Thursday, July 28, 2011


When we were looking at condos in Downtown in 2007, the area surrounding the new City Vista complex was a bit of a no man's land. Real estate agents shied away from recommending the area and encouraged us to put down roots a bit further west. However, fast forward 4 years and City Vista is booming. Busboys and Poets, Taylor Gourmet, and Kushi helped make this block a happening place to eat.

Mandu, a Korean restaurant, is a newcomer to City Vista but not to DC. Since 2006, Chef Yesoon Lee and her kids Jean and Danny, have been serving their brand of traditional Korean dishes to 18th street crowds near Dupont. They expanded the family business to City Vista earlier this year.

The atmosphere is clean, bright, and a bit quirky with lots of green flying ducks on the wall. A wall of Korean memory boxes separates the bar and dining room areas.

We stopped in to try Mandu out for lunch, and started the same way I've started any Korean meal I've ever had: with dumplings. Mandu serves them up in sets of 6 and lets you mix and match shrimp, pork, beef, or veggie. We liked the shrimp best, but all were packed with flavor and not with grease.

One of my favorite parts of Korean dining is the banchan, or small plates of yumminess that are served complimentary with each meal. Sometimes I don't know exactly what I'm eating, but I like it!

While dumplings and banchan are fun, the real party is in the hot stone bowl of bibim bap. For the uninitiated (or those who missed our posts on the Bulgogi Cart or Yechon), bibim bap is a mix of rice, veggies, an egg, and some sort of meat or tofu often served in a hot stone bowl. The stone bowl cooks the egg and if you're lucky, gives the rice a fun crispy texture. Mandu's version was packed with fresh veggies and top notch ingredients, but the rice never got crispy. It was very good, just not the crispity crunchity ricey fun I love so much.

B said he'd be happy ordering any of the items on the menu so I ordered him the chap chae: stir fried clear potato noodles with vegetables and beef. I don't know how you make a potato noodle but I do know that this large portion vanished quickly. Chap chae, we will be back.

If you've got a thing for duck decor or you want to try authentic and fresh Korean food, get thee to Mandu.

Second Thoughts from B

I think my wife's exuberance for quality Korean food has turned her into Fezzik from the Princess Bride (to be very clear, I'm talking about the rhyming part and not the Andre the Giant part of the character). After all, she has a great gift for rhyme (yes, yes, some of the time). Let me join the fun:

If you crave sweet and savory Korean beef... Mandu can provide culinary relief.

If you like noodles clear and fat... Mandu will provide plenty of that.

Those dumplings were haute and hot... But from Appalachian St. they were not. (this will only make sense after viewing this hilariously bad and dangerously catchy promo for the school)

J craves bowls of crispy rice... followers of this blog will have heard it now thrice.

Mandu spices made our mouths burn... for these flavors we'll definitely return.

(No more rhymes now, I mean it! Anybody want a peanut?)
Mandu on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Rocklands Barbeque and Grilling Company

We were in need of dinner on our way to watch an Ultimate Frisbee exhibition game in Arlington. (Wow, that is possibly one of the dorkiest things I've ever typed). Instead of planning out where to eat, I just asked B to point the car toward the Arlington area and we'd stumble across something. Just as I began to worry that we wouldn't find anything that sounded appealing, we saw Rocklands Barbeque and Grilling Company. Rocklands has 4 locations and a big catering operation, so I figured the 'cue had to be pretty good.

Rocklands is a cute, olde-timey-looking order-at-the-counter operation. After perusing the chalkboard menu, we ordered, took our number and waited just a couple of minutes for a kindly gentleman to deliver our order to our perch near the window.

If you like quirky hot sauces, Rocklands is your type of place. In addition to selling probably a hundred kinds of hot sauce, they have scattered various bottles around the restaurant for you to try. You know the kind with names such as Uncle Busta's Slap Ya Sista and Her Friend Sauce? (Note: we don't condone sister slapping or friend slapping here at TwoDC). You name it, they've got it.

B's eyes locked on the appetizer section of the menu. We sampled the cheesy jalapeno poppers (good, but not fantastic) and the BBQ pork stuffed egg rolls. I don't know who thought of taking a crispy egg roll wrapper and stuffing it with barbequed meat and pairing it with an Asian sweet chili sauce, but I want to hug them. What a genius, totally unhealthy, yet completely amazing idea.

To complement the appetizer fiesta, B ordered a single beef rib. I thought he might be hungry with only one rib and encouraged him to order two. That was before I saw this:

Good thing B didn't listen to me! Rocklands doesn't skimp on beef ribs. It's not one of those giant bones with no meat. There was practically an entire steak on that baby.

