Sunday, August 30, 2009

Charlie Palmer Steak

A few weeks ago we told you about Restaurant Week. In that post I mentioned that more expensive restaurants like steakhouses tend to offer good Restaurant Week deals because you normally can't eat there for $35. Recently, we took our own advice and went back to Charlie Palmer Steak.

We like Charlie Palmer because it isn't the typical stuffy steakhouse. If you're looking for dark mahogany decor, you should probably head to one of DC's other steak places. Charlie Palmer Steak is sleek and features huge windows with up close Capitol views.

The restaurant also has a special place in my heart because I took B there for his first birthday in DC. At the time, I was living in LA and he was living in DC, and I wanted to take him somewhere special for dinner when I came to visit. Knowing absolutely nothing about DC restaurants, I googled and googled until I came across Charlie Palmer Steak. I was drawn to the modern decor, amazing Capitol views, and appealing menu. We had a great meal there for his birthday and the restaurant search process sparked my interest in the DC restaurant scene. From that day forth I was a loyal reader of the Post food section and made it my goal to soak up as much information (and eat as many great meals) as possible.

When you enter the restaurant your eye will be drawn to the "floating" wine cube. This isn't your grandpa's wine cellar. The restaurant's wine collection is housed in a beautiful glass cube that appears to be suspended over water. You should also check out the restrooms. The men's and women's rooms are separated with frosted glass dotted with clear "peepholes" and the sinks are connected so you can reach over and grab the guy washing his hands in the men's room. Yeah, it's kind of strange.

With all of that build up, I almost forgot what you came here for: to see the food! The Restaurant Week menu was a little on the limited side, but we both found items we were very happy with. To start, the chef provided an amuse of rock shrimp ceviche. I liked that the restaurant took the time to offer this sort of special touch during Restaurant Week.

B started with a chilled Virginia corn soup with Maryland blue crab and tarragon. I didn't read the menu carefully so was a bit stunned when the cold soup hit my lips, but it was really flavorful. Also, I like that the restaurant strives to use ingredients from within 150 miles of DC (as you can see by the Virginia corn and Maryland crab used here).

I opted for the Medina Farms Heirloom Tomato Salad with Cherry Glen Farms goat cheese mousse. I appreciated that the chef let the local tomatoes and goat cheese shine in this dish. This is summer on a plate.

For my entree I had the Roasted Roseda Beef Sirloin with boulanger potatoes and caramelized shallots. This was a quality cut of meat and was cooked to a perfect medium rare. One thing that threw me off a bit was the strong bacon flavor of the dish. Since bacon wasn't mentioned on the menu, I didn't expect it. B will tell you that everything is better with bacon but I think it overpowered the flavor of the steak.

B ordered the scallops. It wasn't on the printed Restaurant Week menu but was offered as a special. More to come on these beauties from B...

One of my favorite parts of Restaurant Week is getting dessert with my meal. We have a running joke that we don't need to order dessert because, as B loves to say (which he borrowed from my father), "we've got ice cream at home." He knows how much I look forward to getting to order dessert at a restaurant and is always kind enough to let me choose. However, because dessert is included in the Restaurant Week menu, we each got to order our own. I went with the Morning Glory Farms Peach Cobbler served with vanilla frozen custard. If the tomato salad was summer on a plate, this was summer in a ramekin. Yummy.

On the waiter's recommendation, B ordered the Chocolate Pave with local raspberry salad and milk chocolate ice cream. The wafer cookie on top added an artistic touch. This was chocolatey deliciousness.

Again demonstrating that it doesn't slack off on Restaurant Week, Charlie Palmer Steak served up these little treats with our check. Also, during our meal we saw General Manager Philip Gates checking in on each table. As we were leaving, he caught us in the hallway to thank us for coming and we thanked him for taking the time to make Restaurant Week a special experience instead of a regrettable one. Classy touch Mr. Gates.

Second Thoughts From B

It is so easy to tell the difference between restaurants that care and those that are just looking to get by. In our three trips to Charlie Palmer steak, we've learned that they are always in the former category. This blog is evidence that we usually opt for a new culinary experiences over tried and true favorites. However, like everything in life, there are exceptions and this is one of them. Throw in the bargain that is Restaurant Week and how could we resist a return trip?

If I were to criticize anything it would be the lack of choices on the restaurant week menu. If our selections were representative of the other dishes however, what the menu lacked in quantity, it made up for in quality.

My corn soup was amazing. Remember when Violet Beauregarde eats Willy Wonka's three-course meal bubble gum and turns into a blueberry? Well, this soup was like a three-course o' corn on the cob. First you tasted the savory, then creamy, then sweet. And to date, there have been no after effects...

As promised, let me take a moment to describe my scallops. They were seared and covered in a mushroom sauce that was heavy on the cream and onion, while still light and perfectly complimentary to the scallops. It wasn't as pretty as other dishes but it all looks the same in my belly anyway.

