Monday, November 30, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

J Says

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 27, 2009


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

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

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

Chips and zesty salsa.

Guacamole made at your table.

The aforementioned guacamole served in a lava stone molcajete.

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

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

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

Camarones Especial (shrimp from the daily special menu).

Tamal Especial (tamale from the daily special menu).

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

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

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

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

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

Second Thoughts from B

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

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

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

Monday, November 23, 2009

Pizza Movers & Calzones

Some nights you just want to sit in your PJs and order a pizza. When that urge strikes in downtown DC, your options outside of Pizza Hut or Dominos are kind of limited. After some time on Yelp, we found Pizza Movers & Calzones and decided to test drive their online ordering system. About 30 minutes later, the delivery guy arrived at our door with two hot pizzas.

Pizza Movers & Calzones has an online coupon that allows you to order one extra large pizza with two toppings and get a medium cheese pizza for only $1.99. For about twenty bucks, we had enough pizza to last days. It's no fun eating bad pizza once, not to mention for days in a row, so we were pleased that Pizza Movers' pizza was tasty.

We ordered half garlic/chicken/mushroom and half pineapple/sausage (above) and got the medium half cheese/half bacon (below) for $1.99. While this wasn't fancy pizza, it was just what I want in delivery pizza: not too much like cardboard, not too greasy, not too expensive, and not too slow.

If your delivery craving strikes late at night or early in the morning, fear not because Pizza Movers is open until 4 a.m. Sunday - Thursday or 5 a.m on Friday and Saturday. Before you reach for the phone and order below-average Domino's pizza (and get that weird cornmealy stuff that they put on their crust on your fingers) consider trying Pizza Movers instead. It's not going to be a life changing experience, but you don't have to leave your house and I won't tell if you wipe your greasy hands on your PJs...

Second Thoughts From B

The great pizza paradox of DC is that there are many very good, if not exceptional, pizza options (2 Amys, Matchbox, Pete's, Comet Ping Pong, to name a few), but none of them deliver, leaving the residents of this fair city without many at-home alternatives. So when the mood, or the need for a night in "cozy pants" calls, who can you turn to?

As J said, Pizza Movers & Calzones will not be featured any time soon on the Washington Post Express' Best Of series but it gives you exactly what you're looking for from a pizza delivery service. You won't find any of the fancy meats, cheeses, or other ingredients that you can't pronounce or identify on the menu. And you won't have creative combinations available to you, designed by an award winning chef. Here, you'll have to design your own pizza, which we did with moderate success. Either way, it was fast, fresh, and a great deal.

Growing up, pizza delivery meant thumbing through the Yellow Pages and picking up a telephone. This makes online ordering a somewhat foreign idea to me, but Pizza Movers & Calzones makes it as easy as possible. I think the best feature is the ability to craft your order around the available coupons. Unlike some online businesses that turn the use of a coupon into an online treasure hunt, these coupons are front and center. I don't know if a caveman could do it, but I'm sure my father could, and when the internet is involved, that is saying something.
Pizza Movers & Calzone on Urbanspoon

Friday, November 20, 2009

Seventh Hill

A few months ago, we told you about Montmartre: a fun French restaurant on the Hill that our friends introduced us to. When we heard that the people behind Montmartre had purchased the space next door and turned it into a pizza place, we couldn't wait to check it out. Our Halloween walk on the Hill provided the perfect opportunity.

A word of warning: Seventh Hill is small! I expected a full sized restaurant but its more take-out size with a few tables inside and some on the patio. Even though it was raining, we grabbed a spot on the patio under the umbrellas because the tables were full. At Seventh Hill, you order at the counter and they bring your pizza to you.

The four of us split two pizzas. First up was the Seventh Street (prosciutto, parmesan, roasted red pepper, tomato).

We also tried the Navy Yard (tomato, toulouse sausage, oregano, pecorino). I think it's a cute touch that the pizzas are named after DC locales.

If you're a DC pizza lover, you might notice that these pizzas look a bit 2 Amys-like. That's a good thing in our book! Like 2 Amys, these pizzas are baked in a wood-fired oven. While Seventh Hill's pie was solid, it's not quite up to Amy level. The toppings were plentiful, but the crust lacked the chewiness that I love so much. It was good pizza, but not amazing pizza.

Since it was Halloween, we had to indulge in some sweets. We split the pumpkin panna cotta that was as smooth as silk and had a great Fall flavor. It was served in this quirky ceramic cup that was either a cool modern design or a ceramic factory mess up.

We couldn't turn down a chance to try out the Nutella calzone. It was massive and unique, but a bit messy and hard to eat. Not quite as portable as a crepe, but a similar concept.

While I think 2 Amys will remain our go-to pizza place, Seventh Hill is a good new option in a much more convenient location.

