Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Food Wine & Co.

We were looking for a place to have dinner in Bethesda and I asked several Bethesdans for recommendations.  Nearly every restaurant they suggested is a suburban twin of a restaurant in downtown DC:  Jaleo, Taylor Gourmet, Nando's, Mussel Bar, and BGR.  We like all of those places, but we don't need to leave our neighborhood for them.  Wanting to try something unique to Bethesda, we settled on Food Wine & Co. near the Metro station.

Food Wine & Co. is located in the old Uno Chicago Grill space and rumor is that they spent $2 million fancifying it.  It's a comfortable space with big, wide booths and pretty lights, but I'm not sure it's $2 million different from the chain that preceded it.

We settled into our corner booth and ordered drinks.  I ordered a flight of 3 different wines that were all just average.  The flight of 3 wines was served on a flight board with 4 spaces on it, so they served a wine glass full of water to even out the board.  Weird.  B selected a beer flight of four 4 ounce pours.  We liked the wide beer selection and the ability to sample different beers rather than committing to one. 

After spying it on other tables, we ordered the fried artichoke appetizer.  The artichokes had a perfectly light and crisp coating which gave us high hopes for the meal ahead.  The sauce was too caper-heavy for my liking but if you're a caper-crusader, you'll dig this. 

I ordered a salad off of the specials menu which was too heavy on the sweetness (figs and plums) and not heavy enough on the savory.
B's lamb burger with harissa, tomato confit, arugula and garlic mayo was good but nothing worth going to Bethesda for.  Also, we paid an additional couple of dollars to upgrade to the fries and they were quite possibly the most uninterestingly bland fries on the planet.  Do yourself a favor and stick with the rosemary-parmesan chips that come with the burger.
My roasted peach, arugula, blue cheese, balsamic pizza was, as the menu says, "crispy, doughy, delish."  I like my pizza dough chewy and fat, and this delivered.

Overall, we had a perfectly "fine" meal at Food Wine & Co. I would not recommend traveling from afar to eat there (though the free parking is a nice perk) and I'm not even sure I would recommend it if you live close by (go to Black's or any of the other DC-based options mentioned above).  I suppose if you've tried everything in town and want some straightforward American comfort food, Food Wine & Co. is your place.

Second Thoughts from B

The fried artichoke was far and away the big winner of our night.  This is a dish we discovered during our time in Rome and will not soon forget.  The Food Wine & Co. version wasn't close to being as good as the original, but it wasn't a dish to turn your nose up at either.  It is unfair to compare the two dishes because of the untouchable awesomeness of the Italian original, so to say that it reminded us of one of our great culinary discoveries from the last year, is a compliment.

The beer flight was interesting.  Not good, not bad, just interesting.  Each of the four beers were unlike anything I have tasted, but also, unlike anything I would ever choose to order again. Herby, fruity, chocolatey... gimmicky.  It was like a lot of modern art... Not necessarily beautiful, but interesting.

Now to the burger.  Aside from the harissa, it was completely forgettable.  Only this tiny touch of North African paste made it unique.  See a trend starting to emerge here?
Food Wine & Co on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Atlantis Family Restaurant

The night before a backpacking trip to Shenandoah, we were out in Virginia going to REI (for the 16th time that month) and looking for dinner.  B suggested pasta/Italian so I googled around until I found Atlantis Family Restaurant.  From the website it seemed sufficiently low-key and homestyle.  As we pulled into the parking lot we realized that we'd been to Atlantis before to break a Ramadan fast with our friend's family. While we debated what we'd ordered on our last visit, I don't think there was any forgetting the lovely murals:

Wait a second.  Didn't I say that this was an Italian restaurant?  Why are there Greek murals on the wall?  Despite a web address of "AlexandriaItalianFood.Com," Atlantis is actually a Greek and Italian restaurant.  Actually, their menu is kind of all over the place ranging from gyros to pasta to fried chicken to BBQ.  B insisted on taking a picture of me behind their giant menu.  Here you go:

We stuck to our plan and ordered two dishes from the Italian section of the menu: lasagna for B and baked spaghetti for me.  I giggled and immediately launched into a rousing rendition of "On Top of Old Smoky" when my dish was set before me.

Timeout. I always thought the song went "On top of old smoky, all covered with cheese. I lost my poor meatball when somebody sneezed."  Apparently that's a parody of a classic folk song and the parody lyrics are "On top of spaghetti, all covered with cheese..."  Oops, makes more sense now.  Time in.