J mentioned the amuse, the goodies that came with the check, and the personal effort made by the manager. It should also be mentioned that we both went home with some gingerbread as a final thank you (and promotion of their winter party events). But in the end, we should be the ones who say thank you. Thank you for consistently wonderful food and service, and thank you for continuing to be one of our favorite restaurants!
Charlie Palmer Steak on Urbanspoon

Friday, August 28, 2009


Fourscore and (about) 107 days ago, a young couple brought forth upon this internet, a new blog, conceived in Liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all things are better together.

Now we are engaged in the dog days of summer, testing whether that blog, or any blog, so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We recently met on a battlefield of the great Civil War. We came to dedicate a portion of our weekend to experience the final resting place for those who here gave their lives that our nation might live. It is all together fitting and proper that we should blog about this.

But in a larger sense... we cannot restrict ourselves to our most recent trip to Gettysburg. It goes without saying that the greater DC region is surrounded by, and built upon, our Nation's history. Revolutionary and Civil War battlefields are all around us. Some are no more than empty fields with a few cannons and statues. Others, like Gettysburg, are historical theme parks with state-of-the-art museums, multi-media experiences, and tours aplenty. J and I, in our endless quest to fully soak in everything the area has to offer, have experienced and enjoyed both types.

Manassas (pictured above) is the site of two early Civil War battles and is representative of the more understated, and in my opinion, more peaceful and solemn battlefields. This is probably accentuated by the fact that we took in the grounds on foot, and did so in winter. On the other hand, Gettysburg, the most famous of Civil War battlefields due to Lincoln's speech and its role in the war, is far more of an interactive and academic experience.

Local battlefields in general offer more history than anyone other than Ken Burns could digest in a single day. Alternatively, if you'd prefer a quieter or more leisurely time through some beautiful country, there are plenty of hiking trails to explore. Whichever way you decide to experience these sites of unthinkable bravery and tragedy, you'll find yourself among plenty of reminders, like this BALCO enhanced monument of General Stonewall Jackson at Manassas,

or this Gettysburg monument to the soldiers from Pennsylvania.

Perhaps those of you who grew up next to 400 year old homes in New England or churches with plaques saying that 'Washington prayed here' take all of this for granted, but for these two West Coasters, we can't help but wander the hallowed grounds of Lincoln, Lee, Grant, and others without saying repeatedly, "You're not going to find this an hour's drive from LA." The point is that people who live in the DC area are privileged to have access to these historic walks through our country's past, and any extended time spent in our Nation's Capitol should include at least one journey to these hallowed grounds.

J Says

While B can spend hours and hours in a museum reading each display and taking in every exhibit, I'm more likely to do the "highlights" tour and seek out the cafeteria and gift shop. As ironic as it may be, we've found that battlefields are one place where our "war" of learning styles reaches a truce. I like learning history in the great outdoors where I can walk in the footsteps of those who helped make this country what it is today. If you take me to a museum and try to teach me about battle strategy, I'll be on my way to the gift shop before you can say "assault the rear flank." But, if you move this lesson outside and let me climb up observation towers and watch civil war reenactors shoot guns, I'll listen for hours.

We had a blast at Gettysburg (wow, these puns are getting terrible). We opted to buy an audio tour CD and drive through the 15 different Gettysburg stops. While we made silly jokes about the CD's music and rear flank comments, we learned a lot. Five hours later, I was hot and a bit worn out but I left feeling excited about history and eager to learn more. We drove home and ended our Civil War day by watching Glory (it was my first time seeing it and I highly recommend it to the 2 people out there that haven't seen it yet).

I can't even imagine the horrors that those at Gettysburg or Manassas experienced. Spending a day there made me feel eternally grateful that I live in a relatively peaceful time and, thanks to the advancement in fabric technology, I don't have to wear wool in August.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Teddy's BBQ at Nationals Park

All of 2 weeks ago we told you about Nationals Park (if you missed it, you can read the post here). But that was before our recent trip that involved a 1.5 hour rain delay and an opportunity to tour the stadium to see what we may have missed.

So what changed? Certainly not the team. (Although on a side note, kudos to them for finally signing Stephen Strasburg. Let's hope he breaks the trend of unimpressive pitchers who were drafted #1 overall. If history tells us that Andy Benes is the high water mark, this may not end well.)

But back to what has changed, and decidedly, for the better. The barbecue! Nationals Park opened its inaugural season in 2008 with Red, Hot, and Blue. J and I tried it last year but determined that there were better options. Apparently, too many people seemed to agree with our assessment. What we recently discovered is that Red, Hot, and Blue is gone but ever since June, Teddy's BBQ has now carved out a section behind center field to fill the void. Big improvement.

Remember watching the ending credits to the Flintstones when Fred orders the huge ribs that tip the car over? Well, that's what you get at Teddy's BBQ for $12. It may not be Brontosaurus (or if you want to get technical, Apatosaurus), but this is one arena where Teddy turns out to be the big winner. But aside from the sheer size of the so-called "Rough Rider," this beef rib is cooked and flavored perfectly. The rich, tangy BBQ sauce and smokiness is all noteworthy but the thing that you'll remember is how juicy it is. And if you don't remember, your hands will remind you because no amount of soap can get the flavors off of them after you pick up this beast.