Second Thoughts from B

Yet another pizza joint has popped up in DC to wrestle for local foodie affection. In my most humble opinion, this just means another addition to the growing list of pizzas that are close, but not quite as good as 2 Amys. I'm sure Seventh Hill will be a popular destination for those on the Hill, and especially to those seeking a quick lunch during their time at Eastern Market. But for those on a quest for the best (doesn't that sound like a cheesy song or tag line from an 80's movie?), 2 Amys should be your first stop.

With that said, Seventh Hill has a lot more to offer than good pizza and an advantageous location. Specifically, the Nutella Calzone. The crispy sweet crust plus gobs of Nutella with a light dusting of powdered sugar equates to a heavenly indulgence worthy of any Halloween sweet treat. And don't forget the fact that it is the size of a small child either!
7th Hill Pizza on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


We made the trek across the river to Virginia in search of last minute additions to our Halloween costumes. Whenever we're in a far off new land, I like to search out restaurants that I've seen Tom Sietsema recommend in his weekly chats. When our itinerary called for a visit to Falls Church, I knew we had to pay a visit to the Afghan restaurant Bamian.

Bamian has a beautiful dining room, and in addition to the standard tables, features about a half dozen tables separated by walled dividers so you feel like you're eating in your own private restaurant. Luckily, one of these was available for us!

We were a little hesitant to try out an Afghan restaurant since our first foray into Afghan food was at our friend's mom's house (they are from Kabul), where she cooked up a giant platter of kabobs and fresh bread. I didn't think Bamian would be able to match Mrs. L's cooking, but it came very close!

We began our Afghan culinary adventure with Boolawnee (clay oven-baked pastry stuffed with scallions, chopped leeks and potatoes, and served with a side of homemade yogurt). It was a giant, tasty empanada-like treat that was awesome when topped with the tangy yogurt.

B didn't know what to order so he tried the Bamian Platter, which featured seasoned rice, white rice topped with meat sauce, and one skewer each of shami (seasoned ground beef), chicken, and lamb kabob.

I tried the boneless, skinless chicken kabobs. All of the kabobs are served with thick bread that you use to construct a sort of Afghan taco using the rice, veggies, yogurt sauce, and meat.

On the side (counterclockwise) was the bread, meat sauce (to be poured over the seasoned rice) and my favorite dish, Kadu (sauteed pumpkin). The Kadu was an outstanding combo of sweet, hearty pumpkin, sour yogurt, and tiny pieces of mint. It was one of the most interesting dishes I've eaten. If you like the crispy spinach at Rasika, you've got to try Bamian's Kadu.

We didn't know what to order for dessert so we took our very friendly waiter's suggestion and tried the Baqlawa. It is described on the menu as a thin layer of syrup-soaked pastry with walnut and chopped pistachios. The pastry was so thin and light that it was like a delicate cookie. Think baklava, but lighter.

As I sat at our private table sipping chai, I kept telling B how much I enjoyed our experience at Bamian. The food was excellent, the service outstanding, and the dining room had a peaceful feel. It might not be home cooking, but Bamian makes you feel like you're part of a large, happy Afghan family.

Second Thoughts from B

Normally when we write blog posts about restaurants, J starts it off and I tack on my "second thoughts" after reading her first draft. In the case of Bamian, as I read her descriptions and looked at our pictures, so many tasty memories came rushing back that I almost started drooling. All of the meats were fully flavored and juicy, which made it that much better to have bread and rice to mop it all up. Usually the term comfort food is associated with things you grew up eating (clearly not the case here for us), so let me instead call this "comforting food."

The other thing that stood out for me about our Afghan adventure was the service. My guess is that places like Bamian get two very different types of customers; those who grew up with Afghan food and those who are trying something new. Obviously we can't comment on the food from the perspective of someone from Afghanistan, but as stewards of a cuisine that was mostly foreign to us, Bamian did a great job. We were quickly and warmly welcomed, and our waiter took great care of us as he patiently walked us through the menu and made recommendations. For some, trying something new can be frightening, but with Bamian as your guide, there is nothing to fear.
Bamian on Urbanspoon

Monday, November 16, 2009

Washington Post Express - Best of 2009

We've both made clear our love for the Washington Post Express. In fact, many of our posts are about places we first learned about through the Express. As part of my daily commute (it is available for free outside Metro stations), I look forward to catching up on what's going on in the world, whether thousands of miles away or in my own backyard. Speaking of the latter, the Express recently released a "Best of 2009" edition that included every category imaginable, and relied on reader input. As faithful readers, J and I decided we'd use this space to bring you our own (not nearly as comprehensive) Best of 2009 list. Obviously our experience is significantly less expansive, but if someone were to ask us, "In your opinion, what is the best...," this is how we'd answer. Need more information? Click on the links for our reviews of many of our suggestions.

