Wednesday, December 30, 2009


If you've read our blog posts about pizza, you've probably noticed that we compare all good pizza to 2Amys and all bad pizza to Domino's. I haven't been shy about expressing my dislike for Domino's and its flavorless, cornmeal-dusted pizza (read here and here). Well, someone in Domino's PR group noticed that we weren't fans, and asked us to try their new pizza. He gave us a coupon for a free pizza and claimed that they had totally revamped their pizza recipe. The coupon arrived in our inbox on a cold, snowy night and we decided it was perfect for ordering pizza. Even though I was hesitant to try Domino's again, it's hard to turn down a free pizza.

B went on their website and was pretty impressed with the online ordering system. He placed the order and about 25 minutes later, the delivery guy called to let us know he was downstairs. On the pizza box was an explanation of Domino's recipe change. To celebrate 50 years in the pizza business, Domino's decided to listen to its critics and completely change their recipe.

According to Domino's, the changes include:
  • Crust: A garlic seasoned crust with parsley baked to a golden brown
  • Sauce: Sweeter, bolder tomato sauce with a medley of herbs and a redpepper kick
  • Cheese: Shredded cheese made with 100% real mozzarella and flavored with just a hint of provolone
We ordered a half mushroom and half pepperoni pizza on the hand-tossed crust.

The first thing that we noticed was that the crust was fluffier-looking and it didn't have the yellow cornmeal stuff dusted on the bottom. Things were looking up in Domino's pizza land. I ate the first slice really slowly to see if I could taste the promised differences. The crust was a complete turnaround: it was garlicky and soft, almost like a garlic breadstick. I didn't notice a whole lot of difference in the cheese, but the sauce was tangy and had a bit of a kick. My only complaint is that the new crust is a little on the buttery side, which makes the whole piece feel a bit greasy.

Overall, I really enjoyed this pizza. Before, I thought Domino's pizza tasted like cardboard and was completely "not worth the calories." I don't take back anything I said about Domino's in the past, but I do give them a lot of credit for realizing their pizza wasn't awesome and starting over. You might think I'm only saying this because they gave us a free pizza, but I don't feel any obligation to like their free pizza. I told B that I'd write a post about the pizza whether I liked it or not. It just so happens that despite my best efforts not to like it, I actually did. So, while I don't think you need to race to your computer and order a pizza immediately, I do think you might want to reconsider Domino's if you're like me and had put it on your pizza blacklist.

Second Thoughts From B

As we enter a new year, it seems appropriate that we give Domino's a second chance. While I've never been a huge Domino's fan, I also never had an aversion to it. In some ways, its familiar (if not delicious) flavors are associated with happy childhood memories of late night sleepovers and birthday parties.

Unless you are among the group of people who believe that Domino's pizza cannot be improved on, this recipe change should be seen as good news. You know the garlic breadsticks at Domino's? If so, you know what this new generation of pizza is like because the crust tastes just like the breadsticks. For this lover of garlic, that's an improvement.

Is the improvement so dramatic that it warrents a new "favorite pizza" in your life? Probably not, but it does deserve a chance to win you over. So log on to their extremely user-friendly website and see what has happened...
Domino's Pizza on Urbanspoon

Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Fish Market

We ventured across the Potomac to Old Town Alexandria to show my parents the quaint, historic King Street area. We paid a visit to the Fish Market for dinner. Like most Old Town restaurants, the Fish Market is housed in a really old building with a colorful history. During the Civil War, the building was a field hospital and later it was used to cure ham and beef products (you can see the nails in the beams on the second and third floors of the restaurant).

We started off the meal with the seafood restaurant standard: New England clam chowder. Well, we tried to start the meal off with the chowder but our waitress forgot to bring it. Just as our entrees were being carried out we reminded her (a second time) that we hadn't seen the soup yet. She rushed it out and while pretty good, I'd rather not have to wait 20 minutes for it.

B ordered the Admiral's Platter (broiled shrimp, scallops, salmon, and crab imperial served with potatoes and coleslaw). It was a fun tour of the high seas that wasn't the most amazing seafood we've ever had, but nothing to make you seasick either.

I was craving crustaceans and ordered the snow crab legs. It was a massive pile of crab that barely fit on the table. Nothing fancy here, just straight up snow crab served with melted butter, fries, and coleslaw. So tasty and such a good value (less than $25 for a huge serving).

Don't go to the Fish Market expecting amazing service (our waitress was terrible) or fancy cooking. Go if you're in the neighborhood and looking for solid, reliable seafood at reasonable prices.

Second Thoughts from B

Let me reiterate that the service was terrible. It wasn't that anyone was rude or wasn't trying though. It was more a case of extreme forgetfulness. However, this was the second time we've dined at the Fish Market and the other time was quite pleasant.