There's also corn on the cob that is surprisingly cheap for ballpark food ($3.50), as well as brisket, pulled pork, and pulled chicken.

J Says

Teddy is terrible in the Presidents Race but an ace behind the BBQ. This isn't microwaved ballpark food. It actually is cooked for 24 hours in a huge smoker located right next to the cashier who serves your food. If you eat beef, the Rough Rider is the way to go. The brisket was a tad dry and just not as interesting as the mega rib that B got. If you're on a date with a special someone that you'd actually like to see again, you may want to skip Teddy's booth and try something a bit less messy. I couldn't help but giggle at the sight of us with BBQ sauce and corn all over our faces.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Kramerbooks & Afterwords Cafe

So we went to a bookstore in search of pie. Seriously.

Kramerbooks is a wonderful independent bookstore in Dupont Circle. It has a wide variety of books, good customer service, and, as we recently learned, great pie! Kramer's has a cool little cafe at the back of the store that I walk by every week but had never tried. Our friend had mentioned that the pie (and food) was really good, so we knew we had to stop in. We're glad we did.

It's a bright, airy space that features patio seating and live music. This is not the Starbucks at the back of a Barnes and Noble. It's a real restaurant with a large menu and full bar. I love books and I love food . . . the night was off to a great start.

I took the waiter's recommendation and ordered the butternut squash ravioli (butternut squash and goat cheese pasta ravioli finished with browned butter, fresh basil, sun dried tomato, parmesan, lemon, and pine nuts). While I usually think of butternut squash as a fall or winter item, it was fantastic in this summery pasta dish. The addition of the lemon and sundried tomatoes gave it a lighter summer feel and it worked very well with the sweeter squash. The dish also gets style points for the lemon-yellow stripe down the middle of the ravioli. It came with a tasty little side salad that was a perfect counterpoint to the creamy pasta.

B also took the waiter's recommendation and ordered the Café Smoked Pork Cubano Sandwich (slow-smoked pork shoulder, pulled from the bone piled into a grilled mini baguette layered w/aged gouda, aioli, prosciutto, and Café pickled jalapeños that came with a baby arugula salad and Cafe ‘dirty' rice and beans).

He was nice enough to share a bite with me and it was juicy and bursting with flavor. Since B doesn't do beans, he ordered it with just the rice and this was no Uncle Ben's. It was fluffy and light.

And now, for the part you've all been waiting for: the pie! We didn't realize at first that they had a huge selection of pies. We only saw one on the dinner menu, the seasonal berry pie, and were planning to order that one when the waiter let us know they had lots of other pies. He had me at peanut butter. Before B could get a word out of his mouth, I ordered the Goober Pie (chocolate and peanut butter).

Damn, that was some good pie. It was served with fresh whipped cream and a drizzle of raspberry and chocalate sauce on the side. I was in peanut butter heaven. On the way home we called our friend who had recommended the pie to let him know we approved. We decided that the world can be split into "pie people" and "cake people." People tend to be fiercely loyal to either pie or cake. I'm a pie person and I think it's because it's really easy to screw up cake by making it dry but have you ever had a really terrible pie? Yes, maybe you've had bad pie crust but you can usually always enjoy the filling. Which side of the fence do you reside on?

Second Thoughts from B

When we entered the cafe through the back, we missed the large pie display case. The smaller display case that we did see contained three things: German chocolate cake, Red Velvet cake, and aforementioned seasonal berry pie. In the spirit of full disclosure, despite all the pie hype, that Red Velvet cake was calling my name. Thankfully, I sought out the sage counsel of our pie-loving friend who referred us to Kramerbooks. The conversation went something like this:

B: I'm confused. I came wanting pie but there's only one kind and the cake looks awesome.
Man of Pie: Look, cake can be good but you know what you're getting. Pie is like the young, unproven guy in the NBA draft with all the upside.
B: So you're saying cake is Tyler Hansbrough - solid but will never be a Hall of Famer - whereas pie could be the Jordan of the draft? (Why I went with the UNC analogy is beyond me...)
MoP: Yeah, something like that. (Disparaging UNC remarks omitted)
B: But does that upside also mean risk? Could my Jordan-pie end up being Sam Bowie
MoP: Maybe at other places, but at Kramerbooks, the worst you could do is Olajuwon.

Let me translate for you who aren't as familar with the 1984 NBA Draft. We are of the belief that a good pie beats a good cake, and at Kramerbooks, there is no such thing as bad pie. So let me be plain: Go get yourself some pie!
Kramerbooks & Afterwords Cafe on Urbanspoon

Saturday, August 22, 2009


We celebrated our second wedding anniversary this week and the wonderful B made reservations at Komi. He had noticed me staringly longingly up at the tiny rowhouse that is its home each time we went to neighboring Mr. Yogato.

Komi, which is consistently rated as one of the best restaurants in DC, is the brainchild of chef Johnny Monis who was just 24 years old when he opened the place! He's now 29 and still cooking up a storm and dishing out creative, innovative, and most importantly, delicious food.