Food and Drink

Bar (Express winner: Wonderland Ballroom) Brasserie Beck - we aren't big bar people but you can't argue with a bible of Belgian beer that can fit any taste. It is probably the biggest reason J has begun to like beer... at least a little.
Cocktails (Express winner: Founding Farmers) Co Co Sala - again, we're not big drinkers but we, and the many guests that we've taken here, have never had a drink that didn't make us say, "Mmmm!"
Sports Bar (Express winner: Penn Quarter Sports Tavern) Bar Louie - clearly letting our bias show (this is the UCLA bar), Bar Louie is big, clean, and right outside the Verizon Center for a quick pre- or post-game drink.
Restaurant (Express winner: Zaytinya) Komi - just read our gushing review. Others that come to mind: Charlie Palmer Steak, BLT Steak, MiniBar, CityZen, and Adour.
Meal Under $20 (Express winner: Ben's Chili Bowl) Teaism - can't argue with the Express' choice but for us, variety carries Teaism to the winner's circle.
24-Hour Eatery (Express winner: The Diner) Steak 'n Egg Kitchen - quirky and cheap, this is what a 24-hour joint should be. The Diner is good but almost too well known for this category.
American (Express winner: Old Ebbitt Grill) Poste - not to knock Old Ebbitt, because it is worth the trip, but we'd opt for fresh and local foods any day.
Bakery (Express winner: Cakelove) Sticky Fingers Bakery - the best bakery despite having one hand tied behind its back (it is vegan). Cakelove's cakes are great, but their cupcakes are below average.
Brunch (Express winner: Tabard Inn) Market Lunch - no single TwoDC picture has elicited more feedback than that of the blue buck pancakes. Believe it or not, they taste even better than they look.
Burger (Express winner: Five Guys) Ray's Hell Burger - NO CONTEST! I'm still puzzled how so many people could get this one wrong.
Chinese (Express winner: Meiwah) Meiwah - authentic flavors in heavy sauces that should please American palettes, and some of the nicest owners in town.
Comfort Food (Express winner: Ben's Chili Bowl) Five Guys - it kills us to overrule another BCB selection but for us, nothing is more comforting that a burger and fries that can be found all over town.
Cupcake (Express winner: Georgetown Cupcake) Baked and Wired and Hello Cupcake - maybe the most fun post we've written... reviewing cupcakes. No losers here but certainly some winners.
Farmer's Market (Express winner: Eastern Market) Eastern Market and Penn Quarter - Eastern Market is king but Penn Quarter's location is perfect for us.
Frozen Yogurt (Express winner: Tangysweet) Mr. Yogato - Another one they got wrong. You want frozen yogurt? Go where the experts go (growing up in Southern California makes you an expert). Hint: fro-yo is more than a frozen treat... personality counts.
Gourmet Food Store (Express winner: Trader Joe's) Trader Joe's - don't know if TJ's is a "gourmet food store," but we couldn't miss an opportunity to hype it.
Ice Cream (Express winner: Cold Stone Creamery) Larry's Ice Cream - seriously, people chose a chain for best ice cream? You just can't beat homemade.
Indian (Express winner: Rasika Restaurant) Rasika - this ain't cheap Indian food - which we love - but it is awesome... Awesome!
Italian (Express winner: Filomena Ristorante Georgetown) Filomena - nothing beats fresh, homemade pasta except gigantic portions of fresh, homemade pasta.
Kebob (Express winner: Moby Dick House of Kabob) Mayur Kabab House - here's that "cheap Indian food" we love so much.
Pizza (Express winner: 2 Amys) 2 Amys - they seem to have slipped from the spotlight of a few years ago, but they're still the best in DC if you don't mind the wait and lack of Metro access.
Place to Take Your Parents (Express winner: Old Ebbitt Grill) Mitsitam - parents and really, any out-of-towners, should drop into the National Museum of the American Indian to try food inspired by Native American cuisine from around the country. Perfect location for a quick bite while sightseeing.
Restaurant Bathroom (Express winner: Mie N Yu) Charlie Palmer - completely odd and indescribable, I've been tempted to bring my camera in on multiple occasions. Would that be weird, especially when you can see into the other gender's facilities? The answer is yes.
Seafood (Express winner: DC Coast) Tackle Box - simple but great seafood, and the best fried shrimp ever.
Steakhouse (Express winner: Ray's the Steaks) Charlie Palmer - we've yet to find something to criticize here.
Street Food (Express winner: Julia's Empanadas) Fojol Bros. of Merlinda and the Bulgogi Cart. We love Julia but we don't consider her emps to be street food since we usually visit her store locations (her emps are also sold via On the Fly's Smartkarts).
Sushi (Express winner: Sushiko) Kotobuki - no frills sushi is the best we've found... and we've looked!
Vegetarian (Express winner: Sunflower Vegetarian Restaurant) Java Green - not only vegetarian, vegan. Good enough to open the mind of the most die-hard carnivore.

