Friday, September 30, 2011

Banana Cafe

Our friend Budak is one of our favorite dining companions. He introduced us to Teaism and Julia's Empanadas, and for that we will be forever grateful. However, Budak has hit a bit of a rough patch with his restaurant suggestions: Malaysia Kopitiam, Liberty Tree, and Wok N Roll to name a few. It has become a running joke, yet we love him and still let him guide our dining choices since we figure we'll at least get an adventure out of it. On our last outing, we picked him up in the pouring rain and he proclaimed we were headed to Banana Cafe & Piano Bar. Leave it to Budak to find a piano bar/Cuban/Mexican/Puerto Rican restaurant.

We sat in the downstairs area (the piano bar is upstairs) and took in the bright, almost garish, decor. Our waitress delivered a basket of decidedly average chips with watery salsa, and asked if we wanted to order drinks. Feeling festive, we decided to share a pitcher and the waitress said that they serve great mojitos. Unfortunately, we took her word for it. What followed was what B described as the "single worst drink I have ever had in my life."

The giant pitcher was filled with perhaps 65% sugar water, 30% unpleasant-tasting rum, and 5% of completely unmuddled mint and unsqueezed limes. It was so off-balance and so indescribably bad, that B pushed away his glass and asked the waitress to come over. He explained that something tasted really off with the drink and she stared at us blankly and asked what WE wanted her to do to fix it! Baffled, we suggested perhaps she add more lime juice or try muddling the mint. She took the pitcher away, brought it back with some more limes thrown in and left us to taste it. It still tasted as terrible as it did the first time and we left the pitcher almost completely untouched as we ate our food.

The mojito from hell has dominated my memory of Banana Cafe so much that I barely remember the food. However, I believe I had the Puerto Rican Piononos - an interesting combination of sweet plantains stuffed with ground beef and pork and topped with cheese. I liked it fine and the portion was big enough to save half for lunch the next day. However, as I sat at my desk eating reheated piononos, I could not shake the taste of the mojito and the wacky way in which the waitress handled it.

B, still rattled by the brush with mojito darkness, ate seafood paella that he described as fine but nothing memorable.

At the end of the meal, the waitress came to clear the plates and saw the giant, untouched pitcher o' mojito and said nothing. Never an offer to bring us something else or reduce the price or have us talk to the manager or the bartender. We were stuck with a $38 pitcher of undrinkable liquid and a story to tell our friends. The whole thing was so awkward and uncomfortable that we just paid the bill and hustled out of there.

I suppose if I were trapped on Barracks Row and every single other restaurant was closed and I was about to die of starvation, I would consider going back to Banana Cafe. A bit dramatic? Perhaps, but you didn't try that mojito! On to the next Budak adventure...

Second Thoughts From B

An open letter to J: If we are dying of starvation on Barracks Row and our only choice is Banana Cafe, you're welcome to eat me, because I will happily pass on the meal.

The mojito was that bad. Completely undrinkable. So far off that I still have no idea what went wrong, much less how to fix it. Less motor oil perhaps?

As far as my paella - which incidentally, also came highly recommended - it was also memorably poor. It wasn't inedible and in fact, it didn't even taste bad. Rather, it was remarkably average. It tasted like 3 day old reheated leftovers. Or maybe lukewarm dehydrated camping food. To be fair, I love leftovers and am tempted to stock my pantry with Mountain House products, but this is not what I'd hope for at a reasonably nice restaurant.

Fortunately for all of us, Barracks Row is hardly a wasteland of dining options. Spare yourself the pain and $38 and go elsewhere.
Banana Cafe & Piano Bar on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Bobby's Burger Palace - Redemption

Almost immediately after posting about our disastrous experience at Bobby's Burger Palace, we received an email from one of the company's top brass asking if he could chat with us on the phone regarding our experience. I was impressed by the follow-up and agreed to talk to him the next day.

After nearly 30 minutes on the phone, I was pretty blown away by the seriousness with which our blog post was handled. Not only did Bobby's Burger Palace see our post, they shared it with Bobby Flay and then proceeded to send it to the entire company as a memo so that the "failure on every level" that we experienced would not happen again. Instead of getting defensive, they took action.

Despite my assurances that the situation had been rectified, BBP insisted that we come back, meet with the General Manager, and try another meal on the house. They did not ask us to take down our negative blog post (not happening) nor did they ask us to write this follow-up blog post. Who are we to turn down such a mea culpa?

