Friday, July 31, 2009

Chef Oliver Friendly - Eat and Smile Foods

Several months ago J and I attended a couples cooking class through L'Academie de Cuisine. The class was led by alumnus Chef Oliver Friendly who proved to be highly skilled, personable, educational, and entertaining - as we described here.

Chef Friendly has spent time in the kitchens of PS7's and Hook, but has since chosen to run his own catering and cooking class company called Eat & Smile Foods. Among the services offered is a group cooking class where Chef Friendly arrives at your door with all the ingredients and equipment needed to teach and create a wonderful dinner. Recently we assembled 8 people at a friend's condo to eat, smile, and learn a little something about food.

Chef Friendly's culinary perspective combines formal French technique with local and organic foods. One of his favorite philosophies seems to be to "get out of the ingredient's way" and this can be tasted easily in his meals. They tend to be simple and use only a handful of ingredients, but celebrate each of the fresh flavors as individual elements combined harmoniously.

As described before, Chef Friendly's talent extends far beyond the kitchen. He is personable and engaging and was a perfect fit for our interested, yet novice crowd. Not only does it make for an atypical and fun night, he is also a tremendously good deal. Chef Friendly does the planning and the shopping (almost entirely at , comes to your door with everything that's needed, cooks and teaches for 2+ hours, and then cleans up and leaves you to a enjoy a wonderful dessert. At L'Academie, and probably any other top notch cooking school, this will cost you and 24 perfect strangers around $75 per person. Do it in your own kitchen with 6-10 of your friends and family through Eat & Smile Foods and it'll cost you $50 per person. Sign us up!

J Says

Before we met Chef Friendly, the words "cooking class" frightened me. I didn't spend a lot of time in the kitchen growing up and my "culinary point of view" is a work in progress (can you tell we watch our share of the Next Food Network Star?)

That said, Chef Friendly creates such a comfortable atmosphere that he makes me want to learn more about cooking and he has inspired me to eat locally as much as possible. In addition to learning a few skills, I got to enjoy an excellent meal.

We started off with a salad of baby greens, camembert cheese, pine nuts, and a homemade dressing.

The main event was a flank steak with a fresh tomato chutney served with a white corn/mint medley. Chef Friendly picked three types of tomatoes from his own backyard and they were fantastic (and I don't even like tomatoes!). The flank steak was cooked to perfection and the corn was packed full of flavor.

Dessert consisted of fresh peaches cooked with caramel sauce and topped with whipped cream. So good! The best part? Everything he did was easy enough that I really feel confident that I can do it too. While I'm far from appearing on the next Top Chef episode, thanks to Chef Friendly I feel much more comfortable picking up a knife (and holding it correctly) and tackling a new recipe.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Elton John and Billy Joel at Nationals Park

Here's the recipe:
1 flamboyant piano-playing diva from England
1 blue-collar rock-n-roll legend from New York
40,000+ fans

Mix ingredients together in a brand new stadium and let sit in a beautifully warm, yet not too muggy, summer night. Cook at 70 degrees F for 3.5 hours.

The result is usually a reliably solid concert with more sing-along hits than you could find at a karaoke bar... at least that's what I would guess, because this was not a normal evening. On this night, there was one last ingredient that was added to the tried and true formula that is Elton John and Billy Joel's 6th concert tour together called, "Face 2 Face." Billy Joel, playing the part of Iron Chef Chairman, announced that the secret ingredient was an "authentic rock-n-roll f*** up."

Normally, the show begins with a few songs performed together, followed by solo acts by Elton John and Billy Joel, in that order. The show then concludes with a full set of duets. However, with the secret ingredient in the mix, taking the form of a stuck sustaining pedal on Elton John's piano, the entire show slowed to a halt mid-way through the second song.

Now there may be people out there that could hear the problem, but when Elton John was frantically screaming at the techs in the middle of his own lyrics, you can count me among the "what the heck is going on?" crowd at Nationals Park . When he stopped the song for a true diva moment (he stormed off the stage), Billy Joel was left all alone to entertain and apologize to the masses. Ever the entertainer, he uttered the aforementioned line of the night and began to play a rock-n-roll rendition of Yankee Doodle. When Elton John returned to his piano bench only to find that no improvements had been made, Billy Joel avoided another blowup by whipping off his suit jacket and crawling underneath Elton's piano for a closer look. (Insert here your own inappropriate but still rather funny joke about Billy Joel lying between Elton John's feet - I'll try and make it through being grown up about it.)

Needless to say, this was not part of the set list but made for an amazingly awkward, hilarious, and memorable moment. It would be quite a feat for the rest of the concert to not be overshadowed by this moment, but in the end, it was memorable for its musical merits too. Maybe this snafu shook up the night just enough to make the millionth performance of "Piano Man" fresh, or maybe it is just a testament to the incredible talent, professionalism, and presence of these two legendary entertainers. Either way, lucky us!