When it comes to BBQ, you can bet I'm going to order some sort of sandwich. I like the convenience of eating BBQ in a somewhat neat package-o-bread, and I like dousing the bun in sauce and using it to sop up the side dishes. Unfortunately the bun was really average so I ditched it. However, Rockland's pulled chicken sandwich featured some of the best, most tender BBQ chicken I've had. The sauce is a little thinner than I usually like but it had a great smoky kick. The Texas corn pudding lacked flavor and I lost interest after a couple bites, but the shell noodle mac n' cheese was a fun twist on the traditional macaroni dish.

I'm no BBQ expert so can't tell you if this is the "real deal" and to be frank, most of the BBQ places we've tried run together in my head. With Rocklands, I have a feeling that the egg roll will be popping up in my dreams, begging me to return. When it does, I have no choice but to listen.

Second Thoughts from B

Call me a dork but high level ultimate frisbee is a ridiculously entertaining display of athleticism and skill. It is also becoming more and more mainstream. After first learning the game almost 20 years ago and introducing it to many friends along the way, it warmed my heart to see bleachers packed with fans willing to sweat out a Friday night to watch a game.

But I digress... As I aimlessly navigated Arlington traffic on a Friday night hoping that J would finally just pick a place, I set my expectations pretty low. At that point, I was willing to settle for just about anything to get us fed and out of traffic. But patience and persistence paid off in the form of great BBQ. (Thanks to J for not letting me settle for Wendy's)

I love great BBQ. I even love less-than-great BBQ. My requirements are few. I want a good sauce that combines sweet and smoky favors with a tangy kick. I want a large amount of juicy meat, preferably attached to a bone that I can eat caveman style. I want some fresh lemonade to occasionally break up the meatfest and wash down the latest bite that I just tried to inhale. And I want some mac n cheese because I need a few more calories after eating an entire cow. In short, BBQ is a primal experience for me.

So when we got egg rolls filled with pulled pork and the Asian sweet chili sauce, it was a bit of a curveball for me. While not exactly light or dainty, it was a sophisticated twist that didn't immediately jive with my gluttonous meatapalooza idea of BBQ. But wow, did I like it.

When eating BBQ I usually make the "someone just dropped something heavy on my foot" face that the Food Network has made synonymous with culinary satisfaction. (Think about it, everyone eating something good looks like they are in pain) The egg rolls, however, gave me the much rarer "Santa Claus just emerged from the chimney with a new bicycle and my eyes are about to pop out of my head" face. Who knew such surprise and joy could come in a cute little egg roll at a BBQ place?
Rocklands Barbeque & Grilling Company on Urbanspoon

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Teatro Goldoni

You know when it's so hot outside that you feel like your brain is melting? It's one of those days. The last thing we wanted to do was come up with something to cook for dinner or turn on the oven, so we engaged our trusty discount friend Village Vines (now known as Savored - explained here) and made a reservation at Teatro Goldoni for 30% percent off.

Though we probably would've made a reservation at any place with air conditioning, we chose this Italian stalwart on K Street. Almost every time we're in the car we're driving down K Street, so it's safe to say we've passed Teatro Goldoni hundreds of times. Though I'd heard pretty decent reviews of their newish chef and his menu, nothing had ever drawn us in. Leave it to a discount to get us in the door.

The atmosphere is swanky and visually interesting with a wall of Venetian masks and rich fabrics and paint colors. It reminded me of a classier version of the Venetian in Vegas. While I'd read Yelp horror stories of bad service, the staff was very attentive and their water refiller was spot on. Thank goodness for the water guy on such a miserably hot day.

Teatro Goldoni has standard appetizer and entree offerings, but you can also order small plates if that's your jam. I'm taking a small plates break, so suggested to B that we go the standard route. For his starter, B ordered the beet salad with gorgeous yellow and red beets, goat cheese, greens, artichoke chips, and a citrus dressing. The dish was a winning combination of bold flavors, colors, and textures. The citrus dressing kicked you in the face with its tartness, but the earthy beets swooped in to mellow it out. A nice surprise to start things off.

I tried the buffalo mozzarella with baby eggplant, candied cherry tomatoes, and balsamic gelatin. First, for those who complain that we don't post pictures of ourselves on the blog, here's my arm!

Second, the mozzarella dish was more beautiful than it was tasty. The individual components of the dish were fun, but there were too many things going on that didn't quite play nicely together.

B ordered the red snapper which featured another gorgeous presentation. B loved the flavor, but it came up a little short on a couple of elements that would have made it an excellent dish. The fish was a little on the over-cooked side and a little on the under-sized side.

If there was any doubt about what kind of risotto I ordered, check out Larry the Lobster!