Arts and Entertainment

Dance Club (Express winner: Black Cat) Town - knowing the owners makes us biased but even a straight couple can enjoy a night at Town.
Gallery (Express winner: Hillyer Art Space) National Gallery of Art - there are so many great ones to choose from, and this one is free.
Indie Bookstore (Express winner: Kramer Books & Afterwords) Kramer Books & Afterwords Cafe - great location, cool indie vibe, and pie. Let me say it again. Pie!
Museum (Express winner: National Gallery of Art) National Museum of American History and National Air and Space Museum - free and expansive... so expansive that in the case of Air and Space, there are two locations.
Theatre (Express winner: Kennedy Center) Ford's Theatre - most theaters are only as good as the production that is playing there at the time. Ford's is a great, intimate space, and nothing can match its history.

Stores and Styles

Men's Haircut (Express winner: Hair Cuttery) Spa/lon - I've got difficult hair to cut with any kind of style (stick straight) and I've been to a range of different places from the cheap (Hair Cuttery) to the expensive (Grooming Lounge). In my experience, Ben at Spa/lon does the best job. The shop doesn't look like much, but the guy can cut some hair...
Women's Haircut (Express winner: Bang Salon) Spa/lon - J's hair is the complete opposite to mine which is to say it is very curly. To prove he is more than a one trick pony, Ben does a nice job with her hair too. J has been to Bang Salon on several occasions, and has tried out a variety of stylists there and has not been impressed.
Amateur Sports League (Express winner: Happy Hour Kickball) WAFC - is it the best sports league? I wouldn't know since I've not tried them all. But I can say that WAFC (that's ultimate frisbee to you kickballers) is very popular (100s of teams) and rather well run for a bunch of frisbee-throwing hippies.
Biking Trail (Express winner: C&O Canal Towpath) Mount Vernon - to quote myself, "This is my favorite bike path, not only in DC, but probably anywhere."
Hiking Trail (Express winner: Billy Goat Trail) Great Falls - so close, yet it makes you feel so far away.
Gym (Express winner: Washington Sports Clubs) Vida Fitness - J here to put in a good word for Vida. I joined in May because I was looking for a gym that offered a variety of classes. I've gone to several classes a week every week since then, and love it. The Verizon Center location is big and clean, and offers a ton of different classes. I also pop into the Renaissance Hotel location when I need a quick (and very conveniently located) cardio fix.
Race (Express winner: Race for the Cure) Avon Walk - ok, it isn't a race but there's something to be said when thousands of pink-clad women (mostly) walk 40 miles in the rain for a cause...

Sports and Recreation

D.C. Team (Express winner: Capitals) Capitals - the lack of competition in this category notwithstanding...
Local Athlete (Express winner: Alex Ovechkin) Alex Ovechkin - the Great 8 has enough star power to make some hockey converts in this city.
Stadium (Express winner: Verizon Center) Nationals Park - the stadium is almost as good as the team is bad.

Home and Away

Local Blog (Express winner: District of Sound) duh...
Monument (Express winner: Lincoln Memorial) Washington Monument and Jefferson Memorial - J loves the Washington Monument for its simplicity, the view from the top, and use as a navigation device. As for the Jefferson, you have to love its pairing with the Tidal Basin and that it is underrated and off the Mall enough to thin the crowd. Plus who doesn't like an underdog?
Neighborhood (Express winner: Dupont Circle) Dupont/Logan Circles - we both instantly thought of Capitol Hill but if you tracked where we go the most, the evidence clearly points to Dupont and Logan Circles... and everything in between.
People-Watching Spot (Express winner: Dupont Circle) The National Mall - it is a perfectly named place for the seemingly millions of tourists from every corner of this country that gather together with a collective look of awe and confusion, while clutching a camera in one hand and a map in the other (and some awesomely terrible patriotic t-shirts!).
Reason to Travel Outside the Beltway (Express winner: Shenandoah National Park) Butler's Orchard - I can't believe we're disrespecting Skyline Drive but for a quick escape from the city, plus added benefits like fresh produce, Butler's is a great choice.
Unintentionally Funny Thing About D.C. (Express winner: Marion Barry) Washington Nationals - again, there's no arguing with the Express' winner, but we've yet to go to a Nats game (and we've been to many) where we haven't hung our head in shame and laughed at their best Bad News Bears imitation.
Volunteer Organization (Express winner: So Others Might Eat) One Brick - they make it almost too easy to do something good in the world.
Weird Landmark (Express winner: The Awakening) Einstein Statue - not so much weird as it is unexpected... a giant Einstein statue across the street from the Vietnam Memorial. It seems to be a big hit with all our friends on the B&J 5-cent tour. (J says - this statute is flat out weird because it looks like Einstein is made of poop. B hates when I say that but it's true. Go check it out for yourself and let us know if you agree).