After Billy Joel emerged from under Elton John's piano, he proceeded to bang out a set that was almost entirely recognizable by everyone in attendance. I'm always amazed when musicians can perform their songs exactly how they have countless times before, yet have it come off as if it is the first time, especially when it comes from a group that orders off the senior's menu at Denny's. Billy Joel and his crew played with enormous energy and enthusiasm that made the mulletted folks seated around us quite happy.

Elton John reemerged and followed with an equally enjoyable set of his own. Ever since I was little I've been hearing from my dad about Elton's amazing live performances, and all my life I've wanted to hear "Bennie and Jets" live. I don't even like this particular song all that much but after hearing about him getting crowds to echo back "Bennie," it has been on my bucket list. While I can now check that one off and say it was definitely cool, for some reason I had higher hopes for him. Maybe 20 years of build-up was too much to live up to.

Don't get me wrong, Captain Fantastic was fantastic, but he had a very tough act to follow coming off the energy that was produced from Billy Joel's set. Maybe the piano issue was still in Elton's head, but I would argue that it was more a reflection of an exceptionally strong performance from Billy Joel that was aided by an audience that clearly favored the American.

The night ended with an exclamation point. Back and forth they went, playing off of each other in a way that can only be described as playfully. Despite their very different styles and personas, it was easy to tell that these two great talents shared a friendship and respect for one another. That connection was also extended to the crowd which sang lyrics at full force. Personally, I love moments when large crowds sing in unison. "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" at Dodger Stadium, "Sweet Caroline" at Fenway, a college football fight song in any packed stadium (Colorado University comes to mind), the "Rock, Chalk Jayhawk" chant during the Final Four, any big hit during a U2 concert... you get the idea.

In short, it was a magical and memorable night and not just because Elton's pedal needed a BJ... (sorry, I couldn't help it.)

J Says

BJ jokes aside, I think the less-than-conventional opening made the show memorable and a lot of fun. As B noted, Billy Joel was the ultimate professional and carried the show. It apparently was a great night for Joel as he met his new girlfriend (soap opera star Alex Donnelley) backstage at the DC concert.

Maybe it's because we share the same birthday or maybe it's because I'm a sucker for the song Piano Man, but I left with a renewed enthusiasm for Billy and his music. I went in to the concert expecting to like Elton more but Billy's energy was contagious. If the dueling pianos make a stop in your neighborhood, I highly recommend that you do what it takes to snag a ticket.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Cafe Pizzaiolo

Cafe Pizzaiolo, in addition to having a name that's hard to spell, is part-cafe and part-liquor store (you can take microbrews and wine to-go). It's located in Crystal City, Virginia near Reagan Airport. We were on our way to Reagan to pick up a friend and decided to stop into Cafe Pizzaiolo after hearing positive reviews.

Our waiter was incredibly friendly and happy to recommend his favorite menu items. He sang along to the Jimmy Buffett tunes that were playing and was generally a pleasure to deal with.

We started off with a traditional garden salad. No picture needed, it was a straightforward green salad with a tasty vinaigrette dressing. For our entree we split the 12-inch Caprese Pizza. It was a thin neapolitan-style crust topped with mozzarella, roma tomatoes, garlic, sea salt, olive oil and fresh basil. We intended to take half of it home but it was so thin and light that we managed to finish the whole thing!

We couldn't decide between pizza and pasta, so we got both. We tried the cavatelli pasta with hot italian sausage and peppers in a marinara sauce. The cavatelli was a bit doughy for B's taste but I like it like that. It was topped with a generous helping of mozarella cheese and served with toasted crostinis that added an interesting crunch.

I think you can find better pizza in DC (Two Amys) and better pasta (Papa Razzi or Filomena), but if you're in the neighborhood killing time before a Reagan Airport pickup, Cafe Pizzaiolo is a solid choice for an Italian meal.

Second Thoughts from B

For a quick, inexpensive, fresh, and easy Italian meal in a relaxed setting (they have board games available), Cafe Pizzaiolo is a good choice. Is it good enough to make a special trip to the always lovely and entertaining Crystal City (I hope this description conveys the appropriate level of sarcasim)? As a former resident, I can unequivocally say no. Then again, that's a comment on Crystal City and not Cafe Pizzaiolo... But if you're in the neighborhood, whether that be a trip to the airport, the mall, the Costco, or driving through to get to Old Town Alexandria, you could do much worse.
Cafe Pizzaiolo on Urbanspoon

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Montmartre - Guest Post

Sometimes you need a little help from your friends. In this case, that help came from another DC couple who shared their favorite Capitol Hill restaurant, Montmartre, with us during a wonderful brunch amid the hustle and bustle of Eastern Market. But in addition to opening our eyes to this quaint, yet exceedingly popular French bistro, they've also been generous enough to share their insights on this meal, and many others they’ve had, through a guest post. Enjoy!

