Wednesday, February 24, 2010
It was a Saturday night and we were in search of a new place to try. We didn't want to change out of our weekend jeans uniform, so B pulled up the Washingtonian's Cheap Eats page. After some debate (and ranking, and voting... B is an engineer) we decided to check out the soul food at Oohhs & Aahhs.
This place is the antithesis of fancy with mismatched tables and chairs, giraffe statues, and a TV with horrible reception. Somewhere behind that blizzard on the TV screen is the UCLA vs. Washington basketball game. If you saw the game, you'd realize we were lucky to have terrible reception.
Anyway, back to the dream. I read that the mac & cheese at Oohhs & Aahhs was the stuff of legend, so I had to order it to see if it was hype-worthy. Holy crap this mac & cheese is worthy of its own army of hype men (waving towels and all)! It was so cheesy that you could twirl the cheese strings around your fork, pasta style. The best part? It wasn't trying to be fancy. I've had truffle mac & cheese and lobster mac & cheese and mac & cheese with 45 different gourmet cheeses, and I have never liked it more than the Kraft blue box. The thing that made Oohhs & Aahhs' mac & cheese shine was its simplicity. They managed to pack so much flavor into their mac without using too many ingredients. However, I don't think I want to know what ingredients they used. All I know is that it was amazing and caused me to dream that I was floating on a cloud of mac & cheese.
Though the mac & cheese was the star, I also really liked the chicken wings. Chicken wings can be annoying when they are all bone and no meat, but these babies were plump and meaty. You get two side dishes with your order and I also had some tasty cornbread, but would probably try the greens or sweet potatoes next time to add some different color to the plate.
B ordered the fried chicken breast and let's just say that my wings kicked the crap out of his breasts. Go with the wings. Also, they forgot the gravy for his rice n' gravy, so we didn't get the full side dish experience.
Before you go running off to U Street with visions of mac & cheese dancing in your head, stop by the ATM because Oohhs & Aahhs is cash only. It is also not dirt cheap; we spent over $30 for two dinners and two drinks (but the portions were so large I took some home for lunch the next day). Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to daydream about mac & cheese.
Second Thoughts from B
Anyone remember the Barenaked Ladies? They had a few hits in the mid-90's and have achieved cult status in Canada. They're also hilarious and wonderfully entertaining live. So what does a pudgy group of Canadians have to do with soul food in DC? Bear with me, I'll get there. I promise.
The highlight of any Barenaked Ladies concert is the song, "If I Had a Million Dollars." It is this goofy song about all the things they would buy with, you guessed it, a million dollars. Ultimately it's a song about wanting love, but in between all the other desires in life (house, car, a monkey, etc.) they mention mac & cheese, or "Kraft Dinner" if you're from the great white north. (Ah hah! The connection... finally.)
The song goes like this:
If I had a million dollars
We wouldn't have to eat Kraft Dinner
But we would eat Kraft Dinner
Of course we would, we’d just eat more
Like our Canadian friends, J and I love our mac & cheese, and given the choice that great riches could provide, we still prefer that familiar favorite from our childhoods. So when we place the "best ever" title on Oohhs & Aahhs' mac & cheese and place it above Kraft's version, that's saying something.
So have you picked up this not so subtle hint yet? The mac & cheese is good. Go get some. I could easily end there but it wouldn't do justice to J's wings. Second only to those found in Puerto Rican winter baseball stadiums which I'm convinced are laced with crack, these are pretty tremendous in their own right. The problem is that they'll always play second fiddle to the mac & cheese in my book. But oohh what a combo they make. Trust us on that and stay away from the chicken breast.
Monday, February 22, 2010
Wintergreen is normally a 3 hour drive from DC (it took us 4 hours on the Friday after the Snowpocalypse). It is a pleasant trip without the scary, windy roads (I'm looking at you Snow Summit) that I'm used to facing on the way to a ski resort. Also, if you've never been to Monticello, it is worth a stop on the way to or from Wintergreen.
The accommodations at Wintergreen range from a hotel-style lodge to 7 bedroom homes for rent. I chose a one bedroom condo with ski slope access for less than $150 per night on a holiday weekend. It featured a fireplace and a full sized kitchen, and best yet, was about 100 yards from a ski run.
The check-in and ski rental process were efficiently run and we didn't wait in lines (even on a Friday night of a holiday weekend). We were glad to be able to rent the equipment the night we arrived so that we could hit the slopes early in the morning from our condo. Parking was also hassle-free and they offer a shuttle service in case you don't want to drive around the resort.