Saturday, November 14, 2009


Looking for fresh pasta made by cute old ladies and served in a kitschy atmosphere? Look no further than Filomena in Georgetown. Filomena is located in a basement on Wisconsin Avenue near M Street. It was too dark in there for us to take food pictures so you'll have to go and experience it for yourself.

Filomena's menu lists the names of all of the famous people that have dined there. Allegedly, Bill Clinton is a big fan. After trying his favorite pasta dish on a previous visit, we're fans too. On this trip we started off with the Insalatina Di Stagione: organic field greens, bleu cheese crumbles, and toasted pecans tossed in a balsamic vinaigrette. It was a bit heavy on the dressing but delicious.

For my entree I ordered the cavatelli pasta special. Cavatelli are ricotta dumplings and I am in love with them. They are squishy, little pillows of wonderful. I know Filomena has lots of other great pasta dishes on the menu, but I can't get past the cavatelli. The special featured jumbo shrimp, pancetta, and cavatelli tossed in a creamy tomato sauce. The best part is that the portions are ridiculously large so I had two awesome lunches to take home!

B ordered the Festivale in Venezia (black fettucine in a brandy tomato sauce with shrimp, scallops, lobster and crab). After the first bite, we looked at each other and giggled. We adore fresh pasta, and Filomena does it as well as anywhere we've dined.

At the end of the meal, Filomena offers complimentary pours of Amaretto or Sambuca liquor. They are meant to aide digestion and warm you up on the inside. We didn't go near the Sambuca because it tastes like black licorice, but the Amaretto warmed my tummy. We passed on dessert because we were stuffed to the gills, but it wasn't easy because Filomena makes a large variety of desserts in house every day.

Second Thoughts From B

As you descend into the underground Italian heaven that is Filomena, you pass by a couple of angels. Maybe they are little, old Italian handmade pasta masters covered in flour, but they are angels to me. Any Italian restaurant worth its salt needs fresh pasta and no place features the difference between dry and fresh better than Filomena.

J and I have been here on several occasions. The menu is expansive but I've usually stuck with the thicker pastas so I can fully appreciate their wonderful textures. Each dish I've had is top notch, not to mention huge. When you look at the menu, the prices may scare you at first. Most past dishes are around $30. But to justify it in your mind think about the fact that you're essentially paying for 2-3 meals.

The sauces are all fresh and it shows. These are not one dimensional flavors gooped onto a pile of noodles. You'll also notice that the ingredients justify the prices. If it says shrimp, we're talking fat and juicy shrimp. Crab or lobster, same thing... no bits so small that you forget they're there. Instead, giant chunks everywhere.

Finally, I have to mention the decor. Usually, Filomena feels like a very traditional, yet over the top, stereotype of an old Italian upscale restaurant. But for Halloween, they go all out. It is covered in ghouls and goblins and anything else you associate with the holiday. And like everything else at Filomena, they do this bigger and better than anyone with literally thousands of professional quality props. We wish we could have taken a picture to do it justice (some can be found on their website here) but instead, consider this: the decorations require a disclaimer on the front door warning people that they might be scared to enter. This sums up Filomena to me; anything they do, they do bigger and better that anyone, and thank goodness (and those angels) that this includes their pasta.
Filomena Ristorante on Urbanspoon

Thursday, November 12, 2009


When I was little, I lived on the perfect Halloween block. It seemed that every house had a kid my age and every family loved being active in our little community. I fondly remember gathering together in our costumes and going from haunted house to haunted house in search of the best candy.

But when I was in second grade, my family moved and I found myself in a house on a hill without my friends. Halloween quickly changed for me, and I'm ashamed to say that for several years we were the house at the top of the hill that turned out its lights to avoid the trick or treaters. I guess passing out "nature's candy" (read: raisins) also had something to do with it...

The point is, I grew up and out of Halloween earlier than most, and never really got back into it. After all, to quote Brandon Walsh when asked if he was going to a costume party, "I don't drink [that much] and I dance like a white guy."

J, on the other hand, loves Halloween, but we've never really celebrated together other than to carve pumpkins and enjoy some good people watching. Some of this had to do with switching coasts and again having to build up a group of friends to act silly around, but still, we could do better.

We swore 2009 would be different. Along with another fun-loving couple, we hit the internet to find something to do. There were two requirements: costumes had to be involved and we had to stay away from Georgetown.