- B and J
Based upon three dinners and two brunches, Montmartre is our favorite restaurant in DC. The restaurant has great food and a comfortable atmosphere.

Montmartre does not accept reservations for brunch, so we thought ahead and arrived around 11:15 am. We declined an indoor table in favor of a spot on the outdoor patio. We only waited 5 minutes for our spot under an umbrella, but by the end of our meal, people were being told that the wait was 45 minutes.

The service at Montmartre is sloooooooowwww, but the speed of service seems to be intentional (French-style) rather than unintentional (lazy-style). If you expect fast service, you will be disappointed. We expect (and have received) slow service, but this makes the meal a leisurely affair. I took my parents to Montmartre for dinner and even my father, who is impatient and critical of servers, relaxed and enjoyed himself after a forewarning. Embrace it.

Who wouldn’t want to sit outside on a beautiful (and mild) July morning? Snagging one of these tables makes you the object of envy. For meals on colder days, the dining room has an intimate feel; it is small but feels much larger thanks to the floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the patio and the street. However, the wood walls can make the dining room a bit loud.

We started with the pate plum, which is a block of pate with a plum center and a sprinkling of sea salt. Delicious.

I love mussels, and I especially love catching the aroma when the top is lifted off a bowl of mussels. We ordered the marinieres preparation with white wine and parsley. Montmartre no longer serves our favorite preparation, pastis, which included lots of garlic and fennel (apparently pastis is a French anise-flavored liqueur). On our last visit, we were told by our server that we could order pastis even if it wasn’t on the menu. We attempted to do so on this visit, but our server stopped us dead in our tracks. When your server says it will be the “end of the world” if we ordered pastis, you know she’s serious (apparently there had been a restaurant meeting where the servers were told that pastis could no longer be served). Very strange. Anyway, the mussels marinieres were very good and had a pleasant broth for dipping bread.

I had the spinach, tomato, and cheese omelet served with a green salad. Nothing fancy, but well done.

My better half had the Eggs Benedict with pancetta and wilted greens. The eggs were cooked perfectly and the pancetta created a very pretty presentation.

Overall, we always recommend Montmartre (try the hangar steak or the rabbit for dinner). Yes, the service will be slow, but the food is always great. Dining is supposed to be relaxing, right?

Second Thoughts from B and J

When you have great company, great weather, and great food, who cares if the service is a bit... well... French? We're very grateful to our friends for introducing us to Montmartre. B had the waffle with berries and whipped cream, which was a mountain of goodness that looked like something out of a Dr. Seuss story. While this dish is probably more at home on a dessert menu, there were no complaints.

I had the panini which was a great way to soak up the remnants of a Saturday night of excessive celebration.
I think I understand why people get so up in arms about Montmartre's service. The restaurant is located, after all, in the shadow of the Capitol. The Hill is known for its frenetic pace and "me me me" atmosphere. I like Montmartre because it extends its French middle finger to all of those too stuffy types and causes everyone to just relax a little bit.
Montmartre on Urbanspoon

Monday, July 20, 2009

DC Neighborhoods

As with any large city, DC (and the surrounding area) is made up of many different neighborhoods that each have their own unique charm. Granted, we've not had a chance to explore all of them, but here are some of our favorites, in no particular order. For a more detailed review of the city's neighborhoods and really - everything and anything of interest related to moving to DC - I would highly recommend the book, "Newcomer's Handbook for Moving to and Living in Washington, DC."

Downtown. Clearly we're biased since this is where we've chosen to live, but the sites, museums, restaurants, culture, and access via Metro is second to none. However, residential green space is at a premium/minimum, traffic can be a nightmare at certain times especially without anything more than a 2-lane road in or out, and tourists can be overwhelming (depending on the season).

Georgetown. The ritziest part of DC is not surprisingly the least accessible. There are few places in the city, purely residential areas not included, that are not accessible by Metro. Georgetown is one of them. Consequently, you'll have to tolerate the traffic and parking challenges (or buses) if you want to shop or dine among the preppy and the rich. So pop your pastel collar, throw on your navy blazer and loafers, and don't forget to make a point to see the historic homes that are some of the most charming, and most expensive, in the city.

Arlington. Just over the river, Arlington offers a little bit of everything. Shopping, quiet neighborhoods, restaurants and bars, commerce mixed with a college town, etc. However, when you offer a little bit of everything, you tend to do so by sacrificing character and charm.

Alexandria. Old Town to be specific. With apologies to Baltimore, Old Town Alexandria is charm city. Quaint homes and boutiques, brick and cobblestone streets, and 300 years of history make Old Town a popular destination for lazy afternoons and visiting parents.