We returned to BBP last week on the same night of the week as before (Thursday) smack in the middle of the dinner rush. We met with Garth, the GM who admitted to being mortified by our blog post. Garth is determined to make sure that his staff is firing on all cylinders and his enthusiasm appeared to be wearing off on his staff. While we were well tended to by Garth, we kept a very close eye on the other tables to see how quickly they were cleared and how quickly food was served. We did not observe anything like the catastrophe that we experienced previously.

Wanting to get the best possible taste of BBP's menu, we asked Garth to order us his favorites. For me he chose the L.A. Burger (funny since he didn't know we're from L.A.) and a coffee milkshake. While coffee is not a flavor I'd normally order, the milkshake was outstanding. Like our last experience, the shake was thick, creamy, and showed no signs of artificial flavors. The L.A. Burger was piled high with avocado relish, watercress, cheddar cheese, and tomato. I don't know what the difference is between avocado relish and what we Californians call "guacamole," but it was the same idea. The burger was a perfect medium rare and served piping hot which made a world of difference from the sad, soggy burger I experienced last time. Thanks to Garth, I knew to add a dash of the jalapeno hot sauce (provided on the table) to give the burger the famous Bobby Flay kick.

For B, Garth selected the black and white shake (fabulous) and the Bobby Blue Burger with blue cheese, bacon, lettuce, and tomato. In his lifetime, according to my highly scientific survey, B has probably ordered 3.42657 skillion blue cheese and bacon burgers. Garth nailed it when choosing a burger for B. After B happily devoured his medium rare (not medium well) burger, he proclaimed it one of the better renditions of the combination that he's had. The bacon was crisp enough to hold up in the burger, but not so crispy that it shatters into pieces or cuts your mouth. The beef was seasoned so nicely that B ate several pieces plain and said he'd be happy having it served on a plate, steak style. B got the shortest end of the short stick on the last BBP visit so I was thrilled that he was having a BBP lovefest on our return engagement.

Because Garth was intent on giving us a true taste of the menu (and a coronary), he brought out regular fries, sweet potato fries, and onion rings. The onion rings, when served hot, are noteworthy. The fries, though much better hot than lukewarm (as they were last time), are still not making my heart sing. I like them when dunked in one of the many dipping sauces, but I think calories are better spent on the burgers and shakes.

So, would we go back to BBP when we're paying for it out of our own pockets? For me, the answer is yes, not only because I was very impressed by their desire to right their new ship, but I also liked the food when I didn't have to wait an eternity for it. At this price point (burgers less than $8), I think the variety of toppings and quality of beef is hard to match. I stick by my original rant and maintain that Bobby-freaking-Flay should be held to a higher standard. Thankfully, on his second at bat, he rose to the challenge.

Second Thoughts From B

Call me impressed, but not for the reason you think. Yes, I appreciated the free meal. Yes, I thought it was a huge improvement over the hockey puck I ate previously. Yes, I'll admit that it was nice to get my ego stroked a little. But, I was most impressed by the sincerity and seriousness in which the entire organization took our feedback.

No blog, much less this little production, could make a dent in the Bobby Flay culinary empire. After all, he is arguably the most recognizable chef on the planet. You would think that the guy could slap his name on a turd sandwich and it would sell. (That theory was put to the test by the show America's Next Great Restaurant... and failed miserably)

But my point is that our feedback could have easily been ignored or dismissed, and BBP would have done just fine. The fact that they cared so much (to the point it was almost uncomfortable), probably has a lot to do with why Bobby Flay is Bobby-freaking-Flay.

With all that said, unless you're an Iron Chef judge, you'll probably not receive the careful, individual attention that we were lucky enough to enjoy. It is a fast, casual burger joint after all. So what are my expectations when we return to anonymity? First and foremost, I think it is fair to assume shakes that rival any in the city (Good Stuff Eatery setting the gold standard). I'd also expect onion rings, that when served hot and fresh, are in the conversation with Z Burger's rings of deliciousness.