You might be asking, why not Georgetown? Let me explain. J and I spent our first DC Halloween there. We had moved about two months prior and had heard that this was the place to go. So we took Metro to Foggy Bottom and started following the crowds. After we crossed the bridge into Georgetown, we were funneled onto the sidewalks of M Street by metal barriers that allowed one lane of "traffic" in each direction. Everyone was either in full costume (usually with props or wings that made it impossible to get by) or felt the need to stop and take a picture of those in costume. As you might imagine, it took 45 minutes to travel one block. Not good times. On a side note, that is how we stumbled across the very good Italian restaurant, Papa Razzi.

So with Georgetown off the list, we decided to try the more family friendly neighborhoods of Capitol Hill. Good choice! Despite the light drizzle, I once again felt that community feel of Halloween that I grew up with. Parents and kids alike were dressed up, and the neighbors clearly embraced this costumed invasion. Many homes were decorated but all paled in comparison to one rather partisan display of fear for the 2012 election...

If you can't tell from the photo, that is a Republican cemetery featuring the graves of Nixon, Reagan, and Bush surrounded by the ghouls of Palin, Gingrich, and Romney with the title, "Beware of 2012" written in jack-o-lanterns. Very clever...

After a quick bite to eat at the new pizza place by Eastern Market called, Seventh Hill (review to follow), we joined the other Halloween revelers on the Metro. Our car contained mostly superheros and made for a surreal and very memorable part of the night.

J Says

I was so excited to experience Halloween in DC in costume. Fueling my excitement was the fact that B and I dressed up as 90210 characters (Kelly Taylor and Steve Sanders from the Halloween costume party episode). We totally lucked out and had the pleasure of spending the evening with two great friends who fully embraced the Halloween spirit as much as we did. You might know them as Cyndi Lauper and the late Captain Lou Albano.

Anyway, we ended up at the "Graveyard Jam" party sponsored by at the Hard Rock cafe, which featured a band, followed by a DJ, and a costume contest. The band was laughably bad, but their set was over quickly, and the DJ spun dance-worthy tunes for hours. We stood on the second floor overlooking the main level dance floor and had a blast dancing and checking out the costumes.

I highly encourage you to get into the Halloween spirit next year and dress up. Even if you don't want to go to a party, just hop on the Metro and check out the scene.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Annapolis and Chick and Ruth's Delly

We hit the road on a Sunday morning to visit nearby Annapolis, Maryland. It was my first trip and I was excited to see Maryland's waterfront capital city and to check out another Man v. Food restaurant. It was a gorgeous Fall day with brightly colored leaves as far as the eye could see. We brought our bikes so that we could get some exercise and maximize the ground covered during this short trip.

No visit to Annapolis would be complete without a stop in the Maryland State House. It is "the oldest state capitol still in continuous legislative use and is the only state house to have ever served as the nation's capitol." The State House is also famous as the place that George Washington came to resign his post as Commander in Chief of the Continental Army in 1783. Tours are free and all you need is a photo I.D. to enter the building.

Across the street from the State House is a memorial to Maryland native Thurgood Marshall. The benches surrounding the memorial provide a nice place to sit, relax, and reflect.

Another must-see Annapolis attraction is the United States Naval Academy. The waterfront campus is a beautiful place for a walk, with many interesting buildings and memorials to explore. The chapel steps provide a raised vantage point overlooking the activity in the Yard.

Located in the center of campus is the Tecumseh statue which is painted by the Midshipmen for special events. On our visit, it was painted in a "Where the Wild Things Are" theme for Homecoming Weekend.

It wouldn't be a Two DC roadtrip without a stop at a special restaurant. This time, we went to the scene of Adam Richman's Man v. Food challenge: Chick and Ruth's Delly. While Adam Richman completed the Colossal Challenge (6 lbs. milkshake and 1.5 lbs. Colossal Sandwich), we opted for a tamer meal.

The Delly has been serving up good food in large portions since 1965. It's bustling and colorful, and has an overwhelmingly large menu selection. The tables are packed in so you get to know your dining neighbors.

We started with milkshakes (peanut butter moose tracks for me and cherry vanilla for B) and found that the small size was plenty. It would be fun to come back with a group and try the 6 lb shake served in the comically large glass.

The onion rings were crispy and my burger was juicy. I ordered the smallest burger (1/3 lb) and it was still a ton of food! Chick and Ruth's is not the place to go if you're counting calories. But everyone loves a splurge, and this is a fun place to do so.

The star of the meal was B's deli sandwich. He ordered pastrami and roast beef with provolone on wheat bread. Though it appears to be a simple sandwich, he couldn't stop raving about the tender deli meat that was packed full of flavor. We'd drive back to Annapolis just for this sandwich.

I'm eager to return to Annapolis to check out some of its waterfront attractions and sample some famous Maryland seafood. We just might have to pay a visit to Chick and Ruth's to see if their milkshakes and sandwiches are still up to par...

Second Thoughts From B

I love roadtrips. I love quaint towns. I love historical landmarks. And I love sandwiches. Need I say more? Probably not, but I will anyway.