Capitol Hill. I read somewhere recently that Capitol Hill was one of the top U.S. neighborhoods to live in. As another highly-walkable area with mom and pop shops and restaurants, we always leave this area wondering why we don't come here more often.

Dupont Circle. This is where the action is. Often packed with young singles flocking to the bars and clubs, there are few places in the city with more of a nightlife. It is no wonder that MTV put the next Real World cast here (at 20th and S St. in NW).

Adams Morgan. This is where you'll find the quirky and worldly shops/restaurants that you might associate with Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley or any other bohemian area. Cheap eats abound in an area that is absolutely unique in a city that is dominated by the buttoned-up or urban chic.

U Street. A historic district once known as the most significant African-American cultural hub prior to the emergence of Harlem, U Street is now experiencing a renaissance. Call it renaissance or gentrification, the combination of high-end condos and fine dining with run-down shacks is becoming a familiar calling card of the many "up and coming neighborhoods" that are so prevalent throughout DC.

Columbia Heights. Speaking of up and coming, Columbia Heights features new development sprinkled throughout a neighborhood still in transition. In most cases, the transformation of a neighborhood is subtle, with a new store here or a freshly polished shop there. Columbia Heights on the other hand, was as subtle as a sledgehammer. This new complex, named DC USA, is home to the District's first Target and also features a half dozen other major national chains including a Bed, Bath, and Beyond and a Best Buy.

Bethesda. While technically in Maryland, Bethesda (and other nearby neighborhoods like Chevy Chase) is where DC's rich goes to live and/or shop when they want to avoid the scene that is Georgetown. But beyond the glitzy stores and high-end boutiques lies a clean and friendly pocket of town filled with hybrid cars, discussions of art and literature, and PTA meetings. Suburbia at its best... if you can afford it.

Friday, July 17, 2009


We love getting feedback on our blog and our trip to Momoyama was a direct result of a comment left on our Kyoto Sushi post. The commenter recommended Momoyama as a reliable sushi destination. Good thing our car has GPS because the restaurant is tucked in this weird part of 2nd Street NW between I-395 and the D.C. federal courthouse.

The atmosphere is quaint and fairly standard for a Japanese restaurant. It's a very small space with a few tables and some stools at the sushi bar. The service was friendly and attentive. Our waitress asked B if he had a new haircut. Though we'd never been there before, I get the sense that this is the sort of place where everybody knows your name (or haircut?)

We started off with miso soup, edamame, and shumai soup. The miso soup was regular miso but the edamame stood out due to the sheer size of the portion. There were a ton of soybeans in that bowl! The shumai soup had a hearty and slightly sweet udon-like base with several shu mai (dumplings) floating around. While the shu mai weren't memorable, I really liked the broth and look forward to trying their udon noodle soup on our next visit.

We ordered an assortment of rolls and nigiri to see if Momoyama warmed our hearts and bellies as much as Kyoto did. On the plate: fatty tuna, salmon, yellow tail, lobster, Bulgogi Roll (grilled marinated beef, cucumber, special sauce), Geisha Roll (deep fried shrimp, cucumber, mayo, roe, spicy sauce), and the Momoyama Roll (tuna, salmon, avocado, scallion, roe). Not pictured: soft shell crab hand roll and spicy tuna hand roll.

We don't normally order hand rolls but I'm so glad we did. These were outstanding. They were filled with big chunks of spicy tuna and soft shell crab and had an interesting, sticky/crunchy/soft texture combination. The other rolls were just ok. The beef in the Bulgogi Roll was tough and overall, the rolls just lacked flavor. They weren't bad, but they just weren't interesting. It was hard to distinguish one from the next.

I want to give Momoyama another try because I really like the atmosphere and think the udon has potential. If you go, steer yourself toward the hand rolls and the nigiri and you're likely to leave very satisfied.

Second Thoughts from B

Talk about an insider area of the city! What looks like a meaningless alley that is spitting distance of the Capitol Dome opens up to 2 or 3 restaurants that seems to only be known to Congressional staffers. The favorite among this crowd of 22 year olds in poorly fitting Jos. A. Bank suits seems to be the bar next door, meaning that the unassuming sushi joint next door is an interesting and peaceful juxtaposition to the political chaos outside.

My thoughts on Momoyama can be summed up in a single word. Light. The sushi seems light on flavor (not always a bad thing as it allows the fish to be the star, but not always a good thing either) and the prices are relatively (for sushi) light on your wallet. Unfortunatley, the portions would also be categorized as light which is particularly noticeable when looking at the rice that coats the outside of the rolls. I'm not talking color, I'm talking size. And since I'm of the opinion that good rice is vital to good sushi, that was a bit of a disappointment.

