Tuesday, November 30, 2010


On days when I work late, I want dinner to magically appear on the table. Since I don't have a full-time magic dinner genie (B not included), the next best thing is picking up takeout on my walk home from work. Dangerously, there is a Five Guys located on the path home, and some days it takes a lot of willpower to pass up burgers and cajun fries. Recently, Five Guys got a new neighbor when zpizza moved into the old Blimpie's spot at 8th and H NW.

zpizza is a chain founded in Laguna Beach, CA (not far from where I was raised) and claims to be "inspired by California and a healthy way of life." Sounded perfect to me. They use 100% organic wheat flour in the dough and top the pizzas with skim cheese. In the true California spirit, vegan options are also available.

After a particularly long day at work, I called zpizza to order takeout. About 20 minutes later I arrived at the store. The atmosphere was a bit chaotic as the brand new staff was still finding its way around. However, I was served with a smile and updated regularly on the status of my order.

To get a sense of the menu's range, we ordered a rustica pizza. In contrast to the traditional round pizza, the rusticas are served on a free-form crust that is a bit thicker than the standard zpizza pie. More like a flatbread than a pizza. This one was topped with mozzarella, gorgonzola, pear, and fresh thyme. The liberal use of gorgonzola overpowered the delicate pears but all-in-all, this was a tasty pizza.

To test out the standard pizza offerings, we ordered a large half-cheese, half-mushroom and pineapple pizza. I don't think this pizza will win any awards, but the convenience factor makes it likely that we'll order again. The crust is a little too thin for me to fall in love, but it was a definite step up from standard pizza chain delivery fare.

If you're in the neighborhood for lunch and don't want to face the wait for a table at Matchbox, zpizza (located across the street) offers pizza by the slice and sandwiches. If convenience and not fine dining is what you're after, zpizza fits the bill.

Second Thoughts from B

OK, I admit it, for a second there I forgot what we got from zpizza. A lot of that has to do with the fact that this post has been waiting to be posted for quite some time. However, once J mentioned the rusticas, my eyes opened wide and I let out the obligatory "oh yeah!" with a wide smile. It isn't as if the pear/gorgonzola combo is revolutionary but having it as a to-go option on J's walk home should raise our property value a touch.

For those of you not lucky enough to be our neighbors, keep zpizza in mind the next time you're in the Chinatown area and in need of a quick bite. After all, fast food - like real estate - is all about location, location, location and in the case of zpizza, they couldn't have done much better in our book.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Punkin Chunkin

Sometimes there are just no words to adequately describe the stranger things in life. Perhaps that is why an event built around chucking pumpkins is called the Punkin Chunkin. There are just no words...

For 25 years, people from across the country have built remarkably sophisticated devices to heave autumnal gourds a mile through the air. Why? Because they can.

And it has become quite an event... So much so that a couple of weeks ago J and I drove to a remote cornfield in Delaware to take it all in. You, on the other hand, can enjoy the festivities while you're digesting your turkey from the comfort of your couch at 8pm, Thanksgiving night, on the Science Channel.

There were cannons and catapults and trebuchets and giant crossbows and who-knows-whats. It was like Sylvester McMonkey McBean had rolled into town and sold a whole town of Sneetches his latest inventions. But instead of green star-coveting characters from Dr. Seuss' imagination, you had a lot of guys that looked like this:

Who were being watched by a lot more people who were dressed like this:

As we approached through the mud and the masses of punkin-lovin folk, we'd hear play by play and the occasional blast, the first of which almost brought J to her knees. This would be followed by a frantic search of the skies for a thick-walled, white punkin that rapidly disappeared out of sight. Inevitably a distance of around 3000 feet (10 football fields) would be announced and the next contraption was on the clock.

Each one was built for distance; both punkin chunkin distance and transportation. Many of these devices had come thousands of miles to participate. That would explain the next time you're driving down the highway next to a school bus with a cannon growing out of the back...