As for the burger, the range between hockey puck and patty perfection is rather vast. I've seen the potential, now I'm looking for consistency. And the fact that I'm willing - even enthusiastic - to figure out if BBP can deliver, is a true testament to a great organization.
Bobby's Burger Palace on Urbanspoon

Friday, September 23, 2011

Truckeroo: Feelin' Crabby, PORC, and Sabor'a Street

Have you ever wished that all of the fun DC food trucks would gather together and park in one spot so you can try them all? If so, Truckeroo is for you! Truckeroo is a monthly food truck extravaganza held next to Nationals Park. Admission is free and the trucks are serving alongside live music and beer booths. They control the crowds entering (we had to wait about 30 minutes to get in at dinner time), but it is still not for the people-averse. Come prepared to get close to your neighbor.

A bit overwhelmed by the dozens of trucks and zillions of people, we decided to split up, grab food from different trucks, and meet back at one of the picnic tables in the center of Truckeroo.

B headed over to Feelin' Crabby. This truck wins points for its fun design, but was there any substance behind the style?

Feelin' Crabby serves a crabwich: jumbo lump crab, mayo, and Old Bay mixed together and served on a Kaiser roll with lettuce and tomato. The crabwich is $11 ($4 cheaper than its lobster roll cousin at Red Hook Lobster Pound). The crab was plentiful and not drowning in mayo, but I missed the butter-toasted buns that my favorite lobster rolls are served on. The roll didn't add much except that it made for an easy vehicle to get the crab in our mouths in record time. If you forced me to choose between the lobster truck and Feelin' Crabby, I'd ask you how long the lines are. Feelin' Crabby had a 2 minute line while the lobster truck's line stretched into Maryland. In a hurry? Go for the crab.

While B procured the crabwich, I got in line for the PORC truck.

PORC stands for Purveyors of Rolling Cuisine. They offer a rotating menu of specialties including BBQ and gourmet sausages. Despite what the name might suggest, they serve more than just pig products. I decided to stick with PORC's pork and ordered the pulled pork sandwich with their hot BBQ sauce. I was pleased to see big meaty chunks in the sandwich. Sometimes overzealous pork pullers turn the meat into something resembling confetti. Not so with the PORC truck. The hot sauce was HOT so don't get it if you don't want some mouth burning action. The people in the truck were ridiculously friendly, and happily and quickly replaced two sandwiches that a customer accidentally dropped on the ground. High five PORC dudes.

Our buddy Ace (after ditching the crazy long Takorean line) stuck it out at Sabor'a Street.

Link Ace was kind enough to share her bounty of tacos, arepas, and plantains with us. This was by far the most flavorful and complex food of the night. You could tell me this came from Oyamel and I'd believe you.

Truckeroo sound like something fun to you? The thought of 25+ trucks serving food put you in a happy mood? Fear not fair maiden, for Truckeroo Four is coming in one week more. September 30th is the date, so grab your friends or your mate!

Second Thoughts From B

Usually I'm drawn to people and things that are diverse and complex. I like
versatility and balance. I love fusion and admire compromise. The more multidimensional the better, right? My bike is a hybrid, my car is a crossover, and my job is at the intersection of two divergent fields. So it would stand to reason that Truckeroo - with its multitude of eclectic culinary options - would be my own personal heaven.

The problem is that a parking lot of 25+ food trucks is absolutely overwhelming. Putting aside the mass of humanity, the number of trucks is paralyzingly large. If you find it hard to select an item from a scoped menu, this might be a nightmare rather than a dream.

One of the things I enjoy about the food truck concept is that these people specialize. They have a handful of items that they make extremely well, so customers really can't go wrong. But that's only if you can narrow in on a single truck.

Walking in I felt like a judge on the Miss America pageant. The problem wasn't that I couldn't find a winner, it was that I had to select 25 losers. And what if I got it wrong? Would you like a side of fries with your anxiety, sir?

Chances are that you are not as neurotic as I am but the point is this: find a large group of friends and attack Truckeroo family style. Divide and conquer so you can get a little taste of everything. Either that or Valium.

Monday, September 19, 2011

DC: The Game

It is no secret that J and I like scavenger hunts (see exhibit A, B, and C). Combine competition, problem solving, hidden neighborhood gems, and historical facts, and we are all in. Thankfully, DC is also all about scavenger hunts.

Recently, we were offered an opportunity to test drive DC: The Game by Stray Boots Scavenger Hunts. This text message-based neighborhood adventure is "an interactive scavenger hunt that shows people the best of their city using their phones." Currently, versions of the game are available in several major cities around the U.S.