So assuming you go and avoid Miss Absentminded, you're in for a decent meal in a very cool building. J touched on the history that surrounds you. I wouldn't go so far as to say that it makes the meal, but it certainly makes it worth a stop.

So let's take inventory. In reviewing our trip to the Fish Market, I've discussed the poor service and the cool building. No mention yet of the food. I think that's pretty telling and very appropriate. It is standard, average, decent seafood. Basically what you'd expect at a place like this... and nothing more. There's nothing wrong with that, especially with a historic building in such a charming part of town.
Fish Market on Urbanspoon

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Can you hear me now? Cell Phones in the District

Anyone who knows me would tell you that this post rings of irony. Despite being the right demographic and a scientist to boot, I was one of the last people that I know to get a cell phone. Being that I was a poor student for so long, as well as being thrifty (some would call it cheap), independent (some would call it stubborn), and reliably punctual, it wasn't until 2006 (when I moved to D.C.) that I got a cell phone.

As I told J after our purchase of matching Droids, in terms of cell phones, over the course of just 3 years, I've gone from the outhouse, to the poor house, to the penthouse. But still, I'm far from an expert. I haven't tested 100 phones and each carrier, so I'm not going to get into a long review. Instead, here are a few things we've learned along the way that anyone in D.C. should know the next time they are thinking about renewing their contract.

We were in the market for our first smartphones after carrying regular cell phones for the last few years. Everything seemed to boil down to the iPhone (through AT&T) and the Droid (through Verizon). After doing extensive reading on the internet (it is what I do... after all, it's what all those years in school taught me) and after playing with both devices thanks to our techie friends and family (I almost wrote that we played with our friends' units), we determined that it was mostly a draw between the two.

So then it came down to carrier. Most people will tell you that Verizon is the industry standard. AT&T loyalists would counter that the difference isn't noticeable in major markets like D.C. But here's the kicker that any Washingtonian should know. If you use Metro, Verizon is king and will continue to be in the near future.

Why? Because Verizon is the only carrier that will allow you to get service throughout the entire Metro system. Even though this monopoly is fading, it is still critical to your next cell phone decision. This past October, Metro expanded service to all major carriers (Sprint Nextel, AT&T, and T-Mobile) in 20 of the most popular underground stations. However, it will be another year (and knowing Metro, probably more) before the other 27 underground stations install service. Tunnels aren't planned on being finished until late-2012. Read more here.

In other words, over the course of any new two-year contract, Verizon is the only carrier that will work in all stations and all tunnels (albeit spotty at times). For someone who spends at least 5 days a week on Metro going to and from work, you don't have to be cell phone expert to make this decision.

J Says

I'm so excited to finally ditch my giant work-issued Blackberry in favor of the sleek new Droid. I really wanted an iPhone but I was worried about the service problems I'd heard about with AT&T. The decision to stay with Verizon was made for us when my iPhone-toting parents stayed with us for Thanksgiving and couldn't make or receive calls consistently in our condo.

Once we decided to go with the Droid, we opted to go into the Verizon store (Union Station) to complete the upgrade. Save yourself a headache (and some seriously tired feet from standing around forever in a store with no chairs) and just buy the thing online. Our salesman was friendly enough but he wasn't particularly quick, and at times we felt like we were buying a car as he went to "check with his manager" about every discount or rebate we asked about.

Speaking of discounts . . . make sure you check with the carrier to see if your workplace has worked out a special deal. My law firm had negotiated a discount on the voice and data plans with Verizon, and many firms and the federal government have similar discounts. It never hurts to ask!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009


Looking for a different twist on the "fast casual" restaurant concept? Check out German-born chain Vapiano. When you enter, you might be confused as to whether it's a bar, a lounge, a cafeteria, or a restaurant. It is actually a little bit of each of those things.

When you enter (after passing the cheesy velvet ropes) you're handed a "chip card" that looks pretty much like a SmarTrip card. You then head to one of the food stations to peruse the menu and place your order. They have stations for pasta, pizza, and salad, as well as a large bar area. You place your order directly with the chef and they cook your food while you watch. Once your order is ready, you scan your chip card and it keeps track of what you've ordered. You can move from station to station, ordering what you'd like, and scanning your card as you go. After your meal, you present your card to the cashier at the front and pay your bill. Each person in your party will be handed their own chip card, making splitting the check easy.

Once you have your food, you can take a seat at one of the communal-style tables (complete with herb gardens in the middle) or in the lounge area near the bar. While I thought the concept was unique, there were a couple of downsides. First, the plants on the table were a neat idea but there were lots of little flies buzzing around, which isn't exactly what you want while you're eating. Second, we were confused about where to get water (the bartender) and to-go boxes (one of the chefs behind the pasta station). We would have benefited from someone walking the floor and answering questions rather than us having to wander about indefinitely until we found someone to ask.