Does anyone remember Northern Exposure? I remember sharing a couple of laughs with my dad but I don't remember anything about the show itself. With one exception. For some reason the gang from Alaska wanted to launch a cow (I think the cow was saved and substituted with a piano). I have no idea why I remember a piano being heaved through the air by some crazy contraption but I do remember laughing hysterically.

I think that's how I'll remember the Punkin Chunkin. 15 years from now I won't remember anything other than a good time we had as we giggled at the sight of chunkin punkins... and I still won't have any words to describe it.

J Says

Like B, I have no words to describe Punkin Chunkin. However, I'm never at a loss for words when it comes to food. Behold the majesty of the pumpkin funnel cake!

Since we were standing in a freezing corn field for hours, we decided to take breaks to stroll through the food stalls and sample different items. While the funnel cake was my favorite, B loved his crabcake sandwich.

The buttery ear of roasted corn with spicy salt warmed our cold bones.

And the pulled pork sandwich from the BBQ truck didn't disappoint.

I love quirky events and people watching so Punkin Chunkin was my idea of a great time. Only 346 days until the next chunk! Plenty of time for me to practice my Miss Punkin Chunkin wave and the Punkin Chunkin Anthem!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Crumbs Bake Shop

Just what DC needed... another cupcake shop! Crumbs Bake Shop is a New York import that opened its first DC location last Saturday on 11th and F, NW. Since we live in the neighborhood (and J can't turn down cupcakes), we decided to stroll down for a cupcake breakfast on their second day of operation.

What impressed me most was the sheer variety of cupcake offerings. They feature over 50 flavors of cupcakes ranging from the standard vanilla cake with vanilla frosting to the quirky cosmo or peanut butter and jelly.

Another unique thing about Crumbs is the ability to order the cupcakes in different sizes. The adorable one-inch Taste size can be ordered in packs of 12 and would make a perfect party treat. The Classic is your standard supermarket cupcake size while the Signature is better for sharing. If you've always dreamed of eating a cupcake the size of your head, Crumbs offers the Colossal which feeds 6 to 8 people. At that point, I think we've moved solidly into cake territory, but it still has the cute look of a cupcake.

We ordered three Signature size cupcakes to share. My choice was the Cookie Dough. B chose the Raspberry Swirl. For the third, the cashier said that the Good Guy was like "Funfetti gone crazy." There are few things on this planet that I love more than Funfetti, so the choice was easy.

To make for a perfect morning that matched one love with another, we walked home to eat cupcakes and watch Beverly Hills, 90210 reruns on Soapnet. I have to say that while the cupcakes were pretty good, the most memorable part of the experience was watching the West Bev clan tackle race relations (in awesomely terrible outfits) when Vivica A. Fox and family (also in terrible outfits) moved from Inglewood to the Walsh hood. I don't know whether this shows that the cupcakes weren't mind blowing or that this episode was truly a masterpiece. Probably a bit of both.

The cupcakes were fun to try but they haven't torn me away from my sworn devotion to Baked and Wired. The fun cookie dough and Funfetti flavors on top weren't carried through to the cake. For example, the cookie dough cupcake had a nice shot of chocolate ganache in the middle but no cookie flavor to be found once you worked your way past the frosting. I don't know if cookie dough chunks would be possible in a cupcake, but that's what I was hoping for. Overall, it was a bit too much party on top and a bit too little substance underneath. Sort of like Steve Sanders and his curly-topped mullet... Anyway, the wacky flavors and unique sizes will probably draw me back when I'm looking for a last minute item to bring to a party.

If you want to check it out for yourself, Crumbs will be giving away 1,000 free cupcakes on Friday, November 19th!

Second Thoughts from B

I'm no cupcake expert (even though I play one on the interwebs - see our Great Cupcake Taste Test of 2009), but I will say that Crumbs stands out above the masses. Look, every single bake shop, coffee house, ice cream parlor, pet food supplier, fast food joint, car wash, hardware store, dive bar, sushi house, and hair stylist is selling cupcakes these days. OK, I may have made a few of those up, but the point is that there are a lot of options out there.