DC has three versions of the game to choose from: Georgetown, the Smithsonian, and the one we played, Penn Quarter. Normally, the game costs $20 per person (currently on sale for $12), but we were able to play for free.

Starting at Ford's Theatre, we spent the next hour and a half (for people less familiar with the area, 2-3 hours is recommended) wandering into shops and museums hunting for the clues that continued to attack our cell phone as if they were coming from a 13 year old girl.

So first and foremost, did you have fun?
Yes. Without qualification, it was a nice way to spend a summer afternoon.

But did you learn anything?
Yes. While we could answer many of the clues off the top of our heads, several took us to places that we had never been. Who knew there was a full-sized underground museum attached to the Navy Memorial?

Would you do it again?
Probably not. At $20 a person (though it seems like a group can share clues on a single cell phone), this is a pricey adventure. When free smartphone apps like SCVNGR contain more features than any text-based hunt can, it seems to be a curious business model. And at that price point, you are now competing with the various tour bus companies in DC.

Would you recommend it to others?
While DC: The Game is a decent product (ignoring the couple inaccuracies and glitches), it is competing with products that seem to be better values. Also, for DC locals, it might be too elementary while out-of-towners might get lost. The sweet spot is probably the folks who live in the area but don't make it to downtown regularly, but I don't see them driving into the city so they can play a $20 text-messaging game... But what do I know?

J says

I can play this game too! Let me add a few questions and answers...

Do I need an unlimited texting plan?
Yes. We didn't pay enough attention to the fine print on the website and were pretty taken aback when we sent or received 99 texts to play the game. Find a friend who has an unlimited plan before you sign up.

Is there a time limit?
No. One of the unique and fun things about DC: The Game is that you can play it at your own pace. You can make a leisurely day of it and stop for lunch or browse a museum during the game. Definitely a much more relaxed feel than the uber-competitive games we've played in the past.

Did you get all the answers right?
Not on the first try. It took us two guesses to answer "Who was the youngest president to take office?" We assumed "take office" meant "elected" and we were wrong! The game gives you a hint when you're wrong and lets you try again, so you don't run the risk of getting booted out of the game before you've completed the whole thing.

Whether you try DC: The Game or SCVNGR or something else entirely, we wish you happy hunting!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

America Eats Tavern

We've had a run of tough restaurant visits lately. Leave it to Chef Jose Andres to be the breath of fresh air (and excellent food and service) we needed. We're fans of his restaurants and every time we see him on TV we stop what we're doing and watch. Did you see the No Reservations episode when he and Bourdain visited El Bulli for the last time? It was magical. I could listen to Chef Andres talk about food all day long.

At America Eats Tavern, Chef Andres' latest venture, you can see his famous passion and curiosity on every plate. Teaming up with the Foundation for the National Archives, Chef Andres closed his popular Cafe Atlantico and reimagined the space as America Eats. During the six month run of the National Archives' companion exhibit "What's Cooking, Uncle Sam?", Chef Andres is donating the profits from America Eats to the Foundation for the National Archives.

Prior to our culinary adventure, we stopped in the National Archives to check out the "What's Cooking" exhibit and were fascinated by the display of artifacts and records tracing the "Government's effect on what Americans eat."

At nearby America Eats Tavern, Chef Andres has developed a menu of new takes on American classics. He celebrates traditional American ingredients and "some long forgotten dishes, from burgoo to oysters Rockefeller." Having had a fantastic meal with B's parents at Chef Andres' Bazaar in LA, we were excited to take them to America Eats.

If you visited the former Cafe Atlantico, you'll be interested to see how Chef Andres and his team reimagined the space. We loved checking out the classic American photos and food posters that hung from the ceiling and graced the walls.

Bring your reading glasses along for the ride at America Eats because the menu has detailed descriptions of every dish including a historical note about the origin. There is a lot to take in. Luckily, our waiter was uber-informative and walked us through the concept well. He explained that the menu is divided into four parts and designed so that diners select one dish from each part: oysters, to follow, soup & salad, meat & fish. It seemed like a lot of food for one person to eat, but we were so excited to try so many of the dishes so we went for it. There are certain dishes that are only available on certain nights of the week, so check the menu or call ahead if you want to be sure your favorite is being served.

I started with the grilled butter oysters. These babies would put a smile on the face of even the most diehard oyster hater. Buttery, smooth, and not at all fishy.