The restaurant only has about a dozen tables and is beautifully candlelit, which leads to a warm and cozy atmosphere. We were delighted to see Chef Monis himself, complete with bandana instead of chef's hat, cooking our food in the open kitchen at the rear of the restaurant. Komi's menu is unique: diners choose from either the Dinner menu or the Degustazione. For the Dinner menu, everyone chooses a pasta course and then one entree for two people to share. The Degustazione is a multi-course, "chef's choice" feast where you eat what they serve you. No matter which option you choose, you get the pleasure of Chef Monis' famous "mezzethakia": small, mostly one-bite appetizers that are out-of-this-world.

We decided to go all out and order the Degustazione. Shortly after placing the order, the parade of gastronomic bliss began. B discreetly pulled out the camera to take a picture of dish #1 but was told by the waiter that the chef doesn't allow photos of his food. Uh ok....if you want to see photos from people who didn't listen to this rule, just google the place.

Without photos it was difficult to remember all that we enjoyed but here's our best effort at a recap:

Amberjack crudo in smoked turbot broth with olive oil
Sockeye Salmon
Brioche, creme fraiche, trout roe and chive
Kumamoto oysters
Scallops two ways: soft one with wasabi and one with shaved truffle
Pork belly BLT with fruit and veggie gazpacho
Grilled octopus with peppers
Salmon tartare with sorbet and pine nuts
Summer salad - heirloom tomatoes, fried cheese, and melon
Caesar salad (served in a one-bite cube that looked like a crouton)
Mascarpone-stuffed date topped with sea salt

Corn Agnolotti with pastrouma and tomatoes
Boulettas with blueberries and guanciale

Roasted katsikaki (goat with fresh pitas and various dipping sauces)

Burratta cheese with pesto, roasted peach and cracker stick

Frozen watermelon with cilantro
Snow cone - white sangria with blackberry sauce
Peppermint patty: Mint ice cream coated with chocolate and minty foam
Peanut Butter and chocolate layered with wafer and ice cream

Wow. That's all I can say really. Everything was amazing but a few highlights: the pork belly slider, mascarpone-stuffed date, goat, and peanut butter dessert were life-changing. I never, ever would have ordered goat off of a menu but if goat tastes like that, I'll eat it every day. It was the most tender meat dish I've ever had, and using the fresh pita and homemade habanero hot sauce to scoop up the meat was blissful.

Komi is much too expensive to be a regular destination, but if you're looking for a special place to have an unforgettable meal, GO! I've been fortunate enough to dine at CityZen and MiniBar and both were fabulous in their own ways. I now add Komi to my list of top area restaurants. The restaurant presents house-made lollipops with the check so that the sweet taste of the cooking will linger long after you've left. Komi - the lollipop wasn't necessary since the memory of our meal was sweet enough (not that I'm complaining, it was a good lollipop!).

Second Thoughts from B

Some meals, with or without pictures, are impossible to describe, and this one simply has to be experienced firsthand. However, Komi isn't for everyone. The fact of the matter is that you'll eat things and taste flavors that are completely foreign to you. I constantly found myself saying, "Wow, I've never tasted something like that before!" For me, that's a huge selling point but for others, that could be scary or even a turnoff. However, my guess is that if you're reading this, you like food enough to love Komi... either that or you share our DNA and are obligated to read our blog.

I was later asked by a food-loving co-worker how I planned to top Komi for our third anniversary. She suggested that my only option may be Paris. Perhaps, but Paris sure has some big shoes to fill.
Komi on Urbanspoon

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Poste - Market to Market

During our time in DC, we’ve been excited to find several restaurants that offer unique “special event” dining experiences. Whether it was the sushi and margarita making class at Zengo or MiniBar’s parade of culinary wonders, we’ve been lucky to partake in these tasty and interactive events. We continued our series of adventures at Poste, a restaurant in the Hotel Monaco in Penn Quarter, which offers its own dining event on Thursday evenings called “Market to Market.”

Poste’s chef, Robert Weland, is very focused on using local ingredients wherever possible. As evidence of this commitment, one needs to look no further than the garden planted on the restaurant’s patio. To encourage diners to get to know their local farmer’s market, Chef Weland developed the Market to Market dinner. Each Thursday, the chef takes a group of lucky eaters to the Penn Quarter Farmer’s Market and shows them how to shop locally. After the market tour, the diners are treated to a multi-course meal at a special table located in the middle of Poste’s garden.

After having it on our must-do list for almost three years (yes, before our permanent move to DC), we finally booked a reservation for a recent Thursday night. We convinced two good friends to come along and enjoy the ride. When we arrived at Poste we were led to the lovely private table in the garden. We expected others to arrive to share the 12-person table with us, but soon learned that the four of us would have the event to ourselves. Our waiter arrived to take wine orders (we opted to skip the $40 per person “biodynamic wine pairing” and ordered two bottles off the menu). A few minutes later, Chef Weland appeared and after a brief introduction, we were off to the market.