Prior to the trip, I booked dinner reservations at the Copper Mine Bistro, and they were helpful and very accommodating when I wanted to change the reservation day and time. We were seated next to a roaring fireplace and enjoyed a reasonably-priced prime rib dinner on Valentine's eve.
The highlight of the trip was definitely The Plunge tubing park (pictured above). Tubing at 40+mph with no walk to the top of the hill (thanks to a moving walkway) is my idea of a great time. I don't think I stopped smiling the entire 2 hours we tubed. Make your reservations online in advance because the tubing sessions can sell out on the weekends.
Overall, we had a blast at Wintergreen and it was so convenient. I think it'd make a great place for a low-key family reunion. If you're not into the snow thing, they offer golf, swimming, tennis, and hiking during the rest of the year. Next time, I want to check out the Wintergarden Spa and perhaps try zooming down the hill on the zipline.
Have you been to Wintergreen? If not, where do you ski near DC?
Second Thoughts from B
First off, I know what all you guys are saying, "Your wife plans Valentine's Day for you?!?!" Yeah, she's that cool. And really, it makes sense. Neither Valentine's Day nor an anniversary is gender specific, yet somehow tradition has made it a guy's responsibility to treat the ladies. Well, we live in an equal opportunity gift giving household, and she is just as happy to give as I am to receive. But it does put the pressure on me for August...
But back on topic: Wintergreen. I think the whole weekend can be summed up by J's comment that tubing was the highlight of the trip. This is half because it was far more fun than we could possibly describe, and half because the skiing is adequate at best.
Even with historically good snowfall, I wouldn't recommend Wintergreen as a ski-only destination. There are only 5 lifts of which 3 are worthwhile, and the runs are rather short. Granted, I'm spoiled having cut my skiing teeth at Mammoth, Lake Tahoe, as well as in Utah and Colorado.
However, as a winter activity center, Wintergreen is fantastic. Walking to the slopes takes most of the hassle out of skiing (now if they could only make ski boots warm and comfortable). The food at Copper Mine was surprisingly good and reasonably priced. The condo was such a bargain and the equipment rental operation was smooth. Topping that off with the fantastically fun tubing made for a great weekend.
Wednesday, February 17, 2010
Againn (pronounced "aguinn"), is a Gaelic word meaning "with us." The restaurant bills itself as a "contemporary British Isles Bistro" and serves modern interpretations of British Isles pub classics. You can even rent your own scotch locker if you're into that sort of thing.
I applaud the designer of the restaurant for making a small space feel both spacious and cozy at the same time. The two rows of booths are offset at different heights to enhance the privacy and give each row a view out the large windows. On this particular night, the snow was coming down fast and furious, and we were delighted to be inside Againn in a cozy booth with a cozy beer to match.
Our very outgoing waiter pointed us in the direction of the charcuterie menu for our first course. He highly recommended the Potted Pork which is something that, based on the name, I never in a million years would've ordered on my own. I'm glad I overlooked the scary name and listened to the waiter. A glass jar was filled with a pate of confit pork shoulder that you spread over garlicky bread and topped with sweet onion marmalade and tangy mustard. Even the description sounds gross, but somehow it just worked.
When I tell my stomach that we're having British pub food, it tells me we're having fish n' chips. Againn's version featured one massive (and delicious) piece of fish served atop English egg sauce. The fries were thick-cut and served piping hot, making a perfect mate for the crispy fish. Keeping with the unappetizing menu descriptions, the dish was served with Mushy Peas which are a whole lot tastier than you'd think.
B went with the classic British tummy-warmer: Bangers and Mash. While the sausages weren't amazingly memorable, B raved about the mashed potatoes. It was a perfect dish for another snowy DC evening.
So, is Againn a neighbor that would make Mr. Rogers proud? I think so. Againn isn't your neighbor that is too-hip or too-loud or too-splashy. Instead, Againn is that neighbor who is warm and inviting and serves good (if not predictable) comfort food. Welcome to the neighborhood.
Second Thoughts from B
J listened to her tummy and got the fish n' chips. B listened to every single thing written about Againn and got bangers and mash. J won.
I know what you're thinking... Upscale British food? Sounds like the lead-in to a bad joke, right? But J's dish was really a perfectly executed, fine ingredient version of the familiar greasy-spoon offering. And those peas... For two kids whose experience with peas were of the frozen variety, these were amazing. Sweet, dynamic in flavor, and completely unlike our childhood memories. They could have been the spokesperson for the entire fresh and local food movement.