Can't say I've ever had a lobster head in my risotto before. Luckily, the lobster head was not the only trace of lobster in the dish. It had nice, big chunks of lobster meat and a very good creamy sauce. Like B's dish, it had one thing keeping it from excellence: the risotto was undercooked. Close to a home run but we had to settle for a triple. The portion was generous enough for me to have leftovers for an awesome lobster lunch at work. Score!

Second Thoughts From B

Sticking with the theatrical theme, I felt that Teatro Goldoni is like a young actress: pretty, full of potential, but lacking polish.

I don't know that I can remember a restaurant that had such consistently beautiful plates of food. Each one could have been mistaken for modern art. And yes, I know that modern art isn't always aesthetically beautiful but we're talking lobster heads here.

The dishes were also well conceived, and even when they missed the mark a little, you could tell where the chef was going. There seemed to always be depth to the complementary flavors and textures despite the minor technical flaws.

The bottom line is that a minute or two on or off the heat could have made good dishes into outstanding ones and that earns Teatro Goldoni a spot on our watch list . . . our coupon watch list.
Teatro Goldoni on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Cafe Asia

We returned from a relaxing family vacation to a stack of Groupons expiring in the next couple of weeks. The first stop on our Use It Or Lose It Tour was Cafe Asia. We've been to Cafe Asia a couple of times and we still can't find a good way to describe the interior and vibe. It's just weird. It's a cavernous concrete space with a large upstairs area that's been closed almost every time we've dined there. The downstairs area used to be dotted with low tables and backless chairs (no fun), but has since been furnished with an assortment of booths and high-backed leather chairs.

You know that feeling you get when you walk into a restaurant that's about to close for the night? That's how Cafe Asia feels. On this visit we walked in the door and the host picked up the phone and then pointed to another host behind him. Host #2 was hunched over the desk talking on the phone and never looked up as we stood right next to him. We stood awkwardly in the waiting area looking into the restaurant until a waiter came and seated us.

We can deal with a weird vibe if the food is good and we've had reliably good food on each visit. It's nothing particularly innovative, but it's solid and hard to turn down a good Groupon deal. We kicked off this visit with the Firecracker Roll (tuna, jalapeno, tempura flakes, avocado and sriracha sauce). We didn't ooh and aah over the freshness of the fish (it was fine), but we were pleased with the texture of the rice. Rice texture is the key to a good roll, and Cafe Asia's rice man seems to know what he's doing.

Cafe Asia's wings help them stand out in the crowded field of pan-Asian restaurants in downtown. Cracklingly crunchy with a tangy sauce (that I'd bet money is my favorite Mae Ploy Sweet Chili Sauce), we scarfed these puppies down in no time.

The first time we dined at Cafe Asia, B ordered a soup that had him doing the happy dance. When perusing the menu searching for a repeat performance, he selected the Curry Laksa, a Malaysian spicy and sour curry noodle soup with a coconut milk-based broth. I didn't see B running around the restaurant handing out high fives, but he must've liked it since the giant head-size bowl was empty when we left.

On a ramen kick thanks to Toki Underground, I sampled Cafe Asia's version. I can't pretend it's in the same league as Toki, but it was a flavorful bowl of soup with unexpectedly fresh noodles. The portion was enough for two meals, making the $11 price tag seem like a bargain.

I don't think Cafe Asia is amazing enough for you to run there ASAP, but if a Groupon comes along and you're in the area, grab the chicken wings and a giant bowl of soup and go to town.

Second Thoughts from B

When I woke up this morning, I looked at our weather clock and did a double take. As if it had developed a stutter, it read 80, 80, 80... and that was the low! So why on earth would we seek out hot and spicy soup?

I learned what real misery felt like when traveling through China. Hot, sticky, stuck on a bus in the middle of the summer swelter. As Adrian Cronauer said about the weather in another Asian country, hot and wet is "nice if you're with a lady but ain't no good if you're in the jungle." Still, despite the heat, everywhere we went people were eating spicy food and drinking hot tea.

The theory went that these things would make you sweat and therefore, cool you down. I'm still undecided on that, but I can vouch for Cafe Asia's air conditioning, which more than did the trick.

Cooling effects or not, access to tasty food does seem to make summer in DC a little more bearable. Most of the crowds (and residents) have fled, leaving the deals and open tables to those intrepid souls who will stay and sweat it out. So grab your Groupons and your Restaurant Week reservations, and enjoy it!
Cafe Asia on Urbanspoon

Thursday, July 7, 2011


Everyone has their own definition of comfort food. My definition has three parts: 1) ice cream, 2) mashed potatoes, and 3) grilled cheese. When it comes to grilled cheese, I don't want anything fancy. Save your hoity-toity cheese and artisanal, house-made whatevers and give me a good piece of bread and melty American cheese. Throw in a healthy serving of ketchup for dipping and I'm in heaven.