As we walked to the Penn Quarter Farmer's Market, he asked whether there was anything in particular we hoped to learn during our tour. I explained that I’m often overwhelmed and intimidated when I shop at farmer’s markets since I just don’t know what to get, much less, where to start. He encouraged me to get to know the farmers by simply talking to them, and to not be afraid to ask for tips and recipe recommendations.

He also pointed out different vendors and explained how he uses each to supply Poste with food and flowers. Clearly the chef is a regular because when we passed a particular fruit stand, the owner rushed out to greet us and insisted we try samples of her peaches. After sampling these juicy appetizers and answering a few more of our questions, Chef Weland led us back to our table in the garden and headed to the kitchen to prepare/supervise our meal.

Because the courses consisted of a variety of different items, and because the menu changes all the time depending on what’s in season, I’ll refrain from reciting each dish and will let the photos do the talking. I present six lovely courses (plus two amuse bouches) of fresh-from-the-garden ingredients prepared by an imaginative chef and served by a bubbly and informative waiter:

Oyster, pate, rabbit terrine, beef tartare slider

Tomato gazpacho with horseradish sorbet

Heirloom tomato salad with basil sorbet, creme fraiche, tomato "caviar"

Poached egg with frisee salad and pork belly

Halibut with olive tapenade crust and basil oil, served atop a tomato tartare

Citrus mint granita

House-made pasta with rabbit, pork belly, and fennel 4 ways

Almond ice cream, blueberry sorbet, black cherry shooter, creme brulee

As you can see from the vibrant colors, the ingredients were fresh and not buried beneath heavy sauces. Our waiter pointed out the areas in the garden that the tomatoes and other ingredients came from, and was quick to answer any questions that we had. However, while we very much enjoyed each dish, the menu was a bit-tomato heavy for our taste. Several hours after we arrived, the experience ended with a parting gift of house-made jam and a packet of herb garden seeds. It was a thoughtful finishing touch.

Did the evening live up to all those years of anticipation? Yes and no. We loved getting to chat with the chef and the food was fantastic. The one drawback was that the event felt a bit disjointed. Going in, I expected there to be a seamless connection between the farmer’s market tour and the meal. I thought perhaps the chef would purchase ingredients during the market tour and bring them back to the restaurant to use in cooking our meal. Instead, after the tour ended we didn’t see Chef Weland again and since we didn’t receive a printed version of the menu, it was hard to tell what farmer’s market items were used. While it wasn’t exactly what I expected, I would recommend Market to Market to those looking for a unique night out. We were fortunate to share the evening with friends who love to eat and love going to farmer’s markets, and their company put the exclamation point on a great night.

Second Thoughts from B

Personal time with the chef. Farmer's market tour and tips. Best table in the house all to ourselves. Excellent meal. All you need to add is the word "priceless" and you've got yourself a MasterCard commercial...

Poste is another one of those restaurants that helped shape my earliest impressions of the DC food scene. I first went there with my dad before J joined me in DC, and had some memorably good hamachi (I can still picture the dish in my head). While I can't say I remember every bite from each of my previous visits, I do remember that each dish has natural, and almost earthy, overtones. The entire menu is built around those terms that seem to be all the rage now - local, organic, farm fresh, sustainable - but this isn't another chef jumping on the bandwagon. I remember them pushing these same principles when I first sat down in their beautiful space three years ago. So while their concept isn't as unique as it once was, I've yet to go to a place where it is so engrained in the culture. All of the tomatoes and herbs are literally picked 20 feet from the kitchen and much of the waste is composted. The thing is, there isn't much waste generated because if you're anything like me, you're licking your plate clean.

Poste on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, August 18, 2009


If you're walking down H Street NW toward Gallery Place/Chinablock and see a large crowd gathered on the sidewalk, chances are you've come across Matchbox. Matchbox is known for its wood-fired pizzas, mini burgers, and, perhaps most of all, its long waiting times for tables. They don't take reservations, so your best bet is to have an early dinner or go during an event at the Verizon Center when people are inside the arena watching the Caps or the Wizards. They also recently opened a second location on Capitol Hill which I've heard is larger and doesn't have such long waits.

So why is Matchbox so popular? Is the food that good? Well, the food is pretty good but I think its popularity is also a function of its location and price range. As we've said before, DC is lacking in mid-range restaurants. Matchbox is reasonably priced, has a fun atmosphere, and is located in a very popular part of the city for tourists and locals alike.

Once you've made it to your table, try a couple of the famous mini burgers. They come in groups of 3, 6, or 9 and you can add cheese if you'd like. The tasty little burgers come with a huge heap of onion strings. The whole platter is topped with a dusting of Parmesan cheese. It's not health food, but it's tasty.

The pizzas can be ordered small (10") or large (14") and Matchbox features a variety of specialty pies. If you like spicy food, we recommend the Fire and Smoke, which will leave you grasping for the water glass with its combo of fire roasted red peppers, Spanish onions, chipotle pepper tomato sauce, garlic puree, fresh basil, and smoked gouda. It's unlike any pizza we've ever tried: smoky, spicy, with a touch of sweet from the gouda.