Like J said, my bangers weren't exactly bangin. Perhaps that is because the mustard-flavored mashed potatoes and onions were so powerful. But wait? Haven't I seen that flavor profile of pork, onion, and mustard before? Oh yes, it was our appetizer. Not exactly my finest job of ordering...
In closing, there were enough high points to bring us to Againn again. But will it be our favorite neighbor like Kabab House and Beck? For me, probably not.
Monday, February 15, 2010
Lucky for us, Himalayan Heritage and its cozy dining room were ready and waiting for us when we arrived for an early dinner. Once you wade through the cloud of incense smoke at the front door, you'll see a lantern-lit dining room swathed with silk fabrics and brightly-colored paintings. A half-roof hangs over the booths on the wall making you feel as if you're dining in a Nepalese home, and your party's name is printed on a little placard on the table completing the welcoming feel.
The menu describes the food as "Authentic Nepalese and Indian Cuisine." The Indian dishes on the menu were familiar but we hoped to venture over to the Nepalese side of the menu. We asked our waiter for help, but he was so soft-spoken we couldn't understand most of what he recommended. Our friends had been to Himalayan Heritage once before, so they were able to steer us in the direction of some very tasty dishes.
To start, we ordered the Gobi Manchurian (Cauliflower fried in a corn flour batter served with a hot and sweet dipping sauce). Himalayan managed to take an often bland and lifeless vegetable and pack it with flavor and heat.
Next up were the Vegetarian Steamed Momo (dumplings). These were good but I thought they tasted just like the dumplings in the Trader Joe's frozen food section. That's not a bad thing, they just weren't anything new or exciting.
I tried the Shrimp Curry Nepali Style (jumbo shrimp cooked in onion and tomato sauce with curry spices and coconut milk). The combo of the tomato sauce and curry/coconut milk made for a strange yet delicious Italian-Thai fusion dish. It was one of the more unique flavor combos I've eaten. Ladeled over rice and scooped up with the fluffy garlic naan, this was a perfect dish for a snowy night.
If you're looking to try something new and don't have the time to venture to Nepal, Himalayan Heritage should be added to your list. With the snow piled high against the windows, you just might forget you're in DC.
I recommend checking out Restaurant.com where you can purchase discounted gift certificates to Himalayan Heritage. Our friends got a $50 gift certificate for only $20 making our first trek to the Himalayas quite the bargain.
Second Thoughts From B
I know it'll sound like I'm completely dismissing the food (which I'm not), but the thing that was most memorable to me about Himalayan Heritage was the dining room. You know when you're at Disneyland or Caesar's Palace in Vegas they have all those facades that make you feel like you're in another world? That's how I felt. It was complete immersion into what I imagine that region of the world to be like. That said, I'm completely ignorant about Nepalese food/culture outside of the time Indiana Jones spent with Marion in her bar during Raiders of the Lost Ark and the book, Into Thin Air...
This is exactly why we needed a guide to help us along the way, yet somehow ended up with Silent Bob. We've written a lot about how much I appreciate guidance from a waiter. Usually I can navigate a menu without assistance, but I've found that having the help of someone who has tasted everything and gotten feedback from everyone is far superior to a few words on a page. However, in a restaurant that seems to pride itself in cultural immersion, this shifts from a nice option to a necessity, and I felt a bit lost.
Thursday, February 11, 2010
There's just nothing like new fallen snow. Especially with old-timey city lights and empty streets.
Even the most industrial elements of the city seemed to take on an elegance. Also, it is proof that DC is full of hot air...
But despite all the annoyances that this winter has brought, these two transplants still see it as another way that DC is a very romantic city. Icing on the cake, if you will...
Wednesday, February 10, 2010
TwoDC was born from a love of eating and a desire to explore our new city. I wanted to write a food blog but feared that I wouldn't have time to keep it up because I work too much. B suggested that we enter blogland together and focus on all of our adventures as a couple in DC. We decided to try it out and see if we liked it, and TwoDC was born.
Our Two Do list keeps on growing but before we move forward we wanted to share some of our favorite stats from Year 1 (special thanks to Google Analytics):
- We've explored over 100 different restaurants (and thanks to exercise, we can proudly say that we haven't gained a pound)
- TwoDC has been visited by readers from 93 different countries and every U.S. state except Montana (where's the love, Montana?) We're most popular in DC and the surrounding area (VA, MD), but also get a lot of love from CA, NY, and TX.