As we said in our Kyoto post, we love small sushi restaurants like Momoyama. However, if given the choice between the two, Kyoto gets my vote, but Momoyama is still a strong candidate.
Momoyama on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Harry's Restaurant

When I was growing up, my dad and I would rummage through the Entertainment Book's coupons trying to find the strangest, most "hole-in-the-wall" places. Hey, a coupon is a coupon! So, I've always had a soft spot for the semi-creepy restaurants that have tons of character. With that introduction, I present Harry's Restaurant in the Hotel Harrington.

Nobody will confuse the Hotel Harrington with a Ritz Carlton. It may not have the upscale thing going for it, but it has character in spades. Apparently, its been operated by the same families since 1914. B and I have walked by the hotel and its restaurants, Harry's and Harriet's, so many times and had never been inside. We finally broke the seal and tried Harry's, the casual, bar-like brother of Harriet's Family Restaurant.

Yes those are faux-Tiffany lamps and checkerboard floor tiles that you see in the photo above. The walls were lined with an interesting array of crooked, dusty paintings and memorabilia.

The menu is pretty straightforward and has the usual suspects: burgers, spaghetti and meatballs, club sandwich . . . you know the drill. I opted for the BBQ Beef Sandwich served with coleslaw and fries (extra charge to get fries instead of potato chips). The sandwich was good but not outstanding. The bun weighed it down a lot so I ended up eating the beef out of the sandwich and ditching most of the bun.

While I wouldn't hurry back to Harry's to have the beef sandwich again, we would return to have the baby back ribs. They were perfectly cooked and flavorful without being drowned in sauce. B said that they were just like the ribs his mom makes which is a huge compliment because she is a fantastic cook. His ribs were served with a big baked potato and was a very hearty meal for a reasonable price.

Overall, I like Harry's more for the giggle factor than the food. It's great for people watching and worth a stop if you've tried the other restaurants in the neighborhood and are looking for a change of pace.

Second Thoughts from B

There is only one problem with serving ribs as good as my mom's and that is that it transports me back to high school when I had an appetite that would make Kobayashi proud. If my memory serves, I was usually good for 3+ full racks plus salad, pasta or potato, and vegetables in one sitting. So now that I'm no longer 14 years old nor 116 lbs., it is probably best that I'm limited to the single rack. With that said, I'm dreaming of racks 2, 3, and beyond...

Harry's Restaurant & Saloon on Urbanspoon

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Trapeze School New York (in DC)

For those of you who frequent downtown DC, you may have noticed the trapeze ropes and nets set up in the Old Convention Center site just north of Metro Center. You may have even seen people swinging, catching, and flipping through the air with a few giggles mixed in. But these are not your typical Cirque du Soleil types. These are regular people who look silly in spandex and are far more comfortable with their feet on the ground. I know because last weekend I was one of them.

After opening up shop in town a couple months ago, the Trapeze School New York (TSNY), Washington, D.C. has been very busy. Despite holding 5-6 classes every day of the week, reservations must be made several weeks in advance. Say what you may about this town being a circus, but there is certainly something to be said about their slogan, "Forget Fear. Worry about the Addiction."

While I might be the one who forgets fear, J is certainly the one who will have to worry about addiction. Despite an overdeveloped distaste for clowns (and therefore the circus), she has always dreamed of doing trapeze. Because of her gymnastics background, she takes to trapeze quite easily. As for me, I'm just trying to keep up and not look stupid.

Whether you're a 5 foot former gymnast or a gangly 6 foot guy who is not particularly graceful, strong, or flexible, you'll be flying through the air in no time. And this is exactly why TSNY is so popular. Classes begin with basic safety and instruction, but quickly move on to the basics of your first trick, which is hanging by your knees from your bar and getting caught by one of the instructors swinging from the next bar. Over the next 2 hours as part of your class of about 10, you'll take to the air about 6 times. Each time you'll increase your level of comfort and competence, all while being coached and safely harnessed by TSNY's instructors.

Surprisingly, much of your success on the first day has little to do with strength, athleticism, or fear. Our group contained people of all fitness levels and body types. We even had a mother who became paralyzed with fear once she reached the 23 foot high platform. Ever watch MTV's Real World/Road Rules Challenge? Our classmate maintained her dignity far better than those girls who fall to their knees crying for any challenge involving heights, but I have little doubt that the feelings were the same. Regardless, after gentle coaching and encouragement, she had no problem performing the entire routine by the end of the class.

What I'm trying to say is that it isn't that hard. You are only told to do a few simple things and your instructors (some in yellow snakeskin tights) will be barking out commands while you're up there. It is like playing Simon Says Tarzan-style. How you're able to process it all while swinging through the air is a mystery, but you do. It is only when you are safely in the net that your brain catches up and begins processing what you just did. There is an overwhelming sense of euphoria (natural, not the drug given to Brandon Walsh by Emily Valentine) that fills your body and seems to produce a spaced-out goofy look on most people's faces as they stumble across the net.

