Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thankful for DC

We wanted to take a moment on the eve of Thanksgiving to jot down a few things about DC that we're thankful for. We often take for granted the amazing things our fair city has to offer and thought it'd be good to reflect on the things (some serious, some not) that we appreciate.

J is thankful for:

  • all of the new friends we've made that makes DC feel like home

B is thankful for:

  • to have a job that keeps a roof over my head, food on my plate, and does good for the world
Wishing you a very Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Source

I smile every time Wolfgang Puck is featured on Best Thing I Ever Ate. His joy for life and for food is contagious. As California kids, Wolfgang was the first celebrity chef we ever knew. Several years ago, Chef Puck brought his California style to DC and opened the Asian-inspired The Source next to the Newseum. I had the flu the first time we dined at The Source back in 2008. I couldn't taste anything, but remember liking the atmosphere and being impressed by the beauty of each dish.

I was thrilled to return to The Source with my sense of smell and taste intact. We met two of our friends for dinner and had a fantastic time celebrating their recent marriage.

We started with two sets of dumplings recommended by our waiter.

In addition to being beautifully presented, they were delicious. B thinks most dumplings taste about the same, but even he admitted these were pretty stellar.

For my main course I ordered the night's special lobster dish. It was prepared table-side by our waiter who delicately removed the meat from the shell, leaving me with a plate of plump lobster meat in a spicy, tangy sauce. All delicious lobster meat with no work to get it out of the shell = win. (the eerie lighting is from the street light outside the window... this dish looked much more appealing in real life)

B ordered his 999th zillion lamb dish and boy, what a dish it was. He devoured it so quickly that I couldn't even tell you how it was prepared.

For dessert, we couldn't decide what to order so we split a variety of things. The warm blueberry crumble and 15-layer carrot cake were among the best desserts we've had in town. The warm chocolate chip cookies were so good that our friend contacted the chef for the recipe.

While Wolfgang is probably rarely (if ever) in the kitchen at The Source, his joy is passed through to his Executive Chef Scott Drewno who has created a somewhat whimsical and completely yummy menu. A trip to Asia via The Source is not cheap (despite the crappy and splintery disposable chopsticks), but it is a special occasion meal that is likely to leave you smiling too.

Second Thoughts from B

Maybe you do get a second chance to make a first impression...

While I was fully healthy for our 2008 trip, something just didn't click. Maybe it was an off night, maybe I ordered the wrong thing, maybe they've revamped the place since then. I don't know. All I know is that this latest trip completely changed how I now view The Source. In one meal it quickly went from overpriced yawner to special occasion contender.

Let me set the record straight on this lamb obsession I have. I won't argue with the fact that I love it. Lamb has all the things that I crave about a great steak, plus just a touch of sweet gaminess to make it that much more interesting. I feel this adds complexity to any dish and offers good chefs with another angle to play off of. And, you don't put lamb on your menu if you don't know what you're doing (unlike many a steak dish).

J has made it no secret that I love lamb, but she always somehow fails to note that she encourages me to order it, especially when it comes highly recommended by the staff. That was certainly the case here. When the lamb is talked about in such glowing terms, how can I refuse? And our waiter was right! The Asian flavors perfected by Chef Puck in Los Angeles, especially the sweet soy and black bean, paired seamlessly with the meat that was cooked perfectly.

Hall of Fame pitcher, Lefty Grove, was once described as being able to throw a lamb chop past a wolf. (Even though Grove pitched in the 1930's, years of listening to Vin Scully makes you know things like this) Wolfgang Puck, or "Wolfie" as J likes to call him, might not be much of a baseball player, but he sure hit this lamb chop out of the park (insert rim shot here).
The Source on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

DC Metro Food Tour

For my birthday, one of my friends gave me a gift certificate for a food tour with DC Metro Food Tours. The certificate allowed me to bring one guest and choose between 3 tour options: Old Town Alexandria, Little Ethiopia, and Capitol Hill. I opted to bring B (lucky guy!) and signed us up online a few weeks in advance of the Sunday afternoon Capitol Hill tour.