When I heard rumors that Stoney's, a bar on P Street off Logan Circle, served up this town's best grilled cheese, I had to check it out. Stoney's was located on L Street for nearly 40 years but was forced to close and it relocated to Logan Circle. I've read complaints that Stoney's lost much of its dive bar charm but really, how can you keep your dive bar cred when your neighbors are a lululemon and a Whole Foods?

I wasn't interested in atmosphere, I was focused on grilled cheese. The Super Grilled Cheese with tomato, bacon, and onions caught my eye. I was a bit hesitant to order this fancied up version because I usually don't like toppings on my grilled cheese. After one bite, I knew I made the right choice. The bread was the perfect middle ground between too soft and too toasted, and the bacon gave a salty touch that was balanced out by the juicy tomato. The raw red onions added a good texture contrast, but I realize raw onions aren't everyone's idea of a good time. The cheese was awesomely American and amazingly melty. When we return, I'll probably order the classic grilled cheese just to test it out, but the Super Grilled Cheese was pretty darn super.

B skipped the grilled cheese and went for the fish 'n chips. They were good but not anything to go racing back to P Street for. There's a reason everyone talks about Stoney's grilled cheese. Order the grilled cheese.

Thank you Stoney's for turning a blind eye to the latest culinary trends and focusing on classic, no fuss grilled cheese sandwiches. My comfort food-craving tummy salutes you.

Second Thoughts From B

Not much to add here. Like J, I was craving comfort food but unlike J, this came in the form of fish 'n chips. My conclusion should sound familiar however... order the grilled cheese.

While it certainly fit the bill since comfort food doesn't have to be great food, my fish lacked the crisp and crunchy shell that so perfectly contrasts with flaky white fish. Instead, it was a loose and soft - bordering on mushy - exterior that was not exactly what I had in mind.

As for the grilled cheese, I have long enjoyed extra sharp cheddar to spice up the original recipe but have never been drawn to additions like meat or veggies. But once again, I can't disagree with J. The addition of bacon, onions, and tomato elevated this simple sandwich without taking away its soul. Order the grilled cheese.
Stoney's Bar & Grill on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, July 5, 2011



August 2000 - June 30, 2011

TenPenh, beloved restaurant child of Chef Jeff Tunks, David Wizenberg, and Gus DiMillo passed peacefully on June 30, 2011 surrounded by family and loved ones. The preliminary cause of TenPenh's untimely death was soaring rent on its large space located on the corner of Tenth and Pennsylvania Avenues NW.

TenPenh made the most of its ten years on Earth, providing countless patrons with an escape to Asia as they dined beneath its glowing lanterns or on its large patio.

Memorable culinary highlights include the Griddled Malaysian Roti Canai and Lamb Potstickers.

Loved ones will remember its grilled salmon with cloud-like wasabi mashed potatoes.

Memories of the Red Thai Curry Shrimp will last forever with its firey curry and tangy pineapple sauce poured lovingly, tableside, over a scoop of fragrant jasmine rice.

For a sweet ending to a sweet life, the Saigon Cinnamon Sugar Dusted Donuts dipped in the dark bittersweet chocolate pudding.

TenPenh is survived by siblings Acadiana, DC Coast, Ceiba, and PassionFish. In lieu of flowers, TenPenh's family requests that mourners visit TenPenh's servers and managers who have found new homes with TenPenh's sibling restaurants.

Second Thoughts from B

Restaurants come and go, and often no one notices. Not in the case of our beloved TenPenh. It didn't fade away as General MacArthur would have liked... it was taken from us. New York gubernatorial candidate, Jimmy McMillian, may have the more apropos saying to capture this situation: The rent was just too damn high!

You always remember your first time. If you're lucky, it will be life changing, as it was for J and me.

Our first time eating out in DC as transplants (what did you think I was talking about?) took place at TenPenh, followed by A Christmas Carol at the nearby Ford's Theatre. We were in the middle of planning a wedding from two different coasts. I was starting a new career in Washington while J was in her 3rd year of law school in California. It was a time of dramatic changes in our lives when we first dined among the red lanterns of TenPenh.

We've come a long way since then, and nowhere can that be better seen than with the expanding of our palates (and thankfully not our waist lines). TenPenh kicked off the transition from students without the time or the money to eat out very often to young professionals with a passion for exploring new cuisines.

As we returned to TenPenh on its final night, memories of the first time came flooding back to us. The flavors, like the atmosphere, were again bright and bold. TenPenh taught us to think about our food and how a talented chef used different tastes and textures to add complexity to each bite. TenPenh was our Mrs. Robinson, the established restaurant that taught us how to dine. Goodbye, old friend. We will miss you.