Wednesday, March 31, 2010
The Alice and Wonderland theme is carried through to every detail: from the upside down table on the ceiling to the tiny cups of apricot tea served before every meal.
We weren't expecting a lot from Madhatter, but our amazing waiter Gary and very good/very reasonably-priced food had us talking about a repeat visit before we even left the table. Gary not only had us laughing, he wasn't shy about telling us what he loved and didn't love on the menu.
Each meal at Madhatter starts with the apricot tea and some yummy cornbread.
Gary highly recommended the heart attack on a plate, err, the deep fried pork belly tossed in sweet chili garlic and ponzu sauce. This dish is a cardiologist's nightmare but a pork lover's dream come true. The sauce was sweet yet tangy and the combo with the spicy arugula made for a flavor explosion. BOOM!
When Gary described the hot dogs as "the truth" we knew we had to try them. He recommended that I try the Wonderland Dog (mac n' cheese-topped dog) and add chili on top. Well, since the fried pork belly already killed any chance of a healthy meal, I figured I might as well go all the way.
Yep, that is a chili dog with mac n' cheese in place of regular old boring cheese. All of this yummy craziness was only $7. You read that right. The $7 included that big basket of fries and the salad on the side. This is hands-down one of the best bargains in town.
For B, Gary recommended another zany hot dog. He tried the Psychedelic Dog (crushed potato chips, pineapple, and cheese). One the first try, the kitchen forgot the potato chips. Once B was about half way through his dog he realized that the crunch was missing. Gary didn't hesitate to bring out an entire new dog complete with the crunchy chip topping.
While these Alice-inspired menu items are definitely not for every day consumption, I think the Madhatter is great fun and a nice change of pace. Sometimes you just need to get out of DC and get away from the suits and seriousness. Thanks to Madhatter, there is a rabbit hole waiting for you whenever you need one.
Second Thoughts From B
Some people would call the hot dogs at Madhatter "the truth." Other people might choose to describe them as "legit." Shortly after announcing that he would shed the formal facade, Gary used both adjectives and we were thrilled that he did.
So why all this talk about Gary? It isn't that the Madhatter is only worth the trip to visit our new favorite waiter. Instead, it is that Gary personified the spirit of the place. Food and an atmosphere that is fun-loving and whimsical (I think I've now used that word in back to back posts).
And what's more fun than having a great time eating good food and doing it on the cheap? Maybe going to see the Gay Men's Choir's production of Grease afterwards, but that'll have to wait for another post.
Monday, March 29, 2010
To the uninitiated, the Kite Festival is the highlight of the first day of Washington's famous Cherry Blossom Festival. More importantly, it is just another reminder of why we love living here.
Excuse my overuse of hyperbole, but the National Mall is one of my favorite places. Period. Now cover it in the youthful exuberance of children and child-like adults celebrating something as primal as Spring, as whimsical as homemade kites, as beautifully simple as blooming flowers... awesome. Call me a romantic, but all this makes the crowds and other minor annoyances of Spring-induced tourism almost melt away.
A kite competition seems like an oxymoron that would illicit more head-scratching than interest, but thanks to a Gus Johnson-esque announcer, it is a fascinating and even dramatic event. If nothing else... it is unique. Unique to our adopted home.
J SaysWhen I was living in California and B was living in DC, he went to the Kite Festival and took some great photos of a beautiful sky filled with colorful kites. Ever since then I have wanted to see the Festival for myself. It took four long years for me to get there, but I finally made it!
It was great to see people of all ages looking skyward as they tried to navigate their kites through the crowded skies around the Washington Monument. We saw everything from homemade paper kites to uber-professional giant spinning kites. My favorite part was the Rokkaku kite fighting competition. When I read The Kite Runner I didn't have a good feel for what it meant to cut a kite out of the sky, and it was so much fun to see it for myself and to cheer on my favorite kites. The announcer was as informative as he was enthusiastic, so I learned more than I ever needed to know about kite fighting strategy.
Though I've never been a good kite flyer (memories of kites slamming into the ground and breaking come to mind), the Kite Festival made me want to get out there and join the fun next year. I have a year to figure out how to get and keep my kite off the ground...