Whatever fear that existed on the platform a few exhilarating seconds before morphs into pure joy and excitement. That is when the addiction kicks in, because all you want to do is get back up there and do it again. If that's the case for you, there are any number of tricks and advanced levels that can be learned in subsequent classes. How would I know? We bought the 10-class pack...

J Says

When I was about 10 years old, I saw a magazine article about a Club Med resort that had trapeze lessons. From that day forward I hoped and wished that one day I would get to try trapeze. I still haven't been to a Club Med, but thanks to TSNY DC, I have been on a trapeze (twice)!

I took gymnastics lessons for years and had a trampoline in my backyard as a kid. I love the feeling of flipping and flying through the air, but it's pretty hard to find ways to do that as an adult. Imagine my sheer delight when, on my way to work, I saw the trapeze rig set up in the parking lot near our house! I practically skipped the rest of the way to work and immediately went online and signed up for a class. After that first class, I was hooked. Now, I can't wait for Monday to come because I get to go back!

Friday, July 10, 2009

Full Kee

We found ourselves way out in Virginia and in search of a place for dinner when I remembered reading about Full Kee (located in Bailey's Crossroads), a Hong Kong style Chinese restaurant. We had very high hopes when we saw the ducks (heads intact) hanging from the kitchen window and marinated pig intestines on the menu (sorry, no review of that dish!)

At the time, I didn't realize that there is another Full Kee a few blocks away from our house in Chinatown (err...Chinablock). It routinely is touted as the best Chinese food in Chinatown which isn't a terribly hard prize to win. Apparently, even Supreme Court justices eat at Full Kee.

We started off our Full Kee adventure with Hong Kong style wonton noodle soup. The wontons were fat and flavorful, but the noodles were kind of wimpy. It was pretty standard wonton soup with some ramen thrown in for good measure.

Next up was the Assorted Meat and Seafood Pan Fried Noodles. I grew up eating lo mein (soft noodles) but B opened my eyes to the world of Hong Kong style chow mein. When prepared correctly, the noodles are crispy but soften when mixed with the sauce. It makes for a one-of-a-kind texture that I love. Unfortunately, Full Kee went overboard with the sauce and there was a lot of gelatinous brown goopy stuff sitting in the bottom of the dish overwhelming the delicate noodles. They were, however, very generous with the "Assorted Meat and Seafood" part of the dish. Can anyone identify that crown-looking item in the middle of the dish? I can't, but it was chewy...

For our protein course we went with pepper beef with Chinese broccoli (gai lan). The beef was cooked nicely and the gai lan was crunchy, but the dish was lacking in that punch of flavor that you normally get from a peppery beef dish.

I wasn't in love with Full Kee but I think the classic line "it's not you, it's me" is a good fit here. It's not Full Kee's fault that we ordered two similarly-flavored dishes and didn't venture far into the unique menu items that make it a special restaurant. I'd like to try the Chinatown location and, while I'm not touching the marinated pig intestines, I will be a bit more adventurous.

Second Thoughts from B

As I think I've said before, my Chinese heritage and California upbringing makes me a bit of a Chinese food snob... but not in the traditional sense. My family never sought out the Ritzy, high-class Chinese restaurants. Being true to our humble beginnings, you'd typically find us in the hole-in-the-wall joint where English is the foreign language and an "A" in the LA County environmental health grading system is actually a worrisome sign.

With that in mind, I was at home at Full Kee. As far as DC goes, it is pretty close to the "real" Chinese food I'm used to. However, the true merit of a Chinese restaurant can hardly be measured by two dishes. Next time we'll have to bring a group or be prepared to fill our fridge with take home boxes to fully appreciate a family style meal. I guess that's my way of saying we'll be back.
Full Kee on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

KEEN Bowling through One Brick

One Brick is as good as advertised because they are as they claim, "Volunteering Made Easy." Perhaps that is why it is so hard for me to write about their organization... Even though I spent a day working with them, it required so little background information and know-how that I need to do some research just to report on what I did.

One Brick was recommended to us by a friend as an easy way to do some volunteer work and meet some good people along the way. It is as simple as going to their website, perusing their calendar of opportunities, and finding a cause and a date that fits. In our case, it was bowling with KEEN (Kids Enjoy Exercise Now).

KEEN is an organization that facilitates recreational opportunities for kids and young adults with physical and mental disabilities. After signing up online and receiving directions through email, we met our fellow One Brick volunteers and KEEN organizers at Strike Bethesda. Armed with only a name tag and lane assignment, J and I spent the next couple of hours in the joyful company of the KEEN kids. Whether it was memorizing everyone's birthday or learning a highly-involved pre-roll warm-up routine or just sharing smiles and hugs, the KEEN kids were a pleasure to work with and surprisingly good bowlers.