B started with the Hangtown Fry, a salty, creamy combo of oysters, eggs, and bacon. It was hard to steal a bite of this one, as B did not want to let it go! B's mom also had the Hangtown Fry and declared it her favorite dish of the night for its presentation, taste and texture. Off to a fantastic start!

Next up for me was the "vermicelli prepared like pudding," which is described as the "grandfather of today's mac 'n' cheese." If you like noodles and cheese like I do, this is your dish. No crazy flavors or molecular magic, just really good noodles lovingly doused in a really good creamy cheese sauce. The mushrooms placed around the plate gave a fun texture and flavor contrast to the cheesy wonderfulness. I could eat way too much of this stuff.

B's next course was the shrimp 'n' Anson Mills grits. Perhaps B was actually meant to be a Southerner because he loves shrimp 'n' grits. This dish was no exception.

For my salad course I took the waiter's recommendation and tried Chef Andres' twist on the classic Waldorf. While I wasn't wowed by the salad, I do have to give Chef credit for creativity. He took apples, peeled and balled them so they looked like melon balls, yet infused them with celery juice so they tasted like celery. He left a little bit of apple skin on the bottom of each ball so you don't forget you're eating an apple. Completely unexpected and points for creativity.

B opted for the gazpacho which was a refreshing party of flavors on every spoonful. Apparently this recipe was one of President Clinton's White House favorites. Though the (newly vegan) Prez got a bad rap for his old junk food habit, he knows what he's talking about with gazpacho.

For my meat course, I chose something off the appetizer menu because I just can't turn down fried chicken. I think I have a serious fried chicken problem. Chef Andres' interpretation was fun (boneless "nuggets" of juicy chicken), but not life changing. I was too full at this point to really enjoy it to its fullest. I did like the tangy blackberry catsup that it was paired with. If you're a catsup (or ketchup) fan, the menu features eight types of catsups from gooseberry to Jack Daniel's. Who knew that there are dozens of historical catsup recipes?

B's main event was the BBQ beef short ribs with "cold slaw." The meat is prepared in a combo of Texas and North Carolina BBQ spices, and the cole slaw is a recipe brought over by Dutch settlers. A mishmash of traditions that equals one fantastic plate.

I love dining with B's mom because we always have room for dessert. While B and his dad shook their heads at us, we ordered the strawberry shortcake, which was a gorgeous and light way to end the experience. The dish featured strawberries in many forms (slices, sauce, sorbet) and the shortcake was buttery without being heavy.

I'm full just looking at these pictures. I definitely think that you end up with too much food if you follow the recommendation and choose one from each course. I would've been much better off choosing only two dishes.

Despite a couple of service miscues (lots of reaching across the table and a forgotten dish), we had a fabulous journey through America's culinary history as interpreted by the whimsical Chef Jose Andres. I can almost guarantee that we'll be back before the end of America Eats' run to try his version of one of my favorite American dishes, the peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I think I'll skip the optional foie gras topping so that just leaves more for you to enjoy!

Second Thoughts from B

After our recent run of sub par experiences, I was beginning to feel like J and I were turning into Statler and Waldorf, the two crotchety old men in the Muppet Show...

Jose Andres has risen to culinary god in our minds. You know that hypothetical game you play that asks, "If you could have dinner with any 4 people, who would they be?" Chef Andres might not have secured an invite quite yet, but he's in the conversation for both of us.

The downside to this is that we have begun to expect that every single bite will be life changing for us. Of course that is impossible, but the man still manages to surprise and inspire more often than not.

By the end of the night, we could all agree that 4 dishes was too many. Maybe that's part of the American culinary story of gluttony, but I doubt it. My only other critique would be that the dishes tended to be slightly heavy on the salt. Again, this could be another sad commentary on American food culture.

But just to prove I'm no Waldorf, let me end on a few high notes. I loved the history book of a menu. Sure, I may be the nerd that loved history and loves museums, but having a mini story attached to everything we were eating was a real treat and nothing I've ever seen before. I'd recommend asking to keep a menu for review during the meal so you can remind yourself of the origins of each dish.

I also love how thoughtfully composed each dish was. Everything on the plate has a purpose; flavor, texture, color, humor. Jose Andres is a thinking man's chef. He makes you want to know more about food because of the tremendous depth and artistry in front of you. What I'm saying is that he makes the ordinary inspiring.