Friday, March 26, 2010
Eamonn's calls itself a "Dublin Chipper" which means they serve Irish-style fish and chips. It is the brainchild of Cathal and Meshelle Armstrong whose names you might know from Restaurant Eve, The Majestic, or PX. Don't expect white tablecloths or fancy cocktails here. Eamonn's is a laid-back kind of joint. And just in case you get confused and think this is a British place, the menu reminds: "Oh by the way, this is not a British chipper, or any other chipper, this is our chipper, if yis don't like it . . . hump off." You got that?
The fish was fresh and flaky, and fried to a perfect crisp. The chips were thick-cut and served just as hot as the fish. I think temperature is the key to good fish and chips, and Eamonn's nailed it.
Second Thoughts from B
Fish n Chips. Now that's a dish that I can eat anywhere, partially because it is next to impossible to mess up. Dress it up, dress it down, it doesn't matter. I love it.
I distinctly remember craving fish n chips when I was little. No surprise there, I suppose. What little kid doesn't like fried, dippable finger food? Anyway, I must have been 3 or 4 when I would request a trip to Bob's Big Boy. Now, nearly 30 years later, I'd be just as giddy behind that same fried basket of wonderful.
So what does this mean for Eamonn's? On one hand it means that I'm happy to recommend a place that makes a high quality fish n chips (although it should be noted that it didn't beat out Againn's version - see here). On the other, I might be so bold to say that I could pay half as much, get twice the food, and be almost as happy anywhere else. Maybe I have low standards, maybe I missed the boat by sticking with my beloved ketchup... All I know is that I've now got a craving.
Wednesday, March 24, 2010
The National Portrait Gallery shares space with the Smithsonian American Art Museum, but this isn't just some ordinary space. The two museums are housed in the Old Patent Office Building, which has been restored to show off many of its original 150 year old details. Of particular note is the new glass roof that encloses the center courtyard. Completed in 2007, it has received recognition by architecture critics, local museum goers, and everyone in between.
Even though the architecture alone warrants a visit, the art isn't too shabby either. Perhaps the biggest draw is display of American Presidents, where you will find everything from the portrait of George Washington that is used on the dollar bill to more abstract depictions of modern presidents.
But don't stop there. Like every other Smithsonian museum, there's always more to see. Some of the faces will be familiar, while others won't. Each face tells a story about who we are as a country.
Once upon a time, I was one of those annoying kids clogging the city streets on a tour of our Nation's Capital. I remember some monuments taking my breath away and capturing my attention while other spots elicited not much more than a yawn. The Portrait Gallery was in the latter category.
Oh, how things have changed. Part history museum, part art museum, this is probably one of our most frequent visits among all of the Smithsonian museums. It is perfect for a quick splash of culture while wandering downtown, and a great reminder of how special it is to live in this town.
As B said, the portraits are fun to look at too. Don't miss the sports gallery tucked way up in the rafters. It took me several visits before I ever found it! The Gallery also features fun rotating exhibits. Right now you can see Elvis portraits and memorabilia on the main floor.Don't let the name fool you. The National Portrait Gallery is more than just a collection of old faces on the wall. Pay a visit and explore for yourself, but don't forget to wave to me on your way in!
Monday, March 22, 2010
Chef's Kitchen features a six course menu. You may select either the protein menu or the market vegetable menu. Both looked completely amazing so we had a hard time deciding. Eventually, B ordered the protein-based menu and I chose the market vegetable menu. After ordering, the parade began:
Vegetarian: Farro risotto (morel mushrooms, fiddlehead ferns). Love at first bite. Too bad I was so full at this point. I must figure out how to cook farro. This was the best risotto I've ever eaten.
And in case you're still hungry: Mini ice cream sandwiches. I should've worn my Thanksgiving pants. This was no stale after-dinner mint and I just couldn't say no.
I never imagined that I would be so mesmerized by an all-vegetable menu. If Bryan Voltaggio cooked for me every day, I would have no problem being a vegetarian. This was no collection of side dishes: each dish was artfully prepared and shone just as brightly as the dishes on the protein menu. The use of interesting ingredients (e.g., fiddlehead ferns) and a masterful blending of textures and flavors equaled one of the best meals I've ever eaten. It was worth every minute of the 3 month wait and one hour drive. Though Chef Voltaggio didn't win Top Chef, he and his team have created something very special in Frederick.
If we've learned anything during our culinary exploration of DC, it is that this is quite the foodie town. So anything that makes us trek 50 miles out of the city on a Friday night must be something special. And Volt was just that.