So how can you possibly differentiate yourself (other than a reality show that is as over-hyped as your product)? I'd like to say that I can detect the subtle difference between a good cupcake and a great one, but the fact of the matter is that they usually fall into one of two categories: eyes-rolling-to-the-back-of-my-head great or "not worth the calories" (read: still good but I'd rather have something else).

J mentioned the variety at Crumbs. Unlike other cupcake makers, any flavor or size combination can be met. Smart move. I'd much rather get a cupcake in my favorite flavor from my second favorite bakery than a flavor I don't like as much from the best bakery in town.

And then we get to value. Putting aside any comparisons to the $1.99 versions at Giant (or those cupcake making hardware stores), these were noticeably larger but not noticeably more expensive than the competition.

So what's the bottom line? We still love Baked and Wired in Georgetown and Hello Cupcake in Dupont, but when there are 47 untasted varieties of pure caloric joy just a couple blocks from our house and next to our favorite Metro station (Metro Center), I think we might have a new favorite destination.
Crumbs Bake Shop on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


Will hot dogs join cupcakes, frozen yogurt, hamburgers, and pork belly in the long line of recent culinary trends? The team behind Matchbox and Ted's Bulletin hopes so. Their brand new venture, DC-3, seeks to raise the level of the hot dog above the dirty water variety that you'll find at the carts on most street corners.

DC-3, located on 8th Street SE/Barracks Row, is named after the Douglas DC-3 airplane of the 1930s and 40s. The interior carries the vintage airplane feel through to every detail. From rivets on the tables to menus shaped like plane tickets, they didn't miss a thing.

DC-3 features over a dozen specialty hot dogs reflecting different regions of the U.S. The photo menu on the wall helped us narrow down our selections. It is a fairly tiny order-at-the-counter operation and the lunch time atmosphere was a bit crazed, but the staff did an admirable job of churning out orders accurately (especially for a brand newly opened restaurant).

We agreed to choose 3 specialty dogs to share and it wasn't easy narrowing things down. In a last minute selection, B chose the Seattle Pike Place Ultimate Fish-Dog. I don't know about you, but the name "fish-dog" does not make me hungry. However, I'm glad I ignored the name and just dove in. This was a hefty piece of deep fried cod (not a hot dog) on a (local!) Heidelberg Bakery deli bun, topped with coleslaw and malt vinegar. More reminiscent of fish and chips than a hot dog, this was a unique but very tasty treat. We also got a side of "frips" which are a half-fry, half-chip DC-3 creation. I'm glad we tried this waffle-fry like invention but I'll probably stick to regular fries on my next visit. I looked longingly at the fried pickles but my wonderful husband doesn't like getting within 10 feet of pickles.

B also ordered the Bay Bridge Pretzel Dog (left) that pays homage to our local beach region. It sports an all-beef hot dog topped with homemade crab dip and Old Bay served on a Heidelberg pretzel roll. Another unique combination that worked surprisingly well. When we first saw the dark color of the pretzel rolls we were worried they'd be too hard but they were pleasantly soft and chewy.

I chose the Ahtie's Philly Cheesesteak-Style Whiz Wit (Certified Angus Beef Dog, Heidelberg pretzel roll, Cheese Whiz, sauteed onions). Just like a Philly Cheesesteak without the 'tude from the guys at Geno's or Pat's.

If none of the regional specialties sound appealing, you can also customize your dog. Make sure you use the clever DC-3 lingo to order. For example, if you want ketchup on your dog, ask them to "Ruin It." My mom hails from NY and would definitely agree with the DC-3 team that putting ketchup on a hot dog is sacrilege.
You can also ask them to "Fire It Up" (add sriracha sauce), "Make It A Splitski" (butterfly it and flat- or char-grill it), "Make It A Ripper (deep fry it - at your own risk), or make it "Achin' For Some Bacon!" (bacon-wrapped).