One of the added benefits of volunteering through One Brick is the opportunity to meet like-minded people, and while we didn't make any life-long friendships, it was certainly a good mix of people that I'd love to work with again. Now the question is, who will we volunteer with next time?

J Says

Many volunteer organizations require lengthy orientation and training sessions, and year-long commitments. One Brick is a way for the commitment-phobes to volunteer and meet new people. It fits nicely into our packed schedule and is a good way for DC newbies like us to make connections.

I love to bowl, so bowling with KEEN was perfect for me. The kids were inspirational and so much fun to be around. I'm eager to return in the fall to bowl with them again (the program takes a break for the summer months). I'm going to have to work on my game though because these kids can bowl!

Monday, July 6, 2009


Fahrenheit is located in the Ritz Carlton hotel in Georgetown, but this isn't your average hotel setting. Tucked between the C&O Canal and the Georgetown Harbor, the Ritz was built into the remains of the historic Georgetown incinerator. The smokestack remains, but the interior has been gutted and dressed to the nines. Fahrenheit's dining room has soaring ceilings and bright windows, and the incinerator's "fire" theme is kept throughout (think Atomic Fire Ball candies instead of mints as you exit). Each time we've been there, the dining room has been relatively empty and the low noise level has made for a relaxing respite.

Come on Fahrenheit, Light Our Fire...

Since it wasn't too busy, we tried to engage our server and get him to recommend dishes on the menu. He apparently wasn't in a chatty mood because we had to force suggestions out of him. I started with the fire-roasted (note the fire theme) tomato soup served with a mini grilled cheese sandwich. It was a flavorful tomato soup but could have used a bit more kick to liven it up. The grilled cheese was excellent but they weren't kidding about the "mini" part.

B started with the White and Green Asparagus Salad with black truffle dressing. The asparagus was farmers market fresh and the truffle dressing was an interesting addition. A very refreshing summertime dish.

When B first dined at Fahrenheit with some family friends, he raved about the scallops. This time I decided to try the famed sea creatures for myself. My entree consisted of four huge diver scallops served on a beautiful plate with tomato fondue and cheese-garlic potato sticks. The scallops were cooked perfectly and I loved the crunch of the potato sticks but the tomato fondue tasted a bit too much like jarred tomato sauce. It was a very good dish but wasn't as innovative as I'd hoped.

B, the lamb lover, ordered the Southwest Rack of Lamb served with a cheese quesadilla and pico de gallo sauce. I didn't taste the lamb but the quesadilla was excellent. It was a strange combination but it seemed to work well.

Try to set the night on fire...

We've had several very good meals at Fahrenheit but I just feel like they're falling a bit short of their potential. The fire theme is cute but it doesn't completely carry through to the food and experience. Nothing we ate was particularly spicy and our waiter was the antithesis of fired-up. I do, however, adore the historic dining room and think it's out-of-the-way location gives it a vacation feel that is hard to replicate in DC.

Second Thoughts from B

I think this was the 4th time I've been to Fahrenheit. It was one of first restaurants I discovered after moving to DC, partly through a recommendation and partly through Open Table. If you don't use Open Table and like to eat out, then you're just throwing your money away. For the uninitiated, here's how it works. Instead of calling around for a reservation or rolling the dice and hoping your favorite spot can seat you, Open Table allows you to run a search of availabilities that are sorted by location, cuisine, and/or price point. It also gives overviews of restaurants that include pictures, website links, links to professional reviews, menus, and even useful tips like the dress code. Making reservations takes only a couple of clicks of your mouse and you are rewarded through a point system (100 for regular reservations and 1,000 for special locations/times). After a mere 2,000 points you are eligible for a $20 gift card. In other words, they pay you $1, and sometimes $10, to use a system that makes life much easier (and is a great way to find places to eat that you'd otherwise never hear of).

So why rave about Open Table on a post about Fahrenheit? First, Fahrenheit liberally uses the 1,000 point reservations to drum up business. It is true that some of the other 1,000 point locations rightly need to pay you $10 to dine there, but this is not the case here. I've yet to have a bad meal at Fahrenheit and often am impressed with the dishes that I've found to be a well-cooked mix of flavors in relatively generous portions. While each individual element may not be Earth-shatteringly innovative, the meals on the whole are quite pleasing. And when I'm eating for free because of $100 worth of Open Table reservations, what could be better?
Fahrenheit on Urbanspoon

Saturday, July 4, 2009


This post has been sitting empty, waiting for me to work on it for months. Maybe I was afraid that looking at these photos would make me want to quit my job and take off for the islands. I think that the real problem is that I can't think of a good way to sum up our honeymoon experience without sounding totally cheesy or cliche.

I can't tell you where you should go on your honeymoon or how much you should spend on it, but I can give a few pieces of general advice based on questions I've received.

Question: Should I really go on a honeymoon? Shouldn't we put the money toward a down payment on a house?