The restaurant lived up to the hype and finally added actual flavors to the dishes that looked so wonderful on TV. But that's not why I think Volt is special. We've got celebrity and award-winning chefs around the corner. And you can probably find expertly conceived and prepared dishes made from fresh and local ingredients - and of Volt's caliber - at quite a few local establishments. So what's the big deal?
The thing I loved about Volt was that they were able to walk the line between fine dining and pretentious/exclusive dining. It seemed to be a founding concept of Volt; the service, the flavor profiles, and even the "uniforms" (suits with brown Converse), seemed luxurious yet accessible. And how appropriate for a "Top Chef."
You see, Top Chef and shows like it have made fine dining accessible to the masses. And at Volt, I felt that no question was too remedial and no flavor too complex. At the same time, even the most seasoned foodie would have been impressed by the depth and dimension of the dishes. There were several moments during the evening when one of us would say to the other, "This is the best --- that I've ever had." That really speaks to the genius of the chef, especially considering that the menu is altered almost daily to reflect whatever ingredients are currently available. It also means that we'll have to go back to see what the good Mr. Voltaggio is cooking up next time we're able to snag a reservation...
Friday, March 19, 2010
I've been a devoted follower of a number of healthy living blogs (see list on the right) and was always a bit envious when the bloggers would receive product samples in the mail. Imagine my delight when a PR person from POM Wonderful offered to send us some pomegranate juice to try!
Now I guess you're probably wondering how pomegranate juice fits into the TwoDC theme. Well, this blog is a space for us to share our life in DC and a big part of our life is one that you don't often read about: what we eat when we're not eating out. Though it might seem like we eat out every day, we actually spend a fair amount of our time cooking meals, packing lunches, and trying our best to incorporate healthy foods into our diet. In the last year I've transformed my diet by eliminating most uber-processed foods and high fructose corn syrup. I've been attempting to stick to the "eat real food" mantra as best I can, and I've never felt better. It just so happens that pomegranate juice fits rather nicely into TwoDC - the home edition.
Our package of POM Wonderful arrived containing 8 adorable little bottles of 100% pomegranate juice and a letter explaining the health benefits and antioxidant power of the pomegranate. I once read an article in an airplane magazine that told the story of POM Wonderful's founders, and their quest to find a somewhat economical way to juice such a funky fruit. I was also fascinated by their determination to create a distinct "double bulb" packaging design after countless packaging producers told them that a stacked pomegranate design was too difficult to mass produce.
While I don't know if POM Wonderful is the medical miracle that some claim, I do think it is a tasty way to get a dose of antioxidants. Pomegranate juice can be very tart (think cranberry juice) so it might not appeal to everyone. For those that don't like the juice plain, the people at POM Wonderful have developed a comprehensive website with a huge collection of recipes featuring the juice or the pomegranate itself.One thing that scares a lot of people (including me) away from POM Wonderful products is the price. I think the steep cost is likely due to the fact that it can't be cheap to juice a pomegranate and POM Wonderful doesn't use inexpensive fillers such as grape juice. While it is a bit pricey to become an every day staple in our house, I am likely to pick up a bottle or two from time to time. Plus, it's hard to resist those cute bottles....
Second Thoughts from B
Coming to DC has been a wonderful adventure for both of us, and becoming TwoDC was another step in that journey. We've alluded to it before but let me further the point; starting the blog has been one of the best things that we could have done as a new couple in a new city.
At a time when the city was a dauntingly large and foreign place, we stumbled across a way to connect with it. But at the same time, we connected with each other by sharing in this creative outlet. The blog has become a central force in our lives in Washington, and really, in our life together.
So what a bonus that people - perfect strangers and companies alike - care about what we have to say! Cynics might say that we are just being bought or used by "the man" to perpetuate a marketing campaign through social media. For the price of a pizza, Domino's got us to encourage readers to give their new recipe a shot (see post here). And now, in exchange for a case of POM, we're telling you about the wonders of pomegranate juice.
Some offers and products are better than others. Granted. But doesn't the effort alone say something fundamental about a company that is nimble enough to adapt to new ways to market their products? I would argue that this out of the box innovative thinking is not exclusive to the marketing department. Instead, it is likely to be present in all aspects of the company, which makes it reasonable to assume it is reflected in the products that we consume.