Playing off the wildly popular 3.6.9 mini burgers at Matchbox, DC-3 offers 2.4.6 mini hot dogs. Corn dogs, veggie dogs, veggie chili, foot long hot dogs, and an italian beef sandwich round out the menu. For dessert, they'll spin you a fresh cotton candy or dish up soft serve ice cream with a variety of toppings.

Second Thoughts from B

Some may rejoice and some may rush to stock up their bomb shelter for the apocalypse, but regardless of your point of view, gourmet hot dogs are invading our city. Whether it's DC-3 or the Madhatter or half-smokes at Nats games, ordering a plain hot dog is becoming a rarity. Hot dogs are now full blown meals that barely resemble the staple of BBQs and baseball games from just a few years ago.

That's not to say there's not room for improvement. The only time we ever eat a plain hot dog is for nostalgia (Dodger dog) or necessity. Tailgates long ago ditched the wiener on white bread for Polish sausages and garlic toasted French rolls. It is that evolution that DC-3 seems to be harnessing by combining the familiar with the interesting.

Each of the three dogs were the happy marriage of a familiar dish within a hot dog concept. The place was fun and the menu was versatile. In other words, a great place to go with friends and another casual hot spot in DC.
Dc-3 on Urbanspoon

Thursday, November 11, 2010

iPOH Asian Cuisine

If a place boasts that it has over 200 items on its menu and attempts to serve "Asian cuisine" without focusing on a particular region, chances are high that it won't be fantastic. iPOH Asian Cuisine proves this theorem.

I was curious about the restaurant's name. At first glance I thought it was some sort of IHOP knock off. Our friend and dining companion suggested that it might stand for something like "International Palace of Hunan." My other friend Mr. Google taught me that Ipoh is a city in Malaysia that is famous for its food. Maybe the owners resorted to the funky capitalization to stand out.

I'd imagine that a restaurant owner on this stretch of Connecticut Avenue in Woodley Park would do just about anything to stand out. Is there a more nondescript and unexciting stretch of restaurants in all the land? In a one block span you have about 5 generic Asian restaurants, 4 generic Italian restaurants (one of which definitely sucks), a handful of Indian restaurants, and a few Mediterranean restaurants thrown in for good measure. Can anyone honestly distinguish these places from one another?

We gave iPOH a shot and, while it wasn't an unpleasant experience, there is nothing we ate that was interesting enough to send us back. We ordered three dishes and shared them family style. Judging by the prices, you'd think three dishes plus soup would be enough for a party of three, but the portions were less than generous.

The first dish was described as Spicy Lemongrass Chicken (mushroom, sweet peas, carrots, green and red peppers, and chicken in a spicy lemongrass sauce). The chicken was nicely cooked but the sauce was a bit baffling. Isn't lemongrass supposed to be green/yellow and isn't it supposed to taste like lemongrass? Maybe they gave us sweet and sour sauce instead.

I selected the Malaysian Chow Kueh Teow noodles (stir fried flat noodles with tofu, egg, bean sprouts, soy sauce, and chili paste). A pretty standard noodle dish but the chili paste had a nice slow burn that jazzed things up a bit.

Since we ordered two spicy dishes, B chose the mixed vegetables to cool things down. It was a very ordinary rendition of mixed veggies in garlic sauce. We asked for mixed veggies and we got mixed veggies, but not too many...

I was hoping that iPOH would disprove my theorem about generic Asian restaurants and restaurants on Boring Street (err, Connecticut Avenue in Woodley Park). Can you show us a place that will prove me wrong?

Second Thoughts from B

If you find yourself at iPOH, make sure you bring a friend and a camera (for the record, we were 1 for 2, but our friend provided iPhone pictures). With food this nondescript and forgettable, the friend will allow for an enjoyable evening while the camera will increase the chances that the night will be memorable. The food only serves to make you full... if you can afford to order enough of it.
Ipoh on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, November 9, 2010


No, that's not a western wear store or a country music bar. Hidden behind the wooden exterior is Yechon, a 24-hour Korean BBQ and Japanese Restaurant.