So, is Vapiano all about the gimmicky concept or does the food make it worth a visit? We both thought our dishes were good, but nothing amazing. Since many of the dishes are customizable, it could be our fault for not ordering anything unique. I tried the Arrabiata Pasta with campanelle (a fun bell-shaped pasta). It was really spicy thanks to the heavy dose of red thai chilis. Nothing to complain about, but nothing so memorable that I'll be running back to try this dish again.

B tried the Granchi De Fiume (fettuccine, crayfish, lobster sauce, and fresh vegetables) which was packed with fresh veggies and topped with a healthy dusting of parmesan cheese. Another solid dish, but nothing that knocked our socks off.

Overall, I think Vapiano is worth a visit if only to grab a drink and to check out the unique card concept. We both think that it would be a fun first date place because of its casual yet kind of fancy atmosphere. We visited the Penn Quarter location, but if you tend to stick toward the Dupont Circle side of town, there is a Vapiano at 18th and M.


Second Thoughts from B

Usually J and I are on the same page but I think my impression of Vapiano differs from hers on this one. To be clear, I don't disagree with her review of the food. The flavors were solid, though nothing spectacular, the portions were generous, and the prices appropriate. However, I'm a lot more excited about this addition to our city's culinary repertoire. We have plenty of cheap eats and plenty of fine dining options, but we're lacking in the mid-range casual sitdown restaurant area, and I believe Vapiano fits the bill perfectly.

Often times when you're out with a group of friends and the meal isn't the focal point of the night, you need a place that is centrally located, not too expensive, and with a menu flexible enough to accomodate everyone. It is no surprise that Vapiano can be found in Dupont and Chinatown for this very reason. At least for me, I'll be adding it to my shortlist of suggestions for the next time I'm charged with leading a hungry, yet indecisive group.
Vapiano on Urbanspoon

Sunday, December 20, 2009

D.C.'s Historic Snowstorm of 2009

We told you about the disaster that ensues whenever weather comes into our life (read about it here). But for all the ignorance and confusion, we also get to enjoy a lot of "firsts" together with the same innocent excitement. However, I think it is safe to say that the snowstorm that hit D.C. yesterday was a first for most people considering it was the 3rd largest in recorded history. But for those of you who didn't get to wander the snow-covered, post-apocalyptic world of downtown or the winter wonderland of the mall, here's a few of our favorite pictures.

Downtown was filled with countless snow mounds that were once cars.

You thought it sucked to get your car snowed in? Try getting snowed in and getting a snow emergency ticket too. See that partially dug out hole on the top? There's a pink parking ticket in there under the frozen solid windshield wiper.

I love the amazing white landscapes, but also the smaller and less obvious sources of beauty.

Navy Memorial. The statue looks appropriately bundled up.

Like many others, we built a snowman on the Mall. Is it 5 feet or 5 inches tall? We'll never tell.

The National Christmas Tree has got nothing on the Capitol Christmas Tree.

We were happy to see that Capitol police allowed this perfect stereotype of fun in the snow. (We were also jealous of these kids and their sleds)

I would argue that nothing is more beautiful than freshly fallen snow on large trees.

A city blanketed in white to match its most famous residence.

Stay warm and stay safe on the slippery roads. Wishing you a very happy holiday season!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Oh, the weather outside is frightful...

If you're from the Midwest, or the Northeast, or really, anywhere that gets weather, prepare for a good laugh at our expense. However, if you're a recent D.C. transplant and this is the first time snow has come to you as opposed to you going to the snow, listen up.

It has been beaten to death on this blog that we're Southern California kids through and through. And while D.C. and L.A. have many differences, we've found the transition to be much easier than expected. But the one thing that still makes us feel like fish out of water is the weather.

Consider this: Not only had we never experienced a "white Christmas," we'd never really gone through a cold Christmas until we moved here. Most people understand that a house might be cold when you wake up to see if Santa came. But have you ever had to open a window to warm up the house on Christmas day? That is our "normal," so you can imagine how we might react to snow.

Three things about weather and us. First, our wardrobes were sorely insufficient. Believe it or not, the only weather related decision you need to make in SoCal is if you need a hoodie or not. Not surprisingly, we quickly learned that this was not the case here.

Second, we are paralyzingly awestruck by weather. If it is even threatening to rain hard, much less snowing, our eyes are glued to the nearest window or monitoring the forecast feverishly. This is one of my favorite things about our new home; being able to revel in the childish wonderment of weather, be it the changing of the seasons or beautifully falling snow.

Finally, we were just ignorant to anything but a light drizzle. You know the radar maps that use a color code to show the intensity of precipitation? You probably could have convinced us that weather systems were only shown in light green. White, purple, and red storms just don't exist where we come from. It has been eye opening to say the least. Thunder, lightning, hail, sleet, freezing rain . . . all new to our world. In fact, I had to get an explanation from a friend in Colorado when I first saw "wintry mix" on the forecast. Now I'm hearing "thundering snow." What the hell is that?