This was my second time to Annapolis (the first time was with my dad a couple of years ago) and I still think it is a perfect destination for a day trip. Having it less than an hour's drive from DC is something we need to take advantage of more often if this pleasant October day was any indication. J mentioned the fall colors briefly but let me reiterate what a wonderfully fascinating occurrence this is for us. I only wish I was able to capture the brilliance better in my photography. And while I'm on this topic, let me mention The Foliage Network which is a website that tracks and maps the progression of color every fall. For people planning trips, this is a great resource.

As for that sandwich... wow. I do love a good sandwich but plain ol' deli meat sounds pretty boring, right? High quality is usually guaranteed but seldom, if ever, is it something that makes you groan, roll your eyes back, and celebrate each bite with a fist pump. I don't know what their secret is but that is the exact reaction this sandwich generated in me and it will forever raise the bar for what a simple sandwich can be...

Friday, November 6, 2009

Michael Jackson's This Is It

Normally J and I wouldn't blog about a movie. It just doesn't seem blog-worthy. Even if movies are something that the two of us do together (less often than we'd like), movies aren't unique to DC like a restaurant, a tourist attraction, a hike, or a play. But Michael Jackson's "This Is It" was different. I'm not talking about plastic surgery or naming your kid Blanket different. I'm saying that the movie experience was different.

Michael Jackson occupies such an odd place in our culture. I can think of no other person who causes people to react similarly. Let me explain. Like many other public figures who reached iconic status, Michael Jackson is a hero to many people around the world. On the other hand, he has also been implicated on several occasions with an indefensible wrong. In Michael's case, he's the extreme of both ends... the King of Pop accused of child molestation. However, unlike any comparable situation that I can think of, fans seem to be able to separate the two sides of this tragic person and personality.

Think of others who have made a dramatic fall from grace. OJ Simpson - star NFL running back who most people believe is guilty of double homicide. Bill Clinton - President and adulterer/liar. Manny Ramirez - gifted baseball slugger and steroid user. In each case you can easily find people who will adamantly defend these heroes. Fans of OJ are convinced he didn't do it and was framed, while supporters of Clinton or Manny will debate the seriousness of their indiscretions. These two paths appear to be the norm. Either denial or rationalization is required to justify our adulation.

However, as I said, Michael Jackson is different. While some people would argue that he is innocent (at least according to the law), even these fans would agree that what he did was inappropriate, at best. Still more of us would believe that he was guilty of far more than poor judgment. Regardless, I am amazed that no matter where you land on this spectrum, no denial or rationalization is required to enjoy him as an entertainer. It is this separation of emotion that I find so interesting.

But enough philosophy... J and I grew up with Michael's music. I lived through the huge events that coincided with his music video debuts and specifically can remember where I was when I first saw Thriller. My mother also, at least musically, grew up with Michael through the Jackson 5, and consequently, Motown was the soundtrack of my childhood. Contrasted against all those warm and fuzzy feelings is the absolute horror of child abuse in any form. I don't understand how I can continue to sing along to his music or buy tickets to his movie without feeling the pangs of guilt that I'm supporting his highly-questionable lifestyle... but clearly, I'm not alone.

Seeing "This Is It" puts you behind the scenes of Michael's final days as he prepares for his most recent concert. It is not sappy or preachy, but it does show Michael and his creative team at its best. This allows you to focus solely on his genius as an artist, which was clearly still strong at age 50. For 2 hours, you are brought behind the scenes while accompanied by a greatest hits soundtrack that will be recognizable to anyone. Besides a great sing-along, you'll see stunning new visuals that were being prepared for the show, as well as dance moves that remind you of MJ's influence. As far as this experience that I spoke about? Don't expect to sit in a quiet theatre. In our case, some came to be entertained (and sing), some came to celebrate his life (and cry), and some came to show their appreciation (and miscellaneous Michael Jackson paraphernalia, including a sparkling glove). As we left the theatre, the energy and conversation was identical to what I would imagine would come following the concert itself. Pure amazement and idolatry. Count me among those in awe of this man. Is it hypocritical to condemn his actions yet support him by seeing his movie? Perhaps. Or perhaps Michael is just different.

J Says

I'm in the same camp with B when it comes to feeling conflicted about MJ. I adore his music and dance moves but, after working with abused children while in law school, have a really hard time supporting anyone who is an alleged abuser. Despite my mixed feelings, I really enjoyed "This Is It."

I was swaying along with the beat for the entire two hours. Every time I thought I heard my "favorite" MJ song, he would bust out another classic that made me smile. The movie brought me back to the times when my sister and I would break dance on the living room floor to the Thriller album.