Yechon is one of those places in Virginia that I've always heard of but had no concept of where it was or what it was all about. In the mood for Korean BBQ, I convinced B to drive out to Annandale. Since Annandale is not on the way to A) the airport or B) Tysons Corner, we had never been before. However, we'll drive anywhere in search of tasty - and quirky - eats. Upon pulling into the busy parking lot, I knew I was going to like Yechon. I like my restaurants as quirky as possible, and a wood/neon exterior is a good indicator of quirky.

Some confusion ensued when we were seated at a table without a grill and without a vent hood. However, they explained that a grill could be brought out to the table if we wanted to order BBQ.

Korean BBQ can be an overwhelming experience for first timers. Within minutes of being seated, your table is covered with small dishes called banchan. The first time this happened to us, we thought we accidentally ordered each of the dishes and were worried our bill would be a zillion dollars. However, we learned that banchan come standard with Korean BBQ and are included in the price.

My all-time favorite Korean dish is bi bim bap (veggies, meat, an egg, and rice cooked in a hot stone bowl). Yechon's version did not disappoint. I know B loves me because he let me eat the best part: the rice at the bottom of the bowl that has become crispy from the heat.

We ordered two meat dishes to be grilled at our table. At Yechon, the wait staff performs a dizzying dance of meat babysitting. No fewer than five women came over to our table to turn the meat and ensure we weren't cooking it to death. While some of the fun hands-on aspect is lacking, I appreciate eating meat that is cooked with love. When left to our own devices, we have a tendency to overcook the meat on the grill.

The bul gogi (finely sliced tender beef) and daeji bul gogi (sliced tender prime pork marinated in a spicy sauce) were nicely seasoned and very tender. Taking cues from the tables next to us, we loaded up the iceberg lettuce leaves with meat, hot sauce, and veggies, and made our own wraps. Yechon does not skimp on the portions. Two meat dishes plus bi bim bap plus all of the banchan left us wishing we wore our Thanksgiving pants.

If you're craving Korean BBQ at 4 a.m. or need a unique place to take a big group, look no further than the wooden palace that is Yechon.

Second Thoughts from B

There is a place in LA (plus NYC, Hawaii, and Chicago) called Gyu Kaku that can be blamed for our fondness for Korean BBQ grilled at the table. It is also responsible for J's bi bim bap obsession. Needless to say, it sets a high bar...

It would not be fair to compare Yechon with Gyu Kaku. One is a 24hr wood paneled shack in a Virginia suburb, while the other is a sleek chain in Beverly Hills. Still, if you close your eyes and let your taste buds do the talking, it is a much closer contest.

I don't know what the appeal of Korean BBQ grilled at your table is, but I know I like it. Cooking and assembling your own food creates a familiar, casual, and comfortable atmosphere akin to a family cookout. At the same time, the foreign flavors and ingredients introduce some excitement that usually isn't found when eating slightly charred drumsticks over red and white checkered table cloths.

And now that I think of it, that combination reminds me of holiday dinners growing up. Sure, we had the traditional Thanksgiving turkey with all the fixings, but we also incorporated Chinese food into the spread to represent that side of the family. I'm sure it sounds weird, but sometimes time-honored traditions can use a little bit of the unexpected. Just like chow mein is a welcome sight among the mashed potatoes, green beans, and pumpkin pie, Yechon is a wonderfully unexpected change of pace in Annandale.
Yechon on Urbanspoon

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Kushi Izakaya and Sushi

If you want a place to live up to its hype, don't go on a Friday night. Everyone has been telling us that we needed to check out Kushi and, when Groupon offered a 50% off deal, I jumped on it. Apparently so did 7,295 other people. We didn't make a reservation so we called ahead and learned that the wait for walk-ins was thirty minutes. By the time we arrived, the wait time had stretched to 40 minutes, but we decided to stick with our plan and wait it out. Besides, we couldn't go to neighboring Taylor Gourmet because they were out of bread AGAIN. The wait gave us time to explore the bustling restaurant which is part izakaya (Japanese gastropub) and part sushi restaurant. Kushi offers rare sushi finds such as live uni (sea urchin).