By now you're either laughing at our stupidity or nodding in agreement, depending on where you grew up. For those in the latter group, here's what you can do.
  1. Dress the part. If a cold day in your mind means the 50's, don't go out thinking you can tackle a real winter with your old wardrobe. Get a good long coat. Get some boots that are waterproof. Get a real umbrella, not something you pick up at CVS and will break almost immediately. And for those icy walks to work, look into YakTrax.
  2. Pay attention. The weather report on the local news was always an invitation to do something else. Not anymore. Make it part of your routine to glance at the weather daily. We went so far as to get a weather clock for our bathroom from Brookstone so we'll never be caught unprepared in a storm again . . . we hope.
With a couple of simple adjustments, we are no longer afraid or inconvenienced by the weather here, and can now enjoy it. Maybe after a few more seasons of thunderstorms and snow we won't be captivated as we are now, but until then, "Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!"

J Says

Like B said, I'm completely awestruck by the weather in D.C. Whenever there is a big summer thunderstorm or a few flakes of snow, there's no chance I'm getting any work done because I'm glued to the window.

As I type, I'm filled with excitement for the pending snowstorm. I'm sure that living with a lot of snow would get old (driving in it, trudging through it, etc.) but I'm excited for one really big storm.

Also, I have to echo what B wrote about dressing for the weather. I still don't have all of the right clothes for winter but I'm getting there. This winter, you're likely to see me bundled up like the kids in A Christmas Story. Just don't knock me over!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Family Time for All - Wii

When I was little, I bought an original 8-bit Nintendo, and like many people of my generation, Mario became a significant part of my world. While it was always a mainstay at birthday parties and late night sleepovers, it never seemed to cross the generational divide. Sure, my parents, grandparents, and babysitters were all gracious enough to get whupped by a 5th grader at the latest digital adventure, but in retrospect, I'd hardly call it quality time.

Fast forward 20 years to a point where video games had gone the way of baseball cards, Legos, and Thundercats. The graphics and player controls had evolved, but so had I. No longer could I up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, B, A, select, start with the best of them. Worse yet, it could be said that I had become "too old" for modern day video games (reminiscing about controllers with only 2 buttons clued me in). Until the Wii.

As we described earlier, J and I hosted Thanksgiving in D.C. this year (see post here). Clearly, there is no shortage of sights to see in this city (read our favorites here), but when weary feet and stormy weather pushed the party indoors, what was this merged, multi-generational family to do? In the past, family board games would rule. Pictionary, Mah Jong, Cranium, and Trivial Pursuit are all favorites. But this year it was The Beatles Rock Band on Wii. Over the course of a few days, the parts of John, Paul, George, and Ringo were played by people as young as 11 and as old as... well... old enough to appreciate the game's Ed Sullivan sound clips.

My point is that a product that once divided generations has now found a form that unites them. And in this holiday season, when we think about gift giving and quality family time, I feel like I must say thanks to the Beatles and especially to Nintendo for enhancing our Thanksgiving. It's good to have you back in my life!

J Says

I am a really terrible drummer. Once I start getting my hands to sense the rhythm, I have to add in the kick drum and then it all falls apart. Silly kick drum.

Even though I'm a really bad drummer, I have a blast playing Beatles Rock Band. During Thanksgiving week, we shared a ton of laughs while attempting to play along with hits such as "Eight Days a Week" and "Ticket to Ride." Even if you have no musical talent, you can have fun drumming, strumming, or even just humming along.

We're a really, really good Pictionary team (I correctly guessed "radiation" after B drew one squiggly line) but since you can only play Pictionary with a group, we needed a new game. The Wii has been a great addition to our household. We have a blast trying to beat each other's records on the Wii Fit. I can't beat B in ski jumping but he can't touch me in soccer ball heading.

Whether you're home alone or entertaining a crowd, the Wii can lead to some hilarious antics. Just watch out for that kick drum.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

D.C. on the cheap

First off, thank you to the people out there who have taken an interest in our blog. Even though we both (more or less) grew up with the internet, its ability to connect perfect strangers amazes us, and it is flattering to think that people not obligated by friendship or DNA have noticed our efforts.

We recently received an email from a young couple that is new to Alexandria. Like many of us at that stage in life, "bars don't have the same appeal they used to, mostly because in the real world its too hard to stay up past midnight, and going to the movies is just getting boring." With that in mind, here's a list of DC-based activities for our fans in Alexandria that we've enjoyed as a couple that are easy on the wallet (non-museum edition). We've also included some things that have been recommended to us, but that we've not had a chance to do ourselves.