The America Eats experience is one that is completely unique, completely DC, and completely Jose Andres. I would encourage everyone to take advantage of it while it is still here. Was it my favorite Jose Andres meal of all time? No, but consider the competition. After all, being runner up at the Miss America pageant isn't exactly a criticism, is it?
America Eats Tavern on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Bobby's Burger Palace

If I had to come up with one word to describe our experience at the new Bobby's Burger Palace, it would be "oy." I had my eyes set on BBP from the minute Bobby (that's Bobby Flay to those of you who don't live and die by the Food Network) announced he was bringing his burgers to DC. I hoped this post would be about how much I adored his Palace O' Burgers and couldn't wait to get back. Instead, I'm just going to tell you how it all went down.

B's parents arrived at National Airport at 9:00 pm. Knowing BBP closed at 10:00 pm on Thursdays (I knew this because I called them, not because their website has hours. Lame.), we hustled ourselves over to 21st and K by 9:30 pm. Since we'd heard there had been really long lines for BBP in recent weeks, we were pleased when we saw about five people in line in front of us. The line moved quickly enough and we were soon standing before the cashier who greeted us by saying "everyone is so angry tonight!" I responded that "I hope we don't find a reason to be angry too!" She laughed, took our order, repeated it back to us, and we were on our way to a table.

Since the empty tables had not yet been bussed, we sat down at a dirty table and began the hunt for someone to clear off the trash. After getting up and asking a couple different people, our table was cleared and we sat and pondered the unique design choices. B's mom liked the curved Linkcounter area and I agreed with her that the chairs were comfy. B dug the retro vibe while B's dad would have preferred a more conventional design.

After about 15 minutes of sitting and waiting, we began to realize that the restaurant was nearly empty yet we hadn't seen any food. I flagged down a staff member who shrugged and returned a couple of minutes later with our milkshakes.

B and I thoroughly enjoyed our blueberry pomegranate shake. It was the right thickness, great flavor, and had a fun "boba-style" straw. My only complaints would be that it was pretty small (think: a water glass) and in a plastic cup that caused it to get pretty melty quickly.

We sat longer, enjoying the conversation, but having a hard time ignoring the growing hunger pangs. It was now 10:15 pm and we still had no food. I got up again to find a staff member to inquire about our food. He stared at me for a bit then grunted "How long you been waiting?" When I told him 45 minutes, he turned around and walked toward the kitchen. He disappeared and we still didn't have any food. Other staff people walked by and we asked about our food. Finally, almost 50 minutes after ordering, the burgers began to trickle out from the kitchen individually.

We nibbled on the onion rings and sweet potato fries while we waited for all 4 burgers. Bobby provides a plethora of dipping sauces and I can see why. The fries and rings were completely average and you need the sauces to pep them up a little.

While B was still burgerless, I started in on my Santa Fe burger with queso sauce, pickled jalapeno, and blue corn tortilla chips. I figured this would be where Bobby shines because he's never met a "Southwest" dish or a pepper he didn't like. The burger was cooked as requested (medium rare) and I like that you can have your burger cooked to the temperature of your choice. The queso sauce was nice and creamy, and the jalapenos were sufficiently zingy. However, the chips were soggy and in such tiny pieces that they added no crunch. This was a wanna-be New Jack Zing Burger that is firmly entrenched in the wanna-be camp.

B's mom tried a "topless" burger which is any of the signature burger flavors served over greens instead of on a bun. She liked the Napa Valley flavors (goat cheese, Meyer lemon), but thought it fell flat when served on the greens. Her advice is to order a burger when you go to a burger place, not a salad masquerading as a burger.

So, now it was about 10:25 and everyone was commenting on their burgers when I looked over and realized B still doesn't have his burger. At this point I'm ready to lose it and I desperately flag down a staff member who goes back to the kitchen again to check. Someone comes out with B's burger and says "you wanted this medium well, right?" I'll spare you a giant rant on people who order their meat well done and just say that B absolutely did not - and never would - order something medium well. He ordered it medium rare and the cashier repeated it back as medium rare. Since it had been almost an HOUR since we ordered, B just took the burger and started to chow down. He quickly noticed that not only was his burger cooked so that it resembled a hockey puck, it was also missing the potato chips that make a burger "Crunchified" in Bobby speak. B's sad little burger went back to the kitchen for a dusting of potato chips.