- Had approximately 16,500 hits (not including the sneaky readers using Google Reader)
- The most popular posts: L'Academie de Cuisine - Couples Cooking Class, Market Lunch at Eastern Market, The Great DC Cupcake Taste Test
- Most common search terms leading people to TwoDC: "Larry's Ice Cream DC," "Couples Cooking Classes DC," "Full Kee," "Teaism DC"
- People most disappointed to end up on TwoDC (a.k.a. quirky search terms that led people to our blog):
"what can empanada helps us in our daily living"
"the weather here is icy but i fancy something spicy..let it snow"
"the 'men who built the stonewalls' feature in caramel wafers what feature in willy wonka"
"mr. nathanson, do you like guacamole?"
"lychee nut scrooge mcduck"
"how to cook the budak dish of korean"
"hot japanese sexy"
"fun 4 two gouda"
"free blog comments posting in djibouti"
"double wide homes"
"cut i ride my bicycle in great swamp"
We hope you've enjoyed following our adventures during the year and we welcome your suggestions for where we should go next! I want to give a special shoutout to our most loyal commenters: Budak (and his many alter egos), Alix, Karena, and blunoz. Your encouragement reminds us that people actually read this thing. Thank you!
Second Thoughts From B
Blogging has been a wonderful new hobby for the two of us. We knew it would be a fun and creative outlet that would help our non-DC friends and family up-to-date with our lives out East. But what we didn't realize was how much it has helped us adjust from reluctant California transplants into people who couldn't be more proud of our new home. Seeking out DC's highlights and hidden gems has been a blessing for our relationship with each other and with the city. We eagerly look forward to year two of TwoDC and hope you'll join us for the ride.
Sunday, February 7, 2010
Call it what you want. It was big, it was white, and it certainly turned the city into a winter wonderland that made the ESOTC (Epic Snowstorm of the Century - see here, here, and here) look commonplace. J and I spent much of the day after the ESOTC wandering D.C., mostly down by the National Mall.
This time, we again enjoyed the storm's aftermath by grabbing the camera, strapping on the Yak Trax, and taking to the snow-covered streets. We stayed mostly along Massachusetts Avenue and focused on many of the lesser-known monuments that populate the city (we recommend this site for more info).
We hope you enjoy our photo journey of the "frozen tundra" (said in the NFL Films narrator's voice) of Washington, D.C. (In this case, the role of the frozen tundra is being played by K St. -normally a very busy business corridor).
Yak Trax are awesome but we couldn't help but envy this guy flying up 11th St. on cross country skis.
Either way, they're both better than any of the two-wheel drive options...
Speaking of travel, here's Union Station.
And one of the more drivable downtown streets that is still just a big, white walkway.
Site of the well-publicized Dupont snowball fight. Notice that the fountain and the steps are now no more than a snowy mound.
Thankfully, the fountain survived the battle.
Samuel Gompers looks like he endured a war...
Our favorite church with Edmund Burke in the foreground.
The historical relief sculpture at the base of the Daniel Webster statue.
Finally, after all of the end-of-the-world talk, it is good to know the storm has a sense of humor... (get it? Chile's founding father is chilly)
What did you do during Snowmageddon?
Wednesday, February 3, 2010
As our most loyal readers may recall, J and I were scheduled to visit the Kennedy Center to see Handel's Messiah on the night of the ESOTC (Epic Snowstorm of the Century - see here), but instead ended up going to Cafe Mozart (see here) and playing Beatles Rock Band (see here). When that performance was canceled, we ended up getting replacement tickets for the American Ballet Theatre's production of Romeo and Juliet, and like clockwork, more snow. Thankfully, the 6 inches didn't get in the way of the production.
I have no experience in dance beyond embarrassing home movies, some poor swing moves from the big band revival of the mid-90's, and our wedding dance (which we learned via DVD). However, I'm game to watch anything that is world-class, even if most of the nuance is lost on me. That certainly applies with the ballet.
So was the performance world-class? I'm hardly the person to ask, but after all the hours I've spent with J watching "So You Think You Can Dance," my answer is yes and no. The leads were fantastic. I especially appreciated how lightly and delicately Juliet was portrayed. However, the ensemble cast of 40+ didn't seem up to the Kennedy Center's standards. For an ignorant observer such as myself, the best way to highlight a flaw is to be out of sync. In the case of nearly everyone other than the title characters, this was a major problem and was distracting.