Charity Work. Not surprisingly, D.C. is filled with people who want to make the world a better place. Perhaps not as obvious is that these events (see here and here) often double as social/networking events. Do a little good and meet some good people along the way.
Roadtrip. D.C. is great but sometimes you need a change of pace. In the time we've been here, we've enjoyed tips to Philly, Baltimore, Annapolis, New York, Atlanta, Indianapolis, West Virginia, Gettysburg, and Charlottesville, just to name a few. We like to drive but also consider the various luxury bus companies, like Bolt Bus and Mega Bus. We once snagged 2 roundtrips to NY for the grand total of $35. It probably would have cost that much in tolls, not to mention gas. Plus, our car doesn't have a bathroom or WiFi.
Cooking Classes. There are lots of options, and when you factor in the fact that you're learning something while also eating a top notch meal, it is a good deal too. Seek out classes at restaurants (we've had good experiences at Zola and Zengo), from private chefs (Chef Oliver Friendly), and cooking schools (L'Academie de Cuisine).
Scavenger Hunts. Appealing to everyone's geeky side (and most of us have one, especially in D.C.), you'd be surprised how many scavenger hunts you'll find in this city. In our experience (Post Hunt, Mr. Yogato sponsored hunt for the charity, A Plate for All), if you have a good team, a scavenger hunt can be one of the most goofy/fun times you'll have. And you'd be surprised what you can get away with when you tell a stranger on the street that you're doing a scavenger hunt...
Trivia/Game Night. What did we say about D.C. getting its geek on? When you go to a bar in most other cities, you'll find beer and bad pick-up lines. Here, you can find Trivial Pursuit tournaments.
The Great Outdoors. When surrounded by history and beautiful architecture, don't forget all the natural beauty that surrounds you. Ride your bike, visit Shenandoah, experience Great Falls, or explore Rock Creek Park.
Be a Tourist. There must be some reason millions of middle school kids flock to D.C. every year... Check out Mt. Vernon, the National Cathedral, any number of free downtown walking tours, jump on a Segway tour, see where fabulous lives, or join an embassy tour.
Eating Out. DC has its share of cheap eats, but to experience nicer restaurants when they are "on sale" check out Restaurant Week or try a food club such as Tastings Journal.
Smithsonian Resident Associates. You already know that the Smithsonian museums are free, but did you know that for a small membership fee you get access to a huge array of special events such as lectures, tours, and classes? They usually cost money but member discounts are available. We've been to some great events (An Evening With Tommy Lasorda) and a snoozer (Monet and Giverny) and encourage you to check out their extensive offerings.
Local Music. Since we were completely spoiled by the level of bar and coffeehouse musical talent in LA, this is something we have yet to experience in D.C. However, we've heard great things about the local music scene and it's one of our goals to get out their and listen. We'd love to hear about your favorite places.
Sport/Rec Leagues. Is sitting behind that computer all day making you crazy? Get outside and run around! Whether it is bocce ball, ultimate frisbee, or kickball, D.C. has a league for you.
Professional Sports Teams. It's true that tickets to the major sport teams aren't cheap but don't forget the secondary sports like MLS and lacrosse.
Blogging. Start a blog! Seriously. It is a great hobby to take up, and something you can do as a couple. And depending on your blog's theme, it tends to push you to explore things that you wouldn't otherwise pursue.
People Watching. D.C. has so many fantastic people watching places. Whether it's the American flag-shirted families that populate the National Mall or the frantic holiday shoppers at the shopping mall, there are plenty of interesting things to see if you just stop and look. Grab a cup of hot cocoa, find a bench, and let the games begin.

Anyone out there have any other good ideas for where to go when your bank account is as empty as a Washington Nationals game? New to the area and looking for some other suggestions? Contact us here.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Ben's Chili Bowl

Like 2Amys, we've written a lot (see our favorite restaurants, Nationals Park, and our tribute to Ben Ali) about Ben's Chili Bowl, but haven't gotten around to doing an official TwoDC-style review. You've probably heard about Ben's being a DC institution and surviving in its current location for over 50 years through riots and Metro construction. What you might be wondering is whether the food is actually any good. With some "landmark" restaurants, you pay for the atmosphere and suffer through the food. While some may disagree (including my culinary hero Tom Sietsema), I think the food at Ben's is great. By great I mean tummy-warming, comfort food great not Voltaggio brothers fancy pants great.

When you arrive at Ben's you're likely to see this:

Yes, be ready to wait in line. Usually, the line goes really quickly and you'll be scarfing down your half smoke in no time. On our last visit, we arrived just before shift change time (7:00 pm) and the service was slooooooooow. The staff leaving at 7pm basically stopped working at 6:55pm and the 7pm staff didn't start really moving until about 7:05pm. But if you have to wait in line, Ben's is a pretty fun place to wait. The atmosphere is joyful and the music is rockin'.