These dishes were ridiculous in a lot of ways (giant, covered in way too much cheese, etc.) but somehow were exactly what we were looking for.  It wasn't Michelin quality food and it wasn't creative, but it was satisfying in a down-home way.  Served with a side of cheesy murals and a menu the size of Florida, what more could you want?

Second Thoughts from B

I don't know if it is because I work with a bunch of middle-aged women or if it is an East Coast thing or what, but I feel like I need to explain what we mean by "backpacking."  We're talking about piling all your Earthly possessions into a backpack and hiking many miles into the wilderness for a few days.  This should not be confused with "camping" which also involves tents and dirt, but is often done next to a car and/or some sort of bathroom (albeit primitive).  The point is, when you're backpacking, you have to minimize risk because civilization is many miles and many hours away in case of an emergency... medical or you know, the kind that requires plumbing.

So when J asked where I wanted to eat the night before 3 days in the woods, I went with the safest choice.  Pasta.  I didn't want some exotic meat, I didn't want anything piled with jalapenos, and I sure didn't want something covered in grease.  I wanted something that would be filling (after all, we'd be eating dehydrated meals all weekend) and easily digestible.  For us, Atlantis was the pragmatic choice.

Friday night at Atlantis was hopping.  While we were playing it safe, it seemed to be date night for people who ventured to this strip mall "gem" in search of fine dining.  I don't know how to put this delicately, so at the risk of making a Romney-esque 47% gaffe, let's just replay a conversation between the waitress and the table next to us:
"You got Sweet Tea?"
"No, I'm sorry."
"How 'bout Mountain Dew?"
"Jack Daniels?"
"Sorry sir..."
"I think we'll take our meal to go."

I don't say any of this to put down Atlantis or its clientele.  Quite the opposite in fact.  It isn't the fanciest choice out there and it isn't trying to be.  It is called a "family restaurant" for a reason.  It has everything you need and nothing you don't.  (Yes, I said it.  No one needs Sweet Tea, Mountain Dew or Jack Daniels)  It is exactly the type of place that I would have adored as a kid.  And in a way, the big kid inside me thinks Atlantis - with its goofy murals, gigantic menu, and satisfying large portions - is some kind of awesome.
Atlantis Pizzeria on Urbanspoon

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Perry's Drag Brunch

If you're looking for something unique for Sunday brunch, look no further than Perry's in Adams Morgan.  Every Sunday people line up for Perry's $23.95 all-you-can-eat buffet featuring performances by about a half dozen drag queens. Seriously.

Our awesome friends M and A live down the street from Perry's so they got in line just before 9 a.m. and were second in line.  The doors opened promptly at 10 a.m. and we were ushered upstairs to our table.   

A line immediately formed for the buffet as waiters dashed around taking drink orders (they do pitchers of alcoholic beverages that are not included in the brunch price). 

The buffet featured an interesting selection of items from chicken to waffles.... sushi and pasta.

While none of the food was super amazing, it was all decently tasty and made even better when washed down with a bellini with 8,734 cherries in it. 

At 11 a.m. the music started. One by one, the queens strutted out.  Some were into the lip synching and dancing while others focused on embarrassing the audience members.

Make sure you come with dollar bills in hand to tip the queens.  Quick tip: if you don't want to be the focus of the queens' shtick (or breasts), don't sit on the aisle. Instead, choose a seat at your table that's up against a wall or smashed in by another table and not accessible.  Or else, you'll be this guy:

In the midst of the strutting and semi-dancing, one queen took the mic and interviewed birthday boys and girls.  Not a good idea to volunteer if you don't want to be completely embarassed (or if you're not completely drunk). 

Overall, the drag brunch was a fun experience that we're glad we can check off our DC Bucket List. We were a little disappointed in the lack of "performance" by a lot of the queens.  Some seemed to be going through the motions and totally uninterested.  The fact that it was 11 a.m. in a brightly lit room probably took away from the mystique of it all.  Bottom line: a fun thing to do once, but not a place we need to return.