Of course, there is no free lunch and it is no mystery why we're being sent these products. It is all part of the new, and ever evolving, marketing shift that has come with the web. And we're happy to be a part of it. Not because we get free stuff (well, maybe a little), but because this is who we are, and consequently, what our blog is about. This is our life in DC.
Wednesday, March 17, 2010
The decor is sort of olde-timey and sort of in need of repair. I know, I know, who goes to an ice cream shop for the decor?
What matters is whether an ice cream shop can dish up ice cream that is worth the calories and a return visit. The Creamery's ice cream was good but nothing I will remember when the next ice cream craving hits. My rocky road was packed full of whole almonds and had a good marshmallow to ice cream ratio. B's black cherry was also tasty and the scoop sizes were generous. However, I think it tasted more like high-end grocery store ice cream rather than homemade ice cream parlour ice cream.
I am 100% confident that B is thinking: "well she should have listened to me and tried Pop's." The next time I'm in Alexandria, I think I'll do just that.
Second Thoughts from B
J is right. The thought currently floating between my ears is certainly in the ballpark of "I told you so." With so many ice cream/frozen custard options all in walking distance (Ben& Jerry's is around the corner and the Dairy Godmother isn't far), it is hard to swallow the fact that we settled for mediocre ice cream. But as we've said before (see here and here), even bad ice cream makes for a pretty nice time. I don't know what happened to the grill part of the formerly named "Scoop Grill," but if frozen treats are now their singular focus, I hope for their sake that their frozen custard is really good...
Still, the smell in Pop's was knee buckling. And as much as I love the far-out concoctions of Ira and Barry Shalowitz... errr... Ben & Jerry, I know what I'm getting there. So clearly, I don't regret giving The Creamery a try. But with so many other options available, it might be a while before I go back.
Monday, March 15, 2010
But the nice thing about being old and married is that you know the person really well, and I knew that J would love making and eating fresh bread (as would I). However, her love affair with "zojirushi" is far more intense than I could have even imagined.
Almost every household eats bread and almost everyone loves fresh bread. So why don't more people make it at home? Most would respond by saying it is too hard or that the bread goes bad too fast. Both valid concerns and both alleviated by the Zojirushi Home Bakery Mini Breadmaker. Easy is an understatement and as far as quality, we've loved every loaf. But the big selling point is the size. The entire device is about as big as a bread box and produces a mini, 1 lb. loaf which is perfect for two people. That's 4-5 sandwiches worth for you scoring at home.
And speaking of bread boxes, we'd highly recommend getting an OXO Pop container for your bread. The loaf may be small and go fast, but it still doesn't have any preservatives. We've found that you can store a loaf in there for over a week without it going bad ... but it is usually gone a lot faster than that.
I have a new best friend and his name is Zojirushi. When Zojirushi first came into my life, I was somewhat worried that he'd be a loner among the kitchen appliances and might not see the light of day very often. However, after making one loaf, I was hooked. There is something both relaxing and awesome about dumping ingredients into a pan, pressing a button, and having a perfect loaf of bread magically appear a few hours later. It really is that easy. I also like that you are in complete control over what goes in your bread: no preservatives and no chemicals you can't pronounce.
As you can see from the photo above, Zojirushi is good for more than just loaves of bread. You can use the "dough setting" course to make brioche (pictured), pretzels, pizza dough, and even cookie dough. If you tire of bread, the machine can be used to make jam and cakes. The possibilities are endless.
A word of warning: baking bread (and enjoying the amazing smell that fills your house) can be addicting. Before you go online to order your Zojirushi, you might want to stop into your local gym and get a membership!
Thursday, March 11, 2010
Surfside's beach casual vibe can make you forget winter all together. It is laid back and strangely reminiscent of a Wahoo's Fish Tacos (that reference probably was lost on most of our readership but it is the best analogy I have). You write your order on paper slips and hand it to the cashier. You are then given a buzzer that signals when your food is ready. There is a bar at the rear of the restaurant that serves beer, margaritas, and frozen drinks, and I hear they have a great roof deck for warm days.
B ordered the Negril fish tacos which featured huge chunks of grilled fish and all the usual suspects of any good fish taco.