Ben's has a pretty extensive menu (including breakfast on the weekend), but when you go for the first time, you should order the half smoke "all the way." That means you'll be getting a half smoke (half pork/half beef sausage) topped with mustard, onions, and Ben's famous chili. It's served with a side of potato chips that I usually skip over in favor of the chili cheese fries (more on those later). If you don't eat pork, they have all-beef hot dogs. If you don't eat hot dogs, they have burgers. If you're a vegetarian, they have veggie chili. If you still can't find something to eat, go somewhere else.

Ben's isn't the place for sticking to your diet or your quest to eat naturally. Ben's is the place for good old fashioned comfort food. Speaking of comfort food . . . I present Ben's chili cheese fries. I can hear the angels singing every time I look at this photo. You won't believe this after reading our blog, but B and I tend to eat very healthfully most of the time (we don't post about the stuff we eat when we're not eating out). We're both fairly thin and healthy people, BUT we have a serious weakness for Ben's chili cheese fries. If you're looking to splurge, this is the way to go.

Speaking of weakness, I also love Ben's cake. I've been told that they don't make it in-house, but I don't care whose house it is made in... it's tasty! I usually take the cake home and eat it later because after a half smoke and chili cheese fries I can barely move. The cake is awesome even when eaten the next day.

In closing, here's an open letter to D.C.'s most beloved establishment:

Dear Ben's,

Sometimes you make my tummy hurt and you make my favorite jeans a little too tight, but I love you.

Love, J.

Second Thoughts from B

Whether you like greasy spoons or not, whether you like hot dogs and chili or not, whether you like happiness or not, you have to experience Ben's Chili Bowl before you can consider your time in D.C. complete. Period. End of story.

I would say that a visit to Ben's is a must simply based on the history and cultural relevance of the place (read more here). But the reason we keep coming back is not the atmosphere and the experience, it's the food.

As J alluded to, sometimes you experience a place in spite of the food. Not at Ben's. I've eaten my fair share of hot dogs in my lifetime and this one is the best. Thick, juicy, and packed with flavor, a naked half-smoke would be worth a trip. Then you add the famous chili. Rich and thick (and happily without beans), it adds just enough kick to make it interesting. Add chili cheese fries, cake, creamy milkshakes, and you've found caloric nirvana.
Ben's Chili Bowl on Urbanspoon

Monday, December 7, 2009


It's no secret that we adore 2Amys pizza (see our favorite restaurants post), especially since we've probably referred to it in every pizza post we've written. To us, it's the gold standard for DC pizza. While I've read complaints that the pizza quality has slipped, they are still serving up delicious pies.

If you want to experience the pizza without waiting a really long time for a table, we recommend going on a weekend for lunch and arriving about 10 minutes before they open. A line starts to form outside, but when the doors open they seat the crowd quickly. On our last visit, we had a group of 7 and were seated right away.

If you come when there is a wait (which is pretty much all the time), head to the bar at the back of the restaurant and grab a drink while you wait.

We like to start with the mixed greens salad with lemon, red wine vinegar, and olive oil. It is the most simple salad you'll find on a restaurant menu, but the simplicity is why we like it. It's a fresh and light way to start your meal before you begin chowing down on cheesy pizza goodness.

In addition to a menu full of pizzas with creative toppings (grana or cockles anyone?) 2Amys offers a few special pizzas that rotate periodically. B ordered a special pizza that featured cockles (clams) and artichoke hearts.

While I am the first to admit that their fancy pizzas are great, I have a huge soft spot for the Two Amys, which is simply tomato and fresh mozzarella cheese. It's the best cheese pizza I've had outside of Brooklyn, and I'm in love with the chewy crust. However, on some days, the wood burning oven is a little overzealous and scorches the crust a bit too much. Usually, it's cooked perfectly and I have no problem polishing off the whole thing.

Because of its popularity, 2Amys isn't the most relaxing place to dine. You usually have to wait for a table, and it's noisy and full of little kids. But, if you're willing to deal with these minor inconveniences, you're in for a real treat. My mom (a native New Yorker) called it one of the best pizzas she's ever had. You know what they say about mothers always being right.

Second Thoughts from B

For all you Top Chef fans out there, you know that the current season features a finale that pits a Southern chef that expertly prepares "simple" food against a pair of brothers who specialize in more sophisticated dishes.

At 2Amys, you don't have to make such a choice. On one hand you've got simple pizzas made perfectly. On the other hand, you'll find a menu full of ingredients and combinations that are completely foreign to most diners. Sure, you can make a custom pizza with pepperoni and meatballs, and I'm sure it'll be great. But my advice is this; trust the geniuses in the kitchen and allow them to make their magic. You won't be sorry.
2 Amys on Urbanspoon

Friday, December 4, 2009


Recently, we met two of our favorite people for dinner at Posto on 14th Street. This "modern Italian" restaurant opened in the old Viridian restaurant space in December of last year. The dining room is large and airy, but the wide open spaces and concrete floors means that you'll have to crank up the hearing aide a notch to hear your dining companions.

