caps!" Still no mullet though...

Monday, October 26, 2009

Wok and Roll - addendum

Our post on Wok and Roll concluded with a brief mention of the bizzarro "fight" for the leftovers. Basically it ended with our friend offering us the leftovers bag with $20 in it (an inflated payment for his part of the meal). We refused, much to his dismay, thus "paying him to take home the leftovers." As it turns out, we've just learned that while on his way home, he gave the leftovers to a homeless man... no word on the $20 though.
Wok and Roll Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Tastings Journal

A few months ago, one of our friends tipped us off to the Tastings Journal. The Tastings Journal isn't really a journal at all but claims to be "Washington DC's Premier Prix-Fixe Dining Society." The concept is simple: a fixed price menu (usually $40 to $50) at a different D.C. restaurant every month. The menu is 4 to 5 courses and includes a glass of wine.

You sign up for their email list or Facebook group and they send you an email every month to let you know what the featured restaurant is. You can make your reservation by phone or on Open Table, but you don't get any Open Table points for these reservations.

We've tried the Tastings Journal menu at two different restaurants (Mio - review here and Odeon - review here) and weren't blown away. We might just be getting off to a slow start, so I think we'll hang in there and try it again. I like that the Tastings Journal takes care of setting the menu and finding a new restaurant every month. It's a way for us to try new places that we might not otherwise think about.

The drawback for me is the lack of two-way communication. If this is a dining "society," shouldn't there be a forum to discuss the restaurant experience? The Facebook group doesn't seem to allow wall posts (or at least I didn't see any) and there is no forum on the Tastings Journal website. I think it would be a nice addition to let people exchange ideas and thoughts on the restaurants or the DC dining scene in general. As it is, it doesn't feel much like a society at all.
To their credit, I did use the feedback form on the website and received a response very quickly. I explained that we were not impressed with Odeon, and the Tastings Journal guy (who, by the way, has the longest name ever: James Augustus Seymour Gregg Van Wynen) emailed me back and said that he was going to share our blog post with Odeon's owner. I appreciated the quick reply.

So, while I'm not sure I get the "journal" part of Tastings Journal, I look forward to seeing where it takes us next.

Second Thoughts From B

We're all about exploring new restaurants and we both love a deal, so it seems that the Tastings Journal is right up our alley. But as J mentioned, the destinations have been less than impressive. Personally, I think this is a result of short-sighted management. Any restaurant owner who signs on to a deal like this must see the immediate benefit of the inevitable influx of new business. However, it concerns me that in both of our experiences, it has been painfully obvious that we are not seeing the best that these businesses have to offer. Whether it is perplexingly odd service or sloppily prepared dishes, there has been no observable effort demonstrated to make us want to be return customers. Instead, I feel like they know we'll be paying our $45 and will cut any corners necessary to just make it through our visit.

I'm sure that whenever the arrangements are made that restaurants fall all over themselves to impress. Case in point, look at the Tasting Journal website's photos from Odeon and compare them to the ones we took. Even putting aside the studio lighting, the dishes are completely unrecognizable.

Looking past the fact that we're not getting these restaurants' best efforts, I'm still not convinced that J and I would be getting our $45 worth. Neither of us are big drinkers, and it is not uncommon for us to enjoy fine dining without wine (they are rather short pours too...). Also, we seldom both get an appetizer and both get a dessert, preferring instead to share one of each.

Basically, the Tastings Journal looks great for us on paper but it has yet to fulfill its potential. I'm cheering for it to come through on our next experience but as our esteemed former President once said,
"There's an old saying in Tennessee — I know it's in Texas, probably in Tennessee — that says, fool me once, shame on — shame on you. Fool me — you can't get fooled again."

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Wok and Roll

I don't know if Wok and Roll's food tasted better going down or coming back up. Seriously. To be fair, since this wasn't the only thing I ate all day, it might not have been the cause of my stomach misery, but I'm going to go out on a limb and assume that it was.