As B noted, even at age 50, the man knew how to move. He is incredible to watch and a pleasure to listen to. Go with a good sense of humor as there might be a lot of chatting and singing along by the other theater-goers. I can't count the number of times that the lady in front of us screamed, "I love you Michael!"

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Horace & Dickie's

We're loyal Man v. Food viewers so we were really excited to see that Adam Richman was coming to D.C.! It was Mr. Richman that led us to a residential neighborhood in Northeast (that is fond of electric blue paint) to sample the fried fish sandwich at Horace & Dickie's Seafood.

There was a long line out the door of this tiny carryout restaurant at 3 p.m. on a rainy Saturday afternoon. After we waited for about 15 minutes, a man came out and announced that anyone who wanted 1 or 2 sandwiches could form a separate line. We jumped in that line and were inside in about 10 minutes. After squeezing in the door, we were greeted by Big Mama herself. She was busily packaging up fish sandwiches, but was happy to flash a huge smile when B called her a T.V. star from her appearance on Man v. Food.

The fish sandwiches are served with 4 or 6 pieces of fried fish on top of Weber's wheat bread (did you know Weber's made wheat?). The 6 piece sandwich comes with 8 slices of bread and could feed a small family. Since we were in the "express line" we were given two 4 piece sandwiches.

They normally come topped with coleslaw, but they had run out on this busy day. Instead, I slathered our sandwiches in hot sauce (bottles available on the counter) before we headed home to enjoy them in front of the T.V. We also added a little bit of the tartar sauce that was provided in our to-go bag.

You're probably wondering if the sandwich is worth the trek to Northeast and the lengthy line. I would say that the experience is definitely worth it. The sandwich (sans coleslaw), though fun to try, was nothing amazing. I think the lack of coleslaw left it a bit too dry for my taste. The fish was crispy and the hot sauce added a flavor kick, but it needed the creamy crunch of the coleslaw to moisten things up a bit. I hope to make a return trip to see how the sandwich fares when it is fully dressed.

Second Thoughts from B

In my younger days I would have taken Adam Richman's lust for culinary gluttony as a challenge to prove my manhood (and considerable appetite). The more mature and sophisticated me (I say this with more than a touch of sarcasm) finds the food challenges comical and rather disturbing. Still, Adam's enthusiasm for hole-in-the-wall "pig out joints" is always entertaining and he's yet to steer us wrong.

First, a disclaimer: I've never been to a place that features someone named "Big Mama" that I didn't like. However, without the coleslaw, Horace & Dickie's certainly competed for our adoration with one arm tied behind its back. One bite of the sandwich instantly cried out for something creamy and crunchy. However, not all was lost. Even without a signature ingredient, I enjoyed this odd concoction. In some ways it tasted like what I'd call an "urban fish taco." And if you know me, you know that anything that reminds me of fish tacos is good in my book.Horace & Dickie's Seafood on Urbanspoon

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Butler's Orchard Pumpkin Patch

Happy November to you! We hope you had a nice Halloween and are enjoying the extra hour of sleep that the "end of daylight savings time fairy" brought today. If you're feeling festive for Fall, take a trip out to Butler's Orchard to pick your own pumpkin to decorate your Thanksgiving table, take a hayride, shop at the farm market for seasonal goodies, or pick your own produce (more on that here).

Last weekend we headed out to Butler's to pick our Halloween pumpkins. If you're looking for a peaceful walk in the pumpkin patch, I don't suggest the Sunday afternoon before Halloween. It was packed! There were pumpkin pickers everywhere, but Butler's handled the crowds well with plenty of parking. Even the long line to purchase pumpkins went quickly.

We had a great time wandering the field looking for pumpkins and soaking up the scene. There were babies dressed as pumpkins, kids scrambling to find the perfect gourd, and parents trying to capture the whole thing on camera. The selection was a bit picked over because it was so close to Halloween, but that was just fine for me because I love the odd, "special" looking pumpkins. I highly recommend Butler's during any season for a refreshing taste of the outdoors.

Second Thoughts From B

Have we mentioned we're from Southern California? Oh yes, all the time... Anyway, fall colors and accessibility to farms are not things we're used to. A trip to Butler's provides just that. You certainly could find a similar selection of pumpkins at equal, if not better, prices at your local grocery store ($0.59/lb). And to be honest, our pumpkins, while cool to look at, were duds. They grew mold before we had time to carve them just 5 days later. But even so, it was the experience that makes this trip.

It is difficult to adequately describe the wholesome and simple pleasure of wandering a field with young families searching for the perfect (or in J's case, least perfect) gourd. The soft afternoon light and squeals of little kids seemed to perfectly frame the moment and bring me back to a simpler time. That's why we go to Butler's. Sure the produce is great but it is the ability escape the city, if only for a moment, and make life slow down. It is like our own little time warp located just a few miles away. So in the spirit of Halloween, "Let's do the time warp, again!!!"