Speaking of distracting, can we talk about the kids behind us? I'm all for bringing your kids to the ballet to expand their cultural horizons. I used to be one of those kids. But the 7:30pm showing of Romeo and Juliet is too late and too mature (3 murders and 2 suicides) for the 3-6 year olds behind us. The ones old enough to "get it" looked shell shocked, and the younger ones needed play by play to keep them engaged. I don't blame the kids, but parents, please choose your cultural outings more carefully. Oh, and take a hint if you get the stink eye from the row in front of you. It generally means that kicking chairs, giggling during death scenes, and demonstrating that you're the next Bob Costas is not ok.
But aside from all that, I enjoyed the evening. It was far more theatrical than I expected and it told the story well. Maybe even too well having that I could have seen more of Romeo and Juliet alone on stage (read: without all the sub-par folks that couldn't spin or kick in unison).
I know I'm a lucky girl. My husband will go to the ballet with me and I don't even have to drag him. Luckily, we're friends with an awesome couple who shares the same adventurous streak and appreciation for D.C. cultural events.
Monday, February 1, 2010
After placing our order with a less-than-friendly cashier, we ventured into the brightly-colored (and crowded) dining room to find a table. They give you one of those light-up buzzer things to let you know when your order is ready.
The atmosphere is casual and whimsical, with funky mosaic tables that are packed just a little too close together.
Our buzzer flashed and when I went to the counter to pick up our food, B's rootbeer float was missing and my burger was topped with the receipt and an onion ring. I could do without the receipt on top of my food. Also, my burger was crowded onto a little metal platter with the mega onion rings leaving little room to enjoy the messy burger without spilling it all over the table. Next time I'll ask for an extra platter or a plate.
The onion rings were huge and tasty. I ordered the "The Burger" (served on a fresh, buttery-toasted brioche bun with lettuce, tomato, onion, pickle, mojo sauce). The burger was juicy but completely fell apart after 2 bites. The mojo sauce was your standard thousand island burger sauce. It was a good burger but, in my opinion, not head and shoulders above Five Guys.
B tried "The Wellington" (roasted mushrooms, caramelized onions, garlic with a touch of mustard seed, and blue cheese, served on a fresh, buttery-toasted brioche bun with mojo sauce). The presentation was very minimalist, but it packed a flavor punch.
We washed down the burgers with rootbeer and cherry coke floats, which were solid but not as good as those at Ray's Hell Burger (see post here). The whole experience left me wishing I was somewhere else. I think you can get better burgers at Ray's, better sides and shakes at Good Stuff (see post here), and spend a whole lot less at Five Guys. $30 for 2 burgers, 1 side and 2 drinks? For that price it should be mind blowing... and it just wasn't.
BGR = Better Go to Ray's.
Second Thoughts from B
Here's the bottomline. If I want a great burger experience, I'm going to Ray's or Good Stuff. However, if I'm confined to Dupont Circle, I wouldn't hesitate going back to BGR. My burger was all sorts of savory brown mush, mixed together in a mess that ended up all over the place. Sounds appetizing, right? Appearance was certainly not the strong suit of this burger... but taste was. It was a cross between beef stroganoff and a steak covered with bleu cheese. In other words, cardiac arrest on a bun.
My mother was the first to impress upon me the importance of presentation when it comes to food. Never will a plate leave her kitchen without careful consideration of the colors presented. It is something subtle and easy, but goes a long way. In short: If it looks good, it'll taste better.
It is like rankings in college sports. For no good reason, we insist on ranking teams before a single game is played, all based on a few experts that are asked to be familiar with the relative abilities of hundreds of teams. Not only is this impossible, it has a significant impact on the season. No matter how well a team actually performs, if they were not well thought of at the beginning of the season, they'll most likely be excluded from the possibility of a top ranking at the end. Same thing with food. Appearance is the starting point. If you start high, it is much easier to end high... But I digress, back to BGR.
When my burger came out, it might have been the least interesting (my nice way of saying ugly) thing that has been put in front of me in a long time. It took some head scratching to figure out how to photograph it without it looking like Juno's hamburger phone. But despite this handicap, it was quite tasty. And for someone who actually enjoys eating with his hands, having it get all over the place wasn't a bad thing.
But let's be clear, I'm not advocating for Ray's or Good Stuff solely for appearance sake. They are certainly more than just a pretty face. While BGR's burger was tasty, I felt it was somewhat one dimensional. Yes, I know it is just a hamburger and I'm probably nitpicking. But if it wants to compete with the big boys, the devil is in the details...