Wok and Roll is located on ChinaBlock in a building most famous for being the boarding house where John Wilkes Booth and company stayed while conspiring to kill Abraham Lincoln. Now, it's a combo Chinese-Japanese restaurant that conspired to kill my intestines.

We started our adventure with steamed dumplings which looked promising enough until we took a bite.

Inside it was about 90% dough and 10% filling. If you're wondering if your eyes are deceiving you, they aren't. That really is corn inside the dumpling. For those who like boring American veggies in their Chinese dumplings, there were peas too!

Next up was the Szechuan Chicken which promised to be spicy but lacked any real kick.

We also tried the Chicken Chow Foon which had pleasantly thick and hearty noodles but was missing flavor.

Sorry Wok and Roll, I don't think I could return after the rough "wok" home I had. For those of you with a cast-iron stomach who are looking for cheap eats late at night in a historic building, good luck, but don't say I didn't warn you.

Second Thoughts From B

Paired with our recent trip to Odeon Cafe, which you can read about here, this was a less than stellar culinary weekend. Thankfully, J salvaged it by cooking the tried-and-true childhood favorite, chicken broccoli casserole, for Sunday night's dinner. But back to Wok and Roll...

So I'm the one with the cast-iron stomach but even putting aside J's time praying to the white porcelain god, I still wouldn't advocate for a return trip. You might be thinking that this is just my Chinese food snob coming out again, but it isn't. Truth be told, I do enjoy Americanized Chinese food. As long as no one is trying to say that the Orange Chicken at Panda Express is authentic, I'm cool with it. I've even come to accept that Chinablock serves Americanized Chinese food no matter what language the street signs are written in. However, Wok and Roll is just not very good food. Take your pick, Americanized Chinese or authentic Chinese... either way, it was bland, uninteresting, and just plain bad. Our friend who guided us to Wok and Roll summed up the experience thusly, "This was much better when I was drunk." We summed it up by paying him to take home the leftovers.
Wok and Roll Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


We found ourselves at Odeon on Friday evening thanks to the Tastings Journal $45 Five Course Menu. The online menu looked really promising and the addition of a prosecco toast and glass of wine made it too good to pass up. Well... at least the great company and fun conversation took the focus off of the food and service.

Our party of 6 was seated in the upstairs dining room at a table crammed next to another large party. The table placement combined with our waiter's impossibly soft voice made ordering a challenge. The waiter insisted on bringing us all red wine though two of us repeatedly asked for white. After hiding our glasses to prevent him from pouring us the red, he relented and brought us white.

There were two choices for each of the starter courses, so B and I teamed up to order one of each. Sorry for the poor picture quality, the lighting was very low. On second thought, I don't think even the brightest light could make this food shine.

B started with the Goat Cheese Arugula Salad (arugula topped with goat cheese in balsamic homemade vinaigrette). Nothing much to say here: it was a pile of arugula with some goat cheese and balsamic.

My salad was Apple Mesclun (mesclun mix, tossed with homemade honey mustard dressing, walnuts, and sliced apples). The mesclun greens were wilted and soggy, and couldn't hold up against the crisp apples and crunchy walnuts.

Next up for B was the Funghi E Granchi (mushroom caps stuffed with crabmeat in a garlic butter sauce) which B described as an average wedding appetizer. He also added: "It wasn't a chore to finish them." Moving on . . .

Spinach Calamari Saltati (fresh calamari sautéed with spinach, garlic, fresh lemon, and virgin olive oil). Saltati must mean rubberbands in Italian. Most of the calamari were laughably tough and the sauce did nothing to soften them up or add any flavor to the rubber.

The Tastings Journal menu bills the lobster bisque as "one of my favorites, an amazing bisque!" Wow, we must have been eating completely different soups. It had this weird sweet and sour taste, and wasn't particularly warm.

B had the Cream of Broccoli Soup which tasted pretty much like Campbell's. Definitely not bad, but nothing exciting.