If you're a thin crust pizza lover, then Matchbox is for you. The wood fire oven leaves a crispy, slightly charred crust. Sometimes it's a bit too thin for my taste. I like my pizza a bit doughier. On this trip we also ordered the Q Special, which sports grilled marinated chicken, portabella mushrooms, roasted red peppers, zesty tomato sauce, and mozzarella cheese. The ingredients were fresh and the chunks of chicken were generous, but compared to the Fire and Smoke it tasted a bit bland.

If you're not in a pizza mood, the menu features salads and sandwiches too. There is a full bar with some great beers on tap and an interesting cocktail menu. On this occasion we were treated to a free bite of dessert: chocolate brownie with caramel sauce. Hopefully this wasn't a preview of their dessert menu because the brownie was really dry (but can you really criticize free dessert?). We were too full to order dessert, but previous trips to Matchbox indicated that the regular menu items are better. Still, this is a pizza joint and you should go for the pizza.

Second Thoughts from B

I've been particularly impressed by the pizza scene in DC, and Matchbox is one of the better options. It is a great place to go with a group for its variety, casual atmosphere, and good value.

The flavors of the pizzas tend to be bold (see: Fire and Smoke) and the crust is crispy. J tends to like a more flavorful crust and sees it as a main ingredient of a pizza. That is why she prefers 2 Amy's or Pete's. For me, the crust is more a vehicle to get the toppings into my mouth and if it tastes good in its own right, all the better. This is probably why I love the Fire and Smoke. Not to be bothered with crust, this pie has a pleasing (yet pretty intense) smoky burn which is contrasted nicely with the gouda. The burn isn't hot for hotness sake. Instead it is fully flavored. And thank goodness for the gouda. Like a cool glass of milk after a Man v. Food Challenge, it sooths the mouth and gets you ready for that next bite.

I'd be remiss not to comment on the mini burgers. They are so much a part of Matchbox that many of the waiters have t-shirts that simply read, "3.6.9." J and I have a running joke about how much I love sliders, but the truth of the matter is that I'm only luke warm on the general concept. Yes, they are cute but they are also usually flawed. You see, the part of a burger that I particularly love is the middle-most bite, where the meat is juiciest. Sliders are all edge. It is rare that you'll find one that is as juicy as its big brother, although it can be done. Co Co. Sala comes to mind. So how does the much talked about Matchbox version stack up? I'd say that among the edge-like miniburgers, they are among the best. Still, I'd rather save room for pizza.
Matchbox on Urbanspoon

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Restaurant Week

DC has an overwhelming number of great options when it comes to fine dining but how is anyone new to the city able to find their favorites? Maybe more importantly, how can anyone afford such a search? Part of the answer can be found by doing your homework (i.e., reading TwoDC of course!) but another can be found in Restaurant Week.

Organized during the slower times of the year, Restaurant Week in DC occurs every January/February and August. The concept is simple: top flight restaurants prepare 3-course dining options at usually bargain prices in hopes of stirring up new business. Lunch in 2009 can be had for $20.09 and dinner for $35.09.

As you may expect, reservations go fast and are handled through Open Table. Usually J and I make a point to take advantage of this opportunity and try out several new places on the cheap. While it can be expected that the crowds and limited menus cause the impressions of some restaurants to be slightly skewed, Restaurant Week is an excellent way to narrow down first hand where you may spend a future special night out. Places we've experienced and blogged about are Oceanaire, Rasika, Bistro Bis, Zola, and Oya.

Also, here are a few thoughts on places that we were able to preview (prior to starting our blog) thanks to Restaurant Week.

Oval Room
. About as close to the White House as you can get, the food and service was excellent.
Caucus Room. Not particularly memorable for anything good or bad. Felt like a great place for a power lunch and a cigar with the boys.
Prime Rib. We had high hopes but felt that the prime rib was solid, which is code for lackluster.
Bobby Van's. We love the less formal Bobby Van's Grill which we've enjoyed several times. Our Restaurant Week experience at the stuffy Bobby Van's has not convinced us to change our ways.
Charlie Palmer. J took me here for my birthday and we went back for Restaurant Week. We loved it both times and felt that the experience was not any different whether you paid full price or $35.
PS7s. Fantastic interior but the food, while imaginative, wasn't executed perfectly. We were not particularly impressed but remain intrigued.

J Says

After sampling many different restaurants during Restaurant Week, I have mixed feelings about participating again. If restaurants do it right, they can win new loyal patrons. However, some restaurants seem to just be going through the motions and doing Restaurant Week because everyone else is doing it. Also, servers generally despise it because lower prices lead to lower tips, and so you can end up with some pretty bad service.

My advice is to go for the restaurant that will give you the most bang for your buck. Check the menu and see if the Restaurant Week menu provides any savings over the regular one. Also, think about your ordering habits when you dine out. Do you usually order two appetizers and two desserts? If no, it could be cheaper to dine at the restaurant during the rest of the year and you'll probably get better service. Also, some restaurants are stingy and put cheaper entrees on their Restaurant Week menus while others make the entire menu available.

That said, we've had some stellar Restaurant Week experiences. We thought Charlie Palmer Steak was a great value with large portions and outstanding service. The steak houses, which usually are very expensive, tend to be good Restaurant Week bargains.