We started things off with the Bufalina Salad (romaine salad, buffalo mozzarella, grape tomatoes, pioppini mushrooms, basil breadcrumbs, balsamic dressing). It was similar to a caprese salad with grilled romaine substituted for the tomatoes. An interesting twist on an Italian favorite.

I was about to write "B took the waiter's advice and ordered _____" but loyal readers (reader? Hi Mom!) know that he does that at every restaurant. So, I'll cut to the chase and say that he really loved the ravioli special with mushrooms and butter cream sauce.

I took advantage of Posto's wood-burning pizza oven and ordered the "calzone of the day," which happened to be spicy salami with a mix of mozzarella and ricotta cheeses. The chewy calzone dough was great, but this might not be an ideal dish for those who don't like a lot of bread. The filling was plentiful, but the massive amount of dough overwhelmed it. No complaints from me though. I loved taking pieces of the dough and dipping it into the side of marinara sauce. I added crushed red pepper flakes to the sauce to jazz things up.

We were too stuffed from the carb overload to try the dessert menu, so maybe next time. Overall, we had a very nice time at Posto even if it had as much to do with the great company as the food. While solid, the food was nothing terribly inventive. With so many unique options on 14th street and in the surrounding Logan Circle neighborhood, it might be awhile before we get back to Posto. So much to eat, so little time!

Second Thoughts from B

Yes, it is true, I took the waiter's advice... again. But seriously, who knows the menu better: a first time diner or someone who has tasted every dish? It isn't as if I'd accept something that sounded horrible, but I've grown up to be willing to try things that are out of my box and have been, more often than not, pleasantly surprised.

Two other things about my ordering strategy. First, I only take this approach at nicer places. You don't go to McDonald's and ask for their opinion. But if I'm spending good money for creative, high quality food and service to match, then why not give these talented and informed people a chance to impress? You wouldn't tell a talented artist to make you a paint-by-numbers painting, would you? Secondly, I'm shocked when I find out that a waiter/waitress has not had an opportunity to taste all the dishes on the menu. How can you expect someone to talk about food that they've not sampled? Thankfully, chefs who keep their staff in the dark seem to be a dying breed.

After all that, how did our waiter at Posto do? Let's just say that the menu should have listed the "butter" part of the butter sauce in all CAPS. This dish would make Paula Dean proud and your cardiologist cringe. For better or worse, depending on your perspective, it was a luscious flavor that I won't soon forget.

J didn't disclose this, but the waiter also recommended the calzone, and I can rave about it without reservation. The thing was so big it looked like it could be used for a pick-up game of football, but the dough was so flavorful and fluffy that it belied its mass. Next thing we knew, we were filled with calzone, and sadly, had to pass on dessert.
Posto on Urbanspoon

Monday, November 30, 2009

Hosting Thanksgiving (with an assist from Zola Wine & Kitchen)

As a new couple in a new city, the holiday season is a busy time to say the least. In addition to the cross-country travel and family commitments that other people must deal with, new couples need to balance old and new family traditions within a new family dynamic. After all, the marriage of two people is seldom the union of just two people; it is the blending of two families.

For us, it has been about as easy as anyone could hope for, but that doesn't mean there aren't challenges. Fortunately, everyone gets along, which is the most important thing. But beyond that, 3,000 miles, varying work schedules, and other factors necessitate months of planning.

In order to unite our two families in one location and lessen our own time in busy airports, J and I have managed to host one holiday in DC each of the last three years. We've found this newly emerging tradition challenging, but also immensely worthwhile.

Now that Thanksgiving is over and we can sit back and enjoy the peaceful satisfaction of a job well done, we've come to realize that the third time is truly the charm. We've become decent tour guides and passable chefs, but more generally, we've become a great team. And that's a good thing, because for the two weeks prior to our parents' arrival, J was in Anchorage for work. This made it necessary to plan the meal via email and call in some reinforcements.

When J told me that she ordered an oven-ready turkey from Zola Wine & Kitchen, I was worried that it wouldn't be worth the cost. After all, why pay for something we can do ourselves? But after being able to serve the best Thanksgiving turkey that I've ever tasted, I can say without reservation that it was worth every penny. But don't take my word for it, just listen to J.

J Says

A week and a half before our families were to arrive for Thanksgiving, I was sitting in an Anchorage, Alaska office building learning that my trip was being extended by another week. This meant that I would be arriving home less than one day before our parents arrived. I knew then that my grand plans for Thanksgiving dinner were going to have to change, and I needed a way to make things easier.