For his main course, B had the Lamb Shank (braised lamb shank, fresh veggies, and red wine reduction with rosemary roasted potatoes). This was the highlight of B's meal, but he loves lamb so much that this isn't much of a surprise.

I ordered the Lobster Ravioli (ravioli stuffed with lobster meat in homemade lobster cream sauce). Check out that picture, does that look tasty to you? The sauce was as gloppy as it looks in the photo and there was no discernible lobster meat in the ravioli. It was some sort of fishy seafood concoction that was a far cry from chunks of lobster meat. It was definitely edible, just not $45 per person food. Trader Joe's lobster ravioli blows Odeon's out of the water.

My dessert erased the memory of the lobster glop and left a sweet taste in my mouth. The tiramisu featured spongy ladyfingers and a nice, light cocoa/espresso flavor.

B had the chocolate souffle with toasted almonds and vanilla ice cream. He gobbled it up before I could steal a bite so he'll have to tell you about it.

The piece de resistance was the check. They kindly divided it between 3 credit cards but charged us each $118. Curiously, the "total" line said "pre-tip total." I am terrible at math but I know that $45 multiplied by two (plus tax) is not $118. Since our waiter had one again disappeared, we had to hunt him down to ask about the bill. They added in 18% gratuity since we were a party of 6. I have no problem with restaurants adding in gratuity for large parties but they shouldn't do so without a warning, and the "pre-tip total" line is pretty deceiving. Luckily, we realized what was up and avoided tipping our sub-par waiter more than 18%.

Second Thoughts From B

I arrived about 20 minutes early after a very long day at work. While waiting for everyone to arrive, I escaped the rain by warming up in the nearby Starbucks and spent the time reading up on Odeon on Yelp. J often does a little homework on restaurants that we're about to visit so we know what dishes we should pay particular attention to while ordering, but this time I was the one on the Blackberry. I found myself reading one particular disgruntled post by someone who also "took advantage" (this may need to be rephrased) of the Tastings Journal offer at Odeon. The bottom line is that our experience does not appear to have been an aberration.

Most of the meal could be judged on a scale of 1 to "not a chore to finish my plate." It was kind of sad actually. Even those things that were somewhat pleasant were quite ordinary. Every flavor was one-dimensional (flat, uninteresting) and unrefined (glopped on the plate as if quantity of sauce would make up for the lack of quality). Basically, it all landed somewhere between average wedding food and work cafeteria food despite the menu descriptions being littered with words like homemade and fresh. Does any of this make sense when I talk about "flat" flavors? It is like the difference between fresh squeezed orange juice and the stuff from concentrate.

Let me sum up - MasterCard commercial style.
1 glass of champagne: free.
5 course meal: $45 + a misleading 18% tip.
1 glass of wine: free.
A meal that was as lousy as the weather: Completely forgettable.
Odeon Cafe on Urbanspoon

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Dangerously Delicious Pies

D.C.'s dessert scene is about to get dangerous. The Baltimore institution Dangerously Delicious Pies is opening up shop on H Street, NE in November. We recently stopped by their Baltimore location and offer a preview of coming attractions.

We first learned of this rock n' roll pie shop in an Express article on Baltimore desserts (see our post here). It's located in the trendy Federal Hill neighborhood near the baseball and football stadiums, and the Inner Harbor. They offer whole pies (call ahead to place your order) and pie by the slice. If sweet pie isn't your thing, you can buy mini savory pies in flavors such as steak, mushroom, onion, and gruyere pie or mushroom and swiss quiche.

There's no chance I'll pick a savory pie with so many tantalizing sweet pies on the menu. They have a rotating selection of flavors available, but the Express article pointed us to the Baltimore Bomb. It's a combo of a traditional Southern chess pie (we'd love to tell you what that is but we're not exactly Southerners) and Berger cookies (a local Baltimore treat). We also tried the White Trash Creme Brulee (a cinnamon custard pie).