I tried the Nevis shrimp tacos (two grilled shrimp tacos with yellow rice, pineapple jalapeno salsa, guacamole and lime sour cream - hold the cilantro por favor). Simply amazing. The lime sour cream combined with the pineapple salsa was to die for. They didn't skimp on the shrimp either. The only drawback was that the tortillas were so packed full of ingredients that they fell apart instantly. A knife and fork saved the day and I wasted no time polishing off the whole dish. It was that good.
If you like seafood tacos, get ye to Surfside now. Since Glover Park is in a Metro deadzone, it is great that they have free parking in the back lot. A minor quibble is that they charge $3.95 for chips and salsa, and they aren't heads and shoulders better than the free chips and salsa you get at most Mexican restaurants.
After all of the snow and darkness, Surfside was just the right cure for the winter doldrums. As we watched the final evening of the Winter Olympics on Surfside's TV, the snow and ice of Vancouver seemed like light years away.
Second Thoughts From B
Woah, dude, what a tubular joint we've found! When you're jonesing for some bodacious grub, catch a wave to Surfside, bra.
Nothing makes me channel my inner Spicoli like a good fish taco. I don't know what it is, but it seems synonymous with a laid back surf town vibe and cool ocean breeze. And just like some of my other culinary favorites, I usually can't resist ordering fish tacos when they are on the menu, especially when I'm so far away from the beach.
Now if the surfer-friendly environment at Surfside was its only redeeming quality, I might still seek it out for a little taste of home in the middle of our next winter blast. But what made our trip such a revelation was the food. Regular readers are used to us (or tired of us) writing wistfully of our favorite West Coast dishes and comparing them so favorably to their East Coast interpretations. How many times have we said that the Mexican food/sushi/Chinese food was good for DC but back in California...
As a demonstation that we're at least as "fair and balanced" as Fox News, I'm about to commit West Coast sacrilege. With all due respect to L.A., San Diego, and Hawaii, these were the best fish tacos I've ever had. There's no "but" coming, no qualifying statement. They were simply the best. Perfectly cooked, high-quality pieces of fish. Perfect proportion of cabbage and sauce. Just enough kick to make it interesting. I loved it.
So, there, I said it. And I wouldn't be surprised if I'll be disowned or not allowed back home again. But if that's the case, I've now got a little piece of home in Glover Park.
(And to all my friends back West shaking their heads and saying, "Oh yeah, I bet you've never been to..." Probably not, but I look forward to your attempts to prove me wrong.)
Monday, March 8, 2010
One of my favorite local bloggers, Karena at Run Beans Run, had recently eaten at Sakana in Dupont Circle. When B's sushi craving struck, I remembered her post and off we went.
Sakana is just what we like in a sushi place: no frills, no conveyor belts, and a wide assortment of nigiri and rolls using fish that screams "fresh!" instead of "last week!"
I'm willing to bet that every person reading this post has been to a place like Sakana, so I'm not going to go into great detail about the experience. We sat, we ordered using a pencil on a long strip of paper, we ate yummy rolls and nigiri, and we left happy.
One thing that is worth mentioning about Sakana is that you can add miso soup, salad, and ice cream to your meal for $6. It was fun to cap off the sushi feast with ginger (J) and green tea (B) ice cream.
I highly recommend the salmon nigiri. I'm not a huge salmon person but this was melt-in-your-mouth delicious. We ordered one "special" roll and while it was a lot bigger than the others, it was also $12. This was a little bit of a surprise since the rest of the roll prices were very reasonable and there was no price listed for the special. Next time, I'd stick to the normal-sized rolls because I'm not a fan of the awkward "I can't fit this in my mouth but I also can't really bite it in half" scenario that ensues when you try to eat a ginormo-roll. Just a heads up if you decide to dine here on a first date.
Second Thoughts From B
We've written about our love of sushi and our quest to find our go-to place which ended at Kotobuki (see post here). The only problem is that every time I suggest we go there, I get the obligatory, "it's all the way out in the Palisades" comment. Sometimes that's a deal breaker, sometimes not. On this night it was the former, and I'm kind of glad that it was.
I'm not saying that I have a new favorite, but I am saying that we've found a place that I'm looking forward to walking to. It really is cookie cutter inside, but the rice is fluffy and moist while the fish is fresh and plump (my deal breakers). And despite the $12 special roll - which to be fair was at least twice the size of a normal roll - it was reasonably priced, especially for Dupont.