His long-awaited burger was the Buffalo Style Burger with red hot sauce, bleu cheese, and watercress. Food Network personality Claire Robinson called this burger the best burger she's ever eaten. Sorry Claire, you need to get out and eat some more burgers. I don't know if any burger can overcome such a ridiculous wait and bad service, but this one definitely did not.

Before I get angry comments saying that this is a new restaurant, let me leave you with this:
  1. We waited several weeks after opening to try it.

  2. We went at a time that we knew they would be less busy (but allowed plenty of time before closing) to avoid issues with long lines.

  3. This is not Bobby's first Palace. He has had five other openings to figure this out.

  4. It's Bobby-freaking-Flay. He's famous enough to be a recurring character on Entourage. This isn't a mom and pop operation.

  5. Nobody, not ONE single person apologized for the wait or offered to help us. A simple apology would go a really long way.
Now we know why the cashier said everyone was angry. Oy, Bobby Flay, Oy.

Second Thoughts from B

Nice rant J! Couldn't have done better myself. Like Ari Gold's wife, I flirted with Bobby Flay. I wanted to like him, I really did. I figured such a bad actor had to be a great chef. So I left my familiar and reliable burger spot to gave him a shot to win my heart. But I found myself disappointed and running back to my first love. Take me back Ray's Hell Burger, I never stopped loving you.
Bobby's Burger Palace on Urbanspoon

Friday, September 9, 2011

Cork Market & Tasting Room

B's mom loves food and she also loves reading Bon Appetit. She frequently mails us clippings from the magazine about DC restaurants. We were thrilled when she sent us the "Top 10 Best Places for Fried Chicken" featuring DC's Cork Market & Tasting Room. It's no secret that we love fried chicken and will travel to great lengths to try it, evidenced by the fact that we stumbled across our favorite local fried chicken at an old gas station way out in rural Maryland.

Last Wednesday, we were having a heck of a time deciding what we wanted for dinner when I recalled the Bon Appetit article and thought I read that Cork serves up its famous fried birds on Wednesdays. B drove me over to 14th Street where I hopped out of the car and into Cork Market & Tasting Room.

Cork looks like any typical wine store when you first enter. I'm sure they have a fabulous selection and very knowledgeable helpers, but I was on a mission for food not vino. I saw a cold case in the rear of the store with food in it and made a beeline for it. The case contained some cold salads, calzones, and a few pieces of the fried chicken!

To get a little variety (and the appearance of something healthy) I chose the farro salad with wild mushrooms, spring onions, and preserved lemon. I love funky, chewy textures so this was right up my alley. The chew of the farro combined with the soft mushrooms and tart lemon was a perfect, light counterpart to the fried chicken.

Next, I chose two large pieces of chicken. As the food was being boxed up, I asked for a recommendation on reheating the chicken. She said that some people like it cold but if I wanted it hot, put it in the oven for a few minutes at 350 degrees. I followed the oven instructions and, while it warmed the chicken well, the crust was a bit on the soggy side. I think you'd be much better off eating the chicken cold (perhaps as part of a picnic as it was intended) than trying to heat it. If you like cold chicken, this had an outstanding flavor thanks to the garlic-herb marinade. I'm not really in the cold meat eating camp, so this chicken won't replace Kerrigan's as my favorite.

Because I always throw in one, awkward, mismatched food item when I'm ordering to-go, I tried the spinach and cheese calzone. It was also very flavorful and had a great crust, but suffered from the same soggy-when-heated syndrome as the chicken. Lesson learned: eat it all cold.

If you're packing a picnic, Cork is the place to go. The food is innovative, prepared with quality ingredients, and made to be eaten outside. I recommend calling them before you go if you really want to be sure a particular menu item is available. In the past, I read articles saying the fried chicken was only available Wednesday. I just called Cork and was told that the chicken is made on Thursdays and Saturdays. I guess that explains why there were only a few pieces left on Wednesday (and maybe also why the skin was on the soggy side). Give them a call to avoid chicken disappointment on your next visit.

Second Thoughts from B

I think that evaluating 4 day old, reheated fried chicken is unfair to Cork. As it was, I was convinced that the fried chicken was made with great skill and ingredients, but that I should have been eating it fresh out of the fryer. Little did I know that earlier in the week would have been more like it.