The Baltimore Bomb was bombtastic. The chocolatey cookies melted into the vanilla custard of the pie and made for a unique texture sensation. The White Trash Creme Brulee was more memorable for the name than for the pie. It was a pretty standard custard pie with cinnamon sprinkled on top. Might be good if you're eating it in a trailer park, but when you are paying $6 a slice (!) it didn't cut it.

While I don't think the pies are Dangerously Delicious enough to make a trek to Baltimore, it is definitely worth a visit once they open up shop in D.C.

Second Thoughts from B

When we first spoke of our love of pie (see our post here), I broke down the great cake vs. pie debate through a basketball analogy. At the risk of going to the well one too many times, I'd have to say that our experience at Dangerously Delicious Pies is akin to a 2009 Pistons fan's view of Allen Iverson. Great name, kind of little, and overpriced (the analogy even works with the tattoo vibe in the store). Would you enjoy watching him on your team? Yes. Would you enjoy watching him on your team if you knew he was being paid almost $21 million - more than 4 and a half times what Chris Paul makes? Not as much. On a side note, AI in his prime was one of the all-time greats and one hell of a competitor but he's not worth $21 million - consider he was just signed for $3.1 million...

The point is that Dangerously Delicious Pie is good pie - maybe even delicious pie - but for $6, it better be great pie, or at least a huge piece of pie. In my opinion, it was neither. In comparison, the heavenly Goober pie (chocolate and peanut butter) at the Afterwords Cafe is twice as big, twice as good, and about the same price ($7.43) with table service. Unfortunately, the only thing in danger at Dangerously Delicious Pies is your wallet.
Dangerously Delicious Pies on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

On the Road Again...

As I sit at home on Columbus Day recovering from another red-eye flight from the West Coast, I can't help but reflect on America's favorite lost explorer. While J and I seem to rack up enough miles to make any gold and fame-seeking sailor proud, we've come to depend on a little more than a sextant and the stars. I'm not talking about the GPS unit in our car. Rather, I'm talking about the newspapers, magazines, and TV shows that help us locate the hidden gems along the way.

Now that we've been writing about our adventures - culinary and otherwise - for 8 months, it has become routine to take pictures of our food. (Documenting what we do isn't so out of the ordinary, but doing so at fine restaurants took some getting used to). Traveling outside of DC presents short reprieves from our photographic duties (afterall, the blog is not called Two World), but that doesn't mean that we stop seeking out interesting, diverse, and quality meals and activities unique to our location.

The question remains, "Where to begin?" Surely, each town has far more than a day or two worth of gems. This not only makes it hard to choose, but it also increases the pressure to choose wisely, for fear of missing something. In the last few months, weddings and the need to get away, have taken us to cities like Portland, Philadelphia, and Baltimore. Here's how we chose where to go and what to do:

The Express. I can't stress this enough: this newspaper is the perfect length (30 minutes to read it cover to cover) and the perfect price (free). It's available at Metro stops every weekday and is comprehensive. Sure, it is a little lacking in detail, but that's not the point. It is there to give an overview that allows the reader to pick and choose what they want to further investigate. For us, we are often exploring the restaurants and random cool things featured in the local sections. No matter if it is by land, sea, or air, you'll find it in The Express.

Not long ago, The Express ran its (annual?) Baltimore feature that detailed cool neighborhoods and sweet desserts. Want a little cardio with your history and your pie? We did. Try walking throughout the Mount Vernon and Federal Hill neighborhoods, climbing the original Washington Monument, and finishing it off with a trip to Dangerously Delicious Pies, which are so good they deserve their own post.

Magazines. Another way we've stumbled across delicious treasures is through Bon Appetit magazine. You don't have to be a culinary master to enjoy this rag... you just need to enjoy food (and its no secret that we do!).