Coincidentally, at the same time, a co-worker of mine sent around an email saying that Zola Wine & Kitchen was selling oven-ready turkeys (as well as prepared turkeys and all of the trimmings). The menu promised that it would be herb-seasoned and ready to stick in the oven. Based on my past positive wine purchasing and cooking class experiences at Zola Wine & Kitchen, I didn't hesitate to place my turkey order.

After a phone call and a few emails with the manager, my order was confirmed and I scheduled the pickup for the day before Thanksgiving. On that day, they had my turkey ready to go and even brought it out to the car for me.

Since this wasn't the cheapest turkey option ($79 plus tax), I was a bit worried that it wouldn't be worth the cost. My worry was completely erased as we began to carve the perfectly-browned bird and juices poured from every inch, accompanied by a wonderful herb scent that filled the kitchen. It was the juiciest and most flavorful turkey I've ever had. It also couldn't have been easier. It was cleaned, stuffed with herbs (even under the skin with butter), placed in a disposable roasting pan, and packaged with cooking instructions (lots of basting).

On this Thanksgiving, we give thanks to Zola Wine & Kitchen for saving the day and allowing us to spend time with family instead of stressing in the kitchen.

P.S. Even the leftover turkey is excellent!!!
Zola Wine & Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Friday, November 27, 2009


Chef Jose Andres' DC restaurant empire focuses on small plates with big flavors. His restaurants (Jaleo (x2), Zaytinya, Cafe Atlantico, MiniBar, Oyamel) each fill a unique niche in DC's dining scene. One of our favorites is Oyamel, a fun Mexican-focused restaurant with an extensive array of Antojitos (tapas). The dining room (located on bustling 7th Street in Penn Quarter) looks a bit like a modern, upscale Spanish classroom with its bright colors and Dia de los Muertos-style decorations. If my Spanish classroom served food and drinks like this, I would never have graduated high school...

Oyamel has a full menu of traditional refrescos from aguas frescas (fresh fruit, water, sugar) to horchata. On this visit we sampled the pomegranate and regular margaritas. They have this magical warm and salty foam on top ( in lieu of salt on the glass) which looks like soap bubbles and sounds weird, but makes for a great sensation as you sip the cool drink.

Since it is a tapas-style menu and we ordered lots of dishes, I will just let the photos (and brief descriptions) do the talking.

Chips and zesty salsa.

Guacamole made at your table.

The aforementioned guacamole served in a lava stone molcajete.

Papas al mole (José Andrés’ favorite fried potatoes in a mole poblano sauce of almonds, chile, and a touch of chocolate, topped with Mexican cream and aged cotija cheese).

Arrachera con salsa molcajeta y nopales escabeche (Grilled skirt steak in a sauce of grilled tomatoes, tomatillos, green onions, cilantro, and green chile, garnished with pickled cactus paddle).

Caldo Tlalpeño (Traditional chicken soup with shredded chicken, peas, carrots, avocado, rice and a spoonful of smoky chipotle sauce).

Camarones Especial (shrimp from the daily special menu).

Tamal Especial (tamale from the daily special menu).

Tamal Verde (Tamale with green sauce of tomatillo, shredded chicken breast, chile, garlic, and cilantro).

Elote con calabazitas (Sauteed sweet corn, baby zucchini, and serrano peppers with Mexican cream, queso fresco, and chile pequin).

Left: Taco Especial (steak street taco from the daily special menu).

Right: Chapulines (The legendary Oaxacan speciality of sautéed grasshoppers, served with shallots, garlic and tequila). Yes, you read that right. Grasshoppers! They are crunchy and salty and . . . well . . . different.

Oyamel's diverse menu (where else can you get grasshopper tacos?), friendly service, and central location makes it a great pick for a pre-Verizon Center meal or night out with friends. Sit back, grab a margarita, and let the bubbles tickle your nose and take your cares away. Just watch out for that guacamole . . . it can be terribly addicting.

Second Thoughts from B

The great thing about tapas is that you get to enjoy a few bites of many different dishes, each with unique flavors and textures. This makes tapas dining great for adventurous eaters and especially for large groups. So that's the argument for tapas, but why Oyamel?

Each of Jose Andres' establishments are certainly worth a try and in my opinion, other than the extraordinary experience found at Minibar (see our review here), the "best" is a matter of personal preference. Rest assured, wherever you go, you won't be hurting for flavor. But for our taste, the Mexican inspired Oyamel is our favorite. Maybe it is the familiar flavor profile that makes these Southern Californians feel at home, but from the beginning to the end of the meal, you'll hear nothing but satisfied mmm's from our table.

Of particular note are the more unusual items on the menu. Whether it is cactus or salty foam or even grasshoppers, Oyamel ensures that you're rewarded for being a little daring when ordering. There is clearly a method to the madness behind the addition of atypical ingredients as each are included based on taste and texture rather than shock value. It is no wonder Chef Andres' "cuisine reigned supreme" after his foray into Kitchen Stadium.
Oyamel on Urbanspoon