The other half of the restaurant is dominated by a large wood robata grill. You can ask to be seated at the counter where you can watch the chefs grill up kushiyaki (skewered items such as pork belly and chicken skin).

After waiting our 40 minutes, we started to notice that walk-ins who arrived after us were being seated. I inquired with one of the four hostesses and she asked me whether my whole party had arrived. I told her that it was a party of two and both of us had been sitting about 2 feet away from her for the last 40 minutes. Unfortunately, so many people manning the door led to confusion. We were seated shortly thereafter at a table that was jammed less than a foot away from the neighboring tables on each side (yes, B measured). Twice, our table neighbors dropped items on the ground and we got their faces in our laps as they retrieved their belongings. Nice to meet you....

Excited to be seated and a bit overwhelmed by the lengthy menu, we explained to our waitress that we wanted to order from the robata grill and small plates menus. We asked how many items per person we should order. You'd think this would be a question she gets every 3 minutes, but she looked at us like we were aliens. Without the waitress as a guide, we used helpful suggestions from Twitter friends and just went for it.

It was a chilly night and I was craving soup. We each ordered the chicken and rice soup. Expecting a miso soup-sized portion, we were surprised to see large udon soup-size bowls set before us. After a dozen or so slurps of the soup, we both opted to save room for more interesting courses.

Our grim mood was erased by the majesty on the next plate. Grilled pork belly, wagyu beef, and jumbo shrimp were tender, packed with flavor, and worth a return visit.

I was also a big fan of the eringi mushrooms and their fun meaty texture and charcoal flavor.

The seaweed salad was not your ordinary pile of green seaweed in soy sauce. It featured a really interesting array of seaweed varieties with contrasting flavors and textures.
The dish on the specials list that I was most excited about turned out to be the biggest disappointment. I thought that the spicy soy miso fried chicken nuggets would change my life. Instead, they had me reaching for the water glass because they were so salty!

In the vegetable department, the eggplant with chicken miso had a nice smoky flavor and crispy/soft combination of textures.

The tofu beef was a bland version of mom's beef stew. Better to save room for more skewers and skip this one.

We ended up ordering too much (thanks waitress!) and did not have room for dessert, but our blog buddies at I Flip for Food recommend the black sesame ice cream.

Overall, I think I'd like to come back on a slow night (perhaps a Tuesday during a snow storm) to experience the food without all the craziness. As we were leaving, we noticed that we never received the amuse bouche that all the surrounding tables received. Walking out the door, we couldn't elicit a "good night" or "thanks for coming" from any of the four hostesses. On this cold night, Kushi wasn't doing much to make us feel warm inside. However, the next time Taylor Gourmet runs out of bread, chances are good that I'll return for more from the grill.

Second Thoughts from B

I think J is being the nice, sweet, glass-half-full girl that I love, because Kushi is not a restaurant I'll be placing high on my list for a return trip. The grilled items, especially the wagyu beef, were outstanding and the eggplant was pleasingly bold in the flavor department. Other than those two highlights, it was a disappointing evening. Not the worst, but certainly not the best. This made me thankful for the Groupon rate...

Have you ever found yourself flipping through channels looking for something to watch on TV only to land on TBS which is inevitably in the middle of a movie you've seen 100 times and might even own on DVD? It's usually a bad sequel or something starring Nicolas Cage. You probably have no real desire to see this movie again, yet somehow it sucks you in and 90 minutes later you wonder where your Sunday afternoon went.

That's how I feel about Kushi. If someone asked where I wanted to eat on any given night, I would not think of Kushi. But if someone else suggested it (programmers at TBS or otherwise), I'd not object. When that happens, I hope I remember to order the skewers.
Kushi Izakaya & Sushi on Urbanspoon