We've talked about several of DC's food carts (see here and here), but Portland is king. Whereas some cities have a few diamonds amid the rough (read: hot dog carts on every corner throughout downtown), Portland features unique, diverse, cheap, and colorful carts that fill entire city blocks. J and I were able to have a memorably delicious breakfast burrito at La Jarochita
La Jarochita on Urbanspoon
and an equally mind-blowing Czech sandwich at Tabor just paces away from each other. This is not to mention the 20+ other options we had to pass up...
Tábor on Urbanspoon

TV. J here to report on my favorite way to find new restaurants in different cities: TV shows! We're big fans of Adam Richman and his "Man v. Food" show on the Travel Channel. In each episode he travels to a new city and competes in some sort of extreme food challenge. While we're not extreme eaters, we like that he highlights two or three other local restaurants on each show with great enthusiasm. Recently we found ourselves in Philadelphia following Adam's footprints through the City of Brotherly Love.

A stop at the historic Reading Terminal Market was a feast for the tummy and the eyes. Everywhere you looked there were vendors selling all sorts of tasty treats. We took Adam's advice and stopped in for a sandwich at Tommy DiNic's . They are famous for their roast pork sandwich topped with garlic broccoli rabe. While perhaps not the best sandwich on the planet, the broccoli rabe made this one of the most unique. Also, the stools at the counter in the heart of the bustling market are fantastic for people watching.
DiNic's Roast Pork and Beef on Urbanspoon

After polishing off the massive sandwich, we indulged in the best soft pretzel ever (this is no small feat since I am a soft pretzel connoisseur) at Miller's Twist. Total. Food. Bliss.

Man v. Food also led us to the quirkiest doughnut shop ever: Voodoo Doughnut in Portland, Oregon . If you'd like a side of goth culture with your voodoo doll doughnut, this place is for you. They even do weddings so grab your black wedding gown and go!
Voodoo Doughnut on Urbanspoon

Just down I-95 in Baltimore, we were treated to more culinary delights thanks to two TV shows. The Food Network's "The Best Thing I Ever Ate" and "Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives" both pointed us in the direction of Chaps Pit Beef in a gritty industrial section of Baltimore (by gritty I mean flanked by a strip club on one side and across the street from a porn shop). Baltimore resident and cake master Duff Goldman and lord of the greasy spoon Guy Fieri recommended this monument to meat so we figured we couldn't go wrong. I kept it simple and ordered the ribs (a great deal at $7.50 for a pound) with a side of mac n' cheese. B followed the wisdom of the food sages and ordered Guy's Triple D sub sandwich piled high with beef, corned beef, and sausage. This thing would make a vegetarian run screaming in the other direction, but if you're a dedicated carnivore, this is your sandwich.
Chaps Pit Beef on Urbanspoon

Internet. It may seem obvious nowadays but don't overlook the power of the internet to guide you when you're out of town. We googled our way to a really unique tourist destination in Philadelphia that I never would have known about without Trip Advisor and Yelp. The Eastern State Penitentiary may sound like an odd choice for a tour, but that's exactly why we loved it. It was unique, fascinating, and a photographer's dream come true. The natural light spilling through the cracks in this 180-year-old (now shuttered) prison makes for fantastic photos. Grab your audio tour headset and get lost in the history.

I Spy. With all this said, keep your eyes open and your plans flexible because you never know when you'll stumble across a person or a sign that might point you in the right direction. In our most recent case, this came in the form of a printed-out review of Bassetts Ice Cream that was posted near the bathroom in Philadelphia's Reading Terminal Market. As J described, we were stuffed, but after reading the review that claimed it was some of the best ice cream ever - and dated to the beginning of the Civil War (1861) - we found room. (J claims she has a stomach just for ice cream). Call it addiction, call it tasting history, call it whatever you want: Gadzooks Blanc ice cream is heavenly.
Bassett's Ice Cream on Urbanspoon

Where will we go next? We'd love to hear your suggestions for our next road trip!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Saying Goodbye to a D.C. Legend

It is with great sadness that we recently learned that Ben Ali, the founder of the D.C. institution, Ben's Chili Bowl, passed away last night at the age of 82. Ben and his wife Virginia opened the restaurant in 1958, and it has thrived in its present U Street location against great odds. While businesses around it crumbled, Ben's stayed open through riots in 1968 and the extension of Metro's Green line in the early 1990's.