Do you have a favorite Restaurant Week place or do you avoid it completely? We'd love to hear from you.

Thursday, August 13, 2009


Shhhhh, don't tell B. I have a crush on Teaism. After two years of weekly visits, I'm still smitten. Teaism is a tea house/restaurant with 3 locations in DC. Though I love the Dupont Circle location's ambiance, the Penn Quarter Teaism is in my office building, so I go there all the time. In the winter, it's my only lunch spot since I don't have to go outside to get there! But even if I did, it would be worth the journey...

This location is always packed at lunch time but the friendly staff moves the line quickly and there is plenty of seating downstairs. A koi pond helps create a serene oasis in the bustling Penn Quarter neighborhood. Around dinner time, local groups descend on Teaism for their meeting place. Think book clubs, travel clubs, etc. According to one cashier, some of these large groups don't bother ordering anything yet take up tons of space. Teaism has finally responded by posting signs asking group members to support the restaurant by ordering food when they come for meetings. I think it's kind of sad that they even have to ask.

Several people I work with tease me for my Teaism devotion calling it "chick food" or "California food." Personally, I'm glad they don't know what they're missing because the line is long enough. I think they just don't "get" what Teaism is all about. I know it might be shocking to find a place that serves wholesome and (mostly) healthy food with fresh ingredients. While I don't think you can go wrong ordering at Teaism, I'll share with you a few of my favorite things.

If we're talking breakfast, I'm getting the oatmeal (with fruit and brown sugar) and a chai tea. Their chai smells so amazing (and tastes great too). One time my boss spilled one all over his desk and we were actually happy about it because the whole office smelled fantastic.

For lunch I rotate between several different items. If I'm not too hungry I get the fluffy brown rice and miso soup. Tip: throw the rice into the soup for a unique textural treat. Sometimes I go for the side of tofu and brown rice (no California jokes, please). I'm also a big fan of the naan with mango chutney (pictured below). They switched to a whole wheat naan which isn't as fluffy as the white naan was, but I suppose it's better for you. The chutney is tangy and sweet and just plain old yummy.

Their shrimp udon noodle soup is the best I've had in DC. It's the gingery broth that sets it apart from the salty boring udon soups of other restaurants. They also have chicken udon, but they put cilantro in it so I avoid it. Cilantro and I hate each other.

Another favorite is the hand roll bento box. It features (clockwise from top left) pickled cabbage, tangy mayo, rice, tea cured salmon, soy sauce, and nori seaweed wrappers. It's a make-your-own sushi kit that is as tasty as it is fun to eat. The individual pieces may sound weird on their own, but when rolled together in the nori it's awesome.

Still hungry? You've got to try the salty oat cookies. I know you're probably thinking, "salt and cookies? Yuck." You're wrong, they're delicious. Order one of Teaism's many teas (we like the green hojicha) to wash down the cookie and you'll be one happy camper.

Because I've found my favorites, I haven't tried the whole menu but plan to do so. Well, at least the stuff that doesn't have cilantro in it. For the happy hour crowd, this Teaism has a liquor license and serves beer and a few cocktails. They also feature an Afternoon Tea from 2:30pm to 5:30pm every day with a traditional English tea menu and an Asian menu. If you haven't had enough tea, you can head next door to the tea shop to buy tea in bulk to make at home.

For me, Teaism is like an old friend that I can always count on. If work gets to be a bit too hectic, I take a deep breath, grab my wallet, and head downstairs for a cup of tea and a chat with the koi fish. No really.

Second Thoughts from B

When I was in grad school in LA, a fellow grad student from Hong Kong and I were sent to DC to do some research at the NIH. J had joined us to do a little sightseeing and one night we were joined by a non-red meat eating friend who had been studying in DC for a while. So to recap, we had 4 people with very different palates looking for dinner on a student's budget. We ended up at the Teaism in Dupont and ordered half of the menu. From that day, I've been hooked and have made Teaism a regular stop for high quality, moderately priced food that seems to fit anyone's tastes.

Where else can you get French Toast that is light and sweet and a Buffalo Burger that is truly gourmet, along with several Indian inspired curry-based dishes, vegetarian friendly dishes, and Japanese bento boxes? Speaking of which, make your own sushi roll... just do it. Trust me on this one.

The long and short of it is that the menu is all sorts of eclectic. It is mostly Asian inspired and all very good. There is something for everyone, especially the healthy eating lawyer that works upstairs.
Teaism on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Washington Nationals

Ladies and Gentlemen, your Washington Natinals (google it) errr, Nationals... where you can enjoy a nice night at the ballpark for everything but the baseball.

I know I already bashed our home team in the post that overviews DC's sports teams (read here) and I have no intention of repeating myself. Instead, for those of you who haven't ventured to beautiful Nationals Park, here's a few reasons why you should.