Answer: Kudos to you for being forward-thinking and fiscally responsible. Now, forget the dream house for a moment and start planning your honeymoon. It's not that I don't think home ownership is important (B and I bought a condo the same summer we got married) but I don't think the house should cancel out the honeymoon. If you've planned this right, you'll only be going on a honeymoon one time in your life. So stop with the fretting and go! Yes, it will probably be an expensive vacation, but it's not just any vacation. It is a chance for you and your new groom (or bride) to get away from the wedding stress and embark on your new married life together.

Question: I'm getting married in August and want to go to the Caribbean. Any tips?

Answer: Yes. Pick a new destination or get trip insurance. August is hurricane season and the Caribbean is hurricane central. If you really want to do an island get-away consider Hawaii or French Polynesia, which are further outside the hurricane danger zones.

Question: I want to go to French Polynesia. Is it worth the cost and long plane ride?

Answer: Absolutely, most-definitely, YES. To me, honeymoon meant "beach" and after taking one look at the brochure for Moorea and Bora Bora, I was sold. French Polynesia is not a budget destination, but there are ways to stretch your dollar a bit further. For example, we bought groceries for breakfast and lunch at a local market, and only ate in restaurants for dinner. Plus, snorkeling and laying on the beach is free.

We can highly recommend both the Sofitel in Moorea and the Sofitel Motu in Bora Bora. If you're planning a trip to either island and would like more details (such as what room number we'd recommend or favorite restaurants), feel free to send us an email.

Due to budgetary and schedule constraints, we only spent a week on our honeymoon. While it was hard to leave, we did manage to pack a lot of fun and relaxation into 7 days, and I don't feel like we cheated ourselves by not extending it to ten days or two weeks (as is becoming more common these days).

When we made plans to go to a beach destination, B's one requirement was that we find activities to do so that we wouldn't just sit around all day. We did a fair amount of sitting around and looking at the ocean, but we also went snorkeling, took an island jeep tour, rode bikes, swam with rays, went parasailing, and took a jet boat tour. We used a travel agent and she planned out some of these things in advance, but I think you'd be just as well off to wait until you get there and see what you want to do before committing to any activities.

I highly recommend bringing a journal and taking notes on the things you did, and thoughts and feelings you have during your honeymoon. I know it might seem lame now, but a few years later you'll have fun looking back and remembering the details. Without the journal, many of the hilarious and touching details of our trip would be lost forever. Sometimes when I have a particularly brutal day at work, I grab the journal and relive one of the happiest weeks of my life.

I know that travel agents are about as common these days as cassette tapes, but we used one and it saved us so much time and trouble. I went online and found an agent who specialized in French Polynesia and she made our reservations for us. She got us the best rooms at the resorts and made recommendations for dinner, activities, flight times, etc. When we arrived, we were armed with a book full of vouchers and simply had to hand them off to taxi drivers, who whisked us away to our destination. It was effortless and made us feel so much more relaxed not having to worry about how we were going to get from place to place.

Wherever you decide to go, enjoy this special time in your life. Work stress, money woes, and global warming will still be there when you get back. Turn off the Blackberry (toss it in the ocean if you dare!) and connect with your new spouse.

Second Thoughts from B

Instead of having a traditional guest book at our wedding, we asked our friends and family to fill out cards that asked for words of wisdom and predictions for where we'd be in 50 years. A common thing I learned was that everyone we knew insisted that J is always right. It took all of one week for this to be proven absolutely correct.

You may have picked up that our honeymoon was a bit of a departure from what I'm used to as far as vacations go. Growing up, my family was more accustomed to road trips, crazy outdoor adventures, or whirlwind sightseeing marathons. Then as I got older and started planning my own vacations, I became quite good at packing in as much as possible for as cheap as possible. Therefore, using a travel agent to plan a trip that was centered around doing nothing was not what I initially had in mind. In fact, when the word "honeymoon" first came up, I jumped onto REI's website and started looking at exotic kayaking trips through the Amazon...

Happily, I can say that I was wrong about what a honeymoon should be. No matter where you go, treat yourself to a little pampering and plan in plenty of time to do nothing. One distinct memory I have of our post-wedding days is the hours of recapping our wedding day. From what went as planned, to what didn't, to who said what, to our impressions of every last thing that we had anticipated, obsessed, and/or dreamed about for the last year. Moving from chaos to paradise was exactly what we needed and I've yet to talk to a couple who disagrees.

So maybe you'll choose to go on a road trip or see every site in Europe. Maybe you'll even kayak down the Amazon. But whatever you do, make sure that the trip is focused on the two of you. Don't let the trip be solely about where you are and where you are going geographically. A honeymoon should be about where you are and where you are going in this new relationship. In other, more cheesy words, your new life partner should be the greatest sight you see.

For more marriage-related commentary, see our posts on our engagement and our wedding.