Ben's has a special place in our hearts as one of the first "authentic D.C." restaurants we ate at. We'll never forget standing in line at Ben's on the eve of President Obama's inauguration. Despite frigid temperatures, people waited in the long line for Ben's half smokes and fries. The energy and pure joy of the crowd left a lasting impression on us, and Ben's has become a favorite stop on the DC tour for our out-of-town guests.

Ben, may your legacy live on for generations to come.

Second Thoughts from B

Washington, D.C. is a wonderful and dynamic city. Its pulse is strengthened by the constant stream of those who come here overflowing with energy and optimism to change the world. While this transient nature adds tremendous diversity and cultural richness to our day-to-day lives, it also leaves us without a consistent core. In a city that often completely changes direction every 2, 4, and 6 years, Ben Ali and his Chili Bowl was the one constant. The greasy spoon on U St. has been this community's anchor through both historic highs and lows.

On the eve of one of those changes in direction (the aforementioned inauguration), J and I were hosting a friend from out of town and wondering where to take him. There was only one option: Ben's. Where else would we go but U Street, and where else could anyone get a true "taste of the city" but at Ben's Chili Bowl? This is Ben Ali's legacy. He not only added to his community, he has come to define it.

On behalf of a grateful couple of transplants from the West Coast, on behalf of a half-century of full stomachs, on behalf of a city that was able to find its soul through soul food, "Thank you, Ben." Today, we raise our half smokes to you. Rest in peace.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009


Crepeaway isn't going to win the award for Best Restaurant Name, but we would suggest you ignore the name and the Lakers color scheme, and focus on the crepes. Like Pizza Autentica, this little restaurant is located on L Street in Downtown and has crazy hours. Who comes to eat crepes in the middle of the concrete jungle at 4am? Must be some nearby bars open that late.

We stopped in around 10:30pm on a Friday night and surveyed the menu. The first decision is whether you want savory or sweet, or both. They have combo meals which give you two crepes and a drink for around $10. Because we came for dessert, we tried to order two sweet crepes, and the cashier (and crepe artist) kindly told us that it would be cheaper to go for the combo. Thanks!

Unlike Crepes-A-Go-Go (read post here), Crepeaway has a limited variety of fillings, but scores points for some interesting ones such as crushed vanilla cookies and marshmallows. I ordered the Celine, which I can only hope is named after the owner's daughter and not Ms. Dion. Whatever the name, it was a tasty crepe. It was a huge crepe packed full of nutella, marshmallows, and strawberries. Once folded up, the heat of the crepe caused the marshmallows to melt into an ooey, gooey, messy delight.

B ordered the Cameron, which was made up of nutella and crushed vanilla cookies. Our crepes were on the doughier side, and I really like that texture. If you like your crepes really well-done and crispy, Crepeaway might not be for you (although perhaps you could make such a request).

While probably not traditional French food (lots of the savory options have hot sauce in them), Crepeaway is a convenient and yummy way to satisfy your crepe cravings at any hour of the day or night. They also deliver on Sunday through Friday evenings. Even lukewarm crepes would beat the heck out of greasy Domino's pizza.

Second Thoughts from B

I went to grad school with several people from France, one of which had semi-regular "crepe parties." She would prepare the batter and guests were invited to bring a topping or two of their choice. What resulted was a rather considerable spread of ingredients for savory or sweet crepes... and a bunch of unskilled cooks trying to flip their first crepe, which often ended up on the floor or ceiling. Needless to say, I've got a lot of fond memories associated with crepes, whether from those parties, ones J and I have hosted, or even from my wanderings through Paris.

Why crepes are seen as so much more sophisticated or refined than a taco, an empanada, or a stack of pancakes is beyond me. Once you've made them - much less hosted a party and taught others how to make them - crepes are far from exclusive cuisine. Since those same experiences that fostered our love have also revealed whatever magic is hidden behind the proverbial green curtain, we've become tough critics of store bought crepes (although if you put enough Nutella on anything, J's toughness melts away).