1. Access. There's a metro stop (Navy Yard on the Green Line) that is just steps from the outfield gate. Could it be much easier? Actually, yes. There are a couple other metro stops in walking distance on pleasant days when you want to avoid the crowds and plenty of parking lots not more than a block or two away. Also, for the more adventurous out there, free street parking is available (we've never failed to find it, even when arriving late) for those willing to walk a few blocks through the neighborhoods to the west and southwest. As far as tickets, the games are rarely, if ever, sold out. In fact, on multiple occasions we've given away tickets to perfect strangers at the ticket windows because we can't find people willing to take our extra tickets. Finally, seat upgrading is rather easy outside of the really expensive sections. When your team isn't very good, there are perks... see, glass half full!

2. Individual Stars. The Nationals are (generously) a few years away from winning any team championships but there are a few bright spots. Whether it is economically driven or genuinely a smart baseball move, the team is dedicated to building from within. Young stars will continue to emerge like third baseman, Ryan Zimmerman, who barring injury, could be a perennial All-Star. Then again, I was a perennial All-Star on a little league team that won even less often than the Nats, so I know how the "at least one player per team" rule can help a guy. Nevertheless, Zimmerman is the real deal and is a solid cornerstone that deserves some help. Hopefully the Nationals can develop and retain a core group that will bring some more W's to DC (and I don't mean George).

The other source of star power would be Adam Dunn. This real life Pedro Cerrano is a gambler's dream since he's equally likely to walk, strikeout, or hit the ball to the moon. In an attempt to remain marketable, Washington seems to usually feature one token "big" name (see exhibit A: Alfonso Soriano) and Dunn is it. Don't get too attached, just enjoy the occasional moonshot (apologies to Wally Moon) and defensive blunder.

Outside of these two, the only other big names that don't sit in the visitors dugout are in bronze and reside in center field where Walter Johnson, Frank Howard, and Josh Gibson are memorialized. However, while I certainly dabble in baseball history (seriously, you should see my bookshelf), I just don't remember the Big Train having 4 arms... I get the idea but frankly it is just odd looking, if not downright scary.

3. The Main Event. Ok, I promised to take it easy on the Nats but doesn't it say something about the competitiveness of the team when the Presidents Race is marketed as the "main event"? Seriously, that's what they say on the PA every game. It's sad because it is true. People plan their bathroom breaks and food runs around the Presidents Race. And as I've said before, the fact that they loyally cheer for the perpetual loser (Teddy) has to mean something. That said, the first half dozen times I saw the race I laughed out loud. Even though I've seen this same shtick 30+ times, I still enjoy it. My one gripe is the National's mascot, Screech. I don't know if he had gastric bypass in the off season or if they are simply marketing a healthier image, but dude went from adorably plump to tall and gangly. In other words, Mr. Tuttle to well, Screech. Worse yet, the belly dance is gone (pretty much his signature move - it's like moving a basketball around in a giant t-shirt to the music).

4. The Real Main Event. Thought we'd get through this post and not touch on the cuisine? Wrong! Let me throw the ball to J...

J Says

I love stadiums of all shapes and sizes. Yes I love watching the teams on the field, but I also love exploring the food options. Lately, stadium food has been taken over by mega food service chains such as Aramark, and you usually end up with the same boiled hot dog whether in NY or Chicago. Blah.

When Nationals Park opened last year, I was excited to learn that the stadium would feature food from local favorites such as Ben's Chili Bowl, Gifford's Ice Cream, Hard Times Cafe, Boardwalk Fries, and Five Guys. Now, in addition to the standard chicken strips and dogs, you can get a quality Ben's Chili Bowl half smoke or a pretzel in the shape of the Nats logo from Noah's Pretzels.

The Taste of the Majors stand features crabcakes and Philly cheesesteaks at every game, and allegedly cooks up a special from the visiting team's hometown. I have yet to personally verify this, but the original plan was for this booth to serve California rolls when the Dodgers come to town (Go Blue!), Cuban Sandwiches for the Marlins, Chicago Style Hot Dogs for the Cubs... you get the picture.

Because the Nats are terrible, the lines are generally manageable and the extra wide concourses eliminate the claustrophobia that you may encounter at other stadiums. The staff is generally friendly and efficient. The prices are pretty standard for ballparks these days (expensive) but not overwhelmingly bad.

So what do we eat when we're at the ballpark? B is a baseball purist so almost always goes with a hot dog. Luckily at Nationals Park the hot dog got an upgrade and he enjoys a messy, spicy, fantastic Ben's Half Smoke (hold the mustard). When I'm feeling gutsy (pun intended) I opt for the Ben's chili cheese fries. With 2 drinks, this tray-o-indigestion costs around $22.

I'm a sucker for the helmet sundaes (served on the main level) but generally find myself opting for a Curly W pretzel from Noah's. These are no rock-hard Super Pretzels. They are soft, gooey and a portion of each pretzel's proceeds supports Autism charities. (This particular one was not as beautiful as most, but it was just as tasty)

You might not see many homeruns on the field (maybe some by the visiting team) but thanks to a wide variety of fun food options, you won't strike out in the culinary department.

Also, don't forget to read about our latest discovery at Nationals Park: Teddy's BBQ. He may be slow, but he sure can cook.