So I guess I'm grading on a curve here and trying to reconstruct what could have been. Do they get an "A" since 4 day old chicken tasted like 4 hours old chicken? I supposed you could make that argument but I'd lean towards an incomplete. But when coupled with the farro salad and calzone that stood up to refrigeration much better, I think Cork at least earned a chance to retake the test.
Cork Market & Tasting Room on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Liberty Tree

Continuing our tour of H Street NE restaurants, we paid a visit to Liberty Tree. Liberty Tree is named after the Sons of Liberty, "a secret organization of American patriots who originally gathered under a large elm tree in Boston to protest the Stamp Act in 1765."

While there were no elm trees under which we could gather, a Peroni umbrella on the side patio did the trick. We sipped summer cocktails while perusing the menu. The menu has a distinct New England vibe, but nothing particularly imaginative or interesting was jumping off the page at us.

The fish and chips (B) and lobster roll (J) were adequate, and I might even use the word "fantastic" to describe the balsamic brussel sprouts. Our friends were happy with the salad and pizza they ordered and we had a great time enjoying the beautiful weather on the patio.

Though it was a nice experience, there wasn't anything particularly memorable about it and, when you're in a neighborhood with such gems as Toki Underground or Granville Moore's, I can't think of a reason I'd go to Liberty Tree. Maybe if the wait was too long at the aforementioned favorites? Likely not. I'd probably head to Taylor Gourmet for a sandwich and risotto balls.

Second Thoughts from B

Liberty Tree is a bar that serves bar food. It isn't anything to write home about but it'll fill your stomach and go well with some suds.

Unfortunately, we arrived thinking this was more of a restaurant with a relaxed bar feel. Maybe that's our fault or maybe Liberty Tree is trying to be something it is not (the prices indicated that this may be the case). And if that's the criteria I should be using to judge this experience, the meal fell flat.

Here's what I remember from the evening: the company was lovely (we got to meet our friend's girlfriend for the first time!), it was rather dark after the sun went down (sorry for the lack of pictures), the brussel sprouts were good but forgettable, the fish and chips were not crisp or flavorful and still forgettable, and the bill didn't match the experience. In short, you can do better. After all, isn't that what freedom and liberty is all about?
Liberty Tree on Urbanspoon

Thursday, September 1, 2011


Whenever I tell B about a new restaurant that I want to try, his first question is usually "what are they known for?" He will almost always order whatever the restaurant's "signature dish" happens to be. He figures that he might as well stick to what a restaurant does best to enhance the odds of having a great experience. In the case of Rita's, we both were guilty of breaking this rule.

Not being familiar with the chain, or really with Italian ice, we were a little confused when so many of the menu options featured flavored Italian ice and custard mixed together. So, instead of sticking to what Rita's is apparently known for (the Italian ice), I ordered a "Blendini" which is an Italian ice flavor, a custard flavor, and a topping all blended together. (Think DQ Blizzard with the addition of Italian ice). I opted for s'mores Italian ice, chocolate custard, and Reese's peanut butter cups. The chocolate custard and Reese's were good, but the addition of the Italian ice gave the whole thing a grainy, off-putting texture. It was like taking a smooth batch of custard and throwing sand in it. Why Rita, why?

B also skipped the Italian ice and ordered a vanilla custard with hot fudge and sprinkles. Our first clue that this wasn't a strong order was when the gentleman behind the counter asked if B wanted it on a cone. Hot fudge on a cone? There wasn't anything particularly wrong with the custard, the fudge, or the sprinkles but it was all just sort of "meh."

If you want custard, go to the Dairy Godmother. If you want a blended creamy treat, get a Blizzard at DQ. If you want Italian Ice, you might want to try Rita's but we can't speak to that because we blew it on the ordering.

Second Thoughts From B

This was my second time at Rita's. A few weeks earlier, I also got sucked into the mess that is the blendini with a peaches (ice) and cream (vanilla custard) concoction with crushed Nilla Wafers that upped the sand factor. Bottom line: sometimes more isn't better. In other words, keep it simple, stupid... or so I thought.

Undeterred - or should I say blinded by glow of a frozen dessert shop - J still went with the sand castle surprise. Thinking I knew better, I went with the classic sundae. How could that not hit the mark, right? Apparently, the answer would be too much generic-tasting fudge and sprinkles that overpowered the weakly flavored custard.

So I'm 0 for 2. With so many wonderful options for frozen treats in the city, dare I risk strike 3?
Rita's on Urbanspoon