So how did Crepeaway fare? No bad. Most notable was the crushed vanilla cookie which was surprisingly good. Initially I thought it might be a throw away topping that got lost in the Nutella, but I was thrilled that it added a wonderfully sweet and complimentary flavor. I've previously written about how I love vanilla, so Crepeaway gets points there. They also get bonus points for having an ingredient that I've never seen at any number of crepe parties that I've attended or hosted. However, as J said, the limited number of available ingredients (unlike Crepes-a-Go-Go) would not make for very many unique trips and the bottom line is that paying $4-5 per crepe isn't particularly palatable when most, if not all, of the ingredients are found in your kitchen. However, if I worked in the area and this was a prospective lunch spot rather than just a dinner spot, I bet I'd change my story...
Crepeaway on Urbanspoon

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Thai Chili

I was working late and B was still on the mend from the flu so I needed to grab takeout from somewhere located between my office and our house. Lucky for us, I work in Penn Quarter and have lots of fun options. B was craving thai noodles, so I stopped into Thai Chili in Gallery Place and was home in 15 minutes. We had ordered delivery (free for orders over $15!) from the restaurant before and were satisfied, so I figured it would be a safe bet. I've heard great things about Kanlaya, but it was another block further and I just wanted to get home quickly.

To fill B's noodle request, I decided to go with the classic pad thai with chicken and the spicy drunken noodles with shrimp. I think that most pad thai dishes taste about the same, so I wasn't expecting to be blown away with this one. It wasn't fantastic but was the warm, comforting goodness we were craving. I like that they don't put cilantro in their pad thai because there's nothing worse than having one piece of stinky cilantro messing up your whole noodle dish (at least that's my personal opinion). Also, the portions were huge! We both stuffed ourselves silly with noodles and still had two full lunches to take to work the next day. It's a good thing the portions are generous because the prices aren't dirt cheap. The pad thai with chicken is $11, while the drunken noodles with shrimp are $12.

Thai Chili has those cute little chili peppers on the menu to denote when something is mild, spicy, or "fire." Don't mess around with anything labeled "fire!" We got the "spicy" drunken noodles and were running back and forth from the fridge water dispenser to the table. Holy noodles, that was spicy! The great thing about it was that though it was mouth-on-fire spicy, somehow the spice didn't overwhelm the other flavors. You could still taste the fresh veggies and garlic sauce. If you're spice-sensitive I would definitely recommend asking for the mild version or having a tall glass of milk handy.

Second Thoughts From B

I don't think anyone who knows us would say J or I are the most adventurous, most out-of-the-box types. We certainly like to explore and try new things more than most people, but we also are comfortable in our rather conventional lives. However, as this blog attests, we do push each other outside our boundaries which is no more evident than with food.

I'm proud that J now enjoys many things that I love to eat but were not a regular part of her childhood diet. On the other hand, dinners are much more interesting for me now that I've taken a liking to some of her favorites. It is all just another reason we make a great pair.

Craving thai food is certainly one of those things that I got from J. As I understand it, Mr. Noodle was a favorite of hers in college (its food is much better than its website). Growing up, I was exposed to many different kinds of cuisine, but those known for their spices were generally avoided in light of my father's sensitive stomach. When J entered my life, so too did thai food.

Flash forward 6 years and I'm craving thai noodles. Thankfully (or should I say "bless her heart" now that we technically live in the South), J shows up with what seems like 20 pounds of said noodles. Aside from the volume, the pad thai was ok - a little on the bland side for me - but the drunken noodles were anything but bland. However, the best part of all of it was, it made me feel whole for the first time in two days. Maybe this is my new version of saltines, chicken noodle soup, and The Price is Right as a stay-at-home remedy for the flu!