We met our tour guide Andrew (a recent DC college grad) and the rest of the group (7 other people) at the Eastern Market metro station. We set off around the Barracks Row neighborhood learning interesting tidbits about the area's history.

After walking around a bit, we stopped at the first restaurant on the tour, Capitol Hill Tandoor & Grill. Andrew described the food as Anglo-Indian and we feared it would be watered-down and flavorless. To the contrary, the food (including a tandoor chicken dish and soup) had the zesty Indian kick that I love but also incorporated more "American-style" vegetables such as broccoli and carrots. It was an interesting fusion and one I'd be happy to try again.

After eating our fill at the first stop, we continued our walk around the neighborhood and learned more history. I was beginning to sense that the history lesson and the food part of the tour were not really connected. We'd learn about a historic home and then go to a seemingly unrelated restaurant. After learning about the Marine Corps Barracks we went to Las Placitas, a Salvadorean/Mexican restaurant. The food here was fine, bordering on good, but nothing I need to race back to the Hill for.

After Las Placitas, we returned to the streets for more walking and more learning about the neighborhood. Then we entered one of the most random stops on the tour: a relatively new Italian restaurant named Lavagna. I was expecting some discussion of the historic nature of the building or a lesson on Italian food's connection to DC, but there was none of that. The food we had was very good (particularly the gnocchi) and the manager who greeted us was as friendly as they come.

Our last stop was at Zest American Bistro. Again, there was no tie-in to the history of the neighborhood but the bread pudding was damn good.

After 3 hours our bellies and minds were full of good food and historical tidbits about the Barracks Row area. We had a great time on the tour and were grateful for the chance to try out four new restaurants. If you're expecting a tour providing a historical connection and backdrop for the food your are eating, this is not for you. If you want to spend a day learning about a new neighborhood with stops to eat in between, this is your ticket.

Second Thoughts from B

This was not a food tour. This was a Barracks Row tour. Since restaurants are prevalent on 8th street, they fit with the neighbor walkabout theme, but then again, going into the costume store or bicycle shop would have as well.

Don't get me wrong, I very much enjoyed our 3 hour tour. I'm a sponge for any kind of oddball historical fact and it is no secret to you, dear reader, that I live to try new restaurants. But to call it a "food tour" is a bit misleading. Andrew certainly possessed sufficient expertise of the area's history and architecture, but he was far from an expert on food (poor kid had never heard of gnocchi before starting this job).

J and I went into this adventure expecting to get a behind the scenes tour of several Capitol Hill restaurants... hear about the building's history, learn about the eatery's place in the community, and meet a chef or two. Rather, we visited a few historical buildings, discussed architecture and the evolution of the city, and broke it up with a bite to eat. Definitely not what we had in mind, but a great way to spend the afternoon anyway. We might have even discovered a few places to return to when we are in the area...

Perhaps it was said best by the Rolling Stones, who certainly were talking about DC Metro Food Tours when they sang:

You can't always get what you want
But if you try sometimes you might find
You get what you need

Capitol Hill Tandoor & Grill: Capitol Hill Tandoor & Grill on Urbanspoon
Las Placitas: Las Placitas on Urbanspoon
Lavagna: Lavagna on Urbanspoon
Zest American Bistro: Zest Bistro on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Alberto's Pizzeria

What do you do when a craving for deep dish pizza strikes but you don't have time to leave the house to go pick up a pie? If you're like me, you head to the trusty old interwebs and google "Deep Dish Pizza Delivery DC." Said search led me to Alberto's Pizzeria near Dupont Circle.