Second Thoughts from B

Well, that was interesting.  And to be honest, I don't know what more I can say.  But I guess I can share some lessons learned (in no particular order):
  1. Do not anger the older, testy drag queen that resembles Muhammad Ali after the Thrilla in Manila.
  2. The bowl of gravy by the biscuits is safe to eat by the spoonful as it is actually broccoli and cauliflower soup.
  3. In case you're asked -- which you will be -- BBC stands for Big Black... uh, Chicken... just like OPP stands for Other People's Property.  Unlike Perry's Drag Brunch, this blog is safe for children.
  4. Any of the meat on a stick and pastry options are your best bets.  The orzo pasta was pretty good too.
  5. However you react to the queens, probably good not to go with "lusty glare."  It isn't a good look when there is that much light and sobriety in the room.
  6. Despite all stereotypes to the contrary, Mr. Bass Pro Shops and family seemed to have a good time.  Still, the camouflaged fishing hat complete with hook on the bill was a surprising choice... as was bringing the 13 year old granddaughter.
  7. Nothing good comes from raising your hand when they ask, "Do we have any straight guys in the audience today?"
  8. Man or woman, I'm always impressed when someone in high heels drops down into the splits.
  9. Whether your Sunday mornings involve drag queens or not, you have to love that we live in a city where it is an integral part of the culture.  Thank you Perry's for adding some color to DC!
Perrys on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Sticky Rice

Sticky Rice was one of the first of the new wave of restaurants to sweep H Street NE.  It was serving up sushi and tots (yes, tater tots) long before the hippest of hipsters realized that there was life beyond Northwest.  I have no idea why it took us years to try Sticky Rice, but I have a feeling it may enter our regular rotation.

We arrived on a Sunday evening without a reservation and were too starving to wait out the 45 minutes for a table upstairs.  We grabbed a table in the downstairs bar area, underneath a disco ball.  We were told that you have to go to the bar to order food, but a waiter was serving the bar tables on this busy night.
After ordering a round of drinks (something sweet in a Mason jar for me and sake for B after the waiter misheard his request for Asahi . . . it's really loud in there), we turned our sights to the sushi menu.  We kicked off the party with the Starter Combo of nigiri.  The selection was fresh and as melt-in-your-mouth as any nigiri we've had in this town.  I'm a die-hard hamachi fan but was pleasantly surprised by my first taste of tilapia sushi.

From the roll section we tried the Chilli Roll with tuna, cilantro, cucumber, jalapeno, grilled pineapple, tempura crunchies, and tobiko.  This is the kind of inventive roll that can either be amazingly delicious or a terrible idea.  Unfortunately, this fell squarely in the middle.  The idea was a good one (and raised our hopes) but with all those promised flavors packed into one bite, it came out surprisingly bland.
The Sticky Balls may be just the sort of dish your doctor warned you against but, in our non-medical opinions, is totally worth it.  They take an inari pocket (tofu wrapper) and stuff it with tuna, crab and sriracha rice.  Then they deep fry it and top it off with scallions, wasabi dressing, and eel sauce.  Our eyes rolled back in our heads in pure pleasure as we took a bite.  So bad, yet so good.

Speaking of so bad, yet so's a giant bucket of tots with their secret tater tot sauce. We kept thinking that the bucket had a false bottom and was really only half full, but we were wrong. We ate our way all the way down to the bottom and realized you probably ought to share this between more than two people. We aren't complaining though. These tots would make Napoleon proud.

We waddled out of Sticky Rice determined to make a return visit and determined to hit the gym for the next 100 days in a row to burn off all that deliciousness. We may be slacking on the gym part, but we have plans to go back for more Sticky Balls ASAP.

Second Thoughts from B

It is bad enough that it took us so long to go to Sticky Rice in the first place.  But when you factor in the fact that I'm friends with the wife of one of the co-owners, it is downright embarrassing.  Still, I'll try and give my honest opinion (thankfully I had a great time).

Sticky Rice confused me.  Was it a bar or a restaurant?  A sushi joint or an American comfort food diner?  I can understand if people don't feel comfortable with this odd mish-mash of ideas, but in a strange way, I liked it.

I like being surprised and trying something new.  I certainly like sushi and tater tots, though I've never enjoyed them together.  And I like going to a place that is unique.

Some people go to a buffet and carefully design their meals by grouping familiar items.  Steak goes with potatoes.  Soup or salad, never both.  Me?  I'll pile that plate high with waffles covered in strawberries right next to the fish filet and chow mein.   If you're like me, good food is good food no matter how it is packaged or combined.  That's Sticky Rice.  A little strange, but a lot of good stuff. Sticky Rice on Urbanspoon