Thai Chili on Urbanspoon

Thursday, October 1, 2009

In Sickness and in Health

With flu season kicking into high gear (and with B home on the couch), we thought it might be helpful to share our experience with health care in the District. When we moved from LA to DC two years ago, I got sick almost every month. It was a scary thing being in a new city and not knowing where to go to get medical help when I needed it. Sure, I know how to go on my insurance company's website and find a local provider but that didn't help me much when the average wait time for an appointment was 2 months. When I inconveniently came down with bronchitis on Christmas eve or tonsillitis at midnight, I needed some alternatives:

Arlington Urgent Care

It goes without saying that if you're really ill, don't mess around and head straight to the ER. DC has lots of hospitals within easy access. When you're not "ER sick" but still need to see someone, urgent care is the answer. Try googling "urgent care Washington, DC" and see if you can find a 24-hour option in the District. When I couldn't, I turned to Arlington Urgent Care.

It's not the fanciest place but they are open 'round the clock and I haven't waited longer than 20 minutes to see a doctor. They can write you that prescription that will get you through the night and will refer you to a specialist if needed. They also take many kinds of insurance so it shouldn't cost you an arm and a leg to get help.

Farragut Medical and Travel Care

If your illness is of the 10am to 5:00pm (Monday -Friday) variety, Farragut Medical and Travel Care is a great downtown DC option that is Metro accessible. I got a flu shot there and was in and out in 10 minutes. They also offer the Gardasil vaccine if you haven't gotten it yet (note that this is a 3 shot series so you'll have to make return trips). If you're headed on an exotic vacation and need vaccines, you can easily head here during your lunch break.

Northwest Nurse Practitioner Associates

When it came time for my yearly checkup and I couldn't get an appointment with a primary care physician, I found NNPA and was able to get an appointment within days. It is located on Connecticut Avenue directly across from the National Zoo and their early morning appointments are great for those with busy work schedules. I saw Erin Bagshaw several times and was incredibly impressed by her warm bedside manner and thoroughness. They also offer travel vaccines and are a "certified Yellow Fever center" if that's important to you. The drawback? They don't take insurance so you're left paying the full amount and trying to get reimbursed by your carrier. While it's a terrific option for last-minute appointments, it can get pricey to use for your regular medical care.

Here's to hoping you never have to visit any of these places. I'm going to go wash my hands and take some Emergen-C now...

Second Thoughts from B

Irony (n): a blog post entitled "in sickness and in health" written when B is the one sprawled out on the bed, while moaning and thankful if he can keep down a small sip of water and a Saltine cracker.

I guess this is karma's way of telling me I should stop teasing J and calling her a "sickly kid." In all seriousness, its been years since I've been sick and I'm much more accustomed to being the doctor than the patient. But while doing my best impression of a quarantined and emaciated Howard Hughes (to be clear I have the flu and not the crazy bug, even if the imagery is similar), it struck me how much a change of coasts can really change your life. It isn't surprising that a move like that involves major life changes but sometimes the smaller, less dramatic changes are equally challenging.

When you leave for college (or even more so, when you stay close), frequent trips home and campus facilities can suffice for medical/dental/eye exams. But when you move to a new city and lack the network of family and friends that can point you in the right direction, sometimes trial and error is the best you can do. Take for example our experience with the DC Dental Spa. Sure, we should have known just by the name but because it was close, had convenient hours, and took our insurance, we gave it a try. In the 3 times I've been, I would estimate that I spend 45-60 minutes in the waiting room (keep in mind I have an appointment) and about 15-20 minutes in the chair. Somehow all the Reba reruns in the waiting room don't make this a good use of my time. Compare that to my dentist back home that had been cleaning my teeth since birth and took personal pride in them. Let's just say this isn't the type of experience I'm accustomed to...

So I'd love to end this post with some sage wisdom and expert referrals but the fact of the matter is, we're still looking (and accepting recommendations). The one thing I will say is to start your search early because you don't want to be hunting while you're hurting. Oh, and another piece of advice. Don't get the flu. It sucks for you and for the people around you... and results in health care-related blog posts instead of a review of the U2 concert that we had to skip because I got sick.