I really wanted pizza from Pi (see our review of their food truck here), but they don't deliver and the other option, Armand's Chicago Pizzeria, wasn't great on our first and only trip there. So even though our house is located just a smidge outside the delivery area, I called up Alberto's and they agreed to deliver a stuffed chicago pie with pepperoni and mushrooms if I was willing to wait 90 minutes (those thick pies don't cook at light speed). 90 minutes later, a friendly delivery driver was at our door and I summoned all my strength to lug the heavy pizza up to our kitchen.

B arrived home at this point and I sheepishly served him up a mammoth slice and told him not to expect much. The reviews of Alberto's weren't stellar and I wasn't sure how a deep dish pie would hold up during delivery. I didn't want to take a picture of it because I didn't think it would be worth blogging about.

We both were pretty shocked at how much we enjoyed the pizza. The crust was thick, without being dense as a doorknob, and the cheese was delightfully rich and stringy. For $22.95 we got enough pizza to feed a basketball team. With each order, Alberto also throws in a complimentary item such as a mini Caesar salad. While my Chicago friends would probably scoff at Alberto's pies, I think he's dishing up pretty good deep dish for delivery in DC.

Second Thoughts from B

Isn't it fun to be pleasantly surprised, especially when that surprise is deep dish pizza?

I was recently reading a piece by Bill Simmons on Eddie Murphy's career. The point was made that Murphy's career was so white hot for the first 7 years that the past 20 have been disappointing. Murphy's early brilliance raised expectations to the point that making hugely successful children's moves seemed to be a waste of his talents. The Shrek franchise would make most people's careers, but for the guy that gave us 48 Hrs and Beverly Hills Cop, we expect more.

So back to the pizza... Expectations can run the other way too. When you're expecting another low brow comedy with Eddie in a fat suit but end up with Coming to America, all is right in the world. That was Alberto's. I came home exhausted one night expecting nothing more than something that would fill my belly. Instead I got a pizza reminiscent of Chicago's best. I'm sure that is an overstatement, but that's what happens when you're pleasantly surprised.
Alberto's on Urbanspoon

Friday, November 4, 2011

Papa Razzi

Are you familiar with Papa Razzi? Not the catchy Lady Gaga song or the hordes of camera-toting, traffic-causing "reporters" that stake out celebrities. I'm talking about the Italian restaurant in Georgetown that is directly across the street from another Italian restaurant in Georgetown.

Papa Razzi is part of a mini-chain with 11 other restaurants (mostly in Massachusetts). It bills itself as "a taste of Italy without the airfare," which is precisely why we found ourselves there recently. We just booked a winter trip to Italy and wanted to celebrate over an Italian dinner and discuss all things Italian.

We toasted Italy with a flight of Italian wines (white for me and red for B). Since I'm not a huge drinker, tasting flights are the perfect way for me to get the variety without the hangover. Bonus points for placing each glass on a card describing the wine.

While a Caesar salad may not be an authentic way to kick off an Italian meal, Papa Razzi claims to have an award winning Caesar. They kindly split the salad on two plates to avoid the inevitable "dropping the croutons on the tablecloth" that arises when we try to split a salad ourselves. B, who ordered a Caesar salad at every restaurant as a kid, gave this one high marks.

As we perused the menu, I was torn between the gnocchi with a pink sauce and the evening's special risotto with beef tenderloin. Because B is awesome, he ordered the gnocchi so I could focus on the risotto. I've never met a gnocchi I didn't like and I think pink sauce can make anything taste amazing, so this dish was perfect for me. Sure, it is probably uber-Americanized, but it was tasty!

The risotto was very unique. It was very al dente and the rice appeared to have a longer grain, lending it more of a rice feel than a pasta dish feel. The beef tenderloin portion was generous enough that it felt like eating an entire steak served on a large bed of risotto. I had plenty left to take home for a great lunch the next day.

We have had several enjoyable meals at Papa Razzi. Is it the most authentic Italian experience? I suspect not, but I'll let you know after I eat my way through Italy next month!

Second Thoughts from B

When we were new to DC, we made the terrible mistake of going to Georgetown for Halloween, which has all the charm of a traffic jam.

Barricades are erected to keep people out of the streets, which would be fine if the sidewalks were not overflowing with a) drunk people, b) drunk people in huge, unwieldy outfits, and c) drunk people in huge, unwieldy outfits that were compelled to stop every four steps to take a picture. The point is, unless you are hammered or have a desire to be a slaughterhouse cow for Halloween, I'd recommend avoiding Georgetown.

So there we stood; packed in with nowhere to escape and moving at a rate of 1 block/hour. When we finally got to an intersection, we jumped at the opportunity to escape to the calm of whatever restaurant would take us. That was Papa Razzi.

Since that traumatic time we've been back several times, including a visit with a proud Italian friend of ours who gave the pasta his coveted stamp of approval. We've also discovered the glory of Papa Razzi's neighbor, Filomena, which certainly splits our pasta-eating loyalties. Nevertheless, like that favorite childhood blankie, we'll always have special place in our heart for the place that offered us shelter from the storm.
Papa Razzi on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Queen Vic

The British get a lot of grief for their cuisine. While it may not be the pinnacle of avant-garde, gastronomic glory, there is a place in everyone's life for the belly-warming comfort of pub fare. When the temperature drops, my desire for heartier food skyrockets. The Queen Vic on H Street NE filled the need perfectly.

Our friends M and A introduced us to The Queen Vic. They happen to be very adventurous eaters and like the parts of animals that make lots of people (including me) a bit squeamish. Always willing to try something once, I encouraged them to order the appetizers.

To start, we tried the pan seared chicken livers served on toast. Luckily, this dish tasted much more like chicken than like liver and I liked the rich, creamy flavor contrasted with the flaky bread. Looks appetizing, right? Ok, it tasted better than it looks.

To add some ruffage to the party, we tried the beet salad. A nice rendition of the classic beet, goat cheese, nut concoction that graces nearly every menu in town these days.

Back over in the "I'm going to act like a grown-up and try this" department, where we have the white anchovies on toast (left) and the beef heart tartare (right). The anchovies went down easily and I was pleasantly surprised that they weren't overtly fishy. I'd even go as far as saying I enjoyed them. The beef heart tartare is another story. Try as I might, I can't get over the fact that I'm eating raw cow organ. If you're an organ meat person, this is probably really amazing.

In his quest to eat every poor little lamb on the planet, B ordered the lamb three ways. It was a special for the evening and B loved every bite of the mutton majesty.

I ordered the fish 'n' chips which, in addition to being delicious, was HUGE. My sister (that's her hand in the photo...say hello!) and A also ordered the fish 'n' chips and it proved to be much more food than we could handle. Very delicious but probably more suited for sharing.

Not only were we treated to great food in the company of the best of friends, our Irish waiter was absolutely phenomenal. He struck just the right balance of joking revelry and good, attentive service. He also gave us free after-dinner shots of ginger ale and Jameson. Two nights later, as we had a drink at The Pug down the street while waiting for a table at Toki, we were thrilled to see him there tending bar. He remembered us (or at least very kindly pretended he did) and treated us to another round of Jameson.

I really liked the atmosphere at The Queen Vic and the food and drink selection is solid enough that we look forward to our next visit and our next chat with the affable Irishman.

Second Thoughts from B

It doesn't take too long to figure out that DC is a drinking town. Between networking socials, staffer-filled happy hours, and the great public transportation (as LA transplants, we love having the option of using Metro), folks in the district love their booze. But since a bottle of DC Brau tastes the same anywhere, a friendly beer man and quality food can make all the difference.

While I don't crave organ meats, I certainly appreciate them when prepared by a skilled chef. Who would think that a British pub cook would be that person? As for a dish that I do crave, the fish 'n' chips hit the spot. Is there a better plate of food to accompany a foamy pint? I think not. Oh, and the lamb was pretty awesome too.
Queen Vic on Urbanspoon